Book Review: Same but Different by Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and RJ Peete

Same But DifferentSame but Different
Teen Life on the Autism Express
Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and RJ Peete
Scholastic Press, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-09468-9
Hardcover

A fast, easy read for children, parents, teachers, and counselors, Same but Different is told from the point of view of the teenaged twin co-authors, called Charlie and Callie in the book. Charlie is autistic. Callie is not. The brother and sister tell about their feelings and experiences in their own words, and the reader learns how and why they love, resent, try to understand, and sometimes misunderstand each other as they deal with family and school.

The story deals with the experiences these young people have as they branch out from their close, sheltered childhoods into the confusing, hormone-laden teen world. We learn how, of parents, siblings, teachers, and other teens in their lives, some are supportive and kind, some cruel, and some just “don’t get it.” The twins tell how they feel about those people and also about having to appreciate or support each other while trying to be themselves.

Peete’s story brings to pre-teens and teens the messages about autism she and her daughter gave to young children in their picture book, My Brother Charlie. This story is personal. Not all autistic children are twins, nor do they have NFL quarterback fathers and actress mothers. But the feelings and experiences related to body changes, dating, bullying, driving, and friendship found in this realistic, heart-warming story are universal. The reader learns that autistic people are just like everyone else, but different.

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

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Book Review: Dimorphic by Cy Wyss

DimorphicDimorphic
Cy Wyss
Nighttime Dog Press, November 2015
ISBN 978-0996546515
Trade Paperback

From the author—

It’s easy to become a superhero.

First, discover a superpower. It might take a while to get used to, though — especially if it’s something as weird as being your twin brother half the time.

Second, recruit a sidekick. Or, two. It’d be nice if they weren’t a pyromaniacal sycophant and a foul-mouthed midget, but you get what you get.

Third, and most important, hire a mentor — preferably not a vicious mobster with a God complex, however, this may, realistically, be your only choice.

Finally: go forth and fight crime. Try not to get shot, beaten, tortured, or apprehended in the process.

Good luck!

I’m a sort of 2/3 fan of the superhero world. I love some of the movies but not all, I love some of the TV shows but not all and I never read graphic novels and comic books. Haven’t read one of those since I was a teenager which, believe me, is not recent times. When I was offered the chance to read Dimorphic, I thought this could be a fun new way to partake of a little superhero action and, as it turns out, I was right.

Every superhero theme has to have a hook, a power that’s not commonly held, and it has to be used for good or evil. The superhero involved can have misgivings from time to time and question whether what he or she is doing is the right thing but, essentially, there’s no mixture of good and evil; it’s one or the other.

The hook here is that Judith can occupy her twin brother Ethan’s body and take advantage of his strength and physique to fight crime. That in itself is a nifty ability but the author makes it much more interesting by having Judith still be her normal clumsy self even while she’s Ethan. She also surrounds herself with a rather motley crew of sidekicks and manages to involve the FBI.

Mayhem and madcap action ensue and there’s much fun to be had in Dimorphic.  I enjoyed it a lot but, dang, I need to read something a little calmer now 😉

Note: a word of caution—if you’re particularly sensitive to vulgar language, this might not be a good choice for you. There’s a lot of strong language including the f-bomb and, while I usually avoid books that are rife with obscenities, it somehow didn’t bother me too much this time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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About the Author

Cy WyssI live and write in the Indianapolis area. After earning a PhD in Computer Science in 2002 and teaching and researching for seven years, I’ve returned to the childhood dream of becoming an author. I better do it now because I won’t get a third life.

Behind me, I have a ton of academic experience and have written about twenty extremely boring papers on query languages and such, for example this one in the ACM Transactions on Databases. (That’s a mouthful.)

Now, I write in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres and sometimes science fiction. I know for some people databases would be the more beloved of the options, but for me, I finally realized that my heart wasn’t in it. So I took up a second life, as a self-published fiction author.

Online, I do the Writer Cy cartoon series about the (mis)adventures of researching, writing, and self-publishing in today’s shifting climate. I also love to design and create my own covers using GIMP.

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Shorts Reviews: Half-Life by Tina Ferraro and The Last Second by Robin Burcell

Half-LifeHalf-Life
Tina Ferraro
Leap Books, March 2015
ISBN 9781616030261
Ebook

From the publisher—

Half a life is not worth living.

Probably not a good idea to take advice from your dead twin sister. High school sophomore Trisha Traynor and friends have played the Halloween mirror game for years, the one that’s supposed to show a glimpse of the guy they’ll marry. But no one’s ever seen anything.

Until tonight—when Trisha is gob smacked by the candlelit arrival of her long-deceased twin sister, instead of her crush, Kirk Maxwell.

