Book Reviews: Hearts & Other Body Parts by Ira Bloom and P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Hearts & Other Body Parts
Ira Bloom
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-03073-0
Hardcover

Fast-paced and fabulously fun, Hearts & Other Body Parts is a freaky fusion of folklore that completely rocks my socks.  Fantasy, science-fiction and a bit of magic combine to capture, then carry you along the remarkable ride.  With the emphasis on “science”, some of this fiction feels frighteningly plausible.

The three sisters that center the story are quintessential siblings in the best ways possible.  Unique enough for interesting exchanges, their common ground allows them to create a formidable front when needed.  Norman, the new kid (whose full name is spectacularly perfect) is a gentle giant—in the most literal sense—but, his size is the least shocking attribute of his appearance.

Generally, students in small town schools divide into two groups when a new kid arrives: instant fans seeking something different or rowdy ruffians refusing change.  Not so when Norman enters the picture.  All eyes focus on him, the same expression on every face.  Mouths hang open in wonder, revulsion and fear.  When Esme joins Norman at the lunch table on his first day, he knew things would be different here; but even his peculiar past could not have prepared him for what was coming.

Zack erases Norman’s new-kid status and creates a fandom in the student body.  Girls surround Zack like fog, floating on his every word. Intelligent as well as wise, Norman is not captivated by Zack’s charms; instead he is suspicious.  Reports of missing girls convince Norman that Esme and her sisters, who have absolutely abandoned him to hover around Zack, are in imminent danger.  Norman can’t face Zack alone, but the bullies that once taunted him may not be much back-up…..even with the reluctant aid of a demon cat.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2017.

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P.S. I Like You
Kasie West
Point, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85097-1
Hardcover

This is such a sweet story—not so your teeth hurt–it’s perfectly sweet.  First and foremost:  I love the Abbott family.  I want to dive into their home and be submersed in the fresh, awesome, oddness.  Each quirky, yet quintessential, sibling provides poignant texture, interacting individually and collectively with Lily.  Her competition-loving, compassionate parents are perfectly embarrassing and absolutely adorable.  Also, there is a rescued “pet” rabbit.

I adore Lily.  She’s who I wanted to be as a teenager.  Her most awkward teen-aged moment is exponentially cooler than any of mine.  It is effortless to relate to, empathize with and understand her.  She is “learning lessons” that I learned, but sometimes forget.  The reminders are welcome and appreciated.

There is also the something-different-that-I-totally-dig-aspect:  putting a pencil to your desktop, jotting a note or song lyric to maintain sanity and/or a state of semi-awareness during class, only to be stunned when another student responds in kind.  I remember trading notes via the top of my desk with an anonymous person in my 8th grade Literature class (sorry, Mr. Leach).  So, no surprise, I’m stupidly delighted and charmed to find a book basing a pretty groovy relationship on such a simple start.  Particularly impressive, Ms. West presents a spot-on, classic-yet-credible, way of communicating without feeling the need to mute or explain away today’s textmania.

This was a one-sitting-read that I really enjoyed.  The mini-mystery to determine who Lily’s pen pal is warranted a close look and careful consideration of the characters.  Although cute and quick, this isn’t the cotton candy of reading—there is a Mean Girl and her role is not gratuitous and the importance of being a good friend cannot be overstated.  My copy is going to my 13-year-old niece and I’m sure I’ll donate another copy to my Middle Grader’s classroom library.  I really like this book for the Middle-Grade reader looking for a love story.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

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Book Review: Haunting Investigation by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Haunting Investigation
A Chesterton Holte Mystery #5
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Smoke & Shadow Books, December 2015
ISBN: 978-1-943052-01-1
Hardcover

First of all, detective Chesterton Holte is a ghost, and only newspaper reporter Poppy Thornton can see or hear him⏤aside from her Aunt Jo’s old dog and the cat. And the only reason he’s haunting her is because he directly led to her father being executed as a spy during World War I and this is his way of making it up to her.

The year is 1924 and the country is still reeling not only from the war, but from the millions of lives lost to the Spanish Flu. Women are taking jobs usually considered the male prerogative and Poppea Thornton is one of them. She is a budding newspaper reporter, up to now assigned to the society pages as she is one of Philadelphia’s upper crust. But when one of society’s own is murdered, Poppy, to her satisfaction, receives the job of reporting the news. In her duties, she meets a handsome police detective, which serves her well when she becomes the murderer’s target, but it is the ghost, Chesterton Holte, who helps Poppy root out the clues.

