Book Review: A Prom to Remember by Sandy Hall

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Title: A Prom to Remember
Author: Sandy Hall
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: April 24, 2018
Genre: General Fiction, Young Adult

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A Prom to Remember
Sandy Hall
Swoon Reads, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-11914-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Cora: Dating Perfect Boyfriend Jamie. Has NO IDEA how to break up with him…

Paisley: Anti-prom. Somehow nominated her anxiety-ridden best friend for prom king…

Henry: Hates social situations. Invited to prom by the most popular girl in school. SEND HELP!

Otis: Half of one of the cutest couples in his class. Not quite ready for a post-prom hotel room…

Lizzie: Shy. Excited to go to prom. With a boy. Whose name she doesn’t know.

Cameron: Loner. Over high school. Just wants to meet the mysterious girl who’s been leaving him notes…

Jacinta: Unnamed Nerd Girl #3. Determined to become the star of her own life, starting with prom…

Back in the very long ago day, prom wasn’t a big thing in my life. In my junior year, I was dating an R.O.T.C. cadet from another school and we went to his Ring Dance the same night. I don’t remember what I was doing in my senior year but, for whatever reason, I didn’t go to prom. Still, that particular school dance was a big deal and, judging by the kids I see in their fancy dress having dinner, limos waiting, it still reigns supreme in high school today.

What I haven’t forgotten in all these years is all the angst and excitement and hopes and dreams that go along with prom and A Prom to Remember brought it all back with a look at seven kids and all their expectations. I came to love every one of these teens for one reason or another and would not have minded spending more time with them. This was a really fun read and I turned the last page grinning to beat the band…a good way to end a book, I think 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

About the Author

I’m a teen librarian from New Jersey where I was born and raised. I have a BA in Communication and a Master of Library and Information Science from Rutgers University. When I’m not writing, or teen librarian-ing, I enjoy reading, slot machines, marathoning TV shows, and long scrolls through Tumblr. A LITTLE SOMETHING DIFFERENT is my first novel.

Author links:  Website // Twitter // Goodreads

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Book Reviews: It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell and The Devil’s Cold Dish by Eleanor Kuhns

It’s Always the Husband
Michele Campbell
St. Martin’s Press, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-08180-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, despite being as different as three women can be. Kate was beautiful, wild, wealthy, and damaged. Aubrey, on financial aid, came from a broken home, and wanted more than anything to distance herself from her past. And Jenny was a striver―brilliant, ambitious, and determined to succeed. As an unlikely friendship formed, the three of them swore they would always be there for each other.

But twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge, and someone is urging her to jump.

How did it come to this?

Kate married the gorgeous party boy, Aubrey married up, and Jenny married the boy next door. But how can these three women love and hate each other? Can feelings this strong lead to murder? When one of them dies under mysterious circumstances, will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband?

I’m kind of conflicted about this book because, while I think the story of these women’s friendship is interesting, I can’t say I actually liked them or the police chief very much. As college students, they seemed like an oddly matched trio and they aren’t really any more compatible as they get older. It’s all just a little sad in a way and, although it’s true I didn’t connect emotionally with any of the three, I was still compelled to keep reading.

The first section drags a bit or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the pacing is on the slow side, deliberately so, and that makes the contrast with the second section even more noticeable. That second section is when I began to pay attention and wanted to know what would eventually happen but I still couldn’t find much in any of these women to care about. Kate in particular is an enigma or, rather, everyone’s near adoration of her is the enigma as she is one of the most unpleasant, better-than-thou people you can imagine.

