Review 5 star
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The Castle by J.B. Michaels is the third book in the Bud Hutchins Supernatural Thriller series. After Bud gets the attention of the government, they want access to his brilliant technology. But Bud has other things to do. Along with his friend Maeve, he’s part of the hidden Order of St. Michael, monks who fight the paranormal. Bud is reluctant to train, but when their friend Ivy is kidnapped by a sinister vampire disguised as a famous singer, bent on taking out the Order, Bud and Maeve head to a remote castle in Scotland. In fact, it’s just possible this creepy castle might hold clues to something of deepest importance to Bud—the whereabouts of his missing grandfather.
The Castle is a solid installment in the Bud Hutchins series. Readers already hooked on the first two books won’t be disappointed. J.B. Michaels delivers a lot of adventure and whacko mayhem to keep the plot rolling as Maeve and Bud go on a whirlwind trip to Europe. There’s a bit of a darker tone and the action and evil are jacked up a notch to bring out some mature qualities underlying the characters and Bud’s development was excellent. He grew before my eyes as a lot of his insecurities and struggles with being underappreciated took the forefront and focused this thrill ride story in the right place—on real people learning to face what’s important to them. Bud and Maeve’s friendship was a perfect partnership of banter, snarkiness, and sincere care for each other beneath bluff exteriors, and Ivy’s subplot dealing with an undead New Age musician rounded things out nicely.
Review 5 star
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Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium by Tom Hoffman is an expertly written, involving fantasy novel. It’s the fourth in a series about the Metaphysical Adventurer (a.k.a. world-hopping) Orville Wellington Mouse. Orville is a shaper, meaning he’s magically gifted, and when a highly interactive dream about a ghost and a book fair leaves him with an ancient text in a language no one can read, his sassy girlfriend Sophia and their loyal ally Proto launch on a quest to decode the book. The results uncover a long-lost piece of ancient history and when the adventurers enter the surreal world of Elysian in search of a friend’s long-lost wife, they take on the mysterious Shadow King, accompanied by an austere, weird monk who’s more than he seems. Will Orville be able to find reality and solve the puzzle of the Last Metaphonium?
Tom Hoffman is a truly talented author. His world is endlessly complex, varied, and filled with flights of fancy, yet completely true and simple as well. The characters ring with a deep, supple humanity, and I was captivated, wanting to know what would happen next. Suspense, comedy, mystery, adventure, romance—it’s all here. Orville’s delightful little quirks make him thoroughly well-rounded, and the underlying theme that love and honesty can overcome fears was handled as melodiously as the charming idea of the piano-like Metaphonium in which sets of keys provide portals to other worlds. Quiet side-kick Proto absolutely steals the show, his fears that he’s not loved and accepted threading a delicate subplot that is as poignant as it is satisfying. Verbally enchanting, emotionally human, and philosophically relevant, The Puzzle of the Last Metaphonium blends many genres into a really fun read.
Review 4 star
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The Marked Ones is the first book in the Ghost Within fantasy series by Nickey T. Hawke. A unique young adult novel accompanied by numerous manga-style illustrations, the story follows a young leader of a squad of Swordmasters, the police of the self-sustaining City of Hope. Beyond the City, undead ghouls roam in armies controlled by a man who has gained immortality. The survivors of the war are forced to take a mark that will spare their lives, but turn them into ghouls if they die. The Marked Ones stream into the City as refugees seeking a better life—but the City views them as dangerous threats. When Gideon’s misfit squad is assigned to capture Marked Ones in an abandoned mansion, an encounter with a young woman smuggling in the refugees leads him to question the whole nature of his mission. With so many voices of reason on all sides, Gideon must find his way alone.
Nickey T. Hawke’s The Marked Ones has a rich moral and social complexity that goes beyond the world building of most fantasy novels. The themes of friendship, romance, revenge, and hope are woven into a detailed political picture as Gideon struggles to make the right decision. Will he let the Marked Ones go, allowing them a second chance instead of punishing them for their plight or will he fulfil his mission to protect his city? Those who aid the Marked Ones do not go unpunished. Amid a raid on a mansion with a hidden portal and an evil spirit in it, the views of those around Gideon—his outgoing friend, his earnest cousin, his bitter commander, and Kiera, the woman he’s falling in love with—add layers of tension that build from a quiet beginning to a tense, nail-biting conclusion. As much a profound drama on the human condition as an action-packed story, The Marked Ones stands out in a sea of young adult stories. Recommended.
This is the companion for Sarah Scheele's newsletter blog. In it I share reviews for books I'd recommend/are similar to my own.