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.

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Book Review: Rules We’re Meant to Break by Natalie Williamson

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Title: Rules We’re Meant to Break
Author: Natalie Williamson
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Genres: General Fiction, Romance, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks
Google Play // Amazon // Indiebound

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Rules We’re Meant to Break
Natalie Williamson
Swoon Reads, June 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-31326-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Rule #1: Don’t get attached.

Amber lives by strict rules to survive her mother’s love life: Always keep your eyes on the horizon and never get close to anyone connected to Mom’s boyfriends.

But after they move in with Kevin, the latest of her mom’s “soul mates,” the rules become increasingly difficult to follow. Kevin’s daughter, Cammie, keeps acting like Amber’s friend, even though she’s definitely not. And Jordan—star basketball player, hottest boy in school, and Cammie’s best friend—keeps showing up at the most inconvenient moments.

Amber has reasons for every one of her rules, and following them is the only way to protect her heart when her mom inevitably moves on. But as she spends more time with Kevin, his daughter, and especially Jordan, she starts to wonder if the rules might be worth breaking this time.

The very first thing that struck me in this story is how much I REALLY didn’t like Amber’s mom. If you’re looking for a first class narcissist who cares only about her own needs and has no regard for her daughter’s feelings, this woman is it. She also can’t maintain a relationship with any guy and should have a warning label plastered on her forehead. I just can’t imagine having a mother uproot her child time after time because she wants to shack up with one more guy. Apparently, letting Amber have a real home doesn’t mean anything to her mother and I find it hard to sympathize with or forgive such a person.

On the other hand, all of the above pre-disposed me to have a soft spot for Amber. This is a girl with a lot of emotional damage so it’s no surprise when she reaches her limit and puts up a wall to keep attachments at bay. Mind you, Amber isn’t always the nicest or most likeable person so I was kind of surprised that Cammie and her friend, Jordan, kept trying. After all, many teens would just shrug and move on. Amber just might have to re-think that wall.

On the whole, I thought the characters here lacked fullness, so to speak, but the story is sweet and leaves the reader with the feeling that good things happen when you open yourself to them.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

About the Author

Natalie Williamson is an HR person by day and a YA writer by night and nap time. She referenced Harry Potter in her first ever full time job interview, which tells you almost all the things you need to know about her. Other important things to know include: she loves her husband, daughter, dogs, and cat; she has a serious dessert problem; and she frequently Wikipedias movies and TV shows to find out if they have happy endings. RULES WE’RE MEANT TO BREAK is her debut novel.

Website // Twitter // Goodreads // Instagram // Pinterest

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Book Reviews: Tinfoil Crowns by Erin Jones and Taking Chances by Kelsey Abrams

Tinfoil Crowns
Erin Jones
Flux, May 2019
ISBN 978-1-63583-032-3
Trade Paperback

Fit is tearing me in two. Wounds from warring emotions: fury, disbelief and a deeply-buried desire to forgive, are palpable and painful. Part of me needs to give her a hug.

Vehement denial that horrific symptoms may manifest from a mental illness is easy to understand. Unless you’ve been through it or witnessed it, first-hand. With knowledge gleaned, I also easily imagine shaking this young lady by her shoulders.

All moms make mistakes. And, at first, it seems as if Fit and Frankie’s mother messed up big-time. Even if she was suffering from postpartum problems, solo.

Frankie’s willingness to forgive should surprise no one. Fit’s younger brother is clearly a sweet kid, and the talented artist has never been one to hold a grudge.

Dubs, the dad that witnessed his daughter’s downfall, then took in her two tiny children, well, he’s somewhere in the middle. He may not want to wholly wrap his mind around the intricacies of psychosis, but he may have to, if he wants to hold onto his belief that his beloved off-spring was honestly unable to control her actions, or even ask for assistance.

When the day arrives for mom to move into the already crowded apartment, Frankie and Dubs are annoyingly overjoyed. Grim determination keeps Fit from feeling anything, aside from a simmering anger and overall sense of betrayal. Besides, she’s got no time for this, she is about to be big.

