Featured New Release of the Week: Against the Rules by Laura Heffernan

This week, we’re looking at the second book in an excellent new series about geeky girls and the boys who love them. This week, we’re looking at Against the Rules by Laura Heffernan.

This was an interesting arc for Holly, one of the three best friends we were introduced to in She’s Got Game, Book 1 of this series. We pick up not long after that book leaves off, though other than spoiling that book this one can in theory be read standalone. (But read She’s Got Game first.) Holly has been left utterly devastated by the events of She’s Got Game, and Against the Rules is the story of Holly rebuilding her life and discovering what – and who – she wants… and having the courage to go after it, no matter the consequences.

In a bit of weird coincidence, Holly’s story even mirrors my own, to a point. As she is searching for her next programming job, she winds up interviewing in both Albany and Phoenix despite a nascent relationship she would like to explore, but knows will have to end if she moves to Phoenix (and even Albany is a stretch). My own story is that I had moved to the Southern Albany (the Georgia one, rather than the New York one Holly interviews in), where I had begun a relationship literally within days of quitting my teaching job and actively looking for my first programming job. The weekend before Valentine’s Day 2007 – when I had been dating this girl for less than a month – a company flew me out to Phoenix for a weekend long interview, similar to Holly’s experience. While hindsight would show the Phoenix interview to be an utter disaster, at Valentine’s Day I’m sitting in a Longhorn in Albany (Ga) having interviewed in both Phoenix and a town about 100 miles away called Macon, GA, and at the time I thought either equally likely. If I got Macon, I could make this nascent relationship work. If Phoenix offered me the job, I couldn’t ask this woman that barely knew me to leave her life and family and travel 1000 miles to live with a relative stranger.

In my own life, Phoenix basically told me to go to Hell… and Macon offered me the job. Moving to my nearby apartment was when I realized I loved this woman, and less than 2 months later she had the first ring from me. Within about 6 months of that move (give or take a couple of weeks), I had moved into her house in Albany and we exchanged a pair of rings there in the church she had grown up in. We had met less than 9 months earlier.

What happens in Holly’s life? Well, you’re just going to have to read this book to find out. 😉

As always, we end with the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: When God Rescripts Your Life by Jaci Velasquez

This week, we’re looking at a memoir from a Contemporary Christian Music legend from my teenage years. This week, we’re looking at When God Rescripts Your Life by Jaci Velasquez.

This was an amazing read for me personally. Jaci is a little over 3 yrs older than me, so when she burst onto the CCM scene in the late 90s as a 17yo kid, I was a 14yo kid deeply immersed in that very culture. And part of that culture was that I was actually in church 3x weekly and would thus occassionally be there for concerts from various groups making the church circuit – what Jaci herself had spent most of the previous 17 yrs doing with her parents, though in a different region. (These things tend to be highly regional, for those unaware – mostly due to associated costs, I would assume.) So even when Jaci speaks of her childhood in the back of car and later RV going from church to church singing, I’m at least familiar enough to understand from the angle of one of the people in those very churches what it could be like.

Also, I fully cop that I almost never read book descriptions for my ARC work in particular, unless it is an author or publisher I haven’t previously worked with or know. Since I knew of Jaci from 20 yrs ago, I didn’t read the description here. So when I got to the chapter about her son’s diagnosis of Autism and her reaction to it, this Autistic’s heart dropped. I just *knew* I was about to get a hard core defense of Autism Speaks, the Autistic community’s KKK. At that point I had just finished reading The Boy Who Felt Too Much and was involved in a few other discussions and was very raw.

Fortunately, Jaci doesn’t actually go that direction – I’ve seen far too many others fall into that trap at that very moment, but Jaci makes abundantly clear that she came to take the tack my own mother has taken in raising two Autistic sons. Do the best you can, be the best mother you can, and trust God to fill in the details. I can tell you from experience that this is basically the ideal way to raise an Autistic, and considering the four degrees and near 20 yrs of professional experience between my brother and I, Jaci’s son is in truly good hands there and it was thus a joy to be pleasantly surprised by Jaci’s strength.

And yes, I use her first name because you very much come away from this very conversationally-styled narrative feeling like you really know Jaci, even when your life maybe doesn’t parallel hers quite as much as it seems mine has. (Indeed, her year in London discovering herself? I call what is apparently that exact same year in Earth’s history my personal Year Of Failure, where graduating college was seemingly the only thing I did right – and had already been guaranteed 17 months prior. The year her Autistic son was born? That same year I began the professional career I’ve maintained ever since and also met and married my wife. Our anniversary is even within just a few days before Jaci’s birthday. Jaci speaks in the book about her time as a radio morning show host, I spent one football season working as the guy that presses the buttons to play the commercials when the announcer of the high school football game being broadcast declares “And now time for station identification” or whatever. 🙂 So. Very. Weird. How much we very coincidentally parallel.)

