Author: Brian C. Kaufman

Author, educator, cook. Given a tilt of fate, that might have been lead guitarist, pro wrestler, radio evangelist. You never know.

Dark Touch: Book One of the Glass Star Trilogy

dark touchIn Dark Touch, no good deed goes unpunished. Sloan, the female protagonist of Elle Lewis’s urban fantasy, offers a few dollars to someone she thinks is down on his luck. When their hands touch, she discovers that the man she’d misrecognized as an unfortunate was, instead, an ancient, unworldly creature. His evil touch does not kill her—the expected outcome—so she gains the creature’s full, unwanted, malevolent attention. She becomes a target.

The novel follows the dark opening scenes with a familiar trope (is she imagining things?) Skin bruised and on fire, her first thought is to go to an ER, followed by a visit to Jack-in-the-Box. But the juxtaposition between the real and the fantastical serves a purpose. The author’s fine descriptive passages keep the reader rooted in the real world before flashing into the bizarre. Like Sloan, the reader latches onto the routine, dreading the arrival of the unreal.

And Sloan is totally unprepared for what’s coming.

Dark Touch is the first book of a trilogy. The author captures the sassy, sexy voice of her genre. There are a satisfying number of supernatural creatures, drawn with consistency and imagination. As the story progresses, the action ramps up, leaving poor Sloan caught in a corridor of narrowed options—ratcheting up the suspense.

The ending sets up subsequent books, but that’s expected in a series. If you like urban fantasy with thriller and romance elements, you will love this novel. (Five stars out of five)

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Descent of Shadows

RyanneIn Ryanne Glenn’s debut novel Descent of Shadows, Anna is a young teenage girl whose parents are killed by Wraiths. Escaping ahead of the shadow-creature’s invading army, Anna reaches Sanctuary, the last free human settlement. Rather than be assigned to menial tasks, she demands an opportunity to be trained to fight—something that the ruling council strongly resists. Supported by General Collins, the head of Sanctuary defenses, Anna and a handful of others are put through a training regimen designed to encourage the youngsters to quit. Stubborn and resilient, Anna survives training and ends up as the leader of a small contingent of teen warriors. Having prevailed against the council’s prejudice, Anna faces the harsh realities of war against creatures of the night and Roland, their king…

Descent of Shadows is an action-driven narrative with a willful, instinctively clever protagonist and enough martial action to please young readers. The training sequences, in particular, seem very realistic. But there’s much more going on in this fascinating tale. Anna’s unusual, team-oriented notions of training, combat, and leadership would make for an excellent small-business management parable. The author’s world-building is consistent and imaginative, and her understanding of political infighting, as seen through the young protagonist’s eyes, is impressive.

Glenn’s prose is clean and direct. Best of all, the pace never flags. I read this tale in a single burst. Because this is the first volume of a trilogy, I expected the story to end with a cliff-hanger, but I was pleasantly surprised—the novel satisfies as a stand-alone. I highly recommend Descent of Shadows. (Five stars out of five)

Ballpark 2 Ballpark

BallparkRabbit Hole Reviews has a special affection for minor league baseball, so the story behind John and Vicki Hoppin’s Ballpark 2 Ballpark hooked us right away. In June of 2012, the couple decided to take a motorhome tour of the country. At first, Vicki was more enthused about the pending adventure. With a mind toward getting him to share her excitement, she suggested that they explore baseball parks along the way. (John was more excited about baseball than Vicki.) Having found a way to stoke each other’s dreams, they took the project one step further. John was a writer. Vicki was a photographer. Why collaborate on a book?

Ballpark 2 Ballpark celebrates minor league ballparks in the U.S. and Canada. John’s anecdotal approach makes for a wonderful, wandering sort of trek. My favorite section of the book is about “The Staff,” the people who run the ballparks. The staff’s ongoing labor of love has much to do with the fan experience.

Vicki’s photos are terrific. She has an eye for both the big picture and details (one favorite is a shot of a chow-mein stuffed pineapple served by the concessions team in Akron, Ohio!)

Part nostalgia, part slice of middle America, the book is like minor league baseball itself—quirky, irreverent and fun. (Four stars out of five)

Note: A second volume is on the way. I will be buying a copy!

The Secrets of Daeya

daeyaDavkaleon, the hero of Tetyana Butler’s Twierks fantasy series, is ready for the Military School, but is the school ready for him? His missteps with instructors, students from privileged families, and uncertain social conventions land him in the dungeon—and his troubles are just beginning!

