Featured New Release of the Week: The Waiting Room by Emily Bleeker

This week, we look at Emily Bleeker’s The Waiting Room. I’ve known Emily for a few years now, first getting curious about her when I saw her debut book WRECKAGE all over the place. Since then, we’ve become Facebook friends and brought each other into a few groups that we were each in.

In The Waiting Room, we encounter three characters – Veronica Shelton – our primary protagonist-, another woman, and a man. All three will come to intersect in this explosive examination of womens’ mental health and in particular the damage losing a child can wreak on the female psyche. Veronica is dealing with the death of her husband months earlier, just weeks after she gave birth to their daughter. And she has post partum depression so severe that she can’t even touch her daughter, so her mother has moved in to help take care of the baby. This part of the book is perhaps the darkest, most difficult section – but also a very real examination of this issue, at least as real as this man can imagine it would be. And it is this grounding that gives this tale its early gravitas, much like the titular wreck in Bleeker’s debut novel Wreckage just a couple of years ago.

But as we have come to expect with any Bleeker book – this being her fourth -, things are not always as they seem, and that begins becoming apparent about halfway into the book, when Veronica discovers that not only has someone been in her house taking pictures of her baby, but now her baby is missing – and her mother refuses to help her find her baby. This is about the point that the book summary stops, so I’ll reveal nothing further about the story other than to note that the story gains is true heft and power in the back half of the book. The front half, dealing with post partum depression, is deep in itself, but the front part of the book is more the edge of a continental shelf in the ocean, and the back half is the abyssal plain – far deeper and at times even more fascinating.

One particular line stood out in the book, and out of context it gives away nothing, so I’ll share it here because I like it so much: “Sometimes you run away from the flames, and other times you stay and help put out the fire.” In the end, that line effectively comes to summarize the entire book without really giving anything away about the back half.

Yet again, Bleeker has hit another home run, an absolute 5 star read no matter your scale. Very highly recommended, and I’m genuinely glad I was among the first to preorder.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon:
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Robinsonfest 2018: The Wrap Up

This time last weekend, I was laying in my hotel room at the Homewood Suites Hilton in Portsmouth NH, just a few hours away from going whale watching for the first time with Granite State Whale Watch in Rye, NH. I had already had amazing experiences dining at Moxy and Tuscan Kitchen in Portsmouth, NH and Wild Willy’s Burgers in Rochester, NH and had had a lot of fun racing, gaming, and playing putt putt at Hilltop Fun Center in Somersworth, NH as well as beginning the Apocalypse while relaxing at Butternut Farm in Farmington, NH. I had even been able to step foot in Maine long enough to get a selfie at Warren’s Lobster House in Kittery, ME.

I was doing all of this really fun stuff while also having a chance to meet and hang out with an author I’ve known online for a decade, Jeremy Robinson. The event, organized by Jeremy and his long time editor/ coauthor / friend Kane Gilmour, is called Robinsonfest mostly because Jeremy’s books are what bring everyone together, and no one has yet thought of a better name for it. As Jeremy somewhat wryly states in his own wrap up, he isn’t overly fond of the name and never really has been. ๐Ÿ™‚

But for those of us Jeremy brought together over a love of his books, it really was an awesome chance to just hang out with each other, have some fun, and relax. Having been to a few conferences of varying sizes both personally and professionally, it was a unique experience, even though it had the same basic idea – a bunch of people coming together over some commonality. At Robinsonfest, you had a fairly wide slice of life even with such a small amount of people. One person came from Australia and has made the trek across half a planet every year since this event started. One couple drove from Pennsylvania, where they both work in the government sector. Another couple came from Long Island, where he is a teacher and trying to break into the book narration field. Another guy came from the northern Chicago exurbs. I came from Georgia by by way of Jacksonville, the only person from the Southern US in the group. Most of us have known each other on Facebook for years. And while most of them had met each other and Jeremy and Kane in years past, I was the newbie to interaction in real life. And then there was the real newcomer, someone who mysteriously found out about Robinsonfest without any of the rest of us knowing and decided to come see what it was all about. Which was probably the most fascinating story of the weekend. Particularly once we discovered her reaction to the word “moist”. ๐Ÿ˜€ (Yes, I’m still needling her with it a week later. :D)

But the sense of camaraderie among all of these people, even while wildly divergent on all beliefs outside of the fact that Jeremy’s books are awesome, was simply amazing. And it was truly a truly phenomenal feeling to be a part of a group that could set aside all of those other differences and just hang out and be a community for a weekend. We laughed a lot, we cried a little. We worried when someone was worried. (A Kindle that was thought missing turned out to have been placed in an unexpected area of the person’s backpack. Yes, I am the person that misplaced his Kindle. :D)

I’ve got a summary video I shot 6 days ago as I was preparing to leave, and I’ve also got a 33 minute video I put together from everyone’s pictures and videos as well. I’ll link both of those after the jump.

