Balanced Yet Contrived. This is a story where you almost feel like it is more of a 4*, but there is nothing *really* there from a more objective standpoint that I try to rate on to justify the reduction. Yes, it could use better separation of its various narrators’ voices, rather than just the one word at the top of the chapter with their name. Yes, at times it feels that so many situations are thrown in just because the author was hoping some bookstagrammer would hashtag that situation and help market the book based on it. Yes, talking to cops without an attorney present is so GLARINGLY stupid and cringeworthy. *PARTICULARLY* for minorities. And yet, even with all of this, the story ultimately works. Not as a “thriller”, mind you, but more as a women’s fiction/ suspense character study. As a thriller… well, the book spends the first half setting up the titular Party, about 10-15% on the actual Party, and then the back part of the book dealing with the aftermath. It has the requisite secrets, lies, backstabbing, and comeuppance, and ultimately it really does tell a fairly balanced tale from a few different perspectives, but it just never quite feels as satisfying/ mind bending as many readers in this space typically look for. And yet, again, nothing truly “this is objectively wrong/ bad” here to really hang a star reduction on. Thus, 5* and recommended.
First, here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:
Solid Lesbian High School Romance. This one has the metric shit-ton of angst one would expect from teenage girls – you’ve got the foster kid trying to fit in. You’ve got the spoiled rich kid hating herself over something the foster kid knows nothing about (but finds out about eventually) who leads one group of friends. You’ve got the spoiled rich kid’s ex-girlfriend who shared in the tragedy and the guilt… and who leads the other group of friends. You’ve got the foster kid trying to fit in with both sets. And along the way, you get all kinds of will-they/ won’t-they teasing between the three… which *also* leads to quite a bit of angst. 😀 But yes, somewhere along the way it becomes a bit like Sky High’s *awesome* final line, and you do in fact get an actual romance as it does so. Zimmer also did an excellent job of making this a shared universe with her first book, but while making it effectively a standalone book rather than a true “series” book. So if you’re into high school and/ or LGBT/lesbian romances, give this one a try. Even if you’re not, this one is a good book to experiment with. As is typical of many high school based romances, there is less sex than many/ most older adult romances and more kissing. Though there is an eventual rounding of the bases. Or several. It just primarily happens “off screen”. Not for the “clean”/ “sweet” romance crowd, though I’ve seen little evidence of that crowd looking to the LGBT romance arena anyway. Very much recommended.
Below the jump, the publisher information, including the book description, a bit about the author, and some direct buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: When Sparks Fly by Kristen Zimmer”
Solid Slow Burn Second Chance Finding Yourself Prodigal Son Story. Think I got enough tropes in that title? 😉 But seriously, this was the second book in Oliveras’ hyper-sensual stories of established adults finding love in the Florida Keys (Key West, specifically) while being bound by their Cuban immigrant parents and siblings. Here, we get the sister of our male lead from Book 1 (Island Affair) and the boy we already know she let go a decade ago from that story. Now, we get a lot more details of what happened according to each of them – and they don’t exactly remember things the same way. Oliveras executes this dynamic well, with having the meddling mothers (seemingly a commonality among *many* cultures, let’s face it 😉 ) conniving to get the two together when the now-man finds himself stranded at home with a shattered leg. As they help each other with their respective issues in their current lives, old wounds get reexamined, sparks begin to fly, etc etc etc… this *is* a romance novel, y’all. That alone tells you where this thing is going. 🙂
But Oliveras also executes the Prodigal Son angle particularly well, at least from the son’s side. Which I know at least a bit about, having lived my adult life hundreds of miles away from my own parents. (Somewhat interestingly as it relates to this book, while Alejandro grew up in Key West and fled to Atlanta as an adult, this reviewer grew up outside of Atlanta and currently finds himself in Florida – Jacksonville – in what will this year become the longest single place he’s stayed since leaving Atlanta. :D) To be clear, I don’t have *exactly* the same issues Ale does – my dad (and entire immediate family) and I actually get along great. But I know the general feelings and disappointments pretty damn well, well enough to truly sing Oliveras’ praises on this particular storyline.
