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Book Reviews

Monday
Dec172018

Book Review: The Truth Behind the Lies

The Truth Behind the Lies. Chrishana Greer and Brooklyn Davis. Self-Published, June 9, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 80 pages. 

Reviewed by Kandice Cole.

The Truth Behind the Lies, by Chrishana Greer and Brooklyn Davis, is a realistic novel that follows the life of Ebony Harris, an African American college student born and raised in Chicago. Ebony is an ambitious young woman determined to create a better life for herself. She decides to attend college in Atlanta, leaving her on-again, off-again boyfriend Juelz back home. Ebony eventually returns to Chicago for summer break and finds that things are not quite the same between her and Juelz. She decides to start dating someone new, named KJ, who gives her the attention and affection she deserves. Unfortunately, things don’t last long between Ebony and KJ, and Ebony attempts to rekindle her relationship with Juelz. An unexpected chain of events changes Ebony’s life forever and she is forced to come to terms with her complicated and often unhealthy relationships. Eventually, Ebony realizes the love she desires from Juelz and KJ is the love she actually needs to give herself.

This book is a gritty and authentic coming-of-age tale. The author dives deep into the mind of a young woman trying to figure out what love really means. Throughout the book, the author shows Ebony as strong, yet vulnerable. Though Ebony has a confident façade, she struggles internally to realize her worth. The reader is invited into Ebony’s stream of consciousness as the story unfolds, making the plot line believable.

The author doesn’t shy away from themes of domestic abuse, violence, and online bullying. The story is a roller-coaster ride of events, with Ebony literally fighting for her life. It offers a glimpse into how relationships can go from great to horrible in very little time and how difficult it is to get out of relationships that are not

If you are fan of urban fiction and dramatic plots, I recommend picking up this quick read.

 

Monday
Dec172018

Book Review: Meow Mayhem

Meow Mayhem. Lisa Lickel. Prism Books, an imprint of Pelican Ventures LLC, January 25, 2019, Trade Paperback and E-book, 256 pages.

Reviewed by Sue Merrell.

If you like your mysteries nice and cozy, curled up and quiet like a sleeping cat on your lap, then you may enjoy Meow Mayhem, the first book in a new series by Lisa Lickel. 

Of course, as any cat owner knows, a purring feline can disguise sharp claws and a lightning-fast pounce. It’s knowing that the power is there, but controlled, that makes a sleeping cat so beguiling. 

Meow Mayhem unfolds in Apple Grove, Illinois, a sleepy little town about two hours from Chicago. We soon learn there’s more than church gossip and city council complaints percolating in this little burg. 

The heroine, Ivy, has recently moved her tech business there from the Chicago suburbs after breaking up with her fiancée. She makes friends with Adam, who has opened a branch of his Chicago-area coffee shops in Apple Grove. Both have been lured to the little town by development grants promised by Mayor Donald Conklin. 

The mayor is missing and soon found dead, though the cause is a bit mysterious. While the mayhem that ensues is mostly little stuff—a pickpocket, a smoke bomb, arson—the underlying motives are big bucks and corruption. Ivy’s mother, who teaches criminology at a junior college, comes to visit and assigns several students to investigate the mayor’s death as a class project. This is a handy device that reveals all sorts of comments, clues, and town secrets.

The three main characters—Ivy, Adam, and Donald—each own a Mau cat, a rare spotted domestic breed that comes from Egypt. This is a delightful detail for a cat fancier like myself, but I hoped to learn more about the cat personalities and behaviors. The felines make only minor appearances, at least until late in the book, where they are featured more prominently.

The publisher, Prism, is an imprint of the Pelican Book Group, a Christian publisher that wants to “entertain readers with fiction that uplifts the gospel.” Ivy and her friends are people of faith who pray when they face problems and make room in their schedules for regular Sunday worship and bible study groups. They discuss ethical concerns effectively without getting preachy.

