Book Review: The Boy From The Woods by Harlan Coben @HarlanCoben @GrandCentralPub

The Boy From The Woods
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-5387-4814-5
Hard Cover

At the start of this novel we are introduced to the boy referred to in the book’s title.  Thirty years ago, Wilde, as he is now known, was discovered living in the woods in a rural area of New Jersey.  According to the police there was never any report of a missing child. No relatives ever came forward to claim him.

Intriguing as that opening of Coben’s new stand alone is, the novel moves to the present and concerns another child who has gone missing. Her name is Naomi Pines and she’s a teenager who attends a local high school in the town of Westville, New Jersey.   Matthew, a  fellow student, is concerned for Naomi’s welfare.  He’s contacted his grandmother, Hester Crimstein, a well-known New York criminal attorney to enlist her help.

Hester sets things in motion in the search to find Naomi, calling on the local police and contacting Wilde, who’d been befriended by Hester’s son David, Matthew’s father, years ago.

The relationships in this novel are complicated and there are a few more characters  to meet who are involved in a political plot pertaining to a candidate running for President of the United States.

I’m sure you’ll agree that this might be hard to keep track of,  but rest assured you are in the hands of a well known and loved Master.  Jump in…you’ll be glad you did.  I thoroughly enjoyed this and hope Mr. Coben will return to with a sequel so that we might learn more about the Wilde boy from the woods.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2020.

Book Review: Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith @ericsmithrocks @InkyardPress

Don’t Read the Comments
Eric Smith
Inkyard Press, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-335-01602-7
Hardcover

It’s tough for me to write a review for a book I love more than mochas. But, I can’t not share my ardent admiration of Divya, the sensational Glitch streamer in the center of Eric Smith’s spectacular Realistic-Fiction-YA, Don’t Read the Comments.

Initially, I find it incredibly cool that this high-school student enjoys playing almost as much as she treasures the comfort and camaraderie of her followers and fellow gamers. Impressive that she is making money while doing it. Intensely delighted discovering why.

The man she’d prefer not to refer to as her father, has happily taken everything they built as a family for himself. And his mistress. Divya’s mother is finishing classes and working two jobs, so the payments for trying and talking about gnarly new gadgets makes a significant difference. Her first con appearance might even allow for new furniture.

Bekah, Divya’s best bud and imperative part of D1V’s streaming success and popularity, has designed swag to sell. Appearing on a panel will broaden their audience, as well as put them in close proximity with current fans. It is a great opportunity.

Divya’s mother is not so sure. Pride and gratitude war with worry. Some of the comments she’s seen have been downright mean. Apprehension turns to angst as the trolls’ words turn from taunting to threatening. Harassment intensifies as the con date gets closer.

Even Bekah is ready to bow out. Disappointing, yes, but certainly something Divya understands. And yet, Divya already knows that she will attend. She will be scared and alone, but the trolls will not win easily.

There is one person that remains positive and supportive. If only he wasn’t a fan she’d bumped into online. Aaron is constantly dodging desk-duty at his mom’s medical practice to work on a new game he is creating. He is grateful, though a bit perplexed, that his father has been so supportive and willing to cover for him. His mom will not even listen. Perhaps if he had received any form of payment or contractual agreement from the “friend” he was working with, she would be a bit more open. And, maybe Divya and Aaron have more in common than moms that just don’t understand.

I dig how this book gets the typical teen as well as reaching students that truly have roles and responsibilities outside of school. I’ll be adding this to several classroom libraries.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2020.

Book Review: A Bouquet of Rue by Wendy Hornsby

A Bouquet of Rue
A Maggie MacGowen Mystery #12
Wendy Hornsby
Perseverance Press, April 2019
ISBN 978-1564746078
Trade Paperback

If you’ve never been to France, Hornsby’s A Bouquet of Rue will prove a good substitute to getting a passport. Maggie MacGowen, a documentary filmmaker, has joined her fiancé, Jean-Paul Bernard, to prepare for their wedding, as well as make films for a French TV company. Maggie has contacts and family in France, so she is not without means, and Jean-Paul is an important person as well. Within a few days of Maggie’s arrival, however, it seems a teenage girl has gone missing, and a Muslim refugee is being not only bullied at school without the girl, Ophelia’s, support, but is being blamed for her disappearance. Maggie and Jean-Paul become involved because their semi-permanent house guest, Dr. Ari Massarani, also a Muslim refugee, teaches Nabi and comes to his defense.

I found most of the book dealt with French customs, their food, their drink, their lifestyles⏤not so very different from their American counterparts. Perhaps they are even more concerned with money⏤or the lack thereof. And  both their family and their national attitudes are maybe more closed than Americans often are. The food and drink parts are a little overwhelming to one for whom food is fuel.