An awful event in their younger years cements their connection to each other and that secret from the past has deadly implications in the present. This is the interesting part, getting bits and pieces from earlier years that begin to come together now, but it doesn’t quite make up for my dislike of these people. All in all, this is not a book I was crazy about.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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The Devil’s Cold Dish
Will Rees Mysteries #5
Eleanor Kuhns
Minotaur Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09335-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Will Rees is back home on his farm in 1796 Maine with his teenage son, his pregnant wife, their five adopted children, and endless farm work under the blistering summer sun. But for all that, Rees is happy to have returned to Dugard, Maine, the town where he was born and raised, and where he’s always felt at home. Until now. When a man is found dead – murdered – after getting into a public dispute with Rees, Rees starts to realize someone is intentionally trying to pin the murder on him. Then, his farm is attacked, his wife is accused of witchcraft, and a second body is found that points to the Rees family. Rees can feel the town of Dugard turning against him, and he knows that he and his family won’t be safe there unless he can find the murderer and reveal the truth…before the murderer gets to him first.

There’s a special place in my reading heart for historical mysteries and I especially like the 17th and 18th centuries in America so this book was sort of calling my name. Happily, I was not the least bit disappointed.

Rees and his family don’t have an easy life on the farm and relations with his sister and his son are very strained but they’re basically content and Will is happy to be back home in Dugard. The politics of the time cause arguments among the townspeople and Will is frequently right in the midst of the fracas but he’s not really prepared for the physical fight he has with an old friend, Mac McIntyre. When another man, Zadoc Ward, is murdered, Constable Caldwell invites Will to come along to see the body.  It’s during his investigation with Caldwell that Will becomes aware of a certain animosity in the community towards him, much stronger than he had thought, but this murder is only the beginning of the attacks on the Rees family.

Ms. Kuhns has a real grasp on this time period and the nuances of the lives of people who experienced the Revolution and its aftermath. Her research is obviously extensive but it doesn’t stilt her writing at all and I could really envision the setting, the times and the people. Not everyone can write historical fiction well but this author certainly does and now I need to reward myself with the previous books in this series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

Book Review: Sweet Tea Tuesdays by Ashley Farley

Sweet Tea Tuesdays
Ashley Farley
Leisure Time Books, May 2917
Ebook
Leisure Time Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-946229-37-3
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Three best friends met every Tuesday for twenty-six years. And then they stopped.

When new next-door neighbors Georgia, Midge, and Lula first assembled on Georgia’s porch in Charleston for sweet tea, they couldn’t have known their gathering was the beginning of a treasured tradition. For twenty-six years they have met on Tuesdays at four o’clock, watching the seasons change and their children grow up, supporting each other in good times and in bad. With their ambitions as different as their personalities, these best friends anticipate many more years of tea time. And then, one Tuesday, Georgia shares news that brings their long-standing social hour to an abrupt halt. And that’s only the beginning as unraveling secrets threaten to alter their friendship forever.

Picture yourself and a couple of neighbors enjoying a glass of sweet tea on the front porch once a week, spending a little time catching up on each other’s doings and the latest tales about the kids and the men in your lives. Some weeks, you’ll watch the sun set; others, you’ll just savor the warm afternoon and coastal breezes. There are tears sometimes, a lot of laughs, perhaps the occasional spat, and the tea just might become a glass of wine. Most importantly, this is tradition and the essence of friendship, the very reason front porches were created.

Lula, Midge and Georgia are such normal women and so nice (for the most part) but not too much so. I would welcome them all into my life if I could do so and, after reading about the years on that porch, I feel as though I know them as well as my own best friends, alas both now departed. These are seasoned women who have seen and experienced much in their lifetimes and therefore they are compellingly interesting. When life deals Lula what she sees as a bad hand, the effect is nearly catastrophic and heartache is inevitable while continuing to care about her becomes really difficult. Many of us have been faced with problems similar to that which nearly brings the three friends to an apparent impasse; would we react the same or differently?

With each book Ashley Farley writes, she just gets better and better and she has become one of my favorite contemporary Southern fiction authors. Sweet Tea Tuesdays is a summer afternoon’s paean to friendships and family and the ordinary lives of women and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Georgia, Lula and Midge.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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About the Author

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

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

Ashley is a wife and mother of two young adult children. While she’s lived in Richmond, Virginia for the past 21 years, part of her heart remains in the salty marshes of the South Carolina Lowcountry where she grew up. Through the eyes of her characters, she’s able to experience the moss-draped trees, delectable cuisine, and kind-hearted folks with lazy drawls that make the area so unique.