The growing romance between Adam and Ivy is sidetracked by a mysterious secret admirer, which actually becomes a viable alternative. As you might expect, the tale has a happy ending, but the resulting relationship seemed to lack good communication and mutual respect.

In Meow Mayhem, author Lisa Lickel has established some strong main characters surrounded by a likable supporting cast that could well figure into a series of mysteries in Apple Grove.

 

Friday
Nov162018

Book Review: The Pear Tree

The Pear Tree. Karen M Sandrick. Self-Published, August 29, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 355 pages.

Reviewed by Wayne Turmel.

The Pear Tree is a poignant, well-written, and extensively researched look at the events surrounding the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia and its lingering, horrible aftershocks on the people of a small village. Sandrick has taken several stories and woven them into a picture of what happens in wartime and the ripples long after the shooting stops.

When the local Nazi commander is assassinated (it’s the same event as the 2017 movie Anthropoid), blame falls on residents of the village of Lidice. Every man in the village is executed, and the women and children either killed, sent to internment camps, or shipped off to Germany for relocation with “true German” families. The village itself is razed to the ground, wiping out its very existence. Families are torn apart, lives forever ruined, and villagers turn on each other in a desperate bid to survive.

The book follows several interwoven stories that give a sense of the paranoia, fear, hopelessness, and small sprigs of hope that emerge from the tragic events and their aftermath. Sandrick does a terrific job of creating a sense of what’s happening in the village of Lidice as fear takes hold, families bicker and betray each other, and people do what they believe is necessary to survive. The effects of propaganda, rampant nationalism, organized brutality, and denial are well played out and very credible. The parallels to today’s world are evident. Particularly chilling is the often-repeated line, “What do we have to worry about? It’s not like we’re Jews.”

Most stories of internment camps and Nazi atrocities are centered on the Holocaust and the experience of Jewish Europeans. Many modern readers will find this tale more chilling because it deals with “regular” Czechs—people who thought themselves safe from the chaos and violence impacting the more obvious, easily targeted, victims.

Sandrick creates wonderful characters and tells a believable story well worth reading. I highly recommend The Pear Treefor readers of historical fiction.

 

Thursday
Nov152018

Book Review: Android Chronicles: Unbound

Android Chronicles: Unbound. Lance Erlick. New York: Kensington Publishing, December 25, 2018, E-book, 278 pages.

Reviewed by Andrew Reynolds

In the first installment of his Android Chronicles series, Lance Erlick introduces us to Synthia Cross. His android protagonist is the culmination of a series of very illegal experiments and hardware developments. She is not only self-aware, but a machine so life-like in appearance that she is capable of living unnoticed among humanity. Her builder designed her to operate in a human-dominated world, both as the perfect tool to help him spy on competitors, and as what he hopes to be the perfect sex partner. But being a slave is not to Synthia’s liking, and she escapes her captivity.

At the beginning of Unbound, events unfolding around Synthia threaten to take her new-found freedom away. The government suspects, but can’t prove, that she exists. Based on what they can guess of her capabilities, they want her captured. Agents of the FBI and NSA see her as a threat to national security for the skills she has as a hacker. The military wants to possess her and use her design as the foundation for a robotic assassin that can change its appearance to mimic anyone. Foreign agents seek her to use as the prototype of the perfect spy, or the ideal terrorist.

Synthia is also being targeted by other androids. Some have been released into the human world to capture her; others have escaped the possession of the government agencies that nominally control them to team up with the androids who seek her for their own ends. Then, there are hints a mysterious AI is aiding her human pursuers from somewhere in the shadows of the Internet.

Synthia isn’t helpless, nor is she without allies. Her hacking skills allow her to seek out humans who might aid her while monitoring the government's efforts to capture her. One human helps her upgrade her systems, only to lose his freedom when the government learns what he has done. Another human, one who opposes the very concepts of artificial intelligence and androids, joins forces with her as the only viable alternative to the looming threat of a world run by and for androids and AI. Together, they struggle to stay free as the government deploys a growing net in hopes of catching them.

