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.

A Few Teeny Reviews

thrice-the-brinded-cat-hath-mewdThrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
A Flavia de Luce Mystery #8
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-345539960
Hardcover
Audible
Unabridged Downloaded Audio Book
Narrated by Jayne Entwistle

From the publisher—

In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough. Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits. But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core.

My favorite pre-teen sleuth (although this is not a series targeting young readers) is back home in England at her beloved Buckshaw but her return from Canada is not a completely happy one what with her father lying very ill in the hospital. At loose ends, Flavia goes in search of something to occupy her mind and a dead body is just the ticket. As precocious as ever, Flavia sets out to prove that this was murder but she’s unprepared for a shattering event. Not precisely a cliffhanger, this event makes me want the next book yesterday.

As always, narrator Jayne Entwistle is Flavia de Luce to a “T” and kept me captivated from beginning to end.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

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michelangelos-ghostMichelangelo’s Ghost
A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery #4
Gigi Pandian
Henery Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-63511-069-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance. A killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story. And a hidden treasure in Italy’s macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters… When Jaya’s old professor dies under eerie circumstances shortly after discovering manuscripts that point to a treasure in Italy’s Park of Monsters, Jaya and her brother pick up the trail. From San Francisco to the heart of Italy, Jaya is haunted by a ghost story inexorably linked to the masterpieces of a long-dead artist and the deeds of a modern-day murderer. Untrustworthy colleagues, disappearing boyfriends, and old enemies—who can Jaya trust when the ghost wails?

Jaya Jones is one of the most appealing protagonists I’ve come across in recent years and each book is better than the last. She’s an academic, an historian interested in unique artifacts, and she loves chasing after treasures even though she’s usually reluctant at first. In short, Jaya is a modern-day Indiana Jones, just not quite as much over the top, and I love her for that. Adventure is just around every corner and I happily go along with her on every treasure hunt.  Of course, there’s a mystery or two or three to be solved, including the question of how her former professor died, and having her brother and his girlfriend along this time adds to the entertainment. Oh, and the cherry on top is the secret romance between Jaya and Lane, the man with a thieving past. All in all, Michelangelo’s Ghost is a tale not to be missed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

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the-stranger-gameThe Stranger Game
Cylin Busby
Balzer + Bray, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-235460-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When Nico Morris’s older sister mysteriously disappears, her parents, family, and friends are devastated. But Nico can never admit what she herself feels: relief at finally being free of Sarah’s daily cruelties.

Then the best and worst thing happens: four years later, after dozens of false leads, Sarah is found.

But this girl is much changed from the one Nico knew. She’s thin and drawn, when Sarah had been golden and athletic; timid and unsure, instead of brash and competitive; and strangest of all, sweet and kind, when she had once been mean and abusive. Sarah’s retrograde amnesia has caused her to forget almost everything about her life, from small things like the plots of her favorite books and her tennis game to the more critical—where she’s been the last four years and what happened at the park on the fateful day she vanished. Despite the happy ending, the dark details of that day continue to haunt Nico, and it becomes clear that more than one person knows the true story of what happened to Sarah. . . .

There isn’t anything more devastating than the disappearance of a child, the not knowing and the endless questions, but how much worse is it when a family member is not entirely sorry that child is gone? Nico is a normal young girl who misses Sarah and yet can’t help feeling relief that she doesn’t have to contend with her sister’s bullying and meanness anymore but, of course, that natural reaction is loaded with guilt. How Nico and her parents cope and her feelings of inadequacy because she can’t fill the gaping hole are an engaging study in how the ones left behind handle…or don’t…such a terrible scenario. When Sarah miraculously returns, Nico’s search for the truth ratchets up the tension and leads to almost unbearable suspense.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

Book Review: Covenant’s End by Ari Marmell

Covenant's EndCovenant’s End: A Widdershins Adventure
Ari Marmell
Pyr, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61614-986-4
Hardcover

In this adventure, the final book of this particular series featuring the thief,Widdershins, Shins returns to the city of Davillon, killing an ogre along the way. To her surprise, the city is on lockdown. She actually finds it more difficult to enter the city than it was to escape it. Almost the first thing she does is discover the mummified body of her beloved mentor laid out in one of her hideaways. When she returns to the Flippant Witch tavern, which she owns, having left it in the hands of her friend Robin, she learns the city has been taken over by her nemesis, Lisette, of the Finders Guild. And Lisette is being used by an evil God for their own purposes, one of which is to destroy Shins.

