#BookReview: Home At Chestnut Creek by Laura Drake

Home At Last. Excellent romance novel, so that alone tells you most of what you need to know up front. That said, this is also Book 2 of a series – which I didn’t know when requesting the ARC. But don’t let that deter you – yes, there are references to Book 1, so if you’re a spoiler purist you will want to read it first. That said, this story stands on its own two feet perfectly fine, for those new to the series who don’t care about spoilers. (And again, romance series – is it *really* a spoiler at that point if the lead couple from the first book is seen in Book 2?) On a bit more technical note, this ARC – and it appears the initial production run of the book – contain a full length novel by Carolyn Brown tagged onto the back, at least in the eBook format. So if it looks like it is taking you forever to read this book, don’t fret – this particular book ends at about the 46% mark of the total file. Overall an excellent book, and my first from Drake. Very much recommended, and won’t be my last from Ms. Drake.

This review of Home At Chestnut Creek by Laura Drake was originally published on June 29, 2018.

#BookReview: Close To Home by Carly Marie

Beyond White Hot. In this book, Jasper and Harrison finally get their story. But as always with a Carly Marie book, there is a kink involved here – and it involves Greg Joseph, one of the Navy SEALs introduced in Book 2 of the series. Complete tale in regards to Jasper finally becoming comfortable with himself, but several unresolved – and set up on a silver platter – issues remain for a blatant sequel, the first chapter of which Marie provides at the end of this book.

This review of Close to Home by Carly Marie was originally published on June 27, 2019.

Featured New Release of The Week: Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle

This week we look at a twisted tale reminiscent of Gone Girl. This week, we look at Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle.

Structurally, this book is told from three perspectives – a woman on the run, a husband she is running from, and a cop investigating the disappearance. And this structure very much works for this tale to keep the reader guessing until the point the author wants to begin to clue the reader in on what is really going on.

The tale itself is a tad too similar to Gone Girl up front, with a missing wife and the husband being targeted by police and media. And honestly, through this section I was looking at a 4 star review based on that. But instead of the mind-warping shift at the middle of the book presented in Gone Girl, instead here we get a more gradual revelation of what is really going on – and that is very much appreciated by at least this reader. And what is actually happening is enough to get the book its 5th star – truly great work. While it does have its issues along the “content warning” level, I don’t really do those and to my mind revealing what they are would go into spoiler territory in this particular tale.

At the end of the day, if you enjoyed Gone Girl or at least didn’t have particularly strong feelings against it, you’re probably going to enjoy this book. If you hated Gone Girl, you’re probably not going to like this one much either. If you’ve never heard of Gone Girl… what rock have you been living under for the last several years? 🙂

This was my first book from this author, and it won’t be my last. Very much recommended.

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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#BookReview: What Set Me Free by Brian Banks

Powerful. Particularly in the age of #MeToo, Banks’ story stands out as remarkable – and his grace and restraint even moreso. While the cynic in me wants to look at most of these types of memoirs as little more than PR, the endless optimist desperately hopes that the Banks portrayed in this book is the real deal. His final recommendations seem warranted, particularly in light of how his own case has turned out. Possibly the one narrative change I would have made would have been to end it at what Joe Public would generally see as the climax of his story – the moment he stormed the field as an NFL player and knelt in prayer at the 50 yard line. But Banks himself sees that as just one moment among many, and does a remarkable job of showing his public priorities of the several years now since that moment. Truly a remarkable book, and absolutely one anyone interested in the US criminal justice system in particular should read.

Because the publisher wants it, I’ll note here that I am writing this review on June 22, 2019 – 10 days before publication of this book. Meaning that it is in fact an Advance Review Copy. As is my own standard for *all* of my reviews, ARC or not, my review is my honest reflection of my experience with the book.

This review of What Set Me Free by Brian Banks was originally published on June 22, 2019.

