* Soho thriller

The book I’m reviewing is called “Soho Dead,” but I didn’t want that title blaring across the screen because I have many British readers.  You have suffered so much horror and loss in the past months and we are all saddened on this side of the puddle.  Tough times.

I’ve just finished “Soho Dead” by Greg Keen and now must wait over a year for the next installment of this thriller series.  Boo hoo!  The protagonist is Kenny Gabriel, a far-from-angelic skip-tracer with a core of integrity under a cloud of depression.  We view Soho and its motley citizens through Kenny’s clever, bleak, and self-deprecating humor.  At 57, his bank balance is low, he relies on his brother for a place to live, and has a no-talk, all-sex relationship with Stephanie.

As the book opens, Kenny is trying to decide whether he should take an antidepressant.  In short order, after agreeing to hunt down a missing daughter, Kenny’s life becomes an unpredictable boxing match.  With Kenny wearing a blindfold.  Will he go down for the count?  Kenny’s entangled in his own past relationships and mistakes, all the while hunting for a killer among a diverse group of suspects.  At one point, Kenny himself is charged with murder.  I was stunned at the ending because the author is that clever.  I also like happy endings and this one delivers just enough hope to sustain me until the sequel is published.  Keen lives in Soho, so the book rings true in every scene.  This would make a marvelous movie, in part because the author adds a strong visual component, not to mention action at every turn.

Soho Dead” is a terrific read, perhaps a much-needed distraction for folks in the midst of genuine disasters.

Soho Dead


* TToT again!

It’s bad news, good news this week.

#1.  Bad news: After a loooong week, I have been working on paperwork most of the day and my eyes are swimming.  Good news:  I finished a lot of it!

#2.  Bad news:  I lost October 2016.  I mean I lost my lesson plans for a student.  I have the digital version but no notes.  Good news:  I found October!  It was just incorrectly stapled.  More good news:  I threw away some clutter in the hunting process.

#3.  Bad news:  I have not been able to wean my foot from the compression boot.  Good news:  I said, “Whatever!” and tossed the heavy thing aside.  More good news: My foot has been fine all day.

#4.  Bad news:  I did waste a little time playing Mahjong today.   Good news:  I beat an expert level that had defied me for weeks.  Yes, the game was taunting me.

#5.  Bad news:  I did not get much accomplished with my online classes today.  Good news:  Tomorrow is another day.

#6.  Bad news:  My dearest teaching widower had to work all day, too.  Good news:  I was able to help him on a project without getting snappy.  Oh, right, I never get snappy.

#7.  Bad news:  I lied in #6.  Good news:  I only lied about never getting snappy.  I really did help him without getting snappy TODAY.  And I am running out of news, folks.

#8.  Bad news:  There is no sequel to the sequel of The Dying and the Dead.  Good news:  Sequel #1 was great and featured a brave young boy.

#9.  Bad news:  I may not finish the Color Your World blogging challenge.  Good news:  I can try again next year.  More good news:  I have a whole year to take more colorful photos!

#10:  Bad news:  I have nothing else to add.  Good news:  I did not gripe about the clutter in the house, the laundry that needs to be washed, or the pile of mulch in our driveway that needs to be spread somewhere, anywhere.  More good news:  I am reading a cool detective thriller called The Murderer’s Son by Joy Ellis.  A terrific read about a guy who thinks he is a serial killer.  Is he?  I don’t know yet but it will be fun to find out.  Mama was the Blonde Butcher.  Oh dear, what a legacy.

Have a great week, dear readers!

The Murderer's Son

* The Dying and the Dead

The Dying and the Dead.jpg

Oh yeah, zombies at full tilt!  Jack lewis has written a zombie thriller AND it has a sequel!  The Dying and the Dead: A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller doesn’t disappoint.  That hideous mask on the cover belongs to Charles Bull, a regular guy turned bounty hunter for the Capita.  In a world full of the infected, those hanging on by a thread (and face masks), and the immune, the Capita is searching for a cure- all the while grasping power by any means.

Lewis heads each chapter with a main character’s name: Heather, Ed, and Charles.  Each person is a complex individual who struggles with the unimaginable (except that we’ve all seen zombie flicks so we know how bad it is).  My favorite is Heather, perhaps because she’s a teacher.  She turns a blind eye as “an immune,” a young student named Jenny, is yanked away from her class by Charles and his soldiers.  Heather feels guilt but rationalizes her indifference.  When her own daughter is at risk, Heather finally engages the enemy.  Heather becomes quite formidable, but saving her child is a long shot.

Ed is a young man who has locked himself away emotionally for years; at first I thought he was autistic.  He cannot hide from the airborne virus that is carried to the remote island where he’s hidden himself away.  And Charles?  His reasons for becoming a monster are also revealed, but I’m not telling.

This horror story is set in England and the landscape reminds me of my childhood days.  Zombie-free, of course.  It turns out that Jack Lewis and I were both born in Lancashire, so perhaps that’s why the book feels like home.  Except for flesh-eating critters.  I’m sure the ending will leave you hunting out the sequel.  I’ve just started book 2 and it promises to be a great as the original!

