Book Review: The Boat House by Jana D. Barrett

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Book Review: If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss

If the Creek Don’t Rise
Leah Weiss
Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-4926-4745-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

He’s gonna be sorry he ever messed with me and Loretta Lynn

Sadie Blue has been a wife for fifteen days. That’s long enough to know she should have never hitched herself to Roy Tupkin, even with the baby.

Sadie is desperate to make her own mark on the world, but in remote Appalachia, a ticket out of town is hard to come by, and hope often gets stomped out.  When a stranger sweeps into Baines Creek and knocks things off kilter, Sadie finds herself with an unexpected lifeline…if she can just figure out how to use it.

This intimate insight into a fiercely proud, tenacious community unfolds through the voices of the forgotten folks of Baines Creek. With a colorful cast of characters that each contribute a new perspective, IF THE CREEK DON’T RISE is a debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

There are only a few authors I’ve come across that write fiction about Appalachia with authority and with a strong sense of understanding, compassion and respect. Catherine Marshall and Sharyn McCrumb come to mind and I’ve now added Leah Weiss to my shortlist. This may be a debut but Ms. Weiss has created a story that, to me, represents the way I personally feel about the Appalachian people and their way of life.

Those of us who live in more traditional, perhaps more “sophisticated” environs get a good taste of Sadie’s insular, self-contained world and, while we think her pregnancy and marriage at such a young age are appalling enough, it’s much harder to comprehend the way of life that would lead her Granny to treat Sadie so harshly. As Sadie says, “Granny don’t do my heart any good” but Granny is what Appalachian mores and society are all about. It all makes thoughts of murder a little more forgiveable.

My heart was immediately taken by Sadie and I was energized by her hopes of escaping this crushing poverty and illiteracy but, truly, nearly all these people, Granny and the abusive Roy included, tugged at me for one reason or another. Some of my reaction is because of my own familiarity with the Appalachian world from regular family trips to the Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee areas when I was growing up and my fondness for fiction set there as well as nonfiction. Ms. Weiss is responsible for drawing me in this time and I truly hope to see more of Sadie and the people of Baines Creek. In the meantime, If the Creek Don’t Rise has a place on my list of best books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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About the Author

Leah Weiss is a Southern writer and novelist born in North Carolina and raised in the foothills of Virginia. Her debut novel, If the Creek Don’t Rise, will be released in August of 2017. Her short stories have been published in The Simple Life magazine, Every Day Fiction and Deep South Magazine. She retired in 2015 from a 24-year career as Executive Assistant to the Headmaster at Virginia Episcopal School. She now pursues writing full time.

Website // Facebook // Goodreads

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“Weiss’ debut novel reveals the best and worst of human nature…
The author’s masterful use of language, including dialect unique
to the area, builds another layer of connection between these
characters while she develops a greater sense of inner isolation
and distance from those outside the community. Weiss’ novel is a
great suggestion for fans of the Big Stone Gap books, by Adriana Trigiani,
and Mitford series, by Jan Karon.” – Booklist, STARRED review

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Book Reviews: Lifers by M.A. Griffin and When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling

 

lifersLifers
M.A. Griffin
Chicken House, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-06553-4
Hardcover

Particularly pertinent in current political climate, this fresh Middle-Grade mystery-adventure is a phenomenally fantastic read for all ages.  Mace may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but when weird news of missing teens and strange sights at night hits close to home, even practical Preston is pulled in.  Also….he is pretty sure he is partly to blame for the most recent disappearances.

Attempting to trace Alice’s steps, Preston walks the night streets of Manchester and senses a spooky truth to the recent rumors.  He enlists Mace to delve deeper and the two stumble onto a pseudo-futuristic-sci-fi scene.  Children are trapped in a prison prototype with dwindling supplies and absolutely no way out.  The only way in, is scheduled to be permanently shut down in less than twenty-four hours.

