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Murder with a Cherry on Top–great start to a new series

Murder with a Cherry on Top

by Cynthia Baxter

Murder with a Cherry on TopKate’s lifelong love affair with ice cream began as a preschooler, but that devotion was not transformed into a business until fifteen years after her high school graduation. She attended college and had a successful career as a New York City public relations consultant. She returned to Wolfert’s Roost when her “Grams” was injured, decided to stay, and opened her own business, Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe. She finds her bullying childhood rival has not changed any, and there is a murder in quiet Wolfert’s Roost. Kate also has a big personal surprise when she visits Juniper Hill Organic Dairy to purchase milk and cream for her shop.

Murder with a Cherry on Top is a fun, fast-paced cozy mystery by Cynthia Baxter. While many cozies fall flat with descriptions, Baxter’s are right on target. They are precise enough to give the reader a good picture and concise enough to not be boring. Her dialogue is also good. Kate’s investigative style is reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s sleuths: she focuses on interviewing, some research, and thinking. This was a fast read and a book I didn’t want to put down.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #1 in the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mystery Series

  2. Ice cream recipes included at the end of the book

Publication:  March 27, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“But of course I can do anything you can do, and so much better!” Ashley replied. “I already know that.” She sighed. “It’s just that it’s so much fun seeing you squirm. It always has been. And I guess some things never change.”

Aside from the euphoric experience of something creamy and sweet and icy cold dissolving on my tongue, filling my mouth with a burst of flavor that seemed almost too good to be real, at least as meaningful to me was my father’s love of ice cream.

Who wouldn’t instantly fall in love with such a grand, three-story Victorian? At least it used to be grand. It was built in the late 1880’s, a time when the brand new inventions of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison were starting to seep into day-to-day life, playing croquet was all the rage, and the Wild West was still pretty darned wild. Coca-Cola, elevators, and ballpoint pens were all brand new phenomena…

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Chained–a really good veterinary cozy mystery

Chained

by Eileen Brady

ChainedChained is a cozy mystery about a veterinarian, Kate Turner, written by a veterinarian, Eileen Brady. When you read a book like this one, you can be sure that the animal and medical details are accurate. But can a scientifically inclined person author a work of fiction with interesting characters and a complex plot? Perhaps even some romance? The answer in this case is a resounding yes.

We follow Kate and her assistant Mari as they attend to a variety of animals both in and out of the animal hospital. One of her “patients” digs up a human bone, and Kate finds herself being asked by the family to discover the murderer in a ten year old cold case. There are a lot of suspects, many lies, and countless emotions rising to the surface as Kate and others deal with both the present and the past.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Kate Turner, D.V.M., Mystery Series, but worked well for me as a standalone

Publication:   December 5, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

“Come on. Come here, Mr. Katt.” I patted the corner of the desk. He looked away in disdain, but it was all an act. The next moment a plump load of furry feline landed full-force on my lap. As soon as I stroked him, his purr motor began to rumble.

Dina narrowed her eyes. A pink fingernail lightly caressed a loose curl. Her focus tightened, like a lioness on the Serengeti Plain noticing an antelope separated from the herd.

After we hung up I thought about all the angst of high school, and the crazy meaningless ups and downs that enveloped students every day. Between classes, wave after wave of raw emotion flowed like lava down the halls. Imagined slights. Painful encounters. Bottled up feelings. They all added up. Some of us carried those slights around for years and others never put them down.

Lessons in Falling–finding yourself as a teenager

Lessons in Falling

Lessons in Falling

Lessons in Falling has the expert touch of a gymnast in writer Diana Gallagher. Although the focus of the story is gymnastics, the book is so much more. This is not one of those themed books for young readers aimed at an audience of pre-teen and teenage girls who are, were, or want to be gymnasts. The scope of this book ranges from teenage friendships to romantic relationships. It encompasses issues common to teenagers: college applications and scholarships, driver’s tests, depression, texting, work issues, immigration, parental expectations, extracurricular activities, and discrimination. The plot centers around Savannah, an aspiring gymnast who has suffered an injury, and her longtime friend, Cass. It explores their personalities and relationship during their critical senior year of high school. Teenage years are chaotic for many; Gallagher does not oversimplify or exaggerate the difficulties her characters encounter.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Spencer Hill Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Teens and Young Adults

Notes:

  1. Some bad language
  2. Although it did not ruin the book for me, I wished I had not seen a summary prior to reading this book. I kept anticipating a certain event and would rather have been surprised when it occurred.