Finally, to address one criticism that seems common in the lower starred reviews: saying something in Spanish and then explaining it in English: I’m a native American that grew up in land still literally scarred by the American Civil War. While I took a few Spanish classes in high school, I was never even truly conversant, much less fluent. But I’ve studied a lot about a lot, and it is my understanding that such mixtures of languages are common in second generation Americans, as both Annamaria and Alejandro are here. Further, from a “real world” perspective of trying to sell as many copies of a book as possible, English is the most commonly spoken language in the world, for better or for worse. While Spanish is frequent and indeed dominant in certain regions, even many in those regions *also* speak English to some degree or another. And in most of the globe, more people are more familiar with English than Spanish. These are also simple, stone cold, undeniable *facts* – whether or not you like them or the reason they came to be. Thus, from a *business* side, explaining the Spanish in English – and in particular the way Oliveras does it in this series, more as a natural storytelling technique than a “Habla Espanol?” “Do you speak Spanish?” style common in at least some books I’ve read over the years, it makes complete sense. And for this reader that barely knows Spanish at all – the above sentence was a decent part of what I can easily recall, though there is likely a fair amount beyond that that I could comprehend in a situation where I’m surrounded by the language – it is helpful, appreciated, and *necessary*, as there would be large segments of the tale that would be completely unintelligible without the translation. Indeed, from a business side Oliveras’ only other real options would be to 1) limit herself to only Spanish speakers and thus lose overall sales or 2) eliminate the Spanish completely and lose at least a fair degree of the authenticity she really excels in bringing out here.
And as others have noted, this reader too is hoping that the one female character introduced late in the book is truly the fit for the one remaining single Navarro sibling – and that we get to read that tale as well. Given the year spacing between Island Affair and this book, perhaps this time 2022? Until then…
Very much recommended.
I made it a point to get this one in during #AutismAcceptanceMonth, even though it doesn’t actually release until August.
This is apparently officially a “collection of essays”, but the organization works such that it never feels disjointed, as other efforts of this vein I’ve read tend to do. But that could just be my own #ActuallyAutistic mind working similarly to Bowman’s.
If you’ve ever heard of the late great Rachel Held Evans, and particularly if you like her style, you’re going to enjoy this particular book. Bowman has a roughly similar background to Evans (and thus even rougher similar to myself) in that he has experience in the Baptist church and now finds himself in a more progressive mainline church, and in both of their cases are more academic-oriented to boot. Thus, even while explaining his own version of the intersection of faith and Autism – and on being Autistic more generally, but through that lens – his words really do evoke the same kinds of tones Evans’ work did.
This was enjoyable for me due to the *lack* of constant “Autistics need government intervention” diatribes that so many books make their central point of Autism – even from among fellow Autistics (such as Eric Garcia’s We’re Not Broken, which publishes a week earlier and which, IIRC, I posted about here roughly a month ago). Instead, Bowman’s life and thoughts flow more closely to my own, with key community members becoming mentors over the eras and helping him naturally become all that he now is.
Indeed, if I have a criticism of the book – and I do, though it isn’t large enough for a star deduction – it is the emphasis on an “official” Autism diagnosis. I trust docs as much as I trust politicians these days – which is to say, I don’t trust them to accurately tell me the color of the noontime cloudless sky, and verify it myself. And one does not need someone else to dictate a word based on their own understanding of it, particularly when that person isn’t even living with the thing in question. And this ignores the very real, sometimes very negative, real world repercussions of having such an “official” label.
Still, for anyone interested in knowing more about what life is really like as an Autistic, this truly is one of the better books I’ve come across in my own readings. Very much recommended.
For this blog tour we’re looking at the latest book in Annabeth Albert’s year-long tale of MM romances set in the hyper-macho world of “hotshot” firefighters. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Up In Smoke by Annabeth Albert.
Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:
Another Solid Entry In Series. This is another solid entry in the series Albert has created over the last year featuring MM romances set in the hyper-macho world of western US “hotshot” firefighters and smoke jumpers – the front lines of any wildfire containment efforts. Here, we finally get smokejumper Brandt’s story, and it is at least as good from the romance angle as any of the other entries in this series. Maybe even better, since it runs a bit smoother with lower angst, minimal separation, both equally hoping for the other’s success, etc. Has an almost A Star Is Born vibe to it at times, though without the more depressing elements of that tale. But the biggest thing that will be hit or miss depending on exactly what you feel about it is the baby stuff in particular. Even as a childfree married male who generally doesn’t like babies (older kids are much cooler, though I’m always grateful that I can leave when I need to :D), I didn’t find the baby aspects *too* detracting, even for my tastes. Because the story really did focus on the interactions of the adults, with the baby providing the realistic distractions that adults having to care for a baby would actually provide. But if you’re particularly opposed to anything remotely baby related… well, you were told in the description that this one had one. 😉 Overall a truly solid story, and very much recommended.
