Category Archives: Four Stars

Nickerbacher: The Funniest Dragon

Nickerbacher by [Barto, Terry John]
4 Stars

The story of Nickerbacher takes you on a journey of mystical beings and starry-eyed dreams. It’s an adventure with a dragon and a prince and princess. Nickerbacher is a dragon destined for a life of working as a protector of princesses- a job that was proudly held by his father and his father before that. However, Nickerbacher dreams of something more and wants to perform on The Late Knight Show where he can show off his comedic value. With the help of a leprechaun, a prince and other magical beings, can Nickerbacher change the hearts and minds of all La La Land?

Nickerbacher, written by Terry John Barto, is a fun-loving children’s novel based on the story of a dragon and his friends. Nickerbacher dreams of being something more than a dragon protector of princesses and sets his sights on becoming a comedian. There is an underlying message that children will love as it promotes following your dreams even if other people may not believe that you can achieve them.

Throughout the story, the fantasy characters participate in modern-day activities, like taking selfies with mystical beings or trying to fit their feet into the prints of famous celebrities. This provides a modern twist to a classically styled fairy tale that combine beautifully in this incredible city. My favorite character is Miss Phoenix, a receptionist who rises from the ashes to greet the unlikely trio. She is dedicated to her work but has a heart of gold which sings true to the end.

Pictures are included throughout the novel which brings to life the extraordinary fun loving characters. My favorite image is one that includes ghosts and goblins at the Fairywood Forever Cemetery, royal chariots at LAX and the Medieval Tar Pits. The images are a mix of castles with high rise style buildings that replicate a similar style of what I would imagine LA would look like if it had been sprinkled with a touch of fairy dust. I love how the imagery complements the text and helps with engaging the reader in expanding their imagination.

This story will help children to learn the importance of friendship and believing in yourself. Nickerbacher also touches on issues such as family, societal expectations and breaking through the barriers of life in a fun and engaging story line. Children will relate to parts of the story and see parts of themselves in each of the magical beings. I love the relationship between Princess Gwendolyn and Nickerbacher and how they break the stereotypes of the typical dragon and Princess friendship.

I would recommend Nickerbacher to any school-aged children who wants to be lost in the magic of La La Land. This book would be perfect as a bedtime story to be read aloud as Terry John’s Barto’s wonderful way with words will delight all children and adults alike.

Pages: 34 | ASIN: B00SKKX2AW

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Paradoxical: What I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married

Paradoxical: What I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married4 Stars

Paradoxical: What I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married, by Richard Homawoo, is a book that is summed up by the title. The author gives the exact tools and techniques that anyone, who is hoping for an honest authentic relationship, can use. Homawoo goes chapter by chapter unpacking his title and gives the readers easy morsels of information to digest, while also sharing his experience and knowledge of marriage and relationships. He covers the whole spectrum from knowing “yourself” to knowing what works within a relationship. He does this while still maintaining a very conversational tone, unpacking any jargon or other complicated terminology as it comes up. Overall, it comes across as an accessible book for anyone with passing interest in love.

What struck me first with this book, is how upfront Homawoo is with himself and why he chose to write on this topic. Love is often a complicated and complex thing to understand, especially in the context of marriage, yet here he has managed to simplify it enough to contain it within 200 pages. His writing is very clear and his roadmap is easy to follow as he goes from topic to topic.

Being recently married, I found some of the subject matter rather self-explanatory, if not obvious, but then Homawoo clearly aims to give this book to those who have yet to fall in love and experience it. His approaches to the various topics of compatibility and working with your partner are practical without any hiding the often “messy” reality. He maintains a very honest tone, especially with describing how love can feel at the outset, but also after the “honeymoon” phase as well. Love is no picnic!

Despite Homawoo’s own admittance that he is a shareologist not a therapist or counselor, I appreciated his incorporation of other writers and thinkers, such as Freud and Socrates. If nothing else these earlier thinkers help engage those readers, who may be seeking supplemental reading and could pursue those writers after reading Homawoo’s. It was one feeling I did receive from reading this book, which is that it felt like an introduction. He does mean this book for young couples and those just beginning to understand the often “paradoxical” nature of love and what that entails.

The best piece of advice, for even a seasoned “lover”, was his tips for managing certain aspects of the relationship. These aspects include stress, decision, and conflict management. I believe I’d heard of such things in the past, but Homawoo is able to explain them in a succinct and linked way that makes it part of a greater whole. I would say that most of this is connected to a greater whole, because it is love after all.

I’d recommend this book for high schoolers and college students, especially those in serious relationships. It would even be a good read for those of us in long term relationships, because it is always nice to have a reminder.

