Book Review: The Super Ladies by Susan Petrone

The Super Ladies
Susan Petrone
The story Plant, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61188-258-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

For three middle-aged women in the suburbs of Cleveland, the issues seemed compelling but relatively conventional: sending a child off to college, dealing with a marriage gone stale, feeling “invisible.” But changes were coming . . . and not the predictable ones. Because Margie, Katherine, and Abra are feeling a new kind of power inside of them – literally. Of all the things they thought they might have to contend with as they got older, not one of them considered they’d be exploding a few gender roles by becoming superheroes.

Life for suburban moms Margie, Katherine and Abra is just what you might expect as they hit their late 40’s. Children will be going off to college soon, marital bliss is waning, and bodies are slowing down. One day to the next has become routine over the years and menopause is on the horizon. Life, in other words, has lost the excitement of their earlier years.

Then, in a strange turn of events, the three ladies suddenly find they have acquired certain strengths, superpowers if you will, after an accident involving tofu and a Bunsen burner. Thing is, these are no “normal” superpowers and the ladies have to figure out what to do with them and how to keep it all secret. Still, it’s fun to be able to do special things and helping other people is a blast.

The Super Ladies is a treat and so are the ladies themselves, now living their own special adventure. Humor and the usual superheroes air of fun and action make this a really appealing and unique story. Best of all is Ms. Petrone’s focus on middle-aged women instead of a thirty-something gorgeous woman and I hope we’ll see more of the super ladies.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from The Super Ladies

On the way home, Katherine called shotgun, so Abra had to sit in the back of Margie’s minivan amid soccer shin guards, baseballs, stray sneakers, swim goggles, granola bar wrappers, a rubber-banded stack of Pokemon cards, and a book on playing Minecraft. “How was this shoe not on the seat when we left?” Abra asked.

“I really couldn’t tell you,” Margie replied over her shoulder. “Things back there just seem to migrate around on their own. Hold it up.” Abra did so, and Margie took a quick look at it in the rearview mirror as they pulled out of the parking lot and onto Superior Avenue. “I don’t even think that belongs to one of mine.”

“Now you know why I called shotgun. The backseat scares me,” Katherine said. “I sometimes get overwhelmed with one kid. How do you manage three?”

“I have no life. Duh,” Margie replied.

Margie cut south onto East 12th Street and then turned east onto Chester Avenue, which would take them through Midtown, up Cedar Hill, and back home. As they drove by Cleveland State University, she asked Katherine, “Do we still have to flip the bird to CSU for denying Hal tenure?”

“Nah, the statute of limitations has expired on that one, I think.”

“I like the new housing they’re building down here,” Abra said. “If I ever move downtown, would you two come and visit me?”

“Hell yes,” said Katherine.

“Sure,” Margie added. “Are you seriously thinking of moving or just toying with it?”

“Toying. If I can unload the house to the bank, I’ll have to rent somewhere. And I’d be closer to work.”

“If you move, who will I run with every morning?” “I don’t know. Get another dog?”

Chester was a wide, three-lanes-in-each-direction boulevard that took them past the university neighborhood and through the dead zone in between downtown, where most of the office buildings and entertainment areas were, and University Circle, where most of the city’s museums and cultural gems were ensconced. Economic development hadn’t hit this middle area, and much of it was taken up by vacant buildings, empty lots, and boarded-up houses.

Nine fifteen on a Thursday night in mid-May isn’t late and isn’t scary. Still, Margie got a bad feeling when she saw a young woman on the sidewalk walking fast, hands folded across her chest, not looking at the man who walked next to her. The girl was a stranger—not her age, not her race, not her neighborhood, but still, the girl was someone, some mother’s daughter.

Margie pulled over to the curb, leaving the engine running.

“Why are you stopping?” Katherine asked.

The few other cars on the wide road passed by without slowing. No cars were parked on the street; Margie’s van was the only stopped vehicle for blocks. Katherine and Abra followed Margie’s gaze to the scene unfolding on the sidewalk. The man was yelling at the woman now. They couldn’t make out exactly what he was yelling but heard the words “bitch” and “money” a few times. And they could see his flailing arms, his face leering up against hers. She stopped walking and said something to him, and he hit her. She lost her balance and fell against the chain-link fence that ran along the sidewalk. They were in front of an empty lot, where once there might have been a house but now was only a square of crabgrass and crumbling concrete and stray garbage. For a moment, there were no other cars on the road. There was no one else on the street, no inhabited buildings for a couple blocks either way. If not for them, the woman was on her own.

