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.

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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.

Book Review: My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace

My Whole Truth
Mischa Thrace
Flux, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-024-8
Trade Paperback

I’ve struggled with this review for a few weeks, because I was stunned. Speechless. Now, I accept the fact that I will never find and assemble accurate words to aptly address my deep desire for everyone to read this book. But, I can’t keep not telling you about My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace. So…

Starting this story is a bit like having a bucket of ice-cold water dumped over your head. From out of nowhere. That steal-your-breath, shocking feeling, fused with white-hot anger, stayed with me. Quite frankly, still simmers. Perhaps, because this Realistic Fiction plot is so current, it is almost creepy.

The scenario certainly sets me off, but there’s a brilliant balance with the sincere and effortless strength and support that Seelie receives from her friends. And because they are adolescents, situations can only stay serious for so long. Even from her hospital bed, merely moments after being attacked, Seelie stays true to teens everywhere by easily ignoring simple ‘stay still and quiet’ instructions. And she calls her friends, not a parent. Although, she is not wrong there.

If everyone had a best bud like Lyssa, there would be no more bullying. The ultimate antihero, I couldn’t help but cheer a little bit whenever she stepped out of line. From the minute she arrived in the emergency room, all the way to the end of the tortuous trial, Lyssa stuck by Seelie’s side.

Whereas, Seelie’s mother stayed busy with her restaurant, as usual. Since she wasn’t in the hayloft at the time, Mom couldn’t be expected to actually know what happened anyway. She does recall that Seelie has always been rude to Shane, while seemingly everyone else in the entire town adores the judge’s son. And maternal ambivalence is only the tip of the iceberg.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2018.

Book Review: Things I’d Rather Do Than Die by Christine Hurley Deriso

Things I’d Rather Do Than Die
Christine Hurley Deriso
Flux, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-022-4
Trade Paperback

The senior year of high school often starts with an almost-desperate desire to get through, get out and get on with life. Students have been sorted into pseudo-boxes; cliques are closed and relationships seem cemented. Passing classes, prom dates and plans for after high-school are the parts everyone knows about, but there are some adolescents who long for such simple problems to solve.

Perhaps the parental situation is such that a teen is pulled from practices to pick up his intoxicated dad. Or maybe evenings are spent sobering up a mom that is mostly numb. A fantastic father may fall ill, leaving his daughter to worry that she and her step-mother will be even less related, in his absence. Serious and secret situations can be a very real part of growing up and that is perfectly portrayed in Ms. Deriso’s Things I’d Rather Do Than Die.

Jade isn’t easily defined. She “…is “other” on every checklist,” and exists around the edges, with only her best bud by her side. Intelligent, with an obvious need for knowledge and openly agnostic, students see her as icy and unapproachable.

Everyone adores Ethan, though. The star quarterback that’s “…always organizing Jesus-y things at school” with his gorgeous girlfriend by his side seems to have a smile for everyone.

Immune to the A-lister’s charms, Jade seethes when Ethan dashes into the gym at closing time. Now, she has to work late so that he can work-out. But that will be the least of her worries.

Although an event may be life-changing, the differences are not instantaneous. One very long night of honest, albeit awkward, conversation nags Jade consistently, causing her to question her stringent beliefs and reexamine decisions. Even Ethan begins to question his faith—or at least the reasons it is so important to him.

I love tough topics being addressed with spot-on, diabolical dialogue that is simultaneously biting, humorous and thought-provoking. Although I have read about teens tangled in religion, it was always a battle between two different beliefs. I really enjoyed the unique, introspective spiritual consideration and the personal growth in this heart-wrenching, yet hopeful novel.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2018.