#ARC #Review: Trell by Dick Lehr

Gripping and realistic YA? Check. Compelling and diverse characters? Check. A book that’s easy to sink your teeth into? Check, check, check! Based on the real events that led to the overturning on Shawn Drumgold’s 1988 conviction for the murder of a 12 year old girl. Trell is a gripping tale that highlights the power of a daughter’s love, and value of conviction in legal counsel, and the ability of good journalism to expose the wrongs of a justice system prone to prejudice and corruption.


Trell.jpgTitle: Trell

Author: Dick Lehr

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Expected Publication Date: September 12, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Teens & YA

Themes: Family, Murder, Law & Crime, False Imprisonment, Journalism

Features: Downloadable Discussion Guide


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

From the co-author of Black Mass comes a gripping YA novel inspired by the true story of a young man’s false imprisonment for murder and those who fought to free him.

On a hot summer night in the late 1980s, in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, a twelve-year-old African-American girl was sitting on a mailbox talking with her friends when she became the innocent victim of gang-related gunfire. Amid public outcry, an immediate manhunt was on to catch the murderer, and a young African-American man was quickly apprehended, charged, and — wrongly — convicted of the crime. Dick Lehr, a former reporter for the Boston Globe‘s famous Spotlight Team who investigated this case for the newspaper, now turns the story into Trell, a page-turning novel about the daughter of an imprisoned man who persuades a reporter and a lawyer to help her prove her father’s innocence. What pieces of evidence might have been overlooked? Can they manage to get to the truth before a dangerous character from the neighborhood gets to them?


My Review

I don’t always read a lot about books before I dive into them because I’m always scared that I’ll somehow spoil the experience, so I was absolutely floored at the end when I was reminded that this story was based on the real case of Shawn Drumgold. As I was reading I made a number of notes about how real and raw it all seemed, so the factual foundation really shone through. Lehr’s intimate knowledge of investigative journalism brought depth, perspective, and hidden teaching moments in a way that made me feel like I was joining Clemens and Trell on their journey of discovery.

Okay, so I may have thought Trell was a male for the first few chapters, but once I got my head in the right place everything seemed to fit perfectly together. I think having a fourteen year old girl, who has only ever known her father as a convict, was an incredibly powerful perspective to write from. I appreciated that the same narrator was maintained throughout, as it was an incredibly personal story and yet still had the ability to encourage the consideration of the impact of actions and empathy for others. Without a doubt some of the most touching moments were when Trell, so steadfast in her father’s innocence, was coming to terms with the fact that her father had a criminal past and there were a good many things that he was indeed guilty of. It reminds us that sometimes good people make bad choices, but that doesn’t make them an easy scapegoat for major crimes.

And while this story is very much about Trell and her quest to gain her father’s freedom, it about so much more! We see the redemption of Clemens as he comes to grips with the loss of his own son, the evolution of Nora as she transforms from a recent graduate to a criminal defence lawyer, and the reformation of Detective Boyle as he realizes that complacence can be the greatest crime of all. All in all, Lehr’s narrative highlights how politics and a flawed justice system can come together to create the perfect storm, breeds contempt and indignation, and contributes to redlining. I genuinely feel that Trell will quickly find a place in middle and high school curriculums as it touches on so many heavy hitting issues, and should seriously be considered for YA book clubs as there is much discuss.

Would I recommend this book? Oh hell yes! Trell is gripping, well written, and provocative. It’s the kind of book where you can’t help but rooting for Trell while simultaneously becoming enraged with the failings of a system that is supposed to uphold justice. Filled with courage, determination, and enough twists to inspire those OMG moments that keep pages turning.

