‘Things You Save in a Fire’ by Katherine Center begins with a spark and ends in an inferno

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“Things You Save in a Fire” by Katherine Center isn’t literally about things you would save in a fire. The main character, firefighter Cassie Hanwell, was born to be a firefighter. She’s a fascinating and complex character. When there’s an emergency, she gets calm and knows exactly what to do. She’s the one you want to be with when danger threatens. But in her own life, she’s helpless to get things on track.

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‘The Escape Room’ by Megan Goldin: nonstop action from the first page to the last

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Greed and arrogance are qualities that permeate the personalities of the characters in Megan Goldin’s “The Escape Room.” The first chapter offers the reader clues that the story will not end well for some of those characters, but just how that comes about is part of the mystery and the thrill. Four hedge fund traders at the competitive firm of Stanhope and Sons are commanded to appear for a team-building exercise. Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam all have better things to be doing, but they are all extremely competitive, and they all want to get the best bonus possible, so they all show up to the not-quite-completed office building and enter the elevator.

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‘Keeping Lucy’ by T. Greenwood is an emotional story of a mother who will take on the world to protect her daughter

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Ginny Richardson and her successful lawyer husband have one perfect child, Peyton. When Lucy, her second baby, is born with Down syndrome, her wealthy in-laws whisk the newborn to a “school” where she will live and be cared for. Ginny is told she was “enrolled” in the school, and by the time she was coherent after sedative injection after sedative injection, it was too late. Everyone except Ginny’s mother and best friend are told the baby died.

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‘The Two Lila Bennetts’ by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke is clever and frightening

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As someone who went through law school and gave criminal law a thought, my feelings after reading “The Two Lila Bennetts” is that authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke got it all right. I’ll never forget working for a criminal law firm while going to law school at night. A lawyer once said to me, “When you practice criminal law, you become as bad as the criminals.”

And that’s the premise of “The Two Lila Bennetts.” The protagonist, Lila Bennett, is a top criminal defense lawyer. Are some of her clients guilty? Assuredly. Does she get them off anyway? Absolutely. At least most of them.

In fact, we come to realize that Lila herself is no angel. Boy, has she made some bad choices in her life. Lying, cheating, sleeping with someone to get an advantage. We are talking really poor choices. And now Lila is paying for those poor choices.

Someone is after Lila. And when the story diverges into two paths, both Lilas suffer, although in different ways. The writing is extremely clever, and we are led down a path where we believe one Lila is going to be fine and the other, maybe not. But the Lilas in both stories are equally brilliant and determined to right past wrongs. Does Lila become a new person? Can we really change who we are? What does it take to cause that change?

Another interesting aspect of the novel is that we don’t really like Lila much at the beginning. She’s simply not a very likable person. But as we see her struggle and the thoughtful process of Lila’s rethinking her life and her decisions, including her marriage, we come to respect her and root for her.

Looking for a lovely summer read? Trying to pick a book that will engender great discussion for a book club? Picking a gift for a friend who loves to read? “The Two Lila Bennetts” won’t disappoint! It’s sure to be a hit with everyone.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Lake Union Publishing, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘Emperor of the Universe: A Fable with Spaceships and Aliens’ by David Lubar

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David Lubar, beloved author of “The Weenie” series of short stories and “Hidden Talents,” hits it out of the park, actually out of the world and out of the galaxy, with “Emperor of the Universe: A Fable with Spaceships and Aliens.”

Nicholas V. Andrew, a seventh grader, only wants to be on his own when his parents are out of the country performing with their band, the Beegles, a take-off of the Beetles wherein his parents wear beagle masks while performing songs like “Yellow Snow Submarine.” He doesn’t want to have wild parties or play video games day and night, he just wants to be on his own. He ends up traveling throughout the universes, unintentionally causing the destruction of entire planets and also unintentionally becoming the Emperor of the Universe.

