Say Anything Meets A Star Is Born. This is the 2nd book in the current collaboration between Benjamin, Maggie Dallen, Stephanie Street, and now other friends as well. In this one, the overall arc only impacts the story as the macguffin – the real story is in fact two people who are very different than their public images suggest finding ways to understand each other and come together. And along the way we get a lot of the best elements of both Say Anything and A Star Is Born, without the depressing elements of those stories. We also see a few different crossovers with various other Benjamin stories, usually at particularly key moments. All in all a truly fun, excellent high school/ young adult romance. Very much recommended.
Standard Dallen But Enhanced Dallen! With this book, you get a standard Maggie Dallen story – think Hallmark High School – but this time, Dallen has done something I don’t think she has done before – use flashbacks as a regular part of the narrative. I’m not sure if she’s even used the technique before at all, but this is almost certainly the first time she’s used it as a regular part of the story. And she executes it very well indeed, in the standard version of slowly showing the history of how things got to where we know they exist while showing the people involved continuing their lives in the present. Solid story, and I love the experimentation as a writer. Very much recommended.
Solid Combination of Zany and Drama. I think the title says it all here. This is one of those books with enough off-the-wall WTF moments to make it truly fun, but also quite a bit of pulling your heartstrings. Few characters here come out looking spotless, but all look very, very human. Excellent story, very well told. Very much recommended.
Packs A Ton Into Final Moments. The first 90% of this book is solid. Lots of drama over all kinds of secrets and misunderstandings, primarily between a couple that split over a decade ago and finds themselves thrust together when one of them decides to force their way into the other’s life. But also lots of intergenerational drama between a mother and her daughter. But then that last 10% or so of the book… wow. If you like the various cooking reality shows, you’re going to like this book from that angle, but there really is so much more here. Solid use of the old English source material (Jane Austen) brought into more modern contexts and even a much different specific cultural background… and then bringing even that background into yet another more modern setting. Long at nearly 500 pages, but never overly feels it. Very much recommended.
This week we’re looking at a book that does one of the most remarkable jobs I’ve ever seen of seemingly giving you one story – only to completely flip it and rewrite everything in a single scene. This week, we’re looking at Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon.
As you’re reading this book, you may indeed wind up asking yourself “why is this marketed as a thriller? This seems to be a women’s fiction book, if slightly creepy?”.
And that is a very fair question to ask, as through most of this book this is exactly what the book feels like it is. It feels like the description has completely lied to you and made you think you were getting this massive thrill ride, and instead you’re left with… some chick depressed that her dad died and her mom hates her? Really?
But then, in a single scene, McKinnon strikes and reveals her true brilliance. In a single scene, everything prior is recast in a new light, and you discover that this women’s fiction story really was a thriller all along – it was just even more devious than you thought it at some points could turn into, but never had.
Others have said that this book almost demands a sequel. I’m more ambivalent on that. I actually enjoyed the ending and I’m completely satisfied leaving this tale there – in part because the flip was so brilliantly executed, and that defining feature of this tale would very likely be impossible to repeat in a sequel. That said, since I’m fairly certain McKinnon will actually read this: I dare you to try. 😀 You showed how masterful you are here, can you outdo even yourself? 😉
Very much recommended – go buy the dang thing already!
Dark And Disturbing. I walked into this third book in a series without having read the first two, and while the rapid introduction of characters at the beginning is a bit overwhelming at times when doing this, and there are very defintely spoilers for previous stories here, it *is* possible to follow and enjoy this story by itself, even if you haven’t read the previous two books. That noted, this features an all too real look at the amazing power of Autism… and some of the darker aspects of what neurotypicals have subjected Autistics and other neurodivergents to over the years. Awesomely, the various Autistic abilities shown are based in reality – including discussion of the future of humanity – but sadly, so are the various abuses discussed. The book has a “Return of the King” type vibe for a bit after the 75% or so mark, where it feels like what should have been the end of the tale actually isn’t, and the story drags out a bit… but then it gets a bit better in its closing pages and shows the point of why it didn’t end there. To the level of almost being an extra novella or perhaps short story after the natural end of the tale. Interesting decisions at many levels of how it is divided up, and very much recommended.
