#BookReview: The Girl’s Last Cry by Alison Belsham

Pulse Pounding Criminal Innovation. This is the book that cements the Lexi Bennett series as must read, as it starts off feeling a touch like a disaster flick – everything is normal-ish, except that someone has jumped from a tall building seemingly intentionally. Then the deeper into the story we get, we find an almost Kilgrave level villain (though to be clear – just a human, no superpowers)… and this is where the story *really* takes off, becoming ever more inventive, ever more cat and mouse almost perfect spy thriller type… except that this is a police procedural where murders are being investigated. The ending sequences are some of the most inventive and innovative of all, going particularly dark even. As in, I’m not sure even Preston and Child get *this* dark and twisted, even with Diogenese Pendergast. Which is high praise in that particular arena, because if you like that particular style… you *know* how good Preston and Child are there. Belsham here *may* have truly bested them. Seriously.

Ultimately, this is one of those tales that you’re going to need and light and funny comedy to bring back your mental balance from, and for those that struggle with suicidal ideation… perhaps not the book for you until you deal with those issues. Still, very much recommended.

This review of The Girl’s Last Cry by Alison Belsham was originally written on June 30, 2023.

#BookReview: Sex Ed by Kristen Bailey

Fun With Sex. My god this review is going to get me on so many porn bot radars, isn’t it? But the title here really fits – starting with the very title of the book, “Sex Ed”…. which then features a 28yo virgin named Ed being taught about sex by his wildchild best friend. The friends to lovers trope is in perfect display here, the friendship and trust there deeply established… until we get into Hallmarkie level drama at the exact point in the story you expect Hallmarkie level drama in a romcom. We even have the “interesting grandparent” trope hitting and hitting well, as well as some sisterly bonding. And yes, there is a lot of sex, pretty much all of it “on screen”. So if you’re not a fan of that… maybe the title here (of the book and/ or review) clued you in that this isn’t the best book for you? Speaking of the sex, while not necessarily the “oh my God this is nuclear hot” type found in some other works, this was more of the playful variety that to my mind is just as important in a relationship and doesn’t always get the attention it deserves in romcom books in particular. So kudos to Ms. Bailey for going that direction with it, it was clearly an inspired choice. Overall a fun tale that will offend few other than those actively looking to be offended, great for both fans of romcoms and for those looking for some level of a “palate cleanser” from darker tales. Very much recommended.

This review of Sex Ed by Kristen Bailey was originally written on June 30, 2023.

#BlogTour: The Girls On Chalk Hill by Alison Belsham

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a book that is a solid and compelling introduction to a new British police procedural series. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Girls On Chalk Hill by Alison Belsham.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

Solid Introduction To New British Police Procedural Series. This book is exactly what I note in the title – a solid introduction to a new British police procedural series, one with a couple of interesting hooks that will be interesting to see exactly how they play out throughout the series. The first being that our lead Investigator is a triplet with a haunted past (which we learn about through this book), the other being that while she is a British national, she has spent several years prior to the events of this tale being trained by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation and working with them. Neither are exactly typical elements of any of the fairly numerous series I’ve read within this exact space, and both contribute to helping this particular series stand out a bit from the pack.

The pacing is near frenetic, starting even with our opening chapter featuring a somewhat shocking and certainly atypical book opener within the police procedural space – much less the very first scene of a brand new series.

Overall, one of the better books within this genre I’ve encountered in quite some time, and I’m glad I already had book two on hand to also read as an Advance Reviewer Copy when I finished this one. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the “publisher details” including book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Girls On Chalk Hill by Alison Belsham”

#BookReview: Little Girl Vanished by Denise Grover Swank

Bad Detective? Bad Private Investigator? This is absolutely one of those tales that brings the “Bad Teacher” / “Bad Judge” trope into criminal investigations, and it also uses a seemingly currently common approach (I literally read two different books using it back to back) of having the investigator have a similar unresolved crime in their past as a “hook”. And yes, it actually all does combine quite well. Even for those who are, like me, more prone to protest police shootings than support them, this tale actually shows a bit of a human side to police who shoot people. Though in this case, even the way *that* is portrayed is perhaps the most singular unrealistic thing about this book. Still, Swank uses even that to help build her overall lore here, as in any series starter building in hints of a bigger lore is absolutely essential in keeping readers wanting the next book. So overall, the book does both of its jobs quite well – it both establishes the character and world, and provides readers enough motivation to come back for Book 2. Very much recommended.

