Making The Case For A More Systematic Examination Of Its Topic. This book does a *tremendous* job in looking at as many facets of love and relationships involving the United States’ millions – literally -of prisoners via multi-year case studies of five particular couples. And therein also lies its chief weakness – while the original research for the case studies themselves was conducted directly by the author, the author states many facts beyond the people she is directly interviewing… and then the text doesn’t provide any form of bibliography to back up these (sometimes alarming, shocking, or even dubious) claims. But even with this weakness noted, the text’s strengths via its case studies are truly remarkable, and show the pressing need for a more systematic – and documented – examination of this particular topic. This is a book that will shock you. It will pull at your heart strings. It will make you cheer and cry and scream out at the people involved “WTF ARE YOU DOING!!!!!!”. And in these regards, it truly is a phenomenal book. Very much recommended.
Perfectly Titled. This is a solid adult FF romance featuring two established-yet-still-young ladies who know themselves and yet still find themselves growing… together. I titled this review as I did because the book really is perfectly titled, as the major conflicts between these women truly do center around the issue of stability and what that can mean for different people in different situations. Some, such as Zaira, more grounded and family oriented may need one form of “standard” stability. Others, such as former child prodigy Paige, may find a more gyroscopic sense of stability in the chaos. Merging the two worlds… well, Alter does a great job of showing the realistic headaches and heartaches that such an attempt can bring about. Excellent story set in an existing world, but within its own corner of it and with prior characters featuring heavily. For those who are less concerned about details of prior books being revealed before the reader actually reads those books, this is absolutely a book you can enter this world in and go back and read the details of the other relationships discussed in the other books. For those who are more concerned about such things… you’re going to want to read those other books first. Based on this book – the only one I’ve read from the author so far – I can tell you that you’re most likely going to want to read those books anyway, and when you read them you’re going to want to have this one on hand anyway if you didn’t read it first. Truly an excellent and seemingly realistic-ish story. Very much recommended.
What A Tangled Web We Weave. This was a strong story of finding yourself, even if that happens a bit later than some would like and creates a bit of a mess. And it was a strong story of ever lasting love, treachery, and forgiveness. All set (mostly) in the idyllic Tuscan countryside. The pacing was solid, the dual timeline worked well – even if a sense of foreboding hung over one of the timelines its entire duration. (We learn early in the book – Chapter 1, IIRC – how that timeline ultimately turns out, so getting there is wonderful, yet also like watching a replay of a momentous event… that you know turns out in disaster.) Overall, the writing here really speaks to the strength of Maclean’s storytelling abilities and shows them to be quite strong indeed. Very much recommended.
Not What You Expected, But What You Need. As is often my norm when getting ready to write reviews, I had a look through the existing ones first. And so many were so critical of this book claiming it was effectively a bait and switch and had too many characters.
Now, I’m a man that can have and has had a dozen different books going, and can easily track what is happening in all of them. I’ve compared my (Autistic) mind to an AEGIS threat detection and tracking system before – able to track *far* more things than most can even readily know is happening. I also happen to be the child of two people who each have more siblings than our lead female does here, so again, I’m used to large families and tracking everything. But yes, if your mind is smaller in scale and can’t cope with a dozen ish important characters… you’re going to struggle with this tale. For me, this was actually fairly normal and I thought the dynamics were very solidly portrayed, with no characters feeling unduly flat, other than perhaps the children that were only in a scene or two. (And even then, within those scenes the children in question felt quite alive.)
As to the “bait and switch” of “claiming to be a romance” and actually presenting a “women’s fiction”… The timing for me was actually quite interesting, as in a prominent multi-author book group on Facebook, one of the founding authors asked *just yesterday* what kind of endings people preferred. Of 416 responses across 8 options, with multiple selections allowed per voter, over 2/3 of the respondents to this particular (18 hr old at the time of this writing) poll responded with some form of “surprise me (174) / give me something to think about (75) / messy endings are fine (17) / pull lots of threads together (15)”. So at least in this particular group of readers, I honestly think most of them would be along the lines of how I personally felt about this: I personally thought it was a wonderful tale of life, love, and other mysteries. (Kudos if you get that reference, you’re awesome! :D) YES, if you are an RWA purist, this book will NOT fit all of the RWA rules for “romance”. If you argue (as I do) that Nicholas Sparks writes romances that are often *far* more emotional and loving than many RWA-pure romances and thus should be considered romances themselves… you’ll be fine here. (Though note: This is NOT a tragedy ala Sparks, but that is as close as I get to revealing anything here.) Further, examining the description and even genres listed by the publisher on Amazon, I find no evidence of them claiming this is a romance novel. Instead, the marketing tagline is that you will get a “life-affirming and uplifting tale of love, family, friendship, and risking it all for happiness”.
I would argue that the tagline given is *exactly* the book we ultimately get, and thus any claims of being led to expect one thing and being given something else (aka “bait and switch”) are ultimately baseless and indeed utterly absurd.
For me, this book was a very solid, very fun tale with aspects not seen in many other places, including struggles with childlessness, fostering, different takes on what it means to be married/ have a happy marriage, and even, yes, its central premise and ultimate resolution thereof. For me, this was a book that completely worked from top to bottom, and enough that I personally will be on the look for future books from this author. Which means that, of course, this book is very much recommended.