So yeah, this book was *amazing* to me personally, but honestly a truly great memoir generally. Her style is very conversational and humorous, and you’ll find yourself not wanting to put this book down… even when facing more pressing deadlines. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: When It’s Time For Leaving by Ang Pompano

This week, we’re changing things up a bit because I noticed that a release wasn’t getting the attention it deserves and the book that was going to go in this spot has a fairly powerful marketing machine behind it. This week, we’re looking at When It’s Time For Leaving by Ang Pompano.

This book is really as laid back as its setting, along the gently flowing waters of the Savannah River just outside Savannah, Ga. It opens in a similar setting in coastal Connecticut, and also has a scene at the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia and northern Florida. It even references a region upriver from Savannah at Augusta, GA/ Aiken, SC (the two towns are on opposite sides of the River) known to locals as the Central Savannah River Area, or CSRA. Since starting this book blog I’ve lived in the northern Florida area, but I lived in and near the CSRA for several years before that and have been in the Savannah region several times. Since this book is one of few I’ve seen not named Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil set in the region, it had my attention from the beginning.

The mystery and action are just enough to keep the plot driving along – starting with our hero being involved in a major car crash in Connecticut that kills a suspect he is chasing and flowing with dead bodies, people being attacked, mysterious notes being left, and concluding with an epic showdown in the River itself. But the real star here is the area itself, and despite being a Yankee himself, the author really nails the actual feel of the region. Yes, we have our hot summer nights both on the water and not. We have our animals dead set on killing us if we don’t leave them alone. We have our crazy neighbors and our hot coworkers with high libidos. And we have our family members slowly losing their minds to Alzheimer’s.

Truly a great mystery, even if not in the action packed vein of a Reacher novel or the crazy whodunit plot twists every other page Gone Girl mold. But when you’re in the mood for a more relaxed yet enjoyable time, reach for this one. You won’t be disappointed. Very much recommended.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release of The Week: Wildflower Hope by Grace Greene

This week we look at the same-year-published follow on to another 2019 Featured New Release of the Week. This week, we’re looking at Wildflower Hope by Grace Greene.

This story is absolutely a sequel to Wildflower Heart, and the events of Heart – particularly its ending sequences – play heavily into the tale here. So it is fairly difficult to even hint at the overall plot of this tale without revealing spoilers of Heart. I can tell you that it follows the same general structure of that tale, as we continue to follow Kara Hart as she continues to try to rebuild her life after a horrific tragedy that opens Heart.

I can also tell you that where Heart was about surviving tragedy, Hope is more about fully recovering from it. Here, Greene does an excellent job of showing just how difficult doing this can be, particularly when one feels completely isolated in the process.

But by the end of this one, we do in fact have a bit of … hope… that perhaps maybe our protagonist may have finally turned a corner, and the planned third act of this series should be something amazing indeed. Very much recommended, though absolutely read Wildflower Heart first (also very much recommended) if you haven’t yet.

As always, the Goodread/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: The Man The Myth The Nerd by Maggie Dallen

This week we look at the exciting conclusion to Maggie Dallen’s High School Billionaires trilogy. This week, we’re looking at The Man The Myth The Nerd by Maggie Dallen.

This book was Tieg Larson’s long awaited story, and it did not disappoint. Dallen did the best friends to lovers thing in the first book in this series – Tall, Dark, and Nerdy – but honestly, she outdid herself by coming back to the same trope in this tale.

I’m not going to bother with a description of the tale other than this: It is effectively a happy version of A Star Is Born. Same romance-with-a-musician concept, but to me done so much better because it doesn’t have the depressive notes of that tale. Instead, we get a lot of angst about a three year separation, but we also get a truly epic concert scene to close the book.

And really, while the rest of the book was solid, it is that concert scene that really works to truly elevate this book into phenomenal territory. The entire series is fairly quick, fun reads, and this was one epic way to cap it all off. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: The Wonder Of Now by Jamie Beck

This week we are looking at the conclusion of the most recent series from a well known romance author. This week we are looking at The Wonder of Now by Jamie Beck.

I titled the Amazon/Goodreads/ Bookbub review of this one “Arrival To Earth” for a few reasons. This is a book about the journey of two cancer survivors – one who survived a personal battle with breast cancer, and another who watched a parent battle brain cancer. And while I have very little direct experience with breast cancer, I actually knew a man just a few years ago who watched his wife quickly die from an aggressive brain cancer, and I actually knew him in the couple of years after this. From what I saw of that man, Mitch seems very well defined as a character in that type of position. Peyton’s struggles here seem very real in all regards.

It combines to produce a romantic drama of intense struggle against seemingly overwhelming odds, and yet having an indelible hope that things will some day be better – exactly as the Steve Jablonsky-penned “Arrival To Earth” score, which plays in the first Transformers movie just as the Transformers are first coming to Earth. Its climax is when Optimus Prime explains the backstory of the Transformers, and it was the song playing through my head through much of the back half of this book. It doesn’t hurt that it has a near direct tie in that I’ll leave out of this review. 🙂

Truly an excellent book and one of the more stark and yet also real looks at cancer I’ve yet seen in fiction. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: Third Party by Brandi Reeds

This week, we are looking at a mostly intriguing book by yet another Lake Union author. This week, we are looking at Third Party by Brandi Reeds.

