Ashes to Ashes by Valerie Thomas

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Natalie and her brother, Ben, are new students and want to make friends fast. When they attend the high school bonfire, they become the entertainment instead, when Ben gets into a fist fight with Zack. Not knowing what to do, Natalie grabs onto the sleeve of the boy next to her, hoping he’ll step in and put a stop to it. Surprisingly, a girl comes forward and takes charge. Hoping to make a friend, Natalie introduces herself. Love Chapman is definitely not your average student. She tells Natalie to take her brother home and keep Ben away from Zack at all costs. A strange first encounter and not a particularly friendly one.

Natalie tries to pursue friendship with Love, who rebuffs her. Disappointed, Natalie finds friends in Jennie and Evan. Unfortunately, while she is busy making friends, so is Ben. To her dismay she discovers his new pal is Zack, a loner whose usual expression is a smirk or one with a stone-cold gaze. Either way, he gives Natalie the creeps.

Gradually, it is noticed that the school is plagued with tragedy. A student commits suicide after being seen talking to Love. Evan’s best friend is nearly killed in a car accident while Love just happens to be with him. Even Ben is not free of the bad luck Love seems to bring. While doing community service at a construction site he is injured in her presence. As Natalie’s suspicions of Love grow, so does her fear. This is not even the tip of the iceberg in this tale.

I am surprised that this story held my attention. I’ve read several YA books and there are some great ones out there, but it is usually a challenge for them to keep me glued to the pages. There are a lot of unanswered questions until the very end and I spent a lot of time pondering where the author was taking me. I think anyone who enjoys YA and mystery will enjoy this. It has a phenomenal ending that I never saw coming. Thank you Ms. Thomas. This is a completely engrossing and entertaining read.

The grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – Young adult for teens and adults who appreciate some good YA.
  • Level of sexuality – These kids are too wrapped up in the drama to dwell on anything sexual.
  • Is there graphic language? I don’t recall any language that would scorch the reader’s eyes.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? There is a sequel coming.
  • Level of character development – The characters really didn’t change. They started with almost an adult persona and stayed that way. Other than Natalie cowing up with some wild idea that no one could talk her out of, most were rather sedate.

I’m more than happy to award this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon

The Assassin Game by Kirsty McKay

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This is one of those books that has an intriguing premise, but just doesn’t quite follow through. I picked it up expecting something similar to the classic YA horror of the R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike books that I read as a teenager. It was a good attempt that fell short for me.

The story starts with a remote island that is home to a boarding school for the elite and talented. Unfortunately, our heroine is not in attendance for her academic, artistic, or athletic abilities. Unlike the other students, she is there because her parents happen to own the island. That is part of the reason she is surprised when she is chosen to become a member of the Guild, a not-so secret society of the coolest kids. It begins with her initiation, which is disgusting, but promising. It quickly went downhill from there, though.

The Kill game is a yearly ritual for the Guild. One person is the killer and they must come up with elaborate ways to “kill” the other members, until someone correctly guesses who the killer is. The book spends a good deal of time building doubt about several of the characters, but they do not actually have much interaction with Cate, our heroine. The other major character, Vaughn, is her childhood friend and is the most entertaining element of the book. Alex is the nasty leader, who is obsessed with the game. The rest blur into the background.

The back cover of the book promised danger, but there isn’t much and it is unimpressive. One girl has a robotic spider tossed at her with peanut oil on it, a dangerous attempt due to her allergy. It was supposed to be exciting, but it came across as silly. It wasn’t until the last tenth of the book that it actually picked up its pace. Finally, someone almost dies. It took far too long to get to that point. The ending is ridiculous and it is easy to guess the who, but the why is an utter disappointment.

I found that all of the characters were annoying, even Vaughn, my favorite. This is a YA novel, but the teen aspect was overwhelming and I could not connect with any of the shallow characters. It’s not a small book and I had to force myself to finish it. It turned out to be nothing like the gory, heart-pounding books of my own youth. Sadly, I cannot recommend this to readers, unless they are prepared for a slow, anti-climactic read. The author’s style is appealing. It is all the other parts of a story that are lacking.

