Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman

Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind
A Jesse Stone Novel #17
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-57494-8
Hardcover

One would not expect racial unrest in the sleepy town of Paradise, MA, but Jesse Stone and his cops have their hands full.  To begin with, a black woman is assaulted in a neighboring town and it is made to look like a murder that occurred in Paradise years before.  The woman was in a relationship with a white man, and unfortunately she dies.  Then another black female, Alisha, who Jesse hired for diversity purposes, responds to a call at a bar and is taunted by bikers.  She also has a relationship with a white man.  Soon, however, things get worse.

A cross is burned on the lawn of Jesse’s old house, which was bought by a couple, a white woman and a dark Indian man, with two children.  Apparently the fire was set with kerosene, and a check of places where it could have been bought turns up a CCTV image.  When Alisha spots the person captured in the CCTV as she emerges from a bar, legally over the limit, she chases him into a blind alley and responds to what she believes is a shot by shooting and killing him.

It turns out that the victim is the son of a strident agitator seeking to incite a race war.  Of course, a black cop killing a white person is the perfect excuse.  Especially when the investigation turns up no weapon by or near the victim.  Jesse to the rescue.  As a side story, Jesse now is abstaining from alcohol and is attending AA meetings.

Mr. Coleman continues to live up to the standards set by Robert B. Parker in this latest addition to the Jesse Stone series, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2018.

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Book Reviews: Journey to a Promised Land by Allison Lassieur and Three Twigs for the Campfire by Joseph Cognard

Journey to a Promised Land (I Am America)
A Story of the Exodusters
Allison Lassieur
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1631632761
Trade Paperback

Hattie has a dream. A far-reaching fantasy, some would say, but she knows she can find a way. She will become a teacher.

The spring of 1879 tried to bring a fresh start to a new world in Nashville, Tennessee. Although each of Hattie’s parents had been born into slavery, both obtained an education immediately following the Civil War. Her father works just as hard today, but for it is himself and his family and in his very own black-smith shop. Her mother happily runs the household and Hattie contributes, too. Not only a stand-out student, she also earns money for her family by mending for Miss Bradford.

It’s a good enough life for Hattie. She knows, of course, that recently, black folks have been joining together to make the journey to Kansas. Tales of towns with nothing but black faces tempt her parents and Mr. Singleton sure has been working hard to convince her family to make the move to Nicodemus, a small town being established and in need of a blacksmith.

It isn’t until her father leaves the house for a meeting about the potential move that it hits Hattie. She’s heard stories of what happens to black men who dare attend these gatherings. And suddenly, she is scared for her father. After seeing him on the receiving end of retaliation—Nat had the audacity to charge a white man for his work—Hattie understands the very real danger they are in.

Loathe to miss school, Hattie could not have imagined the education she would receive during her journey. Seeing the stark differences between the group of black travelers when compared to almost every clump of white men, was a shock. Whereas individual black people intuitively worked towards the greater good of their party, sharing the last crumbs and caring for those in need; the freakish faction of inexplicably angry, willfully ignorant and hella hateful white men appeared to unite solely to terrorize black citizens.

I wish I could put a copy of this heroic historical fiction in every single classroom. It is that good and unquestionably, that vital. Although Hattie’s family may be a figment of the author’s imagination, Benjamin “Pap” Singleton was very real and invaluably instrumental in helping hundreds of African Americans move from Tennessee to Kansas.

Ms. Lassieur shares this story of the Exodusters by popping the reader right into the mule-driven wagon to bear witness to the atrocious, senseless acts against black people. But she also demonstrates the intuitive kindness, generosity and strength of each and every black person, automatically reminding everyone to continue the good fight. Oh, and I can’t wait for you to find out why the emigrants were dubbed “Exodusters”.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2019.

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Three Trees for the Campfire
Joseph Cognard
CreateSpace, January 2013
ISBN 978-1482320985
Trade Paperback

At first, I want to judge this book by its cover. The campfire calls to me, then captivates as I notice it’s not at simple as it seems. But before I know it, I’m completely caught up in the quintessential summer read.