This book opens with a scene shocking enough to suck the reader straight into the mystery and for the most part only gets better from there. Weaving in and out mostly between two female perspectives who at first seem completely unconnected, we are also introduced to a third perspective sporadically – the murder victim herself. And we even, exactly once, get a fourth perspective of events. The topics introduced here, specifically underground sex clubs and the strict yet also laissez faire rules they operate under, are rarely mentioned in these types of books – and in particular, the exact kink featured heavily is almost unheard of in my experience with fiction. So on all of these points, this book is absolutely a thrill of a read.

But ultimately the book disappoints in its final act. Instead of continuing the unorthodox-bordering-on-bold approaches used before a certain point, instead the author chooses to go a direction that can’t be openly discussed as it features major spoilers, but was ultimately disappointing for me. Far too pedestrian, particularly in the current era and particularly after the refreshing nature of the 80%+ of the book that preceded this particular sequence.

Still, a very worthy read even with a disappointing ending, as at least the ending did in fact make sense within the context of the story.

And as always, the Amazon/ Goodreads review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: Shanghaied by K’Anne Meinel

This week, we look to an excellent lesbian historical fiction novella. This week, we’re looking at Shanghaied by K’Anne Meinel.

One of the things I like about Meinel is that she tells stories where the characters happen to be lesbians – and romance and sex aren’t driving features. In this opening to a new series, she stays true to that form.

In this book, we get a survival story in the present day – a woman has been mistaken to be a man and has been shanghaied in circa 1900 San Fransisco and is now trapped on a ship full of men who have no idea she is a woman. Here, Meinel does an excellent job of showing the stress and creativeness necessary for her heroine to survive such a situation, and she truly makes the reader feel the heroine’s terror.

In flashbacks, we get the heroine’s history – including the romance that eventually put her in San Fransisco to begin with. Here we do get a bit of the sappy, played well to the period of the book. And yes, there are indeed a couple of sex scenes. But even through these events, the focus is on showing the heroine’s history and motivation while giving a bit of a well needed reprieve from the stress of the present day storyline.

Excellent work, and very much recommended.

Also, the author would like me to note that the rest of this series will be available shortly after the release of this book and thus is very bingeable. 🙂

As always, we end with the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina Bocci

This week we are looking at an excellent tale of small town life and life long best friends who have a tumultuous history as adults. This week, we are looking at On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina Bocci.

I gotta admit, I really, really liked this one. It is no real secret that I am a former political activist who actively left a political project to start this very project. In that former period of my life, I even ran for City Council twice in a town very similar to Hope Lake, and indeed the things pushed by our narrator and her family and friends are actually similar to my own goals for that town back in the day. So I really identified with this book. 🙂 For those who need a political fix but don’t want to pay attention to real world news, this can be your Nicorette. 🙂

But even without such a personal connection, this book is genuinely solid in a Hallmark movie kind of way. Lots of angst, quite a few misunderstandings, and even a nefarious opponent or two. Maybe my only minor quibble is that I like the actual title of a book to show up in the text somewhere, and that is missing here – though the title does indeed describe our narrator’s struggle quite well.

Excellent work, and very much recommended.

And as always, the Amazon/ Goodreads review:
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Featured New Release Of the Week: Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

This week we look at an intriguing book about a female firefighter dealing with fires both physical and metaphorical. This week, we’re looking at Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center.

One of my favorite songs growing up and even to this day has been Garth Brooks’ Standing Outside the Fire. For me, it has always been a source of inspiration to overcome any obstacle set before me – no matter what it is, where it comes from, how hard the solution is, or anything else. But what does it have to do with a book about a female firefighter? Don’t firefighters make it a habit of standing inside fires?

Well, in this book our heroine has a problem. You see, we open up with her being awarded her city’s most prestigious award for valor for her efforts in saving a group of kids no one else could. She truly is among the best, if not the best, firefighters in her (not small) town – of any gender. But she’s standing outside the fire in her relationships. She got metaphorically burned pretty damned severely on her 16th birthday by multiple people, and a decade later she hasn’t managed to move on. She’s acted like she has, and she’s become a “model citizen”. To the outside world, she is perfectly awesome. But because she’s been outside the fire and has yet to actually deal with the burns she got on her 16th birthday… her life is about to spiral out of the tight control she’s maintained over it for the last decade.

In the process, she’ll grow. She’ll learn things about everyone involved in the dumpster fire of her 16th birthday, she’ll meet new people and learn about them, and most importantly she’ll learn things about herself.

Overall an excellent tale that uses a reliable and relatable first person narrator well. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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