This review of Little Girl Vanished by Denise Grover Swank was originally written on June 26, 2023.

#BookReview: Hunger: The Complete Trilogy by Jeremy Robinson

Review of HUNGER (Originally written June 9, 2015):
Curing world hunger sounds great, right?

That is why I did it. I wanted to be the guy that solved World Hunger.

And I did. I used genetic modification to unlock so-called “junk” DNA in plants, and with this I was able to allow them to grow anywhere that had a permeable surface. Desert? Not a problem. Marsh? Not a problem. Mountains? Not a problem. As long as it didn’t involve steel, concrete, rock, or the like, my plants would grow.

Unfortunately I never really tested my breakthrough before it got out of control, and my boss never looked at my work either.

So I wound up causing the apocalypse by solving world hunger.

Oops.

Now it is several years after my breakthrough caused the end of humanity, and my boss is on the run. She still has hope that what little remains of humanity outside of our San Francisco complex can be saved. Me, I’m not so sure – but her bosses sure seem to be intent on stopping her for some reason.

How did we do it? How did we cause the end of humanity? Will she be able to reverse what I did?

Well, you’re just going to have to read Jeremiah Knight’s debut book to find out…

Note: Hate to spoil the illusion here, but just to be clear: I am a real person who is a long time fan of the author (as in, we met via MySpace) whose name the author used for a character in this book. The above is solely my own review, my way of trying to thank the author, who is easily one of my favorites.

Review of FEAST (Originally written June 9, 2016):
This time we travel, interestingly, not far from where the real me actually lives – to the swamps outside Charleston, SC. This book in particular is great because it slows the pace down a bit from the first book, yet WAY amps up the drama. There are certain situations in this book that will make some/ possibly many uncomfortable, but this is still a Jeremiah Knight/ Jeremy Robinson book – you don’t have to worry about actually seeing any of the things I refer to. The monsters here are top notch, as always, but the case could be made that the real monsters of this story are the humans our heroes encounter – and along the way, we may just see the possibility that perhaps the monsters we know aren’t so monstrous, and the people we know aren’t so nice…

Review of FAMINE (Originally written June 24, 2023):
Years ago, Jeremy Robinson created a seemingly fantastical dystopian tale of what *could* happen if genetically modified organisms and specifically food somehow found a way to run amok. He even included a version of me that is probably (almost certainly) more accurate than I’d like to admit, as the absolutely brilliant yet also cocky, self assured scientist who doesn’t double check the safety of his work. Thus, while I manage to (accidentally) solve World Hunger… I also caused the Apocalypse in the process and kick started the events we see unfolding through this now (finally) completed trilogy. After literally *years* of me *begging* Robinson to write this book, FAMINE – and show me how “I” die. And to be sure, while the “me” presented in HUNGER is all too real, the “me” presented in FAMINE is… remarkably less so. ๐Ÿ˜€ But that’s actually quite awesome, because now I’ve had a chance to buy *both* of Robinson’s “Jeremy Robinson [Spared/ Killed] Me In A Novel, So I Had To Buy This Shirt” shirts.

Here, in this book that I’ve been begging so long for, Robinson manages to again outdo the MCU in that while the follow up movie from Avengers: Endgame was a bit of a letdown, here, Robinson shows that his talent is still in full swing and truly at the top of his game. While the INFINITE TIMELINE and its conclusion, SINGULARITY, was one of the best science fiction collections ever written – and whose epic story makes it rank among the best complete stories ever written, period – FAMINE comes in equally strong, showing not a single modicum of a hint of a slide from that peak. The creatures throughout the book are fantastic, the character growth of our central team is on par with some of Robinson’s best ever work, and the final fight scene here is quite possibly one of the best creature feature fight scenes you’re ever going to encounter anywhere in any medium. It has laughs, it has high drama, the tension is razor sharp, and the flow is superconductor level perfectly smooth.

And yes, one might argue that my opinion is tainted because I *have* been begging for this book for so long and building it up for so long in my head. How could I ever think it would be anything less than THE BEST THING EVER!!!!! But that’s just it: Yes, I *had* built this book up in my head for so many years. I *had* been dreaming of seeing my death and how Robinson would orchestrate it. I *had* been trying to figure out the endgame and how Robinson would solve some of the pickles he had written himself into by the end of FEAST. And yet… this book was *still* more than anything I could have ever dreamed. While it is no SINGULARITY, it also wasn’t doing the same things that book was. This book simply had to be a solid conclusion to a great trilogy, and instead of coming in and hitting a base hit to drive in the one walk off run, this book *still* came in and hit the walk-off Grand Slam.

