Book Reviews: Colombiano by Rusty Young, Abby in Wonderland by Sarah Mlynowski and Otherwise Known As Possum by Maria D. Laso @SarahMlynowski @Scholastic

Colombiano
Rusty Young
Havelock & Baker, August 2017
ISBN–AU 9780143781547
Havelock & Baker, February 2020
ISBN–US 978-0648445319
Trade Paperback

You can’t truly know what someone else is going through without walking in his shoes. Unless Mr. Young writes about it. In Colombiano, those of us fortunate enough to be far removed from any war zone, see exactly what living amid battles entails; in day-to-day life, as well the overall impact it has on absolutely everything.

Certainly, most people know that the Guerilla evoke evil with their aggressive cocaine manufacturing and distribution. The gross misunderstanding is that the Guerilla are fighting the army and law enforcement; not citizens. Leading to the false conclusion that, if folks go about their business, there’s no real reason for this pesky fighting to bother them. The carefully controlled propaganda supports this theory. Even having the place of worship utterly obliterated by “errant” fire is only an unfortunate consequence.

Pedro has listened to placates until he thought his head may explode. Papi made sure he contained, or at least properly channeled, his rage. There was Camila to consider. Rounding out the small group of people close to Pedro is the somewhat goofy, undeniably adorable, Pallilo. Pedro can push his anger aside for them.

Right up until the Guerilla descended on his father’s farm. In front of his disbelieving eyes, Papi is surrounded as accusations are hurled. The feisty fifteen-year-old cannot watch the depraved tirade and hold his tongue. Boldly, stupidly, Pedro demands an explanation. His father’s crime was revealed with a hint of glee. The farmer had the audacity to allow soldiers from the army to drink water from his well.

The resulting punishment is a defining, dividing moment for Pedro. There are men like Papi. Those who believed, as people of God, it was never right to deny a thirsty man a drink. And there are monsters masquerading as men—the Guerilla.

The situation that Pedro is forced to face is tragic. His retaliatory actions, atrocious. And yet…the author manages to demonstrate how a furious and yes, frightened, adolescent can morph into a ruthless mankiller—all the while reminding the reader that Pedro remains, essentially, a boy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2019.

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Abby in Wonderland
Whatever After Special Edition #1
Sarah Mlynowski
Scholastic, Inc., October 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-74667-0
Trade Paperback

Sustaining a series is no simple task. Inserting a special edition story that is somehow as fresh and fun as the very first book seems insurmountable. Except to Ms. Mlynowski.

This fairy-tale-esque fantasy adds adventure and humor absolutely appropriate for younger readers, while maintaining a subtle, something-more; making it compelling and quirky enough for older audiences as well.

I enjoyed being the proverbial parrot-on-the-shoulder as four friends share a day off from school. Per usual, Penny’s parents are not around, but her house is huge and her nanny is happy to host. Penny has planned the entire day and she is not going to let a little cold air or a brisk breeze ruin the card game on the patio.

But when the wind whipped a card across the yard and into the neighboring golf-course, Abby abruptly abandoned the game to give chase. The other three follow until Frankie falls into a hole. Penny’s agenda is pushed aside. The girls have a real problem to solve.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

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Otherwise Known As Possum
Maria D. Laso
Scholastic Press, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-93196-0
Trade Paperback

Possum, to me, is kind of a country Pippi Longstocking. Both young girls are wise to the ways of the world, if not properly educated. Tough, fiercely independent with lasting loyalty and a heart bigger than her small body should be able to hold, Possum is another exemplary young lady.

Certainly a smile-through-tears kind of story combining spunk, mischief and intuitive, undeniable kindness, I thoroughly enjoyed the bitter-sweet reflections from the late 20th century in this captivating Juvenile Fiction from Ms. Laso.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

Book Review: This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger—and a Giveaway! @WmKentKrueger @AtriaBooks

This Tender Land
William Kent Krueger
Atria Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-4767-4929-7
Hardcover

Literature fills almost as many needs as there are readers. This novel, solemn, deliberate, moving, is not for the harried or the cynical. Or maybe it is, if the reader is at least willing to consider the mysterious and sometimes mystical forces that surround us. Faith, like awareness of the natural world, is largely a private matter. This novel ultimately raises and thoughtfully considers more questions than it answers. Or not. The book is eminently satisfactory as a fine piece of literature for whatever enjoyment and satisfaction any reader gains from the story, a journey of life and death and misdeeds and love and, perhaps, redemption. Certainly forgiveness.

The journey begins with the difficult abusive lives of three inmates of a hard-scrabble boarding school in rural Minnesota in the midst of the deep depression that engulfed the nation in the nineteen-thirties. Three young men, in their early teens, Albert, Odie and Moses, grow closer in their mutual efforts to resist being smashed under by the persistent and sadistic efforts of the school officials who do not shy away from meting out corporal punishment at the drop of a fork.