An agent in New York City saw his niece sporting jewelry she’d crafted from tinfoil, entranced by one of Fit’s You-Tube videos. He decided then and there that Fitted Sheet would be his next client. And it is here that our Fit manages to take self-absorption to a whole new level.

Even for a seventeen-year-old with sparkly stars in her eyes, who has happily left logic at the door. And, ok, it is not her role to be skeptical of the money man from the City, particularly since she’s seen him catapult a few of her favorite You-Tubers to fame; but, right now, this chick isn’t hearing anyone. And we don’t always know what is best at such a tender, impressionable, stubborn stage in life.

On the one hand, it may seem as if there’s nothing funny about psychiatric disorders. But, if we need to laugh at ourselves, then it would stand to reason that mental illness and humor are not mutually exclusive. Not an easy thought to convey. Ms. Jones broaches this brilliantly, in a Broad-City style that I found awesomely authentic. So happy that I’ll be able to share this with ‘my’ students before graduation!

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2019.

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Taking Chances: A Grace Story
Second Chance Ranch
Kelsey Abrams
Jolly Fish Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-149-8
Trade Paperback

This review demands to be written a bit differently. Perhaps by listing the things I love, from the very beginning. No. Before that, even. Let’s talk about the cover and title of the third book I’ve read from the Second Chance Ranch series. An atypical Juvenile Fiction front shows a disheveled and obviously distressed young girl clinging to a cat. The police car parked behind, perfectly pulls it together to pique my interest.

The title means two things, absolutely delightful! Chances, in this case, is an award-winning, purebred Persian. Grace Ramirez is the risk-taker. Sibling support from her twin and their two older sisters, sees that she stays somewhat unscathed. But, when Grace agrees to take over Miz Ida’s chores for two weeks…well, even the Ramirez girls may not be a match for all of that gardening, plus guarding the fancy feline.

Taking Chances: A Grace Story moves as quickly as the main character without feeling rushed or jumbled. It’s impossible not to love the impulsive little girl with the world’s biggest heart and it is quite a treat to watch her work so hard to be a better person.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Review: Let These Bones Live Again by David Carlson

Let These Bones Live Again
A Christopher Worthy & Father Fortis Mystery #3
David Carlson
Coffeetown Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-393-8
Trade paperback

With a setting of Venice, Italy, the premise of the story seems almost possible. College student Allyson Worthy is interning with the Venice police department, the dream of living in the city fulfilled. She is no more than settled in when her father, a respected and famous homicide detective, turns up. He’s been hired to look into the death of a wealthy cancer victim suspected of committing suicide. Of course father and daughter meet up. Not such a good thing considering an uneasy history between them.

But then there’s Father Fortis, whom the Vatican has asked to look into the theft of the bones of saints. His job is complicated when he’s forced to bridge a gap of faith between Catholics and the Russian Orthodox church. Father Fortis and the Worthys are friends, and it isn’t long before they get together to help each other.

The Venetian police soon have Allyson working with her father, as more than one wealthy cancer victim has apparently committed suicide in unusual circumstances. And their bodies all have a puzzling wound, carefully stitched, that seems to have no bearing on their disease. Then there are the stolen relics. Father Fortis can’t think of any good reason for old bones, often of uncertain provenance, to be stolen.

While the answers to these questions were quite easy to see, the meat of the story comes with the relationship between these various characters, especially Allyson as she not only struggles with a romance that may not be as real as she hopes, but hostility toward her father. I didn’t find a lot of action or tension in the story, but was entranced by the setting and the people.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2019.
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: A Veil Removed by Michelle Cox

A Veil Removed
A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel #4
Michelle Cox
She Writes Press, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-63152-503-2
Trade Paperback

Short intro: Clive and Henrietta Howard return to Chicago after his father’s unexpected death; whether or not Alcott’s death is the accident it seems is unclear.

