5 YA Books Critics Have Enjoyed

During these long summer days, it’s always nice to get out of the heat, sit down by the AC, sip ice-cold lemonade, and read a book. Below are five books by award-winning writer, Michael Thal.

Goodbye Tchaikovsky

Paperback: $9.99

IBook: $9.99

A violin virtuoso is plunged into a deaf world, necessitating him to adapt to a new culture and language in order to survive.

David Rothman is an overnight success. He performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with rave reviews attracting the attention of the Queen of England. His future is laid out for him like a well-lit freeway. Then, on his twelfth birthday, David suffers from an irreparable hearing loss, plunging him into a silent world.

How will David communicate with his friends? What about school? Where does his future lie? The novel shows how an adolescent boy copes with deafness.

On Amazon 16 customers reviewed this novel. It received an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars.

Won “Honorable Mention” in the Hollywood Book Festival 2012, the Paris Book Festival 2013, and won Second Place in the 2016 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards.

Here’s what the reviewers had to say:

Amazon Reviewer Hope Irvin Marston: Goodbye Tchaikovsky is an inspiring book, most appropriate for middle school age and junior high, though adults can learn a great deal about deafness, the challenges of learning sign language, and the difficulties of fitting in when you can’t understand what people are saying. It will appeal to readers interested in music as well. The main characters are boys, but girls won’t be put off by it.

Psychologist Dr. Robert Rich: It’s not often that a book aimed at “Young Adults” makes me want to cry. Michael Thal managed this with his story of David, a violin virtuoso who suddenly went profoundly deaf the day after his twelfth birthday.

Goodbye Tchaikovsky is excellent on many levels. First, obviously, it is an introduction to what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world, presented so the young reader identifies with David’s experiences on an emotional level.

Second, it is a primer on empathy. “What if that happened to me?” Michael’s choice of hero is perfect. The underlying message is, “What if I lost the ability to do the activity that gives me meaning in life, joy and purpose?” A teenager with a passion for basketball might imagine what it would be like after breaking his neck, another who lives for computer games may think of blindness or a paralyzed hand…

Third, Michael deals with the issue of stigma and discrimination, showing that, whether you are Christian or Jewish, ethically Japanese or Caucasian, deaf or hearing, you deserve respect, compassion, decency, and love.

If you, or someone you care for, are struck by a handicap such as deafness, you can draw instruction and inspiration from this book. However, any teenager will enjoy reading about David’s journey, and benefit from the underlying lessons within Goodbye Tchaikovsky.

The Midwest Book Review, Children’s Bookwatch May 2012: Goodbye Tchaikovsky is a novel for young adults about the difficulties of learning to live with deafness. At the young age of eleven, David had a natural talent for the violin and nearly perfect pitch; but when he turned twelve, he suddenly lost his hearing. Not only could he no longer listen to music, but he also had to learn how to communicate in American Sign Language, and read lips. Told in first person perspective, Goodbye Tchaikovsky is a story of courage, adaptation, and the struggle to accept a new way of life. Highly recommended.


The Legend of Koolura

Paperback: $13.99

Kindle: $1.99

Koolura isn’t an ordinary girl. She has what every child dreams. She has the COOL.

Koolura has doubts about herself. She and her father have relocated so often she has few community ties. Here, at her new school, for the first time in her life she feels right at home.

Koolura is a sixth grade Armenian girl and this story tells how she obtained the cool powers and gradually learns to use them. She has the ability to dematerialize at will and reappear where she chooses. She can move objects with her mind and she can even defy gravity!

But will these powers be of any use in stopping a stalker intent on the destruction of Koolura and her friends? He’s determined to retrieve Koolura’s unrealized cool powers with the mysterious decoolerizer.

The hour approaches for her final confrontation with her nemesis, the stalker believed to be responsible for her mother’s death.

Thirty-two readers have reviewed The Legend of Koolura with an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Here’s what the reviewers had to say:

Jennifer Leese of the Best Reviews: The Legend of Koolura is a wonderfully written book that tells the story of friendships, rejections, and of course, magic powers. Koolura and her story will keep your middle grade reader turning the pages. The dialogue will thrill them and they’ll find themselves thinking about the realistic characters long after they’ve finished reading. I highly recommend THE LEGEND OF KOOLURA and Michael Thal as an author to label as a new favorite.

Midwest Book Reviews: Michael Thal takes young readers on an adventure that couples magic super powers with the everyday life of intermediate grade students. Through his main character, Koolura Akopyan, a young sixth grade girl, Thal explores the complexities of school kid friendships, the adjustments needed to manage in today’s multicultural classrooms, and the importance of good values.

Books and Pals: The Legend of Koolura is packed full of life lessons that will enhance developing minds of young readers everywhere.


