Book Review: A Bond Undone by Jin Yong @StMartinsPress

A Bond Undone
Legends of the Condor Heroes 2
Jin Yong
St. Martin’s Griffin, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-25011-7
Trade Paperback

Lotus Huang is cunning, kind and quite adorable. Her culinary craftiness is unparalleled, her loyalty unmatched. And her kung fu is phenomenal. As would be expected from the daughter of Apothecary Huang, one of The Five Greats.

Instantly, I love her. Almost as much as she favors the hapless, bumbling Guo Jing. Hopelessly smitten, courageous, yet frightfully foolish, he seems to be her quintessential companion. Until family histories have been sorted out.

Lotus was very young when her martial sister, Cyclone Mei, followed a path of dishonesty and deception. First, falling in love with the wrong man, then helping him steal a Martial Manual of such importance that Shifu permanently crippled her and banished the two from Peach Blossom Island forever.

While the Chinese martial-arts world is vast, it is also oddly intimate. It is not an astounding coincidence when Guo Jing traps himself in a cave inhabited by the embittered Cyclone Mei, causing secrets to be spilled; dark intentions revealed.

Initially, I felt a bit like I was reading a mash-up of Dragon BallZ and Avatar, The Last Airbender. I’ve no idea what is happening, but I’m into it. It didn’t take long, however, for me to figure out who’s who and become fully invested in Mr. Yong’s marvelous martial world.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with huge thanks
for the Advance Review Copy to add to my favorite classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2020.

Book Review: Bad Girl Gone by Temple Mathews

Bad Girl Gone
Temple Mathews
St. Martin’s Griffin, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-05881-2

From the publisher—

Sixteen year-old Echo Stone awakens in a cold sweat in a dark room, having no idea where she is or how she got there. But she soon finds out she’s in Middle House, an orphanage filled with mysteriously troubled kids.

There’s just one problem: she’s not an orphan. Her parents are very much alive.

She explains this to everyone, but no one will listen. After befriending a sympathetic (and handsome) boy, Echo is able to escape Middle House and rush home, only to discover it sealed off by crime scene tape and covered in the evidence of a terrible and violent crime. As Echo grapples with this world-shattering information, she spots her parents driving by and rushes to flag them down. Standing in the middle of street, waving her arms to get their attention, her parents’ car drives right through her.

She was right. Her parents are alive―but she’s not.

She’s a ghost, just like all the other denizens of Middle House. Desperate to somehow get her life back and reconnect with her still-alive boyfriend, Echo embarks on a quest to solve her own murder. As the list of suspects grows, the quest evolves into a journey of self-discovery in which she learns she wasn’t quite the girl she thought she was. In a twist of fate, she’s presented with one last chance to reclaim her life and must make a decision which will either haunt her or bless her forever.­­­­

The premise of a dead person having to solve her own murder is not new but, to me, it’s intriguing and I really looked forward to seeing what Mr. Mathews would do with the idea. For the most part, I thought it was entertaining if not quite fabulous.

OK, so Echo is a ghost and is in an orphanage of sorts with a bunch of other dead kids, all murdered, and they need to solve their murders before they can move on. Some have superpowers that help them do this and Echo’s is kind of weird but ultimately useful. Along with investigating her demise, Echo will learn quite a lot about herself and how her opinions about her living self don’t exactly square with others’ views. That’s a good thing because, well, Echo isn’t the most likeable girl I’ve encountered.

This story would have been 50% better without the silly, awkward love triangle. Young adult fiction is rife with love triangles—hormones, I guess—but, as much as I dislike them, at least they’re usually normal, meaning all parties are breathing. Here we have two ghosts and a living boy. Uh-uh, doesn’t work and is not appealing. For the most part, I just sort of skimmed over the romantic parts as much as I could

Bottomline, I think the writing is a bit juvenile even with some rough language (or maybe because of it) and the story had promise that wasn’t quite delivered but I still enjoyed it to a degree. Certainly, Bad Girl Gone was not a waste of my time but I hope Mr. Mathews’ next YA novel will fit a little better in this genre.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.


