Book Reviews: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater and War Spies by Daniel Polansky @mstiefvater @DanielPolansky @Scholastic

Call Down the Hawk
The Dreamer Trilogy, Book 1
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, November 2019
ISBN 978-1338188325
Hardcover

There’s an inexplicable way that Ms. Stiefvater wields her words so that the reader is comforted by the cadence and speeds along the stripped-down, short statements that say so very much. If this book were a car, it’d be the 2020 Lotus. Call Down the Hawk doesn’t warm up, it’s already impatiently revving, mirroring the barely-held-back growl that vibrates inside of Ronan Lynch.

Yes, my fellow Raven Cycle fans, Ronan Lynch is back! And, we are in his world now. Beyond the barns.

Ms. Stiefvater, of course makes no time for traipsing down memory lane, but there’s no need. New readers won’t need the background of The Raven Cycle to thoroughly enjoy this story centered around the Lynch brothers. I will not be surprised however, if readers of this first tantalizing tale in the Dreamer Trilogy seek out Raven Cycle series while waiting for the second, simply Stiefvater, Dreamer Book.

Ronan Lynch is a Dreamer. But that isn’t what makes him so surly and somewhat terrifying. Those traits are mainly because he is always thinking. Working out complicated puzzles in his head means that any interruption, even as innocuous as a casual greeting, is enough to have him snarling.

Declan, the eldest Lynch sibling, exists in a severely serious state of being. His dogged determination to be boring infuriates Ronan, while Ronan’s recklessness gives Declan heartburn. But both brothers adore their younger brother Matthew. The elder siblings are viciously protective of the blissfully unaware boy, in his constant state of content.

Despite their differences, the brothers Lynch are going to have to find a way to work together. The recent loss of both parents has made the trio a target. Turns out, Dreamers aren’t quite as secret or unique as the boys had been led to believe. In fact, there is a group of people banded together for the sole purpose of finding and eliminating all of the Dreamers.

If the brothers Lynch are to survive the assault, they will have to finally be completely honest with each other. Facing the folks set out to obliterate Dreamers could be exponentially easier than unleashing the secrets each sibling has been desperately trying to keep.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2019.

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War Spies: One Mission, Six Bios
Daniel Polansky
Scholastic Paperbacks, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-57655-0
Trade Paperback

Spies seem to have always been significant in warfare, serving not only to steal and share information, but often sabotaging plans as well. This non-fiction collection contains six scintillating, snap-shot bios of some of the most effective double-agents throughout history.

While this may have been written with Middle-Grade and Young Adult readers in mind, this Not-So-Young reader found it to be incredibly interesting and enlightening. I know many of “my” students will definitely dig it.

From the ‘original spymaster’ to the ‘limping lady’, fascinating facts fill the pages. I even re-read the section on the British spy agency’s first female operative. Although I knew a good bit about Belle Boyd, I was delighted to discover the first crime she committed: as a child, she taught a young slave to read.

War Spies is the 7th book in the Profiles series and I learned so much, so quickly that I’m going back for more.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2019.

Book Review: Surviving Doodahville by Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen

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Title: Surviving Doodahville
Authors: Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen
Narrator: Rebecca Roberts
Publication Date: May 24, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Southern Fiction, Romance

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes

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Surviving Doodahville
Ashley Fontainne and Lillian Hansen
Narrated by Rebecca Roberts
RMSW Press, May 2019
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the authors—

The summer of 1983 – the era of big debt, big hair, and big dreams. Seventeen-year-old Kassandra Lawson is excited about starting her senior year of high school. She has a crush on a local hunk, and her best friend, valley girl extraordinaire Liz Hendricks, insists on helping her snag the hot guy – for sure!

July starts out uneventful for Kee and her parents. Her father, Kevin, is a partner at a CPA firm, and her mother, Gail, works as a secretary at the police department. The small family lives an idyllic life in sunny Hacienda Heights, California.

1983 also brings upheaval and strife for the Lawson clan. A death in the family forces Kevin and Gail to make the painful decision to pack up and move to Kevin’s hometown of Daltville, Arkansas.