Catch up with Ashley

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Monday, June 5th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach

Tuesday, June 6th: Kritters Ramblings

Wednesday, June 7th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, June 8th: Reading is My Super Power

Friday, June 9th: Bibliotica

Monday, June 12th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Monday, June 12th: Jathan & Heather

Tuesday, June 13th: Tina Says…

Thursday, June 15th: From the TBR Pile

Friday, June 16th: View from the Birdhouse

Monday, June 19th: Based on a True Story

Tuesday, June 20th: StephTheBookworm

Wednesday, June 21st: Buried Under Books

Thursday, June 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life

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Book Review: One S’More Summer by Beth Merlin

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Title: One S’more Summer
Series: The Campfire Series #1

Author: Beth Merlin
Publisher: Ink Monster LLC
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

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Coming June 27th

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One S’more Summer
The Campfire Series #1
Beth Merlin
Ink Monster LLC, May 2017
ISBN 9781943858200
Ebook

From the publisher—

For twenty long years, Gigi Goldstein has been pining away for her best friend’s guy. She knows it’s wrong and it has to stop, but she hasn’t been able to let go ever since they all met on the bus to summer camp back when they were 7 years old. The same week that her best friends finally announce their wedding date, Gigi loses her high-profile design job. With all of her dreams unravelling, she runs to the last place she remembers being happy.

Taking the Head Counselor position at Camp Chinooka, Gigi hopes to reclaim the joy she felt as a camper, but the job isn’t all campfire songs and toasting marshmallows. Gigi’s girls are determined to make her look bad in front of the boys’ Head Counselor—the sexy but infuriating Perry—and every scrap of the campground is laced with memories.

When Gigi finally realizes she can’t escape the present by returning to her past, she’s forced to reexamine her life and find the true meaning of love. But will she be able to mend fences and forgive herself before she loses her one real shot at happiness?

I admit it, my head was turned by a book cover. When I saw this, I couldn’t help flashing back to all the years my family went tent camping, not to mention my Girl Scout years and all the summers I went to one camp or another. I didn’t need any other incentive to read this.

(I also have a strange compulsion to watch movies set at camps.  Hmm….)

Gigi’s first day as head counselor really brought back memories of the camp I went to as a thirteen-year-old except for one thing: Gigi makes it sound like getting rid of head counselors was every campers dream, every year. I never experienced anything like that; rather, all the hostilities and machinations were directed at other campers. Oh, well, this is chick-lit at it’s core so I just ignored the things that didn’t really matter to the central story.

Gigi is frustrated with her life and that made her a little frustrating to me because she is a bit of a whiner but I totally understood her. When you get right down to it, Gigi is running away and hopes to find solace in the place that was the beginning of her friendships with two very important people. Jordana and Jamie are memorable characters (in a good way) but the developing relationship between Gigi and Perry is what it’s all about and Perry is a delight. It was fun to see these two work their way through their pasts so they can maybe find the future.

I love the way Beth Merlin never quite tells it all so I kept wondering when I would find out more. That’s a great way to hold my attention and adds a touch of chick-lit style suspense. You could almost call this a mystery. Nah, not really, but…. I also appreciated that romance is certainly present but it isn’t the be-all end-all. Instead, Gigi coming to terms with herself and her life is what’s really important. Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a lot.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

About the Author

Beth Merlin has a BA from The George Washington University where she minored in Creative Writing and a JD from New York Law School. She’s a native New Yorker who loves anything Broadway, rom-coms, her daughter Hadley, and a good maxi dress. She was introduced to her husband through a friend she met at sleepaway camp and considers the eight summers she spent there to be some of the most formative of her life. One S’more Summer is Beth’s debut novel.