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‘Betrayal in Time’ by Julie McElwain is a wonderful mystery/scifi/historical fiction novel

betrayal in time

“Betrayal in Time” by Julie McElwain is the fourth novel in which Kendra Donovan, a 21st century FBI agent, is unwittingly sent to the past while trying to avenge the deaths of  most of her team. Her goal is to kill the culprit in England. When someone beats her to the kill, she escapes up a staircase and ends up in 1815, in England.

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‘Heart of Barkness’ by Spencer Quinn: Don’t miss this tail-wagging adventure

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“Heart of Barkness” by Spencer Quinn brings back mystery-lovers’ favorite four-legged detective, Chet, with his sidekick, the two-legged Bernie Little. It’s Bernie Little’s detective agency, but both Chet and Bernie are very aware that it takes two to solve most mysteries. That’s why whenever Bernie introduces himself to someone, he introduces both of them. Chet and Bernie are a team and they are inseparable.

In this mystery, Chet and Bernie meet Lotty Pilgrim, a country singer who seems to have hit rock-bottom. She is playing in dives and lives on a small, run-down ranch. Her manager/boyfriend is much younger than she, and from the start, Bernie is no fan of his.

Bernie has just gotten out of the hospital after a near-death experience (read about it in the last Chet and Bernie book, “Scents and Sensibility”), and Chet is thrilled to be reunited with his other half. In fact, the mystery begins when Chet and Bernie go to hear Lotty sing. Bernie puts a $100 bill in her tip jar, but the money gets stolen by someone at the bar. Chet and Bernie go after the thief, and what happens after that is just one part of what becomes the mystery and history of Lottie’s life and her problems.

Chet’s narration is spot-on doggy, with appropriate distractions (Slim Jims and steak smells) and some canine self-deprecating awareness. After all, when a dog is telling the story, there is definitely some translation needed, but Chet is one sharp dog, and he catches some things mere humans might overlook. Chet explains it beautifully when the thief grabs the money from the tip jar,

“Something sneaky was going down. I knew that in a flash. You might be thinking, Wow Chet, how fast your mind works. But you’d be wrong. My mind had nothing to do with it. My teeth were the smart ones. Sneakiness gives them this powerful urge, the urge to…to do something, let’s leave it at that.”

So they chase the thief, recover the money but not the guy, and consider it done. It’s not. The ties that connect the different characters, the obvious good guys and the obvious and not-so-obvious bad guys are sometimes hard to see. But Chet and Bernie have a special power – the power of the dog and human combination – and they go where others might fail.

Quinn’s narrative, via Chet, is touching but always humorous, too. While reader’s will feel Lottie’s plight and worry about Bernie’s romantic situation, they will chuckle while reading Chet’s wonderfully canine narrative.

Mystery lovers devour the Chet and Bernie series. Dog lovers do, too. No fleas involved.

This review was originally posted on Bookreporter.com.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Forge, for review purposes.

‘Spin the Dawn’ by Elizabeth Lim is an engrossing fantasy about a young girl whose ambition proves world-changing

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In a fictional world reminiscent of ancient China, Elizabeth Lim creates “Spin the Dawn,” the story of Maia, daughter of a tailor who is as skilled as any tailor but who is barred from the profession because of her gender. Her father has lost his ambition since the death of Maia’s mother, and two of her brothers were killed in the Emperor’s war. Now, it’s just Maia supporting the family.

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‘Storm Blown’ by Nick Courage is a middle grade adventure during a terrible hurricane

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In “Storm Blown,” author Nick Courage writes about a fictional hurricane and two of the children whose lives are affected by that storm. He’s not writing about just any storm, though. This is a once-in-a-lifetime storm, a storm that is fickle and doesn’t behave as storm experts expect. Because the story is told from many perspectives, including that of a storm expert, readers get the benefit of learning about not only storms, but human behavior.

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‘The First Mistake’ by Sandie Jones — riveting and suspenseful

 

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“The First Mistake” by Sandie Jones is a truly suspenseful mystery with two female protagonists and a plot that is masterfully planned and executed. Alice finally seems to have her life together. After her first husband, Tom, died, she went to pieces. But for the sake of their daughter, she put her life together, relying on Nathan, whom she met and married less than a year after Tom died.

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