Each faces daunting challenges adapting to their new life. Gail and Kee aren’t quite sure they can handle the culture shock. They encounter social and racial issues they never faced on the West Coast, strange food, weird dialects, odd customs, and wicked secrets that have the potential to destroy their family.

More than just a coming-of-age story, Surviving Doodahville explores family bonds, racial barriers, and just how much a person is willing to sacrifice for others. The tale is full of humor, action and a touch of mystery, making it a fun romp into the past.

Well, dagnabbit. I made it all the way to the last chapter with nary a sniffle and then I turned into a near-sobbing wretch 😉

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Rising high school senior Kee and her parents are living the California dream so when circumstances lead Gail and Kevin to decide to move to Daltville, Arkansas, she’s devastated and pretty sure life is over. Then again, fate has a way of making one take a second look and Kee soon thinks her parents’ betrayal doesn’t hold a candle to another pair of betrayals.

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Off they go to what can only be called a stereotypical Southern backwoods town complete with racism, secrets, years-long feuds, overblown morality…and a tremendous amount of charm and possibilities. Kee soon finds that high school in this redneck town isn’t entirely terrible and her small family can help bring about some major changes.

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Romance and friendships blossom in Surviving Doodahville but, at times, I couldn’t help feeling a kind of superiority that these Californians exhibited towards their new neighbors. It was a bit like Kee, Gail and Kevin were the shining examples for goodness and light and that Daltville could only be lifted from its darkness by these more enlightened transplants. Still, a number of the townspeople were good solid citizens and very likeable indeed so I didn’t think the “preaching” was overdone. Truthfully, back in the early 80’s, a lot of what is wrong in Daltville was also wrong elsewhere and still exists today. Now, as in those days, good people matter and can make a difference.
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Side note: The cover is very appealing but I’m puzzled by the sign that reads “DooDah Ville”. Which is correct, DooDah Ville or Doodahville?
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Rebecca Roberts is new to me as a narrator and I was impressed by her performance. Ms. Roberts has a very pleasing tone and does accents/dialect really well. Most of all, she’s believable as a teenaged girl and she added a great deal to my enjoyment of this book.
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Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

About the Authors

Award-winning and International bestselling author, Ashley Fontainne, is an avid reader, becoming a fan of the written word in her youth, starting with the Nancy Drew mystery series. Stories that immerse the reader deep into the human psyche and the monsters lurking within us are her favorite reads.

Her muse for penning the Eviscerating the Snake series was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Ashley’s love for this book is what sparked her desire to write her debut novel, Accountable to None, the first book in the trilogy. With a modern setting to the tale, Ashley delves into just what lengths a person is willing to go to when seeking personal justice for heinous acts perpetrated against them. The second novel in the series, Zero Balance, focuses on the cost and reciprocal cycle that obtaining revenge has on the seeker. Once the cycle starts, where does it end? How far will the tendrils of revenge expand? Adjusting Journal Entries answers that question—far and wide.

The short thriller entitled Number Seventy-Five touches upon the dangerous world of online dating. Number Seventy-Five took home the BRONZE medal in fiction/suspense at the 2013 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards.

The paranormal thriller entitled The Lie won the GOLD medal in the 2013 Illumination Book Awards for fiction/suspense. A movie based on this book, entitled Foreseen, is currently a feature film available on video-on-demand from Amazon.

Ashley delved into the paranormal with a Southern Gothic horror/suspense novel, Growl, which released in January of 2015. The suspenseful mystery Empty Shell released in September of 2014. Ashley teamed up with Lillian Hansen (Ashley calls her Mom!) and penned a three-part murder mystery/suspense series entitled The Magnolia Series. The first book, Blood Ties, released in 2015 and was voted one of the Top 50 Self-Published Books You Should Be Reading in 2015 at http://www.readfree.ly.

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Lillian Hansen is the proud mother of Ashley Fontainne and a grateful daughter of parents who raised her to love and respect the principles upon which America was founded. Lillian is the granddaughter of a brave young woman who immigrated to the United States from Denmark at the age of 18 without speaking any English, who built a career, a family, and became a proud U.S. Citizen.

