Book Review: Unwritten by Tara Gilboy

Unwritten
Tara Gilboy
Jolly Fish Press, October 2018
ISBN 978-1631631771
Trade Paperback

Gracie is basically a good girl. Inquisitive and tenacious, maybe she sometimes skirts the rules. Not so unique for a twelve-year-old, and really, it is only one of Mom’s orders that Gracie disagrees with. She believes that information is knowledge, knowledge is power and she has a burning need to know her own story, in its entirety.

Because, Gracie’s tale has already been told. Well, written.

Of course, neither Gracie, nor her maternal parental unit, had ever actually read the book by Gertrude Winters. At best, they know a fraction of the tale. Gracie was told only that they escaped the fictional Bondoff, ruled by cruel Queen Cassandra, so that Gracie could live a safe life. Here, in the real world.

Not good enough for this curious lass. When Gracie sees that Ms. Winters will be visiting a book-store nearby, she realizes her opportunity to obtain answers, but can’t show up empty-handed. The single parchment page torn from her story will be perfect. Despite specific instructions to the contrary, she unlocks the box.

Ms. Gilboy’s fresh, magical fantasy somehow feels like a cozy classic…but with a kick. Determinedly focused, Gracie can be a bit gruff. But Walter, her fictitious friend who is wholly unaware of their parallel lives, is more patient and pragmatic. His approach is practical, in a methodical, kind of way. Whereas Gracie knows just enough to be dangerous and in pursuing answers, she plunges back into the unraveling role written so long ago.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2018.

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Book Review: Beneath by Maureen A. Miller

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Title: Beneath
Series: Beneath, Book 1
Author: Maureen A. Miller
Narrator: Brandy Skelly
Publisher: Maureen A. Miller
Publication Date: August 17, 2018

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Beneath
Beneath, Book 1
Maureen A. Miller
Narrated by Brandy Skelly
Maureen A. Miller, August 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

It was Stella Gullaksen’s final break before starting her freshman year at college. Joining her best friend Jill and Jill’s family aboard the Starkissed, Stella wakes up to a violent storm that capsizes the boat over a hundred miles off the New Jersey shore.

As the waves pull her under, Stella knows that she is going to die. Instead, an unusual current drags her deep into the underwater canyons of the Atlantic Ocean. Powerless against the raging waters, she is suddenly sucked into a ventilated cave. One by one, Jill and her family also emerge in the sunken cavern. With only a faulty diving flashlight to keep oblivion at bay, Stella and her best friend’s brother Colin search the cave in hope of finding a way back to the surface. What they discover, however, is that they are not alone. There are other survivors in this subterranean grotto – survivors spanning decades of maritime disasters.

Will this discovery prove salvation, or have they all been condemned to the same fate? A grim finale at the bottom of the sea? On an alliance forged by friendship and attraction, Stella and Colin battle to escape the danger that lies beneath.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Bermuda Triangle; is the phenomenon pure fantasy or science fiction or perhaps even real? No one has the definitive answer but there is no question that a lot of boats and planes have been found on the bottom of the Atlantic and disappearances continue to happen. The premise that Ms. Miller suggests in Beneath is not all that bizarre considering the oddities of the Triangle, is it?

Now, just suppose such a thing happened to you and you found yourself in a vast undersea cave system with other people who had been “saved” over a period of many years. You’d be filled with questions as are Stella and Jill’s brother, Colin, and no one would be surprised when they act on their curiosity, going in search of answers. They find some of those answers, leading to even more, but perhaps the biggest is, are they condemned to remain here until…

Stella is a likeable character—as is Colin but he’s less vibrant—and I had no trouble believing in her personality, her attitudes and her determination to brave the unknown. I’m glad, actually, that her story isn’t over yet and that a sequel is coming.

Brandy Skelly brought Stella to life for me even though there were moments when her narration wasn’t entirely successful. Between Ms. Miller’s intriguing story and Ms. Skelly’s telling of that story, Beneath is a tale worth hearing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

 

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About the Author

USA TODAY bestselling author, Maureen A. Miller worked in the software industry for fifteen years. She crawled around plant floors in a hard hat and safety glasses hooking up computers to behemoth manufacturing machines. The job required extensive travel. The best form of escapism during those lengthy airport layovers became writing.

