Author Spotlight-Stone Marshall

Ah, the nostalgia. There is nothing like playing the old-school video games. My personal favorites were Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog. Mario, Luigi, Sonic, Knuckles, etc, had to journey through various worlds, battle different creatures, overcome various obstacles, and along the way, collect various helpful items such as coins, mushrooms, stars, and flowers that helped them shoot fireballs. If they touched a monster once, they shrank. Twice, they died in a very dramatic manner (jumping straight up in the air with a look of shock on their face before falling off the edge of the edge of the screen. Goofy synthesizer music plays both during the game and upon the death of a character.

I haven’t played Minecraft (and I’m afraid to start; it might become addictive and cause me to waste a lot of time), but from Marshall’s description of it in his children’s novel Rescue Island: Flynn’s Log 1, it sounds like it operates under the same principles. The characters battle monsters, eat food provided by the digital world to restore their lives, and collect items necessary for survival or extra protection. The novel revolves around a hacker known as Flynn. Flynn has no memory of his previous life as he finds that he is a digital character in Minecraft. He battles giant spiders, hunts and fishes for food, and builds shelter. His only companion is an ocelot named Verve (and later, Verve’s daughter Khan). Soon, he finds out that it is his destiny to connect the digital and the physical worlds, and is unsure of how to do that.

If there is a secret to getting kids engaged in reading, I think Marshall has it. Marshall seems to understand that you have to write around kids’ interest and not try to enforce outdated, archaic material on them. I hope elementary schools are beating down Marshall’s door to buy the book. If there were more novels like Rescue Island, then schools wouldn’t struggle so much to get kids to read. I will be ordering a copy for my daughter. If you have a child age 5-12, I highly recommend this as a must-read. I also think adolescents and adults would enjoy this whimsical but action-packed novel as well.

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Author Spotlight-Chess Desalls

The concept of time travel has been around for a long time. It is depicted in many science fiction movies and novels, such as The Time Machine, Doctor Who, and more recently, Back to the future. While reading Travel Glasses: The Call to Search Everywhen Book 1 by Chess Desalls, it is very easy to make the comparison to Back to the Future. Since I have very little understanding of time travel, I focused more on the characters. 18-year-old Calla Winston (basically a female counterpart to Marty McFly) is wondering around by her dock one day when she is struck by a bright light. Next, she is “rescued” by a strange figure in dark glasses who calls himself Valcas. The two then begin a series of adventures and misadventures, that will both draw the reclusive Calla out of her shell and help her begin to understand some of the secrets to her past. After a hurtful betrayal, Calla is reluctant to open up to anyone, but when she absconds with the travel glasses and locates their inventor (Valcas’ adorable, eccentric, mad-scientist uncle, arguably one of the best, most well-developed, and sympathetic characters I have ever encountered in a work of fiction) she learns how freeing it is to be able to trust and feel close to someone. The reader will learn the truth about why Valcas went in search of her, and the reasons will have them nearly weeping (just after they get through weeping from another heartwreching scene). Although the plot can use a bit of organization, the characters are so superbly developed that the readers feel an instant connection to them. Get ready for a journey though time and space, courtesy of the Travel Glasses…

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Author Spotlight-Jeff Mariotte

“Empty Rooms by Jeff Mariotte gripped me from the beginning and wouldn’t let me go. I am a huge fan of crime fiction, and this dark tale of kidnapping, pedophilia, despair, and poverty has made me an offical fan of Mariotte. Richie Krebbs, a recently fired police officer working in an unsatisfying job as a security guard, becomes increasingly fascinated with the abandoned Morton house. Thirteen years ago, a young girl named Angela Morton disappeared without a trace, and Richie finds it suspicious that her parents seemed detached and even unconcerned about their daughter’s disappearance. Richie becomes obsessed with solving the case, and enlists the help of Detective Frank Robey. Together, they embark on a cross-country search of Angela Morton and her parents.
His “good guys” are not perfect, and his “bad guys” are not totally evil. In this way, Mariotte humanizes his characters and the reader feels empathy towards all of them. Richie has a questionable work ethic and comes across as extremely self-absorbed. Likewise, Mariotte delves deep in the mind of a sick pedophile and gives a very objective account of his life-long struggle, and eventual acceptance, of his tendencies. I give Mariotte an A+ for character development.
There were a few plot points that I feel were slightly underdeveloped and even somewhat questionable. The author implies that the pedophile had an incestous relationship with his mother, but there is a part at the end that, if this is true, would disturb readers. (I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I won’t go further than that). And some important characters (such as Sheriff Kate) were cut off at the end. Mariotte had to take a few fictional liberties to make the plot work (an extremely understanding wife who allows him to quit his job although the budget is stretched to the limit to pursue this case, a trusting detective who essentially gives Richie a blank check to finance the pursuit, and a few others) but I think all writers have to do that (myself included). Although I understand that Mariotte was trying to portray the darker side of human nature,  I feel that Mariotte was a little heavy-handed in the theme of domestic violence (basically portraying every man he encounters on the case as a wife-beater and every married woman as afraid to talk to him). The subplot of Wil Fowler and his family is not completely satisfied, so I would love it if Mariotte wrote a follow-up novel that centers around him and his situation.
Mariotte’s use of language is impeccable. He uses a combination of serious narration, manly sarcasm, and local/cultural dialect to tell a vivid tale. His use of wording is anything but cliched. He also expertly uses several symbols and motifs to drive his plot (Superman, angels, the Morton House, and especially the literal and figurative use of “empty rooms”). Mariotte is clearly not afraid to take on some extremely controversial issues, something I highly respect in a writer. I am a new fan and will definitely be reading more of Mariotte’s work.”
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