Book Review: Cheesus Was Here by J.C. Davis

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Title: Cheesus Was Here
Author: J.C. Davis
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult

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Cheesus Was Here
J.C. Davis
Sky Pony Press, April 2017
ISBN
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sixteen-year-old Delaney Delgado knows miracles aren’t real—if they were, her kid sister wouldn’t be dead. So when the image of baby Jesus appears on a Babybel cheese wheel, she’s not buying the idea that God’s got a dairy obsession. Soon, religious signs begin turning up all over Del’s hometown, tiny Clemency, Texas. Overnight, news vans fill the streets and religious pilgrims start searching for God in the discount aisle of the grocery store.

Hell-bent on proving the so-called miracles are fake, Del convinces her best friend, Gabe, to help her find the truth. While Gabe’s willing to play detective, as a preacher’s son he’s more interested in finding evidence that supports the miracles. But when the whole town becomes caught up in religious fervor and even the late-night talk show hosts have stopped laughing and started to believe, finding the truth might cause more trouble than Del can handle. This novel is neither pro nor anti-religion, and will appeal to fans of contemporary YA novels that explore deep themes with an element of humor. The voice and characters are funny, strong, and full of heart.

I enjoy irreverent takes on religious themes, always have, and one of my all-time favorite books falls into this category. When such a book comes along, I’m always initially interested but I do my due diligence before I take it on because some of these can be mean-spirited. For me, the irreverence has to take place amidst a true honoring of the religion in question, a real reverence, if you will.

Cheesus Was Here, on the surface, sounds, well, cheesy but it isn’t, not at all. Yes, the image is on a Babybel but, hey, these images show up on pizza, bread, a Walmart receipt, everywhere you can think of so why not cheese?

Delaney Delgado lives in a tiny Texas town where religion plays an enormous role but she’s pretty much given up on God after having lost her sister to cancer and the rest of her family to a general falling apart. When a co-worker discovers what he sees as the Baby Jesus on a piece of cheese, Del sees a strangelooking heart, maybe a lopsided baby but Baby Jesus? Uh-uh, but little does she know that life in Clemency has just taken a very wide detour in the road.

The mania engendered by such sightings soon envelops Clemency and everyone in it and, finally, Del can’t stand it any longer. Determined to prove this is no miracle, she enlists the help of her friend, Gabe, to investigate this phenomenon. Trouble is, Gabe isn’t so sure it’s a hoax; after all, he’s a preacher’s son.

At its heart, Cheesus Was Here is really the story of a girl coming to terms with the bad things that have happened in her family and her emotional growth along the way. Faith battles with grief and Del, with all her snarkiness, her wall against life in general, learns that love and the healing a tiny town can offer, especially through her best friend, can make all the difference in the world. This is a heartwarming tale that all but the most cynical can enjoy.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

About the Author

A programmer by day, I write YA fiction, the occasional short story and have far too many hobbies to keep up with. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband, two kids and a pair of hedgehogs with nerdy names.

 

             

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Book Reviews: Rescued by Eliot Schrefer and The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

rescuedRescued
Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-65503-3
Hardcover

Every child wants a pet at some time or another.  A dog, kitten, pony or orangutan.  Maybe orangutan isn’t typical, but if you grew up watching BJ and the Bear or Every Which Way But Loose, you may see the simian sway.  Whatever the animal, it is almost always up to parents to make the decision.  Children don’t always know what is best.

When John casually notes the potential appeal of ape ownership while watching an old movie, he was not actually asking for a pet.  His dad could dig the draw when he recognized the leading “man” as an orangutan because sometimes the adorable orange creatures would wander around his company’s plant in Indonesia.

In fact, he returned from a business trip bearing a baby-orangutan-in-a-barrel.  John was beside himself with wonder and joy.  His mother was also struck with wonder; but hers was the “in doubt” version, much different than the “filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel” version that burst from her son. John’s wonder won and Raja became the newest member of the family for four rambunctious years.  Until divorce divided them.

The two year separation of John and Raja was torture; for both boy and beast; but paled in comparison to their last days together leading up to their final farewell.   This relationship is written so well, it is as if I actually witnessed it.  The fondness, understanding, patience, support and tolerance between the “brothers” is palpable.  The range of emotions that rocket through John as he blindly battles the hardest decision of his entire life build the ultimate reader’s rollercoaster and recalling that this is a sixteen-year-old-boy, ties a knot and truly tugs the heart-strings.

