A sometimes-predictable fantasy but one that’s vibrant enough to satisfy eager young readers.

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THE ORCHARD OF HOPE

In this sequel, Neftzger (The Orphanage of Miracles, 2013, etc.) delivers a middle-grade fantasy adventure tale full of genre hallmarks but with a few surreal twists of its own.

This fantasy’s young main characters face the daunting task of saving their kingdom, which is under the thrall of an unnamed Sorcerer whose spells blur the line between reality and illusion. Hotheaded Kelsey, fresh from training with the king’s army, reluctantly teams up with Maggie, a sensitive intellectual who aspires to be a diplomat. Along with Roland, a wise spirit whose day job is harvesting souls as a gentle grim reaper, the two girls set out on a quest to protect the nation’s threatened supply of sweetly scented hope trees. Maggie’s friend Nicholas stays behind in the castle with a batty magician and an animated stone gargoyle, who teach him the ways of sorcery. Overall, the story hews closely to the traditional fantasy models of authors such as Lloyd Alexander and Tamora Pierce, and fans of the genre will find that the plot contains few surprises. The characters, too, are somewhat one-dimensional, and they remain largely defined by the roles they play in the story: Kelsey is a fighter, Maggie is a negotiator, and Roland is their steadfast guide. However, Neftzger’s skillful wordplay and imaginative worldbuilding set this book apart. In a style reminiscent of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (1961), it abounds with unexpected relationships between language and reality. For example, a wise woman wears a dress “woven from the fibers of knowledge and sewn together with the threads of learning,” while a shop of memories sells hope-filled dreams. “Emotions and beliefs,” Nicholas’ sorcery instructor tells him, “color much more of the perceived world [than] any one of us can imagine….Things spoken in love always become reality.” Neftzger’s themes of perception and agency are refreshingly sophisticated, and watching them play out within the kingdom’s surreal logic is this book’s greatest joy.

A sometimes-predictable fantasy but one that’s vibrant enough to satisfy eager young readers.

Pub Date: June 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1940894034

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Fog Ink

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2014

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A persuasive, valuable addition to the ongoing immigration reform debate.

SHOW TRIALS

HOW PROPERTY GETS MORE LEGAL PROTECTION THAN PEOPLE IN OUR FAILED IMMIGRATION SYSTEM

A highly organized, informative discussion of the immigration system in the United States.

In this politically charged environment, Afrasiabi manages to broach the volatile issue of immigration in a well-rounded, surprisingly effective framework that combines case studies, historical research, statistical analysis and personal anecdotes to detail the current issues and propose solutions. Invocations of Kafka, “The Twilight Zone” and “Alice in Wonderland” prove warranted as illustrations of the often surreal circumstances that confront immigrants facing deportation. Immigrants usually lack access to quality legal representation, while their situation can be made doubly difficult due to language barriers and significant cultural differences. Afrasiabi incorporates his work with colleagues and students at the Chapman University School of Law to deftly weave together the facts of several compelling cases and their underlying legal issues, with a genuine sense of suspense as readers wonder if justice will be truly be served. Occasionally, though, the narrative becomes overwrought—two federal laws passed in 1996 are “dark storm clouds depositing their sleet”—although, considering the life-changing effects of court decisions, it’s difficult to overstate the ramifications: extralegal rendition of individuals with pending cases and the de facto deportation of native-born children whose parents are deported. Afrasiabi also addresses the legacy of various anti-alien laws in California, as well as marriage equality for same-sex couples when one partner is a noncitizen. As the subtitle asserts, Afrasiabi employs his additional experience in the field of property law to contrast the stark differences between immigration judges and constitutional judges, like their qualifications, vetting processes and even the oaths they take. His arguments culminate in seven concrete reforms proposed in the conclusion. In order to make the immigration system more just and effective, Afrasiabi claims the solutions are closer than we may think; we can implement procedures and safeguards already in place within the constitutional courts.

A persuasive, valuable addition to the ongoing immigration reform debate.

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 249

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.

NO REMORSE

Walkley pits CIA agents against a maniacal Saudi prince intent on starting World War III in this debut thriller.

Delta Force operative Lee McCloud, aka Mac, finds himself in Mexico, trying to rescue two teenage girls kidnapped by a drug cartel. But things go from bad to worse when the villains don’t play by the rules. Framed for two murders he didn’t commit, Mac has two options: go to prison or go to work for a CIA black-op group run by the devious Wisebaum, who hacks into terrorists’ bank accounts and confiscates millions of dollars. However, there’s more going on than meets the eye; Saudi Prince Khalid is in possession of nuclear canisters, with which he hopes to alter world history. Khalid also dabbles in trafficking young women, and harvesting and selling human organs. When Wisebaum’s black-op team targets Khalid’s father, the action becomes even more intense. With so many interweaving subplots—kidnapped girls, Israeli undercover agents, nuclear weapons and a secret underwater hideout—it could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. But the author’s deft handling of the material ensures that doesn’t occur; subplots are introduced at the appropriate junctures and, by story’s end, all are accounted for and neatly concluded. Mac is portrayed as a rough and ready action-hero, yet his vulnerabilities will evoke empathy in readers. He finds a love interest in Tally, a hacker whose personality is just quirky enough to complement his own. All Walkley’s primary characters are fleshed out and realistic, with the exception of Wisebaum—a malicious, double-dealing, back-stabber of the worst ilk; the reader is left wondering about Wisebaum’s motivations behind such blatant treachery.

Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0980806601

Page Count: 412

Publisher: Marq Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2012

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