Against a whole lot of opposition, Poppy works hard and diligently to make her way in a man’s world.

I liked the characters. I formed good pictures of Aunt Jo, cousin Stacy, the widow, and all the others. The setting is well done. I enjoyed the descriptions of the cars, the attire of the day, and especially, the food and drink⏤lots of drink. And during prohibition, too, wink, wink. However, the murder methods seemed odd to me. Also, there didn’t seem to be any real resolution to the story, ending more with a whimper than a bang. Even so, I enjoyed the journey with Poppy and Holte and Detective Loring. One assumes it is to be continued.

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

Book Review: Silver by Chris Wooding

SilverSilver
Chris Wooding
Scholastic Press, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-60392-8
Hardcover

Take a boy who is already feeling emotional isolation and drop him into a private school in a remote English countryside, add monsters,  conflicted friendships, a bully and mix well.

This is the situation Paul finds himself in. His parents vanished in a South American plane crash and his aunt and uncle never wanted kids, so he’s felt the double sting of loss and rejection. He’s been polite and friendly at Mortingham Boarding school and has a crush on popular, athletic Erika, but she’s not interested. Caitlyn, however has it bad for Paul and, as the fourth of a group of sisters, has always felt less than in everything. Erika thinks Caitlyn is her best friend, but the opposite is true, although well hidden. Adam is big and a bully because he’s secretly afraid that any sign of weakness will cost him dearly. Quiet, very intelligent Mark realizes he’s outgrown the nerd clique and wants new friends, but has no clue how to do so.

When most of the kids have gone home for the weekend,  those remaining come under siege. It starts innocently enough with the discovery of an odd and very large beetle by the campus pond. Adam intimidates the boys who found it and after it’s dropped, he steps on it. Paul retrieves the crushed insect and takes it to their science teacher who shows the class that this bug is really different. Under a microscope, it looks like it has transistors and silver wires integrated into its body.

Kids go looking for more of the odd creatures and the fun begins. A boy is bitten and hordes of the beetles start after the now terrified students. When kids and faculty members who have been scratched or bitten begin morphing into glowing-eyed,  silvery monsters, those students remaining must put aside petty things and join together or die. They’re trapped in the science building and every time they come up with a defense, the monsters quickly adapt.

What ensues is fast-paced and creepy-scary,  typical Chris Wooding fare. He’s able to take a small part of the world and spin it into something frightening and complex. He does it again in Silver. You’ll want to set aside sufficient time to read it in one sitting because you won’t want to put it down.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2016.

Book Review: 27 Days to Midnight by Kristine Kruppa

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Title: 27 Days to Midnight
Author: Kristine Kruppa
Publisher: Giant Squid Books
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Genres: Steampunk, Adventure, Young Adult

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27 Days to Midnight27 Days to Midnight
Kristine Kruppa
Giant Squid Books, May 2016
ISBN 978-0692658956
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Everyone in Dahlia’s world knows when they’re going to die. Except her.

Her father has never shown her the pocket watch counting down the days she has left to live. When he sacrifices himself to save her from her scheduled death, Dahlia abandons her comfortable home and sets off after his murderer to uncover the secrets her father died to protect…and the time research that could bring him back to life.

Then she meets Farren Reed. She should hate him. He’s an enemy soldier, a cowardly deserter, and the most insufferable man Dahlia’s ever met. Still, she needs all the help she can get, and Farren is the only chance she has to find the man who murdered her father. But Farren has only twenty-seven days left on his watch.

In that time, Dahlia must recover her father’s time research, foil a psychotic general’s plot, and learn to survive in a world that will never be the same. But the research holds secrets more dangerous than she had ever imagined. She will have to choose what is most important: revenge, Farren’s life, or her own. And time is running out. 

I was not an early convert to today’s steampunk world, probably caving in finally about two years after its resurgence began. I don’t really know why I resisted it—I guess I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind—but I’m glad I finally started reading it. I’ve found a lot to enjoy in this subgenre including the Victorianesque settings, the flight-of-fancy technology and steam power, and the frequent blending of multiple genres such as science fiction and mystery. Most of all, I’ve enjoyed the adventures that are such an integral part of steampunk.

