Book Review: Spell Book & Scandal by Jen McConnel

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Book Reviews: Booke of the Hidden by Jeri Westerson, Gone Gull by Donna Andrews and The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Booke of the Hidden
Booke of the Hidden #1
Jeri Westerson
Diversion Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63576-050-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

To get a fresh start away from a bad relationship, Kylie Strange moves across the country to open a shop in a seemingly quiet town in rural Maine. During renovations on Strange Herbs & Teas, she discovers a peculiar and ancient codex, The Booke of the Hidden, bricked into the wall. Every small town has its legends and unusual histories, and this artifact sends Kylie right into the center of Moody Bog’s biggest secret.

While puzzling over the tome’s oddly blank pages, Kylie gets an unexpected visitor―Erasmus Dark, an inscrutable stranger who claims to be a demon, knows she has the book, and warns her that she has opened a portal to the netherworld. Kylie brushes off this nonsense, until a series of bizarre murders put her, the newcomer, at the center. With the help of the demon and a coven of witches she befriends while dodging the handsome but sharp-eyed sheriff, Kylie hunts for a killer―that might not be human.

Generally speaking, I don’t gravitate towards witchy books but this one had a couple of things going for it before I even started—the description sounds awesome and I already knew I’d enjoy this because it’s written by Jeri Westerson. If you ask me, Ms. Westerson is one of those authors who is way under-recognized and I’ve been happy with everything by her I’ve ever read.

When Kylie finds that book, she does what anybody would do, she opens it. What follows—a coven of witches, a possible demon, murder and a bit of romance—turn this find into something quite out of the ordinary but Kylie keeps her cool, for the most part, and her interactions with Erasmus are often laugh out loud funny. Even the name of the town, Moody Bog, draws out a smile and, while the pacing is a little on the slow side, I chalk that up mostly to setting things up for the books to come. I came to feel really attached to the kind of creepy but appealing Moody Bog and its inhabitants and to the story that leads Kylie and her new “friends” down a most unlikely path on the way to solving the murder.

So, did Booke of the Hidden live up to its description? Yes, it certainly did and its essential differences from Ms. Westerson‘s other work make this a really fun departure from her  straightforward historical mysteries. Despite my slight aversion to witch-related stories, I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Gone Gull
A Meg Langslow Mystery #21
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07856-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Meg is spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center, helping her grandmother Cordelia run the studios. But someone is committing acts of vandalism, threatening to ruin the newly-opened center’s reputation. Is it the work of a rival center? Have the developers who want to build a resort atop Biscuit Mountain found a new tactic to pressure Cordelia into selling? Or is the real target Meg’s grandfather, who points out that any number of environmentally irresponsible people and organizations could have it in for him?

While Meg is trying to track down the vandal, her grandfather is more interested in locating a rare gull. Their missions collide when a body is found in one of the classrooms. Can Meg identify the vandal and the murderer in time to save the center’s name―while helping her grandfather track down and rescue his beloved gulls?

You would think that this series would have begun to show signs of becoming stale and tired by now but that hasn’t happened. Donna Andrews has the magic touch and always seems to come up with fresh ideas and new things to laugh about but the early books still stick with me, especially particular characters beyond Meg.

This time, we have to get along without some of the old regulars (although two of my favorites, Spike the Small Evil One and Meg’s dad, are here) because Meg has gone out of town but her grandparents do a lot to make up for the missing. Meg’s blacksmithing has taken something of a back seat over the course of the series but it’s central to the story in Gone Gull as she’s agreed to teach classes for a few weeks at her grandmother’s new craft studio. Unfortunately, someone seems to have it in for the center, perpetrating small acts of sabotage, and no one is sure who’s doing it. Then Meg discovers a body and the real sleuthing begins.

I have to say the mystery to be solved isn’t as much in the forefront as the wild and quirky activities of the characters but it’s still a good one with some twists and turns to keep the reader occupied while chuckling at what’s going on. Oh, and the gull referred to in the title? That bird and Meg’s grandfather are the source of more than a few laugh out loud moments and, for me, was the icing on the cake. Having said that, I’ll be glad if we have Meg back in her usual surroundings next time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Grove Atlantic, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-8021-2689-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds.

