Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals

Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals

Peggy McAloon

Elle (pronounced Ellie) Burton is a middle grade book that weaves self esteem, dealing with grief and bullying and the choice between serving oneself or other people into an engaging and easy read.

Elle’s father is killed in action in Afghanistan leaving her and her mother to find a new way of being family. At that same moment Elle’s younger brother is born and she meets a Fiorin who is tasked with being at her brother’s birth. Elle learns that she is a guide and will be able to help the Fiorins in their work, which is the protection of children. There are challenges in this world and the world on the other side of the Portals.

The characters are well drawn and experience a wide range of emotions. Peggy never talks down to her readers and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to plot. I’m sure that this is the first in a long series of books that will reveal more secrets and lead to ever greater adventures.

There are a few minor technical issues in the book, but they won’t get in the way of enjoying the story and young readers will not notice them. I recommend the book to younger readers who like a mix of real and fantasy in their stories.

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The Thirteenth Tower

cover54142-mediumThe Thirteenth Tower

Sara C. Snider

Double Beast Publishing

This is a fascinating novel with a new kind of magic with words that have physical presence and a competing wild ‘emotional’ magic.  Emelyn is a servant in a manor house outside of town in Fallow. When a fair is invaded by magical creatures, Emelyn is the only one to resist the magic except for a young stranger who insists that he was an apprentice to a man who hasn’t had an apprentice in decades. They fall in with two Magi who have issues and agendas of their own, but state that they know Emelyn’s parents. Emelyn learns that she is part of their plans and news of her parentage may be a mixed blessing.

I enjoyed the portrayal of the characters in the book especially the magical beings who are given shape and form as very different from human and yet still rounded characters. The plot is straightforward but very well crafted with a truly bang up ending to the story.

The Thirteenth Tower is a quality read and I recommend it for people who enjoy fantasy.

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Dukkha Unloaded

Dukkha Unloaded

Loren W. Christensen

YMAA Publication Center, Inc.

Dukkha Unloaded is the third book to feature Detective Sam Reeves. He gets home from harrowing visit to Vietnam to learn that hate crimes have taken over the news in his home city of Portland. He is transferred to the Intelligence branch of the police department and with the help of two homicide detectives and the others in the department, he tries to find who is responsible for a series of murders that show an astonishing degree of hate and ignorance.

cover50927-mediumOnce more he is pulled into violence even as he struggles with whether he should carry his gun at work. At the same time his personal life is in upheaval as he tries to take in what happened in Vietnam and where he and Mei are going with their relationship.

This is a freight train of a book. It starts and doesn’t stop. Christensen captures the ambivalence of Reeves’ feelings about the shootings from the first book and the violence from the second exceptionally well. This is not a hero who doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions. We get to see more of Reeves in action as well as some other fascinating characters.

As a martial arts based book it is great to see the fight scenes written in a way that will please both martial arts geeks and those who are just reading a good book. Every move is clear and written without jargon, yet it is also clear that Christensen’s love of the art shines in the action.  There are no boring or unlikely fights here.

I highly recommend this book for anybody who loves action.

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Gracefully Grayson

cover48943-smallGracefully Grayson

Ami Polonsky


This middle grade novel follows Grayson’s in sixth grade at Porter School. He is a quiet boy who doesn’t fit in and doesn’t do any activity after school. He lives with his aunt and uncle and cousins and barely remembers his parents who died in a car crash years before.

The story opens with Grayson drawing secret princesses in his notebook in Humanities class. The princesses, along with his ability to imagine himself looking different are a secret he guards close to his heart.

Two things happen to upset the quiet, safe existence that Grayson lives at Porter School in Chicago. The first is that he meets Amelia on the bus home. She is the first friend he’s made in years. The second thing is that Mr. Finn announces that they will produce a play called Persephone and tryouts are open to everyone. Grayson decides to try out, though he’s sure that all the parts will go to the older students.

At the try out Grayson decides to try out for the lead role, the part of Persephone herself. When he is given the role it sends ripples out through his world to change him and the people around him.

I asked to read this book because it is about a young transgendered person. With more and more children declaring themselves transgendered at ever younger ages I was very curious as to how Ami was going to tackle the issue. What she does is is come at Grayson’s identity with a subtlety and care that never lets him be anything other than a healthy, well rounded character. This is not a story about a transgendered kid. This is Grayson’s story told with humour and insight.
I recommend this book to people who like a good story. It is middle grade, but I enjoyed it as an adult and I’m sure it has a wide range of interest. This is not a book to be relegated to the “gender sensitivity” book shelf. It should be read and enjoyed by anyone.


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The Northern Star: Civil War

The Northern Star: Civil War

Mike Gullickson

This second book in the Northern Star trilogy picks up about a decade after the closing events of The Beginning. Raimey, who sacrificed his physical humanity in the service of his country, is now just the first among many Tank Majors. He is surrounded by Minors, all of whom have undergone the radical surgery to make them into cybernetic soldiers.

The price of saving his country was losing his daughter. She sees him as a monster who abandoned her and her dying mother when they needed him the most. Raimey still fights for his country, but the ghost of his beloved wife haunts him and his handlers are concerned that he is no longer quite sane.

War in brewing on the internet as Evan tries to build himself into a god. Cynthia is the only one with a chance to stop him, but the cost is horrific.

It is easy to follow this book if you’ve read the first. It is possible to pick up the story quickly if you can’t find it, but The Beginning is well worth reading and the background makes this book more enjoyable. Civil War is one of those books that is just hard to put down. There is so much complexity and breadth of character that I kept reading just one more chapter. If anything it is superior to the first book since it builds on a world that is already established and we don’t need to learn our way around.