The juvenile delinquents are not completely alone.  One young lady is the daughter of a recently deceased politician, her “crime”: doubting that her father’s death was an accident.  She is not going down until the guilty party pays.  Two Urban Explorers snuck into the prison to help facilitate an escape and two workers who never wanted their creations to be used in this manner will fight for freedom.

The story plays out in a matter of days; the pace is very quick and quite captivating.  A bit of sharp wit, an unexpected kindness keeps the book from becoming bleak.  Many questions are answered, but nothing is too pat; there’s plenty to think on…..in a sneaky kind of way.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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when-my-heart-was-wickedWhen My Heart Was Wicked
Tricia Stirling
Scholastic Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-69573-2
Hardcover

Lacy is clearly conflicted and completely compelling. At the tender age of sixteen, she has become so very good in spite of her tumultuous, tangled life; but, things change. The loss of a parent is heart-breaking and often life-changing.  When that loss is followed by an abrupt and unwelcome custody change, the downward spiral spins out of control.

Flashbacks and memories reveal the characteristics of Lacy’s parents allowing the reader to understand Lacy’s influences.  The vibes emanating from the recollections reach from the pages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  Parents are palpable presences and when Lacy thinks of her father, sunshine shoots from the pages.  She is light, happy, hopeful……joyous and buoyant when considering her father and his charming hippie-chick wife, Anna.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Lacy’s mother, Cheyenne.  Her unique “teaching techniques” and willingness to spend weeks without electricity did not result in a nurturing home.  Rather, she burned her daughter’s wrist for asking “too many questions”, tied her to a tree to prevent “wandering”, then completely vanished without a word, leaving a broken 13-year old girl all alone.

When My Heart Was Wicked is a captivating and quick read that bravely tackles taboo topics such as “cutting”.  More than merely acknowledging the existence of a disorder that plagues so many teens, by offering an answer to the common question: “why?” On some level, problems that plague Lacy are the same, or at least similar to the challenges every teenager faces.  The importance of identity is not easy to address, but Ms. Stirling demonstrates how strong will, determination and knowledge can carve a unique path, even when it seems all forces are fighting to make you march down a different road.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2016.

Book Review: And Then He Was Gone by Joan Hall Hovey

and-then-he-was-goneAnd Then He Was Gone
Joan Hall Hovey
Books We Love, December 2016
ISBN 978-1-77299-304-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Where is Adam? Julie Raynes’ husband has been missing for six months. Devastated and confused, she refuses to believe that he would leave her voluntarily, though her best friend thinks differently. However, her Aunt Alice, a psychic, tells her Adam has been murdered, and when she reveals how she knows this, any hope that Adam is still alive, dissipates.

The police are also beginning to believe that Adam Raynes was murdered. And Julie is their prime suspect. Her life in ruins, Julie vows to hunt down whoever is responsible for Adam’s murder and make them pay for their crime.

In the meantime, David Gray, a young man who was pulled from a lake by a fisherman when he was 9 years old, wakens from a coma after nearly two decades. Unknown to Julie, Adam and David share a dark connection, a darkness that threatens to devour both of them, in a terrifying race with death.

There are very few authors who do suspense as well as Joan Hall Hovey and, oh boy, she’s right on target with And Then He Was Gone. The title gives you a pretty good idea of what this book is about but that person who’s missing is only the core of the story.

The very first pages were enough to make chills go down my spine and, although it’s clear in that early scene what kind of person we might be dealing with later in the tale, Ms. Hovey weaves a tangle of story lines that, on the surface, have nothing to do with each other…and, yet, perhaps they do. The two characters who have lost the most, Julie and David, know nothing of each other beyond what they see and hear on the news and to tie a missing, probably dead, man with a young man awakening from a 19-year coma seems the height of speculation.

Julie and David each have their own crosses to bear and accompanying them on their respective journeys cemented my interest in this book. Julie, of course, is trying to cope with the disappearance of her husband and the knowledge that some are sure she had something to do with it. David, on the other hand, is slowly learning to live again as well as trying to remember things that matter a great deal.

