The First Assignment

The First Assignment by Billy Kramer

Book reviewed by Timea Barabas

What happens after death? This is one of the greatest questions. While there are numerous theories and visions of the afterlife, there seems to be no absolute universal certainty of what lies beyond. Billy Kramer joins the ranks of wonderers by offering a cohesive and immersive narrative of the afterlife and life in The First AssignmentPurchase Here.

This young adult fantasy novel opens the gates to a gripping tale of self-discovery, becoming, and the interconnectivity between people. The tale, characters, and events evoke a strange familiarity in the reader. Some elements seem like a distant memory lost in the fog of time or a dream that dissipates at first light.

The First Assignment centers on life after death following the experiences of seventeen-year-old Shawn Turner. After waking up under strange circumstances, Shawn finds himself transported to a brave old world. Alone among strangers, his survival instincts kick in while he tries to understand his new reality.

Shawn is just one of many recently deceased who were chosen to join Wayward Academy. An academy of the dead in service of the living. This complex institution is a learning center, work center, and living space for those enrolled. While reapers seem to take the center stage, this is merely one of the groups that animate the space.

Bombarded with new experiences and concepts, pulled down by the weight of the unknown, Shawn soon finds comfort in the familiarity of new friendships. He soon builds a connection with a few other first-year students at the WA. Through shared experiences, whispered secrets, and knowing glances, Shawn begins to gain strength.

After being subjected to a series of intellectually, emotionally, and physically challenging tests, the new students are assigned to their respective jobs. Then, Shawn receives his first assignment. Waiting for someone to die offers Shawn ample space for introspection. Bound by strict regulations and under supervision, he sees a glimmer of hope to break through the chains and make a difference. However, taking this path would mean silencing his survival instinct.

Billy Kramer creates a magical universe caught in a mystical realm somewhere between life and darkness. The First Assignment builds the foundation of a new worldview that invites further expansion. While Book 1 may be finished, Book 2 lingers on the horizon.

 

Abigail and Sega's Magical Train Ride

Abigail and Sego’s Magical Train Ride by J.A. Kundert

Book reviewed by Teri Takle

The year 2026 is almost upon us.  What does that mean?   That will be the 250th birthday of our country.

What could prepare you for this event?

A unique book about the 200th birthday with a multitude of historical events which strongly shaped our country and culture would be perfect.

It is 1976 in Chicago.   Eleven-year-old Abigail Stromberg has a challenging Bicentennial Assignment for school.   The project focuses on how her ancestors contributed to the country between 1776 and 1976.   For Abigail, her father’s Swedish ancestry is clear and straightforward.  Abigail has straight dark hair and does not resemble her father.   Why won’t her mother talk about her past?  However, her mother is evasive about her background.  What secrets is she withholding?

How can Abigail complete the assignment with only one side of her family?  Purchase Here.

Abigail and Sego’s Magical Train Ride is a time warp story roller-coasting throughout the Transcontinental Railroad to the present time of 1976 while intermixing lifestyles, events, and influential people of both times.  Adding supernatural assistance helps to explain the past in their current time while fulfilling a family’s lifelong dreams.

Abigail and Sego’s Magical Train Ride is a delightful romp for those of us over the half-century mark.   Numerous references to people and events of a prior time are enjoyable to remember, such as Nancy Drew books, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Polar Express Line, Ted Nugent, Moon River, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and many references to our country’s western expansion.

The reading level of this book is perfect for tweens, and I highly recommend they make a list of references they don’t understand and either research them or discuss them with an older adult.

Abigail and Sego’s Magical Train Ride is a perfect intergenerational story for a family to share.   There is a multitude of historical references to both people and places that require a little background for most teenagers.   As a stand-alone novel, the author could also add author notes explaining the importance of these people and places.    Also helpful would be a preface explaining life in Chicago during 1976 explaining the Navy Pier, the Gold Coast, and places unique to the area, including the Chicago L train.

All in all, Abigail and Sego’s Magical Train Ride is an enjoyable romp through time.

 

harbor's Edge

Harbor’s Edge by Sanne Rothman

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Sanne Rothman’s young adult thriller, Harbor’s Edge, piques the curiosity while romancing the imagination, with a story that offers mystery, the supernatural, budding romance, and an intelligent 14-year-old heroine on a profoundly insightful journey to self-discovery. Purchase Here.

The story is set in beautiful Hawaii with which author Sanne Rothman does a wonderful job of detailing the beautiful environment. She brings forth both its timeless natural beauty as well as artfully presents intriguing aspects of Hawaiian life and culture especially with her incorporation of the lore of the dark and ancient sea monsters called The Mo’o, the legend, and mystery of which is initially contemplated by Harbor early on in the story.

Initially, as the story unfolds, we meet Harbor, a young, resilient, intelligent teenager who finds her life shrouded in mystery and sadness. Having lost both her parents under mysterious circumstances, she fights with feelings of abandonment as she seeks to solve the mystery of what truly happened. She lost her F.B.I. agent father to a cold-blooded murderer and her mother, who disappeared without a trace, leaving her and her younger sister Fig in the care of their TuTu (grandmother). TuTu owns a popular, local restaurant, featuring Hawaiian hamburgers and Harbor works at the restaurant in the drive-thru which allows her the opportunity to practice analyzing the faces of customers based on techniques from her father’s FBI profiling manuals. She works on her skills at analyzing faces in the hopes of finding clues to her father’s murderer and clues to her missing mother.

Overall a story filled with well-plotted twists and turns fueled by excitement and building tensions when children begin to turn up missing and Harbor thinks she may have a lead. Moreover, the story carries a mystery within a mystery as Harbor makes a friend at school, Keyne, with whom the sparks of first love begin to ignite, however, he seems to have an air of secrecy surrounding him as well.

