Book Review: It’s All Your Fault by Paul Rudnick

It’s All Your Fault
Paul Rudnick
Scholastic Press, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-46428-4
Hardcover

You’ve all heard the expression ‘deer in the headlights.” Imagine a homeschooled teen who’s so sheltered and Christian, she comes with her own portable headlights because she’s constantly barraged by what-ifs. Meet Caitlin, one of a gaggle of siblings whose names all begin with C and are part of a gospel pop group known as the Singing Singleberrys. Life at home is so squeaky clean that she even worries about just thinking about impure thoughts. In addition, she’s obsessed with being perfect, a good Christian role model and suffers from serious anxiety attacks. She overcompensates for imagined sins and failures by doing things like applying to a dozen colleges for fear she’ll never get into any of them. In short, she’s a sweet mess, but with good reasons that unfold as the story progresses.

One thing she hasn’t done is have any contact with her cousin Heller since an afternoon when Heller’s impulsive and selfish behavior almost killed Caitlin. Every time she remembers that afternoon, she has to fight off another wave of panic. Before the disaster, the girls were best friends, with Heller usually involved in something outlandish in an effort to help Caitlin break loose from her own head.

When Caitlin is summoned to the breakfast table by her mom, the last person she expects to see sitting there is her aunt Nancy, Heller’s mother. The sisters haven’t talked to each other since the tragedy, so Caitlin immediately suspects something’s up. It is, but in ways far beyond her wildest imagination.

Cousin Heller, fresh out of rehab, is in need of a chaperone for the weekend so she can be kept out of trouble during the events leading up to the premiere of Angel Wars a movie based on a trilogy that has most of the world buzzing. Heller plays the lead female, but unless she’s kept in check for three days, it could well be her last role ever, hence the desperate appeal by her aunt and Caitlin’s mother.

Armed with the imagined righteousness of God, Caitlin agrees, expecting that with the force of goodness behind her, she’ll be able to resist evil and make Heller see the error of her ways. Well, we all know how the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. This time it’s a brand new superhighway, with Heller driving a Ferrari.

The weekend involves Caitlin discovering hot guys, the impossibility of saying no, jail, body art, invading a cupcake factory, making a thirteen year old cancer survivor’s wishes come wildly true and a new way for both Caitlin and Heller to see each other’s inner workings.

Yes, Caitlin seems over the top goody goody at times and will annoy some readers, but stick around for the full story and you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. I liked it a lot.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, June 2018.

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A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Ain’t She a Peach
Southern Eclectic #4
Molly Harper
Gallery Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5133-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, the McCready family of Lake Sackett, Georgia, is back in fine fettle with their McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop and, also once again, they’ve captured my heart. This time the focus is on Frankie, the youngish coroner/embalmer who considers herself well past the age of independence but her parents don’t know how to even begin to think of letting their precious only child spread her wings, so to speak. Sure, she sneaks off to Atlanta occasionally for a night of satisfying rowdiness but she can’t make herself move out (although she has disabled the location service they use to track her). There are very good reasons for this helicopter parenting but, really, she needs to grow a pair!

There’s a new Sheriff in town, Erik Linden, and while Frankie has a few, or a lot, of philosophical differences with Erik, including his queasiness around her dead customers, she’s finding it very hard to resist the man. Meanwhile, the rest of the McCready bunch are around and about and the town’s Halloween Trunk-R-Treat festival is coming up while a teenaged desperado has it in for Frankie for some reason.

The whole rambunctious McCready clan is a family I’d love to be part of and this fourth book in Molly Harper‘s series is just as much fun as all the others. Oh, I do hope there will be more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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Jurassic, Florida
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #1
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Press/Kensington, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0793-3
Ebook

LOL, I’m still chuckling over this book and I have only myself to blame for not having indulged in Hunter Shea‘s work before. Polo Springs, Florida, is a quiet little place but people are starting to notice that the lizard population, specifically small iguanas, seems to be popping up everywhere. Not just popping up—slithering and scampering and the little beasts apparently have lost all fear. Not so the humans in this town, folks like Frank who’s running from the mob and Ann Hickok, the very unlikely mayor who’s only 18 years old. Everyone in Polo Springs has stepped into their own Godzilla movie and the future’s looking very, very dim.