Pages: 226 | ASIN: B01NBJ68R9

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Operation Piňata

Operation Piňata

Revenge on the Mexican Cartels

Book 2 of the OMICRON Series

By

G.J. Rayner & E.M. Rayner

In this thrilling investigative tale, writers G. J. Rayner and E. M. Rayner create a realistic fictional world that revolves around crimes within a Mexican drug cartel. The story revolves around a private security company called OMICRON that works closely with American government, Secret Services specifically. The company gets involved with crime happening in Texas when the CEO Mike Cabott promises to help his old friend from school out by solving his wife’s mysterious murder. Through many twists and sudden developments, undercover agents work the case from many angles to get to the bottom of the drug cartel ring.

Undercover agents Mark Lockabee and Carlos Zepeda look into the suspicious murder of a successful Mexican business women under the order of a private security company. Originally taken on as a favor to a friend, as the depth of the cartels crimes develop, the CEO Mike Cabott realizes they’ve stumbled onto an important project.

Most of the story is comprised of undercover investigation, the operation control at headquarters, and the work that OMICRON conducts to try and sabotage and eliminate the drug cartel lead by El Jefe. The dynamic between the group leader Hans Brock and the other agents is really interesting to watch play out, too. They all do their best to work together as a well-oiled machine, but different issues arise that create problems within the workforce.

As the investigation heightens dangerous situations abound punctuated by explosions, leaving rarely a dull moment. The OMICRON team spies on the drug cartel and works it from different angles which treats readers with a dual view of the story. Intense action and perplexing mysteries keep you turning pages.

When Rita Malone, another special agent for OMICRON comes to replace one of the best on the scene, things really take a turn in the story. Her character provides startling action, and the dynamic between her and Carlos is really fun to read. I was rooting for her the whole time and she gives the story the needed presence of a strong, kick-ass female character to liven it up.

This book was really exciting to read. I loved that they added shock value in the first pages of the book. The writers really allowed the plot to take it’s time unfolding but kept things going in a fast enough pace that I never grew bored with the story. The characters were all unique and humorous, and I loved that the company’s mainframe computer CLEO even had some personality thrown in.

This is another action packed novel from the Rayner writing team that you shouldn’t miss.

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The Sky Throne

The Sky Throne4 Stars

The Sky Throne, by Chris Ledbetter, is a tale set in Ancient Greece. Zeus, a youthful prankster, finds himself entangled in a conflict that reaches the slopes of Mount Olympus itself. Living a life as an unknown, Zeus’s world changes entirely with the violent attack by an Elder deity, Hyperion. Zeus, seeking an answer for this attack, finds himself at Mount Olympus Preparatory Academia. He finds sanctuary and a temporary reprieve from the sorrow that haunts him, but trouble still follows him. Students and faculty begin to vanish from Olympus, which leaves Zeus and his peers to solve the mystery.

Ledbetter takes the best pieces of contemporary YA and gives them their own mythological flare. The academia of Harry Potter becomes the independent schools of the Mediterranean and Aegean. The survival of The Hunger Games is embodied by Zeus’s ingenuity throughout the story. Even tones of Red Rising can be felt in the opening pages of the very humble beginnings of a character we have known about for thousands of years. The breadth of the world is very thorough, and will please any Grecophile. Ledbetter covers everything from Crete to Tartarus, and all that lies in between.

These very familiar characters from mythology are made a new by being “made young” and formed into literal student roles. The twist on these old figures was one of the reasons why I kept turning the page. This, and the mystery of Zeus’s parentage, kept me enthralled with the character; especially since Zeus is a character that not only grows and changes throughout the book, but becomes endeared to the reader. For example, he consistently struggles with how to flirt with girls!

The actual pacing itself is done quite well. Within the first dozen pages, the reader feels the very real consequences of violence and aggression and the plot only gathers speed from there. It especially begins to escalate when the real threat against Olympus Prep arises and Zeus begins to show the true core of his character, to the delight of the reader.

If anything negative can be said against the plot and world building of the book itself, I would say that Ledbetter’s technical skill could use a bit of Olympus grace. While reading, I found some of the sentences awkward, while others were quite unnecessary based on context. This forced me out of the story. Beyond that, I found the dialogue to be inconsistent along the lines of pushing melodrama or self-deprecating humor. This is not to disregard the appreciation I had for his presentation of different cultures that actually did have their own way of speaking.

All of this taken into account, the reader of YA literature will not be disappointed. Following in the footsteps of Rick Riordan, yet also striking out on his own when his path diverges, is not a feat to be taken lightly. Ledbetter achieves this with brilliant originality and a story uniquely his own.

