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.

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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.

Book Reviews: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater and Wild Lily by K.M. Peyton

All the Crooked Saints
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-93080-2
Hardcover

This story of the Soria family comes to you courtesy of quite the natty narrator. Conveyed in a quirky, yet compelling cadence, the tone is objective, but not unaffected. A twist on the third person point-of-view, presents a storyteller that isn’t simply reading the lines, but rather speaking with familiarity and fondness and perhaps, a hint of pride.

The small Colorado settlement of Bicho Raro is presently packed with pilgrims and the three young Soria cousins are puzzling over the predicament. On the surface, it looks like folks are seriously searching for answers; but upon closer inspection, they seem stubborn and somewhat silly not to consider the correctness of their query.

Here in the Colorado desert, radio waves reach for transistors as miracles search for saints and owls migrate towards the miracles. Previously, people would pop in for the magic, then proceed along life’s path. They still come, but now…no one leaves.

The cousins watch their kin drag themselves through the same dull, daily routines; following tired, old procedures while the pilgrims lurk about listlessly. Instead of answers though, each cousin comes up with a distinctly different (and slightly disturbing) question. Separately and secretly, they set out to seek solutions with the single goal of restoring Bicho Raro.

While the situations in All the Crooked Saints stem from fantasy and folklore, they nevertheless relate to real-life ruts. Interspersed with Spanish and Stiefvater-sly humor, the story has a subtle, sneaky effect. A pleasure to read, plenty to ponder, it is perfect for the Young Adult audience; but, I predict this story will resonate with all readers of all ages.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2017.

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Wild Lily
K.M. Peyton
David Fickling Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-08160-2
Hardcover

It is not typical, particularly in 1921, for a soon-to-be-seventeen-year-old to causally request an airplane for his birthday.  Antony’s English home, however, is eccentric at its tamest.  His father grants permission.  The mostly absent, mysterious man who makes mountains of money, is an indulgent single parent.  His only sibling is constantly chaperoned by her nurse-maids, so Antony has learned to enthusiastically embrace his freedom and entertain himself.

Care-free, full of fun and wholly inclusive, Antony does have a certain appeal.  On the other hand, his fierce focus on only a couple of arbitrary, short-term goals coupled with his disdain and dismissal of any actual problem, makes it difficult to qualify his redeeming qualities.

Lily is genuinely good.  Wearing responsibility like a second skin, she is raising her baby brother and working on her father’s gardening crew.  She bears her burdens intuitively, refusing to allow them to tame her ferocious appetite for life and furious joy for adventure.  At the tender age of thirteen, Lily has a laundry list of admirable traits.

Inexplicably, Lily is unquestionably in love with Antony.  Although this curious commitment could carry the story (it’s so beautifully written, I bet Ms. Peyton’s grocery lists are poetic), Wild Lily is not a romance.  Ample action and adventure balance brilliantly with tragedy, compassion and caring.  Mayhem, and maybe murder, make for a fast-pace and simple twists invoke suspense.

I found this to be an enjoyable and engrossing book.  When it ended, I was pleased and mostly satisfied.  Writing this review, however, made something click.  My perspective broadened and suddenly I understood Lily better. Now, I love her even more.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2017.

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.

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.