Duels & Deception

REVIEW: Duels & Deception by Cindy Anstey


Miss Lydia Whitfield of Roseberry Hall inherited her family estate upon the death of her father. As she was a minor at the time, her uncle and his family moved to Roseberry to supervise the estate and help Lydia, her mother and her sister. Uncle Arthur fancies himself the master of the estate despite Lydia’s capabilities, and as such he tries to make  ridiculous changes, forcing Lydia to call in her attorney. The attorney sends his apprentice, Robert Newton.

Robert is able to help Lydia deal with her uncle and protect the estate from his rogue ideas. He also helps her begin to outline a marriage agreement with Lord Aldershot, the man Lydia’s father had informally selected for her to marry. But before they can solidify the agreement, Lydia is kidnapped. While Robert is able to rescue her and they fabricate a story to salvage her reputation, the kidnappers escape and Lydia is still in danger. Working with Robert, Lydia might have a chance at saving her future. But what will she do about Lord Aldershot when her heart seems to be set on Robert?


I loved this! I rarely read historical fiction. The rules for women in this time period are frustrating to the point of distraction for me. But in this case, Lydia is fortunate to have circumstances and people around her who let her voice carry weight. She doesn’t have to hide her intelligence and wisdom for anyone, even when she knows it will cause trouble.

The characters were terrific. I would happily spend more time with them if there is ever a sequel to this book. Lydia is a strong, bright young woman. Her resourcefulness is outstanding. Loved her character! The mystery was well plotted and kept me turning pages to see what would happen next. I was able to guess the culprit, and I was delighted with how everything wrapped up in the end.

Even though historical fiction isn’t my first choice, I enjoyed this so much I want to check out the author’s previous book, Love, Lies and Spies. This is definitely an author I will keep an eye on in the future! In fact, I just found out that she will have a new book out in the spring of 2018, Suitors and Sabotage! It is already on my 2018 wish list!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Van Gogh Deception

REVIEW: The Van Gogh Deception by Deron R. Hicks


A twelve-year-old boy is found in the National Gallery. No one knows who he is or where he came from. The boy remembers nothing – not his name and nothing about how he got there.

The boy is placed in a temporary foster home. He goes by the name Art because the name “Arthur” is in his coat. He knows a crazy amount of information about famous artists and their paintings, so the family goes back to the Gallery to see if anything trigger’s Art’s memory.

But they have no idea that someone is watching them, determined to find Art before he gets his memory back and foils their plans.

When they make their move on Art, they get his foster sister, Camille, too. Soon the kids are on the run with no idea who to trust or why they are being pursued.


This was awesome! I loved everything. The energy and adventure worked for me. I thought the kids’ responses were realistic (although they seemed a little older than their stated ages) for the story. I loved the QR codes embedded in the story so the reader could SEE the art they were discussing in the story. Such a clever idea!

Art and Camille are a lot of fun. Art is bright and curious and determined. Camille is fiercely loyal. They make a great team, and I’d love to see them take on another mystery together.

I feel like I learned things about the art world while having a great time with a terrific story. This reminded me of FRAMED by James Ponti with the art tie-in, but this has it’s own features to love. I’d definitely give this to FRAMED fans, mystery lovers, and art lovers. This would be a perfect addition to home, school and classroom libraries – and even art classrooms. This is a book I will be telling folks about for the rest of this year!

Thanks to Netgalley and HMH Books for providing an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥


REVIEW: Sidetracked by Diana Harmon Asher


Joseph is a worrier. If there’s something to worry about, Joseph has been thinking about it and stewing over it for awhile. But it’s just one of the things that makes Joseph the target of bullies. He has ADD and receives services in a resource room. He’s not athletic, and in sports like soccer, he’s afraid of the ball. Joseph has accepted these things as his lot in life.

Until he meets Heather. She’s confident, athletic, and she’s not afraid of a bully. As Heather and Joseph become friends first and then cross country teammates second, she challenges his self-perceptions and his expectations. Joseph will always have his quirks, but maybe he’ll surprise himself with some grit, determination and confidence in himself.


This was delightful! From start to finish, I adored Joseph and Heather. The friendship is mutual. Heather helps Joseph, but he gets to help her, too. They bring out the best in each other without needing a romantic subplot. Just awesome friends.

Joseph is trying to overcome a lot. And it all felt genuine – the struggles and the triumphs when he had them. I especially loved how the cross country team came together for him in the last race.

Everything clicked for me in this book – the story, the kids, the adults, the things that were resolved and the things that weren’t There’s awesome humor as well as heart-tugging moments. It was perfect.

Thanks to Netgalley and Amulet books for providing an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥


REVIEW: VANISHED! by James Ponti


Florian and Margaret are working with FBI agent and friend, Marcus Rivers once again on a case. This time they’re going undercover to an exclusive prep school where the First Daughter goes to school. There have been a series of pranks at the school – super glue in locker locks and someone crashed the school’s private social network. Someone using the code name Loki has pulled these pranks. And they seem to be happening around or near the First Daughter.