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Book Reviews: Hearts & Other Body Parts by Ira Bloom and P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Hearts & Other Body Parts
Ira Bloom
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-03073-0
Hardcover

Fast-paced and fabulously fun, Hearts & Other Body Parts is a freaky fusion of folklore that completely rocks my socks.  Fantasy, science-fiction and a bit of magic combine to capture, then carry you along the remarkable ride.  With the emphasis on “science”, some of this fiction feels frighteningly plausible.

The three sisters that center the story are quintessential siblings in the best ways possible.  Unique enough for interesting exchanges, their common ground allows them to create a formidable front when needed.  Norman, the new kid (whose full name is spectacularly perfect) is a gentle giant—in the most literal sense—but, his size is the least shocking attribute of his appearance.

Generally, students in small town schools divide into two groups when a new kid arrives: instant fans seeking something different or rowdy ruffians refusing change.  Not so when Norman enters the picture.  All eyes focus on him, the same expression on every face.  Mouths hang open in wonder, revulsion and fear.  When Esme joins Norman at the lunch table on his first day, he knew things would be different here; but even his peculiar past could not have prepared him for what was coming.

Zack erases Norman’s new-kid status and creates a fandom in the student body.  Girls surround Zack like fog, floating on his every word. Intelligent as well as wise, Norman is not captivated by Zack’s charms; instead he is suspicious.  Reports of missing girls convince Norman that Esme and her sisters, who have absolutely abandoned him to hover around Zack, are in imminent danger.  Norman can’t face Zack alone, but the bullies that once taunted him may not be much back-up…..even with the reluctant aid of a demon cat.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2017.

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P.S. I Like You
Kasie West
Point, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85097-1
Hardcover

This is such a sweet story—not so your teeth hurt–it’s perfectly sweet.  First and foremost:  I love the Abbott family.  I want to dive into their home and be submersed in the fresh, awesome, oddness.  Each quirky, yet quintessential, sibling provides poignant texture, interacting individually and collectively with Lily.  Her competition-loving, compassionate parents are perfectly embarrassing and absolutely adorable.  Also, there is a rescued “pet” rabbit.

I adore Lily.  She’s who I wanted to be as a teenager.  Her most awkward teen-aged moment is exponentially cooler than any of mine.  It is effortless to relate to, empathize with and understand her.  She is “learning lessons” that I learned, but sometimes forget.  The reminders are welcome and appreciated.

There is also the something-different-that-I-totally-dig-aspect:  putting a pencil to your desktop, jotting a note or song lyric to maintain sanity and/or a state of semi-awareness during class, only to be stunned when another student responds in kind.  I remember trading notes via the top of my desk with an anonymous person in my 8th grade Literature class (sorry, Mr. Leach).  So, no surprise, I’m stupidly delighted and charmed to find a book basing a pretty groovy relationship on such a simple start.  Particularly impressive, Ms. West presents a spot-on, classic-yet-credible, way of communicating without feeling the need to mute or explain away today’s textmania.

This was a one-sitting-read that I really enjoyed.  The mini-mystery to determine who Lily’s pen pal is warranted a close look and careful consideration of the characters.  Although cute and quick, this isn’t the cotton candy of reading—there is a Mean Girl and her role is not gratuitous and the importance of being a good friend cannot be overstated.  My copy is going to my 13-year-old niece and I’m sure I’ll donate another copy to my Middle Grader’s classroom library.  I really like this book for the Middle-Grade reader looking for a love story.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

Book Review: Best Friends for Never by Adrienne Maria Vrettos

best-friends-for-neverBest Friends for Never
Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-56149-5
Hardcover

YA readers will recognize the cast of charismatic characters who roam the middle school halls and the neighborhoods of small town Trepan Grove. Hattie moves to the town from Brooklyn, New York during the summer and becomes friends with a group of girls with whom she’s trying desperately to fit in. If that means repressing her love of reading fantasy and wearing cute cat T-shirts, it’s totally worth it. Almost totally. She misses her best friend in Brooklyn and their nerdy common interests.

After witnessing a classmate endure a public, humiliating defriending in the school cafeteria one day, Hattie wonders if her tenuous, new friendships are safe. She devises a loyalty pact designed to assure that the friends will never mistreat each other. The four girls sign.

