Book Review: Riding Chance by Christine Kendall

Riding Chance
Christine Kendall
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-92404-7
Hardcover

Troy is adrift and in danger of falling into that trap created when grief is compounded by lack of a caring parent to turn things around. His mom died not long ago and his father is still too wrapped up in his own loss and sorrow to intervene. When Troy gets the blame for a cellphone theft that should have been dropped on Lay-Lay, the crime-spree-in-the-making on his Philadelphia street, he’s less than thrilled at the community service assigned to him and his best friend Foster.

As often happens, what initially seems like a punishment and a total downer, becomes a whole new way of looking at life with some amazing skills attached. The boys are assigned to an equestrian program in the large city park not far from their homes. Troy’s initial impression is that horses are uncomfortable and smelly. However, he’s interested right off by Alisha, a very pretty girl who is his age and is already quite comfortable with the horses.

It turns out they have something in common-grief and loss. Winston, a former professional polo player who runs the program, is Alisha’s uncle and took her in after her parents died. Despite his initial unease around horses, Troy soon realizes that when he’s with them, especially Chance, the horse he’s assigned to ride and care for, he feels more alive and at peace. In fact, there are times when he’s grooming her or riding when he feels almost like he did before his mother died.

Despite his growing comfort with Chance and a realization by almost everyone involved that he’s a natural around horses and has great potential as a budding polo player, Troy can’t lose his hard edge. That’s sharpened by an encounter outside his house with police that goes badly, as well as his inability to be open with anyone about how he really feels. This increased mistrust and alienation threaten his newfound love of horses and excitement about becoming a member of the polo team. It takes the adults around him and Alisha, as well as his best friend confronting him, coupled with a very frightening incident at a polo exhibition for Troy to realize that he’s not much different than those around him.

The dialect takes a chapter or so to get comfortable with, but after that, the story becomes a seamless and engrossing read. I finished it in less than two hours. Both adults and teens/tweens will really identify with the way Troy feels, how he’s his own worst enemy and the way he comes through a better person. A great book for inner city schools and libraries, but a really good one for any library where diversity in the collection is important.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Book Review: Close Call by Laura DiSilverio

close-callClose Call
Laura DiSilverio
Midnight Ink Books, September 2016
ISBN:978-0-7387-4920-4
Trade Paperback

Not quite non-stop suspense as some reviewers have suggested, but mostly. The author has firm handles on the story line, the characters and the setting. She manipulates all with a deft hand. If things are a little more complicated than is the usual case in thrillers of this kind, well. It’s up to we readers to pay more than casual attention, right?

The title of the book might have effectively been pluralized. We are with the main character, Sydney Ellison, through most of the book and while she weeps gallons of tears, her determination to see the mystery and the crimes to their righteous conclusions is laudable. That she perseveres in the face of repeated set-backs is testament to her core grit. Sydney’s reconciliation with her sister, Reese, her handling of their slightly insane mother, all play important parts in what is essentially a family drama. The novel is intense, compels persistent page-turning, and introduces us to a multi-dimensioned professional assassin.

In an overcrowded deli, located in Washington, D.C., Sydney encounters her nemesis and main adversary in the story, although she doesn’t know it at the time. Nor does her adversary-to-be, a professional hit man who doesn’t appear to be quite as put-together as he should be, given apparent longevity. Their brief interaction sends both on a long and winding path through mistaken identities, murder, family rollercoaster rides and both keen and fatuous observations on D.C. politicians. Also, lots of tears.

Given the current situation in our nation’s capital, the confirmation hearings going on, the story has exciting real-life resonance. Readers seeking a tension-filled story with real characters should enjoy this novel.

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.

Book Review: Tangle of Strings by Ashley Farley

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Title: Tangle of Strings
Series: Sweeney Sisters #4
Author: Ashley Farley
Publication Date: December 2016/January 2017
Genres: Southern Fiction, Women’s Fiction

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Other books in the series:

her-sisters-shoes-2     lowcountry-stranger-2     boots-and-bedlam

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tangle-of-stringsTangle of Strings
Sweeney Sisters #4
Ashley Farley
Leisure Time Books
Print December 2016, Ebook January 2017
ISBN 978-0998274119
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A nearly tragic accident leads to a discovery that rocks the Sweeney family’s world.

