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Book Review: Come be Wild with Me

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Come Be Wild With Me is a cute story book for children. It will appeal to younger readers and encourage them to go outside and play in nature, which is always a good thing.

The book contains a short, lyrical story about a mother and son who venture out into the forest to learn about the wild. They immerse themselves in the nature experience and have fantastic adventures exploring and being wild. The message is a positive one and shows kids that nature is a great place to be and that you can have imaginative adventures without being plugged into a device with a screen. They climb trees, throw stones into a lake, dress in leaves and eat berries. A full sensory experience of nature.

The story is accompanied by beautiful watercolor paintings depicting the storyline. The paintings are fanciful and colorful. The animals are cute and not scary for young readers. The characters are shown with smiling faces so that young readers will understand that nature is not a scary place; it’s a place that makes people happy.

The positive message of this book seems well-suited to readers of any age, and indeed adults will enjoy the poetic story and the accompanying paintings. The story is told in words that younger readers can sound out and spell, so it’s appropriate for the age group. Parents can read it to children who are too young to read on their own yet. It’s one of those books that a child might ask for as a bedtime story each night and memorize so that they can read along with the parent.

I enjoyed the story and its message about nature. I recommend this to anyone who wants to introduce their kids to nature and give them a storybook that will almost certainly become popular a favorite.

I would like to thank the author, publisher, and NetGalley for allowing me to see an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: The Graveyard Girl and the Boneyard Boy

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The Graveyard Girl and the Boneyard Boy

by Martin Matthews

Review:

The Graveyard Girl and the Boneyard Boy is a wonderful story that will draw you right in. The main character is unique and refreshing. The narrator has a great sense of wry humor that makes it a pleasure to read. You will literally laugh out loud at times.

The story is set in Centralia, which in and of itself is an interesting setting. It opens up some good talking points about history and the whole Centralia story. The real Centralia has been almost a ghost town for years, which may be the appeal of setting a story there. The town had to be evacuated after the Centralia Mine Fire began around 1962. The fire has burned underground ever since, popping up in different coal seams and even in another nearby town, which forced another closure. But, the whole Centralia story is not the main focus of this book. In fact, the Centralia of this book is fully populated, has a large high school, a vibrant town, and a huge cemetery. The cemetery is the central setting, but there are other locations as well. In this story, the characters encounter old mine tunnels and things leftover from the heyday of mining in the area.

The main character is Drake Stevenson, a boy who has albinism. This condition comes with a host of issues, including extreme sensitivity to sunlight, poor vision, etc. Thus, he has to dress fully covered up from the sun and wear sunglasses to protect his eyes from bright light at all times, even indoors. The sun can easily burn his skin, so he has to cover himself with sunscreen as well as long-sleeved pants, shirts, and coat. Indoor lighting is even too bright for his eyes, so his teachers have a hard time understanding and allowing him these accommodations. I have never read a novel with a person who has albinism as a character, so it was interesting to learn. I had no idea that these other things would be issues, but it makes total sense. The difficulties Drake encounters with school staff are all because they do not understand the rare condition he has. But, the story really isn’t about albinism. Drake’s family owns the cemetery and he takes a night job there because he is still in high school and has to be in class during the day. At school, he meets a girl, who happens to be the principal’s daughter. She becomes his first real friend. Then, after work one night, he meets another girl, this one in the cemetery.

The girl in the cemetery is a ghost. Drake calls himself a ghost at one point, due to the albinism. So, in a way, his new friend has similar issues to his. That may be why he can see her and others cannot. Even his sister, who is a psycho (really), can’t see her.

As the story unfolds, Drake learns that a tragedy struck the town the previous summer. While battling bullies at school, his crazy sister at home, and his new boss at work, he tries to figure out what exactly happened and why no one will talk about it. It makes for a really tense plot where the reader wants to learn more too, and you just can’t put down the book. It’s that good.