27 Days to Midnight struck me as having all those delightful attributes except that its tone is more serious than the usual steampunk, meaning it isn’t as lighthearted. That’s not a bad thing, just a difference, and I kind of felt as though this could be labeled as somewhat dystopian because of the thing with the watches. The watches, and the rules that go with them, also took me back to my earlier days when I was a Girl Scout troop leader, back before time was invented ;-). We took a week-long trip every June and we leaders made the girls turn over all timepieces to us. They weren’t allowed to ask when we were going to do something, reason being, we wanted them to have a true vacation away from the pressures we normally let time put on us (and it relieved us from the endless nagging about when we were going to dinner or the beach or the lighthouse, etc., etc., etc.)

Ms. Kruppa not only came up with a new and different idea; she also created a number of lively characters that I came to care for a lot along with a plot that jumps off the page from the very beginning and rarely lets you catch your breath. Dahlia is a young lady who has lived a life of some privilege and is understandably in a state of shock when the first awful things happen but she’s resilient and soon begins to learn how to look after herself and pursue her goals. Farren is equally appealing but largely because he really shouldn’t be and I truly appreciated the way the author allows their relationship to very slowly develop, warts and all.

When all is said and done, Ms. Kruppa has given us a story well worth the investment of reading time and, while it’s self-contained, I do hope the author will bring us more adventures with these wonderful characters.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.

About the Author

Kristine KruppaKristine Kruppa is a mechanical engineer, writer, and world traveler. Her days are spent designing cool new car parts, but her evenings are filled with writing and cats. She has traveled solo to seventeen countries on five continents. Her other hobbies include hunting for the perfect cup of coffee, exploring used book stores, and accidentally climbing mountains. To keep up with her adventures, follow Kristine on Twitter @kskruppa.

(Author photo credit: Sunny Wong)

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Teeny Reviews: Joy to the Worlds by Maia Chance, Janine A. Southard, Raven Oak and G. Clemans, No Honor Among Thieves by J.A. Jance, Peril by Ponytail by Nancy J. Cohen, One Year After by William R. Forstchen, and Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes by Karin Slaughter

Joy to the WorldsJoy to the Worlds
Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays
Maia Chance, Janine A. Southard, Raven Oak and G. Clemans
Grey Sun Press, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-9908157-6-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What do you get when you mix mystery and speculative fiction, then toss in the holidays for good measure? A mobster Santa, genetic hanky-panky, Victorian villages, time-travelling detectives, a Krampus, eerie bell spirits, and more–this collection of short cross-genre fiction is the perfect counterpoint to traditional holiday reading!

Joy to the Worlds brings together eight short works that explore mysteries across time and space. Ranging from dark dystopian worlds to comedic retro-futures, four diverse writers find new ways to combine these disparate worlds.

This collection stars national bestselling mystery author Maia Chance, who dazzles with humor and folklore; IPPY award-winning science fiction author Janine A. Southard beguiles with unexpected time-travel science; science fiction and fantasy bestseller Raven Oak offers a look into the gothic past; and for a whole new perspective, debut fiction author and art expert G. Clemans dives into the intersections of creativity and mystery.

Whether you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, mystery, Christmas, noir, gothic, or folktales—this collection has something for you.

I tend to shy away from anthologies because I don’t much like coming to the end of a short story I really like, wanting it to be a full-length novel, but Joy to the Worlds interested me on first glance because I knew and liked two of the authors’ work but had never tried the others. This seemed like a good opportunity to return to familiar writers and meet a couple more.

Tyson Wallenstein, a dead detective trying to prove himself—he’s only been dead a year so he’s the newbie of the group—sets out to investigate a man’s death without all the trappings of a living detective (no forensics, no DNA, etc.) in the first story and I was immediately captivated. Was it an accident? Murder? Is the prosthetic leg attached to a high heel a clue? Why does mistletoe seem to be everywhere?

In another story, a young American named Odysseus Flax is overcome with motion sickness while traveling by train through the Alps and jumps off the train in a little village called Kiefertal. There he encounters the underbelly of Christmas during Krampusnacht when a very rich man decides to scare his obnoxious little boy and Odysseus learns there is much he does not know about what’s real or not real in this picturesque little town.

