Interview with Jessica Spotswood, author of ‘Born Wicked’

‘Talker 25’ by Joshua McCune: Dragons vs. Military in this YA novel


Rating: 5 stars

“Talker 25” by Joshua McCune takes the reader to a world where dragons live. They arrived on Earth fifteen years ago and no one, even the dragons, know why or from where they came.

There were some “misunderstandings” when they first arrived, and many humans were killed. Now the dragons are all considered dangerous and are hunted and studied by the government — which is determined to eradicate them from the face of the earth.

Melissa lives with her father and brother in a town with a dragon “reservation,” where they are kept. While sneaking in with some friends one night, she mysteriously hears a voice talking to her. It turns out that Melissa is a “dragon talker,” or someone with whom dragons can communicate.

The government wants to arrest her as a dragon sympathizer — there are groups of humans who help dragons fight the government. They are called sympathizers. Melissa ends up in their camp and meets a special dragon, a silver dragon. The dragon is a baby and befriends Melissa.

Other dragons in the camp are blue and red. It turns out that the green dragons are the unpredictable ones who love the taste of human flesh.

There are many, many plot twists and characters but the book is well-written and compelling. At times, it’s very difficult to read as McCune creates scenes where the government forces Melissa and other captives to torture and kill the dragons they capture. Much of the book is spent with Melissa in government custody, and those scenes are horrible and graphic. Are they needed? Their purpose, one might surmise, is to get the reader’s emotions roused against the government and the horrors the men who work for it are perpetrating.

Toward the end of the book, it becomes apparent that this is just the first book in a series. The ending is satisfying — a bit — but leaves the reader wanting to know what comes next.

Criticism of the book includes the fact that character development is sacrificed for plot advancement and action. That may be the case, but the only real suffering I felt was that of the dragons in government custody. I felt the important characters were developed enough to make the plot exciting and fascinating.

I didn’t want to put this down. I want to read the next book — now.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Harper Collins, for review purposes.

‘A Dark Inheritance: Book One in Unicorne Files’ by Chris D’Lacey


Rating: 4 stars

Chris D’Lacey, author of the popular “Last Dragon Chronicles,” continues writing about supernatural beasts with “Unicorne Files: A Dark Inheritance.” The unicorn is the supernatural creature in this book, but there are many more supernatural elements, including ghosts, time shifting, and universe shifting.

Michael Malone seems to be a normal kid living with his mother and sister. His father disappeared three years ago, and the family has still not recovered from that loss. When Michael sees a dog near a cliff, he somehow just knows that the dog is going to jump, and he rushes from their car to save the dog. What he ends up doing is supernatural in nature. Those watching see him almost disappear from one place to appear next to the dog and rescue it.

He is quickly recruited by a mysterious man with a German accent to join an even more mysterious organization called UNICORNE, a group investigating strange and paranormal phenomena. After hearing that his father worked for them, he agrees to join only if he can investigate his father’s disappearance.

There is a lot of action, and the plot is well-conceived if a little confusing. A new girl at school, Freya, who looks a bit strange, becomes part of Michael’s investigation. Why is the dog that Michael rescued so attracted to her? What is her connection to the young owner of the dog who was killed three years ago?

The first person narrative rings true, and the story flows quickly. It’s a book that’s easy to finish in a short time, and that’s good because readers quickly get involved with the characters and want to know the outcome.

Of course, it’s only the first of a series about Michael and this supernatural investigation agency, UNICORNE. What did happen to Michael’s father? What will Michael’s next mission be? And what (no spoiler here) about that last page reveal?

Find out in the next installment.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Scholastic Press, for review purposes.

‘Sanctus’ by Simon Toyne is an amazing debut thriller


Rating: 5 stars

“Sanctus” by Simon Toyne is a cleverly constructed and extremely suspenseful novel. It’s filled with plenty of very sinister and scary villains — particularly one monstrous monk — and admirable heroes — particularly one fetching and formidable female journalist.

Artfully included is some Dan Brown-ish archaic legendary trivia plus enough twists, turns, half-truths, and tortuous (and torture-filled) roads to traumatic revelations to keep even veteran mystery readers transfixed.

The story begins with the incarceration of a monk. He escapes from his prison inside a mountain, climbs to the mountaintop, forms his own body into the shape of a Tau, the Greek cross-shaped letter “T,” and, once he is sure he has the attention of all the tourists below, throws himself, in fact propels himself, from the mountaintop to his grisly but perfectly and carefully executed suicide on the unforgiving concrete-like surface at the mountain’s base.

The mountain, as it turns out, is the home of the Citadel, an abbey inhabited by a group of very committed monks, a group whose ancestors had founded the institution thousands of years before the advent of the Abrahamic religions. Their religion, however, forms the true basis of many of the elements of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and, in fact, bears the secrets which reveal the actual history of the events, unknown to the world, surrounding the dawn of humankind.

The most important secret is called the Sacrament, and only the highest ranking monks within the Citadel know what the secret is. And it is ugly and horrible and eerie and downright disgusting. But the monks have sworn on their lives to protect it, even if that protection necessitates the destruction (along with the requisite torture) of any and all who try to expose it. These are bad guys.

