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.

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Book Review: This Is Not the End by Chandler Baker

This Is Not the End
Chandler Baker
Hyperion, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-4847-5024-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

If you could choose one person to bring back to life, who would it be?

Seventeen-year-old Lake Deveraux is the survivor of a car crash that killed her best friend and boyfriend. Now she faces an impossible choice. Resurrection technology changed the world, but strict laws allow just one resurrection per citizen, to be used on your eighteenth birthday or lost forever.

You only have days to decide.

For each grieving family, Lake is the best chance to bring back their child.

For Lake, it’s the only way to reclaim a piece of happiness after her own family fell apart.

And Lake must also grapple with a secret–and illegal–vow she made years ago to resurrect someone else. Someone who’s not even dead yet.

Who do you need most?

As Lake’s eighteenth birthday nears, secrets and betrayals new and old threaten to eclipse her cherished memories. Lake has one chance to save a life…but can she live with her choice?

What an impossible choice Lake has, knowing she can bring her dead best friend or boyfriend back to life but not both. Can you imagine the pressure that comes with that, never mind the twist of having promised her one resurrection to someone else? At first blush, having the technology to allow a resurrection seems a remarkable opportunity but perhaps it really isn’t. Think about it…how would you select one person if you’ve had multiple losses leading up to your 18th birthday?

Lake has a tremendous sorrow, no doubt, but how is it possible that she could feel an almost instantaneous connection with a guy she just met? That budding romance didn’t sit right with me but I still have a lot of empathy for Lake because she’s a nice girl who cares, a very normal girl, and I wanted her to find some kind of resolution that gives her comfort. Lake’s brother, Matt, is another compelling character, not always in a good way but his bitterness is understandable, and the dilemma he causes for Lake gives this story a strong sense of the ethics involved in some of our medical and scientific advances. It also lets us see how Lake has been a sort of second-hand citizen in her own family, certainly something that would affect anyone’s psyche, especially considering the plan her parents have in mind. In the end, can whatever choice she makes please anyone, including herself?

Betrayal is a core element here and we see that certain people are, or were, not what they seemed, and the misperceptions that plague us all played a huge role in this very intriguing story. Those misperceptions lead to some very surprising twists, a fitting way to bring everything to a close and, all in all, I found This Is Not the End to be a most interesting and engaging tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 2

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

All the Little Liars
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #9
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09003-4
Hardcover

Charlaine Harris has to work really hard to make me not like any of her books and this one is no exception. Aurora Teagarden is her fluffiest series and I was SO excited when she brought it back with this book, 13 years after the last one.

Roe is a librarian—now married and pregnant—in a small town in Georgia and, as librarians are wont to do, falls over dead bodies on a regular basis. This time, a bunch of kids have gone missing and her teenaged brother is somehow involved. I enjoyed this story even though I thought it was just a little weak but I chalk it up to the difficulties of rebooting a series and fully expect the upcoming Sleep Like a Baby to be back on top.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Gizelle’s Bucket List
My Life with a Very Large Dog
Lauren Fern Watt
Simon & Schuster, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-2365-8
Hardcover
Simon & Schuster Audio, March 2017
Narrated by Lauren Fern Watt
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

I both read and listened to this one and was glad I did because the audio edition added a strong connection between me and the author. This is a true story and, as you can guess from the title, it’s all about this wonderful dog’s last days. Get out a box of tissues because you’re going to need them. Yes, it’s terribly sad but also joyful and uplifting as Lauren helps Gizelle do the things she loves best and those Lauren is sure she’ll enjoy before it’s too late. The love and devotion between Lauren and Gizelle are as real as it gets and I appreciate the time I spent with them.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Smugglers & Scones
Moorehaven Mysteries, Book 1
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-940215-87-7
Trade Paperback

Moorehaven is a bed and breakfast in Oregon that caters to crime fiction writers—what a great setting for murder and mayhem, right? Pippa Winterbourne, manager, gets pulled into the investigation when a local is killed and a boat mysteriously crashes on the rocks, leaving her to house an intriguing injured man who just might be guilty of murder. This is a delightful tale full of the history of coastal Oregon and a beautiful setting and featuring some very appealing folks. The setup with the B&B is unusual in that a trust is actually in charge so this is not the typical scenario in which the innkeeper has to scrimp and save to keep things going. That frees Pippa to do some sleuthing on her own while she rides herd on her crochety great-uncle and the current group of author guests. This is a clever, charming series debut and I’m looking forward to the next one, Burglars & Blintzes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Still Life
A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery #1
Louise Penny
Narrated by Ralph Cosham
Blackstone Audio, August 2006
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

When murder is done in a small town in the Quebec province, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate. Most of the villagers think it must have been a hunting accident but Gamache is quite sure something else is going on.