An Excerpt from Bad Girl Gone


When I tried to remember exactly how I came to be lying in the cold black room, my mind couldn’t focus.

I could feel myself slowly climbing upward, clawing my way out of the clutches of a nightmare. This was usually a good feeling, because you knew you were just dreaming, and the nightmare was over. Except this time it wasn’t. My hands felt clammy. I gripped the sheets until I knew my knuckles must be white. Help me, I thought. Somebody please help me.

I had no idea where I was, and for a terrifying second I couldn’t even remember who I was. But then I remembered my name. Echo. Echo Stone. My real name is Eileen. When I was a toddler, I waddled around repeating everything my parents said and they called me “Echo,” and it just stuck.

Remembering my name and how I got it kick-started my brain. I knew who I was. I remembered that I was sixteen years old and lived in Kirkland, Washington, with my mom and dad. It was all coming back to me. Mom was a dentist and Dad taught middle school English. Good, I could remember parts of my life. But I was still in a dark, cold room and had no idea how I got there. I held back a scream, my chest tightening. Don’t lose it, Echo, keep it together, I told myself. Calm down, think good thoughts.

I pictured Andy, my boyfriend. Six feet tall, broad shoul- ders, blue eyes, and long golden-brown hair. He loved to feed me cookie bites and called me his rabbit. I called him Wolfie. Sometimes he got the hiccups for no reason at all and usually laughed them away. Thinking of Andy momentarily made me feel warm inside, even though the room was freezing.

Where was I? I was shivering and yet also bathed in sweat, my skin slick with it. I clutched for my trusty Saint Christopher necklace. But it wasn’t there. Mom gave it to me to protect me when I traveled. Would it protect me now? I would never have lost it. The chain must have broken. And then I had an ugly thought. What if someone had ripped it from my neck? I shuddered. Where are you, Andy? I need you!

I opened my eyes as wide as I could. It was pitch black. My pounding heart told me, This isn’t some nightmare—it’s real. I hugged myself and breathed deeply, trying to calm my nerves. My shoulders were tight. I rubbed the sheets beneath me. The ones at home in my bed were soft. These were stiff and coarse. I was somewhere completely and painfully foreign. In my head I was talking to myself in a rapid voice, my fear voice: What is this?—what is this?—what is this?

Someone nearby was crying. I had a knot in my stomach and my throat hurt, like I’d screamed for hours. My head hurt, too, and I guessed I must have fallen, or maybe something heavy fell on me. I explored my scalp, gently at first, then more bravely, moving my fingers, searching for a lump. I found nothing . . . no lump, no holes. My skull was intact, though my long auburn hair felt tangled and greasy. I inhaled through my nose, searching for familiar scents. Mom’s cinnamon rolls, Dad’s after- shave. But nothing smelled even vaguely familiar, and the odors that did find my nose were horrible. Smoke. Vinegar. Sulfur.

I reached for my bedside lamp—but my fingers touched something damp and stringy. Oh god. The knot in my stomach tightened and I yanked my hand back. I willed my eyes to ad- just to the dark, but as I blinked, strange pulsing figures leapt out at me. It must have been my mind playing tricks. Right?

I took five good, long breaths, sucking in through my nose and exhaling through my pursed lips, just like my grandma Tilly taught me years ago. But five breaths weren’t enough. So I took ten, and finally my heart rate slowed from a galloping panic to a steady, cautious thudding. Soon I was able to distin- guish shapes. Was that a girl in a bed next to mine? Her hair was impossibly thick and long, spilling down her back. Her sweaty hair. That’s what I must have reached out and touched. My heart returned to its punishing rhythm, a fist clenching and unclenching in my chest. The nearby crying stopped. But then it was replaced by something worse, a ripping sound, like bone being cut by a rusty saw. And then a gurgling . . . followed by a low, feral growling noise. Faraway cackling laughter. What the hell was going on?