In a voice and vision that only Trisha can hear and see, Chessie claims to be back on a compassionate journey. Trisha fears she’s gone nuthouse crazy. But she nonetheless follows the instructions Chessie outlines in their nightly conversations, until she finds herself stepping across some ethical lines, and probably ending all chances with Kirk.

When a sisterly showdown ensues, resulting in the shattering of the mirror, Chessie’s gone again, and a heartsick Trisha sets about righting her recent wrongs. That is, until she stumbles upon the real reason Chessie had come back and the most important glimpse yet that the mirror could never predict.

One thing really struck me about Half-Life that doesn’t often happen with books, young adult or otherwise. I connected with Trisha in a major way because she and I had a lot in common if you just forget the facts that she doesn’t actually exist and that there is about a 50 year spread going on. Pah! Minor details! Now, I didn’t have a twin who died as a young child and I’ve never seen a ghost in a mirror or anywhere else but I was a 14-year-old girl when I had my first kiss and my first boyfriend and, my goodness, the memories and the feelings of my 14-year-old self all came flooding back.

Trisha’s home life is just shy of normal. Her mom has never been able to come to terms with Chessie’s death so Trisha, her little brother and her dad all have to tiptoe around her, not even daring to talk openly about Chessie. That all makes it even more critical that the rest of Trisha’s life—school, friends, potential boyfriends, etc.—stay on an even keel. Unfortunately, her BFF, Abby, has pretty much dropped her because she has a boyfriend and a neighboring schoolmate is pressuring Trisha to do something she knows is wrong. Oh, and what is she going to do about those two guys, the DDG (Drop Dead Gorgeous) Kirk and Chadwick, and her ghostly sister?

Half-Life is a sweet story with a little bit of intrigue and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is my introduction to Tina Ferraro‘s work and I just may have to try some more 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

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The Last SecondThe Last Second
Robin Burcell
Witness Impulse, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-2273734
Ebook

From the publisher—

Covert agent Zachary Griffin and FBI Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick are sidetracked from an ongoing investigation to follow up on a potential lead. In a small Arizona border town, gunrunning and drug trafficking into Mexico are a part of the landscape—but not when they’re orchestrated by an officer in uniform. At least that’s the story told to agents Griffin and Fitzpatrick.

But the dirty cop is now missing, and his sister says he’s innocent, a victim of a corrupt police department. She is convinced they set him up to take the fall, then killed him, and she can prove it—with help from a highly unusual witness. Suddenly an open-and-shut case seems anything but, and the clock is ticking as Griffin and Fitzpatrick take on an entire police department in a deadly match that could go up in smoke at the last second.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read any of Robin Burcell‘s books, not because I didn’t want to but just because I have a mountainous TBR that never gets any smaller. Anyway, I’m very glad that I picked up this short story because it reminded me of how much I really do like Sydney and Zach.

At first, the case seems to be relatively simple: a dirty cop, Calvin Walker, working with the Mexican cartels, might be the person who can lead Sidney and Zach to the head of the operation, a gunrunning ex-CIA agent named Garrett Quindlen. Trouble is Calvin has disappeared and may be in possession of a lot of explosives. Finding him is problematic until they hear about a special witness named Max.

I really enjoyed this story. As short as it is, Ms. Burcell has packed a good deal of action and suspense into this reminder that this is an author well worth reading. I hope that, by the time I catch up on her work, a new book will be coming out, either in this series or Kate Gillespie’s or, what the heck, something entirely new 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.

Book Reviews: If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn, and Chillers Book Two by Daniel Boyd, creator

If I Ever Get Out of HereIf I Ever Get Out of Here
Eric Gansworth
Arthur A. Levine Books, August 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-41730-3
Hardcover

This Middle-Grade novel comes out this month (August 2013).  The timing is serendipitous, as the book begins with an “Indian” (Native American) entering Jr. High.  While, on the surface, his trials and tribulations appear to be based on ethnicity and, in turn, poverty, the facts are that many students entering Jr. High (or Middle School) this year will experience the same taunting, teasing and bullying that Lewis tolerates.  Maybe a student will be singled out due to ethnicity, body shape, hair color, name or wardrobe.  The results are the same, which is why I strongly recommend this book.  Although a work of fiction, the core issues are very, very real and kids need to know that they are not alone.

It is so easy to recognize exclusion and to immediately attribute it to race, ethnicity, size or social class, when maybe that is not exactly the case.  The old chicken or egg.  Yes, maybe Lewis was ostracized, at first, because of his red skin and low socioeconomic standing.  Maybe, that initial reaction caused him to be defensive and to toughen up.  But, what about the next year?  Is it possible that he carries the defensiveness with him?  If so, maybe people are turned off, not by the color of his skin, but by the prickliness in his personality.

