Book Review: The Devil Amongst the Lawyers by Sharyn McCrumb @StMartinsPress

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers
A Ballad Novel #8
Sharyn McCrumb
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, June 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-55816-1
Hardcover

Set in 1935 in a small town in the Appalachian mountains, a young schoolteacher is accused of murdering her father. Since Erma Morton, the suspect, is reported to be beautiful and people love a good murder story with an attractive woman at its center, journalists from all the big city newspapers flock to town to report on the trial. The question is, are they going to write the facts, or just the myths of hill country life?

That’s where Carl Jenkins, a more local small town reporter with big ambition comes in. He wants the truth, but with Erma not talking and her enterprising brother running the show, the truth may be difficult to pinpoint.

Extraordinary steps must be taken, and Carl enlists his young cousin, Nora Bonesteel, to help him. After all, people will talk with a twelve-year-old girl when they won’t an adult man. And Nora is gifted with the “sight.” If anyone can discover whether Erma killed her father or not, it is Nora.

I was disappointed with the story, in part because it starts out repeating the tale of the 1916 hanging of an elephant in Kingsport, Tenneesee. A true story, sickening, that I’ve read about before. I skipped it this time.

Perhaps the inclusion of the incident colored my view, but from that beginning I never really got into the “meat,” if meat there was, of the plot. I didn’t relate to or care abut the characters, with the exception of Carl and Nora. The story moved slowly and a great deal of the novel was given over to flashbacks concerning another journalist, Henry Jernigan.

But read the novel for yourself. See what you think. After all, Sharyn McCrumb writes wonderfully literate books. This one will plunge you deeply into 1935 mountain folk life.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2021.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Mystery

Book Review: What You Wish For by Katherine Center @katherinecenter @StMartinsPress

What You Wish For
Katherine Center
St. Martin’s Press, July 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-21936-7
Hardcover

A cross between a romantic comedy and chick lit, What You Wish For is a girl-meets-boy for the second time story. Samantha Casey is a 28 year old  librarian at a private school, owned by Max and Babette. Samantha enjoys her life on Galveston Island. She adores Max and Babette, who are also her landlords, and enjoys spending time with her best friend, math teacher Alice, who has an extensive wardrobe of tee shirts imprinted with math jokes.

When Max dies suddenly, Samantha assumed that Babette would become the new principal. But son-in-law Kent hires an outsider named Duncan Carpenter. It can’t be, wonders Samantha. She worked with someone with that name at her last school. He was wild and funny, and wore golf pants and goofy ties.

But when Duncan Carpenter showed up at school, he was dressed in a sober three piece suit and talked about new security and safety measures at the school. What happened to the old Duncan? Suddenly, Samantha no longer had a crush on him. He was turning the school into a joyless institution.

The underlying question of school security is shown to affect teachers and students in profound ways. Samantha is a little too giggly and immature for a 28 year old, but her character does grow throughout the story, as others do. Center is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away and Things You Save in a Fire.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2021.

Book Review: Hello, Summer by Mary Kay Andrews—and a Giveaway! @mkayandrews @StMartinsPress

Hello, Summer
Mary Kay Andrews
St. Martin’s Press, May 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-25692-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s a new season…

Conley Hawkins left her family’s small town newspaper, The Silver Bay Beacon, in the rearview mirror years ago. Now a star reporter for a big-city paper, Conley is exactly where she wants to be and is about to take a fancy new position in Washington, D.C. Or so she thinks.

For small town scandals…

When the new job goes up in smoke, Conley finds herself right back where she started, working for her sister, who is trying to keep The Silver Bay Beacon afloat―and she doesn’t exactly have warm feelings for Conley. Soon she is given the unenviable task of overseeing the local gossip column, “Hello, Summer.”

And big-time secrets.

Then Conley witnesses an accident that ends in the death of a local congressman―a beloved war hero with a shady past. The more she digs into the story, the more dangerous it gets. As an old heartbreaker causes trouble and a new flame ignites, it soon looks like their sleepy beach town is the most scandalous hotspot of the summer.