It doesn’t happen often but, every once in a while, I encounter a book that just leaves me cold and this is one of them. On the surface, I should have loved it because it’s apocalyptic (one of my preferred subgenres) and follows the physical as well as mental/emotional journey of a young family trying to cope with a world gone sour. To my dismay, I couldn’t connect with this in any way.

Characters, worldbuilding and plot are the three main components of any work of fiction and there is an interesting plot here in that the protagonist and her husband and baby are forced to find a way to escape the floodwaters and the devastation that has crushed London and the English countryside. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no worldbuilding; we know the water has risen to submerge much of England but that’s all we know. What caused this? A meteor strike, global warming, some dastardly act of a mad scientist, an alien attack of some sort? It’s hard to really feel what the survivors have to deal with when we know so little.

Worst of all, the characters are close to being cardboard cutouts when no one even has a name, just an initial. To me, this is a writing style that is almost pretentious and, coupled with the first person present tense that I so dislike, well, I just didn’t care very much. I find this happens fairly frequently when I read what’s called “literary fiction”.

The one thing that helps to lift this above the abyss is the author’s attention to the bonds between mother and child and she does that extremely well. I think perhaps that was intended to be the core theme and the apocalyptic elements just got in the way. Certainly, a lot of readers and inhabitants of the publishing world have a much more favorable reaction and, although I didn’t care much for this story, I think Megan Hunter is an author to watch..

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Review: Bad Girl Gone by Temple Mathews

Bad Girl Gone
Temple Mathews
St. Martin’s Griffin, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-05881-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sixteen year-old Echo Stone awakens in a cold sweat in a dark room, having no idea where she is or how she got there. But she soon finds out she’s in Middle House, an orphanage filled with mysteriously troubled kids.

There’s just one problem: she’s not an orphan. Her parents are very much alive.

She explains this to everyone, but no one will listen. After befriending a sympathetic (and handsome) boy, Echo is able to escape Middle House and rush home, only to discover it sealed off by crime scene tape and covered in the evidence of a terrible and violent crime. As Echo grapples with this world-shattering information, she spots her parents driving by and rushes to flag them down. Standing in the middle of street, waving her arms to get their attention, her parents’ car drives right through her.

She was right. Her parents are alive―but she’s not.

She’s a ghost, just like all the other denizens of Middle House. Desperate to somehow get her life back and reconnect with her still-alive boyfriend, Echo embarks on a quest to solve her own murder. As the list of suspects grows, the quest evolves into a journey of self-discovery in which she learns she wasn’t quite the girl she thought she was. In a twist of fate, she’s presented with one last chance to reclaim her life and must make a decision which will either haunt her or bless her forever.­­­­

The premise of a dead person having to solve her own murder is not new but, to me, it’s intriguing and I really looked forward to seeing what Mr. Mathews would do with the idea. For the most part, I thought it was entertaining if not quite fabulous.

OK, so Echo is a ghost and is in an orphanage of sorts with a bunch of other dead kids, all murdered, and they need to solve their murders before they can move on. Some have superpowers that help them do this and Echo’s is kind of weird but ultimately useful. Along with investigating her demise, Echo will learn quite a lot about herself and how her opinions about her living self don’t exactly square with others’ views. That’s a good thing because, well, Echo isn’t the most likeable girl I’ve encountered.

This story would have been 50% better without the silly, awkward love triangle. Young adult fiction is rife with love triangles—hormones, I guess—but, as much as I dislike them, at least they’re usually normal, meaning all parties are breathing. Here we have two ghosts and a living boy. Uh-uh, doesn’t work and is not appealing. For the most part, I just sort of skimmed over the romantic parts as much as I could

Bottomline, I think the writing is a bit juvenile even with some rough language (or maybe because of it) and the story had promise that wasn’t quite delivered but I still enjoyed it to a degree. Certainly, Bad Girl Gone was not a waste of my time but I hope Mr. Mathews’ next YA novel will fit a little better in this genre.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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An Excerpt from Bad Girl Gone

Awakening

When I tried to remember exactly how I came to be lying in the cold black room, my mind couldn’t focus.

