A well-constructed but generic foray into the world of high school dating.

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Secret Heart

A high school musician embarks on a rocky relationship in this debut YA romance.

Avery Jennings, an out lesbian, faces big decisions in her senior year of high school, such as whether to participate in the school’s new Gay-Straight Alliance club, whether to go to the prom, and whether to move to Austin after graduation with her punk band, Detonate the Gazelle. But her biggest worry is her growing attraction to Madison, a popular, apparently straight girl who’s dating one of the school’s biggest bullies, and who also acts as a liaison between the student council and the Lion Pride alliance club. Avery isn’t good at hiding her feelings, but after a few embarrassing missteps, she realizes that Madison is also attracted to her; she’s just not ready to let the secret out yet. The two girls’ relationship is further hampered by Avery’s jealousy and uncertainty about the future and Madison’s fear of what others will think, but if they can overcome their concerns about being together, they could end up uniting the school in a brand-new way. They figure out their feelings to a playlist of rock and punk songs, compiled in a list for readers at the end. Most of the characters in this book are well-rounded and believable, and teenage readers who enjoy romances will likely find it entertaining. But no one who’s ever seen a rom-com, like the ones that Avery and her friend Scott like to watch (including the fictional Arbor Day, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper), will be surprised by any plot points or lines of dialogue here. Aside from the fact that the two main players are both women, the story is often formulaic and clichéd. For example, as always in high school dramas, adults play no part in the events, except for a few scenes in which Avery’s mom shows up to say things such as “Good luck at your show.”

A well-constructed but generic foray into the world of high school dating.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9977659-1-5

Page Count: 264

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 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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