* The One True Love of Alice-Ann

Enthralling.  Captivating.  I was shocked by The One True Love of Alice-Ann.  I could not put it down until I’d read it from cover to cover.  Alice-Ann was more like a movie than a book.  The author, Eva Marie Everson, has created a full screen novel of life in a sleepy southern town in 1941.  When Pearl Harbor was attacked.  When young men rushed eagerly to war.  When an awkward 16 year old falls in love- or does she?  And when the men don’t return, or come back broken in body and spirit.

Why was I shocked by The One True Love of Alice-Ann?  Because romance novels are at the bottom of my reading list.  Give me a detective or legal thriller, please.  Yet this book amazed me.  I crouched in Alice-Ann’s bedroom, watching her weep over precious letters from the man of her fantasies.  I hid behind the door as she tended to a friend who came home blinded and crippled.  I eavesdropped on Alice-Ann’s conversations with her father, aunt, friends.  I heard her crying.  I watched her grow up in a time of great despair.

Alice-Ann was an inspiration to me, and I’m 50+ years older!  She served and loved and judged and prayed and cried.  Wait a minute.  Alice-Ann is not real, is she?  Eva Marie Everson has a gift, folks.  Whatever your preferred genre of books, The One True Love of Alice-Ann should be on your reading list.  Read it in full technicolor.  You won’t be disappointed. Alice-Ann

* The Blackthorn Key

The Blackthorn Key

Written by Kevin Sands, The Blackthorn Key is a thrilling mystery for older kids, set in London in the 1600s.  Christopher Rowe is the main character, a 14 year-old orphan who has been apprenticed to an apothecary.  His master, Benedict Blackthorn, treats Christopher with uncommon kindness and respect while teaching him the skills to become an apothecary in his own right.  Ultimately, Christopher and his friend, Tom, find themselves in a desperate battle against the Cult of the Archangel, which has been systematically murdering apothecaries in London.  The mystery is enhanced by the use of clever ciphers, secret dungeons, and unusual medicinal remedies.  And which of the realistic characters can the boys trust?  Will Christopher decode the clues within clues in time to save himself and others?

I used this book as a read aloud and would not suggest it for kids below middle school due to the graphic violence, which I filtered out.  Axes and swords make for messy battles, along with a brief torture scene using acid.  Kids will love Christopher’s penchant for blowing things up; the tender relationship between him and his master/father figure is a bit of a tear-jerker.  Kevin Sands accurately portrays the era, with its dreadful sanitation, political intrigues, and abuses of power.  We are transported to a time when people used poop on sores and drank poppy tea as a pain reliever.  There are a few anachronistic references, primarily verbal expressions, but this book could easily spark a study of British history, ciphers, and medicine.  And explosives!

The Blackthorn Key is a 5-star read, even for adults.  I’ve already started the sequel, Mark of the Plague, which is another winner!

* 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

 

* 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!

 

* 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.

* Alex and the Agency

It’s BookWorm time!  I’ve been burrowing eagerly through Leslie Wolfe’s series on The Agency.  No, it’s not the CIA.  It’s better than that and also wonderfully evolving.  The Agency is a corporate investigative team, hired to remedy complex problems under a cloak of secrecy.  The first in this series is Executive, introducing Alex Hoffman, a brilliant young woman with no money, a troubled past, and little self-confidence.  The author leads Alex through a fascinating mystery with out-of-control drones, crooked finances, and a desperate CEO.  Not only is the plot fascinating but Alex begins a life-changing process of learning to trust others.  The Agency is packed with caring and competent leadership; they’re actually committed to seeing Alex succeed.  I marvel at their wisdom and social skills (clearly, they got more out of Crucial Conversations than I did!).

In Devil’s Move, Alex further hones her investigative skills as the Agency confronts serious threats on all fronts.  Having just survived a rancorous presidential election in real life, this fictional portrayal of a presidential race and e-voting was fascinating on many levels.  I won’t spoil the book for you, but Alex’s time in India is both hilarious and gripping.  Devil’s Move also introduces readers to the mysterious “V,” who returns to fight another day in The Back-Up Asset.  I’m still reading this one and rooting for Alex and her team.  Alex has taken some hits and her past issues threaten to derail her newfound confidence and abilities.

the-back-up-asset

Wolfe is an excellent writer who manages to keep her complicated plots believable, her characters growing, and her pages turning fast.  I’m hooked on this Alex Hoffman series and hope you also enjoy it!  More good news: There are two Alex Hoffman’s I haven’t yet read!  Woohoo!

* Charley Sloan, no doubt about it

Shadow of a Doubt.JPG

Pic and book from Amazon

I just finished reading A Shadow of a Doubt by William Coughlin.  Charley Sloan, the main character, is a down-and-almost-out lawyer stripped of pride and fame by his alcoholism.  He’s an unlikely choice as counsel for a wealthy young woman facing a murder charge.  The plot is gripping and the writing is excellent.  If you are looking for a page-turner, this book will satisfy.  But back to Charley….

Charley would say he’s not a hero, but his character is riveting.  He has some of the typical wry-attorney humor (think Lincoln Lawyer), but it was his authenticity that grabbed my heart.  Charley is honest about his fall from fame and fortune.  He recognizes their lures as this convoluted murder case shoves him back into the limelight, back into harm’s way.  Charley wants so much to be respected that my gut ached.  His minute-by-minute struggles with alcoholism are beyond painful; I wanted to rescue him from that pit and inject him with some miracle drug to remove those cravings forever.

I grew up with an alcoholic father who never confronted his disease.  I remember helping convince a doctor to prescribe tranquilizers which were “secretly” administered.  My father worked for Merck Chemical at the time and quickly identified the pills.  That started him on a long journey of retaliation with pills, which is another story altogether.  I could have easily followed my father’s drunken path.  I used to drink solely to numb the pain, an exercise in futility.  Once saved, I knew I should and would never drink again.  There’s actually something far better than a miracle drug, Charley.

I’m looking forward to more of Charley Sloan.  The remaining books in the series were written by Coughlin’s wife, Ruth.  Their love and literary journey is another fascinating story.