A Teeny Book Review Trio @dpeterfreund @ABRAMSbooks @martywingate @BerkleyMystery @atticalocke @mulhollandbooks

In the Hall with the Knife
A Clue Mystery #1
Diana Peterfreund
Harry N. Abrams, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-4197-3834-0
Hardcover

I whiled away many, many hours with friends years ago playing Clue, one of the best board games ever, and then I fell in love with the game-based movie starring Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan and the rest of a wonderful cast. A series of novelizations came along; a new movie is in pre-production and there was a movie or mini-series (hard to tell which) that bears no real resemblance and I wasn’t impressed. Now, there’s a new book and, I must say, I had a lot of fun with this.

Ms. Peterfreund has turned this into a teen cast and they all have names that fit the game, names such as Finn Plum and Scarlet Mistry. Rather than a gloomy mansion with guests who must discover a murderer before they’re all killed, we have a small group of students who are stranded in their forest-bound school with the headmaster who is soon found murdered. The game is on, not only to find the killer but to figure out who can be trusted and who has much to hide. Readers of all ages will really enjoy this.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

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The Bodies in the Library
A First Edition Library Mystery #1
Marty Wingate
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-984-80410-5
Hardcover

Hayley Burke recently started her dream job as curator of a book collection focused on the women authors of the Golden Age, authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. The late Lady Georgiana Fowling’s personal assistant and now permanent The First Edition Society secretary, Glynis Woolgar, views Hailey with suspicion but she hasn’t figured out the curator’s big secret yet—while Hayley has experience with libraries and literature, she knows next to nothing about the Golden Age or, in fact, mysteries and detectives. The two women do NOT see eye to eye on how Hayley is running things, including hosting a fan fiction writing group in the library, and things certainly don’t get better when a body is found in their own locked room mystery. To get to the answers she needs before her position as curator implodes, Hayley reads her first mystery, The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie, and is soon assisting the police with their investigation, whether they want her help or not.

Marty Wingate has been one of my favorite traditional mystery authors for some time although I’ve been seriously remiss about writing reviews. With this new series, she has created an ambience of the very Golden Age mysteries the Society promotes but with a charming modern-day setting and the de rigueur sleuthing works really well. Kudos to the author for what looks to be a clever and appealing new series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

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Heaven, My Home
A Highway 59 Mystery #2
Attica Locke
Mulholland Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-0-316-36340-2
Hardcover

Being a black Texas Ranger comes with its own set of problems, as you might expect, and Darren Mathews is indeed dealing with those issues as well as repercussions from his last case. On top of that, his own mother is blackmailing him, his marriage is strained and alcohol is getting the better of him. Investigating the disappearance of a young boy draws him back into the world of white supremacy when the Rangers think Darren is the best man to work with the local white sheriff because the boy, son of a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, was last seen in a black community.

Darren is confronted by racial prejudice from the white people in town, including the sheriff, but also believes that Leroy Page, an elderly black man who saw the child, is not cooperating with the hunt for the boy. Darren’s friend, Greg, a white FBI agent, shocks Darren when he posits that Leroy just might be guilty of a hate crime in reverse. Could he be right?

Several threads in this story reflect the racial stress that has been growing in this country but Ms. Locke has a deft way with words and creates a kind of tension we don’t often see. Getting to the resolution of this disappearance is rough but I couldn’t look away until I knew what really happened.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

Book Reviews: State University of Murder by Lev Raphael and Cattle Kate by Jana Bommersbach @LevRaphael @PPPress

State University of Murder
A Nick Hoffman Mystery #9
Lev Raphael
Perseverance Press, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-56474-609-2
Trade Paperback

Satirical, amusing, sometimes funny, scalpel sharp and relentless, this Nick Hoffman murder story will engage most academics, offend a few and, in the bargain, offers up a classic who-dunnit. Raphael’s writing, as always, is incisive, often cutting and mostly to the point.

The author provides an extensive context of the lives of the two principal characters, Professor of Literature, Nicholas Hoffmann, a semi-professional investigator and his marriage and life partner, Stefan, also a professor at the State University of Michigan (SUM) and a highly thought-of successful crime novelist.

Their department has recently been renamed English and Creative Writing, in the apparently usual manner, by Trustees of the University with little or no faculty consultation. This gives the author opportunity to swing wider his cleaver of criticism, aimed at all members of the academic community, top to bottom. A new chair has also been named, a flamboyant, self-centered, egotistical man of letters from France. He endears himself immediately to all full-time and adjunct faculty by making a series of unilateral decisions without consultation, thus raising to untold levels the ire of the department. Hoffman deplores the new office spaces as well.

