Book Review: The Catalain Book of Secrets by Jessica Lourey

The Catalain Book of Secrets
Jessica Lourey
Toadhouse Books, December 2014
ISBN: 978-0-9908342-1-2
Trade Paperback

The Catalain women share more than a bloodline. Each woman, whether the eldest, now a great-grandmother, or the youngest, a teenager not yet understanding her inborn powers, has a particular magic. Sometimes it seems as small as an overdose of charming sexuality, sometimes a capability to see the future, and sometimes, as we see as the story opens, it is the power of persuasion strong enough to cause murder. The problem is, the one murdered won’t stay dead. And the twelve-year-old murderer, though innocent in intent (remember the power of persuasion aspect) has lived almost her whole life consumed by guilt.

Each woman in this story has her own chapters, so readers are brought into the plot with varying viewpoints. First is Velda, where the story begins, then Ursula, who is central to the murder. Next comes Ursula’s daughters. Jasmine, who, due to a traumatic incident in her childhood totally refutes her magic, and Katrine, who ran all the way to England to escape it. Lastly in this story, although certainly not the least, is Tara, Jasmine’s daughter.

Danger gathers around these women as a swarm of serpents awakens in an earthen hideout and prepares to take over the city to complete a twenty-five year cycle. It will take all the Catalain women and their collective powers to finally put the murder to rest  and save their family.

Well-written, with intriguing characters, I think you’ll find this a fine story to while away an evening or two.

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

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.

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: Birthright by Jessica Ruddick

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Title: Birthright
Series: The Legacy Series Book One

Author: Jessica Ruddick
Publication Date: January 26, 2017 (paper)
March 20, 2017 (ebook)

Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks
Amazon // Indiebound

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Birthright
The Legacy Series Book One
Jessica Ruddick
Jessica Ruddick Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-946164-01-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

How do you live with yourself when you decide who dies?

Ava Parks would have killed for an iPod for her sixteenth birthday. Anything would have been better than coming into her birthright of being a seeker for the Grim Reaper, an arrangement made by her fallen angel ancestor in exchange for his re-admittance to heaven. And she isn’t just any seeker—she finds souls that have the potential for becoming angels and sentences them to death. A year and two souls into her role as a seeker with her conscience overflowing with guilt, Ava comes up with a plan to thwart the system. When it goes awry, she is forced to submit the name of a classmate, Cole Fowler, an ornery, rough around the edges guy who always seems to come to her rescue, whether she likes it or not. Her feelings for Cole prompt her to intervene, and she saves him from death, upsetting the Grim Reaper’s agenda. 

While Ava schemes to find a way to save Cole, she learns he has some secrets of his own. She lets him believe he is protecting her, and not the other way around, until a final showdown with the Grim Reaper forces Ava to make choices Cole may never forgive.

I’ve read quite a few books (and series) that are focused on the Grim Reaper or fallen angels and the like and they’ve run the gamut when it comes to mood. Some are purely black comedy, some are mysteries with a fantastical element, a few have been more romance than anything and others have been a sort of action adventure. Birthright is a little bit of all these types.

It must be hard to cope when you find out your destiny, your “career” if you will, is all about putting the finger on people for the guy who brings death and, indeed, Ava is understandably resentful. Picking out people to become angels sounds like a good thing but….

Ava has learned to protect her own feelings by remaining detached, even from those who aren’t potential targets, but that doesn’t work when it comes to the unpleasant Xavier, the middleman she and her mom report to. Still, a year after finding out the truth, she hasn’t gotten past the lies and the betrayal that have been at the core of her own life and the thing she’s required to do is eating away at her.

Then she comes up with a foolproof plan to make this all a little fairer.

I had fun with this book and I liked Ava a lot, as well as the new hot guy, Cole, and the nerdy but sweet Kaley. The ending is a humdinger so be prepared 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

About the Author

Jessica lives in Virginia with her college-sweetheart husband, two rambunctious sons, and two rowdy but lovable rescue dogs. Since her house is overflowing with testosterone, it’s a good thing she has a healthy appreciation for Marvel movies, Nerf guns, and football.
Author Links:

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Book Reviews: Lifers by M.A. Griffin and When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling

 

lifersLifers
M.A. Griffin
Chicken House, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-06553-4
Hardcover

Particularly pertinent in current political climate, this fresh Middle-Grade mystery-adventure is a phenomenally fantastic read for all ages.  Mace may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but when weird news of missing teens and strange sights at night hits close to home, even practical Preston is pulled in.  Also….he is pretty sure he is partly to blame for the most recent disappearances.

Attempting to trace Alice’s steps, Preston walks the night streets of Manchester and senses a spooky truth to the recent rumors.  He enlists Mace to delve deeper and the two stumble onto a pseudo-futuristic-sci-fi scene.  Children are trapped in a prison prototype with dwindling supplies and absolutely no way out.  The only way in, is scheduled to be permanently shut down in less than twenty-four hours.

The juvenile delinquents are not completely alone.  One young lady is the daughter of a recently deceased politician, her “crime”: doubting that her father’s death was an accident.  She is not going down until the guilty party pays.  Two Urban Explorers snuck into the prison to help facilitate an escape and two workers who never wanted their creations to be used in this manner will fight for freedom.