Into this not very pretty picture walks the heroine of the piece, Liv Adamsen, sister (it seems) of the monk who had purposely and purposefully dived to his death. She will ultimately come to represent the greatest single threat to the Citadel and the Sacrament.

And that is all it is fair to reveal. But hold on tight to your seat. This is one heck of a roller-coaster ride up, down, and around that mountain.

Visit Simon Toyne’s website to learn about the sequel, “The Key.” (JK)

Please note: This book is based on the paperback book provided by the publisher, William Morrow, for review purposes.

‘The Sweet Spot’ by Stephanie Evanovich: Steamy story with plenty of sass

sweet spot

Rating: 4 stars

Stephanie Evanovich brings back two characters from her first book, “Big Girl Panties,” in her second story “The Sweet Spot.” It’s the story of famous, flirty and fabulously wealthy baseball player Chase Walker and Amanda Cole, a restaurateur and voluptuous beauty.

Big Girl Panties” readers have wondered about Chase and Amanda, whose relationship was already settled in that book. It all seemed so deliciously kinky and mysterious.

Now that story has its own book, and it’s quite the steamy story.

Amanda Cole is not having a good day when Chase and his obnoxious agent dine at the Cold Creek restaurant. Amanda does not impress easily, and Chase’s agent’s haughty and rude behavior has ensured that she won’t like either diner. But Chase is impressed and determined to win Amanda over.

When she doesn’t bite and accept his invitation to dinner, he proceeds to camp out in her restaurant. He’s there every day for dinner. People begin to hear about it and flock to the restaurant for the chance to get a picture with him or an autograph. Finally, on the third week, something happens, and Amanda finally agrees to go out with him.

Their relationship begins sweetly, but Amanda is reluctant to get too involved because Chase Walker, baseball darling to millions, is sure to get bored with her and move on. She’s not as slender as the models he’s been seen with, and she isn’t a society debutante. She underestimates him in that respect.

The third person narrative alternates from Amanda’s point of view to Chase’s, and it’s fun for the reader to know what both are thinking — and how they both grow to respect and learn about each other. But it’s when Amanda finds out Chase’s “flaw,” or his kinky desires, that she has to decide if that’s something she likes.

And she finds out she does. This is where readers who are uncomfortable with anything other than straight sex scenes might get uncomfortable. Chase likes to spank women, and since meeting Amanda, she’s the one he wants to spank. Amanda gets into it, acting naughty and giving Chase the opportunity to “reprimand” her in the manner he enjoys most.

Feminists may take exception to some of the explanations in the story. Chase explains to Amanda, “If you remain, your job is to stay beautiful and think up ways to entertain yourself. Hopefully, most of them include me. My job is to cherish and protect you. Fulfill all your heart’s desires…And make sure you mind your manners.”

But is there anything really wrong with unconventional sex between two consenting adults who enjoy it? And when their secret is accidentally flung into the public eye, will Amanda be able to weather the storm of public opinion that is coming as quickly and turbulently as a tornado?

Evanovich’s writing is confident and sure. She creates dialogue that is authentic and situations that ring true. Her characters are well developed although readers will probably feel more comfortable with Amanda than Chase. He’s a tough guy to relate to unless you’ve known extremely successful athletes. Evanovich writes as if she has. If not, she’s done her research well.

If you’ve never read “Big Girl Panties,” read “The Sweet Spot” first to get to know the characters and the action in chronological order. But either way, both books are fun, light reads that are as perfect for reading by the pool as they are for snuggling up in bed on a cold winter night. Both are guaranteed to warm you up plenty.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, William Morrow, for review purposes.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans


(Please note: This is a reprint of a 2011 review — the series is ongoing)

Rating: 5 stars

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans is a fantastic read. It will resonate with young adult readers — both guys and girls — from sixth grade through late teens, and from Chicago to California, because of the realistic writing, the likable characters, and a plot that guarantees non-stop action from almost the first page.

What’s different about the main character of the book and his best friend is that they are the nerds. Not physically preposessing, afflicted with Tourette syndrome, Michael gets bullied incessantly, and he doesn’t resist — until he does — which is the beginning of the problem for him.

His best friend, Ostin, whose mother was so lacking in intellect that she didn’t know how to spell the name of the town he was named after (and they LIVED in Texas), is short and fat, but he more than makes up for any shortcomings by his incredible loyalty and supernatural intelligence.

In this, his first young adult novel, Evans shows remarkable insight into the thinking and dialogue of teenagers. Of course, some of the characters are stereotypical: the bad, bad guy; the juvenile delinquent with the sorry home life; and the girl — almost too good to be true.

But in spite of the flaws (including some less-than-correct grammar which seems to plague most books published today), the story is good.

Any teen into action, adventure or science fiction will want to make sure Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 is on his or her bookshelf. Be sure to skip the cheesy book trailer on the website, though. It’s misleading and will skew a reader’s vision of what Michael is like.

This review was based on a final, hardcover book provided by the publisher.