Category Archives: Four Stars

We Never Knew Just What it Was …

We Never Knew Just What it Was ... The Story of the Chad Mitchell Trio by [Mike Murphey, Mike Kobluk, Chad Mitchell, Tom Paxton]

We Never Knew Just What It Was: The Story of the Chad Mitchell Trio by Mike Murphey is a stirring biography of the folk singing group written with help from Trio members Mike Kobluk and Chad Mitchell. It tells the candid story of the group’s early days in university and follows the trials and triumphs of their career through the 1960s to their contentious split. The story hangs on their unlikely reunion in 2007, which inspired Murphey – who was already a successful author – to write his first non-fiction book.

In his introduction, Murphey describes the book as “a story of missed opportunities, management mistakes, personal struggle, and sometimes bitter conflict.” It’s true that the group did experience these circumstances, and we can certainly see how those problems would have hampered their success. While there is little detail offered as to how the problems affected them as individuals readers will be moved by the early hopes and dreams of the singers and their dedication to their craft.

In his dedication to faithfully cataloging each step of the Trio’s career and each misfortune they faced, Murphey quickly summarizes the conflict. For example, in the early days, management was trying to cast Mitchell as the group leader with Kobluk and Frazier as backup singers and even set them up for their own television show on that basis. This had to have created the first stirrings of jealousy and resentment among the bandmates, but there is little reference to any hurt feelings. Rather, the details of discussions are delivered without indication of the individuals’ feelings. This focus on facts helps readers concentrate on the groups path through the business rather than get caught up in the melodrama. The characters of the singers are well documented, from the casually delinquent Mitchell to the quietly ambitious Kobluk and unassuming Frazier. Each one is interesting in their own right. I thought the reunion show forms the perfect coda to their career.

Author Mike Murphey writes from the perspective of a dedicated fan and delivers an interweaving life story through a complex business in an easy to understand and factual manner that will appeal to readers looking for a credible biography that does not stray from the subject matter.

Pages: 312 | ASIN: B098PPYXS9

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What The Boy Hears When The Girl Dreams

May be an image of book and text that says 'GF Graeme Friedman WHAT THE BOY HEARS WHEN THE GIRL DREAMS'

What the Boy Hears When the Girl Dreams, by Graeme Friedman, is an absorbing account of twelve-year-old Finn Townsend’s imagination and hyperacusis. Through Finn’s eyes, the reader visualizes a somewhat stream-of-consciousness picture of this boy’s life. Friedman creatively depicts a vivid picture of the world as a preteen boy views it, imaginative, sporadic, and vibrant. Finn’s inquisitive imagination gives him the courage to investigate subjects he knows little to nothing about.

While thrown off by the lack of quotation marks, the dialogue is rich and carries the story well. Friedman’s prose effortlessly draws readers into this captivating story. I became interested in Finn’s point of view symptoms of his “Super-Hearing” and “Dizziness” attacks, as he called them, from a previous head injury from playing football. Finn downplays the symptoms of his hyperacusis, which he uses to his advantage, as his mother frets over them and insists he sees a doctor. 

Also intriguing is the bond formed between the Australian Finn, and Buseje, the African homestay student residing at his home. As the story progresses, Finn admires how Buseje tends to his sprained ankle, then protects him from overhearing a violent fight between his parents. With his super-hearing ability, young Finn takes notes of Buseje’s sleep talk ramblings, helping her to recall what she has forgotten. Together they piece her memory back together.

What the Boy Hears When the Girl Dreams is a riveting young adult story that takes readers through a vivid world as it is seen through a young boy’s imaginative eyes. This is an evocative novel with a creative plot and engrossing characters. 

Pages: 372

Daughter of Pompeii

Daughter of Pompeii by [Lorraine Blundell]

In Daughter of Pompeii, author Lorraine Blundell envisions what life might have been like in Ancient Rome for a little-known girl from Pompeii, called Poppy in this historical novel, and the notorious Emperor Nero. The story begins while Poppy is just a young girl and Claudius is still emperor. Through a tragic turn of events, Poppy loses her only family and embarks on a life-long quest for vengeance. Her journey to becoming Empress of Rome eventually felt less about revenge and more about straight ambition, to change her own destiny and rise far above her station.

Poppy’s character is written sympathetically while still attempting to convey the horrific things she did. Poppy is relatable and easy to root for, but there are times I felt she was unjustified in her actions, but this spike of emotion the story created in me is the mark of good writing. Her only lasting relationship throughout the book is with a friend she makes as a young girl who journeys through life with her, ever loyal and dependable. Farzana is an intriguing moral character, which made me wish I saw more from her perspective in the book. In addition to these two characters, there is a large collection of interesting characters who flit in and out of the narrative.

The narrative is told from an omniscient perspective, and the story often jumps from character to character, switching points of view or “getting inside their head”. I thought this was a little confusing, as it wasn’t always clear whose thoughts we were following. The story covers a lot of time, making this feel like a very quick read.

