Book Reviews: Spin by Lamar Giles and Sideline Pressure by Kyle Jackson @LRGiles @Scholastic @JollyFishPress

Spin
Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-338-21921-0
Hardcover

Mr. GilesSpin is a suck-you-in-so-fast YA suspense novel centered around teen-aged rising star, DJ ParSec. Or maybe more honestly, her murder.

Childhood friend and confidante, Kya, is incredibly proud of Paris’ success. Not just because of her own countless contributions in creating ParSec’s first set up. Kya has always been her biggest fan, staunchest supporter and most fierce defender. But, when one event shatters a huge part of Kya’s life and she desperately needs her best bud, she gets the persona, ParSec, and a cold shoulder instead.

That isn’t the only relationship crumbling for the frustrated DJ. She and fan-turned-friend, Fuse, had been spatting more than planning lately. Creative differences, nothing to do with the boy who may or may not have caused this wedge.

Oh, and the boy—well, his motives have been questionable since he’s come onto the scene.

From the outside looking in, it seems that there was a riff with Paris and three of the most important people in her life. But when delving deeper, the reader is reminded that things are not always as they appear and sometimes, the very real danger is cleverly disguised.

Spin epitomizes the stories I love to share with “my” students. Realistic, relatable characters with actual issues, sometimes solved by the very real strength of friendship.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2020.

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Sideline Pressure
Mac’s Sports Report
Kyle Jackson
Jolly Fish Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-236-5
Trade Paperback

It takes a responsible, disciplined person to make a reliable reporter. One who will remember his role. For example, a sports reporter provides a recap of the game. Sure, it can be colorful and somewhat opinionated, but it needs to stay on topic.

And that’s why Mac had to delete his original draft. While well-written, it had not exactly centered on the dismal performance of the Predators. But, by the last buzzer, none of the fans could concentrate on the middle-graders playing their hearts out on the court, either. The eruption of the anger-ball in the audience far overshadowed the basketball game.

I first ‘met’ Mac and his stellar statistician sidekick when I read Mr. Jackson’s Concussion Comeback. I adore the free-wheelin’ sports reporter, and I’m equally enamored with Samira. No surprise that I was super excited to start Sideline Pressure. Tackling yet another tough topic, this fast-paced Juvenile Fiction sports story shines a light on parents behaving badly and the rippling adverse effects.

Drew Borders is a strong starter for Coyote Canyon Middle School. Not good enough for the high-powered, ever-so-important attorney that is, unfortunately, his father. Stalking the sidelines, fired-up like a college coach during March Madness, Mr. Borders begins to angrily bark ‘advice’; but by game’s end and in-spite of the win, he’s just being nasty. Mac wants to do something and when Drew comes to him for help, of course he’s willing. If he can only figure out how.

I really enjoyed watching Mac work through the problem. When he made a mistake, or did not get the result he was going for, he tried a new tactic. And when he made up his mind, he stood his ground. Even after Mr. Borders threatened legal action.

If you’ve not recently had the pleasure of participation in youth sports, the irrational actions of this basketball-dad may seem a bit over the top. Sadly, speaking from (what feels like) extensive experience, this portrayal is particularly precise. I’m looking forward to sharing my new favorite sports story with my younger reader-friends. It’s a special kind of awesome to handily have something that makes the boys’ eyes light up.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2019.

Book Review: Late for Dinner by M.K. Scott @morgankwyatt @SDSXXTours

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Title: Late for Dinner
Series: The Way Over the Hill Gang, Book 1
Author: M.K. Scott
Publisher: Sleeping Dragon Press
Publication Date: July 9, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Cozy

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Late for Dinner
The Way Over the Hill Gang, Book 1
M.K. Scott
Sleeping Dragon Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1944712334
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Marcy Collins proved her investigative skills in the field time and time again, but after an accident leaves her disabled, she’s forced into early retirement in a senior convalescent center. Although her mind and body may not be what they used to be, her steadfast determination to fight crime and advocate for victims continues.

When her well-meaning former partner is assigned with helping to keep her mind agile, he unknowingly inspires her to search for clues in a long-forgotten cold case. Before he knows what’s happening, Marcy assembles a team of sharp-eyed, witty, and often cantankerous senior sleuths to bring a criminal to justice and help her regain some of what she thought she’d lost for good.

Follow the former detective and her team of unconventional sleuths as they dig through the clues and wind their way down a treacherous path of deception, tomfoolery, and murder!