Now, for the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Young adult and definitely for young adults. I enjoy YA, but this was a little too young.
  • Level of sexuality – There is a tad bit of kissing, but that is all.
  • Is there graphic language? No.
  • Did I cry? Not a tear.
  • Did I laugh? Nope.
  • Is this part of a series? No.
  • Level of character development – Basically non-existent.

I wish I had better news about this book. It is obvious that a lot of hard work went into this story, but the characters were flat and not particularly interesting. There was too much time spent running around in caves or on the beach and not enough actual danger. I am sorry to give it ⭐️⭐️ stars. I had hoped to find a new, exciting author, but I will probably pass on her work in the future.

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Macadamian Pliers by Steve Conoboy

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This book has a strange and awesome title and an equally awesome story. There is no way for you not to be caught up in this freaky mystery. Cherry Rains and her family are moving into a new house half a state away. She plans on never calling it home, as moving was never her idea. Her goofy brother, Frank, has already tried to claim the attic as his bedroom. Thankfully, she won’t have to listen to him stomping overhead every night, since Mom vetoed that plan.

Not only is Cherry upset about the move, but the realtor is a real creep, too. He has a strange body shape, seems to walk around on silent, kitty feet, appearing near her when she is most vulnerable and alone, has a wicked missing eye, and the other eye stares mercilessly at her. Don’t forget the long, knobby fingers that are never still. Cherry is truly frightened when she notices him standing outside their house at night, his fingers moving rapidly or appearing to wave a stick. What could possibly be going on?

Frank, on the other hand, has found a new friend, Jack, and a haunted house! On the way to school they walk by and Cherry decides right then and there that she will never, ever go in. However, Jack and Frank are already plotting when they will take a peek. Adding more excitement to their lives, packing boxes begin to hop up and down, doors slam, and even a bathrobe assumes the shape of a human and floats towards them. When Mom receives a nasty bite on her arm, Cherry decides she has had enough. There must be some way to rid themselves of these nasty spirits. She enlists Frank and Jack to help her research ghosts and other scary things. She’s stunned to find that there seems to be an overabundance of these in town.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The characters are so engrossing that I enjoyed pursuing the story of each one. They are all interestingly intertwined to give us an engrossing tale. This is not your usual woo-oooo story; at no time was I creeped out, bored, or wishing it would just end. This has a cliffhanger ending, but a sequel is not mentioned. I was fine with the end, since it all came together nicely, but you do have to wonder…*a little Twilight Zone music here, please*

Now for the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Paranormal mystery for older teens and adults.
  • Level of sexuality – None.
  • Is there graphic language – Very low.
  • Did I cry? No.
  • Did I laugh? No.
  • Is this part of a series? This was published in January 2017 and there is no mention of a sequel.
  • Level of character development – Nicely done. The kids are a bit quirky, but it’s entertaining and aren’t kids always that way?

I gladly give this ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Find it here on Amazon

Fatal Destiny by David Delee

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Grace deHaviland is a bounty hunger and a very good one. Although, there seems to be a certain amount of chaos that happend to follow in her wake, which says something. This day, she is hot on the trail of Barry Keegan, an accountant for a pharmaceutical company. The CEO, CFO, and Keegan have been accused of securities fraud. When CEO Wainwright is murdered, Keegan is accused and Grace finds herself way too close for comfort.

Not everyone enjoys Grace’s acquaintance. She’s defensive, abrasive, and usually ‘all work’. Since everyone appears to be in pursuit of Keegan, Grace decides to keep as low a profile as possible, hoping info will jump into her lap. Finally, she meets Keegan’s wife, Molly, and their son, Sean. Molly is very protective of her husband and son. While Grace tries to talk Molly into encouraging Keegan to turn himself over to Grace, they are unpleasantly surprised by two thugs rushing into the yard and shooting at them. They want Keegan, but will settle for Molly and Sean. Good thing Grace is there to help them escape.