I could feel myself slowly climbing upward, clawing my way out of the clutches of a nightmare. This was usually a good feeling, because you knew you were just dreaming, and the nightmare was over. Except this time it wasn’t. My hands felt clammy. I gripped the sheets until I knew my knuckles must be white. Help me, I thought. Somebody please help me.

I had no idea where I was, and for a terrifying second I couldn’t even remember who I was. But then I remembered my name. Echo. Echo Stone. My real name is Eileen. When I was a toddler, I waddled around repeating everything my parents said and they called me “Echo,” and it just stuck.

Remembering my name and how I got it kick-started my brain. I knew who I was. I remembered that I was sixteen years old and lived in Kirkland, Washington, with my mom and dad. It was all coming back to me. Mom was a dentist and Dad taught middle school English. Good, I could remember parts of my life. But I was still in a dark, cold room and had no idea how I got there. I held back a scream, my chest tightening. Don’t lose it, Echo, keep it together, I told myself. Calm down, think good thoughts.

I pictured Andy, my boyfriend. Six feet tall, broad shoul- ders, blue eyes, and long golden-brown hair. He loved to feed me cookie bites and called me his rabbit. I called him Wolfie. Sometimes he got the hiccups for no reason at all and usually laughed them away. Thinking of Andy momentarily made me feel warm inside, even though the room was freezing.

Where was I? I was shivering and yet also bathed in sweat, my skin slick with it. I clutched for my trusty Saint Christopher necklace. But it wasn’t there. Mom gave it to me to protect me when I traveled. Would it protect me now? I would never have lost it. The chain must have broken. And then I had an ugly thought. What if someone had ripped it from my neck? I shuddered. Where are you, Andy? I need you!

I opened my eyes as wide as I could. It was pitch black. My pounding heart told me, This isn’t some nightmare—it’s real. I hugged myself and breathed deeply, trying to calm my nerves. My shoulders were tight. I rubbed the sheets beneath me. The ones at home in my bed were soft. These were stiff and coarse. I was somewhere completely and painfully foreign. In my head I was talking to myself in a rapid voice, my fear voice: What is this?—what is this?—what is this?

Someone nearby was crying. I had a knot in my stomach and my throat hurt, like I’d screamed for hours. My head hurt, too, and I guessed I must have fallen, or maybe something heavy fell on me. I explored my scalp, gently at first, then more bravely, moving my fingers, searching for a lump. I found nothing . . . no lump, no holes. My skull was intact, though my long auburn hair felt tangled and greasy. I inhaled through my nose, searching for familiar scents. Mom’s cinnamon rolls, Dad’s after- shave. But nothing smelled even vaguely familiar, and the odors that did find my nose were horrible. Smoke. Vinegar. Sulfur.

I reached for my bedside lamp—but my fingers touched something damp and stringy. Oh god. The knot in my stomach tightened and I yanked my hand back. I willed my eyes to ad- just to the dark, but as I blinked, strange pulsing figures leapt out at me. It must have been my mind playing tricks. Right?

I took five good, long breaths, sucking in through my nose and exhaling through my pursed lips, just like my grandma Tilly taught me years ago. But five breaths weren’t enough. So I took ten, and finally my heart rate slowed from a galloping panic to a steady, cautious thudding. Soon I was able to distin- guish shapes. Was that a girl in a bed next to mine? Her hair was impossibly thick and long, spilling down her back. Her sweaty hair. That’s what I must have reached out and touched. My heart returned to its punishing rhythm, a fist clenching and unclenching in my chest. The nearby crying stopped. But then it was replaced by something worse, a ripping sound, like bone being cut by a rusty saw. And then a gurgling . . . followed by a low, feral growling noise. Faraway cackling laughter. What the hell was going on?

About the Author

Author Temple Matthews is already well versed in the world of screenwriting, with such children’s films under his belt as Disney’s Return to Neverland, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. He wrote Aloha Scooby Doo for Warner Brothers and Picture This for MGM. He is also the author of the The New Kid trilogy. Matthews has now turned to a different kind of story telling with his young adult novel BAD GIRL GONE. With a spunky main character, this novel explores the aftermath of tragedy, and whether what we think about ourselves matches with how the world sees us because, as we all know, right and wrong is sometimes grey when thrown into the madness of high school.