Some families never resolve conflicts. Not so with the Sweeneys. Their sense of family, their love for one another, and their willingness to forgive have always triumphed and brought them back together. Until now. The latest crisis threatens to tear the family apart and crumble the foundation that has always proved itself rock solid.

At the heart of the matter are sixteen-year-old Annie Bethune and her boyfriend, Cooper. At stake are their dreams for the future. As to these dreams, no one in the family holds back when asserting an opinion.

Annie soon begins to feel like a puppet on strings with all those she loves telling her what to do. When those strings become tangled and a family feud develops, Annie, unable to bear the pressure, runs away. Straight into the arms of danger.

That’s an interesting title, isn’t it? I can see two ways of interpreting it—the tangle of strings represents the tangled web resulting from lies and poor choices or perhaps it’s an allusion to the various threads of life, both everyday and unusual, that so often create chaos at some level. I’ll leave it to you to decide once you’ve had a chance to read Tangle of Strings.

Ms. Farley continues the story of Annie who came to be a part of the extended Sweeney family with all her emotional baggage but who found a haven with this loving group of people. At the center of this family are three sisters—Jackie, Faith and Sam—who are typical siblings with their squabbles, their worries and, ultimately, their love for each other and everyone else in their circle. Annie could not have found a safer or more welcoming home.

Escaping her past is not so easy, especially when her mother, Heidi, comes to town. Heidi, who abandoned Annie as a child to pursue her dream of stardom, is one of those narcissists who see nothing beyond their own perspective. She has no understanding of how badly she hurt her daughter and behaves as though Annie should welcome her back with open arms, something this teen is not willing to do, and fleeing from her mother leads to a very bad car crash.

Emotions run high as one issue mingles with more, leading to what can be considered a real crisis. A troubled young romance, Annie’s accident and resulting injuries, Heidi’s unwanted intrusion into Annie’s life, a pair of criminals and, above all, Annie’s and Cooper’s unplanned pregnancy put so much pressure on this young girl and her surrogate family that it’s almost certain relationships and feelings will change. As in so many family situations, everyone has his or her own opinion about what needs to be done and too many forget that pushing their own agendas doesn’t really help. In fact, they come close to being that stereotypical family that can be really overbearing while the intentions are well-meaning. When all is said and done, though, the story boils down to an exploration of the relationships between parents and their children, biological or not, and the importance of truly listening to one another.

Tangle of Strings is another fine episode in Ms. Farley’s engaging series but I do suggest the series be read in order because each book builds on the one before and it’s the best way to fully understand the Sweeneys and other people in their lives. I’m sorry to say this appears to be the end of the Sweeney family saga but Ms. Farley has at least left us with the possibility of future installments and I’ll be very happy if that happens.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

About the Author

Ashley Farley 2Ashley Farley is the author of the bestselling series, the Sweeney Sisters Series. Ashley writes books about women for women. Her characters are mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives facing real-life issues. Her goal is to keep you turning the pages until the wee hours of the morning. If her story stays with you long after you’ve read the last word, then she’s done her job.

After her brother died in 1999 of an accidental overdose, she turned to writing as a way of releasing her pent-up emotions. She wrote SAVING BEN in honor of Neal, the boy she worshiped, the man she could not save.

Ashley is a wife and mother of two college-aged children. She grew up in the salty marshes of South Carolina, but now lives in Richmond, Virginia, a city she loves for its history and traditions.

Ashley loves to hear from her readers. Feel free to visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ashleywfarley or twitter.com/ashleywfarley.

