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Archive for the category “Book Reviews – Mark”

The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach

The Eye of Midnight.jpgSet in 1929, this fast-paced historical adventure is filled with mystery, intrigue and danger. The main characters are Maxine and William, who are cousins, though they barely remember each other. The young pair, both in their early teens, have just arrived on the doorstep of Battersea Manor, somewhere along the Jersey Shore. They’ve been sent to stay with their grandfather, Colonel Horatius Battersea, at his estate for the summer.

Soon after the cousins’ arrival, their grandfather receives a mysterious telegram. He must quickly get to New York City to retrieve an important package. Not willing to leave Maxine and William behind, he brings them along as he prepares to meet with an unknown courier in possession of the parcel. Before he gets to meet with the courier, the Colonel mysteriously vanishes without a trace.

The cousins make a surprise friend in Nura, a bold and daring girl from Turkey, who just so happens to be the courier their grandfather came to meet. The package she was to deliver was a powerful magical artifact, but the item has been stolen by an unknown thief. The three join forces on a daring adventure to find the missing Colonel Battersea and the magical package. They soon find out they aren’t the only ones who are searching.

There are plenty of cliffhangers and twists of fate as the cousins and their friend tangle with gangsters, bootleggers, and a secret order of assassins, some of whom are intent on taking over the world. This book is a great piece of historical fiction with lots of suspense and adventure.

– Mark

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Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh

Burning MidnightNo one knows where the colored spheres came from or how they got here. Apparently they arrived years ago, scattered and hidden all over the planet. One thing that we do know is that holding two matching spheres to one’s temple causes an increase in one’s abilities, skills, or appearance. Depending on the color, “burning” a pair of spheres can give the user whiter teeth, increased height, better memory, and other improvements. Some spheres are rare and give greater results, but these are hard to find — and very valuable.

This story takes place on present day Earth, with the main character being seventeen-year-old David “Sully” Sullivan. Sully once found a rare sphere, but was cheated out of his big payday by unscrupulous millionaire businessman, Alex Holliday. Now Sully struggles just to help his mom pay their rent by selling spheres at the flea market.

One day, Sully meets a girl named Hunter, who has a natural ability for finding spheres. The two pair up and start searching for orbs together. After some mishaps, Sully is ready to give up. The two push on and somehow find a color that has never been seen before — a Gold sphere. This could be worth millions, but no one knows what special abilities it may grant…or where a matching sphere may be.

With the aid of two close friends, Sully and Hunter set off on an adventure to find another Gold sphere to complete the set. But Alex Holliday wants the Gold spheres for himself, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get them. Thus begins a race to see who finds the treasured gems first and eventually we discover what the spheres are really for and the dangers involved with using them. This story was action-packed and imaginative with a lot of relatable context.

 

– Mark

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Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Anna and the SwallowThis book has elements of historical fiction, fairytales, and folklore — all set against a backdrop of war and anguish. It’s 1939 Poland where we find seven-year-old Anna, whose father (a university linguistics professor) has just been taken away by the Gestapo. Alone, hungry, and afraid, Anna is taken in by a mysterious, nameless stranger that she comes to call the Swallow Man.

The pair quickly connect through a shared gift — an affinity for speaking and understanding multiple languages. Thanks to her father, precocious Anna is conversant in German, Russian, French, and English as well as some Yiddish and a few other dialects. The Swallow Man is even more skilled than Anna, as he can speak all of these languages and also has an apparent supernatural connection with birds.

As they travel together, the Swallow Man teaches Anna the language of “Road” which involves adapting to whatever identity is necessary to survive in a war ravaged and evil world. It’s clear that the Shallow Man cares deeply for Anna as he serves as protector, guide, teacher, and father, but there is always a shroud of mystery that surrounds this man.

Without an actual destination, the companions wander together for years just trying to survive. The Swallow Man tells his young charge that they are on a journey to save an extremely rare and endangered bird — the last of its kind that the Germans and Russians want to kill so they can become more powerful. It’s never made clear who the “bird” is and this is one of many themes in the book that aren’t fully explored or resolved. Overall, the writing was quite good for this debut novelist but the ending was fairly abrupt and leaves many unanswered questions.

— Mark

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This Way Home by Wes Moore

This way homeSeventeen-year-old Elijah Thomas is a sensation on the basketball court. His focus and determination have made him a standout player and his skills are getting some serious attention.  His high school team has just won the state championship which for most would be the culmination of a dream, but not for Elijah. He sees basketball and college as a stepping stone and a way out of his tough Baltimore neighborhood.

Dylan and Michael are Elijah’s best friends and together the trio is preparing for a summer 3-on-3 tournament where the teens will compete in the adult division. A win here would give Elijah important visibility in front of college scouts. Along with the positive notoriety, Elijah is also getting noticed by a dangerous group.