Oh, did I mention Shins has a personal God living inside her, as well. Olgun is a major part of the reason she’s survived as long as she has, as he lends her special powers. Still, there’s nothing certain that she’ll get through this as she struggles to reclaim the city.

I wish I’d gotten in on the first of this series before reading the final episode. Certain world-making features left me a bit up in the air, but the characters were good and carried the plot through to the end. There’s a lot of humor, a great deal of angst, and a ton of action. It’s amusing to see the powers Olgun helps Widdershins develop, and finally, the story concludes on a satisfactory note.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Windswept Danger by Terry Odell

Windswept DangerWindswept Danger
Blackthorne, Inc. #6
Terry Odell
T. Odell, 2014
ISBN: 9781502449009
Trade Paperback

Author Terry Odell isn’t new to the thriller/adventure genre, this being her sixth outing in the excellent Blackthorne series. Not only is the novel exceedingly well-plotted, it is carefully constructed so that readers new to the series will have a completely enjoyable experience.

The Blackstone agency is a dark, highly specialized security and spy agency that operates for the good of its clients with a high degree of ethical conduct. Two of its clandestine operatives are engaged in this enterprise, penetration of a mysterious posh resort in the mountains. Olivia Fairbanks works part-time for Blackstone and because of her intellectual attributes and undeniable beauty is tasked for a unique under-cover operation. Her partner is a recovering medic and real he-man macho type, Glenn McCade. He’s a veteran of many dangerous Blackthorne contracts and he’s sure this lovely, desirable but inexperienced woman will not help him carry out the assignment.

That’s the setup. Needless to say sparks between the agents as well as the pressures of their assignment lead to all kinds of adventure and complications. The novel is very-well written, the principal characters are authentic, from their physical limitations to their emotional and intellectual collaborations and the plot moves smartly ahead to its logical and satisfactory conclusion. This is a well-done crime novel of high order and I do recommend it.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Grave Consequences by David and Aimee Thurlo and Night Life by David C. Taylor

Grave ConsequencesGrave Consequences
A Charlie Henry Mystery #2
David and Aimee Thurlo
Minotaur Books, April 2015
ISBN: 978-1- 250-02900-3
Hardcover

Charlie Henry and his sidekick, Gordon, are ex-Special Forces soldiers, now partners in the FOB Pawnshop in Albuquerque, NM, but civilian life hardly is a retiring one for either of them. Trouble seems to find them on a regular basis in this second of a series of action-packed adventure.  Mysteries and mischief seem to just walk into their store.  In this latest story, it begins when a young woman pawns a valuable Navajo necklace.

Soon three gunmen enter the pawnshop in an attempt to retrieve the bracelet. And a shootout results in one of them dead and another wounded, with Charlie and Gordon none the less for wear, but off and running to find out what prompted the invasion.  This leads to a wild goose chase all around the New Mexico city with violence galore until they learn what lies behind they mystery of the bracelet and the death of its creator.

While the plot follows a traditional pattern of a police procedural, and there are plenty of cops involved, with enormous assistance from Charlie and Gordon, the novel really centers on the swashbuckling duo and their antics, rather than detecting clues to solve a crime or murder.  And there is plenty of this type of action to satisfy the most bloodthirsty reader.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2016.

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Night LifeNight Life
A Michael Cassidy Novel #1
David C. Taylor
Forge Books, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-7653-7483-7
Hardcover

Michael Cassidy is a detective in New York City’s midtown precinct during the 1950’s in the era of McCarthyism.  He is a dramatic character drawn in the classic mold of a tough hombre.  His godfather is the mafia stalwart Frank Costello, his father an immigrant who started with less than nothing and rose to become a well-known Broadway producer.  Cassidy picks up a murder case, the victim actually a dancer in the show his father is producing and now in rehearsal.

