Book Reviews: The Final Vow by Amanda Flower and Sip by Brian Allen Carr

The Final Vow
A Living History Museum Mystery #3
Amanda Flower
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4592-3
Trade Paperback

A hugely important wedding is taking place at the Barton Farm Living History Museum. Museum director Kelsey Cambridge is in charge of corroborating with the wedding planner to make sure everything goes smoothly. Tough times. Not only are they contending with a supreme bridezilla, but the wedding planner gets thrown from the church steeple.

Turns out Vianna Pine was not only rather unpleasant, but was almost as demanding as her clients. Not only that, she’d just found out she was the real heiress to the Barton Farm property and people are running scared. Plenty motive for murder.

Meanwhile, Kelsey is under time restraints to have the murder solved before the wedding and so, predictably, she takes a hand in the investigation. The catch? Her ex-husband is the bridezilla’s groom.

I admit I found myself annoyed with Kelsey. For a character supposedly in charge of a project like the living history museum, I thought she lacked backbone. I’d like to have seen her much stronger and more decisive. A great many of her employees, to whom she was so loyal, were thoroughly unpleasant. And the motive for the murder seemed too light. The chemistry between Kelsey and her boyfriend Chase was almost non-existent, seemingly thrown in because she needs a romantic interest.

Even so, the book moves along at a lively pace, and is clean fun read for a summer evening.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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Sip
Brian Allen Carr
Soho Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-827-5
Hardcover

What a premise! Mr. Carr has an extraordinarily creative mind to have come up with the idea of people who get high by drinking their own shadow. A sort of disease afflicting one child quickly took over the world, with only small pockets of non-addicted people. Soon, certain factions moved into domes and shut the addicts out. Trains began running in circles⏤I’ve got to admit I never did figure out the purpose of this⏤and folks began cutting off limbs and drinking the shadows these arms and legs made. Violence, destruction, and death became commonplace. And apparently nobody cared.

Except Mira, whose shadow has been stolen, and is friends with Murk, who is an addict, and they are joined by Bale, a “domer” who was thrown off a train to die because he wasn’t murderous enough. Together, they go on a quest to discover a cure to the shadow addiction, but there’s a time problem. They have to find it before the return of Halley’s Comet in just a few days.

What did I think of this story? To tell the truth, I’m not quite sure. I keep asking myself why? Why would anybody do the things they do, or think the things they think. But then I turn on the news or read a paper and it all becomes almost logical.

The characters in this story are strong personalities, each and every one. The dialogue is sharp, the frequent obscenities seeming normal in context. There are twists and turns and puzzles at every point, so you don’t dare miss a word. And the end makes sense. Don’t expect this novel to give you the warm fuzzies, by any means. But be assured this is a book that will make you think, and that you won’t forget⏤ever.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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Book Review: Worthy by Donna Cooner

Worthy
Donna Cooner
Point, March 2017
ISBN: 978-0-545-90393-6
Hardcover

When a new app called Worthy appears in the online forum for students at Sam Houston High School, it grabs plenty of attention right off the bat. Couples are highlighted and members of the student body are invited to vote yes or no on whether the female in the relationship is worthy or not.

Junior class member Linden is both appalled and intrigued by this. She’s just starting a maybe real relationship with Alex Rivera, star catcher on the baseball team while struggling with writing a story that might land her a summer scholarship to the Thompson Review Young Writers Workshop in Austin. Add in her getting coaxed into being publicity person for the junior/senior prom (although she has no date) and she has a few life stressors.

That wouldn’t make her particularly unique as a teen, but she tends to live too much in her own head and worry about way too much that’s beyond her control–things like her best friend Nikki’s new romantic relationship. Nikki is on the plus side, but has learned to love herself, even going as far as taking clothing a bit too small and redesigning it into really cool outfits. However Linden is concerned about what she perceives as Nikki sacrificing hard won values to please her boyfriend.