Then there’s that darkness that connects the two and watching a man’s psychosis descend into even deeper evil is what drives the tension and it’s what kept me reading long past bedtime. What that man is capable of is not beyond belief—we’ve seen and heard of it in real life much too often—but observing how a person’s mind can begin to crumble at a very early age and then he can maintain an aura of respectability for years before the evil begins to control him is creepy at its darkest level. And this is why I love Joan Hall Hovey‘s books—she makes me love her characters while I shiver in the night 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2017.

Book Review: Child’s Play by Merry Jones—and a Giveaway!

childs-playChild’s Play
The Elle Harrison Series #3
Merry Jones
Oceanview Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-60809-191-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Since her husband’s murder two years earlier, life hasn’t been easy for Elle Harrison. Now, at the start of a new school year, the second grade teacher is determined to move on. She’s selling her house and delving into new experiences―like learning trapeze.

Just before the first day of school, Elle learns that a former student, Ty Evans, has been released from juvenile detention where he served time for killing his abusive father. Within days of his release, Elle’s school principal, who’d tormented Ty as a child, is brutally murdered. So is a teacher at the school. And Ty’s former girlfriend. All the victims have links to Ty.

Ty’s younger brother, Seth, is in Elle’s class. When Seth shows up at school beaten and bruised, Elle reports the abuse, and authorities remove Seth and his older sister, Katie, from their home. Is Ty the abuser?

Ty seeks Elle out, confiding that she’s the only adult he’s ever trusted. She tries to be open-minded, even wonders if he’s been wrongly condemned. But when she’s assaulted in the night, she suspects that Ty is her attacker. Is he a serial killer? Is she his next intended victim?

Before Elle discovers the truth, she’s caught in a deadly trap that challenges her deepest convictions about guilt and innocence, childhood and family. Pushed to her limits, she’s forced to face her fears and apply new skills in a deadly fight to survive.

I first encountered the work of Merry Jones almost four years ago and, at the time, I thought there were flaws in The Trouble with Charlie but I still found the tale intriguing and looked forward to future books. Next for me came In the Woods (a different series) almost two years later and, while I didn’t care for that one as much, I didn’t give up on Ms. Jones. Something about her books kept drawing me back and, to my mind, that says a lot about an author’s ability to engage a reader.

Now comes Child’s Play, third entry in the first series and my interest in Ms. Jones has been paid off in spades. This book is the one I consider to be her breakthough novel and I’m truly glad I had the opportunity to read it.

Here we have a dark, disturbing study of the repercussions our actions can have years after the fact, tangled with the impact a troubled home life has on children, sometimes leading to dire events. Elementary school teacher Elle Harrison has to cope with a memory disorder but she remembers Ty Evans well enough, a young man recently released from detention after serving his time for killing his abusive father. When people connected to Ty’s past and present begin to die, Elle can’t help wanting to believe Ty when he insists he’s not the killer but she can’t forget his past nor completely trust him. With continually rising tension and plenty of twists and turns, Elle’s nerves go on high alert but certain truths that come to light are way beyond what she ever anticipated.

I have to say some readers will probably find Child’s Play a bit too violent and emotionally wrenching but I appreciated how Ms. Jones handled some very disturbing topics including the horrifying aspects of true psychosis. For anyone looking for a riveting book you won’t want to put down, this is a fine candidate.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2017.

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An Excerpt from Child’s Play

I was the first one there.

The parking lot was empty, except for Stan’s pickup truck. Stan was the custodian, tall, hair thinning, face pock-marked from long ago acne. He moved silently, popped out of closets and appeared in corners, prowled the halls armed with a mop or a broom. In fourteen years, I couldn’t remember a single time when he’d looked me in the eye.

Wait—fourteen years? I’d been there that long? Faces of kids I’d taught swirled through my head. The oldest of them would now be, what? Twenty-one? Oh man. Soon I’d be one of those old school marms teaching the kids of my former students, a permanent fixture of the school like the faded picture of George Washington mounted outside the principal’s office. Hell, in a few months, I’d be forty. A middle-aged childless widow who taught second grade over and over again, year after year, repeating the cycle like a hamster on its wheel. Which reminded me: I had to pick up new hamsters. Tragically, last year’s hadn’t made it through the summer.

