Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Coffee by Mary C. M. Phillips

Pride and Prejudice and Coffee
Mary C. M. Phillips
eBookIt.com, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-4566-3070-6
Ebook

From the book’s “Introduction”:  Hundreds of years ago, before the world enjoyed their favorite beverage, coffee beans were chewed.  The refreshing jolt that native Ethiopians experienced might be similar to what we now encounter as we sip upon a freshly brewed cup of java; however, the method of delivery left much to be desired.”

This charming tale, sub-titled “A Caffeinated Romance and Brief Exploration of the Coffee Industry,” is just that.  While describing a protest at the premises of The Pemberley Corporation, a public corporation whose interests included coffee growers in Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia, the reader is made aware of the dire working conditions extant for those farm workers, who, along with their children, “labored in the hot sun without any respite of shade.”  Pemberley held large positions in these publicly traded stocks, and is now being held to account for “the exploitation of workers.”

I suspect that I am not alone in my ignorance of situations such as those described here, which I have no doubt reflect the actuality of the conditions described, at least in some if not all of these farms.  I suspect that I am also not alone in my complete enjoyment of a good cup of coffee [which, of course, does not excuse the conditions endured by these farm workers!].

Along with the personal lives of the protagonists, which is completely charming, each section [not denoted as ‘chapters’] is followed by a paragraph or so of fascinating tidbits of information, headed “Sip on This,” e.g., “Coffee and Romance,” “Gluten-free Food,” “Etiquette,” “Corporate Greed [discussing the Enron bankruptcy],” et al.  These take place in, among other disparate places, Jones Beach [New York], Costa Rica, and Central Park!  One does not normally think of the exploitation of workers as we sip our morning cups of coffee [apparently the most heavily traded commodity in the world, next to oil], until one reads this mind-opening book!

A complete change of pace, this short, fast-moving novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2018.

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Book Review: And She Was by Jessica Verdi

And She Was
Jessica Verdi
Point, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-338-15053-7
Hardcover

All teens experience tension between themselves and their parents. Many feel frustrated at times by parental evasiveness or refusal to answer questions about family secrets. For Dara, the tension revolves primarily around her mother’s refusal/reluctance to support her blossoming tennis career. Sure, money is an issue in a single parent home, but Dara’s looked at college and that route doesn’t look promising. Tennis does. When an opportunity to play and earn ranking points in a Canadian tournament comes up, she doubles down on her request for her birth certificate, a document Mellie, her mom, has been continually evasive about.

Dara’s growing frustration peaks while Mom is at work and she enters her mother’s bedroom to seek out the document. Under her mother’s bed she discovers a box. There are two prescription bottles as well as photos of people she doesn’t know. After looking up the two medications, she’s even more puzzled because one is a testosterone blocker, the other an estrogen supplement. She’s stunned by the names listed as parents on her birth certificate stashed under the photos. Neither is familiar and her last name on the certificate is not the one she’s grown up with.

Shock becomes extreme anger and when Mom returns, Dara explodes. What her mother tells her is pretty hard for her to wrap her head around. Mom is her biological father who transitioned after Dara’s mother was killed by a drunk driver. When Dara starts pushing for answers about who her grandparents are and why she’s never met them, Mom’s answers don’t really satisfy her. Still enraged and wounded by what she perceives as Mellie’s selfishness for not being honest, as well as hurting because she suspects her deceased real mom’s parents might have subsidized her hoped for tennis career, Dara packs up her stuff and strong arms her best friend Sam into going on a search for the elusive grandparents.

What ensues is an excellent look at not only how hope can blind us when we’re desperate, but an enlightening and very carefully drawn look at the struggles and processes a transgender person goes through. Jessica Verdi chose to reveal Mellie’s story through emails to Dara while she and Sam are on the road. It’s extremely effective. In addition, the search, and the realizations Dara and Sam come to as they follow lead after lead, help readers to see the other side of the story.

