Book Reviews: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker and The Eyes of Pharaoh by Chris Eboch

Emma in the Night
Wendy Walker
St. Martin’s Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-14143-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

When two sisters vanish one night, Cass watches the aftermath on TV, the interviews with her mother who, somehow, makes it all about herself. It has always been about Judy Martin and her need to be the center of attention is at the core of the emotional distance between the sisters. Given that distance, why were they both gone?

FBI forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters and Special Agent Leo Strauss worked the case when the girls disappeared three years ago and they’re drawn back in now that Cass has returned out of the blue. She has a strange tale to tell and there are inconsistencies but, of course, the big question is where is Emma? Were the two girls together all those years or not? The answers that begin to trickle in are increasingly disturbing and you can’t help wondering what has really brought Cass back to her family.

Creepy, that’s the paramount feeling I had while reading this and the author’s evocation of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder brought to mind such infamous people as Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her kids in the car so she’d be unencumbered in her pursuit of a man. This disorder doesn’t get a lot of serious attention but perhaps it should. Nicely done, Ms. Walker!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Eyes of Pharaoh
Chris Eboch
Spellbound River Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-945017-27-8
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

The Eyes of Pharaoh, 1177 BC: During the reign of Pharaoh Ramses the Third, Seshta, a 13-year-old dancer in the Temple of Hathor, dreams of becoming a famous entertainer. Horus, the brother of her heart, is content as a toymaker’s apprentice. Reya, at 16, has joined Egypt’s army with hopes of becoming a hero. Despite their different paths, nothing can break the bonds of their friendship. Yet when Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt?

Then Reya disappears. Seshta and Horus set out to find him–and discover a darker plot than they ever imagined. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

I’ve had a love affair with ancient Egypt for so long I can’t remember how or when it started. When I had a chance to spend a week there in 1989, I found the modern country just as fascinating and wonderful and I’m sorry I’ll probably never get back there, also sorry for the political troubles that plague those wonderful people. Anyway, I’m always delighted to read any fiction or nonfiction about Egypt, especially set in ancient times and The Eyes of Pharaoh hit just the right spot with me.

Most of the mysteries I’ve seen set in this civilization are adult, which is great, but it usually means the characters are officials or slaves or high society, not so much the general population. These teens are a good cross-section, if you will, with a temple dancer, a soldier and a servant’s son, and I think that really added to my enjoyment because they’re not yet mature enough to be leery of risk and adventure and they’re comfortable with day-to-day life among the common people. One of the trio has gone missing and the other two are determined to find him. ‘Nuff said.

Because I love Egypt and its history so much, I wholeheartedly approve of anything that might entice young readers to fall under its spell and this book would be an excellent introduction. And, for those of you who aren’t so young anymore, you should give this a shot for rousing exploits and a darned good mystery 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

Book Reviews: Cover Me in Darkness by Eileen Rendahl and Dating Death by Randy Rawls

cover-me-in-darknessCover Me in Darkness
Eileen Rendahl
Midnight Ink, December 2016
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5020-0
Trade Paperback

How do you live with yourself when you believe your little brother was murdered by your half-mad mother, apparently with your help? Amanda Sinclair has tried to put her youthful past behind her, has grown into an important job as a lead quality control testing scientist for a new and exciting company.

Out of that past she receives word that her mother has committed suicide. Far from settling her emotions and closing a door on that episode, she slowly begins to realize that the woman’s death may somehow be linked to the upcoming release from prison of the leader of a cult to which her mother once belonged. Beset by emotions, Amanda concentrates on final verifications of a new product in her lab and the results are raising questions about some of the reports already submitted.

Add a wise and sympathetic cop, suspicious but supportive colleagues and the keen observations of a talented author and here is a novel to be remembered.

While I’m not sure about the title, I strongly endorse this dark emotion-filled novel of suspense. It is very well written, insightful, thoughtful and the central character, Amanda Sinclair, comes alive on the page. The pace and the setting are well handled and easily evoke the locale. Although not for the more timid reader of murder mysteries, Cover Me In Darkness, is well worth the time and attention of serious readers.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

dating-deathDating Death
Beth Bowman Private Investigator #3
Randy Rawls
White Bird Publications, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-63363-151-9
Trade Paperback

Randy Rawls writes a sort of brawling, booted, western-style detective novel. Except this detective is located in southern Florida. Beth Bowman takes no back seat to anyone and in her third adventure actually accepts an insane assignment from the local chief of police. She’s to bodyguard a flamboyant local pol who is due to spill all about crime in their city. Beth is to try to keep the pol alive until he can testify. It doesn’t go well, naturally and now Beth has to try to locate the killer.