I’m hanging my head in shame, I think, because I’m apparently at odds with the mystery reading world. I’d always avoided this series ( now up to #13) for no particular reason other than I have a bit of distrust when everybody raves about the first book, then the second, the third… But, I finally started feeling kind of silly about it and bit the bullet and, well, I’m kind of underwhelmed. The narrator was quite good (I understand fans were devastated when he passed away a few years ago, after recording the tenth book) and the story was good but I just didn’t connect with it. Still, a gazillion readers can’t all be wrong so I’m going to try the second book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Introvert
Michael Paul Michaud
Black Opal Books, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-626945-47-0
Trade Paperback

He’s a vacuum salesman, a quiet individual, kind of a loner but only because solitude is usually easier. He’s Everyman. He also has moments of inner rage so intense he imagines the other person “red and open” but he’s perfectly normal. Right? Well, there was that incident a couple of years ago…

{{Shudder }}

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

 

Book Review: Riding Chance by Christine Kendall

Riding Chance
Christine Kendall
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-92404-7
Hardcover

Troy is adrift and in danger of falling into that trap created when grief is compounded by lack of a caring parent to turn things around. His mom died not long ago and his father is still too wrapped up in his own loss and sorrow to intervene. When Troy gets the blame for a cellphone theft that should have been dropped on Lay-Lay, the crime-spree-in-the-making on his Philadelphia street, he’s less than thrilled at the community service assigned to him and his best friend Foster.

As often happens, what initially seems like a punishment and a total downer, becomes a whole new way of looking at life with some amazing skills attached. The boys are assigned to an equestrian program in the large city park not far from their homes. Troy’s initial impression is that horses are uncomfortable and smelly. However, he’s interested right off by Alisha, a very pretty girl who is his age and is already quite comfortable with the horses.

It turns out they have something in common-grief and loss. Winston, a former professional polo player who runs the program, is Alisha’s uncle and took her in after her parents died. Despite his initial unease around horses, Troy soon realizes that when he’s with them, especially Chance, the horse he’s assigned to ride and care for, he feels more alive and at peace. In fact, there are times when he’s grooming her or riding when he feels almost like he did before his mother died.

Despite his growing comfort with Chance and a realization by almost everyone involved that he’s a natural around horses and has great potential as a budding polo player, Troy can’t lose his hard edge. That’s sharpened by an encounter outside his house with police that goes badly, as well as his inability to be open with anyone about how he really feels. This increased mistrust and alienation threaten his newfound love of horses and excitement about becoming a member of the polo team. It takes the adults around him and Alisha, as well as his best friend confronting him, coupled with a very frightening incident at a polo exhibition for Troy to realize that he’s not much different than those around him.

The dialect takes a chapter or so to get comfortable with, but after that, the story becomes a seamless and engrossing read. I finished it in less than two hours. Both adults and teens/tweens will really identify with the way Troy feels, how he’s his own worst enemy and the way he comes through a better person. A great book for inner city schools and libraries, but a really good one for any library where diversity in the collection is important.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Shorts Reviews: Half-Life by Tina Ferraro and The Last Second by Robin Burcell

Half-LifeHalf-Life
Tina Ferraro
Leap Books, March 2015
ISBN 9781616030261
Ebook

From the publisher—

Half a life is not worth living.

Probably not a good idea to take advice from your dead twin sister. High school sophomore Trisha Traynor and friends have played the Halloween mirror game for years, the one that’s supposed to show a glimpse of the guy they’ll marry. But no one’s ever seen anything.

Until tonight—when Trisha is gob smacked by the candlelit arrival of her long-deceased twin sister, instead of her crush, Kirk Maxwell.

In a voice and vision that only Trisha can hear and see, Chessie claims to be back on a compassionate journey. Trisha fears she’s gone nuthouse crazy. But she nonetheless follows the instructions Chessie outlines in their nightly conversations, until she finds herself stepping across some ethical lines, and probably ending all chances with Kirk.

When a sisterly showdown ensues, resulting in the shattering of the mirror, Chessie’s gone again, and a heartsick Trisha sets about righting her recent wrongs. That is, until she stumbles upon the real reason Chessie had come back and the most important glimpse yet that the mirror could never predict.

One thing really struck me about Half-Life that doesn’t often happen with books, young adult or otherwise. I connected with Trisha in a major way because she and I had a lot in common if you just forget the facts that she doesn’t actually exist and that there is about a 50 year spread going on. Pah! Minor details! Now, I didn’t have a twin who died as a young child and I’ve never seen a ghost in a mirror or anywhere else but I was a 14-year-old girl when I had my first kiss and my first boyfriend and, my goodness, the memories and the feelings of my 14-year-old self all came flooding back.

