Book Review: The Tribulations of August Barton by Jennifer LeBlanc

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Book Review: Ray vs The Meaning of Life by Michael F. Stewart

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Title: Ray vs The Meaning of Life
Author: Michael F. Stewart
Publication Date: May 15, 2018
Genre: General Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Amazon // Indiebound

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Ray vs The Meaning of Life
Michael F. Stewart
The Publishing House, May 2018
ISBN
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Grandma’s Last Will and Testament names Ray to inherit the trailer park. It’s a million-dollar estate with one hitch: to prove he’s not as aimless as he seems, Ray must discover the meaning of life by the end of the month. (She left the answer in an envelope.) If he fails, the camp goes to his estranged family.

How does anyone find the meaning of life while running a park full of misfit miners, would-be truck racers, and one demanding little girl? There’s a bear too. A grizzly. Maybe that’ll help?

TIMELY CRYOGENICS—DON’T MISS A BEAT. NOW ON ANDROID!

Barely into the second chapter, I knew I was in for a real treat and that I was going to love spending time with Ray and his trailer camp neighbors…and, well, Grandma, even if she is dead in very unfortunate circumstances. Grandma may have bitten the dust, so to speak, but she ain’t done yet, not by a long shot. Her frozen brain is plugged in and stuffed into a 12-foot fiberglass replica of herself in younger days and she has plans for her future.

Ray knew his mom and his sister, Crystal, could very well do without him but he—and they—certainly didn’t expect what Grandma had done in her will. Mom had been looking forward to a million dollar inheritance but Grandma went and left the camp to Ray IF he can pull off a miracle in one short month. Of course, nobody thinks he can do it.

And the clock starts counting down.

Even the sourtempered and greedy mom is a character to remember and Grandma is a total hoot; thrown into a hilarious and charming tale, every player has an important part to play. I have to say this is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while and I adore how Mr. Stewart has “the meaning of life” as the Holy Grail in the story, a focus adult readers will enjoy every bit as much as young adults and might even learn a thing or two. With all the humor, Ray and everyone else have to contemplate all kinds of serious topics, like grief and love and the pitfalls and pleasures of growing up. In the end, Ray vs The Meaning of Life is all about finding ourselves and making the changes in our lives that will bring us to a place of personal peace and it’s going right on my list of best books read in 2018.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

About the Author

Michael F. Stewart embraces all forms of storytelling. In 2009, he created Bully For You for Scholastic Canada, a fully functioning social media platform with an embedded interactive story. He’s written graphic novels for Rubicon Publishing’s Boldprint series, illustrated early readers and novellas for Pearson (coming in 2019!), non fiction texts on Corruption and Children’s Rights; he even tried to convince the world that we needed a location based storytelling app with augmented reality (NARR8R)-we still do! He’s written adult horror, sci-fi, urban fantasy, and adventure. He’s even written books you’ll never find. But nothing is ever wasted. His most recent book, Counting Wolves, a contemporary YA, was named to Kirkus Reviews “Best Books of 2017” list. The Boy Who Swallows Flies (2018) won Killer Nashville’s Claymore Award, and the Assured Destruction Series won The Creation of Stories: Best YA Award at the Toronto International Book Fair. In 2016, Michael was selected to join the CFC/Entertainment One TV Adaptation Lab. Herder of four daughters, Michael lives to write in Ottawa where he was the Ottawa Public Library’s Writer in Residence and runs free writing workshops. To learn more about Michael and his next projects visit his website at www.michaelfstewart.com or connect via Twitter @MichaelFStewart.

Author links:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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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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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks 
Amazon // Indiebound

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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 Review: Louisiana Catch by Sewta Srivastava Vikram

Louisiana Catch
Sweta Srivastava Vikram
Modern History Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-61599-342-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:

A grieving daughter and abuse survivor must summon the courage to run a feminist conference, trust a man she meets over the Internet, and escape a catfishing stalker to find her power.

Ahana, a wealthy thirty-three-year-old New Delhi woman, flees the pain of her mother’s death, and her dark past, by accepting a huge project in New Orleans, where she’ll coordinate an annual conference to raise awareness of violence against women. Her half-Indian, half-Irish colleague and public relations guru, Rohan Brady, who helps Ahana develop her online presence, offends her prim sensibilities with his raunchy humor. She is convinced that he’s a womanizer.

Meanwhile, she seeks relief from her pain in an online support group, where she makes a good friend: the mercurial Jay Dubois, who is also grieving the loss of his mother. Louisiana Catch is an emotionally immersive novel about identity, shame, and who we project ourselves to be in the world. It’s a book about Ahana’s unreliable instincts and her ongoing battle to determine whom to place her trust in as she, Rohan, and Jay shed layers of their identities.

 

This book is a thoughtful contribution to the examination of a couple of societal issues, one as old as time, domestic violence, and one quite recent, online deception. Savage men have used the women in their lives as punching bags throughout history. These women have been coerced to remain in a vicious and often fatal environment by economic and societal factors, leading lives of abject misery and raising children who believe brutality at home is the way everyone lives, thereby perpetuating the cycle of fear and hurt into the next generations.