 


Many thanks to Dick Lehr and Candlewick Press for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Early #Review: The Last Nazi by Andrew Turpin

I don’t normally lean towards self published books, but following the recommendation from a friend I took up the offer for a free review copy of Andrew Turpin’s debut novel and boy was it ever worth it! If you love WWII historical fiction, crime thrillers, and a little international intrigue this baby will be right up your alley. And the best part? Review copies are still available through Andrew Turpin’s website – reviewers take note!


naziTitle: The Last Nazi

Author: Andrew Turpin

Publisher: Self Published

Publication Date: Coming in 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Crime Thriller

Themes: WWII, Internment Camps, Survival, American Politics

Features: Bibliography and Recommended Reading


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From the author’s website

The buried contents of a Nazi train. An aging SS murderer. And the wartime secrets of a US presidential candidate’s family, hidden for seven decades.

When war crimes investigator and ex-CIA officer Joe Johnson learns of a link between the contents of a Nazi train, stashed away by Hitler’s Third Reich in 1944, and the financing for a Republican hopeful’s  2012 campaign, he’s more than intrigued.

Can Johnson evade the high level intelligence and criminal networks combining against him across three continents, uncover the truth, and win justice?


My Review

This is one of those books that had just about everything that I always tend to look for – strong female characters, historical accuracy, action, intrigue, flawed protagonists, and believable characters. It was like a one-stop-shop for all of the features that I normally seek out individually. My only major complaint is that the constantly swapping viewpoints at times made the story difficult to follow and a little chaotic, but at the same time it was one of the features that really added to the overall experience.

It’s clear that the historical elements of this novel are well researched, and the blending of fact with fiction added a beautifully believable touch to the story. It was refreshing to see the sources for particular events, institutional background and practices, and the some Nazi refuges featured in the book to be included and discussed at the end of the book. While there were certain liberties taken with ‘faction’, I never once questioned the experiences depicted in the Gross-Rosen internment camp or the ways in which war criminals leveraged governments in exchange for protection. Additionally, it does a great job of highlighting how the knowledge of some individuals is valued above the atrocity of the crimes they have committed.

Also, I’d like to point out that if this novel were a movie, it would pass the Bechdel Test. Not only does it have two named female characters that speak to one another about something other than a man, both Jayne and Fiona are former lovers of Joe and they manage not to compare notes! Seriously, my inner feminist (okay, it’s pretty outward) is jumping for joy. Not once are the women helpless or dependent, but rather they are both driven, successful, career minded women that Joe consistently underestimates despite the fact that they literally keep saving his ass. I was constantly bemused by the fact that Joe kept arrogantly assuming that Jayne and Fiona might still hold a torch for him, only to be left feeling foolish in the end when he discovered their intentions were far more innocent and professional. For this alone, Mr. Turpin, you have earned yourself a repeat reader who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of The Old Bridge.

The intertwining plots are complicated, fast paced, and do a wonderful job of continuously sucking the reader in. I was on my toes right up until the very end, and while I was able to piece some elements together, there were other developments and details that caught me completely by surprise. Add in there the elements of the CIA, Nazi hunting, corrupt political campaigns, and some vigilante justice and you’ve got one of the most exciting crime thrillers I read all year.

Would I recommend this book? Highly! Andrew Turpin is one Indie Author to look out for, and the Joe Johnson series promises some interesting new takes on historical faction. I was blown away by this debut novel, and I have the feeling that it will only get better from here.


Many thanks to Andrew Turpin for providing an advanced copy  in exchange for an honest review.

Early #Review: Zero Repeat Forever by G. S. Prendergast

I am in love! With many things actually, but right now I am in love with this book. Not only is it well written, exciting, and full of little plot twists it also happens to take place in Canada. And not just anywhere in Canada, but in my hometown of Calgary and my beloved Rockies. Be still my red, white and maple syrup heart! Seriously though, this is one of the best dystopian YA novels I have read in a good long while, and this is one series I will be following to the end.



zeroTitle:
Zero Repeat Forever

Author: G. S. Prendergast

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Expected Publication Date: 29 August, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Teens & YA

Themes: Friendship, Dystopian Futures, Aliens, Survival

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

He has no voice, or name, only a rank, Eighth. He doesn’t know the details of the mission, only the directives that hum in his mind.

Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall.

His job is to protect his Offside. Let her do the shooting.

