Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: Oliver Stanton and the Josephine Key

B.T. Clifford's debut novel, Oliver Stanton and the Josephine Key is a good adventure story. B.T. has hit the right notes for that age group. Oliver has lost his parents and now must grow up with family he never knew he had, and they don't give him any time to adjust to doing so in the fast paced, short novel.

While somewhat light on the emotional recovery of Oliver's life-changing events, the adventure story holds enough thrills and chills (and creepy bugs--I hate scorpions) to keep the younger set engaged with the story and wanting more. The road trip for the Josephine Key provides Oliver with ample opportunities to act or not act on his internalizations with regard to establishing himself with his new family. The adults' actions are at times as reckless as what one would expect of teenagers, but that is the essence of adventure--barreling forward without caution--putting Oliver in good company.

I don't read much YA literature, so some of my expectations probably exceed those of the younger set; however, I hope that the next adventure, and I'm sure there will be one, digs into the overall story aspects a bit deeper than this one to give some subtext that might be appreciated on another level. For me it is a top-notch 3. For the targeted YA audience (boys in particular), expect a solid 4-star read. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Twisted

Out of the thirty-nine books I've read and reviewed this year, I'd only given five 5-star ratings. Twisted by Marjorie Brody makes it six and stands atop of the stack so far in 2013. In fairness to most of the self-published books I normally read, this one did have a bona fide editor and publisher. It shows. Self-pubbers take note. It sometimes does take a team to make it great even if you choose to self-publish.

M. Night Shyamalan needs to read this book to get his mojo back. The secrets, turns, and twists are well-played and the character development is what drives that. The story tension dips slightly after the well-crafted opening. But it is easily ignored as the story takes off in several braided plot lines (not an easy task), converging to a well-played conclusion that left me as satisfied as if the story elements were the basis of a gourmet feast I'd just consumed. Reality smacks us hard sometimes, and the examination of the courage it takes to ultimately face that reality builds until Sarah owns it--wherever it leads her.

Bottom line: it's a 5. Go read it. In a few years, you'll enjoy the movie.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: Zero Balance

Zero Balance -- What a snake pit of bad guys! Why would anyone even want to stay and help save a company of vipers like Audra did? Even with her overly long interior monologue early in the story (which several characters also had), I'm still at a loss why she stayed. (Yeah, I read all the psychobabble why.) Most evil people can't hide their evil that well. And she sure was blind to so many of them. Not new, but a rather unique, the author gets points for doing each chapter with the first person POV of each character. However, it made the read choppy for me, resetting what was going on over and over again instead of freely flowing from one chapter to another following the flow of a rather twisty and complex plot line. The device worked better near the end than the beginning.

Despite a decent top-level plot, I had to overcome the believability associated with many of the detailed aspects of the plot. The bad guys' (and there were some interesting end-of-tale twists) planning was either over-the-top with preparation that was going to be easily unraveled by a competent detective or haphazard impromptu efforts to fix several miscues. If you must have an evil genius, make the plan equivalent. The most silly event was the guy in the bushes near the end, and the stretched-beyond-belief reason why Audra had to go home again. Every rental car in Phoenix was rented? Come on, now.

There was suspense, but in the end, it wasn't a very satisfying read for me. I couldn't even get behind Audra, despite some of her heroics in the end. Nearly everyone was bad, badder, or just evil, with odd vigilante justice metered out near the end using a crude technique that had almost no margin of belief that it would work as designed. The only one I felt for was the detective for being drawn into this mess, and the older woman, whose centric role in all this still mystifies me a bit. This is a fence-straddler for me. Since I'm not enticed to read the first or next book in the series, I'll give it a top-notch "3".