The author carefully introduces us to many department members and sets the stage for murder, pointing to faculty jealousies and resentments which abound on this campus. The story moves along at a reasonable pace, with many side trips to drinks, dinner, a dog and social activities. All of it is precisely and clearly written with many quips and even sarcastic references to the world at large.

The story is well-placed in the world of today and reflects accurately the author’s world view and that of a more compressed academic community. The mystery is solved, the murderer arrested and the academics return to their emotionally fraught tasks of educating eager young people.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Cattle Kate
Jana Bommersbach
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0302-2
Hardcover

Award-winning journalist and author, Bommersbach brings to this moving thoughtful novel, years of careful research, good writing and yes, a jaundiced eye. Those attributes are particularly important for this project because the author is directly confronting long-standing scurrilous myth about the subject of the novel, a woman named Ella Watson, and about the mythology of the settlement of the west.

Every child alive in America today as well as previous generations grew up on stories of the men who settled the western plains of North America in the years following the Civil War. There were strong mountain men, trappers, taciturn cowboys, sodbusters and cattlemen. Mostly missing from the narrative are the stories of the strong women who proved up on land grants, herded cattle and made homes for the men in their lives.

This is the story of once such strong woman, secretly married, who owned land in Wyoming Territory and was murdered, along with her husband on a July day in 1889. The couple was murdered by several landowners who claimed, along with help from local newspapers, that she was a pimp and a prostitute and a cattle rustler. Her attackers simply wanted her land and water rights.

The author meticulously tells the story of Ella Watson from her early life in Canada and Kansas to her death. Bommersbach’s canvas is broad and richly colored with the times, the trials and the triumphs of so many women on the frontier. The characters are clever and vividly portrayed. The pace at times slows to a thoughtful meander, but never loses focus. Here is a novel of the true old west to be read, savored and read again.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Overturned by Lamar Giles and The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure by Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke @LRGiles @Scholastic @HistoriaFrankie @JollyFishPress

Overturned
Lamar Giles
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-81250-4
Hardcover

I am always seeking books that will immediately intrigue ‘my’ students. Many times, I’ve been sucked into a suspense-filled, action-packed, heart-pumping mystery…surrounding a subject they could not care less about. Aptly, of course, young adults are not the intended audience—I am.

But.

Young adult readers deserve thrilling books.

Mr. Giles seems pleased to provide. And now, I may be the only person looking forward to school starting. I cannot wait to share Overturned.

The setting: the very casino where 16-year-old Nikki Tate works…as well as resides, stimulates the reader’s senses. At a blush, that life-style—for a high-school student—sounds kinda fabulous. And it was. Once.

Without her dad around to run things, the responsibility falls straight through her mother’s trembling fingers into Nikki’s own hands. She can handle it. Has to. Knowing, with her whole heart, that her father is not capable of murder doesn’t keep him off death row. Someone has to support the family—not just the three of them; the trusted and treasured employees of Cosmos matter, too.

Otherwise, she would never consider running her own after-hours, under-the-table card games. Which were not really a big deal. There’s only one human better at poker than Nikki and he’s not here right now. Gavin may still be in his teens, but his bulk makes him the perfect bouncer. Maybe he has a few butterflies when her invitations are extended to some shady characters, but Nikki knows she’s got this.

Until something even odder than the initial arrest and murder charge. New evidence, and an attorney more than pleased to represent Mr. Tate, appears. Conviction overturned and Mr. Tate is head of his casino once again.

Nikki’s delight with his return was fleeting. She once believed he was always there when she needed him. Now, his presence is so far past smothering, she seethes when they share the same space. Determined to make up for the lost time, and hoping to find the sweet, happy Babygirl he remembers; her dad dives deeper into her life.

Although Nikki doesn’t see it at first, Mr. Tate is not as angry as he is horrified and frightened by what he finds. As dad works diligently to get his daughter out of the quick-sand she doesn’t know she’s standing in, Nikki consistently (albeit unintentionally) blocks his way with a combination of teen-age infatuation and obligatory rebellion.

Overturned by Mr. Giles is absolutely every single thing I wish for when I want to wow ‘my’ students with a Book Talk.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2019.

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The Histronauts: An Egyptian Adventure
Frances Durkin and Grace Cooke
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-63163-239-6
Hardcover

I don’t know if Ms. Durkin and Ms. Cooke colluded to create a tiny tome that would call to all; from the self-dubbed non-reader to the basic bookworm, but that’s exactly what this groovy graphic-novel does.

