Book Reviews: Colombiano by Rusty Young, Abby in Wonderland by Sarah Mlynowski and Otherwise Known As Possum by Maria D. Laso @SarahMlynowski @Scholastic

Colombiano
Rusty Young
Havelock & Baker, August 2017
ISBN–AU 9780143781547
Havelock & Baker, February 2020
ISBN–US 978-0648445319
Trade Paperback

You can’t truly know what someone else is going through without walking in his shoes. Unless Mr. Young writes about it. In Colombiano, those of us fortunate enough to be far removed from any war zone, see exactly what living amid battles entails; in day-to-day life, as well the overall impact it has on absolutely everything.

Certainly, most people know that the Guerilla evoke evil with their aggressive cocaine manufacturing and distribution. The gross misunderstanding is that the Guerilla are fighting the army and law enforcement; not citizens. Leading to the false conclusion that, if folks go about their business, there’s no real reason for this pesky fighting to bother them. The carefully controlled propaganda supports this theory. Even having the place of worship utterly obliterated by “errant” fire is only an unfortunate consequence.

Pedro has listened to placates until he thought his head may explode. Papi made sure he contained, or at least properly channeled, his rage. There was Camila to consider. Rounding out the small group of people close to Pedro is the somewhat goofy, undeniably adorable, Pallilo. Pedro can push his anger aside for them.

Right up until the Guerilla descended on his father’s farm. In front of his disbelieving eyes, Papi is surrounded as accusations are hurled. The feisty fifteen-year-old cannot watch the depraved tirade and hold his tongue. Boldly, stupidly, Pedro demands an explanation. His father’s crime was revealed with a hint of glee. The farmer had the audacity to allow soldiers from the army to drink water from his well.

The resulting punishment is a defining, dividing moment for Pedro. There are men like Papi. Those who believed, as people of God, it was never right to deny a thirsty man a drink. And there are monsters masquerading as men—the Guerilla.

The situation that Pedro is forced to face is tragic. His retaliatory actions, atrocious. And yet…the author manages to demonstrate how a furious and yes, frightened, adolescent can morph into a ruthless mankiller—all the while reminding the reader that Pedro remains, essentially, a boy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2019.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Abby in Wonderland
Whatever After Special Edition #1
Sarah Mlynowski
Scholastic, Inc., October 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-74667-0
Trade Paperback

Sustaining a series is no simple task. Inserting a special edition story that is somehow as fresh and fun as the very first book seems insurmountable. Except to Ms. Mlynowski.

This fairy-tale-esque fantasy adds adventure and humor absolutely appropriate for younger readers, while maintaining a subtle, something-more; making it compelling and quirky enough for older audiences as well.

I enjoyed being the proverbial parrot-on-the-shoulder as four friends share a day off from school. Per usual, Penny’s parents are not around, but her house is huge and her nanny is happy to host. Penny has planned the entire day and she is not going to let a little cold air or a brisk breeze ruin the card game on the patio.

But when the wind whipped a card across the yard and into the neighboring golf-course, Abby abruptly abandoned the game to give chase. The other three follow until Frankie falls into a hole. Penny’s agenda is pushed aside. The girls have a real problem to solve.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Otherwise Known As Possum
Maria D. Laso
Scholastic Press, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-93196-0
Trade Paperback

Possum, to me, is kind of a country Pippi Longstocking. Both young girls are wise to the ways of the world, if not properly educated. Tough, fiercely independent with lasting loyalty and a heart bigger than her small body should be able to hold, Possum is another exemplary young lady.

Certainly a smile-through-tears kind of story combining spunk, mischief and intuitive, undeniable kindness, I thoroughly enjoyed the bitter-sweet reflections from the late 20th century in this captivating Juvenile Fiction from Ms. Laso.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

Book Review: Below the Tree Line by Susan Oleksiw

Below the Tree Line
A Pioneer Valley Mystery #1
Susan Oleksiw
Midnight Ink, September 2018
Trade Paperback

Felicity O’Brien has taken over her father’s farm, raising vegetables and fostering a few sheep to pay her dad’s way in an assisted living facility. Occasionally, a logger (timberer?) comes in and thins the forest that grows on the farm’s poor soil. But just lately, Felicity, who lives alone except for her cat, has become aware of someone, or something, coming around at night, digging holes and snooping. Jeremy Colson, with whom she has a relationship, has his own business to run and isn’t always there to provide backup. And then two women are killed in separate occurrences, one just outside Felicity’s house in a car wreck, and one found dead on Felicity’s land. Both deaths are suspicious, and since she⏤or her land⏤seems to be involved, she feels called upon to investigate. If she doesn’t, she may be the next to die.