How Linden deals with Nikki’s romance, especially when Nikki is a target of the Worthy app, the stress of being a no-date prom publicity chair, fear of ending up as a target of the Worthy app herself and her growing writer’s block, are all good plot elements. This is a worthwhile book to offer teens in similar situations with a few caveats. First, Linden’s angst and stream of consciousness tend to become annoying as the story goes on, threatening the readers’ empathy. I also have to question the Worthy app’s placement and endurance. It seems to be available through a school sanctioned site and, given the concern expressed at least twice by school administration members in the story, I wonder whether it would have been more realistic as a word of mouth event. It should have been relatively easy for school officials to remove it and/or use tech skills to find where it was uploaded from in the first place.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.

Book Review: The Color of Fear by Judy Alter

The Color of Fear
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery #7
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-9990371-0-2
Trade Paperback

From the author—

The Color of Fear marks Judy Alter’s return to mystery fiction and the Kelly O’Connell series after an absence of more than a year. This time, the indomitable Keisha narrates the short tale wherein Kelly and her family live under the threat of infant Gracie’s kidnapping. The story serves as a reprise of many of the previous novels in the series, as Keisha, in her search for the kidnapper, recalls Kelly’s earlier adventures.

Keisha remains outspoken and independent as she balances her need to protect Kelly and her family with her love for new husband, José Thornberry. Some but not all of Kelly’s friends and foes from previous stories appear here, along with such new characters as Clyde, the guard dog, and Cowboy, the homeless guy with a soft heart.

For anyone who hasn’t read all the preceding books in this series or for those who haven’t read any of them, this nifty little novella (or short story depending on your definition) can fill some of the gaps. Besides the current adventure, Keisha also shares tidbits about past exploits so we’re pretty much up to date…although, of course, reading the full length novels will offer much more. Here, we get tiny teasers.

Keisha is the standout character in this particular story, seemingly the only one except Mike, Kelly’s police captain husband, who keeps a level head in the current crisis. Threats are being made against a little baby and everyone has different ideas about who could be making these threats and why but it’s Keisha who does the most to avoid panic. Her sixth sense comes into play and her love for all these people—well, not so much for Miss Cynthia—sees her through to the end.

That end isn’t entirely satisfactory because it’s rushed and a bit out of nowhere but that’s often the case with short stories and novellas, just not enough time to flesh it out properly. This is a story that will introduce or re-introduce readers to Kelly and those in her circle and I hope to see more of these folks soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Mightier than the Sword by K. J. Parker and Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe by Judy Alter

Mightier Than the Sword
K. J. Parker
Subterranean Press, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-59606-817-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

An Imperial legate is called in to see his aunt, who just happens to be the empress running the civilized world while her husband’s in his sick bed. After some chastisement, she dispatches her nephew to take care of the dreaded Land and Sea Raiders, pirates who’ve been attacking the realm’s monasteries.

So begins a possibly doomed tour of banished relatives and pompous royals put in charge of monasteries like Cort Doce and Cort Malestan, to name a few. While attempting to discover the truth of what the pirates might be after, the legate visits great libraries and halls in each varied locale and conducts a romance of which he knows but doesn’t care his aunt will not approve.

With enough wit and derring-do (and luck), the narrator might just make it through his mission alive…or will he?

Mightier than the Sword is a sort of Canterbury Tale-like retelling of “Concerning the Monasteries”, the personal document of the narrator that relates how he traveled  in search of the pirates who were attacking and pillaging monasteries throughout the Empire of the Robur in medieval times.  Our somewhat reluctant hero is the nephew of Empress Eudoxia Honoria Augusta and, along the way, he spends time with his aunt’s best friend, Svangerd, Abbess of Cort Doce, and his own best friend, Stachel, Abbot of Cort Sambic as well as others before discovering the truths behind the raids.

What ends with a number of surprises is mostly a pleasant story with interludes of off-scene violence at a handful of monasteries. The surprises, though, turn everything topsy-turvy but what happens to, and because of, our narrator are what had to be to complete the story and his destiny.

