Review: MR. SAMUEL’S PENNY by Treva Hall Melvin

51WFbK01x7L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_MR. SAMUEL’S PENNY by Treva Hall Melvin / The Poisoned Pencil, November 2014 – 4.5 Stars

Blurb: It’s 1972 and fourteen-year-old New Yorker Elizabeth Landers is sent to the sleepy town of Ahoskie, North Carolina to spend the summer with relatives. Her expectation of boredom is quickly dispelled when police sirens and flashing lights draw her to a horrible scene at the Danbury Bridge. Mr. Samuel, owner of Samuel’s Lumber Yard, has driven his car off the bridge and into the river, drowning himself and his daughter. The medical examiner thinks it’s an accident, but the sheriff finds fresh bullet holes on the bridge right where the skid marks are.

Curiously, Mr. Samuel died clutching a unique 1909 wheat penny –a penny that is then stolen from the sheriff’s office. Lizbeth witnesses Miss Violet’s grief upon learning that her husband and child are dead, and decides she will help by finding the penny. Her search involves Lizbeth in the lives of many Ahoskie residents. Like the owner of the grocery store, mean old Mr. Jake, who –as all the kids in Ahoskie know –hates black folks. Plenty of pennies in his till. Then there is Ms. Melanie Neely, otherwise known as “Ms. McMeanie,” who thinks the lumber yard should belong to her. And Mr. Samuel’s handsome brother Ben, who struggles to keep the business afloat after his more clever brother’s death. Lizbeth searches through the collection plates at church and in the coin jars of crazy old Aunt Ode, a strange old woman missing one eye and most of her teeth, who keeps a flask in her apron pocket and a secret in her soul.

Review: In the summer of 1972, 14 year-old, African-American Elizabeth Parrot Landers, better known as Lizbeth and her 9 year-old sister, Helena leave their home in New York City to travel south to Ahoskie, North Carolina to visit their extended family. Barely unpacked, Lizbeth and her Auntie Alice hear a string of emergency vehicles racing to the scene of a nearby car accident. Of course they want to help, but to their horror when they arrive, they discover that Joe Samuel, owner of the local lumberyard drove off the Danbury Bridge into the river. Both he and his baby daughter, Emma perish. Shockingly, he holds a Lincoln “wheat” penny, only discovered when the police pull his body out of the water. That same penny vanishes from the sheriff’s department before the medical examiner from the adjacent county arrives.

A coin collector, Lizbeth knows the penny is actually rare; it’s not just one that shows a sheaf of wheat. She explains to her aunt and the sheriff that “the original coin was struck, or made with VDB, the initials of the designer. Three days later, the design was changed, making that initial penny very rare.” Since Mr. Samuel held onto that penny while he and his baby girl drowned, Lizbeth suspects it has great significance and becomes determined to find it and solve the mystery of the deaths. This decision leads her to search the town, involving her in everyone’s lives and their secrets. Of course, she has supporters like Auntie Alice and her husband, Uncle Frank, but Lizbeth has to deal with those who criticize others like Ms. Melanie Neely, better known as Ms. McMeanie. One life lesson follows another, causing Lizbeth to grow and change.

Lizbeth is a girl of her time, an era well described by the author. The turbulent aftermath of the 1960’s pervades the book with the ongoing Vietnam Conflict – not yet known as a war – the Civil Rights Movement, desegregation, covert and overt racism. A trustworthy narrator, Lizbeth describes what she sees and how it affects her family. She shares stories of her parents and what led them to leave North Carolina for New York. Momma is a nurse and Daddy drives a cab after working his day job as a chemist. Lizbeth’s desire to protect her family includes not always sharing everything she knows so her father won’t end up in physical danger and looking after 9 year-old Lena (Helena).

The authentic setting with its lush details adds to the story. Many older readers will remember a more innocent time when kids actually did ride their bicycles all over town, even to the neighborhood grocery. Lizbeth’s first impression of Mr. Jake, the store owner is justifiably a negative one. He does seem to hate his regular customers because of their race. Then, Mr. Jake steps up to help Mrs. Violet Samuel, the widow of the man who died, the mother of Emma. Disturbed by the sound of a baby crying, Violet rushes out of the store without her groceries. Mr. Jake follows, catching up with her in the parking lot. Slowly, Lizbeth begins to realize that people have their own stories and some aren’t easily shared.