There’s an interesting premise for the motivation of this crime, which I’ll leave for the reader to discover for her/himself. But I’ll tell you what threw me for a loop, and it’s nothing that concerns the story itself, which is well-written, interesting, and moves along well. But who knew that in Massachusetts logging is evidently called timbering, and the log itself is called a timber? In my neck of the woods, harvesting the timber is called logging, upon which the cut timber becomes logs. I have to say the nomenclature threw me off every time and I found myself distracted. But that’s just me.

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

Book Review: Forty Dead Men by Donis Casey

Forty Dead Men
An Alafair Tucker Mystery #10
Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-4642-0937-6
Hardcover

This latest of the Alafair Tucker mysteries sees Alafair’s son, Gee Dub, home from WWI.  Unfortunately, although he reconnects with his large family and puts on a good face, Alafair knows something is wrong with her strong, quiet son. When he finds a young woman in a field behaving oddly and brings her home to his mother, the situation only grows worse. Alafair befriends the woman, but then a murder is committed and suspicion falls on Gee Dub. Even Alafair has her doubts when she finds an ammunition case that generally holds forty bullets, but now holds only one, which then goes missing.

Soldiers have always suffered from PTSD. In WWI it was called shell shock and Gee Dub has more reason to suffer from it than many. He often struggles with what is real and what is not, but even so, this story holds some surprising twists and turns.

This is a powerful story of family, love and kindness, and hardship, too. Not to be missed.

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

Book Review: Dead Loudmouth by Victoria Houston

dead-loudmouthDead Loudmouth
Loon Lake Mystery Series #16
Victoria Houston
Tyrus Books, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4405-6845-9
Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-4405-6844-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher: It’s a bright summer morning in Loon Lake when Police Chief Lewellyn (“Lew”) Ferris is called to the scene of a horrific accident that occurred in the dead of night at a local “gentlemen’s club.” The club is owned by one of the victims, a member of the private Deer Creek Fishing and Hunting Club and the scion of a wealthy Wisconsin family.  When the country coroner is unavailable due to a car accident, Chief Ferris deputizes her close friend and fellow fly-fisherman, retired dentist “Doc” Osborne, to step in.  Osborne’s discovery of mysterious footprints confirms Chief Ferris’ suspicions.  This is no accident; it’s murder.  Leaning on Doc Osborne for his forensic and interrogation skills, Lew also hopes to enlist the help of Ray Pradt, fishing guide and expert tracker.  But Ray’s time is limited as he is coaching Wisconsin State College’s fishing team in a muskie fishing tournament.  Things get complicated when Doc Osborne’s granddaughter disappears on the first day of the tournament.  Sunny June days turn dark as a desperate search ensues.

Lew’s ability to investigate the murders is hampered by the fact that she has only two full-time officers on her staff; and the assistance of Doc, Lew’s deputy coroner, is enabled primarily because he was the mayor’s brother-in-law. She finds no shortage of suspects, at least with regard to the dead woman; the second victim not so much.  The Deer Creek Club is a fascinating entity:  A private preserve, with three private lakes stocked with some of the Northwoods’ largest walleye and bass, it is off-limits to locals, including employees, it is comprised of over a thousand acres where never a living tree has been cut down.

The setting is lovingly made palpable.  Fishing is the background music running through the tale, as a preoccupation of the characters and most of the local residents.  The characters are wonderfully vivid as well, especially Doc’s 11-year-old granddaughter, Mason.  The plot is well-developed, and the novel as a whole is a perfect beach read; for those whose summer days include fishing, even more so.
Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2016.

Book Review: Beulah’s House of Prayer by Cynthia A. Graham—and a Giveaway!

beulahs-house-of-prayerBeulah’s House of Prayer
Cynthia A. Graham
Brick Mantel Books, July 2016
ISBN 978-1-941799-33-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Some storms bring destruction. Others bring salvation.

