#BookReview: Off The Deep End by Lucinda Berry

Weird Book But Nothing Technically Wrong. Ever read a 5* review that is probably going to read like the reviewer actually rated it 1*? Well, if you haven’t… you’re about to. Because let me be clear up front: There was nothing from a technical/ objective-ish standpoint to hang a star reduction on here. There weren’t any clear technical/ editing mistakes, the story is at least plausible within the context of the world/ situation set up, etc. Thus, with my subtractive system where every book starts at 5* and I have to have objective-ish describable reasons to deduct stars… there simply weren’t any here.

AND YET… this book kinda sucked, y’all. I hate to say it, but it did. I’m down with a slow burn, I’ve defended a LOT of slow burn books over the years and even as recently as this week. What I can’t defend is a book that is just so *boring* and completely disjointed. Someone once said (paraphrasing) that if you show a red phone on Page 23, it better be used somewhere in the finale – and this… doesn’t happen. There *is* a massive twist at the end of the book, but it comes completely out of left field with absolutely zero foreshadowing *at all*. Instead we get all kinds of irrelevant details such as kid sister sleeping in the bed with her parents over fears of the “rampaging kidnapper/ serial killer”, among other completely irrelevant details that are never really explored or shown why they are crucial to the story being told. As at least one other reviewer pointed out, this story could likely have been told much better from different perspectives – maybe the two boys (even the one who dies in the opener – maybe in an “if i stay” type manner?), particularly given the twist at the end.

Overall though, this *is* a five star review, so I’m going to recommend you read this book – if for no other reason than maybe I’m wrong and there was genuinely a great tale in here that I just didn’t pick up on? Let me know in the comments wherever you may find this review, or on social media somewhere if that isn’t possible. Recommended.

This review of Off The Deep End by Lucinda Berry was originally written on November 24, 2022.

#BookReview: Only Girl Alive by Holly S. Roberts

Creepy Series Starter. This one has a more rare premise than any detective story I’ve ever encountered: Set in Utah, the lead detective here was raised in the polygamous – and heretical, according to current LDS doctrine as I understand it – branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons. Her squad is sent in to deal with particularly sensitive investigations primarily involving this group, and in this particular case actively involving her former family. Which is interesting enough, but then you get into the truly creepier/ seedier side of humanity generally and this particular sect specifically, and it gets truly… icky, let’s go with. There is a LOT of crazy to unpack here, and a lot of childhood trauma for our lead detective to try to handle in the process. Overall the mystery itself is solid, but this is clearly yet another in the police procedural genre where you’re coming into this for the team/ personal dynamics as much as for any given mystery, and Roberts does a great job of setting that up and setting it in motion. The *one* criticism is that our lead Detective is constantly referred to as “Detective Sergeant”, which is a British position and not an American one, at least per my own knowledge of American policing. (Which in some areas is quite extensive, but admittedly exact ranks within departments and peculiarities among States in those ranks is not one of them. It is *possible* that this rank exists in Utah and I am simply unaware of it, and it is a minor detail anyway, though one that can throw the reader out of the book when encountered.) Overall an interesting tale well told, and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in this series. Very much recommended.

This review of Only Girl Alive by Holly S. Roberts was originally written on November 24, 2022.

#BookReview: The Southern Way Of Life by Charles Reagan Wilson

Solid Exposition, Lacking Bibliography. This book is truly a phenomenal look at southern culture from the time the first Europeans came to the southern North American region through today and how various in and out groups have viewed and shaped that culture along the way. Divided into a few different eras, Reagan truly does an excellent job of showing just what Southern culture and Southern Civilization meant to the various peoples of the given eras and how those views would come to shape later generations. Indeed, the only issue I could find with this book (even given its 600+ page length!) was that its bibliography comprised just 10% or so of the text, when 20-30% is more normal for a nonfiction text in my experience across literally hundreds of Advance Review Copies over the last few years alone. Thus, the one star deduction – which even I admit may be debatable in this particular case, as 10% of a 600+ page book *is* 20-30% of a 200-300 page book. Still, I’ve seen similar length books still hit that 20-30% mark, so I’m sticking to my guns here even as I openly admit others may feel different. Very much recommended.

This review of The Southern Way of Life by Charles Reagan Wilson was originally written on November 22, 2022.

