An expertly crafted thriller that depicts personal drama amid an international scope, with intense action and relentless...

THE UMBER CUBE

Frank O’Brien seems to have it all—a beautiful wife, a new baby and a rewarding job doing counter-terrorism work for the U.S. government—but when a plane carrying his wife crashes in South America, he’s forced into a dark underworld where the drug trade lords over all.

A follow-up to Wulff’s debut novel, Tropic of Darkness (2012), which also follows the exploits of Frank O’Brien, this sequel peppers in synopsis where needed and lures in new readers with immediate action. The opening chapter reveals a devastating plane crash and the supposed death of Esmeralda O’Brien. However, the plot shifts to the perspective of a survivor whom readers will be able to guess is Esmeralda, even if memory loss has made her unable to recognize herself. Beyond this narrative maneuver, the book is filled with massive plot twists; even the cleverest readers won’t be able to keep up with the ceaseless action. The rapid pacing helps intensify the sense of urgency the characters feel as they’re plunged into a world where the drug trade is more important than family, love or even life itself. Explosions, double-crosses and lethal alliances burst off the page with relentless intensity. But the narrative sometimes falters when it filters information through multiple perspectives, resulting in unnecessary repetition. Instead of allowing readers to process the information, or relating it through action, too much time is spent with characters merely talking about the titular Umber Cube, what it does and how bad it is. Events in the story already show the horrific consequences of the drug trade and how the Umber Cube substance has the potential to destroy thousands of lives, so when characters take significant amounts of time to reiterate what we already know, it seems superfluous. Still, it’s a relatively minor issue, and the rest of the story relates an intriguing depiction of a vast, multinational drug conspiracy with deeply personal fallout.

An expertly crafted thriller that depicts personal drama amid an international scope, with intense action and relentless pacing.

Pub Date: March 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475104028

Page Count: 382

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

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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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