Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

In this Gay Pride month, it’s great to be able to talk both about a well written book that addresses homosexuality, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, as well as introduce a debut author worth following, emily m. danforth.

In 1989, at the age of 12, Cameron Post kissed Irene Klauson, and liked it. The next day her parents were killed in an auto accident. Cam’s born-again Aunt Ruth (her mother’s sister) comes to Montana to take care of Cam.

In 1992, Cam and her friend Coley, an avowed heterosexual, develop a relationship. Coley’s “guilt” forces her to out Cam, who has kept her sexual preferences hidden from Aunt Ruth and her grandmother. Aunt Ruth, of course, is shocked and sends her to God’s Promise Christian School and Center for Healing, which is not designed to ‘cure’ Cam, but to make her closer to God, thus discovering the error of her ways.

emily m. danforth’s prose are so descriptive, whether she’s describing the annual Miles City Bucking Horse Sale, Cam’s lifeguarding at Scanlon Lake or her intense feelings for Coley. With an opening line “The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifing with Irene Klauson.” she hooks you from page one. You then go for a sometimes funny, sometimes romantic, sometimes sad, sometimes serious ride through three years of Cam’s life. You live with her indecisions, her crushes, her guilt about the death of her parents, her antagonism towards Aunt Ruth and God’s Promise. It’s quite the roller coaster ride.

But danforth deftly puts forth Cam’s feelings, offset by those of Reverend Rick and Lydia who run Promise. The thing is, The Miseducation of Cameron Post ends with such “promise” for this main character. For a totally rewarding read, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is perfect.

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“Mary White smelled of sweet perfume and mixed feelings when she greeted me at the door of her house,” Moe Prager says upon meeting up with an old acquaintance. “Kites bathed in dying orange light flirted with the Verrazano Bridge and dreamed of untethered flight,” he thinks as he drives along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn as the sun is setting.

I’m making my way through the Moe Prager mysteries by Reed Farrel Coleman (I just finished Empty Ever After) because his latest one, Hurt Machine, just recently published, got great reviews. One more to go! Yes! And while I wouldn’t say the series falls into the “Literary” genre, they are literary, as evidenced by the snippets above. Coleman, in the form of Moe Prager, is practical, philosophical, literary and literate.

Prager’s also human. I have a lot of favorite mystery characters: Harry Bosch by Connelly, Kinsey Milhone by Grafton, Joe Gunther by Mayer, Jackson Brody by Atkinson, Mike Daley by Silverstein and, more recently, Claire DeWitt by Gran.  (By the way, if you haven’t read Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, you must. That’s an order.) However, the only one I can visualize as a next door neighbor is Moe Prager.

There’s a 15 year gap in Moe Prager’s life between the previous installment and Empty Ever After. (In a recent interview Coleman said, unlike Sue Grafton’s protagonist, he, Coleman, must age his characters in order to keep it interesting.)  Empty Ever After incorporates the cases of the previous books, making it both a benefit and a hindrance.  If you’re familiar with the cases/books, you may or may not want to rehash parts of them again.  On the other hand, it all fits together nicely. If you’re not familiar with the previous books, you may get a tad lost, but Coleman does a good job of acquainting you with the salient points.

For purposes of this blog post, the plot is too involved to summarize without the backstory. Suffice it to say, Coleman makes it work. For a quick, enjoyable read, Moe Prager is a #1 recommendation.

Coleman also said that he plans two more Prager books, a prequel and another book. You know I’ll be waiting impatiently for these to be written.

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Attorney Kevin Corvelli is coming off a stunning courtroom defeat in which his client, Brandon Glenn, was found guilty of murder. Brandon was soon after discovered dead in his jail cell, a suicide. Corvelli, trying to distance himself both geographically and professionally from this defeat, moves from Manhattan to Hawaii and vows (half jokingly, half seriously) to take only traffic tickets and misdemeanor cases.

