More Action, Arguably Less Romance. Still Bybee. This book – arguably a *version* of a take on 21 Jump Street (though admittedly my only exposure to that franchise is the Tatum/ Hill movies) – continues Bybee’s recent (2020+) path of moving to less saccharine / comedic romances and to more thriller-ish romances. There is still comedy and sweetness here, but it takes more of a backburner to the thriller elements. Also continuing is Bybee’s more recent examination of weighty real-world topics while telling a romance tale, and in this case the topic in question is sex trafficking – particularly of high school/ just after high school age young women. Bybee, at least in my experience with her books, isn’t really known for having multiple sex scenes throughout the tale, and this particular book is no exception to that norm. Truly a solid romance, with all of the old RWA standards I am aware of met, and a pretty good (low body count) thriller to boot – particularly when considering that the author is more known in the romance world and has written far more in that genre. This reader, for one, is looking forward to seeing where this series goes. Very much recommended.
Solid Escapism. This is one of those books with enough twists and turns that it truly provides a great deal of effective escapism – even if you manage to put it down, you’re going to be wondering what can possibly happen next. As a setup to a series… I’m interested to see where it goes from here, honestly. To me, it didn’t really feel too “setup” ish and almost completely read like a true standalone book. There weren’t any real threads left dangling here, so other than setting up the backstory of the primary character and a few key supporting characters…. like I said, not overly obvious what this series will entail. Which is unusual for a Book 1. Still, in and of itself this was an excellent twisty mystery/ action book, though the climax did feel a bit abrupt. Overall a fun read, and very much recommended.
Another Solid Entry In Series. At this point, the Cold Case world Pine has created is fairly similar to later seasons of long running police procedural/ action TV shows like Law and Order or NCIS. Long time fans will love this latest chapter, but there is enough distinct story in this “episode” that people wanting to try out the show can understand what is happening here and see if they like the style and want to go back and see how the regular characters got to this point. (Which is very much recommended, btw.) The mystery here is compelling – the coldest case the team has worked yet. The family dynamics are interesting – will Ronan go back to being a cop? The Christmas scene in the epilogue is fun, touching, and sets the stage for future episodes. In other words, the book solidly accomplishes everything it is supposed to. Very much recommended.
Interesting Counter And Companion To Learning To Speak God From Scratch By Jonathan Merritt. Having now completed ARC readings of both of these books about Christians speaking about their religion, I can definitely see why Merritt’s work is quoted so often in the first part of this work. Whereas Merritt spends much of the back part of his book looking at individual words heard nearly every time Christians speak, Shenk spends more of her time looking at *how* Christians speak. Their tones, their mannerisms, the very way we speak religion as a social construct. Which is a very interesting dichotomy when Merritt’s work is also something you’ve considered. But be forewarned: Shenk *does* come from a “progressive”/ leftist background, so there is quite a bit of “white man evil!!!!” and other standard leftist tropes here, and even a degree of radicalism not even any vegan I’ve ever encountered professes as it relates to her eating habits (discussed in a late chapter). However, whereas Merritt’s work could strike some as being a tad too conservative – he comes from a background where his dad was the President of the Southern Baptist Convention during his later teens/ the early George W Bush years, including 9/11 – the dichotomy continues here with Shenk’s leftist background. Which is yet another reason the two books are so intertwined to me, and why they balance each other so well in my mind. Beyond the leftist drivel (and hypocrisies), Shenk makes a lot of genuinely great points and has a truly solid discussion about the need for Christians to reconsider exactly how we speak religion both within our communities and to the larger world, and indeed *that* we need to be more proactive in doing so. Ultimately, the reduced star here isn’t over Shenk’s beyond-the-scope-of-this-narrative commentary, but because she, as so many others in this genre, prooftexts. In one case late in the text, *literally the next paragraph after decrying the practice*. Still, on the beyond-the-narrative-scope stuff here, the book is very much YMMV level – the more partisan you are either direction, the more you’ll love or hate that part of the book. On the actual thesis of the book, the book is enlightening in areas and thought provoking, at minimum, in many others. And thus, very much recommended.
Death… Is The Ultimate Road Trip. This is one hilarious book that will leave you in tears – even as it ends exactly the way it must. A trippy road trip through space and time at the edge of the Millenium, this is one of those random, stoner-esque comedies with soul that makes you laugh out loud so very often and yet makes you fall in love with the characters at the same time. Truly an excellent, feel-good work and a great short-ish (under 300 page) escape for the holiday season. Very much recommended.