I thoroughly enjoyed each and every bit of this tiny tome and would be remiss if I did not highly recommend Rescued to those searching for reads.  While the book may  technically tip into the Middle-Grade category (for the 12-year-old and older readers), I have no doubt that there are many Teen-Aged, Young-Adult and Not-So-Young-Adult readers that will love Raja’s story as intensely as I do, and I’m confident that I’m not the only reader to learn a lot from it.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.

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The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death
Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-66834-7
Hardcover

The Game of Love and Death is positively packed with particulars to ponder.  Love is a man, Death a woman. Each chooses a competitor, a term I use loosely; the chosen do not actually compete.  Most people are unaware of the Game, even while participating.  Virtually no rules, a victor is declared; but the win seems superfluous.

Flora, an amazing aviation mechanic, is also a phenomenal pilot, possibly rivaling Amelia Earhart.  It is 1937 and she “has the brown skin, and here in America, (you) pay so very much heed to that.” Besides, she can trick herself into believing that she was meant for something else.  The death of her parents created a void she valiantly tried to fill with the jazz nightclub she inherited.  Flora chose work over a high school diploma, believing “…the club was her future and most white folk were hell-bent on keeping colored folk in their place, even if they were polite about it.”

Henry hasn’t had it easy, but he is a white male.  His dream is simple: eke out a living with his beloved bass.  Instead, he works for the newspaper of his almost-adopted family, often accompanying Ethan on interviews.  When Henry sees Flora working on a plane, it is as if he had been sleep-walking through life and is just now completely awake.

The harrowing story of Flora and Henry in the The Game of Love and Death is enriched by the secondary characters.  Ethan isn’t the golden boy he seems, and his secret struggles would tarnish his image if revealed; although there is nothing to be ashamed of.  Simple spoken statements throughout, “there hasn’t been a white newspaper that’s written about the likes of us unless some sort of arrest was involved,” reiterate bigoted opinions; making the book more than just entertaining to thought-provoking, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.

Book Review: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

two-summersTwo Summers
Aimee Friedman
Point, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-51807-9
Hardcover

Fifteen-year-old Summer Everett is set to fly off to the south of France for a visit with her artist father and a chance to see his painting, Fille. Her father’s painting of his daughter as a young girl hangs in a museum there, and Summer has never seen it in person. Summer’s divorced mother discouraged the visit from the beginning, and Summer waits at the boarding gate with a heavy heart because of the terrible quarrel with her mother just before her best friend picked her up to drive her to the airport.

Just as she’s about to hand over her boarding pass and walk onto the plane, Summer’s cell phone rings. It’s a number she doesn’t recognize. From that point, we are swept into the story of two possible summers. In one, she ignores the call and goes to France. In the other, she answers the call and stays home in Upstate New York. In both, she breaks from her normal life, learns about herself, and must process changes in her life that include her best friend breaking bonds and a devastating family secret.

We learn about these scenarios through Summer’s first person descriptions, actions, and thoughts. Sometimes her inner thoughts sound profound, more like mature reflection on her actions, and sometimes her thoughts are childish. Altogether, she’s split, like her summer, thus becoming realistic and worthy of our concern.

I couldn’t put the book aside for long without wondering what would happen. How would the two summers (Summers) fit together and become whole? This is an imaginative coming-of-age story, or two stories, that include beautiful descriptions of a picturesque French village in Provence, exciting New York City, and a tranquil small town in New York State. There’s as much here for an adult as there is for a teenager.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, October 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 Reviews: Nantucket Five-Spot by Steven Axelrod and Every Boat Turns South by J.P. White

nantucket-five-spotNantucket Five-Spot
A Henry Kennis Mystery #2
Steven Axelrod
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0342-8
Hardcover

Nantucket Island is the setting for this full speed ahead thriller and it stars. Axelrod is adept at inserting appropriate attractive descriptive language in his manuscript and the location of his stories about the adventures of poetry writing police chief Henry Kennis trying to maintain law and order on a restless, tourist-driven island off the Massachusetts coast.

His characters, and there are many, are weird, strange, excellent, upstanding, careful, bright, thoughtful and good-looking specimens. Some of them are patient, evil, criminal and inept. When this author feels the need to bump up the action, he just inserts a new character who may or may not have anything significant to do with the central. So there are small side plots dealing with immigration, smuggling, fighting in the Middle East and so on.