When the opportunity a huge storm presents, the three boys collect a girl they all know from a nearby farm and lately orphaned like them, then run away from the school and determine to somehow make their way to Saint Louis. So they have a definite goal, however ethereal.

The adventure and the travelers’ desperate need to stay out of the clutches of the law infuses the story with tension and excitement, and the carefully crafted descriptive passages only add to the forward drive. Here readers will find evangelists, storekeepers, the law, liars, good and bad people and a story that ultimate raises fundamental questions of relationships.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2019.
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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To enter the drawing for a print
advance reading copy of
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger,
leave a comment below. Two winning
names will be drawn on Sunday
evening, September 8th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Death of a Rainmaker by Laurie Loewenstein

Death of a Rainmaker
A Dust Bowl Mystery #1
Laurie Loewenstein
Kaylie Jones Books/Akashic Books, October 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61775-679-5
Hardcover

I’ll start out by saying this is a book that’s already been added to my “Best Books Read in 2019” list.

Death of a Rainmaker features dust storms so brilliantly written they’ll have you choking from the dirt and grit filling your eyes, your mouth, your lungs. Historical fact: Did you know Dust Pneumonia was/is a real malady? It killed many a child during the dust bowl years. You’ll also learn about the everyday life of the inhabitants of this small and steadily shrinking Oklahoma town. They’re people you’ll get to know as if they’re your own neighbors.

Be prepared to feel the despair of the people, families, especially the rural families, who tried everything they knew to make a living during this heartbreaking time, but who could only watch their wells dry up and their livestock die. As they watched their children die. And their hopes and dreams die, buried in dust that piled in drifts around the buildings and got in through every little crack in the boards of their dried-out houses.

So, when a stranger claiming to be a rainmaker shows up vowing to bring moisture to the parched earth, why is he murdered outside a movie house run by a blind man, in the middle of a huge duststorm?

Was it because he failed to bring rain? Was it because of a fight he got into with a young CCC worker when they’d both had too much to drink? Or was it because he eyed another man’s wife?

These are all questions Sheriff Temple Jennings is going to need to answer. Quickly, because the election is coming up and for the first time in years he has a man running against him for the job. Etha, his wife, has her own ideas about the murder, and they don’t coincide with her husband’s.

So much goes on in this novel. It’s a history of those years when poverty stalked a large portion of the population, especially in the rural areas of Oklahoma and thereabouts. It’s a grouping of character studies. It’s a mystery. And it’s wonderful.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2019.
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover by Susan Wittig Albert—and a Giveaway!

The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover
The Darling Dahlias #7
Susan Wittig Albert
Persevero Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-9969040-3-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It looks like the music has ended for Darling’s favorite barbershop quartet, the Lucky Four Clovers—just days before the Dixie Regional Barbershop Competition. Another unlucky break: a serious foul-up in Darling’s telephone system—and not a penny for repairs. And while liquor is legal again, moonshine isn’t. Sheriff Buddy Norris needs a little luck when he goes into Briar Swamp to confront Cypress County’s most notorious bootlegger. What he finds upends his sense of justice.

Once again, Susan Wittig Albert has told a charming story filled with richly human characters who face the Great Depression with courage and grace. She reminds us that friends offer the best of themselves to each other, community is what holds us together, and luck is what you make it.

Darling, Alabama, is home during the Great Depression to the Dahlias Garden Club, ladies who solve local crimes almost as much as they garden and socialize. The latest town problem is that the telephone system is suffering from equipment failures because half-owner Whitney Whitforth won’t pony up to fix it and then the Lucky Four Clovers barbershop quartet go into crisis mode when one of the members is killed before the Regional Barbershop Competition.

Was it an accident or murder? Sheriff Buddy Norris is determined to figure it out, with a little help from Ophelia Snow, Elizabeth Lacy and the other Dahlias, and they soon find a possible link to the local bootlegger, Bodeen Pyle. When Whitney goes missing, the plot thickens but the Dahlias are up for the challenge.

Added touches such as Liz Lacy’s Garden Gate newspaper column, town gossip and a look into how people managed when money was hard to get, along with a good puzzle help make this return to a charming series a welcome treat. A taste of class distinctions and the place women held in the Depression-era South make it even better and, best of all, a cast of garden club characters is included, and there are recipes. What more could any cozy mystery reader want?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

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I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading copy of
The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover.
Leave a comment below and I’ll draw
the winning name on Saturday evening,
August 4th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Beulah’s House of Prayer by Cynthia A. Graham—and a Giveaway!

beulahs-house-of-prayerBeulah’s House of Prayer
Cynthia A. Graham
Brick Mantel Books, July 2016
ISBN 978-1-941799-33-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Some storms bring destruction. Others bring salvation.