Filled with fascinating facts, in the same way a teeny car contains a multitude of clowns, this was a particularly pleasing read for me. An at-a-glance timeline from 5,000 BC through 30 BC took up only a tiny portion of a page, but was packed with information. I had no idea that Egypt was divided and reunited so many times! Nor could I have fathomed the complicated process of turning papyrus into paper.

The “novel” is in the narration. The Histronauts, a quirky crew, complete with a cat, needed an indoor activity on a rainy day. Their museum visit morphs into an adventurous Egyptian exploration. As the kids take in the sights and ask amazing questions, I am completely captivated, learning about ancient Egyptians and their way of life. And if all of that isn’t enough, there are even activities through-out. From making jewelry to flatbread or simply solving puzzles, these were engaging additions.

I believe that reluctant readers will enjoy this because of the tantalizing trivia and the graphic-novel-format seems to be more appealing for shorter attention spans. I think avid readers will be reeling from the intriguing information. I was totally into it. And truly, who knew there more than 2,000 ancient Egyptian gods? Or that music was such an imperative part of their lives?

The Histronauts also embark on a Roman adventure and I am already looking forward to joining them.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

Book Review: All About Mia by Lisa Williamson

All About Mia
Lisa Williamson
David Fickling Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-16397-1
Hardcover

Mia-in-the-middle is not doing well. Something like loneliness lingers, an itch that can’t be scratched. It doesn’t make sense to her that someone who adores alone time (but is never actually alone) could feel lonely. Anyway, the small window of time that gave her a bit of breathing space has slammed shut.

It felt decadent, using Grace’s room while her elder sibling spent her gap-year in Greece (no doubt doing something amazing). But now, out of the blue, Grace is coming home early. And she’s bringing her “spoddy” boyfriend. An aggravating situation exacerbated by the overwhelming excitement of their parents. Already annoying, on their love-crazed-wedding-planning-cloud, they are absolutely insufferable with enthusiastic joy.

Her younger sister, Audrey, will never be an ally. Aside from training for swim meets, she only has time for Beyoncé, her beloved guinea pig. Mia’s three best friends, generally good-to-go with whatever floats her boat, seem a bit strange and stand-offish. Not so supportive, terribly frustrating.

Initially, I didn’t like Mia. But then it hit me. I was seeing Mia through her eyes. Neither one of us had figured out that she wasn’t feeling very fond of herself. Or that she felt invisible. Slowly, I began to understand her outrageous behavior and blatant disregard for everyone close to her. Unable to articulate the aching emptiness; Mia could only act out.

I’m excited to share All About Mia with students here in the U. S. because I think that, like me, they will delight in the English dialect and phrasing and they will definitely appreciate the cultural differences. Which reminds me—in the U.S., the legal drinking age is 21. The Campbell-Richardson family resides in Rushton, a small English hamlet. Although Mia does over-indulge, and it is under-age drinking; it is in a world where wine (albeit watered-down) is welcome with evening meals and the legal drinking age is 18.

Mostly, I’ll be recommending this because I believe that everyone who meets Mia will feel a little less lonely.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2018.

Book Review: When They Came by Kody Boye

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Title: When They Came
Series: A When They Came Novel, Book 1
Author: Kody Boye
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks // Amazon

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When They Came
A When They Came Novel, Book 1
Kody Boye
CreateSpace, June 2017
ISBN 978-1545174210
Trade Paperback

From the author—

I was never afraid of monsters—at least, not until They came: the visitors from outer space.

Now They’re in our skies, on our streets, always watching, forever waiting.

At seventeen, I’m just about to graduate from the Juvenile Education System and declare my career of choice. The Midnight Guard—who protect our community from the vicious things that lie outside our walls—calls to me. 

It’s hard, dangerous work, with grueling hours that offer little sleep, but it’s the one thing I know will help make a difference in our ever-changing world.

I’m a pushover for science fiction of the alien invasion variety and I have equal fondness for the truly serious kind and high camp. When They Came falls somewhere in the middle and has both attractive elements as well as some that made me lift an eyebrow.

Ana Mia appealed to me quite a lot, as did her sister and mother, and I empathized with Ana’s desire to do something honorable with her life while being pretty unsure of herself. That lack of confidence rang true for a teenager but especially for one whose mere existence is a daily test. Jason and Asha also were believable characters and a real positive of the story was how much diversity there is.