Polo Springs is about to get a rude awakening and they’ll wish they had those little iguanas back. In scenes that are alternately grisly and scream-inducing but also high camp, we learn the answer to the question: can anyone save this town from the invasion of giant people-eating critters?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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In His Kiss
Neil Plakcy
Featherweight Publishing, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-64122-112-2
Trade Paperback

There’s nothing easy about high school, as most of us know, but senior Michael has it worse than some. First of all, he’s gay. No big secret there but he’s almost painfully shy and definitely insecure when it comes to actually finding “the right one” or even one who will do for right now. He’s also saddled with his younger brother, Robbie, aka the Big Mistake and family life pretty much revolves around Robbie with his multitudes of allergies and other issues. On the positive side, he has an awesome best friend, Brie, and she makes life in Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, tolerable although Michael is way past ready to get out of Dodge.

And then along comes Daniel Florez and life for Michael will never be the same again. Luckily for him, Daniel has a little more self-confidence—really, he’s almost oblivious to what’s not supposed to work or maybe his home life has just given him a thicker skin so he’s not quite as vulnerable. Whatever it is, Daniel is not afraid to make the first move and the second and the third… Suddenly, things are looking up for these two really nice kids and the future might be bright but there are some side effects, including resentment from Brie, but why are strange things happening to Michael, like awesome SAT scores? And, minor detail, why is the FBI hanging around spying on Daniel?

With a bit of fantasy and a lot of high school angst, not to mention lots of humor and love of all sorts, Neil Plakcy has created a story that had me smiling a lot and cringing just a little (in a good way) and I definitely want to know what Michael and Daniel are going to be up to next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

Book Review: Velocity by Chris Wooding

Velocity
Chris Wooding
Scholastic Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-94494-6
Hardcover

With an almost-manic-joy bubbling beneath the determined calm needed for navigation, Velocity takes off; tearing through teeth-rattling turns and bone-jarring twists. The tale of the unprecedented quick-track that takes Cassica and Shiara from racing the “unofficial boondocks circuit” to a qualifier for the Widowmaker, “the most hotly contested rally in the world”, flies faster than Maisie. Try not to take it too quickly though, lest you miss the interspersed clever, cutting humor and gradual growth of the girls, both as individuals and as a team.

Admittedly, I was seriously psyched to be reading about a female rally-car team. Being familiar with rally racing because it was something that another author I admire, Maggie Stiefvater, participated in; I believe her words describe it best, “…when the co-driver and driver are working perfectly together, you can hurtle along blindly, much faster than a) someone without notes or b) someone with common sense.” Certainly, Cassica and Shiara are tighter than twin sisters.

Shiara’s family had taken in Cassica when the girls were very young and while Cassica didn’t share Shiara’s fondness for tinkering and building cars, such as their beloved mongrel of so many different parts, Maisie, she happily hopped behind the wheel. While they shared so much, each had her own dream. One would be more than content to continue racing the tracks here in Coppermouth while the other yearns for…so much more.

Sometimes, helping your best friend achieve her dream means more than anything, even if the effort is not wholly altruistic. So, in spite of her skepticism, Shiara agrees to accept an unsolicited offer for sponsorship and management for a chance to qualify for the pinnacle of Maximum Racing season. Cassica is quickly dazzled and swept up in the glamour while Shiara is surlier than usual and even more suspicious than her teammate can stomach. It’s soon apparent that the terrifying tracks are only a small part of the danger that the duo will face. Suddenly, the girls are in so deep that no one can help them. They truly only have each other—or maybe not even that, anymore.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2017.

Book Review: The Tribulations of August Barton by Jennifer LeBlanc

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Book Review: The Date to Save by Stephanie Kate Strohm

The Date to Save
Stephanie Kate Strohm
Point, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-14906-7
Hardcover

This succinct story is an oral documentary, delivered in written format.  Quite appealing to this avid reader, it seemed to create the quick, concise medium to appropriately accompany the pace of the plot.  In a kind-of-counterintuitive way, I feel like this is a fantastic format for the wary reader, too.  Essentially composed of conversations, with few notes added; extraneous minutiae is eliminated.  Fewer words means better choices.  Each sentence is carefully crafted and I definitely dig the dialogue.