About the Author

Author Temple Matthews is already well versed in the world of screenwriting, with such children’s films under his belt as Disney’s Return to Neverland, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. He wrote Aloha Scooby Doo for Warner Brothers and Picture This for MGM. He is also the author of the The New Kid trilogy. Matthews has now turned to a different kind of story telling with his young adult novel BAD GIRL GONE. With a spunky main character, this novel explores the aftermath of tragedy, and whether what we think about ourselves matches with how the world sees us because, as we all know, right and wrong is sometimes grey when thrown into the madness of high school.

Book Reviews: A Nasty Piece of Work by Robert Littell and City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen

A Nasty Piece of WorkA Nasty Piece of Work
Robert Littell
St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-05463-0
Trade Paperback

Lemuel Gunn, now a private detective in New Mexico, once was a CIA agent in Afghanistan before being unceremoniously sent home and cashiered out of the service, and, before that, a policeman in New Jersey.  While he holds a PI license, he basically whiles his time away in a gigantic trailer built for Douglas Fairbanks Jr. while he was making a movie.

That is, until one day he is approached by Ornella Neppi, a beautiful but tarnished bail bondswoman who put up $125,000 to spring one Emilio Gava after he was arrested on a cocaine charge.  Her problem (and she has lots of them) is that Gava has skipped town and she is in danger of losing the funds if he doesn’t show up in court.  She asks Gunn to find Gava, and he undertakes the task.  And what an adventure it becomes.

The author, known for his spy thrillers, has proved he can write a detective novel with the best of them, with excellent characters, unexpected plot turns, and interesting human emotions.  The plot keeps moving forward at a steady pace, and even the description of a My Lai-type massacre in the present-day Asian action is startling.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2014.


City of Darkness and LightCity of Darkness and Light
A Molly Murphy Mystery #13
Rhys Bowen
Minotaur Books, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-05160-8
Trade Paperback

This mystery series, featuring Molly Murphy (now Mrs. Molly Sullivan and mother of a bouncing boy) usually takes place in Little Old New York at the turn of the last century.  But, because Capt. Sullivan has arrested the head of the mafia on the lower East Side and their home is bombed and burned to the ground in retribution, he insists that Molly and little Liam leave the city and go far away for their safety.

Molly’s friends, Gus and Sid, are in Paris, so it is decided that Molly and the baby should go there.  But when she finally arrives in the City of Light after a rough voyage, Gus and Sid are nowhere to be found.  So Molly has to trek all over the city trying to find them.  And in doing so, she becomes involved in another murder mystery.  So much for her promise to her husband to give up being a detective.

Molly is a delightful character, and in this episode, she exhibits a degree of sophistication that shows her character and development, far removed from the Irish immigrant who first landed on the shores of the U.S.  The plot pieces together an intricate mystery amid a graphic portrayal of Paris and its art scene, featuring such luminaries as Picasso and Degas.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2015.

Book Reviews: A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson, Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson, and The Wild Beasts of Wuhan by Ian Hamilton

A Serpent's ToothA Serpent’s Tooth
Craig Johnson
Viking, April  2013
ISBN: 978-0-670-02645-6
Trade Paperback

Now in his ninth appearance, Walt Longmire is confronted by dual adversaries when a homeless boy shows up on his doorstep.  The youth, Cord Lynear, has been cast out of a Mormon cult enclave searching for his mother.  Walt discovers that his mother approached the sheriff of an adjoining county, looking for her son.  In attempting to reunite the two, Walt is unable to find the mother, leading him into investigating an interstate polygamy group, well-armed and with something to hide.

It is an intricate plot, one fraught with danger for Walt, his pal Standing Bear (also known as “Cheyenne Nation”) and his deputy (and lover), Victoria Moretti.  I felt Walt’s overdone bravado, and the resulting violent confrontations, were a bit overdone.  But that is Walt.  And TV.

This entry in the Walt Longmire series, now also in a popular TV dramatic form about to enter its second season, appears to be expressly written to provide another episode.  That is not to say it isn’t another well-written novel with all the elements of the Wyoming sheriff’s customary literary observations and acts of derring-do.  It just seems to me that it’s a bit too much of a manufactured plot with an overtone of a popular protagonist and his sidekicks.  That said, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.