There were several things that didn’t quite mesh for me. For one thing, I can’t imagine a military leader taking raw recruits—and I do mean raw—out on a mission that’s extremely dangerous and, in fact, ends badly. Also, that particular event occurred much too soon, before I had a chance to really get to know either the characters or the dire circumstances of their lives and, as a result, I was sympathetic towards Ana but didn’t care as much as I could have. Dialogue also left me underwhelmed at times.

On the whole, though, this story of humans versus aliens is based on an interesting concept and the author creates believable tension throughout with plenty of action and fear-inducing atmosphere. While I’m not entirely satisfied with this first book in the trilogy, that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to go on to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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An Excerpt from When They Came

We didn’t find a house by the time the sun set. With no other way to seek shelter, we angled ourselves beneath the trunk of a massive pine and covered up with a pair of blankets as we watched the sun fall.

“You okay?” Asha asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, scooting closer to her. “Are you?”

“I’m scared out of my mind, but yeah—I think I’ll be okay.”

“We could always keep walking, you know? See if we find anything else?”

“I’m too tired to walk anymore.”

I couldn’t blame her. Though I couldn’t tell time by the way the sun fell, I knew, based solely on the fact that we’d risen at dawn, we’d been walking for ten, if not eleven hours. My body ached, my feet throbbed, my bones screamed bloody murder. It felt like someone had tried to drive a nail into the base of my heel, such was the pain I endured.

Rather than think on it, I opened the pack at my feet and pulled out a pair of bottled waters.

“Thanks,” Asha said as I passed hers over.

“No problem,” I said, taking a sip of my water as she popped the cap on her own. “So… how are we going to do this?”

“You mean the watch?” Asha asked. She capped her water, settling it between her knees and taking hold of the gun across her lap. “I’ll go first, then you can go until you start feeling tired. We’ll keep alternating until the sun comes up.”

“You really think that’ll work?” I asked. She nodded. “But what if we both fall asleep?”

“Then just go as long as you can,” Asha offered. “All I know is that I’m ready to pass out, but I’ll force myself to stay awake if I have to.”

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for the two of us to fall asleep at the same time. I mean, we were hours away from civilization. Surely the Harvesters had no reason to land out in the middle of nowhere, much less a copse of trees. Regardless, I knew I couldn’t argue with Asha. As I settled back against the tree and closed my eyes, she sighed and adjusted her position against the trunk.

“This isn’t going to be an easy night,” she said.

No. It wasn’t.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Southeastern Idaho, Kody Boye began his writing career with the publication of his story “A Prom Queen’s Revenge” at the age of fourteen. Published nearly three-dozen times before going independent at eighteen, Boye has authored numerous works—including the short story collection Amorous Things, the novella The Diary of Dakota Hammell, the zombie novel Sunrise and the epic fantasy series The Brotherhood Saga.

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Amazon * Goodreads

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway
$10 Amazon gift card
Enter here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

Book Review: The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

The Girl and the Grove
Eric Smith
Flux, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-018-7
Trade Paperback

Once in a while, a book means so much to me that I need my metaphorical sandwich-board and bell to adequately express my adoration. It is entirely in that spirit that I introduce The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith. Immediately irresistible, the anomalous story of amateur arborist, Leila, branches out and grows faster than her rescued sapling, Major Willow.

Since Leila has basically bounced around Philadelphia, popping in and out of the group home, she and her best bud bonded by creating their own constant. After all, Leila’s connection with nature is certainly undeniable, somewhat surreal. It’s an interest she shares with Jon that may make this adopted-as-an-adolescent adjustment easier.

He is great, in an awkwardly adorable, always affable way. And Lisbeth, well, it would take a cold heart and hard head to ignore the quiet strength, patience and abundance of love within her. If it doesn’t work out, Leila will have only herself to blame. Being the perfect daughter will have to take a backseat though, something bigger is about to go down.

A gorgeous grove with a trio of trees that have, thus far, stood the test of time, is about to be destroyed. Leila’s new nature-loving friends will fight for the trees, the history and the elusive, endangered field mouse, but there is something more valuable—vital that must be saved, while being kept secret.

Social issues surrounding prejudices and racism are addressed alongside examples of ignorant questions that can be uncomfortable and awkward for an adoptee. A casual, conversational tone, dotted with diabolical dialogue and spot-on samples of sharp-tongued teens ensures an easy read. Laid out in a linear, fluid fashion; lean without being bare, the quest moves quickly. A splash of suspense, mixed with maybe a bit of magic and myth, makes a magnificent tale.

I dig The Girl and the Grove as a Not-So-Young-Adult; but teen-aged-me would have carried this book like a teddy bear and copied quotes all over my kicks.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.