Book Reviews: Yay for Vacay by Flora Ahn and Heart Horse by Kelsey Abrams @funaek @Scholastic @JollyFishPress

Yay for Vacay
Pug Pals #2
Flora Ahn
Scholastic Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-338-53131-2
Trade Paperback

Sunny and Rosy are a couple of content canines. They enjoy time with their human and time together. The pugs are particularly fond of their daily routine.

So, when their lady came home early and began packing, they were puzzled. When she put them in the car, they were not pleased.

But Sunny soon recognized the route to “Grandma and Grandpa”. She could not wait for Rosy to meet them!

Romping around Grandma’s garden was simply spectacular. Rosy and Sunny tuckered themselves out, then slept soundly in sun. When Sunny awoke, it felt like she was having a bad dream.

Angry Grandma glared at the pair and pointed to her half-eaten garden. Even though they didn’t do it, there will be no more gardening for them.

Unwilling to be punished for someone else’s crime, the pups decide to be dog detectives. They even include their new friend, the gopher. Can they catch the thief and prove their innocence to Grandma?

I loved Sunny and Rosy so much in Ms. Ahn’s Two’s a Crowd (Pug Pals #1), I immediately donated my copy to my favorite elementary classroom library. Students were fast fans, so I’ll follow up with my copy of Yay for Vacay (Pug Pals #2).

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2021.


Heart Horse: A Natalie Story
Second Chance Ranch
Kelsey Abrams
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-63163-260-0
Trade Paperback

Patience has paid off for Natalie Ramirez. Having outgrown her beloved barrel-racing pony, she has been searching for a horse. She was thrilled to learn the beautiful, brilliantly skilled Apocalypse would be available. A young champion is hanging up her hat and heading to college. Natalie is the perfect person to give her horse a new home.

While the Appaloosa needs no competition training, Natalie understands the amount of time and attention the energetic equine will require. She hasn’t forgotten the sweet, gray mare she helped save from a meat market (growing up on Second Chance Ranch has benefits). Natalie is a competent and capable twelve-year-old. She can be instrumental in the healing and care of Eleven while still giving Apocalypse a warm welcome.

Training for the coveted gold buckle was rigorous and rewarding. Providing food, first-aid and comfort for Eleven was…something indescribable. As Natalie teaches her new wards, she learns a few valuable lessons herself.

I was so happy to revisit the Second Chance Ranch and the Ramirez family. Each book has been an engaging, easy read, filled with animal facts that are second nature to the four sisters, but new to me.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2020.

Book Review: Riding Chance by Christine Kendall

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

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.

Book Reviews: Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, No Stone Unturned by James W. Ziskin, and The Escape by Kathryn Lasky

Jeff Hirsch
Scholastic Press, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-29018-0

A delightful fun read that kept the pages turning quickly. It’s easy to slip back into for those stolen five minute breaks that come along throughout the day. I love how Magisterium gradually pulls you in, without exactly announcing where it is going, through scifi to dystopia and fantasy, all in the young adult world.

We start with Glenn(ora), a 16 year old girl now living with her Dad in the Colloquium, a mostly normal-feeling albeit technologically-advanced world in the future. Even though the book is told in third person, we are limited by what Glenn knows and doesn’t know as we take this journey with her. And her sort-of friend, Kevin – whose differentness I really enjoyed.

There is another world, across the border, known as the Magisterium. I found the Colloquium world more interesting but, for most of the book, we leave it behind. Yet it is the contrast and the struggle between the Magisterium and the Coloquium worlds that gives this book much of its appeal.

Sprinkled throughout the book are some fun imaginative inventions. Now I want one of the gel chairs that mold to my body whenever I sit in it. (Brookstone? Anyone?) I especially loved Aamon – the fulfillment of every child’s fantasy. I would have liked to have more of him.

My only complaint is that when we get to the ending, the writing veered off into the melodramatic and, for this reader, it reduced the emotional impact. Other than that, I liked how the book was concluded.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, May 2014.


No Stone UnturnedNo Stone Unturned
An Ellie Stone Mystery #2
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, June 2014
ISBN 978-1-61614-883-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:

A dead girl in the woods. Three little oil spots on the dirt road. A Dr. Pepper bottle cap in the shallow grave. And a young reporter, armed with nothing but a camera.

Evening is falling on a wet, gray autumn day in upstate New York. Ellie Stone, twenty-four-year-old reporter for a small local daily, stands at a crossroads in her career and in her life. Alone in the world, battling her own losses and her own demons Ellie is ready to pack it in and return to New York a failure. Then she hears the dispatch over the police scanner.

A hunter, tramping through a muddy wood north of the small town of New Holland, has tripped over the body of a twenty-on-year-old society girl half-buried in the leaves. Ellie is the first reporter on the scene. The investigation provides a rare opportunity to rescue her drowning career, but all leads seem to die on the vine, until Ellie takes a daring chance that unleashes unintended chaos.