Until a human kills her…

Sixteen year-old Raven is at summer camp when the terrifying armored Nahx invade, annihilating entire cities, taking control of the Earth. Isolated in the wilderness, Raven and her friends have only a fragment of instruction from the human resistance.

Shelter in place.

Which seems like good advice at first. Stay put. Await rescue. Raven doesn’t like feeling helpless but what choice does she have?

Then a Nahx kills her boyfriend.

Thrown together in a violent, unfamiliar world, Eighth and Raven should feel only hate and fear. But when Raven is injured, and Eighth deserts his unit, their survival comes to depend on trusting each other…


My Review

I’ll start this review by getting my Canadian fan-girl antics out of the way once and for all, and then hopefully I can be a little bit more serious.

It was a wonderful feeling to read a book that not only featured Canadian cities and landmarks, but one that was written by an author that obviously knew these landmarks well enough to make fun of them. Like calling Banff the touristy ‘whatchacallit’ and calling the Saddledome a stadium – a joke not lost on Calgarians who will insist that it is not a stadium but an arena. And I’m not sure if it was meant to be a joke, but suggesting that one might walk from the Saddledome to the edge of town in half an hour, one hour tops – HA! Not even in a vehicle on clear roads with top speed limits could that be managed with our creeping urban sprawl issues. But the best little Canadianism slipped in there (aside from Raven calling out August’s constant apologizing), the inclusion of Alberta’s super-awesome Cold War bomb bunkers in the Rockies. Yep – they’re real! And yep, this blogger may have spent a few teenaged delinquent weekends in these tunnels whilst her parents thought she was camping! #sorrynotsorry

But on to the real meat and potatoes of the book. It was so dang good. I loved the alternating perspectives between Raven and August, especially as August’s segments tended to give away bit by bit where the story was going and why. I enjoyed his self deprecating humour, the knowledge that he was fundamentally flawed, and his determination to not let his origins dominate the course of his future. Through Raven I really got a sense of talking stock of life, and acknowledging what’s really important when you’re facing the end of the world. I was immediately and immensely sympathetic towards both characters, and I never thought that I would say that about any character that was an invading zombie-alien.

Lets also touch on the insane amount of diversity in the book. When it comes to ethnicity nearly the whole gambit is represented, and not in the diversity-gets-you-dead way that I’m used to seeing. And, a big shout out for including recognition of our First Nations and Metis communities and a sneaky discussion on the language that is often used to discuss them – way to call out negativity and discrimination in a firm yet gentle way! Along with ethnicity we also see diversity in abilities, character qualities, and sexual orientation and  it never seems forced. Without a doubt this is one of the most diverse and inclusive novels that I have read in long time.

As the start to a new series, I have to say that this is an excellent foundation. There are so many plot lines that can be followed, all of the characters have been flushed out in ways that make them realistic and give them depth, and there are so many routes that will lead to some exciting future novels. And what about that ending?! I was floored. Absolutely floored! I wanted the next book right away, and the wait for it to come out is going to be absolutely painful.

Would I recommend this book, a hands down yes! It will come with the warning though that it might not be ideal for younger or more immature readers as it is rife with sex, drugs, and profanity (and I like it that way!). The important thing to note on this one is that these elements are all age appropriate for both the characters represented and the intended audience. For those looking for a fun read and series to get hyped up about, this is it. And for those looking to build out their YA collection AND get a little bit of Canadian content on the shelves, don’t shy away as this baby is worth it’s weight in gold.


Many thanks to G. S. Prendergast and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

#Excerpt: Brewing Up Murder by Neila Young

Today I am delighted to present an excerpt from Neila Young’s debut novel Brewing Up Murder. At just 205 pages this quirky, cozy murder mystery is the perfect accompaniment to a good cup of Joe. If you like a little family drama, the odd recipe thrown into the mix, and a little thrill without the squeamish bits of a psychological thriller this might just be the book fir you!


brewingTitle: Brewing Up Murder

Author: Neila Young

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing 

Publication Date: July 19, 2017

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Cozy Mystery

Themes: Murder, Romance, Cafes, Family, Missouri

Series: Coffee Cup Mysteries


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

As the owner of Mystery Cup Café in Wilton, Missouri, a town made famous by a string of long-ago murders, Blake Harper is used to the mysterious. When her barista is found strangled in a mound of coffee beans, Blake vows to find the killer, even though her sister, the town’s lead police detective, tells her to stay out of it.