Senior sleuths always amuse me, most likely because I’m a senior myself and would like to think my brain would still be lively if I end up in an assisted living facility 😉 Solving crimes would be right up my alley and much more fun than playing bingo or doing arts and crafts. I mean, think about it—surely years of reading mysteries would pay off then, right?

Late for Dinner introduces a few elements to the senior sleuth concept that are a little different from what I’m accustomed to seeing. The leader of this small pack of investigators is not a senior herself; Marcy is in the assisted living home to hopefully recover from a crippling car accident and she was, in fact, a police detective, waiting to see if she can go back to desk duty or will be forced to retire. Also, the first case they look into has no connection to any of them so there’s no personal impetus to solve this cold case.

What the Way Over the Hill Gang does have is a yearning for something interesting to do and each member has expertise to offer, such as Lola’s sharp eye and ability to read people. Herman, Jake and Gus all served in the military in World War II and bring relevant experience and skills to the mix while Eunice, on the periphery and not officially part of the gang, is a world-class gossip and can ferret out almost anything that’s out of the norm. I liked all these people a lot, even when they were annoying as all get out.

Watching the gang work to prove that a woman had not committed suicide years ago was a lot of fun despite a couple of issues. The writing seemed a little stilted to me, to the point that I occasionally had to read a passage again to make sure I got it right. Also, I never could get a handle on when this is taking place—there are references to techniques and items that point to today but the three men would have to be in their 90’s and it seems unusual they would all be so active,. When all is said and done, though, I don’t really care so much and will certainly move on in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2020.

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An Excerpt from Late for Dinner

Lola stared at her manicured fingers gripping the card deck with the same disgust she’d shown when she discovered the local television station had replaced her favorite crime program with a teen reality show.

Her elderly bridge partner, Herman, had a shock of silver hair that waved over his skull similar to a rooster’s comb. Any hair in a man’s later years was all gravy to the point most of the other male residents grumbled that Herman was a show-off.

He waved his hand in front of her face. “Still breathing? Good partners are hard to come by.”

“Don’t I know it.” She shuffled, ignoring the twinge of pain in her hand.

Marcy and Jake laughed at her comment, but Herman narrowed his eyes, probably taking it as an insult regarding his failure to get the last two trumps.

Lola dealt out a card, still out of sorts, but not quite able to put her finger on why and retorted, “Retirement stinks!”

Marcy, always a calmer member of the group, shot her an easy smile that hardly creased her face. Most folks would think she was younger than her forty plus years with her dark hair hardly touched by gray and her trim body. The only old thing about her was the wheelchair, which was temporary.

If Lola had had a clue that chasing criminals would have kept her looking young, she might have chosen that as a career as opposed to making use of her long legs and other notable assets as a Vegas showgirl. Still, it had been a good life. Her ability to sum up people in a few seconds allowed her to have more than her share of pleasant adventures and adoring admirers. That was behind her. She sighed and acknowledged Marcy with a nod, curious to hear what the woman might say.

“Hear ya. Most working folks would envy us. We’re all living in a premier assisted living community with plenty of activities. What else could you want?”

Lola pursed her lips and rolled her eyes upward as she tried to explain how she felt without insulting her companions. “Sure, we have shuffleboard, fit and sit exercise class, flower arranging, and Bible Bingo. Those are old people things. Even the food has morphed into tasteless mush.”

“About that.” Jake held his hand up. “Something is going on with the dietary director.” He glanced around making sure he had everyone’s attention and cupped his ear with his hand. “I hear things.”

A general murmur of agreement followed, with the exception of Gus yelling, “What?” He sat at a nearby table playing solitaire. Gus didn’t know how to play bridge and had no desire to learn.

Various eyes connected around the table, knowing the inevitable process of repeating what had been said in a much louder decibel would probably result. Gus’s early life of working with explosives damaged the man’s hearing. Even though he had hearing aids, he usually didn’t wear them, because he thought they made him look old.

Instead of yelling his former comment, Jake ran a hand over his shoe polish black hair before mouthing the words. Gus popped up both thumbs, signaling his understanding. At some point, he taught himself to lip read, but it only worked if he was directly looking at a person.

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About the Author

M. K. Scott is the husband and wife writing team behind The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries. Morgan K Wyatt is the general wordsmith, while her husband, Scott, is the grammar hammer and physics specialist. He uses his engineering skills to explain how fast a body falls when pushed over a cliff and various other felonious activities. The Internet and experts in the field provide forensic information, while the recipes and B and B details require a more hands on approach. Morgan’s daughter, who manages a hotel, provides guest horror stories to fuel the plot lines. The couple’s dog, Chance, is the inspiration behind Jasper, Donna’s dog. Murder Mansion is the first book in The Painted Lady Inn Mysteries. Overall, it is a fun series to create and read. Drop Dead Handsome is the second book in the series. Killer Review should be out in October 2016.