Robinson is pricing this entire trilogy at the normal price of just a single book, making this a 3 for 1 deal – a great value in nearly any situation. Do yourself a favor. Take the deal. Read this book. Have a great summer with a great escapist adventure. Because the “real” world is bad enough, and we could all use some mindless fun, right?

Very much recommended.

This review of Hunger: The Complete Trilogy by Jeremy Robinson was originally written on June 24, 2023.

#BookReview: Crucible by James Rollins

Can Even Sigma Defeat This Threat? Honestly, the best thing about this book is that Rollins ups the stakes *so much* that the threat feels *all too real* – even moreso than during the events of The Demon Crown. And yes, in part this is because I’m reading this book – where the science involved is fully realized Artificial General Intelligence – in 2023, when it seems we hear every day that this is truly just days away from actually being real. But also because of Rollins’ writing and what he is willing to put the characters we’ve come to love so much through. The team is actually split in *three* ways here, rather than the more typical two, and with each feeding on the other (as usual)… pulse pounding at its finest. Rollins truly makes you feel that even Sigma is actually being gravely threatened – and that is a true talent, after spending so many books showing them to be almost a John Cena type of organization, able to take any beating that comes their way and ultimately win anyway. Combining the science of AI with the history of the witch purges and in particular the Spanish Inquisition – which was still raging as recently as just 200 yrs ago – was truly inspired here, and works quite well – even moreso with the particularly shocking revelation in the end that ties all the way back to the very first words of the book. Truly one of the better Sigma books, but absolutely one that needs to be read at minimum in order as a trilogy with this being Book Three and The Seventh Plague and The Demon Crown being books 1 and 2, respectively. (Even if you don’t go back and re-read the *entire* Sigma story before coming into this one.) Very much recommended.

This review of Crucible by James Rollins was originally written on June 23, 2023.

#BookReview: When We Walk By by Kevin F. Adler and Donald W. Burnes

Elite Sociology Types Explain Homelessness. In a spirit of full disclosure up front, I’m a guy that literally has “Real Is Real” – the subheading of Part III of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged – tattooed on his wrist, along with a few other tattoos of various Christian thinking, both common (Triune God) and more obscure (Christ’s death redefines religious laws). And yet I’ve also presented at a sociological association’s conference, over 20 years ago while still in college. With that noted, let’s get into my thoughts on this book, shall we? ๐Ÿ™‚

Coming into this review moments after reading this book, I wasn’t going to rate it 5*. There is quite a bit of rampant elitism and racism here, from forgetting just how horrid public housing has proven to be to openly advocating for several explicitly racist programs such as Affirmative Action and reparations. And yet, while admittedly deep into the text… the authors own up to their racism and elitism, unlike so many other books in this space. So there went that potential star deduction. And I was thinking that the book was only about 16% documentation, and it actually ended with about 18%. While still *slightly* lower than the more normal 20-30% I’m accustomed to seeing in these types of books, even I have noted in at least one or two reviews over the last few weeks that given how many more recent books are coming in somewhere in the teens, I may need to revise my expected average downward a few points – which would put this 18% within that newly revised range, almost assuredly. Thus, there went that potential star deduction.

So what I’m left with is an idealistic book that bounces between firmly grounded in reality in showing the full breadth and scope of how so many people come to a state of homlessness and how and why so many programs built to “combat” or “end” homelessness fail and even actively harm the people they claim to he trying to help to being truly pie in the sky, never going to happen “solutions” such as Universal Basic Income. And yet, here again, some of the solutions proposed – such as tiny house villages and container box conversion homes – are ideas that I myself have even proposed.

Admittedly, I chose to read this book this week because of the ongoing struggles in Gastonia, NC, where the City Council is currently threatening to entirely shut down a local church because of its efforts to serve the local homeless population, efforts brought to media attention by the efforts of Libertarian activist (and rumored potential 2024 Presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party) Spike Cohen. Unfortunately, I’ve seen myself over years of even casually watching the issue that the current events in Gastonia are simply far too common – which is one of the things this text gets quite right in covering while never really going in depth with any specifics. Even down to also addressing, again at a high level, the all too common practice of hostile design.