#BookReview: The Wedding Ranch by Nancy Naigle

Awkwardly Titled Slow Burn Hallmarkie Romance. This is one of those romances where it feels like Naigle was leaning perhaps a bit too hard into her Hallmark stories – as this one is dang near a cross between a Hallmark movie and something similar to Great American Country’s Heartland. If you like small towns and saying your prayers and going to church… yeah, this story is going to be right up your alley. If you’re opposed to any of the above, and particularly if you’re strongly/ vitriolically opposed to the above… maybe just skip this one and save yourself some time and spare the author a bad review over something that was never going to be a good fit for you to begin with.

But for those who *do* enjoy this type of story – and clearly, there is a large enough segment of the population to make a comfortable career within this space across several different mediums of art – this is a pretty solid story that goes down pretty well how you expect. A lot of small town interaction, some ranch riding, some will they/ won’t they (even though this is a romance and you *know* they eventually will), and being that this is of the “good Christian story” type, you know there isn’t going to be anything beyond a light kiss or so.

No, the biggest real criticism of the book is, as some others have mentioned, the titular venue only plays a minor role – which could be explained away more if this were Book 2 in a series, as it often feels that it is. And yet, from everything I’ve been able to see on Goodreads and elsewhere, this is truly a standalone book. Though *technically*, I suppose, the “Ranch” includes more than just the venue… including much of where this story takes place. So in a larger sense, it may actually work in the end. This still doesn’t excuse such *deep* backstory that seriously, this could have even been a Book 3, with Book 1 and 2 focusing on the creation of the venue and Book 2 focusing on some aspect of the friends in Raleigh. (Obviously perhaps not Lori herself, but the male friend – who features prominently in the couple here initially getting together and then again in the end of this tale – would make for a good center piece for one of these theoretical earlier book.)

Overall this is still a strong tale of its type, and well told. Very much recommended.

This review of The Wedding Ranch by Nancy Naigle was originally written on November 18, 2022.

#BookReview: Almost Midnight by Caroline Swart

Action Packed Series Starter. This is one of those series starters that ends on an “oh SH!T” cliffhanger – and while it could possibly be debated if the story should have continued on from there in a longer tale, it also told a complete story to that point, so I’m personally comfortable leaving the rating at 5* rather than deducting a star for blatant cash grab. But I could also see other readers making a different call on that point.

Still, for what the story actually is up to that point, and even through that point in making the reader want the next book *right this second*… this is a truly great book. The story has elements of a wide variety of known and not-as-known scifi, from Amy Adams’ Arrival to Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 to Jeremy Robinson’s Unity to Meg Pechenick’s Vardeshi Saga, and yet still manages to feel fresh and unique even within its lost memory / alien invasion / sudden awakening type of story.

This is one that contains several elements of several different genres (including a few teases of romance), so certainly nearly everyone will likely find something here to like – and thus the book could have near universal appeal to some level.

Overall a strong tale well told, and I’m truly looking forward to the next book here. Very much recommended.

This review of Almost Midnight by Caroline Swart was originally written on November 14, 2022.

#BookReview: A Wild River Match by Jennifer Snow

Short And Fun Valentine’s Romance Novella. This is a short and fun novella where the main conflict is that our leading dude used to date our leading lady’s sister, and while both are attracted to each other in this forced-proximity mishap, the sister weighs heavily on them both. Given that this is a 70 ish page novella… there isn’t a lot of room for much more conflict than that, and Snow works well within the space she has allowed herself here to show a full romance, but quicker and with fewer details in certain areas and less overall conflict/ adventures. Still, yet again, for long time fans looking for a quick book to hit whatever arbitrary reading goal you have or for those new to Snow looking for a quick taste to see if you’re even going to like her style of storytelling, this is a solid book for both camps and for anyone in between. Very much recommended.

This review of A Wild River Match by Jennifer Snow was originally written on November 2, 2022.

#BookReview: An Alaskan Christmas Homecoming by Jennifer Snow

Fun And Short Christmas Novella. This is a 50 ish page novella that packs a punch, particularly for anyone who has ever felt like the black sheep in the family. Solid Christmas theming, complete with decorations, a “Scrooge”, and forgiveness. Oh yeah, and even a complete romance tale that checks off all of the “rules” I am aware of, while not going into a *ton* of detail on any given aspect – the difference in a 50 page novella and a 300+ page novel. ๐Ÿ˜‰ For those looking for an introduction to the author and/ or this series, this tale works well as only a minimal time commitment to give them a try. For fans of the series, this is more of a quick bite between longer tales, and for readers – like this one – who are fans of the author and series who are looking for a quick book to meet some arbitrary reading goal quickly… here ya go. ๐Ÿ˜€ Very much recommended.