Book Review: A Ghostly Mortality by Tonya Kappes

a-ghostly-mortalityA Ghostly Mortality
A Ghostly Southern Mystery #6
Tonya Kappes
Witness, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-246697-6
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

That ghost sure looks . . . familiar

Only a handful of people know that Emma Lee Raines, proprietor of a small-town Kentucky funeral home, is a “Betweener.” She helps ghosts stuck between here and the ever-after—murdered ghosts. Once Emma Lee gets them justice they can cross over to the great beyond.

But Emma Lee’s own sister refuses to believe in her special ability. In fact, the Raines sisters have barely gotten along since Charlotte Rae left the family business for the competition. After a doozy of an argument, Emma Lee is relieved to see Charlotte Rae back home to make nice. Until she realizes her usually snorting, sarcastic, family-ditching sister is a . . . ghost.

Charlotte Rae has no earthly idea who murdered her or why. With her heart in tatters, Emma Lee relies more than ever on her sexy beau, Sheriff Jack Henry Ross…because this time, catching a killer means the Raines sisters will have to make peace with each other first.

The first book in this series, A Ghostly Undertaking, came out two years ago and it’s been on my need-to-find-time-for list ever since but I just never got around to it so here I am jumping in with the sixth title. I’m here to tell ya it’s my own darned fault that I’ve been missing out.

There are cozies and there are cozies. The best of them have an appealing protagonist, a small town atmosphere (even if it’s an urban area), a decent puzzle to solve with red herrings here and there, maybe a bit of romance, and a healthy dose of humor. A Ghostly Mortality hits all those hotbuttons and more.

Ever since I “discovered” the Hitchcock Sewell series by Tim Cockey way back about 17 years ago, I’ve appreciated the humor that be found in a mystery involving undertakers and, after all, haven’t we all indulged in occasional black humor regarding those fine folks? The difference here is that the undertaker in question is a woman…oh, and that she sees and talks to murder victims. With ghosts popping up willy-nilly, Emma Lee keeps busy (inbetween funerals) finding out who killed them so they can finally cross over.

What makes the case unusual this time is that the ghost happens to be Emma Lee’s sister, Charlotte Rae, who pulled out of the family business and joined a much flashier outfit. Certainly Charlotte Rae isn’t the nicest sister in the world and she’s not entirely trustworthy but who on earth would want her dead?

Emma Lee is just the kind of lead character I enjoy in a cozy—intelligent, snoopy without being stupid, and caring about the ghosts she tries to help. The other player I especially liked is Emma Lee’s cantankerous Granny and then there’s Sheriff Jack Henry Ross. All I’ll say about him is yum. Oh, and a stray ghost cat shows up, too, a really nice touch.

So, maybe I did myself a favor being so lackadaisical about starting this series; now I can go back to the first book and catch up with all five that came before A Ghostly Mortality and I’m sure I’ll smile all the way through 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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An Excerpt from A Ghostly Mortality

Lawdy bee.” Granny scooted to the edge of the chair and lifted her arms in the air like she was worshiping in the Sunday morning service at Sleepy Hollow Baptist and the spirit just got put in her.

I sucked in a deep breath, preparing myself for whatever was going to come out of Zula Fae Raines Payne’s mouth, my granny. She was a ball of southern spitfire in her five-foot-four-inch frame topped off with bright red hair that I wasn’t sure was real or out of a L’Oréal bottle she’d gotten down at the Buy-N-Fly.

“Please, please, please,” she begged. “Let me die before anything happens to Emma Lee.” Her body slid down the fancy, high-back mahogany leather chair as she fell to her knees with her hands clasped together, bringing them back up in the air as she pleaded to the Big Guy in the sky. “I’m begging you.”

“Are you nuts?” My voice faded to a hushed stillness. I glanced back at the closed door of my sister’s new office, in fear she was going to walk in and see Granny acting up. I sat in the other fancy, high-back mahogany leather chair next to Granny’s and grabbed her by the loose skin of her underarm. “Get back up on this chair before Charlotte Rae gets back in here and sees you acting like a fool.”

