#BookReview: Brave Girl Quiet Girl by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Great Storytelling With Relatable Characters. One of the best things about Hyde’s books is that you know you’re going to get stories of very human characters that are simply trying to do their best with the situations they find themselves in, despite several flaws (both obvious and not). Here we get an all too real story that happens *far* too often (in a part that would be a spoiler to reveal) and often enough that it is a documented event (in the initial conflict) while overtly getting a story of two women just trying to do their best. Hyde does an excellent job of humanizing both the strengths and the weaknesses of most characters, though the secondary characters get a bit less of this and the one-off characters get even less, by their very nature of only being shown once or twice. Still, a truly excellent work that explores at least one idea that is all too real for all too many, yet isn’t discussed much in mainstream fiction. Very much recommended.

This review of Brave Girl Quiet Girl by Catherine Ryan Hyde was originally written on May 18, 2020.

#BookReview: Rules For Moving by Nancy Star

Rules Are Meant To Be Broken. This is an interesting story full of very human characters who are each flawed in some way yet doing the best they can with what they have. Perhaps a bit drawn out, and perhaps a touch too circumspect in some aspects, it does a solid job of telling its tale primarily through the lens of a mother who is about to divorce her husband when he suddenly dies, as well as through the perspective of her young son just trying to make sense of the adults who clearly aren’t telling him everything. Ultimately it seems to hit all of the RWA rules for “romance”, though I suspect it will instead be marketed as “women’s fiction”. Definitely a drama regardless, with a smattering of humor to keep it just this side of depressing. Solid work. Recommended.

This review of Rules For Moving by Nancy Star was originally written on May 17, 2020.

#BookReview: The Art of Political Storytelling by Phillip Seargeant

DJT == AOC. Yes, that is actually a point Seargeant makes in this book – and no, it isn’t for the reasons some of my fellow Libertarians/ Anarchists like to point out. (Which are accurate in their own way, but I digress.) No, here the point Seargeant makes is that both of these seemingly diametrically opposed candidates have actually embraced the same narrative archetype to tell their stories. Overall, the book is an excellent examination of just how storytelling – and in particular, a few of the classic archetypal stories/ heroic journeys – has completely reshaped at least American and British politics of the last few years. Reason seemingly no longer matters so much as narrative, so it is important to know these narratives, how they are structured, and how these structures play into political messaging in order to more effectively play both offense and defense in the political arena. Masterful work that makes a few missteps here and there when it deviates from its central premise at times, and thus the reduction of one star. Still much recommended.

This review of The Art of Political Storytelling by Phillip Seargeant was originally written on May 14, 2020.

Featured New Release Of The Week: This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf

This week we’re looking at a dark and twisted tale of cold case decades old – and the best friend that both discovered the body and is now tasked with solving the case. This week, we’re looking at This Is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf.

This is yet another of those vague Midwestern mysteries that seem to be so popular over the last several years, but it actually has one particular feature that is among the best I’ve seen using it:

It opens with the murder scene that will ultimately drive the book, but then it comes back to that scene in the closing pages. In the opening, the reader gets scant details, mostly that the victim is running, falls, and is murdered. But then we get back to that scene – via repeated flashbacks building to it throughout the book – and when we get the details of who and why… well, there are reasons this is in the closing pages of the book. 🙂

That noted, its similarities to *so many other* books cannot go unmentioned. The vague Midwestern town with some minor distinguishing feature. (In this case, caves.) The small town mystery. (Ok, that one is kind of a given.) The misdirections that are standard fare for the genre. Even down to the overall tone of the book. But really, the most striking and one I personally wish would just end already, is the dang cover. Blue background (particularly some form of stairs) with yellow (sometimes white, though in this case orange) text, and even seemingly in the same or very similar font and size. How many books are going to have nearly identical covers before this “trend” goes away! Whoever is designing these covers, PLEASE STOP!

But don’t get me wrong about how similar this is to others of its type – this really is an excellent book with several narrative choices that are atypical in my experience, and thus to be applauded. It gives yet another look from yet another angle at #MeToo, including choices faced by women throughout history (and indeed, these scenes are mostly grounded in the action decades earlier that led to the murder). It uses multiple perspectives, rather than just two as is more normal, and shows how the events of both past and present transpire through these multiple perspectives. And it seemingly resolves everything… with over a third of the book yet left to play out!

So rant about the cover in particular aside, this really is an excellent book. Fans of the genre will definitely enjoy it, but even if you’ve somehow never encountered this type of story, it really is solidly written and told and deserves your attention. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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#BookReview: A Million Little Lies by Bette Lee Crosby

Back To A Simpler Yet Still Complicated Time. As a Georgia native currently sharing the Atlantic Coast of Florida with the author (she is several hours away from me), this brings back feels of a simpler time, before Interstate travel was really a thing and before the Net made it possible to see the news from anywhere, anywhere. When it was possible to simply leave a bad situation and have a reasonable assumption that it almost couldn’t follow you. When you could stumble into crashing a funeral for a free meal and wind up being confused for a long lost relative. When travelling 80 miles from Atlanta took a few hours. And it was a great walk down historic paths that were long gone before I was born as one of the oldest Millenials, two years into Reagan’s first term as President. It was a great tale of how a million little lies can come back to haunt someone, and how family isn’t always who shares our blood, but who shares our bonds. Very much recommended.