#BookReview: The Wave by Virginia Moffatt

Simply Amazing. This book takes a couple of different narrative structure stylings that I’d never seen used before and makes them work very well. For one, the progression is based on the Catholic Night Prayers. For two, rather than just a couple of narrators, we get seven separate yet linked narrators. As each person tells their own story, we see the various intersections with each of the other characters, sometimes jumping back and forth time wise a bit to show what one character was doing when the other character saw them at a given location. Even better for this reader personally was finishing the book at sunrise on Summer Solstice 2019 at the beach at Jacksonville Beach, FL – one of the regions that would have faced the same wave that the people in this book face were it real. Excellent book, very much looking forward to more from this author. Very much recommended.

This review of The Wave by Virginia Moffatt was originally published on June 21, 2019.

On Diversity in Writing

Over the last week or so in Booklandia, one hasn’t been able to escape the controversy over Nicholas Sparks. This particular controversy – unlike the one almost exclusively within Booklandia where if you’ve read one Sparks novel, you’ve read them all – revolves around a school he created over a decade ago and a now former headmaster he hired nearly a decade ago and then later fired, who then sued him in 2013 or so. And in its particulars, well, Sparks doesn’t exactly come out looking like the squeaky clean author of A Walk To Remember.

And that is bad, don’t get me wrong. I am not apologizing for nor defending Sparks’ views on race and sex in any way. Indeed I personally think his views are idiotic at best, but are also views that having grown up in South, I shared long ago before my own eyes were opened via various life experiences.

But that actually isn’t what I want to discuss here, as it is being heavily dissected elsewhere. What I want to discuss here is more akin to the actual Booklandia controversy around him, and in particular the claim that “he isn’t a romance author”.

Now, I’ve gone to war several times – including over the last week – with Romance Writers of America (RWA) (and regional variants) Board Members over this, but the sheer simple fact is that they will not change me, nor will I change them. For many various reasons both deep seated internally and economically, they have their particular views about exactly what is “in” as a “romance novel”, and because of those particular reasons they will never truly get what I am saying here.

But I’m a guy that doesn’t even believe all life *must* be carbon based, that allows for the possibility even among the most bedrock of scientific principles that there is a *possibility* that we are wrong in some minor or major way and that “reality” isn’t thus what we currently believe “reality” to be.

In matters of style – and all writing is *completely* a matter of style – I am far more open. There literally are no set rules. What is popular today might not be popular in 10 yrs. What sells millions of copies now may struggle to sell tens of copies in a century. And a good story is a good story, no matter what rules it breaks or follows.

My own definition of a “romance novel” is any novel wherein the love story in the book is the primary driving narrative. The RWA purists insist that at minimum it include a Happily Ever After (HEA), and since Sparks never includes an HEA, he is by their definition not a romance author. And in truth, the case could in fact be made that since a romantic *tragedy* is almost always how Sparks’ books turn out, that he is actually a tragedy author. But when was the last time you heard of a book marketed as a tragedy selling what Sparks has?

But romance novels aren’t the only ones that have their “rules”, they’re just the only one I know of to officially “codify” them. (Though some have attempted to codify Christian Fiction as well, I am unaware of any agency within Christian Fiction that is similar to RWA.) Most any genre has a general arc somewhat specific to that particular genre. An adventure novel is almost always going to have some small team looking for some historical artifact in some remote region and facing some form of bad guy also after the same artifact. A military technothriller is almost always going to open up with some battle or some test of some new hardware and proceed into a full scale battle to save the world from some enemy that is always at least a step behind in some way.

And RWA types (and to almost as bad of an extent, Christian Fiction types in at least some circles) are the only ones I’ve seen to be so exclusionary – indeed, they are as exclusionary of other works as Sparks himself is of other people. In most other genres, if you want to say “My book is this, but it has these other features”, they’re largely going to say “awesome, you do you bro”. In romance world, if you try to say “My book is a love story, but it doesn’t end well”… prepare for the torches and pitchforks.

Which is a shame, because while books that fit within the “rules” can be great, in all honesty after a while they start bleeding together and it becomes difficult to tell one book from another or in some cases even one author from another.