“What?” Granny quirked her eyebrows questioningly as if her behavior was normal. My head dropped along with my jaw in the “are you kidding me” look.

“Well, I ain’t lying!” She spat, “I do hope and pray you are the granddaughter that will be doing my funeral, unless you get a flare up of the ‘Funeral Trauma.’ ” She sucked in a deep breath and got up off her knees. She ran her bony fingers down the front of her cream sweater to smooth out any wrinkles so she’d be presentable like a good southern woman, forgetting she was just on her knees begging for mercy.

“Flare up?” I sighed with exasperation. “It’s not like arthritis.”

The “Funeral Trauma.” It was true. I was diagnosed with the “Funeral Trauma” after a decorative plastic Santa fell off the roof of Artie’s Meat and Deli, knocking me flat out cold and now I could see dead people. I had told Doc Clyde I was having some sort of hallucinations and seeing dead people, but he insisted I had been in the funeral business a little too long and seeing corpses all of my life had brought on the trauma. Truthfully, the Santa had given me a gift. Not a gift you’d expect Santa to give you, but it was the gift of seeing clients of Eternal Slumber, my family’s funeral home business where I was the undertaker. Some family business. Anyway, a psychic told me I was now a Betweener. I helped people who were stuck between here and the ever after. The Great Beyond. The Big Guy in the sky. One catch . . . the dead people I saw were murdered and they needed me to help them solve their murder before they could cross over.

“I’m fine,” I huffed and took the pamphlet off of Charlotte Rae’s desk, keeping my gift to myself. The only people who knew were me, the psychic and Sheriff Jack Henry Ross, my hot, hunky and sexy boyfriend. He was as handy as a pocket on a shirt when it came time for me to find a killer when a ghost was following me around. “We are here to get her to sign my papers and talk about this sideboard issue once and for all.” Granny stared at me.

My head slid forward like a turtle and I popped my eyes open.

“I’m fine,” I said through closed teeth.

“You are not fine.” Granny rolled her eyes so big, I swear she probably hurt herself. “People are still going around talking about how you talk to yourself.” She shook her finger at me. “If you don’t watch it, you are going to be committed. Surrounded by padded walls. Then—She jabbed her finger on my arm. I swatted her away with the pamphlet.

“Charlotte Rae will have full control over my dead body and I don’t want someone celebrating a wedding while I lay corpse in the next room. Lawdy bee,” Granny griped. I opened the pamphlet and tried to ignore Granny as best I could.

“Do you hear me, Emma Lee?” Granny asked. I could feel her beady eyes boring into me.

“Don’t you be disrespecting your elders. I asked you a question,” she warned when I didn’t immediately answer her question.

“Granny.” I placed the brochure in my lap and reminded myself to remain calm. Something I did often when it came to my granny. “I hear you. Don’t you worry about a thing. By the time you get ready to die, they will have you in the nut-house alongside me,” I joked, knowing it would get her goat. The door flung open and the click of Charlotte Rae’s high-dollar heels tapped the hardwood floor as she sashayed her way back into her office. The soft linen green suit complemented Charlotte’s sparkly green eyes and the chocolate scarf that was neatly tied around her neck. It was the perfect shade of brown to go with her long red hair and pale skin.

“I’m so sorry about that.” She stopped next to our chairs and looked between me and Granny. She shook the long, loose curls over her shoulders. “What? What is wrong, now?”

“Granny is all worried I’m going to get sent away to the nuthouse and you are going to lay her out here.” The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. Or did my subconscious take over my mouth? It was always a competition between me and Charlotte, only it was one-sided. Mine. Charlotte never viewed me as competition because she railroaded me all my life. Like now. She’d left Eternal Slumber with zero guilt, leaving me in charge so she could make more money at Hardgrove’s Legacy Center, formerly known as Hardgrove’s Funeral Homes until they got too big for their britches and decided to host every life event possible just to make more money.

Excerpt from A Ghostly Mortality by Tonya Kappes. Copyright © 2017 by Tonya Kappes. Reproduced with permission from Witness. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

tonya-kappesTonya Kappes has written more than fifteen novels and four novellas, all of which have graced numerous bestseller lists including USA Today. Best known for stories charged with emotion and humor and filled with flawed characters, her novels have garnered reader praise and glowing critical reviews. She lives with her husband, two very spoiled schnauzers, and one ex-stray cat in northern Kentucky. Now that her boys are teenagers, Tonya writes full-time but can be found at all of her guys’ high school games with a pencil and paper in hand.