When Jake,  his law office landlord, brings Kevin a murder case with a $50,000 initial retainer, he’s hooked (he’s got a mountain of law school loans to pay). The case involves the murder of a young woman, Shannon Douglas, who the prosecutor suggests was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Joey, with whom she recently broke up.

One Man’s Paradise, Douglas Corleone’s debut novel, won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writer’s of America First Crime Novel Award (what a mouthful, huh?) and I can see why. Corleone has an easy going writing style, has created a bunch of great (presumably recurring) characters (Jake, Kevin and Flan their private investigator who all fled their past, as well as Dapper Don Watanabe, the prosecutor) and an interesting set of one time characters. The plot moved swiftly, with a satisfying number of twists and turns. While I’m not a ‘humorous’ mystery fan, Corleone’s humor was low key and I did laugh out loud a few times.

If One Man’s Paradise is the start of a series, and I think it is, bring it on.  I’ll sign up for book two.

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Richard Peck’s Secrets at Sea was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review this weekend, so I thought I’d add my two cents.

I wish I could recreate for you Richard Peck’s autograph on my copy of A Long Way From Chicago.  The flourishes, the curlicues, the expansiveness of it are indications of how he talks and how he writes.  There’s an imagination, an imagery, a use of words that few authors achieve in a lifetime and he does it time and again.  Maybe his mantra of “If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader” really holds true.  Whatever it is, he certainly has the talent.  And Secrets at Sea will enchant you.

The ‘upstairs Cranstons’ need to find a husband for older daughter, Olive. They’ve exhausted all the possibilities in the New York vicinity and have decided to try their luck abroad. They are off on a trans-Atlantic voyage to see what England has to offer.

The ‘downstairs Cranstons’, the mice residing in the lower levels, are frantic.  What is to become of them if the Upstairs Cranstons desert them for foreign lands?  Helena, the older sister to Louise, Beatrice and Lamont, decides to seek counsel from old, wise Aunt Fannie Fenimore, who lives in the mansion next door. Aunt Fannie looks into her crystal ball and describes Helena’s two futures:  the one that chooses her and the one that she chooses. The one that chooses Helena does not look promising, but the one that she can choose is even more frightening because in that crystal ball is the image of a huge ocean liner…and you should know that mice and water are not friends.

And this is how Helena finds herself on an ocean liner bound for England and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – “60 years upon the greatest throne in human history”. You will meet a marvelous cast of characters, both human and rodent.  And, most importantly, you will learn why, without the aid of our mice, we humans would be in one great big mess.

Secrets at Sea is a wonderful voyage for your imagination.

At the suggestion of the same New York Times Book Review issue and several other library journals, I have Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver on my night table.  Oliver, author of Before I Fall (which I really liked) and Delerium (which I haven’t read because dystopia just isn’t my thing, but which got great reviews), has ventured into the world of middle grade fiction and Liesl & Po is getting raves.

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Whenever we go to a new city, we always seek out the independent bookstores.  I especially look for the mystery bookstores and have come to ask the same question of each one:  what are some must read mysteries?  Thanks to the great saleman at Mystery on Main Street in Brattleboro, VT, I have now become a Moe Prager fan, whose mysteries are written by Reed Farrel Coleman (who looks like a private eye).  When I read that Coleman is coming out with a new book, I knew I had to catch up with the 5 or 6 books in the series (I’d only read two.)

There are some mysteries that are action packed and some that are riveting courtroom dramas.  But there are few where you get to know the characters, where there is a life outside of crime.  Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series is one that comes to mind and Moe Prager is another.  Moe is an everyday guy.  He lives in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.  He was disabled while on the NYPD force due to a freak accident and was retired.  He owns a wine store with his brother Aaron and keeps his private detective license in case a case comes up.  His claim to fame was finding a missing girl when no one else could and this keeps haunting him because missing person cases seem to keep coming his way.

