Book Review: This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio @IWGregorio @LittleBrownYR

This Is My Brain In Love
I. W. Gregorio
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 2020
ISBN 978-0-316-42382-3
Hardcover

Jocelyn isn’t truly bitter. She is just very busy. Like most teens, she’d rather be doing just about anything aside from spending every available moment working for the family restaurant, A Plus. Until she hears her father talk of moving back into the city.

She did love New York, of course. But she had just started to love living here. She found bubble tea and Priya. Jocelyn will not go without a fight. She will save the business. And she will get help.

William saw the Help Wanted sign. Spending a summer as an intern-manager of a restaurant was not at all what we wanted, but exactly what he needed. Life is tough enough simply breathing-while-Black; suffering from anxiety on top of that sometimes felt crippling. He’d heard a hard truth. To be the reporter he wanted to be, even if it was just for his private-school newspaper, Will is going to have to ‘get out there’ and get into things.

It would be almost easy to say This Is My Brain In Love is about mental illness, but it really is not. The story is about how, as an individual, we are so many things. Jocelyn is the responsible grandchild, offspring, elder sibling and master-of-every-task in the family’s Chinese restaurant. In her spare time, she works with Priya, creating short films. And she still manages to squeeze in time with William—who wears a few hats of his own.

And, yes, some characters may deal with mental illness—whether they acknowledge it or not. It is an invisible weight, but just like in real life, it is but a small part of a greater whole. I’m so pleased to see a story show that students’ stresses do not start and stop at school. Many high-schoolers have heavy responsibilities outside of classes and grades. So many families count on their contributions.

Ms. Gregorio marvelously manages to cover and convey so much in an engaging and oh-so-easy-to-read way. It will not surprise you to know that I’m looking forward to giving away many, many copies of this YA wonder.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2020.

Book Reviews: The Search for Baby Ruby by Susan Shreve and Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender @AALBooks @kacencallender @Scholastic

The Search for Baby Ruby
Susan Shreve
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-41783-9
Hardcover

Jess has been looking forward to her oldest sister’s wedding, particularly being able to participate in the celebratory events surrounding it, for an entire year. Dressing for the rehearsal dinner in the swank Los Angeles hotel suite, she felt a mix of nerves and excitement.

Until her feckless brother barged in, Baby Ruby in his arms. To no one’s surprise, the babysitter he’d arranged did not show up. Danny was determined to attend the event, as he had a ‘very important’ speech to make. He needed Jess to stay in and babysit. She would miss the entire evening’s festivities.

To soothe her soul, Jess lets the baby stretch out on a blanket on the floor while she…admires…the intricately beaded wedding gown and gobs of brand-new make-up. In a typical, sulky-teen-kind-of-way, Jess quickly becomes distracted and is unsure of how much time has passed since she’s checked on Baby Ruby.

When she sticks her head out of the bathroom, she is shocked to see only wrinkles where Baby Ruby once was. The child is gone.

Jess pulls her shop-lifting-sister, Teddy, into her panic and the two pair up to find the infant before anyone else knows she’s missing. Unaware that housekeeping has alerted the authorities, the teen sleuths separate to search the hotel.

The Search for Baby Ruby by Susan Shreve is a Middle-Grade mystery with a quick start and fast, but not frantic, pace that makes for an engaging, effortless read.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2020.

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Hurricane Child
Kacen/Kheryn Callender
Scholastic Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-12930-4
Hardcover

Sometimes I’m stunned by how hard a Middle Grade book can hit me. Hurricane Child by Kacen/Kheryn Callender serves as a stellar example.

Caroline is complex, particularly for an adolescent island-girl. She is carrying a bunch of baggage, and has no one to help with the load.

Years ago, an emptiness began to eat at her. Her mother inexplicably abandoned Caroline and her father. With her dad working all the time, and avoiding her questions when he was around, a frustration began to build and threaten to fill her completely. Nothing but negative emotions and absolutely not a soul to share with, Caroline was always angry and so very alone.

Until she meets Kalinda.

