Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite

The Essentialz by Paul Cicchini throws the spotlight on four groups of teenagers living in four different parts of America; Nevada, New Jersey, Florida, and North Dakota, and who are gifted with some great superpowers. These groups, Gliders from New Jersey, Diggers from Nevada, Surfers from Florida, and Bunsens from North Dakota, are unaware of the existence of each other and are insanely clever and talented. Angela, Marco, and Rockwell (Nevada), Gabrielle, Flynn, and Sarah (New Jersey), Connors, Hudson, and Lark (Florida), and Blaise, Kiara, and Max (North Dakota) take readers on a fascinating adventure where they finally realize there are others like them who possess superpowers and with whom they can join hands to save the planet from destruction. Will these teens meet each other and if they do, how does it happen? Do they respect each others’ powers, and will they be able to work together with respect and trust to deal with the impending doom that looms ahead? ISIS? Russia? China? What is it or is it something bigger than all this?

The Essentialz by Paul Cicchini is compelling and the author very deftly weaves the four groups into the plot without sounding forced. There is a lot of drama and action that adds to the urgency in the plot and keeps readers glued to the story. The author does an excellent job portraying the characters and the gifts of each group and there is not one boring moment in the story as the teenagers channel their superpowers and work toward a common cause. The narration is detailed and descriptive, making the story vivid and palpable to readers. The various layers and dimensions in the plot are fascinating and they give it a good pace and movement. It is interesting to see the characters developing their powers, practicing them, and learning how to control them.

Liz Konkel
The Essentialz by Paul Cicchini finds four groups of teenagers drawn together when each finds themselves in a bizarre accident that leaves them with extraordinary abilities. The only similarity between the groups of teenagers is their passion for extreme sports and high intelligence. In Nevada, Angela, Marco, and Rockwell are venturing deep within a tunnel when they’re suddenly trapped in a cave-in of lava. In Florida, Lark and her friends Hudson and Connor are diving and thought their biggest worry would be blacktip sharks when sudden light spears through them. In North Dakota, Kiara, Blaise, and Max have teamed together on a project when an unusual event of plasma leads to a shocking discovery. In New Jersey, Sarah, Gabby, and Flynn are out skydiving when a gust of wind knocks into them. As each discovers newfound powers, their lives begin to interconnect as they work together to understand their abilities and the events that lead them to become the Essentialz.

Paul Cicchini weaves through multiple perspectives of the teenagers as they go from the thrill of extreme sports and exploration to the thrill of discovering these amazing abilities. Their interest in these sports puts them directly into the strange phenomena that gift them with unique and unusual abilities based upon the events. Each of the teenagers become super-powered heroes with their thrill-seeking personalities at the root of their journey while the world stays grounded in the struggles, guilt, prejudice, and daily experiences they face. Each gets a thrill from their new superpowers and learns to master a variety of elemental-based abilities which include dematerializing into the plasma stream, becoming flames, and turning into water. The tone of the story is akin to a superhero epic with an action-packed plot and a coming of age journey woven throughout their rise to heroes. The Essentialz is a superhero epic with thrilling action moments, set against the world of extreme sports which shows you a variety of teenagers from different backgrounds sharing this passion.

Susan Sewell 
After separate alien encounters, a dozen teens are gifted with extraordinary capabilities that rival comic book heroes in the exciting science-fiction novel, The Essentialz by Paul Cicchini. While spelunking in Nevada, Angela, Marco, and Rockwell are caught in an explosion of orange light that alters their DNA, giving Angela the power to manipulate matter, Rocky can morph into stone, and Marco can energize stones. At the same time in Florida, New Jersey, and North Dakota, three other groups of teens are affected similarly. While skydiving, Flynn, Gabrielle, and Sarah encounter a UFO, leaving them with varying aspects of flight. Conducting a Tesla experiment, Blaise, Max, and Kiara are assaulted by an electrical being, leaving Max with the ability to time travel, Blaise a conduit of electricity, and Kiara a fiery inferno. While scuba diving, Hudson, Lark, and Connor are overcome by a burst of green light, enhancing them with the abilities to shapeshift into and communicate with sea creatures, and transform into water and control the movement of it. When all twelve mutated teenagers meet for the first time, sparks and fur fly. However, a powerful man is attempting to dominate the nation and it will require all of them working together to stop him. Can they set aside their differences and work together against a common enemy?

The Essentialz by Paul Cicchini is an electrifying science-fiction novel with exceptional and unconventional adolescent heroes. Containing action-packed scenes, a deadly conflict, and a formidable villain, it is a spellbinding story with panache. From the beginning, I was reminded of Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics heroes, the Fantastic Four, and how each of the characters is an embodiment of one of the four basic elements of earth, air, fire, and water. I was also favorably impressed with the addition of current social issues confronting the protagonists and appreciated how these concerns were reasonably and ethically addressed. Although it has a complex plot and several points of view, Mr. Cicchini has skillfully coalesced these aspects of the story into an elegant and powerful novel. It is a thrilling fantasy adventure that will delight graphic novel and comic book fans who enjoy teenage heroes triumphing over evil villains trying to take over the world.