In The James Deans, when Moe and his wife, Katy, are invited to the posh wedding of a former wine store employee, he wonders why.  He soon finds out.  Her well heeled father, Thomas Geary, wants Prager to find out what happened to Moira Heaton, an intern in State Senator Steve Brightman’s office.  She left one day about a year ago and never returned.  All eyes turn to Brightman.  Of course a detective agency was hired, with no results.  So Geary turns to Prager to clear Brightman’s name so he can resume his meteoric rise in politics.  Prager finds out what happens to Moira and more.

Moe Prager is a truly likeable guy.  He’s smart, philosophical, realistic and caring.  Coleman’s writing is readable, enjoyable  and unpretentious.  His plots are realistic.  There are some slimeballs, some nice guys and some characters to be pitied in Moe Prager’s life.

While you don’t have to read the series in order, I’d do it since there aren’t too many books to catch up on and they’re fast reads.  I’d probably pick up a nice bottle of wine to get in the mood, kick back and relax.   Let me know what you think.

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Olivene Love, 13, is the eldest daughter of Everlasting and Susanna Love.  With a name like Everlasting Love, what could her father be but a traveling preacher in the South in 1957.  Their stop in Binder, Alabama was supposed to be like every other stop, 3-days of revival meetings and move on. 

But Ollie meets Jimmy Koppel who follows her during her walk into town from their campsite and that changes everything.  Jimmy’s mother, Virginia, is in jail for confessing to the murder of his father, a man no one likes and who beats her.  Once Virginia is moved to the county jail, Jimmy will be forced to live with an aunt in Tennessee who he never met.  Jimmy is convinced of Virginia’s innocence and convinces Ollie as well, who then convinces her father to get involved in trying to save the Koppels.

Tess Hilmo’s debut novel With a Name Like Love is a charming read for late elementary schoolers.  Ollie and her four sisters disagree with each other, as sisters do.  Her parents seem to be the perfect parents, understanding their children, holding family councils, knowing what the ‘right thing to do’ is and instilling this understanding in their children.  The townspeople run the gamut from the kindly Ms. Mahoney to the distasteful Esther Carter.  Thus, Hilmo’s characters are real, some fun and endearing, some not so nice.  Her plot is plausible and her writing is descriptive, drawing you in from the beginning.  And without preaching (no pun intended), she instills upon the reader the desire to do the right thing, something we need more of in this world.  Hilmo’s story and writing remind me a little of Richard Peck, a little of Kathy Appelt, and a little of Clare Vanderpool, in other words, good company.

We can use a little more love in this world, so read With a Name Like Love.

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Many moons ago when I first forayed into YA literature I read Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters.  I thought it was a wonderful, emotional romance and I became a Julie Anne Peters fan.  To this day, Keeping You a Secret is my favorite Julie Anne Peters book.  Go read it, now!

But this blog post is not about that, it’s about Peter’s book Pretend You Love Me (previously issued as Far From Xanadu).  I remembered liking it but not loving it when I first read it…but as many of you know, my memory is pretty faulty.  It is a marvelous book.  Imagine a society where people treat you nicely, care about you, want to do things for you regardless of your sexual orientation, your looks, your wealth.  The residents of Coalton really like Mike (Mary-Elizabeth) despite that fact that she is big and muscular and lesbian.  They like Jamie, despite the fact that he is short and thin, a cheerleader and quite gay.  It’s so refreshing to read a book like this since so many books are about how hostile people are to gays.

The story:  Mike is in love with Xanadu, the gorgeous new girl in town, but she is straight and in love with Bailey.  Mike hopes beyond hope she’ll change her mind.  Jamie has struck up an internet romance with Shane and they want to meet.  But Shane lives 1,000 miles away.  We all know the dangers of online pickups.  While dealing with this, Mike also has to deal with the suicide of her father, her mother’s debilitating obesity, her brother’s uselessness and her financial inability to go to baseball camp over the summer–she’s the school’s star catcher.