I enjoyed the sense of humor and the believability of Drake’s character. He’s got real-world problems and faces a lot of issues that other young adults can relate to. The novel tackles such issues as bullying, disability, discrimination, teen drinking, mental illness, divorce, death, and more. But, it does not become overbearing or preachy either. The story moves along at a good pace and you are not left feeling that it drags anywhere. The motives of the people involved are totally believable and realistic. Guilt and redemption are central to the resolution of this one. The plot twist at the end is fantastic and will leave you breathless. At times, you will laugh out loud, cheer for joy, feel deep sadness, feel hope, feel fear, and most of all, come away with an understanding of what it means to walk in the shoes of another person.

Very well-written and the plot is awesome. I am calling this the best novel I have read so far this year. It’s that good. Not to be missed. You will not regret taking the time to read this one.

 

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Book Review – The Cats of Butterwick Sands

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The Cats of Butterwick Sands
Written by Gabriella Thomas

Review:

The Cats of Butterwick Sands is a delightful novel that is perfect for anyone who loves cats. Set in a small seaside community in Britain, the story is written by Gabriella Thomas.

The cats in this community either have homes with their humans, or they are strays who live in the old caravan park or the old fairground. All stray cats in Britain know that they are welcome in Butterwick Sands. All they have to do it make their way there and they will have a home for life. Each of the shops in town has a cat, and some of them have dogs. There is a pair of donkeys, Blossom and Burt, who live behind the local pub. The local seagulls, Gunther and his pals, make things exciting by swooping at the cats or making messes.

Every cat we are introduced to is unique in their own way. There is Lala, the cat who used to live in a mansion, but was booted out when her mistress passed away. There is Hamish, the Scottish fold cat, who lives in the chip shop and eats lots of fish. Another cat is Hester, who lives in Bloom’s general store. She spends most of her time sleeping on a high shelf in the store, and all the other cats wonder how she can climb up there because she’s very old and walks very slowly.

There are many interesting characters in the novel. Each cat has a story and they all intertwine. Some of the cats are related to each other. For example, Ernie, the train station cat, goes on a trip by bus and train to visit his father, Fergus, who lives with Old Mags in the caravan park. The humans all know of the cats and let them go about their business with no interference.

The cats get along well with each other, except for Gripper and his gang, who like to make trouble. Otherwise, they cooperate and work together. They all team up to find a lost kitten early in the book. Later, the cats save a man’s life by keeping him warm after he falls in snow and is injured. He is grateful and changes his ways. He used to hate cats, but now he loves them.

Then, a man comes to town who wants to make changes. The humans and the cats must decide if they want these changes or if they want a developer to take over the land of the old fairground and caravan park.

This is a very sweet story and would make a great book to read to children at bedtime. The cats have personalities, just as any cat owner will tell you. They demonstrate good skills by getting along, helping each other, looking out for strays and assisting them, and helping their humans. They may have differences, but they learn to overcome them. The other animals also work with the cats, including the donkeys, dogs, chickens, a fox, and the seagulls. One message of the book is that we might all be different, but we can get along and help each other out. I think this would be an appropriate story for any age, but that children will particularly like it. The main storyline involves the whole town and the big changes, so there are lessons about decision-making and communities and neighbors pulling together. It’s overall a very positive and uplifting story. There is no violence in the book, apart from a man falling and hitting his head. That’s the scariest thing that happens, so it’s completely appropriate as a children’s book.

I enjoyed this novel heartily. I have cats myself and can tell you that cats definitely are independent and each has a unique personality, just as do the cats in this book. Cat lovers may recognize some of their feline friends in here. The illustrations are well done and depict certain scenes in the book. The cats are accurately drawn. The end is very uplifting and I hope that there will be a sequel. Over the course of the book, I became intrigued with all the charming cat characters. Any one of them could be the subject of another novel. So, my hope is that the author continues the story in some way. Perhaps showing us what happens in the future of Butterwick Sands, or even taking one of the cats on a journey and introducing the reader to a new community. I enjoyed this book immensely and I highly recommend it. Cat lovers, you simply have to read this book! You will not be disappointed. I give it five paws.

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Book Review – The Ballad of Huck and Miguel

The Ballad of Huck and Miguel
Written by Tim DeRoche
Illustrated by Daniel Gonzalez

Review:

The classic tale of Huckleberry Finn is updated for a modern, urban generation. All the characters from Mark Twain’s beloved classic are here, but in slightly different roles. If you enjoyed the adventure of the original, you will like this one too.