What Dara discovers, how she comes to understand not only Mellie, but her own part in the family drama and her wake up call regarding how she’s treated Sam and what her feelings for him really are, make this a dandy story. I highly suggest it for anyone who wants to understand what challenges someone who is transgender must face as well as anyone who simply wants to read an excellent story.

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

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: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray

A Strange Scottish Shore
Emmeline Truelove Series #2
Juliana Gray
Berkley Trade Paperback, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-27708-9
Trade Paperback

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially if the story veers toward the mythical and takes place on one of Great Britain’s coasts, you’ve probably heard of selkies, a seal-like creature that comes ashore, sheds its skin and lives like a human. At least for a while, until the sea calls it back.

A Strange Scottish Shore opens when a wall in an ancient Scottish castle is breached and a box is found which contains a suit of peculiar texture. The year is 1906, and while the suit seems to be of a modern rubberized fabric, researchers Maximilian Haywood and his assistant, Emmeline Truelove, ascertain it is the skin of a selkie who in ancient times came ashore from the sea and married the first laird.

But then weird things begin happening. People appear and disappear. Emmeline’s “special” friend Lord Silverton disappears one night. A strange, evil seeming young man appears, and Emmeline meets and speaks with an oddly familiar young woman who gives her a warning. Who are these people? What do they want? Where do they come from, and where do they go so suddenly? It’s a mystery that will take Max, Emmeline, and Silverton from the present, into the past as well as into the future, with danger dogging their steps at every turn.

The unique story premise is intriguing, to be sure. The characters, for the most part, are strong. The dialogue seemed a bit wordy to me, and sometimes, a bit superfluous. A reader will find many twists and turns, and effortlessly, which is the best way, learn a bit about old Scottish castles, the lives of our ancestors, and even the myths they believed in. The ending holds a bit of a surprise, and I think you’ll find it all to the good. As to where the selkie skin (or suit) came from, and to whom it belonged, well, you’ll just have to read the story to find out.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: A Prom to Remember by Sandy Hall

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Title: A Prom to Remember
Author: Sandy Hall
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: April 24, 2018
Genre: General Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks 
Amazon // Indiebound

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A Prom to Remember
Sandy Hall
Swoon Reads, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-11914-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Cora: Dating Perfect Boyfriend Jamie. Has NO IDEA how to break up with him…

Paisley: Anti-prom. Somehow nominated her anxiety-ridden best friend for prom king…

Henry: Hates social situations. Invited to prom by the most popular girl in school. SEND HELP!

Otis: Half of one of the cutest couples in his class. Not quite ready for a post-prom hotel room…

Lizzie: Shy. Excited to go to prom. With a boy. Whose name she doesn’t know.

Cameron: Loner. Over high school. Just wants to meet the mysterious girl who’s been leaving him notes…

Jacinta: Unnamed Nerd Girl #3. Determined to become the star of her own life, starting with prom…

Back in the very long ago day, prom wasn’t a big thing in my life. In my junior year, I was dating an R.O.T.C. cadet from another school and we went to his Ring Dance the same night. I don’t remember what I was doing in my senior year but, for whatever reason, I didn’t go to prom. Still, that particular school dance was a big deal and, judging by the kids I see in their fancy dress having dinner, limos waiting, it still reigns supreme in high school today.

What I haven’t forgotten in all these years is all the angst and excitement and hopes and dreams that go along with prom and A Prom to Remember brought it all back with a look at seven kids and all their expectations. I came to love every one of these teens for one reason or another and would not have minded spending more time with them. This was a really fun read and I turned the last page grinning to beat the band…a good way to end a book, I think 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

About the Author

I’m a teen librarian from New Jersey where I was born and raised. I have a BA in Communication and a Master of Library and Information Science from Rutgers University. When I’m not writing, or teen librarian-ing, I enjoy reading, slot machines, marathoning TV shows, and long scrolls through Tumblr. A LITTLE SOMETHING DIFFERENT is my first novel.