This novel was well written and the story was very entertaining. There’s everything one might want from a historical novel: the historically accurate references to real people and recorded facts from their lives, the political intrigue of the time, and a glimpse into ancient life for the differing classes. We get to view major historical events through the eyes of our protagonist, bringing to life tragic events like the murder of Claudius, the burning of Rome, and Nero’s descent into madness.

If you’re a history buff, particularly interested in Ancient Rome, this book is for you. Author Lorraine Blundell provides a riveting fictional story within an already fascinating time in history. All of this is elevated by Lorraine Blundell’s captivating storytelling ability.

Pages: 262 | ASIN: B07S1S75JV

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The Juju Girl

The Juju Girl: A Tale of Mystery, Murder, Magic, and Love in the Crescent City by [Nikki Marsh]

The Juju Girl by Nikki Marsh explores the unique magic of Creole identity and history. We are introduced to Gabrielle, a girl reemerging into a new life where everything once familiar to her is now entirely brand new. Her life is engrossed in turmoil as she travels to New Orleans at the request of her family. The fascinating magic of juju ensnares Gabbie and shows her an entire world that she had no previous knowledge of.

Gabbie discovers that she has a gift—among a family that can see signs of death and shadowy figures, Gabbie learns about her connection to the spirit world. This connection is tied to the magic of good juju, and the difference between it and conjure. While conjure is a natural ability that heals the body, juju is a spiritual practice that contains supernatural power. Gabbie’s Maman tells her all about the gift that has been passed from mother to daughter throughout their family for generations, and how Gabbie must make the decision to perform good juju and conjure.

I enjoyed that The Juju Girl introduced its readers to a cultural magic that isn’t often discussed in literature. As Gabbie grows and learns about the world through tutoring and the relationships she builds, we get to learn more about her intricate familial ties and the magic they pass between them. I loved seeing the spirit magic performed throughout the story, and that we experienced a metaphor for grief through the representation of juju.

The lessons that were taught throughout the book with discussions around curses and bad juju were so important. I loved watching Gabbie work through these issues, and I would have liked to see even more of these dark instances of magic explored. I felt that the ball scene took up much more of the book than I had expected it to and wished that we could have seen even more practiced magic among Gabbie and her family members.

The familial connections, lessons, and bonds that were continued along the course of the story were touching and felt relevant and authentic due to sharp writing. I loved seeing Gabbie work through her grief and suffering and turn it into something beautiful with her spiritual magic while continuing to honor her Creole heritage. The Juju Girl by Nikki Marshis the perfect book for someone trying to make peace with their pain, or anyone looking for a compelling young adult fantasy novel that has a well developed lore.

Pages: 400 | ASIN: B08Y62KJ2D

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Game of Bones

Game of Bones: British Detectives (Rafferty & Llewellyn British Mystery Series Book 18) by [Geraldine Evans, Nicole covershotcreations, David Burton]

At first glance, the murder of University Administrator Rupert Hunter-York seems too good to be true. All roads lead to one Professor Babbington, an alcoholic professor with a less-than-savory personality (to say the least). With the mountain of evidence falling on Detective Joe Rafferty’s lap, he thinks that this is an open-and-shut case. It could have been if it weren’t for his right-hand man ​​Sergeant Llewellyn. Now it turns out that the case is far more complicated than what anyone could ever imagine. 

Geraldine Evans’ 18th installment to the Rafferty & Llewellyn British Mysteries begins with a warning for its heavy use of British slang, and even offers a handy list in the back to familiarize readers. I’m happy to report that this is a smooth and readable novel, even for non-British readers. Anyone with a grasp of context clues can easily understand the narration and the inner workings of Rafferty’s mind.  

It’s him that we follow throughout the novel, and what a surprisingly cozy place it is for a grizzled detective. While he fusses over the case almost non-stop, we also see him worrying about his baby sister and yearning to get home to his beloved daughter Neeve. He is a flawed man, as we see how his biases can sometimes get in the way of the investigation. But that’s precisely what makes him lovable in the first place. He’s relatable and human and a well-rounded character. 

Speaking of well-rounded characters, Game of Bones is full of them. We’ve talked about Rafferty, but we can’t forget supporting characters like his partner Llewelyn and the babbling suspect Professor Babbington. Each character has such unique personalities reflected in their mannerisms and dialogue that they become imprinted in your mind despite how brief their roles may be. This applies even to minor characters like the icy Ms. Harriet Temple and the tight-lipped Professor Curtis. 

It’s the characters that truly shine in the novel, but I felt that the pacing could have been improved. While it starts in medias res and grabs the reader’s attention from the first sentence, the excitement level fluctuates. Fortunately, the characters that populate the Game of Bones makes it a worthy addition not just to the Rafferty & Llewellyn British Mysteries but to the canon of mystery fiction as a whole. This is a gripping mystery novel that I highly recommend.