That investigation doesn’t go well, either and after a number of fairly exciting adventures, Beth falls in with a homeless shelter operation wherein the street folks domiciled there happen to be the best undercover operatives in the city. So Beth, unable to get necessary help from officialdom, goes to the amateur league. You already guessed it. After stumbling over some pretty obvious clues and missing some others, everybody ends up on the same page and justice prevails, but not before a few dead bodies show up.

Well written and perfectly organized, Dating Death is a good weekend confection.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2016.
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 Review: Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger

Lying Out LoudLying Out Loud
A Companion to The Duff
Kody Keplinger
Scholastic Press, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-83109-3
Hardcover

Sonny is a liar and a relatively unlikable character.  The reader shouldn’t care about her story or become quickly invested, but I was intrigued.  The tug was inexplicable, yet unavoidable—I just knew that there had to be something deep driving the deceit.

Her father incarcerated and her maternal parental unit unaccounted for, it is easy to be empathetic….up to a point; but the level—constant layering of lies— becomes incomprehensible.  I wanted to reach into the pages to shake someone, while almost equally powerful was the desire to offer comfort, promise understanding and open-mindedness and just to get to the bottom of it.

While I couldn’t actually do that (this is not a choose-your-adventure-book); Amy’s parents did that very thing and it was spectacular.  There was more to Sonny’s saga, and it was unexpected. Of course, a lying lifestyle cannot be condoned.  Sonny owes apologies.  She must make amends and be prepared to grant time for trust to develop again; but her behavior has been explained, allowing her the opportunity for growth, and eventually…acceptance.

Lying Out Loud isn’t a somber, heavy tale.  On the contrary, I worry about it being dismissed or overlooked.  At a blush, it seems such a simple little story about the angst of high school, best friends and a boy.  Sonny is a funny girl and many of her lies are quite comical; besides, how can I not find affection for the girl who named her car “Gert”?  The quiet, thoughtful consideration of her best friend, Amy, brings balance; but let me not forget about Ryder.  The quintessential boy-in-the-middle is rarely written so well.

To Sonny, he’s “…always dressed as if he was on his way to a concert for a band no one had ever heard of” and she considers him almost aloof….if she were to overlook his blatant disdain for his new home town.  Ryder seems unreachable and it’s no surprise he has eyes only for Amy; but it’s Sonny that cracks his veneer, revealing deep secrets such as, he “sometimes writes like an actual teen-ager.”

This book evokes emotions—all of them—and the story speeds along.  It works so well because the Rush family provides a solid foundation.  It is Sonny’s story, but Ryder’s self-realization is a sweet supporting side-bar.  Even the impeccable Amy finds room for a bit of growth.  Though it is about a liar, the tale is honest, courageous, heart-breaking and hopeful.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.

Book Review: Confessions of a Fat Girl by Holly Dae

Confessions of a Fat Girl Tour Banner

************

Title: Confessions of a Fat Girl
Author: Holly Dae
Publication Date: July 24, 2015
Genre: General Fiction

************

Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble Buy Button     Kobo Buy Button     Amazon Buy Button

************

Confessions of a Fat GirlConfessions of a Fat Girl
Holly Dae
CreateSpace, July 2015
ISBN 978-1515204053
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Smart and ambitious Season Minett was homeschooled, got accepted into college at 16, graduated with a B.A. in English at 20, got a job at a prestigious magazine at 21, and isn’t afraid to go after what she wants. Twenty-two-year-old Season has it made and everyone knows it. Except Season herself.

People can gush over her all day long, but Season knows they’re just being nice. In reality, she’s accomplished nothing. She doesn’t work hard enough, can’t get her book published, and worst of all at 5’6, 180 pounds with a thirty-two inch waist, a forty-four inch hip, and arms too big for her body, she’s fat and ugly. She’s such a disappointment that after her mother divorced Season’s dad, she went to live with her new, younger boyfriend and left Season to mother the rest of her siblings. So Season is quite bewildered when the guy she sees every weekend at the bookstore shows serious interest in her. And she ends up liking him. A lot.

Season’s not naive enough to think love will solve all her problems though. In fact, love seems to be making everything worse because her food obsession is growing more and more out of her control. But that’s impossible. There’s nothing wrong with counting calories and wanting to be thin. There’s nothing wrong with trying to be as perfect as everyone thinks she is. A fat girl can’t develop an eating disorder, let alone have one. Right?

Much is made of eating disorders these days and, fortunately, it seems as though at least some people are fighting back against the drive to be ultra-thin. Still, there are far too many, mostly girls and young women, who are compelled to reach for what they think is the perfect body image. Such a young woman is Season.