Trisha’s home life is just shy of normal. Her mom has never been able to come to terms with Chessie’s death so Trisha, her little brother and her dad all have to tiptoe around her, not even daring to talk openly about Chessie. That all makes it even more critical that the rest of Trisha’s life—school, friends, potential boyfriends, etc.—stay on an even keel. Unfortunately, her BFF, Abby, has pretty much dropped her because she has a boyfriend and a neighboring schoolmate is pressuring Trisha to do something she knows is wrong. Oh, and what is she going to do about those two guys, the DDG (Drop Dead Gorgeous) Kirk and Chadwick, and her ghostly sister?

Half-Life is a sweet story with a little bit of intrigue and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is my introduction to Tina Ferraro‘s work and I just may have to try some more 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

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The Last SecondThe Last Second
Robin Burcell
Witness Impulse, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-2273734
Ebook

From the publisher—

Covert agent Zachary Griffin and FBI Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick are sidetracked from an ongoing investigation to follow up on a potential lead. In a small Arizona border town, gunrunning and drug trafficking into Mexico are a part of the landscape—but not when they’re orchestrated by an officer in uniform. At least that’s the story told to agents Griffin and Fitzpatrick.

But the dirty cop is now missing, and his sister says he’s innocent, a victim of a corrupt police department. She is convinced they set him up to take the fall, then killed him, and she can prove it—with help from a highly unusual witness. Suddenly an open-and-shut case seems anything but, and the clock is ticking as Griffin and Fitzpatrick take on an entire police department in a deadly match that could go up in smoke at the last second.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of Robin Burcell‘s books, not because I didn’t want to but just because I have a mountainous TBR that never gets any smaller. Anyway, I’m very glad that I picked up this short story because it reminded me of how much I really do like Sydney and Zach.

At first, the case seems to be relatively simple: a dirty cop, Calvin Walker, working with the Mexican cartels, might be the person who can lead Sidney and Zach to the head of the operation, a gunrunning ex-CIA agent named Garrett Quindlen. Trouble is Calvin has disappeared and may be in possession of a lot of explosives. Finding him is problematic until they hear about a special witness named Max.

I really enjoyed this story. As short as it is, Ms. Burcell has packed a good deal of action and suspense into this reminder that this is an author well worth reading. I hope that, by the time I catch up on her work, a new book will be coming out, either in this series or Kate Gillespie’s or, what the heck, something entirely new 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

Book Reviews: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Phantom Limb by Dennis Palumbo, and The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

Can't Look AwayCan’t Look Away
Donna Cooner
Point, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-42765-4
Hardcover

From an outside perspective, Torrey Grey is your typical 16 year old in today’s age. She thrives to be popular, focuses her time on fashion and makeup, and social media are her go-to’s. But when her sister is killed by a drunk driver while filming her latest video blog – and the worlds finds out – she discovers celebrity status on the internet can make you or break you.

When I first started reading Donna Cooner‘s book, I was apprehensive about reading a modern day take on a teenager’s life. But as I continued, there are so many themes that Cooner covers. Sisterhood is a main theme, as Torrey is trying to hold on to the memories of her sister, Miranda. By combining in the celebration of the Spanish holiday el Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), Cooner shows that grief and acceptance of the loss of a close family member as Torrey’s family try to pick up the pieces of their life after moving from Colorado to Texas. One of Cooner‘s bigger themes is the presence of bullying and cyberbullying, from students making fun and commenting on a student who may be seen as different to the norm of society, to strangers blaming Torrey for the death of her sister when a video leaks of the moments before the accident. Torrey deals with all of these themes as she struggles to decide if popularity and being seen with the right cliques are really the most important things in her life anymore.

While some of the characters seem “too-good-to-be-true,” Cooner manages to keep her main themes alive throughout the novel and presents a solid take on a teenager living in today’s world. I enjoyed the book more than I expected to, and was glad to see somebody take on these heavy themes and relate them to issues many teenagers may be going through today.

 

Reviewed by Kristina Akers, September 2014.

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Phantom LimbPhantom Limb  
A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0254-4
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Author Dennis Palumbo is an experienced writer of screen plays, short stories and crime novels. It shows in this episodic story that features his protagonist, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a licensed psychologist and consultant to the Pittsburgh, PA police department. This fourth adventure pits the good doctor against a macho cabal of former military who formed up in Afghanistan and took many of their less savory skills into the criminal culture of Western Pennsylvania.

