Book Review: Bad Girl Gone by Temple Mathews

Bad Girl Gone
Temple Mathews
St. Martin’s Griffin, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-05881-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sixteen year-old Echo Stone awakens in a cold sweat in a dark room, having no idea where she is or how she got there. But she soon finds out she’s in Middle House, an orphanage filled with mysteriously troubled kids.

There’s just one problem: she’s not an orphan. Her parents are very much alive.

She explains this to everyone, but no one will listen. After befriending a sympathetic (and handsome) boy, Echo is able to escape Middle House and rush home, only to discover it sealed off by crime scene tape and covered in the evidence of a terrible and violent crime. As Echo grapples with this world-shattering information, she spots her parents driving by and rushes to flag them down. Standing in the middle of street, waving her arms to get their attention, her parents’ car drives right through her.

She was right. Her parents are alive―but she’s not.

She’s a ghost, just like all the other denizens of Middle House. Desperate to somehow get her life back and reconnect with her still-alive boyfriend, Echo embarks on a quest to solve her own murder. As the list of suspects grows, the quest evolves into a journey of self-discovery in which she learns she wasn’t quite the girl she thought she was. In a twist of fate, she’s presented with one last chance to reclaim her life and must make a decision which will either haunt her or bless her forever.­­­­

The premise of a dead person having to solve her own murder is not new but, to me, it’s intriguing and I really looked forward to seeing what Mr. Mathews would do with the idea. For the most part, I thought it was entertaining if not quite fabulous.

OK, so Echo is a ghost and is in an orphanage of sorts with a bunch of other dead kids, all murdered, and they need to solve their murders before they can move on. Some have superpowers that help them do this and Echo’s is kind of weird but ultimately useful. Along with investigating her demise, Echo will learn quite a lot about herself and how her opinions about her living self don’t exactly square with others’ views. That’s a good thing because, well, Echo isn’t the most likeable girl I’ve encountered.

This story would have been 50% better without the silly, awkward love triangle. Young adult fiction is rife with love triangles—hormones, I guess—but, as much as I dislike them, at least they’re usually normal, meaning all parties are breathing. Here we have two ghosts and a living boy. Uh-uh, doesn’t work and is not appealing. For the most part, I just sort of skimmed over the romantic parts as much as I could

Bottomline, I think the writing is a bit juvenile even with some rough language (or maybe because of it) and the story had promise that wasn’t quite delivered but I still enjoyed it to a degree. Certainly, Bad Girl Gone was not a waste of my time but I hope Mr. Mathews’ next YA novel will fit a little better in this genre.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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An Excerpt from Bad Girl Gone

Awakening

When I tried to remember exactly how I came to be lying in the cold black room, my mind couldn’t focus.

I could feel myself slowly climbing upward, clawing my way out of the clutches of a nightmare. This was usually a good feeling, because you knew you were just dreaming, and the nightmare was over. Except this time it wasn’t. My hands felt clammy. I gripped the sheets until I knew my knuckles must be white. Help me, I thought. Somebody please help me.

I had no idea where I was, and for a terrifying second I couldn’t even remember who I was. But then I remembered my name. Echo. Echo Stone. My real name is Eileen. When I was a toddler, I waddled around repeating everything my parents said and they called me “Echo,” and it just stuck.

Remembering my name and how I got it kick-started my brain. I knew who I was. I remembered that I was sixteen years old and lived in Kirkland, Washington, with my mom and dad. It was all coming back to me. Mom was a dentist and Dad taught middle school English. Good, I could remember parts of my life. But I was still in a dark, cold room and had no idea how I got there. I held back a scream, my chest tightening. Don’t lose it, Echo, keep it together, I told myself. Calm down, think good thoughts.

I pictured Andy, my boyfriend. Six feet tall, broad shoul- ders, blue eyes, and long golden-brown hair. He loved to feed me cookie bites and called me his rabbit. I called him Wolfie. Sometimes he got the hiccups for no reason at all and usually laughed them away. Thinking of Andy momentarily made me feel warm inside, even though the room was freezing.

Where was I? I was shivering and yet also bathed in sweat, my skin slick with it. I clutched for my trusty Saint Christopher necklace. But it wasn’t there. Mom gave it to me to protect me when I traveled. Would it protect me now? I would never have lost it. The chain must have broken. And then I had an ugly thought. What if someone had ripped it from my neck? I shuddered. Where are you, Andy? I need you!

