Featured New Release Of The Week: For All She Knows by Jamie Beck

This week we’re looking at a solid story that also does a remarkable job of showing a truly balanced social examination. This week we’re look at For All She Knows by Jamie Beck.

Amazing Social Examination While Telling Solid Story. I gotta admit, when I first heard about this story featuring “a teen party with a tragic outcome”, I was a bit scared that Beck was about to go preachy. More than a bit, if I’m being perfectly honest. But I’ve come to truly appreciate her strength as a storyteller, and I knew that no matter how preachy she may have gotten, it was going to be a truly excellent story that allowed her to do it.

And yall: She didn’t get preachy. At all. Instead, what we get is a truly balanced, truly nuanced look at how even local politics and tragedies can tear even decades long confidante level friendships to shreds. What we get is two very realistic approaches to parenting – I’ve seen both even within my own family. What we get is two mothers fighting for their sons who happen to be on opposite sides of both the local political issue and the tragedy. And we see in depth the love and devotion each mother has to her son – and what each is willing to do to try to help.

Beck’s older books – romances – were still excellent stories, even if constrained by that particular genre’s (some would argue obsessive and insane) rules. Now unconstrained by those rules and able to tell exactly the story she wants to tell in exactly the way she wants to tell it, this already strong storyteller shows that she is truly a master of her craft. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

Solid Romance. Tainted By Politics and Racism. First off, let me be absolutely crystal clear on one point: This was a truly solid romance featuring a man and woman who both know who they are – and the man finally realizing what he actually wants. Were that the be-all, end-all of this book, this is an absolute 5*, much like its predecessor. And because its predecessor *was* 5*, I requested this book the instant I saw it. I couldn’t *wait* to dive back into this world.

Unfortunately, that *wasn’t* the be-all, end-all of this book. Instead, the author’s own personal politics pore through the page here and indeed are quite preachy virtually every time she has most any character speak to political things. And considering the male lead here is running for Governor… this is quite often. But if it was just the preachy politics, this would have been a 4* review. It was heavy and pervasive and detracting from the actual story, and that merits the star deduction. (California politics. If Gavin Newsome and Nancy Pelosi are some of your favorite politicians, you’re gonna love this book. If not… you’re not. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

But even the pervasive preachy politics wasn’t enough to deduct *two* stars and get us down to a three star review from my default of 5 – which again, without the pervasive preachy politics and this next issue, this book would have absolutely gotten.

Unfortunately, that issue is blatant racism. Now, do I think that the author is an active racist? No, I don’t. I’ve interacted with her from time to time online, and I know she is as kind and generous as most any other author I’ve met in similar circles. But I *do* think that, in an extreme bit of irony, her own unconscious biases were so blatant that had nearly this exact same text been written with an all white, rather than an all-POC cast, and with the very things said of POCs that are said of white people in this text, the “woke” crowd would absolutely eviscerate this book as blatantly racist and would have called for the author to be fully “cancelled”. Every single time a white person or anyone that isn’t 110% in lockstep with the leftist agenda is mentioned, they are mentioned with some form of derision, casting them as some form of stupid or evil. Again, I do not think that this is an active thing with the author at all. As best I can tell, she is simply putting her own real world politics and thoughts into the text of this book without considering that perhaps others aren’t as evil or unintelligent as she seems to think they are because they disagree with those politics or have lighter shades of melanin in their skin.

And again, this is truly, truly a shame. Because if you write this same book in largely the same way, but edit out the racism and the pervasive preachy politics, this is *easily* a 5* romance tale. And, perhaps, if you agree with the racism in question and/ or the politics at hand, you may still feel it is 5*.