The story plays out in a matter of days; the pace is very quick and quite captivating.  A bit of sharp wit, an unexpected kindness keeps the book from becoming bleak.  Many questions are answered, but nothing is too pat; there’s plenty to think on…..in a sneaky kind of way.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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when-my-heart-was-wickedWhen My Heart Was Wicked
Tricia Stirling
Scholastic Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-69573-2
Hardcover

Lacy is clearly conflicted and completely compelling. At the tender age of sixteen, she has become so very good in spite of her tumultuous, tangled life; but, things change. The loss of a parent is heart-breaking and often life-changing.  When that loss is followed by an abrupt and unwelcome custody change, the downward spiral spins out of control.

Flashbacks and memories reveal the characteristics of Lacy’s parents allowing the reader to understand Lacy’s influences.  The vibes emanating from the recollections reach from the pages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  Parents are palpable presences and when Lacy thinks of her father, sunshine shoots from the pages.  She is light, happy, hopeful……joyous and buoyant when considering her father and his charming hippie-chick wife, Anna.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Lacy’s mother, Cheyenne.  Her unique “teaching techniques” and willingness to spend weeks without electricity did not result in a nurturing home.  Rather, she burned her daughter’s wrist for asking “too many questions”, tied her to a tree to prevent “wandering”, then completely vanished without a word, leaving a broken 13-year old girl all alone.

When My Heart Was Wicked is a captivating and quick read that bravely tackles taboo topics such as “cutting”.  More than merely acknowledging the existence of a disorder that plagues so many teens, by offering an answer to the common question: “why?” On some level, problems that plague Lacy are the same, or at least similar to the challenges every teenager faces.  The importance of identity is not easy to address, but Ms. Stirling demonstrates how strong will, determination and knowledge can carve a unique path, even when it seems all forces are fighting to make you march down a different road.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2016.

More Teeny Reviews

lost-in-wonderlandLost in Wonderland
The Twisted and the Brave #1
Nicky Peacock
Evernight Teen, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-77233-867-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Monsters, serial killers, and imaginary friends—being a Wonderlander can be murder… Once upon a time, Kayla was lost. Then she found Wonderland, but not the one you know. Run by ex-government agents and funded by an eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire, this Wonderland is the name of a collective of highly trained vigilantes who hunt serial killers. Now Kayla, aka Mouse, works tirelessly alongside her fellow Wonderlanders, Rabbit and Cheshire, baiting dangerous murderers. But even her extensive training hasn’t prepared her for the return of her older brother…

Shilo has spent most of his life in an insane asylum, convinced his mother was abducted by a sinister Alaskan monster who lures the lost away to feast upon their flesh. And now he’s certain that his sister is in the same monster’s crosshairs. But if Shilo is going to save what’s left of his family, he’ll have to convince his sister that maybe, just maybe, we’re all a little mad.

The retelling of fairy tales has become almost a cottage industry but, for me, the fun is in discovering how a particular author approaches the task. Now, Wonderland is not, precisely speaking, a fairy tale but, hey, it’s close enough and I quite simply loved all the oddities and eccentricities, the madness, to be found in any Wonderland, even one that involves vigilantes and serial killers. That does mean there’s a certain amount of violence and the tale is quite dark so the squeamish may want to think before reading Lost in Wonderland. Still, I believe many will like Kayla a great deal and appreciate the story as much as I did.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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house-of-silenceHouse of Silence
Sarah Barthel
Kensington Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-4967-0608-9
Trade Paperback
From the publisher—

Oak Park, Illinois, 1875. Isabelle Larkin’s future—like that of every young woman—hinges upon her choice of husband. She delights her mother by becoming engaged to Gregory Gallagher, who is charismatic, politically ambitious, and publicly devoted. But Isabelle’s visions of a happy, profitable match come to a halt when she witnesses her fiancé commit a horrific crime—and no one believes her.

Gregory denies all, and Isabelle’s mother insists she marry as planned rather than drag them into scandal. Fearing for her life, Isabelle can think of only one escape: she feigns a mental breakdown that renders her mute, and is brought to Bellevue sanitarium. There she finds a friend in fellow patient Mary Todd Lincoln, committed after her husband’s assassination.

In this unlikely refuge, the women become allies, even as Isabelle maintains a veneer of madness for her own protection. But sooner or later, she must reclaim her voice. And if she uses it to expose the truth, Isabelle risks far more than she could ever imagine.

Desperation sometimes leads to dire measures and none is more dire than pretending mental illness and landing in an asylum. In the days when treatment of mental patients was something close to horrific, such an escape would have been even riskier but Isabelle certainly couldn’t have expected to find friendship with such a woman. That in itself leads to some interesting conversations and behaviors but the overall tone wasn’t as ominous as it should have been considering the setting and the times. The appeal of the story was further lessened for me by somewhat stilted language that could have been “softened” just a little to make it more amenable to the modern reader and yet there were also occasional anachronisms that simply didn’t work. Overall, while I don’t really consider this to be one of the better historical fiction novels I’ve read, I do see potential for future works from Ms. Barthel.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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the-purloined-poodleThe Purloined Poodle
Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries
Kevin Hearne
Narrated by Luke Daniels
Audible, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

Thanks to his relationship with the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, Oberon the Irish wolfhound knows trouble when he smells it – and furthermore, he knows he can handle it.