Three siblings surround the glowing embers to swap stories and sleep under the stars. Billy, being the youngest, is participating (fully) for the first time, so being in his head at the beginning perfectly sets the scene.

“Billy began to worry that, like the fire, he might not make it through the night.”

The eldest, Jack, begins with a fantastic tale featuring a dragon. When Chelsea follows with her own natty narrative, she subtly weaves in bits and pieces from her brother’s story in a sweet (but not corny) kind of way. Billy may be bringing up the rear, but he can spin a yarn as well as his siblings. And he’s pretty slick about bringing in a real-life character.

Authentic and relatable, in a dreamy sort of way, I thoroughly enjoyed this tiny tome that probably fits best in the Juvenile Fiction genre, but I can easily imagine anyone enjoying it.

Huge thank-you to the author for sharing this with me!

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2018.

Book Review: Damselfly by Chandra Prasad

Damselfly
Chandra Prasad
Scholastic Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-90792-7
Hardcover

This book wastes no time pulling readers into the plot. Samantha, a scholarship student at a fancy private school comes to in pain and disoriented. The last thing she remembers is an unexpected landing of the private jet she and the other members of the school fencing team made on their way to Japan for a tournament. More details come to her as she begins searching for her best friend, Mel and finding the body of another male team member begins what becomes a twisting tale of survival and suspense on what they eventually realize is an isolated tropical island and that there’s nothing usable remaining from the jet after it crashed. As the two best friends encounter other team members, Mel, with Samantha’s help, tries to bring order to the group by assigning chores, educating the others about the importance of maintaining their water supply without contaminating it, what plants are edible and the need to keep a signal fire lit at all times.

It’s not long before ugliness sets in, some due to teen hormones and the social structure back at the school, but more from racial issues, in this instance, reverse racism. Add in issues of ecology, a strange creature stalking the teens, selfishness plus mental illness and you have a virtual stew pot of impending disaster. The story will remind many readers of a modern day version of Lord of the Flies. As things go further and further south, the division among the teens widens, then fractures. After a couple tragedies, Sam and Mel finally realize that saving the group is beyond their power and they must come up with an alternative that will save themselves. Read the book to see how they accomplish it.

It’s an overall good story. I have a couple very minor quibbles. I would have liked more exploration of the relationship between siblings Rittika and Rish, as well as whether Sam and Mel’s friendship had hidden layers.

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

Book Review: Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley

Down the River Unto the Sea
Walter Mosley
Mulholland Books, February 2018
ISBN: 978-0-316-50964-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Joe King Oliver was one of the NYPD’s finest investigators until, dispatched to arrest a well-heeled car thief, he was framed for assault by his enemies within the force, a charge that landed him at Rikers.  A decade later, King is a private detective, running his agency with the help of his teenage daughter.  Broken by the brutality he suffered and committed in equal measure behind bars, King leads a solitary life, his work and his daughter the only lights.   When King receives a letter from a woman who admits she was paid to frame him years ago, he decides to take his own case: finding out who on the force wanted him disposed of – – and why.  As King embarks on his quest for the justice he was denied, he agrees to help a radical black journalist accused of killing two on-duty officers who had been abusing their badges to traffic in drugs and prostitutes in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.  The two cases intertwine across the years, exposing a pattern of corruption and brutality wielded against the black men, women and children whose lives the law destroyed. To solve them, King must outrun dirty cops, outsmart craven lawyers, and above all protect his daughter from the underworld in which he works.  All the while, two lives hang in the balance: King’s client’s and his own.