My reviews speak for themselves. I have a strong record of striving very hard to be as balanced and objective as possible within them, and therefore I hope the author and others take what I have written here as being from someone who genuinely wanted the book to be as strong as possible. Everyone in publishing knows that others are not always so balanced, and at minimum I hope I can at least prevent a few … shall we say, “more vitriolic”… reviews due to pointing out these issues in this review. And maybe even add a few sales, for those that happen to like the author’s perspectives here. ๐Ÿ™‚

I can’t go with a 3 word or less “recommended or not” status like I normally do, so I’ll end with this: Read this book. It truly deserves to be read, and outside of the issues noted here it is genuinely a strong book. But for me, and potentially many others, the issues noted here are major problems with what would otherwise be a truly great romance tale.

This review of Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev was originally written on March 29, 2021.

#BookReview: Shape by Jordan Ellenberg

Love Song To Geometry – And A Look At How It Is Truly Everywhere. This is a mathematician showing just how prevalent geometry is in our every day lives – and why modern math classes tend to ruin it for most people. As a mathematics oriented person myself (got one math-derived degree, very nearly got two others almost at the same time, former math teacher, current active software developer), this was fairly easy to follow – Ellenberg mentions some advanced concepts without actually *showing* many of them, though there *is* more actual equations in here than some might like in a “popsci” level book. Thanks to Ellenberg’s explanations of said equations and concepts, this *should* be an easy enough follow for most anyone. And he really does do a great job of showing how even advanced ideas really do come down to the most basic principles – just applied in particularly interesting ways. Indeed, the only real critique I have here is that when Ellenberg gets off the math specifically and into more political and social commentary – even when ostensbily using the math as a shield – it gets much closer to “Your Mileage May Vary” level. Overall, those moments weren’t quite pervasive enough nor did they stray far enough from the central premise to warrant dropping a star, and thus the book maintains the full five stars that all books start with for me. Very much recommended.

This review of Shape by Jordan Ellenberg was originally written on March 27, 2021.

#BookReview: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Strong Story. Strong Storytelling. Don’t Understand The Hype. Let me be extremely clear on this: This was a very strong story of a family’s rise and fall across two generations, told in both past and “present” (with the “present” being nearly 40 years ago from the time of publication) and executed very well in both. The use of a full 24 hour timestamp as a narrative structure was great, as it really drove home that the story was counting down to some cataclysmic event. Truly, there is absolutely no doubt here – this is a great story superbly told.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t share my *other* overriding thought about this book, and that is simple: I truly don’t get the hype. I stand behind everything I said in the last paragraph 100%. But this was book 56 on the year for me and I’ve read over 250 since the COVID-related lockdowns began 53 weeks ago. And *many* of them were equally strong, and some quite similar in genre and tone. So I simply do not understand how this review will be number 990 on Goodreads – over two full months before this book publishers – while others languish in obscurity, seemingly struggling to get even double digit reviews even though they are at least as strong and good as this one. And again, I cannot emphasize this enough: This isn’t saying in any way that this book isn’t an excellent tale excellently told. My sole point is simply that there are *so many others* that could and arguably should receive the same amounts of attention and love, yet do not. And I truly don’t understand how this happens. I mean, I know *how* it happens- massive marketing campaigns. I just don’t understand the *why* of it and why *not* those others. Something that will likely always elude me.

Anyway, read this book. It deserves it. And maybe follow me wherever you find this review, and maybe you’ll find some equally deserving books you weren’t aware of. ๐Ÿ˜€ Very much recommended.

This review of Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid was originally written on March 23, 2021.

#BookReview: Darling At The Campsite by Andy Abramowitz

Quirky With Heart. This is one of those books where it doesn’t seem like much is happening other than a loveable loser continually losing… except then you find its real heart, even amidst the continual “what the fuck” situations. If you’re a fan of slower paced, zany, small town explorations… you’re going to love this one. If that isn’t normally your thing, you should still try it out, because this is a good example of that kind of story. Because sometimes people *do* wait until they’re in their 30s to find out what they really want out of life. Even if it is both the same as and yet completely different from everything they ever imagined. Very much recommended.

This review of Darling At The Campsite by Andy Abramowitz was originally written on March 23, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: You Let Me Go by Eliza Graham

This week we’re looking at a remarkable and rare blending of the historical fiction and women’s fiction genres. This week we’re looking at You Let Me Go by Eliza Graham.