These kinds of details add to the story and will remain in the reader’s mind. Unfortunately when something isn’t resolved that also stays with the reader, such as the fact that Pop-Pop, Lizbeth’s grandfather is mentioned at the beginning of the story and then never again. The same thing happens when Lizbeth appears to be the only one investigating the accident – especially when the reader hears someone shot at Mr. Samuel – but don’t really know what /if the sheriff is doing anything. Most readers will immediately realize that Lizbeth’s snooping could lead to disastrous results.

Of course this could all be explained because we’re in her viewpoint for the entire novel and teenagers tend to be self-absorbed at the best of times. Still, the reader was also told that Lizbeth and Lena would be moving around from relative to relative throughout the summer. Instead, they seem to remain with Auntie Alice and Uncle Frank for the duration. Considering the magical story, elegant prose, wonderful writing and superb characterization, these little bumps don’t affect the pacing. It’s to be hoped that Ms. Melvin returns soon to Lizbeth’s world and shares more of her adventures.

Review provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the May 2016 edition of The Book Breeze.

Ancient World Mysteries Reviews

The Ancient World has its mysteries… here are a few of them:

51-SPTjegML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Gary Corby’s Athenian Mysteries are set in Athens during the time when some of the most notable citizens were establishing the basis of Western culture. One of them in Nicolaos, who calls himself an “agent”, who tackles investigations for the de facto ruler, Pericles.

In THE MARATHON CONSPIRACY (Soho Crime, 2014, $15.95), Nico and his soon-to-be wife, the priestess Diotima, are called to the Sanctuary of Artemis to look into the discovery of a skull in a nearby cave. Coult it be the remains of Hippias, the traitor who summoned the Persians into Hellas? What’s worse, one young women studying at the temple school is killed and another is missing, and the school itself is in turmoil. It takes Nico’s pesty young brother Socrates to unlock the puzzle, and solve one of the great mysteries of the Battle of Marathon.

51biSkrp20L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_DEATH EX MACHINA (Soho Crime, 2015,$15,95) has Nico, Diotima and Socrates investigating rumors that a ghost is haunting the grand theater, where the ceremonies of the Great Dionysia are to be performed.

A series of accidents has marred the rehearsals of the new tragedy by the most famous of the writers, Sophocles. A purification rite should take care of the ghost, but when an actor is found hanging from the apparatus used to elevate the one who takes the part of the god at the end of the play, Pericles does the unthinkable. He literally stops time until Nico can unravel this mystery and find the true culprit.

The position of non-Athenians in the city plays a part in the drama, and there are appearances by Euripides and his harridan of a mother as well. Author’s notes at the beginning and end of each novel add to the reader’s enjoyment of the books, and explain what is often left out of history books.

511OrM7CNaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_RAIDERS OF THE NILE, by Steven Saylor (Minotaur, 2014, $15.99) is a prequel to his Sub Rosa series, featuring Gordianus the Finder. Here is Gordianus as a young Roman adrift in the steamy cultural mix that was Alexandria before the Romans took over. Gordianus’s slave woman, Bethesda, is kidnapped, and he will do anything to find her. His search takes him into the desert, where he gets involved in banditry, and hears that the Roman fleet is on its way.

Street performers, mystical priests, mismatched twins all play a part in this wild romp that will lead Gordianus back to his roots in Rome. A Chronology of historical events (and how they coincide with Gordianus’s life) is included, as well as Author’s notes that explain some of the tangled politics of Egypt and Rome at this crucial time.

Followers of the career of Marcus Didius Falco will be delighted to know that there is a second generation of Falco informers in Rome. Falco’s daughter, Flavia Albia, has taken his career and his old digs, and is working during the frenetic reign of the Emperor Diocletian.

UnknownIn ENEMIES AT HOME (Minotaur, 2014,$15.99), Flavia takes on a case that she knows will end badly. A rich man and his wife have been robbed and brutally murdered, The household slaves are immediately suspected. All of them will be tortured, some may be sent to arena. They seek sanctuary in the Temple of Ceres, where they may stay until they are proved innocent… or not. It’s up to the aedile, Tiberius Manlius Faustus, to do it, and he, in turn, hires Flavia as his agent to get to the bottom of the tangled web of lies, truths and half-truths that creep into any household in Rome. There is a sickness in the house that may have something to do with the well, and Flavia finds herself in more trouble than she bargained for. The innocent do not always go free and the guilty are not always punished in the stew that is Rome.