In 1934 the tiny town of Barmy, Oklahoma, is in desperate need of a miracle. The cows are hungry, the rain won’t fall, most of Main Street is boarded up. Young aspiring trapeze artist Sugar Watson is dumped unceremoniously into this bleak setting with little money and only one thing on her mind—escape. Beulah Clinton, a Holy Ghost preacher, has dedicated herself to helping the distressed in this ragged little wasteland, and Sugar soon finds herself thrown in with Marigold Lawford, the simple-minded widow of the richest man in town, and Homer Guppy, a boy trouble follows like dust after a wind.

Despite Sugar’s immediate distaste of Barmy, Beulah’s patience, Marigold’s kindness, and Homer’s unconditional love make her reconsider the meaning of home.

On Black Sunday, the worst dust storm in history brings with it a choice: Sugar must decide whether or not to return home, leaving the hospitality—and love—of Barmy’s inhabitants. A stunning Depression-era literary novel with a touch of magical realism, Beulah’s House of Prayer captivates until the very end.

When I first began hosting stops on blog tours, it was because I wanted to participate in the broader community of people who love books and want to spread the word. A side benefit is that I’ve been introduced to a lot of authors and books I probably wouldn’t know anything about without these tours and some of them have really blown me away. When I reviewed Cynthia A. Graham’s Beneath Still Waters back in February, I knew I’d found a real gem and I feel even more strongly about that now that I’ve read Beulah’s House of Prayer.

Once again, Ms. Graham takes us back to earlier times, to a period significant in our past, and she pulled me right into the center of this dusty town called Barmy and into the lives of a collection of people who completely stole my heart, each in his or her own way. Beulah is an elderly woman who has decided to settle in this town that she believes needs her ministry and her first “parishioner” is a boy named Homer who will go to nearly any lengths to show the town what a delinquent he can be. Homer has reasons to be the way he is, particularly considering his parentage, and it’s easy to understand and sympathize with his deep-seated pain and the way he copes. Beulah is out to save this young man before the devil wins his soul and nothing will stand in her way; Homer has no idea how this old woman is going to impact his life.

Marigold Lawford has also been trampled by life and she has her own way of getting along, mainly just by accepting the lousy hand she’s been dealt. When Beulah offers her a place to sleep. Marigold has no real options and moves in but she’s soon joined by 15-year-old Sugar Watson who’s landed in town with a few dollars and a coffin holding her circus performer father. And thus begins a story of desperation and love and redemption.

I can’t speak highly enough of Ms. Graham and her ability to write her story and her characters with a passion that drew me in till I felt surrounded by this town and its inhabitants. In her beautiful use of language, she made me experience the dust and the overwhelming destitution as well as the hope that never quite dies, and Beulah’s House of Prayer will be joining Beneath Still Waters on my list of favorite books read in 2016. I hate that I have to wait to see what this wonderful author will offer us next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

************

Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble Buy Button     Kobo Buy Button     Amazon Buy Button     Indiebound Button 2

Beulah’s House of Prayer blends the stark reality of
Steinbeck and the grace and imagery of Willa Cather
into a beautifully-rendered story of struggle and faith
in Depression and Dust Bowl era Oklahoma a place
where ‘communion is the wheat I grow and the blood
I sweat.’  Steeped in metaphor, this moving novel is at
once compelling and poetic. It is the kind of story that
often finds its way onto the big screen. One heck of a good
read!” —Dixon Hearne, author, From Tickfaw to Shongaloo
and Delta Flats: Stories in the Key of Blues and Hope

************

About the Author

Cynthia A. GrahamCynthia A. Graham is the winner of several writing awards, including a Gold IPPY and a Midwest Book Award for Beneath Still Watersand her short stories have appeared in both university and national literary publications. She attained a B.A. in English from the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Cynthia is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the St. Louis Writers’ Guild, the Missouri Writers’ Guild, and Sisters in Crime. She is the author of two works of historical mystery: Beneath Still Waters and Behind Every DoorBeulah’s House of Prayer is her first foray in the land of magical realism.