In 1934 the tiny town of Barmy, Oklahoma, is in desperate need of a miracle. The cows are hungry, the rain won’t fall, most of Main Street is boarded up. Young aspiring trapeze artist Sugar Watson is dumped unceremoniously into this bleak setting with little money and only one thing on her mind—escape. Beulah Clinton, a Holy Ghost preacher, has dedicated herself to helping the distressed in this ragged little wasteland, and Sugar soon finds herself thrown in with Marigold Lawford, the simple-minded widow of the richest man in town, and Homer Guppy, a boy trouble follows like dust after a wind.

Despite Sugar’s immediate distaste of Barmy, Beulah’s patience, Marigold’s kindness, and Homer’s unconditional love make her reconsider the meaning of home.

On Black Sunday, the worst dust storm in history brings with it a choice: Sugar must decide whether or not to return home, leaving the hospitality—and love—of Barmy’s inhabitants. A stunning Depression-era literary novel with a touch of magical realism, Beulah’s House of Prayer captivates until the very end.

When I first began hosting stops on blog tours, it was because I wanted to participate in the broader community of people who love books and want to spread the word. A side benefit is that I’ve been introduced to a lot of authors and books I probably wouldn’t know anything about without these tours and some of them have really blown me away. When I reviewed Cynthia A. Graham’s Beneath Still Waters back in February, I knew I’d found a real gem and I feel even more strongly about that now that I’ve read Beulah’s House of Prayer.

Once again, Ms. Graham takes us back to earlier times, to a period significant in our past, and she pulled me right into the center of this dusty town called Barmy and into the lives of a collection of people who completely stole my heart, each in his or her own way. Beulah is an elderly woman who has decided to settle in this town that she believes needs her ministry and her first “parishioner” is a boy named Homer who will go to nearly any lengths to show the town what a delinquent he can be. Homer has reasons to be the way he is, particularly considering his parentage, and it’s easy to understand and sympathize with his deep-seated pain and the way he copes. Beulah is out to save this young man before the devil wins his soul and nothing will stand in her way; Homer has no idea how this old woman is going to impact his life.

Marigold Lawford has also been trampled by life and she has her own way of getting along, mainly just by accepting the lousy hand she’s been dealt. When Beulah offers her a place to sleep. Marigold has no real options and moves in but she’s soon joined by 15-year-old Sugar Watson who’s landed in town with a few dollars and a coffin holding her circus performer father. And thus begins a story of desperation and love and redemption.

I can’t speak highly enough of Ms. Graham and her ability to write her story and her characters with a passion that drew me in till I felt surrounded by this town and its inhabitants. In her beautiful use of language, she made me experience the dust and the overwhelming destitution as well as the hope that never quite dies, and Beulah’s House of Prayer will be joining Beneath Still Waters on my list of favorite books read in 2016. I hate that I have to wait to see what this wonderful author will offer us next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

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Beulah’s House of Prayer blends the stark reality of
Steinbeck and the grace and imagery of Willa Cather
into a beautifully-rendered story of struggle and faith
in Depression and Dust Bowl era Oklahoma a place
where ‘communion is the wheat I grow and the blood
I sweat.’  Steeped in metaphor, this moving novel is at
once compelling and poetic. It is the kind of story that
often finds its way onto the big screen. One heck of a good
read!” —Dixon Hearne, author, From Tickfaw to Shongaloo
and Delta Flats: Stories in the Key of Blues and Hope

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About the Author

Cynthia A. GrahamCynthia A. Graham is the winner of several writing awards, including a Gold IPPY and a Midwest Book Award for Beneath Still Watersand her short stories have appeared in both university and national literary publications. She attained a B.A. in English from the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Cynthia is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the St. Louis Writers’ Guild, the Missouri Writers’ Guild, and Sisters in Crime. She is the author of two works of historical mystery: Beneath Still Waters and Behind Every DoorBeulah’s House of Prayer is her first foray in the land of magical realism.

Connect with Cynthia

Website Button     Twitter Button     Facebook Button     Goodreads Button 2

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Follow the tour:

Tuesday, September 6th: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, September 7th: SJ2B House of Books
Friday, September 9thBuried Under Books
Monday, September 12thMockingbird Hill Cottage
Thursday, September 15thKahakai Kitchen
Monday, September 19thFictionZeal
Wednesday, September 21stWrite Read Life

************

To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Beulah’s House of Prayer
by Cynthia A. Graham, just leave
a comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on Monday night,
September 12th. This drawing
is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

************

TLC Book Tours Button

Book Review: Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb

Whose Names Are UnknownWhose Names Are Unknown
Sanora Babb
University of Oklahoma Press, February 2006
ISBN 978-0-8061-3712-4
Trade Paperback

It’s 1938 and a young talented, adventurous woman from the Oklahoma panhandle lands a job with the Farm Security Administration in California, working with the refugee farmers from her home state. These were the people of the high plains who saw their farms and their lives blown away in the horrendous dust storms of the nineteen thirties. The camps in California were one legacy of the Dust Bowl.