When he discovers that a prizewinning poodle has been abducted in Eugene, Oregon, he learns that it’s part of a rash of hound abductions all over the Pacific Northwest. Since the police aren’t too worried about dogs they assume have run away, Oberon knows it’s up to him to track down those hounds and reunite them with their humans. For justice! And gravy!

Engaging the services of his faithful Druid, Oberon must travel throughout Oregon and Washington to question a man with a huge salami, thwart the plans of diabolical squirrels, and avoid, at all costs, a fight with a great big bear.

But if he’s going to solve the case of the Purloined Poodle, Oberon will have to recruit the help of a Boston terrier named Starbuck, survive the vegetables in a hipster pot pie, and firmly refuse to be distracted by fire hydrants and rabbits hiding in the rose bushes.

At the end of the day, will it be a sad bowl of dry kibble for the world’s finest hound detective, or will everything be coming up sirloins?

There are a handful of series that I always read by listening because I’m so entranced with the narrator and the Iron Druid Chronicles is one of those. Further, I also always get the ebooks because there are foreign and/or mythological names and terms that I can’t always pick up by listening so I play the audio books and then use the ebook to verify those words.

Besides the delights of Luke Daniels‘ narration, Oberon, a goofy Irish wolfhound, is one of my all-time favorite characters. Oberon talks to his druid pal, Atticus, and is totally charming while being very dog-like, focused largely on his next meal, and he has an eye for the ladies, particularly of the French poodle variety. When he finds out that a nefarious ring of dognappers is operating in the Northwest, he naturally feels it’s his duty to sniff out these bad guys so off he goes, with a little help from his friends. What ensues is an entertaining story with a satisfying resolution and I smiled all the way to the end. As always, Oberon’s voice alone had me going and I highly recommend readers who haven’t tried the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne listen to this tale for a taste of the joy you’ll get from these audio books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Review: Deliverance by Kristy Centeno

Deliverance Tour Banner

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Title: Deliverance
Author: Kristy Centeno
Publisher: Inkspell Publishing

Publication Date: March 19, 2016
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

 

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DeliveranceDeliverance
Kristy Centeno
Inkspell Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-939590-79-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

He’s been locked away his entire life. 
He dreams of freedom. 
The only way he can accomplish his goals is by breaking free of the chains tying him to a dark past and gloomy existence. But there’s one catch. He’s not human. 
And he’s never set foot outside his jail. 

Devoted to saving his peers as well as his own life, he sets out to find the one person that can help him achieve his objectives. He knows where she will be and what she will look like, but what he doesn’t anticipate is the fact he finds himself caring for the girl whose life he’s put at risk, more and more each day. 

He has no name. 
He has only known hatred and violence before her. 
However, she will teach him to have faith in humanity, even if she can’t trust him. 
Together they will embark on a journey to bring down a corrupt system responsible for the loss of many innocent lives. But when he finds his feelings compromised, can he still move on knowing that doing so will put an end to the life she once knew? How far is he willing to go to be free? 

From the very beginning, this book was a surprise to me. I’d read the publisher’s description but I still wasn’t really prepared for all the elements that came together to make Deliverance such an interesting and compelling story.

While “dark fantasy” is as good a genre as any, this really is a blend of dark fantasy, mystery, romance and even science fiction, not to mention a large dollop of action adventure. Plot and characterization are equally important and even the less savory players have a strong presence.

Imagine, if you will, spending your entire life closed up and removed from the rest of the world. That’s Tiger’s whole existence and he knows nothing about normal living. Occasionally, I found this to be a little unworkable for the story because it’s hard to fathom how such isolation could still result in a fairly knowledgeable and sane person but it’s also what makes this young man so appealing. His very innocence of the ways of the world have made him a kind, thoughtful individual rather than the mentally troubled and unpleasant person most of us would expect.

Katrina, on the other hand, is a no-nonsense young woman who generally avoids unnecessary attention and, yet, when she’s confronted with a difficult and certainly perilous situation, she chooses to help Tiger. She is aware of the potential dangers but, essentially, Katrina believes in doing the right thing and it’s that sort of idealism that makes her who she is, not to mention her strong devotion to her grandmother, Rose. Rose herself is the third character who pulled me into the story and wouldn’t let me go.

When all is said and done, Deliverance is all about good versus evil and, as such, I was intrigued and the story never let me down. Ms. Centeno has come up with a premise that’s a bit mindboggling and fleshed it out with memorable people; I’ll look forward to more of her work.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

About the Author

Kristy CentenoKristy Centeno is the author of the Secrets of the Moon saga and Keeper Witches series. She has always had a passion for books and after years of being an avid reader, she decided to transform her desire to write into a reality and thus, her first novel was born. When she’s not busy taking care of her five children or holding down the fort, she finds time to sit and do what she loves the most: writing.

Author Links:

Website // Blog // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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