One murder leads to three others, and Michael becomes involved in a web of conspiracies involving the FBI and the CIA, and with Roy Cohn and J. Edgar Hoover, no less.  Cassidy is taken off the murder case by higher-ups, but true to fashion, he persists.  Faced with complications of monumental proportions his doggedness continues.

This novel, a debut, is excellent.  The background of New York City just after World War II is superb, and the atmosphere of the Red Scare years and McCarthyism is very real, especially for those who lived through the period.  The book has much to recommend it, and indeed is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2015.

Book Review: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

All Fall DownAll Fall Down
Embassy Row #1
Ally Carter
Scholastic Press, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-65474-6
Hardcover

Ally Carter, the New York Times bestselling author of the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, turns her hand to this young adult thriller, set in a foreign embassy. Combining the exotic setting with a mystery, the central character is Grace Blakely, a sixteen year old who saw her mother murdered several years ago. She is consumed by the idea that she will find the killer and make him pay for his crime. Considered “troubled” by her school and her family, Grace doesn’t want to be in Adria, a country on the Mediterranean Sea, but her father is a career Army Ranger and her brother is at West Point. She has nowhere else to go but to live with her grandfather, who is the ambassador to Adria.

On her second day at the embassy, she crashes into the Russian ambassador and gives him a bloody nose and black eye. Grace spends most of her time sneaking out of the embassy and exploring the neighborhood. She discovers secret underground passages between some of the embassies, and meets some of the teens who live in the other embassies. They party on the beach outside of the deserted Iranian embassy. There’s Noah, who lives at the Israeli embassy, his twin sister Lila, Rosie from Germany, and Megan, another American. Alexi, a Russian teenager who lives at the embassy next door, is keeping watch on Grace. He says her brother asked him to keep an eye on her, but Grace doesn’t like to be spied on.

When Grace attends a diplomatic ball at the palace, she sees the Scarred Man, the person she believes killed her mother. Her attempts to discover his identity put her in danger. Although Grace is no Jason Bourne, there’s a lot of action and intrigue, with teens as the stars in this thriller. The plot twists and turns and a surprise ending ties it all up nicely. This series should appeal to both teen and adult readers.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.

Book Review: A Dark Inheritance by Chris D’Lacey

A Dark InheritanceA Dark Inheritance
Unicorne Files Book One
Chris D’Lacey
Scholastic Press, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-60876-3
Hardcover

Three interminable years ago Michael’s father left for a business trip, never to be heard from again. That dilemma, however; is not the strangest quandary in Michael’s life. Since his father’s disappearance, he has become aware of seemingly small, random but wacky occurrences. Being a logical kid, he was able to theorize and dismiss these happenings…..almost. Now, the incidents happen all too often, and there is truly no explanation. Assuming that the oddities and his father’s vanishing are related, Michael determinedly searches for answers.

This engrossing, brisk Book One of the Unicorne Files treats the reader with intriguing speculations such as time travel, mental telepathy, and ghosts. There are so many paths and parallels that if Mr. D’Lacey wasn’t so ridiculously gifted, the tale would look like a giant, sloppy knot. In his more than capable hands, however, it becomes an intricate, fascinating and beautiful tapestry.

Taking an extreme implausible concept; say time traveling five years into the past, and whittling it down to something more palatable, like jumping mere seconds into the future, is one way that this author could easily have any skeptic second-guessing. Setting the scenes by painting pictures with words had this reader envisioning jagged cliffs, hearing the loud crashes of a churning, belligerent sea pounding against unforgiving rocks. The sprinkling of subtle hints throughout kept me engaged and invested. Tiny twists kept me going in different directions and rethinking theories.

While this is indeed highly entertaining, it is more than just “mental popcorn”. Michael’s saga is an active adventure in which readers will quickly embrace this troubled young man and cheerfully root for him to solve the mysteries that plague him. I am already looking forward to the second book.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2014.