Out of that experience, those associations, Sanora Babb fashioned this novel, a first-hand up-close story with intense empathy and understanding for the people. The novel has an interesting and unfortunate history. In 1939 the author submitted her manuscript to a New York publisher, Random House. The publisher’s editor, Bennett Cerf, called the novel an exceptionally fine piece of work and planned to publish it. A few months later, publication was halted in the face of the huge success of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Sanora Babb went on to a strong literary career, authoring five books and numerous shorter pieces published in the top literary magazines of the Twentieth Century. Now finally, sixty-five years late, this moving, intimate novel is seeing daylight. Is it as good or better than Steinbeck’s? Read it for yourself and judge. This is no grand pronouncement to illuminate the scope of what we know as the Dust Bowl Years. Whose Names are Unknown looks poverty and deprivation in the face and deals with the lives and deaths of those most materially affected.

Babb’s writing is clean, she wastes no words and the narrative voice brings her fascinating characters to the pages in a way that will remain with the reader for some time. This is truly a novel to savor.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
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 Reviews: The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush by Susan Wittig Albert and One by Sarah Crossan

The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar BushThe Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush
The Darling Dahlias #5
Susan Wittig Albert
Berkley Prime Crime, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-425-26060-9
Hardcover

It’s 1933, and the little town of Darling, Alabama is running out of money. Its only bank has closed, and depositors are out of luck. Businesses can’t meet payroll commitments. People can’t buy necessities, let alone luxuries. Shops, even if they could extend credit, can’t restock their shelves without funds. Only Mickey LeDoux, supplier of moonshine while folks await the end of prohibition, seems to be doing okay—for the time being, anyway.

Who is to blame for the bank’s closing and the town’s woes? Is it the former bank president, who sold the failing financial institution to a big corporation and quickly retired? Perhaps it’s the new president, Alvin Duffy, the person who proposes saving the town by issuing scrip, which seems like counterfeit money to some mistrusting townspeople. And what about Charlie Dickens, the drunken newspaper man, the one who agrees to print the scrip and then somehow “loses” it? Verna Tidwell, acting county treasurer and an officer of the Darling Dahlias Garden Club, resolves to find out who can or cannot be trusted.

If you haven’t read any of the four previous Darling Dahlias mysteries, you’ll delight in the personalities and foibles of the various Dahlia Club members and their fellow townspeople. There’s a guide at the beginning of the book in case you become confused by the plethora of characters. But not to worry—by the time Verna Tidwell gets busy checking out clues, you’ll know the main character, the town of Darling, quite well. During the Great Depression, the welfare of the town depends on the fortunes of the country and the deeds of the townsfolk. The Dahlias are committed to the preservation of Darling and stand ready to deal with its challenges.

Enjoy this book on its own, as I did, or start with the first book in the series and learn to know all the Dahlias well, as I want to do now I’ve been introduced. These gals seem to have grit enough to cope with the times and the crimes to take care of their town.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, December 2015.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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OneOne
Sarah Crossan
Greenwillow Books, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-211875-2
Hardcover

Tippi & Grace weren’t expected to live past their second birthday, but now they’re sixteen and for financial reasons, must go to school instead of being homeschooled. They’re conjoined from the waist down, sharing two legs and a blended lower digestive system as well as a single set of reproductive organs. Despite physical and emotional hardships, not to mention their younger sister, a promising ballerina, having her own health/emotional issues, the girls are happy and cannot imagine being surgically separated.

When something serious begins to affect both of them, the choices facing them force the girls to look at something they never expected to deal with. Further complicating things are their parents’ financial and emotional problems as well as their first real friends at school, Yasmeen who has her own health issue that allows her to understand the sisters in ways nobody else can, and Jon, a boy who thinks they’re beautiful and isn’t scared off by their physical differences. In fact these two friends give them the courage and motivation to feel alive and free for the first time in their lives.

Told in short verse chapters with the more quiet and shy Grace as the narrator, this is an immensely powerful book, one that is a fast read, but will stay long after readers close the cover because of its sadness and beauty. It’s an excellent book on a very poorly understood condition and deserves to be in any school and public library where good and thought provoking young adult fiction is valued.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.