Book Review: The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond @ctrichmond @Scholastic

The Only Thing to Fear
Caroline Tung Richmond
Scholastic Press, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-62988-1

Zara’s plan to keep her head down and just plod through life is not working out. Partly due to the fact that she was not raised that way. Largely because of the perplexing, unwanted attention from Bastian. Not just any Nazi, the son of a colonel knows better than anyone that Aryans do not mingle with “sub-humans”. Although she’s not Jewish, to the Germans, as “half-breed stock”, she falls into the same category. Fit for only factory or farm work. Certainly not for fraternizing.

Zara’s earliest memories are of her mother and Uncle Red leading the local Alliance, all efforts into eradicating the Nazi-rule. She could not wait to be old enough to join them. Before she could reach the coveted age, though, a mission went terribly wrong and Uncle Red’s attitude was adversely affected. Compounding an already complex matter, in her grief and frustration, Zara’s power emerged. No one was more stunned than she was to discover that she was an Anomaly.

Select Germans had been gifted with powers enabling them to conquer the Allies so many years ago. The remaining Anomalies serve in an elite division of the Nazi military. When the rare non-Aryan Anomaly is discovered, things are a bit different. That poor soul will be taken to a laboratory to be studied, tested and ultimately dissected.

Zara has two huge secrets to keep if she hopes to stay under the radar of the suspicious Germans. Having Bastian hovering, bugging her, may just be the last straw. Aryans speak to her people for only a handful of reasons, none of them good. Most worrisome; they would never, ever feign interest in the Alliance—even as a sick joke.

She may not know what Bastian is truly up to, but Zara does know that she’s no time for the likes of him. There are brutal deaths to be avenged and one very last chance for her to convince Uncle Red that she belongs with the Alliance.

It’s no wonder I’ve seen The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond on so many students’ To-Read lists. This fast-paced, action-packed, Sci-Fi story of ‘what if’ is simply stellar. And, I absolutely love the atypical ending, which was not gratuitous, but rather allowed the narrative to wrap up a bit more naturally, with an authentic feel.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2019.

Book Review: The Transatlantic Conspiracy by G. D. Falksen

the-transatlantic-conspiracyThe Transatlantic Conspiracy
G. D. Falksen
Soho Teen, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-61695-417-8

Oh, I do love a story about bad girls and The Transatlantic Conspiracy is quintessential.  Rosalind’s own words best define her when she explains to Alix, “I drive motorcars and I’m a suffragist, so my reputation is already a bit uncertain.”  Their mutual friend Cecily not only tinkers with clocks, but has been known to write “strongly worded letters” to express her displeasure or disappointment.  Embarking on the maiden voyage of the underwater railway, Alix is quick to confirm that her traveling companions both know “how to give a swift quick and a good stab” (with a hatpin).

Perhaps I should mention that this steampunk story begins on May 25, 1908.  My first book from this fantastical, science-fiction subgenre complete with advanced machines and modern technology.  It did not disappoint.

Rosalind is quite accustomed to traveling alone, despite being female and seventeen years old.  She has every confidence in her father’s perpetually advancing railways, whether it be traveling above water on an impossibly long bridge or seven days underneath, riding a train through the ocean from Germany to New York.   She may not cherish her reluctant role as a “pawn in her father’s advertising campaign”, but she has never felt afraid.  Until now.

From the beginning, with Cecily and sibling Charles unexpectedly announcing plans to accompany Rosalind to America, to feeling inexplicably unnerved at the station, Rosalind is overcome with unease as she boards.  A strange skepticism settles; people seem to smile around secrets tucked safely away.  Charles disappears.  Two passengers are murdered.  It is only the second day.

Fully engaging with twists and turns, sneaky surprises, loyal friendships and levity, The Transatlantic Conspiracy was a fascinating foray into steampunk.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2016.

Book Review: Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb

Whose Names Are UnknownWhose Names Are Unknown
Sanora Babb
University of Oklahoma Press, February 2006
ISBN 978-0-8061-3712-4
Trade Paperback

It’s 1938 and a young talented, adventurous woman from the Oklahoma panhandle lands a job with the Farm Security Administration in California, working with the refugee farmers from her home state. These were the people of the high plains who saw their farms and their lives blown away in the horrendous dust storms of the nineteen thirties. The camps in California were one legacy of the Dust Bowl.

Out of that experience, those associations, Sanora Babb fashioned this novel, a first-hand up-close story with intense empathy and understanding for the people. The novel has an interesting and unfortunate history. In 1939 the author submitted her manuscript to a New York publisher, Random House. The publisher’s editor, Bennett Cerf, called the novel an exceptionally fine piece of work and planned to publish it. A few months later, publication was halted in the face of the huge success of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Sanora Babb went on to a strong literary career, authoring five books and numerous shorter pieces published in the top literary magazines of the Twentieth Century. Now finally, sixty-five years late, this moving, intimate novel is seeing daylight. Is it as good or better than Steinbeck’s? Read it for yourself and judge. This is no grand pronouncement to illuminate the scope of what we know as the Dust Bowl Years. Whose Names are Unknown looks poverty and deprivation in the face and deals with the lives and deaths of those most materially affected.

Babb’s writing is clean, she wastes no words and the narrative voice brings her fascinating characters to the pages in a way that will remain with the reader for some time. This is truly a novel to savor.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Neverwas by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed and Larkin Reed

Book II of the Amber House Trilogy
Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed & Larkin Reed
Arthur A. Levine Books, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-43418-8

For those in search of “something different”, this is the trilogy for you. Neverwas: Book II of the Amber House Trilogy is a mixed-up, mashed-up composite of time travel, ghost story and “what if”… the most phenomenal way possible.