Koolura and the Mystery at Camp Saddleback

Paperback: $13.99

Kindle: $1.99

Koolura has the ability to teleport, levitate, heal, and even fly. But at Camp Saddleback, Koolura wakes up drained and powerless. Who or what has stolen her psychic powers?

As Koolura searches for the truth about her power loss, she and the Chumash Girls have to deal with pranksters ruining their cabin and destroying their summer. Campers plan revenge but problems escalate as lives are threatened. Will Koolura and the Chumash Girls solve the mystery at Camp Saddleback?

Koolura and the Mystery at Camp Saddleback has received 20 customer reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars.

Here’s what the reviewers have to say:

Red City Review: Koolura Akopyan just graduated from the sixth grade, and, for the most part, she seems like any other “tween.” She likes popular music, movies, gossiping with her friends, and spending time with cute boys. But there’s much more to this young Armenian gal than meets the eye–and, when you find out her secrets, you’ll be shocked, surprised, and thoroughly entertained. 

Koolura and The Mystery at Camp Saddleback is the second entry in Michael L. Thal’s Koolura series, which finds the familiar protagonist summering at an exclusive camp where mischief and mystery abound. Like any other kid at a new camp, Koolura has to deal with the personality conflicts she has with the other girls, as well as with the downright dirty tricks the male campers play on them from the nearby “Boys’ Mountain.” But some of those tricks are a little too dangerous and underhanded, and, when their lives are threatened, Koolura and her camp friends realize that someone else is to blame…but whom? Using her intelligence, problem-solving skills, and incredible psychic gifts, Koolura slowly but surely gets to the bottom of things and figures out who’s causing the ruckus at camp–and, after all is said and done, she forgives the perpetrator and moves on to further forge the friendships created during her compelling coming of age.

Author Penny Estelle: I had read Mr. Thal’s first story, The Legend of Koolura and was anxious to see if the second in the series would measure up. Mr. Thal did not disappoint!

This is a delightful story of Koolura and her stay at a six-week summer camp. She and her new friends are plagued with pranks from the near by boys’ camp, but it’s all fun and games until the pranks turn potentially deadly.

Koolura, even with the use of her special powers, finds herself in danger when she…..

NOPE – You will have to read this wonderful story that both you and your children will love! Adventure right from the get go leaves you wanting more, not to mention there is a strong message in this story that all ages should know!

Really nice job, Michael Thal.

Amazon reader, Margo: Having survived the adventures in The Legend of Koolura, the heroine of Michael L. Thal’s novels begins this second installment facing her first date (what a jerk! she decides) and the fact of her father’s developing relationship with a local police officer (it’s nice for them, but nothing Koolura wants to watch). She is therefore perfectly happy to be shipped off to a fancy summer camp. At least, she’s happy until she realizes that her supernatural powers have deserted her—at least half the time. Her sporadic inability to teleport, levitate, fly, and heal has her worried. And when what begins as a series of perfectly normal camp pranks turns dangerous, Koolura has to step in again, this time with the help of her campmates, to solve the mystery at Camp Saddleback. This is a lovely mystery with a fun, age-appropriate, spunky female sleuth. I can’t wait until my own daughter is old enough to enjoy Koolura’s adventures!


Koolura and the Mayans

Paperback: $13.99

Kindle: $2.99

Koolura is no ordinary girl. Neither is her best friend Leila. While visiting Mexico, the girls discover a device, which hurtles them back in time to an early Mayan civilization. The Mayans have troubles of their own—the alien Aquari people have all but enslaved them. They need a goddess to set them free. Could Koolura be the one?

Book three in the Koolura Series; Koolura and the Mayans has received twenty customer reviews with a rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars.

In 2016 Koolura and the Mayans won Second Place in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards-Middle Fiction.

Here’s what the reviewers had to say:

Amazon Reviewer Future Boy: There is tons of science fiction in this middle grade story, and that’s right up my alley! Koolura and her friend travel not just by teleporting all over Earth, but also to another planet several light-years away! Plus, they transcend thousands of years of history! If that doesn’t grab you, what will?

Throw in a revered ancient civilization, the Mayan empire of present-day Mexico, and you have enough ingredients for this snappy story to bubble over.

It’s also nice to see some material given to deaf role models and sign language, a refreshing change that will interest middle grade children.

Author Jeanne Bannon: This is my kind of book. I love paranormal anything and especially YA. The author weaves a wonderful tale, which includes a bit of a history lesson on the Mayans. The protagonist, Koolura, is a twelve year old girl who posses psychic abilities. Koolura and her friend, Leila, are sent back in time through teleportation to help the Mayan people against an invading alien race.

As a side note, I know the author is deaf and I love the way he wove American Sign Language into the plot.

The pace is good and the story is well thought out. Two thumbs up!

Amazon Reviewer SA Kyle: I had the pleasure to meet the author of this fun book at a local book fair, and enthusiastically picked up his latest book.