I opened my eyes as wide as I could. It was pitch black. My pounding heart told me, This isn’t some nightmare—it’s real. I hugged myself and breathed deeply, trying to calm my nerves. My shoulders were tight. I rubbed the sheets beneath me. The ones at home in my bed were soft. These were stiff and coarse. I was somewhere completely and painfully foreign. In my head I was talking to myself in a rapid voice, my fear voice: What is this?—what is this?—what is this?

Someone nearby was crying. I had a knot in my stomach and my throat hurt, like I’d screamed for hours. My head hurt, too, and I guessed I must have fallen, or maybe something heavy fell on me. I explored my scalp, gently at first, then more bravely, moving my fingers, searching for a lump. I found nothing . . . no lump, no holes. My skull was intact, though my long auburn hair felt tangled and greasy. I inhaled through my nose, searching for familiar scents. Mom’s cinnamon rolls, Dad’s after- shave. But nothing smelled even vaguely familiar, and the odors that did find my nose were horrible. Smoke. Vinegar. Sulfur.

I reached for my bedside lamp—but my fingers touched something damp and stringy. Oh god. The knot in my stomach tightened and I yanked my hand back. I willed my eyes to ad- just to the dark, but as I blinked, strange pulsing figures leapt out at me. It must have been my mind playing tricks. Right?

I took five good, long breaths, sucking in through my nose and exhaling through my pursed lips, just like my grandma Tilly taught me years ago. But five breaths weren’t enough. So I took ten, and finally my heart rate slowed from a galloping panic to a steady, cautious thudding. Soon I was able to distin- guish shapes. Was that a girl in a bed next to mine? Her hair was impossibly thick and long, spilling down her back. Her sweaty hair. That’s what I must have reached out and touched. My heart returned to its punishing rhythm, a fist clenching and unclenching in my chest. The nearby crying stopped. But then it was replaced by something worse, a ripping sound, like bone being cut by a rusty saw. And then a gurgling . . . followed by a low, feral growling noise. Faraway cackling laughter. What the hell was going on?

About the Author

Author Temple Matthews is already well versed in the world of screenwriting, with such children’s films under his belt as Disney’s Return to Neverland, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. He wrote Aloha Scooby Doo for Warner Brothers and Picture This for MGM. He is also the author of the The New Kid trilogy. Matthews has now turned to a different kind of story telling with his young adult novel BAD GIRL GONE. With a spunky main character, this novel explores the aftermath of tragedy, and whether what we think about ourselves matches with how the world sees us because, as we all know, right and wrong is sometimes grey when thrown into the madness of high school.

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Book Reviews: Pride v. Prejudice by Joan Hess and The Door by Andy Marino

Pride v. PrejudicePride v. Prejudice
A Claire Malloy Mystery #20
Joan Hess
Minotaur Books, April 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-01195-4
Hardcover

As a Jane Austen lover, I was curious to see how this book compared to hers. Here’s what I think.

JA Three or four families in a country village (plus assorted visitors)

JH Check. Claire Malloy gets involved with two families, one sundered by murder. Mysterious strangers dart in and out. Claire really gets around that village.

JA Lying, cheating, secrets and plots.

JH Check. It seems like everyone has secrets and is plotting or has plotted something nefarious.

JA Wit and humor.

JH Check. Despite the gravity of the situation–Claire believes a woman about to be tried for murder is innocent–
she is incapable of being anything but her funny, snarky self. And then there’s Claire’s teenage daughter Caron. Of the Capital Letters. And assorted others, lawyers, suspects and deputies.

JA Characters like Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine that you love to hate.

JH Check. Among them, Prosecutor Edwin Wessell, whose pride in his own judgement and prejudice against Claire make her determined to prove him wrong.

JA Romance. Oh, Darcy, oh, Elizabeth! And Bingley and Jane are kind’a cute, too.

JH Claire and Peter? Married love at its best.

Conclusion. Pride v. Prejudice may not be the classic Austen’s is, but it is darned good. It has depths. It has laugh-out-loud humor. I recommend it highly.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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The DoorThe Door
Andy Marino
Scholastic Press, April 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-55137-3
Hardcover

Where do we go when we die? An age old question, an utterly unique interpretation.

The two member Silver family is beyond eccentric. Twelve year old Hannah and her apparently hapless mother Leanna exist together in the sprawling Cliffhouse. Their lives, however, are quite separate with Hannah essentially orbiting Leanna, tuned to her many moods easily identified by the state of her fingernails and cuticles and counting “big-girl” glasses of wine.

