Book Review: Cheesus Was Here by J.C. Davis

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Title: Cheesus Was Here
Author: J.C. Davis
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult

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Cheesus Was Here
J.C. Davis
Sky Pony Press, April 2017
ISBN
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sixteen-year-old Delaney Delgado knows miracles aren’t real—if they were, her kid sister wouldn’t be dead. So when the image of baby Jesus appears on a Babybel cheese wheel, she’s not buying the idea that God’s got a dairy obsession. Soon, religious signs begin turning up all over Del’s hometown, tiny Clemency, Texas. Overnight, news vans fill the streets and religious pilgrims start searching for God in the discount aisle of the grocery store.

Hell-bent on proving the so-called miracles are fake, Del convinces her best friend, Gabe, to help her find the truth. While Gabe’s willing to play detective, as a preacher’s son he’s more interested in finding evidence that supports the miracles. But when the whole town becomes caught up in religious fervor and even the late-night talk show hosts have stopped laughing and started to believe, finding the truth might cause more trouble than Del can handle. This novel is neither pro nor anti-religion, and will appeal to fans of contemporary YA novels that explore deep themes with an element of humor. The voice and characters are funny, strong, and full of heart.

I enjoy irreverent takes on religious themes, always have, and one of my all-time favorite books falls into this category. When such a book comes along, I’m always initially interested but I do my due diligence before I take it on because some of these can be mean-spirited. For me, the irreverence has to take place amidst a true honoring of the religion in question, a real reverence, if you will.

Cheesus Was Here, on the surface, sounds, well, cheesy but it isn’t, not at all. Yes, the image is on a Babybel but, hey, these images show up on pizza, bread, a Walmart receipt, everywhere you can think of so why not cheese?

Delaney Delgado lives in a tiny Texas town where religion plays an enormous role but she’s pretty much given up on God after having lost her sister to cancer and the rest of her family to a general falling apart. When a co-worker discovers what he sees as the Baby Jesus on a piece of cheese, Del sees a strangelooking heart, maybe a lopsided baby but Baby Jesus? Uh-uh, but little does she know that life in Clemency has just taken a very wide detour in the road.

The mania engendered by such sightings soon envelops Clemency and everyone in it and, finally, Del can’t stand it any longer. Determined to prove this is no miracle, she enlists the help of her friend, Gabe, to investigate this phenomenon. Trouble is, Gabe isn’t so sure it’s a hoax; after all, he’s a preacher’s son.

At its heart, Cheesus Was Here is really the story of a girl coming to terms with the bad things that have happened in her family and her emotional growth along the way. Faith battles with grief and Del, with all her snarkiness, her wall against life in general, learns that love and the healing a tiny town can offer, especially through her best friend, can make all the difference in the world. This is a heartwarming tale that all but the most cynical can enjoy.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

About the Author

A programmer by day, I write YA fiction, the occasional short story and have far too many hobbies to keep up with. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband, two kids and a pair of hedgehogs with nerdy names.

 

             

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Book Reviews: Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations by Simon Brett and Desperate for Death by Judy Alter

Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations
A Mrs Pargeter Mystery #8
Simon Brett
Crème de la Crime/Severn House, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-78029-092-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It is her characteristic generosity rather than her love of animals that finds Mrs Pargeter supporting her friend, Jasmine Angold, at a charity reception for PhiliPussies, whose worthy aim is to rehabilitate stray cats from the Greek island of Atmos into caring English homes. But the evening is to have unexpected consequences. At the event, Mrs P is taken aback to meet a woman who claims to be the sister of her late husband, the much-missed Mr Pargeter.

This surprising encounter leads to unwelcome digging into past secrets, the discovery of a body in Epping Forest, an eventful trip to Greece – and unexpected danger for Mrs Pargeter. In the course of her investigations, she learns the true nature of charity and the dubious skills by which Public Relations can make evil look good.

The Mrs Pargeter series is beguiling and delightful and this particular installment is no exception. Once again, the very wealthy and very kind widow finds herself in the midst of a puzzling crime and perhaps more.

Mrs Pargeter is always ready to help worthy causes with her money and her time but the latest, a cat rescue program, doesn’t really speak to her as she’s not particularly fond of cats. She agrees to go to a fundraiser because it’s important to her friend, Jasmine Angold, and Mrs Pargeter is all for supporting friends and those who are good to her, people such as Gary, her driver-on-call, and a security expert, Parvez. She found both in her late husband’s little black book full of experts in all sorts of activities. These experts were all connected in one way or another to her husband’s, er, illegal enterprises and while Mrs Pargeter would just as soon not know anything about said enterprises (to the point of not allowing anyone to mention them), she certainly appreciates the resulting wealth and the contents of the little black book.