Big city journalist stuck writing a gossip column on a small town newspaper—what could possibly go wrong? Conley’s grateful her sister, Grayson, made room for her on the family paper after her ignominious exit from Atlanta but getting used to being back in her coastal Florida hometown is hard enough without having to ferret out the local tattling and innuendos. Before long, though, life takes a different turn and Conley starts sniffing around a real story, a suspicious death of a politician.

That’s not all, though, as it seems Silver Bay is a hotbed of scandals and secrets involving a plethora of folks, including her own family, not to mention a potential reconnection with a crush from earlier times. Throw in G’mama, the quintessential grande dame of Southern small towns, and her opinionated housekeeper, Winnie, and you’ve got the makings of a great beach read—a bit too long for my taste but, all in all, a winner.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.

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To enter the drawing for a
hardcover copy of Hello, Summer,
leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn on
Thursday evening, September 3rd.
Open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones @Darynda @StMartinsPress

A Bad Day for Sunshine  
Sunshine Vicram Series, Book 1  
Darynda Jones
St. Martin’s Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-14944-2
Hardcover

I haven’t quite made up my mind what I think of this book, the first in a new series from author Darynda Jones. On one hand I find it supremely entertaining, with a couple mysteries to be solved although, despite strong hints, we’re left still wondering about one of them.

Strong characters people the town of Del Sol, New Mexico in this romantic suspense tale. They are a quirky bunch, and as Sunshine Vicram takes over the role of newly elected sheriff, (although she didn’t actually run for the office) she has to deal with an odd “book club,” a group of hormonal teenagers, and a couple potential kidnappers, all on her first day. As though getting run over by a Mercedes, looking for an escaped convict and fighting through a blizzard aren’t enough. Oh, and the fact her fourteen-year-old daughter is having just such a day herself, what with making enemies left and right and falling in love.

Sharp dialogue and pointed characterization carry the suspenseful plot in a story rife with heartwarming friendships—once you get past the old enemies. These are the parts I particularly enjoyed.

But then, there were things that irked me. For instance, the “Where is Bobby Britton” schtick got old fast. Quite often it was hard to tell who was the more mature, Sunshine or Auri, her teenage daughter. This character is supposed to be a sheriff, for goodness sake. Have a little gravity. Giggles? Way too many giggles.  But I repeat, supremely entertaining.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Repeal the Second Amendment: The Case for a Safer America by Allan J. Lichtman @AllanLichtman @StMartinsPress

The following review does not necessarily reflect
the views of the reviewer or of the blog owner
but is intended to share the author’s study of the
amendment to aid in a better understanding
of the controversial issues involved.

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Repeal the Second Amendment
The Case for A Safer America
Allan J. Lichtman
St. Martin’s Press, January 2020
ISBN 978-1250244406
Hardcover

In Mr. Lichtman’s non-fiction Repeal the Second Amendment: The Case for A Safer America, he digs deeply into the history of the U.S.A. to detail what was happening then, providing perspective and understanding as to what prompted the writing of this amendment. Snippets from pertinent discussions and disagreements around drafting the document were enlightening. An original draft used “country” in “…being necessary to the security of a free _____”; but “country” was replaced with “state”. The reason isn’t surprising, but is remarkably disappointing.

The amount of intricate research that went into this book was astounding. I certainly did not expect a review of historical documents for the use of the phrase “to bear arms” in order to determine if it referred to militia or individuals. Or for sentences to essentially be conjugated to show that if the amendment addressed the individual, the explanation clause would be redundant.

Being born and raised in WV, with my paternal parental unit competing in shooting matches every Sunday, I’ve heard a lot about “The Second”. One tiny detail my father and his fellow firearm fanatics omit though is that the government conducted a census. There was a government-maintained list of every single gun-owner, and each and every gun he owned. The same men I’ve heard vehemently insist on their “right” to bear arms are the first people to bristle at the suggestion of anyone else on the planet knowing which and how many firearms are currently in his possession.

The gun-owners of which I speak are also almost-angrily, proud members of the NRA, I guess by ignoring the fact that the National Rifle Association originally felt differently about the 2nd amendment. It wasn’t until late 20th century that the NRA reversed their own findings (without explanation or even acknowledgement). Maybe they are not bothered by the attempt to incorporate Santa Claus into gun ads. Or the NRA approaching the Vatican to name a “Patron Saint of Handgunners”.

