Complex worldbuilding provides a strong backbone for this well-written start to a planned series with a resolute heroine.

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Gambit

From the The Prodigy Chronicles series , Vol. 1

In this YA dystopian adventure, a village girl with special skills learns she’s an heiress—and betrothed.

In the future, wars and climate change have greatly altered Earth’s geography. City centers, known as Cores, hoard technology, trees, wealth, and genetic prodigies for themselves, protected from the Outlying Lands, where poor villagers labor to supply Core industries. Willow Kent, 16, works in her parents’ village tavern and attends school, dreaming of performing well enough to enlarge her opportunities. All that changes when Cmdr. Reece of the Core shows up. Imperious, rude, and genetically enhanced (for example, he’s “impossibly tall” and stunningly handsome), he learns and reveals several secrets about Willow. Still reeling, Willow is compelled to accompany Reece to the Core, where—as the true heiress to a great family—she must marry the son of a rival house to bring peace. Her tempestuous emotions, already aroused by homesickness and anger, are further stoked by Reece’s flirtations; although she hates his cruelty and arrogance and he shows little patience for her rebelliousness (“Ogre.” “Brat.”), he sets off continual sparks in her. Meanwhile, Willow has much to learn about her gifts and about navigating the dangerous Core. In this debut novel, Denault (a contributor to Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After, 2014) carefully constructs a dystopian future world, giving it fullness, complexity, and consistency.  For example, Willow grows up with village modesty and long skirts; her horror at the Core’s revealing swimsuits is believable—and makes an intriguing contrast to the raw power she unleashes when the pool is attacked. At times, Reece and Willow’s love/hate dynamic, with its “volatile mix of violence and tenderness,” gets uncomfortably close to portraying an abusive relationship. But Willow’s unstoppable determination—her inner tiger—keeps her from becoming a victim, and it’s good to see a teenage girl owning her desire as well as her anger. Readers are likely to stick with this long first volume and look forward to sequels.

Complex worldbuilding provides a strong backbone for this well-written start to a planned series with a resolute heroine.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-942111-23-8

Page Count: 556

Publisher: REUTS Publications

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2016

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An action-stuffed chronicle of one boy’s journey to self-enlightenment and martial arts mastery with heavy existential and...

White Tiger Legend

Set presumably in 12th-century China, an action-packed YA read about a young Shaolin monk named Zi who embarks on a harrowing journey of self-discovery after his temple and everything he ever knew are destroyed.

With the Gathering of the Ways quickly approaching, the entire population of the famed Shaolin Temple is frenetically preparing for the annual gathering of elite warriors from distant kingdoms who come together to test their abilities against the temple’s best kung fu practitioners. But when a cunning, morally bankrupt fighter known as the Red Dragon defeats the temple’s champion (who happens to be Zi’s older brother, Hu Yuan) and razes the temple in search of its mystical secrets, young Zi is forced to begin the Great Journey—essentially a treacherous quest of enlightenment that may ultimately reveal the greatest secret of the temple. On the quest, Zi meets and befriends a diversity of characters (like Bok Choi the grasshopper and a mysterious lady of the river named Auntie) who not only help the young Buddhist monk survive, but offer him wise advice as well. While the character of Zi is undeniably endearing, as is his insect sidekick, the story isn’t without minor flaws. The text is littered with grammatical errors (“Well stand down soldier. Watch how a ladies mantis goes about getting the goods son”), some of the fight scenes drag and become monotonous, and at points, the metaphysical nature of kung fu arguably goes too deep for the average reader (the sequence where the author connects chakras with the digestion of various foods, for example).

An action-stuffed chronicle of one boy’s journey to self-enlightenment and martial arts mastery with heavy existential and spiritual philosophical undertones.

Pub Date: July 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9929738-0-3

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Kory Juul Enterprises Corp

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2015

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A fast-paced romantic drama with a touch of Roma magic.

The Lie They Told

A YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

When a teenage girl in 1925 Chicago kills her violent stepfather, her mother takes the blame in this YA novel.

Carola Pawlak, 15, living in Chicago’s Polish Town, is shy, studious, and badly dressed, although other girls sometimes say her looks are “promising.” She dreams of becoming a writer and has few friends other than Stan Carlson, a handsome Roma boy. She and her sweet mother, Maria, walk on eggshells around Carola’s angry, explosive stepfather, Henry Jaworski. That is, until a fight one day in which Carola, trying to protect her mother, strikes back. He attempts to destroy a prized silver amulet that Stan gave her—but it has a hidden knife, and Carola plunges it into Henry’s chest. Maria confesses to the crime, forcing a promise from Carola to go along, and is arrested. Unexpected help then arrives: Louise Lazaar, “the Chicago Tribune’s leading ‘sob sister.’ ” Sensing a story, Lazaar brings Carola to see T.J. O’Malley, Chicago’s best criminal lawyer, who takes her mother’s case. Carola gets a makeover—bobbed hair, cosmetics, new clothes—and Lazaar dubs her and Maria the “Mother-Daughter Angels,” writing stories such as, “‘She Did It for Me,’ Says Angel Daughter.” But Maria’s still in danger from other prisoners, and Carola learns that Stan’s in trouble for giving her the mysterious amulet. Arbeiter (A Mouton Coat: The Hunt for a Mother’s Story, 2013, etc.) offers a sympathetic YA heroine who’s also conventional in that she doesn’t feel beautiful but is, and she wants to be a writer. Her romance with Stan is sweet and provides a little heat, and Carola has a chance to play the rescuer instead of the rescuee, which is unusual in the YA genre. The 1920s setting is also vivid; Arbeiter gives a well-rounded sense of the era’s highlights, such as flappers and actor Rudolph Valentino, and challenges, such as crime and injustice.

A fast-paced romantic drama with a touch of Roma magic.

Pub Date: June 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-938812-59-0

Page Count: 239

Publisher: Full Court Press

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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