Students at San Anselmo Prep are stars among California high school scholars, with none so bright as Angelica’s older brother.  Hutch, however; has graduated.  This may very well be Angelica’s time to shine.  Things are already looking up.

The school newspaper’s churlish chief-of-staff has rejected every idea Angelica has submitted.  And yet, she persisted.  Admittedly underwhelmed with the assignment to cover the upcoming Academic Battle, Angelica’s optimism easily overrode the terrible topic to embrace the opportunity.

As any decent investigative reporter knows, one thing leads to another.  The initial inquiry into the Academic Battle shows a more serious scenario.  A school scheduling snafu that cannot have been coincidence is sure to be catastrophic.  Compelled to solve the problem and identify the perpetrator; Angelica nevertheless agrees to help the school mascot when he approaches her with a different mystery, affecting the same date.

Countering the wholly consumed Angelica is Becca.  The determinedly grumpy, blue-haired-bestie is everyone’s fantasy friend.  This fierce non-conformist is a loyal companion bringing balance with her humor and unique outlook.

I found The Date to Save to be a pleasant read with one paragraph in particular that I dearly love, wherein Ms. Strohm articulates a reader’s feelings about books in a way that I want to capture for a t-shirt or bumper sticker.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2017.

Book Review: The Hostess with the Ghostess by E. J. Copperman

The Hostess with the Ghostess
A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #9
E. J. Copperman
Crooked Lane Books, January 2018
ISBN: 978-1-6833-1450-9
Hardcover

Alison Kerby returns in the 9th book in the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious thirteen-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father.  It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts.  She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’   From the publisher: Things are never quiet for long at the Haunted Guesthouse.  Right as Alison Kerby finally gets some peace, long-time deceased Paul Harrison’s recently murdered brother, Richard, shows up looking for the ghostly detective.  But Paul has left for parts unknown months ago – – and Alison doesn’t know how to find him.  As she searches for Paul, Alison discovers that Richard, who was a lawyer, was working a case about a woman accused of murdering her stepfather.  It quickly becomes clear that Richard was getting too close to the truth and was forcibly kept quiet.  Now as Alison continues her investigation, she gets a creeping sensation that the murderer doesn’t appreciate her snooping around.  And if she doesn’t stop, she’ll be next . . .

I found it very helpful to have a “Cast of Characters” on the page before page 1 of the book.  I also loved the first paragraph:  “’Something’s missing.’  I was sitting on a barstool next to the center island in my kitchen, having a conversation with five other people, two of whom were alive.”  But Alison, whose quote that is, quickly goes on to explain, and to introduce those with her, both living and otherwise.  After getting divorced from her 1st husband, who she not-so-lovingly refers to as “the Swine,” she returns to her hometown of Harbor Haven, on the “deservedly famous Jersey Shore,” where she opens her guesthouse. Her euphemisms for the ghosts who reside there, after she introduces the “alive people in the room,” range from “non-living” to those who have been “deprived of life,” but they definitely come to life in this delightful, wholly entertaining book. There is also Maxie’s ghost husband, Everett, who still spends time at the local gas station, where he died. He thinks of it as standing guard at his post.

When first meeting the aforementioned Richard, her “first thought was, “I wonder if he’d do some spook shows.”  Alison et al agree to search for his missing dead brother, who she refers to as her “conscience. He was the Jiminy Cricket of ghosts.”  Alison has now been remarried for four months, to one Josh Kaplan.  Also added to the mix is her daughter Melissa’s little adopted ghost dog, destined to “always be a puppy,” of course.  I loved the comment made when Melissa’s interactions with Alison prompts the latter to think that she couldn’t even be grumpy, which puts “something of a damper on my day.  If you can’t be grumpy, what’s the point of being from New Jersey?”  The plot moves nicely into the investigation inhttp://www.ejcopperman.com/to the murders, which is resolved with contributions from the ghosts, of course.

As I have said in the past about the Copperman books, and it remains just as true, the writing is wonderful, with the author’s s trademark laugh-out-loud wit and intelligence, well-plotted mystery and very well-drawn characters, alive or otherwise.  My preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.  His dedication to several brilliant comics of years past ends with the words “there aren’t enough funny people in the world,” a deficit which he certainly helps to overcome.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2018.

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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