Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Armstrong & Charlie – Great Middle Grade Novel

Armstrong & Charlie

By Steven B. Frank

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Armstrong and Charlie are sixth graders this year. Both of them have reservations about the coming school year for very different reasons.

Armstrong is going to be bussed to a new school that is much better than the one in his neighborhood, so he will be leaving all of his friends. Everyone knows that friends are very important, and Armstrong is worried he won’t fit it.

Charlie will be losing some of his friends. Their parents aren’t as excepting as Charlie’s are about integrating his school. He also has a deeper problem. His brother died not too long ago and once he completes sixth grade, Charlie will be older than his brother ever was.

The school year starts out rocky, but soon the boys begin an awkward kind of friendship. It is shaky at best, and they don’t see each other out of school because Armstrong lives so far away.

Charlie’s mom and dad are not the same as before. The death of his brother has changed their family dynamic. Armstrong has a bustling family that includes four sisters and his parents. His mom is a nurse and his father was injured in the military.

The boy’s personal lives do not mingle – until a weekend trip with their class. The question is – will the boys grow closer or will they make choices that will cause their differences to explode?

This is a great book for kids in middle school. It is a time of changes and sometimes they feel like they are the only ones feeling left out or different. Armstrong & Charlie shows them they are like other kids their age.

I really like where this book ended up. At first it seemed a bit cliché with the racial issue of the white family being from the “better” area of town and the black family being from the “worse” side of town. For a few chapters I almost wished it had been flipped, with Charlie being bussed.

But as the story unfolds, the author squashes all of my doubts. It is an interesting plot with enough surprises to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. The choices the boys make have consequences, both good and bad. The author isn’t afraid to let the reader know what could and does happen as the boys grow up during the school year.

I highly recommend this book.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Escape Velocity – Office Intrigue Can Be Deadly

Escape Velocity

By Susan Wolfe

Escape Velocity has been described as being approximately 33 times the speed of sound on earth. That defines the pace of this second novel by Susan Wolfe.

Georgia Griffin is a daddy’s girl. She loved spending time with him at their home in Piney, Arkansas. Taking care of their horses and learning how to read and manipulate people were activities he taught Georgia and her younger sister Katie-Ann. They have his skills, but didn’t use them. But when one if his cons goes bad and sends him to prison, Georgia knows she has to make some drastic changes to survive. Things go from bad to worse after her mama takes up with a real creep. Georgia set a goal and is determined to see it through. Getting a job in Silicon Valley is the first step, and then saving enough money to get her younger sister out of harm’s way is the second. Katie-Ann is only in high school and too much of a temptation for her mom’s latest boyfriend, so Georgia is on a tight timeline to accomplish what may be near impossible with only a paralegal certificate.

Lumina Software could be her big break. She has interviewed with several companies, but nothing has panned out so far. But this interview is different. She is so convinced it might be the thrust she needs to begin her escape velocity, she is willing to put just a little of what her daddy taught her into play to give herself an edge. She immediately clicks with her potential boss, and finally getting the break she has been looking for; the job is hers.

The pay is great, her boss is even better than she first imagined, but some of the others in the company seemed to have personal agendas. The deeper she becomes involved; the more Georgia feels she needs to channel her daddy to make sure the company is a success. After all, if the company has problems, she might lose her job, then how would she get her little sister out of the mess of a life she has in Arkansas? Georgia is good at finding things out and using them to her advantage. If she pulls one small con to help the company, how could that be wrong? First she needs to find a vulnerable spot or two in a few obnoxious execs, then play them just like daddy would. But could she find out something that might put her in more danger than the business losing a bit of money? Certainly these boardroom bullies wouldn’t go as far as to kill someone – or are the stakes higher than Georgia imagined?

I love the mind games the characters play with each other. After working in an office for over twenty years, I could picture a few of my former unsavory co-workers taking things a step further than they should and then over the line. Fortunately in my life that never happened, but the realistic settings, events and characters in Wolfe’s book bring the schemers and scammers to life. I love hating the bad guys in this book and kept turning the pages to find out if and how they get what they deserved.

Anyone who likes twists, turns and intrigue will love this book. It was fun trying to figure out just who was bad and who was good until the very end. There is nothing better for a mystery reader than not knowing all of the answers until they are revealed in the final chapter, and then realizing the clues were there all along.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Little Girl Gone – Fabulous Find!

Little Girl Gone

By Margaret Fenton

Birmingham’s Child Welfare Services are busier than usual, and it is no surprise Claire Conover has a full caseload. As a social worker for the department she has seen her share of kids in bad situations. It appears that today will be no different.

She is assigned the case of a young teen that was found sleeping behind a dumpster. The girl refuses to give Claire any information except that her name is Sandy, which is most likely not her real name. The girl seems too clean and well-fed to be homeless. Claire has no choice but to place her in foster care, which lasts less than 24 hours. By slipping away from one of the best foster homes available, Sandy appears to be on the run from someone or something.

