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

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.


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

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: A Baby’s Bones by Rebecca Alexander @RebAlexander1 @TitanBooks

A Baby’s Bones
Sage Westfield Book 1
Rebecca Alexander
Titan Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-7856-5621-7
Trade Paperback

Archaeologist Sage Westfield is excavating a sixteenth century well near a listed building, Bramble Cottage, on the Isle of Wight. Expecting to find only some pieces of pottery and maybe some animal bones, she and her two students, Elliott Robinson and Stephanie Beatson, uncover human bones. Two skeletons, that of a woman and an infant, are covered under a pile of rubbish. The bones are at least four hundred years old, and Sage is curious to discover how they ended up in the well. There are tales of witchcraft and a haunted house on the property, and a grave with the inscription “Damozel” hidden in the woods.

While Sage works on the dig, she is also facing problems in her personal life. Six months pregnant, she has recently broken up with her married lover, and is planning to raise the child on her own. Marcus, her lover, has other ideas, and keeps inserting himself into her life. While on the dig, she meets the local vicar, Nick Haydon. and can’t help thinking about him.

Told in alternating chapters—the contemporary story of the dig and the story from the 1500s about Lord Banstock’s daughter Viola’s wedding preparations—this book will appeal to readers of Barbara Mertz, Dana Cameron, and Lyn Hamilton. Alexander has a particularly deft way with description; the vicar is described as “handsome in a 1950s, knitting pattern way.”

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, August 2019.

Book Reviews: It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell and The Devil’s Cold Dish by Eleanor Kuhns

It’s Always the Husband
Michele Campbell
St. Martin’s Press, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-08180-3

From the publisher—

Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, despite being as different as three women can be. Kate was beautiful, wild, wealthy, and damaged. Aubrey, on financial aid, came from a broken home, and wanted more than anything to distance herself from her past. And Jenny was a striver―brilliant, ambitious, and determined to succeed. As an unlikely friendship formed, the three of them swore they would always be there for each other.

But twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge, and someone is urging her to jump.

How did it come to this?

Kate married the gorgeous party boy, Aubrey married up, and Jenny married the boy next door. But how can these three women love and hate each other? Can feelings this strong lead to murder? When one of them dies under mysterious circumstances, will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband?

I’m kind of conflicted about this book because, while I think the story of these women’s friendship is interesting, I can’t say I actually liked them or the police chief very much. As college students, they seemed like an oddly matched trio and they aren’t really any more compatible as they get older. It’s all just a little sad in a way and, although it’s true I didn’t connect emotionally with any of the three, I was still compelled to keep reading.

The first section drags a bit or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the pacing is on the slow side, deliberately so, and that makes the contrast with the second section even more noticeable. That second section is when I began to pay attention and wanted to know what would eventually happen but I still couldn’t find much in any of these women to care about. Kate in particular is an enigma or, rather, everyone’s near adoration of her is the enigma as she is one of the most unpleasant, better-than-thou people you can imagine.

An awful event in their younger years cements their connection to each other and that secret from the past has deadly implications in the present. This is the interesting part, getting bits and pieces from earlier years that begin to come together now, but it doesn’t quite make up for my dislike of these people. All in all, this is not a book I was crazy about.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.


The Devil’s Cold Dish
Will Rees Mysteries #5
Eleanor Kuhns
Minotaur Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09335-6

From the publisher—

Will Rees is back home on his farm in 1796 Maine with his teenage son, his pregnant wife, their five adopted children, and endless farm work under the blistering summer sun. But for all that, Rees is happy to have returned to Dugard, Maine, the town where he was born and raised, and where he’s always felt at home. Until now. When a man is found dead – murdered – after getting into a public dispute with Rees, Rees starts to realize someone is intentionally trying to pin the murder on him. Then, his farm is attacked, his wife is accused of witchcraft, and a second body is found that points to the Rees family. Rees can feel the town of Dugard turning against him, and he knows that he and his family won’t be safe there unless he can find the murderer and reveal the truth…before the murderer gets to him first.

There’s a special place in my reading heart for historical mysteries and I especially like the 17th and 18th centuries in America so this book was sort of calling my name. Happily, I was not the least bit disappointed.

Rees and his family don’t have an easy life on the farm and relations with his sister and his son are very strained but they’re basically content and Will is happy to be back home in Dugard. The politics of the time cause arguments among the townspeople and Will is frequently right in the midst of the fracas but he’s not really prepared for the physical fight he has with an old friend, Mac McIntyre. When another man, Zadoc Ward, is murdered, Constable Caldwell invites Will to come along to see the body.  It’s during his investigation with Caldwell that Will becomes aware of a certain animosity in the community towards him, much stronger than he had thought, but this murder is only the beginning of the attacks on the Rees family.