Pages: 286 | ASIN: B079K6CNDM

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If the Mountain Were Smooth

If the Mountain Were Smooth by [Angelina Marie]

If The Mountain Were Smooth by Angelina Marie is an emotionally charged story following the internal struggle of Gabriella. After suffering a traumatic childhood centered around drugs and sexual abuse, she must combat her inner demons in her daily life. Busying herself with her up and coming career as a model while attending college, she distracts herself from the constant struggle of her mental health issues.

Full of love and hope, this story is a wonderful exploration of personal growth. Using the aspects of improving internally and reflecting on improvements in her every day life, the reader is able to experience Gabriella’s daily journey with her. Using shorter sentences in the beginning to represent the brief, disjointed thoughts of Gabriella, is a magnificent technique used to represent the character’s mental state. These sentences gradually become longer as the story progresses, and the character grows. Similarly, towards the start of the story, she reverts back to a childlike way of narrating, using terms such as ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ when she is having a flashback. Strongly suggesting where the issues she is now in a battle with began.

There is a strong sense of character throughout, with an insight into all of their different mannerisms and back stories being integrated well into the text. This is further enhanced by the use of dialect to distinguish between each person, for example the way Jason speaks with phrases like ‘crib and ‘you know what I’m saying’ contrasts with Gabriella.

This is an emotional thriller that utilizes amazing metaphors to illuminate important issues; like mental health problems which are represented as a monster or demon. This contrast against the shy, Catholic main character really encourages you to feel sympathy for her. This is a novel that creates authentic characters that readers can empathize with, if not relate to.

If The Mountain Were Smooth is a riveting contemporary drama following a troubled young woman who finds herself in the middle of a far reaching scandal where she’s forced to make hard decisions that affect the lives of people around her. This is a sharp and observant novel that fans of emotive women’s fiction will surely enjoy.

Pages: 159 | ASIN: B08L2553SY

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Swords Of Deception

Swords Of Deception: A Sword Of Deception Novel by [Rowan Staeffler, Rowan Staeffler]

Swords of Deception by Rowan Staeffler is a gripping fantasy novel revolving around Ellemar Vancel, who has been living her life as a hostage for almost three years, with permission to move only within the boundaries of the city. Her crime? She practiced her powers without supervision. One black day three years ago, rogue council member Celeana Maar wreaked havoc in the Witches Academy, and after a severe tussle, left Ellemar Vancel deeply wounded and deformed. Ellemar carries the painful memory of this traumatic incident to this date and wishes to find Celeana to take revenge on her. However, her mission is interrupted by the Council. The Council of Witches holds that a member cannot kill anyone. The novel begins with Ason informing her that the Council has finally granted her wish, and she can undertake her mission to track down Celeana. 

Swords of Deception is the first book in A Sword of Deception Novel series, and the story is to be continued in Book 2, Swords of Revelation. This dark fantasy novel si short but potent. With little room to spare the chapters are succinct and the story is relentlessly propelled forward through a series of wild turns and electrifying revelations. 

Within this adventurous story is an emotionally invigorating relationship between Ellemar and Ason which is subtle yet deep and provides ample dramatic punctuations to this action filled story. The work carries a light sensual undertone, especially towards the ending, without being too graphic. 

Swords of Deception has a unique plot with crisp prose that will appeal to fans of The Witcher. This is a thrilling dark fantasy novel that will appeal to both young adult and adult readers who are interested in a sword and sorcery story that knows how to deliver a well defined and entertaining hero’s journey. 

Pages: 227 | ASIN: B097Q4VK1T

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Runaway Princess

Runaway Princess by [Valerie Anne Hudson]

Runaway Princess, by Valerie Anne Hudson, is a story about Princess Louise-Marie who feels trapped in the Royal Palace of Limolou. After a botched runaway attempt when she was nine, Louise quietly accepts being stuck in the palace. This attempt opened her eyes to the plight of the commoners. Louise learns as much as she can from her tutor. It’s not until she’s seventeen and being forced to marry an abusive Duke that Louise finally takes action again.

This riveting historical fantasy is written in the first person point of view which enables readers to be pulled into this story from the start and I was able to really connect with Louise’s character.

We don’t meet Louise until she’s nine years old. Author Valerie Anne Hudson speeds us through the years until shortly before her seventeenth birthday. With the first person point of view, we get to see and feel what Louise does, which is important in this emotionally resonant story coming-of-age story. It means that we don’t get the intrigue of the palace. I find that I’m glad that Hudson didn’t focus on that. She focused on Louise’s story, her growth, and what needed to be done for the people.

While I heartily enjoyed this effervescent historical novel, especially the beginning I felt like the ending was a bit rushed, as I felt that she was able to fix the problems of the commoners rather quickly.

Runaway Princess is an enchanting historical fiction novel in the depths of the tumultuous French Revolution. This is a vibrant story that takes readers on a subtle but deep exploration of a character that never ceases to be intriguing.

Pages: 133 | ASIN: B0981FXW22

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