It’s up to Florian and Margaret to make connections at the school and start figuring out who is responsible for the pranks. But they have several suspects. They have to keep up with their school work while they work the case. Florian has attracted the attention of a bully. And the school administrators are resistant and uncooperative regarding the pranks and Florian’s efforts to find the culprit. Florian has to trust that his Theory of All Small Things will be enough to solve their latest case.


FRAMED, book one in the T.O.A.S.T mystery series, is one of my favorite books from 2016. I’m happy to say that book two lives up to the excellence of its predecessor.

The premise of these books is so clever. Middle school detectives helping the FBI. The TOAST method they use to solve crimes is smart and fun. But the characters are the best part. The adults who know Florian and Margaret well respect their skills and trust their work. Those who don’t know them are put in their place in delightful – and usually gracious – ways.

I laughed out loud several times while reading, and even had to read one especially excellent passage to my family because it was unexpected and completely perfect. I was delighted by the entire book. The mystery kept me guessing all the way to the end. Great history and museum and landmark and art and music pieces in the story round out the mystery plot.

Fantastic! I’m looking forward to reading more in the TOAST series! Thanks to James Ponti for sending me an advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I have already passed it on to a former student who is a big fan of the first book in the series. This book will release next week, August 22, 2017. I hope you’ll check it out!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Death in Dark Blue

REVIEW: Death in Dark Blue by Julia Buckley


Lena London may have proven her boyfriend, Sam West, innocent of murder. But his estranged wife, Victoria, is still missing. And plenty of people who were “certain” Sam was guilty – and treated him accordingly – need to eat crow.

That includes Victoria’s best friend, Taylor, a popular blogger who bashed Sam when he was being investigated. She promises to come to Blue Lake to apologize in person. But someone kills her before she can get to Sam.

It looks like Sam is in trouble again when Lena finds Taylor’s body on his property. The press have descended on Blue Lake like vultures. Lena is determined to clear Sam’s name and get back to some sort of peaceful existence and maybe pick up their budding romance. But even if she can find Taylor’s killer, they still have the mystery of Victoria hanging over their heads.


This was excellent! And I am so pleased. I loved book one in the Writer’s Apprentice series, A Dark and Stormy Murder. I hoped Death in Dark Blue would be just as good and I was not disappointed.

The characters are great. I love Lena’s relationship with her boss/mentor, Camilla. We didn’t get to enjoy a lot of their writing work in this book, but it is still a fun thread. The core group working on the mystery is terrific. I loved the addition of the research librarian, Belinda. She totally earned an ARC of Lena and Camilla’s first book!

The mystery was good – solid suspects and great action. I could not puzzle out the solution until the end. What I love most about this series, though, is that unmasking Taylor’s killer isn’t the end of the story. The ongoing Victoria situation is still playing out as the story goes on, and it’s just as fun to watch that as it is the original mystery. Ms. Buckley does a great job of setting up this overarching plot between books – and may even have set up something else for future books down the line. It’s brilliant plotting and I love it. I highly recommend this series.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Sweetest Sound

REVIEW: The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston


Cadence Mariah Jolly has a secret. She can sing. Like, leave-your-mouth-hanging-open-in-awe kind of singing. It’s one of her most closely guarded secrets.

Something not-so-secret is that Cadence is shy. Her (unfortunate) nickname is Mouse. She’s an introvert. Crowds are stressful. Attention in front of others leaves her feeling anxious. She loves being with her friends and family, but she is also happy to spend time alone, playing music or reading.

Quiet Cadence made a bargain with God. She asked for a real keyboard, and in exchange she said she would share her secret talent. And she got her keyboard. She hasn’t quite figured out how to overcome her fear, though, and share her gift. But an uploading mistake forces her to face her fear and decide what she’s going to do with her voice.


I loved this! It’s a touching story about music but it’s also about friendship and family. Most of all it’s about finding your voice, and not just in a singing sense.

Cadence is in a community of people who love her and want to take care of her. While she is still hurting over her mother’s abandonment, she also dislikes the pity she sees in the eyes of  everyone around her. She has her own ideas and thoughts, but her shyness keeps her from speaking up sometimes. And other times, good-hearted people can’t  hear her over their own hurts or their desire to help.

I loved the references to  great books in the story. The faith and music pieces were also terrific. This is a story I would read again. If I was teaching, I would put this in my classroom/library. I think readers will really connect with Cadence!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Al Franken Giant of the Senate

REVIEW: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken


Al Franken is currently a Democratic US Senator for Minnesota. He’s well known for his comedic work, including many years on Saturday Night Live.

This book chronicles Franken’s life from childhood to the present. The book references the 2017 Inauguration and some of the Senate hearings for President Trump’s cabinet, so the book is quite current considering how long books take to publish. Included in the book are family stories, campaign stories, information on political procedures, and criticisms of politicians who lie to achieve their goals. Throughout, Franken focuses on the privilege of serving Americans – and specifically the folks in Minnesota – in the US Senate.