Because of her unconventional upbringing, it isn’t particularly surprising to find that young Hannah is quite the quirky kid. She has two distinctly different voices in her head, not-so-affectionately dubbed “the old woman” and Hannah’s very own “twin sister”. Meticulous rituals are required to descend stairs and maneuver hallways. Room entry may require a password and the “three” share a secret language they call “Muffin”.

The reason for the peculiar life-style was difficult for the intelligent, ever inquisitive Hannah to accept. The Silvers were the Guardians of the lighthouse. Obsolete for decades since ships no longer sailed the waters surrounding the mammoth structure, the need for guardianship seemed a bit superfluous to Hannah’s thinking. Besides, there was a ridiculous design error with the lighthouse. A door. That could not possible go anywhere. Silly.

Tragedy comes with a lightning strike and everything changes. Hannah has only one choice. Walk through that door to nowhere. Nowhere, being The City of the Dead. Unlike any concept considered, Mr. Marino tugs the reader along like a sibling stubbornly choosing each path in a choose-your-own-adventure story.

As Hannah, emphatically not dead, plows through The City streets, single-mindedly determined to right a wrong, the reader is immersed in a clever kaleidoscope. The scenery isn’t the only continuous change. Characters Hannah once deemed trustworthy must now be watched with suspicion. Those she was wary of may well serve as her true friends, with only her best interest in their hearts. Or not.

It is impossible to think. Information is inconsistent, often contradictory. The environment assaults all senses and –Hannah’s most horrific realization—she is losing her memory of the Cliffhouse with its useless lighthouse and why she is even here in the first place.

This page-turning, mysterious, fantastical journey will be widely received. Avid young readers yearning for something different will welcome this tale that, much like The City of the Dead, has many thought-provoking layers.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2015.

Book Review: The Trial of Fallen Angels by James Kimmel, Jr.

The Trial of Fallen AngelsThe Trial of Fallen Angels 
James Kimmel, Jr.
Amy Einhorn Books/G. P. Putnam’s Sons, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-399-5969-5
Hardcover

Brek Cuttler, wife, mother, high-powered lawyer, arrived one day at Shemaya Station, (no, she doesn’t know where it is, either) with a couple bullet holes in her chest and blood pouring out of her. She is met at the station by her grandmother, dead these many years.

Oddly enough, Brek doesn’t believe the blood is lethal. Even seeing her grandmother doesn’t seem all that strange. She can’t be dead because she’s aware of everything going on. She’s more worried about picking her baby daughter up from daycare, cooking dinner, and getting the stains out of her favorite black silk suit, than anything else.

It turns out that Brek is in limbo. Time is either stuck or is passing too swiftly. She can’t seem to move on. But those in higher power have a job for her. Using her legal training, she is assigned to an elite team whose mission is to either prosecute or defend souls at their final judgement. Her client is a surprise–no–a shock. How she handles what she learns in this court will also determine her final disposition.

I found the story a little hard to keep track of as it moves rather slowly, thoroughly exploring every nuance before moving on. A bit swifter pace would’ve carried the reader forward without getting bogged down. Although the blurb sounds as if the story might be a paranormal mystery, and it does have some of these elements, I found it an exploration of the human spirit. This said, the subject matter is fascinating, the writing erudite, the finish of the book well done.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, June 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Pros and Cons by Jenna Black, Dragonflies: Shadow of Drones by Andy Straka, and The Reluctant Reaper by Gina X. Grant

Pros and ConsPros and Cons
The Nikki Glass Series
Jenna Black
Pocket Star Books, February 2013
ISBN 978-1-4767-0010-6
Ebook Exclusive

From the publisher—

An original eNovella in the acclaimed Nikki Glass urban fantasy series, taking place between the events of the novels Deadly Descendant and Rogue Descendant.

As a living descendant of Artemis the Huntress, private investigator Nikki Glass knows how to track someone down—but this time, her latest case leads to unexpected revelations of lies and betrayal…

I’m a big fan of crossgenre books, especially when the crossing is crime with dark fantasy. Supernatural detectives rock my boat, you might say, so I’m always interested to find a new (to me) series. Pros and Cons fits the bill very nicely, even though it’s not the beginning of the series; this novella is actually the third publication in the chronological list but is not labeled as #3 because it’s not a full-length novel. To my way of thinking, a mid-series novella or short story is a perfect way to introduce a new reader to that series and it certainly worked its magic on me.