Maureen’s first novel, WIDOW’S TALE, earned her a Golden Heart nomination in Romantic Suspense. After that she became hooked to the genre. In fact, she was so hooked she is the founder of the JUST ROMANTIC SUSPENSE website.

Recently, Maureen branched out into the Young Adult Science Fiction market with the popular BEYOND Series. To her it was still Romantic Suspense…just on another planet!

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

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About the Narrator

Brandy Skelly studied theatre in college, and even participated in storytelling festivals when she was growing up. She’s a practicing attorney, and loves to participate in ACX projects to keep her creative side happy and fulfilled. She can perform fiction and non-fiction, in neutral-American or Southern-American accents.

Brandy lives in North Carolina with her husband, toddler, and pound puppy. She has a soft spot for romance and she loves a good laugh!

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Medallion of Murder by BR Myers

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Title: Medallion of Murder
Series: A Nefertari Hughes Mystery #3
Author: BR Myers
Publisher: Blue Moon Publishers
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

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Purchase Link:
Amazon

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Medallion of Murder
A Nefertari Hughes Mystery #3
BR Myers
Blue Moon Publishers, September 2018
Ebook

From the publisher—

Still struggling with nightmares from the past summer, Terry tries to bury her secret guilt and enjoy her family’s first Christmas in Devonshire. But when a murdered man is found with a postcard addressed to her, Terry fears the repercussions from that fateful night in Egypt are becoming a reality.

After she receives a coded message from Awad, Terry and her best friend Maude are thrown into the hunt for a lost medallion, an artifact that possesses a great power—and a gruesome destiny. As each clue leads to more disturbing truths (and bodies), Terry begins to suspect she’s the real target of the search. When Awad goes missing, she becomes certain the Illuminati are involved, and has no choice but to risk losing the thing she cherishes the most to get him back.

But Terry will soon discover the secrets of the tomb cannot be erased by distance or power, because the ghosts of her past are closing in quickly… and this time, they refuse to stay buried.

Nefertari Hughes is a most remarkable young woman. Wearing a prosthesis is no hindrance to her nor does she let the loss of her leg dampen her enthusiasm for life and she’s already ready for adventure. That’s a good thing because, once again, Terry and her friends are drawn into a deep mystery with tones of the supernatural, Terry fearing that a murder is somehow tied to deadly events that took place in Egypt.

Terry, who has some superhuman abilities, and her friend Maude throw themselves into the hunt for a killer and for a medallion that holds special powers. Meanwhile, bodies pile up and her Egyptian friend, Awad, goes missing after leaving a few clues and Terry’s nightmares about those events in Egypt continue to plague her. Then there’s that mural somebody painted under a bridge…Tangentially, Terry and her boyfriend, Zach, have to deal with day-to-day issues that confront teens but the hunt takes precedence.

This is a series that I think is best read in order, especially because there is not a lot of backstory offered to bring a new reader up to date. I do think it’s unfortunate, though, that readers who choose not to buy books from Amazon or read on a kindle have no options; while many small press and independent authors’ books can be found in some version, paper or electronic, on multiple platforms, this series is only available on kindle. I hope that Ms. Myers and her publisher will at least offer her potential fans—for this is a very good series—paperback editions in Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and independent bookstores.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

Update: print editions are available at Indigo and Amazon.ca and will be listed soon at Amazon.

About the Author

Always in the mood for a good scare, B.R. Myers spent most of her teen years behind the covers of Lois Duncan, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King. Her YA contemporary coming of age novel, GIRL ON THE RUN, was chosen by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre as a BEST BOOK for TEENS for 2016.

When she’s not putting her characters in awkward situations, she works as a registered nurse. A member of the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia, she lives in Halifax with her husband and two children—and there is still a stack of books on her bedside table.

Author links:  Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Follow the tour here.

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A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Ain’t She a Peach
Southern Eclectic #4
Molly Harper
Gallery Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5133-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, the McCready family of Lake Sackett, Georgia, is back in fine fettle with their McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop and, also once again, they’ve captured my heart. This time the focus is on Frankie, the youngish coroner/embalmer who considers herself well past the age of independence but her parents don’t know how to even begin to think of letting their precious only child spread her wings, so to speak. Sure, she sneaks off to Atlanta occasionally for a night of satisfying rowdiness but she can’t make herself move out (although she has disabled the location service they use to track her). There are very good reasons for this helicopter parenting but, really, she needs to grow a pair!

