What's New

Book Reviews


Book Review: Infinite Passage

Infinite Passage. U. A. Hall. Amazon Digital Services, November 24, 2013, Kindle Format, 227 pages.

Reviewed by Stephanie Wilson Medlock.

It’s hard to imagine a less likely choice for intergalactic warriors whose mission is to save the world than four high school freshman girls from the Chicago suburbs. But in the tradition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight, awesome powers and equally awesome responsibilities are mysteriously bestowed on the unsuspecting teens.

Already uneasy about their transition to high school, Raya, Kiara, Willow, and Shari are further disconcerted when each of them begins to experience strange distortions in her perceptions and abilities, along with phone calls from unknown sources announcing that “the time has come.”

Soon they learn that the inter-realm council is reacting to a major threat—the evil inhabitants of Namug are escaping their own desiccated planet and passing through unguarded portals that allow them to land on Earth. Once here, the rogue visitors take over the bodies of individual Earthlings and destroy them. A total takeover is their ultimate goal.

Bypassing Earth’s governments, who are apparently too unreliable to be included among the universe’s governing bodies, the inter-realm council selects Raya and her friends to search out these trespassing monsters, extract them from their unwilling human hosts, and send them back to the distant planet from which they came. Each girl is given a special power to enable her in this fight. Shari can see visions of what is happening in other places, Willow can exercise superhuman strength, Raya can fly and freeze time, and Kiara can become invisible and lend that invisibility to her friends.

At first disbelieving and certainly unwilling, the four girls are drawn into their roles as the “chosen ones” and fearfully begin their mission to dispatch Namugians from the Earth.

The charm of this book, and it is very charming, is that the girls are always trying to balance the fantastical demands placed on them with their daily lives and responsibilities. Their parents constantly want to know where they are. They have to babysit and figure out their algebra homework. The have crushes on boys in class or need to attend athletic tryouts. They get into petty fights with each other and with their siblings. The relationship among the four is so well drawn that the fantasy element in this young adult novel is almost unnecessary. Each of the four girls has enough conflict in her own life to make each of their stories compelling.

But saving the world is the point of this book, so the next important question is how well the author sets up the magical and extraterrestrial world in which she places her characters. Every author who infuses a story with magic has conventions that must be followed consistently for the reader to suspend disbelief and enter into that world. U. A. Hall does a good job of making the impossible believable. She is particularly skillful when whisking her heroines around the globe. The snippets of different countries and the people they encounter are lively and often humorous. Her magical creations are not as inventive as are J. K. Rowling’s in her Harry Potter novels, and Hall’s inter-terrestrial threat does not have the sly power to reveal underlying teenage problems as does Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. But the threats to the girls feel real, and not everything works out in the end. U. A. Hall serves up loss and sorrow as well as the trippy happiness of four girls coming to grips with their burgeoning powers.

The writing in this novel is uneven. The author’s ability to get inside the mind of a teenage girl is excellent, and the dialogue between friends is faultless. But there are many times when the author stumbles over sentences that resolve themselves awkwardly. This may not be an issue for the intended audience but creates occasional cringing in the adult reader. A final edit from a seasoned manuscript editor could easily resolve these problems.

Overall, Infinite Passage offers an engrossing story about the power of friendship, as well as an entertaining fantasy of four teens ridding the world of monsters, one Namugian at a time.



Book Review: Asher's Fault

Asher’s Fault. Elizabeth Wheeler. Bold Strokes Books, Valley Falls, NY, September 17, 2013, Paperback and E-book, 264 pages. 

Reviewed by Marie Becker.

Fourteen-year-old Asher’s family and friends don’t understand why he not only likes his vintage Minolta camera, with black and white film, better than digital photography, but refuses to photograph people. Instead, he zeroes in on a twisted pine tree or the church steeple against a backdrop of clouds. These motifs--the distance provided by a camera lens, the sharp contrast of black and white, and whether we can trust what we see--are threaded throughout the novel.

The book opens on the day Asher’s aunt gives him the camera, the same day his father moves out of the family home. Not long after, Asher finds himself at the community pool, kissing the new boy in town in the locker room at the very moment his younger brother Travis is drowning outside. The author reveals all of this in the book’s opening pages. This novel’s heart lies in seeking to portray honest and devastating emotional authenticity.