I told myself to stop dawdling. I had a classroom to organize, cubbies to decorate. On Monday, just three days from now, twenty-three glowing faces would show up for the first day of school, and I had to be ready. I climbed out of the car, pulled a box of supplies from the trunk, started for the building. And stopped.

My heart did triple time, as if responding to danger. But there was no danger. What alarmed me, what sent my heart racing was the school itself. But why? Did it look different? Had the windows been replaced, or the doors? Nothing looked new, but something seemed altered. Off balance. The place didn’t look like an elementary school. It looked like a giant factory. A prison.

God, no. It didn’t look like any of those things. The school was the same as it had always been, just a big brick building. It seemed cold and stark simply because it was unadorned by throngs of children. Except for wifi, Logan Elementary hadn’t changed in fifty years, unless you counted several new layers of soot on the bricks.

I stood in the parking lot, observing the school, seeing it fresh. I’d never paid much attention to it before. When it was filled with students, the building itself became all but invisible, just a structure, a backdrop. But now, empty, it was unable to hide behind the children, the smells of sunshine and peanut butter sandwiches, the sounds of chatter and small shoes pounding Stanley’s waxed tiles. The building stood exposed. I watched it, felt it watching me back. Threatening.

Seriously, what was wrong with me? The school was neither watching nor threatening me. It was a benign pile of bricks and steel. I was wasting time, needed to go in and get to work. But I didn’t take a single step. Go on, I told myself. What was I afraid of? Empty halls, vacant rooms? Blank walls? For a long moment, I stood motionless, eyes fixed on the façade. The carved letters: Logan School. The heavy double doors. The dark windows. Maybe I’d wait a while before going inside. Becky would arrive soon, after she picked up her classroom aquarium.

Other teachers would show up, too. I could go in with them, blend safely into their commotion. I hefted the box, turned back to the car. But no, what was I doing? I didn’t want to wait. I’d come early so I could get work done without interruption or distraction before the others arrived. The school wasn’t daring me, nor was I sensing some impending tragedy. I was just jittery about starting a new year.

I turned around again, faced its faded brown bricks. I steeled my shoulders, took a breath and started across the parking lot. With a reverberating metallic clank, the main doors flew open. Reflexively, I stepped back, half expecting a burst of flames or gunfire. Instead, Stan emerged. For the first time in fourteen years, I was glad to see him. Stan surveyed the parking lot, hitched up his pants. Looked in my direction. He didn’t wave or nod a greeting, didn’t follow social conventions. Even so, his presence grounded me, felt familiar.

I took a breath, reminded myself that the school was just a school. That I was prone to mental wandering and embellishing. And that children would stream into my classroom in just three days, whether I was ready or not.

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About the Author

Merry JonesMerry Jones is the author of some twenty critically acclaimed books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been translated into seven languages. Her previous Elle Harrison novels have been THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE and ELECTIVE PROCEDURES. Jones lives with her husband in Philadelphia.

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Follow the tour:

01/26 Blog Talk Radio w/Fran Lewis
01/26 Review @ Just Reviews
02/01 Review/showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
02/02 Review @ Wall-to-wall books – Giveaway
02/03 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
02/04 Showcase @ The Pen and Muse Book Reviews
02/05 Review @ Book Babble
02/06 Review @ Buried Under Books – Giveaway
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02/20 Guest post & Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
02/21 Interview @ Writers and Authors
02/22 Interview @ Jean BookNerd – Giveaway
02/23 Review @ Books Direct
02/23 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
02/24 Review & Guest post @ Blog Rockin Book Reviews – Giveaway

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of Child’s Play, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, February 9th and the
ebook will be sent out after the tour ends.

