July 31, 2009

Far World: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage

Review by Susan

J. Scott Savage has created a wonderful tale of adventure, magic and fantasy in Farworld: Water Keep. The story centers on young teenagers Marcus and Kyja, both misfits on different worlds who have a mysterious connection to each other. Marcus has learned to use his wits and some unusual talents to defend himself against bullies. Kyja struggles as a nonmagical child in a world where magic is a way of life. In a time of great need, Kyja rescues Marcus and brings him from Earth to Farworld. In an adventure on both worlds, they fight against the evil Dark Circle with the help of Master Therapass, Kyja’s wizard mentor, and begin a quest to seek the help of the mythical elementals: water, land, air and fire. Their journey to Water Keep is fraught with peril and triumph as they discover hidden talents and the power of loyalty, kindness and sacrifice.

Following Harry Potter, there has been a wave of excellent young adult fantasy, including the best-selling Fablehaven series and 13th Reality. Farworld incorporates several familiar fantasy themes and patterns woven together in an appealing tale that leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, the second volume in the series, Farworld: Land Keep, is due to be released in September.

July 23, 2009

The Last Waltz by G. G. Vandagriff

Review by Susan

In The Last Waltz, G. G. Vandagriff departs from her well-known series of genealogical mysteries to craft a sweeping historical drama. The story begins in Vienna just before World War I where Amalia Faulharber is an Austrian young socialite whose Prussian baron fiancé breaks their engagement to return home to prepare for war. How she responds to this disappointment leads her in directions she could not have anticipated. Her journey to maturity takes her through horrific experiences during World War I, changed family fortunes afterward, a growing interest in democracy and political freedom, and choices between two men who love her. She becomes a strong, loyal woman of strength in the face of the gathering storms preceding another war.

This is a book of substance and complexity that is still very readable. One of the themes that impressed me the most was that of being true to the light that is within us no matter what darkness lies around us. During Amalia’s darkest days during World War I, her good friend and mentor from the Catholic hospital where she volunteered brought Amalia back from a dark abyss with these words: “The price we pay for immortality is to know both this darkness and the light and to choose between them. You are a particularly radiant person. You must not let the darkness win, Amalia.” How Amalia uses the light within her to combat the darkness is a story well worth reading.

July 20, 2009

Maggie McKenzie Mysteries by Lynn Gardner

Review by Susan

Lynn Gardner, the author of a series of precious stone suspense stories (Emeralds and Espionage to Topaz and Treachery), continues a new series about Maggie McKenzie, an adventuresome young journalist. Vanished, the first book, was previously published and has just been released in paperback. The story begins as Maggie reports for a new job as a reporter for a small-town California newspaper and discovers she has an apparent double who vanished several years before under mysterious circumstances. She decides to investigate while she is traveling on assignment for the newspaper, and with the help of Dr. Floyd Flynn, a research psychologist who is drawn into the mystery and to Maggie, she discovers a strange connection to the missing girl which spurs her onward in her quest. In Pursued, the second Maggie McKenzie mystery just recently released, Maggie flies to England on assignment and uses theopportunity to try to clarify questions about her family left unanswered the end of Vanished. In the process she unwittingly becomes involved in uncovering a far-reaching terrorist scheme and becomes a target to be eliminated.

Maggie comes across to me as perky, adventuresome and very persistent when it comes to solving

mysteries that intrigue her. The author keeps the plot moving quickly with lots of action and suspense. A certain amount of suspension of disbelief may be necessary to swallow some of the plot twists, but I liked how Maggie was true to her beliefs and standards even under duress and turned to faith and prayer to help her through. These two novels are both fast-paced fun escapes into adventure and suspense.