Tiefenthaler again proves his ability to craft a humorous, suspenseful story with depth and an authentic voice.

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The Beast of Boykinville Road

In this middle-grade book, a seventh-grader faces his fears in an attempt to prove that he’s actually seen his town’s legendary monster despite widespread skepticism from the townsfolk.

In 2015’s O.K. Is Great, author/illustrator and middle school teacher Tiefenthaler introduced readers to Otis “O.K.” Kalshwonkee, a 12-year-old whose desire to be more than average led to comical, challenging ups and downs in the odd farm town of Boykinville. O.K. makes a welcome return here, again narrating and illustrating his quirky fantasies, hopes, and daily observations of people and events. (Tiefenthaler’s convincingly childlike pencil drawings are a hoot.) O.K., with his best pal, Leo, confronts more middle school tribulations, a different mean-girl nemesis, and spiky family dynamics (including a macho big brother, wunderkind little sister, and seemingly oblivious parents). Meanwhile, they also set out to prove that the Beast of Boykinville Road, a werewolf said to lurk in the nearby woods, is real. The trouble is that O.K. is afraid of seemingly everything, including the dark, heights, spiders, and “my mom when she’s looking at my report card.” His efforts to find courage, which involve a high dive, a tarantula, bear repellent, and a baseball bat, all go awry. How can he face the Beast if he’s frozen with fear? A practical joke occurs in the story’s climactic scene, but Tiefenthaler mitigates its potential cruelty with the hilarity of O.K.’s realization that being afraid doesn’t preclude taking action. The author wears his educator hat throughout this tale—O.K.’s formidable yet kind literature teacher is the book’s primary authority figure, and well-read Leo explains the difference between “famous” and “infamous,” defines such words as “oxymoron” and “plight,” and shares various historic and scientific facts. But Tiefenthaler never sacrifices story and fun for the sake of educational content, just as he knows just how far to go with his portrayals of O.K.’s inner fears and outer torments without copping out. Readers will find the unexpectedly juicy plot turn at the end to be highly satisfying.

Tiefenthaler again proves his ability to craft a humorous, suspenseful story with depth and an authentic voice.

Pub Date: June 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-69681-1

Page Count: 198

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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