“Call nine-one-one,” Abra said as the man hit the woman again. The woman tried to get away, but he grabbed her shoulders and shoved her hard against the fence.

“There’s no time,” Katherine said. In a heartbeat, she was out of the car.

“Darn it, come on…” Abra muttered as she fumbled with the sliding side door and jumped out. “Keep the engine running,” she said as she followed Katherine.

“I’ll go with you…” Margie started to say. No, Abra was right. Someone had to stay with the van, keep the engine running, stay behind the wheel in case they needed to make a quick getaway. Glancing behind her, she backed up alongside the people on the sidewalk. It felt proactive. She could hear Katherine’s strong teacher voice saying loudly but calmly, “Leave her alone” and the woman yelling, “Call the police!” It suddenly occurred to Margie that she had a phone. She could call the police. Hands trembling and heart racing, Margie frantically fumbled through her bag for her phone.

She told the 911 dispatcher where she was and what was happening, the whole time watching Katherine and Abra and the couple on the sidewalk. Suddenly, there was a glint of something shiny in the streetlight as the man rushed toward Katherine. She heard a scream, and then she couldn’t see Abra anymore.

Katherine got out of the car purely through instinct. There was someone in trouble—helping is what you were supposed to do, right? It wasn’t until she was on the sidewalk, walking toward the man and woman, saying loudly, “Leave her alone” and watching the man turn to face her that she realized she had absolutely no idea what to do next. None. It was then that her heart started pounding and a hot wave of fear tingled through her arms and legs.

Up close, she could see the guy was taller and more muscular than he appeared from the safety of the van. He was maybe white, maybe light-skinned African American with a shaved head. An indecipherable neck tattoo peeked out from under his close-fitting, long-sleeved black T-shirt. She tried to burn a police description into her brain. The woman yelled, “Call the police!” at the same time the guy said, “This is none of your damn business, lady” to Katherine. The utter disdain in his voice cleared everything out of her brain except one thought: This was such a mistake. This was such a stupid mistake. There was no way this could end well. For a split second, she imagined Hal and Anna without her, wondered if they would think her foolish for getting herself killed in this way. She heard Abra say softly, “Just let her go, man.”

Katherine could just see Abra off to her right. Margie had backed up, and the open doors of the van were only a few yards away. She could faintly hear Margie’s voice, talking to 911 maybe? Knowing they were both nearby gave her a tiny bit more courage. Katherine took a tentative step toward the woman, who was kneeling by the fence. Her face was bloodied, the sleeve of her shirt ripped. “Miss?” she asked. She looked about nineteen or twenty. Not a woman. A girl. “Why don’t you come with us? We’ll give you a ride.”

“She don’t need a ride,” the man said.

The rest of the street seemed eerily quiet. Couldn’t someone else stop and help? Someone big? Someone male maybe? Katherine wasn’t that big, but she was big enough, strong enough. She could help. Slowly she extended her left arm. If the woman wanted to take her hand, she could. Katherine held the woman’s gaze, hoping she could silently convince her that leaving with some strangers was preferable to getting beaten up by her boyfriend. Katherine was so focused that she didn’t see the knife until it was against her arm, in her arm. The man cut so fast that she hardly saw the blade, only the flash of metal against her pale white skin. It occurred to her that she needed to get out in the sun. Why am I worried about how pale I am? I just got cut. She felt the sensation of the blade slicing through flesh, felt a momentary spark of pain, and then the pain was gone. It happened faster than a flu shot—a quick prick, then nothing.

The man only made one swipe, then stopped, triumphant, staring at her arm, expecting blood, expecting her to scream, to fall. There wasn’t any blood on her arm or the knife. No blood, just Katherine staring at him wide-eyed and unharmed.

Then the man was on the ground, hit from the side by…something, something Katherine couldn’t see. The knife dropped from his hands and landed near her foot. She kicked it away at the same time she heard Abra’s voice yell, “Run!” But where the hell was Abra? She must be in the van. Katherine couldn’t see her.

Katherine said, “Come on” to the woman, who was now up and moving toward her. The woman needed no more convincing and was in the car before Katherine, even before Abra. Where had Abra been? How could she be the last one to pile into the minivan, yelling, “Go! Go!” to Margie, who was slamming on the gas before the door was even closed.