Season is a prickly sort and, once you know her story, it’s easy to understand why she has so much trouble letting other people into her life. She has learned that she doesn’t have a lot of reason to trust and she also feels very inadequate. On the whole, Season is a woman with very little self-esteem so it’s not surprising that, at first, she doesn’t respond well when a man named Victor approaches her in a cafe.

Victor is the kind of guy you wish every insecure woman could meet, genuinely nice and not afraid to stand for what he believes in (although he was way too chill during a certain gun incident). Unfortunately, Season is not so likeable and I found it hard to connect with her. She’s so inconsistent, for one thing, blowing hot and cold about nearly everything including her own image of herself. I find it really hard to believe that any woman who’s so hung up on what and how much she eats would be ready, willing and able to expose her body to a man she’s known for about five minutes. Also, Season is really rude to everyone, to the point of being tiresome. Still, she has her good moments and an important part of her story is watching her mellow just a bit.

Despite my reservations, especially about Season’s personality, this is an interesting story, unlike any I’ve read before, and I’m interested in trying some of Ms. Dae’s other work. After all, just because one book doesn’t resonate with me doesn’t mean another one won’t and I’m sure many readers will like Confessions of a Fat Girl 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

Holly Dae Confessions Teaser

************

About the Author

Stuck in the transition between graduating from college and starting a life called no job, Holly Dae spends most of her free time writing raw and edgy Young Adult and New Adult contemporary novels that deal with rape, drugs, sex, and general psychological ills. When she isn’t doing that, she’s writing fanfiction for fun and obsessively playing Mario Kart Eight and Pokemon Games.

************

Follow the tour here.

************

IFB Tours Button 2

Book Review: Murder with Ganache by Lucy Burdette

Murder with GanacheMurder With Ganache 
A Key West Food Critic Mystery, Book 4       
Lucy Burdette
Obsidian, February 2014
ISBN: 978-0-451-46589-4
Mass Market Paperback

Haley Snow is the multi-tasking, scooter-ing food critic for a Key West periodical called Key Zest. Besides her job, checking out restaurant fare on the island at the foot of the nation, she dodges killers, manages to avoid calamity among her divorced parents, and tries to manage her best friend’s impending wedding.

In addition to all that she has to ride herd on her own potentially emotional entanglements with her boss at the magazine while dodging a vengeful investor. Readers get a good look at one of the most idiosyncratic communities in the nation, and, in this book, a clutch of almost dysfunctional relatives.

Haley and her mother are good friends, but when Haley’s best buddy decides to get married on a Key West beach, trouble, in the form of a teen-aged half-brother, and somewhat estranged relations who show up for the wedding inevitably follows. Then the kid disappears. Domestic crises run the gamut from mild disengagement to full-throated meddling and accusations of various malfeasances. It’s all a bit much. Meanwhile, cats mutilate a batch of cupcakes destined for the wedding reception.

It all gets sorted out in the end, but the plot wanders a bit too much for my taste, there are too many trying relatives and every so often some less than vital facts get distorted. I have always enjoyed Burdette’s writing and plotting, but I had a persistent feeling that this one was rushed into print lacking a bit of the author’s usual meticulous attention to detail.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: That Night by Chevy Stevens

That NightThat Night
Chevy Stevens
St. Martin’s Press, June 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-03460-1
Hardcover

When two hard-case teens hook up in high school and defy their contemporaries to pursue their own designs, you know there is trouble ahead. Author Chevy Stevens demonstrates tremendous insight into a variety of modern situations, from an unbalanced family to a flawed legal system to life in prison and on parole.

The novel follows Toni Murphy, the main character who narrates her life as a rebellious teenager with a damaged family, her search for love and then, tragically her conviction on specious charges of murder. The novel combines a murder mystery with a predictable conclusion; excellent writing and an intimate look at the life of a teen growing up in a small Canadian town on the Island named Vancouver.

Calling on memory, I think the author has nailed the stresses and joys of this teen’s life, the family arguments, the shifting bullying and contretemps rife in high school life. Her descriptions of life in a women’s prison are remarkable, moving and often scary. The novel spans fifteen years in this young woman’s existence. She endures more than most women would expect in three lifetimes and she does a lot of it alone, without any significant support. Yet for the most part, she retains an essential piece of humanity. Through the pain and suffering and loss, she finds occasional hope, like small rafts in a heaving, lonely, sea.

The murder of which Toni is innocent and for which she is sent to prison, hangs over the story until the end. The last third of this long novel is a skilful exercise in the presentation of facts about the murder, leading to rising tension and intricate emotional maneuvering. The novel is too long, in my view, but it is a powerful contemporary examination of modern life that will remain in readers’ consciousness for a considerable time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.