Was there a murder? Yes. Did I care? Not so much. More interesting was the spotlight shown on racial profiling and school bullying, apparently a world-wide problem with no resolution in sight.   But I would say this book takes a good hard look at it. Read, think, and learn.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2019.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock—and a Giveaway!

This Story Is A Lie
Tom Pollock
Soho Teen, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-911-1
Hardcover

When a book begins with the protagonist having just dealt with a major panic attack by crushing a porcelain salt shaker with his teeth, you can expect what follows to be a bit strange. And what does ensue exceeds that description in spades. Peter Blankman, age seventeen, is a twin and a mad math genius. He’s also bullied unmercifully by three classmates at his English high school. His only protection is his older, by eight minutes, sister Bel who is no slouch in the brains department herself.

Peter has been dealing with irrational fears and panic attacks for as long as he can remember. His mother is a world famous scientist and his absent father a mystery. All Peter and Bel know is the tidbits their mother drops on occasion, but the overarching message has always been that Dad was utterly evil and the less they know, the better off they’ll be.

A few hours following his attack, he, Bel and Mom are off to the Natural History Museum where Mom’s to receive an award for her work. Peter does his best to hold it together, but as the moment approaches for things to start, he loses it and bolts, running recklessly down one corridor after another. When he runs out of gas, he tries to find his way back, only to stumble on a body leaking copious amounts of blood. It’s his mother and it’s all he can do to stay with her and try to stanch the bleeding.

In short order, Bel vanishes, Peter’s grabbed by Rita, who claims to be a friend of Mom and one of her co-workers. She rushes him out of the museum and into a strange car that follows the ambulance transporting Mom. Peter’s paranoia starts ramping up as the convoy heads away from the two closest hospitals. It spikes even more as he overhears snippets of code-like conversations and senses that something highly suspicious. Little does he know how right he is. He manages to escape, but with Bel missing, where can he go?

What follows is like going in and out of a series of Alice in Wonderland rabbit holes. Every time Peter thinks he has something figured out, reality, or what passes for it, pulls another rug out from him. He’s unsure who to trust, how much of what he’s learned about mathematics can be counted on, he’s unsure who’s real or telling the truth, and as pieces fall into place, he finds himself on ever more fragile ground. Many details are revealed in flashback chapters going back anywhere from five days to seven years prior to the current story line. By the end, Peter, Bel and the reader are all still trying to sort things out. That’s not to say the ending is bad or incomplete, just nicely twisted. If you like industrial strength creepy, this book is for you.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2019.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of This Story Is A Lie, just leave a
comment below.
The winning name will
be drawn on Friday
night, March 1st.

This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace

My Whole Truth
Mischa Thrace
Flux, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-024-8
Trade Paperback

I’ve struggled with this review for a few weeks, because I was stunned. Speechless. Now, I accept the fact that I will never find and assemble accurate words to aptly address my deep desire for everyone to read this book. But, I can’t keep not telling you about My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace. So…

Starting this story is a bit like having a bucket of ice-cold water dumped over your head. From out of nowhere. That steal-your-breath, shocking feeling, fused with white-hot anger, stayed with me. Quite frankly, still simmers. Perhaps, because this Realistic Fiction plot is so current, it is almost creepy.

The scenario certainly sets me off, but there’s a brilliant balance with the sincere and effortless strength and support that Seelie receives from her friends. And because they are adolescents, situations can only stay serious for so long. Even from her hospital bed, merely moments after being attacked, Seelie stays true to teens everywhere by easily ignoring simple ‘stay still and quiet’ instructions. And she calls her friends, not a parent. Although, she is not wrong there.

If everyone had a best bud like Lyssa, there would be no more bullying. The ultimate antihero, I couldn’t help but cheer a little bit whenever she stepped out of line. From the minute she arrived in the emergency room, all the way to the end of the tortuous trial, Lyssa stuck by Seelie’s side.

Whereas, Seelie’s mother stayed busy with her restaurant, as usual. Since she wasn’t in the hayloft at the time, Mom couldn’t be expected to actually know what happened anyway. She does recall that Seelie has always been rude to Shane, while seemingly everyone else in the entire town adores the judge’s son. And maternal ambivalence is only the tip of the iceberg.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2018.

Book Reviews: Sparrow by Sarah Moon and Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher

Sparrow
Sarah Moon
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-03258-1
Hardcover

I never imagined that anyone could capture, then convey the desperate isolation of an outsider-always-looking-in. Ms. Moon makes it so real that one evening while reading, my eyes were all leaky and my nose wouldn’t stop sniffling. My husband asked if it was the pollen or a really sad book. It was not the pollen.

Which is not to say that Sparrow is dreary or depressing. We just meet Sparrow at a tough time.