Nobody said anything for a moment. The only sound in the car was that of four women catching their breath, being glad they had breath left in their bodies. Then all of them simultaneously erupted into words of relief and fear, asking each other “Are you all right? Are you all right?”

“Oh sweet mother, I can’t believe you all just did that,” Margie said. “I thought—Katherine, I honestly thought he was going to kill you.”

“So did I,” Abra said. “How the hell did he not cut you? How did he miss you?”

“He didn’t miss me,” Katherine replied quietly. Feeling fine seemed intrinsically wrong, but there it was. Unreal sense of calm? Yes. Pain and blood? No.

Before Margie or Abra could respond, the woman exclaimed, “Oh my God, thank you! Sean would’ve done me in this time, I know it. Y’all were like superheroes or something. You saved my life.”

The three women were quiet for a heartbeat. For the moment, the hyperbole of the phrase “You saved my life” was gone. It was arguably true. This was a new sensation. Frightening and humbling. Then Margie said, “Shoot, I dropped the phone.” With one hand on the wheel, she felt around in the great vortex of tissues, empty cups, and scraps of paper in the molded plastic section in between the two front seats.

“I got it,” Katherine said, coming up with the phone. The 911 dispatcher was still on the line, wondering what was going on. “Hello?” Katherine said. “We’re okay. We got away, the woman is safe. We’re going—where are we going?”

“Anywhere away from Sean,” the woman in the back said.

“There’s a police station right down the street at one hundred and fifth,” Abra said.

“Right, I know where that is,” Margie said.

A police car with the siren off but lights flashing came roaring down Chester Avenue in the opposite direction.

“Was that for us?” Margie asked.

“I think so,” Abra said.

Katherine hardly had time to explain what had happened to the dispatcher before they were at the station. There was a long hour-plus of giving witness statements to a jaded-looking police officer who told them several times how lucky they were to have gotten out of the situation with no harm done. “What you three ladies did was very brave and very stupid,” he said in closing.

“We know,” Abra replied.

They were told they might be called as witnesses if the woman, Janelle, decided to press charges against her boyfriend. Then they were free to go. The three of them walked out of the police station and to the waiting minivan. It was nearing midnight, and the spring evening had moved from cool to downright chilly. Even so, none of them moved to get into the van. Margie unlocked it and opened the driver’s door, then just stood looking at the ground, one hand on the door, the other on the side of the van, breathing slowly. Abra paced in a slow oval near the back of the van, while Katherine leaned against it and gazed up at the few faint stars that could be seen against the city lights. She suddenly wanted to be somewhere quiet, away from the city, away from people. Margie’s voice brought her back: “I’m sorry I didn’t do anything to help.”

What are you talking about?” Katherine said. “If it weren’t for you, we never would have gotten out of there.”

Abra walked around the van to Margie. “You were the only smart one. I’m sorry I got out of the car. That was stupid.” As Abra said this, she shivered, her lips trembled, and she started to shake. “That was so stupid.” “I got out first,” Katherine said. “I’m the stupid one.” Katherine almost never saw Margie cry. Even when her eldest child was going through hell, Katherine had been amazed and admiring of her friend’s resilience. But now Margie seemed overwhelmed by heaving sobs. “I’m just so glad the two of you are okay,” Margie stammered. Crying people generally made her nervous, but Katherine joined Margie and Abra on the other side of the van.

When your friends need you, they need you.

Excerpt from The Super Ladies by Susan Petrone.  Copyright © 2017 by Susan Petrone. Reproduced with permission from Susan Petrone. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Susan Petrone lives with one husband, one child, and two dogs in Cleveland, Ohio. Her superpower has yet to be uncovered.

Catch Up with Susan Petrone Online:

Website // Twitter
Facebook // Goodreads

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Book Review: I Laughed When I Wrote It by Alan Zoldan

I Laughed When I Wrote It
518 Of My Funniest Tweets
Alan Zoldan
SynergEbooks, April 2018
ISBN: 978-0-744-32379-5
Trade Paperback

If ever there was a more important time to read this book by Alan Zoldan, I don’t know, nor can I imagine, when it was/could be!

I can only speak for myself of course, but if I ever needed the laughs that this book provides, it is now!  At a time when reading the morning newspapers, or watching the news on tv, was more depressing than it is now, I can’t imagine when that time was!  Mr. Zoldan has, in providing us with “518 of [his] Funniest Tweets,” given us just the break from today’s reality that we [although again I can only speak for myself] need desperately!  The author wrote the book after 7 years and 895 tweets, and his selection is excellent!