Meanwhile, the mysteries of Twierks are beginning to reveal themselves in surprising fashion. Could magic be science that we don’t yet understand? What if the tricks of mages were based on the fantastic technologies of instantaneous movement and materialization? What if artificial intelligence took the form of a talking temple? Davkaleon will face great danger—but he has a secret weapon. His best friend Chapius is an Adoleeseet. Their friendship must remain a secret, though, because Adolees and Daeya are sworn enemies…

The joy of The Secrets of Daeya stems from Davkaleon himself—at turns kind and brutal, boastful and loyal, impetuous and clever. Unlike the linear progression of so many fantasy novels, the plot of the novel unfolds organically. Many of the lead character’s wounds are self-inflicted, and this reader found himself simultaneously cheering for Davkaleon and wanting to give him a swift kick in the backside.

Butler threads her story with logic, math concepts and an overarching mystery that helps propel the story beyond the usual “hardy band of misfits” trope that often dominates the fantasy genre. The Secrets of Daeya is the second book in the series (the first is Adventures of the Little Adoleeseet), but the book works as a stand-alone. I truly enjoyed the protagonist and his character arc (mild spoiler—he finishes the tale in his room, doing the unthinkable—studying!) Five stars out of five

FIRST FULL MOON

ffmoonMichelle Alstead’s First Full Moon is a supernatural YA thriller with some familiar elements. Candy McGregor is a well-to-do teen who’s trying to please. Her family’s pharmaceutical empire, which enables the McGregors to own most of Sequim Falls, feels like a bit of a curse—plenty of expectations and obligations. Candy longs to be on her own, away from familial pressures.

But the family has dark secrets, and the hidden curse that Candy faces is far more catastrophic than she imagines. Turning sixteen, she inherits the ability to do magic—and the fear of what she’ll turn into at the next full moon. The McGregors are werewolves. If she can break the spell that created the curse, she’ll keep her magic and save her family. If she fails, she’ll lose her powers and spend the rest of her life dreading each and every full moon.

Candy’s internal conflicts aren’t her only obstacle—not everyone shares her aversion to lycanthropy.

Alstead’s prose is clean and uncluttered, and her sense of voice is spot-on, a welcome gateway to her characters. Though elements of the book have a surface familiarity, the author’s deft weave of the supernatural with universal coming-of-age themes is extraordinary. The meaning of family, love, and responsibility are examined through a plot that never slows down, from the opening horror show to the brutal climax.

First Full Moon is book one of a planned series. I can’t wait for the next installment. (Five stars out of five)

The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride

downloadHis hundredth birthday finds Murray McBride without a reason to live. A chance encounter with a ten-year-old boy in the hospital changes everything. Jason Cashman has a terminal heart defect. When the boy leaves behind a wish list of five “impossible” things to do before he dies, Murray finds himself with a mission.

The plot of Joe Siple’s The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride hinges on the clever—and sometimes heartbreaking—ways that Murray and Jason check off the list of wishes. But what really drives the novel is the relationship between the young boy and the old man. Tiegan, a young girl who accompanies the pair on their adventure, adds a wonderful dynamic. Siple pins the voice of his characters perfectly. (The email exchanges between Murray and Jason are laugh-out-loud funny.)

Terminal friendships can be familiar territory, but Siple has a way of making the familiar new again. One scene near the novel’s climax involving Murray and Tiegan left me in tears. Siple’s book is a wonderful, heartfelt read. My highest recommendation. (Five stars out of five)

UPON THE STAGE OF TIME

StageFour-year-old Maddie is dead—from sunburn. Her body is found in the front yard by her grandparents, Alton and Beatrice Miller. Their daughter, Casey, a beautiful but troubled meth addict, appears to be to blame. When detective A.J. Tillman shows up to investigate, Casey is all-too-eager to confess. But Tillman doesn’t buy her confession, and not just because he’s in love with her. When charges are filed, Tillman begins to dig, risking his reputation and his shaky marriage. Will he find the truth, or will Casey spend her life behind bars?

Kenneth Harmon’s Upon the Stage of Time is a claustrophobic little crime thriller set in a scorched East Texas town where everyone has secrets, including the ones they keep from themselves. Harmon’s characters are irreparably broken, and this tragic wreck of a story works on your heart from the first few pages until the last paragraph.

Harmon’s prose is deceptively simple, telling a fascinating story in a straight-forward fashion. The author lets tiny details mark the narrative like poetics. The cumulative effect is emotionally devastating. I was reminded of an old saying—children want justice, and adults want mercy. Suffice it to say that justice is done. My highest recommendation (five stars out of five).