Another aspect of this book that I truly love: friendship.  As Lewis leaves behind the kids he has grown up with to attend a “White” school, he begins to learn the difference between true friendship and friendship by default.  He sees that although he has grown up with and hung out with someone almost every day of his life, that person may not actually be a true friend; whereas a new guy, free with unsolicited advice, may turn out to be the best friend he’s ever had.  This is the most realistic portrayal of a true friendship between boys that I have ever seen.  The strength and loyalty become clear based on actions and secrets kept hidden, rather than articulated enthusiastically as tends to be the case with girls.

This story, set in 1977 and filled with Beatles and Paul McCartney references, is remarkably well-written.  The prose is not flowery or lyrical; rather, it is a bit raw—exactly as it should be for the subject matter.  The simplicity is deceiving.  Mr. Gansworth manages to say more, with fewer words.   I experienced many emotions while reading this book.  I felt sad for the nastiness Lewis is constantly faced with, I felt frustrated with him for not trying a bit harder—for seeming to be too stubborn.  The random acts of kindness filled me with joy, and the show of true friendship renewed my hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.

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Dr. Frankenstein's DaughtersDr. Frankenstein’s Daughters
Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic Press, January 2013
ISBN 0-545-42533-9
Hardcover

Imagine being orphaned at birth, knowing nothing of your mother or father, only to find out 17 years later, that your father was on the run and considered a lunatic.  Despite this, the mysterious man owned a castle and had managed to amass a huge amount of money, which he left for the daughters he never knew.  Oh, and he happens to be Dr. Frankenstein.

Okay, that part is really a bigger deal to the reader than to the main characters.  No one knew what Dr. Frankenstein had accomplished.  The name did not bring to mind a flat-headed, greenish/gray man that walked like a robot with his arms outstretched.  None of the characters in the book compulsively shout out “It’s aliiiive!” at the mention of Frankenstein’s name.

The discovery of their father’s name, along with the receipt of a gargantuan inheritance, begins the story of twin girls, Giselle and Ingrid.  Although identical, Giselle is considered “the beauty” as she is quite fond of her looks and spends a great deal of time primping.  She wants to entertain the world.  Ingrid is absorbed with the practice of medicine.  The book is set in the early 1800s;  women were forbidden to obtain an education.  Ingrid had to do her studies behind closed doors or dressed as a man.

The girls quickly relocate to the castle.  As Giselle spends day and night cleaning and decorating the castle, Ingrid obsesses over her new treasure, her father’s journals.  Giselle is planning a huge party to fill the castle.  Ingrid couldn’t care less about the party, aside from coaxing Giselle to invite prominent doctors and researchers so that she could discuss her new theories about limb regeneration.  As life goes on, Ingrid becomes quite taken with an injured man in a small cottage near the castle, Giselle continues working feverishly, and the town becomes nervous as men begin to go missing.

The initial premise of the book is intriguing enough for anyone to grab it off of a bookshelf.  Once in hand, the story quietly snares the reader and draws him in.  On one hand, the readers see a bit of romance begin to bloom. It is sweet, but clearly complicated. Will love prevail or will the fear of heartache keep it dormant?  Worse, will a slow, painful and untimely death rip them apart?

On the other hand, the reader begins to sense mystery and danger slowly surrounding Giselle, like a fog creeping in.  Men are disappearing.  Some are later found, as mangled corpses.    Who is doing this?  The reader (having the advantage of knowing about Dr. Frankenstein’s creation) may believe that the monster is exacting revenge on the unsuspecting and totally unaware girls.  But that seems a bit too pat, so surely, it is someone else, right?

I won’t tell, but I promise that if you read the book, the answers to these questions will surprise you.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.

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Chillers Book TwoChillers: Book Two
Daniel Boyd, creator
Transfuzion Publishing, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-9857493-6-1
Trade Paperback—Graphic Novel

I’ve always been a spooky little girl.  Growing up in West Virginia, I was surrounded by “True Ghost Stories”.  I could tell them all by the time I was 8 years old.  A couple of years later, a teacher called my mom to tell her that I was reading “inappropriate books” by John Saul and Stephen King.  To which my mother replied, “Yep.”  I’ve seen every episode of The Twilight Zone…..multiple times.  I love “scary”; the creepier the better.  I long for the blood in my veins to turn to ice, to feel the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up, the feeling that I must look over my shoulder…..several times.  I continue to seek this out in books.  Yet, I have been missing something: The Graphic Novel.  Well, specifically Chillers, followed by Chillers: Book Two.

