‘Lawyer for the Dog’ by Lee Robinson

lawyer for dog

Rating: 4 stars

“Lawyer for the Dog” by Lee Robinson features an unusual protagonist: a 49-year-old single attorney. Sally Baynard isn’t a young woman — she’s been divorced for many more years than she was married (five). She started off as a public defender ready to save the world and has ended up doing divorces and family law, often appearing in front of her ex-husband, who is now the family law judge at the local courthouse.

When her ex-husband fancies himself not in love with his second wife, and wants to rekindle things with Sally, he appoints her the guardian ad litem for a cute schnauzer — the precious “child” of a divorcing couple. Although Sally doesn’t have a dog, she ends up spending more time with her four-legged “client” than she thinks necessary. And surprisingly, she enjoys it.

While there are few twists and turns, the story is one that will resonate with women of a certain age. There are parts that are touching, humorous and sad. Robinson deals beautifully with how Sally feels about her mother, who has Alzheimer’s. Sally has moved her mother in with her, but when her full-time caregiver quits, she is forced to deal with the guilt about putting her mother in a nursing home. Even though the caregiver, a friend, points out that her mother really needs round-the-clock care, Sally feels intense guilt.

Sally also feels attracted to the handsome (and available) veterinarian of her client. Things heat up there, but she is still on the fence about her ex-husband. The ending brings it all together beautifully.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Thomas Dunne books for review purposes.

‘See How They Run’ by Ally Carter: Sequel to ‘All Fall Down’


Rating: 4 stars

“See How They Run” is the sequel to “All Fall Down” by talented Ally Carter. The books are about an imaginary small country Adria, and the place where are the foreign embassies are located, Embassy Row. Grace Blakely is the first person narrator, and it’s established in the first book that she has emotional problems.

That may not be surprising to those who read the first book (spoiler alert) and found out that she killed her mother when she was thirteen. Now she believes there is a conspiracy, and people are acting like she is crazy. Again. So Grace must prove that she is telling the truth. Helping her (or are they?) are her friends from the American Embassy and the other embassies. Her new best friends are Noah and Alexei, who from the Russian Embassy next door.

In this book Grace’s brother Jamie returns from West Point where he is a cadet. He brings back a classmate whose grandmother was from Adria. Grace’s mother was from Adria and Grace’s grandfather is the American Ambassador to Adria. When her brother’s friend turns up murdered after a party on a nearby island and wearing her brother’s jacket, Grace decides to find out who killed him.

The story is as farfetched as they come but also well-written and totally engrossing. Life in an embassy, life in a European capital, and even just the embassy talk are fascinating. “We visited Iran last night,” means that they went to the abandoned Iranian Embassy. This book ends with a true cliffhanger, and fans of the series will be on tenterhooks waiting for the next book in the series.

This is a great choice for those who enjoy thrillers or action stories. It’s a fun and quick read. Readers should try to read the first book in the series before picking up this one — it will make much more sense that way.

‘Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics’ by Chris Grabenstein: middle grade novel


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Kids both literary and adventurous loved “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein, and those kids will love the sequel, “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics.” There is the same clever mixture of literary knowledge and mystery and double-crossing in this book as in the first story.

Kids all over the country think it was unfair to not allow everyone to play in the library games of Mr. Lemoncello, the famous and brilliant game maker. So he created a “Library Olympics” for kids all across the country. Of course, Kyle and his teammates are included, but it’s much more nerve-wracking to defend a title. Especially when they must face not only the challenges in the olympic games but the challenge of solving another mystery — where are the disappearing books?

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‘Fridays with the Wizards’ by Jessica Day George


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“Fridays with the Wizards” is the fourth book in the series that began with “Tuesdays at the Castle,” continued with “Wednesdays in the Tower,” and then “Thursdays with the Crown,” by Jessica Day George. The books are all clever and filled with characters who are brave, honorable, and very quirky.