Internet friendship, on the other hand, is something our grandmothers never had to cope with. Social interactions were generally limited to individuals known by family and friends so misrepresentation by anyone was unlikely. As countless people have learned the hard way during the past 20 years, it is possible, if not downright simple, to create a credible fictional persona on the Internet that stands up to superficial investigation. Ahana’s naivete about both of the men she meets on the Internet is not new.

This book offers a view into daily Indian life and customs that helps foreigners like me understand the country and its people a bit more. The book’s action is spread across New Delhi and New York and New Orleans, three lively but quite different cities. All of the characters, from the protagonist to the bit players, of which there are many, felt authentic and none of them seemed to blend into each other. The ending is predictable but I enjoyed watching Ahana find her sense of self and a new direction for her life.

Prospective readers need to know that sexual abuse is described in a matter-of-fact but graphic manner. Some sections may be difficult to read.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, March 2018.

 

About the Author:

Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is an award-winning author of eleven books, five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, mindfulness writing coach, wellness columnist, global speaker, and certified yoga and Ayurveda holistic health counselor. Sweta’s work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Louisiana Catch (Modern History Press) is her debut US novel. Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. A graduate of Columbia University, she also teaches the power of yoga, Ayurveda, and mindful living to female trauma survivors, writers and artists, busy women, entrepreneurs, and business professionals in her avatar as the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife (www.nimmilife.com). She also uses her holistic wellness training to combine creative writing strategies with Ayurveda and yoga to help poets and writers improve their writing. She lives in Queens, New York, with her husband, Anudit.

Book Reviews: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

Love, Hate and Other Filters
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-847-3
Hardcover

First and foremost, this book is exquisitely authored. Beautiful, not in a flowery, colorful sort of way; but rather in a raw, natural, simple-yet-stunning kind of way. And so, a snap-shot of Maya’s senior year: dating, spring break, planning for college…as an Indian Muslim American…would be wholly satisfying, entirely engaging and enlightening. But it would only scratch the surface. With a wide lens, Ms. Ahmed provides perspective; contrived categories soften into truer compilations.

To most of Maya’s peers, her parents are almost unreasonably strict. Maya may secretly agree, but at least they “aren’t exactly the fire-and-brimstone types”.  Aware of her family’s (limited) leniencies, Maya is surprised when Kareem, a desi Muslim, has a glass of wine. But, as he points out, “…it’s not like I eat pork.” More importantly, he is not a white American boy. Like Philip.

And so, the scene is set.

But, a somber tone seeps through. Snippets of seething anger and frustration simmer to a frenzied, desperate desire for revenge. Building tension becomes tangible. An explosion is imminent.

The inundation of information immediately following a blow-up is, unfortunately, often inaccurate and incomplete. Even more egregious, these initial errors are what people tend to remember. By the time facts have been collected and the whole, true story can be told; no one is there to listen. Life goes on, public perception remains unchanged.

Except for the person presumed guilty. And his family. Or everyone with his last name.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is the rest of the story and it is relatable and relevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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One Silver Summer
Rachel Hickman
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80892-7
Hardcover

Despite knowing full well that I was reading-for-review, I became so caught up in the very love story that little-girl-me always dreamed of, that I devoured this book like a starved Cookie Monster demolishes cookies.  Even at this frantic pace, I was aware of the ‘something more’ to the story—hints were subtle, yet almost undeniable—perhaps somewhat subliminal.

One Silver Summer is more than the whole-hearted-head-over-heels love story of a shattered girl and a stunning, spirited mare.  There are mysteries to be solved: what horrific happening has sent Sass across the pond to live with the uncle she only just learned of?  Maybe that’s moot.  Perhaps this was her path all along—the past has a tendency to come back, after all.

The guarded groomsman, Alexander, is a bit of a mystery himself.  To Sass, his mannerisms don’t seem to fit his position, although understanding hierarchy is not her forte—no need for that in New York City.  His moods shifts are also perplexing.  Sometimes he seems relaxed and happy with company, while other times he’s oddly secretive and suspicious.

Sass and the silver horse are certainly central, but Alexander, his quite proper British grandmother, and affable artist, Uncle David, take the tome to another level.  A love story in the broadest sense: fondness developing among family members just getting familiar; the unconditional, admiring adoration between grandparent and grandchild; forbidden love, lost in a flash (but with a lingering fondness); and love formed from empathy and nostalgia.

Also, this is a story of learning to separate who you are from a persona based solely on other people’s perceptions.  A reminder of the need to be flexible, reflective and always open-minded.  An understanding that even adults must continue to grow, to adapt—not to survive, but to thrive.  A narrative of hope and heartbreak that is fantastically fabulous.  Immediately after reading the very last words, Acknowledgements and About the Author; I turned to the first page and read the entire book again.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

About The Keeper of Lost Things

• Paperback: 288 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 28, 2017)

A charming, clever, and quietly moving debut novel of of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that explores the promises we make and break, losing and finding ourselves, the objects that hold magic and meaning for our lives, and the surprising connections that bind us.