If you’ve read very many of my reviews on WWII historical fiction books at all, you know it is a subject that has long fascinated me due to my own personal family history there – both grandfathers were at the Battle of the Bulge, one got a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions there, the other was in the area (at minimum) when the Americans liberated the first concentration camps on their front of the war. And the dichotomy of what I knew of those two men decades later – one (concentration camp) whose lifespan my own intersected with by 5 weeks, the other who I knew for the last 20 years of his life – has become a long running, simmering thread in my own tale.

And without further ado… the Goodreads review. ๐Ÿ™‚

Long Buried Family Secrets Find Closure. Here, we get an interesting spin on this oft-travelled subject and technique. So many books of this genre want to take place primarily in the past with only the occasional jump to the future (ala Titanic), but here Graham sticks remarkably close to alternating every single chapter past and present. The past storyline is, perhaps, a touch more urgent, as it involves hiding a brother and trying to smuggle him out of France in 1941. But the present storyline has more of the “women’s fiction” elements of a woman trying to find herself after the tragic loss of her grandmother soon after the loss of her significant other and business partner… and stumbling across things about her grandmother that had never been known in the family, which leads to her quest and ultimately the resolution of both timelines. Both timelines worked quite well, and it is indeed rare to see a single book blend elements of the two distinct genres together so effectively – which speaks to just how good Graham is. Very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Into The Blue by Kay Bratt

This week we’re looking at the (seeming?) conclusion of an amazing series of books set in Hawaii. This week we’re looking at Into The Blue by Kay Bratt.

Satisfying (Seeming?) Conclusion. After Bratt rushed things a bit with Book 2 of this series (No Place Too Far), combining elements that I felt – and mentioned both to the author and in the review – could better be done in multiple books, here she takes the same approach. Yet here, the story is more condensed generally, taking place over just a week or so and having two concurrent storylines that work quite a bit better as a pairing. In one, Jules, the true matriarch of this series, has a medical issue that sidelines her yet gives her a compelling storyline. In the other, and happening concurrently, her youngest daughter has gone missing – and Jonah, the PTSD-suffering Iraq veteran who decades earlier already lost one sister (see Book 1 – True To Me) has to find her.

As with much of this series, it is loosely based on Bratt’s own daughter’s adventures living in Hawaii – the author’s note at the end actually notes a much more perilous event that made the news there in the last few years as the inspiration for the missing daughter piece.

And as with Bratt’s immediately prior book to this series, Dancing With The Sun, this book is essentially a love song to one of her own daughters, and another cry of just how strong her love for that daughter is.

Bratt’s writing, at least in the time I’ve known it, has always been about putting her real world heart on her sleeve and then pouring it into “paper”, while creating worlds that allows her to explore and convey the emotions she is feeling at any moment. It makes her personally vulnerable – but also makes for some of the most compelling reading of the last few years. This story is ultimately no different here. Read it because it is truly an excellent book, one where she took the (light) criticism from its predecessor and largely corrected. Knowing a bit of the backstory – and I haven’t noted anything here beyond that which she has said (IIRC, in much more detail) publicly – only makes it that much richer.

Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Infinite2 by Jeremy Robinson

The Master Outdoes Himself. Jeremy Robinson, the Modern Day Master of Science Fiction, truly outdoes himself here. While the first Infinite was one hell of a trippy, mind bending ride, this one still has elements of that – but also goes back to Robinson’s more “bread and butter” approach of balls to the wall action. Almost a love song to long time fans while still being completely new and approachable to even people who have never read any of his books – even Infinite – this book seemingly has more callbacks and cameos from previous Robinsonverse books than any other, *including* his actual execution of his Avengers Level Event (ALE) in PROJECT LEGION. And without going into any detail – though those who have known me for a decade now will get this reference, but most of those have already read the book in question anyway as well – let’s just say that there is ONE BOOK that I ALWAYS reference whenever anyone asks me for the most terrifying book I’ve ever read, and it happens to be one of Robinson’s. AND HE INCLUDES THAT WORLD IN THE MANY CALLBACKS IN THIS BOOK! Honestly, when I first noticed that we were back in that world, my entire body broke out in sweat and I nearly blacked out. That is how terrifying that world is – it *literally* gave me nightmares for *years* just thinking about it. And this sadistic author has the balls to go back there, *knowing* one of his most ardent fans has that level of reaction to that tale. CURSE YOU, JEREMY ROBINSON!!!! ( ๐Ÿ˜€ ) Still, absolutely one of the Master’s best books to date, and one that even ALE 2 will have a hard time topping… IF it ever actually happens. Very much recommended.