After putting them in police custody, Grace realizes that she is getting closer and closer to Keegan. When she finally catches up to him, he beats her soundly and threatens her life. He leaves Grace lying in a heap in the dust, wishing she didn’t have such a bad headache. Keegan is running from more than just Grace, and as she continues to delve into his past, she discovers that he has been a very bad man. She wonders if she can catch him and keep his family safe at the same time.

This is a fairly entertaining story. There’s plenty of action and good characters. However, I am a long time fan of Stephanie Plum books and this is far too similar for me to judge this book without wondering what bounty hunter Stephanie Plum would do. I also found that Grace could use a better sense of humor or maybe it is the author’s writing that could use some. It could be that this book is way better than I think, just because I cannot stop comparing it. I leave it up to you and encourage you to find out for yourself.

Nevertheless, here’s the grading:

  • Genre and general reading age – Action for older teens and adults.
  • Level of sexuality – Low.
  • Is there graphic language? Not much.
  • Was it sad enough to cry? No.
  • Was it funny enough to laugh? No.
  • Level of character development – None.
  • Is this part of a series? Indeed, it is. Grace deHaviland Bounty Hunter series.

Overall, I give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

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The Body Reader by Anne Frasier

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Welcome to the life of Jude Fontaine, a terribly traumatized young woman, who is abducted, imprisoned in a basement, and tortured for three years by a malevolent man. This is an impressive chapter in the fact that the author focuses not on Jude’s continuous rape, but on the fact that Jude in time comes to a place where she needs to love this man. While I absolutely despise him, to save her sanity, Jude releases her hate and turns it to love, a false love, but love nevertheless.

After a fantastic and emotional escape, Jude’s desire is to return to her occupation as a police detective. She is given back her old position, but is assigned a new partner, Uriah Ashby. Her previous partner hovers around the borders of her new life as a detective. He thought he was in love with her at one time and isn’t too happy when she lets him know that is never going to happen. He is a continual and important character to the plot, but he is not given a lot of action.

Although her new partner, Uriah, is certain she’s not ready to return to her job, she does a commendable job at convincing him she is good to go. If he could read her mind, like the reader is allowed to, he would definitely be worried about her sanity. I sure did. For years, she was able to read her captor’s body language and now, as a detective, she finds she can easily read others and even, sometimes, the bodies of the dead. Her first time reading the body of a murdered teen freaks Uriah out, but he finds out that when it comes to Jude, what you see is what you get. I think this is the reason that I really like Jude. Her courage is impressive and, while she is looking at a long recovery for overcoming the trauma she endured, she refuses to be destroyed by it.

Unfortunately, it is soon apparent that Uriah has his own ghosts to deal with. While Jude manages to hide some of her issues, he is not quite as adept and she quickly discovers that she knows more about his troubles than she’d like to. Soon, trust issues develop and nearly destroy her opportunity at being a detective. The ending is surprising and I thought it was very cleverly done.

Although there are not a lot of supporting characters, the ones that are included are fascinating and add a lot to the story. I found this to be an extremely powerful read that hit me on an emotional level. I think readers who enjoy thrillers and suspensful books will appreciate this one.

Now, for the rating:

  • Genre and general reading age – Mystery/Thriller and adult or older teens.
  • Level of sexuality – Not a whole lot. Even the rape scene was centered on Jude and not the sexual act.
  • Was there graphic language? Not that I noticed.
  • Did I cry? It’s not that kind of story.
  • Is this part of a series? No.
  • Level of character development – I found it to be highly developed from the get-go.
  • Did I laugh? No, it’s not that kind of book.

This story is very well done. I think that it flows well and I was sorry when it ended. So, with that said, I give it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ stars.

Available here on Amazon