Website // Blog // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram // Bookbub // Amazon // Goodreads

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Book Reviews: Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older, The Call by Peadar O. Guilin and Better to Wish by Ann M. Martin

Shadowhouse Fall
The Shadowshaper Cypher Book 2
Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-95282-8
Hardcover

Sierra and her wildly creative companions were captivating in Shadowshaper.   Clever consolidation of mad musical, verbal and graffiti-art skills created a dazzling cultural kaleidoscope that pulsated from the pages, and showed more than the shadowshaping-side of life in Brooklyn.  The sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, is every bit as delightful and dazzling, even as it tackles topics that parallel today’s headlines in an eerily accurate and chilling way.

Sierra has just learned of her role as the archetypal spirit, Lucera, “…the beating heart of the shadowshaping world.”  Never one to shirk responsibility, always a fierce protector; she’s doggedly immersed herself in learning, teaching and practicing shadowshaping.  Before she even begins to realize her potential, Sierra is forced to shift her focus.

The Sisterhood of the Sorrows had vowed revenge when Sierra “jacked up their shrine last summer,” precisely what Sierra and ‘her’ shadowshapers are preparing for; but no one could have predicted an attack so soon. It should have ben impossible.  Unless…the Sorrows are not alone.

To even stand a chance against an unknown in the urban spirituality system, each shadowshaper will need to be strong and smart independently; swift to support and assist when needed.  Basically, battling as they live, to save the community they dearly love.  Accustomed to every day prejudices and profiling, Sierra and her friends knew to expect hassle, rather than help, from the largely racist civil servants.

Mr. Older’s scintillating style swiftly hooks even the reluctant reader.  The scramble to fight the good fight is gripping and the escalation towards the end, engrossing.  When Sierra is left with only two choices, neither of which would result in a happy ending for her; Mr. Older presents a decision that, while not actually surprising, is absolutely unexpected.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

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The Call
The Call, Book 1

Peadar O’Guilin
David Fickling Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-1338045611
Hardcover

Nessa was celebrating her 10th birthday when her childhood abruptly ended.  Instead of giving gifts and baking a cake, her parents explain The Call.

The little girl that built an emotional armor against people’s perceptions; both the pitying looks as well as the ones filled with contempt and disbelief, is intelligent enough to understand the uselessness of her efforts.  Her legs, twisted by polio into more of a hindrance than a help, have gone from a focal point to a genuine liability.

Held hostage and wholly isolated these Irish folks have but one focus: teaching the children to survive The Call.  From the age of ten through the teenage years, training is vigorous and relentless.  Just shy of cruel, the grueling paces are unquestionably a necessary evil.  Almost one in ten survive today, an exponential improvement over the one in one hundred from decades ago.  An amazing accomplishment, as fairies have an undeniable advantage when they pull a human child into their world.

Irish fairies may be my very favorite folklore creatures, and Mr. O’Guilin portrays them perfectly in The Call.  The one universal fact seems to be that fairies cannot lie and they possess a perverse pride in always keeping their word.  Bad to the core, but bound by these rules, Sidhe are as clever and cunning as they are cruel.

The hideous game of fairy versus human, produces a plot that is exciting, fast-paced and adventurous, accented with awesome action scenes.  Of course, nothing is so simple and definite in reality and Mr. O’Guilin does not settle for solely myth against man.   Most humans are considerate, committed to the greater good; but a few are slimy and self-serving.  Mystique makes the tale even more compelling and builds suspense creating compulsory page-turning.  Coupled with colorful, captivating characters and sharp and witty dialogue, The Call is a brilliant book that I enjoyed immensely.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2017.

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Better to Wish
Family Tree Series, Book 1
Ann M. Martin
Scholastic Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-35942-9
Hardcover

Initial intrigue blossomed into complete captivation as Abby’s narration revealed an inexplicably sweet, strong and resilient girl—a compassionate, sympathetic soul–in spite of circumstances.  The centenarian’s story begins on a summer evening in 1930.  As one memory leads to another, her life unfolds like a map.

Abby’s father feels that Maine should be “white”.  Specifically, Protestant and Republican.  His daughters aren’t allowed to befriend a girl because her parents emigrated from Quebec—she’s “French”, not “white”.  Also below his determined Nichols’ Family Standards; “lazy bums…Irish-Catholics.”  Certainly vocal with his opinion, he nevertheless does not seem to stand out to the family, or the community, as a particularly obnoxious, racist fool.