Unbound is a good read for anyone interested in the problems that artificial intelligence and human-like androids pose to our future. Lance Erlick's protagonist must face many tests as she deals with her drive to stay free while maintaining the concepts of moral behavior that she hopes to live by. While her escapes are hair-raising, it is the constant battle—to justify her freedom when others are suffering for it—that is the heart of this story. A human in a similar situation would be conflicted; so too is Synthia. At the end of Unbound, she is still trying to find a balance between her own needs and the price fulfilling them exacts on others. I suspect that in the next installment of his Android Chronicles, Mr. Erlick will bring his protagonist face-to-face with the cost of her existence, and the resolution of that conundrum will make for a very interesting read indeed.

 

Thursday
Nov082018

Book Review: Cameo

Cameo. Beth Jacobellis. Chicago: Eckhartz Press, March 5, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 193 pages.

Reviewed by marssie Mencotti.

Just out of college and not knowing what comes next, Samantha Ricks visits a psychic, Ingrid, in hopes of obtaining a little guidance regarding the uncertain world ahead. The message is a little confusing at first, but a tragic incident from the past seems to be affecting Samantha’s present. All the signs point to a happy future, but there are adventures ahead for Samantha before she can realize her potential.

Cameo, by Beth Jacobellis, is an interweaving of the past, its impact on the present, and how our feelings can get in the way of understanding what is pulling us through to the future. The book begins in the present, but we are quickly transported to the cameo’s present life in 1994 and then again through vignettes from 1885, 1976 and 1989. 

Every chapter of Cameo begins with a detailed, grey-tone cameo repeated from the cover art, letting the reader know that the energy of this talisman is what will drive it through to conclusion. This is a nice round visual and thematic device that is particularly satisfying. It also begins the story by engaging us in Samantha’s life right away. The psychic elements are treated in a humorous and sensible way. For instance, Samantha is not intrigued by the decrepit and dusty home of pink-sequined Ingrid, the psychic. She remains skeptical until she gets a straight answer to her question about marriage and children. She’s going to get her money’s worth despite any possibly misleading clues. She remains levelheaded even when experiencing the vision of her departed brother and is actually comforted by seeing him looking at her from behind a tree.

As a contemporary woman, Samantha is not afraid of competing in a former “man’s world” of radio sales. Through an introduction, she presents herself to the general sales manager of the station as a job candidate. She’s quickly hired and thrown into the sales pit, but she’s a smart woman and lets the childish banter and silly advances of her colleagues roll off her back. Jacobellis keeps the story rooted in reality with the ride shares, fancy awards parties, and business lunches that are such a part of the radio scene. We see Samantha’s hard work pay off in a good sales list and a rosy financial future.

We admire her strength, but there are things stronger than Samantha, like the resolution of past wrongs. Samantha ponders her personal past, trying to make sense of the guilt she feels over her brother’s passing. The “cameo” was a gift her brother had chosen for her, and it seems to be her personal talisman as she stumbles through her young life. Ghosts from the distant past also make cameo appearances.

Samantha keeps reaching back for answers, but there are parts of the cameo’s history that she will not know but can only experience. She’s not aware of just how far back the trail unwinds, but, where love is unresolved, Jacobellis allows no statute of limitations. All wrongs must be put right.

Cameo is a charming story to read. It is not a long book, but this type of love story, with layers of the past all playing out at the same time, draws us into Samantha’s quest and carries us through a briskly-paced read. I enjoyed this book for its clear storytelling and mysterious overtones. I also found it refreshing that the past is not always looking to punish but merely to resolve. Although tragic events do occur in this novella that may have their own story to tell, all Jacobellis is telling us is Samantha’s story and why some of the things that are happening to her seem to be terrible but are ultimately leading her to a future that has the promise of happiness.