Ms. Kuhns has a real grasp on this time period and the nuances of the lives of people who experienced the Revolution and its aftermath. Her research is obviously extensive but it doesn’t stilt her writing at all and I could really envision the setting, the times and the people. Not everyone can write historical fiction well but this author certainly does and now I need to reward myself with the previous books in this series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

Book Review: The Spirit and the Skull by J. M. Hayes

The Spirit and the SkullThe Spirit and the Skull
J.M. Hayes
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2014
ISBN: 9781464202827

Here is a mystery truly from ancient crumbling pages of a time long gone. The narrator is an ancient member of a tribe from the Paleolithic era. He inhabits a time and a nomadic tribe that is making its troubled way slowly down the western coast of what we now call the Western Hemisphere. Raven, the narrator, is a conflicted member of this tribe, because, while he is an agnostic with deep-seated questions about the spiritual construct of the tribe, he is their designated Spirit Man. Raven must play the role of mediator, detective and ultimately, judge. and what if the killer is a comely young woman with whom Raven may be falling in love?

Raven interacts with a powerful, scary Earth Mother in a long and winding trail to determine a murderer. Murderers are the most disturbing individuals in the tribe, they cause the most unrest and must be rooted out in order to preserve the fragile fabric of the tribe as it wanders south through forest and mountains, encountering great beasts and natural barriers of monumental stature.

The novel is an interesting and penetrating look at what and how it might have been in those ancient times, when some of our myths and legends and, indeed some of our cherished traditions where formed in the cradle of a time long gone.

Author J.M. Hayes is a fine and thoughtful writer with an original vision and an intriguing story to tell.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Review: Spellbinding by Maya Gold

Maya Gold
Point, April 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-43380-8
Trade Paperback

Oh, how we all longed for our 16th birthday!  It meant freedom in the form of a driver’s license.  No longer at the mercy of busy parents, or snarky older siblings; we could go where we wanted, when we wanted, all while listening to whatever we wanted to.  Good times.

Abby Silva had those very same expectations, but her sixteenth birthday brought wicked nightmares, skull-splitting headaches and strange sensations.  Maybe manifestations created from the stress of preparing for her driving portion of the exam.  Maybe she is bipolar.  Maybe she has a brain disease.  Or, maybe something that has been dormant inside of her since birth, is rapidly emerging.  Abby doesn’t know what the problem is, only that something very strange is happening.

Oddly enough, an extra-credit assignment to create a family tree leads Abby towards the answers.  While she knew a bit of her father’s background; her mother died when Abby was only eleven.  She knew very little of her mother’s ancestors.  Imagine her shock and disbelief when she discovers that she is a direct descendant of an alleged witch, destroyed by the people of Salem in 1692.  Further research leads Abby to believe that her kin’s witchcraft was very real.  Is this the answer?  Is Abby a witch?

With a new door opened, Abby recalls recent oddities.  Her fervent wish that her driving test parallel parking was good enough to pass, immediately followed by shock and disbelief as the red cone seemed to move closer to the car’s bumper.  Ever the student, Abby quickly hits the library to research the phenomenon.  Among the dusty reference books, she discovers a small book filled with hand-written spells.  There is clearly only one way to test her theory, but which spell to try?

As Abby dabbles with her newfound power, the witches of Salem take notice.  As with humans, there are good witches and there are very, very bad witches.  It is up to Abby to determine which is which.  The wrong choice will have adverse consequences on the entire town of Salem and its surrounding areas.  All along the way, temptations are ruthlessly tossed her way, keeping her in a state of flux and she works to seek the truth.

I enjoyed this fast-paced, suspenseful story tremendously.  On the surface, it could be said that it is about a young witch with a tough decision; but, to me, there is so much more.  I found this to be a book of self-discovery.  Abby’s struggles are very real-life.  In the book, her rise to popularity is due to witchcraft, but in the real world; all teens go through this roller-coaster ride of fitting in.  We all had a moment in the sunshine, in addition to time in the shadows.  Once we got what we wanted, we had to decide if we really wanted it after all.  We had to stop focusing on the surface lives of the beautiful people to look deep within ourselves.  We were given opportunities that seemed easy, with guarantees of success.  We also had harder choices, the ones with no guarantees.  We all had the same bottom line: if I make this choice, am I being true to myself?

Spellbinding is a fun read with characters that elicit empathy and support, as well as a mysterious, suspenseful plot.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.