But I want to close with this: I went into the weekend thinking that I could be the “weird guy”, as I have been in so many situations in my life. And instead, I was openly welcomed and embraced – in some cases literally. (There are some huggers in the bunch. :D) For someone that doesn’t have many friends, to be around people that I could so openly be myself with is always a treat. And it isn’t just fans of Jeremy’s books that come and are so embraced. There were at least three significant others there at various points of the weekend that really haven’t read Jeremy’s books at all, but were coming to support their partner. And they were made to feel just as welcome as anyone else, even if we did have to explain jokes based on Jeremy’s books (ok, so it was mostly me cracking those). So come if you’re a fan of Jeremy’s books. But come even if you’re just curious about them or have a partner that is either crazy or curious about them. You’ll be warmly embraced no matter what, and at minimum you will have a good time with good friends.
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Featured New Release of the Week: Coldfall Wood by Steven Savile

This week, we look at the latest release from another long time friend, Coldfall Wood by Steven Savile.

This book is the sequel to Savile’s late 2017 release, Glass Town, and picks up just some time after the end of that book, immediately dealing with the repercussions of that book – which will reverberate throughout this one. That said, this book can be read first – as I did – as everything that is crucially important from Glass Town is explained again in this book.

The front half of Coldfall Wood is basically setup and transition from Glass Town into the meat of the story of Coldfall Wood. We get a lot of detail about the origins of several new characters, and finally around the halfway point these new characters start to actually work on their mission. And what a mission it is – to destroy modern London and return her to her more natural state. The book actually does an excellent job of showing that everyone is the hero in their own story, that there are few indeed truly bad people. It also has some fairly blatant pro-environmental themes, though those are deftly pit against the idea of “well, we need to change things… but we also can’t just kill the people that are currently here or increase their suffering”.

Fans of fantasy books or Anglophiles generally should truly love this book, as it tends to be an excellent fantasy tale solidly centered on London and British myths of the Horned God, the once and future king, the Wild Hunt, and the surrounding myths.

And now, the “but”. I personally struggled mightily with this book, and both Savile and I thought I might. I’m not a fan of fantasy. As in, almost at all. Particularly the sword and sorcery level that this book gets into. I’m fine with real world stories with fantasy themes where the fantasy is almost a macguffin and/ or just hinted at to establish an overall mythology for a given series, but I just can’t handle the sword and sorcery level fantasy. I never have been able to get into it in text form, going back to some of my earliest reading experiences. So this book was extremely difficult for me – I was barely halfway into this book that Goodreads lists as 336 pages after 7 hours of reading. To put that in perspective, I normally read books twice that long in less time – and indeed did so just this past weekend with another author friend who I’ve known nearly as long as Savile and met in the same place I met him.

So this book just wasn’t for me, but it was extremely well written and a compelling story generally – one I personally would love to see in movie format, as I think it could do well in that medium. (And again, I have a history of being able to enjoy fantasy stories there – I’ve never been able to read more than a paragraph of Lord of the Rings, yet I *love* those movies.) Because of this, I gave Coldfall Wood 4 stars.

As always, here is my Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release of the Week: Learning to Speak God from Scratch by Jonathan Merritt

This week, we return to a book we featured in #HypeTrain last month – Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch.

This time though, I want to take a bit of a different tack on my writing regarding this book. You see, I was recently reminded of a quote from Jonathan’s dad, former Southern Baptist Convention President Dr. James Merritt, that I had heard about a year ish before I found how awesome Jonathan himself was when I read his 2012 book A Faith of Our Own. This particular line actually speaks to the discussion Jonathan has in Learning to Speak God From Scratch, and is:

The Church can influence the nation more through supplication than the Congress can through legislation.

Now, Jonathan doesn’t discuss the word “supplication” in this book. But this is where it gets interesting… because he *does* discuss “prayer“, and Merriam-Webster definessupplication” as “to make a humble entreaty; especially : to pray to God“. So “supplication” is just fancy Christian speak for… prayer.

Another term Dr. Merritt likes to use in his sermons is “justification“. Again, Jonathan never has a chapter devoted to that particular word. But “justificationmeansthe act, process, or state of being justified by God“, and Jonathan *does* devote chapters to words like “God“, “Sin“, “Lost“, and “Confession“.

Still another term you’ll often hear Jonathan’s dad use is “sanctification“. And yet again, Jonathan never uses that word as the basis of a chapter in this book. But it meansthe state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion“, and Jonathan devotes chapters to words like “Grace“, “Mystery“, “Brokenness“, and “Neighbor“.