I believe Mr. Boyd explains the “Graphic Novel” best as an “…accommodating venue for short story telling of the fantastic.”  To me, graphic novels are overlooked by self-limiting.  People who happily plough through horror novels may turn up their noses at the suggestion of a graphic novel.  It is embarrassing to admit, but I was one of those people.  I was wrong.

The common theme throughout Chillers: Book Two is “da bus” to Hell, driven by Peterr Jesus.  Someone always gets on the bus, but it is certainly not always the person the reader expects.  While I appreciated the common eerie factor shared in each story, I delighted in the uniqueness as well.  A welcome surprise was my immediate appreciation of the illustrations.  The artwork is simply amazing and always succeeds in setting the absolute perfect background for each tale.

Mr. Boyd’s “Sin Flowers” shows that sometimes, revenge is the only answer….even if it means boarding Peterr’s bus.  Although this is quite the chilling little tale, there is also love, survival, but maybe one too many disappointments.

As a perfect wrap-up to ‘Shark Week’, Mr. Bitner’s “Live Bait” introduces a cantankerous, flippant old man with complete disregard to human life.  Well, until it is his own life at stake.

Another tale includes tracking and devouring cryptids, such as the Yeti.   One story demonstrates how, sometimes, promises must be broken in order to bring closure and justice.  A personal favourite of mine features a money-grubbing, nasty broad getting her comeuppance in a grizzly, yet oddly comical way.  First time I’ve caught myself wincing and chuckling at the same time.  Yet another creeped me out so much that I never want to see a painting of myself, or, quite frankly, anyone or anyplace I care about.  Still get chills thinking of that freakshow.

I relished each and every macabre adventure in this book, and I highly recommend it to all fans of horror.  Read it.  If you dare.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2013.

Book Reviews: Bad Weeds Never Die by Christopher Valen, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, Murder in the 11th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis, and Danger Sector by Jenifer LeClair

Bad Weeds Never Die
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001730
Trade Paperback

“Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives,” is a quote from my review of White Tombs, the book that introduced Detective John Santana.  The Black Minute, the second Santana book, was even more exciting than the first book.  Now author Christopher Valen has brought Detective John Santana back in Bad Weeds Never Die.  “Bad weeds never die,” is an old Colombian saying and turns out to be an excellent title for this book.

John Santana was born in Colombia.  He had avenged his Mother’s death and he was forced to flee leaving behind his younger sister Natalia.  Santana hopes someday to locate her.  He knows that his sister could be dead but his dreams and his senses tell him that she is still alive.

Santana’s current case is the death of Teresa Blackwood.  Teresa’s vehicle is found in a parking lot. The car is full of blood and some dirt and an orchid are on the floorboard of the car. Although the vehicle was empty, the police felt that someone had died in that car and that the body had been moved.  When Santana and his partner Kacie Hawkins call on Jonathan  Blackwood, Teresa’s father, they discover that Teresa has a twin sister, Maria.  Blackwood tells the detectives that although the twins are identical their personalities are very different. Teresa is head of an adoption agency.  Maria is a part time musician and mystery writer with a history of some drug problems.  The twins were adopted by the Blackwood’s when they were six months old. The twins were adopted in Colombia.

As Santana delves deeper into the case, he finds suspects at every turn.  Teresa lived with Steven Larson, a man who was cheating on her.  Blackwood’s family attorney was having an affair with the other daughter, Maria.  To make things even more tedious in the investigation Rita Gamboni, Santana’s boss, admitted that she had dated Jonathan Blackwood.

When the case becomes more complicated Santana decides that he has no choice but to travel to Colombia and investigate the agency that was working with Teresa’s adoption agency in the states.  No one wants Santana to make this trip since he has enemies in Colombia that would like to see him dead.

Santana feels that in order to solve his current case as well as face his demons and hopefully find his sister he must make the trip.  The trip does prove to be a dangerous move and readers will be shocked at the facts that Santana discovers in Colombia.

The case is finally solved but there are no end of surprises and no way to predict the final outcome.  An excellent book that will keep the reader on edge until the last page.  It is not necessary to read the first two books in the series to enjoy the current book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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The Good, The Bad and The Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, LLC, November 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

At the request of Jaz LeMieux, private investigator Sid Chance agrees to help Djuan Burden, who is accused of murder.   Djuan’s grandmother is a long time friend of Jaz’s live-in housekeeper, Marie Wallace.  Djuan has only been out of jail for about six months and now he is back in jail on a murder charge.   His grandmother is convinced that he is innocent and Jaz wants to do everything she can to help a friend of Marie’s.