This version is set in Los Angeles. Pap brings Huck to LA with him as he attempts to seal a drug deal, but things go wrong. Huck finds Tom Sawyer and the two become fast friends. Huck manages to get away from Pap with Tom’s help, and Judge Thatcher sends him to live with Miss Watson and Ms. Douglas. Instead of the widows of the original, they are a young couple living on a ranch in the hills near LA. Huck has mountains and a stream to explore and makes friends with Miguel, who takes care of the horses on the ranch. He and Huck become good friends and Miguel teaches the boy all about how to take care of horses. Huck meets the Grangerfords, who, in this version are some sort of reality TV stars. He becomes friends with Buck Grangerford. Things seem to be going along well until Pap reappears and violence ensues. Huck and Miguel find themselves on the run, with Miguel being suspected of murder. Pap is responsible, but because Miguel is in the country illegally, he takes the blame in the public eye. Huck and Miguel escape to the river and build themselves a raft using some inner tubes and an old garage door they find. A big rainstorm provides water flow in the Los Angeles River and off they go on an adventure.

They meet all sorts of characters along the river, including a Colonel living in a tent, trolls under the bridges, some activists, the Duke and others. There are wild species like owls, coyotes, egrets, hawks, turtles, and herons that they encounter too. Pap finds them and pursues them down the river, so they are hiding from the law and from Pap as well. They travel mostly at night.

Aunt Polly is a lawyer in this version of the story, and Huck hopes that she can help Miguel with the legal trouble he is in. They are traveling toward the end of the river where Tom lives with his aunt. Huck thinks that Aunt Polly can fix it so that Miguel can stay in the country and be reunited with his family, who live in Arizona. With so many people after them, can they make it?

The dialog that Huck uses to speak is the sort used in the original, so the novel stays true to the tone of the original. Mark Twain wrote the book as a statement against the existence at that time of slavery. This modern version switches to the newer issue of immigration. Huck is still a backwoods country bumpkin in this novel, and he uses the racist terms he was taught by his father to refer to Miguel as a “Mexigrant.” Much as the original novel used the N word, this can be grating on the nerves of the modern reader. However, I think that is the point. The novel includes a politician character whose rants about immigrants have made him famous (or infamous), and that rings true with our current situation. I don’t think Huck’s character is trying to be overtly racist, but the novel is trying to deliver the same message as Twain’s original did, only with a different issue, one more current to our time period. The issue of immigration. Huck’s character comes off as sort of an innocent backwoods bumpkin who is seeing many things for the first time and learning big lessons as he goes. (It is stated in the novel that his age is “almost 9 years old,” which gives credibility to his innocent nature.) He gradually learns that things are not as his Pap taught him, that people are individuals and there are good and bad from every race. He gradually learns that the racism and discrimination are wrong.

The first people Huck meets in California are a Hispanic couple camping at the Salton Sea, and they are kind to him and feed him. So, his lessons on humanity begin right away with his arrival in California and continue throughout the novel. His best friend, Tom Sawyer, is black. The ladies he lives with are a lesbian couple. So, he learns to accept people’s differences and to discard the old prejudices his Pap taught him. His Pap turns out to be the worst one of the people he deals with during the entire novel.

I think the update to this classic tale pulls off its goal of bringing to light an issue of our time. It does it in the same way Twain intended with the original. It demonstrates through the power of character and story that people need to be more accepting of each other and their differences, and that the battle over immigration is not a faceless war, but one with many individuals, all with their own stories and struggles. They are not all out to take over the jobs. They are human beings too and just want to make a living like everyone else. The takeaway message of this novel seems to be that we really can all get along and be accepting of each other and value each other for our differences. We can be friends and even best friends. So, let’s leave all that negative stuff behind and let’s go have an adventure together.

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Book Review: Guardians in Blue: Book Two

Guardians in Blue: Book Two
By Ken Bangs

Review:

Ken Bangs showed us the world of police work from an insider’s point of view in his first novel in this series, Guardians in Blue. In this second installment, he brings the reader into the world of policing again and also shows us how criminals think. It’s a really interesting book and should appeal to a wide range of audiences.

