Friday, January 18, 2013

Fiction, Non-fiction, and YA Reviews

Lots of good books out there, my friends. Not all of them are mysteries -- even though that's mainly what I review here at Cicero's Children -- and not all of them are even novels. Non-fiction books are often as suspenseful and fascinating as any fictional thriller on the market. (You'll see why I think that's true when you read my non-fiction review below.) These books are not all for adults, either. The Young Adult (YA) market is growing, as is the Juvenile market. Despite what some surveys say, there are still plenty of kids in this world who enjoy books. Authors around the globe are rediscovering the fun of writing for these younger readers. 

Deborah Dee Harper's middle grade series (ages 8 to 12) features a 6th grade boy named Laramie who just happens to live in the state of Wyoming. Laramie is introduced in LARAMIE AND THE LAW, the first of six stories published individually in E-book format by Echelon Press. What makes this series unique is that the six stories have been combined in a print edition called LARAMIE ON THE LAM.

Having three grandsons in the middle grades, I downloaded this story just to get an idea of what was currently available for kids who enjoy mysteries. It started out with a bang with Laramie pictured on the front page of the town's newspaper holding the door for three robbers exiting the local bank. Of course, Laramie didn't know they were thieves -- he was merely being polite -- but now the police are looking for him, and he's scared. He's pretty sure they'll consider him an accomplice to the bad guys, and why not? There's $30,000 in his backpack -- the one he was wearing when he stopped at the bank -- and for sure he didn't put it in there. The initial action slows a bit when Laramie decides his parents aren't going to kill him for getting into such trouble, but how he manages to convince the police of his innocence while helping catch the thieves makes for an entertaining story even for someone my age. I'd definitely recommend LARAMIE AND THE LAW for the younger middle grade group.

It's flu season again in the U.S., and all I can say is, thank goodness we now have vaccines to prevent or lessen the effects of this disease. In THE GREAT INFLUENZA, John Barry does a masterful job of describing the flu pandemic of 1918 when influenza spread across the globe killing millions of people and often leaving survivors with life-long neurological problems. What started in middle America soon spread to Army encampments filled with soldiers training for overseas deployment during WWI. From there it attacked people in cities both large and small across the country, while also taking root in Europe via incoming troops. As scientists raced to discover the cause of the disease and a means to treat it, officials in all levels of government did their best to downplay the severity of the disease, thus ensuring its spread rather than helping to contain it. Rather than act on the advice of the scientists, these officials feared the truth would destroy the morale of the citizenry and hurt the war effort. An example of what happened because of this occurred in Philadelphia on September 28, 1918. Over the objections of the scientific community, city officials allowed a Liberty Loan parade to take place. Thousands of people jammed the two mile long parade route. Those who were already infected with the flu virus easily passed it on to other parade goers. Two days later flu victims began flooding the Philadelphia hospitals. The third day after the parade, flu killed 117 people in the city. The death rate then grew by leaps and bounds. On October 10, 759 people died of the flu. During the worst week of the flu outbreak, the week of Oct. 16, 4,597 Philadelphians died of the disease.

THE GREAT INFLUENZA is part horror story, part political expose, and part historical narrative. Most of all, it is a chronicle of a great scientific breakthrough and the story of the men and women who gave their all to achieve that breakthrough. Barry has written a riveting tale that I highly recommend for anyone interested in the history of America. 

And now to my final review of the day, this one by Carl Brookins.

Sticks & Stones                      
By K.J. Larson
ISBN: 978-1-59058-921-2
A 2012 Poisoned Pen HC Release. 229 pages

This is one triple threat novel. It is fast. It is raunchy. It is punchy. Bonus is it’s written by three sisters. Yes, the title refers to that old nursery rhyme. Second in the Cat De Luca series, the novel continues the adventures of a smart, sassy, saucy, Chicago P.I. Her agency is called “Pants on Fire.” She’s a member of a large and useful if somewhat un-functional family of Italian Chicago cops. Their attitudes and sometimes mis-guided attempts to aid or thwart De Luca’s usually spur-of-the-moment actions in pursuit of her current cheating husband-target add a good deal to the general hilarity.

The novel surges back and forth and up and down, in and out of second story windows and costumes. It never loses sight of the main goal and for the most part, is well-written with excellent pace. Disregard a few sags in the middle in which peripheral characters heat up the pages with drink and dalliance.

With tongue firmly planted, Cat De Luca, in the capable hands of her grinning authors, sashays through the urban landscape to an inescapable conclusion. A fine American cozy novel and I look forward to a long run with leggy De Luca.

 Carl Brookins
Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky



  1. Hi! Love this site. Perhaps you'd be interested in reviewing my new middle grade novel, Catcher in the Sky

    Oh, and I see you like mysteries, I co-wrote three Murder, She Wrote books, too. But I think your readers, especially boys who love baseball, will enjoy Catcher in the Sky. Thanks!

    1. Nice to meet you here, Laurie. I'll definitely check out your book. I'm a big baseball fan and actually work at Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.

  2. Great reviews. All the books sound great also, although the flu one is scary, considering what's going on these days!

    Morgan Mandel

    1. Yes, the flu book is scary in parts, mainly due to the number of people who died and the struggle to figure out what was killing them. But it's also a great book for people who like to tell you how wonderful the "good old days" were. Actually, they weren't all that good!