Wheeler is a strong, evocative writer, and the book offers some lovely turns of phrase, shifting easily from lyrical description to prickly adolescent sarcasm. Punctuating the chapter openings with descriptions of Asher’s photographs works beautifully to set the mood (some of the photographs can be seen on Wheeler’s website, a nice touch). In some ways, the tone wonderfully captures the atmosphere of early adolescence: the uncertainty, the powerlessness, and the uneasy navigation of a world where the rules are suddenly changing. In particular, I was struck by the way Wheeler handles grief; it is neither linear nor melodramatic, but quietly permeates the last two-thirds of the book without any false promises of an easy resolution.

Elizabeth Wheeler is a high school English teacher, and one way this book impressed me was in its obvious respect for the full emotional lives of the teenage characters. Although I certainly wish to have seen several of them more developed, there are no cheap shots, easy targets, or manipulative clichés. Garrett, the boy Asher kisses, refuses to be pigeonholed as a target of homophobia. Kayla, the prickly Goth offers a lovely moment of compassion just when it’s needed. In order to tell a story this centered on complex and conflicting emotions, it’s absolutely essential for the author to fully engage in, and respect, the importance of moments that could come off as melodramatic in less sensitive hands, and Wheeler succeeds.

The quiet, meditative tone also produces one of the book’s main weaknesses. Major revelations occur in the last fifteen or twenty pages, leaving little time for neither the character nor the reader to appreciate their impact. The lack of closure on many, if not most of the book’s issues may be a realistic snapshot of adolescent angst, but it’s not completely satisfying as a narrative. It feels a bit jarring in contrast with the pacing in the first third of the book; if the opening arguably lays out the plot too soon, the conclusion relies a bit too heavily on a short, sharp shock. Also, Asher’s encounters with Garrett remain unresolved, in a way many which readers looking for a more prominent coming-out story or a romantic arc may find disappointing.

However, despite the uneven pacing of the reveal-heavy end, Wheeler has undoubtedly drawn a portrait of a sympathetic and thoughtful teenager grappling honestly with real issues. Tighter plotting in future books (a sequel may be in the works) will only enhance her already sensitive characterization and insight. 



Book Review: Torn in Two

Torn in Two: The Files of Tatum Soaren. Brit Sigh. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, May 7, 2012, Trade Paperback, 294 pages.

Reviewed by Deanna Frances.

Torn in Two by Brit Sigh is a fictional psychological suspense novel about the troubled life of young college student, Tatum Soaren. The novel begins as a flashback to the young man’s childhood, which reveals that from a young age, Tatum has been different from normal people.

After witnessing the horrific death of both of his parents at a young age, Tatum is thrown into a difficult life. A little under a year after the accident, Tatum’s uncle, and primary caregiver, brings him to a psychologist named Dr. Tristyn Holmes. When Dr. Holmes diagnoses Tatum with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, she becomes fascinated with the young man and believes that his troubles expand beyond post-traumatic stress.

Dr. Holmes realizes after some time that Tatum also deals with severe multi-personality disorder, and that his alter ego, known as Landon, is more deadly and dangerous than she could have ever expected. After many successful treatments, Dr. Holmes is able to cure Tatum of his dangerous alter ego.

Unfortunately, after Tatum is enrolled in Dr. Holmes psychology class at the University of Minnesota, Landon is able to return to Tatum’s mind and becomes more powerful than ever, leaving Tatum unable to control his own self.

This novel is captivating to readers in multiple ways. Author Brit Sigh uses a third-person point of view to be able to cover every aspect of each character’s relationship to not only Tatum, but to his alter-ego Landon as well.

Torn in Two features a small cast of characters, but each character has a specific role to play in the story, and the narrating voice is able to convey every thought track of each character.

Sigh is able to perfectly portray Tatum’s psychological distress through his writing. A graduate of psychology from Union College in Nebraska, Sigh uses his knowledge to be as accurate as possible.

The novel not only features sci-fi, but also a little romance between Tatum and his college classmate, Robin Chase. The romance adds a lighter side to the intense novel, which is a nice touch.

This novel is perfect for anyone that enjoys sci-fi thrillers or intense fiction. Brit Sigh has written a captivating novel. 


Book Review: Too Dark to Sleep

Too Dark to Sleep. Dianne Gallagher. Brayer Publishing, LLC, Frankfort, IL, 2012. Paperback and e-book, 381 pages.

Reviewed by Starza Thompson.

Maggie Quinn was the best detective Chicago's Area One had to offer, until the tragic death of her daughter gave her deep physical and psychological scars. A crippling fear of the dark emerged after this trauma, keeping her from sleeping at night and leaving the house. Now, she merely goes through the motions of life to appeal to her dad and to stay out of the psychiatric ward. 

