Book Reviews: Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older, The Call by Peadar O. Guilin and Better to Wish by Ann M. Martin

Shadowhouse Fall
The Shadowshaper Cypher Book 2
Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-95282-8
Hardcover

Sierra and her wildly creative companions were captivating in Shadowshaper.   Clever consolidation of mad musical, verbal and graffiti-art skills created a dazzling cultural kaleidoscope that pulsated from the pages, and showed more than the shadowshaping-side of life in Brooklyn.  The sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, is every bit as delightful and dazzling, even as it tackles topics that parallel today’s headlines in an eerily accurate and chilling way.

Sierra has just learned of her role as the archetypal spirit, Lucera, “…the beating heart of the shadowshaping world.”  Never one to shirk responsibility, always a fierce protector; she’s doggedly immersed herself in learning, teaching and practicing shadowshaping.  Before she even begins to realize her potential, Sierra is forced to shift her focus.

The Sisterhood of the Sorrows had vowed revenge when Sierra “jacked up their shrine last summer,” precisely what Sierra and ‘her’ shadowshapers are preparing for; but no one could have predicted an attack so soon. It should have ben impossible.  Unless…the Sorrows are not alone.

To even stand a chance against an unknown in the urban spirituality system, each shadowshaper will need to be strong and smart independently; swift to support and assist when needed.  Basically, battling as they live, to save the community they dearly love.  Accustomed to every day prejudices and profiling, Sierra and her friends knew to expect hassle, rather than help, from the largely racist civil servants.

Mr. Older’s scintillating style swiftly hooks even the reluctant reader.  The scramble to fight the good fight is gripping and the escalation towards the end, engrossing.  When Sierra is left with only two choices, neither of which would result in a happy ending for her; Mr. Older presents a decision that, while not actually surprising, is absolutely unexpected.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

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The Call
The Call, Book 1

Peadar O’Guilin
David Fickling Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-1338045611
Hardcover

Nessa was celebrating her 10th birthday when her childhood abruptly ended.  Instead of giving gifts and baking a cake, her parents explain The Call.

The little girl that built an emotional armor against people’s perceptions; both the pitying looks as well as the ones filled with contempt and disbelief, is intelligent enough to understand the uselessness of her efforts.  Her legs, twisted by polio into more of a hindrance than a help, have gone from a focal point to a genuine liability.

Held hostage and wholly isolated these Irish folks have but one focus: teaching the children to survive The Call.  From the age of ten through the teenage years, training is vigorous and relentless.  Just shy of cruel, the grueling paces are unquestionably a necessary evil.  Almost one in ten survive today, an exponential improvement over the one in one hundred from decades ago.  An amazing accomplishment, as fairies have an undeniable advantage when they pull a human child into their world.

Irish fairies may be my very favorite folklore creatures, and Mr. O’Guilin portrays them perfectly in The Call.  The one universal fact seems to be that fairies cannot lie and they possess a perverse pride in always keeping their word.  Bad to the core, but bound by these rules, Sidhe are as clever and cunning as they are cruel.

The hideous game of fairy versus human, produces a plot that is exciting, fast-paced and adventurous, accented with awesome action scenes.  Of course, nothing is so simple and definite in reality and Mr. O’Guilin does not settle for solely myth against man.   Most humans are considerate, committed to the greater good; but a few are slimy and self-serving.  Mystique makes the tale even more compelling and builds suspense creating compulsory page-turning.  Coupled with colorful, captivating characters and sharp and witty dialogue, The Call is a brilliant book that I enjoyed immensely.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2017.

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Better to Wish
Family Tree Series, Book 1
Ann M. Martin
Scholastic Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-35942-9
Hardcover

Initial intrigue blossomed into complete captivation as Abby’s narration revealed an inexplicably sweet, strong and resilient girl—a compassionate, sympathetic soul–in spite of circumstances.  The centenarian’s story begins on a summer evening in 1930.  As one memory leads to another, her life unfolds like a map.

Abby’s father feels that Maine should be “white”.  Specifically, Protestant and Republican.  His daughters aren’t allowed to befriend a girl because her parents emigrated from Quebec—she’s “French”, not “white”.  Also below his determined Nichols’ Family Standards; “lazy bums…Irish-Catholics.”  Certainly vocal with his opinion, he nevertheless does not seem to stand out to the family, or the community, as a particularly obnoxious, racist fool.