Indeed, the entire point of this experiment in learning to speak God from scratch is to take the everyday Christian terms like “lost” and “creed” and “pride” and use them to unpack their truths and help us understand better both these words themselves and the more theologically-oriented “cation” words. And in so doing, Jonathan has created quite possibly one of the defining works in seeking to bridge the conversation gap between Christians and non-Christians.
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Movie Review: The Meg

Let’s talk about The Meg, the movie based on Steve Alten’s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror.

First, I was excited about this movie from the time I heard about it. Despite my misgivings regarding Alten’s political discussions on his author page – something I *highly* discourage -, The Meg Trilogy is some of his finest work, and his only series I’ve found so far where he doesn’t go off the deep end with Book 2. (In the Meg series, he waits until Book 4 for that, but even then it could be sold as setting up a new trilogy – that he has yet to continue – over truly “going off the deep end”.) The scene with the young girl I immediately knew was never in the book, but the rest of the early promotion stuff looked pretty close. The casting of Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor was about as close to spot on as I think you can get at the moment with well known lead actors, and I was happy about it. The particular experience at the theater closest to my house was ruined by a large group of people immediately behind me who could not stop talking throughout the movie, including cracking jokes during what were meant to be some of the more serious and terrifying moments. One example: When the Meg first shows up at the underwater hallway where the girl is playing alone in the trailer, it is clearly meant as a terrifying moment of the movie. And the people behind me loudly said “Hello, I’m Bruce”, from Finding Nemo. Hilarious, actually, but took me completely out of the terrifying aspect of that scene.

Now, as a generic late summer shark attack movie, Meg is perfectly fine. Kind of an updated Jaws, really. If you like this type of movie, you’ll like this one. If you despise this type of movie, you’ll despise this one, and if you’re ambivalent about them… well, you might actually like this one.

HOWEVER, with this specific title, I’m looking for a specific tale. One that I read numerous times after my aunt gave me a copy not long after it came out in paperback, thinking I might like it. While I waited a few years (the cover was fairly bland at the time), I did eventually read it… and every book in the series that would come later. Multiple times. And it turns out while watching this movie that I actually remembered more details than I thought I did, what with my last re-read of this trilogy being roughly a decade (and several hundred, maybe even low thousands, books ago). And at a spoiler free level, I’ll say this: For those in my position, you’re better off approaching this movie as fans of Star Trek: The Original Series have to approach the latest Star Trek movies: You’re going to get the same basic tale, but it is going to be completely repackaged and this repackaging seems to possibly preclude some side plots.

Here’s the trailer for the movie. WARNING: WE BE TALKING SPOILERS BELOW THE TRAILER.

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Featured New Release of the Week: The Black and The Blue by Matthew Horace

This week we branch out into our first nonfiction book, again from NetGalley. Today, we’re looking at The Black and The Blue:ย A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement by Matthew Horace.

Now, this one was a bit interesting for me. You see, even up until the week before I started this site, I had been active in fighting police brutality for most of the last decade. Indeed, I was fighting police brutality before America had heard names like “Walter Scott”, “Michael Brown”, “Tamir Rice”, and numerous others. My story truly began with some cops illegally questioning me – a smart yet unpopular “weird” lower middle class white kid in the suburbs – without so much as a parent or school counselor, much less a lawyer, present. But my story really picked up when I began hearing names like “Kathryn Johnston” and “Jonathan Ayers”, then I was following online as some online acquaintances were harassed as they drove across America searching for liberty. They would found CopBlock.org soon after, and for the next several years I would be involved in that project locally, regionally, and even nationally at various levels. As recently as earlier this year, I finally created my own website to track all instances of people killed by police in America yet allow some basic reporting on the issue, something no other website did anywhere near the level I did.

So make no mistake about it, while I gave up that life completely when I came into this new world of book blogging and putting my efforts into books and publishing, I have a very strong and still quite recent history of doing everything I can to illuminate and bring awareness to the issue of police brutality in America.

Which is why coming into this book was so interesting for me. For someone like me to sit there and read the words of not just a cop, but someone who actively trained other cops for years, knowing all that I know? It was actually an interesting and at least somewhat pleasant experience.

Structure wise, this book probably wasn’t as comprehensive as I would have liked, and I indeed recommend the far superior book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police by Radley Balko, written over a year before #BlackLivesMatter became a thing, from that side. This book instead takes a personal look at a few instances from Horace’s own career as a cop, from his days on the streets of Baltimore to his ascendancy into the upper echelons of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms while also spending a good chunk of the book examining Chicago, Ferguson, and New Orleans in detail. There are a few grammar issues, mostly misplaced words similar to the clearly intended word.

Overall narrative wise, the book flows well and is an interesting and fairly easy read. The transitions are fairly seamless, and the sections allowing cops from all levels to discuss different topics worked well with the chapter they were placed with. The story was much more balanced than I expected from someone in Horace’s position, while still lacking in certain key areas to my tastes – but surely too much attention in certain areas for the tastes of someone more pro-cop than myself.