The books really should be read in order so that the characters and the previous plots are understood. This latest book takes place with Celie, the protagonist, getting used to the idea that her sister Lilah is getting married to their friend (and Prince from a neighboring kingdom) Lulath. At the same time, things are mysteriously disappearing from the Castle, and Celie is determined to investigate and find out who (or what) is the cause of the disappearances.

It all comes together when she discovers that it is Arkwright, a powerful and evil wizard who has escaped from the Castle’s dungeon, who has been stealing the items. Celie believes that she knows where he is hiding, but stopping him could be very dangerous.

Celie is also very frustrated at the very real feeling that while she is the one discovering important solutions and finding out that Arkwright is the thief, no one really listens when she has suggestions. But Celie is brave and she is determined to do what needs to be done. Because of her intelligence and perseverance, Celie succeeds where others failed.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books for review purposes.

‘Whatever After: Once Upon a Frog’ by Sarah Mlynowski

once a frog

Rating: 4 stars

“Whatever After: Once a Frog” continues the charming fairy tale series by Sarah Mlynowski in which Abby, her brother Jonah, and Prince the dog, all travel through a magic mirror into different fairy tales. In each story, Abby learns something that will help her in her life back home.

They have learned that when they want to travel into fairyland, they must be in front of the basement mirror at midnight and knock three times. Then, Maryrose (the fairy in the mirror) whisks them into a new adventure. This time they start the adventure by accident. They had wanted to talk to Maryrose about Jonah and how the last adventure left him with some of her memories. Every time he remembers something, his head itches. They want to know what to do about it.

But when they knock twice to get her attention, not planning on knocking the third time, and Prince’s tail hits the mirror, that counts as the third knock and they get sent into the fairy tale “The Frog Prince.” Of course, as in all the other fairy tale adventures, things are not as they appear and when Abby accidentally turns the frog back into a prince, it’s not at all what they expected.

But that’s when Maryrose’s memories come in handy and of course, in the end, Abby, Jonah, and Prince are able to defeat evil, right the story, and leave the fairy tale changed for the better. And Abby doesn’t forget what happens in the adventure. She is able to use what she learned to turn a bully into just an unhappy boy. It’s a lesson worth learning as are all the morals of these very-fractured fairy tales. Enjoy!

These are perfect for readers from second grade through fifth grade. Kids will want to read them all, so start with the first one, “Whatever After: Fairest of All,” followed by “Whatever After: If the Shoe Fits,” “Whatever After: Sink or Swim,” “Whatever After: Dream On,” “Whatever After: Bad Hair Day,” “Whatever After: Cold as Ice,” and “Whatever After: Beauty Queen.”

Please note: this review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Scholastic Press for review purposes.

‘Nothing Bad Is Going to Happen’ by Kathleen Hale: Hilarious YA murder mystery

nothing bad

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

It’s not often that one comes across a murder mystery that is gruesome and yet filled with humor. “Nothing Bad Is Going to Happen” is the sequel to Kathleen Hale’s first book, “No One Else Can Have You,” which was equally gruesome and equally hilarious.

The reader is on notice from the very first page that both humor and violence are a huge part of the story. It’s a letter from Kippy’s (the intelligent and independent protagonist) former neighbor and friend, Ralph. Spoiler alert: If you have not read the first book, STOP READING NOW! Leave your computer and go purchase “No One Else Can Have You” and read it before reading “Nothing Bad Is Going to Happen.” You will be happy you did.

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‘Unicorne Files: Alexander’s Army’ by Chris D’Lacey a thrilling kids book


Rating: 5 stars

A good series is one that leaves the reader aching for the next entry. Chris D’Lacey did that quite well with “A Dark Inheritance,” the first book in the series called “Unicorne Files,” named for the secret organization that works with the unusual, the other-worldly.

This story picks up right after the first book with Michael still reeling from the death of his friend, Freya. Now she’s not really dead, but undead. She can turn into a crow, and she’s not happy about her state of being. Neither is Michael. Unfortunately, he is able to create universe shifts — in moments of stress, he thinks about what he’d like to have happen (live instead of die, for example) but he is actually able to shift the universe (reality shift) to work with his thoughts.