Although Abby’s mother has many bad days with “her mind stuck thinking” of two tremendous losses that left permanent holes in her heart; Dad wants a son.  Baby Fred arrives.  At home, Dad can pretend that Fred is developing, learning and growing at an average rate. Abby, Rose and their mother know differently, but it has no impact on their love and devotion to the charming child.

At the age of 5, Fred behaves like any toddler—including the time he is forced to sit through a high school awards ceremony.  Due to the perceived public embarrassment, the head of the household deems his son less than perfect.  Imperfection is unacceptable, leaving Mr. Nichols with no choice.  He informs the family after exercising his “only” option.

Throughout the tumultuous times,  Abby intuitively empathizes and instinctively protects those she loves and holds dear first, all other human beings second, thinking of her own wants and needs last, if at all.   Abby is the epitome of “good people” and her story instills hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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Book Reviews: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray and The Gardener’s Secret by Jamie Cortland

A Strange Scottish Shore
Emmeline Truelove #2
Juliana Gray
Berkley, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-277089
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing that, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea and married the castle’s first laird.
 
But Haywood and Truelove soon realize they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide. When their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, their quest takes a dangerous turn through time, which puts Haywood’s extraordinary talents—and Truelove’s courage—to their most breathtaking test yet.

After Miss Emmeline Truelove sets off by train to Scotland to join her employer and colleague, Max Haywood, the late Queen Victoria appears, not an unusual occurrence, to warn her that she’s being followed, no surprise to Emmeline. Then, her friend and would-be suitor, Marquess Frederick Silverton, boards the same train and chases after the stranger who jumps off. Clearly, we’re off on an adventure.

An odd man named Hunter Spillane later disappears after attacking Emmeline and Max at a house party in Scotland. When James Magnusson, Earl of Thurso, shows them a box found in a castle’s ruins, the mystery deepens and yet holds a hint of their own recent past. Affairs of the heart and Emmeline’s visions of her deceased father and the late Queen add to the mystery they must solve without undue attention from others.

In a blend of mystery and fantasy, people literally come and go through centuries in a time-traveling kind of vortex as the puzzle begins to come clear and a beautiful woman named Helen tells an incredible tale. The story itself is highly entertaining but it’s the various characters who really engaged me and kept me turning pages. Now, I need to find the first book and do some catching up.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Gardener’s Secret
Jamie Cortland
World Castle Publishing, June 2017
ISBN 978-1629897318
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Vince Giardini is believed to have perished in a plane crash over the Rockies, his beautiful wife, Dannie, becomes the target of handsome and charismatic, Eddie Haywood who is a psychopath with a borderline personality disorder. After discovering she needs a gardener and a handyman to care for her mansion on AIA, he applies for the position.

As his fascination with her intensifies, he vows to make her his one way or another and he begins to stalk her. Danni knows she is being stalked, especially after the break-in. Alone, without Vince, she has no one to save her from Eddie’s devious plans except her friends, Sal Catalano, her husband’s partner and Peter Langley.

A plane crash sets the tone for this tale that drips menace on the page, particularly when Eddie Haywood sets his sights on Danni Giardini. Eddie is the kind of man who makes women shudder, not only because we know what he is but also because of his public persona that keeps his nature hidden. It’s the kind of facade that we fear because it’s so easy to not really see the monster beneath.

Occasional inconsistencies pulled me out of the story such as the time when Danni rushes to meet her friend, Lainey, because she’s late for their lunch date but she stops at a coffee shop and reads part of the newspaper. Also, Danni can be annoying, with a sense of entitlement that comes from being rich and bored. Another example is when Sal, Vince’s partner, flies from Denver to Palm Beach hoping to give the bad news to Danni before the airline does. Why on earth would anyone do that, knowing a telephone call is almost certainly going to reach her first? As it turns out, there was no help for it since she was away from her home and her phone but he didn’t know that. There’s also a scene in which a pregnant woman drinks wine and there’s no indication from her or the man with her that this is just a once a week thing.