This review of A Million Little Lies by Bette Lee Crosby was originally written on May 10, 2020.

#BookReview: Domino Effect by JM LeDuc

Going to War With Sinclair O’Malley Is A *BAD* Idea. Old friends. New Friends. And at the heart of it all, badass investigator Sinclair O’Malley showing just why she is The Pearl Angel of Death. (And seriously, we get the *actual* origin of that name in this book to boot!) The initial investigation is typical Sin, uncovering things no one else can. But when the bad guy decides to get personal, The Pearl Angel of Death gathers her army and goes to war… with pretty disastrous results for her enemies. Simply bad ass, yet again: If you think Jack Reacher is awesome… you need to meet Sinclair O’Malley. 🙂 Very much recommended.

This review of Domino Effect by JM LeDuc was originally written on May 6, 2020.

#BookReview: The Perfect Secret by Steena Holmes

Among the Creepiest Book Villains I’ve Ever Encountered. Seriously, I can’t go into too much detail there without venturing into spoiler territory, but that is arguably the strongest selling point of this book. Literally only two books – of the thousand or so I’ve read in my lifetime – readily come to mind as being anywhere close to this level of creepy with their villains. (Though, disclosure: I typically don’t read creepy books and wasn’t really expecting that here.)

But while the ultimate criminal in this tale is super creepy, the book itself has a fairly tight cast and is a somewhat standard ish mystery. A multi-time convict gets another chance at life outside prison walls and is determined never to see the inside of them again. The story follows a present day investigation she winds up in the middle of as well as the last few years of her life from the moment of her last release from prison and joining up with the current timeline. Excellently paced, some of the creepiness is apparent early ish but I did not see the full details coming at all. Even then, the author keeps revealing surprises almost until the last sentence. Excellent work, and very much recommended.

This review of The Perfect Secret by Steena Holmes was originally written on October 4, 2019.

Featured New Release of the Week: The First Emma by Camille Di Maio

This week we’re looking at a remarkable effort to tell the story of a very real woman with very little documentation about her life. This week, we’re looking at The First Emma by Camille Di Maio.

Emma Koehler lived a remarkable life, just in the things that *are* publicly known. So it is no wonder that author Camille Di Maio, who tends to specialize in historical fiction anyway and who happens to live in San Antonio – where Koehler did some of her most remarkable work in the era of Prohibition and the Great Depression – would find Koehler’s story impossible to resist finding some way to tell. The problem is that while there is a great deal known about a “Trial of the Century” tale of her husband’s murder by at least one of his mistresses (there were two, both also named Emma) and the brewery – out of business since the turn of the Millenium – still retains some records of her work there, not much else is really documented about her life.

So Di Maio had her work cut out for her spinning a tale that told Koehler’s tale and even used it as a driving force in the narrative… without actually being the primary focus of the book. And she managed to do this in a truly remarkable fashion, spinning Koehler much as one imagines she likely was – a very cunning, very savvy old (by the time of the main storyline in the book, near her actual death in 1943) lady who knows her days are near an end. The other elements of the book are well done and well within bounds of at least what this Millenial has known of the time period from much reading and many discussions with older friends and relatives over the years, and indeed Di Maio actually masks some current commentary within the bounds of what was appropriate back then. It is actually quite amusing when Di Maio manages to shoot raging infernos of arrows straight at at least some types of reviewers, but I’ll leave it to the reader to pick up on exactly where that happens. As Pepper Potts says near the beginning of the first Avengers movie: “Not gonna be that subtle”. 😉

Overall truly an excellent work, one you need to read for yourself to see just how remarkable Koehler was as a person and Di Maio is as a storyteller. Very much recommended.

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#BookReview: Tomboys Don’t Crush On The Captain by Christina Benjamin

More Spinning! This series has been a spinoff from another series where Benjamin worked with a couple of other authors and each wrote one book in the trilogy. Here, Benjamin prepares to spinoff yet again and opens up the world in a bit of an interesting new direction while having at least one direct callback to another book in this world. Discussed the actual sport in question a bit more than is typical within these books, without sacrificing the focus on the couple in question, and also has a few “extra perspective” chapters that Benjamin has seemingly taken as part of her style here. Very much recommended.

This review of Tomboys Don’t Crush On The Captain by Christina Benjamin was originally written on May 4, 2020.

#BookReview: Gunnar’s Guardian by Pandora Pine

Cops and Firemen and Arsonists Oh My! Pine has long worked with police procedurals in her Cold Case Psychic books, and she has broken away from that with her Lost Treasures books. Here, with the advent of a new series, we see Pine combining the police procedural and family elements of the Cold Case Psychic series but ditching the paranormal and replacing them with a wider look across the spectrum of First Responders. And yet again she does an excellent job crafting a compelling story and beginning a larger universe, completing the romance angles of this tale for a RWA-rule-meeting HEA while leaving other plot points open, presumably for continuation into at least one other book in the series. Which should be one wild ride. Very much recommended.

This review of Gunnar’s Guardian by Pandora Pine was originally written on May 3, 2020.