This review of An Alaskan Christmas Homecoming by Jennifer Snow was originally written on November 2, 2022.

#BookReview: Bourbon by Fred Minnick

Seemingly Great History, At Least In Audible Form. Yes, I read the Audible of this – mostly on my commute to and from work over the month of October 2022, though I finished it after work on Halloween day itself. So I can’t speak to all the pictures and such that some complained about in the text version of this tale. And I also can’t speak to how well documented it is – the Audible version doesn’t exactly have footnotes. ๐Ÿ™‚

With the above caveats though, I found the actual history presented here to be interesting and informative, though as others noted, perhaps a bit tedious in some spots (“bonded” is used long before it is clear exactly what this term means) and perhaps with some hand waving in other spots (the Whiskey Rebellion, and even Prohibition outside of its particular application to whiskey generally and bourbon specifically). It even manages to cover some of the more modern issues in the liquor business, at least through the mid-2010s when the book was originally published, including the GenX / Millenial shift away from whiskey and dark liquors to more vodkas and lighter liquors.

Thus, overall this truly is a strong history that anyone remotely interested in the subject (and not already well-versed in its history) will likely find informative and interesting. Very much recommended.

This review of Bourbon by Fred Minnick was originally written on November 2, 2022.

#BookReview: The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth

Interesting Tale Told In Unconventional Manner. I mean, come on, how often do you get a dual timeline tale with two women – both alive in the past, but one now dead and yet still telling her tale – where both women feature in both timelines? I’ve read a LOT of books over the past few years alone, and I can probably count on one hand – *maybe* both of them – the number of times I’ve come across a remotely similar dynamic. So read the book for that alone, as Hepworth makes it work quite well.

The rest of the tale, about both of these women’s love for their husbands and the lengths they will go through to save and protect both their husbands and their marriages, is interesting enough to be readable, but for some reason it just didn’t hit me as hard as Hepworth’s prior works. There was never a real sense of “I *must* know what happens next!”, though the ending was quite beautiful in and of itself, and yes, even if you’re struggling with the book, you need to read it to get the full beauty of what happens there. Overall, as noted, an interesting tale unconventionally told. Recommended.

This review of The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth was originally written on November 2, 2022.

#BookReview: A Light In The Forest by Melissa Payne

Strong Story Well Told – Yet Very Preachy As Well. I’ve been reading Melissa Payne’s books since the very first one, and I can assure long time fans that while this book is in fact quite preachy on a couple of subjects in particular (more on that momentarily), it is also her usual quite strong storytelling here. For people that haven’t read Payne yet, this is a good one to start with *if you don’t have issues with the topics she is preachy about here*. (Otherwise go with literally any of her other books – The Secrets of Lost Stones, Memories In The Drift, or The Night Of Many Endings.)

The preachiness here is *mostly* around trans/ LGBT issues, though there is also a fair amount of “country men who don’t agree with my opinion on these issues are all backwards a**h***s”. (I’m not going to say outright misandry, because there *are* a few male characters who are both country and shown in quite positive lights – so long as they agree with particular views on the above issues.)

Beyond the preachiness though, there *is* a genuinely strong story here. Perhaps not quite as strong as the prior works by the author, all of which created strong dust storms no matter where they are read, as this reader’s eyes got watery no matter what environment he was reading them in – and *that* never actually happened with this book. Still, as a story of finding oneself even in tragedy – a few times over – and how traumas can last to new generations, this really was quite a strong tale. And heck, there are even elements of the tale that the most hyper militant pro-LGBT types probably aren’t going to like much either, but discussing those gets *way* too far into spoiler territory to mention beyond the simple fact that they exist.

Overall truly a strong tale well told, and one that while preachy, is still readable and enjoyable by most anyone – one that even if you would normally be put off by the preachiness, it is still a tale strong enough to push through those feelings and read anyway. Just please, if you do that, don’t lower your rating because of the preachiness. Do what I did here, and put your thoughts on that subject in the text of the review. ๐Ÿ™‚
Very much recommended.

This review of A Light In The Forest by Melissa Payne was originally written on November 2, 2022.