Ken Bangs worked in Dallas as a police officer, and was promoted to Sergeant. From there, he went on to work as a security director for a large multi-national company. Then, he decided he wanted to get back into the field as a police officer, his preferred job. He loved being in the field and he went back to work in his hometown of Plano, Texas. After this, he worked for many years as the director of security for the local school district, and he was even elected a judge. So, his career in law enforcement spans many years and many different types of law enforcement experience. His books give you a clear view into that career field and what it’s like for the officers who work the streets day to day in our cities. For that reason, I suggest this book for anyone who is interested in starting a career in this field. It is very eye-opening.

In Guardians in Blue: Book Two, Bangs also gives the reader a glimpse into the world of the criminals. He writes fictional accounts of the criminals and what their thoughts and actions are before, during, and after their crimes. This gives the reader insight into the mind of the criminals that the police officers deal with each day. It was interesting to see the variety of backgrounds that the criminals came from, and that some were violent and some were committing white-collar crimes. All were real cases that Bangs worked during his career, with some of the people and dialog fictionalized. Many of the real cases are still unsolved.

The book is written in a unique voice. It sometimes seems that the writing is very formal because the author never uses contractions (words like don’t, can’t, etc.) in his writing. It may be that this is how law enforcement personnel are trained to write so that their meaning is always clear in all written communications. It doesn’t detract from the story, but adds a unique voice that is appropriate for the theme of the novel.

I did find that the author skipped over how he became a judge. He went from working at the school district to being a judge between one chapter and the next. He did indicate in the previous chapter that he was going to run for the office, but not anything about how or when he got elected to the judge position. It was just something that seemed to be missing in his otherwise very thorough narrative of his career highlights. Maybe he has another installment in this series planned and it will be included there. The story of being a judge could fill an entire book by itself, in my opinion. Either way, it’s a good book and gives the reader an insightful look into a world that few of us know about.

I recommend this book for anyone who is considering a career in law enforcement. Or for anyone who is just curious about how police do their jobs from an insider’s point of view. It’s a different perspective than the usual fictional accounts that readers get because this guy actually worked the streets and the crime scenes and he knows what he is talking about. It is easy to read and there are some slang terms used, but these are all explained in a glossary at the end of the book. I had no idea that there were so many unique terms used in the law enforcement field. In summary, it’s a very interesting book and I think most readers will enjoy it.

I’d like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read this advance reader copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Miguel’s Gift

Miguel’s Gift

By Bruce Kading

Review:

This fantastic debut novel takes the reader on a tour of the world of immigration, illegal immigrants, and the law enforcement people who work with them. It’s a story from an insider’s viewpoint that will stay with you long after you put it down.

Agent Nick Hayden is a new officer with INS, in a section called Area Control in Chicago. He has a mysterious motive that the reader gets clues about here and there, but we don’t see his secret revealed for some time. This builds up the tension well. The novel deals with the human side of immigration – the officers and the emotional side of their reactions to their jobs and the things they see, as well as the immigrants and their perspective. It is a timely novel and one that opens your eyes to the real-life complexity of the stories behind the headlines.

Over the course of the novel, Hayden goes through changes and has a sort of redemptive experience. Miguel plays a role in that redemption. Early in the book, Hayden’s training officer, Charlie McCloud, reminds him that he is dealing with human beings and that they deserve respect, something he says that many of the agents have lost. This becomes a central idea of the book.

Set in the 1980’s, the agents raid warehouses which employ a lot of illegal immigrants. They also investigate things like document fraud. First, Hayden gets paired up with Tom Kane, whose unorthodox methods are well known. Then, he gets partnered with Joe Willis, another man who does his own thing. He has what McCloud calls “gladiator syndrome.” The gladiator is a man who takes the job so seriously that he will overstep his authority and often get away with it. Eventually, he feels invincible. He takes the attitude home with him and his relationships suffer. McCloud advises Hayden that he can be more of a philosopher than a gladiator and it will benefit him a lot.

As Hayden gains more experience, he begins to find himself experiencing the gladiator syndrome. For him, the redemption comes when he realizes this and makes changes.

