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.

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

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.

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors
B. A. Paris
St. Martin’s Press, August 2016
ISBN: 978-1-250-12100-4
Hardcover

Some have labeled this novel noir domestic fiction. I found it darker and more dangerous than that. The novel is also brilliant, in its structure, its characteristics, descriptions and stunning in its conclusion.

Grace falls in love with a slick, handsome well-educated lawyer. Jack is highly trained careful in his preparations and courtroom tactics and had never lost a case. He is also arrogant, cunning, manipulative and consummately evil.

The structure of the novel carries readers from present to past and back again several time. The story explores the marriage of Grace and Jack and details their relationship and its change over time, in a London suburb and in their travels to Thailand.

Grace has a younger sister, Millie, who is developmentally damaged and Jack cleverly manipulates the girl to maintain his control over his new wife. The relationship between the married couple forms the core of the story, but as the tale unwinds, it is an acquaintance named Esther who ultimately becomes the rock on whom Grace is able to secure a real future.

Well-written, intense, and elaborate, author Paris is destined for wide readership and many discussions.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

After Anna
Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin’s Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-09965-5
Hardcover

Lisa Scottoline is the author of more than a dozen legal thrillers featuring a firm of women lawyers in Philadelphia and nearly as many stand-alone novels of domestic suspense. She has also published several volumes of humorous essays.

Scottoline’s legal background is on full display in her latest contemporary domestic thriller, After Anna. Maggie Ippolitti is ecstatic when she unexpectedly has the opportunity to re-connect with the daughter she lost years ago after she was diagnosed with post-partum psychosis. Happy in her second marriage, to widower Dr. Noah Alderman, and satisfied in mothering his son, she is still quick to invite Anna to live with them, even though she knows little about the nearly grown teenager.

Anna’s presence rapidly causes tension in the house that Maggie overlooks in order to keep Anna with her. Not the least of the issues is the fact that Anna is set to inherit several million dollars in just a few months from the estate of her father, Maggie’s first husband. Both Noah and Maggie think 18 is far too young to become a millionaire. When Anna is murdered less than a month after she moves in with the family, Noah is accused of the crime and stands trial in a blaze of relentless publicity.

A new piece of information near the end of the trial presents a completely different view of and motive for the teenager’s death, which Maggie follows to its unexpected conclusion.

The story is laid out in short vignettes that move back and forth in time, from the point Maggie first hears from Anna through the trial. Many of them take place in the courtroom where events leading up to the murder are revealed as the prosecutor and the defending attorney cross-examine witnesses. While this format in the skilled hands of Scottoline ratchets the suspense to an almost unbearable level, the frequent and abrupt transitions in time and place and voice are not always easy to follow.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, March 2018.

Book Review: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

The Italian Party
Christina Lynch
St. Martin’s Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-14783-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie’s Italian teacher―a teenager with secrets of his own―disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Scottie and Michael are children of their times, as they say, and those of us who remember the 1950’s will certainly recognize them. They scream “American” with their enormous, flashy Ford Fairlane, their marriage is something of a convenience and they barely know each other, and they’re much, much wealthier than the Italians they want to live among. Michael is undoubtedly the head of the household and Scottie is the demure wife who follows her husband’s lead; in fact, Michael appreciates that she knows how to be a good, supportive wife. After all, her education at Vassar led to her Mrs. degree and she upholds it beautifully.

Unlike the “Leave It to Beaver” scenario, these two are not exactly the salt of the earth but, perhaps more importantly, neither one has a clue who the other one is and major secrets begin to come out as soon as they get to their destination, Siena. On top of everything in their personal lives, Communism is nipping at their heels.

All of that sounds kind of dismal, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s true to an extent but the joy in this novel comes from watching this young couple come to terms with themselves and each other while they’re in the midst of a most unlikely spy story of their own and there are a lot of laughs to be had, the kind that make you think “caper” and “adventure”. All in all, this was totally fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes spies, international intrigue, comedy, romance, adventure, history, Italian food…you get the idea 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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About the Author

Photo credit Stacy Brand

Christina Lynch’s picaresque journey includes chapters in Chicago and at Harvard, where she was an editor on the Harvard Lampoon. She was the Milan correspondent for W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and disappeared for four years in Tuscany. In L.A. she was on the writing staff of Unhappily Ever After; Encore, Encore; The Dead Zone and Wildfire. She now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. She is the co-author of two novels under the pen name Magnus Flyte. She teaches at College of the Sequoias. The Italian Party is her debut novel under her own name.

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