K. J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt, used for his fantasy writings. I first read Holt‘s many novels that are a wacky sort of science fiction and fantasy blend chock full of humor and satire and loved them so much that, when the bookstore was open, I had an account with a British book wholesaler just so we could stock his books (and a few others). The man makes me laugh out loud so I was not surprised to see hints of his comical side in Mightier than the Sword like this exchange:

“Rabanus isn’t a Mesoge name. What do they call you back home?”

He grinned. “I’m Hrafn son of Sighvat son of Thiudrek from Gjaudarsond in Laxeydardal.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll call you Rabanus.”

Although I don’t read a lot of high fantasy, this novella called to me because of the author but it also sounded like just the sort of thing to while away a couple of hours and, besides, how could I resist a tale that has so much to do with books? 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe
A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery #1
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9960131-6-1
Ebook

From the author—

Small towns are supposed to be idyllic and peaceful, but when Kate Chambers returns to her hometown of Wheeler, Texas, she soon learns it is not the comfortable place it was when she grew up. First there’s Gram’s sudden death, which leaves her suspicious, and then the death of her married sister’s lover. Kate runs Gram’s restaurant, the Blue Plate Café, but she must defend her sister against a murder charge, solve the murders to keep her business open, and figure out where the café’s profits are going. Even Kate begins to wonder about the twin sister she has a love-hate relationship with. Gram guides Kate through it all, though Kate’s never quite sure she’s hearing Gram—and sometimes Gram’s guidance is really off the wall.

Note: I read the digital copy of an old paperback edition that’s out of print but it appears the ebook listed above, with the same 2013 copyright date, is unchanged with the possible exception of some minor editing.

Judy Alter has written a ton of books including mysteries in three series and, when she wrote this one in 2013, it was the first in the Blue Plate Cafe series. Now, there are three books and it’s my own fault I lollygagged around for so long and have just now read this.

When Kate’s grandmother dies, she decides to leave her job as a paralegal—and an uncomfortable situation—and run Gram’s cafe but her twin, Donna, has her sights set on opening a bed and breakfast. That’s a good thing because the sisters are not at all alike and working closely together could be disastrous but it also adds to Kate’s growing suspicions about what really happened to Gram. Surely Donna didn’t do anything she shouldn’t, right?

Still, Donna’s attitude towards her life and family, her greed and her unrealistic ambitions are only part of Kate’s unease and Gram whispering in her head is unsettling at first until Kate begins to appreciate it. Is it possible that someone might have poisoned her? Then, when Donna is suspected of murdering her new B&B partner, all bets are off and Kate’s paralegal instincts kick in.

Now that I’ve met Kate and the people of Wheeler, I’d like to know more so I think I’ll pick up the second book as soon as I have a chance. Ms. Alter puts together a good mystery and I’m ready to see what’s happened with these folks and this little town while I’ve been dawdling 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Baby Shark’s Showdown at Chigger Flats by Robert Fate and The Right Wrong Number by Jim Nesbitt

Baby Shark’s Showdown at Chigger Flats
Baby Shark #5
Robert Fate
Robert Bealmear, July 2012
Ebook

For readers of racing, abrupt and heavily plot-driven novels, here’s a fine example. Plus, it’s very well written with unusual and intriguing characters set in the blasted climate of the vast Texas oil fields. The action begins in the very beginning. In Fort Worth, Texas in 1960. Otis and Baby are on their way out of their office to a surveillance job. By the time the chapter ends, one guy has been dispatched by car bumper, another by .38, a third would-be assassin by heavy-duty handgun slug and at least one thug semi-crushed where he sat in their vehicle.

The cops show up of course, and some minor nicks and scrapes are duly attended to. Meanwhile, snappy dialogue between Otis and Baby and a few other characters effectively establish the characters, professions and attitudes of some characters. And, importantly, we get the foundation of the plot. A vanquished adversary, a very bad person, has been released from the Texas Penitentiary on compassionate leave. Now, word is out he wants revenge, and he has a lot of help.

