Book Review: Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs @JennyBoylan @CeladonBooks

Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Celadon Books, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-26187-8
Hardcover

Throughout Jimmy’s childhood, he felt torn between loving alone time and aching from emptiness. It’s easy to understand the left-out feeling of one sibling when the rest of the family is off, rallying around the other child. He was genuinely proud of his sister and her mad equestrian skills and obviously his parents had to get her, and her horse, to the shows. He could have joined them; he chose not to. Inevitably, the weekends alone could feel downright lonely. Even with canine company.

But there was another reason. Jimmy didn’t exactly understand it himself, nor did he crave the contemplation needed to attempt to articulate the strong, something-is-not-right gnawing. He more than made up for it by being immensely entertaining, even allowing for a bit of eccentricity. 

Based solely on a shared, whole-hearted adoration for all of the dogs, I expected to enjoy this memoir. I did not anticipate being so enamored with the author. I felt a kinship, in an I-want-to-be-that-true kind of way. I can easily imagine an encounter with Ms. Boylan wherein I would enthusiastically profess my fondness for her latest book and then immediately ask if I could pet her dog. I’m sure she’ll have one with her.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2020.

Book Reviews: The Search for Baby Ruby by Susan Shreve and Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender @AALBooks @kacencallender @Scholastic

The Search for Baby Ruby
Susan Shreve
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-41783-9
Hardcover

Jess has been looking forward to her oldest sister’s wedding, particularly being able to participate in the celebratory events surrounding it, for an entire year. Dressing for the rehearsal dinner in the swank Los Angeles hotel suite, she felt a mix of nerves and excitement.

Until her feckless brother barged in, Baby Ruby in his arms. To no one’s surprise, the babysitter he’d arranged did not show up. Danny was determined to attend the event, as he had a ‘very important’ speech to make. He needed Jess to stay in and babysit. She would miss the entire evening’s festivities.

To soothe her soul, Jess lets the baby stretch out on a blanket on the floor while she…admires…the intricately beaded wedding gown and gobs of brand-new make-up. In a typical, sulky-teen-kind-of-way, Jess quickly becomes distracted and is unsure of how much time has passed since she’s checked on Baby Ruby.

When she sticks her head out of the bathroom, she is shocked to see only wrinkles where Baby Ruby once was. The child is gone.

Jess pulls her shop-lifting-sister, Teddy, into her panic and the two pair up to find the infant before anyone else knows she’s missing. Unaware that housekeeping has alerted the authorities, the teen sleuths separate to search the hotel.

The Search for Baby Ruby by Susan Shreve is a Middle-Grade mystery with a quick start and fast, but not frantic, pace that makes for an engaging, effortless read.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2020.

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Hurricane Child
Kacen/Kheryn Callender
Scholastic Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-12930-4
Hardcover

Sometimes I’m stunned by how hard a Middle Grade book can hit me. Hurricane Child by Kacen/Kheryn Callender serves as a stellar example.

Caroline is complex, particularly for an adolescent island-girl. She is carrying a bunch of baggage, and has no one to help with the load.

Years ago, an emptiness began to eat at her. Her mother inexplicably abandoned Caroline and her father. With her dad working all the time, and avoiding her questions when he was around, a frustration began to build and threaten to fill her completely. Nothing but negative emotions and absolutely not a soul to share with, Caroline was always angry and so very alone.

Until she meets Kalinda.

New students are rare in the tiny St. Thomas school, but Kalinda seems to handle being the center of attention easily. Caroline is immediately attracted to her confidence and poise and she quickly decides to befriend this intriguing young lady. As soon as possible.

Here, Ms. Callender considers the pseudo-taboo subject of sexuality. Simultaneously showing two sides of the same coin provides perspective and allows the reader to experience differing mind-sets, neutrally. The reason for her mother’s departure keeps me contemplative and has me considering various points-of-view.

Caroline’s stubborn and defiant actions almost over-ride the seriousness of some situations, making the punch a bit more surprising, thus proving to be more painful. And I mean that in the best way possible.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2019.