When a very expensive necklace disappears from the charity auction, Mrs Pargeter is intrigued but even more so by the out-of-the-blue appearance of Rochelle Brighouse, a sister-in-law she never knew existed. Now, she has two mysteries to look into, the theft and this rather unpleasant woman, and she begins with a few questions to Gary and Parvez but is stymied by their surprising unwillingness to talk.

When Rochelle makes her agenda known and Mrs Pargeter realizes her husband’s reputation is at stake, she’s mobilized to do something about it. Add to that a murder connected to the cat rescue and our intrepid sleuth is soon doing what she does best.

 Mrs Pargeter is a woman wedded to fighting for good and against evil and this crime caper is as entertaining and full of dry humor as one could wish despite a bit of silliness (it’s puzzling why Brits would feel compelled to rescue cats from Greece when there are plenty of needy felines at home). She also is an unusual sleuth with her vast wealth and her ability to call on some of her husband’s very capable associates with their particular talents. All in all, it’s really easy to be charmed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

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Desperate for Death
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery #6
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-9960131-7-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Just when Kelly’s life has calmed, she faces yet another of life’s puzzles. Except the pieces in this one don’t fit. First the apartment behind her house is torched, then a string of bizzare “accidents” occur to set her off-balance. Who is stalking her? Where does the disappearance of a young girl and her disreputable boyfriend fit in? And why are two men using the same name? Is the surprise inheritance another part of the puzzle? At a time when she is most vulnerable, Kelly can’t make the pieces fit. Before Kelly can get the whole picture, she helps the family of a hostage, rescues a kidnap victim and attends a wild and wonderful wedding.

Most of the time in a cozy, I get irritated with the love interest who’s a cop and he demands that his lady, our amateur sleuth, stay out of his business. This time, I’m irritated because Mike, the cop in question, blows off Kelly’s suggestion that the fire in her unoccupied guest house might have been set by someone out for revenge against him, a convict perhaps. Instead, he wants Kelly to think of someone who’s out to cause her trouble while he’s off doing his thing. Sure, she’s gotten involved in murders and other nefarious activities but surely any cop must know he’s a prime target. Weirdly, while dismissing any connection he might have, he also tends to disregard Kelly’s thinking about the case.

On the other hand, Kelly has a few other things on her mind.

My favorite character is definitely Keisha, Kelly’s completely indispensable assistant who’s flamboyant, nosy and very intuitive, not to mention streetsmart. I didn’t care for others quite so much, including Kelly and Mike, but the story was engaging. The action was a bit choppy but that actually kept things moving and the various leads and hunches gave me plenty to think about before all became clear.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

Book Review: An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames

an-unsettling-crime-for-samuel-cradddockAn Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock
A Samuel Craddock Mystery Prequel
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-209-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper.

Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.

Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.

It’s the early 1980’s, a time we like to look back on as more enlightened than the Vietnam War era but, in a rural Texas town, racism is still very much in the open, whether blatant or subtle.

I’ve had a remarkably hard time getting started with this review and it’s because Terry Shames has really plucked my emotions and, in some ways, memories. Samuel Craddock is one of my very favorite lawmen and his series is, I think, very tough to beat; An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock may just be the best installment yet (and will be on my list of favorite books for this year).

In the early 1980’s in a small town in Texas, nothing much happens but there’s a pretty severe drug problem, particularly among the younger set. In fact, Samuel was appointed chief of police, with no experience or training, because the city administrator thought his youth and brains were better suited to coping with the issue than the current chief. So far, he hasn’t really made inroads but then a terrible thing happens, a fire with five fatalities.

The house was located in Darktown, the community where all the local black people live. This is segregation, of course, but it’s not talked about or even acknowledged and racism is alive and well. Unfortunately, Samuel is officially kept out of the investigation since, according to state law, the highway patrol has jurisdiction over suspicious deaths in small towns, and then the Texas Rangers also become involved. Samuel keeps a hand in peripherally while also looking into what he believes may be a connection between the drug situation and whatever led to the killings.

Besides the arson, murder and drug investigations, we also meet Jeanne, Samuel’s beloved wife who wishes he hadn’t taken this job and his brother and sister-in-law who are never going to be named Parents of the Year. Local reporter Bonnie Bedichek will become an important, if annoying, aide in Samuel’s plans and Truly Bennett, an enterprising young man, is helping Samuel learn how to work with his brand new 20 head of cattle, Samuel’s personal dream. These people, along with many other characters, are so well-drawn that they come to life on the page and you can’t help having an emotional attachment to them, thanks to Ms. Shames‘ fine hand.