Well, there is almost no let-down in pace, narrative voice or dialog between the characters for the entire novel. A delightful, bloody thriller of a crime novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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The Right Wrong Number
An Ed Earl Burch Novel #2
Jim Nesbitt
Spotted Mule Press, February 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9983294-0-6
Trade Paperback

This novel is filled with wrong numbers. Nearly every character is wrong, is one you would not enjoy having dinner with. Most of us would be afraid to walk down a dark street or even have a beer with any of them for fear of getting caught in the violent wash of a sudden shoot-out. Make no mistake, this is what we call a nasty, hard-boiled murder story. There’s no mystery here. The bad guys are carefully identified and described. There are no good guys, even the cops are at best flawed and mostly getting through life by bending the rules whenever necessary.

This exciting, roiling, novel is set in Texas and the action, nearly constant, runs from throttlings in Houston to gunfire, rape and murder in Dallas, as well as several points in between. The southern border to Mexico is breached as well. The story follows ex-cop, and former homicide dick, former footballer, Ed Earl Burch. He is paying in pain for his history and the loss of his gold shield due to questionable actions. He is over-weight, under-paid, living half the time from paid gigs as a private detective who has a rep that he’ll take on any sort of case. He seems to live the rest of the time wound up in the naked, sweaty limbs of ex-wives, current girlfriends and sundry other females, all of questionable social status. The sex is often violent, sometimes brutal, explicit and frequent.

Burch becomes entangled in a complicated arrangement involving the transfer of large amounts of cash and illegal hard goods among banks and assorted gangs across international boundaries. Burch agrees to aid the wife of one of the principals in trying to wrest large chunks of money from her mate. Her attraction to Burch is not so much in desperately needed coin of the realm as it is in the use of her body. Their sex is frequent and frank and varied. The more they plan and maneuver, the more collateral damage occurs, to foe and friend alike.

The pace of the author’s writing is mostly fast, furious and relentless. Occasionally he lapses into rambling philosophical observations, but those too are well-written, as is the entirety of the novel. This is certainly not a crime novel with universal reader appeal, but it will have strong appeal to a particular segment of the reading public.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2017.
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: Whiskers and Bear by Giacomo Giammatteo

Whiskers & Bear
Life on the Farm, Book 1
Giacomo Giammatteo
Inferno Publishing Company, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-940313-38-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

This is the true story of Bear and Whiskers, two dogs who came to our sanctuary. For 10 years they lived a life like no other, roaming free and living off what they caught in the hundred acres of woods surrounding us. And they ruled the streets of the neighborhood, daring any dog—or human—to intrude upon their territory.   People complained. Some people even thought the dogs should be put to sleep. What these people didn’t realize is that we were the ones encroaching on Bear’s territory. This was his street and his neighborhood. And he had recruited Whiskers to help him rule it.   

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Go ahead, grab that box of tissues ’cause you’re gonna need ’em before you finish this book. Heck, before you finish the first chapter, but you’re also gonna laugh and smile and feel generally pretty darned good about people like Giacomo and his wife, Mikki, as well as their wonderful 4-footed companions.

Animal stories are nearly impossible to dislike unless they’re full of abuse and other bad stuff but I knew before I signed on that this would not be that type at all. What lifts this book above many others of its ilk is the relationship these two dogs have with each other, their loyalty to and love for each other, and their dedication to protecting their humanfolk without actually living with them. This aloofness, for lack of a much better word, is different from what we normally see; after all, dogs are either usually very attached to humans or they run in semi-wild packs. Neither is the case with Bear and his pal, Whiskers—they care for and protect their humans and all the other sanctuary animals but they do it on their own terms. And I fell madly in love 😉

Whiskers and Bear have a unique, charming, totally heartwarming story and I urge you to buy this little book. It isn’t big, won’t take you more than an hour or two to read, but you’ll be so glad you did and you’ll help the sanctuary, too 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from Whiskers & Bear

Another Grave

I climbed up onto the tractor, a Kubota 4630, with a six-foot bucket on the front. It was a powerful machine, and we’d put it through the hoops more than a few times. What I mean is that my wife Mikki and I had dug a lot of graves.