Lillian values the diverse, life-enriching experiences squirreled away in her memory banks and is fond of all four-legged critters, especially cats. Lillian lives in Arkansas and Surviving Doodahville is her third novel.

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About the Narrator

After a career in finance, Rebecca Roberts became inspired to pursue her childhood dream of becoming an actress. Her ingenuity and ardent desire brought her to voice-acting which has rapidly grown into her thriving audiobook narration and production company, Atlantis Audio Productions. She has narrated and produced over seventy audiobooks for indie authors and major publishing houses. Rebecca delivers her stories with a mature and intelligent style characterized by a believable tone, and versatility in creating memorable and individual characters with her various accents and vocal qualities. In short, she narrates with her whole heart. Rebecca is a native Floridian, proud mother to three sparkling children, and wife to the man of her dreams.

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Surviving Doodahville Ebook
Runs July 21st to 28th⎮Open internationally

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Book Review: An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

An Anonymous Girl
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-13373-1
Hardcover

Imagine your life as a giant freewheeling gear. At times, it spins freely and isn’t meshing with anything. At others, it meshes with one, or several other gear-lives. The majority of the time, those meshing instances are benign, often interesting, but very seldom result in terrifying, confusing, or life changing encounters. What happens when one involves all three?

Jessica Ferris already carries around guilt, anger and shame. She’s never told her parents the truth about what happened to her younger sister who has brain damage and requires almost constant supervision. She’s never dealt honestly with what happened between her and a New York producer that has taken up residence in the back of her mind. She worries constantly about money for reasons she’s unwilling to share with her small circle of friends. She has to hustle every day to make all the appointments as a professional make-up artist for well-to-do clients through her contract with BeautyBuzz. When she looks at her future, it looks dim and fuzzy.

Then one of those life-gear moments happens, she fills in for a friend at an appointment to be screened for a psychological testing project. While the odd questions raise a red flag, the possibility of getting ahead financially is too strong, so she continues after confessing that she filled in for her friend.

Her admission isn’t a deal breaker for Dr. Shields, a wealthy and somewhat icy female psychologist. As Jessica gets pulled further and further into the complex web woven by the doctor, she’s initially dazzled by the amount of money dangled before her, not to mention the hint that Dr. Shields might be able to get her soon to be unemployed and broke dad a new job.

By the time Jessica’s at a point where she can hear warning bells, she’s not only stuck in the doctor’s web of manipulation, she’s also realized that she’s been involved with the woman’s husband and if any word of that gets back to Dr. Shields, the possible consequences are too scary to imagine.

I can’t reveal more without spoiling the rest of this book, but consider this, At some point, everyone is suspect, there are multiple layers of duplicity, you can’t trust anyone, Jessica has to walk a tightrope to stay reasonably safe and sane, and the twist at the end is a dandy. If you enjoy psychological thrillers that read like a tilt-a-whirl and are extremely edgy, then this is your kind of book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, May 2019.

Book Review: Alien Minds by Christina Bauer



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Alien Minds
Christina Bauer
(Dimension Drift #1)
Published by: Monster House Books
Publication date: April 23rd 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

DIVERGENT meets OCEAN’S EIGHT in this urban fantasy heist!

On my seventeenth birthday, I wake up in the hospital to find I just survived a sketchy but terrible accident. My parents stand by my bedside—both are beautiful, wealthy, and super-nice. They tell me that once I leave the hospital, I’ll attend the prestigious ECHO Academy, where I’ll churn out equations for the government along with my mega-smart peers.

So, I’m living the perfect life.

Then why does everything feel all wrong?

My parents, my house and even ECHO Academy…none of it fits. Plus, what’s up with Thorne, my brooding yet yummy classmate who keeps telling me I need to remember my true past, which seems to have included a lot of us kissing? That’s one thing I’d really like to remember, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure Thorne is hiding a ton of nasty secrets of his own, including the fact that he may not be from this world. But considering how my own past seems alien to me, it’s not like I can judge. Plus, Thorne has dimples. That’s a problem.

And worst of all, why does it feel so yucky to work on these calculations for the government? It’s all supposed to be part of ECHO, but my heart tells me that I’m helping something truly terrible come to pass. Thorne seems to think that kissing him again will release my real memories.