Michael is not able to control his power — hence the fact that his friend is not completely dead and can change into a crow. This is not a good thing, as his friends, or co-agents, at Unicorne tell him. In this book, things get even weirder. Michael meets someone who has created an army out of playing cards. An imaginary army — or are they?

The series is great for middle grade readers who love adventure, scifi, and fantasy. It is certainly fantastical — just as D’Lacey’s dragon books were. The action is non-stop, the characters are well created and familiar, and the fantasy — the world shifts — are fascinating and thrilling to read about.

D’Lacey is skilled at painting scenes with words, and it’s easy to imagine the people and places in the story. Michael’s first person narration is spot-on, and the reader doesn’t know what Michael doesn’t know. That’s frustrating, at times, but it certainly adds to the sense of suspense.

Action, adventure, mystery, science fiction and fantasy all combine for a fabulous read for kids from fourth grade through eighth (and their parents and older siblings).

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Scholastic Press for review purposes.

‘Pretending To Be Erica’ by Michelle Painchaud: YA con-artist story


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“Pretending To Be Erica” by Michelle Painchaud is an exciting ride with a girl who was raised by a criminal to be a con artist. Her eventual goal? To con a wealthy woman whose daughter, Erica, had been kidnapped when she was four years old. Violet was adopted by her father when she was young, and her whole life has been a prelude to the scam she describes in this novel in first person narrative.

Painchaud handles Violet’s flashbacks very effectively by having them told in third person. Violet’s whole life has been a series of scams and cons. She has learned to hide her emotions and to stay in character when in full “scam mode.” And she’s good at it. The story is more than just action, though. Once Violet gets into the home of the kidnapped daughter and is welcomed back with open arms, she learns what it is to be really loved — the way Erica’s mother loves (who she thinks is) Erica.

There are very thoughtful scenes in the psychologist’s office where Violet decides to let her true feelings out. She has thought it through, and she has been advised not to try to hide anything from the professional, who might see through any attempt at dissimulation. So she decides to let the therapist see Erica’s other side — Violet.

The longer Violet stays as Erica, making friends, being treated as a daughter by a loving mother — all the while trying to find the combination to the safe with the fantastically valuable painting — Violet begins to regret what she is going to do. Painchaud includes other peripheral characters who add to the tense, climactic ending. Twists and turns aplenty keep the reader turning page after page until the very satisfying ending.

Great book for reluctant readers and those who adore the young adult books about teen thieves and scam artists. Touching and with a beautiful turn-around at the end, this book will keep kids thinking long after they’ve closed the book.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Viking Books for Young Readers for review purposes.

‘Sit! Stay! Speak!’ by Annie England Noblin


Rating: 4 stars

In “Sit! Stay! Speak!” Annie England Noblin introduces the reader to Addie Andrews, a charming — if somewhat foolhardy — heroine. She hails from Chicago but is living in small-town Eunice, Arkansas, after her aunt left Addie her house. Addie, running from the death of her fiancé and all the memories of their life together, is determined to put that behind her by spending time in what must be the antithesis of big city life, the small-town South.

Immediately, Addie finds a pit bull discarded in a trash can after being beaten and shot. She rushes him to the veterinarian, and takes him into her home and her heart. Anyone who has rescued an animal will understand and sympathize with the connection Addie feels to Felix, her new dog. But finding Felix is only the beginning. Addie begins to see that even small-town Eunice has its share of crime and mysteries.

Addie meets and falls for Jasper Floyd, former lawyer and current farmer of his family’s huge farm. He sends mixed signals, and both he and the veterinarian discourage Addie from investigating what is going on by the river in the “poor” side of town. She is determined to find out what is happening (to dog-savvy readers it will be obvious that it is dog-fighting).