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Book Review: Where Wicked Starts by Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Patricia Henley

where-wicked-startsWhere Wicked Starts
Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Patricia Henley
Lacewing Books, October 2014
ISBN: 978-1-938126-26-0
Trade Paperback

We’ve heard how it takes a village to raise a child. In this book, it takes a screwed-up blended family to rescue one while doing some pretty meaningful healing in the process. Nick’s not over her mother’s death and struggles to hold on to good moments. Luna, her slightly older step-sister deals with her parents’ divorce by rebelling and doing risky stuff with boys to try and find happiness. While the two of them are pretty snarky to each other, it’s pretty easy to read between the lines and know they get emotional support from the process. Luna’s dad is an alcoholic con artist who has been promising different outcomes, but delivering the same disappointing results for ages.

When Nick’s dad married Luna’s mother, they uprooted the girls, moving them to Coquina Bay after selling the record store that was home to Nick where she was surrounded by classic rock and a happy cat. There was little or no thought to what the girls were leaving behind. As if being uprooted wasn’t bad enough, the newlyweds are rehabbing a decrepit place, hoping to turn it into a B&B. All Nick sees is her college money courtesy of Mom’s life insurance evaporating into the project.

When the stepsisters go to see a friend do her alligator act at a nearby park, Nick can’t help but notice a really creepy man who’s with a girl about her age. He touches her in inappropriate ways and she’s dressed as though she’s much older, not to mention acting like a zombie. It takes Nick a while to get Luna on board with her suspicion that the girl isn’t with this creep willingly, but once she does, things get really interesting.

By the time the story reaches its conclusion, Luna’s dad has finally come through, Nick’s grandmother has gotten in the act and the stepparents have come up for air and discovered that the girls might be more mature and responsible than they are.

This is not only a good YA mystery, but a good story for teens who have experienced family loss or dysfunction. It’s a smooth read with a cast of intriguing characters.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2016.

Book Review: Breaking Butterflies by M. Anjelais

Breaking ButterfliesBreaking Butterflies
M. Anjelais
Chicken House, August 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-66766-1
Hardcover

When we think of arranged marriages, what usually comes to mind are child brides in foreign countries or royalty in olden days. For Sphinx and Cadence, things were different, very much so, in fact. Their connection began when their mothers, Sarah and Leigh, met when they were seven. Leigh was the leader, Sarah the follower. As their friendship blossomed, Leigh began scripting everything that would happen to them, beginning with what they’d have as careers, that Sarah would have a girl, while she would have a boy and the two would bond, eventually marrying and provide another connected generation.

Leigh’s plan worked until it didn’t. Both married and got pregnant two months apart. Leigh had a boy, Sarah a girl and they were raised together. Like their moms, one took the lead, the other became a follower. Cadence thought up the best games and Spinx was happy to follow. Happy until the day Cadence took out a knife and sliced her face open.

Sarah’s father was furious, more at not heeding his suspicions about Cadence, raised when at age five, the boy crushed a butterfly and showed neither emotion or remorse. Leigh was devastated and hauled her son off to her house in England where her marriage soon fell apart.

Fast forward to when the kids are sixteen. Spinx has a modest social life, but has never had a boyfriend. She’s mostly content playing soccer and spending time with her girlfriends. Every morning, however, she sees the thin scar on her cheek before applying concealer and it reminds her of Cadence and her still conflicted feelings about him and what he said the day it happened.

A phone call from Leigh, who has remained friends with Sarah, starts in motion a strange journey for Spinx, one that’s both physical and emotional. Cadence has an aggressive form of leukemia and wants her to come see him before he dies. Despite her fear, she realizes that something inside is telling her she has to do this, so she and Sarah agree to come to England for one week.

Despite Cadence’s abruptness and rudeness, Spinx comes to believe that coming was the right thing to do and when it’s time to go, she convinces her mother to let her stay until Cadence dies.

What transpires as she waits for his passing, particularly in terms of her growing insight and understanding make for a compelling read. I expected this to be more of a horror story, but it’s sad and Spinx’s growing awareness of how intertwined the two of them really are is quite insightful, particularly in terms of portraying Cadence and what’s really wrong with him.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2016.