 

Our protagonist’s memories of his early/earlier years are mostly painful:  “the apartment building where I lived with my mother, brother, and sister after our father was sentenced and before I was old enough to run away.”  More recently, the memories are of his days incarcerated in Rikers:  “I’d been at Rikers for only thirtynine hours and already four convicts had attacked me. There was a white adhesive bandage holding together the open flesh on my right cheek.” He thinks:  “Just a few days and I’d switched allegiances from cop to criminal.  I thought that was the worst thing . . . but I was wrong . . . It’s a terrible fall when you find yourself grateful to be put in segregation.”  When he is, unexpectedly, released after about 3 months, he is allowed to shower and shave and “I saw my face for the first time in months in the polished steel mirror next to the small shower where I cleaned up.  Shaving revealed the vicious gaping scar down the right of my face.  They didn’t always offer stitches at Rikers.”

That experience colors everything that follows in this fascinating and, at times, horrifying novel from Walter Mosley, whose writing is always riveting.  At this point in his life, the brightest and most beloved thing in Joe’s life is his 17-year-old daughter, Aja-Denise, who is equally devoted to him.  Her mother, now Joe’s ex-wife, has remarried, but Joe is closer to Aja than ever; she helps him run his detective agency, where he is determined to find out who framed him.  His daughter’s latest endeavor is to attend “a special school in this Bronx church where good science students teach at-risk kids how scientists do experiments.”  Obviously, Joe couldn’t be more proud of her.

The author’s descriptions of his supporting players are always wonderful and fully descriptive, including Joe’s elderly grandmother and her boyfriend of the day, a man worth eight hundred seventy-nine billion dollars, described as a gun enthusiast and a pacifist too.  His investigation brings him to a meeting with a man who “weighed well north of four hundred pounds.  He could have willed his face to be sewn into a basketball after he died; it was that large and round,” and describes himself as “a man who didn’t even trust his own clients, a man who had experienced betrayal on almost every level.”  When his “visage was still too cop-like,” he undertakes some small superficial changes till “the transformation was now complete.  Rather than a Cro-Magnon cop I was a Neanderthal nerd.”  I will leave it to the reader to discover all the other joys of Mr. Mosley’s writing for him/herself.  The book is everything one has learned to expect from this author, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2018.

Book Review: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

The Lines We Cross
Randa Abdel-Fattah
Scholastic Press, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-11866-7
Hardcover

My tongue is tripping over the terrifically timely topics touched in The Lines We Cross.  Universally relevant, remarkably well written; my personal recommendation for required reading resonates with me in an invigorating, inspirational way.

Generally, offspring look up to their parents, seeing them as large-and-in-charge with all the answers.  Beyond that, there is an inherent knowledge: parents are good people.  (My reminder to myself when first meeting Michael) an amiable, ill-informed adolescent supporting his parents’ new political party, Aussie Values.  And, it’s not as if his parents oppose Australia accepting refugees, after all.  Provided the emigrants are truly fleeing persecution (as opposed to those pesky “economic refugees”’) and they arrive via the magical queue, of course.

Then, Michael meets Mina.

Yes, it is a boy-meets-girl story; but in a boy-meets-radioactive-spider kind of way.

Mina and her mother had come to Auburn, Australia from Afghanistan ten years ago.  Forced to flee Taliban occupation among horrific loss, the two persist and painstakingly, rebuild their life.  A scholarship allowing Mina to attend eleventh grade at one of Australia’s top schools, affects the entire small family.  They choose to move their residence, along with the family restaurant to Melbourne.

Starting a new school is rarely easy.  Going from “…a kaleidoscope of cultures and ethnicities,” to being a “…cultural diversity mascot,” could be unbearable. For someone who has been smuggled out of a war zone, lived in a refugee camp, traveled on a leaky boat and spent months locked in detention, it was merely infuriating.