Accepting that she will never fit in with other students, staying under the radar of teachers and staff; Sparrow has developed her very own coping mechanism. It is a soul-soothing, secret escape. Private, because there’s no way anyone would ever understand. Or even believe.

So, when Sparrow was discovered on the roof of the school and all assumptions were grossly inaccurate, the wrong question being asked, it was no surprise. But it didn’t matter, she couldn’t answer anyway.

Sparrow’s mom is fiercely strong, capable and confident. And surprisingly willing to set aside her initial reservations about therapy. Even after meeting the not-as-pictured Dr. Katz and her interesting attire. In spite of the funky shoes, Sparrow could be cold and aloof towards Dr. Katz. It was much harder pretending to ignore the music that punctured the silence. Songs articulated her thoughts. Rough voices relayed her pain.

Sparrow felt her problems were solved, finding and embracing artists that understood. But listening to music was just the tip of the iceberg. With the enthusiastic support of her therapist, the determined, albeit a bit dubious, backing of her mother; Sparrow sets off for the Gertrude Nix Rock Camp for Girls.

Tackling a topic so commonly experienced, yet rarely addressed; Ms. Moon elicits empathy in an eloquent, engaging way.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Young Man With Camera
A Novel with Photographs
Emil Sher
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-54131-2
Hardcover

I want to say that Young Man With Camera packs a powerful punch because my heart is heavily bruised; but that cliché is actually inaccurate. Instead, it is like a snake bite. A shocking, searing-hot flash of pain first, followed by a false sense of ease, into the stinging sensation of venom in your veins.  And I mean this as an unequivocally enthusiastic endorsement.

T— is clearly strong, resilient and courageous…yet I immediately experience an inexplicable urge to protect him.  Deftly dealing with diverse people, in completely different ways, displays his early-onset maturity and a kindness that cannot be contained.  His sincere interest in Ruby, the quiet little girl with the chalk drawings, is as genuine and open as his affection towards the homeless woman with the witty signs.

When repugnant Ryan and his herd of hooligans antagonize T—, he tends to tolerate it; but the minute they set their sights on someone else, T— is quick to defend.  Already “damaged”, his scars speak of suffering, while simultaneously showing survival. He has a best bud, Sean, who comes with a faithful and friendly pooch; but it was photography that saved T—.  The very pictures he shares are worth way more than a thousand of the wisest words.

Although it is absolutely appropriate for the Middle Grade reader, I will be passing this copy on to “my” High School seniors, where I believe it will appeal to both ends of the reading spectrum. Reluctant readers will appreciate the photography as well as the short-not-so-sweet writing style and avid readers will dig the “something different”.  T—’s tale takes you where you definitely do not want to go, and you can’t even cover your eyes along the way.  Creating conflict by making you fully understand the why, even when it is so clearly wrong, in a real, raw and absolutely riveting way.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

Book Review: Frosted Kisses by Heather Hepler

Frosted Kisses
Cupcake Queen Series #2

Heather Hepler
Point, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-79055-0
Hardcover

Penny and her mom moved from Manhattan to a small town following her parents’ divorce. Hog’s Hollow is quite different than the big city, but some things don’t change. School bullies and cliques are everywhere, teens have secrets everywhere, and crushes happen everywhere.

Fortunately, Penny made friends with Tally who is a big time animal lover. She talked her new friend into helping raise money to restore/repair the animal shelter where she volunteers. On the opposite side of school society is Charity, daughter of the town banker and as mean as they come. For reasons unfathomable to Penny, Charity has it in for her at every opportunity. It’s gotten so bad Penny cringes in fearful anticipation every time Charity is in her vicinity.

When Esmeralda comes to stay with Charity, Tally’s immediately put off by her, but Penny’s conflicted. Remembering her own experience coming to a new school makes her want to give the extremely attractive Parisian girl the benefit of doubt, but when Esmeralda starts tutoring Marcus, who Penny likes big time, trusting either of them gets pretty difficult.

The plot gets much thicker, both literally and figuratively after aging surfer Dutch moves back to town, agitating Penny’s grandmother. Tally and Penny start to realize Gram’s upset has something to do with what happened between them years ago, just about the time they come up with a dazzling way to raise lots of money for the animal shelter during the winter festival. Add in the challenge of Penny trying to figure out whether Marcus reciprocates her feelings, helping Gram put up the county-wide famous Christmas light display at their house, having to accept that her father isn’t able to be reliable, Tally’s own secret anguish over her family mess, who really is the evil girl at school and how that person is outed in a very public way, and you have a very entertaining story.

I’ve read the author’s other books and enjoyed them a lot. This is both entertaining and meaty in terms of how the two best friends deal with bullying, trust and family dysfunction.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2018.