“Aaron Broom” is an entertaining adventure for younger readers

Reviewed for Netgalley

The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Broom by A.E. Hotchner

When I read the blurb for The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Broom, in my mind, I pictured The Sandlot if you just replaced baseball with a crime-solving caper. I wasn’t too far off the mark. The book certainly has an entertaining cast of characters from the wonderful Vernon who makes gourmet meals on a “beat-up smoky stove” to Augie, a newspaper selling kid who befriends Aaron and goes above and beyond in helping him solve the mystery of what really happened inside the jewelry store.

There’s an innocence to Aaron and to many of the characters that is a throwback to long-gone simpler times. Despite The Depression and the terrible situation that Aaron’s father and mother are in, Aaron never loses his spirit, his faith, or his soul. He finds complete strangers along the way who are willing to help him without any selfishness or expectation of getting something in return. The book has a beautiful nostalgia for a way a life and a sense of community that have been lost in modern times.

While adults will appreciate the way Hotchner captures the era of The Great Depression, I think it is teenagers who will really enjoy this crime solving caper.

Expected Publication: July 10, 2018



Burro Hills is a bleak coming out story that ends with hope

Reviewed for Netgalley – Mild Spoilers

Burro Hills by Julia Lynn Rubin

There’s no sugar coated way to say this. Jack’s life sucks. As in devoid-of-hope suckage. When even your best friend thinks you’ll turn out to be nothing more than a dead-beat stoner, that is a really crap life. Jack lives in a dying town with his alcoholic father and his unemployable (and possibly mentally ill) mother. His closest friend, Toby, is an ass and a drug dealer, and Jack and all of his friends do drugs to try and escape their going-nowhere lives.

The other force behind Jack’s drug use is a deeply buried secret that he can’t admit to anyone, including himself. This changes when new student Conner enters the picture. Connor comes with a reputation as a total bad boy who punched his last school principal and has been with just about every girl at his last school, so why can’t Jack stop watching him? And why does Connor return his looks?

It isn’t long before Jack has to stop lying to himself about his sexual orientation, but when a gay student is beaten and left naked by other students, Jack lets his fear destroy his relationship with Connor and almost destroys himself in the process.

As Jack faced one problem after another, I found myself wondering how he didn’t simply implode from the pressure of it all. No wonder he toked up as often as he did. His situation is just so bleak. He doesn’t see a way out of it and, as a reader, I found it hard to have any hope for him either. While I enjoyed the overall story, I do admit to becoming frustrated with some of Jack’s decisions such as his lack of defending Connor when he faces arrest because of Jack or when Jack, knowing what Toby has done to Jess, answers Toby’s distress call, putting himself and Connor in danger. Then again, teenagers make dumb decisions. It’s basically a requirement for growing up, so I can understand it no matter how irritating it was.

Julia Lynn Rubin has a lot going on this story, but she manages to encompass the endless issues that youth face in schools today, from peer pressure to drug and alcohol abuse, to bullying, and hate crimes. She captures the insecurity, immaturity, and need to be accepted that every high school student endures. One of the strongest themes of this book is Jack’s struggle to accept who he is, which is a huge challenge in the conditions in which he lives and the toxic environment where he goes to school. Rubin does an excellent job of showing the fear and anxiety that youth face when deciding to come out. Fortunately, the ending isn’t as hopeless as the beginning, and Burro Hills is a solid coming out story about a boy who has to learn to overcome fear and become he who is truly is.


Out on the Drink is a unique tale of addiction, adventure, and survival

Reviewed for Netgalley

If you can ignore the many, many typos, misspellings, missing words, and misused words, Bill Bunn’s Out on the Drink is an engaging, unique tale which follows young alcoholic Sean on his biggest, dumbest blunder yet. In the middle of Newfoundland snow storm, he accepts a dare to climb aboard an abandoned cruise ship, where he promptly passes out and awakens much later to find that the ship has torn aware from its moorings and is adrift on the ocean.

Sean must learn not only how to live without alcohol, but how to live alone on a decrepit ship with little water and food that expired almost three years prior to his misadventure. His very survival depends on it.

