Book Review: NOTHING MORE DANGEROUS, a teenager confronts prejudice in his small Missouri town as he investigates a missing persons case

Esken, Allen - Nothing More Dangerous (4)๐—›๐—ฎ๐—ฝ๐—ฝ๐˜† ๐—ฝ๐˜‚๐—ฏ๐—น๐—ถ๐—ฐ๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป ๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐˜† ๐˜๐—ผ ๐™‰๐™ค๐™ฉ๐™๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ˆ๐™ค๐™ง๐™š ๐˜ฟ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ๐™š๐™ง๐™ค๐™ช๐™จ ๐—ฏ๐˜† ๐—”๐—น๐—น๐—ฒ๐—ป ๐—˜๐˜€๐—ธ๐—ฒ๐—ป!

In 1976, freshman Boady Sandenโ€™s widowed, depressed, and overwhelmed mother sends him to St. Ignacius high school, a private Catholic school, after getting into trouble with the wrong crowd. He is friendless and awkward, drawing band logos in a notebook to avoid the attention of the popular boys who enjoy tormenting him. With only his dog and his next-door neighbor, Hoke, as company, Boady dreams of leaving Jessup, Missouri behind and is only waiting until he turns sixteen.

That same year, Lida Poe, an African American bookkeeper at Ryke Manufacturing disappears, and town gossip says she left with $100,000 of embezzled funds. Rykeโ€™s home office sends Charles Egin to manage the plant and clean up the operations. Charles, his wife, and his son, Thomas, Boadyโ€™s age, move across the street from Boady on rural Frog Hollow Road.

Boadyโ€™s been so busy keeping his head down, heโ€™s noticed little about the tensions in town, but when the black family moves across the street, he is drawn into the racial battlefield of the community and confronted with the prejudices both his classmates and he himself hold. With a new awareness of the secrets people hold, he sees new dimensions in Hoke, Wally Schenicker, his boss at the drywall company down the road, and even his mother.

As Boady and Thomas hone onto the mystery behind Lida Poeโ€™s disappearance, Boady is forced to choose loyaltiesโ€”and the wrong decision may be deadly for him, his friends, and his family.

๐™‰๐™ค๐™ฉ๐™๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ˆ๐™ค๐™ง๐™š ๐˜ฟ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™œ๐™š๐™ง๐™ค๐™ช๐™จ deftly combines mystery and bildungsroman, charting Boadyโ€™s growing compassion, both for others and himself and challenging assumptions about race, personality, and motivation. While I found this a compelling read, I was incensed by the injustice Boady both uncovered and experienced. The rural mid-1970s Missouri setting focuses the mystery and allows Esken to bring race to the forefront, with discrimination more overt and the Civil Rights Legislation still just over a decade old. At the same time, the themes are highly relevant to todayโ€™s society.

For me, the dialogue, though, was a bit of a challenge. I trust that the author reliably represented the local dialect, but it was slightly awkward. I also wish that some of the minor characters such as Mrs. Elgin and Diana, one of Boadyโ€™s classmates, had been given more development. However, this is definitely a worthwhile book for readers who enjoy coming of age stories, literary mysteries, or novels about social issues.

๐‘ป๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’Œ ๐’š๐’๐’– ๐’•๐’ ๐‘ต๐’†๐’•๐‘ฎ๐’‚๐’๐’๐’†๐’š ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐‘ด๐’–๐’๐’‰๐’๐’๐’๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐‘ฉ๐’๐’๐’Œ๐’” ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’—๐’Š๐’…๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’‚๐’ ๐’‚๐’…๐’—๐’‚๐’๐’„๐’† ๐’“๐’†๐’‚๐’…๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’„๐’๐’‘๐’š ๐’Š๐’ ๐’†๐’™๐’„๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’ˆ๐’† ๐’‡๐’๐’“ ๐’‚๐’ ๐’‰๐’๐’๐’†๐’”๐’• ๐’“๐’†๐’—๐’Š๐’†๐’˜.