* The Breaking Light

I hate romances.  Within a couple of pages of reading The Breaking Light, my romance detector was buzzing with alarm.  On the other hand, the book is also science fiction.  What a dilemma.  I kept reading and couldn’t stop.  After all, didn’t I fall in love with my dearest teaching widower at first sight, when we were teenagers?  That’s exactly what happens to the characters who star in this romantic sci fi adventure written by Heather Hansen.  Arden lives in the underbelly of a dark world, a city without sunlight.  Its inhabitants die from vitamin D deficiency.  She is a member of a gang whose reputation for brutality is well known.  Dade lives in the sun, the scion of a powerful ruler of the exclusive Towers, whose residents are determined to stay at the top.  The tipping point occurs when Dade’s father brokers a marriage for his son, who has just fallen in love with Arden.  The Breaking Light explores their Romeo-and-Juliet type of romance, where the stakes are equally high.

Breaking Light

The setting of this book is fascinating.  It’s a terraformed planet which was mined to supply the Old Planet, but no longer has any contact with that forgotten world.  The atmosphere is literally and figuratively toxic.  The author creates a believable city of intricate levels, built upon the foundation of old mines.  She also creates a futuristic technology of phasers, hovercraft, and synthetic skins.  The doomed inhabitants are kept prisoner by implants and “govies” who kill and torture without a qualm.

Heather Hansen skillfully explores the corrosion of lives, of both those who live in the sun and those destined to perish without it.  Arden and Dade are threatened on all sides, they kiss a lot, and I kept reading!  The book is a terrific read BUT the sequel won’t be available until next December.  I wonder if I could send Heather some chocolate or other bribe to speed up the process.

Definitely a 5-star read, with many twists and turns, lots of thrills and heartache, and above all, sacrificial love.


* Beach Lawyer

When our son was growing up, my dearest teaching widower always said to him, “You can be anything you want when you grow up except a lawyer.”  After reading Beach Lawyer by Avery Duff, I am so grateful for that advice!

Beach Lawyer

Beach Lawyer IS a terrific read, even though all the characters lie through their teeth.  Our protagonist, Robert Worth, is a man willing to fight for his beliefs.  He takes on a fellow lawyer (and sociopath), Jack Pierce, in an effort to salvage justice for Allison, whose brother got zilch after a wrongful death lawsuit.  Pierce shocks Allison and Robert by stating that her brother’s life was worthless, then sexually assaulting her.  Robert takes aim at his evil colleague, but his life spins out of control as Jack orchestrates a siege of incredible vengeance.

Thank goodness Robert is a fighter- and smart.  He goes head to head with Jack, only to find the riptides in California are much more deadly than he imagined.  Beach Lawyer will keep you turning the pages, rooting for the good guy who has his own deep, dark secrets.  The writing is flawless, characters complex, and the plot has more twists and turns than Highway 1 on the Pacific coast.  I whizzed through the book and hope for a sequel.

Avery Duff is a former lawyer turned writer.  He went to UNC Chapel Hill, so I guess we can forgive him for his choice of career.  He currently lives in Los Angeles, hopefully working on that sequel!  Get outta the water and keep writing, Mr. Duff!


* NERDS book review

NERDS book 1

NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society is a fast-paced, kids-as-spies thriller and spoof.  The main characters are, well, nerds, who have been recruited by a top secret government agency to combat villains by using nanobyte technology.  Jackson Jones, once a cool 5th grade jock and very much full of himself, plummets from social acclaim to nerd status when he is fitted with the most tortuous set of braces ever designed.  Amazingly, his braces become a secret weapon, but in the end, Jackson’s indomitable spirit, along with a newfound humility, save the day.  Almost.

The author, Michael Buckley, creates this wacky and hilarious story which is the first in a series of five books featuring the NERDS secret society.  Buckley’s characters are straight out of upper elementary or middle school, with lots of “ew!” moments.  Each nerd spy is outfitted with a weapon system built around his or her weakness, which is an interesting concept (see social skills application below).  Students will not be disappointed in the high tech features of this story.  It’s an action packed adventure that travels the globe, just like James Bond movies.  The entire book is written as a transmission of sorts and the reader must provide increasingly (gross) samples of DNA to receive the next level.  There’s no way to keep a straight face as a kid is hunting for ear wax to put on a sensor!  Eventually, the author is makes an all-out ploy for cash, which is just as funny as the rest of the book.

I was surprised that Buckley kills off some folks in this book.  When facing an evil genius bent on destroying the world, I guess there must be casualties.  The “violence” is tempered by humor; pinatas with missiles can really mess up a birthday party.  The book is a fast read, features astounding artificial intelligence, and suggests that Michael Buckley is one quick-witted but wacky guy.  Visit his website for more spy fun; kids can join the NERDS team by answering a set of questions and being assigned a code name.  Very cool.

Special education application:  This is a 5 star book with special appeal to kiddos with learning and social challenges.  The distress and humiliation of bullying is not glossed over, despite Jackson’s total denial that he ever bullied anyone.  In fact, the entire plot is predicated on the good, the bad, and the ugly of elementary and middle school social mores.  NERDS makes a great read aloud for social skills groups, with an abundance of topics to explore.