Once We Were BrothersOnce We Were Brothers
Ronald H. Balson
St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-04639-0
Trade Paperback

There have been many books about the holocaust and the travails of people under Nazi occupation during World War II, but this novel touches the heart of the reader because essentially it is a love story surrounded by the atrocities and miseries inflicted on the populations of the occupied territories.  It is essentially the story of Ben Solomon and his wife and family.  But, more important, it is the telling of the horrors endured by the Jews in Poland and the beasts that perpetrated them.

The plot begins when Ben, now 82 years old, sees a TV broadcast of a Chicago event and recognizes the person receiving a civic honor, apparently a pillar of society who is well-known as a philanthropist, as a former Nazi SS officer, Otto Piatek.  The reason Ben recognizes him is because the Solomon family gave Otto a home and Ben grew up with him until Otto’s parents took him away and he embraced his new-found status in the National Socialist Party.  Ben is introduced to Catherine Lockhart, an attorney, who comes to embrace Ben’s desire to uncover Otto, now going by the name of Elliot Rosenzweig, a billionaire Chicago insurance magnate, for what he really is, while listening to his story in relation to a lawsuit she is preparing to bring to reclaim jewelry and cash Otto stole from Ben’s family.

Written simply, the book, a first effort by a Chicago lawyer, moves forward steadily, as Catherine attempts to formulate a lawsuit for replevin, while Ben insists on telling her in great detail the trials and tribulations of life under the Nazis.  And it all comes together at the end.  (Parenthetically, I believe the novel would make a great screenplay.)

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.


The Wild Beasts of WuhanThe Wild Beasts of Wuhan
An Ava Lee Novel
Ian Hamilton
Picador, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-03229-4
Trade Paperback

Ava Lee undertakes a most formidable task in this, the second in the series about the forensic accountant who specializes in recovering money for a sizable commission in partnership with her mentor, referred to simply as “Uncle,” a rather mysterious man apparently with triad connections, headquartered in Hong Kong and with deep roots in China.  It seems that Uncle’s boyhood friend, Wong Changxing, a powerful and impressive industrialist, bought about $100 million worth of paintings, 15 out of the 20 being elaborate forgeries, and upon discovering the fact seeks Uncle’s and Ava’s assistance in recovering the money and saving him from embarrassment should the facts become known.

The problem is that the Hong Kong dealer from whom the paintings were purchased ten years before is dead and there are no clues or paperwork to guide Ava in her efforts.  But that hardly is a problem for her, as she pursues tracing the transactions, traveling to Denmark, London, Dublin, the Faroe Islands and New York City and learning a lot about the art world in the process.

Ava Lee is on a par with the best of the female protagonists like Kinsey Milhone and others, while an accountant, but exhibiting all the talents and attributes of a private eye.   She is tough and bold and confident, as she shows us in this latest caper.  We are told that the next novel in the series, expected in January 2014, has her pulling her half-brother’s chestnuts out of the fire.  Looking forward to reading it!


Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2013.

Book Review: eleanor & park by rainbow rowell

eleanor and parkeleanor & park
rainbow rowell
St. Martin’s Griffin, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-250-01257-9

Recently, @realjohngreen wrote an amazing review of eleanor & park for the NY times.  I added the book to my To-Read list.  Shortly after that, the fabulously talented Sophia Bennett gave the book a 5 star rating on Goodreads.  I bought the book that very day and I am so glad that I did.

I finished the book weeks ago, but I haven’t been able to write a review because, for me, sometimes something is so good that I almost can’t talk about it.  To do so, would somehow cheapen it; like performing a random act of kindness, then telling someone all about it.  All of the sudden, that amazingly satisfied feeling dims.  I am over that now.  I know that I don’t have the ability to right a review worthy of this book, so I will just tell you some of my favourite things.

1.     The characters: Eleanor & Park
In different reviews that I’ve read, they have been referred to as “misfits”.  I didn’t see that. Rather, I felt that, in their sincere simplicity they appear to be complex.  To me, they stand out because they are genuinely true to themselves.