Reviewed By Liz Konkel for Readers’ Favorite

Young Cyrano by Paul Cicchini is the story of the famed Cyrano’s youth and tells of a time before the tragic events of the play. Cyrano is idealistic and carefree, pining for the beautiful Roxanne and spending his days getting into trouble with his closest friend Le Bret. When Roxanne teases him of ghosts in the woods, the trio embarks on an adventure to know for sure, instead finding the runaway soldier Don Diego. Cyrano quickly takes up the job of helping him even if it means going behind his father’s back. Then he and Le Bret embark on a new academic adventure where Cyrano finds more trouble than he expected when not everybody is won over by his charm, where a beautiful girl catches his eye, and where he discovers a talent for poetry.

Paul Cicchini excels at fitting the tone and dialogue to encompass the personality and charismatic nature of Cyrano by embracing the liveliness of the character and having genuine fun telling the story. This story is a prequel set before the events of the famous story. The dialogue has a playfulness to it that keeps the tone light but this doesn’t take away from the war or the dangers that seem to come his way. The adventures of young Cyrano all connect but also make up a different aspect of his life with Don Diego, his feelings for Roxanne, the new woman he meets, and his adventures at school all playing a key part in how his story will eventually unfold. Everything he goes through, he does with his best friend at his side and whose encouragement guides him forward while also laying the groundwork for the bond between the two characters as adults. Cyrano’s love of poetry and drama are explored through his time at school and help to build who Cyrano becomes.

Cicchini captures the ambiance with relative ease which makes the story feel like a true beginning to the characters. The various adventures set the origins for everyone and foreshadow how Cyrano’s story turns out in the end. This will appeal to fans of the play but is written so that anyone can enjoy the story and fall in love with the character as the dashing and charismatic being he is. The story of Don Diego sets the stage for both the war and for Cyrano’s love of adventure which helps lead into his struggles at school, and where the real danger ends up when he encounters a famed villainous character. Young Cyrano is humorous and charming which makes for an adventurous and fun origin story.

Great Reviews for GODSMACKED:

Mr. Richard L. Bunning  READERS CHOICE

November 11, 2011

Format: Paperback
This concise, humorous, book is absolutely splattered with modern cultural references, and amusing interpretations of the gods of Classical Greece, which can’t help but connect with most inhabitants of the English speaking world. It is hard to go through many lines without finding oneself painting pictures, with all Cicchini’s quick-fire, skimming, mentions. Before long I found myself imagining Cicchini’s crazy chain of eccentric thinking as a cartoon, even though there is not so much as a line drawing anywhere in the book. The whole thing is a little bit Douglas Adams, a little bit Walter Sellar & Robert Yeatman (“1066 And All That”), or Terry Gilliam, or Disney’s “Hercules” and all floating in a Manga world. One may well be reminded of the quirky teacher, who is or was one of the few to inspire you in school; not always quite funny, not always quite to the point, not always quite on your planet, but always engaging and inspirational. This is a book, once started, will almost always be finished and remembered.
Cicchini uses Greek mythology and a heavy dose of the absurd to encourage all, whether we are fortunate enough to still be in the dissidence of youth or in the sometime depression of decline, to lighten up, and cheerfully make the best of our limited talents. We certainly aren’t confined to the original Greek/Biblical use of “talent” as money. Take this message on-board, but don’t for a minute think of this book as being preachy or as some sort of comic “how to be as great as me”. Cicchini is loud on irreverent fun and merely suggestive of dogmatic sermon.
At times in this book I felt more as though I was a listener from the audience of an entertaining speaker, rather than reading quietly to myself, as though watching a pacey lecture with plenty of funny slides. We are one second with Tolkien, the next with Justin Bieber. One time we glance at an image from Clement Moore’s “The Night before Christmas” and then next a sequence from “Pimp my Ride”. A moment later and Athena is defending us from the Gorgons and then before one can blink Hermes is stealing cattle from Apollo. If this book was a painting, it would be busy, bright, even garish, pop art. Its cheerful chaos would say, “lighten up, and try and do what you can to make life just a touch more bearable for everyone in it”. This book isn’t going to interest those who prefer to avoid playful flippancy, and ridiculous comedy, but it worked for me.
on November 29, 2011

Charlie Ellison is having a bad day. Or rather, he’s having a bad life. He meanders through his mundane reality, vaguely aware that there may be something more out there. That is, until one Sunday morning, when he falls into a black hole and finds himself in a strange and beautiful world, surrounded by modern day versions of the Greek gods. In an attempt to find a way for Charlie to get back to New Jersey, his new friend Herc (a teenage and skinny Hercules) introduces him to hippy Demeter, smarmy Hermes, jealous Hera, brutal Ares, and a host of other gods and goddesses who keep to their ancient characteristics while embracing modern sensibilities. Charlie’s final encounter is his most profound, and leaves him with a new understanding of how he wants to live his life back on Earth.

Cicchini mixes commentary on politics, the environment, gender relations, and religion with snappy references to pop culture. From Dr. Who to The Wizard of Oz, from Chia Pet to Fox News, and from Carlos Castaneda to Las Vegas, this novel will keep you engaged with it’s non-stop barrage of corny jokes and snarky barbs. As we follow Charlie’s mad-cap adventure through the underworld, we also learn about some sad events in his past. This combination of real-life pathos and wacky fantasy creates an engaging narrative that entertains while it also inspires.