Dr. Rinaldi has an initial session with the younger wife of a local extremely prominent businessman. She professes a need and a decision to commit suicide that very evening. Dr. Rinaldi, in attempting to dissuade the woman, is drawn instantly into a convoluted interesting plot to extract millions of dollars from her wealthy husband. Inevitably, Rinaldi is required to deliver the ransom and things go seriously awry.

There are some stalwart continuing characters who return from earlier books in this novel. There are some predictable scenes. Overall the novel is very well written and there are several scenes of excruciating high tension and exciting action. There are clever lines and some well-thought-out twists, and, unfortunately for this reviewer, just a little too much predictability in the structure of the plot. I really like Daniel Rinaldi. I like his style, his attitudes and the moral strengths displayed in this novel. And I like the books of his creator.

 

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Bones BeneathThe Bones Beneath
A Tom Thorne Novel
Mark Billingham
Atlantic Monthly Press, June 2014
ISBN: 978-1-8021-2248-3
Hardcover

Tom Thorne returns in the twelfth novel in this series.  Most of the action takes place over a period of three days, set in a remote, isolated and nearly inaccessible island off the Welsh coast, said to be the resting place of 20,000 saints (in addition, that is, to King Arthur).  (This appears to be a very real location, one ‘steeped in myth and legend,’ and is a very real presence in the novel.)  Tom is brought here as part of a very ‘un-spiritual pursuit of long-dead murder victims,” a prisoner escort operation.

Many years ago, and only briefly, the island was the site of a home for young offenders.  Two of these were 17-year-old Stuart Nicklin, and one Simon Milner, the latter of whom never left the island alive. His murder was never solved, and only now Nicklin has claimed to have killed him, and offered to lead the police to the place where Simon’s bones were buried so long ago.  The condition being that the man who had arrested him ten years earlier, Tom Thorne, be the one to take him there to identify the site. Nicklin is thought to be one of the “most dangerous and manipulative psychopaths” the police had ever encountered.  The suspense inherent in the situation leaves the reader waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And waiting.  And waiting.

Somewhat jarringly at first, there are flashbacks to the time, twenty-five years earlier, when the seeds of the current action were laid, and when the boy whose bones were at the core of their search was killed.  And there are also scenes, at the outset in a Prologue and then every hundred pages or so, that appear to be contemporaneous, their connection to the main plot difficult to discern.

It may be obvious that I felt that the book could have benefited from some tightening, but in retrospect perhaps I should have had more confidence in the author, because the conclusion was very exciting and unexpected.  It may be that the bar being set so high by this author in the preceding books made it a tough act to follow.  My current reservations aside, I will certainly look forward to the next Tom Thorne book.

 

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2014.

A Handful of Teeny Reviews: The Enchanted Truth by Kym Petrie, Hunt for the Chupacabra by Michael Hebler, A Gnarly Christmas by Lauren Carr, Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor LaValle, and Bruno and the Carol Singers by Martin Walker

The Enchanted TruthThe Enchanted Truth
A Modern-Day Fairy Tale for Grown-Up Girls

Kym Petrie
Greenleaf Book Group, September 2012
ISBN 978-1-60832-368-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In this humorous and insightful tale, a modern day princess finds herself single and asking for magical intervention to change her sorry love life. Rather than casting a spell to bring Prince Charming to her rescue, a savvy fairy godmother gives the tenderhearted damsel an unexpected gift. By entrusting her true thoughts and desires to an unlikely confidant, the young royal soon discovers that the person who could make her life everything she dreamed it would be has been with her all along.

As author Kym Petrie herself realized, every woman needs a froggy friend and a secret journal—and enough adventures with the girls to keep her heart pounding and her mind racing. Life is meant to be about happy beginnings . . . you can never have enough of them.

In a departure from the usual fairy tale where Prince Charming sweeps the princess off her feet, the author has crafted a sort of allegory meant for the modern girl who’s looking for her true love. The princess of this tale learns, with a little help from a fairy godmother and a rubber frog, that finding the handsome prince is not enough.

The tale is brief but the message comes through clearly—today’s women need to learn to recognize their own worth if they want men to value them and they also need to value those men who are more than just a pretty face or a fat wallet. Many parents of teenaged girls might want to consider dropping this endearing little book in their daughters’ Christmas stockings.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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Hunt for the ChupacabraHunt for the Chupacabra
Michael Hebler
Michael Hebler, June 2011
ISBN 978-1-4581321-5-4
Ebook

From the author—

A retired Confederate tracker persues the elusive and legendary creature for some well-deserved revenge. “Hunt for the Chupacabra” is a short story that precludes Book One of the Chupacabra Series, “Night of the Chupacabra”.