Book Review: DECEPTION, a continuation of the Dark Matter Trilogy

Happy publication day to Deception by Teri Terry, Book Two in the riveting Dark Matter Trilogy!

Shay, believing herself a carrier of the deadly Aberdeen Flu, flees her boyfriend, Kai, in the night to turn herself in. She’s imprisoned with a group of other survivors under the management of physicist Dr. Alex Cross, Kai’s hated stepfather.

Although angry Shay abandoned him, Kai can think of nothing but finding her. However, with no leads, he decides to find Freja Eriksen in Londonโ€”a mysterious woman who has been posting videos disputing that survivors are contagious. Callie, Kai’s “cured” sister who can only be seen by survivors, follows him.

Meanwhile, as the epidemic spreads across the UK, jumping quarantine lines, a cure seems ever more elusive.

Deception expands the cast of characters from the first novel in the Dark Matter Trilogy, Contagion, and explains more about the mechanisms of the Aberdeen Flu as well as the surprising powers of the survivors.

With Freja, Shay and Kai enter a love triangle made complicated by distance and distrust as well as the survivors’ new capabilities. Dr. Cross’s motivations remain suspiciousโ€”and while Shay is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, Kai is certain he is a malevolent force. At the same time, Callie must confront uncomfortable truths about her situation.

Written for a young adult audience, this trilogy offers an entertaining series that engages questions of identity, difference, and power. Deception is a satisfying continuation, and I look forward to the final volume, Evolution.

Thank you to NetGalley and Charlesbridge Teen for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG DREAMS – MARY SHELLEY

Books in the Little People, BIG DREAMS! series never fail to impress me with their accessible storylines and delightful illustrations, especially when featuring historic women scientists, artists, and writers. Mary Shelley does not disappoint.

Born in 1797, to philosopher and political writer William Godwin and famed feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley became the writer of what might be the most famous horror novel of all time: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. From dealing with her childhood struggles through her ample imagination to her scandalous affair with married Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom she later wed, Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegaraโ€™s text presents appropriate, relevant, and interesting language for readers aged five to eight paired with illustrations that capture the mood and time of the era. The book closes with a more in-depth biography for older or adult readers.

If I could change anything about the book, I would want more information about what Shelley did after writing Frankenstein, though I understand why her early life and the book itself is the biographyโ€™s key focus.

Mary Shelley celebrates the power of imagination and illustrates the powerful and ongoing effects of literature and presents a wonderful role model for imaginative children!

Thanks to NetGalley and Frances Lincoln Childrens Publishing for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: LITTLE VOICES, Devon tries to exonerate her friend, accused of murder – who will get her first? Her enemies or the little voices?

Lillie, Vanessa - Little Voices (1)Little Voices
Vanessa Lillie

Three months early, in September, Devon Burges goes into labor and is rushed into an emergency C-section. As the anesthesia pulls her under, she hears a report on the radio: Belina Cabrala was found murdered at Swan Point Cemetery. Belina, her close friend as well as the nanny for Emmett, son of Alec, one of her college classmates.

In December, Devon begins venturing outside the house with her premie, Ester. Alec is one of the first people she sees, and he divulges that the police are treating him as their primary suspect in Belina’s death. He begs Devon, a lawyer, to help him prove his innocence.

Not only does Devon believe Alec, she is driven by a compulsive need to find justice for Belina. Though still physically and emotionally fragile, she begins an investigation parallel to that of the police. However, in the throes of postpartum depression, Devon begins hearing voicesโ€”cruel, hateful pronouncements that seem to be rooted in childhood trauma.

Nevertheless, Devon doggedly pursues the killer’s trail, following it through Belina’s passionate affairs and illicit business dealings. She uncovers secrets of powerful individuals, and it’s unclear whether her voices or her enemies are most dangerousโ€”and if she or Ester will pay the price for her persistence.

Little Voices offers an interesting protagonist: a strong, intelligent, yet flawed and vulnerable woman who takes on a male-dominated environment to seek justice for her friends. Even when Devon’s internal voices were eating her away, she projects self-confidence and power. The book had a wide roster of supporting characters, including siblings Cynthia, an astute businesswoman and Philip, a reporter, and Derek, Devon’s animal-loving, addict brother. Her husband, Jack, was both a calming force and a foil, and Jack’s Uncle Cal provided access to the city’s upper echelons. I wish Derek and Jack had been more developed; Derek was one of my favorite characters.