Because this is a prequel, it’s not a bad place to start the series but I think readers will do just as well to read the five books published earlier from the beginning. One way, you meet Samuel in the early days before he really knew what he was doing but was honorbound to try, and you get a taste of what influenced his later years. The other way, you learn to truly appreciate this man’s abilities, his experience, his grace, if you will, before finding out what he was like as a young, untried lawman. Take your pick—you can’t go wrong 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: Broke by Kaye George

broke-audioBroke
An Imogene Duckworthy Mystery #3
Kaye George
Read by Veronica Newton
Audible/Kaye George, August 2015
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

Imogene Duckworthy, eager PI assistant, wants to be on her own. She finds a rental house where her four-year-old daughter, Nancy Drew Duckworthy, and Drew’s pet pig, Marshmallow, are allowed. The rumors are that the house is haunted. It’s no rumor there’s a dead man in the bathtub when she inspects the house, though. A long-lost relative is the logical suspect, but can Immy let her Uncle Dewey be railroaded for a crime he, possibly, didn’t commit?

A number of years ago, I read a series of four books by Joan Coggins, first released around 1945, then re-published by Rue Morgue Press. These were set just a bit before and after World War Two and featured Lady Lupin, a scatterbrained and very wealthy young woman who married a vicar and who investigated local crimes. They were hilarious and kindly and, all these years later, they still stick in my mind as favorites. Imogene Duckworthy reminded me almost instantly of Lady Lupin and I can’t think of a more favorable comparison.

Immy is goofy and not especially suited to being a private investigator but she’s determined to make her own way in the world and detecting is what she wants to do. Her case this time begins in the falling-apart rental house in Texas she’s moved into with her little girl and Marshmallow, a loveable potbellied pig. Throw in the local cop, Deputy Ralph Sandoval, and the scene is ripe for figuring out how a dead body ended up in her bathtub and why anyone is interested in the old furniture left in the house.

Adding to the fun of this story is the voice of the narrator, Veronica Newton. Ms. Newton has a lively tone and she makes the different characters quite distinctive with the child’s being the only voice I didn’t care for. I haven’t listened to this narrator before but I’ll be happy to again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Review: Interference by Kay Honeyman

interferenceInterference
Kay Honeyman
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-81232-0
Hardcover

Kate Hamilton is genetically programmed to fix or make things right. After all, her dad is a U.S. Congressman from North Carolina and her grandfather and great grandfather held a similar office, only in Texas.  When her latest effort to reveal cheating by one of her fellow students at the posh DC high school they attend blows up, thanks to photoshopped and out of context pictures posted online, it also derails her dad’s re-election bid.

Her parents take an unusual tack. They cart Kate off to Red Dirt, Texas where the incumbent who held the seat her grandfather once had, has just died and a special interim election is going to be held. Dad was the star high school quarterback many still remember fondly…Many except Bo Stone who was the player replaced by Dad way back then. Bo is also intent upon running for the vacant seat and his son Kyle is now the quarterback for the local team.

Kate’s upset and angry when they arrive in the middle of nowhere, but no sooner do her parents tell her she can be free of campaigning and be a ‘normal teenager’ (as long as she stays out of the headlines), than Kate starts being seduced by the wide openness of Texas. One of her goals is to get back at her DC tormentor, but do it in an honorable way. She needs lots of volunteer hours as well as more photos for her art portfolio if she wants to get into a school where that is offered and one of three coveted letters of recommendation written by the principal for a graduating senior.

High school in Texas is a far cry from her old school and features a cast of characters that affect her in ways she never expected. There’s Ana Gomez who’s as good, maybe better a photographer than Kate. Ana is still acting like a deer in the headlights after lies were spread by an ex-boyfriend. There’s Ms. Serrano, the yearbook adviser who is more than she seems and challenges Kate in unexpected ways, but most of all, there’s Hunter, who she sees as a rude, slightly antagonistic student, who she first meets when she has her hands in a very embarrassing place when pressed into service by her prickly Aunt Celia to help with a difficult calving at the sanctuary.  Celia has spent her life rescuing stray and abandoned animals of all types (and naming each after a famous politician). She reluctantly accepts Kate’s offer to help out at the refuge near the home her dad inherited.

There aren’t any particularly unique elements in this story, but great recipes come out of common ingredients and that’s the kind of story this is. It’s about Kate’s growing awareness of how she needs to change, who she really is and how a congressman’s daughter can learn to love a small town in Texas as well as a guy she thought cared about someone else. It’s a great read and definitely worth adding to any school or public library caring about offering teens a neat read.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, September 2016.

