Book Review: All About Mia by Lisa Williamson

All About Mia
Lisa Williamson
David Fickling Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-16397-1
Hardcover

Mia-in-the-middle is not doing well. Something like loneliness lingers, an itch that can’t be scratched. It doesn’t make sense to her that someone who adores alone time (but is never actually alone) could feel lonely. Anyway, the small window of time that gave her a bit of breathing space has slammed shut.

It felt decadent, using Grace’s room while her elder sibling spent her gap-year in Greece (no doubt doing something amazing). But now, out of the blue, Grace is coming home early. And she’s bringing her “spoddy” boyfriend. An aggravating situation exacerbated by the overwhelming excitement of their parents. Already annoying, on their love-crazed-wedding-planning-cloud, they are absolutely insufferable with enthusiastic joy.

Her younger sister, Audrey, will never be an ally. Aside from training for swim meets, she only has time for Beyoncé, her beloved guinea pig. Mia’s three best friends, generally good-to-go with whatever floats her boat, seem a bit strange and stand-offish. Not so supportive, terribly frustrating.

Initially, I didn’t like Mia. But then it hit me. I was seeing Mia through her eyes. Neither one of us had figured out that she wasn’t feeling very fond of herself. Or that she felt invisible. Slowly, I began to understand her outrageous behavior and blatant disregard for everyone close to her. Unable to articulate the aching emptiness; Mia could only act out.

I’m excited to share All About Mia with students here in the U. S. because I think that, like me, they will delight in the English dialect and phrasing and they will definitely appreciate the cultural differences. Which reminds me—in the U.S., the legal drinking age is 21. The Campbell-Richardson family resides in Rushton, a small English hamlet. Although Mia does over-indulge, and it is under-age drinking; it is in a world where wine (albeit watered-down) is welcome with evening meals and the legal drinking age is 18.

Mostly, I’ll be recommending this because I believe that everyone who meets Mia will feel a little less lonely.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2018.

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Book Review: Witch Wish by Jacqueline Seewald

Witch Wish
Jacqueline Seewald
Black Opal Books, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-626949-45-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Val Williams believes she will never be as pretty or popular as her older sister Ailene. When Ailene dumps her on an unfamiliar road after an argument, Val decides to ask directions of the only person she sees—an old woman engaged in a garage sale. Val purchases a music box that the old woman claims has magical qualities and will grant Val one wish. In a fit of pique, Val wishes that that her sister would stop being so perfect. When Ailene starts acting oddly, breaks up with her boyfriend, stops talking to her friends, starts dating a “bad” boy, and cuts classes, Val is troubled. She begins to fear she caused all this to happen by making her wish and suffers a guilty conscience. How she goes about setting matters right makes for some unusual complications and surprises.

“Be careful what you wish for” should have been Val’s mantra but, of course, she didn’t really mean for anything to go wrong for Ailene when she picks up that old woman’s music box and inadvertently wishes Ailene wasn’t so perfect. On the other hand, it’s not easy to live with a sister who is truly the golden child and is obnoxious on top of everything else. Could this music box really be magical?

At its core, though, this is a story about a family in a world of hurt and each member of the family contributes to that condition, the inability to get along with each other or be the kind of peaceful, loving family we all want. On the surface, Ailene is the one who is most disruptive and certainly she is incredibly self-absorbed and can be downright cruel to her younger sister but, in reality, she’s not the real issue.

As Ailene seems to be falling apart, Val takes the first wobbly steps towards seeing her own self-worth and her sister’s true vulnerability, the cracks in her facade. Tangentially, Val’s friend has her own family dysfunction to deal with that eventually involves everyone in the Williams family as they work to protect Toni and her sister, Kathy.

While Val finds her inner strength, the rest of her family each have their own “awakening” and, as a reader, I took comfort in going along with them on their journey. Val, in particular, became a young woman I’d like to spend more time with.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

Book Review: A Ghostly Mortality by Tonya Kappes

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

From the publisher—

That ghost sure looks . . . familiar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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An Excerpt from A Ghostly Mortality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About the Author

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

 

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Book Reviews: Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick and Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan

GorgeousGorgeous
Paul Rudnick
Scholastic Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-46426-0
Hardcover

What an odd little duck this is.  I confess that, as I was reading it, I would occasionally stop and ask myself how I would write a review about it.  Frankly, I don’t recall reading anything quite like this.  Before I go too far; I love unique and weird, so all aforementioned and following descriptions are meant as compliments, not complaints.