There’s a new Sheriff in town, Erik Linden, and while Frankie has a few, or a lot, of philosophical differences with Erik, including his queasiness around her dead customers, she’s finding it very hard to resist the man. Meanwhile, the rest of the McCready bunch are around and about and the town’s Halloween Trunk-R-Treat festival is coming up while a teenaged desperado has it in for Frankie for some reason.

The whole rambunctious McCready clan is a family I’d love to be part of and this fourth book in Molly Harper‘s series is just as much fun as all the others. Oh, I do hope there will be more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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Jurassic, Florida
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #1
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Press/Kensington, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0793-3
Ebook

LOL, I’m still chuckling over this book and I have only myself to blame for not having indulged in Hunter Shea‘s work before. Polo Springs, Florida, is a quiet little place but people are starting to notice that the lizard population, specifically small iguanas, seems to be popping up everywhere. Not just popping up—slithering and scampering and the little beasts apparently have lost all fear. Not so the humans in this town, folks like Frank who’s running from the mob and Ann Hickok, the very unlikely mayor who’s only 18 years old. Everyone in Polo Springs has stepped into their own Godzilla movie and the future’s looking very, very dim.

Polo Springs is about to get a rude awakening and they’ll wish they had those little iguanas back. In scenes that are alternately grisly and scream-inducing but also high camp, we learn the answer to the question: can anyone save this town from the invasion of giant people-eating critters?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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In His Kiss
Neil Plakcy
Featherweight Publishing, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-64122-112-2
Trade Paperback

There’s nothing easy about high school, as most of us know, but senior Michael has it worse than some. First of all, he’s gay. No big secret there but he’s almost painfully shy and definitely insecure when it comes to actually finding “the right one” or even one who will do for right now. He’s also saddled with his younger brother, Robbie, aka the Big Mistake and family life pretty much revolves around Robbie with his multitudes of allergies and other issues. On the positive side, he has an awesome best friend, Brie, and she makes life in Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, tolerable although Michael is way past ready to get out of Dodge.

And then along comes Daniel Florez and life for Michael will never be the same again. Luckily for him, Daniel has a little more self-confidence—really, he’s almost oblivious to what’s not supposed to work or maybe his home life has just given him a thicker skin so he’s not quite as vulnerable. Whatever it is, Daniel is not afraid to make the first move and the second and the third… Suddenly, things are looking up for these two really nice kids and the future might be bright but there are some side effects, including resentment from Brie, but why are strange things happening to Michael, like awesome SAT scores? And, minor detail, why is the FBI hanging around spying on Daniel?

With a bit of fantasy and a lot of high school angst, not to mention lots of humor and love of all sorts, Neil Plakcy has created a story that had me smiling a lot and cringing just a little (in a good way) and I definitely want to know what Michael and Daniel are going to be up to next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

Book Review: The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

The Girl and the Grove
Eric Smith
Flux, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-018-7
Trade Paperback

Once in a while, a book means so much to me that I need my metaphorical sandwich-board and bell to adequately express my adoration. It is entirely in that spirit that I introduce The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith. Immediately irresistible, the anomalous story of amateur arborist, Leila, branches out and grows faster than her rescued sapling, Major Willow.

Since Leila has basically bounced around Philadelphia, popping in and out of the group home, she and her best bud bonded by creating their own constant. After all, Leila’s connection with nature is certainly undeniable, somewhat surreal. It’s an interest she shares with Jon that may make this adopted-as-an-adolescent adjustment easier.

He is great, in an awkwardly adorable, always affable way. And Lisbeth, well, it would take a cold heart and hard head to ignore the quiet strength, patience and abundance of love within her. If it doesn’t work out, Leila will have only herself to blame. Being the perfect daughter will have to take a backseat though, something bigger is about to go down.

A gorgeous grove with a trio of trees that have, thus far, stood the test of time, is about to be destroyed. Leila’s new nature-loving friends will fight for the trees, the history and the elusive, endangered field mouse, but there is something more valuable—vital that must be saved, while being kept secret.