Pages: 324 | ASIN: B06W5LXJFN

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The Hunters Sign

The Taming of Adam: Part 2: The Hunter's Sign4 Stars

Jason Hubbard brings readers back to his world of magic in The Taming of Adam Part 2: The Hunters Sign, the sequel to his first novel in the Taming of Adam series. Adam tries to move on from his past dealings with the monster Ellen from Envale, so he moves to a new college in Almin to continue his studies as a black mage. Here he ends up with several roommates of which Ricky Grater is introduced. Ricky ends up playing a big part in the novel and in Adam’s life. This novel takes the reader through Adam’s experience as he falls in love with Amy Graine, learns about old and darker magic, and becomes involved in Entercor Contracting massive community rebuild project.

Most of the novel takes place in the Union of Altoria, in the city of Almin. It is like any city you would find around the world. This world sounds a lot like earth, but has magic and two moons. Hubbard uses a lot of plays on common names, words, movies and such that the reader can identify with current pop culture to get a feel for what he is saying and trying to convey. A lot of the social topics that are discussed are also relevant to modern times making the book very relatable even though Earth is not overrun with mages taking jobs, there is the constant concern over jobs going away due to technology and the high costs involved with getting services that the novel covers. Hubbard does a good job with explaining the social structures and pushing his view that those with more abilities need to be more compassionate and work for the common good and not focus on personal wealth.

The first half of the book is mostly character development with little action and a lot of psychological musings on the part of Adam and Ricky. Both are black mage’s, though Adam is much stronger and is dedicated to his studies. Ricky however is a womanizer with little care for anything beyond his own desires. Hubbard spends a lot of time on Adam’s relationships with women, namely Delhi and Amy. Both women offer different perspectives on his personality and bring out different things in him. Ricky never stays with a woman longer than it takes to score with her, but he becomes attached to the character Cameron who is the quintessential playboy living in the casino and always having money and women.

The second part of the novel is when the action starts and we learn what the Hunter’s Sign mentioned in the book title is, and what it is for. Entercor is making this happen with the help of a man named Alec that is believed to be a strong mage with the gift of prophecy. Adam is left with determining if the Hunter’s Sign is something to use for the good of the city or not. As Adam learns more about the magic surrounding and his connection with the shadow world he must make hard decisions that will affect not only him but those he loves and the entire city.

Overall The Taming of Adam Part 2: The Hunter’s Sign is an entertaining continuation of Adam’s growth as a black mage, his understanding of the shadow world and his own personal growth as person. The novel ends with a lead into the third book that Jason Hubbard has published.

Pages: 343 | ASIN: B00WRWHPYS

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A Tangled Web

A Tangled Web4 Stars

Set against the backdrop of one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history, A Tangled Web by ML Sparrow tells a tale of teenage angst and romance. A girl abandoned by her parents and twin brothers wrapped up in their emotions weave this tale of romance, betrayal and heartache. Hayashi Taiyo has lived with her grandmother since the death of her mother. She has grown up with twins Kita Ryuu and Kairi in the quiet little town they live in. Things start off soft and slow as we learn about their everyday lives. As with most teenagers, growing emotions and endless confusion seek to disrupt the delicate balance between the three. Two brothers who are as opposite as fire and ice and the girl caught between them. However a tsunami is coming and it will upend their lives in ways they couldn’t imagine.

This novella is just the right length. The relationships between the three who are caught up in the love triangle are delicately portrayed. There is just enough backstory to understand the past of the characters and their mindsets without feeling as though something is missing. The risk a lot of novella’s run is that there is not enough explanation. Sparrow crafts the tale in such a way that the small page count doesn’t detract from the story itself.

By using the romaji forms of several Japanese words in the story the reader can feel much more like they are experiencing every day life in Japan. There is a handy glossary at the back of the book but the sentences they are used in and the way Sparrow writes makes it easy to understand what the words are meant to mean. This saves the reader from having to flip to the end of the novella while reading.

The tsunami in Japan in March of 2011 was devastating. A force of nature that could not be stopped devoured lives and homes without regard. Sparrow indicates at the beginning of the novella which books they read to better understand what happened. By listing them out it allows the reader to continue investigating the event on their own time. This novella is a work of fiction and whether or not Taiyo and her twin friends Ryuu and Kairi actually exist is unknown. What is true is that there are people who lived through the tsunami just like our three protagonists did.

A Tangled Web because is a story about three young people who are trying to navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood. It’s a delicate journey and the severity of the tsunami serves to illuminate the fact that life will go on. The tsunami is like the tumultuous relationship between the three. It attempts to tear them apart, to drown them, and it will change them forever. It’s a lovely read for those who are interested in a coming of age story with a touch of reality.