The Chief of Police, a central character in the novel, is beset on all sides by criminal elements and by law enforcement who are often portrayed as rigid and impatient. A possible terrorist bomb attack on a holiday concert by the Boston Pops Orchestra is the apparent target. Law enforcement agencies from every level descend on the poor police chief who must struggle against their incompetence, short-sightedness, and his personal romantic feelings about one of the federal agents.

Plots within counter-plots and world-wide maneuvering infest the pages of this novel. What saves it is the almost relentless action and there is plenty of that, however unlikely in a few places. There’s even an occasional funny bit.

If I was vacationing in a place like Nantucket and wanted some relaxing light-weight down time, this novel would definitely fill the bill.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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every-boat-turns-southEvery Boat Turns South
J.P.White
The Permanent Press, September 2009
ISBN 978-1-57962-188-9
Hardcover

For a great many people the incalcuable persistent rhythms of the seas that surround us, the tides, the fog, crashing surging waves, all serve to remind us of the vast unknown. Water has no permanent shape, it cannot drive a nail. It can form long-enduring shapes on the shores of our continents and drive islands into clusters we label archipelego but no island lasts forever. In the north, when winter comes and water in the ponds freezes into temporary hardness, something often urges us to look to warmer circumstances closer to the equator. We revel in the snow and crave the sun-baked climes of the tropical island.

There are a thousand stories of sailing voyages, likened to the human voyage of life and like life, those voyages are, in turn, filled with storm and peace, ecstasy and sorrow. Here is one such filled with rich images, turbulent emotions, sadness, joy and death. After years separated from his family, second son Matt returns to his home on a journey of expiation. The family torn apart by the death of the favored first-born, needs to heal, at least a little and Matt tries to make that happen. Of course he fails and in the process weaves a tale of life in the islands off our southern coast, replete with passion, drugs, storms, smuggling, love and mixed results. For the sailor there’s great and kindly detail, for the rest, the relentless drive of the author’s poetical structure and language carries us alongside Matt to an uncertain conclusion.

At times the exalted language and structure may bother some readers, just as other readers may find the quantity of technical detail confusing and off-putting. For those, I suggest trying to relax with the story, enjoy the scenery and the passion, but stay with Matt through his adventure in this fine poetical novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm

its-not-me-its-youIt’s Not Me, It’s You
Stephanie Kate Strohm
Point, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-95258-3
Hardcover

When Avery’s dumped mere days before the senior prom, that would be bad enough, but she’s prom committee chair and all the guys have dates. All the guys except the Nerd Squad who avoid things like prom in favor of an all night game rage. Included in that group is Hutch, her lab partner for all four years at their California prep school.

Determined to hold her head high and look successful on prom night, Avery turns her oral history assignment for English class into a psychological autopsy of her long and unsuccessful dating career. She hopes that by interviewing every one of her old boyfriends, she can learn why there were so many and what caused each breakup. Avery imagines this knowledge will somehow help her stay single and happy.

She enlists the help of Hutch and Coco Kim, her best friend, to accomplish this task. The list of exes is impressive, stretching back to fourth grade. The story is arranged in brief interview form, alternating between Avery, Hutch, Coco and whoever is the topic at the moment. Said topics include her arch nemesis Bizzy Stanhope, her parents, the principal, Ms. Sergerson, the teacher who gave her the assignment, the former boyfriends, random kids from school, a Vespa riding Italian boy, a TV star and even a pair of helicopter parents.

Avery must bulldoze (convince isn’t even on the table here), her teacher to let her forge ahead with this as a valid oral history project. After all, as she notes early on, history can be what happened five minutes ago. At first, the short paragraphs with rapidly changing viewpoints can be a bit disconcerting, but once you get into the flow and start being comfortable with the main characters’ personalities, it’s a mad and funny ride. There are times when you’re likely to cringe at Avery’s ‘blondness’ (after all more than a few exes bring up her long blonde hair as among their first impression of her) and a reader could get frustrated with what seems to be an aura of cluelessness and self-absorption, but Avery manages to dance back from that abyss at the right moment each time.

Halfway through the book, I realized where it was headed, but that made it all the more fun reading to see how Avery and the rest got there. It was particularly satisfying to read how she and the guy she was meant to be with saved the prom after it was sabotaged two days before it was to happen.

I’ve read and really enjoyed the author’s other books. She writes teen funny extremely well while keeping her characters sympathetic. Those are rare talents. This is a good book to offer young adults who like funny high school drama or a quirky love story.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, September 2016.

