Delights with characters defined by their actions not their superpowers.


The Urban Boys


From the The Urban Boys series , Vol. 1

Five teens with heightened senses and newly acquired fighting skills battle a formidable villain and his henchmen who have besieged an entire town in Smith’s energetic YA adventure debut.

Kinsu, Chase, Alex, Jordan, and Rhee are the stars of Danville Heights’ high school football team. But this doesn’t prepare them for what they find in the community’s nature preserve, which residents generally regard as off limits. Fresh off a regional championship, the boys trek through the forested area and encounter strange floating balls of light. Next thing they know, they awaken with amplified senses—Kinsu has sharp vision; Jordan, boosted hearing—and an instinctual connection to one another. They also have a newfound martial arts prowess, which they put to use in nearby Sandry Lake. The town has been overtaken by Druth, an evil, enigmatic being whose goons routinely steal from and assault citizens. The boys, however, will need help overthrowing Druth. This superhero story centers more on hero than super. Smith builds a solid foundation for the characters by first introducing the teens individually and highlighting their football game before they procure their powers. The boys don’t develop their martial arts, which is just another gift: “Somehow we’re good at it,” Chase points out to the others. Smith does knock out a few stellar action sequences, but the novel is more about why destiny has apparently tapped the five boys. Mysterious elements, meanwhile, ultimately emerge, including the identities of the Dark Stranger, acting as a guide for the boys’ fight against Druth, and the equally adept (and helpful) “girl”—though she’s in her late 30s. Smith’s approach limits the violence and seems to target a young-adult audience. But her writing is intelligent and often lyrical, like the description of various sounds Jordan hears as colors in motion. And while she tends to recap kicks and punches rather than specify maneuvers, her exuberant prose never fails to dazzle: “They vowed to kick butt without warning,” the narrative declares, “much to the dismay of the dreaded Druth.”

Delights with characters defined by their actions not their superpowers.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9894747-5-7

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Two Petals Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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


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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