Overall this is in fact a book I recommend, just at the 3 star level and with recommending that Balko’s book be read as well. To me, it really does add a voice that can be missing from these conversations at times, and while Horace never does what is really needed, he does in fact seem like someone at least willing to hear all sides – even if he has his own preconceived notions that will not change regardless.

And the obligatory Goodreads/ Amazon review:

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#HypeTrain: Robinsonfest 2018

Two weeks from this morning, I take an Uber over to Jacksonville International Airport to fly up to Boston’s Logan International Airport to take a bus to Portsmouth, NH. There, I will finally meet a man I met online back in the Myspace era a decade ago. Back then, the guy had written just two novels, and was publishing them on demand (the Kindle had just come out a year earlier and was still a few years away from becoming what it is now). I ordered both of his books from him, and when I read The Didymus Contingency, I was hooked. (The organization featured in that book is actually the one featured on the light gray shirt in the picture.) Antarktos Rising, featuring a crustal displacement event a couple of years before the movie 2012 would come out and make that idea somewhat popular, just sealed the deal. From that moment, I read every book this author put out – now over five DOZEN books in that decade.

This author – Jeremy Robinson – has become the single one I recommend the most to people, in part because he really is that good and in part because of how prolific he is. I say he is the Master of Science Fiction, and there is a reason for that – I know of no other author (ever) who has written in more science fiction sub genres than he has. And not only that, but with the characters and ideas he writes about, it is to the point that almost no matter what a particular reader is interested in, there is probably a Jeremy Robinson book that is close enough that they may be interested in reading it.

And over the decade, it has been one hell of a ride. I’ve been so scared I had nightmares for weeks (TORMENT). I’ve read PULSE pounding military/ creature thrillers with the Chess Team / Jack Sigler Adventures – which are coming to a close with the next book in the series. I’ve sailed over and under the Atlantic with the fish from the Biblical story of Jonah in KRONOS. I’ve explored the furthest reaches of the galaxy – and my own mind – in INFINITE. I’ve watched a young woman who just discovered she was pregnant try to go THE DISTANCE and survive an apocalypse for herself and her unborn child, and I’ve watched another young woman named Jenna Flood survive a bomb meant to kill her and fight to find out why someone wanted her dead. I’ve watched surviving Nazis try to create a SECONDWORLD, and I’ve seen a man who everyone thinks is Crazy be able to walk in a MIRRORWORLD. I’ve seen a XOM-B, and I’ve seen an APOCALYPSE MACHINE and I’ve seen a DIVIDE to try to save at least some of humanity. I’ve seen a PROJECT with Godzilla and Pacific Rim style giant monster/ robot fights, and experienced an Avengers Level Event that was at least as long in the making as the original Marvel’s Avengers movie – and even more epic. (Without giving too much away there, whereas in Marvel’s Avengers, the team had to come together to save *one* Earth, in Jeremy’s Event his team has to come together from multiple realities to save ALL realities.) I’ve watched a kid be kidnapped by monsters and transform into the King of Antarktos, with unparalleled power over that continent’s elements.

And I’ve even personally caused the Apocalypse by trying to save the planet by solving world HUNGER.

Yes, I – among many of his other fans in various books – have been written into one of Jeremy’s books. So far, I’ve survived – hence the top shirt in the pic above. I’ve even gotten a version of the tattoo that features heavily in UNITY, where a group of kids have to come together to save the world. To my knowledge, I am literally the only real person with this tattoo. (Another fan of Jeremy’s has a tattoo of a symbol featured heavily in the CHESS TEAM books.)

So now I actually get to finally meet the man behind all of these adventures in person and hang out with him for a weekend in his own turf at an event – Robinsonfest – that he has been putting on for a few years now. I get to share a few meals with him and go go-karting with him and go searching for Leviathan with him and hang out in an area somewhat similar to the Chess Team’s base of operations, among other things. I even get to meet at least a few people I’ve met online through Jeremy, including his editor and co-author Kane Gilmour, a friend I run a Facebook group with and who is an author himself in Xander Weaver, and a few other mega-fans of Jeremy’s that I’ve known on Facebook for several years. (And I may wind up dragging them over to Maine to try “barbecue” tofu – because this Southerner distrusts any Yankee claiming to be able to barbecue, and “barbecue” tofu is just blasphemy. If nothing else, I have to go try this stuff myself. :D)

For me, this is more exciting than going to Disney World – and may well be the same kind of trip that most people have at Disney: once in a lifetime.

But even if it is once in a lifetime, it is going to be one hell of an adventure, and I can’t wait. ๐Ÿ˜€