Not wanting the role of ‘refugee myth-buster’, but being too smart and courageous to keep quiet, Mina may seem too mature, thoughtful, compassionate and well-spoken to be a typical teen, but because I have the privilege of actually spending time with high school seniors, I can say that this is a spot-on representation. Ms. Abdel-Fattah has brilliantly broken-down misconceptions without beating down people to present one of the most important books I have ever read.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2017

Book Review: How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway

How Will I Know You?
Jessica Treadway
Grand Central Publishing, August 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5409-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  On a December day in upstate New York, the body of high school senior Joy Enright is found in the woods at the edge of a frozen pond.  An autopsy reveals that her death was not simply a tragic accident – – the teenager’s body shows unmistakable signs of murder.  The discovery upends an otherwise quiet small town.  As the investigation unfolds, four characters tell the story from widely divergent perspectives: Susanne, Joy’s mother, tries to reconcile past betrayals with their painful consequences; Martin, a black artist, faces ostracism when blame is cast on him; Tom, a rescue diver, doubts both the police and his own perceptions; and the hopelessly awkward Harper, Joy’s best friend, tries to figure out why Joy disappeared from Harper’s life months before she actually went missing.  As a web of deceit comes to light in a tiny community where there are few secrets, How Will I Know You? explores how easily boundaries can be breached and how seemingly small choices can escalate – – with fatal consequences.

In fascinating manner, the book’s sections are separated into “Before;” “After;” quite near the end of the novel “During;” and, about a dozen pages before the final page, “After – – The Last,” June 9, 2014.  “Before” (initially May 14, 2009, then jumping to September 7th, then to October 22nd and then the 31st) and “After,” initially December 7th, quite obviously, refer to the time periods before and after Joy’s murder, on the 1st Sunday of December; “During” describing, in manner to keep the reader glued to the pages, the murder itself.  The reader doesn’t discover the significance of the book’s title until nearly one-third of the way through the book:  It was apparently Suzanne’s question of her husband, Gil, before their first date.

Early on, in the pages after December 7th, and then again in the earlier time frames of May 14, 2009 and, later, October 22nd and 31st and later still, in the “After” pages, the tale is related for long stretches in first person by Martin Willett, the black man initially arrested in the case   (At one point during these pages, in mid-November, he muses “. . . now that I’ve come to the end of it, I’m no closer to understanding what might have happened than I was when I began.”  Abut mid-way into the novel, p.o.v. is that of Tom, son-in-law of the [interim] police chief, Doug, thought of by many as “Tom Carbone, the dumb jock, married to [Alison,] a teacher,” and the kindest way in which Doug thought of him.  And towards the very end, in the “During” section, p.o.v. is that of Joy, most interestingly.

The characters presented in these pages are each very well-drawn, regardless of their generation or race.  I found Martin most fascinating, as well as his art:  I had never before even been aware of “hyperreal art” or the work of “high realists.”  The pages seemed to fly by, until one has reached the end and realize how perfectly the author has brought the suspenseful tale to its conclusion.  The novel is, obviously, recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2017.

Book Reviews: Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older, The Call by Peadar O. Guilin and Better to Wish by Ann M. Martin

Shadowhouse Fall
The Shadowshaper Cypher Book 2
Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-95282-8
Hardcover

Sierra and her wildly creative companions were captivating in Shadowshaper.   Clever consolidation of mad musical, verbal and graffiti-art skills created a dazzling cultural kaleidoscope that pulsated from the pages, and showed more than the shadowshaping-side of life in Brooklyn.  The sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, is every bit as delightful and dazzling, even as it tackles topics that parallel today’s headlines in an eerily accurate and chilling way.

Sierra has just learned of her role as the archetypal spirit, Lucera, “…the beating heart of the shadowshaping world.”  Never one to shirk responsibility, always a fierce protector; she’s doggedly immersed herself in learning, teaching and practicing shadowshaping.  Before she even begins to realize her potential, Sierra is forced to shift her focus.

The Sisterhood of the Sorrows had vowed revenge when Sierra “jacked up their shrine last summer,” precisely what Sierra and ‘her’ shadowshapers are preparing for; but no one could have predicted an attack so soon. It should have ben impossible.  Unless…the Sorrows are not alone.