Publication:   February 7, 2017—Spencer Hill Press

Memorable Lines:

She could go on all day like this, using me as the shoreline that her words beat against.

Yesterday, she comforted me. Today, I’m her anchor. At the end of the day, we’re thicker than humidity in July.

As kids we played together, schemed together, nursed bruised knees and silly crushes on boy bands. She was quiet unless she was with me. Together, chances were that we were screaming as we sprinted into the ocean and laughing as we splashed each other. We whispered together under the trees as the neighborhood kids ran around searching for us in Manhunt, never giving up our spot. I rode my bike to her house when Richard was first deployed, blinking tears out of my eyes. She met me at the curb and grabbed my hand. Although her hand was bony, cool, without calluses, it was just as strong as mine. Sometimes I think she hasn’t let go. She keeps her arm around me now, reminding me that I’m her anchor, that she will run to me if she needs to be safe.

The Impossible Fortress–1987 from a teenage perspective

The Impossible Fortress

by Jason Rekulak

the-impossible-fortressHere’s a novel that will take you back to 1987 complete with 14 year old computer nerd Billy Marvin who is currently failing ninth grade and his equally awkward sidekicks Alf and Clark.  Outcasts from all the requisite cliques at their high school, they devise a plan to not only obtain a copy of the coveted Vanna White issue of Playboy, but also profit from the the object of their desires.

By the end of The Impossible Fortress, you really know Billy and the even more digitally talented Mary, and you have laughed and cringed your way through many early teen escapades.  The pair programs on TRS-80 computers and the Commodore 64. Appropriate touches of the 80’s are sprinkled throughout the book–mention of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Christie Brinkley, the must have Bugle Boy pants, and Mark Cerny who started working for Atari at age 17. More than a nostalgic look at the 80’s, we explore the tough times of kids working their way through the difficult teen years. There are times when you hold your breath. times when you laugh, and moments of suspense. This is a book you will be glad you read.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Simon & Schuster for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: This book abounds with male teenage profanity

Publication:   February 7, 2017–Simon & Schuster

Memorable Lines:

The first step was easy. But the second step, the step where I fully removed myself from the roof–that was commitment. The wood trembled beneath my weight, quivering like the edge of a diving board. I made the mistake of looking down, but there was nothing to see–no alley, just a vast black gulf, a bottomless sinkhole.

“Imagine a computer not bigger than a candy bar!” he exclaimed, and we laughed at the absurdity of his predictions; they were all straight out of The Jetsons.

The Sun is Also a Star–Cultures don’t have to clash

The Sun is Also a Star

by Nicola Yoon

the-sun-is-also-a-starThe Sun is Also a Star is the story of two immigrant families, one Korean and one Jamaican. Legal Korean son meets illegal Jamaican daughter on her deportation day. Both struggle with their identity on a personal level and a cultural level.  There are also major conflicts within each family.

Most of the account is told within the scope of one day, but telling this story necessitates side trips into family history to discover motivations. There are no chapter divisions.  There are labelled breaks according to who is is narrating the story, Daniel or Natasha. Sometimes there are passages about minor characters or philosophy narrated in the third person.  This layout is initially slightly troublesome without chapter divisions, but as you are immersed in the storyline you realize how well this format works for this story.

The plot is engaging, the characters well developed, and the various settings reflect the cultural clashes.  Additionally there is an underlying and unifying theme exploring fate, coincidences, and multiple universes. If just one incident had occurred a little sooner or a little later, how would that have affected the rest of the day’s events?  It’s enough of a foray into philosophy and religion to attract a teen/young adult reader questioning their place in the order of things.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House UK) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

_________________________________________________________________

Rating: 5/5

Category: Teen & YA Fiction/Romance

Notes: Mild Language

Publication:  Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)–November 1, 2016

Memorable Lines:

The impossible hungry mouth of her loneliness wanted to swallow her in a single piece.

“It’s not up to you to help other people fit you into a box.”

Sometimes your world shakes so hard, it’s difficult to imagine that everyone else isn’t feeling it too.

“This is the life you’re living. It’s not temporary and it’s not pretend and there’s no do over.”

