Book Review: It’s Not Destiny by Kelsey Abrams

It’s Not Destiny: An Abby Story
Second Chance Ranch
Kelsey Abrams
Jolly Fish Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-145-0
Trade Paperback

Abby Ramirez does not like change, she craves consistency. So, she’s been struggling in her fifth-grade class. For the first time since first grade, she is not accompanied by her service dog. Amigo is transitioning from a working canine to a playful pet as Abby searches for his replacement.

She is the little girl that knows a whole lot about dogs. Being in charge of them at Second Chance Ranch comes naturally. Not just raising and training, but she is also the best match-maker any canine and human could hope to encounter.

When a disappointed owner brings in a gorgeous German shepherd that proved to be a poor guard-dog, it does not take Abby long to understand the importance of placing Destiny with the proper human. This pup has been through tough times, she will need an owner who understands that.

It isn’t often that a story centers around an autistic character, especially when autism spectrum disorder does not particularly pertain to the plot. And Abby absolutely does not allow it to define her. Rather, it is a part of who she is and we see that, not just while she is with Amigo, but even more clearly when she reaches for him, even in his absence.

I am amazed by how many layers this tiny tome contained, while managing to be a quick, compelling read. I even learned the history of the Iditarod.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Review: Baby’s First Felony by John Straley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Same but Different by Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and RJ Peete

Same But DifferentSame but Different
Teen Life on the Autism Express
Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and RJ Peete
Scholastic Press, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-09468-9

A fast, easy read for children, parents, teachers, and counselors, Same but Different is told from the point of view of the teenaged twin co-authors, called Charlie and Callie in the book. Charlie is autistic. Callie is not. The brother and sister tell about their feelings and experiences in their own words, and the reader learns how and why they love, resent, try to understand, and sometimes misunderstand each other as they deal with family and school.

The story deals with the experiences these young people have as they branch out from their close, sheltered childhoods into the confusing, hormone-laden teen world. We learn how, of parents, siblings, teachers, and other teens in their lives, some are supportive and kind, some cruel, and some just “don’t get it.” The twins tell how they feel about those people and also about having to appreciate or support each other while trying to be themselves.

Peete’s story brings to pre-teens and teens the messages about autism she and her daughter gave to young children in their picture book, My Brother Charlie. This story is personal. Not all autistic children are twins, nor do they have NFL quarterback fathers and actress mothers. But the feelings and experiences related to body changes, dating, bullying, driving, and friendship found in this realistic, heart-warming story are universal. The reader learns that autistic people are just like everyone else, but different.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, February 2016.
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: Long Way Down by Michael Sears

Long Way DownLong Way Down
A Jason Stafford Novel #3
Michael Sears
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, February 2015
ISBN: 978-0-399-16671-6

Dark, turbulent and dangerous waters of high finance, inventive genius, and cunning power grabs are all at play in this taut, modern thriller. Well-written crime novels contain at least three important elements: a strong interesting plot, intriguing well-defined characters and persistent forward thrust.

Some display other attributes that keep readers turning pages, such as good dialogue and good descriptive narrative that draws the reader into the story so that we almost experience the action along with the characters. Long Way Down contains all of these as strong, well-written elements.

In addition, the author has achieved an excellent balance between his protagonist’s professional life and attitudes and his need and desire to be a father in close attendance to his autistic son. A widower and an ex-con, former Wall street trader, Jason Stafford is now a free-lance fraud finder. His ability to tease out secrets and point an accurate accusatory finger at perpetrators of various sins against the SEC and American investors is becoming well-known on the Street and he’s making pots of money. His job also allows him the flexibility to help raise his young autistic son. There are several moving, penetrating scenes in the novel which inform and illustrate, not only physical relationships between the two, but psychological as well.

Jack Haley, a brilliant engineer, is nearing a break-through in his development of a cheap and viable biofuel. He is abruptly indicted for insider trading. Naturally he denies it and Stafford, brought in by one of Haley’s investors to root out the truth, believes Haley. Unraveling the complicated plot requires a good deal of computer research, travel around the US and ducking by Stafford a wide-spread net of killers. In between some truly clever ruses, Stafford is desperate to maintain a good relationship with his son and new girlfriend. This becomes more and more hazardous as the net tightens.