Four authors with four very different choices of genre and style offer two stories each that entertain in an unexpected way, giving the reader a slightly askew look at the holiday season. What better way to be introduced to authors you haven’t tried before?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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No Honor Among ThievesNo Honor Among Thieves
An Ali Reynolds/Joanna Brady Novella
J.A. Jance
Pocket Star Books, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-5011-3559-0
Ebook

From the publisher—

“A semi’s gone over the embankment.” The call wakes Sheriff Joanna Brady in the middle of the night, but what brings her fully alert is the rest of the story. The driver didn’t drift off to sleep and cross the center line—he was shot, multiple times, by someone with serious firepower. And when the truck crashed through the guardrail, its payload wound up scattered all over the road—boxes upon boxes of Legos.

Legos that are being tracked by B. Simpson’s security firm to reduce black market sales—and Ali Reynolds is just the woman to get to the bottom of the crime. She has the tech and the intel to follow the money (or, in this case, the Legos), which makes her a valuable asset to Joanna’s team. Soon these two strong women realize that they’re not just sharing a case, they’re kindred spirits—which is paramount, because the killer they’re up against is anything but child’s play.

A new Joanna Brady story is always a treat to my way of thinking and, in No Honor Among Thieves, we get the best of two protagonists, Joanna and Ali Reynolds. So much fun!

Other characters are just as enjoyable, Kendra, B. and Cami just to name a few. One of Ms. Jance‘s particular strengths lies in creating characters you can develop a connection with and I never feel overloaded with names to keep straight other than a few of the very minor players.

Who knew LEGOS are actually a hot product on the black market? Yes, those little plastic things you make cool stuff with go for high prices once a set is retired, much like other collectibles, and that’s what brings Ali into the investigation. Her husband’s security company has been hired to shadow LEGOS shipments to try to identify the sources of the black market commodities and B. sends Ali to the scene to check out the identification chips on the LEGOS packages, hopefully to figure out why a midsized truck was carrying the toys on back roads. What she and Joanna find, though, only adds to the puzzle of why someone wanted to kill the driver in such a spectacular fashion and, before it’s all over, a gigantic mistake is made.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Peril by PonytailPeril by Ponytail
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #12
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star Publishing, September 2015
ISBN 978-1432830984
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Marla and Dalton’s honeymoon at an Arizona dude ranch veers from dangerous to downright deadly faster than a horse headed to the corral. With her husband’s uncle–the resort’s owner–on the suspect list for murder, Marla races to prove his innocence. She hopes her blind trust isn’t misplaced, especially when she learns their relative has secrets he’d rather keep buried. As the bodies pile up, she digs deep to find the killer. With her new family in jeopardy, she’d better figure out who’s adding to the spirits haunting a nearby ghost town before someone she loves is hurt.

The very idea of the girly-girl Marla honeymooning at a dude ranch was funny enough to make me want to read Peril by Ponytail, latest in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, and I found myself highly entertained by the scenario. Marla is her usual snoopy self (although, as can be expected, quite rational about it) and feels compelled to investigate when her uncle by marriage becomes a murder suspect in the midst of a series of mishaps at the ranch and a nearby ghost town.

The relationship between Marla and her police detective husband, Dalton, is appealing, partially because they respect each other’s abilities in investigating crime. Marla is no ditzy woman who thinks she knows better than the police; rather, they work together comfortably.

Secrets abound, motives keep cropping up and danger seems to be everywhere but there’s fun to be had watching Marla do her thing. She might want folks to think she’s annoyed by the interruption to her honeymoon but those of us who’ve been following her adventures for years know better, don’t we? 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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One Year AfterOne Year After
William R. Forstchen
Forge, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-7653-7670-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The story picks up a year after One Second After ends, two years since the detonation of nuclear weapons above the United States brought America to its knees. After suffering starvation, war, and countless deaths, the survivors of Black Mountain, North Carolina, are beginning to piece back together the technologies they had once taken for granted: electricity, radio communications, and medications. They cling to the hope that a new national government is finally emerging.

Then comes word that most of the young men and women of the community are to be drafted into an “Army of National Recovery” and sent to trouble spots hundreds of miles away.

When town administrator John Matherson protests the draft, he’s offered a deal: leave Black Mountain and enter national service, and the draft will be reduced. But the brutal suppression of a neighboring community under its new federal administrator and the troops accompanying him suggests that all is not as it should be with this burgeoning government.

Six years ago, I read One Second After by this same author and was struck by how well Mr. Forstchen created the world that would exist immediately after a devastating EMP attack and during the following year. Black Mountain, NC, became a microcosm of the self-destruction and the triumph over extreme adversity that would inevitably follow such an event, made even more realistic for me because I’ve been to the real Black Mountain and could easily “see” what went on. All these years later, it remains one of my favorite post-apocalyptic novels despite a few flaws and I hoped the author would someday let us know what happened to the survivors of Black Mountain.