Clive Howard was an Inspector for the police before his return to Chicago.  When his father dies in an apparent accident, Clive is called home from his honeymoon to manage the family business.  Clive and Henrietta had made other plans, plans which are tossed by the wayside in light of this recent death.  The Howard Detective Agency is not, at least for now, an option.  This does not, however, mean that Clive and Henrietta are done with detecting.  Based on discoveries made by Clive as he takes over the business, the two decide that Alcott’s tragic demise was no accident.  Finding out who killed him will answer a myriad of other questions.   Why?  Why now?  Where’s the money?  Who can Clive trust?  How much does his mother know, if anything?  What does Alcott’s partner, Bennet, know?  Who is Susan?  The list goes on.  Every stone the pair turns over leads to another rock or another hard place. Trying to deal with all of this, and the business, and his grieving mother . . . Clive is under considerable pressure.  As tenuous connections to Henrietta are solidified, the pressure only gets more intense.

Henrietta has problems of her own to confront.  Her younger sister Elsie is “a fallen woman”, having succumbed to the charms of a ne’er-do-well.  The family, meaning Clive’s mother and Elsie’s grandfather, believe her best option is to make the best marriage she possibly can under the circumstances; a love match is out of the question, given her poor taste so far.  Elsie is not enthused about this option; she is also not truly in a position to do what she wants, even if she knows what that is, which is pretty much not the case.  She knows she does NOT want to marry the men who are interested in her, no matter how honest they are about their motives, which are not all that pure.  Henrietta thinks Elsie should go to college – a local, Catholic college run by nuns and affiliated with Loyola.  Elsie is smart, although she doesn’t think her self-taught knowledge is good enough to get her into any college.  She is wrong, and Mundelein College proves to be a wonderful place for Elsie.  She does have some delightfully collegiate interactions with the boys from Loyola.   The German custodian brings some adventure into her life, although certainly nothing that anyone would have thought of, given the chance.  Elsie, of all the characters, probably makes the greatest leap in personal knowledge and growth over the course of the novel.  It’s a pleasure to read.

There are other sub-plots and story lines, some of which connect previous books in the series to this one.  There is ample room for at least one or two more books about Clive and Henrietta, given some of the loose ends left lying around.  Chicago in the 1930s has so much to offer a historical novelist: gangs, high society, the changes in technology, societal mores shifting, the immigration landscape changing.  Cox mines what she needs for her story, and makes it all work very nicely.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Clive and Henrietta, although the sex scene in the middle did seem VERY gratuitous, considering the general tone of the book around that scene.  Other than that, I’m inclined to go start reading this series from the beginning.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2019.

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: High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann

High Crimes
The Georgia Davis PI Series #5
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-938733-95-6
Trade Paperback

High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann is the fifth book in her Georgia Davis private investigator series. It closely reflects the unsettled U.S. political climate of the past two years. Dena Baldwin is the leader of a resistance movement that begin after the U.S. presidential election of 2016. At the beginning of a major protest demonstration in Chicago, a sniper shoots her and several of her colleagues from a nearby hotel roof and is presumed to have killed himself with a bomb. Baldwin’s mother hires Georgia to learn more about the killer and what prompted him to kill her daughter, since the local police and the FBI have drawn a blank. Sifting through the backgrounds of more than 40,000 members of the organization to identify potentially problematic members is the only lead she has, and she enlists tech support to help her. She learns the victim’s estranged father is a political lobbyist in Washington, DC, with questionable associates, giving her another avenue for her research. And the shooter’s sister has vanished, leaving Georgia to wonder why.

In the meantime Georgia’s lover is pressing her to move in with him. Georgia is seriously considering it, as her younger sister and baby have taken over her small apartment. But when she mentions it to her sister Savannah, Savannah takes the idea as a sign of abandonment, creating family complications that Georgia is at a loss to deal with.

Georgia balances family needs against a progressively more complex investigation, creating an involved mystery with multiple threads that come together in a credible but not-too-neat conclusion. Well-written, smoothly paced. For fans of books with strong women leads, private investigator mysteries, and contemporary political thrillers.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is a versatile award-winning writer with two crime series, stand-alone thrillers, and many short stories in her bibliography.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, November 2018.