Blake finds plenty of suspects, like the owners of a rival coffee shop and the handsome new bookstore owner. But when new threats are made, she soon realizes the danger is centered around Mystery Cup and someone is targeting her personally.

Will Blake be able to solve the murder, find a new barista, and perfect her recipe for espresso brownies before she becomes the next victim?

 


Excerpt

After thirty minutes of munching on her popcorn and not paying any attention to The Bachelor group-date episode, Blake let out a sigh and looked at the clock on her DVR. Ten o’clock. Nikki should have already finished and gone home. “Well, I’m not going to be able to go to sleep until I make sure she got the inventory done. I might as well go check now so I can get a good night’s rest.”

Besides, it would only take her a few minutes to run down to the café and run back. She set aside her bowl of popcorn and reached for her sneakers. Ninja jumped off the couch in annoyance since he was no longer the focus of her attention. Blake reached for the remote and switched off the TV. She decided to drive rather than walk to the coffee shop in the dark, so she grabbed her purse and keys before heading out the door.

In five minutes, she was driving her blue Honda Civic down Main Street. When a streetlight went out overhead, she startled behind the wheel of her car. Every time a streetlight blinked off by itself when she drove by, it set her nerves dancing, especially when it was pitch black outside. She’d Googled why that sometimes happened and read something about how when a car’s headlights hit the light sensor on a streetlight just right, it will go out. Still, she’d had so many discussions about ghosts in this town that it still gave her the heebie-jeebies.

When she pulled up in front of Mystery Cup, she was surprised to see that the lights in Macabre Reads were still on. Large sheets covered the windows, so she couldn’t see in. For a moment, she thought maybe Sean had forgotten to shut them off. Then a silhouette crossed the front window, but it was gone so quickly, she wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her. “I guess he’s working late,” she mumbled.

Oh well, she didn’t have time to worry about Sean Larson or about how incredibly hot he was, all sculpted lines and dimples. No, she just wanted to do a quick inventory check and go home.

Pulling her keys from the ignition, she stepped out of her car and looked around. The night seemed eerily silent. Usually there was some sort of noise, whether it was from people on the street, music coming from the high school a few blocks away, or even crickets chirping. But there was just… emptiness.

With a shiver, she unlocked the front door of the coffeehouse and slipped inside. When she turned to disarm the security system, her ire rose. It hadn’t even been set. Not only that, but the kitchen lights had not been turned off, either. The small round window in the kitchen door was brightly illuminated, and she heard her mother’s voice in her head. “Someday, when you have to pay the electric bill, you’ll understand why I’m always telling you to turn off the lights.” She cast her eyes skyward. “I get it, Mom. No need to haunt me.”

The sound of a cup shattering in the kitchen caused Blake to nearly jump out of her skin. What on earth? What is Nikki still doing here?

“Nikki? Nikki, is that you?” She walked around the front counter and headed toward the kitchen door. The air seemed to still for a moment before she heard heavy footsteps and the back door slam shut.

Her brow furrowed as she reached the kitchen door. “Nikki?” She pushed open the door. When she walked in, she noticed immediately that the big latch that normally secured the back door was unlocked—and the place was a mess. A few mugs were broken on the floor, and several bags of coffee beans that Derek had delivered that afternoon were ripped open and dumped out, coffee beans strewn everywhere.

“Oh my God,” she breathed, stifling a harsher curse. The industrial kitchen island that took up most of the space in the center of the room separated her from the shelves holding the numerous bags of coffee beans. She slowly walked around the island, surveying the damage. Why would someone break in and just start dumping out coffee beans?