I guess the only way I can back this up, and illustrate the author’s sense of humor, is to give you a few examples. The sections are headed Laughing at Myself, Cultural Quips, Random Observation, One Liners, and Rated “R” for Raunchy, which starts off with a line from Woody Allen:  “Don’t knock masturbation.  It’s sex with someone you love.”  Some of the other things included in this section:  “My wife and I were happy for 22 years – and then we met;”  “I really don’t believe in meaningless sex.  I mean, at the very least, it means that you’ve had sex;” “Just once I’d like to relapse at a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting;” …Protected sex is way too expensive.  Not everyone can afford a bodyguard you know;” . . .  “I never got into Twitter for the fame, money,or sex – which, as things are turning out, is just as well.”   Among the one-liners:  “After all is said and done, there is usually much more said than done . . . The results of my friend’s IQ test were negative . . . My wife keeps complaining I never listen to her . . . or something like that . . . If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong . . . Change is inevitable – – except from a vending machine .. . The last thing I want to do is hurt you.  But it’s still on my list . . . I think someone stopped the payment on my reality check . . .  Is there another word for synonym?”  I’ll stop the quotes now, because I’m sure you’ve already decided to go out and buy the book – good thinking!

As per the notes that the publisher has included at the end of the book, headed “About the Author,” the latter “believes that this is the book America needs at this time.”  Truer words were never written!  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: Baby’s First Felony by John Straley

Baby’s First Felony
A Cecil Younger Investigation #7
John Straley
Soho Crime, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-878-7
Hardcover

Baby’s First Felony brings back Cecil Younger and the wonderful setting of Sitka, Alaska.  Before even starting the book, I would strongly urge readers to turn to the end and read through the A Guide to Avoiding a Life in Crime. The rules as outlined are referenced frequently, so you might want to keep a book mark there as well.

Cecil is called to the jail to arrange bail for a client who asks that he go pick up a box containing things that will prove her innocence which she left with friends. Two things about this cause Cecil angst. First, the box contains money. Lots of money. And secondly the place she left the box is the house where a friend of Cecil’s daughter’s friend is now living and a place that his daughter Blossom has run off to when her mother gets on her nerves. But that is just the beginning of Cecil’s problems. There are drugs, a kidnapping and a murder to contend with causing Cecil to break nearly every one of his rules as outlined in the book.

Along with the criminal plot is an interesting side story involving the use of humor as therapy for autism leading the book to be packed with jokes as told by Todd, the sort of adopted son of Cecil. Some of these are really pretty funny. There is a very brief note at the end of the book lending credence to this as a real therapy. This also brings in the very real issue of who has a right to post someone’s comments on line.

It has been a very long time since the last of the Cecil Younger book was published so it was especially fun to catch up with Cecil and life in Sitka, Alaska.  Perhaps an odd benefit of the long delay in bringing Cecil back to print is that it gives readers new to the series a chance to jump in as Baby’s First Felony does not rely on past plots and Straley does an excellent job of giving readers what little back story is necessary. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more Cecil very soon.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, July 2018.

Book Review: Echoes by Alice Reeds

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Title: Echoes
Author: Alice Reeds
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: August 7, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
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Indiebound // Entangled Publishing

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Echoes
Alice Reed
Entangled Teen, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-64063-247-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

They wake on a deserted island. Fiona and Miles, high school enemies now stranded together. No memory of how they got there. No plan to follow, no hope to hold on to.

Each step forward reveals the mystery behind the forces that brought them here. And soon, the most chilling discovery: something else is on the island with them.

Something that won’t let them leave alive.

Well, my goodness. To say I was surprised by this book would be a mild understatement. I thought it sounded like it could be good—otherwise, I wouldn’t have signed on to review it for this blog tour—but this is better than good. This is the Young Adult thriller that might just convert some of those adult readers out there who think YA isn’t interesting enough or able to grab their attention.

The stakes are high from the very first page when Fiona is relating the abject fear setting in on Miles and herself as their plane begins to go down and the tension never really lets up from then till the end. Sure, there are some quiet moments, but here they are on an island, all alone with no idea where they are or if anyone knows the plane crashed. Survival has to come first but little hints here and there pull them hither and yon as to what’s real and what isn’t, all while these two teens who really don’t like each other have to learn to get along. If they don’t, the consequences could be deadly.