Connect with Cynthia

Website Button     Twitter Button     Facebook Button     Goodreads Button 2

************

Follow the tour:

Tuesday, September 6th: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, September 7th: SJ2B House of Books
Friday, September 9thBuried Under Books
Monday, September 12thMockingbird Hill Cottage
Thursday, September 15thKahakai Kitchen
Monday, September 19thFictionZeal
Wednesday, September 21stWrite Read Life

************

To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Beulah’s House of Prayer
by Cynthia A. Graham, just leave
a comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on Monday night,
September 12th. This drawing
is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

************

TLC Book Tours Button

Book Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Beware the WildBeware the Wild
Natalie C. Parker
HarperTeen, October 2014
ISBN 978-0-06-224152-8
Hardcover

Swamps make stellar settings for the spookiest of stories. “The meanest swamp in Louisiana” however, disdainfully dismisses “spooky”. This arrogant, angry bog is far more frightening than the orneriest of angry alligators. A petulant presence, tinged with wicked lurks within.

Following an epic sibling squabble, Sass’s revered brother, Phin, belligerently explodes from the sanctity of their backyard into the eagerly awaiting quagmire. She dreads the worst. Not “the worst” as it relates to the average, hazardous marsh. It isn’t images of the one person she loves unconditionally, who loves her right back: sinking into quicksand, being bitten by a venomous snake, hopelessly lost, slowly succumbing to the elements that plague her.

Whispered legends. Volumes of collected Swamp Stories. Knowing looks exchanged over children’s heads. The unimaginable horror that is never actually addressed, always alluded to. These fears fill her mind and freak her out. As if insulted by her tame, unimaginative worries, the glade grabs Sass by her chin, jerks her head up and shoves the unspeakable, tortuous cruelty into her stunned face.

Ms. Parker explodes into the Young Adult literary world, boldly and courageously with an authority that won’t be denied. I’m a little bit in love with her and I’m pretty sure she had me in mind with the shout out to my beloved Phish and the perfect use of a term that needs to come back: spaz attack.

Amid a tale that unapologetically reaches out and with a quick tug, pulls the reader into the sticky, steamy swamp; enters dark-skinned Abigail, the “girl who prefers girls” in a very small town. This diversity is not gratuitous nor is it the point of the story. Rather, Ms. Parker’s natural inclination to include characters of differing ethnicities and sexual orientation seems simply indicative of her norm; yet feels utterly refreshing.

Superbly depicted southern stereotypes lend a feel of authenticity while the dynamics among the characters enrich this brilliantly written, compelling, creepy and captivating story. Absolutely, all-the-way awesome, Beware the Wild is a book that I look forward to re-reading and sharing with my bookish pals both Young and Not-So-Young Adults.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2015.

Book Review: Montana by Gwen Florio

MontanaMontana
Gwen Florio
Permanent Press, October 2013
ISBN: 978-1-57962-336-4
Hardcover

Foreign correspondent Lola Wicks has just returned from Afghanistan, a place where “filing the story and staying alive remained the only two things that mattered.” She is called back to the home office of her newspaper in Baltimore, where she finds that all the foreign bureaus were being shut due to the faltering US economy and the ensuing layoffs, and is faced with an assignment in the suburbs, told that she is lucky she still has a job.

She is directed by her editor to take some R&R, since she’d not taken a vacation in years. Still determined to return to the war zone (reasoning that “once he saw the stories she’d file when she got back to Kabul, he’d realize it was a mistake to close the bureau”), she decides to first visit her friend Mary Alice, who she hadn’t seen in five years after their career paths diverged, with Lola going to Afghanistan and Mary Alice to Montana to work at a small local paper. When Lola arrives at the cabin in Magpie, Montana, she is faced with a grotesque scene: Seeing dead bodies in Afghanistan was one thing, but finding her best friend shot to death was quite another. Despite her planned return to Kabul, she vows to herself that if the apparently incompetent sheriff could not find the killer, she would.

Finding any leads proves a difficult task, made harder when she is told she cannot leave Magpie, as she is a person of interest. Her reaction? “I’ve got a dead friend and a sheriff who won’t let me leave town until he figures out how she got that way.” Other deaths soon follow. Lola is told “Bodies [are] dropping like flies. How do you like Montana so far?” (A place, btw, that she finds can have snow in June.) After initially staying in a local hotel, she decides to stay in Mary Alice’s cabin, and there are wonderful passages about her friend’s dog and horse, neither of which is an animal with which she has had any experience. Her pursuit of the investigation leads to some unexpected twists and turns in a well-fashioned plot, and a whale of an ending.

A gripping and fast read, beautifully written, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2014.