Wading through a voyeuristic tangle of small-town secrets, she makes some desperate enemies, who want her off the case. Dead if necessary.


I tremendously enjoyed this book. No Stone Unturned is the second novel by James W. Ziskin. I will definitely check out his first Ellie Stone mystery, Styx & Stone.

The story is set in the 1960s and follows young reporter Ellie Stone as she pursues the killer of student Jordan Shaw. Ellie Stone is a tough young woman, who drinks too much as she fights to stay afloat in a male-dominated world. There’s something in her that reminds me of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone.

Ziskin’s characters are well-developed and believable.

As for the setting, at times I wish the author would have included more details about the 1960s. I feel as if the story could have taken place 10 or 15 years later.

But apart from that a great read.

Reviewed by Anika Abbate, May 2014.


The Escape Horses of the DawnThe Escape
Horses of the Dawn #1
Kathryn Lasky
Scholastic Press, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-39716-2

Horses of the Dawn
is a well written, fictionalized documentary of the Spanish conquistadors conquer of the New World written from the point of view of the horses that accompanied the soldiers and traumatized the native Americans.

Estrella, the young colt born on board ship, becomes the unnatural leader of the horses when she and others are thrown overboard without regard for their lives to lighten the ship’s load. As they swim to a nearby island, her mother is killed by sharks.

With the aid of her ancestors’ memories, Estrella eventually leads the herd to a grassland paradise. Along the way, they encounter a dangerous jungle full of predators, and are recaptured by the Spanish. Through a series of events, they escape the humans and continue on their successful journey to the land of plenty.

Though I appreciate the writer’s skillful craft and loved that the story was told through the eyes of Estrella, I was amazed from the beginning that the book was directed to 8-12 year olds. The writing style appeared much more advanced than that age appropriate. Added to that, the graphic descriptions of violence the herd encounter via sharks, crocodiles, Aztec human sacrifice, and the violent beheading of one of the horses did not make me think this was a young child’s book.

Ms. Lasky could have written the story of their journey told through Estrella’s eyes, included her leadership qualities, and tossed in some excitement that the horses might have avoided without describing in such detail the terror and trauma this herd experienced again and again before they reached their destination.

I would not recommend this book for a child under 12.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, April 2014.


Book Reviews: The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks & Tinker Lindsay and Barnstorming by Laura Crum

The First Rule of TenThe First Rule of Ten
A Tenzing Norbu Mystery #1
Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay
Hay House, January 2012
ISBN 978-1-4019-3776-8
Trade Paperback

What happens when a former monk turned homicide detective decides to quit the force and become a private investigator? How does he cope without a steady paycheck? Or with his worries over disappointing his Tibetan father? Or with a new girlfriend who can cook up fabulous meals? And will his cat continue to respect him? This is the story of Tenzing Norbu and his venture into private practice. Get your Zen on with the first in a new series, sure to be popular.

After dodging a serious gunshot injury, L.A. Homicide investigator and former monk Tenzing Norbu, turns in his badge to go private. The next day an ex-wife of Ten’s former landlord, an ex-musician named Zimmy, shows up and gives an enigmatic warning. The next day, she’s found dead. Ten calls Zimmy to find out he’s been harassed by an individual wanting to ‘help’ Zimmy collect past due royalties. Zimmy, however, is not the first and Ten has to make the connection between a hustler, a pig farm, and a enigmatic cult.

The inclusion of various monk training regimens was well done and kept the story a little different from the normal PI mystery. Likeable characters (including the cat) and a complex plot keep the story interesting. Don’t expect too much noir style bullets flying but rather a steadily flowing story, rather like the peaceful hoeing of a sand garden, moving you toward a satisfying conclusion full of inner calm and…huh? Too much Zen? Don’t worry, The First Rule of Ten will satisfy your mystery craving.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, October 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.


Laura Crum
Perseverance Press, April 2012
ISBN 978-1-56474-508-8
Trade Paperback

In Crum‘s latest novel, Gail McCarthy once again horses around with murder. With plenty of suspects from which to choose, this novel kept me guessing until the end. It’s a tale filled with nature and animals, and of course a main character with a lot of horse sense.

After ten years of raising her child, Gail McCarthy is considering returning to her former profession as a horse vet. She’s enjoying retirement, however, and the freedom to ride her horse around the countryside. Her life is disrupted when she comes upon a corpse of a fellow horse rider. Enter Detective Jeri Ward, an old friend of Gail’s to act as lead investigator. There is a plethora of suspects with a variety of motives from jealousy to a marijuana farm and even a nearby housing development with folks who are anti-horse. As the evidence is collected and tensions heighten, Gail discovers a second corpse.

I mention the heightened tension, but I didn’t get a sense of urgency. Gail does a good job of amateur sleuth but I didn’t feel a good connection with her. I did enjoy the excellent knowledge displayed by the author. She knows her horses and any story with animals gets a second look from me. This is a fine continuation in a long series of novels and shows how life catches up with us all and our reflections of those changes.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.