Finally, I heard earlier this year that the sequel was coming out and I jumped right on it. Let me just say I was not the least bit disappointed and found the premise of a bureaucracy run amok to be completely credible. After all, there are many people in this world who think they should be in charge but I also have no trouble believing the people of a small town would come together in an effort to do what’s right and best for their neighbors while still trying to help those outside the community. Setting this story in a small town was the perfect thing to do because the reader really gets to know the people and develop a strong connection that isn’t as likely in a densely-populated area. This sequel focuses on what the survivors would do after the initial emergency, what choices they would make going forward. One Year After is a gripping novel although, by the nature of the beast, it doesn’t have the riveting impact of the first book. Still, I’m really anticipating the third book, Unite Or Die, due out in September 2016.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Blonde Hair, Blue EyesBlonde Hair, Blue Eyes
Karin Slaughter
Witness Impulse, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-2442819
Ebook
Also available in mass market paperback

From the publisher—

“A beautiful young girl was walking down the street―when suddenly…”

Julia Carroll knows that too many stories start that way. Beautiful, intelligent, a nineteen-year-old college freshman, she should be carefree. But instead she is frightened. Because girls are disappearing.

A fellow student, Beatrice Oliver, is missing. A homeless woman called Mona-No-Name is missing. Both taken off the street. Both gone without a trace.

Julia is determined to find out the reasons behind their disappearances. And she doesn’t want to be next…

Karin Slaughter‘s name always comes to my mind when I hear the word “thriller”. She’s a bit too realistic for some readers but I love her work and had been anxiously awaiting her new standalone, Pretty Girls, when I saw that there was a prequel short story, giving us the backstory of one of the Pretty Girls characters. I tend to read prequels after the fact even when they’re actually offered before the primary novel so I was especially eager to grab Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes.

When bad things happen to young women, they’re frequently blonde with blue eyes as that seems to be a favorite type for bad guys. What’s interesting about this particular blonde is that she knows girls have gone missing and she’s frightened for herself, as any rational person would be, but she’s still determined to write the story that will focus attention on the supposed abductions. In doing so, Julia puts a target on her own back…or is it possible the danger is closer to home?

All in all, this is an excellent lead-in to Pretty Girls.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

 

Teeny Reviews: The Sister Pact by Stacie Ramey, Home By Nightfall by Charles Finch, Powerless by Tim Washburn, The Ark by Patrick S. Tomlinson, and Merry Mary by Ashley Farley

The Sister PactThe Sister Pact
Stacie Ramey
Sourcebooks Fire, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-4926-2097-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Who holds your secrets?

Allie is devastated when her sister commits suicide-and it’s not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they’d always be together, in life and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why.

Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief.

But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie’s not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister’s death or facing her new reality without her.

I never had a sister and my brother and I were too far apart in age to be close when we were growing up—although that changed later in life—but I think losing a sibling through suicide must be so devastating it’s nearly impossible to recover. What an inordinate amount of pain and confusion the survivor must feel, especially as a teen! Ms. Ramey writes this story with an incredible empathy and understanding that brings it to life for teen readers but also for those of us well past those years.

A major side effect of any death is the discovery of the things you didn’t know about that person’s life and that’s the essence of Allie’s journey through all the pain and betrayal and the questions that go with any death but especially a suicide. Her trauma leads her down some dubious paths and I found myself both sad and appalled as I watched her struggle with truths she might not have wished to learn.

I’ve dealt with, and still am dealing with, a lot of grief this year and The Sister Pact has made it all just a tiny bit easier even though my “events” haven’t been due to suicide. Thank you, Ms. Ramey 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Home By NightfallHome By Nightfall
A Charles Lenox Mystery #9
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-07041-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s London in 1876, and the whole city is abuzz with the enigmatic disappearance of a famous foreign pianist. Lenox has an eye on the matter – as a partner in a now-thriving detective agency, he’s a natural choice to investigate. Just when he’s tempted to turn his focus to it entirely, however, his grieving brother asks him to come down to Sussex, and Lenox leaves the metropolis behind for the quieter country life of his boyhood. Or so he thinks. In fact, something strange is afoot in Markethouse: small thefts, books, blankets, animals, and more alarmingly a break-in at the house of a local insurance agent. As he and his brother investigate this small accumulation of mysteries, Lenox realizes that something very strange and serious indeed may be happening, more than just local mischief. Soon, he’s racing to solve two cases at once, one in London and one in the country, before either turns deadly.