51Tq2eja3nL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_DEADLY ELECTION (Minotaur, 2015,$25.00) finds Flavia back in Rome after a short period of rest, recuperating from her last case. There’s a problem with the family auction business; a dead body has been found in a chest sold at the last auction. At the same time, her friend Faustus, who came to her rescue when she was deathly ill, calls in a favor, when he needs help getting on of his friends elected.

The two cases collide, when it turns out that Sextus may have something in common with the previous owners of the chest, and the body may have a bearing on the coming election. Roman political campaigns are rough, and Flavia is caught between family and friends, while she digs for dirt, literally and figuratively. A shameful secret, a tangled web of sisters, a family feud that lasts for generations, all play a part in this tragic election.

In the end, there is justice of the Roman sort, and Flavia finds a new partner in life, with a hint of more adventures to come.

Both books contain maps of Rome and lists of characters, which help keep the action clear.

Reviews provided by Roberta Rogow for her column Roberta’s Ramblings in the May 2016 edition of The Book Breeze.

Romantic thriller new release: ONE WAY OR ANOTHER by Elizabeth Adler

One Way or AnotherONE WAY OR ANOTHER by Elizabeth Adler

What begins as a beautiful evening at a party on a yacht ends with attempted murder … and a quest for revenge.  Angie never expected a dream vacation to turn so ugly.  One moment she was standing on the deck of a fifty-foot yacht and then next, she felt a burning sting in her side.  A stab wound.  And then a push.  She is in the water.  She can see people on the yacht, but they have not noticed she is gone, and all seem to have deliberately turned their backs, as the yacht begins slowly to pull away from her.  The waves wash over her, sending her further to doom.

These are her friends and one is her love.  Each one had a reason for getting ride of her though she would not have put murder on that list.  Until now.  Revenge burns so deeply inside her she knows she will survive this somehow.  She will get them.  Each one of them – and there are three men, one  woman.  She will get them..  One way or another.

Told with Elizabeth Adler’s trademark attention to luxurious detail of people and place, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER is a glamours, twisty novel of vengeance and vindication.

Sci-Fi New Release: THE BIG SHEEP

The Big SheepTHE BIG SHEEP by Robert Kroese

In The Big Sheep a genetically modified sheep and a gorgeous television star take center stage in a future dystopia Los Angeles.  In 2039, Los Angeles is a baffling and bifurcated place.  After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city.  Navigating the borders of DZ and LA is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than Erasmus Keane, an eccentric private investigator.

When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing, Keane is the one they call.  But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case.  Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her, and she wants Keane to find out who.  Priya vanishes, but soon returns, with no memory of having hired them.  Keane and Fowler unravel the threads of the mystery, and it soon become clear that the two cases are linked – and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city.  Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.

Book Excerpt: INVISION by Sherrilyn Kenyon

inVisionINVISION:  Chronicles of Nick (Book 7) by Sherrilyn Kenyon / YA Fantasy / Released May 3, 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin.

He’d just gotten comfortable again when the door opened to admit a new student. Something that didn’t happen often in their small private, parochial school. And it wasn’t just because St. Richard’s was hard to get into due to its high academic standing. But rather from the fact that the school had been set up as a place for preters to learn how to mingle with humans and not let the stress throw them into their animal states.

While there were a handful of baretos, or “normal” humans who had no idea that they were attending school with shapeshifters, the majority of the student body here was either shapeshifters or the children of Squire families. Squires who had been in service to Dark-Hunter like Kyrian and Acheron for generations.

As such, the Squires usually sent their kids to private school together so that they could be watched by older Squires to ensure that no one messed with them. Especially since their enemies might want to take their kids hostage, or kill them to get back at their parents or the Dark-Hunters in retaliation for the centuries of protecting humans from their supernatural predators.

It also allowed the shapeshifter families a controlled environment for their children so that they could have playtime with humans where if they had an accident and shifted into their animal bodies, the humans wouldn’t flip out and call the authorities. As Squires or their children, they all knew about Were-Hunters, and they could help cover for them with the humans here who didn’t know about them.

It gave the Were-Hunters a way to practice being in the normal world so that they could acclimate.

Nick had been one of those baretos students at St. Richard’s until two and half years ago when his best friends had turned on him, and Kyrian had saved his life. For some reason that still eluded Nick, the ancient Greek had taken a liking to him and decided to give him a hand up and bring him into this amazing world.

