Book Reviews: Overturned by Lamar Giles and The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke @LRGiles @Scholastic @HistoriaFrankie @JollyFishPress

Overturned
Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-81250-4
Hardcover

I am always seeking books that will immediately intrigue ‘my’ students. Many times, I’ve been sucked into a suspense-filled, action-packed, heart-pumping mystery…surrounding a subject they could not care less about. Aptly, of course, young adults are not the intended audience—I am.

But.

Young adult readers deserve thrilling books.

Mr. Giles seems pleased to provide. And now, I may be the only person looking forward to school starting. I cannot wait to share Overturned.

The setting: the very casino where 16-year-old Nikki Tate works…as well as resides, stimulates the reader’s senses. At a blush, that life-style—for a high-school student—sounds kinda fabulous. And it was. Once.

Without her dad around to run things, the responsibility falls straight through her mother’s trembling fingers into Nikki’s own hands. She can handle it. Has to. Knowing, with her whole heart, that her father is not capable of murder doesn’t keep him off death row. Someone has to support the family—not just the three of them; the trusted and treasured employees of Cosmos matter, too.

Otherwise, she would never consider running her own after-hours, under-the-table card games. Which were not really a big deal. There’s only one human better at poker than Nikki and he’s not here right now. Gavin may still be in his teens, but his bulk makes him the perfect bouncer. Maybe he has a few butterflies when her invitations are extended to some shady characters, but Nikki knows she’s got this.

Until something even odder than the initial arrest and murder charge. New evidence, and an attorney more than pleased to represent Mr. Tate, appears. Conviction overturned and Mr. Tate is head of his casino once again.

Nikki’s delight with his return was fleeting. She once believed he was always there when she needed him. Now, his presence is so far past smothering, she seethes when they share the same space. Determined to make up for the lost time, and hoping to find the sweet, happy Babygirl he remembers; her dad dives deeper into her life.

Although Nikki doesn’t see it at first, Mr. Tate is not as angry as he is horrified and frightened by what he finds. As dad works diligently to get his daughter out of the quick-sand she doesn’t know she’s standing in, Nikki consistently (albeit unintentionally) blocks his way with a combination of teen-age infatuation and obligatory rebellion.

Overturned by Mr. Giles is absolutely every single thing I wish for when I want to wow ‘my’ students with a Book Talk.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2019.

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The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure
Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-63163-239-6
Hardcover

I don’t know if Ms. Durkin and Ms. Cooke colluded to create a tiny tome that would call to all; from the self-dubbed non-reader to the basic bookworm, but that’s exactly what this groovy graphic-novel does.

Filled with fascinating facts, in the same way a teeny car contains a multitude of clowns, this was a particularly pleasing read for me. An at-a-glance timeline from 5,000 BC through 30 BC took up only a tiny portion of a page, but was packed with information. I had no idea that Egypt was divided and reunited so many times! Nor could I have fathomed the complicated process of turning papyrus into paper.

The “novel” is in the narration. The Histronauts, a quirky crew, complete with a cat, needed an indoor activity on a rainy day. Their museum visit morphs into an adventurous Egyptian exploration. As the kids take in the sights and ask amazing questions, I am completely captivated, learning about ancient Egyptians and their way of life. And if all of that isn’t enough, there are even activities through-out. From making jewelry to flatbread or simply solving puzzles, these were engaging additions.

I believe that reluctant readers will enjoy this because of the tantalizing trivia and the graphic-novel-format seems to be more appealing for shorter attention spans. I think avid readers will be reeling from the intriguing information. I was totally into it. And truly, who knew there more than 2,000 ancient Egyptian gods? Or that music was such an imperative part of their lives?

The Histronauts also embark on a Roman adventure and I am already looking forward to joining them.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

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Book Reviews: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker and The Eyes of Pharaoh by Chris Eboch

Emma in the Night
Wendy Walker
St. Martin’s Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-14143-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

When two sisters vanish one night, Cass watches the aftermath on TV, the interviews with her mother who, somehow, makes it all about herself. It has always been about Judy Martin and her need to be the center of attention is at the core of the emotional distance between the sisters. Given that distance, why were they both gone?

FBI forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters and Special Agent Leo Strauss worked the case when the girls disappeared three years ago and they’re drawn back in now that Cass has returned out of the blue. She has a strange tale to tell and there are inconsistencies but, of course, the big question is where is Emma? Were the two girls together all those years or not? The answers that begin to trickle in are increasingly disturbing and you can’t help wondering what has really brought Cass back to her family.