This review of Infinite2 by Jeremy Robinson was originally written on March 15, 2021.

#BookReview: Forgetting by Scott A Small

Intriguing New Science. For much of human history and even for much of the last few hundred years – when our scientific knowledge has seemingly gone into warp drive itself, sleep was said to be nothing more than the land of dreams, that humans could work at peak efficiency without much of it at all. Forgetfulness, even in many circles now, has been seen as a negative of various extremes, from embarrassing to debilitating.

But what if we’ve had it all wrong, and forgetting is actually one of our more *useful* adaptations? What if sleep actually plays a significant part of this process?

Here, neuroscientist Small examines what we’ve learned – in many cases, much of it over the last decade in particular – about just how imperative forgetfulness is to the very existence of the human body and human society more generally. From the social/ societal benefits all the way to the molecular, intra-cranial benefits, Small examines it all in a text that is clear enough to work in the “popular science” realm while still giving plenty of technical and precise details. Very much recommended.

This review of Forgetting by Scott A Small was originally written on March 14, 2021.

#BookReview: We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia

Mostly Solid Work A Bit Misguided By Its Own Biases. This is one of the more comprehensive books I’ve found about the actual issues facing Autistics in the current world (circa 2020) – well, in the US anyway. Discussions of education, gender, housing, personhood, etc are mostly solid and mostly problem free, focusing on numerous interviews the author has conducted over several years combined with well documented (roughly 32% of the text of this Advance Reader Copy I read) research.

It even has two *extremely* good points:
1) “We don’t know what Autism in and of itself looks like. We only know how autism informed by trauma presents itself.” -Cal Montgomery
2) From the close of Chapter 9: “People who are not Autistic often assume they are acting benevolently by hand-holding those on the spectrum. But despite their best intentions, there is an element of condescension in thse actions because it assumes that non-Autistic people know what’s best. But it is Autistic people who live with the condition of Autism – for all of its positives and negatives – as well as the consequences of any collective action meant to help them. If there is going to be policy that has seismic impact on their lives, they deserve to have a say it in, no mater how they communicate. Furthermore, while many parent advocates, clinicians, and other “experts” may have good intentions, centering their voices continues to give them power that should lie with the Autistic community. To achieve any true sense of freedom, Autistic people need to take this power back.”

HOWEVER, the fact that the discussion routinely ignores and even outright dismisses the needs and challenges of white Autistics and/ or Autistics who *do* find meaningful employment in the science and/ or technology sectors means that the book fails to have truly the comprehensive discussion of the condition that it seems to seek to have. In ignoring these facets, it doesn’t truly “change the Autism conversation” in any truly helpful manner, as it blatantly ignores and dismisses a key component that can actually do quite a bit of good in trying to address all of the other issues the narrative does go in detail on. We Autistic technologists can create the very technologies Garcia sometimes points to as being needed, in part because we ourselves truly do live with these very same issues – and thus, we don’t actually need a neurotypical trying to approximate some solution, as we can create a solution that works for our own particular case and allow for it to be customized to fit other cases as well.

Ultimately this truly is a very strong look at the state of Autistic society today and the issues Autistics face in trying to fully integrate into larger neurotypical societies, it simply missed its potential to be so much more. Very much recommended.

This review of We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia was originally written on March 14, 2021.