Can You Really Date Your Fake Date? Ultimately, Dallen decides to try to answer that question here, and has a lot of fun doing so. Another largely fun, very Hallmarkie type tale of one person with a traumatic backstory coming back to the hometown they fled only to ignite a romance with the person they thought they could never have. If that is the type of story you’re after, you’ll love this tale because that is *exactly* what you get here. Well executed, as always with Dallen, and with its moments of both fun and angst, this is a well balanced romance tale through and through. Very much recommended.
This week we’re diving back into Dete Meserve’s world of strangers doing good deeds. This week, we’ve looking at The Good Stranger by Dete Meserve.
Meserve had the initial draft of this book written roughly a year ago, and she finished the last edits sometime in October 2019 (yes, I asked, due to what I’m about to point out). And in this book, she has a character point blank say that “the next pandemic is not a matter of if, but when”. Notice when I said she finished writing this book. 😉
With Meserve’s own efforts over the last couple of years, and with the focus of this book in particular, I want to use this space to talk about some real world “good strangers”.
The first one I want to highlight is the most personal to me. My parents, and in particular my mom, have been working in their community through their church’s bus ministry for 25 years now. They started when I was barely a teen, and in those early years I was also part of their work, both in reaching out to the community and, in my specific role on Sunday mornings, actually knocking on doors to let the people who had said they would be interested in coming to church with us know that we were there and helping them safely onto the bus. But my mom really is the workhorse here. For 25 years, she has worked among the poorest of our community there within the few mile area of her home. Some of the bigger trailer parks in our County were right there, and they weren’t exactly the most prosperous neighborhoods in town. With the Sole Commissioner’s declarations there over the last decade or so, things have really only gotten worse for many of these people. But my mom does what she can for them. She gives them some form of breakfast every Sunday morning, knowing that for at least some of them, it is the only meal they will have that day. When she sees a need of one of her families for food or clothing or even help paying the utility bills, she has corralled and cajoled the church to getting what those families need. She has damn near gone to war with many a pastor of that church over the years, including one man – whose vision created the bus ministry at that church – who would go on to become President of the Georgia Baptist Convention. The incident a few years ago where 17yo Christopher Roupe was gunned down by a police officer in his trailer as he answered the door when she knocked? I had met Christopher when he was a toddler. He had been one of our bus kids in those early years. But while my mom isn’t a “good stranger” of the sort this book centers on – the people she is helping know exactly who she is and what she represents- she is one of the very “behind the scenes” type heroes that Meserve makes it a point to highlight in this story. If you would like to help fund these efforts, you can go to this site, Click “Give”, then select “Designated” in the “To” drop down. Then, in the note / memo area (just below where you enter your credit card number), enter “bus ministry”.
The second is a friend of the last few years who lives down in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. He runs a BBQ joint down there that is currently shut down due to COVID19 concerns, but in the midst of the shutdown and knowing how desperate people in his community are for food, he has helped organize a food bank, set up feeding stations for the area dogs, and delivered thousands of pounds of food directly to peoples’ homes – all in just the last few weeks. A while back he – a former US soldier – was involved in the rescue of a local young girl who had been kidnapped for sex trafficking. He is very much one of those people who is active in his community and doesn’t hesitate to solve any need he can, any where he can. Again, the very type of unsung hero Meserve highlights in this book. If you’d like to find out how to help him with the food bank in particular, you can click here for that information.
The third “good stranger” I want to highlight is an organization, rather than a person – though its creator’s story is awesome as well. There are a lot of people all over the world that talk about how bad the problem of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is. A few years ago now, Boyan Slat decided to actually do something about it. He created The Ocean Cleanup, and they’ve now deployed a test system to actually begin to clean up the trash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But not only that, they recognized that one way to reduce the size of the Patch was to prevent garbage from getting there in the first place – they needed a way to capture the garbage before it left the rivers (the primary source of garbage making it to the Patch). So they solved that problem too, and have already been deploying Interceptor craft to rivers across Asia for several months now. These guys are more well known that my mom or my friend, but considering the work they are doing they are, to my mind, still not as famous as they should be.
These are just a few of the people doing good in the community, often in ways that go unreported or underreported. Feel free to reply here or in any thread this review appears with people and organizations you know about who are doing similar direct, unreported work. Let’s give these heroes some of the recognition they deserve.
And as always, the GoodReads/ Amazon review:
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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.
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.