Despite content and editing flaws of this sort, the tale moves along, building suspense about the missing man, the one who wants to do harm and, eventually, a murdered woman. Tension rachets up a few chapters in and, for the rest of the book, the main thing that threw me off was something that I expect might be more common in romance books than in the genres I’m used to. I can’t say what it is without spoiling but it had to do with the interactions of certain characters and, since I rarely read romance per se, I’m not holding it against The Gardener’s Secret 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews Part 1

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Colin Goodwin
2QT Limited, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-910077-60-3
Trade Paperback

This book had me chuckling quite a bit with its premise—blackmailing an English village’s cricket club to either win  a trophy or lose its playing ground. Along with this audacious crime, we have village ladies who truly appreciate the hired ringer’s skills and a shady real estate development plan. It’s all great fun even with sabotage and perhaps a little murder.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Cat in an Alphabet Endgame
The Midnight Louie Mysteries #28
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-943175-05-5
Trade Paperback

I confess, I put off reading this as long as I possibly could, so long I’m really embarrassed but I just did NOT want to see the end of this series I love so much. I didn’t want to know who Temple would marry, didn’t want all the little loose ends tied up in neat bows. Midnight Louie is the alpha and omega of feline sleuths and I adore his hardboiled, attitudinous self and, even knowing he was going to continue in different adventures sometime in the future, letting go was so very hard. But…I eventually had to give in and, of course, I enjoyed this book as much as all the others. Temple is distracted by thoughts of saying yes to one guy or the other, the mob has reared its ugly head, there are hints of terrorism and Louie and his Cat Pack are on the case(s). When it’s all said and done, Louie leaves us—and multitudes of Las Vegas felines—with a rousing speech and an offer of appetizers. Ah, Louie, Temple and the rest, I’m going to miss you (until you show up again).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Memory
Sharon Ervin
The Wild Rose Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5092-1290-3
Trade Paperback

Mistaken identity takes on a whole new meaning when a woman is killed and everyone thinks it’s Memory Smith. She hasn’t been run over but somebody certainly has thrown a punch at her and Assistant DA Mac McCann wants to know what’s going on with his former classmate. Did someone really mean to kill her? Memory is an odd woman but Mac is drawn to her and the mystery surrounding her supposed death. As you might expect in romantic suspense, an emotional attachment between the two of them soon takes on a life of its own but Memory may not survive long enough to see what might develop with Mac.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Crepe Factor
A Scrapbooking Mystery #14
Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-26670-0
Hardcover

Ms. Childs and Ms. Moran continue their collaboration in a charming mystery featuring the death by fork of a food critic (stick a fork in me, I’m done, anyone?) practically right in front of Carmela and Ava, sleuthing duo extraordinaire. Carmela’s previous relationship with the #1 suspect makes sticking her nose in a little dicey and her current boyfriend, police detective Edgar Babcock really wants her to stay out of his investigation but she and Ava can’t resist. A nifty whodunnit and characters that feel like old friends, not to mention a few recipes and scrapbooking tips round out this entertaining entry in the series. I always enjoy these two, especially the slightly loony Ava, and for a few hours while I’m reading one of these books, I can’t help wishing I had the patience and dedication to get into scrapbooking…but the urge passes until the next book 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Locket
On Dark Shores #0
J.A. Clement
Weasel Green Press, December 2016
Ebook

Every child gets excited and exceedingly nosy when Yuletide approaches and the seven-year-old Nereia is no exception. Her father has brought her a special surprise, her Godmother, stopping off for a visit before returning to her diplomatic duties in the midst of war and a beautiful silver locket marks Nereia’s first time taking part in the Yule ceremony. This is a sweet story, very short, and a prequel to Ms. Clement‘s On Dark Shores fantasy series. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I knew anything about the series and I don’t understand the description’s reference to “there is mystery in the air…” but I spent a pleasant few minutes with this small family.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Give the Devil His Due by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco and Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall

Give the Devil his Due
A Tarot Mystery #3
Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco
Midnight Ink, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4224-3
Trade Paperback

Alanis MacLachlan grew up as the daughter of a notorious con artist, who often used the girl as part of her scams. Alanis never went to school, or knew her father, and her mother changed their names every few weeks.  After her mother was murdered, she left her daughter the White Magic Five and Dime, an occult themed tourist trap and fortune telling parlor in Berdoche, Arizona, a low rent version of Sedona. A teenage half sister, Clarice, was also left in Alanis’ care.

Alanis reads the cards of a middle aged man who turns up dead at a hotel the next day. Who could have killed him? She has her suspicions when a man from her mother’s past appears. Biddle, a man who her mother lived with and was as much as a father figure as Alanis ever had in her life, was last seen in an Ohio cornfield being pursued by armed gangsters. It’s no coincidence—as Alanis discover when an eccentric German billionaire shows up in town looking for a Van Gogh painting that was stolen years ago. Did Alanis’ mother have something to do with it?