To me, these pages were packed with historical facts. Some I knew, some I suspected, and several became blatant when the bigger picture emerged. My understanding of both historic and present-day policies, rules and regulations has been enriched. Because of the plethora of interesting information that I’ve not found elsewhere, I introduced and donated this book to “my” high-school seniors and I am looking forward to hearing their thoughts.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2020.

Book Reviews: The Furies by Katie Lowe and Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castellucci @fatgirlphd @stmartinspress @misscecil @Scholastic

The Furies
Katie Lowe
St. Martin’s Press, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-29789-1
Hardcover

Theoretically, it may be a bit easier to handle the aftermath of a tragedy if someone close suffers the same horror. Certainly, an adolescent girl could expect her mother to understand and to bear the burden with her. Vivian’s mom does know the shock, the overwhelming ache of emptiness. It’s almost as if she found a way to absorb it. Vivian no longer sees her mom, there is only a hollow shell where the warm, caring soul should still be.

Perhaps Vivian, too, would have just faded away, if not for the opportunity to attend the prestigious Elm Hollow. A curious campus—that, of course “has a history”—and the intriguing course-structures were appealing. But it was watching the girls making their way from class to class that truly began to stir something inside of Vivian. For the first time, in a long time, Vivian felt like learning again. Looking forward, making friends, maybe even dating: thoughts that had been gathering dust in the back of her brain tentatively slunk forward.

Young ladies gathered in pairs, loose groups and a few had chosen solo spots and were sprinkled throughout. One thing seemed the same, though. All seemed…content.

Ok, not “all”.

There are three…or to be more accurate, there is a trio standing out. Admittedly, the righteous red of Robin’s hair is impossible to miss, but Vivian is pretty sure there’s an undercurrent connecting the clearly-close friends. Inexplicably drawn to them, Vivian feels her heart beat again when she is welcomed into their fold.

Ms. Lowe doesn’t allow the uplifting illusion to linger.

As Vivian embraces all of Elm Hollow her mind happily gathers information, albeit by bits and pieces. She soon learns enough to put together a surprising, scary picture. Relationships are not new; backgrounds are tangled, gnarled roots and Vivian has been snagged. Entirely on her own, she will become eternally ensnared in Elm Hollow, or she will have to hack her way out.

I cannot wait to take this suck-you-in-and-spin-you-story to “my” students next month!

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2019.

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Don’t Cosplay With My Heart
Cecil Castellucci
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-12549-8
Hardcover

This Young Adult novel begins with (what I hope is) an atypical teen scenario. Completely overcome by complicated, conflicting emotions…currently manifesting as mainly anger, Edan dons her Gargantua mask before sitting down to her final family dinner. For the foreseeable future.

She didn’t know much about her dad’s business, other than his firm handled payroll for several Hollywood productions. Lately, she’s heard whispers of misappropriated funds and missing money. Now, her father is being sequestered. But this is not a tale of white-collar crime. Although, that may be a bit more pertinent to the plot than I initially anticipated.

To me, the story is about Edan’s exponential growth as life forces her into self-discovery and independence at a wholly unanticipated time. Sort of like learning to swim by being thrown into the water, having never even contemplated swimming lessons. And Edan is truly alone.

Her best bud, Kasumi, is spending the summer in Japan. Their conversations are quick and Kasumi seems so happy that Edan cannot bear to burden her with what’s happening at home. Edan has to do something to get out of the house and more importantly, out of her own head. Attending her first Comic Con, solo, should do the trick.

Despite her admiration and adoration of all things Team Tomorrow, the best comic-book ever, Edan didn’t know much about the fan-filled conventions. And, aside from the recent addition of the Gargantua mask to her attire, she absolutely knew nothing of cosplaying. After attending only one con though, Edan was wholly hooked and, with a goal: “…learn how to make a costume so great that it pulls me right out of my misery and changes my life.”

I appreciate the realistic and relatable mistakes Edan made, as well as how she corrected them. And, I’m always particularly fond of friendships formed in the most unlikely of places. I found this to be fun and entertaining, without being cotton-candy fluffy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2018.

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.