The private detective I’ve come to know and love so well is back and in fine fettle as he balances his life between the occasionally seedy world of criminal activity and the aristocratic society he and his wife, Lady Jane, are part of. In this latest adventure, Charles Lenox is pulled in two directions, intrigued by the case of a missing celebrity but also needing to help his recently widowed brother in his grief and get to the bottom of a series of odd events in his childhood home.

Charles Finch is one of a handful of authors who, quite simply, never let me down and that holds true here. Lenox is a man who believes he can make a difference in people’s lives and he has great compassion in addition to intelligence and a perceptive mind. That’s the core of a truly good detective, don’t you think?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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PowerlessPowerless
Tim Washburn
Pinnacle, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-7860-3653-0
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Nothing Can Prepare You. . .

It strikes without warning. A massive geomagnetic solar storm that destroys every power grid in the northern hemisphere. North America is without lights, electricity, phones, and navigation systems. In one week, the human race is flung back to the Dark Ages.

Nothing Can Save You. . .

In Boulder, Colorado, weather technicians watch in horror as civilization collapses around them. Planes are falling out of the skies. Cars are dead. Pandemonium and terror grip the Northern Hemisphere. As nuclear reactors across North America face inevitable meltdowns, the U.S. President remains powerless in a heavily guarded White House. From London to Boston to Anchorage, there is no food, no water, no hope. It’s every man for himself. . .and it will only get worse.

Survival Is Everything.

Only one man–army veteran Zeke Marshall–is prepared to handle a nightmare like this. But when he tries to reunite with his family in Dallas–across a lawless terrain as deadly as any battlefield–he discovers there are worse things in life than war. And there are terrible and unthinkable things he’ll have to do to survive. . .

I really do wish this hadn’t been written in present tense because it was an annoying distraction, not an enhancement to a story premise that I usually look forward to. I enjoyed this, in spite of the choice of tense, and in spite of the hyperbole in the book’s description (only one man is prepared to handle a nightmare like this? seriously?). Zeke is a character I came to respect and like very much and the depiction of the devastation is evocative and realistic.

I’m not a particular fan of the Department of Homeland Security but I can’t help but wonder…has any author presented them in a positive light? In Powerless, as in every other thriller I’ve read that features them, incompetence and obstructionism seem to be their strong suits and, to be honest, I’m tired of it. With all their failings, I just don’t believe that this agency is so completely wrong.

All in all, while I felt this was rather simplistic in spots, lessening the tension too much, I do recommend Powerless to anyone who appreciates a good disaster novel.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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The Ark 2The Ark
Children of a Dead Earth #1
Patrick S. Tomlinson
Angry Robot, November 2015
ISBN 978-0857664846
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Humankind has escaped a dying Earth and set out to find a new home among the stars aboard an immense generation spaceship, affectionately named the Ark. Bryan Benson is the Ark’s greatest living sports hero, enjoying retirement working as a detective in Avalon, his home module. The hours are good, the work is easy, and the perks can’t be beat.

But when a crew member goes missing, Benson is thrust into the centre of an ever-expanding web of deception, secrets, and violence that overturns everything he knows about living on the Ark and threatens everyone aboard. As the last remnants of humanity hurtle towards their salvation, Benson finds himself in a desperate race to unravel the conspiracy before a madman turns mankind’s home into its tomb.

Oh my goodness, I SO enjoyed this book! It’s got so many of the elements I look for in a good crossgenre—a nifty mystery with the ultimate locked room (can’t get any more locked room than a spaceship racing towards humanity’s hope of a new home), a man who loves his job as a detective (largely because it’s really, really easy), a dark scenario and yet some light humor and a potential end to our species. What more could a girl want?

These people have been floating around out there for something like 200 years and Mr. Tomlinson does an excellent job creating a believable but also intriguing setting which really is a character in itself. Benson is a likeable man and his detecting skills are on high alert now that he has a murder to work with. Can he solve the crime before his fellow travelers meet an untimely end? Well, yes, we know he’ll have at least some success because there’s a second book coming but his detecting is entertaining all the way.