I tied an old cloth diaper around my forehead and draped the end of it over the top of my bald head. There wasn’t much better than a cotton cloth for keeping sweat out of your eyes, or the sun from burning your head. I turned the key and revved the engine. After letting it idle a moment, I lifted the bucket and drove toward the south side of the property where Mikki was waiting for me. She’d already gotten a few blankets and a clean sheet. For this one, she’d brought a pillow, too.

I reached up and wiped my eyes. I was getting damn tired of burying things.

An old white pickup crept down the gravel driveway, coming to a stop near the fence.

A neighbor leaned out and hollered. “What’s goin’ on?”

I wished he’d have kept going.

“Nothin’,” I said, but not loud enough for him to hear.

The door opened, and he stepped out and walked over to the fence, using his right hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he peered over the top rail.

“What are you doin’?”

I could see there was no getting away from it. I muttered my answer a few times so my voice wouldn’t crack when I yelled.

“Diggin’ a grave,” I hollered back.

“A grave? Which one died?”

Which one? That’s what it had come to for most of the neighbors and relatives and friends. Which one died. As if it didn’t matter. As if having forty-five animals made it easier to deal with when one of them died.

He came in through the side gate and headed in my direction. He walked slowly, which gave me time to compose myself. It’s never easy to bury a friend, but this one…this one was special.

Mikki walked over to me. “He’s just trying to help.”

I nodded.

I don’t need his help, I thought, but the fact of the matter was I could probably use it.

It hadn’t rained in weeks, and the damn Texas ground was as hard as concrete. Even if the tractor did cut through, it could only go so deep; we’d have hand work to do at the bottom.

Our neighbor was about twenty feet away. He took off his hat and swiped at his forehead. It was a scorcher today and had been for a month or so.

“Who was it?” he asked.

I couldn’t say, but I managed to gesture toward Mikki. She lifted the corner of the blanket so he could see.

“Oh shit!” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Thanks,” I said.

He unbuttoned his shirt and grabbed a shovel I had leaning against a small oak tree. “Might as well get this done.”

I nodded again. He was right, of course, but I was in no hurry to put another friend in the ground. I cranked the engine up a little higher, shoved the tractor into low gear, and positioned the bucket for the first scoop of dirt. The bucket hit the ground with a metallic thud. It didn’t do much more than break the surface.

“Whew!” the neighbor said. “Going to be a long day.”

“That’s for sure.”

“How long have they been with you?” he asked.

They. I thought about what he said. I would have laughed if not for the circumstances. Everyone referred to the two of them as one. They or them. Bear and Whiskers. Whiskers and Bear. It was a cold day in July if anyone mentioned one without the other.

I handed him my bottle of water; he looked thirsty.

“They’ve been with us a long time. A damn long time.”

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Excerpt from Whiskers and Bear by Giacomo Giammatteo. Copyright © 2017 by Giacomo Giammatteo. Reproduced with permission from Giacomo Giammatteo. All rights reserved.

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A PLEA FOR HELP

Out of all the books I’ve written (almost thirty), this one is closest to my heart. For twenty-four years, my wife and I have run an animal sanctuary, providing homes for dogs, cats, pigs, horses, and even a wild boar. I don’t know how many animals we’ve had through the years in total, but at one time, we had as many as fifty-five.

I don’t often ask for help, but this is important. We have run this sanctuary for twenty-four years using our own money—no donations to speak of. The feed bill alone was more than a thousand dollars per month. And there are plenty of other bills, vets, fencing, shelter, medical supplies, and more.

In early 2015, I had two heart attacks followed by two strokes. The result was that it left me disabled. Now it is difficult to continue paying for everything.

I wrote this book in the hopes that it would sell enough to help with the funds, as all sales go to the animals. And I mean that—every penny goes to help support them—nothing for anyone else.

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About the Author

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. He also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

When Giacomo isn’t writing, he’s helping his wife take care of the animals on their sanctuary. At last count they had 45 animals—11 dogs, a horse, 6 cats, and 26 pigs.

Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar, who takes walks with Giacomo every day and happens to also be his best buddy.

Visit Giacomo: Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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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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Purchase Links:

             

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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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