Or might the truth be something else entirely? An alternate timeline weaves in and out and we don’t know any more than Fiona and Miles do. That, my friends, is a perfect setup to mess with your minds as well as theirs and I promise you’ll be scratching your head the whole time.

Fiona and Miles are not my favorite characters ever and, truthfully, there are flaws in this story plus I could do without some of the teen angst, but I truly do think this is a tale worth a few hours of a reader’s time. Fair warning, though—you won’t get all the answers you want and I, for one, am certainly hoping a sequel is in the works 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

About the Author

Alice Reeds was born in a small town in Germany but spent her first eight years in Florida, USA. Later on, she moved back to Europe, where her family moved around a lot. She was raised trilingual and has a basic understanding of Russian, read and spoken. After getting her International Baccalaureate Diploma, Alice is studying English Language and Literature at University. In her free time Alice mostly writes, reads, figure and/or roller skates, or watches countless let’s plays and figure skating videos.

Author Links:

Website // Goodreads // Twitter

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3 print copies of Echoes (US only)
Enter here.

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Book Reviews: The Dark Clouds Shining by David Downing and The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver

The Dark Clouds Shining
Jack McColl Series #4
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-606-6
Hardcover

With this, the fourth Jack McColl spy story, David Downing concludes the series.  It takes place just as the civil war in Soviet Russia is ending and developments are dire with respect to the original high hopes that accompanied the Revolution, and the nation suffers from all kinds of shortages, especially food for a starving populace.  Jack is not faring any better, languishing in jail for assaulting a Bobby, when his Secret Service boss visits him and presents Jack with a way to get out if he accepts an unofficial assignment.  Jack is disillusioned by the slaughter of so many in the Great War and can’t abide spying for his country any more, but accepts the assignment to get out of jail.  So he goes to Russia to learn what other British spies are planning at the behest of MI5.  And unknown to him, he will again meet with the love of his life, Caitlin, who is now married to one of the men involved in the MI5 scheme which Jack was sent to investigate and possibly foil.

The author’s ability to recreate the environment of the historical period, along with descriptions of the economic and political atmosphere, is outstanding, as is the recounting of the action resulting from the hunt by both Jack and the Cheka, the Russian secret service and forerunner of the GPU, for the plotters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

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The Cutting Edge
A Lincoln Rhyme Novel #14
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4555-3641-2
Hardcover

What starts off as a murder mystery turns into a multi-faceted conspiracy in the latest Lincoln Rhyme novel.  It begins with the murder of a prominent diamond cutter in the heart of New York’s jewelry district on 47th Street, although the murderer apparently left behind a small fortune in gems, so the motive remains obscure.  A young apprentice walks in during the murder and is shot at but is saved when the bullet hits a bag filled with rocks instead.

Subsequent murders take place, ostensibly by a psycho who is out to save diamonds from being defaced as engagement rings and who trails young couples in the act of making purchases and killing them.  Meanwhile Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are analyzing the few clues available and seeking to locate the apprentice, who is hiding from view.  Then a series of explosions take place, believed to be earthquakes in the heart of Brooklyn.

And as a sidelight, Rhyme agrees for the first time to assist a defendant, a murderous Mexican drug lord on trial in Federal court for illegal entry and murder, by reviewing the evidence in the hope of establishing an error.  This gives the author another chance to fool the reader with another twist.

Of course, the whole plot is premised on Mr. Deaver’s ability to surprise readers by leading them down a path only to divert them finally by revealing something else in the end.  The series is long- standing and always diverting, especially when forensics are analyzed and explained.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Review: All Systems Down by Sam Boush

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Title: All Systems Down
Series: The Cyber War #1
Author: Sam Boush
Publisher: Lakewater Press
Publication Date: February 8, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction, Cyberthriller

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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All Systems Down
The Cyber War #1
Sam Boush
Lakewater Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-9944512-7-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

24 hours.
That’s all it takes.
A new kind of war has begun.

Pak Han-Yong’s day is here. An elite hacker with Unit 101 of the North Korean military, he’s labored for years to launch Project Sonnimne: a series of deadly viruses set to cripple Imperialist infrastructure.

And with one tap of his keyboard, the rewards are immediate.

Brendan Chogan isn’t a hero. He’s an out-of-work parking enforcement officer and one-time collegiate boxer trying to support his wife and children. But now there’s a foreign enemy on the shore, a blackout that extends across America, and an unseen menace targeting him.

Brendan will do whatever it takes to keep his family safe.