Pages: 89 | ASIN: B01MRU67AN

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Serial K

SERIAL K by [Gallagher, Brian]4 StarsOne of the most interesting, and potentially terrifying, fantasies is to view the world through a serial killer’s eyes. The thought is frightening in the sense that the process of a murderer goes against the grain of those of us who are morally at odds with the desire to kill others for entertainment. Brian Gallagher explores this idea in his novel Serial K which follows the path of new-born serial killer Craig Breedlove as he embarks on his journey of perfection. A damaged individual from a relatively tame home, Breedlove has long admired the handy work of famous serial killers. He’s admired them for so long, that once he ties up a few loose ends upon his release from juvenile detention, he begins to literally carve himself a path to becoming one. Paying homage to his idols and tossing in bits of his own style he brings his reign of terror on America to the FBI. Notably agent Ryan O’Callahan and his ex-wife/current flame agent Lea Pucci. So begins the chase of cat and mouse.

Gallagher knows how to appeal to readers. The chapters are short and easy to digest while still maintaining substance and purpose. Murder-mystery-esque books can get buried in their own intrigue, but Serial K doesn’t go down that path. Every sentence is deliberate and the fractured story-telling allows readers to get both sides of the story. We see things from the eyes of Breedlove and we see things through the eyes of the agents assigned to catch him. It’s an interesting take on the serial killer idea. There are no attempts to humanize Breedlove or justify what he’s doing. He’s a young, very rich man, with a very odd sense of admiration.

However, there are a few spelling and grammatical issues that can detract from the tale and the use of vulgar language in the narrative that seems out of place. There are times when it is acceptable, expected even, and Gallagher uses it then. However, he uses some of this language in spots where if this tale were told solely from the mind of Breedlove it would make more sense. There are some questionable stylistic choices, but they shouldn’t be considered deal-breakers.

Aside from the rough patches Gallagher takes us on a wild ride with a serial killer and the FBI agents following close behind. There is an instance where Breedlove is within breathing distance from the agents yet he is able to remain undetected. Whether that is due to brilliance or sheer luck, the fact remains that our killer is still able to remain undiscovered. There are some aspects of the story that seem a little unbelievable; like Breedlove being released from juvenile detention with zero follow-up or monitoring, but that may just be a comment on the state of the justice system.

If you’re looking for an interesting take on the cat-and-mouse game you can definitely find entertainment with Serial K by Brian Gallagher. It’s an easy read with an ending that leaves an opening for more. While it may be lacking in some departments, the concept is still interesting and decently executed.

Pages: 295 | ASIN: B01N6P4RCU

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The Status Update

The Status Update4 Stars

Ever wonder what would happen if you made just one different decision?  The Status Update by Sonia Buck examines the power inherent in just one choice. Christine Reed supports herself and her three children. Her twins, Brian and Brenda, are seniors in high school, and Samantha, her surprise child, is eight. Although Christine wants to keep her children safe and close to home, she allows the twins to attend a college party on New Year’s Eve, believing there is little harm because they are good kids. The repercussions of that night haunt Christine and her family until a miracle occurs through an unlikely source: a defunct Facebook account on an outdated computer. Christine gets to experience the ripple effect of that one decision and the gift of changing it.

Buck focuses on themes that resonate with many readers: choice and grief. Everyone wishes for an undo button in life, but only hindsight can reveal the choices that mattered. Christine and Brian Reed spend ten years of their lives wishing they could go back in time and change the one night that ruined everything. Brian’s alcoholism and Christine’s refusal to treat an illness force them to live in a world of pain, punishing themselves. Both Brian and Christine succumb to their own grief in destructive ways. Anyone with loss or regret can relate to these two characters. Then there is a moment of magic that allows Christine to alter her past and future, and who wouldn’t want that?

The Status Update follows a familiar path but with new twists. A magical moment gives Christine a second chance, and social media is the impetus for this change. The new approach piques the interest and pushes the reader to keep going until the end where Buck unpacks some surprises.

While the plot keeps readers engaged, I felt the character descriptions were doled out mechanically through second hand accounts rather than organically. There is a lovely scene in which Brenda is able to help her younger more analytical sister understand the magic of a fairy tale. The interaction between the two characters felt like a genuine moment, but there were too few of these experiences. I felt I was being told who a character is rather than being shown.

Sonia Buck has a way of leaving tantalizing bread crumbs throughout the story that lead to an entertaining ending. I would say the pacing of the novel was spot on except for one spot; the event that allows Christine to alter her choice and her future is told twice: once as it happens and again as part of a journal entry. This time could have been spent with more anecdotal accounts that make readers fall in love with the amazing characters Sonia Buck has created.