Pretend You Love Me is a great self-discovery, self-acceptance story, written only as Julie Anne Peters can write.  (I’m ready to move to Coalton, if only I can find out where it is located.)  Peters stretches the boundaries of issue-driven novels with such titles as Luna, Between Mom and Jo, By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead, and Rage: A Love Story.  She should be on everyone’s must read list.

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I debated about the topic of my first post but since we decided that telling you about ‘orphan authors’, those wonderful authors who don’t get enough attention, I realized that I had my first post had to be about Beth Kephart, a marvelous Young Adult author.  Beth is an online friend (we’ve never met), but we became friends because I read one of her books and loved it.  I don’t remember how we connected, but we did.  If you love literature, you’ll love her books.  (You should also read her blog: beth-kephart.blogspot.com.  It is smart, literate, lovingly written.

Without further adieu, my review of her latest book, You Are My Only:

You Are My Only, the latest gem from Beth Kephart, is about family, losing one and gaining one.  Sophie is fourteen, home-schooled and alone.  Her mother works at the local diner all day, leaving Sophie home and cautioning her to lock the doors and not venture out.  She has her home-school assignments, the current one being creating the perfect icosahedron (look it up, if you don’t know what it is).  But there’s a whole world next door that Sophie sees as she peers out her attic window.  She watches Joey, the same age, play catch with his dog, Harvey.  She sees his aunts Cloris and Helen, one physically strong and the other weak, lovingly tend to each other and their nephew.  Sophie can no longer abide her isolation, and willing to accept the consequences if caught, ventures outside, only to be embraced into the next door family.  She partakes of custard and lemonade and readings from Willa Cather, the total opposite of her Spartan, hermit-like life.

Conversely, Emmy, not much older than Sophie, puts her infant in the backyard swing and realizes the blanket she wants to lay on is indoors.  In the split seconds it takes to run up the thirteen steps to the bedroom and back down those thirteen steps, Baby is kidnapped.  She searches and calls out, but to no avail.  The police aren’t successful either.  Her abusive husband, Peter, berates her.  She follows the railroad tracks trying to find Baby and is on the brink of letting an on-coming train hit her in her grief when she is saved by a wanderer, Arlen.  Together they search, with no luck.  When Emmy thinks she sees a woman carrying Baby at the train station, she causes a scene.  The police arrive and once Emmy is in custody, Peter has her committed.  No one will help her, except her roommate Autumn, who plans their escape to find Baby.

To tell you any more of the story would be to tell too much, if I haven’t already done that. In some books, it’s the story that captures you and in some, it’s the characters.  In You Are My Only, it is that rare combination of story and character.  Kephart has created two (almost) separate but equal stories, both intriguing and engrossing.  In addition, she has created the perfect characters.  I defy anyone not to fall in love with Sophie, Joey and Aunts Cloris and Helen or Emmy and Autumn and even Harvey, the dog.  I defy anyone not to hate (maybe intensely dislike) Sophie’s mother or Peter.  As always, Kephart chooses her words with care, and while the language is not as ‘ethereal’ as in some of her recent books, her images and descriptions and wording remain essential in understanding the characters and surroundings.  There are secrets that need to be unearthed and things to ponder.  There are relationships that you are jealous you are not a part of and those you are glad you have not experienced.  You can read You Are My Only quickly and enjoy the story or you can read it slowly and savor every word and nuance and description.  Either way, you must read Beth Kephart’s latest addition to Young Adult literature, You Are My Only.  More than likely, after you’ve read it once, you’ll go back and read it again.  I know I will.

Other books by Beth include: 

Dangerous Neighbors (my personal favorite)






Nothing But Ghosts












House of Dance






The Heart is Not a Size






Susan here… this is Ed’s post, but I just have to butt in (and no I didn’t ask his permission) here because I love the way Beth writes.  I truly can’t say enough about the truth of her characters and the beauty of her prose.  She truly is a must read and an “orphan author” that needs to find a home in your heart.

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