An up and coming street gang, known as Blood Street Nation, has given Michael expensive gifts of sneakers and uniforms for the team to wear in the tournament. Although tempted by the new gear, Elijah knows it’s wrong and has the team go back to their worn out clothes to finish the championship. There are major consequences because of this decision and they fear the gang’s elusive boss will retaliate against them, which he does.

Elijah will need the help of Mr. Banks, a gruff, ex-military man who has become a reluctant mentor to the boy. Elijah desperately needs someone like Mr. Banks in his life since he has no real memories of his birth father. Missing his father is a recurring theme for Elijah throughout the book and is a reminder of just how important parents are to our youth. This was a well written and ultimately tragic story with some startling plot twists.

– Mark
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Ninja Timmy by Henrik Tamm

Ninja TimmyThis fantastical tale centers on an orphan cat named Timmy and his ragtag team of animal friends. We’re introduced to Timmy’s best pal Simon, who is a mink, and also to Jasper and Casper – affectionately known as the pig brothers. Together they’ve just finished work on their latest invention, an automated orange peeler that they’re hoping to sell to a local merchant.

As they’re carrying the contraption through the streets of Elyzandrium, they’re approached by a gang of bullies and the invention is stolen. The robbers are wild boars known as the Gribble cousins and they’ve been causing trouble for many of the town’s residents. Luckily, Timmy and his pals get some much needed help from new friends, Alfred, a kindly old toymaker, and Flores, a brave and skilled feline pilot.

Together the group sets out to retrieve the machine, but in their search they unexpectedly uncover an evil plot by a character known as the Blue Rabbit. The Blue Rabbit has been using the Gribbles to kidnap the town’s children so he can steal their laughter and try to make a soul for himself. Timmy and his fellow ninjas will need all of their skills to save the children, defeat the Blue Rabbit, and restore order to the town.

Debut author Henrik Tamm is no stranger to the animal fantasy genre as he’s helped create the worlds of Shrek and the Chronicles of Narnia in his role as a conceptual designer in the film industry. Ninja Timmy was initially published in Tamm’s home country of Sweden and although the prose may be a bit clumsy at times, the abundance of rich, full-color illustrations fill the book with detailed character images, intricate looking machines, and stealthy action sequences.

– Mark
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The Peddler’s Road by Matthew Cody

The Peddlers RoadTaking its inspiration from “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, The Peddler’s Road can be thought of as a modern-day continuation of the original story. Remembering back to the 13th century telling, the Pied Piper made a deal with the townspeople of Hamelin to rid them of their rat infestation. The Piper used his magical flute to lure the rats away from town and into the river where they drowned. The mayor refused to pay as agreed so the Piper left town vowing revenge. He came back months later dressed as a woodsman and, using his magic flute again, lured the town’s children away from their families – never to be heard from again.

So what ever happened to those lost children you ask? Well, wonder no more as this tale may solve the mystery.

Set in current time, we meet a pink-haired girl named Max and her younger brother Carter. They’ve just traveled from New York with their dad who is doing a summer research project in Hamelin, Germany. It’s here that they meet a mysterious man who refers to himself as a ‘pest control professional’. He’s come to their rental home to investigate a rodent problem they’ve been having but Max can’t shake the feeling that the stranger is up to no good.

As it turns out, the peculiar man is the Piper himself, and he’s been subtly playing a tune that’s caused Max and Carter to be cast under his spell. He spirits them away to a place called the Summer Isle where they discover the original children who were lured away from Hamelin hundreds of years ago. The pair sets out on a dangerous quest to discover the secrets of the Piper in hopes of figuring out how to get themselves, and the lost children, back home. This book is the first in a trilogy that will leave you anxiously awaiting the next installment.

– Mark

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These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

The Shallow GravesSet in 1890’s New York, this book revolves around a 17-year-old socialite named Josephine (Jo) Montfort. Being born into a well-to-do family, there are certain expectations for how Jo’s life should unfold.  Her sheltered life should consist of ritzy parties and soirées, graduating from an all-girl finishing school, and marrying a wealthy bachelor from a well-placed family. In fact, a likely suitor has already been picked out. That’s not quite how Jo sees things though as she is feisty and determined with aspirations of following in the footsteps of her idol; the trail-blazing journalist, Nellie Bly.

Early in the story we learn that Jo’s father (Charles Montfort) has died and the authorities are claiming he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his pistol.  Jo isn’t buying this as she knows him to be far too experienced with firearms to make the mistake of cleaning a loaded gun. Charles was one of New York’s wealthiest men as he was owner of the city newspaper and partner in a very large shipping firm. Certainly with his wealth and power, he must have made enemies along the way.