Koolura and the Mayans is a fantastic read for middle-graders. Filled with sparkling characters, Koolura immerses the reader in a light-hearted adventure rich with Mayan history. Michael Thal gives us Koolura and Leila, two refreshing characters who communicate through American Sign Language (ASL). He does a wonderful job of weaving ASL into the narrative. Thal’s integration of elements of science fiction, alien conspiracy, and Mayan myth infuses humor and intrigue into this action-filled adventure. His rich settings transport the reader in time, to authentic Mayan villages and cities, and fantastic alien worlds.

I highly recommend Koolura and the Mayans to middle-grade readers, as well as Thal’s other books in the series, The Legend of Koolura and Koolura and the Mystery at Camp Saddleback. A copy of Koolura and the Mayans was provided to me from the author in exchange for an honest review.


The Abduction of Joshua Bloom

Paperback: $16.99

Kindle: $2.99

A high school track star is abducted by aliens, explores strange worlds, uncovers genocide on a planetary scale, and is thrust into extraterrestrial politics that decides the fate of an Earth on the brink of war or unification.

The Abduction of Joshua Bloom tells the story of a teen abduction by an alien race that justifies their act in an attempt to save their people. Joshua finds himself in a world dominated by women, and men are subjugated to their whims. He travels to a dinosaur world, visits a water planet, and the alien home world doomed by a star about to nova.

On Amazon.com, The Abduction of Joshua Bloom has received 14 reviews with an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Here’s what the reviewers have to say:

 Red City Review: Michael L. Thal’s The Abduction of Joshua Bloom is a book filled with excitement and constant intrigue. The action in the novel never reaches slow points, and the reader is always shocked and surprised with the twists and turns throughout. In some areas, the descriptions of the events seem underdeveloped; however, overall, the events are gripping, the scenery is descriptive, and the characters are well developed. Readers will be sure to empathize with the emotions Joshua undergoes throughout his years away from home, just as they are sure to really feel for him during his return to Earth. Combining elements of love, loss, and legacy, The Abduction of Joshua Bloom is a read for those of all ages and interests.

Author Anne Loader McGee: When 16 year old Joshua Bloom awakens aboard an alien ship, he not only discovers the craft is being manned by a group of technically and socially-evolved teenagers from an alien culture, but that his abduction has a purpose. The Oceanians, as they are called, intend to train him to act as intermediary between the leaders of their own planet and the governments of Earth. They are desperate to leave their planet, and Earth has been chosen as the place most suited for relocation. In exchange for this, they are prepared to share their technology, their way of life, and their philosophy. And so begins a fascinating journey for Joshua Bloom in this fast-paced science fiction action story, guaranteed to hold your attention from beginning to end. I highly recommend this well-written and enjoyable novel.

Amazon Reviewer Donnielle Tyner: I’m a fan of YA and Sci-Fi, so I was excited to read this book and it didn’t disappoint. Although, I’ll admit, at first I thought this was going to be some sort of boy’s wet dream come true story (Boy abducted by a group of strong women, one of whom flirts with him instantly). And I’m so glad I was mistaken. The world Thal builds is exciting and full of hope for the future of mankind.

The MC, Joshua, is a typical teenage boy. At times, Joshua was immature, but what sixteen-year-old isn’t? It’s great that Thal allowed him to be smart and tough, yet still pass out and cry. Allowing a boy or man to be at one with his masculine side and his emotions is a concept that is severely lacking in the YA genre. Most YA boys are tough mans-men, but sensitive boys are usually not the heroes. Thank You Thal for that!

Anita and the other Oceana’s are an interesting race and you get plenty of backstory of the main characters and the history of the race as a whole. I felt they were a believable alien race. It was interesting how the sex-dynamic was reversed in Oceana and how Joshua was forced to experience the struggle that Earth women have to deal with.

In short, The Abduction of Joshua Bloom is an enjoyable read.


It’s a pretty hot day here in Los Angeles, so I think I’ll grab an ice-cold Coke, kick back, and read one of Thal’s entertaining novels. Would you like to join me?



Michael is the author of four published novels—Goodbye Tchaikovsky, The Abduction of Joshua Bloom, and The Koolura Series—The Legend of Koolura and Koolura and the Mystery at Camp Saddleback. He is also a columnist for the Los Angeles Examiner writing articles about parenting and education. His blog features YA authors and books.

3 thoughts on “5 YA Books Critics Have Enjoyed

  1. Joe Bock Reply

    Goodbye Tchaikovsky is definitely on my list of the best books I have ever read.

  2. Brenda Young Reply

    Hi Michael,

    Congratulations on your literary accomplishments! I teach English to at-risk teens at a continuation school in Reseda, and am always on the look-out for YA material. I’m glad to read the review about your sic-fi books, as I am very weak in that category. If you ever want to address some teen reluctant readers-give me a shout!

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