Featured New Release Of The Week: Reviving The Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter

This week we’re looking at a book marketed as gothic literature but which actually tells a strong dual timeline tale of survival in the Great Depression South. This week, we’re looking at Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter.

Upfront, I want to note that this was a strong dual-timeline family mystery. It was very well written and particularly with having spent most of my life in the region, utterly believable in every facet of this story. Carpenter has truly done some outstanding work here.

Indeed, my only issue here isn’t the actual book itself, but the marketing of it, which features the word “gothic” prominently and heavily.

“Gothic literature”, per this first result on the term when doing a Google search, is:

In the most general terms, ​Gothic literature can be defined as writing that employs dark and picturesque scenery, startling and melodramatic narrative devices, and an overall atmosphere of exoticism, mystery, fear, and dread. Often, a Gothic novel or story will revolve around a large, ancient house that conceals a terrible secret or serves as the refuge of an especially frightening and threatening character.

Despite the fairly common use of this bleak motif, Gothic writers have also used supernatural elements, touches of romance, well-known historical characters, and travel and adventure narratives to entertain their readers. The type is a subgenre of Romantic literature—that’s Romantic the period, not romance novels with breathless lovers with wind-swept hair on their paperback covers—and much fiction today stems from it.

When I personally think of Gothic literature, I tend to think more in terms of Edgar Allan Poe or Kim Taylor Blakemore’s The Companion, as I mention in the Goodreads review below. Those definitely fit that first paragraph above.

Hawthorn, however, more meets the second paragraph above. There are touches of the supernatural and of romance, Billy Sunday in particular appears, and there is a fair amount of travel and adventure as it relates to the church revival circuit in particular.

So perhaps my views on “gothic” are a bit outdated? Maybe I’m weird? (Well, I know I am. :D) What do y’all think?

As always, the Goodreads review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Meteorite by Tim Gregory

This week we’re looking at a science book that turns out to be both poetic and a page turner. This week, we’re looking at Meteorite by Tim Gregory.

I’ve read a lot of books in my lifetime, and over the last couple of years in particular. I’ve read light and airy books. I’ve read dense academic tomes. I’ve read even more dense philosophical treatises. But I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a book quite like this one, where the author not only truly knows his stuff, but presents it so understandably and even poetically. Here, in this book ostensibly about space rocks, Gregory manages to inform the reader of the basis of all of astrophysics and how astrophysics lead to chemistry – both organic and inorganic – as we know it. Indeed, echoing a comment I made below in the Goodreads review because it is that astounding, I learned more about chemistry from reading this book than I ever did in my high school chemistry class. (Though in my high school’s defense – to a degree – I did a weird one semester “combined” chemistry and physics class and got the credit for both.)

This was simply an excellent book all around, and a great one to read if you’re leery about science books but at least willing to *try* them. Gregory will treat you well here, and you’ll learn a lot to boot. 🙂

As always, the Goodreads review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Never Turn Back by Christopher Swann

This week we’re looking at a fun, twisty book that takes an interesting look at how childhood traumas can affect a person later in life. This week we’re looking at Never Turn Back by Christopher Swann.

This book is set in and around Atlanta, Ga – which happens to be where I am from (well, the northern exurbs anyway). And which happens to have had a very similar – and very nearly equally as tragic – incident as the backstory that drives much of the action here. You see, I was actually very tangentially tied to the real-world story.

Revealing what actually happens in the book would be a spoiler, but allow me to note what happened in real life.

May 1999. Just a couple of weeks after the Columbine shooting.

A teacher and his wife, the school secretary, are out for a night with friends – including the school Principal and his wife. The teacher and secretary leave their two sons, a Senior and a Sophomore at the school they work at, home alone.

Suddenly, their across the street neighbor – who happens to be a local radio celebrity – bangs on the door. The boys let her in, as she is fleeing from her exhusband who is intent to kill her. She hides somewhere in the house.

The exhusband demands to know where she is, and enters the home via blasting the door down with his shotgun.

Time passes, cops have surrounded the house, and now the two sons are in a back bedroom with the exhusband. He has leveled the shotgun at the younger son, demanding to know where his exwife is.

The elder son jumps in the way as the shotgun is fired, and is killed as a result. The younger son still catches shot in his shoulder and is hospitalized. But the blast – and death – create the opening for the cops outside to kill the shooter, which they do.