 

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Book Review: Deliverance by Kristy Centeno

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Title: Deliverance
Author: Kristy Centeno
Publisher: Inkspell Publishing

Publication Date: March 19, 2016
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

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DeliveranceDeliverance
Kristy Centeno
Inkspell Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-939590-79-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

He’s been locked away his entire life. 
He dreams of freedom. 
The only way he can accomplish his goals is by breaking free of the chains tying him to a dark past and gloomy existence. But there’s one catch. He’s not human. 
And he’s never set foot outside his jail. 

Devoted to saving his peers as well as his own life, he sets out to find the one person that can help him achieve his objectives. He knows where she will be and what she will look like, but what he doesn’t anticipate is the fact he finds himself caring for the girl whose life he’s put at risk, more and more each day. 

He has no name. 
He has only known hatred and violence before her. 
However, she will teach him to have faith in humanity, even if she can’t trust him. 
Together they will embark on a journey to bring down a corrupt system responsible for the loss of many innocent lives. But when he finds his feelings compromised, can he still move on knowing that doing so will put an end to the life she once knew? How far is he willing to go to be free? 

From the very beginning, this book was a surprise to me. I’d read the publisher’s description but I still wasn’t really prepared for all the elements that came together to make Deliverance such an interesting and compelling story.

While “dark fantasy” is as good a genre as any, this really is a blend of dark fantasy, mystery, romance and even science fiction, not to mention a large dollop of action adventure. Plot and characterization are equally important and even the less savory players have a strong presence.

Imagine, if you will, spending your entire life closed up and removed from the rest of the world. That’s Tiger’s whole existence and he knows nothing about normal living. Occasionally, I found this to be a little unworkable for the story because it’s hard to fathom how such isolation could still result in a fairly knowledgeable and sane person but it’s also what makes this young man so appealing. His very innocence of the ways of the world have made him a kind, thoughtful individual rather than the mentally troubled and unpleasant person most of us would expect.

Katrina, on the other hand, is a no-nonsense young woman who generally avoids unnecessary attention and, yet, when she’s confronted with a difficult and certainly perilous situation, she chooses to help Tiger. She is aware of the potential dangers but, essentially, Katrina believes in doing the right thing and it’s that sort of idealism that makes her who she is, not to mention her strong devotion to her grandmother, Rose. Rose herself is the third character who pulled me into the story and wouldn’t let me go.

When all is said and done, Deliverance is all about good versus evil and, as such, I was intrigued and the story never let me down. Ms. Centeno has come up with a premise that’s a bit mindboggling and fleshed it out with memorable people; I’ll look forward to more of her work.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2016.

About the Author

Kristy CentenoKristy Centeno is the author of the Secrets of the Moon saga and Keeper Witches series. She has always had a passion for books and after years of being an avid reader, she decided to transform her desire to write into a reality and thus, her first novel was born. When she’s not busy taking care of her five children or holding down the fort, she finds time to sit and do what she loves the most: writing.

Author Links:

Website // Blog // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Book Reviews: The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos and Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace

The Mystery of Hollow PlacesThe Mystery of Hollow Places
Rebecca Podos
Balzer + Bray, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-237334-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist; she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when she was a baby, a woman who was always possessed of a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as “troubled waters.”

Now Imogene is seventeen, and her father, a famous author of medical mysteries, has struck out in the middle of the night and hasn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. And she decides it’s up to her to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of reading her father’s books to track down a woman she’s only known in stories in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life.

I was drawn to this book by the very idea of this young girl trying to solve a mystery by using the skills and knowledge she’s acquired through reading mysteries. That’s about as much credibility as an amateur sleuth can hope to have and mighty few do so, in my eyes, Imogene already has an advantage.