Maybe it’s time to pucker up.

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After this series’ prequels, Scythe and Umbra, I was pretty sure the first full-length novel would be a wild ride and so it is. Alien Minds delivers a punch on all levels—action, intrigue, and nefarious government activities—and it’s all at the core of masterful worldbuilding I’ve come to expect from Ms. Bauer.

There’s romance, of course, between Meimi and Thorne, and I can’t say I was thrilled with that part but such things seem to be de rigueur in young adult fiction so I just go with the flow these days. Actually, neither of these two is in my list of 5 favorite characters but that’s okay because I really connected with their story if not them.

Ms. Bauer has added in just the right amount of snide humor to make me chuckle in all the right places but, make no mistake, her core theme is one to beware of. It’s bad enough to be doing things at the government’s behest that don’t exactly sit well but how much worse is it to not remember enough of your past to understand how you came to be in such a situation? Meimi has misgivings almost from the moment she wakes up and is confronted with a man and woman purporting to be her parents and telling her she’s going to the ECHO Academy; once she gets there, all does not become clear and there’s this hunky guy, Thorne, telling her a simple kiss will bring back her memories. When she’s assigned to a special project, she bargains to have a few friends help her and, with her team, embarks upon a plan to escape…and do some damage while they’re at it.

There are a few hiccups along the way but, all in all, Christina Bauer still has my attention and I’ll be waiting for the next Dimension Drift story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2019.

“Appealing and engaging. Love the strong female character!”
– Arlene’s Book Reviews

This new series is perfect for: fans of urban fantasy, action & adventure, cool science, evil corporations, forbidden romance and hot new classmates who may or may not be aliens.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble
Kobo / iBooks / Google Play

About the Author

Author Bio:

Christina Bauer thinks that fantasy books are like bacon: they just make life better. All of which is why she writes romance novels that feature demons, dragons, wizards, witches, elves, elementals, and a bunch of random stuff that she brainstorms while riding the Boston T. Oh, and she includes lots of humor and kick-ass chicks, too.

Christina graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School with BA’s in English along with Television, Radio, and Film Production. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, son, and semi-insane golden retriever, Ruby.

Be the first to know about new releases from Christina by signing up for her newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/CBupdates

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Book Review: Watching You by Lisa Jewell

Watching You
Lisa Jewell
Atria Books, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-5011-9007-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

In Lisa Jewell’s latest brilliant “bone-chilling suspense” (People) no one is who they seem—and everyone is hiding something. Who has been murdered—and who would have wanted one of their neighbors dead? As “Jewell teases out her twisty plot at just the right pace” (Booklist, starred review), you will be kept guessing until the startling revelation on the very last page.

By now, Lisa Jewell has firmly established herself in the crime fiction field as one of the best suspense/thriller writers today, especially those involving domestic and/or women’s issues. With Watching You, she certainly did not disappoint this reader and, in fact, takes things to another level of creepiness.

Secrets abound in this community and different residents of the neighborhood have varying opinions about their neighbors and even their own families but it’s Tom Fitzwilliam who seems to be at the center of everything. Why is this man, rightfully admired for his headmaster abilities and accomplishments, such a magnet for attention? Which of these neighbors is dangerously obsessed with him?

Ms. Jewell begins her story with a dead body and then backtracks to give the reader glimpses of the previous few weeks and the odd—and chilling—behavior of these people who spy on each other with the precision of a trained professional.  A reader will wonder why do they do so and, just when you think you have a handle on things, the author tosses everything you thought you knew into the ozone.

Pacing is almost frenetic, the characters are diverse in their personalities and in their likeability (or not) and you can’t help wondering if some of your own neighbors might be behaving oddly, perhaps dangerously. The web of lies and rumors that seemed to keep growing had me guessing from beginning to end…well done, Ms. Jewell!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2019.