Altogether, Harbor’s Edge turned out to be both an imaginative and absorbing read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I found myself instantly drawn into the beautifully set world of Harbor, shrouded in mystery, supernatural legacy, and artfully fueled with intriguing plot twists including, the unique inclusion of clues disbursed within each chapter. Additionally, I also enjoyed the likable characters within the story, especially that of Harbor. She’s a relatable and intelligent character, easy to sympathize with and whose exciting journey to self-discovery was easy to follow. Absolutely, a worthwhile and noteworthy read that left me wanting more. I look forward to Book 2, Keyne, and The Wrath of The Mo’o. Overall, this would make a good choice for an end of summer read and I recommend it.

Saw the Forest

Saw the Forest by Patrick McConnell

Book Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

A read which keeps your heart as invested as your mind, Patrick L. McConnell’s Saw the Forest explores life through a multi-faceted lens, bringing attention to aspects of the human condition, wrapped in layers of emotion and motive through the experiences of life. Presented with a grove of eclectic characters, each on their own life’s journey but whose paths cross in dynamic and life-altering ways. Purchase Here.

A deft storyteller, author Patrick L. McConnell, captures the attention quickly with his literate narrative, which features a well-drawn cast of characters, each as interesting as the next to
meet, as well as somehow entangled within the same web of a diverse community collective. Moreover, the story divulges uniquely posed aspects of human nature, exemplified through the characters, inclusive of traits like love, bravado, religion, violence, as well as politics. Moreover, skillfully presented amidst relatable interactions which create an interwoven mosaic of human frailty and strengths, making exciting fuel for this evocative, character driven read.

Immediately, this literate, detail focused narrative brings into view the Right family; father, Artemus a doctor, Mother Taniaz, and their sons, Philip and Adam. The brothers are a unique pair, in that, younger brother Adam takes care of his elder brother Philip, who is considerably larger and stronger than him, but his mind is that of a child. As the family dynamic changes over time, after having lost both parents, the pair of brothers live humble lives as adults, still sharing a close bond. Adam, quietly stalwart, socially awkward, even reticent but well-meaning remains his brother’s faithful keeper who at times can become an unintentionally aggressive and intimidating handful.

Next, we meet Maryanne Whipple. She presents an intensely sympathetic character, and at age 24, she is attractive, and intelligent, but also scarred both physically and mentally. Additionally, having been recently released from service in the military, Maryanne bears a hard set life as she lives life from a wheelchair scarred from war and challenged with a mostly missing right leg and a damaged left, which makes finding a direction in life an uncertainty. And although she is somewhat shell shocked, albeit traumatized, she also harbors an empathetic nature as well as a brave heart.

As a matter of fact, each ensuing chapter adds further depth to the story with the addition of new characters, each being an intriguing inclusion to the story, adding another thread to the web of life especially when they intersect with the more prominent characters. Also meanwhile, an undercurrent of mystery flows throughout the story as machinations of characters and events occur via the receipt of mysterious emails coming to nun sister Alana Orrick, the context of which is often peculiar but also leads to life altering illumination.

All in all, I absolutely enjoyed Saw the Forest, by author Patrick L. McConnell. I am definitely a fan, especially after having read his previous work, The Gene Rasp. In particular, I find his style of writing, welcoming, entertaining and proficiently literate. He provides plenty of interesting action, characters, settings, and storylines. Additionally, his adept storytelling abilities escort you on a literary journey that is not only easily appealing, intricately detailed, and filled with intriguing personas, but also captures the imagination by virtue of the refreshing insertion of science fiction/fact-based elements. I definitely recommend this as well his other work as they are well worth the read and would make great movies.

The Gene Rasp

The Gene Rasp by Patrick McConnell

Book Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

A noteworthy excursion into the world of science fiction, Patrick L. McConnell’s The Gene Rasp renders the heart and the mind rapt with its exploration of the heart and humanity through the journey of the inventor of a phenomenal life-altering device offering hope to mankind for a future utopia. Purchase Here.

Fascinating from its outset, the story takes place in the future, with the autobiography of the central character Tom Spoon later known as Dr. Tom Maloof due to be published in the year 2165. However this is no ordinary autobiography because Tom is no ordinary person; as a matter of fact, he becomes the savior of future humanity as he invents a revolutionary medical device called the Gene Rasp which can alter genetics of individuals offering cures for cancer as well as many other diseases thusly making the road to immortality a little clearer.

Easily engaging, the story captivates as Tom Spoon charms readers into his world with a humble and comfortable tone, drawing rich images as he reflects on his life, remembering people, relationships, and experiences which affected his journey from orphan to renowned doctor. He recounts having grown up in an orphanage of which we learn that life for Tom was lonely as a boy, although surrounded by many others, he was different, as he struggled with dyslexia. Believing his brain was broken but determined to overcome his affliction, he yearned to be both understood and connected to something, he began to write poetry, heartfelt masterpieces which appear interspersed throughout the story. Tom grows despite dyslexia going on to accomplish much with his life. He wins a woodworking contest at eighteen, attends college, and later graduate school. Altogether Tom’s journey culminates into a hopeful version of an immortal future.

Entirely a very likable read, The Gene Rasp garners the attention with an intelligent and richly woven journey through a science fiction narrative. I enjoyed author Patrick L. McConnell’s efforts within this work as he successfully brought forth a story that was simultaneously thought-provoking and touching. In particular, I appreciated the refreshing inclusion of intermittent QR code scanning tags and URL links as well as the inclusion of the end of the screenplay for the movie version, all served well to enhance the reading experience by creating deeper interaction with the reader. Also personally, I think this would make a great movie and I look forward to more works by author McConnell. This is a read definitely worth adding to your science fiction collection.