Creepy, that’s the paramount feeling I had while reading this and the author’s evocation of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder brought to mind such infamous people as Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her kids in the car so she’d be unencumbered in her pursuit of a man. This disorder doesn’t get a lot of serious attention but perhaps it should. Nicely done, Ms. Walker!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Eyes of Pharaoh
Chris Eboch
Spellbound River Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-945017-27-8
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

The Eyes of Pharaoh, 1177 BC: During the reign of Pharaoh Ramses the Third, Seshta, a 13-year-old dancer in the Temple of Hathor, dreams of becoming a famous entertainer. Horus, the brother of her heart, is content as a toymaker’s apprentice. Reya, at 16, has joined Egypt’s army with hopes of becoming a hero. Despite their different paths, nothing can break the bonds of their friendship. Yet when Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt?

Then Reya disappears. Seshta and Horus set out to find him–and discover a darker plot than they ever imagined. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

I’ve had a love affair with ancient Egypt for so long I can’t remember how or when it started. When I had a chance to spend a week there in 1989, I found the modern country just as fascinating and wonderful and I’m sorry I’ll probably never get back there, also sorry for the political troubles that plague those wonderful people. Anyway, I’m always delighted to read any fiction or nonfiction about Egypt, especially set in ancient times and The Eyes of Pharaoh hit just the right spot with me.

Most of the mysteries I’ve seen set in this civilization are adult, which is great, but it usually means the characters are officials or slaves or high society, not so much the general population. These teens are a good cross-section, if you will, with a temple dancer, a soldier and a servant’s son, and I think that really added to my enjoyment because they’re not yet mature enough to be leery of risk and adventure and they’re comfortable with day-to-day life among the common people. One of the trio has gone missing and the other two are determined to find him. ‘Nuff said.

Because I love Egypt and its history so much, I wholeheartedly approve of anything that might entice young readers to fall under its spell and this book would be an excellent introduction. And, for those of you who aren’t so young anymore, you should give this a shot for rousing exploits and a darned good mystery 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: The Singer from Memphis by Gary Corby

the-singer-from-memphisThe Singer From Memphis
An Athenian Mystery #6
Gary Corby
Soho Crime, May 2016
ISBN:978-1-61695-668-4
Hardcover

Nicolaos is an Athenian private investigator/spy who reports to Pericles. Yes, that Pericles. When Nico is approached by the historian/author Herodotus–yes, that Herodotus–who wants to hire him as a guide in Egypt as he does book research, Pericles instructs him to take the job. All sorts of complications occur. Assassins wish Nico dead. Or are they after Nico’s wife, Diotima? Or any other of the many blend of historical and fictional characters in this book? Apparently everyone is after the crook and flail, symbols of the Egyptian ruling pharohs, and the search is on for the last of the line. Wars have been fought for less, and there’s a power struggle going on now between Egypt and Persia.

The action takes place in 456 B.C., and while some of the action really happened to these characters, the author has chosen to write the story in a comedic manner. I must say he’s succeeded. History and fiction blends beautifully. The characters are well and colorfully depicted, the setting used seem very real, the dialogue is snappy and often funny. Corby does let us know the cross-bow had not yet been invented, although it figures in this story. I guess it needed to start somewhere, at some time.

The novel is enjoyable and well-worth a reader’s time. The Singer From Memphis is, I believe, the sixth entry in this series, which shows no signs of slowing down.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: ASP of Ascension by BR Myers

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Title: ASP of Ascension
Series: A Nefertari Hughes Mystery #1

Author: BR Myers
Publisher: Fierce Ink Books
Publication Date: July 21, 2015
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

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ASP of AscensionASP of Ascension
A Nefertari Hughes Mystery #1
BR Myers
Fierce Ink Books, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-927746-62-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Nefertari “Terry” Hughes has three rules for surviving high school:
#1 Don’t attract attention.
#2 Don’t get involved.
#3 Don’t make trouble.

A year after the accident that left her crippled and took her mother’s life, sixteen-year-old Terry just wants to keep her head down and survive her new high school. When she catches the eye of cute basketball star Zach — who happens to be the boyfriend of mean girl Allison — all hopes of flying under the radar are gone. 