2.    Showing that parents do have the capacity to understand, admit when they’ve misjudged, and be supportive, even when they don’t fully understand.
Park’s mother:
·    Not too fond of Eleanor at first, but she later realizes that she “judged a book by its cover” and that she was wrong.
·    I love the way she speaks.
·    Doesn’t even feign subtlety when she chooses to encourage the relationship

Park’s father:
·    Military man, serious, strict and intimidating
·    When Park chooses to change his appearance, his father is furious.  When he tries to accept Park for who he is, he lets Park know in a hilarious, off-the-cuff way.
·    Shows unconditional love by supporting both Park & Eleanor, even when not in agreement

3.    The back of the book tells you that this is a romance, but I would not categorize it as such.  Yes, a relationship develops, but it is not romantic.  Hearts don’t suddenly beat faster, there is no “love at first sight”.  Instead, Eleanor & Park meet only because Park chooses to share his bus seat with a strange-looking, weird-dressing new girl.  The development of the relationship is realistic.  It doesn’t start with a spark then explode into fireworks.  It is way better than that.

4.    Eleanor’s challenges are believable.  The miserable issues she faces aren’t gratuitous.  They are intricate to her character and the development of the story and we all know someone that has been in her position.  The empathy and support that I felt for a fictional character felt real to me.

5.    Finally, I believe it shows teens for who they really are.  Name-calling, teasing & tormenting usually disguise an insecure person with a true heart.  When truly needed, most teens will come through.

I hope that you enjoy Rainbow Rowell’s debut novel as much as I have.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.

Book Review: Dark Mirror by M.J. Putney

Dark MirrorDark Mirror
M.J. Putney
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011
ISBN 978-0-312-62284-8
Trade Paperback


This is such a neat little book.  At a blush, I could say that this endearing 17th century story is about royalty, magic and time travel.  While, indeed, we do get that; I feel that the story is about so much more.  For me, it is about making choices.  Throughout the story, there are reminders that everyone has the free will to make a cognizant decision: choose your own path, or comfortably follow the herd.  Further, we are reminded that this doesn’t have to be a permanent, one-time-only choice.  We can always reconsider.

Magic, to many, is a gift.  It is to be nurtured, a skill that must be consistently developed and refined.  Commoners who are blessed as mages are oft employed by the aristocracy for their specific skills—from small things like ensuring good weather for a special event to healing a royal family member.  As royalty, appearances are more important than we can conceive of in today’s time.  Maintaining public approval is imperative, even if it means watching a loved one die.  Despite the obvious need for magic, royalty shall have none of it flowing through their blue blood.  When a member of a royal family is found to possess magic, the member is sent to Lackland Abbey to be cured.  Why?  Is it because this is the one thing the aristocracy can’t obtain, despite their station & wealth?

Among those that struggle to answer this question, we have our main character, Lady Victoria Mansfield, “Tory”.   She is an outstanding example of what a young girl can be capable of.  I admire her strength, courage and kindness.  Her deliberation prior to making tough choices is impressive. She consistently demonstrates her unique ability to maintain a balance that she can live with, by marching to the beat of her own drummer, without stomping on the sheep.  In doing so, Tory is yanked from the comforts of family and home and rudely deposited in the dismal world that is Lackland Abbey.

Do the outside royal families really know what goes on at Lackland Abbey?  Does everyone want to be “cured”, even though the taint of magic never really disappears, original status is never reinstated?  Doesn’t anyone wish to understand and control magic?  Can’t the magic be used for good?

As Tory’s life changes, her country prepares itself for an attack.  Students’ narcissistic thoughts of returning home are replaced with hopes and desires to protect Britain.  A secret world is revealed.  Many young people would choose to thumb their noses at public perception for the opportunity to protect their home.

Dark Mirror tells their story.  The selflessness and courage displayed by a small group of young outcasts is inspiring.  The bonds created by working so hard together for a common cause show hope that we can all get along, and that very good things happen when we do.  This tells of a truth in history that isn’t contained in current class curriculums.  Because it is peppered with magic, time travel and a bit of romance, it is an entertaining story as well.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2012.