Although Abby’s mother has many bad days with “her mind stuck thinking” of two tremendous losses that left permanent holes in her heart; Dad wants a son.  Baby Fred arrives.  At home, Dad can pretend that Fred is developing, learning and growing at an average rate. Abby, Rose and their mother know differently, but it has no impact on their love and devotion to the charming child.

At the age of 5, Fred behaves like any toddler—including the time he is forced to sit through a high school awards ceremony.  Due to the perceived public embarrassment, the head of the household deems his son less than perfect.  Imperfection is unacceptable, leaving Mr. Nichols with no choice.  He informs the family after exercising his “only” option.

Throughout the tumultuous times,  Abby intuitively empathizes and instinctively protects those she loves and holds dear first, all other human beings second, thinking of her own wants and needs last, if at all.   Abby is the epitome of “good people” and her story instills hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

Book Review: The Drowned Boy by Karin Fossum

the-drowned-boyThe Drowned Boy
An Inspector Sejer Mystery #11
Karin Fossum
Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson
Mariner Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-5447-0484-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  Carmen and Nicolai failed to resuscitate their son, Tommy, after finding him drowning in their backyard pond.  When Inspector Skarre arrives on the scene, Carmen reports that Tommy, a healthy toddler with Down’s syndrome, wandered into the garden while Nicolai was working in the basement and she was doing housework.  Skarre senses something is off with Carmen’s story and consults his trusted colleague, the famed Inspector Sejer.  An autopsy reveals Tommy’s lungs to be full of soap.

I will go no further with the material from the back of the book for fear of spoilers.  But the ensuing tale, dark almost by definition as it deals with the death of a 16-month old child, is a wonderful psychological thriller such as we have come to expect from this author.

The child had just learned to walk.  And he had certainly been a challenge to his parents, very young as they are: 19 and 20, respectively.   DI Sejer, of the Sondre Buskerud Police District, has no proof, but his instincts tell him that there is something wrong with Carmen’s version of the events, and soon his younger colleague, Skarre, starts to feel the same way.  What ensues is an intriguing tale, which begins in mid-August, ending in the summer of the following year.

Sejer, now 55 years old, has always been a fascinating protagonist.  His beloved wife had died of liver cancer, and he has for company only his daughter, Ingrid, and his Chinese shar-pei dog, Frank Robert, who is almost as much a presence as the humans around him.  Sejer has of late been troubled by dizzy spells, although he puts off having himself checked out until nearly the end of the book.  The reader does not find out the truth about the child’s death until about the same time, in a not entirely unexpected, but still stunning ending.  Well-written and with wonderful descriptions of the characters, both outwardly and with some insight into their inner selves, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2016.

Book Review: The French Impressionist by Rebecca Bischoff

the-french-impressionist-tour-banner

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Title: The French Impressionist
Author: Rebecca Bischoff
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing

Publication Date: December 6, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

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the-french-impressionistThe French Impressionist
Rebecca Bischoff
Amberjack Publishing, December 2016
ISBN 978-1-944995-02-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Rosemary is fifteen and gloriously free, on her own for the very first time. Part of an exchange program for aspiring artists, she arrives in sunny southern France with a single goal: she doesn’t plan to leave, ever.  She wants a new life, a new family, and a new identity. But her situation, crafted from lies big and small, is precarious.

Desperate to escape haunting images from her past and a stage one helicopter parent, Rosemary struggles to hide her lack of artistic talent and a communication disorder that has tormented her all her life. She believes her dream of a new start will come true, until she unwittingly finds herself enveloped in a decades-old mystery that threatens to ruin her only chance for success.  Determined to stay, Rosemary must choose whether or not she’ll tell the biggest lie of all, even if it means destroying the life of someone she cares about.

Dramatic, heartwarming, and full of teenage angst, The French Impressionist perfectly captures the struggle of those who feel they have no voice, and also shows the courage it takes to speak up and show the world who we really are.

It’s an odd thing about this book…I liked it but I kind of didn’t so much but then I’d go back to liking it. I think it’s because, while I’m really sympathetic with Rosemary’s frustrations with her communication difficulties and a smothering parent, I also find her rather annoying, hard to like. I also couldn’t really believe a 15-year-old would be able to pull off a stunt like this and she’s such a messy mix of street smart and childish, having apparently no remorse about all her lies and the inevitable consequences.