* The London Eye Mystery

The London Eye Mystery

What intrigue, fun, and amazing depth in The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd!  What’s this gripping mystery about?  Aunt Gloria and her son, Salim, come to London to say goodbye to Ted and Kat’s family before heading for a new life in New York.  The sisters and kids decide to take in a final day of sightseeing.  Salim ends up on the Eye by himself but he never gets off!  What happened to Salim?

Told in first person point-of-view by Ted, a 12 year old on the autism spectrum, this book is a gem for many reasons.  As a read-aloud or for kids in upper elementary and older, this book is loaded with enough material to satisfy readers and teachers alike.  All the characters in the book are well-developed.  Themes abound.  The clues are intriguing, the mystery is a real page turner, and the shattering reality of a missing kid is not glossed over.

The portrayal of the thoughts and actions of a kiddo on the autism spectrum is a primary accomplishment of this book.  Seriously, that is no mean feat.  Ted talks to us about his brain with its different operating system, relates his never-ending and complex thoughts on weather systems, and lets us know when he’s stressed, including habitual hand shaking and occasional banging and kicking walls.  Poor Ted.  I’d bang walls in his position, too.  If ONLY his family would listen to Ted!

Ted’s sister, Kat, is a tweener in rebellion against her mum, secretly smoking and often lying, and cursing several times in the book.  While reading this aloud, I left out most of those words.  On the other hand, I appreciate the author’s authentic description of Kat’s struggle to find her way while grappling with agonizing guilt over Salim’s disappearance.

As a special ed teacher, I’d use this book to develop empathy among neurotypical learners for those whose brain are on IOS-Autism.  Kids on the spectrum are at risk for bullying and this book would be a terrific tool for countering those prejudices.  The London Eye Mystery could also validate kids who have been made aware of their diagnosis of ASD.

I was grieved to discover that Siobhan Dowd passed away in 2007 at the age of 47.  She had devoted much of her life’s energy to “tak[ing] stories to children and young people without stories.”  In the days before her death, she established The Siobhan Dowd Trust, a worthwhile project to supply books to those who otherwise couldn’t access them.  Siobhan Dowd definitely achieved her goal of giving a voice to kiddos like Ted.  I encourage you to read the book and check out her foundation, where all royalties and funds from overseas sales provide hope for the voiceless.

* Nick Hall in “Mind’s Eye”


The Nick Hall thriller series by Douglas E. Richards is a winner!  But how do I describe this intense page-turner without giving away too much?  I can say that Richards has created a likeable and resilient protagonist who finds his world tipped upside down and turned inside out.  Nick Hall has been through hell and continues to face earthly devils who would destroy him without breaking a sweat.  Nick stumbles his way into relationships with a resourceful woman, the head of a military PsyOps division, and computer geeks.  As he runs for his life, you will be urging him onward, hoping that somehow he’ll stay sane and survive.

Richards has done his homework- and more- on technology, love on the run, and supervillians.  Of course, with his background in microbiology and genetic engineering (with mutant viruses named after him), Richards knows what he is about.  The premise underlying “Mind’s Eye” is quite unusual but compelling.  I never had to suspend disbelief because the characters themselves struggle to believe what’s happening.  As Nick and Megan wind through this labyrinth of suspense, they ask and answer all my questions.  If you love thrillers, if you want to witness a battle with humanity’s destiny at stake, “Mind’s Eye” will satisfy!

* Cats in literature

You must check out the Bluebird‘s post for the cleverest connections of cat photos to literature.  My faves are “Macbeth” and “Little Women.”  Teachers could use this idea to spark interest, compare-and-contrast, and book conversations!  The one below is “Bambi,” of course.

via Happy Caturday — literary edition — bluebird of bitterness

* Stunning Greenglass House

Greenglass House is a children’s mystery, probably enjoyed most by upper elementary kids and middle schoolers.  Written by Kate Milford, this book goes far beyond the realm of mysteries and suspense in its development of characters and heartfelt emotion.  The story takes place during Christmas break at an ancient but gorgeous “smuggler’s” inn, occupied and operated by the Pine family.  Greenglass House is as much a character as the people, with its huge, mysterious stained glass windows and shady past.  Milo Pine, a 12 year old, is looking forward to a quiet vacation with his parents when when an odd assortment of individuals arrive unexpectedly at their inn.  Milo’s world is tipped upside down when he meets Meddy, a stranger who initiates a roleplaying “campaign” to learn more about these peculiar guests.  Milo and Meddy are both strong-willed individuals who couldn’t be less alike.  Their interactions are priceless.


Milford is a master of layering themes and creating complex events which force characters to confront their motivations and fears.  For instance, we learn that Milo struggles with issues related to his adoption and the reaction of others to his appearance (he’s of Asian descent with white parents), torn between loyalty to his loving parents and a desire to know more about his biological family.

Milo and Meddy have no idea what their campaign will uncover and believe me, you will be shocked.  But the tenderness and healing, along with wild and wooly events, will keep you riveted to this book.  A word of caution: If you are reading this aloud, be prepared to cry in front of your kiddos.  The ending is truly amazing.