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.
Review 5 star
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The Elixir: A Bud Hutchins Thriller by JB Michaels is an exciting urban fantasy story. It’s the second in a series and takes place in Chicago, picking up on adventures from the previous story. Wisecracking, teleporting private investigator Bud and his android friend Bert are launched into yet another encounter with the bizarre when a search into a college professor’s infidelity leads straight into an evil poltergeist seeking an elixir from ancient times. Bud and his new ally Ivy Zheng race to find the killer, stop the poltergeist, keep a dysfunctional Bert from destroying everything, and—most importantly—restore health to Bud’s dear friend Maeve. It’s beleaguered people vs. the forces of mayhem and JB Michaels does a fantastic job of storytelling.
This urban fantasy thriller lives up to its name—a real page-turner with never a dull moment. The Elixir grabbed me into its fast-paced, brisk action from the first couple of chapters and had me hooked. The sharp, visceral writing and strong protagonists make for an entertaining ride. Pacing is expert, situations use science and history inventively, and the story just keeps going right until the conclusion that hints of more to come. Bud is a great center for the story, alternately cocky and vulnerable just when he needs to be, and the break-neck action is balanced with moments of tenderness and friendship for Maeve. Any reader of urban fantasy should grab this one right away and get hooked on the series—it’s got everything. The world is fascinating, hilarious, and involving, and put JB Michaels high on my list of authors.
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.