Then again, I appreciated the author’s attention to Rosemary’s disability and how it affects her and the people around her. Ms. Bischoff clearly understands what this girl’s world is like and her writing style is fast-paced and appealing, making it easy for the reader to feel what Rosemary feels, to walk a mile in her shoes, as it were.

Ms. Bischoff also has a talent for evoking the best of the setting in Nice, the vivid beauty and the cultural ambience that makes me want to visit. Although I don’t care a whole lot for this young girl, I do think her emotional growth during the story and the reader’s comprehension of how difficult it is to cope with speech disorders make The French Impressionist worth reading.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

About the Author

rebecca-bischoffRebecca Bischoff currently resides in Idaho with her family and works as a speech-language pathologist. She loves helping others, especially kids and teenagers, discover their own unique voices and learn to share who they are with the world. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, spend time with her kids, and make awkward attempts to learn foreign languages.  She is drawn to all things both French and Italian, used bookstores, and anything made out of chocolate.

Author links:
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Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouMe Before You
Jojo Moyes
Penguin Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-14-310946-4
Trade Paperback

Well.  Now I know what all the buzz is about.

Some people may not like a book that defends suicide.  “Defend” is maybe not the most accurate word.  Perhaps it’s better said that Will’s story illustrates a different perspective.

People consider and commit suicide for essentially one actual reason: the pain of living, for that person, is unbearable.   Whether the pain is physical, mental or emotional it is indeed very real and incurable.  It overshadows everything, impacts every facet of life and if not constant, it is consistent.

Ms. Moyes presents two remarkably different sides of an age-old argument thoughtfully, beautifully and boldly.  Me Before You  is not an easy read, no matter which side of the argument the reader supports.  It is captivating and compelling.  I stayed up way too late last night because I had to finish.  And consider.  And cry.  To me, that’s precisely what makes a damn good book.

That’s why I’m writing this pseudo-review.  Not because Ms. Lelia is patiently waiting to post it; but because this topic is so important to me and it’s rare that it is written about in such a thought-provoking, considerate manner.   I wish I could carry copies with me at all times so whenever I hear someone ask “why?”, I can hand it over and say, “maybe this can help you understand”.  I wish that each and every person who has grown weary of trying to articulate his pain could have just as many copies to share for the same reason.  As the adorable and admirable Louisa Clark says, “knowledge is power”.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2016.

A Winning Reader and Book Reviews: Supreme Justice by Phillip Margolin and Coming Back by Marcia Muller

Congratulations to Iris Haltom,

winner of a signed copy of

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis!

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Supreme Justice
Phillip Margolin
Harper, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-192652-5
Mass Market Paperback

What does an author do when he “falls in love” with characters in a novel he completed?  Why he just writes another using them again.  But the characters here brought down a President, proving him to be a serial killer, in Executive Privilege.  So, what to do?

Just try to kill a Supreme Court Justice, have the CIA involved in an illegal drug scheme, actually have the President blackmailed by a powerful attorney [formerly head of the CIA] to force him to nominate a woman for a court vacancy, as well as several murders in attempts to cover up the mess.  How’s that for a fast-moving plot?

The carefully crafted story also includes insights into some of the top court’s workings, written with authority.  The author, a lawyer, actually has argued at least one case before that court as a young practitioner.  His legal skills contribute much to moving the plot ahead, as clues are sought. And though it doesn’t at first seem that there is a surprise in store at the end, there certainly is one.

Recommended.

[It should perhaps be noted that the pb edition has also been issued in a larger trim size, ISBN 978-006204483-9, for $11.99]

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Coming Back
Marcia Muller
Grand Central Publishing, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-446-58106-6
Hardcover

In light of recent events in Tuscon, Arizona, it was kind of eerie reading this novel. In the last book in the series, Locked In, Sharon McCone was shot in the head and suffered from locked-in syndrome.  In this installment, we find her finished with rehabilitation, following a physical therapy routine and attempting to regain her former self.  However, she’s still suffering from the effects of her physical limitations, and her relationships with her husband, Hy Ripinsky, and her associates at McCone Investigations, are suffering.

Then, when a friend from the therapy facility, and then her close associate Adah Joslyn, go missing, Shar has to rise to the occasion. Can she?  She has to draw on those closest to her, as well as her own physical and mental abilities, but are they enough?

The plot is pretty thin, but makes for a fast and wooly read, especially as the novel is constructed with very short chapters (some only a page or page and a half), making for fast reading and allowing the reader to zip along in action-filled forward momentum.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.