She is thrust even further in the spotlight when Fraser, the editor of the school newspaper, learns Mr. Hughes is the renowned archaeologist overseeing the new Egyptian display at the museum, which is rumoured to include Cleopatra’s sarcophagus. Fraser’s research leads to the fifty-year-old mystery of a girl who vanished while on a school trip to to the museum along with an artifact that may be Cleopatra’s asp.

When Mr. Hughes falls into a coma and his co-worker claims it’s the curse of Cleopatra, the stakes become too high for Terry to ignore. Terry must work with Fraser and her new candy loving friend Maude to find out what happened fifty years ago in hopes of saving her father before time runs out.

When I was a kid, I spent years dreaming of being an archaeologist. Much later, I had the chance to do some traveling and the time I spent in Greece, and especially Egypt, made me wish I’d followed through on those dreams and, to this date, Egypt is still my favorite place to visit. Because of my fondness for the place, the people and the history, I’m always drawn to books featuring Egypt in one way or another (and, yes, I’ve consumed the Amelia Peabody series more than once).

ASP of Ascension offers all that and, as a bonus, takes the older reader like me back to high school days while it’s also a window on those halls of angst and joy and so many other emotions for the readers who are still there. Terry herself is really appealing, and very believable, as a girl who has suffered much damage, physically and emotionally, and just wants to slide through school as unobtrusively as possible. I felt for this girl. Add to that a perfectly wonderful pink-haired sidekick/BFF named Maude and an energetic school newspaper editor named Fraser and the sleuthing team is complete. Oh, and let’s not forget Zach, the hunky jock who’s atypically a pretty nice guy and is just as appealing as the rest of the crew.

Solving the mystery of what happened 50 years ago and what’s happening with her dad now is a fun and slightly fluffy read with a bit of supernatural stuff going on and I thoroughly enjoyed this first in what I hope will be a long-running series. If not, that’s OK since things are resolved quite nicely and I think readers from middle grade to old age will enjoy Nefertari’s adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.

About the Author

BR MyersI write YA, appreciate a design in my cappuccino, love shopping for vintage jewelry and dream in color. Coming from Nimbus Publishing, my contemporary coming of age novels, BUTTERFLIES DON’T LIE (SEPTEMBER 15,2014) and GIRL ON THE RUN (Fall 2015). from Fierce Ink Press, ASP OF ASCENSION (July 2015).

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Book Review: Out of the Black Land by Kerry Greenwood

Out of the Black LandOut of the Black Land
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2013
ISBN: 978-1-464-20038-0
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Ancient Egypt; the land of power, luxury and intrigue. Soon-to-be Princess Mutnodjme rallies against expectations and forges her own path no thanks to her manipulating mother. Ptah-hotep finds himself thrust suddenly into a position of power that threatens his life and the lives of those he loves. Together, they must traverse the dangers of Egyptian life when the new, mad King plunges Egypt into despair. Will they survive in a world where anyone can be an enemy?

Out of the Black Land was a book that initially made me apprehensive when I saw three pages of characters listed in Egyptian names that I was convinced I’d forget instantly. But the story itself is absorbing, full of mystery, intrigue and more back stabbing than a good old episode of Dallas. From the crazy Prince to the slightly shallow, but beautiful Nefertiti, this book is full of interesting and well-rounded characters. Told from two points of view, namely that of Mutnodjme and Ptah-hotep, the story criss-crosses between the two as their lives run parallel and then over each other, bringing them together in a desperate effort to return Egypt to stability.

I loved the fact that female characters in the book had a lot of power and freedom compared to most girls today. They had rights to land, power and marriage settlements and what’s more, they were listened to and afforded the respect of men and women, regardless of their age and position. In many ways, it seemed to be a society that was more accepting and tolerant than some you see today. Marriage was made more for political reasons than love and yet both partners were free to be in relationships with others without recrimination. Homosexuality was tolerated without prejudice or fear and the older generation were given much more respect than I’ve seen lately. So, in many ways, this book is very interesting because of how advanced the Egyptians were so many years ago compared to our own technologically advanced society. People had more value then compared to nowadays and yet the same forces drove them; money, position and health.

This title does give a very interesting insight into the lives of the ancient Egyptians but it would be much more suitable for a slightly older age group rather than younger readers. This is mainly due to the frequent sexual scenes within the book that are probably not far off the mark historically but may be unsuitable for younger readers. Let’s just say those Egyptians sure got around. But, sex scenes aside, this is basically just a really good book with a tight plot, full of interesting characters that are both believable and dynamic. I would certainly recommend it to older readers aged 17+.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, May 2013.

