“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.


Hutchinson’s Stages is a heart wrenching tragedy with a sliver of hope in the end

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley is tragic in a way that could dissolve into nothing but despair, depression, and hopelessness. Andrew has lost his entire family – mother, father, sister – in a car accident. To say his life changes completely in that moment would be Master-of-the-Obvious-level stupid, but his world not only changes entirely, it shrinks down to the confines of the halls of Roanoke Hospital. The outside world disappears and all that remains is the daily grind of emergency rooms, and children’s cancer wards, and late night donut runs at the nurses’ station. Andrew withdraws from everything he has ever known: his identify, his dreams, his life outside of the gray, antiseptic walls. He becomes stuck in the present with a past he can’t deny and a future he won’t accept.

All while Death chases him.

I enjoyed the way Shawn David Hutchinson uses this character of Death as a metaphor for life. In life, Death is always chasing us, but it is what we do with the time we have before Death catches us that truly matters. Andrew is so lost in his present, so busy trying to cheat Death, that he is losing the time he has to truly live. He is stuck in a nightmare of not moving on and even the cast of supporting characters, from nurses who mother him to cancer patients who befriend him and a burn victim who loves him, he cannot break the cycle of grief, guilt and fear that traps him within the confines of the hospital, within the dead-end of his present.

But to remain there means Death wins. It would mean that there is no hope, no future, no way forward for Andrew. The breaking of the cycle is terrible and heartrending, but in the end it allows for the tiniest sliver of hope to emerge, like the slimmest ray of sunshine glowing around the edges of a thunder cloud. And that hope is what saves Andrew and allows the story to be more than heartbreak and gives us readers the silver lining we so desperately need after a story of such shattering loss.

Read this story for Andrew, for the wonderful supporting characters, and for the ending it leaves us with, but keep the tissues close by!

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.

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.




Ficklin’s Canary Club doesn’t ruffle enough feathers

Reviewed for Netgalley

Slipping into the 1920s in this period piece was a nice change of setting from everything I’ve read lately. I immediately enjoyed the descriptions of Manhattan as Benny walked its streets after getting out of prison. The scenery came alive with author Sherry Ficklin’s descriptions of the sights and sounds, the people and places, and the lingo of those prohibition days. I liked Benny too. A guy who wouldn’t have any luck if he didn’t have bad luck is the type of underdog many readers like to root for.

On the other hand, I did not care for Masie at all. It really annoys me when a character talks about how bad she is or how dark she is, but there is no evidence to support this. So she calls her former friend to beat up the guy who beat up her best friend? So, what? That does not make her a dark, twisted individual. Her need to be with Benny so he can make her a good person was not believable to me.

The most important part of any romantic story isn’t the plot or the setting, it’s the romance. If the relationship isn’t captivating then the overall story line won’t be either. This book needed a Rose and Jack or a Clary and Jace. Instead, it had Masie and Benny, two characters who have no chemistry and whose instant attraction leaves no room to develop a believable romance. When you aren’t invested enough in the relationship between the main characters, it’s hard to care whether they get a happily ever after.

Unfortunately, my overall feeling about the story was that it was just so-so. Once Benny and Masie’s relationship started to heat up, my enthusiasm for the story cooled down. Plot wise, everything became a little too cookie-cutter for me. Nothing surprising happened. This felt like a story I have read a dozen times before. New background, new character names, same old story. I kept hoping something refreshing and unexpected would happen. Like, maybe Masie would kill her father and take the family business for her own (now that would be dark and twisted) or maybe Daddy’s hired killer would carry out his plan and leave Benny with nothing but emptiness and vengeance. That also did not happen. No, the whole story dissolved into an underdeveloped plot to help the canary escape her cage. The ending was wrapped up in way too neat packaging and tied off with a tiny little bow that left me wanting a lot more.

The epilogue left things open for a sequel, but there simply wasn’t enough to The Canary Club to interest me in reading more. If you want a cut and dry love story, I think you’ll enjoy this book. If you want more, this is not the story for you.


The Canary Club, Sherry D. Ficklin, Crimson Tree Publishing, October 19, 2017

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.