Book Review: A Silver Medallion by James R. Callan

a-silver-medallionA Silver Medallion
A Crystal Moore Suspense #2
James R. Callan
Pennant Publishing, May 2016
ISBN 978-0692679227
Trade Paperback

A Mexican woman shows up at Crystal’s grandmother’s house saying that she’s escaped from a man’s house where she was kept as a slave. There’s another woman who won’t leave the slave situation because she’s been threatened with harm to her children who are being kept captive in Mexico. Crystal’s parents died when she was only seven, and the thought of the youngsters being separated from their mother won’t let her sleep. She sets out, without much of a plan, to free the mother and her children.

Crystal Moore is one of those heroines you just want to yell at, “Don’t do that! Don’t go there! Listen to your best friend, your grandmother, your boyfriend, the police, and that big, tough guy and his wife in Mexico. You’re going to get yourself killed!”

It’s the reader’s good fortune that James Callan’s sleuth doesn’t listen. We get to follow her quest into danger zones. She’s the heroine, and we know she’ll escape or be rescued, but wait… How will she survive when she gets herself into such impossible predicaments?

We almost have to create a new category for this mystery—cozy thriller. We love the main characters. There is an amateur sleuth, and her job is an important aspect of the story. But the lurking danger creates suspense as Crystal tries to save these young Mexican women and children who have been coerced into slavery. Read A Silver Medallion in order to experience delightful, cozy situations in towns and rural areas in southern Texas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Don’t expect all relaxation, though. Your fingers won’t have a minute’s rest as you turn pages, and your shoulders will tighten from the suspense every time Crystal turns a corner.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, September 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames—and a Giveaway!

The Necessary Murder of Nonie BlakeThe Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake
A Samuel Craddock Mystery #5
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-120-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

“She was a dangerous girl and people think she’ll be a dangerous woman.”

Nonie Blake is back home from a mental institution where she has spent the last twenty years, and people in Jarrett Creek are worried. Maybe too worried, for within a week of her return, Nonie is murdered.

Chief Samuel Craddock thinks the only possible suspects are members of her tight-lipped family. Ever since Nonie tried to kill her sister when she was fourteen and was sent away to the institution, the family has kept to itself.

Clues are scarce and Craddock is stumped. So he checks with therapists at the mental hospital to see whether they can add anything useful to his investigation. But he discovers that she has not been there for ten years. Now Craddock has to find out where Nonie has been all this time.

Soon Craddock finds himself dealing not only with murder, but layers of deception and secrets, and in the midst of it all—a new deputy, one Maria Trevino, sent by the sheriff to beef up security in the small Texas town.

Back when I was a bookshop owner, I developed a real fondness for mystery series based in Texas and Florida and I know plenty of other readers also are particularly drawn to them. Such authors as Tim Dorsey, Carl Hiaasen, Rick Riordan, Susan Wittig Albert, Bill Crider, Joe R. Lansdale, Susan McBride, Leann Sweeney, Nancy J. Cohen, Mary Anna Evans, Kathy Hogan Trochek, Elaine Viets and Randy Wayne White were my early-on favorites and more have joined the fray in recent years. None top Terry Shames in my opinion.

One of the most wide-spread rumors about living in small towns or rural areas is that everybody knows everybody else’s business and there is a lot of truth in that but it’s also true that secrets are kept in small towns. That’s what Samuel begins to discover after Nonie Blake comes home unexpectedly and then is murdered just a few days later. Where has Nonie really been all these years? Did her family, ALL of her family, forgive her for the heinous attack on her sister and why did she do it? Perhaps most perplexing, did the family keep to itself all this time because of a natural embarrassment or have they been hiding even more secrets?

Adding more tension to Chief Craddock’s job this time is the addition of Maria, a female Hispanic cop, to the force, appointed by the sheriff. It’s not that Samuel is biased against her but this is a town that has suspicions about strangers and her ethnic background plus her gender in a “man’s” job don’t help. Meanwhile, when Samuel agrees to teach his friend, Julie, how to cook a fine meal for a date, I found myself grinning during the entire episode, starting with the trip to the grocery store. Also, spending time with Samuel on his small cattle ranch and with Ellen, the art gallery owner who’s beginning to make him feel more than a little attracted, portrays the Chief as a nicely well-rounded guy.

It’s that normal side of life that adds a dimension to this series I appreciate so much. In some ways, I’m reminded of Donna Leon because we get to know the character so well, not just the police work. Samuel Craddock has become one of my favorite lawmen and I’m always assured there will be a good mystery to keep me guessing. That puts Terry Shames in my very short list of authors I always have to read and The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake is an excellent addition to the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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Murder of Nonie Blake by
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