Readers who have enjoyed Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will enjoy this series featuring a con artist gone straight. This is third in the series of Tarot mysteries.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2017.

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Shadow of the Wolf
Sherwood’s Doom #1
Tim Hall
David Fickling Books/Scholastic, Inc., June 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-81664-9
Hardcover

The story of Robin Hood has captivated crowds from Disney fans to lovers of Mel Brooks’ “Men In Tights”.  Mr. Hall breathes fresh, furious berserker air into the fable.  Although this telling is like no other, there are scenes and scenarios that are spot-on similar to my fondest recollections.  Shadow of the Wolf is Robin Hood, maiden Marian, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham; but with back-story that explains so much, yet reveals so little.

Sympathy for Robin comes quickly.  In his own village, and on every encounter, it appears that no one is completely honest with him.  Reactions rage from wary to fearful to furious; nowhere is welcoming to the young boy banished to Summerwoods.   The story of his beloved bow is just one of many secrets shared.  We become painfully privy to how Robin Hood was raised, then, abandoned. Acutely aware of the actions that shaped him as he struggled to survive; alone except for the bewitching young Marian and the half-mad goddess and god of the foreboding forest.

The first blow of finding out he isn’t who he thought—his family origins, even his birth date, are false—paled when compared to the remarkable revelation that he is being actively pursued by both the Sheriff of Nottingham, determined to destroy all Winter-Born, and Sir Bors who claims to be the only haven for those creatures born in the cold months among the terrifying trees.

Mr. Hall teases, doling out morsels of mystery in tiny, tantalizing tastes to thoroughly whet the appetite.  Content to keep us guessing, one part of the puzzle begins to take shape, while a brand new picture appears to emerge.  Enveloped in action, Robin Hood actually fights for his life and tickled by fancy, moved with magic, he learns to acknowledge, accept and adapt.  I believe that fans of fantasy, adventure, mystery and magic (from high school students to senior citizens) will relish this retelling.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

Book Reviews: Mightier than the Sword by K. J. Parker and Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe by Judy Alter

Mightier Than the Sword
K. J. Parker
Subterranean Press, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-59606-817-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

An Imperial legate is called in to see his aunt, who just happens to be the empress running the civilized world while her husband’s in his sick bed. After some chastisement, she dispatches her nephew to take care of the dreaded Land and Sea Raiders, pirates who’ve been attacking the realm’s monasteries.

So begins a possibly doomed tour of banished relatives and pompous royals put in charge of monasteries like Cort Doce and Cort Malestan, to name a few. While attempting to discover the truth of what the pirates might be after, the legate visits great libraries and halls in each varied locale and conducts a romance of which he knows but doesn’t care his aunt will not approve.

With enough wit and derring-do (and luck), the narrator might just make it through his mission alive…or will he?

Mightier than the Sword is a sort of Canterbury Tale-like retelling of “Concerning the Monasteries”, the personal document of the narrator that relates how he traveled  in search of the pirates who were attacking and pillaging monasteries throughout the Empire of the Robur in medieval times.  Our somewhat reluctant hero is the nephew of Empress Eudoxia Honoria Augusta and, along the way, he spends time with his aunt’s best friend, Svangerd, Abbess of Cort Doce, and his own best friend, Stachel, Abbot of Cort Sambic as well as others before discovering the truths behind the raids.

What ends with a number of surprises is mostly a pleasant story with interludes of off-scene violence at a handful of monasteries. The surprises, though, turn everything topsy-turvy but what happens to, and because of, our narrator are what had to be to complete the story and his destiny.

K. J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt, used for his fantasy writings. I first read Holt‘s many novels that are a wacky sort of science fiction and fantasy blend chock full of humor and satire and loved them so much that, when the bookstore was open, I had an account with a British book wholesaler just so we could stock his books (and a few others). The man makes me laugh out loud so I was not surprised to see hints of his comical side in Mightier than the Sword like this exchange:

“Rabanus isn’t a Mesoge name. What do they call you back home?”

He grinned. “I’m Hrafn son of Sighvat son of Thiudrek from Gjaudarsond in Laxeydardal.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll call you Rabanus.”