Then, Hattie unwittingly breaks the pact. Consequences are immediate, and the next months become a nightmare journey down a rabbit hole, as she seeks a way to correct her mistake and regain her friendships. And, as does Alice in Wonderland, Hattie runs into obstacles that seem unbeatable and finds help from improbable sources.

This reviewer is on the far downside of being a YA reader, but I was enchanted by this story. I’d like to visit the little New England town of Trepan Grove, meet Hattie’s group of “middle popular” girls, and see the attic repository of the town’s historical society books and documents. I’m not too much of an old dog to appreciate being reminded of the lesson Hattie learned, either.

The author’s delve into a bit of fantasy is a clever way to obviate her message without preaching. The inviting, realistic characters and relationships will have kids appreciating their own positions in their various micro societies. An intriguing plot and appealing ending will have them recommending the book to their own friends and classmates.

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

Book Review: Unlocked by Margo Kelly

Unlocked Tour Banner

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Title: Unlocked
Author: Margo Kelly
Publisher: Merit Press

Publication Date: October 1, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

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unlockedUnlocked
Margo Kelly
Merit Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-4405-9359-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

A provocative thriller involving hypnosis, mystery, love, and friendship!

Someone has been moving the stuffed pink elephant in Hannah’s room. She thinks. And ants crawl over her hands, across the steering wheel, all the time. Don’t they? They’re what made her crash the car on the way home from the fair, and she wouldn’t have freaked out, wouldn’t have caused her friend’s death, for no reason. But she doesn’t know if a person is messing with her, if the paranormal is messing with her–or if she’s just going psychotic like her dad before her.

When her friends bail, Hannah is left floundering. Not even her boyfriend Manny believes her, and new girl Chelsea is practically replacing her at school. Only artsy outsider and self-proclaimed occult expert, Plug, agrees to help Hannah find out the truth about hypnosis and demons, and even he can’t help Hannah reclaim her mind from whatever’s taking over. She’ll have to do that herself if she wants to save her friends, her mom and herself.

Some reviews are more difficult to write than others for a variety of reasons. In this case, I was affected by the premise of Hannah’s story.

I’m not speaking from personal experience, thank heavens, but I think it must be so very hard to believe you’re losing your mind, especially when you’ve sen it in your family, giving the possibility a lot of credence. Imagine, then, how much worse it must be when Hannah has to cope with the fact that she has killed a friend when in the grip of one of these episodes.

Knowing that there might be other explanations for what’s happening to her isn’t exactly comforting and the way her classmates distance themselves from her doesn’t help. It seems there are very few people in Hannah’s court but she at least has Plug, a guy who’s far more reliable and caring than she could have expected. With his help, Hannah will soon find that the demons are far worse than she feared but that she has an inner strength that just might save her.

Hannah is a girl I can like, very vulnerable but resilient, but it’s her new friends who really captured me. Plug, Nick and Kyla are refreshing and loyal and, above all, they have faith in Hannah.

Although Ms. Kelly has done a fine job with an emotionally wrenching topic, I do have to say I wasn’t crazy about the structure of the book, specifically the very lengthy chapters. I prefer being able to come to a natural stop more often (I hate putting a book down in the middle of a chapter) and that’s especially true with such an intense story; I need a break sometimes. Still, Ms. Kelly has caught my attention with Unlocked and I’m looking forward to seeing more from her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

About the Author

margo-kellyMargo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran public speaker, Margo is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Her critically acclaimed debut, Who R U Really?, was published by Merit Press (an imprint of F+W Media) in 2014. Her second novel, Unlocked, will be published by Merit Press in October 2016. Margo welcomes opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs.

Margo Kelly loves to be scared … when she’s reading a good book, watching a good movie, or suffering from the hiccups. She loves writing thrillers for young adults and hopes her stories give you the goose bumps or the itchies or the desire to rethink everyday things. Margo is represented by the not-so-scary, but totally awesome, Brianne Johnson of Writers House.

Author Links:

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