Book Review: Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell

Midnight CityMidnight City
A Conquered Earth Novel

J. Barton Mitchell
St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2012
ISBN 978-1-250-00907-4

From the publisher—

Earth has been conquered by an alien race known as the Assembly. The human adult population is gone, having succumbed to the Tone—-a powerful, telepathic super-signal broadcast across the planet that reduces them to a state of complete subservience. But the Tone has one critical flaw. It only affects the population once they reach their early twenties, which means that there is one group left to resist: Children.

Holt Hawkins is a bounty hunter, and his current target is Mira Toombs, an infamous treasure seeker with a price on her head. It’s not long before Holt bags his prey, but their instant connection isn’t something he bargained for. Neither is the Assembly ship that crash-lands near them shortly after. Venturing inside, Holt finds a young girl who remembers nothing except her name: Zoey.

As the three make their way to the cavernous metropolis of Midnight City, they encounter young freedom fighters, mutants, otherworldly artifacts, pirates, feuding alien armies, and the amazing powers that Zoey is beginning to exhibit. Powers that suggest she, as impossible as it seems, may just be the key to stopping the Assembly once and for all.

And a little child shall lead them.

I love this book. What can I say to show you why? Perhaps “show” is the operative word because J. Barton Mitchell clearly has a talent for showing as well as telling. In short, he’s a very good storyteller and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read this, his first novel (of many, I hope).

I very much appreciated the third person past tense points of view, not being a big fan of first person present tense. Most of the story is told from Holt’s perspective but occasionally seeing other points of view is a good way to add more depth to the story and, since the three main characters have such different issues, it helps the reader understand them better. I’m also eternally grateful that we don’t have to suffer through insta-love. Whether Holt and Mira will eventually become a romantic item is pretty much a given from the moment they meet but their progression towards mutual attraction is a natural one. Slowly growing feelings are what should be expected when these two start out in such adversarial circumstances.

I found the four main characters—Holt, Mira, Zoey and Max—to be completely engaging and believable, especially Holt. Here is a young man who has seen the worst life has to offer and, yes, he’s cynical, but  a piece of him still wants to believe that things can be better. Growing up fast was a necessity and he has become a teen who could very well be a survivor in such a nightmare future. Mira, on the other hand, is a girl we don’t see often enough in young adult fiction. She’s a bit more than cynical, too, but she’s brave, intelligent and very clever but also has a wistful side that’s very appealing.

Zoey is that child who often shows up in this type of book, the one who may just be the savior of the world, but Mr. Mitchell manages to keep her from becoming trite. Zoey is a likeable 8-year-old and, most of the time, behaves just as you would expect her to. I really enjoyed her attachment to Max and her mix of vulnerability and calm dependence on her companions, not to mention her touches of humor.  Oh, and by the way, I adore the four-footed Max, best companion to have on a perilous journey.

If anything made the story sometimes drag for me, it’s in the descriptions of the artifacts and how they work. I don’t quite get it any way so less attention on them would have been fine with me. It would be enough to know that certain items have special properties—and at some point, I’ll want to find out why they do—but I don’t really need to have such details as that one coin is turned heads out and another tails out.

Some reviewers are disconcerted by questions left with no clear answers but, to me, full knowledge of what’s going on works only if the book is a standalone. This is the first in a series (trilogy?) so why would the reader want to know everything by the end of the first book? Mitchell‘s worldbuilding is imaginative and detailed and, yet, there are still many things to find out in upcoming volumes, not only about this frightening future but about the people and the aliens that inhabit it. In some ways, Midnight City reminds me of a Stephen King novel in it’s detailed yet very broad storyline but the difference is that King tells it all in one book of 1,000+ pages.

Speaking of worldbuilding, this author has the magic touch. I easily saw through the eyes of this small band when they encountered such awful places as Clinton Station with its Fallout Swarms but Midnight City itself is the real gem and Mr. Mitchell‘s meticulous attention to detail made for a strong picture in my imagination. He has a background in comics and screenplays so his ability to create such strong visual images comes as no surprise.

I’m very glad I hadn’t yet compiled my list of best books read in 2012 before reading this because Midnight City will certainly be on it. Now I just have to cope with the endless wait till next fall for the second book in the series, The Severed Tower.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.