Through some favors pulled by her father, Maggie gets out of the hospital and back to Area One as a consultant. Her fear of the dark, while still an issue, is kept at bay with the knowledge that she is close to catching the man responsible for her last two unsolved cases. However, when new murders hit close to home, the reader begins to question whether or not Maggie is going after a killer or succumbing to an obsession with her daughter's death. Diane Gallagher's Too Dark to Sleep keeps the reader engaged and hungry for more throughout the entire novel. The tension builds on every page, with the reader constantly asking, “Is Maggie right or is she completely insane?”

This is a debut novel not to be missed! It is very clear that Gallagher did her research—the police interactions and the medical examination scenes all seem very real. They are visual without being grotesque and descriptive without burying the novel in descriptive text. While the book takes place in Chicago, the author's current home, the story could have been set anywhere. In fact, it is easy to forget it’s a Chicago novel until the story mentions that Maggie's apartment is in Old Town. Because the story is so tense and rich with plot twists and character flaws, the setting is of little matter. It wouldn’t hurt to add more Windy City landmarks to the narrative, but it isn’t necessary to the overall plot.

Too Dark to Sleep is a pretty stereotypical crime thriller. The story stars a detective with a dark past that resurfaces as she gets closer to solving the crime. I usually groan when I read these types of clichés, but Maggie's past manifesting through her fear of the dark gives a refreshing spin to an overused plot line. There is enough character-driven narrative to keep the story fresh, which makes the crime thriller stereotype not only bearable, but practically unnoticeable by the end of the book. 

My only issue with this novel is the multiple points of view and how often they switch. Gallagher adopts an omniscient voice entwined in a close third-person narrative. At times, the narrator jumps from point of view to point of view within the same page. Because there are so many characters being introduced, and the point of view is switching so much, I often had to reread portions of the text to figure out which character's lens I am viewing the world through. As Maggie gets closer to solving the crimes, the point of view consistently stays as Maggie's, with only blips of the other characters coming into focus. This emphasis on one character makes the novel more manageable and more exciting as I am able to ignore the writing mechanics and just immerse myself in reading the novel. 

Too Dark to Sleep brings a wonderful twist to an often clichéd genre, enabling the reader to dive heart and mind into Maggie Quinn's life. The book is chock-full of tension, with a lot of questions that are satisfyingly answered at the end. However, there is enough left to the imagination to leave the readers begging for more. Too Dark to Sleep is a must-read for anyone looking for an exciting story that keeps the reader guessing and hungry for answers.



Book Review: Who You’ve Got To Kill

Who You’ve Got To Kill. Russell O’ Fiaich. Published October 8, 2012, E-book, 305 pages.

Reviewed by Ed Marohn.

During an ambush by Iraqi insurgents, a squad of U.S. Marines fighting for their lives kill innocent civilians held hostage by the enemy. This incident sets the stage for political intrigue as the current Iraqi Prime Minister uses the event to unite the various tribal factions and avoid a civil war. The problem for the United States government officials involved is that the surviving Marines must be prosecuted for killing innocents in order to help the Prime Minister maintain his fragile coalition; they become the cost of doing business with the Iraqi government, to maintain its loyalty to the United States.

This is a fast moving book with the story alternating between the Marine base in California and Washington D.C., as Defense Counsel Marine Captain Charles Slidell tries to defend one of the surviving three Marines assigned to him.

The ethos and pathos in the novel are spread throughout. The good guy, Slidell, is a flawed hero, battling a drinking problem as he carries the burden for justice and honesty. While fighting his own demons he defends one Marine, discovering the conspiracy by the few government officials and Congressman involved in sacrificing the three Marines for the “good of the nation.”

The author writes with expertise about the courtroom, as he is a trial lawyer. His service in the U.S. Army as a Military Intelligence Officer gives validity to the plot and the characters. Bringing these experiences into his political thriller gives the reader an authentic read about the Marine Corp and also an education about the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It is a very different world from civilian life.

However, this novel is more than a military and political thriller. It is about the frailty of people and how some are corrupted by power. Anything goes, it seems, for the sake of appeasing the powerful in high places of government. Ethics, morality, and law can all be forsaken for a cause—no matter how ludicrous. This is the essence of the book, which makes it a worthwhile story.

If you love military history and political intrigue, or simply enjoy a good thriller you will enjoy this book. It flows, it describes, and it makes one ponder the direction that wars or conflicts lead us as human beings.

As Winston Churchill said, “ War is mainly a catalogue of blunders.” This novel hits home how the wrong decisions are made for the wrong reasons. We live life that way and one can only hope that some good decisions are made along the way.

I recommend Who You’ve Got to Kill.