#BlogTour: The Choice I Made by Cynthia Ellingsen

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a remarkable book about the murky real world choices so many of us face. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Choice I Made by Cynthia Ellingsen.

Here’s what I had to say about the book on Goodreads:

Choices Are Rarely Clear Cut. Ellingsen does a remarkable job here of showing the tensions between competing choices so many of us face. Spouse vs genetic family. City vs rural. What I wanted to be vs what society made me into. Finding myself vs keeping what I have. And so many more. All within a solid tale ostensibly about a childless married woman trying to help save her family’s Dirty Dancing-style wilderness resort… and stumbling across a secret that could bring it all tumbling down. Excellent work layering so many issues into a readable and average ish length (circa 300 page) story. Very much recommended.

Below the jump, all of the publisher information, including a description of the book, contact links, and buy links.
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#BookReview: The Sound Between The Notes by Barbara Linn Probst

Solid Story, Could Have Used Better Structure. This was a solid story of a woman trying to find herself after putting her career on pause to raise her kid and give him a life she had never had. For me, though, the structure of the storytelling itself would have dramatically benefited from a slight variation of the technique here. Here, we get a mostly dual timeline story, a bit scattered at times (date stamps alone would have been useful in that regard, even if just “x years ago”) but workable. What *really* could have elevated this story though would have been to take a page from another tale of another professional struggling to find his way and looking back on his life – Billy Chapel in the *movie* version of For Love Of The Game. (We shall not speak of the book – one of very few cases where the movie is by far the superior story.) There, the story is told in the same dual timeline approach that we get here – but with *both* timelines happening before the seminal event (in that case, the last game Billy Chapel will ever pitch as a professional baseball player, in this case an important concert), then some follow-up after the event itself. Ultimately just a tweak, though a significant one, that would have made the story flow so much better for at least this reader. Still, truly a worthy read and very much recommended.

This review of The Sound Between The Notes by Barbara Linn Probst was originally written on February 25, 2021.

#BookReview: The Family Ship by Sonja Yoerg

Blame And Forgiveness. Let’s face it, the central conceit of this tale – a mostly abandoned boat left on a property that a family purchases that the parents and older kids then use as a mechanism to control the younger kids – is a bit… strange. And I note this as the son of two people who both had six or more siblings each – so while I only have two brothers myself, large family dynamics are not completely foreign to me. This noted, once your brain accepts the central conceit here, the actual story is truly a very solid one of finding oneself, struggling with roles that are not always chosen and not always permanent – both by choice and by situation, and, ultimately, self-recrimination of past wrongs and the need to forgive both yourself and others. The back half *really* picks up, and actually features a scene reminiscent of one particular story of my own family history that I was told for years – in this case, a particular confrontation at a particularly … inopportune… time. (Doing my best to note that this was a phenomenal scene without giving much away, since it *does* happen in the climax of the tale.)

Ultimately, those who have only known smaller families – where you and your entire family you’ve ever known have had the stereotypical-ish 2-3 kids or less – may struggle a bit with keeping up with the fairly large family and the dynamics therein. But work with it, because most everyone gets their chance to be a mostly-realized age-appropriate actual person… even as most of the actual action really does focus on the more senior people. (In other words, even the toddlers get a chance to be toddlers, but the teens and adults ultimately drive the story.)

Truly a great work, and a Toby Keith level master class in “I can spin off a story about anything”. (Look up the story of TK’s “Red Solo Cup” to understand that reference. 😉 )

Very much recommended.

This review of The Family Ship by Sonja Yoerg was originally written on February 15, 2021.

#BlogTour: The Vineyard At Painted Moon by Susan Mallery

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a long, drawn out, soap opera type tale that still manages to work quite well and tell a solid story. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Vineyard At Painted Moon by Susan Mallery.

This is a book that on the whole, worked quite well. For those looking for in-depth character building, slower paced tales, and drama along the lines of a Dynasty-type story (but with wine, rather than oil), this is going to be *exactly* the type of book you’re looking for.

Here’s what I had to say about the book on Goodreads:

Slow Start, Sordid Middle, Solid End. This is one of those soap opera type books that starts out *slow*. There’s enough to keep most readers hooked, but dang, the pacing could have been a bit tighter. Indeed, the titular Vineyard doesn’t even get mentioned at all until at or after the halfway point in the tale. Instead, quite a bit of detail and most of the story is given to the fall of McKenzie Davis – who the description labels as the primary protagonist, but who never *really* feels as such. This is because so much attention is given to two other characters – Stephanie, McKenzie’s sister-in-law and best friend, and Barbara, McKenzie’s mother-in-law. So to my mind, these three were the core of the story, though McKenzie’s own plot did indeed drive the other two’s for the most part. McKenzie’s story works well, Stephanie shows a great deal of development, and Barbara… starts out regal, yet falls to her own madness to become a character clearly intended to be despised. Still, overall this story could have been shortened by 50-100 pages and still worked just as effectively, maybe moreso with a bit tighter plotting such a reduction in page count would have required. Yet there is nothing technically wrong with this story or the storytelling, and therefore the tale overall gets the full five stars. Very much recommended.

Below the jump we get the first 2.5 or so pages of the book, plus all the relevant information from the publisher. 🙂
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#BookReview: Take A Chance On Me by Beth Moran

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.

This review of Take A Chance On Me by Beth Moran was originally written on February 4, 2021.