Jo is determined to investigate her father’s death and teams up with an equally inquisitive junior reporter named Eddie Gallagher. Eddie and Jo come from different backgrounds but that doesn’t stop Jo from falling for him as he introduces her to parts of the city that she didn’t even know existed. Together they track down clues from the unlikeliest of places – the wharf, the slums, a brothel, and even from the grave. As she gets closer to discovering the truth, she begins to realize that it may shatter what she thought she knew about her family and father.

– Mark

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Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

IlluminaeSpace and Sci-Fi fans will rejoice after reading this wonderfully unique, action-packed 600-page epic. First of all, the format of the book is quite unusual. Rather than unfolding as a typical narrative, it’s presented as a broad collection of documents such as interviews, emails, reports, transcripts, and chat logs, etc. All of these documents have been assembled by the Illuminae group that is attempting to piece together the events that occurred after the fact.

The setting for the book begins on a planet called Kerenza in the year 2575. We quickly learn that the planet has just been invaded by BeiTech, a mega-corporation that has been illegally exploiting resources from Kerenza. Thousands are dead in the initial attack and those that survive flee from the invaders aboard four spaceships. Two of the main characters in the book are seventeen-year-olds Kady and Ezra, who were romantically involved but had just broken up prior to the attack. Fleeing for their lives, they fight their way on to separate ships to make their escape.

If things weren’t bad enough, the Artificial Intelligence (known as Aidan) on one of the spaceships has detected a new threat. Unbeknownst to the survivors, BeiTech had released a deadly bio-plague as part of their assault and now those trying to escape also have to deal with the effects of a fast-spreading disease that causes insanity. Aidan (who factors heavily in the book) determines this to be a danger to the remaining fleet and launches missiles at the infected ship and destroys it, killing thousands more. Kady and Ezra survive but must find a way to work together if they’re going to save themselves and everyone else they care about.

So as you can tell, there’s a lot going on here. Anyone who enjoys science fiction, space tech or even space operas should like this book and despite the length, it’s a fairly quick read due to the format.

– Mark

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Placebo Junkies by J.C. Carleson

Placebo JunkiesHave you ever wondered how pharmaceutical companies figure out how their medicines might affect the people taking them? After extensive laboratory research and testing, data is sent to the FDA for approval to continue the process and eventually they begin testing on humans. This phase of development is known as the “Clinical Trials” which are used to help determine whether treatments are safe and effective for a particular disorder. The subjects of these trials sometimes go by some interesting monikers such as “test subjects”, “lab rats”, and “guinea pigs”.

Placebo Junkies centers on an eighteen-year-old girl named Audie and she is one of those “guinea pigs”.

Actually, Audie is somewhat of a professional guinea pig as she uses this odd line of work as her sole source of income. We’re not given much information on Audie’s home life or family and sadly, it can be surmised that she has neither. She does have a circle of friends though and they’re all doing the same ‘pills for bills’ routine. Together they make up an eclectic bunch – a bit of a drug-seeking sub-culture buried deep within the medical and pharmaceutical communities.

This book is somewhat dark and at a certain point, the reader may begin to wonder what is real and what is not. Not everyone is who they appear to be and even Audie’s psychological stability may be in question. Is she losing her mind because of all the drug testing or is she involved with the drug testing because she’s losing her mind? You’ll need to pick up this tale and see if you can figure it all out.

– Mark

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The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri Smith

The Toymakers Apprentice by Sherri SmithThis tale begins in early-19th-century Nuremberg, where Stefan Drosselmeyer’s beloved mother has just passed away from scarlet fever. In the midst of his grieving, Stefan is about to run away from home.  He recently completed an apprenticeship with his master-toymaker father but wants to spend his journeymen years with someone who is more forward-thinking. His desire is to learn how to work with the new “automatons” that are becoming popular with clockmakers in Europe.

Before Stefan has a chance to leave, he and his father receive a surprise visit from a mysterious cousin who’s been away for many years. It turns out that the visitor, Christian Drosselmeyer, is the master clockmaker for the island kingdom of Boldavia and he is on a perilous quest. He takes on Stefan as his journeyman and also enlists his aid in the search for a mythical nut called the krakatook. They need this nut to save young Princess Pirlipat of Boldavia who’s been turned into a wooden doll after being bitten by the vengeful Mouse Queen.

As they prepare to embark, Stefan’s father is kidnapped by mice and now the quest becomes even more dire. Stefan must rescue his father, cure the princess and save Boldavia from the Mouse Queen and her seven-headed Mouse Prince, both of whom have sworn to destroy the Drosselmeyer family.  Suspense builds as the chapters alternate between human and rodent perspective in this multilayered, Napoleonic-era retelling of Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”.

– Mark
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