Book Review: Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

drums-girls-dangerous-pieDrums, Girls + Dangerous Pie
Jordan Sonnenblick
Scholastic, Inc., May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-72286-5
Trade Paperback

Inexplicably unique, Steven’s story sucked me in, seeped into my soul and stole my heart.  Mr. Sonnenblick aptly captures and conveys the perplexities of a 13-year-old boy—the obvious, an abundant use of “like” in his dialogue, but also the subtle, self-sacrificing inner voice rarely credited to teens.  This outwardly awkward adolescent is more than a pounding prodigy on a drum kit and all-around funny guy; he’s an older brother.

Even at a blush, he is kind, tolerant and indulgent with the feisty five-year-old boy who gleefully dismisses his elder sibling’s ‘rules’.  When said spunky boy slips from the kitchen stool and is rushed to the emergency room, Steven simply sighs, “So Jeffrey was getting me in trouble again, as usual.”  How could he know then, that the tumble terminated ‘as usual’?   Steven’s little brother has cancer.

A terrifyingly tough topic, tackled brilliantly.  Financial strain, even with good insurance and steady income; parents putting life on hold, sick siblings sent away for safety….but also….life goes on.  That struggle seems insurmountable yet it’s unavoidable.  A viscous diagnosis, grim parade of prodding and poking, a family flung in different directions would wreak havoc on anyone; the impact it has on a teen is unimaginable.

Was.

Was unimaginable. Not now.  Mr. Sonnenblick wrote this book in 12 short weeks.  It wasn’t planned, hadn’t stewed somewhere in his head for years.  It was impulsive and imperative.  While teaching 8th grade, he discovered that one of his students was going through something even more challenging than middle school.  Her younger sibling had cancer.  Needing to help and knowing that a good book could; he searched for just the right one to share; did not find it.  There was no choice.  He wrote it.  And it is everything. All of the best things, defiantly in spite of almost-the-worst-thing, Steven and Jeffrey’s should be shared.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2016.

Book Review: The French Impressionist by Rebecca Bischoff

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Title: The French Impressionist
Author: Rebecca Bischoff
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing

Publication Date: December 6, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

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the-french-impressionistThe French Impressionist
Rebecca Bischoff
Amberjack Publishing, December 2016
ISBN 978-1-944995-02-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Rosemary is fifteen and gloriously free, on her own for the very first time. Part of an exchange program for aspiring artists, she arrives in sunny southern France with a single goal: she doesn’t plan to leave, ever.  She wants a new life, a new family, and a new identity. But her situation, crafted from lies big and small, is precarious.

Desperate to escape haunting images from her past and a stage one helicopter parent, Rosemary struggles to hide her lack of artistic talent and a communication disorder that has tormented her all her life. She believes her dream of a new start will come true, until she unwittingly finds herself enveloped in a decades-old mystery that threatens to ruin her only chance for success.  Determined to stay, Rosemary must choose whether or not she’ll tell the biggest lie of all, even if it means destroying the life of someone she cares about.

Dramatic, heartwarming, and full of teenage angst, The French Impressionist perfectly captures the struggle of those who feel they have no voice, and also shows the courage it takes to speak up and show the world who we really are.

It’s an odd thing about this book…I liked it but I kind of didn’t so much but then I’d go back to liking it. I think it’s because, while I’m really sympathetic with Rosemary’s frustrations with her communication difficulties and a smothering parent, I also find her rather annoying, hard to like. I also couldn’t really believe a 15-year-old would be able to pull off a stunt like this and she’s such a messy mix of street smart and childish, having apparently no remorse about all her lies and the inevitable consequences.

Then again, I appreciated the author’s attention to Rosemary’s disability and how it affects her and the people around her. Ms. Bischoff clearly understands what this girl’s world is like and her writing style is fast-paced and appealing, making it easy for the reader to feel what Rosemary feels, to walk a mile in her shoes, as it were.

Ms. Bischoff also has a talent for evoking the best of the setting in Nice, the vivid beauty and the cultural ambience that makes me want to visit. Although I don’t care a whole lot for this young girl, I do think her emotional growth during the story and the reader’s comprehension of how difficult it is to cope with speech disorders make The French Impressionist worth reading.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

About the Author

rebecca-bischoffRebecca Bischoff currently resides in Idaho with her family and works as a speech-language pathologist. She loves helping others, especially kids and teenagers, discover their own unique voices and learn to share who they are with the world. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, spend time with her kids, and make awkward attempts to learn foreign languages.  She is drawn to all things both French and Italian, used bookstores, and anything made out of chocolate.

Author links:
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