Flow Like Water by Mark Burley

Book Two of the Hit the Ground Running Trilogy, Blue Moon Publishers, September 2018.

Eric Bakker, his brother, and his friends continue their quest to find Eric and Michael’s parents. As their quest takes them across the North American continent the stakes get higher, with more scientists missing. In possession of an ancient book and increasingly desperate to find their parents, Eric and Michael pursue leads that take the entire group across the Atlantic. At the same time, they’re fleeing the Vidi, a group of immortals bent of wiping out anyone with the knowledge of the book and its contents.

In Europe, they must use the group’s considerable skills of navigation, research, languages, technology, and parkour to penetrate secrets kept for hundreds of years, or risk losing their parents forever.

Flow Like Water is even more adventure-packed than Hit the Ground Running (though it does contain less parkour). The cracking adventure continues with an appealing and very human cast of young people. The reader’s understanding of the mythology is deepened, and the story is enhanced by two separate legs of foreign travel—great for armchair travelers like me. Even as some mysteries are resolved, still others are deepened. I can’t wait to see how the series will conclude in the final book.

Fall in One Day by Craig Terlson

Fall in One DayBlue Moon Publishers, 2017.

Joe Beck’s best friend, Brian, has disappeared with his father in a mysterious incident. Strangely, in Joe’s small town on the Canadian prairies in 1973 the only thing on the news is the Watergate trials in the states. The news says nothing about fifteen-year-old Brian’s disappearance and there’s little evidence that the adults are actually working to find him. Amid this background of untrustworthy adults, Joe’s uncertain what to do. But when he gets a call from his missing friend, Joe becomes determined to uncover the truth and save him.

Before I began reading Fall in One Day I wondered whether teen readers today would be interested in a book set in the 1970s, but I was quickly drawn into the story and I think many teens would be, too. Terlson weaves historical events: Watergate, LSD use, old movies, into themes that will always strike a chord with teenagers as Joe questions the trustworthiness of adults, one’s responsibility toward one’s friends, and the complications of becoming an individual within a larger society. Joe is a sympathetic character whose loyalty and intelligence lead him to investigate and solve the mystery of his friend’s disappearance.

I received an electronic advance reader copy of Fall in One Day from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Shadow of a Doubt by Skylar Jones

ShadowofaDoubtAdaptive Studios, 2015

Fyfe Flynn is only twelve, but she knows her way around a racetrack. That’s because her father’s a jockey and a winning jockey, at that. It’s a good thing, too, because if the Flynns had to make their living from the family farm they’d be in serious trouble. What the Flynns know is horses, but even Fyfe’s father can’t be convinced when she insists their horse Shadow is a true winner. Everyone else may say that Shadow’s too small and too ordinary to be a racehorse, but Fyfe knows better. Fyfe knows that Shadow’s got the heart of a winner. Fyfe and Shadow will have to risk everything to prove it and get a chance at a big win.

I’ve been looking for a book with an old-fashioned sensibility that readers today would also enjoy. That’s a tall order since today’s readers expect a much faster pace than kids once did, and it’s tough to get the sensibility of the older, more leisurely books when the plot’s whipping along like a racehorse. Skylar Jones has handled this feat magnificently. Shadow of a Doubt has humor and heart, and the plot never lags so it won’t cause readers lose its readers’ attention.

I’m a wimp about animal stories. Even when they’re not intended to, they often make me sad. Ironically, I’m a sucker for a horserace story. I’ve spent many a happy afternoon curled up with Dick Frances. This story never pushed my weepy-poor-animal buttons; it kept me engaged and made me laugh, instead. And I enjoyed the humorous and sometimes snarky commentary from the animal characters.

There was a down-home element of this book that was voiced in part by many, many clichés. It came right up to the verge of annoying me, but seemed to lessen in each scene just as I was beginning to consider how much it was bothering me. All-in-all Shadow of a Doubt is a charming and heartwarming book that animal-loving middle grade readers and others will enjoy. It would make a good read aloud for a classroom or for bedtime.

I received a review copy of Shadow of a Doubt courtesy of Adaptive Books.

Perfect by Cecelia Ahern

perfectFeiwel & Friends, 2017.

Seventeen-year-old Celestine’s life turned on its head when she was branded flawed by the morality court. Now everyone can see that she is not perfect, that she does not meet the standard to which everyone in society is held. But Celestine still doesn’t think that what she did was wrong. As she told Judge Crevan, the impulse that sent her to morality court was simply based on compassion and logic, and she refuses to apologize for that. However, when the judge loses his temper and does something unthinkable and Celestine’s words to the court are taken up by his political rival, Celestine is suddenly caught up in a heated war between two political rivals and two very different parts of society. Celestine will have to use strength she didn’t know she had and the help of friends, both new and old, to use the evidence she has for good.

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I intensely dislike stories with a moral, anything blatant and I’m likely to throw the book across the room. On the other hand, I’m a firm believer in learning from stories. A good story pulls you in and teaches you something about life: how you want to live yours, what (or whom) you want to avoid, how it might be to live in another time or place or body. On the surface Perfect is a dystopian novel that is very similar to others found on the library shelves, and yet there are lessons here—lessons that seem different from other dystopian novels I’ve read in the last few years—lessons of compassion and decency. They struck a real chord with me perhaps because they are timeless lessons, but lessons that may seem particularly important today in the United States.

This young adult novel includes politics, ethics, romance, and a fast-paced, high-stakes plot.

I received an electronic review copy of Perfect courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.