Miguel comes to American from Guadalajara after he finds that he can’t make enough money to support his family. He finds work in Chicago and obtains fake identification documents. The fake documents are apparently easily available and sold out of bars and street corners. These documents allow illegal immigrants to find employment, even though the managers of the warehouses all know they are fake. There is a big ring of document forgers at work in the area and it falls on the INS agents to investigate this.

The author is a former INS agent and knows the realities of the job. That knowledge shines through in his novel. The characters are all very realistic and portrayed in a believable manner. The reader can understand their motivations and the things that bother them. The plot moves along smoothly and interweaves with the subplot quite deftly. The reader comes away with a lasting impression of this novel. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about how immigration enforcement works from the inside, as well as anyone who enjoys police procedural novels.

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Book Review: Nothing Stays Buried

Nothing Stays Buried

By P.J. Tracy

Review:

This thriller brings the Monkeewrench crew to Minnesota, where a killer is murdering women and leaving playing cards on their bodies.

Homicide Detective Leo Magozzi and his girlfriend, Grace MacBride are going to have child, making him a first-time parent. She works for Monkewrench, which is assisting Magozzi’s investigation. When a farmer in Buttonwillow asks for Monkeewrench’s help in finding out what happened to his daughter, who has disappeared in the woods, they head there in their RV. The RV is called the Chariot and has computers and other equipment they use in their work. Farmer Walt has an unusual guest who lives in his field, an African lion, an animal that escaped from a wildlife rescue facility.

Magozzi and his partner, Gino Rolseth, cope with a journalist who is nosing into their investigation, and the FBI.

The characters are all interesting and quirky in their own way. The action is fast-paced and the dialog is witty. The characters have a great sense of humor and I had some laugh-out-loud moments when reading. I loved the huge spider on the wall scene. Funny stuff. There is plenty of humor sprinkled throughout the novel and the story itself holds the reader’s attention well. There are subplots as well, so the reader has plenty to ponder.

The authors are a mother-daughter team. This book is number 8 in a series featuring the Monkeewrench characters. I have not read the other books in the series, but plan to. I enjoyed this one a lot. The authors did a great job and I am interested in learning more about these characters in the other books in the series.

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Book Review: Proper Goodbye

Proper Goodbye
by Connie Chappell

Review:

Proper Goodbye is a poignant story of love and loss. A mother mysteriously disappears and the family left behind spends years wondering what happened. Resolution comes from an unlikely source.

Abigail Walker is mother to a nine-year old daughter, Beebe. Her husband works in a cemetery. Abigail becomes injured in an accident and becomes addicted to painkillers. Working as a nurse in the nearby hospital, she becomes the subject of a scandal when she is caught stealing drugs. She leaves town, never to be seen again by anyone. Beebe and her father go on with their lives. Beebe becomes a pastor in a church in Kansas, and her father keeps his same job. Due to a complicated situation, Beebe ends up quitting her job and moving to Maryland, where she takes a job as a grief counselor.

Meanwhile, a man named Yates Strand transports a homeless woman named Terri Miller to a town called Larkspur, Michigan. She is dying of AIDS. Yates drops her off at a senior center, where she insists he leave her. Yates has known Terri for many years. He grew up learning many things from her. She saved his father’s life after a car accident. She was a wanderer, but she would end up in his town each summer. But Terri was there for his family during the loss of his mother too. Terri is taken in by the senior center, but dies soon after. Her last wishes are carried out by the man in charge of the center, Vincent Bostick. Eventually, Yates ends up working at the center as well.

The story involves how Terri’s last wishes become important to Beebe and her father and how they deal with this. Yates and Vincent help and so do others who knew Terri. It’s a very emotional story and readers should be prepared for lots of tears. But, it’s also a story of redemption and how people get closure. It’s complicated, but flows very well and is incredibly well-written. It explores the things that deeply motivate people and the way we have of hiding our secrets and burying them under the deepest emotions.

The book is very good and I enjoyed how well the author weaved the plot together by the end. It took a lot of work and it was done extremely well. The characters are all very realistic and have plenty of emotional depth to them, as well as thorough backstories. Dialog and flow of the story are excellent. The writing is top notch.

I give this book a very high rating. It was one of the best books I read all year.

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