Monday, March 26, 2012

The Battle for Tomorrow: A Fable

Dr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
Strategic Book Group (2011)
ISBN 9781612042190
Reviewed by Madeleine Sullivan (age 18) for Reader Views Kids


"The Battle for Tomorrow" by Dr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall is narrated by Angela (Ange),  who has had to deal with lots of adult-level responsibilities in her sixteen years. In her thirteenth year, her mom had a stroke on her right side and lost speech and most mobility. Also at thirteen, Ange had her first abortion.  Now, at sixteen, she is getting her second abortion, and while she accepts that her relationship with the 23-year-old political activist is over, Ange is totally convinced of the need for activism.

In fact, Ange is willing to give up her goth-personality for a more responsible looking personality, and move to Washington, D.C. so that she can attend more rallies, particularly a large one later in the fall. Ange, at only sixteen, has some problems on her own, but manages living in a hostel, working at a grocery.

As she attends civil disobedience trainings and starts to lead trainings herself, Ange struggles to lead and interact with adults when they know she's underage. Additionally, the protocol for dealing with a minor in the event of arrest is problematic and bureaucratic for a minor without a guardian to call upon.

Throughout the book, Ange learns to personally handle her own (temporary) "age-deficiency" and learns how to interact with adults in a mature and responsible way. She also challenges societies' methods for handling minors, fighting for her right to live independently, without a legal guardian.

Dr. Bramhall's writing flowed well. Written in first-person narrative, almost stream-of-consciousness style, "The Battle for Tomorrow" used the technique well. Ange's voice was well-defined and clear. Dr. Bramhall captured the voice of a scared teenager who is still figuring herself out very well.

Although I didn't agree with some of Ange's political leanings (e.g., socialism), I admired the passion Ange exhibited, and the resolve she had to act on her beliefs and to see change happen. This inspired me to strive harder to stand up for my beliefs, even in ways that might not be comfortable.

I was also fascinated by the lifestyles I might not normally be exposed to – of living in a hostel, of marching and blockading roads – and I thought the book well-exposed the personal rationales behind any extremist movement.

Although I really enjoyed this book, I would only recommend this book to older readers, as it dealt with mature themes. That said, I would highly recommend "The Battle for Tomorrow" – it was an inspiring and insightful look at political change and the struggle for minors.

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Island Eyes, Island Skies

Reviewed by Ben Weldon (age 14) for Reader Views Kids


"Island Eyes, Island Skies" by Richard Levine is the story of D.C., a tween girl, and Rob, a tween boy, as they share life experiences and learn to overcome tragedy.  After first meeting at her cousin's birthday party, Rob and D.C. were reunited at school when D.C.'s family moved to Old Westwood.  Soon after they got to know each other, Rob's father had a heart attack and D.C.'s mother had a miscarriage.  D.C. and Rob found each other as kindred souls seeking explanations for the random tragedies that had struck their families. Will Rob and D.C. come to accept their disasters or will they continue to be haunted by these tragedies forever?

Just days after starting her new school and meeting Rob again, tragedy struck.  Rob was playing basketball with his father when his father had a heart attack, collapsed and died right in front of him.  That same day, D.C.'s mother had a miscarriage.  After these great tragedies, Rob and D.C. were eventually drawn together because they could understand the magnitude of each other's loss and offer each other sympathy.  But little did they suspect the worse fate that was to befall them.

This was not the most suspenseful book, but had some redeeming features that made me want to keep reading.  It had some humor and a little suspense thrown in for good measure.  The book was not as much for-fun reading as for watching someone else struggle with tragedy and learn how to overcome it. 

I would recommend "Island Eyes, Island Skies" by Richard Levine to people who like books where the main characters must overcome loss.  I would especially recommend this book to people who have just had a tragedy in the family.  The book had quite the surprise ending that will keep you on your toes, and you will have to read the book to find out what happens.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Moonhawker

George A. Fox
iUniverse (2011)
ISBN 9781462046485
Reviewed by Joseph Yurt for Reader Views

A new book by George A. Fox, "The Moonhawker," is definitely a top-of-the-line action mystery that comes fully loaded to provide an edge-of-your-seat reading experience. Fox tells the thrilling tale of complex and unpredictable protagonist Atticus Gunner who is hurled from the pages almost as soon as you open the book. From that point on, the story unfolds at breakneck speed, with the reader hard pressed to keep up. But despite the book's length and pace, most readers will be left wanting more.