Have enough courage to at least spill outside the mold a bit. Give us *some* wrinkle we’re not going to find with anyone else. And if you can have the true bravery to absolutely shatter the mold – as I have indeed seen some authors do – even better.

#BookReview: One Night In Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet

Terminator 1968. This book seems accurate for the time, settings, and characterizations portrayed. Having grown up a couple of decades later in rural Ga outside of Atlanta and even in part – my grandmother and step grandfather lived there for a while when I was a kid – in one of the very Counties named in the book, even as a white man of the post-race era, this feels pretty damn accurate in its depictions. My only real quibble is that I can speak from experience that it isn’t race, but economic class, that drives much of the same treatment described in this text. Regardless, the book does an amazing job of spinning a fictional yet realistic tale around one tumultuous summer in our not distant past. The entire book in hind sight feels like it is leading up to one particular moment that it shares with the original Terminator movie, and just as that particular scene is what ultimately made me love the Terminator franchise as much as I do, this book’s version of it really cements this tale as simply stupendous. Truly great work, and very much recommended.

This review of One Night in Georgia by Celeste O. Norfleet was originally published on June 18, 2019.

Featured New Release of the Week: Ever Faithful by Karen Barnett

This week, we’re looking at a summer romance that is actually a historical fiction that is marketed primarily at the Christian fiction crowd. This week, we’re looking at Ever Faithful by Karen Barnett.

This was a solid summer romance – it takes place over an extended summer mostly at Yellowstone Park in 1933 and includes a happily ever after, satisfying the Romance Writers of America crowd. Which makes it a historical fiction novel – literally, a fiction novel set at some real point in the past. And while its publisher primarily targets the Christian fiction market (and is well known within at least that sphere), the “Christian” parts of this book are not truly preachy at all and are just people living their faith – and living pretty believably for the time period. So the Christian crowd that looks for more preachy books might not like this one as much, but I’m not one of that crowd and I really appreciated the almost understated nature of the Christianity of this book.

I should also note that technically this is book 3 of a series where apparently Barnett takes a different national park over the course of (so far) 6 yrs or so and tells a completely independent story at each. As such, even though you may see “Book 3” marketing around it, it really is a perfectly find stand alone and entry to both this series and this author – as it was for me.

This was also only my second paper book this year, both ARCs from this same publisher, and paper has gotten rather… interesting… for me to read these days. I have to provide a light and manually flip the pages, which is a weird experience after so long with eReaders near exclusively. 😀

Excellent book, I’ll likely wind up going back to the other two in the series at some point. Good summer escapism, and very much recommended.

And as always, the Amazon/ Goodreads review:
Continue reading “Featured New Release of the Week: Ever Faithful by Karen Barnett”

#BookReview: Tall Dark and Nerdy by Maggie Dallen

Nerds Rule! Ok, so this one was particularly fun for me because I *am* the nerd that can’t communicate well with others and often both doesn’t understand others and isn’t understood by them. Never developed an app that I then sold for mega money (or any money) but I’ve been coding almost as long as Oliver has been alive in this book, and I’ve developed a few tools to solve problems presented in my own life, much as Oliver does here. So yes, very relatable to me in particular. But also a genuinely good book with a lot of laughs and an appropriate amount of angst – let’s face it, these are teenagers we’re talking about – and it does in fact have the RWA-required Happily Ever After. Very curious to see where Dallen takes the next book in this series, and this book itself is very much recommended.

This review of Tall Dark and Nerdy by Maggie Dallen was originally published on June 17, 2019.

#BookReview: Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams

Excellently Executed. This is a romance tale where the entire premise is that our central couple keeps *just* missing each other, and it *really* works. The cuts between perspectives in different scenes are amazing, showing the couple at various points literally in the same place at the same time… and completely missing each other. It *is* a romance though and *does* have a happily ever after, but Williams does an amazing job of holding that off until almost literally the last second. Funny where it needs to be, serious where it needs to be, and overall a fun romantic comedy. Very much recommended.

This review of Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams was originally published on June 12, 2019.