Readers will surely ride with Jason Stafford, agonize with him over several moral issues, and be relieved they are not called on to guard Stafford’s back. This novel is a masterful thrilling experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Neverwas by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed and Larkin Reed

Book II of the Amber House Trilogy
Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed & Larkin Reed
Arthur A. Levine Books, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-43418-8

For those in search of “something different”, this is the trilogy for you. Neverwas: Book II of the Amber House Trilogy is a mixed-up, mashed-up composite of time travel, ghost story and “what if”… the most phenomenal way possible.

As her new home, Amber House does not give Sarah the comforting vibe she’d grown accustomed to when visiting the estate-in-the-family-since-the-1600s. Contrarily, now she feels assaulted by the past, tugged by history. The American Confederation of States, using Sarah’s wise words is, “…..a country that still justified “separate but equal” facilities for the races. Not that “separate” had ever actually been “equal”.”

As an Astorian, Sarah knows all people are equal; she has always been free to eradicate ignorance. This sweetly stubborn sixteen-year-old will not pretend that white males are superior to white females and all non-whites. She will be anti-Nazi whether or not she’s “in public” and she certainly won’t give up her pursuit of Jackson just because his skin is darker than hers. He may act like a hard, serious young man now with his secret meetings and mysterious yellow handkerchiefs; but she knows the boy she admires and adores is still there. More importantly, he is the only one that can help her fix the past to save the present.

Social issues, subtly addressed, seep into the reader’s subconscious…..sneaking up later, seemingly from nothing at all……much like the echoes appear to Sarah as she opens herself to the past. Autism affects Sarah’s young brother Sammy as well as her aunt, Maggie. Deplorable acts against women and non-Caucasians are reminiscent of the happenings in southern states in the 1960s. Sadly, some still occur today. This book incites emotions. Reigning that empathy is as easy as stopping the ripples from a stone tossed into a still pond.

For me, the absolute brilliance of this book lies in the clever, sneaky way that urges….compels…the reader’s brain to consider concepts previously not pondered. On the surface, I found myself immersed and thoroughly enjoying an entertaining, captivating, unique story packed with intriguing characters, hidden agendas and secrets tucked deeply away. On the other hand, I often found myself wondering, what if……

Aside: Could the mention of ley lines be a nod to Maggie Stiefvater’s enchanting Raven Cycle?

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2015.

Book Review: Where Angels Fear to Tread by Thomas E. Sniegoski

Where Angels Fear to Tread
Thomas E. Sniegoski
Signet/Penguin Group & Brilliance Audio, 2011
Unabridged Audio Book

Remy Chandler isn’t your normal, run-of-the-mill Boston PI.  He’s got another side to him, a side most people don’t get to see.  Usually that’s a good thing.  If you get to see the other side of Remy, it usually means bad things: you are dying and he wants to offer comfort, you have seriously irritated the man and he needs a lot of strength to handle you, or he loves you.  Remy’s other side is that of an angel, the angel Remiel of the host Seraphim.  Remiel’s power is not something to mess with, since it taps into the power of the Almighty, and we know what S/He can do when he’s ticked off.

Remy is working a missing persons case for a woman.  She and her husband brought their child Zoë to Boston in hopes of finding some treatment for her autism.  Zoë has an unusual talent: her pictures seem to depict future events.  Zoë’s mother is convinced that her husband had kidnapped Zoë for nefarious purposes.  Apparently in their misspent youth, they joined a cult and promised their child to the god Dagon, to serve as his human form.  They reneged and Dagon is not happy.  Has Zoë’s father changed his mind about their decision?

Also hunting Zoë is a woman who can get pretty much anyone to do whatever she wants – she is the original Delilah, back again.  She believes Zoë holds the key to her happiness and she is willing to do some pretty unpleasant things to get happy.  Delilah is being pursued by Samson (yeah, that Samson) and his numerous offspring; they want to kill her.  And Dagon is looking for her as well.  The field is pretty crowded, and most of these people have no scruples at all.

This is Sniegoski’s third book in the series.  I’ve listened to the second book (Dancing on the Head of a Pin) and enjoyed that one as well.  Sniegoski’s Almighty is VERY Old Testament.  Remy doesn’t always understand why the Almighty does what s/he does (and that s/he is totally ME – not Sniegoski), and still he believes it’s all for the best in the very long run.  Remy’s world has nothing of fairies, elves, trolls, and the like; it’s all Heaven and Hell and the denizens of both.

Both books are read by Luke Daniels.  Once in a great while, a character will sound vaguely like another character, but not often enough for it to be a problem.  I think his characterization of Marlowe is superb; Marlowe is Chandler’s dog.  Other than that, Daniels does a good job; I’d listen to him reading other works any time.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2011.