Author links:  Website // Twitter // Goodreads

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Unraveled by Kate Jarvik Birch

Unraveled
Perfected #3
Kate Jarvik Birch
Entangled Teen, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63375-913-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Ella isn’t anyone’s pet anymore, but she’s certainly not free.

After exposing the dark secrets about NuPet’s breeding program, forcing them to repeal the law that allowed genetically modified girls to be kept as pets, she thought girls like her would finally be free. She never dreamed that it would backfire. NuPet may have convinced the public of their intentions to assimilate pets back into society, but Ella knows it’s a lie.

They aren’t planning mass rehabilitation…they’re planning a mass extermination.

Now, with the help of a small group of rebels, Ella and Penn, the boy she’d give up her life for, set out to bring down NuPet for good. But when her group gets implicated in a string of bombings, no one is safe. If she can’t untangle the web of blackmail and lies that extends far beyond NuPet’s reach, she won’t just lose her chance at freedom, she’ll lose everyone she loves.

The author of the Perfected trilogy, Kate Jarvik Birch, created a world and story in which girls are raised to be pets, a glorified form of slavery, and I was enthralled by the first two books, especially with the innovative ideas Ms. Birch had. This third and final entry is just as creative and I was fascinated with the twist on our own animal rights activists’ dramatic, sometimes deadly, attacks on the facilities where animals are held. In those circumstances, the animals are often freed in order to save them from experimentation and imprisonment; in Unraveled, it’s the “animals”, the genetically modified girls, who are determined to stop the travesty.

In the US in current times, there is a lot of discussion about the members of congress and whether they are competent, decent, judicious people with good intentions but they don’t hold a candle to the one in this story, the man who owned Ella and father to Penn, the young man Ella loves. Many young adult stories overdo it with the romance, in my opinion, but this love story that has developed over three books is natural and organic, the way it should be.

Ella and Penn, especially Ella, have been fighting for the rights of the pet girls but now face a new betrayal, one that forces them to lead a small group in rebellion. Ella has grown, mentally and emotionally, by leaps and bounds since her time as a pet and has become something of a heroine, always with justice as her goal. Tension rides high on nearly every page in this tale and I think this was a fitting end to a terrific series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Indiebound // Entangled Publishing

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An Excerpt from Unraveled

No one glanced up at us as we left. We were inconsequential, just two kids leaving a pizza place. And that’s exactly what we felt like—kids. Powerless. Weak. Alone.

The bell on the door jingled lightly once more, and we stepped back out into the night. Once again, the sound of jazz music drifted out of the bar next door. I paused, listening to the soulful cry of the saxophone. For a moment, I closed my eyes, focusing on the full, round tone.

And then, just as the last note of the song died away, the bomb went off.

One single note rang in my ears.

High pitched.

Whining.

The saxophone… It had just been playing, wasn’t it? I could remember the low, sweet crooning, but that wasn’t what this sound was.

I shook my head and tried to bring a hand up to my eyes, but something held it clamped down at my side. I tried to wiggle free, but there was something pressing my back, too, making it hard to breathe.

I coughed. My mouth was dry, thick with dust and the taste of metal.

“Penn,” I croaked. “Penn?”

I blinked, trying to turn my head.

In front of me the ground spread out like a battle field.

Red and blue lights blinked behind a cloud of dust. Dark forms moved left and right, up and down. Long limbs waved to one another.

My cheek pressed against something rough.

“Penn!”

“Here’s one,” someone said. They sounded far away, a voice inside a bubble floating somewhere high above my head.

The weight on my back lifted, and a hand slipped beneath me, lifting me from the ground. I choked in a deep gulp of air and balanced on my wobbly legs. Even with the world tipped vertically once more, I couldn’t make sense of it.

“Ella!”

I turned.

The dark outline of Penn stumbled toward me.