Yes, this really happened. The younger brother was actually in at least a couple of my classes. I knew him and his mom. I was a new student at the school, having transferred from another school across the County just that very semester. I was there as the school sat in shocked disbelief all week at what had transpired to kill one of our graduating seniors – in a school that would only graduate 67 students two years later. I would go on to be one of those 67 students graduating high school from that school two years later… though I would barely step foot in it at all over those two years. How I spent those two years – and the four more beyond them – would also result in me becoming a young male teacher in my early twenties, which is another point that I personally identified with this story on. Fortunately for me, only this particular incident of the backstory is even remotely similar to anything I actually experienced – as you’ll see when you read this book.

But what could be even more tragic than the real world story? Well, to find out – and to see what happens as a result… you’re gonna need to read this book. 😀

As always, the Goodreads review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Unique by David Linden

This week we’re looking at one of the most precise science books I’ve encountered this year. This week, we’re looking at Unique by David Linden.

Given the topics Linden discusses here – among them sex, gender, sexuality, race, experience, even memory and sense – it is incredibly easy, maybe even tempting, for many authors of science books to wax at least somewhat political even while discussing the science of a given topic. Indeed, many do.

Linden does not, and that is one of the greatest strengths of this book.

Instead, Linden focuses *exactly* on where the science of the issue currently is, and says it with a fair degree of specificity. Such as instead of saying “many”, he’ll say “30%” – even if the exact number may be 27.84% or 32.16%, “30%” is close enough for those of us just trying for a general understanding of the topic at hand, and far more precise than many authors will give. Further, if the science is changing or inconclusive on a given topic, Linden notes this as well, at times even clearly noting where he himself has reviewed the research at hand.

Ultimately, the book does a truly remarkable job of explaining what we currently know about the science of human variance and how all of these combinations form to make an individual… well, an individual. Truly a remarkable read, and one that many would do well to read. 🙂 Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ BookBub review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Divided We Fall by David French

This week we’re looking at THE book every single American needs to read before they vote in the 2020 General Elections in a few weeks. This week, we’re looking at Divided We Fall by David French.

Note: In light of the events unfolding this weekend following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I’m moving this post’s publication up by a couple of days and giving it that much longer at the top of the site and my socials. Yes, this is *that* important. Particularly now. -Jeff, 9/20/20

I’ve read some *extremely* disturbing books. Books with some of the most graphic, horrific acts any human can possibly imagine. Some of them have even been nonfiction.

And y’all, the scenarios French lays out at roughly the halfway mark – one from the left, one from the right – of how America as we know it could dissolve nearly instantaneously are at least as horrific as any of them. This is the clarion call that will hopefully snap people awake and get them to realize just how perilous the path we are on truly is. Particularly since these scenarios are truly so real that in theory either one of them could happen between when I write these words on July 4th, 2020 and when they publish – along with the book – on September 22, 2020.

He spends the front half of the book building to this point by showing, in crystal clarity, the stark realities of exactly where we have been and exactly where we are now. His analysis of history and current events seems solid to my mind, and it is only once he is finished showing exactly where we are – at least through the end of 2019 – that he unleashes his horrific master strokes.

French then spends the back third of the book in “this could happen – but it doesn’t have to” mode. Here, he expounds on really two primary points – which I’ll not spoil here – that would require a commitment from us all to actively work towards, but which could ultimately walk us back from the brink we currently find ourselves at. Neither of his points are nearly as readily achievable as the disaster scenarios, but both – particularly when working together – present arguably one of the best defenses against the disaster scenarios I’ve come across of late, and indeed actually play into my own “stop the pendulum” philosophy of the last decade.

Ultimately, if you are an American reading this, you need to stop reading this review and go read this book already!

As always, the Goodreads/ Bookbub review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

This week we’re looking at a superbly written yet shoddily cited story of how one town’s historic pursuit of freedom potentially led to some creative bears. This week, we’re looking at A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling.