"The Moonhawker" is hard to summarize. It's easier to tell someone what it's got, than what it's about. And what the story has is more than meets the eye. Fox understands the thriller genre and all its sub-genres. He has created a classic "every man" protagonist possessed of both good and evil, with the capability to use both to overcome any obstacles which the story's villain-driven plot presents. And Fox has made certain that an abundance of villains populate the pages. Intriguingly, these are not the villains one would expect to find in a small island fishing and summer community off the shores of Lake Michigan. So, in addition to his current island responsibilities as school administrator and part-time cop, (or is he much more than just the local law?), Atticus must also face these unforeseen nemeses.

But Atticus Gunner is up to the challenge. Although Fox skillfully renders him as a real person with genuine flaws and weaknesses, he seems believably larger than life. As daunting and insurmountable as many of the obstacles he faces appear to be, and as unimaginable and suspenseful they might be, we believe Atticus will succeed - because, we want him to.

Fox has concocted his story with traditional thriller-action ingredients, including adventure, heart-stopping action, suspense, stress, exhilaration, mystery, and romance. But the key ingredient is a secret. Indeed, at times the reader might wonder if everyone on the island has at least one secret. The literary device of creating reader engagement through speculation adds yet another enjoyable element to the story.

George A. Fox had a long career in public school teaching and administration. He began the manuscript for what would become the "The Moonhawker" many years ago, during his time in school administration at a small island school community in Northern Lake Michigan. It was fifteen years after his retirement that he dug out the old manuscript, reworked it, and transformed it into this book.  The quintessential thriller-action novel, "The Moonhawker" will be a challenge to top for Fox. But I hope he is up for that challenge. I know Atticus Gunner would be.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Red, White, and Dead Again: The Nuclear Armageddon Conspiracy (Volume 1)

Jeffrey A. Friedberg
CreateSpace (2012)
ISBN 9781470048068
Reviewed by Tyler Tichelaar for Reader Views

Jeffrey Friedberg's novels never disappoint me. While I'm not a big reader of thrillers, now and then I find an author who knows how to entertain me so well I can't put his books down. This third novel by Friedberg, a sequel to "Red, White, and Dead" brings back Detective Jack Vane, my favorite detective since Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot bit the dust. I don't imagine they would have approved of Jack's methods, but Jack lives in the 21st Century, when anything seems possible, and especially in the American Southwest.

This time, Jack is on the trail of discovering the secret plans to a weapon of mass destruction that was developed alongside the atom bomb—a "super bomb" or "hell bomb" that is 1,000 times more powerful than the hydrogen bomb, which is itself 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima A-bomb. In other words, this hell bomb is one million times worse than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Now that's scary! And the plans for this hell bomb have long been lost or hidden, and numerous people want them found, and they think Jack is the man to do it.

I don't know how even to begin to describe all the plot twists and turns in this book, but I love that many of the characters from Friedberg's previous books return, including the Fat Man Yaakov Irgun, Jack's sort of employer—who has secrets from his past that are revealed in this volume. Also returning are Tiffany Chablis, who owns a delivery company and has a crush on Jack, and Little Boy, Jack's Native American friend who learns he has an interesting link in his past that connects him to the mysterious super bomb. Of course, a whole cast of colorful new characters are introduced, beginning with Mafia Baroness Sophia Gambeno-Lanskie and her Amazonian daughters. There's an old Native American woman with a past of her own who is still surprisingly agile when action is called for, and a nerdy park ranger obsessed with the past. How all of these characters are involved in either planning for or stopping a plan for world domination with the super bomb will keep the reader flipping pages and holding his breath.

But Friedberg does more than write thrillers. When I could stop reading, I found myself running to the Internet to look up the atom bomb and other historical details in the novel. Friedberg expertly blends in history with the plot until readers begin wondering, "What is fact and what is fiction?" Despite the somewhat exaggerated "thriller" world that Friedberg creates, he does it so well that suspension of disbelief happens effortlessly for the reader who begins to believe in conspiracies and mystical moments and enjoys it all the way to the last page.