Although I don’t read a lot of high fantasy, this novella called to me because of the author but it also sounded like just the sort of thing to while away a couple of hours and, besides, how could I resist a tale that has so much to do with books? 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe
A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery #1
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9960131-6-1
Ebook

From the author—

Small towns are supposed to be idyllic and peaceful, but when Kate Chambers returns to her hometown of Wheeler, Texas, she soon learns it is not the comfortable place it was when she grew up. First there’s Gram’s sudden death, which leaves her suspicious, and then the death of her married sister’s lover. Kate runs Gram’s restaurant, the Blue Plate Café, but she must defend her sister against a murder charge, solve the murders to keep her business open, and figure out where the café’s profits are going. Even Kate begins to wonder about the twin sister she has a love-hate relationship with. Gram guides Kate through it all, though Kate’s never quite sure she’s hearing Gram—and sometimes Gram’s guidance is really off the wall.

Note: I read the digital copy of an old paperback edition that’s out of print but it appears the ebook listed above, with the same 2013 copyright date, is unchanged with the possible exception of some minor editing.

Judy Alter has written a ton of books including mysteries in three series and, when she wrote this one in 2013, it was the first in the Blue Plate Cafe series. Now, there are three books and it’s my own fault I lollygagged around for so long and have just now read this.

When Kate’s grandmother dies, she decides to leave her job as a paralegal—and an uncomfortable situation—and run Gram’s cafe but her twin, Donna, has her sights set on opening a bed and breakfast. That’s a good thing because the sisters are not at all alike and working closely together could be disastrous but it also adds to Kate’s growing suspicions about what really happened to Gram. Surely Donna didn’t do anything she shouldn’t, right?

Still, Donna’s attitude towards her life and family, her greed and her unrealistic ambitions are only part of Kate’s unease and Gram whispering in her head is unsettling at first until Kate begins to appreciate it. Is it possible that someone might have poisoned her? Then, when Donna is suspected of murdering her new B&B partner, all bets are off and Kate’s paralegal instincts kick in.

Now that I’ve met Kate and the people of Wheeler, I’d like to know more so I think I’ll pick up the second book as soon as I have a chance. Ms. Alter puts together a good mystery and I’m ready to see what’s happened with these folks and this little town while I’ve been dawdling 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: Eve of the Exceptionals by Parker Sinclair

Eve of the Exceptionals
Parker Sinclair
Rawlings Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9984053-0-8
Trade Paperback

It begins in a darkened room one night when Gem is fourteen. She and her Anima, Finn, are in the process of locating and stealing a magical object when the room bursts into light and they are accosted by Prince Ryzen, also fourteen. Gem resists her initial instinct which is to shoot the prince with an arrow. He, in turn, tells her how to escape while warning her that she cannot do so successfully with the Heart of Cyan, the magical gem she is trying to steal.

Fast forward four years. Gem is now a soldier in the Northern Guard and well on her way to becoming the best in her group. She hasn’t seen Ryzen since that fateful night, but still feels the warm, strong emotions that flowed through her when their eyes met. She’s often wondered whether he felt the same way, but has no way to determine whether that’s true.

Ryzen has harbored similar emotions about Gem, but no matter how hard he’s searched, often using magical methods, no trace of her has surfaced. Meanwhile, a dire threat is looming on the horizon. Dark and evil creatures from the Shadowlands are sweeping toward the kingdom and Ryzen must determine who the other is who must align with him to fully release the power of the Heart.

When Gem is assigned to guard Ryzen as the threat escalates, it sets in motion several things. She will learn who she really is and why she so strongly doubts the probability she’s the other one able to fully power the Heart. Both she and Ryzen will encounter a host of interesting and unusual creatures, many magical. They must fight their way to a place where another royal is being held captive by the most evil of forces and work with the witches who have long considered mortals as treacherous beings to win the day.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, the overall adventure is a good tale and the magic and magical creatures are well crafted. However, there are places where modern slang like ‘freak out’ and ‘How do we test the new powers this baby has,’ are used and mess with what I call the rule of internal consistency regarding fantasy. The entire story takes place in a medieval type world. If it happened in a back and forth between such a world and our present day (urban fantasy) these wouldn’t stick out.

There are also places where things aren’t explained completely, like how and why she was in the room to steal the gem at the beginning of the story and these pulled my attention away from the story as I wondered about them. Still, it’s an enjoyable tale in an interesting world.

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

Book Review: Beauty of the Beast by Rachel L. Demeter

 

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