The title of this book is one that grabs you, and it grabbed me more than most because of my own former work as both a Libertarian Party official and a more general libertarian political activist. In those roles, I actually knew a handful of Free Staters myself, though only one that I ever had any direct interaction with is cited in this book – Christopher Cantwell, who I once had to argue against in my proclamation that killing cops outside of active self defense – ie, when they are actively and directly causing an imminent threat of death or severe bodily harm to someon – was wrong. But despite the Free Staters being a bit extreme by their nature, most weren’t quite the level of Cantwell… despite Hongoltz-Hetling’s efforts here to portray them as being at least as bad. (Though to be clear, Cantwell himself is discussed only very briefly late in the book.)

Instead, Hongoltz-Hetling spins some yarns about creative bears with critical thinking skills far beyond any research I’m aware of showing them to possess, with minimal at best documentation of his claims even in this regard. He then combines these bear yarns with stories of the Free Staters of Grafton, NH, which seem to be a splinter group from the main Free State Project types to begin with – at the time of this writing the weekend after Easter 2020, I’ve reached out to my one remaining contact from the FSP from those days but have yet heard back from him. Hongoltz-Hetling then spends the majority of the book focused on Grafton and only mentioning another FSP targeted town, Keene, late in the book and even then only briefly. Indeed, he only gets to Keene at all after having established repeatedly that the Free Town Project of Grafton was the originator of the Free State Project, despite the FSP’s own historians noting that their effort began even before Hongoltz-Hetling is quite clear in his assertions of the beginning of the Grafton effort.

Throughout the text, Hongoltz-Hetling’s disdain for the very people he is writing about, and seeming preference for the bears themselves, becomes quite abundantly clear. Though the bear stories are indeed entertaining, and the prose itself is quite great. The structure of the book into three parts – which this author calls books – seemingly follows that great libertarian magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, which the author references a few times but seems to have never fully understood – if he ever even fully read it. (To be clear, this writer has read it on three separate occasions, one of the only books to have been re-read during my eReader era.)

Overall an entertaining book, if not quite accurate enough for a book claiming to be non-fiction, this would probably be better suited had the author changed the effort into simply creating a novel out of the same material. Still, recommended for entertainment value alone.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Republic of Wrath by James Morone

This week we’re looking at a a truly fascinating history of just how fragmented America has been seemingly from its very founding – including incidents just prior to the Civil War that would make even the most heated activists of today blanche in terror. This week we’re looking at Republic Of Wrath by James Morone.

Unfortunately I’m facing a form of “writer’s block” these days that is barely allowing me to write a Goodreads level review, so that is all I have to offer this week.

Excellent History Lesson. I’m a guy that prides myself in knowing more about American history than most. (Well, let’s be honest, my normal line is that I know more about most than most, and that generally holds true – even when people know far more than I do about a given topic.) Anyways… 😀 This book did a phenomenal job of bringing forth quite a bit of American history that even I wasn’t aware of, particularly in my acknowledged weak area between the War of 1812 and the Civil War. For example, despite how heated American political discourse feels at times over the last couple of years in particular, apparently there was a point in the lead-up to the Civil War where *Congressmen* routinely brought knives and guns *onto Capitol Hill*. Indeed, one line Morone quotes from a Congressman of the time is that those that didn’t bring a knife and a gun brought two guns! While the ending of the narrative, with Morone’s recommendations of how to fix where we find ourselves, is more “your mileage may vary” level, the lead up to that point is a solid look at American history, if hyper focused on the general premise that all conflict came from either race or immigration – which is a bit disingenuous at times, but the analysis here isn’t so flawed as to claim absolute exclusivity to the premise. Absolutely a must-read for Americans and really anyone wishing to understand how America has arrived at its current place in time. Very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: No Place Too Far by Kay Bratt

This week we’re returning to a world I said just last year that the author could spend the rest of her career in and I would not be disappointed. This week we’re looking at No Place Too Far by Kay Bratt.

On the less-good front, my writer’s block for these posts is continuing. On the not-so-bad front, at least I was (hopefully) able to convey how I truly feel about this book in the Goodreads level review. Basically, I truly love this world and want much more of it.

