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I've been a volunteer book reviewer for some 35 years, contributing to VOYA, Midwest Book Review, and others. I review in all genres from nonfiction (science, history) to thrillers, young adult fiction, sci-fi and fantasy.

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Morgan Rice's Rise of the Dragons features some fairly common devices in fantasy these days: dragons (of course), a feisty female protagonist (once an exception, now more of a norm), a quest, and a coming of age story set against the backdrop of a desperate mission. If you take these elements of formula fantasy genre writing and apply them here, outwardly the result sounds much like many other books. But the real test of a work that is different lies in what the author does with the characters, setting, and plot: how characterization is handled, how struggles are depicted, and - most importantly - how much a reader can relate to the various conflicts and influences of the protagonists. Herein lies the opportunity for riches - and Rise of the Dragons succeeds in incorporating depth and an intriguing twist into a plot which could otherwise all too easily have been considered a too-predictible approach. Now, many fantasies paint pictures of other worlds. The better ones immerse readers in those worlds - as Rise of the Dragons does from the start. It's difficult to paint an environment rich enough to actually feel the crunch of snow beneath one's feet, the unusual landscape of 'purple pine trees', and the efforts of a girl who 'never fit in' to accept not the domestic duties expected of girls, but the warrior powers she's inherited from her father Morgan Rice. But the saga succeeds - right from the start - in creating this all-important scene, juxtaposing Kyra's strengths and interests with the physical environment and social influences around her. Immersion: it's what a superior fantasy is all about - and this feel is evident in a story that begins, as it should, with one protagonist's struggles and moves neatly into a wider circle of knights, dragons, magic and monsters, and destiny. It's easy to create formula writing that's predictable. Moving from one-dimension to three-dimensional thinking, however, takes attention to detail and streamlining characters, settings, and purposes in such a way that readers feel involved in the story and its outcome; not distanced in the role of the dispassionate observer. It's all too easy to use action-packed adventure to overcome a lack of protagonist development, but Rise of the Dragons avoids this common trap and takes the higher road of involvement - and that's what makes this series opener a recommended winner for any who enjoy epic fantasy writing fueled by powerful, believable young adult protagonists.

Passing Through Perfect

It’s 1946. The war is over. Millions of American soldiers are coming home and Benjamin Church is one of them. After four years of being away he thought things in Alabama would have changed, but they haven’t. Grinder’s Corner is as it’s always been - but Benjamin is about to fall in love, and that will change everything.

What does 'Art' really mean?

Michelle Marder Kamhi is a scholar and art critic, and her expertise lies in her ability to get directly to the point. The point provided here is an assessment of what qualifies a piece to be deemed 'fine art'; and in this, Kamhi's scrutiny is unerring. Her book Who Says That’s Art? A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts deals with the radical transformation of visual art since the early 20th century. The exact nature of these changes, and their overall negative effect, is documented in chapters that excel in specifics: references, analysis, and critical insights on what does or does not deserve to be called 'art'. Readers will find these insights supported by subjective perspectives as well as by thorough scholarship. Kamhi's enthusiasm for visual art often meets with disappointment at museum and gallery offerings. Kamhi does not argue that 'real art' is dead: only that a greater measure of critical discretion needs to be applied to identifying it. And here's where she shines, providing non-specialists with a scholarly yet accessible account that not only explains how to distinguish genuine art, but also promises to enhance its appreciation whenever such gems are to be found! Kamhi’s scrutiny is unerring. . . . providing non-specialists with a scholarly yet accessible account that not only explains how to distinguish genuine art but also promises to enhance its appreciation.

Determined Children Conquer Evil

Nine-year-old Matilda has a problem: her shadow has been growing - and she hasn't. What happens when something grows unfettered? It eventually consumes - and that is what happens to Matilda. End of story? Not on your life: it's only the beginning! Sceadu, Your Shadow Holds a Secret holds unusually captivating cover art - a looming, evil mask/face - and is slated for young adult audiences despite its pre-teen protagonists. That's a good thing; because between a scary cover and a fantasy based on an end of the world prophecy that looms as a possible reality, the story line is recommended for mature teens into adult readers. Though billed as a young adult read, Sceadu, Your Shadow Holds a Secret will easily reach into adult circles as well (despite the ages of its young heroes and heroine), and promises as thrilling, unpredictable a read as any an adult fantasy. The device that ultimately proves the most successful, setting Sceadu apart from other fantasies, is the juxtaposition of children working within the context of a very adult world. I found this approach accessible, involving, and something different in young adult fantasy quest stories.

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