First, this is not a book that “pulled me in”.  Rather, there seemed to be a deliberate attempt to keep the reader on the outside, looking in; very cool for this particular story.  The impossible happens often, without explanation or apology.  Our main character, Becky/Rebecca, seems open to it, so it was easy for this reader to accept the oddities as well.  It was actually quite refreshing to simply acknowledge and accept, instead of grappling with a pseudo-explanation as to how these bizarre things were taking place.  I enjoyed this part of the book tremendously.

Next, we have the story-line.  Becky’s life, nothing to be particularly proud of, is shattered by the death of her mother.  Knowing that she has nowhere to go and no one to turn to, Becky stumbles upon a name and phone number hidden away.  Enter Tom Kelly, world-famous designer, entrepreneur and all-around embodiment of fame.  He quickly promises Becky that she will become “the most beautiful person in the world”, with minimal catches.  Having nothing to lose, she agrees to give it a shot.

Now, we have a couple of things going on.  One being, how will Becky, nee Rebecca, handle the beauty, fame, and adoration; but, most importantly, will it improve her life?  Two, why is Tom Kelly doing this?  Clearly, not out of the kindness of his heart—he doesn’t appear to have one.  Soon, true love follows.  Just as Rebecca goes for the gold, Tom Kelly cleanly jerks the rug out from under her.  Bye-bye beauty, hello Becky….deal with that!

Mr. Rudnick’s characters are so very real that this reader tended to keep them at arm’s length, rather than blissfully enveloping them and accepting their enviable perfection.  He details a full-blown adult tantrum beautifully.  We’ve all had those moments when we are absolutely livid, yet the harshest derogatory term that comes to mind is “fart-face”.  The muttered snide comments are witty and biting, while the professions of love are sweetly clumsy.

I enjoyed this quirky, groovy little book and I am excited to read more by Mr. Rudnick.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2013.

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Gemini BitesGemini Bites
Patrick Ryan
Scholastic Press, March 2011
ISBN 978-0-545-22128-3
Hardcover

Kyle Renneker is experiencing serious growing pains in Gemini Bites.  Being a sixteen year old boy, recently out of the closet, is challenging enough.  Add to that, a blatantly despicable twin sister and the freak of the school moving into the family home, you have one “mixed up, muddled up, shook up world”.

A relatively intriguing and somewhat promising premise turned into a disappointing read for me.  I expect that my opinion will be in the minority.  I fully believe that many readers will devour this book as a spot-on account of teen angst, self-awareness followed by gradual self-acceptance.  To that end, I will pinpoint the issues that gave me pause.

1.    Gratuitous sex scene(s): This book appears to be intended for grades 8 – 12.  No, I am not naïve enough to think that this age group is unfamiliar with sex; however, the details given regarding Kyle’s first sexual experience were simply not needed.  They were, in my taste, too explicit for this audience and I do not feel that the description(s) added anything to the book.

2.    Kyle’s Twin is Too Mean: Kyle calls his Twin “Monster”.  He is being too kind.  This character is remarkably hateful.  There is absolutely nothing charming about her.  Her gay slurs are over-the-top obnoxious, not to mention a bit inappropriate for the intended audience.  Her harsh words are never particularly clever or witty—just nasty.  Although the reader doesn’t immediately know the reason for her attitude, it is hard to imagine a scenario that warrants this type of behaviour.  When the “reason” is revealed, it seemed utterly ridiculous to this reader.

3.    Freak Boy: aka Garrett Johnson: Everyone in school knows that Garrett is totally bizarre.  Some assume he is weird because he is gay.  Others know he is straight, but choosy.  Most students half-way believe the rumour that he is a vampire.  After all, it is the one he seems to perpetrate.  I love the fact that Garrett is mature enough to know that he is not yet comfortable in his own skin; but his way of dealing with it seems counter-intuitive.  I felt that he played cruel games within the family that kindly took him in.  It was tough to see the admiration the other characters felt for him, when he seemed too dramatic and whiny to me.

4.    The large family: There are nine people in the Renneker household, all living under the same roof.  To me, there was no added benefit; rather the sheer number of siblings seemed to unnecessarily complicate the story.  This is a short book.  I prefer fewer, richer and deeper characters that many superfluous characters.

So, although Gemini Bites isn’t one of my faves, I have a feeling many readers would vehemently disagree with me.  They would probably be correct.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2013.