Claire is determined to find out who Sandy really is and who or what she is running away from. An unexpected turn of events surrounding the murder of Sandy’s mother, hands the social worker her true identity. Claire steps up her interviews with friends, teachers and her newly released from prison birth father, in a frantic race to get to the missing girl before someone else does.

The case is getting more complicated then Claire ever imagined. The police are helping as much as possible, but they have limited resources to deal with runaways. Claire teams up with an investigative journalist because he has more sources than she has access to, but that is a double edge sword. She has a boyfriend, whom she admittedly hasn’t had much time for lately with both of their work schedules and Kirk, the journalist has made it clear he would love being more than friends and/or co-workers with Claire.

Little Girl Gone is a fast-paced intriguing novel. The plot is solid and so interesting I literally read this book in less than 48 hours because I could not put it down. I loved the mystery of who Sandy really was, and which one of her friends or relatives she was running away from. And could Claire find her in time to save her from her unknown demons and a very real murderer?

The characters in Little Girl Gone are expertly portrayed. Fenton gives the reader enough information to create full dimensional characters in easy to digest bites. I felt as though I knew each of the main characters well enough to compare them to real life people I have known. Some of them I’d love to have coffee with and chat –

others I would cross the street to avoid. That’s ok, because I am pretty sure that was the author’s intent.

This is the second book featuring Clare Conover; it is the sequel to Little Lamb Lost. I have not read the previous book, but never felt like I was missing information or background by reading Little Girl Lost first. I plan to read the first in this series soon and will be looking for the third in the series that will feature one of the characters introduced in this one.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Book Review: My Cubs, A Love Story by Scott Simon

My Cubs

A Love Story

By Scott Simon

Lovable losers, cursed ballpark, crazy, loyal fans…this describes one of the most beloved teams in baseball. The fans certainly didn’t stop following them even after not winning a pennant since 1908. Now that they are the top dogs, cream of the crop World Series Winning Cubs they have all kinds of new followers.

My Cubs is a book that might help the newcomers and naysayers understand the history of the Chicago Cubs. I am not sure anyone who hasn’t been a diehard fan can ever really slip into the skin of a true Cub fan, but that is ok, you will still enjoy Scott Simon’s love story about his favorite team.

If you are not a Cub fan, the stories Simon paints with color and caring will bring you into the ballpark anyway. He has intimate knowledge of the team. One of his mother’s best friends was married to Charlie Grimm. He was a former player and the manager for the team when they played the Series in 1945.

Simon gives the reader an inside look at the beginning of the Goat Curse. It has apparently expired since they won the Series in 2016. He tells us about some of the super stars in baseball that played for the Cubs, like Ernie Banks. He confirms what all fans know, Wrigley Field is as much a part of the team as the outfielders that bounce off the famous ivy. The stories and legends he writes about are interesting to Cub fans, baseball fans and anyone who loves to read a slice of history told by a fascinating author.

I attended my first Cub game at Wrigley in the early 1980’s. Fergie Jenkins pitched and they lost. It didn’t matter. I was sitting in Chicago in the warm sunshine watching my favorite team. It would have been great to see them win; we still had a great time. Fast forward to 2016, the last game of the World Series, rain delay…you know the rest of the story.

Scott Simon has won countless awards for his writing and broadcasting. His career has spanned years and continents. His accolades are well deserved and hard earned. Following wars, politics and sports he has seen it all and shared it with the world. Baseball fans and especially Cub fans will undoubtedly agree that this little love story about the Chicago Cubs is one of the most heartfelt inside looks at the team in print.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Every Trick in the Rook (A Birds of a Feather Mystery)

every-trick-in-the-rookEvery Trick in the Rook

A Birds of a Feather Mystery

By Marty Wingate

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher in connection with NetGalley in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

Julia Lanchester is juggling work and her personal life just like many of us do. She is excited to get away from the tourist bureau for a weekend with her boyfriend Michael. Things have been busy for her, planning events in and around the Fotheringill estate, the most popular place to visit in the village.

She and Michael head out and disconnect from everything for a wonderful few days. They spot unusual birds and enjoy each other until the hotel notifies her of an urgent phone call

The news opens the cage on crazy – turning a relaxing weekend into an abrupt return to reality. Julia’s ex-husband has been found murdered. Even worse, he was on the Fotheringill property. Why has he returned to a place he didn’t like from the isolated island he retreated to when they divorced?

The local constable has questions for Michael and Julia, surely they are not suspects! They are questioned and released, but Julia is warned to keep her nose out of the investigation. She has good intentions, but just can’t seem to let the questions about her ex-husband’s arrival and murder go. Will this put her in the crosshairs of the killer?

Wingate spins a great cozy mystery. It has all the elements that keep loyal cozy readers interested and turning pages. This series is exceedingly interesting to nature and bird lovers. One of my favorite characters is avian – a super smart rook named Alfie. He flies in and out of the plot at the most interesting times. The little girl he lives with is also very interesting. Her name, Tennyson, is as complex and fascinating as the child. I hope both of them show up in later books.