Below the jump, about a page long excerpt from the very first scene of the book, when Brandt and Shane first meet. Followed by the publisher information. 🙂
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Up In Smoke by Annabeth Albert”
Engaging Account Of Oft Overlooked Era. The period between D-Day (and the summer of 1944 generally) and the Battle of the Bulge (again, and winter 1944-45 generally) is one of the more overlooked eras of WWII, particularly in the zeitgeist of at minimum Americans. (I cannot speak to what Europeans think/ know, as I’ve never been closer to that continent than off the coast of the State of New Hampshire.) Here, King sets out to tell the tales of this overlooked period via numerous first hand accounts and other sources, showing through the eyes of the people that were there what was happening and through the other sources of history what was going on around those events. This is one of those books that will serve as a wakeup call to those who romanticize this particular war and these particular soldiers, as King makes the point quite well – and repeatedly – that given the pervasive and frequent abuses from *all* sides, there truly were truly few innocents involved in any angle of this, certainly of the adult (and even teenager/ young adult) variety. Even knowing that both of my grandfathers were there among some of these very events (both would survive the Bulge itself), I find King’s prose and commentary compelling here. He does a tremendous job of truly showing just how horrific this period was on *everyone* involved, not just the soldiers and not just the victims of the Holocaust – though he does indeed cover many of the horrors both of those groups saw in this period as well. Truly an outstanding book, and one anyone interested in WWII needs to read. Very much recommended.
Interconnected and Interweaving. Bromke executes on an interconnected and interweaving style here better than many other attempts I’ve seen at such an approach. Told via half a dozen or so perspectives – mostly the various ladies who live in a particular neighborhood – this book has its own central mystery while also revealing bits and pieces of a larger mythos. A mythos that will leave the reader with bated breath desperate for the next book… where it is possible Bromke will continue to tease out this particular larger, seemingly darker, mystery. If you are a reader that can have *no possible spoilers* when reading a book, you’re going to want to start with Book 1 of this series. I personally started with Book 2 and had no real problems following the story (thanks in part to Bromke putting a summary of each character and where they are at the start of the tale), but I generally have no issues doing this and back reading the original stories. This is one of those women’s fiction tales that might come close to the cozy mystery label, perhaps – I’ve never read a book knowing it was labeled as a “cozy mystery”, but knowing how friends speak of what that genre entails, this book certainly gets close to that feeling. Ultimately a fun, compelling, and short-ish (just over 200 page?) read that truly will have you coming back to this series. Very much recommended.
Fact Gusher. This is one of those history/ anthropology books that gives a LOT of facts very rapidly, without any real critical examination of the central thesis. For a book showing *how* asphalt has been used throughout human history, it is quite good – O’Reilly shows from the earliest human records that we have been using asphalt pretty much since we’ve been using anything else, including its critical role in Egyptian mummification and even Noah’s Ark. For a book trying to make a case of *why* asphalt has been used so extensively… again, it never really examines the central thesis or really makes any kind of solid case here. Which is why I had to deduct a star. Indeed, many of the areas O’Reilly claims that asphalt was a driving factor can be more easily – and completely – explained with factors other than this particular material. Without negating that this particular tool was indeed useful and in at least some cases genuinely necessary for the execution of the events as history records them happening. Still, a truly fascinating read showing the far longer history and much more varied uses of this substance that many modern readers hardly give a second thought. Very much recommended.
Enlightening. As someone who had their first flight literally weeks before 9/11 (ATL to MCO in late July 2001) and who has experienced TSA quite frequently in *cruise* terminals (rather than airline terminals, which are the focus here), I can truly say that I absolutely enjoyed this book and that the author’s general observations tend to ring true with my own. Where she goes off to examine the actual communication channels in more “research” mode… well, that was the very subject of her PhD dissertation, and thus the impetus for this very research. 🙂 The description of this book claims in part that it is “the story of Malvini Redden’s research journey, part confessional, part investigative research, and part light-hearted social commentary”. I would say that this is a spot-on summation right there. There is quite a bit here, much that even infrequent air travelers like myself will see from even our experiences. (Though many claim I am more observant than many, so perhaps the observations Malvini Redden shares here won’t be *as* obvious to others?) The approach here is much more conversational and much less “ivory tower”, and I seem to remember this book having a shorter bibliography that others – which is perfectly fine for a more first-person, personal investigation/ memoir style book. In other words, exactly this type of book. Overall a very good book to put in the hands of first time flyers and maybe even to have on hand for those situations where someone is being a major PITA through security at the airport – find a convenient way to offer them this book once you’re both through the line. 🙂 Ultimately, this was truly a fun and informative read, and thus is very much recommended.
Ho Lee Schitt! WHAT A RUSH! With this book, Laurence again ups his game and introduces a weapon that is arguably scarier than any he has unleashed yet… particularly since it seems plausibly real. The action, stakes, and sheer terror here are all off the charts, and Laurence pulls no punches. That so much of the backstory is based on documented real world events is arguably among the scariest elements of this book, even if at least some of it is in fact fictionalized so that Laurence can craft the story the way he wants. With all of this noted, this isn’t one of those books that you can just pick up this Book 3 in the series and go, you really do need to read both Book 1 (Extinction Agenda) and Book 2 (Annihilation Protocol) first. At which point you’re immediately going to want this book anyway. And when you finish this one, you’re going to want Book 4 immediately… which is going to make you rain curses of mild inconveniences down upon Laurence as you will likely have to wait a bit for it. 😀 Very much recommended.