To even stand a chance against an unknown in the urban spirituality system, each shadowshaper will need to be strong and smart independently; swift to support and assist when needed.  Basically, battling as they live, to save the community they dearly love.  Accustomed to every day prejudices and profiling, Sierra and her friends knew to expect hassle, rather than help, from the largely racist civil servants.

Mr. Older’s scintillating style swiftly hooks even the reluctant reader.  The scramble to fight the good fight is gripping and the escalation towards the end, engrossing.  When Sierra is left with only two choices, neither of which would result in a happy ending for her; Mr. Older presents a decision that, while not actually surprising, is absolutely unexpected.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

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The Call
The Call, Book 1

Peadar O’Guilin
David Fickling Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-1338045611
Hardcover

Nessa was celebrating her 10th birthday when her childhood abruptly ended.  Instead of giving gifts and baking a cake, her parents explain The Call.

The little girl that built an emotional armor against people’s perceptions; both the pitying looks as well as the ones filled with contempt and disbelief, is intelligent enough to understand the uselessness of her efforts.  Her legs, twisted by polio into more of a hindrance than a help, have gone from a focal point to a genuine liability.

Held hostage and wholly isolated these Irish folks have but one focus: teaching the children to survive The Call.  From the age of ten through the teenage years, training is vigorous and relentless.  Just shy of cruel, the grueling paces are unquestionably a necessary evil.  Almost one in ten survive today, an exponential improvement over the one in one hundred from decades ago.  An amazing accomplishment, as fairies have an undeniable advantage when they pull a human child into their world.

Irish fairies may be my very favorite folklore creatures, and Mr. O’Guilin portrays them perfectly in The Call.  The one universal fact seems to be that fairies cannot lie and they possess a perverse pride in always keeping their word.  Bad to the core, but bound by these rules, Sidhe are as clever and cunning as they are cruel.

The hideous game of fairy versus human, produces a plot that is exciting, fast-paced and adventurous, accented with awesome action scenes.  Of course, nothing is so simple and definite in reality and Mr. O’Guilin does not settle for solely myth against man.   Most humans are considerate, committed to the greater good; but a few are slimy and self-serving.  Mystique makes the tale even more compelling and builds suspense creating compulsory page-turning.  Coupled with colorful, captivating characters and sharp and witty dialogue, The Call is a brilliant book that I enjoyed immensely.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2017.

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Better to Wish
Family Tree Series, Book 1
Ann M. Martin
Scholastic Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-35942-9
Hardcover

Initial intrigue blossomed into complete captivation as Abby’s narration revealed an inexplicably sweet, strong and resilient girl—a compassionate, sympathetic soul–in spite of circumstances.  The centenarian’s story begins on a summer evening in 1930.  As one memory leads to another, her life unfolds like a map.

Abby’s father feels that Maine should be “white”.  Specifically, Protestant and Republican.  His daughters aren’t allowed to befriend a girl because her parents emigrated from Quebec—she’s “French”, not “white”.  Also below his determined Nichols’ Family Standards; “lazy bums…Irish-Catholics.”  Certainly vocal with his opinion, he nevertheless does not seem to stand out to the family, or the community, as a particularly obnoxious, racist fool.

Although Abby’s mother has many bad days with “her mind stuck thinking” of two tremendous losses that left permanent holes in her heart; Dad wants a son.  Baby Fred arrives.  At home, Dad can pretend that Fred is developing, learning and growing at an average rate. Abby, Rose and their mother know differently, but it has no impact on their love and devotion to the charming child.

At the age of 5, Fred behaves like any toddler—including the time he is forced to sit through a high school awards ceremony.  Due to the perceived public embarrassment, the head of the household deems his son less than perfect.  Imperfection is unacceptable, leaving Mr. Nichols with no choice.  He informs the family after exercising his “only” option.

Throughout the tumultuous times,  Abby intuitively empathizes and instinctively protects those she loves and holds dear first, all other human beings second, thinking of her own wants and needs last, if at all.   Abby is the epitome of “good people” and her story instills hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.