The story is engrossing and the plot moves quickly thanks to the character development and the action. However, better editing would have helped in several parts of the story where the reader will stop and wonder about what is written. For example, the second time that Addie meets Jasper, she notices that he is wearing the same clothes she had seen him wear before. “This time he was wearing a green cap as well. It also read FLOYD FARMS.” But Jasper had that same hat on the first time he met Addie. In another part of the story, Addie professes not to know what grits are. But if she had been visiting her aunt in Eunice every summer, it stands to reason that she would have seen grits at some point.

Aside from minor lapses in editing, “Sit! Stay! Speak!” is charming. There are some very touching scenes, and some of the best writing is about Addie’s relationship with her aunt and her guilt at not having visited her aunt in a long time. Readers will be dying to go out for some cheese grits and fried pies. Take a visit to the South and read this story. You’ll not only be dying for some real Southern cooking, you might just go and adopt a pit bull!

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by William Morrow for review purposes.

‘Remember Me This Way’ by Sabine Durrant: Thriller/horror novel

remember me

Rating: 4 stars

In a mystery/horror novel, Sabine Durrant writes a story worthy of “Gone Girl” or other are-they-dead-or-aren’t-they stories. “Remember Me This Way” is the story of Lizzie, whose husband, Zach, died a year ago. But when she finally visits the site of his deadly car accident to lay flowers there and have some closure, she finds another set of flowers with another woman’s name on them.

The story alternates with both Lizzie and Zach telling the story of their courtship and subsequent marriage from each person’s point of view. It’s obvious from the start that Zach is not a nice person. He’s possessive, paranoid, and maybe even homicidal. Lizzie, on the other hand, is naive and inexperienced.

The story progresses on two planes, Zach’s story goes forward in time from several years before — when he first met Lizzie, while Lizzie’s story begins a year after his death but includes flashbacks to tell the story of the past from her point of view. There are thrills and scares aplenty in this story.

While some may guess the ending, others will be surprised. And for everyone there are twists and turns along the way. And the details about England and the class snobbishness there will interest those of us reading it on this side of the pond.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Emily Bestler Books (Atria) for review purposes.

‘One’ by Sarah Crossan: YA story about conjoined twins


Rating: 4 stars

Sarah Crossan manages to get a lot of emotion across in her story written about conjoined twins. These girls, Grace and Tippi, have lived together — really together — for sixteen years. Although they share legs and the bottom half of their body, they are different people on top. The story is told mostly from Grace’s perspective, but Crossan manages to show the thoughts and feelings of friends and family through carefully written free verse.

When they finally start at the local high school after years of home schooling, the girls don’t know what to expect. They do expect to be treated like freaks, and they are. What they don’t expect is to make friends — which they do. But this particular year will bring challenges that they did not expect, although perhaps they should have since a doctor told their mother that they wouldn’t live to see their second birthday.

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‘My Name is Not Friday’ by Jon Walter: Young adult story about freedom

my name is not

Rating 4 1/2 stars

“My Name is Not Friday” by Jon Walter is about a young boy who, while protecting his younger — and very mischievous — brother gets sold into slavery. He and his brother were orphans, children of free blacks during the Civil War, and they lived in an orphanage. But when Samuel gets sold, the slaver tells him, “Tomorrow is Friday. Now you better remember that day real good, ’cause from now on that’s gonna be your name.”

Samuel gets sold to a household where the absent father (who was fighting in the war for the South) believed in treating his slaves well. So his son befriends Samuel. Samuel hides the fact that his name isn’t Friday and that he was a freeborn black child. He was told by the overseer that if he told anyone, he’d be in danger. Samuel also learns that slaves are forbidden to read so he hides the fact that he can read. He convinces Gerald, the son of the house, to “teach” him to read, hiding the fact that he already knows how to read. He also convinces Gerald that Gerald’s father would want his slaves to be able to read, and Friday begins to teach them to read.

He decides that God brought him to the plantation so that he would teach the slaves there how to read. But when a chance to escape presents itself, he takes it.

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