New students are rare in the tiny St. Thomas school, but Kalinda seems to handle being the center of attention easily. Caroline is immediately attracted to her confidence and poise and she quickly decides to befriend this intriguing young lady. As soon as possible.

Here, Ms. Callender considers the pseudo-taboo subject of sexuality. Simultaneously showing two sides of the same coin provides perspective and allows the reader to experience differing mind-sets, neutrally. The reason for her mother’s departure keeps me contemplative and has me considering various points-of-view.

Caroline’s stubborn and defiant actions almost over-ride the seriousness of some situations, making the punch a bit more surprising, thus proving to be more painful. And I mean that in the best way possible.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2019.

Book Review: A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette @AbbyVandiver @BerkleyMystery

 

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A Deadly Inside Scoop
An Ice Cream Parlor Mystery Book 1
by Abby Collette
Genre: Cozy Mystery
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A Deadly Inside Scoop
An Ice Cream Parlor Mystery #1
Abby Collette
Berkley Prime Crime, May 2020
ISBN 978-0-593-09966-7
Trade Paperback
From the publisher—
This book kicks off a charming cozy mystery series set in an ice cream shop—with a fabulous cast of quirky characters.
Recent MBA grad Bronwyn Crewse has just taken over her family’s ice cream shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and she’s going back to basics. Win is renovating Crewse Creamery to restore its former glory, and filling the menu with delicious, homemade ice cream flavors—many from her grandmother’s original recipes. But unexpected construction delays mean she misses the summer season, and the shop has a literal cold opening: the day she opens her doors an early first snow descends on the village and keeps the customers away.
To make matters worse, that evening, Win finds a body in the snow, and it turns out the dead man was a grifter with an old feud with the Crewse family. Soon, Win’s father is implicated in his death. It’s not easy to juggle a new-to-her business while solving a crime, but Win is determined to do it. With the help of her quirky best friends and her tight-knit family, she’ll catch the ice cold killer before she has a meltdown…
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There’s something about A Deadly Inside Scoop that lifts it a little above the masses of culinary cozies and I’m not sure just what it is. Maybe I was swayed by the premise of an ice cream parlor (1) because I remember the oldfashioned kind from my younger, much younger days or (2) by the thought that it’s going to get up to 90°+ “feels like” here in my part of Florida today and all week. Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed this series debut.

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Win is a smart cookie and she has good plans for her family’s ice cream shop but she can’t prevent the delays that lead to a post-summer opening. Still, she certainly never expects to find a body when she goes looking for fresh snow for a recipe. When her dad is pegged as a prime suspect, Win sets her logical mind to figuring out what really happened with help of a lot of family and friends. Perhaps my favorite thing about Win is that she bases her sleuthing on all the tips she’s learned by reading and watching mysteries, just like all of us readers 🙂 She also avoids the TSTL syndrome which cannot be said for her friend, Maisie.
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Apparently, more than a few townspeople had reason to wish the dead man, a con artist, hadn’t come back and this leads to a lot of red herrings and possibilities. Detective Beverly must have his reasons for focusing on Win’s dad so she has her amateur investigative work cut out for her, all while she’s trying to make a success of the shop in the off-season. Getting to the real truth takes us all down a twisted path and I recommend this witty, charming puzzle.
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Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2020.
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About the Author

I write as Abby L. Vandiver and Abby Collette but you can just call me Abby . . .
I love mysteries! Whatever I write, I put a little mystery into it.
Now I’ve got a new cozy mystery coming out May 12, 2020. A Deadly Inside Scoop, is part of my new series, An Ice Cream Parlor Mystery from Penguin Berkley. I’m so excited for its release.
Stay tuned as I gear up for Release Day with giveaways, interviews and of course. ice cream. (Okay, I won’t actually have ice cream on my page, but I’ll talk about it. A lot.) Pre-Order here!
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Follow the tour HERE for special
content and a giveaway!

 

An ice cream maker and one-time ice cream delivery and scooper

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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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.

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.