Book Review: The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson

The Wonder of Us  
Kim Culbertson
Point , April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-73151-5
Hardcover

If ever the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ applied, this is that book. Abby and Riya became best friends the day Abby picked up a spider, and after naming it Sam, carried it outside where she let it go free. That was when they were in second grade and despite Riya being an extrovert and Abby an introvert, that friendship has remained unbreakable. That is until last year when Riya’s family moved to Berlin temporarily so Mom could help her brother stabilize the family business.

Shortly after the move, Abby’s mother announced she needed space and change, moving out a couple days later, only to begin living with the family dentist. Abby, feeling doubly abandoned, had to suck it up and start being the adult because her dad lost his way, leaving her to make meals, buy groceries, not to mention having to remind him to take a shower and get to work almost daily. It was a time she needed Riya desperately, but their phone calls, texts and face time chats were all poor substitutes for having her best friend at hand when she was continually crashing and burning in silence.

When Riya’s grandmother sprung for a grand European vacation and urged her granddaughter to invite Abby, it might have, should have, been the perfect healing reunion, but it wasn’t. Both girls had let too many secrets and unsaid things build up during their year apart and as they visited Florence, Switzerland, Berlin, Scotland, Iceland and finally London, it was akin to having a severe burn, only every time the healing started, someone ripped off the protective gauze, setting the process back.

Abby’s love of history comes alive when they visit each new location as the author brings historical tidbits to life in a way that allows readers to imagine they’re seeing them as well. Abby’s observations about how seeing certain places adds even more because she takes her emotional responses and turns them into dialogue that’s extremely easy to relate to.

The negotiations (there’s no better way to describe them) between the two friends are often awkward, cloaked in the angst and hurt of what should have been shared in the year they spent apart and ownership belongs to both of them. There are times when you feel like continued friendship is a lost cause, but their history is too strong for that to happen. If you want to find out how they end both the trip and where they’re headed, read the book and discover how much depth and insight it has. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Then you can read Kim’s other books as I have and see what a satisfying storyteller she is.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, March 2019.

Book Review: This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock—and a Giveaway!

This Story Is A Lie
Tom Pollock
Soho Teen, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-911-1
Hardcover

When a book begins with the protagonist having just dealt with a major panic attack by crushing a porcelain salt shaker with his teeth, you can expect what follows to be a bit strange. And what does ensue exceeds that description in spades. Peter Blankman, age seventeen, is a twin and a mad math genius. He’s also bullied unmercifully by three classmates at his English high school. His only protection is his older, by eight minutes, sister Bel who is no slouch in the brains department herself.

Peter has been dealing with irrational fears and panic attacks for as long as he can remember. His mother is a world famous scientist and his absent father a mystery. All Peter and Bel know is the tidbits their mother drops on occasion, but the overarching message has always been that Dad was utterly evil and the less they know, the better off they’ll be.

A few hours following his attack, he, Bel and Mom are off to the Natural History Museum where Mom’s to receive an award for her work. Peter does his best to hold it together, but as the moment approaches for things to start, he loses it and bolts, running recklessly down one corridor after another. When he runs out of gas, he tries to find his way back, only to stumble on a body leaking copious amounts of blood. It’s his mother and it’s all he can do to stay with her and try to stanch the bleeding.

In short order, Bel vanishes, Peter’s grabbed by Rita, who claims to be a friend of Mom and one of her co-workers. She rushes him out of the museum and into a strange car that follows the ambulance transporting Mom. Peter’s paranoia starts ramping up as the convoy heads away from the two closest hospitals. It spikes even more as he overhears snippets of code-like conversations and senses that something highly suspicious. Little does he know how right he is. He manages to escape, but with Bel missing, where can he go?

What follows is like going in and out of a series of Alice in Wonderland rabbit holes. Every time Peter thinks he has something figured out, reality, or what passes for it, pulls another rug out from him. He’s unsure who to trust, how much of what he’s learned about mathematics can be counted on, he’s unsure who’s real or telling the truth, and as pieces fall into place, he finds himself on ever more fragile ground. Many details are revealed in flashback chapters going back anywhere from five days to seven years prior to the current story line. By the end, Peter, Bel and the reader are all still trying to sort things out. That’s not to say the ending is bad or incomplete, just nicely twisted. If you like industrial strength creepy, this book is for you.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2019.

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