Book Review: The Long Call by Ann Cleeves @AnnCleeves @panmacmillan @MinotaurBooks

The Long Call
The Two Rivers #1
Ann Cleeves
Pan Macmillan, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-5098-8956-3
Trade Paperback
Minotaur, July 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-20445-5
Trade Paperback

Ann Cleeves is the well known author of two very popular mystery series; Shetland with detective Jimmy Perez, and Vera, with Detective Vera Stanhope. Here in The Long Call we meet a brand new Detective, DI Matthew Venn. Matthew has returned to Barnstaple in North Devon where he grew up. His father died recently but Matthew hadn’t seen or spoken to his parents since he began attending university, unable to conform to the strict evangelical group they belonged to known as the Barnum Brethren.

The body of a man with no identification has been found on the beach. He’s been stabbed and DI Venn’s first task is to identify the victim. It isn’t long before they learn he’s Simon Walden, a secretive man with mental issues and a relative stranger to the area.

As DI Venn, along with detectives DS Jen Rafferty and DS Ross May, begin their murder investigation we meet a number of the locals as they are interviewed. Widower Maurice Braddick and his thirty year old Down Syndrome daughter Lucy who attends the Woodyard Centre; Hilary and Colin Marston who have recently moved to the area and might have seen the victim prior to his death; Gabby Henry an artist who teaches painting at the Woodyard Community Centre, who isn’t telling the whole truth, and Caroline Preece with whom the victim had been staying.

There are a few more players in this intriguing mystery including DI Venn’s mother who reaches out to Matthew when her friend’s daughter Christine Shapland, Lucy’s friend and another Down Syndrome girl, disappears. Lives are in danger as the perpetrator attempts to stop the police from uncovering the truth and solving the murder.

Ann Cleeves is a master at portraying these small towns and the people who live in them. They are an endless source of interest as inevitably behind closed doors all is not what it seems…

I highly recommend this mystery and hope it’s the first in a new series featuring DI Matthew Venn. I was happy, however, to see a reference to a new title in Vera Stanhope’s series – The Darkest Evening – due out later this year.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, June 2020.

Book Reviews: That Left Turn at Albuquerque by Scott Phillips and Where Privacy Dies by Priscilla Paton @soho_press @priscilla_paton @CoffeetownPress

That Left Turn at Albuquerque
Scott Phillips
Soho Crime, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-64129-109-5
Hardcover

The author has assembled here an engaging and substantial cast of characters. That he is able to keep track of their criminal activities and their attitudes toward their fellow humans, as well as their active lives is quite impressive.

Most of the characters engage in illegal and scurrilous acts without apparent concern for the morality or humanity of their lives. Or for the impact their actions have on others, often innocent others. That most of their criminality is directed at other criminals may be seen by many readers as a mitigating factor. A significant number of the characters are imbued with some level of humor and see their fellow humans as actually funny at times.

Central to the story is down and out attorney, Douglas Rigby. His small, now solo practice is falling to pieces and he engages in several illegal enterprises in his attempts to stave off bankruptcy and total ruin.

Readers will be treated to bare-knuckle humor, tongue in cheek satire, up-tempo action, murder, mayhem, and a good deal of action. A somewhat peculiar, jaundiced look at society, propels the book from start to finish.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Where Privacy Dies
A Twin Cities Mystery #1
Priscilla Paton
Coffeetown Press, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-665-6
Trade Paperback

From the striking cover to the final resolution of murky death and the corruption by power and money of numerous characters, this rich and at times difficult novel will attract, enthrall and sometimes irk readers. Central to the story is the gradual growth of understanding and appreciation of two detectives in a Twin Cities law enforcement force titled G-Met. It’s an intriguing amalgam of special cops whose franchise covers multiple jurisdictions in the metropolitan region of East Central Minnesota. It’s an authorial creation with much interesting and intriguing potential.

Lead detective is tall lanky Erik Jansson, divorced father of a young son. He is not a typical cop one frequently finds in this genre. He’s paired with a new hire from a small city in southern Minnesota, Deb Metzger, a six-foot plus lesbian, who could competently handle the physical requirements of a corporate bodyguard. The two are not instantly simpatico and thereby inhabit a running source of minor conflict and mutual support which adds a fine level of benign conflict to the novel.