Is it real or just a legend, a figment of some very wild imaginations? No one can say for sure but Calvin Hawte is on a mission to avenge the death of his young son and will track the killer to the ends of the earth if need be. He might be surprised at what he will find out there in the desert.

This is a very short story but well-written and, well, creepy as a good horror story should be. It’s a good lead-in to Night of the Chupacabra, first in Michael Hebler‘s new series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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A Gnarly ChristmasA Gnarly Christmas
Lauren Carr
Acorn Book Services, November 2012
Ebook

From the author—

Here’s a special holiday treat for mystery lovers who have fallen in love with Gnarly, Mac Faraday’s German Shepherd sidekick, from Lauren Carr‘s Deep Creek Lake Mysteries.

It is Christmas day and Gnarly has been up to his old tricks again. Now he’s in the dog house–or rather the boathouse–after stealing the Christmas feast! Moments after Archie and Mac leave Spencer Manor, Gnarly hears a call for help from Rocky, the Maltese down the street. Four assassins for hire have invaded the home of Rocky’s elderly owners. While the home invaders wait for instructions from a mysterious caller, Gnarly must plot to stop them. Can Gnarly save Christmas with only the help of an 8-pound Maltese dressed in an elf suit?

Need a good laugh? You won’t go wrong with this delightful story of a dog who gets into trouble for swiping the Christmas turkey but who doesn’t forget that he’s a protector. Gnarly teams up with a tiny floofy dog named Rocky to foil the plans of a bunch of bad guys bent on mayhem and how the two get the best of the murderous robbers is a hoot. Gnarly even manages to let Rocky take the credit for saving the day but there’s still a mystery—why has Gnarly been stealing food lately?

Sit down with Gnarly and Rocky for a few minutes of pure fun—and don’t forget that fat squirrel named Otis!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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Lucretia and the KroonsLucretia and the Kroons
Victor LaValle
Spiegel & Grau/Random House, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-8129-8437-8
Ebook

From the publisher—

Lucretia’s best friend and upstairs neighbor Sunny—a sweet pitbull of a kid, even as she struggles with a mysterious illness—has gone missing. The only way to get her back is for Lucretia to climb the rickety fire escape of their Queens tenement and crawl through the window of apartment 6D, portal to a vast shadowland of missing kids ruled by a nightmarish family of mutants whose designs on the children are unknown. Her search for Sunny takes Lucretia through a dark fantasyland where she finds lush forests growing from concrete, pigeon-winged rodents, and haunted playgrounds. Her quest ultimately forces her to confront the most frightening specter of all: losing, forever, the thing you love the most.

Central to this novella is a 12-year-old girl named Lucretia but this is no story for children. In a flight of fancy, LaValle explores how a child might cope with the death of a friend, a best friend, and these two children both capture the reader’s heart. Not all of us suffer this kind of loss at such a young age and I have to wonder if, perhaps, the author did.

How much Loochie loves Sunny is evident and endearing and the scenes of what’s going on with Sunny are heartbreaking, especially because they let us know what is most probably going to happen. Even knowing that, I couldn’t help admiring Loochie’s absolute belief that she could save her friend when Sunny goes missing. Despite the fearsome Kroons and winged rats and all sorts of fantastical frights, Loochie presses on and her bravery and steadfast loyalty are a lesson to anyone who has to face such a terrible loss.

Lucretia and the Kroons is my first taste of Victor LaValle‘s work and I’ll be looking for more.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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Bruno and the Carol SingersBruno and the Carol Singers
Martin Walker
Alfred A. Knopf, December 2012
ISBN 978-0-385-35031-0
Ebook

From the publisher—

St. Denis is experiencing its coldest winter in years—bringing the promise of snow and shared chocolats chauds in the village’s cafés—and Bruno is occupied with his Christmastime duties. From organizing carolers to playing Father Christmas for the local schoolchildren, Bruno has his hands full . . . at least until some funds raised for charity go missing. Then it’s up to Bruno to save the day (and perhaps manage a Christmas miracle) in this charming holiday installment of Walker’s best-selling series.

In this appealing short story, Christmas has come to St. Denis and Bruno is right in the middle of the festivities when he gets a call about a paroled convict who has disappeared from the town where he was living while he completed the last months of his sentence.  His ex-wife and son now live in St. Denis, hence the call to Bruno. Is this man bent on harming his family or will Bruno be able to pull off a Christmas miracle?

Fans of Bruno will feel right at home with this French municipal policeman and his friends and will wish they could sit down to Christmas Eve dinner with Bruno, Pamela and the others.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.