Imogene has always known that her mom suffered from debilitating depression but, on the surface, she’s had a happy life with a loving father and stepmother so it’s especially alarming when her father disappears. Besides the expected fears that arise when someone goes missing, Imogene is thrust into a search for herself as well as her dad. She’s a complex girl, quite the loner even though she has a terrific friend in Jessa who is actually my favorite character because she has a strength and loyalty about her that I admire. It’s no surprise that Imogene has a certain lack of self-assurance—after all, her mother left her behind—and that her self-worth takes another swan dive when her father seemingly walks out.

While I had a great deal of sympathy for this girl, I really think her story will have the strongest impact on readers who have experienced similar troubles. The mystery here isn’t a conventional one; rather, this is a psychological study of family and its dysfunctional parts along with a search for two missing people. Ms. Podos is a writer with real talent and I’m looking forward to much more from her in the future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

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Shallow GravesShallow Graves
Kali Wallace
Katherine Tegen Books, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-236620-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When seventeen-year-old Breezy Lin wakes up in a shallow grave one year after her death, she doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious—and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past. In life, Breezy was always drawn to the elegance of the universe and the mystery of the stars. Now she must set out to find answers and discover what is to become of her in the gritty, dangerous world to which she now belongs—where killers hide in plain sight, and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she finds is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous.

Just imagine if you were to wake up one day only to discover that you’re actually dead. That’s what happens to young Breezy and she’s immediately thrust into the midst of her own very personal mystery. Not only that, she can sense those around her who have killed. Add to that the realization that there are others who, like her, are…odd…and you have a “life” that is intensely strange and full of questions crying out for answers. The interesting thing about Shallow Graves is that Breezy may not find all the answers she’s looking for.

Is Breezy a monster because she is/was dead? I suspect each reader will reach their own conclusion about that but, for me, yes, she is a monster by definition but there is much about her that brings out her essential humanity and I ended up liking her a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I was particularly enthused about other characters, mainly because there were just too many and not enough attention was paid to them by the author to really bring them to life.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book and, although it sometimes seems rather jumbled and aimless, I recommend readers push through. In the end, I don’t think you’ll be sorry you did and it will appeal to lovers of mystery as well as dark fantasy. The only real quibble I have with Shallow Graves is that the ending is a bit of a non-ender but I don’t think all things absolutely have to be tied up in neat little packages, do you?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

Book Review: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

The Accident SeasonThe Accident Season
Moira Fowley-Doyle
Kathy Dawson Books, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-552-57130-2
Trade Paperback

For eleven months of the year, Cara, older sister Alice, her ex-step brother Sam and her mother don’t worry about anything unusual, but come the first of October, everything changes. That’s when the Accident Season begins. Cara’s not exactly sure what started this evil situation, but eight years ago, her father was killed, her favorite uncle died under mysterious circumstances four years later and every year there have been broken bones, scrapes, cuts, gouges and sprains.

This time around, Cara is edgier than usual for reasons she can’t quite explain. Things begin to escalate when she realizes that a strange and ghostly girl in her year (the story is set in the United Kingdom) named Elise appears in every single picture she has. Sometimes she’s fully visible, in others, she’s represented by an arm, a bit of her blouse, etc. When Cara realizes this and shows her siblings as well as her witchy tarot-card reading best friend Bea, they try to rationalize it, so Cara becomes determined to confront Elise at school. Easy to decide to do so, but when she tries to find Elise who has been responsible for the secret box in the library, typing up other students’ deepest, darkest secrets on an ancient typewriter for as long as Cara can remember, the girl cannot be found. Odder still, nobody, not even the teachers seems to remember her.

As Cara becomes more determined to solve this mystery, she’s also wrestling with how she feels about her ex-step brother, what’s happening with her best friend who seems to be slipping away and worried about Alice’s relationship with a musician who is four years older. Most of all, she wonders just exactly how real is the accident season.

This book unfolds like someone might be reading it in an old house by candlelight while a full moon hovers outside the window. There’s an extremely surrealistic and poetic quality to it and these, coupled with the ever-shifting convolutions as Cara and the others try to find Elise, survive the Accident Season as well as throw one of the oddest Halloween parties ever described in a book, will grab not only teens, but many adults as well. Granted there is a bit of profanity, drinking and references to sex, but those pale in comparison to the way this debut novel was written. It would be a perfect one to read on Halloween Night.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS