Category Archives: book reviews

By Force or Fear – by Thonie Hevron

After seven or eight years on patrol as a deputy in Santa Rosa, Meredith Ryan is promoted to detective. What she doesn’t know is that her new position will almost immediately involve her in a dangerous chase to find and arrest a sociopathic killer, while exposing her to an insidious stalker. These two exciting plot lines keep us on edge and engaged from the opening prologue to the concluding epilogue.

Hevron does an excellent job of keeping us in the mind of the protagonist and surrounding us with the authentic details that became part of her nature during a 35-year career in law enforcement. It’s also a hometown story written by a hometown author that includes our local Santa Rosa venue. Her descriptions put me in the scene as a reader and her dialogue moved the story through chapter after chapter with the pressure of the adventure. As the title claims, I felt the force and experience the fear of the protagonist. I also got a strong sense of the bond between Meredith and her detective mentor/partner, Nick.

I downloaded this novel onto my Kindle and read it quickly, but I can only recall one extra word left in a sentence. The book was professionally edited and I found it a quick read. I’d recommend it as a good detective genre novel.

In retrospect, I thought the climax a bit too quick and not entirely believable. Considering the work overall, it’s a minor issue as well as my personal opinion. But you be the judge. Regardless, don’t miss an opportunity to read a good ‘cops and robbers’ tale.

Sound Bender by Lin Oliver & Theo Baker

I’m always glad to discover a book for boys about boys, although the ‘green’ theme in this novel should make it attractive to girls as well. The setup for the novel finds 13-year-old Leo and his 10-year-old brother, Hollis orphaned when their parents die in a plane crash. Their totally rich uncle Crane takes them to live with him in a kid’s dream palace in a warehouse. When Leo starts hearing sounds that no one else hears, it launches him on an unpredictable adventure with his two best friends.

 

I like the character mix. The protagonist, Leo, is smart, resourceful, perseverant and he sincerely cares for his younger brother. Leo’s friend, Trevor, is super smart—good to have with you on an adventure. Leo’s mentor, Jeremy, is reliable—a solid father figure and he’s into music.

 

Leo’s paranormal phenomena are clever and intriguing. That caught my interest at the outset of the story and maintained it to the end. Also, the pace of the adventure and Leo’s sense of urgency keeps the tension on from the start. However, the story lacks a level of excitement and I think that’s because Leo doesn’t have much at stake. He’s never in any real danger.

 

The descriptions are clear and build good mental images. The authors use interesting and apt figurative language. The edited book is professional and squeaky clean—what else would you expect from Scholastic Press?

 

Although the plot and actions are kid-like, I thought the narration and internal dialogue sounded too mature for thirteen, more like sixteen or older. Pre-teens might bog down with this diction, although kids do like to read up.

Book Review: Grand Theft Death by Ann Philipp

Patricia does a favor for a drunken friend and drives her home in the friend’s classic car, a 1959 Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz convertible. When she borrows the car to get home, this Good Samaritan is arrested and thrown in jail. Thus begins a light-hearted mystery, which turns a bit more serious when the friend turns up dead in her apartment complex swimming pool.

 

To exonerate herself from the car theft charge, Patricia begins snooping around. With the interference, help and savviness of four senior reprobate lady friends of her deceased grandmother, Patricia learns more than she ever wanted to know about her own family and a sleezball acquaintance from her high school years, Jimmy Chang. Suspecting the death of her friend was not an accident, Patricia’s probing turns exciting, especially when her crusty senior mentors begin teaching her some dangerous tricks of the trade.

 

Philipp does a nice job of moving this story along with multiple support characters and a protagonist who is believable. The novel is well written and an easy read, with a lyrical balance of sentence structures. Her characters are quirky, funny and contribute panache to the story line.

Book Review: Jet by Russell Blake

In the first few pages, you know what this book is all about, a beautiful protagonist, violent death and non-stop action. It reads like an assault weapon video game. The story line takes us all over the world as the heroine is either eluding or chasing the bad guys who all want her dead. Obviously, this is a plot driven novel. The characters are sketched, but only skin deep. That said, it’s well written with clever use of figurative language and almost every line moves the story forward, albeit with cartoon like simplicity.

 

The protagonist, Jet aka Maya, is a combination of James Bond, Bruce Lee and Marilyn Monroe, or in other words, she’s a femme fatale superhero. Proficient with every modern hand weapon known to mankind, she baffles her foes, leaving a wake of dead bad guys behind. Who are these bad guys? And why did they hunt her down in Trinidad where she had retired from life in a deadly fast lane to eke out a living selling curios? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out. There is an answer, and it’s close to the end of the book.

Beautiful Evil by Robbi Bryant

The book title is perfect. Reading it was a crazy ride, tense and exciting and not at all what I expected. But who knows what to expect from a narrator who is a little psychotic, well maybe, a lot psychotic. Meet Constance, a shy troubled person, and Rose, who is at least flamboyant if not nasty wild, and Thisiphone, your local neighborhood nymph. Look her up. She’s a piece of work. From beginning to end, this trio keeps you on your toes, mentally that is. And the characters that Constance meet fit right into the story. To say much more would be a spoiler.

 

The first three or four chapters didn’t pique my interest the first time I read them, so I put the book down for a month. But something about the story bothered me. I wanted to know what Constance was doing, so I read past the initial chapters and was hooked. I couldn’t put the book down—took it with me everywhere until I finished it. Yes, it was a page-turner.

 

It’s an adult story; drugs, sex, music and occasional violence, all mixed with the supernatural, just the things that keep the pressure on the protagonist as well as the reader. The writing is good, descriptions are creative, figurative language is used effectively and the book is cleanly edited. More than a good read, I recommend this book to open-minded adults.

Book review: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Mrs. Cavendish is one creepy lady and Victoria, our heroine protagonist has her hands full when kids begin disappearing, towns’ folks stop being very human and her own parents succumb to the spell. Ms. Legrand’s writing craft is a delight to read and she keeps it creepified on every page. I particularly enjoyed Victoria’s voice and her over-the-top arrogance. Who else would have a melt down faced with her lowest grade ever, a “B.” The second place winner on my enjoyment scale was music dispelling evil. Music is incredibly powerful for healing and Victoria learns to use it to defend herself against devilish threats. Music has always thrilled me and it was ultimately satisfying to see it used against the forces of evil. It was no surprise then to discover the author used to be a musician.

 

I read the Cavendish book with a sense of relief, since I had been worried about my own work being too edgy for the pre-teen middle grade marketplace. Mrs. Cavendish’s dark side is a bit more gothic than my evil characters and depicted in a very scary way. I give this author credit for high marks on the spooky index. I particularly liked the bugs that seemed to be everywhere including printed on the pages. I was a little surprised they did not gross out Victoria, but after all, she’s our hero.

 

This is the second pre-teen book that I’ve seen with illustrations. The first was the Blogtastic novel series by Rose Cooper. In both cases, the illustrations add to the impact of the books; comedy for Cooper and spookiness for Legrand.

 

I found only one serious flaw in the storyline. Pressed on all sides by evil pressures, Victoria finally buckles. Yet after sinking to the depths of despair, she mysteriously recovers. I expected, but didn’t find the dramatic motivation for this emotional switch. What triggered the change? Also, the ending scenes closed a bit fast for me and I lost the ability to visualization the characters who had been absorbed into the garden.

 

Overall, this was an exciting and enjoyable read and I would recommend it for eleven and twelve year old pre-teens and more mature younger readers.

Book Review: The Smartest Kid in Petaluma by Rob Loughran

Norman has got a problem. He’s not your everyday, normal kid. Oh yes, he’s got an older brother, Marcus, and an annoying kid sister, Doris, and a mom prone to migraine headaches, all regular stuff. Norm even has a pet pygmy owl and a buddy named Chris. He goes to Kenilworth Junior High, does his homework, studies and gets good grades. So you ask, what’s his big problem?

 

Answer: He’s smart . . . very smart. And the school bully, Tom, knows it. He also knows that Norm is small, skinny, and half Tom’s size.  Can you begin to see what might happen?

 

Norm looks like a nerd, and I guess, he is a nerd, but not exactly. He works after school in McCormick’s store and earns a little money. He even practices boxing. However, he has a passion for science and in the story, he’s working hard to win the school science fair. All of this makes him an interesting character and his adventures in middle-school draw you in.

 

The characters in this story are well cast. I could easily visualize Norman, Chris, Tom, Marcus and Doris. The plot moves quickly and the writing is concise and age appropriate for pre-teens. For adults, it’s a quick read, and by the way, fun to read.

 

The most important attribute of this book is its humor and the voice of the boys. I believed every conversation. Also, it’s as squeaky clean as can be achieved with boy characters in this age group.

 

It can be difficult to get boys to read and this affects their education, their careers and their life. This book should appeal to the most resistant reader. It’s a good story. I recommend it for pre-teens and anyone else who would like to relive a few days in junior high.

 

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The Horse Stalker by Robert Digitale

This well crafted story takes you on a mythical journey in a fiercely tribal world with Roj on his quest to capture the spotted stallion and then find the mysterious and powerful Root of Glory. Accompanied by his brother-in-law, Noli, he meets the beautiful Healdin who wields the deadly power of Mara the Vine. Conflicts between clans endanger Roj and Noli as they are followed by Bibbibib and Weakling, two vicious and evil warriors—casual murderers, who are intent on acquiring the Great Valuable for themselves.

 

This is a dark tale of adventure and danger with many fascinating, well-drawn characters and the tension of the hunt as Roj, on his hero’s journey, seeks personal fulfillment. Digitale’s writing is superb, as he weaves this tale of intrigue and betrayal in an environment with few protections and manifold fears. I recommend you read this while you keep your lights on.

 

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Reviewing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

 

Far be it from me to criticize a successful writer of great literary renown like C.S. Lewis. However, I found it interesting to comment on his work from my perspective as struggling children’s novelist. It was surprising that writing styles have changed so dramatically since 1950. Reading this book was definitely a trip back into the past.

 

The first thing that struck me was his breaking character to address me, the reader. This parenthetical switch to second person in the middle of a narrative stream was a real shocker. It did tend to personalize the reading experience, however it jerked me out of my reading dream state. I know that rules are made to be broken and the form and function of grammar has changed since 1950, but I’m not ready to try this trick.

 

Another writing process methodology that Lewis employed was an explanation for the young reader of emotions expressed or shown by a character. It demonstrates his recognition that his young readers may not be familiar with a feeling experienced by one of his characters. He did this on several occasions in the novel and his sensitivity to the immaturity of his readers, I found impressive.

 

Finally, I picked up the second book of the seven book series, Prince Caspian. I was surprised to discover a very brief outline of the first book within the first chapter of this book. Every book in a series must stand alone, but Lewis found it necessary to ‘help’ his readers by relating events from the first book. This helps me determine how much of my first novel to mention in the sequel.

 

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The Journey to Andersweldt

Unexpected adventure, secrets and challenges greet four pre-teens as they journey on a tour to Saltzburg, Austria, the birthplace of Mozart. Lulu, Chloe, Morey and Greg become self-appointed detectives in a mystery that involves the forces of the dark and takes them ultimately to a co-existent Otherworld, known in Austria as the Anderswelt in search of Danu.

 

The characters are well drawn and Jusaitis moves them around Saltzberg with descriptions of the environment so complete and elaborate, you’ll never need to go there or, on the other hand, you may become motivated to see the sights for yourself. The storyline is delightful and light hearted with hidden threats that are engaging but never scary. In fact, Anderswelt exists more as a fairyland than an ominous alter-world.

 

Jusaitis is expert in her writing craft and it’s demonstrated by her use of English and her sentence structure within a writing style that is perfectly designed for the middle grade level. She writes in first person from Lulu’s point of view as the protagonist, with her best friend, Chloe, as her reluctant sidekick. For that reason, I believe the novel favors girl readers more than boys. Although the two boys, in support roles are, in themselves, interesting characters, Morey, an attraction to Lulu and Greg with his peculiar hobbies.

 

This is a pre-teen novel that will take its readers to a different world for many hours.

 

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