Solid If Brief History Marred By No True Scotsmen. This is a seemingly comprehensive – more comprehensive than any other I’ve ever read, and I’ve read many – yet brief (around 100 pages, including all non-narrative book material such as table of contents and bibliography) look at the issue. It even manages to include several historical facts of which I was hitherto unaware. Which is not overly easy to do, given that I’ve been speaking on this exact issue, from both sides at varying times, in depth off and on for over 20 years now. HOWEVER, particularly in its later chapters when it begins to get into more modern times – the last 40-50 years or so -, Balmer allows a tinge of “No True Scotsman” to invade his narrative. Even though I largely concur with these particular points, that the Baptists of the modern era – particularly the Southern Baptist Convention post “Conservative Resurgence” – have lost much of what it historically meant to be a Baptist (*even in the SBC itself!*), it taints what is otherwise a largely strictly fact based discussion of the history of the separation of Church and State in the land now known as the United States of America. Still, I don’t find it quite significant enough to downgrade the overall rating a full 20% that the loss of one of five stars would denote (though if I were grading on a typical A-F scale, I would probably drop this into B+ territory over the issue). Very much recommended.
Love Letter To Hummingbirds. This is a travel/ bird spotting book following the author’s adventures as he seeks to see as many hummingbirds as possible in their natural (ish) settings, from pole to pole. The narrative structure follows the author as he starts in Alaska chasing down a particular bird that was reportedly seen there – that had been originally tagged in Tallahassee, Florida. A bird that weighs just a few ounces, making a flight that many of its far larger brethren would never imagine. We continue to follow the hummingbirds into the US, spending a fair amount of time in Arizona and Mexico, and we continue all the way down to Tiego Del Fuego – the bottom of the world (as far as hummingbirds go, where here they share their habitat with penguins!). Part ornithological expedition, part history, part current events commentary, this is a solidly written – if a bit esoteric – book perfect for bird watchers and related enthusiasts. Even as a generic travel book, this still works well as Dunn so completely describes the environs he finds himself in – including an up close and personal encounter with a puma! Very well done, and very much recommended.
Solid Romance, More Drama Than Usual For Evans. This book has Evans stretching herself as a storyteller and introducing much more drama than is typical of her, *almost* to the level of becoming a romantic suspense. What saves this book from that particular marketing is the presence of a personal favorite character from her previous series, the Brighthead Running Club…CASHMAN! Seriously, fans of that particular series will LOVE Cashman’s appearance here – nearly to the point of stealing this book! The comedy there is comedic gold, and some of Evans’ best. Overall, the two parts of the tale are integrated well – Cashman serves as an advisor of sorts on some of the earlier points of the suspense side – and play off each other in-world superbly. Very much recommended.
Road Trip Island Hopping Mashup. At its heart, this is effectively a road trip tale of healing and finding oneself again after a tragedy. Even though it uses sailing a small sailboat through the eastern edges of the Caribbean as its primary vehicle, rather than some wheeled vehicle. And as with all good road tripping tales, you get a lot of heart and a fair degree of humor, and since this is a *romance* variant of the road trip, you get a bit of that (yes, including sex scenes) as well. Overall the suicide that spurs the trip threatens to drag the tale down at times, but Doller does just enough to keep that from really happening. Solid story, and a good escape that could provide a degree of catharsis for some. Very much recommended.
Not An Actual Love Square, But A Solid Romance. I’m a math oriented dude. The imprecision of “love triangle” has always bothered me. For those, assuming both sexes are involved, you need two bi people and a straight person, at minimum. (There *are* possible variations, but a true love triangle would have Person A in love with Person B and Person C – *and* Person B and Person C in love with both Person A *and each other*.) “Love Triangles”, in the common parlance, are actually Love *Angles*, such that two points are connected at a common third point. Similarly, for this Love Square to work, it would really need 2 couples such that each couple is in love with each other *as well as* exactly one person in the other couple. Here, we get two side by side Love Angles such that *three* points are connected at a common *fourth* point.
Math technicalities and English imprecision aside, however, this was actually a solid romance tale of finding oneself and what one really wants that put an interesting spin on the colloquial “Love Triangle” by introducing a *third* man that the common woman falls in love with. And in some fairly direct ways, it actually parallels a lot of what Padma Lakshmi said about her own “love triangle” in her memoir Love, Loss, and What We Ate. You’ve got the guy that our female lead – Penny – has an instant connection with. Then you’ve got the guy that actively pursues her and they wind up together almost via fluke. Then you’ve got the guy Penny is introduced to and has a fun time with, but who isn’t interested in long term or commitment generally. And along the way, Penny gets thrust into situations she doesn’t always have complete control of, all while still trying to discover herself after having survived cancer at a fairly early age – mid 20s. The characters are all solid and interesting, and each of the guys makes very strong points about love and what matters. In the end, if you like romance novels at all, you’re probably going to enjoy this one. And if you don’t, give this one a chance – at least it has a few more-interesting-than-normal wrinkles. 🙂 Very much recommended.