Catch up with Ashley

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Follow the tour:

January 21st: Launch

January 22: Reading Is My SuperPower & Katie’s Clean Book Collection

January 23: Christy’s Cozy CornersMel’s Shelves, & Zerina Blossom’s Books

January 24: Mythical Books & Falling Leaves

January 25: The Silver Dagger Scriptorium & Nicole’s Book Musings

January 26: Buried Under Books

January 27: Grand Finale

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Book Review: In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman

in-case-you-missed-itIn Case You Missed It
Sarah Darer Littman
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN: 978-0-545-90437-7
Hardcover

What teen doesn’t privately criticize their friends? After all, they’re going through major changes that are accompanied by mood swings, major insecurity and self-doubt. In other words, mental squirrel-cage territory. What they don’t expect is every single one of their thoughts, crushes, annoyances and feelings to be hijacked and posted online where everyone affected can see and react, not to mention receiving a barrage of Twitter and Facebook snark from people they’ve never met.

Welcome to Sammy Wallach’s new reality. She’s psyched about the end of her junior year, doing things with her besties, getting her driver’s license and hoping to go to prom with Jamie Moss, the boy she’s drooled over for ages. Unfortunately, the bank her father manages has been picketed by some pretty aggressive protesters, who have now started camping next to the building. When Dad and the board call in police to remove them, someone hacks the bank’s computer system. What does this have to do with Sammy? She kept a diary on her laptop that was backed up on the family server. The hackers hit that as well and now everything she wrote about friends, her fantasies and even rules she broke when she and her two friends went to a club to see a band, something her parents had expressly forbidden, is now online for the world to read.

Add to that her realization, courtesy of some of her father’s emails now exposed, that her parents, who have been extremely strict, are far from perfect, and she’s not only humiliated, but very angry.

This is the point where the story could have turned totally cliché. Instead, the author pulls you alongside Sammy as she guts it out. In the process, she finds new and pretty cool friends, a boy much better than her crush, strength to deal with an unexpected family tragedy, a stronger and mutually respectful relationship with her younger brother and a realization that she survived what, at first, seemed unthinkable.

This is a great read for teens who like a quirky, but relatable story of teen disaster and family chaos. I’d suggest it to all libraries as an acquisition.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2016.

Book Review: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

two-summersTwo Summers
Aimee Friedman
Point, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-51807-9
Hardcover

Fifteen-year-old Summer Everett is set to fly off to the south of France for a visit with her artist father and a chance to see his painting, Fille. Her father’s painting of his daughter as a young girl hangs in a museum there, and Summer has never seen it in person. Summer’s divorced mother discouraged the visit from the beginning, and Summer waits at the boarding gate with a heavy heart because of the terrible quarrel with her mother just before her best friend picked her up to drive her to the airport.

Just as she’s about to hand over her boarding pass and walk onto the plane, Summer’s cell phone rings. It’s a number she doesn’t recognize. From that point, we are swept into the story of two possible summers. In one, she ignores the call and goes to France. In the other, she answers the call and stays home in Upstate New York. In both, she breaks from her normal life, learns about herself, and must process changes in her life that include her best friend breaking bonds and a devastating family secret.

We learn about these scenarios through Summer’s first person descriptions, actions, and thoughts. Sometimes her inner thoughts sound profound, more like mature reflection on her actions, and sometimes her thoughts are childish. Altogether, she’s split, like her summer, thus becoming realistic and worthy of our concern.

I couldn’t put the book aside for long without wondering what would happen. How would the two summers (Summers) fit together and become whole? This is an imaginative coming-of-age story, or two stories, that include beautiful descriptions of a picturesque French village in Provence, exciting New York City, and a tranquil small town in New York State. There’s as much here for an adult as there is for a teenager.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, October 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Reviews: Nantucket Five-Spot by Steven Axelrod and Every Boat Turns South by J.P. White

nantucket-five-spotNantucket Five-Spot
A Henry Kennis Mystery #2
Steven Axelrod
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0342-8
Hardcover

Nantucket Island is the setting for this full speed ahead thriller and it stars. Axelrod is adept at inserting appropriate attractive descriptive language in his manuscript and the location of his stories about the adventures of poetry writing police chief Henry Kennis trying to maintain law and order on a restless, tourist-driven island off the Massachusetts coast.

