A well-built mystery that’s stronger than its flaws.

Dark Side of Sunset Pointe

A LANCE UNDERPHAL MYSTERY

Sex, murder and a runaway case of psychic ability combine to complicate the life of a hapless photographer in Scott’s debut entry of a planned mystery series.

Shifting between multiple viewpoints and timelines, the narrative’s main thrust follows Phoenix photographer Lance Underphal, a 57-year-old man barely eking out a living taking crime scene photos for a local newspaper. A former electrical contractor, Underphal is still reeling from hard times that left him broke, a widower and, worst of all, haunted by his wife’s voice. As he struggles to make sense of the clairvoyant flashes that leave him increasingly haggard and unable to function, his reporter boss, Lacey Friends, is growing close to homicide detective Frank Salmon. Despite poor first impressions, Underphal is soon providing information to Salmon, who uses it to make headway in his investigation of a developer’s violent murder. However, the violence spreads, and not even Underphal’s ability to see the dead can keep up with the spiraling darkness that surrounds the first—but nowhere near the last—killing. As promised in the novel’s disclaimer, there’s copious sex and violence throughout the book, but Scott treats it as part of the story, for the most part avoiding gratuitous mentions to concentrate on advancing the plot. The numerous shifts in time and perspective can be disconcerting at first; however, readers familiar with nonlinear storylines will have no trouble, especially after the first few chapters, when the narrative develops a rhythm that helps anchor the reader. Scott handles the primary character voices with confidence, and he uses the Phoenix geography to good effect in establishing the tone and setting. But not all aspects of the book work as well: The female characters are almost invariably thin in description, virtually all of them described in terms of sexual attractiveness, which doesn’t help develop them as people. Furthermore, much of the dialogue and physical descriptions go on for several beats longer than necessary, seemingly undermining the author’s trust in the readers to understand what he’s saying. Overall, however, Scott crafts an intriguing hook and a sympathetic protagonist in a world that, while seemingly depraved and dark, is clearly recognizable and believable.

A well-built mystery that’s stronger than its flaws.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-1938701955

Page Count: 402

Publisher: Telemachus Press

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

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

BROTHERS IN ARMS

BLUFORD HIGH SERIES #9

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

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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