Now he was a Squire at an age that was unheard of since Squires were supposed to be eighteen before they could be sworn in to their oaths. But Kyrian had pulled strings and so here Nick was. The youngest Squire in Council history. And this new guy they were introducing . . . He didn’t appear to be a Squire.

Nick glanced to Caleb. What do you think?

Caleb shrugged nonchalantly.

Ms. Pantall cleared her throat as she read his card. “Everyone? This is Nathan St. Cyr. Nathan’s a new student who just moved to New Orleans from New York. I know everyone will be on your best behavior and welcome him in. Mr. St. Cyr, if you’ll take an empty seat, we’ll get started.”

An odd sensation went through Nick as Nathan neared him. Like a wire had been touched to his spine and sent a jolt through his entire central nervous system. Not that anyone had ever done that to him, but that was what he imagined such a thing would feel like.

As Nathan neared his desk, he inclined his head to him, then sat down on the other side of Kody.

Yeah, that didn’t endear him any. You better not be eye-balling my girl, punk . . .

Nick would snatch those blue eyes out of that boy’s head and use them for marbles. The Malachai in him was rising up and breathing fire down Nick’s neck. It was hard to leash the beast when he came calling like this. Every part of Nick wanted a piece of Nathan for daring to trespass on Kody’s personal space.

Especially when he leaned over a second later and, with a charming grin, brushed his hand against Kody’s arm. “Do you have a pencil I can borrow? Mine must have fallen out of my backpack.”

“Sure.” Kody handed him the one she was holding.

His grin turned even more debonnaire as he ran it under his nose and smelled the stylus as if he could still detect her light perfume on the wood. “Mmm, I’ll treasure it always. Thank you for your kindness, my noble lady.”

When Nick started to rise, Caleb caught his arm. Down, boy. Don’t make me smack your nose with a rolled up newspaper.

Nick cut a glare at his best friend to let Caleb know he could be a worthy substitution as a whipping boy if he didn’t let go.

Kody turned toward Nick. Is it me or was that gross? And that right there saved Nathan’s life. Leave it to his girl to be oblivious.

He was relieved, until Nathan turned back toward her.

Suddenly, Kody’s desk slid four inches closer to Nick’s, and farther from Nathan’s. She turned an indignant glare at him for his audacity.

At the sharp, scraping that made most people cringe, everyone in the room shot around to look for the source of the sudden sound. Nick forced himself not to cringe at the involuntary use of his Malachai powers.

Clearing his throat, he glanced to his teacher. “Sorry. My foot got caught under Kody’s desk.”

“Why was your foot under her desk?”

Nick shrugged. “I’m too tall for the desk and my feet have a mind of their own. You’ve seen me walking down the hall, Ms. Pantall. I never know where my arms or legs are located, hence all the bruises I keep.”

She rolled her eyes. “Keep your feet under your own desk, Nick. Stop disrupting class or I’ll send you to the office.”

Something stabbed him in the leg. Hard. Nick let out a sharp curse and though it wasn’t in English, Ms. Pantall had enough Cajun in her to unfortunately know exactly what the word meant.

“That’s it! Get to the office! Now!”

“But—”

“No buts! Go!”

New Release: THE WIVES OF LUCIFER by Caryn M. McGill

TheWivesofLucifer_w9671_med THE WIVES OF LUCIFER By Caryn M. McGill / Spicy Paranormal Romance Released April 6 by The Wild Rose Press

Olivia loves her new immortal life, her friends and especially Drew; she never thought she’d fall in love on the other side of death. But when Olivia learns she bears the mark of Lucifer and has powers that tie her to the Underworld, she worries that perhaps she’s done terrible things in her past lives and dark secrets are being kept from her. And those damn wives, what do they want from her? Olivia endures unspeakable tragedy in The Wives of Lucifer and when she discovers what fate has in store for her…she suddenly understands that being immortal doesn’t guarantee you’ll live forever.

New Release: THE ARRANGMENT by Brandy Ayers

UnknownTHE ARRANGEMENT By Brandy Ayers / Erotic Romance Released March 25 by The Wild Rose Press in print and ebook

The mind is a tricky thing. No one knows that better than Michelle O’Brian due an undiagnosed disorder that makes HER question the line between reality and fantasy. Her uncontrollable daydreams are a problem at work. Not even an orgasm inducing visit to her sexy as hell friend can stem the need for her mind to wander.