Amazing Follow-up. I wrote last year of the first book in this series that Bratt could spend the rest of her career in this world, and that I would not be disappointed. Here, she comes back to the world ostensibly to give best friend Maggie her story… that Quinn plays an even larger part in than Maggie played in Quinn’s own story (where Maggie was present enough to be the obvious target of a direct sequel, but otherwise truly a secondary character). Bratt does a solid job of juggling both ladies, it just seems at times here that too much is being condensed into one book. To me, the tale here could have been told over three, maybe four, books rather than one and been more on par with the overall pacing and impact of True To Me. Going into specifics might get a bit too much into spoiler territory, so I’ll simply say that to me, the division is this: Quinn gets a dedicated sequel. Maggie’s story here gets its own dedicated book where Quinn becomes more of a secondary character rather than the co-lead she is here, and Maggie’s own story is then broken up into effectively the first and second halves of the story here.

I know, I know. I’ve complained in other reviews about books being cut in half in almost blatantly obvious cash grabs, but I don’t think Bratt would have done that in the above scenario. I think more time in each of these situations would have brought out much more of the depth of emotion that True To Me had, vs the constant “swinging for the fences” here.

But do not get me wrong: This is still truly an excellent book, one I am very proud to have read, and again, I want to come back to this world many, many more times. This is just me expressing my quibbles over pacing of a truly excellent book that to my mind *just* missed the “I can’t stop crying and my mind is blown” level of amazement that True To Me brought. Truly a great book, and very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Annihilation Protocol by Michael Laurence

This week we’re looking at an intense thriller with an interesting potential pivot point to a young series. This week, we’re looking at The Annihilation Protocol by Michael Laurence.

If you’re looking for a James Rollins / Matthew Reilly / Jeremy Robinson level balls to the wall, barely have time to breathe thriller… you’ve found one. Here, Laurence uses chemical weapons so creatively at times that it is truly hard to imagine him not drawing the attention of various US Federal agencies in real life. He also manages to incorporate one particular WWII era group very effectively into the backstory of this tale, to horrific portent in the actual tale itself.

More importantly for the overall direction of the series, Laurence manages to skillfully introduce what could very well be a key pivot point for the series. While the initial premise of a secret group working to eliminate a large portion of humanity is what drew me into this series and is where I hope the series is allowed to continue to go, to do that effectively the series needs to travel to areas it has yet to go even by the end of this tale. But going *there* could be a bit more problematic than some would like, and so, pivot points are introduced. Let me be as clear as the purest crystal though: I want this series to go in a direction where the bad guys truly try to kill off a large portion of humanity – Thanos level at *minimum* – and the good guys at least attempt to stop them. Those stories don’t get told often enough with the truly global scale they truly need to be effective, and this series even by the end of this tale still hold promise that it could go there and be phenomenal.

But the pivot introduced in this tale is very nearly as interesting, and could in fact be a nice little wrinkle in the overall “extinction threat” genre. Indeed, it could even serve as a way to have a somewhat definitive endpoint similar to the initial target of eliminating or saving humanity, and because of this could serve to help keep the action taut and furious. While I would be a bit disappointed if this option is pursued over the extinction threat, Laurence shows here that this would be but a quibble and that he is more than capable of delivering on a superb tale in that direction as well.

In the end, I’m hooked on this series and I’m gonna follow it as long as Laurence keeps writing them, no matter where he eventually takes it. I hope you’ll join me on the ride. 😀

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Blood Victory by Christopher Rice

This week we’re looking at the most intense book yet in a series of a super-soldier who hunts down serial killers. This week, we’re looking at Blood Victory by Christopher Rice.

Unfortunately I’m facing a form of “writer’s block” these days that is barely allowing me to write a Goodreads level review, so that is all I have to offer this week.

Visceral. That is probably the singular best word I can think of to describe this book.

Once again, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK WITHOUT READING BONE MUSIC AND BLOOD ECHO FIRST. They are absolutely serial (see what I did there?) and build on each other – you can follow along with the story here easily enough without reading those two first, but major revelations from each are openly discussed here and will thus be major spoilers.

That dispensed with, back to “visceral”. I gotta admit, my sense of dread of what Charley is encountering in this book made me walk away from it at several points. I knew I was always coming back, because this was an ARC, but I had to take a break because the dread was just too much. Fortunately Rice resolves those issues rather quickly in most cases, instead spending time seemingly trying to build up just such a level of dread before releasing the tension and moving on. In the back half of the book, we get much more exposition of the motivations of the killers of this mission, and one of the more grisly uses of Charley’s super strength we’ve seen so far.

All told an excellent addition to the series, and one that leaves the reader ready for the next book. Very much recommended.