Overall, The Status Update by Sonia Buck is a fun read and is an enjoyable way to pass the time.

Pages: 99 | ASIN: B01F2EXTQU

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The Bug Boys

4 StarsWhat kid doesn’t want to be a super hero? Imagine stepping into a world where two boys suddenly have the power to take on the bullies and save the day. In the small coal mining town of Rossolington, Alex and Ian ingest nanobots by accident and suddenly their bodies and lives are transformed by this alien race. While fighting a bully Alex swallows a live bug which turns him into a hybrid human-bug. With their new-found abilities to become part bug, part human Alex and Ian decided to help Alex’s father uncover a conspiracy at the coal mine and take on the town bully.

Stewart Hoffman has written a novel that will appeal to young adult reader as well as adults looking for a fun and quick read. The Bug Boys takes place in the small coal mining town of Rossolington. The mine is owned by the sketchy business man Donald Brock who only cares about profits and considers the safety of the workers to be an annoyance to his schedule. While digging the mine to a record depth the miners unknowingly awake a group of aliens called nanobots.

The concept of an alien robot being able to turn humans into bugs is entertaining on it’s own and is brought to the next level by Stewart Hoffmans writing. The challenges that Alex and Ian face, a bully that tries to steal their lunch money, is a relatable problem that is creatively solved in The Bug Boys. So often in super hero stories does the character go stomping around indiscriminately destroying things. Which is why I was happy to see a different approach taken by the author to throw a twist into the end of the story that will show how, despite having super human powers, the power of compassion and humanity will win. The novel expertly highlights the struggle to do what is right vs getting revenge. Stewart Hoffman has the ability to entertain while also showing that being good isn’t always easy or fun.

Overall The Bug Boys is an entertaining read that will appeal to young readers, especially boys looking for something fun and a bit on the gross side. It is an easy read and not too long so it will hold their interest. I felt that the book left open the possibility of more novels to come, and I look forward to it.

Pages: 199 | ASIN: B01L4JBAO0

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The Wanderer’s Last Journey

The Wanderer's Last Journey (The Orfeo Saga, #4)4 Stars

On a trade visit to Malta, Orfeo – in line to the throne of Pylos – is kidnapped by mysterious strangers. The net is spread far and wide, with heroes from all over the Aegean joining forces in the quest to find the lost prince.

Is Orfeo in danger, though? His captors seem to have strange motives, what exactly do they see him as? A prince, a prophet, a political pawn, or something more? Only one thing is for certain, nothing is as it appears on the surface, and Orfeo must keep his wits about him. This wonderful work of historical fiction will amaze and engage you in equal measures.

With The Wanderer’s Last Journey, Murray Lee Eiland Jr. has woven an astounding and complex tapestry. It has all the makings of a classic fantasy epic, as the rich and evocative world he creates is as intriguing as it is intricate, whilst the narrative constantly keeps us on our toes. Eiland Jr. clearly has an eye for important details, as his simple use of language is restrained and mannered. He writes much like any of the great classical fantasy writers, with simplistic, well-constructed sentences forming the framework for a complex and sprawling narrative. Where he does choose to go into detailed description, he paints for us a clear and colourful picture. The milieu of The Wanderer’s Last Journey, whilst mostly serving as a stage on which to set the players, is perhaps one if the novel’s most astonishing features. This mythical, magical Mediterranean is exotic and enticing, and we are left wanting to learn more about it. As the story expands and speeds towards its thrilling crescendo, its setting is left unexpanded, and one wonder’s whether the novel might have benefited from going into greater detail in this regard. In many ways it is unfamiliar from the Ancient Greece we know and are familiar with, yet it verges upon Virgil and Homer. The Iliad is an obvious reference, and Eiland Jr.’s love of this period is clear on the page.

This novel sets Eiland Jr out as an author of great scope and intention, however one who isn’t afraid to create a world of great depth and complexities. He cleverly weaves multiple storylines and, for the most part, manages to keep on top of this, and keeps all the strands of his stories working together. There are moments, though, where the machinations of the plot seem to get the better of him. The action tends to flit between one character’s perspective and another’s, and whilst this serves to provide us with a huge wealth of storyline, it occasionally distracts from it. It also means, at points, that we aren’t given long enough in each character’s story to form an emotional bond with them, and we are left wondering who exactly our protagonist is. This is perhaps to be expected, though, with a story so vast, and one with so many strands, and for the most part The Wanderer’s Last Journey works well as a rich, entertaining fantasy epic.

Pages: 237 | ASIN: B018RHOIRI

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