At the end of the day, there are very clear differences in how the authors here and I approach this (and likely many) issue, and I suspect that will be true of many who read this book as well. But if you’re interested in the issue of homelessness at all, if you’re truly interested in trying to help end this problem, if you’re searching for something you can personally do to help, if you’re looking for ideas to work at any level to assist… you should read this book. It really is quite a solid primer, despite the authors’ clear bents, and at minimum it will help you avoid pitfalls that are far too common even among those with quite a bit of experience working within these communities. Very much recommended.

This review of When We Walk By by Kevin F. Adler and Donald W. Burnes was originally written on June 23, 2023.

#BookReview: All We Could Still Have by Diane Barnes

Quick Read That Serves As A Good Look Into The Mind Of Some Childless People. I’ve struggled for nearly 10 days now to sit down and write out my thoughts on this book, and ultimately what I come down to is that this really is a really good look at how desperate some people are to have children – and the lengths they will go through to get them, up to and including risking everything else they claim to care about. As a sub-300 page book, it is also a relatively quick read, which helps because this is largely one dark and depressing tome (can a sub-300 page book be a ‘tome’? this one certainly feels like it) that will have many readers wanting to throw it out the nearest window, even if reading it on your Kindle or other device. There is just enough light here to keep it from being *too* dark and depressing, but seriously, if you’ve ever been anywhere near these issues in your “real” life… this one hits all too close to home. And while I, as a male, have never been in our female lead’s exact shoes – I’ve been near enough to her husband’s, as we actively weighed IVF and the “modern miracle” horrors it wreaks on the female body in a desperate ploy to *maybe* get pregnant. In the end, my wife and I actively chose to become childfree – yes, there is a difference between childfree and childless, and this book actively shows it. Childfree is happy not having kids. Childless is always feeling a void/ like you’ve missed out on something, as our lead here does. Still, for those who have never reason to consider this particular path or its varying branches… this really is truly a strong look into that overall mindset, for all its benefits and pitfalls. Very much recommended.

This review of All We Could Still Have by Diane Barnes was originally written on July 19, 2023.

#BookReview: Have You Seen Her by Catherine McKenzie

Not McKenzie’s Strongest Work, Still A Solid Read. I suppose this is how you know when an author is truly good overall – when they can have a book that is rather far from their best, and still create a mostly compelling tale from it. Here, it almost seems like McKenzie is phoning it in. Clearly, *something* happened here, but that is for her to know and we readers to simply move on from. ๐Ÿ™‚

The book itself is both interesting and yet slow. There is enough of the mechanics built in to move the plot along and to ratchet up the mystery and tension before a wild curve late in the book that very nearly gives a sense of whiplash, and there is even room here for a sequel, should McKenzie choose to go that route. There is a lot of telling what happens rather than showing what happens, and yet McKenzie overall makes this work within the space of this tale and how she is telling it.

If you’re a fan of Yosemite National Park and/ or want to vicariously live a summer there, this may be of interest. If you’re interested in learning something about the volunteer search and rescue teams that spend summers in some of these parks, this may be of interest. And if you’re a long time fan of McKenzie, this will absolutely be of interest. But for anyone else, I actually recommend reading almost any of McKenzie’s *prior* works first, to see how good she is and build some trust first. *Then* come into this book with that trust, and hopefully it works out for you. I know it did for me, as I’m still looking forward to the next one. Recommended.

This review of Have You Seen Her by Catherine McKenzie was originally written on June 19, 2023.

#BookReview: Cask Strength by Mike Gerrard

Solid Look At History, Current Uses, and Future Of The Barrel. At just 240 pages or so – and just 14% or so of that bibliography, which is where the single star deduction comes in – this is far from a truly in-depth look at the topic. But as kind of a “Barrel 101”, this book really works. The majority of the text focuses on the various current uses of barrels, mostly dealing with the various forms of alcohol stored in them – everything from liquors to wines to even beers – but also delving into even, surprisingly, hot sauce. Shorter sections deal with the millenia-old history of the barrel and with its most modern incarnations and looking to what the future might hold for the technology.

Indeed, for what it is, the only truly glaring weakness here is in fact the dearth of a bibliography, clocking in at just about 14% of the overall text, when 20-30% is more typical in my extensive experience with nonfiction Advance Reviewer Copies.

Overall a quick, fun, and informative read that will give you yet more esoteric knowledge and trivia and thus expand your horizons just that much more. Very much recommended.

This review of Cask Strength by Mike Gerrard was originally written on June 18, 2023.