Although the title of the novel is a quickly understood clue to an important dimension of the mystery, this story turns on the deviousness and sometimes nasty inclinations of human beings who have enjoyed a high degree of success without the leavening factor of ethics and moral suasion. The narrative is tight, solid and delves neatly into ego, intrusion of technology, moral failure and the entanglement of those who would ignore their childhood schooling. A multiplicity of characters, crisp dialogue and an absence of unnecessary description adds to the richness of the novel. The novel competently reveals a fresh voice and a thoughtful look into the modern world of computer crime and our almost universal entanglement therein. I recommend this fine novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Trafficked! by Thomas A. Burns, Jr. @3Mdetective

Trafficked!
A Natalie McMasters Mystery #3
Thomas A. Burns
Tekrighter LLC,  April 2019
ISBN 978-0-578-44718-6
Trade Paperback

Natalie McMasters is a private investigator trainee and the narrator of this emotional, terror-steeped and frank novel of love, loss, desperation, enslavement and retribution. She’s good at surveillance, patient, calm and alert. She hasn’t had much training or experience in developing projects that consider all possible events and outcomes, so she travels on grit and instinct.

She’s married, to a young Latino lady who is in the states illegally and thus has no standing with ICE. When ICE comes looking, Lupe runs, leaving a distraught Natalie to wonder about the future. Natalie’s decision, after very little consideration, is to go looking for Lupe. The trail leads to New York where Natalie becomes tangled with city law enforcement, a gaggle of street people, a detective from her hometown, and finally, an evil band of Albanian sex traffickers.

This explicitly written novel starts slowly and ramps up to a frenetic pace almost immediately as Natalie and her detective friend wander through some of the seamier sections of New York and encounter interesting characters on both sides of the law. Scenes are well developed and often gripping in substance. The author captures a good sense of the scenes and characters in the city and on the Albanian’s ship, in a very adult and explicit fashion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: State University of Murder by Lev Raphael and Cattle Kate by Jana Bommersbach @LevRaphael @PPPress

State University of Murder
A Nick Hoffman Mystery #9
Lev Raphael
Perseverance Press, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-56474-609-2
Trade Paperback

Satirical, amusing, sometimes funny, scalpel sharp and relentless, this Nick Hoffman murder story will engage most academics, offend a few and, in the bargain, offers up a classic who-dunnit. Raphael’s writing, as always, is incisive, often cutting and mostly to the point.

The author provides an extensive context of the lives of the two principal characters, Professor of Literature, Nicholas Hoffmann, a semi-professional investigator and his marriage and life partner, Stefan, also a professor at the State University of Michigan (SUM) and a highly thought-of successful crime novelist.

Their department has recently been renamed English and Creative Writing, in the apparently usual manner, by Trustees of the University with little or no faculty consultation. This gives the author opportunity to swing wider his cleaver of criticism, aimed at all members of the academic community, top to bottom. A new chair has also been named, a flamboyant, self-centered, egotistical man of letters from France. He endears himself immediately to all full-time and adjunct faculty by making a series of unilateral decisions without consultation, thus raising to untold levels the ire of the department. Hoffman deplores the new office spaces as well.

The author carefully introduces us to many department members and sets the stage for murder, pointing to faculty jealousies and resentments which abound on this campus. The story moves along at a reasonable pace, with many side trips to drinks, dinner, a dog and social activities. All of it is precisely and clearly written with many quips and even sarcastic references to the world at large.

The story is well-placed in the world of today and reflects accurately the author’s world view and that of a more compressed academic community. The mystery is solved, the murderer arrested and the academics return to their emotionally fraught tasks of educating eager young people.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 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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Cattle Kate
Jana Bommersbach
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0302-2
Hardcover

Award-winning journalist and author, Bommersbach brings to this moving thoughtful novel, years of careful research, good writing and yes, a jaundiced eye. Those attributes are particularly important for this project because the author is directly confronting long-standing scurrilous myth about the subject of the novel, a woman named Ella Watson, and about the mythology of the settlement of the west.

Every child alive in America today as well as previous generations grew up on stories of the men who settled the western plains of North America in the years following the Civil War. There were strong mountain men, trappers, taciturn cowboys, sodbusters and cattlemen. Mostly missing from the narrative are the stories of the strong women who proved up on land grants, herded cattle and made homes for the men in their lives.