I’ve known of Al Franken since his SNL days, specifically his character, Stuart Smalley. But more recently he caught my attention during the confirmation hearings for Education Secretary DeVos. Because of that, I was curious about this book. My intention was to get it from the library and skim it. I ended up reading it word for word, and then buying a copy for my family to read.

I consider myself an Independent when it comes to politics. There are pieces of liberal and conservative agendas that appeal to me. If I was more conservative politically, I might not have enjoyed this as much. But I appreciate Franken’s emphasis on truth, humor and service in politics. I might not agree with all of his statements or his politics, but I learned a bunch from reading this. And I laughed often.

Be prepared to be offended, especially if you are a conservative and you read this. Even liberal voters may disagree at times. There’s some language, although many times he chooses to censor himself with a milder term like “nincompoopery” with a “USS” notation that he cleaned things up since he’s a senator. The footnotes are particularly enjoyable (although in my e-book version they were all collected at the end of the book which was obnoxious to navigate.).

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥


REVIEW: Restart by Gordon Korman


Chase, Aaron and Bear rule the school. Championship football players. Bullies. And Chase is the leader of the pack.

But Chase fell off his roof and hit his head. After being in a coma for several days, Chase is awake but he has no memory of who he is. He doesn’t even recognize his own mother.

Brendan, Shosh’anna, Joel and other kids know exactly who Chase is. He’s a tormentor. He’s arrogant. He feels entitled to do whatever he wants. He doesn’t even care that Joel had to go away to boarding school because of the bullying. He’s resentful about having community service because of the stunt he pulled on Joel.

At least, that’s the OLD Chase. The new Chase is different. He befriends Brendan. He joins the video club. Chase goes to the nursing home to help even though he’s been excused from community service. He connects with the grumpiest guy there. New Chase seems great – but can he be trusted?


Wow, this is a great story!! At its core is the question of where character comes from. And that’s not really answered, but this book will make you think about it.

I love the characters. The reactions to new Chase are mistrustful and hesitant. And they should be! And Chase questions his own transformation. He wonders if the old Chase is still inside him somewhere. There are no easy, quick solutions which is something else that makes this awesome.

I love that every person in orbit around Chase has to examine his/her perception of him. Some want the old Chase back. Some want to run the old Chase through a wood chipper! The journey to see how it all works out was terrific!

A great book on bullying to read at home or at school. Joel’s description in the story of being bullied is worth discussing at length with kids. So well done!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Letters to the Lost

REVIEW: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer


Juliet is still grieving the death of her mother. And that takes the form of frequent trips to the cemetery and writing her mother letters. She leaves the letters by her mother’s headstone. Juliet wrote letters as a kid when her mom was on the road for work. She keeps up the practice as she tries to deal with her loss.

Declan mows the lawn at the cemetery. It’s his community service after getting drunk and crashing into a building. Usually he just trashes the things left around the headstones when he needs to mow. But for some reason, one day he reads a letter he finds – and he write’s the author back.

One response leads to an exchange of letters and then an exchange of emails as two hurting teens find connection through writing and transparency with one other person in the world. They each find someone who understands them. Someone they can really talk to and say all the things they are holding inside. And they also find that this relationship may give them the help and courage to address some things out loud in their real lives, too.


This was a delight! I read it through in one sitting and when I was done I wanted to start all over from the beginning.

I love these characters. Juliet and Declan are so broken and so endearing. They each so badly need someone to really see them and hear them. Someone who draws out the best in them. Someone who sees past the prickliness of grief and pain.

One of the messages of the story is that there IS help available. Each of the kids has friends and teachers or mentors who want to help. They have to learn to ask for that help sometimes – or to accept it when it’s offered.

This story gave me the same feeling as A List of Cages when I was done. The subject matters wasn’t as dark in this one, but it left me with the same warm feelings from seeing teens find a community that loves them, knows them, and shows up for them. Fantastic! (Some language)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Between Heaven and the Real World

REVIEW: Between Heaven & the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman



An autobiographical look at Christian music’s superstar, Steven Curtis Chapman. The book covers Chapman’s childhood, the start and growth of his music career, his marriage and family, and of course the tragic death of his daughter, Maria.


This was outstanding! I started listening to Chapman’s music around the launch of his second album. It was fun to read about all the things that went on behind the scenes with his songs and tours as I attended many of those tours and own many of those songs.

This feels like a very honest book. Chapman is up front about hard moments in his upbringing and his marriage. He works at being transparent about his struggles – personally, professionally and spiritually.

Anyone reading this book who is familiar with the Chapman’s story knows that the book is moving toward the tragic death of their daughter, Maria, in 2008. And the story is as painful as you can imagine. But again, that honesty and transparency is on display. Steven shares the struggle to keep moving forward after their loss, their questions for God, and their pain.

This was an engrossing and moving read. If you loved his wife’s book, Choosing to See, I highly recommend this. This fills in some of Steven’s part of the journey, and it gives more current information about how the family is doing as they continue to miss Maria, and yet choose to keep trusting God day by day.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