I love the idea that Nikki Glass is a descendant of Artemis because, after all, what is a private investigator if not a huntress? I’m pretty sure I didn’t get a really good taste of Nikki’s story because there’s not much about her cohorts in this novella. That’s OK, though, because I needed to know that the crime element of this series is not just a throwaway side story to the paranormal theme. Nikki is a bona fide detective and I can learn more about her friends and colleagues, as well as her romantic life, when I delve further into the series.

In Pros and Cons, Nikki takes on a “normal” case to give her an excuse to stay away from her supernatural environs for a little while but, early on, she realizes that something is not quite right about her new client. All the mythological trappings were lingering off to the side and I fell in love/like with Jack when he got involved. Jack is a descendant of Loki, the Norse trickster god who’s fun and devious and more than a little bit of a bad boy. Jack was the icing on the cake of a decent little tale of crime and I’ll be glad to see these folks again when I go back to book #1, Dark Descendant. I have some catching up to do!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

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DragonfliesDragonflies: Shadow of Drones
Andy Straka
LLW Media, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-4756-0204-3
Ebook

From the publisher—

Out to seek justice for their comrades-in-arms, a former Army helicopter pilot and the soldier who saved her life find themselves drawn instead into a web of government intrigue and peering micro drones.

Raina Sanchez is plagued by nightmares. She can’t erase the memories of being shot down in Afghanistan, of losing her foot in the crash, and the death of her commanding officer. When asked by an ex-military contact to participate in a secret drone operation with ties to the war, she jumps at the chance to exorcise some of her demons.

She joins Tye Palmer, the decorated ex-infantryman who rescued her from the flaming wreckage of her Kiowa chopper. As civilian private investigators, together they embark on a sensitive, risky effort: using cutting-edge, micro air vehicle drones in an attempt to expose the son of media mogul Nathan Kurn as a campus rapist.

But as Raina and Tye come closer to the truth about Kurn and his powerful allies, Raina’s loyalties take a potential detour when she begins to understand a chilling reality. In a world where surveillance devices as small as tiny insects are being piloted into places most would never imagine, public and private forces both large and small are maneuvering to control them with inevitable consequences. For Raina and Tye the danger didn’t end when they finished their military careers—the threat has just begun.

Disclaimer: I have known Andy Straka for years and his previous books are among my favorites. That has not affected my review of this book.

As noted above, I know Andy and appreciate his writing but Dragonflies: Shadow of Drones is very different from his earlier work and must be considered in a different light. In all honesty, my feelings about it are quite mixed.

The premise of the story is quite engaging and I especially appreciated the way the author allows his protagonists to be confused about what’s really going on.  Too many thrillers, in my opinion, have characters who never seem to get ruffled and always have a finger on the pulse, so to speak. I’m quite sure black ops and intelligence communities, even high-powered corporations, have a better understanding of the situations they encounter than a layman would but it sometimes reaches the level of incredulity or, at the very least, a raised eyebrow. In Dragonflies, Raina and Tye are frequently caught in the middle of plots that don’t quite come together for them and I like that; it makes them very human and not so superhero-ish.

I was also intrigued by the whole idea of these extremely tiny spying devices and that experienced pilots would be needed to fly them. What a scary thing to contemplate! I don’t think I’m of enough interest to anyone to ever be a target but this certainly would be a formidable and potentially very damaging tool in the wrong hands. Having them be used in both private investigative work and by rival government factions in Dragonflies highlights how invasive they could become.

Raina and Tye are interesting characters but a bit too shallowly drawn to get to know them very well. Actually, we know more about Raina than Tye but I imagine we’ll get to know both of them much better as the series continues.

And that brings me to my last, and most adamant, opinion. I HATED the ending of this book.  I don’t mind cliffhangers but this one is beyond the pale and, if I had known it was written in serial style, I would not have read it until at least the second book, and maybe the third, was available. While I can get past any other faults in this book besides this one, I imagine other readers will be more accepting, especially those who like the TV cliffhangers that happen from week to week—and this has, in fact been optioned for TV. As for me, I probably won’t read any more installments until several are available.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

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The Reluctant ReaperThe Reluctant Reaper
The Reluctant Reaper Series, Book One
Gina X. Grant
Pocket Star, June 2013
ISBN 978-1-4767-2868-1
Ebook

From the publisher—

Life for Kirsty d’Arc might not be perfect, but it’s far from hellish. She likes her job, has a great BFF, and truly admires Conrad, her boss. But when she dives in front of a lunatic’s blade to save him from certain death, she finds out Conrad isn’t so admirable after all. In fact, he’s traded her soul to the Devil! 