Bunn did a nice job with the pacing of the story. Sean’s stint aboard the Lyubov Orlova slows the momentum a bit, but I think that was intentional to show how long Sean is stuck aboard the cruise ship and how lonely he is during this time. The pace definitely picks up again when company comes aboard.

The story is original and engaging. Despite Sean’s many stupid mistakes, I found myself hoping he and his ship-imposed sobriety would both survive. I recommend this book despite the many errors.

Ariel Lawhon’s I Was Anastasia

Reviewed for Netgalley and free of Spoilers

I Was Anastasia is a thoroughly researched novel that explores the story of Anna Anderson, better known as the woman who staunchly claimed to be Anastasia, the only surviving daughter of Czar Nicholas of Russia, who, along with his wife and children, were murdered by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918.

Author Ariel Lawhon weaves fact, fiction, and fancy into this tragic story of a family destroyed by revolution and a woman desperately trying to establish her identity.

Lawhon employs a technique of shifting points of view. Anastasia’s chapters are in first person and are personable, honest, and engaging. Anna’s chapters are in third person, making her seem isolated and distant from the reader. Is this the author’s way of showing how much the terrible events of July 1918 changed Anastasia forever? Or is this Lawhon’s way of showing us that Anna is not who she claims to be? I am not going to tell you and neither is Lawhon…not until the very end, that is.

Despite its length, the story moves quickly and is quite the page turner. If I had one major grievance with it, it was the constant shifts in time. I grew extremely tired of the jumping around timeline-wise. While I can understand moving from the 1960s to 1917 or 1918, taking us back in time and then jumping back six months, then a month, then a week, then a day became frustrating and annoying to the point that I wanted to put the story down every time I swiped left and saw “one week earlier” or “seven months earlier.” If this was an attempt to heighten the suspense, it failed. Instead, I found myself trying to remember where in the sequence of events this was occurring. At times, it seemed as though I was trying to piece the story together myself. In her afterword, Lawhon admits that she enjoys “nonlinear timelines,” but after reading I Was Anastasia, I can honestly say I do not.

For those who know the history of the Romanovs, including the discoveries in 2007 and 2009, and who may hesitate to read the book because of that knowledge, I would say read it anyway. I was up to date on my Czar Nicholas history, and I still found I Was Anastasia to be an engaging and interesting spin on a well-known tale.


K.R.Grace’s Her Book Boyfriend requires too much suspension of disbelief to be enjoyable

Reviewed for Netgalley – SPOILERS

I didn’t love this book and that is partly my fault. I read a blurb about it which left me thinking that it was a story about a girl who sets off to find herself a boyfriend based on the boys she loves in the books she reads. I was expecting lots of references to or excerpts from these books and examples of her “book boyfriends” verses the boys she is pursuing during her quest. I was very wrong. Unfortunately, what Macey actually does is use examples set forth in books by her favorite author to figure out how a girl can snag a guy with each method being more shallow and pathetic than the previous one.  We readers never see any of the fictional author’s words or meet any of the fictional author’s boys. Instead, we witness Macey make one stupid mistake after another. The way she goes about trying to land a guy is so ridiculous that I just couldn’t buy that a potential valedictorian would actually think her plan had any shot at succeeding.

The boys that Macey pursues while attempting to carry out said plan are so one-dimensional and clichéd that there is never any chance she will end up with one of them. There’s the in-the-closet guy who insults her fashion choices, the seeming sweetheart who just wants instant access to what’s inside her pants, and the overachieving nerd having a pre-college admission freak out. Perhaps the reason these boys are so undeveloped and forgettable is because it is clear from chapter one who Macey is going to end up with.