Book Review: Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt—and a Giveaway

Written in the Ashes
K. Hollan Van Zandt
Balboa Press, July 2011
ISBN 978-1-4525-3515-9
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback and electronic editions

From the publisher—

Who burned the Great Library of Alexandria?

When the Roman Empire collapses in the 5th century, the city of Alexandria, Egypt is plagued with unrest. Paganism is declared punishable by death and the populace splinters in religious upheaval. Hannah, a beautiful Jewish shepherd girl is abducted from her home in the mountains of Sinai and sold as a slave in Alexandria to Alizar, an alchemist and successful vintner. Her rapturous singing voice destines her to become the most celebrated bard in the Great Library.

Meanwhile, the city’s bishop, Cyril, rises in power as his priests roam the streets persecuting the pagans. But while most citizens submit, a small resistance fights for justice. Hypatia, the library’s charismatic headmistress, summons her allies to protect the world’s knowledge from the escalating violence. Risking his life, his family, and his hard-earned fortune, Alizar leads the conspiracy by secretly copying the library’s treasured manuscripts and smuggling them to safety.

When Hannah becomes the bishop’s target, she is sequestered across the harbor in the Temple of Isis. But an ancient ceremonial rite between a monk and priestess inside the Pharos lighthouse ignites a forbidden passion. Torn between the men she loves, Hannah must undertake a quest to the lost oracles of Delfi and Amun-Ra to find the one thing powerful enough to protect the pagans: The Emerald Tablet.

Meanwhile, the Christians siege the city, exile the Jews, and fight the dwindling pagan resistance as the Great Library crumbles.

But not everything is lost. . .

Leave a comment below to enter the drawing

for a copy of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt.

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Way back in the Dark Ages when I was a teenager, I fell in love with history and, in particular, with the ancient lands of Egypt, Greece, Italy, Britain, etc. I seriously considered going into archaeology as a career but, fortunately, I figured out early on that I’m a couch potato at heart and really not cut out for all that sweat and hard work. Despite that setback, I’ve never lost my love for those places and their stories.

Then, in 1989, I had the great good fortune to go with my younger daughter to visit my older daughter who was studying in Greece. We did the tourist thing in Greece and then went on to Egypt. I don’t expect to ever again experience anything like it and that wonderful trip confirmed my belief that those two countries, in particular, have history that’s magical.

That magic is what the reader finds in Written in the Ashes. From my first introduction to Hannah, I was captivated by her and by what happens to her, and she became a very real person in my imagination. I could feel her emotions, her fear, her strength. I could once again experience the heat, the red dust, the intense sun, the incredibly blue sky, the sense of being in a place that would have an immense effect on the rest of humanity for eons to come. And Hypatia—what an incredible woman she is in the author’s hands and must have been in real life. To think that she played such an integral role at a time when religions and the empire were in great turmoil, a time when an intelligent woman was looked upon with suspicion and distrust, is mesmerizing.

These two very different women and the secondary characters that touch their lives for good or bad, bring to life the story of what happened in Alexandria and the massive changes that occurred in the religious world of the 5th century. Whether the reader is Christian or Jewish or pagan or of any other belief—or even atheistic—really doesn’t matter because we all live today with the ramifications of those events. Ms. Van Zandt has done a masterful job of creating a compelling and absorbing story around a fascinating piece of history.

Ms. Van Zandt is also to be commended for her meticulous research but, most of all, for her flowing, striking prose that frequently caught my breath; I’d find myself re-reading passages just to see if they sounded the same a second time. (Hint: they did and, sometimes, were even better.) I really do hope this author will offer us either a sequel or another novel entirely without making us wait too long.

One note of caution for those readers who are easily offended—while you’ll find love and excitement and danger and even a little humor, the author does not hold back when it comes to scenes of violence and abuse and I applaud her for that. After all, slavery, rape, murder, arson and mob behavior are all about brutality and should be portrayed accordingly, but I highly recommend Written in the Ashes for any reader who enjoys tales from our past that are grounded in truth and written in beauty.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.


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You have two chances to enter the drawing for an ebook

copy of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt. Leave

a comment below and then again on September 26th

on Kaia’s guest post. The winning name will be drawn

on the evening of October 3rd.

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