This is the third book in The Birds of a Feather Mystery series. It works perfectly well as a stand-alone mystery as I have not read the previous two books in the series. I did read one of Wingate’s Potting Shed Mysteries and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are a fan of cozy mysteries or mysteries in general, I highly recommend checking out one or both of Marty Wingate’s series. I am willing to bet you will come back for more.

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Book Review: Right Behind You – Superb Suspense!

right-behind-youRight Behind You

Lisa Gardner

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher in connection with NetGalley in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

Lisa Gardner’s beloved characters, Rainie and Quincy are back in action. This time it is personal. Of all the unlikely couples in the world to adopt a troubled girl, it is them. They fostered her after she bounced from home to home. She didn’t seem to fit anywhere, most likely due to her past. Now she could be targeted by a killer.

Sharlah has had a rough start in life. Daughter of alcoholic/drug addict parents, she was raised by her brother. He was only a few years older than she was when he had to take charge of her wellbeing. He fed her; made sure she got to school on time and protected her. Even when he had to use deadly force, he did what he had to do to keep her safe.

It has been years since they have seen each other. Sharlah doesn’t let anyone get close to her since the night her parents died which was the last day she saw her beloved brother. The only breathing thing she has let herself get close to is Luka. A year after arriving at Rainie and Quincy’s as a foster child, he brought the retired police dog home to Sharlah. She and Luka are inseparable and the love they have for each other is evident. Sharlah loves her foster (soon to be adoptive parents) but has a much harder time showing them the affection that comes easy for her with Luka.

Then the fragile world they have created begins to cave in. Sharlah’s brother Telly Ray Nash could be in trouble. Serious trouble. Trouble so serious that the local authorities have called in Quincy to help find Telly even though he is a retired FBI profiler.

Rainie and Quincy are both concerned for the safety of the community and even more concerned for Sharlah. They can only hope he isn’t coming for Sharlah next.

Right Behind You is action packed with twists and turns that surprised me until the very end. Just when I thought I had this fast-paced novel figured out, a new wrinkle in the plot would take me down a different path. It was a fabulous read for any suspense lover.

Her characters are so real I expect to see some of them on the street. The setting was familiar due to my travels in the Northwest, I especially loved the reference to the cheese factory as I’ve been there several times just like the tourists in the story.

Lisa Gardner never fails to deliver, and this book is no exception. It is obvious to see that she has earned the crown as the #1 best-selling New York Times author of suspense. This is the eighth novel in her FBI Profiler Series. I have read a few of them, as well as several of her other books. Her books intrigue and entertain, if you haven’t read her novels, Right Behind You will make you an instant fan.

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Book Review: Unexpected Prisoner – Memoir of a Vietnam POW

unexpected-prisonerUnexpected Prisoner – Memoir of a Vietnam POW

By Robert Wideman & Cara Lopez Lee

What were you doing when you were twenty-three? Were you in college? Working a full time job? Robert Wideman (Bob) was flying a Navy bomber over Vietnam.

Then his plane was hit. He did what he was trained to do, trying to gain control, then eject to safety. More accurately, he was alive, but not exactly safe. Bob was immediately captured, and began what would turn into six long years in North Vietnam as a POW.

His experiences were often difficult to read, his fear of the unknown at first, and then the fear of the known. Each time he was pulled from his cell to go to be interrogated he might be tortured or asked to do something to turn on other prisoners. Some of the guards treated the prisoners better than others, but there was always the chance of being told to kneel on the concrete floors for hours or far worse.

Many of the prisoners had injuries from their plane crashing in the jungle or from overzealous questioning by some of the harsher prison commanders. But the prisoners banded together to help each other in most incidents. But, like any group of people that don’t necessarily choose to live together, some of the prisoners didn’t get along with other prisoners. Personalities clashed sometimes to the point of fights.

What I found very interesting was Bob’s take on fear. He said a person cannot live in a constant state of fear – so eventually you can sleep through bombings nearby and drive out thoughts of what might happen until it actually does. I believe this was what helped him and some of his other comrades through the long years of captivity when others did not fare as well.

I am not suggesting his time as a POW did not affect him, but maybe not as much as other prisoners that lived in constant fear.. He left Vietnam in March 1973, a very different man than the one that was shot from the sky in 1967. In many ways he was not the man he would have been if he had done his tour during the war and gone home to his wife. But no one can say how experiences, good and bad, affect the rest of their life. Certainly these experiences season our judgment and reaction to situations, but our attitude also plays a big part.

In the afterword to his book, Bob tells the readers his opinions on war in general. He doesn’t appear to be a bitter man as many would have living through his experience. He felt he was treated more humanely than some of the other prisoners, but doesn’t minimize the experience of other POWs that had much worse treatment while imprisoned.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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