His characters, and there are many, are weird, strange, excellent, upstanding, careful, bright, thoughtful and good-looking specimens. Some of them are patient, evil, criminal and inept. When this author feels the need to bump up the action, he just inserts a new character who may or may not have anything significant to do with the central. So there are small side plots dealing with immigration, smuggling, fighting in the Middle East and so on.

The Chief of Police, a central character in the novel, is beset on all sides by criminal elements and by law enforcement who are often portrayed as rigid and impatient. A possible terrorist bomb attack on a holiday concert by the Boston Pops Orchestra is the apparent target. Law enforcement agencies from every level descend on the poor police chief who must struggle against their incompetence, short-sightedness, and his personal romantic feelings about one of the federal agents.

Plots within counter-plots and world-wide maneuvering infest the pages of this novel. What saves it is the almost relentless action and there is plenty of that, however unlikely in a few places. There’s even an occasional funny bit.

If I was vacationing in a place like Nantucket and wanted some relaxing light-weight down time, this novel would definitely fill the bill.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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.

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every-boat-turns-southEvery Boat Turns South
J.P.White
The Permanent Press, September 2009
ISBN 978-1-57962-188-9
Hardcover

For a great many people the incalcuable persistent rhythms of the seas that surround us, the tides, the fog, crashing surging waves, all serve to remind us of the vast unknown. Water has no permanent shape, it cannot drive a nail. It can form long-enduring shapes on the shores of our continents and drive islands into clusters we label archipelego but no island lasts forever. In the north, when winter comes and water in the ponds freezes into temporary hardness, something often urges us to look to warmer circumstances closer to the equator. We revel in the snow and crave the sun-baked climes of the tropical island.

There are a thousand stories of sailing voyages, likened to the human voyage of life and like life, those voyages are, in turn, filled with storm and peace, ecstasy and sorrow. Here is one such filled with rich images, turbulent emotions, sadness, joy and death. After years separated from his family, second son Matt returns to his home on a journey of expiation. The family torn apart by the death of the favored first-born, needs to heal, at least a little and Matt tries to make that happen. Of course he fails and in the process weaves a tale of life in the islands off our southern coast, replete with passion, drugs, storms, smuggling, love and mixed results. For the sailor there’s great and kindly detail, for the rest, the relentless drive of the author’s poetical structure and language carries us alongside Matt to an uncertain conclusion.

At times the exalted language and structure may bother some readers, just as other readers may find the quantity of technical detail confusing and off-putting. For those, I suggest trying to relax with the story, enjoy the scenery and the passion, but stay with Matt through his adventure in this fine poetical novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 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: Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy

Brooklyn on FireBrooklyn on Fire
A Mary Handley Mystery #2
Lawrence H. Levy
Broadway Books, January 2016
ISBN:978-0-553-41894-1
Trade Paperback

Mary Handley, a not-so-proper Victorian miss, has set up as a consulting detective. Her good friend, Mr. Lazlo, has provided her with not only a job until her consulting pays-off, but provided her with office space in a corner of his bookstore. Little does he know his store will be burned down as a result of this association, but that comes later in the story. The story opens with Mary’s first client.

Mary earned a bit of fame by cracking a highly reported earlier case. This previous success draws a woman named Emily Worsham to her office, stating her uncle has been murdered.The catch? It’s a very cold case. The uncle has been dead and buried for at least ten years⏤or has he? And is Emily Worsham actually a relative, or is she simply an actress hired to point a finger at one of the wealthy movers and shakers in the Brooklyn district? The plot thickens when Emily is murdered on stage, and it turns out she wasn’t Emily Worsham at all.

The story is fast-paced. Not only Mary herself is at risk, but her entire family and of course, poor Mr. Lazlo. Even Mary’s romantic interest, none other than George Vanderbilt, comes under the gun. Nothing is as it first appears and seeing Mary solve this convoluted puzzle is a joy.

An intricate plot will keep the reader guessing. The writing is good, the setting interesting (historical mysteries are my fave whether set in New York or the Pacific Northwest) and the characterization spot on. I can recommend this one.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.