For me, the voices sometimes were so frequent, they were distracting to the narrative. While I suppose that’s a good approximation of Devon’s experience, it doesn’t always make for pleasant reading. Additionally, I thought the pace and the delivery of crucial backstory was a little awkward.

Still, this is a promising mystery debut by Vanessa Lillie, and I’m especially excited that like me she is from Oklahoma! I look forward to her future novels.

Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: INTO CAPTIVITY THEY WILL GO, a rural boy grows up believing he is the second coming of Jesus

Into Captivity They Will Go
Noah Milligan

Initially, I was interested in Into Captivity They Will Go by Noah Milligan because itโ€™s set in Oklahoma, my home state. The book centers on Caleb Gunter, a preteen who is told by his mother Evelyn that the world is ending, and he is the second coming of Jesus. Even in the buckle of the bible belt, such a pronouncement doesnโ€™t sit well, and the First Baptist Church in Bartlesville excommunicates the Gunter family. Leaving her husband Earl and older son Jonah behind, Evelyn takes Caleb to a rural religious community run by her stepfatherโ€™s friend, Sam Jenkins. The people there are more accepting of Evelynโ€™s message, and Caleb, speaking in tongues, lost in the spirit, and lifted up by the other congregants, finally feels at home.

Evelynโ€™s homilies, however, grow more extreme, and as her prophecies darken, she views the outside community with more and more suspicion. Meanwhile, Caleb struggles to accept what it means to be the savior who will lead the chosen people after the end of the world. After a series of cataclysmic events, Caleb loses everything familiar, including the foundation of his faith.

While the first two thirds of the book recount Calebโ€™s childhood and are told in third person, the final section gives Caleb a first-person voice and more insight into his reactions to the events surrounding him. I couldnโ€™t help but think how damaged Caleb must be and how tempting it was to fall into old patterns of behavior, substituting one false god for another. Heโ€™s calm and accepting of his past, which is hard to understand, but Atchley, a character he later becomes close to, may provide the readerโ€™s perspective wondering how he isnโ€™t angry and resentful.

Throughout the book, I wondered why Evelyn had taken this religious path, but then I also asked myself if it mattered. Whatever the cause, Caleb was left to cope with the impact of her beliefs and actions and how they affected him; they also rippled into the family, changing the lives of Earl and Jonah, and beyond, so that others in the community were never the same.

One of the triumphs of the book is that Milligan writes with such compassion and empathy that is impossible to write any characters off as one-dimensional, fringe, or unbelievable. I thought that I would immediately feel anger and contempt for Evelyn. Instead, while I did feel some of that on behalf of Caleb, even more, I considered her with empathy and curiosity. Calebโ€™s general placidity evokes an air of forgiveness and acceptance, and despite the travails of his childhood, it seems that attitude serves him well. Furthermore, I loved the subtle Oklahoman references Into Captivity They Will Go such as the primacy of Dr. Pepper, the references to concerts at the Blue Door, the constant calibration of weather, and the love of Sonic and Braumโ€™s.

Even though I did grow up in Oklahoma, I went to a relatively liberal church (for that state anyway), and I wasnโ€™t familiar with the biblical passages from Revelations. I had to look up the seven seals to fully understand Evelynโ€™s references. I also wish that some of the characters, like Earl, had been more developed. The shift from third person to first person was a little jarring and unexpected, and Caleb seemed like such a different person, also with time passing and experience gained, the change did made sense once I reflected on it. Finally, some details concerning spatial and time relationships were confusing, but that may be a function of the advance copy I read and will be corrected in the printed version.

Readers who enjoy literary fiction, coming of age stories, narratives about extreme religion, and of course, books set in Oklahoma should read Into Captivity They Will Go.

Thank you to NetGalley and Central Avenue Publishing for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.