Halfway around the island, all of Blake’s thoughts stopped. Everything stopped. On the floor, half-buried in coffee beans, lay Nikki. Her body was contorted at a weird angle. Her glazed brown eyes stared at the ceiling, unseeing, and the skin on her neck was an angry red.

Blake didn’t have to check the girl’s pulse to know that Nikki was dead.


About the Author 

_DSC1036

Neila Young is a Midwestern girl and a lover of coffee, live music, and horror movies, not necessarily in that order.

Writing (and reading) mysteries are Neila’s passion, and she approaches each day by thinking, “everything is a story.” She has been writing all her life and can’t remember a time when she wanted to do anything else. She loves to take notes and spin tales about the quirky characters she meets, and she has found that she can create some great stories by asking “what if” and “suppose that…”

Neila studied journalism at the University of Kansas then spent many years suffering the trials of corporate America, writing about everything from financial risk management to software user manuals to website copy about radiators (sadly, that’s not a joke). She finally decided to take the plunge and write the cozy mysteries she loves so much, complete with recipes!

When Neila is not writing, she’s probably hanging out at a coffee shop or fighting evil with the help of her very supportive husband, two awesome children, who constantly ask to have characters named after them, and the most lovable dog in the world, Dizzy.

Social media links:

http://www.neilayoungbooks.com/

Facebook.com/NeilaYoungAuthor

Twitter.com/NeilaMystery

Instagram.com/NeilaRocks

Pinterest.com/NeilaRocks

Book #Review: Manipulated Lives by H. A. Leuschel

I don’t normally read short stories and novellas, but when this book came to my attention the timing and subject matter seemed too coincidental to pass up. Each of the five stories stood alone and yet remained connected through an overarching theme. I have no doubt that these novellas will be relatable to almost anyone, even if they haven’t been the victim of a manipulative personality, as we have all come across at least one at some point in our lives.



manipulatedTitle: 
Manipulated Lives

Author: H. A. Leuschel

Publisher: Self Published

Publication Date: June 8, 2016

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Short Stories

Themes: Abusive Relationships, Independence, Manipulative Personalities

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Five stories – Five Lives.

Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?

Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.

In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.


My Review

Whew! I needed to take a break after reading this one. Although the stories are short, they cary a heavy impact, with each showing a different facet of master manipulators. Each of the protagonists are so unique and well defined that the tales never run the risk of sounding like they are repeating one another, and of the five I was most touched by Holly in The Runaway Girl. Of all the characters, she is the only one who likely wasn’t old enough or worldly enough to know that such people could exist. My heart really went out to her, especially since she was dealing with trauma in her romantic life as well as at home with her family.

Tess and Tattoos, The Spell, and The Perfect Child also demonstrate the ways in which manipulators work their ways into people’s lives, how they select and control their victims, and also the lasting impact that these encounters can have. The stream of consciousness style of writing really highlights just how easily certain behaviours become normalized, and how common it is for victims to defend their abusers. Finally, it was a shocking experience to read from the abuser’s point of view in The Narcissist, mostly because I could never view another person as an object or disposable. Of the five, this is the story that made me the most uncomfortable and I think forces the greatest degree of introspection when it comes to our interactions with others.

It is clear that a great degree of research went into the creation of these novellas as each character was so well defined and believable. I think that this would be an excellent selection for book clubs as there is so much to talk about. And, knowing full well that I will likely encounter push back from some parents and colleagues, I am strongly recommending the study of The Runaway Girl in our school as it touches on topics that seriously need talking about and not brushing under the rug.

Would I recommend this book? Certainly, but I do so knowing that it won’t be for everyone. It makes you uncomfortable in the all right ways, but I can see that there would be some readers where the reliability of the characters will hit too close to home.

P.S. This is Leuschel’s first work of fiction, and in having seen how her characters turn out, I would be first in line if she ever put of psychological thriller – that would be dark and twisty stuff!


Many thanks to Helene Leuschel for providing a copy of her collection in exchange for an honest review.