As in his previous novels, Friedberg also sets the story in the American Southwest. This time, he gives his readers an extra treat by including photos of many of the places mentioned in the novels. These photos help add to the overall effect of fiction feeling like history. Friedberg has obviously thoroughly researched Santa Fe's history and specifically the many buildings he mentions and for which he provides photographs. Photos include: The Kill Box at 109 East Palace Road, Santa Fe, which was the 1945 Headquarters of the A-Bomb Project; Atomic Bomb Creator Oppenheimer's Office; several photos of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, as well as the Sandia Casino Hotel, and the Sena Plaza. These photos really made me appreciate and visualize the novel's locations since I have never been to Santa Fe. Most of the photos are in the back of the book, so I encourage readers to look at them as they read without sneaking a peek at how the novel ends.

And the novel is so funny! I laughed more times than I could ever count. Friedberg is a master at creating witty dialogue. Humphrey Bogart would not be able to compete with the witty manner in which Jack Vane and his fellow characters can deliver their lines—in fact, this book would make a great movie, an incredible blockbuster summer movie, and unlike most of those films, it would have some depth to it as well. Here are a few quick examples of the humorous dialogue. The first is Jack's conversation with the Fat Man Yaakov Irgun:

"Let me ask you something, Yaakov. You're, like 180 years old or something, right?"
"I'm a robust seventy-nine.
"At this point in life, why do you still do this…job? What do you want?"
"Power. It's what I live for."
"You have power. What's the point of more power?"
"The point of power is power."
"What about friends?"
"I don't need friends, Jack—what I need is enemies. Get off my back. You don't need to know anything personal about me."

The second occurs at the end of Jack's conversation with the Mafia Baroness Sophia when she tells Jack she wants him to find the plans for the super bomb:

"Oh, he knew that we would want the design for ourselves, of course. But he's gambling on you winning—not us. Funny, right?"
"But what if I do destroy it? Then what?"
"Then, Jack—you don't get paid."
"That's bad."
"And you would be killed all kinds of dead."
"That's badder, Sophia."
She stared at him silently, her eyes too narrow.
She leaned forward, and he prepared for the slap because he'd used her first name.
She said, "Jack, would you like to see all my tattoos privately somewhere?"

I wish I could quote more, including some of the fast-paced action scenes that made this book end all too quickly for me, but readers will just have to enjoy this book for themselves. I don't think anyone who loves a good read and intelligent, witty writing will be disappointed. I can't wait for the next book and the opportunity to return to Friedberg's conspiracy ridden, action-packed Southwest again.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Discipline: A Play

Gerard Bianco
iUniverse (2012)
ISBN 9781462070220
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views

Poor Howard Jenkins lives in state of constant sexual frustration.  Living with beautiful, sexy Lily who frequently spurns his sexual advances adds to his discomfort.  Lily constantly reminds Howard that he needs to keep his urges in check because he has already been in trouble for his outrageous behavior.  But having to see Lily in her sexy lingerie is pure torture for Howard, so he usually has to take matters into his own hands. He rudely lets Lily know that someday he will have a woman who will satisfy his needs and not try to encourage him to discipline himself so that his behavior will remain appropriate.

One night, after once again being spurned by Lily, Howard realizes that there is a stranger in their apartment. Not only is this man just a stranger, but he is a very strange man named Frustrato. Lily doesn't believe this man exists even after Howard calls the police to report his intrusion. When Frustrato reappears, Howard overcomes his fears to find out why he is there.  Threatening Howard with the need to get rid of Lily, Howard has a dilemma. Frustrato promises Howard a friendship that will be full of the two men being able to pursue whatever they desire.  Lily, in spite of her reticence with fulfilling Howard's desires, represents a stable, disciplining force in his life.  Howard truly can't picture his life without her, but it will make his special doctors happier to have her gone. Howard has to decide which direction he wants to go, and he has to make this decision very quickly.

"Discipline," by Gerard Bianco, written in play format, truly made me laugh out loud. The outrageousness of Howard's thoughts and Lily's reactions to those thoughts was hysterical. Frustrato also adds an interesting twist to the story by trying to convince Howard to take the path that he thought he wanted, but when faced with the reality of the situation he realizes that he might not.  This play is quirky and fun and has some twists in the story that make it a very unique book to read.

Listen to interview with Gerard Bianco on Inside Scoop Live