As her new home, Amber House does not give Sarah the comforting vibe she’d grown accustomed to when visiting the estate-in-the-family-since-the-1600s. Contrarily, now she feels assaulted by the past, tugged by history. The American Confederation of States, using Sarah’s wise words is, “…..a country that still justified “separate but equal” facilities for the races. Not that “separate” had ever actually been “equal”.”

As an Astorian, Sarah knows all people are equal; she has always been free to eradicate ignorance. This sweetly stubborn sixteen-year-old will not pretend that white males are superior to white females and all non-whites. She will be anti-Nazi whether or not she’s “in public” and she certainly won’t give up her pursuit of Jackson just because his skin is darker than hers. He may act like a hard, serious young man now with his secret meetings and mysterious yellow handkerchiefs; but she knows the boy she admires and adores is still there. More importantly, he is the only one that can help her fix the past to save the present.

Social issues, subtly addressed, seep into the reader’s subconscious…..sneaking up later, seemingly from nothing at all……much like the echoes appear to Sarah as she opens herself to the past. Autism affects Sarah’s young brother Sammy as well as her aunt, Maggie. Deplorable acts against women and non-Caucasians are reminiscent of the happenings in southern states in the 1960s. Sadly, some still occur today. This book incites emotions. Reigning that empathy is as easy as stopping the ripples from a stone tossed into a still pond.

For me, the absolute brilliance of this book lies in the clever, sneaky way that urges….compels…the reader’s brain to consider concepts previously not pondered. On the surface, I found myself immersed and thoroughly enjoying an entertaining, captivating, unique story packed with intriguing characters, hidden agendas and secrets tucked deeply away. On the other hand, I often found myself wondering, what if……

Aside: Could the mention of ley lines be a nod to Maggie Stiefvater’s enchanting Raven Cycle?

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2015.

Book Review: The Girl and the Clockwork Cat by Nikki McCormack

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Title: The Girl and the Clockwork Cat
Author: Nikki McCormack
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: 09/02/14
Genres: Steampunk, Mystery, Romance, Young Adult



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The Girl and the Clockwork CatThe Girl and the Clockwork Cat
Nikki McCormack
Entangled Teen, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-63375-069-2

From the publisher—

Feisty teenage thief Maeko and her maybe-more-than-friend Chaff have scraped out an existence in Victorian London’s gritty streets, but after a near-disastrous heist leads her to a mysterious clockwork cat and two dead bodies, she’s thrust into a murder mystery that may cost her everything she holds dear.

Her only allies are Chaff, the cat, and Ash, the son of the only murder suspect, who offers her enough money to finally get off the streets if she’ll help him find the real killer.

What starts as a simple search ultimately reveals a conspiracy stretching across the entire city. And as Maeko and Chaff discover feelings for each other neither was prepared to admit, she’s forced to choose whether she’ll stay with him or finally escape the life of a street rat. But with danger closing in around them, the only way any of them will get out of this alive is if all of them work together.


Steampunk fiction has been around for years but began to be really popular about 10-15 years ago. I had read a few pieces before then but I really fell into it with authors like Gail Carriger, S.M. Stirling and Cherie Priest. I gravitate towards fiction that is a mishmash of subgenres and steampunk does that very well, frequently being a blend of science fiction, mystery, dark fantasy, alternate history, maybe even post-apocalyptic and a few other elements. i liked it so much that, after a while, I sort of ran out of, er…steam (pun intended)…and I haven’t read much of it in several years.

Still, I hadn’t given up on it so I was really happy to get the chance to dive into this world again with The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, hoping I would find it as entertaining as ever. I’m happy to say Ms. McCormack didn’t let me down  🙂

This author has two particular strengths. One is her worldbuilding and setting. Ms. McCormack’s descriptive abilities bring her idea of Victorian London to life and is solid enough to also evoke the settings of some of the best Victorian-era mysteries by such authors as Anne Perry and Will Thomas.  It also doesn’t hurt that Maeko finds herself right smack in the middle of an intense mystery that really engages her intelligence as well as street smarts.

The author’s other main strength is in her characters who are vivid and engaging, even those who can’t be considered likeable. Maeko is a heroine anyone can admire and feel an attachment to and the two guys in her life, Chaff and Ash, will stick in my mind for quite a while. They’re not perfect by any means, thank heavens, and there are times when Maeko is leaps and bounds ahead of them, but I do like them a lot.

Then there is Macak, a very unique cat with a mechanical leg. Macak is a delight, a kitty with some unique qualities, and he can hold his own when he needs to, not to mention lend a comforting purr from time to time. He is now one of my favorite fictional cats and, if nothing else would draw me back to a possible sequel, he would. I do hope there will be more of Maeko and Macak and their pals. Please, Ms. McCormack, bring them back to us!

Oh, and by the way, if you love cats and pictures of cats as much as I do, you really have to check out her website  ;-)))

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2014.

About the Author

Nikki McCormackNikki started writing her first novel at the age of 12, which she still has tucked in a briefcase in her home office, waiting for the right moment. Despite a successful short story publication with Cricket Magazine in 2007, she continued to treat her writing addiction as a hobby until a drop in the economy presented her with an abundance of free time that she used to focus on making it her career.

Nikki lives in the magnificent Pacific Northwest tending to her husband and three cats suffering varying stages of neurosis. She feeds her imagination by sitting on the ocean in her kayak gazing out across the never-ending water or hanging from a rope in a cave, embraced by darkness and the sound of dripping water. She finds peace through practicing iaido or shooting her longbow.

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