In the wake of the cyber attacks, electrical grids fail, satellites crash to earth, and the destinies of nine strangers collide.

Strangers whose survival depends upon each other’s skills and courage.

I can’t help wondering when Mr. Boush conceived the idea for his novel or when he started writing it but it certainly is reflective of our current (and ongoing, apparently) situation with both North Korea and Russia and is very timely indeed. We’ve also had years of experience with hackers installing viruses into the internet so, all in all, the concept here is quite credible.

I don’t have enough knowledge of internet workings to say whether the technical aspects in this story are accurate but that lack of knowledge has a beneficial side effect—if I don’t know better, I’m not going to be concerned with those details. That, in turn, makes for a more comfortable read and I don’t have to bother with focusing on those matters, allowing me to just enjoy the ride and enjoy it I did.

The blackout that hits the US nationwide has strong elements of post-apocalyptic fiction, a plus for me, and this revolves pretty equally around our survival without electricity and other things we’ve learned to assume will always be there and on how we actually got in such a state. Placing the tale in contemporary times was a good move on the author’s part because anybody with half an ear to current events has to be aware that this is something that could happen.

Mr. Boush has a good feel for his characters and they’re quite believable, normal yet imperfect. I certainly didn’t like them all but I’m quite sure many people will be very annoying, oblivious, self-centered, ugly-tempered, cruel, etc., should we find ourselves in such a situation. On the other hand, there will be many who remember their humanity and such is the case with Brendan, Lorenzo, Vailea and others.

For a debut novel, All Systems Down is a nifty story with a lot going for it, although it’s not perfect, and I’m anticipating another good tale with the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

About the Author

Sam Boush is a novelist and award-winning journalist.

He has worked as a wildland firefighter, journalist, and owner of a mid-sized marketing agency. Though he’s lived in France and Spain, his heart belongs to Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Tehra, two wonderful children, and a messy cat that keeps them from owning anything nice.

He is a member of the Center for Internet Security, International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, and Cloud Security Alliance.

ALL SYSTEMS DOWN is his first novel, with more to come.

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Amazon * Goodreads

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$25 Amazon gift card
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Book Review: And She Was by Jessica Verdi

And She Was
Jessica Verdi
Point, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-338-15053-7
Hardcover

All teens experience tension between themselves and their parents. Many feel frustrated at times by parental evasiveness or refusal to answer questions about family secrets. For Dara, the tension revolves primarily around her mother’s refusal/reluctance to support her blossoming tennis career. Sure, money is an issue in a single parent home, but Dara’s looked at college and that route doesn’t look promising. Tennis does. When an opportunity to play and earn ranking points in a Canadian tournament comes up, she doubles down on her request for her birth certificate, a document Mellie, her mom, has been continually evasive about.

Dara’s growing frustration peaks while Mom is at work and she enters her mother’s bedroom to seek out the document. Under her mother’s bed she discovers a box. There are two prescription bottles as well as photos of people she doesn’t know. After looking up the two medications, she’s even more puzzled because one is a testosterone blocker, the other an estrogen supplement. She’s stunned by the names listed as parents on her birth certificate stashed under the photos. Neither is familiar and her last name on the certificate is not the one she’s grown up with.

Shock becomes extreme anger and when Mom returns, Dara explodes. What her mother tells her is pretty hard for her to wrap her head around. Mom is her biological father who transitioned after Dara’s mother was killed by a drunk driver. When Dara starts pushing for answers about who her grandparents are and why she’s never met them, Mom’s answers don’t really satisfy her. Still enraged and wounded by what she perceives as Mellie’s selfishness for not being honest, as well as hurting because she suspects her deceased real mom’s parents might have subsidized her hoped for tennis career, Dara packs up her stuff and strong arms her best friend Sam into going on a search for the elusive grandparents.

What ensues is an excellent look at not only how hope can blind us when we’re desperate, but an enlightening and very carefully drawn look at the struggles and processes a transgender person goes through. Jessica Verdi chose to reveal Mellie’s story through emails to Dara while she and Sam are on the road. It’s extremely effective. In addition, the search, and the realizations Dara and Sam come to as they follow lead after lead, help readers to see the other side of the story.

What Dara discovers, how she comes to understand not only Mellie, but her own part in the family drama and her wake up call regarding how she’s treated Sam and what her feelings for him really are, make this a dandy story. I highly suggest it for anyone who wants to understand what challenges someone who is transgender must face as well as anyone who simply wants to read an excellent story.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2018.