I recommend this book to those who like adventure and war stories that are truly futuristic.

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The Chaplain’s War

cover50097-mediumThe Chaplain’s War

Brad R. Torgersen

Baen Books

I am always fascinated by books that tackle the subject of faith in a science fiction setting. The Chaplain’s War is set in a future in which humanity is caught in a losing war with the Mantis cyborgs. These aliens are much more advance in technology than the humans and quickly have them on the run. Chaplain’s Assistant Harrison Barlow is trapped on a planet where the Mantis have enclosed them with a force field and ignored them. That is until a different kind of Mantis shows up and asks Barlow to explain faith to him. Barlow inadvertently brokers a cease fire while they explore the question.

Once he is known to both the Mantis and Human chains of command he is the logical person to move the cease fire to a permanent truce. If only both sides weren’t determined to start the war up again.

I have to admit that I was annoyed at the beginning that in a book that centers around faith, that the main character exhibits so little. Patience is rewarded as we learn why he’s a chaplain’s assistant and why the Mantis civilization needs him as much as the humans.

I recommend the book to sci fi readers of all interests. This is not a book that preaches, but it explores the nature of faith and its place in our universe. The characters are complex and interesting on both sides of the conflict.

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Shadow Swarm

cover49625-mediumShadow Swarm

D. Robert Pease

Evolved Publishing

Aberthol Nauile wakes up in a tomb and doesn’t know who he is. The people around him tell him he is the King, come to save them from the blackest enemy. His triumphant return becomes an ambush and he must flee with the granddaughter of a man he wasn’t able to save. They meet up with her exiled father and learn that the situation is even worse than they thought. The only person who can save them is Aberthol, if he can only remember how.

I enjoyed reading a book that is complete in itself. I enjoy a trilogy when it is well done, but it is nice to have a book that begins and ends satisfactorily in one volume. Shadow Swarm is a great read. The main character is complex and the people of the land who he is to save are unique and varied. One may think that the plot of a chosen person to save a country from a dark overlord is a plot that has seen its day, but the author puts his own spin on the plot and weaves us in and out of time to riveting conclusion.

I recommend the book for people who like fantasy, especially epic fantasy.

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Chuck Wendig

Cael and his friends are trying to find a way to rescue his sister and find his love Gwennie. Cael has enemies on the ground that he knows, but his family history means he has enemies he doesn’t know exist, and they are determined to kill him.

Gwennie has her own problems up in the sky. She wants to find her family, but her life is very curtailed. There are people who are very interested in making sure that she doesn’t succeed. There are politics in the Empyrean, and in the Heartland that result in a heart-stopping conclusion.

Blightborn is the second book in a trilogy. You will know this as soon as you start reading. It picks up the action immediately following the first book and there is no recap or time taken to orient the reader to the characters or the story so far.

I found as I went along that i was able to piece together what was happening, who was who, and why it was important, but I suggest that you read the first book, then read this one. I recommend the book because it is a very different dystopian view of the future. The elite live in flying cities while the workers slave on the dry ground. The only thing that grows is a form of semi-sentient corn.

The characterization is brilliantly done. All the people in the book are different with their own goals and desires. The mix and conflict of those desires makes for a story that keeps us reading and wondering how it can possibly work out.

I recommend the book for any who enjoy complex character driven stories, but I suggest you read Under the Empyrean Sky first.


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Jim Ringel

Wolf is a strange and twisting tale of a failing salesman. Johnny Wolfe carries bits of his dog in a vial in a pocket. Dogs are extinct because his cop ex-wife led the hunt to exterminate them. Thus it is complicated when an associate dies from a dog attack. He steals a sales order from the dead man. It’s a big sale and the commission would set him up for a year and perhaps impress his ex-wife enough to return to him.

The problem Johnny has is that his ex-wife doesn’t believe in dogs, and he becomes a suspect in his colleague’s death. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t know what he is trying to sell or what it does.

Johnny is an anti-hero in the tradition of Willie in Death of a Salesman. He is alternatively devious and incompetent. The reality of the dogs and what he is selling is creepy enough, but it is hard work to get there. The story asks for a lot from the reader as we wade through sales aphorisms and Johnny’s inability to achieve anything.

The concept of the story is interesting, but I had to struggle to get past the slow story and a bevy of characters who are all devious and incompetent in their own ways. I really wanted to like the book for the sake of the concept, but I can’t recommend this book.

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The Emperor’s Edge

The Emperor’s Edge

Lindsay Buroker

The Emperor’s Edge is a book that sneaks up on you. It begins with Amaranthe Lokdon, one of very few female enforcers working for the Emperor. She gets into trouble with her superior covering for her somewhat ne’er do well partner. We are expecting a swords and sorcery police procedural and from first looks a pretty good one. She comes to the notice of the Emperor, and the powers behind the young Emperor decide to set her up by sending her off to kill the most efficient assassin of their day. This is when the book really starts to get interesting and leaves the police procedural behind.

Amaranthe learns that it is no possible to be loyal to her Emperor and remain an enforcer. She puts together a very unlikely ragtag group of people, including the assassin she was sent to kill and set out to stop the people who threaten the Emperor and the country she serves.

The characters are well drawn, and what is more they learn and grow during the course of the book. The plot is suitably twisted and we get to enjoy her antics as she avoids people on all sides trying to kill her. This book looks to be the first of a series and I hope the following books live up to the standard Buroker has set with this first one.


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