Social issues surrounding prejudices and racism are addressed alongside examples of ignorant questions that can be uncomfortable and awkward for an adoptee. A casual, conversational tone, dotted with diabolical dialogue and spot-on samples of sharp-tongued teens ensures an easy read. Laid out in a linear, fluid fashion; lean without being bare, the quest moves quickly. A splash of suspense, mixed with maybe a bit of magic and myth, makes a magnificent tale.

I dig The Girl and the Grove as a Not-So-Young-Adult; but teen-aged-me would have carried this book like a teddy bear and copied quotes all over my kicks.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.

Book Review: The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Traitor’s Game
The Traitor’s Game, Book One
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-04537-6
Hardcover

Abruptly abandoning her beloved Lava Fields, based solely on a demand from her paternal parental unit, is aggravating. The fact that it’s been three years and no reason was given for the reunion, is infuriating. When Kestra’s security carriage is attacked on the journey home, she flips from frustrated to fiercely furious, forgetting all about fear.

Certainly, the people of Antora have a healthy respect for that anger. After all, her father is second in command to Lord Endrick. Those who actually know the scrappy, skilled teen are more realistically wary of her wrath. The band of rebels, however, has too much at stake and too pat a plan to be thwarted.

Kestra is kidnapped. Her guard and governess held as collateral.

One captor poses as her lady-in-waiting, the other her driver and Kestra is taken into Highwyn and tasked with finding the Olden Blade to overthrow evil Lord Endrick. No one actually knows that the magic dagger exists. If it does, and she is able to locate it; then she will have to determine how much, if any, of the legend is true. This seemingly insurmountable problem pales when Kestra realizes the reason for her return.

She is to be wed. Groom selected, arrangements made, the ceremony…stupidly soon. She has no say in the matter.

With several sticky situations to solve, and only a small window of time, the story flies faster than Lord Endrick’s condors. Along the way, secrets are revealed. Kestra begins to believe that she fell in love with the idea of her country, without ever knowing the realities of her world. Burdened by new knowledge, the difference between enemies and innocents becomes blurry, but she must choose someone to trust.

Kestra may be one of my favorite characters of all time. She is courageous, bold beyond belief and also positively petulant, with a tendency for tantrums. The perfect protagonist for this adventurous, action-packed fantasy. Mixed with a bit of magic, a completely captivating saga is created; a stellar start to a tempting trilogy (I’m guessing, here).

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.

Book Review: Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Frogkisser!
Garth Nix
Scholastic Press, February 2017
ISBN: 978-1-338-05208-4
Hardcover

Start with a dash of Monty Python’s sly humor, add a double helping of the best of Brian Jaques, sprinkle with a triple pinch of classic fairy tale and stir gently. When done, you have this delight of a book. Princess Anya and her ditsy older sister Morven are worse than orphans. First their mother died, then their father, the king, after marrying their stepmother, who remarried the evil sorcerer, Duke Rikard. Stepmom is more interested in roaming far away to study botany instead of taking any interest in the princesses. Anya’s careful to remind everyone the duke is her stepstepfather.

Duke Rikard delights in growing his power, even though every increase drains his humanity. When he turns Morven’s current suitor into a frog and dumps him in the moat, Anya realizes she has to act. Little does she know that this decision will turn out to be much bigger and have further-reaching consequences than she could possibly imagine. She must go on a quest to gather ingredients needed to create a lip balm which will allow her to kiss an array of creatures so they can return to their original form. The list is daunting, druid blood, witches tears, three day old hail and freshly pulled Cockatrice feathers. Hardly a quick trip to Walmart.

Accompanied by Ardent, one of the Royal dogs, she sets off. Shortly after meeting a reformed witch, whose wannabe robber son Shrub, has been turned into a newt, Anya realizes the evil Duke has turned a pack of weasels into human sized baddies that are pursuing her and her companions.

In order to fulfill her quest, Anya braves a giant, a coven of bickering witches, Ethical robbers, unethical robbers, the Grand wizard (who lives in a hollowed-out dragon skeleton, a flying carpet with an attitude. That would be more than enough to deter most young girls, but Anya’s made of much sterner stuff, allowing her to do a lot of kissing that would turn most princesses into quivering masses of jello. She’s able to wrap her head around the realization that her initial quest was merely the tip of the iceberg, gather an army, and save the day. How she does that makes for a truly dandy read, great for tweens, teens and light fantasy loving adults. It would be a good family read-aloud choice and I’d love to see it as a movie.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2018.