Holding Up the Universe–Teenage/YA Review

Holding Up the Universe

by Jennifer Niven

holding-up-the-universeI read a review of the Teenage/Young Adult novel Holding Up the Universe on another blog, BongBongBooks. I was intrigued and decided to read it myself.  It is the story of Jack Masselin, a teenager who has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces–even those of family members. The other main character, Libby Strout, is a girl who gains so much weight in the process of grieving after her mother’s death  that she has to be removed from her home by a crane.  Lest these two young people seem like examples of extreme difficulties beyond the realm of possibility, readers should know that prosopagnosia is an actual disorder and that there is a reality TV show entitled My 600 Pound Life.  The author did her homework and this novel has authenticity as we see how these two and their families struggle with the many issues that result from their conditions.

A major theme of this book comes from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “Atticus, he was real nice…”  “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”  There are two ways of not seeing people that this book explores: prosopagnosia (face blindness) and being unwilling to look past a person’s obvious exterior features such as weight, skin color, or disabilities to see who the person really is, what they are like on the inside.

I really liked this book for the plot development and the characters. I empathized with both characters as they tried to deal not only with their personal problems but also with relationship issues in their own families, with each other, and with peers.  As you might expect, bullying and discrimination are major issues for the overweight Libby. It is not an uncommon theme in YA literature as, unfortunately, bullying others for individual physical differences occurs often in our society. I had to really step outside my framework to think what it must be like to walk into a room and not be able to recognize anyone. NOT ANYONE!  Not my family, not my friends, not the people I saw two minutes ago. The author does a good job of helping the reader understand what face blindness must be like as it is lived out.

There is a lot of what I consider to be inappropriate language on the milder end of the continuum in this book. It was frequent enough that I did a little research on what kind of language is generally acceptable in Teenage/YA literature.  I found many blog posts dealing with this question, ranging from none to anything goes and everything in between. I understand that many teenagers today use different word choices than when I was a teenager.  I also know that in current films that kind of language and worse is commonplace.  I include this paragraph as a warning to those who might be offended by some of the words used casually by the characters in Holding Up the Universe.  The language did not enhance the story for me, nor did it ruin it.  I do recommend this book with this one qualification.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Penguin Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Riveting Memoir of a Romanian Lawyer– Could be Used in Christian High School?

Saving My AssassinSaving My Assassin
by Virginia Prodan

Virginia Prodan has written a riveting memoir Saving My Assassin. It was difficult to read many parts of this book because of its troubling, torturous content, but the triumphant spirit of this tiny powerhouse of a woman kept me returning to discover how God could possibly use the evil that surrounded her for His greater purpose.

Virginia Prodan was formerly a lawyer during the cruel Communist dictatorship of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu. Currently she is an international lawyer residing in the U.S. where she continues her work representing Christians who find themselves in legal difficulties because of their stand for Christ.

Saving My Assassin begins with a brief glimpse at a pivotal moment in Prodan’s life. That part of the story ends abruptly, but is repeated and continued later in the appropriate time sequence. This is a technique which could be annoying, but is used here to skillfully draw the reader into the critical nature of the happenings in Prodan’s life. Next we learn of mysteries and events in her younger years which help us understand how she became such a determined adult. She endured a cruel childhood which left her determined to discover the truth on all levels. Why was she so mistreated by her own family? Why did she look so different from them? Why were people in Romania not allowed to worship God when their laws said they could? What motivated the cold violence of the Securitate, the Communist government agents who stalked her, interrogated her, and threatened the lives of her and her children? Why were they so willing to torture and kill their own citizens, innocent of crimes, many of whom apparently disappeared into the night?

Although this book is written for adults, I think mature high school students would appreciate it as well. I taught high school English in a Christian school before I became an elementary public school teacher. This is the kind of book I would have used with my seniors. It would be particularly appropriate for reading in conjunction with a history or civics class as it deals with a Communist dictatorship during the Reagan era and shows the power and influence the U.S. can choose to wield in supporting Christians around the world. Because Saving My Assassin has a strong Biblical message, I assume it could not be assigned for reading in a public school setting, but I would be interested in feedback from teachers with more recent public high school experience than I have.

Saving My Assassin has a proposed publication date of June 7, 2016. I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to the publisher Tyndale House for allowing me to read and review this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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