An ample supply of scorching plot developments and edginess.


First-time novelist LaPenta’s story of a former Vietnam sniper who, years after a vengeance-fueled killing spree, is enlisted in a secret agency for covert missions.

Life after Vietnam is hard for this nameless Army sniper, who can’t find a job to support his family. But it seems all hope is lost when he returns home to find his wife dead from asthma complications. He blames others for his loss, targets company heads and launches a mass attack at a parade. Decades later, he comes out of hiding and is coaxed into working for Alpha, a clandestine organization that may offer redemption. The author’s novel is best described as two separate stories. The first, set in the ’70s, has nameless characters—he’s merely the sniper, and his wife is only identified by the pet name of Princess. This approach functions well narratively, illustrating the sniper’s complaint that society strips people of their individuality. The book’s second part, in 2011, is much different in style and tone: much more dialogue, shorter chapters and a decidedly lighter feel, mostly from a team that doesn’t shy away from snide remarks regarding mission or training details. It’s difficult accepting that the same man who murdered innocent people at the parade, including children, is now the hero. LaPenta, however, does show that the sniper feels remorse and accepts his role in Alpha as some type of salvation. The sniper and the Shadow Team, armed with “invincibility suits” and implanted chips that allow them to communicate telepathically with one another and an artificial intelligence, endure an adrenaline-charged mission that, while over too quickly, does end on a high note by implying a potential continuation. Some of the novel shifts perspective for the sniper, from third to first person and back. It’s an effective approach, as if the remarried man is trying to pull away from the war veteran. The perception changes stop after his wife’s murder, but altering tenses occur throughout the book, and these are less successful. Past and present tenses rotate in seemingly random moments, which can be disorienting, particularly during scenes that the sniper isn’t witnessing. Additionally, the novel would have benefitted from more cohesion and a tighter structure.

An ample supply of scorching plot developments and edginess.

Pub Date: June 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1469902890

Page Count: 250

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

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A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.



In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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