Book Review: “Geek Fantasy Novel” by E. Archer
Book Reviews / June 13, 2014

Ralph is a geek, but not the type who would ordinarily dream of becoming the hero in a fantasy novel. In fact, Ralph’s boring parents have done their best to instill in him a flat, unheroic, unimaginative character. Their reason is that it is dangerous for members of their family to make wishes. The closest thing to a wish that has ever crossed Ralph’s mind is his dream of being a computer game designer. I know, right? What a geek! But then the fantasy novel happens to him.

Book Review: “Hot Lead, Cold Iron” by Ari Marmell
Book Reviews / May 23, 2014

Give a Chicago private eye a magic wand, and what do you get? Well, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, mostly. But Harry Dresden is a wizard of our time—a little rusty with high-tech gadgetry, to be sure, but also a VW Beetle-driving, pop-culture-riffing, very human wizard. One reviewer frequently quoted in jacket blurbs of the Dresden novels likens him to a mash-up of Philip Marlowe and Merlin. But actually, he’s a lot more like Richard Castle combined with Harry Potter. If you really want your wand-wielding detective hard boiled, you should try Mick Oberon. He has the period for it: the 1930s, the age of bootleggers and Chicago gangsters like Bugs Moran and Al Capone. He also has a shoulder holster in which he packs a high-caliber wand, best used for giving and taking luck and maybe spinning the occasional glamour. He talks in a clipped voice loaded with period slang, like “flivver” for “automobile” and “gink” for “man.” He could almost have stepped out of a pulp novel by James M. Cain or Raymond Chandler. Only, he isn’t human.

Book Review: The Genius Wars by Catherine Jinks
Book Reviews / May 12, 2014

After being groomed from childhood to become a supervillain bent on world domination, Cadel Greeniaus, formerly Cadel Piggott, is just trying to blend in and live a normal life. He goes to computer programming classes at the University of New South Wales, as if he hasn’t already achieved fiendish levels of hacking skills. He lives in a little weatherboard house with the foster parents who are trying to adopt him. And he refuses even to think about having anything to do with the global manhunt for Prosper English, the criminal mastermind who raised him. He figures that if he keeps his nose clean, Prosper won’t have any reason to try to kill him. Again.

Book Review: “The Mystery” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Book Reviews / May 6, 2014

The third book of the “Troubletwisters” series pits young Wardens-in-waiting Jaide Shield and her twin brother Jack against yet another threat to the wards that protect the town of Portland from the Evil. You know, that force of emptiness that comes from another dimension and wants to take over everything. They have thwarted the Evil twice before. But if there’s one lesson the Evil seems to learn faster than Grandma X and the other good guys, it’s that keeping secrets from the twins makes them vulnerable. And if they’re vulnerable, so is Portland… and the world.

Book Review: “The Monster” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Book Reviews / April 28, 2014

The second book in the “Troubletwisters” series finds the small seaside town of Portland threatened by a fragment of the Evil that menaced it in Book 1. At least, so the Shield twins suspect. Jack and Jaide are still a bit jumpy after their narrow victory in their first adventure. The wards are all intact, protecting Portland, and the world, from the all-consuming hunger that lurks outside our universe. But Jack can never forget how it felt to have the Evil invading his mind, tempting him to join it. And neither Jack nor Jaide finds it easy to take Grandma X at her word since she hardly ever gives their questions a straight answer. “Mind your own business” simply doesn’t cut it with these curious kids, even though they know they have a lot to learn about controlling their gifts as future Wardens—and that it is these still unruly gifts that give them the name “troubletwisters.”

Book Review: “Troubletwisters” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Book Reviews / April 26, 2014

The cover art of this book gives a misleading impression of what kind of trouble the “troubletwisters” specialize in. The fact that the book actually does feature several tornadoes and a hurricane may add to that impression. So you may be surprised to learn that the term “troubletwisters” in this book does not have anything to do with cyclones, as such. Troubletwisters are kids who have started to manifest powers—powers that, if brought under control and properly harnessed, will enable them to serve as Wardens – specially gifted people who dedicate their lives to keeping the Evil (with a capital “E”) out of this world. More on that later. While they are still coming into their powers, troubletwisters have a tendency to cause unintended chaos and twist a little trouble into a big problem. Hence the name.

Book Review: “Alien on a Rampage” by Clete Barrett Smith
Book Reviews / April 23, 2014

In his second summer at the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, David (formerly “Scrub”) Elliott expects to enjoy his time with Grandma, his sweetheart Amy, and a houseful of extraterrestrial tourists. But things get off to a disappointing start and get worse from there. First, he suspects that the new alien handyman is up to no good. But far from being able to convince anyone to listen to his concerns, David soon learns that Grandma, Amy, and her security chief Dad trust skull-faced Scratchull more than they trust him. The more he tries to prove his suspicions, the more Scratchull makes him look like a fool—or worse.

Book Review: “Untold” by Sarah Rees Brennan
Book Reviews / April 19, 2014

In Book 2 of “The Lynburn Legacy”, a dark ultimatum looms over the outwardly charming town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. The evil sorcerer Rob Lynburn means to return the town to its old ways, in which the sorcerous few held power over the non-magical many—an arrangement whereby good weather and prosperous fortunes were given in exchange for blood sacrifice. Rob and his sorcerers demand a victim—a human victim, mind you—on the winter solstice, not only to show that the town submits to them but also to ramp up their magical mojo. Standing in the way are Rob’s estranged wife Lillian, the lady of Aurimere manor; his half-sibling sons Jared and Ash, who epitomize every teen girl’s dilemma between the sexy bad boy and the really nice guy; and epitomizing every teen girl, high school newspaper editor Kami Glass and her brave but very mortal friends.

Book Review: “The Throne of Fire” by Rick Riordan
Book Reviews / March 15, 2014

In Book 2 of the “Kane Chronicles”, the Texas-based author of the “Tres Navarre” mysteries cleverly uses hilarious, romantic, magical, and thrill-packed entertainment to educate young adults about ancient Egyptian mythology. He’s very sneaky that way. But we’re not surprised since he did the same thing with Greek mythology in the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. Ditto with Roman mythology in the “Heroes of Olympus” series. Face it, you’re going to need a roadmap to keep track of all the different ways Rick Riordan has brought the legends of ancient gods and heroes into the present day. But in spite of the globe-trotting complexity of the action in this book, and the relative unfamiliarity of the gods, monsters, and mythological concepts it introduces, this is a deceptively easy book to enjoy.

Book Review: “The Emerald Atlas” by John Stephens
Book Reviews / March 8, 2014

Kate P. barely remembers her parents. Heck, she doesn’t even remember her last name – only the letter P. Mostly she remembers the night her parents disappeared, when her mother gave her a cherished locket, told her to take care of her younger brother and sister, and promised to return someday. Since then, Kate, Michael, and Emma have spent ten years moving from one orphanage to another, never getting adopted, and never settling down for long. After the head of the Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans reaches the end of her patience with them, the P. children are sent to a remote orphanage in far upstate New York., so remote and far upstate that even at the end of the dock where a boat is supposed to pick them up, nobody seems to know where it is. The orphanage turns out to be a seedy mansion overlooking a miserable village where everything seems blighted and where there have been no children for the past 15 years. This is due to a certain tragedy that no one wants to discuss. There almost seems to be a curse about the place. Naturally, Kate and her siblings are the only orphans. Could it get any worse than this?