Lime green plastic flower-shaped hair bobbles—Found, on the playing field, Derrywood Park, 2nd September.

Bone china cup and saucer—

Found, on a bench in Riveria Public Gardens, 31st October.

Anthony Peardew is the keeper of lost things. Forty years ago, he carelessly lost a keepsake from his beloved fiancée, Therese. That very same day, she died unexpectedly. Brokenhearted, Anthony sought consolation in rescuing lost objects—the things others have dropped, misplaced, or accidently left behind—and writing stories about them. Now, in the twilight of his life, Anthony worries that he has not fully discharged his duty to reconcile all the lost things with their owners. As the end nears, he bequeaths his secret life’s mission to his unsuspecting assistant, Laura, leaving her his house and and all its lost treasures, including an irritable ghost.

Recovering from a bad divorce, Laura, in some ways, is one of Anthony’s lost things. But when the lonely woman moves into his mansion, her life begins to change. She finds a new friend in the neighbor’s quirky daughter, Sunshine, and a welcome distraction in Freddy, the rugged gardener. As the dark cloud engulfing her lifts, Laura, accompanied by her new companions, sets out to realize Anthony’s last wish: reuniting his cherished lost objects with their owners.

Long ago, Eunice found a trinket on the London pavement and kept it through the years. Now, with her own end drawing near, she has lost something precious—a tragic twist of fate that forces her to break a promise she once made.

As the Keeper of Lost Objects, Laura holds the key to Anthony and Eunice’s redemption. But can she unlock the past and make the connections that will lay their spirits to rest?

Full of character, wit, and wisdom, The Keeper of Lost Things is heartwarming tale that will enchant fans of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Garden Spells, Mrs Queen Takes the Train, and The Silver Linings Playbook.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Ruth Hogan

Ruth Hogan describes herself as a “rapacious reader, writer, and incorrigible magpie” whose own love of small treasures and curiosities and the people around her inspired her first novel. She lives north of London.

Find out more about Ruth at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

My Review

Because of a handful of life events, I’ve spent the last few years slowly divesting myself of stuff and, in all this time, it hasn’t gotten any easier. Sure, some of it hits the trashcan and some goes to Goodwill but there are all those other things that may not look all that important but they mean something to me and it’s always an emotional connection to my past, my family, my friends, my long-gone pets…

The idea that someone would make it his life’s purpose to rescue such things that have been lost struck me as just wonderful and I was not disappointed in reading The Keeper of Lost Things. Isn’t it comforting to think the treasure you lost might one day find its way into the hands of someone who cares? Then, take it a step further. When Laura inherits Anthony’s home, she discovers that his last wish was that she try to get these precious belongings back to their owners. Thus begins Laura’s quest.

This is not an exciting story—it doesn’t leave you breathless with suspense or unable to sleep without reading the next page and the next—but it tugs at those old heartstrings in a way that might bring an occasional tear and also makes you feel hopeful about the characters’ futures as well as life itself.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.

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Book Review: Just Another Girl by Elizabeth Eulberg

Just Another Girl
Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-95628-4
Hardcover

A Rube Goldberg machine is a contraption that is deliberately over-engineered so that it performs a basic function in a completely unnecessarily convoluted, chain-reaction, kind of way.  Not unlike typical teenage girls making relationships exponentially more difficult by playing games and employing tricks instead of just kicking off a clever conversation.  Differing from teenage dating, however; there are actual Rube Goldberg competitions.  In Just Another Girl, Hope and Brady are part of their high school team that will be designing and building an entry for an upcoming contest.

Hope’s crush on Brady and her subsequent disdain of his girlfriend, Parker, form a familiar pseudo-love-triangle when viewed from Hope’s vantage.  I admit—for a moment this gave me pause.  I do love settling down with a classic chronicle; but, having read and revered Ms. Eulberg’s writing, it was unexpected.  I do love surprises, so I was quite pleased to sit back and see where it would lead.

Turns out, with her fabulously foreboding foreshadowing, the reader doesn’t need to be familiar with Ms. Eulberg’s work to feel something sinister and substantial slithering underneath.  Perspectives change when Parker picks up the narration.  In spite of her valiant effort to maintain a typical teen image, a closer look reveals her ruse.

Facets of Parker’s life unfold with all the feels.  Soul-shredding snippets, such as Parker’s money-saving system, serve as subtle reminders of the ripple effect.  One horrific act has many consequences.  The broadening view casts Parker in a new light and tosses some shade Hope’s way.  For me, it was impossible to feel sympathy, support and admiration for Parker without feeling a bit of frustration with Hope.

Ms. Eulberg highlights a significant subject in an affable, empathetic way.  Relatable characters have flaws, make mistakes and even behave quite selfishly at times—just like in real life.  Mirroring so many of the teens I’m fortunate enough to know; these adolescents have huge hearts, big ideas and the desire and determination to better themselves and help others along the way—-once they are able to focus on other people over themselves.   I adore this delightful book about an unimaginably dismal situation.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2017.