And here’s what I had to say about the book on Goodreads:
Strong Look At Often Unexplored Topics. Glancing through the other reviews (as I generally do before writing my own, fwiw), it seems that so many people miss what I happen to see as the overall point of the book: Exploring how individuals can find themselves again and discover what they feel is worth keeping in the face of overwhelming tragedy. Here, McLaren uses three primary characters: A mother who has “survived” cancer, including a mastectomy and radical hysterectomy, only to have to piece back together her sense of self and whether she is still attractive. (A battle, it seems, that the author herself went through in real life.) A father who began working as a cop in order to provide for his then-young family, and who was one of the first responders shifting through the rubble behind Timothy McVeigh trying to save as many people as possible after the bombing of the Alfred P Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City – a tragedy that still haunts him all these decades later, at the end of his career. And a daughter who learns that her mother’s cancer is to some degree hereditary, causing her to question any future she may have even as she graduates high school.
In these situations, McLaren points to tragedies and situations that are relatable to many of us, and paints a story that even across roughly 500 books read in under three years, I’ve rarely if ever seen. A story of survival (which is common, in and of itself) and of finding love (also common), but these particular wrinkles of the overall story have often been overshadowed in the stories by other, “flashier” topics.
While I am genuinely sorry that the author lived through at least some of this, I am exceedingly happy that she was able to use those real life experiences to craft this tale in this way. It is a story that needed to be told, and it is a story that needs to be read by far too many. And for that reason, it is a story that is very much recommended.
Here, the Goodreads review below really does sum up my thoughts on the book quite well. It is a very well told, very visceral look at memory loss and pain, and it is so gut-wrenching it will leave you breathless. Truly one of the best books I’ve read this year for that very reason.
Prepare To Cry. Holy hell y’all. This book is one of the more tragic and yet also visceral books about memory loss I’ve encountered to date, bringing you into the mind of the person more than any other I’ve yet encountered. And it is also the one that made me *BAWL* unlike any since Barbara O’Neal’s 2019 WHEN WE BELIEVED IN MERMAIDS. Which was over 300 books ago for me. If you’re looking for a great story and a good cry, you’ve found one here. And just to be crystal clear, it isn’t like the things that make you cry are hidden – in both cases I picked up on them about a quarter ish of the book before Payne actually explicitly revealed them. And yet the execution on the actual reveal was so gut punching both times… wow. Very much recommended.
I got invited to work with another blog tour, this time working with a celebrity I’ve seen on my screens enough to be aware of the name and to have a generally good impression of. So for this tour, we’re looking at a book written by comedian Michael Ian Black talking about… well, most everything under the sun in what is truly a letter of love to his son on the event of his son leaving for college. This really is one of those kinds of books that so many fathers wish they could write to their own sons, and even more wish they had the ability to tell their sons their own thoughts on these topics and many similar ones. And that is the truest, brightest fact about this book: Black’s love for his son shines through in ways I’ve very rarely encountered in any other book. Which alone is more than enough reason to recommend picking up this book. Yes, I did in fact have a couple of quibbles with it as I discuss below in the Goodreads review. But even more than those, seriously, read this book just to see what so many sons wish their fathers could have told them and what so many fathers wish they could tell their sons. Truly a superb job, and you should absolutely go buy this book for yourself.
And the Goodreads review…
More Solid Than Jello, Less Solid Than Steak: Advice From Father To Son On The Event Of The Son Leaving For College. And with that long-ass title out of the way… 😀 Seriously, this is a near-perfect letter of advice about life, love, and other mysteries from father to son as the son heads off to college and happens to have a celebrity dad. His statements about mass shootings are 100% demonstrably incorrect in a couple of places (and I in particular once analyzed such data at a level *few*, *if any*, others have), and his statements about Ayn Rand and White Guilt are philosophically incorrect (but in line with expectations given his own liberal philosophy), but otherwise what Black writes here rings true. And nearly as importantly, the love for his son rings through even louder than any moral or philosophical point he makes here. This is a type of letter than nearly any man wishes his dad would have left him, and Black truly does an excellent job of showing his own thinking and philosophies about the various issues discussed. In the end, I personally would love a celebrity from the right – as well as one of the very few celebrity anarchists such as possibly Woody Harrelson – to write similar public letters for their own kids, as between the three one would likely get an even stronger overall look at the topic at hand. But for exactly what it is, this truly is a phenomenal work with a quibble here or there, and very much recommended.
Structurally, this book was intriguing. The “normal” structure for these types of books that delve into stories in both past and present is to alternate chapters or sometimes even scenes within a chapter. This book takes a seemingly novel approach to the novel and instead opens in the present, goes back to the past to tell that entire story up to the present day, and then comes back to the present to finish out the overall story. For the story of this particular tale, this structure worked very well indeed – and even within this structure, managed to save some surprises for late in the book.
The tale itself was heartbreaking and yet also full of hope. The struggles that the primary mother and daughter go through are immense, but the ending gets to a happily ever after that manages to leave at least one key plot point resolved yet ready for a sequel, should Ms. Farley choose to pursue it. Overall an excellent tale, my first from this Lake Union author, and yet again not my last. Very much recommended.
And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon:
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