This is the story of once such strong woman, secretly married, who owned land in Wyoming Territory and was murdered, along with her husband on a July day in 1889. The couple was murdered by several landowners who claimed, along with help from local newspapers, that she was a pimp and a prostitute and a cattle rustler. Her attackers simply wanted her land and water rights.

The author meticulously tells the story of Ella Watson from her early life in Canada and Kansas to her death. Bommersbach’s canvas is broad and richly colored with the times, the trials and the triumphs of so many women on the frontier. The characters are clever and vividly portrayed. The pace at times slows to a thoughtful meander, but never loses focus. Here is a novel of the true old west to be read, savored and read again.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
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 Review: Beneath the Surface by Rebecca Langham @rlangham85 @ninestarpress @AnAudiobookworm

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Title: Beneath the Surface
Series: Outsider Project #1
Author: Rebecca Langham
Narrator: Kate Roth
Publication Date: March 18, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Beneath the Surface
Outsider Project #1
Rebecca Langham
Narrated by Kate Roth
NineStar Press, March 2019
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

When a change in collective conscious sends the Outsiders, a group of aliens, to the shadows below the city, humans reason that the demonetization of their peers is simply more “humane”. There’s no question nor doubt. Just acceptance.

Lydia had embraced that sense of “truth” for as long as she can remember. The daughter of a powerful governor, she has been able to live her life with more comforts than most. Comforts can be suffocating, though, and when the opportunity to teach Outsider children in their private, “humane” community becomes available, she takes it.

What she finds beneath the city is far from the truth she had grown to know. There she meets Alessia, an Outsider with the knowledge and will to shake the foundation of all those who walk above ground. The two find a new and unexpected connection despite a complete disconnect from the technological world. Or perhaps in spite of it.

Still, it takes a lot more than an immutable connection to change the world. Lydia, Alessia, and a small group of Outsiders must navigate a system of corruption, falsehoods, and twists none of them ever saw coming, all while holding on to the hope to come out alive in the end. But it’s a risk worth taking and a future worth fighting for.

Days after reading Beneath the Surface, I’m still unsure of just what I think about it and it keeps popping back into my mind. That’s not a normal state of events for me but it must be a good thing that I’m still cogitating over this book, right?

The premise is a good one, that humans have won the war with the aliens and have subjugated the survivors, and it’s refreshing to see aliens that are so close in appearance to humans and so subject to many of our behaviors. I missed having any  of the initial conflict between the two because that would have brought a lot of frenetic action to the page and, in fact, the story suffered, for me, by being sort of staid. I also could have done with less attention to the romantic entanglements—I always think there’s too much of that—but the characters did appeal to me a good deal.

Perhaps my indecision about this book lies in the feeling that there are too many threads to follow, too many soapbox issues. Did the author really intend that? I don’t truly know but there’s no doubt that this felt like an allegory for our current conditions in the US (and in a few other countries but most noticeably here) what with our government’s treatment of immigrants and the rise of racism, corruption, terrorism, broken promises and all the other ill will going on here.

Narrator Kate Roth does a nice job other than having some difficulty with male voices and her use of varying accents helped bring it all to life. I’ll gladly listen to more from her.

So, bottomline, Beneath the Surface has a lot to offer but there are facets that prevented me from liking it 100%. I’m hoping for—and expecting—some more booklove with the next installment  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2019.

About the Author

Rebecca Langham lives in the Blue Mountains (Australia) with her partner, children, and a menagerie of pets. She has been a foster carer for over ten years.

A Xenite, a Whovian and all-round general nerd, Rebecca is a lover of science fiction, comic books, and caffeine.  When she isn’t teaching History to high schoolers or wrangling children, Rebecca enjoys playing broomball and reading.

Connect with Rebecca:

Website // Twitter // Facebook

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About the Narrator

A global voice, Kate brings her broad experience and expertise into the studio and into her voice over delivery. With her unique blend of accents, a project can only “shine” with the versatility and distinct sound of her voice

Australian, British and North American accents are within Kate’s range.

Adaptive in style and tone, depending on your needs, Kate can deliver a wide range of voices. From conversational to authoritative; fun to serious; sophisticated to knowledgeable and beyond.

Connect with Kate:

Website // Twitter // Facebook

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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