Her best friend Cam, who instantly goes from a total Man Whore to a lovesick puppy the minute he realizes his lifelong bestie is serious about finding a guy. And just like every other guy in this book, Cam is completely underdeveloped. He tells Macey not to be like him and not to get sucked into his “crap hole” (quite the way with words this future rockstar has) but never explains why he behaves the way he does or why his life is a crap hole. He’s spent time getting photographic evidence that his father is also a male whore with a whole other family on the side, so why on earth would he want to follow in slutty daddy’s footsteps? I don’t know because it is never explained. Of the two MCs, Cam is the more interesting one and, sadly, he too ends up being one-dimensional and ultimately disappointing.

Other things that were too unbelievable to swallow:

Cam is the class tramp, but has never actually slept with a girl and we’re supposed to believe that none of the girls who have “been with” him haven’t told others about this lack of getting any? Um, yeah, no. Not the way high school girls gossip.

Every guy who was a total jerk to Macey suddenly shows up and wants to take Macey to prom…even though most have not been mentioned since their chapter of “The Plan” concluded. So, a total wallflower gets five invitations to prom in one day?

Someone as whiny and bratty as Macey actually manages to have that many friends.

Cam and his band – they’re in high school remember – get offered a contract to open for the “hottest band in several decades.” They go from playing at their own prom to opening for the biggest band around? Didn’t realize this book was in the fantasy genre.

Overall, what could have been a cute read was just a mess. From the awful characters to the plot holes to the many grammatical errors, I was so frustrated that I struggled to read it the whole way through. I definitely don’t recommend this one.

Caterpillars Can’t Swim is a beautiful story of tearing down boundaries and building unlikely friendships

Reviewed for Netgalley

Caterpillars Can’t Swim…but they do eventually morph into beautiful butterflies just as the relationship between three high school boys changes from ugly and awkward into something beautiful that breaks down barriers and saves a life in the process.

Wheelchair-bound Ryan becomes a local hero when he pulls an unconscious Jack out of a river and saves his life, but what could have been an ending is only the beginning as Ryan becomes entwined in Jack’s secretive, unhappy life.

Liane Shaw deftly handled issues such as homophobia, physical disability, depression, and suicide and portrayed them in a way that was gripping without being preachy or clichéd. Her characters were fresh and managed to escape so many of the stereotypes that are usually present in books about high schoolers. Cody could have easily been a one-dimensional jerk, but he had layers that were at times chopped right off to reveal surprising truths about himself. He was abrasive and rude and charming and even sweet in his own way. It’s rare that a reader wants to hug and slap a character all in the same paragraph, but Cody was definitely refreshing and believable in his reactions to Jack. I also liked Ryan from the start. He was snarky and funny and genuine. He was a perfect mix of someone who had accepted his disability and someone who occasionally got completely pissed off about being stuck in a wheelchair. His discomfort and uncertainty about Jack were palpable and made him real to me.

The lack of an insta-friendship was a welcome change. I enjoyed seeing the friendship between Ryan and Jack build over time. Their comradery required honesty and a slow-building trust which wouldn’t have been credible if it had been rushed. And I loved the ending. Jack’s problems didn’t just disappear with a new friendship. Everything wasn’t neat and tidy. The ending was scary and messy and let the reader know that Jack has a long road ahead of him, but that road just might end in a happier place.

Caterpillars Can’t Swim is not your typical YA story, and that is something I really enjoyed about it. This was my first Liane Shaw book, but her writing style and her approach to topics that can be difficult to write about in a fresh, non-stereotypical fashion really appealed to me, and I look forward to reading more of her work.




Finding Home by Garrett Leigh

Reviewed for Netgalley

I am used to reading Garrett Leigh’s novels intended for adults, so it was a bit of an adjustment to read Finding Home, which is definitely directed at a YA audience. I liked Leo very much. He was a scared, messed up, damaged kid, who loved his baby sister fiercely despite the torture and horrors he had suffered.

I liked the other characters as well, especially mouthy Fliss and older bro Andy, but I wish Finding Home had been longer so that all of the characters could have gotten more ink and been developed more deeply. As a reader, I felt that parts of the story were rushed and could have used more detail, description or background.

Overall, it is a quick read and a nice story of young love overcoming a terrible past. I simply wish there had been more of it.

Finding Home will be published on October 9, 2017 by Riptide Publishing.