The second book in this duology, Trident’s Forge, will be out in April 2016 and I can barely stand to wait. Time needs to move faster 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Merry MaryMerry Mary
Ashley Farley
Leisure Time Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-9861672-3-2
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A young woman longing for a child stumbles upon a Christmas miracle. Investigative journalist Scottie Darden is photographing the homeless for her Lost Souls series when she makes a discovery that could change her life forever. Under a makeshift tent in subzero temperatures in a downtown city park, she finds a woman’s dead body with her infant child. Without her cell phone to call for help, Scottie makes the split-second decision to take the baby home. Her initial instinct is to provide the baby with food and shelter until her family can be located. But as her fondness for the baby grows, she finds herself facing a life on the run or worse—prison time for abduction. Curl up with Merry Mary this holiday season. A heartwarming story of the powerful connection between a caring soul and an innocent child in need.

I’ve been a fan of Ms. Farley‘s work for quite a while now but, for the first time, I have to say this one doesn’t work for me. I won’t go into a lot of detail because I think Merry Mary will appeal to others; suffice it to say I didn’t like Scottie and that’s pretty important when it comes to connecting with a story. Scottie seems to be unusually clueless and her behavior is senseless, particularly when she decides to take the baby home with her for some very thin reasons. There are also some noticeable plot holes.

At any rate, I think this is just a misstep for me personally and it certainly won’t put me off Ms. Farley‘s future books. In fact, the author is working on a full-length novel featuring Scottie and I’m looking forward to getting to know her better and, perhaps, understand her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

Book Review: Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond by Jayne Barnard—and a Giveaway!

Maddie Hatter and the Deadly DiamondMaddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
Jayne Barnard
Tyche Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-1-928025-33-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Miss Maddie Hatter, renegade daughter of a powerful Steamlord, is scraping a precarious living as a fashion reporter when the story of a lifetime falls into her lace-gloved hands.

Baron Bodmin, an adventurer with more failed quests than fingernails, has vanished in circumstances that are odd even for him.

While he is supposedly hunting the fabled Eye of Africa diamond in the Nubian desert, his expeditionary airship is found adrift off the coast of England. Maddie was the last reporter to see the potty peer alive. If she can locate the baron or the Eye of Africa, her career will be made.

Outraged investors and false friends complicate her quest, and a fiendish figure lurks in the shadows, ready to snatch the prize . . . at any price.

I stopped reading steampunk a while back, mainly because I got tired of it and I felt as though each one was pretty much the same as the last. Then, one fine day, Jayne Barnard offered me a copy of this book for review and I was immediately drawn in by the title and by this oh-so-wonderful cover. Is that not one of the best covers you’ve seen in a while? And, OMG, the bird! Tweetle-D aka TD is one of the most charming birds I’ve ever come across even if he is made of brass and, quite frankly, Maddie’s snooping would have gotten  nowhere without this very special little sparrow.

Like any intelligent, forward-thinking young woman of her day, Maddie has no intention of writing about fashion for the rest of her career but she needs a miracle to propel her into something more exciting. That miracle kind of falls into her lap when the eccentric Baron Bodmin disappears during his expedition to Egypt in search of a fabulous jewel and his airship is found floating aimlessly without its pilot. Maddie is literally on the spot in Cairo and this is her chance but she has to be very circumspect in her investigations lest her society parents catch wind of her decidedly improper activities.

Keeping the proper rules of conduct in mind as much as possible but allowing for a few daring “missteps”, Maddie and her wonderful TD set off to get the scoop and solve the mystery while they’re at it. How could she possibly predict the twists and turns this inquiry will bring about as a missing person case becomes murder?

Egypt was another lure that enticed me to read Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond. Years ago, many more than I like to think about, I spent a week in Egypt and was completely captivated by the country and its people and it’s one of a handful of foreign lands I really want to visit again. In today’s climate of unrest and violence, that’s not likely to happen, so I enjoy Egypt vicariously through books such as those written by Elizabeth Peters. That love of Egypt was only one of the reasons I wanted to read this book, though, and Ms. Barnard reeled me in with one of the most delightful tales I’ve read in a while. It’s a lovely mix of mystery, science fiction, humor, froth and adventure that can be found in the best steampunk and I can’t wait to read Maddie’s next exploits. Write faster, please, Ms. Barnard!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy of
Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
by Jayne Barnard, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Thursday evening, November 26th.
This drawing is open to residents
of the US and Canada.