Behind him, the building crumbled in on itself. Brick and cement.Wire and steel.Here and there a tipped table, a smashed chair. Broken glass littered the ground, glittering with the orange light of flames that glowed inside the hole where a door had just been. A door. A door. The door that had just jingled shut behind me.

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About the Author

Kate Jarvik Birch is a visual artist, author, playwright, daydreamer, and professional procrastinator. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be either a unicorn or mermaid. Luckily, being a writer turned out to be just as magical. Her essays and short stories have been published in literary journals, including: Indiana Review and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and three kids.

Find Kate at:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram

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Giveaway
Signed copy of Unraveled

Enter here.

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Book Reviews: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

Love, Hate and Other Filters
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-847-3
Hardcover

First and foremost, this book is exquisitely authored. Beautiful, not in a flowery, colorful sort of way; but rather in a raw, natural, simple-yet-stunning kind of way. And so, a snap-shot of Maya’s senior year: dating, spring break, planning for college…as an Indian Muslim American…would be wholly satisfying, entirely engaging and enlightening. But it would only scratch the surface. With a wide lens, Ms. Ahmed provides perspective; contrived categories soften into truer compilations.

To most of Maya’s peers, her parents are almost unreasonably strict. Maya may secretly agree, but at least they “aren’t exactly the fire-and-brimstone types”.  Aware of her family’s (limited) leniencies, Maya is surprised when Kareem, a desi Muslim, has a glass of wine. But, as he points out, “…it’s not like I eat pork.” More importantly, he is not a white American boy. Like Philip.

And so, the scene is set.

But, a somber tone seeps through. Snippets of seething anger and frustration simmer to a frenzied, desperate desire for revenge. Building tension becomes tangible. An explosion is imminent.

The inundation of information immediately following a blow-up is, unfortunately, often inaccurate and incomplete. Even more egregious, these initial errors are what people tend to remember. By the time facts have been collected and the whole, true story can be told; no one is there to listen. Life goes on, public perception remains unchanged.

Except for the person presumed guilty. And his family. Or everyone with his last name.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is the rest of the story and it is relatable and relevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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One Silver Summer
Rachel Hickman
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80892-7
Hardcover

Despite knowing full well that I was reading-for-review, I became so caught up in the very love story that little-girl-me always dreamed of, that I devoured this book like a starved Cookie Monster demolishes cookies.  Even at this frantic pace, I was aware of the ‘something more’ to the story—hints were subtle, yet almost undeniable—perhaps somewhat subliminal.

One Silver Summer is more than the whole-hearted-head-over-heels love story of a shattered girl and a stunning, spirited mare.  There are mysteries to be solved: what horrific happening has sent Sass across the pond to live with the uncle she only just learned of?  Maybe that’s moot.  Perhaps this was her path all along—the past has a tendency to come back, after all.

The guarded groomsman, Alexander, is a bit of a mystery himself.  To Sass, his mannerisms don’t seem to fit his position, although understanding hierarchy is not her forte—no need for that in New York City.  His moods shifts are also perplexing.  Sometimes he seems relaxed and happy with company, while other times he’s oddly secretive and suspicious.

Sass and the silver horse are certainly central, but Alexander, his quite proper British grandmother, and affable artist, Uncle David, take the tome to another level.  A love story in the broadest sense: fondness developing among family members just getting familiar; the unconditional, admiring adoration between grandparent and grandchild; forbidden love, lost in a flash (but with a lingering fondness); and love formed from empathy and nostalgia.

Also, this is a story of learning to separate who you are from a persona based solely on other people’s perceptions.  A reminder of the need to be flexible, reflective and always open-minded.  An understanding that even adults must continue to grow, to adapt—not to survive, but to thrive.  A narrative of hope and heartbreak that is fantastically fabulous.  Immediately after reading the very last words, Acknowledgements and About the Author; I turned to the first page and read the entire book again.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.