Jaz is an ex-cop and wealthy business owner but enjoys being a sidekick on Sid’s investigations.  When the two visit Djuan’s grandmother, they discover that Djuan went to a small medical equipment store in Nashville’s Green Hills section. The purpose of his visit was to complain about charges on his grandmother’s Medicare account.  Djuan’s grandmother, Rachel Ransom, had not paid a lot of attention to the many notices she received from Medicare but when Djuan saw that she had been charged for items such as a power wheelchair he decided to complain.  Rachel has never owned a wheel chair and has no need of one.    When Djuan went to the equipment store to complain, he found a dead man behind the desk.  Frightened that he would be accused of murder because of his prison history, he ran.  A witness spotted Djuan leaving the scene of the crime and the police immediately charged him with murder. A crooked cop who had no qualms about planting evidence didn’t help Djuan’s case one bit.

Besides trying to assist Sid in the murder investigation Jaz was also dealing with a problem of her own. Jaz’ company has been accused of racial discrimination.  There was no basis for the accusation, but the fact that it had been made brought about a lot of bad publicity for Jaz and her company.

Before Sid can prove that Djuan did not commit murder, Jaz finds that she is in trouble with the police.  As the two work together to clear both Djuan and the false accusations against Jaz, it becomes obvious to Sid that there is a professional hit man in town and it would appear the hit man has decided that Sid will be his next victim.

This is a great addition to the Sid Chance series.  The problem of Medicare fraud needs to be addressed because so many older people like Djuan’s mother don’t take time to analyze all the information they receive from Medicare so phony charges many times are paid and go unnoticed.

Chester Campbell’s books always make good reads but the Sid Chance series is special.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Murder In the 11th House
Mitchell Scott Lewis
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-950-2
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

David Lowell is not your run of the mill detective.  David is an astrological detective and is very good at his job.  David has studied astrology and has become such an expert that he has used his knowledge of to buy and sell in the stock market and is now a wealthy man.

When Lowell is asked to use his skills to prove the innocence of Johnny Colbert, a woman accused of murdering Farrah Winston, a Judge in the Debit Claims Court in Lower Manhattan, Lowell’s first inclination is to decline.  The fact that Johnny Colbert is represented by Melinda Lowell, David Lowell’s daughter, is a convincing enough fact to make him take the case.

Johnny proves to be loud-mouthed and a rather rough person on the exterior but further investigation proves that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.  When Johnny is attacked in the jail Melinda talks her father into posting bail and letting Johnny stay in his townhouse.  Lowell is not too pleased with this arrangement but tends to do most anything his daughter asks.

Lowell is helped in the investigation by his assistant Sarah as well as Mort, a talented computer hacker.   Lowell’s bodyguard is always right around the corner when Lowell needs him.

It seems that Judge Winston had big plans for her future and, as Lowell finds out, that certain people did not want her plans to become a reality.

This first book in the Starlight Detective Agency series is a good one and shows that astrology can be used in many ways.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Danger Sector
Jenifer LeClair
Conquill Press, July 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001709
Trade Paperback

The last place you would expect to find a Minneapolis Police Detective on leave is working aboard a sailing ship but that is exactly what Brie Beaumont is doing.  The Maine Wind is a working ship owned by Captain John DeLuc.   Brie and John are very attracted to each other but Brie is still uncertain what the future holds for her and is unwilling to make a commitment to John on a personal level or to the ship as a permanent job.

Brie left the police department after her partner was killed and she felt she needed some distance from police work but when the ship makes a stop on Sentinel Island to help John’s friend repair an old lighthouse Brie is immediately caught up in a mystery surrounding the lighthouse and the small island.

Amanda Whitcombe is an artist, a prominent member of the Sentinel Island community and a good friend of Ben, the owner of the lighthouse.  Amanda has disappeared and when Brie finds her cottage unlocked she investigates and some clues lead Brie to believe that Amanda did not leave voluntarily.

Ben inherited the lighthouse when the previous owner died after an accident at the lighthouse.  The previous owner of the lighthouse was also a good friend of Amanda’s.  When John and Brie accidentally discover an old journal hidden in the lighthouse, belonging to the previous owner, the two decide there are mysterious happenings on the island that might bring danger to Ben as well as Brie, John and the crew of The Maine Wind.

Danger Sector is a good mystery.  The descriptions of the scenery around Sentinel Island and the food served by the cook on The Maine Wind makes the reader want to experience a trip by sailing ship although life aboard the ship is anything but easy.

This is the second book in The Windjammer Mystery series.  Rigged for Murder is the first in the series and both are recommended.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.