The Stars Beyond the Mesa by Pete A. O’Donnell is a Mid-Grade Sci-Fi novel and has features that you would expect in a mid-grade novel – short chapters and a lot of action to hold the reader’s attention. The story revolves around five children, ages 12-17, living at a remote, top secret scientific compound. They are the children of the scientists working at the compound. As they are children, the scientists, their parents, try to keep them from knowing that something has gone horribly wrong and they are all in danger. There is a lot of action and mystery.
The whole story takes place in about three days, so there is a lot of action to move the story along that quickly. But the novel also has plenty to offer the older reader – great character development for one. Using only a few words each time one of the main characters is involved in the action the reader can see that character’s qualities and flaws. One sees the basics first – Ben is impulsive, Katy is rebellious, Alex is angry; but then more information is given and you understand where each character is coming from and what has gone on before that makes them impulsive, angry or rebellious. Then more things happen and the reader can see that character grow: Alex isn’t just angry, he is brave and driven, concerned about doing the right thing, at first doing it his way and then growing so that he’ll accept help from another. Each of the children’s characters develops in this way.
Even as an adult reader, I enjoyed this book immensely. Pete cleverly leaves you hanging at the end of each chapter so that you have to turn the page to find out what happens next. Each chapter focuses on the action surrounding a single character or two or three characters, so when the chapter ends the reader not only needs to know what happens next in that situation, but also what happens to the other characters who are having separate adventures.
I have to say unreservedly that this book is very well written with an engaging story and characters and a mid-grade reader who is interested in stories about science, Sci-Fi, adventure, action and mystery, not to mention stories that are a little scary, would enjoy this. I plan on buying a copy for my 12-year-old grandson, who isn’t a big reader, but would enjoy this story. I believe a great story is the best way to turn a non-reader into a reader and this novel should do just that.
Well, it’s been quite some time since I posted a book review. I’ve been busy packing up a house I lived in for 35 years, then moving 900 miles away to a temporary residence while our dream house was being finished.
With all the delays caused by Covid 19, construction was slow. But we are finally in the house. We’re still waiting for our new furniture to arrive, so are only using those few pieces we moved from Massachusetts. I have set up my office though, so it is only a matter of making time to read.
I am reading a new book, one recommended by the fabulous Hank Phillippi Ryan on the Jungle Red Writers blog, so I will be ready with a new book review soon.
I am suspending my Friday Book Reviews for the next three to four weeks. For those of you that know, the spouse and I are moving from Massachusetts to North Carolina next month (in three weeks!) and there is just too much going on for me to even sit down and read a book right now. I’m trying to read “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell and I just can’t read more than a couple pages at a time. I will likely start over once I am set in North Carolina.
So for now I will stick to short stories – I have many back issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction filled with SciFi short stories to fill in those few minutes I get in between packing.
This week I am reviewing All the Wrong Places by Lisa Lieberman, an historical novel that takes place in the forties and fifties. I read this book this past week though I had purchased it in 2018 (I am behind on my reading). I enjoyed the story and the era she evoked through her writing.
A Good Read!
On the front it says “A Cara Walden Mystery” and while Cara Walden is the main character and the story is via her viewpoint, I wouldn’t call it a mystery. The crime happened when Cara was a child and is mentioned throughout the story as a possible accident or maybe a suicide, but murder isn’t mentioned as a possibility until the end.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book. Lisa Lieberman did an excellent job bringing the era to life. I could see Cara and her adventures in 1950’s England, then Italy, and France as she matured and tried to establish herself as an actress. Cara is the child of a famous actress known for her exceptional beauty and an equally famous director. Her brother is a screenwriter. So of course, she can’t imagine a life outside of the movie industry. She had already started acting before she was seventeen.
The story starts with Cara’s arrival in England with her brother, Gray, and family friend, Geoffrey (who is British). Geoffrey becomes more upper-class British each day, while Gray drinks more heavily. Even though Cara is only seventeen, she lives in London with Gray and Geoffrey as if an adult, going to bars and clubs, having parties, and acting, even singing in a bar.
But it is all not just parties and drinking, they come face to face with the racial tensions in London, sexual assault, McCarthyism, and class differences. So Lisa Lieberman takes on some serious issues, but weaves them expertly through the story. Additional themes come up when Cara is in Italy for a movie part. The effects of World War II on Italy, Communism, Fascism, and poverty are all covered, as Cara matures and learns more about the real world without the insulation provided by the movie world.
Lisa Lieberman’s exacting research on this era was excellent, encompassing events in the United States, England, Italy (specifically Sicily), Monaco and France. All the Wrong Places is an excellent historical novel that takes on an era that is often viewed through rosie tinted glasses, ignoring the social issues of the time. This book tackles them, not in a “in your face” fashion, but softly as Cara becomes aware of them and is changed by them. While this was not the mystery that I was expecting, it was still an excellent and enjoyable read.
This week I am reviewing Trust Me by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Let me state that I have been a big fan of Hank’s since the first time I met her in 2012 at the Sunday Breakfast at Crime Bake. She is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. She offered her help to every person at the table, handed her cards around with a “call me anytime.” This was my first writing conference, and I will tell you, I was impressed. I have read a few of Hank’s other books, and enjoyed them, but this was the first stand alone of hers that I read.
Trust Me, you’ll enjoy this book!
I would call Trust Me a domestic psychological thriller. Throughout the book, you wonder did she do it or didn’t she do it? Did she kill her child? Is she a monster? Is she a victim?
As the book begins, we meet the main character, Mercer Hennessey, a respected journalist that has been out of commission since the tragic death of her husband and young daughter over a year before. Even though she is deeply troubled, she is given the assignment of writing a book about the woman, Ashlyn Bryant, who is on trial for the murder of her young daughter, Tasha Nicole.
In Part 1, Mercer is writing her book in conjunction with the trial as it takes place, weaving the actual testimony into her book. Everything she hears supports her conviction that Ashlyn is guilty of killing “Baby Boston” as Tasha Nicole was known as before being identified. Everyone in Boston mourned over this child, Mercer included. And everything she writes in the book reflects what she feels about Ashlyn.
Pulled into Mercer’s troubled thoughts the reader can’t help but wonder if she was truly the right person to write this story. Mercer has great empathy for Tasha Nicole, sometimes confusing her feelings for her own lost daughter with her feelings for this lost child. Hank Phillippi Ryan did a wonderful job weaving Mercer’s psychology and personality throughout the story, so that the reader is left not only questioning Mercer’s decisions, writing, and behavior, but also being pulled so deeply into her mind, that as the reader, you agree with her.
In Part 2, Mercer actually gets to spend time with and interview Ashlyn and begins to question her own thoughts and conclusions. Is Ashlyn truly guilty, or is she an innocent woman, also grieving for her daughter? Part 2 is delves into Ashlyn’s psychological make-up to a certain extent, but mostly to show how it sometimes merges and sometimes clashes with Mercer’s psychology. Is Ashlyn a master manipulator or is she a victim? The journey to the truth takes Mercer on a wild ride.
Trust Me is a great domestic thriller that keeps you guessing right until the end. I can highly recommend it.