While her body lies comatose on the Mortal Coil, Kirsty’s spirit is dragged straight to Hell…which is not quite the fire-and-brimstone abyss she’d expected. In fact, the place is quirky, wacky, and not without charm. Desperate to reunite body and soul before her time runs out, she seeks out allies, earning the friendship of a powerful drag demon, a psychic server, and, most importantly, Hell’s civil servant. But what of her growing attraction to Dante, the sexy Reaper with a flair for romantic language—can she forgive him for scything her soul?

Stuck in the netherworld, Kirsty vows she’ll do everything on her postmortem bucket list, starting with getting her life back and ensuring that Conrad has Hell to pay!

Oh, my, I can’t remember the last time I read a book that had me smiling, chuckling. sometimes outright guffawing on every single page but Gina X. Grant has accomplished that very feat with The Reluctant Reaper. This is just one of the funniest books ever and here’s the weird thing—a LOT of the humor involves puns and I have never been enamored with puns. Until now.

Kirsty D’Arc has just been accidentally reaped by a guy named Dante who carries a scythe and struck her with it instead of her boss who was supposed to die. Since it was an accident, though, Kirsty is not exactly dead, more like undead (but not of the vampirish sort). Kirsty has no choice—she has to go to Hell and appeal her “death”.

Hell, it turns out, is full of interesting surprises, including Charon who ferries the river in full drag and a small, very cute kittenish animal who is actually a real life gargoyle. Her name is Jenni, short for Jenni-fur because she sheds so much. Then there are the vicious little creatures called gee-gnomes who can alter your DNA. Most are sort of countrified-looking except one that seems to be more sophisticated,  known as a “metrognome”. Dante himself is a 700-year-old poet—yes, he’s THAT Dante.

Ms. Grant also has a great time skewering the very things we all love to hate, like this:

“Reaping is a precise art. It must occur only at the exact hour, preferably the exact minute, as ordained by Death. Or by our new software system, MS Death 2.0.”

“You have Microsoft products in Hell?”

Figures.

Kirsty’s adventures in Hell keep her busy while she’s waiting for her trial but, when that finally comes, she’s in for a rude awakening. Will she be able to go back to her life or will she have to stay in the afterlife even if she isn’t really dead? Will she have to give up the hunky Dante? Will she really have to do something useful with her life?

I can’t help it, I loved this book and can’t wait to read the next one, Scythe Does Matter. Thank heavens—oops, Hell doesn’t appreciate that saying—it’s already on my Nook.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

Book Review: Grim by Anna Waggener

GrimGrim
Anna Waggener
Scholastic Press, June 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-38480-3
Hardcover

I have read books depicting heaven and I have read books alluding to depictions of hell.  I had never read a book written about Limbo…….until now.

Grim presents Limbo as a kingdom.  The current ruler wishes to relinquish the throne; however, his six sons are completely absorbed in their own spat, ignoring the king and his desires.  Through no fault of his own, the youngest son risks exile from his father’s predecessor; but that is only a small problem, as his main concern is eluding the brother that means to erase his existence.

Meanwhile, back on Earth proper, a harried, over-worked and exhausted single-mom of three, makes a fateful stop for caffeine.  Alert, Erika mentally prepares to finish the drive home through the dark, damp night.  A head-on collision immediately changes her life as she knows it.

The story unfolds as our lady in Limbo valiantly attempts to reach her three children.  The youngest prince, Jeremiah, tries to serve as her guide from Limbo to the proper here-after; however, his true focus is on saving himself, thus Erika is able to persuade him to do something that has never been done.  She asks that he bring her children to her, in Limbo, without causing their demise.  Will the reunited family be able to return home?  Must a sacrifice be made?  What will become of Jeremiah?  There are plenty of unanswered questions to keep the reader turning page after page well past bedtime.

I loved the idea of something as unique and intriguing as Limbo, and I found the plot to be plausible and entertaining.  Despite the detailed and individual personification of each character, none knocked my socks off.  On the contrary, I wasn’t able to make myself like any of them.  Without the character admiration, I was not empathetic, and I really didn’t care what happened to whom.  I was curious enough to finish the book, and I’m glad that I did.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2012.