#BookReview: The Christmas Wager by Holly Cassidy

Solid Hallmarkie Christmas Romance. For the millions – AND MILLIONS! ๐Ÿ˜‰ – of the Hallmark Christmas Movie fans… here is Hannah Mary McKinnon writing under a pen name giving you *exactly* the kind of story you love so much… with a *touch* of spice to boot. The pure-as-fresh-snow clean/ sweet crowd may not like certain scenes, but overall this book is exactly what it was designed to be and not one thing more – which is exactly what a book should be, to at least some schools of thought. Ultimately this book is going to come down to just how much you like that particular vibe. If you’re one of the types that can’t WAIT until Hallmark starts playing all Christmas movies, all the time, you’re going to love this book. If you’re one of the ones that sees the Hallmark Movie Channel and immediately flips to… literally *anything* else, even a channel dedicated to nothing more than paint drying videos… maybe this book isn’t for you. ๐Ÿ˜‰ This isn’t necessarily a short read at roughly 350 pages, but it also isn’t a slog fest that you’re going to fight to get through (assuming you like these types of tales) either. A nice change of pace from McKinnon’s much more serious women’s fiction books under her actual name (which are also great, and something maybe the anti-Hallmark readers should consider instead :D), and I look forward to McKinnon continuing to write both types of books. Very much recommended.

This review of The Christmas Wager by Holly Cassidy was originally written on September 28, 2023.

#BookReview: The Last True Templar by Boyd Morrison and Beth Morrison

Middle Ages Mediterranean Adventure. One of the interesting things for me when reading this book is that David Wood released his book Baal just a couple of weeks before this one came out, and both books are rather similar at the highest of levels – in that both are adventure books touring the Mediterranean Sea region in search of lost treasures. Separated by a few hundred years and thus with completely different specifics as far as character motivations, transportation, weapons used, cultures, etc. And to be clear, with Beth Morrison – an apparently renowned Medieval period scholar – as coauthor here, the actual historical aspects – from the various factions involved to the different cultures of the various Italian cities to even exactly how different things worked and who would have what skillsets, are apparently spot-on, so best as I could tell anyway. Paired with her brother Boyd’s action story sensibilities, once again the two create a spectacular historical fiction tale that anyone interested in any modern action/ adventure tale can also love – and showing those who “only” read historical fiction that modern tales can also be just as great. Overall truly an outstanding book, and I hope these siblings can continue to work together for many more books to come. Very much recommended.

This review of The Last True Templar by Boyd Morrison and Beth Morrison was originally written on September 28, 2023.

#BookReview: A Storm Of Infinite Beauty by Julianne Maclean

Earth Shattering Quakes Both Real And Metaphorical. This is an intriguing dual timeline tale that takes us through deep family secrets… and the 1964 Anchorage Alaska earthquake – still, 60 yrs later, one of the strongest ever recorded (since 1930) – that may or may not have helped hide some of them. It is a strong tale of privacy, pain, the desire to live the life of one’s choosing… and of normal people with the potential to be superstar celebrities… and superstar celebrities who just want to be normal people. It is a story of thinking you know a particular family member as well as anyone possibly can… and suddenly finding a revelation that you never saw coming. It is a tale that will make you feel like you are actively in the coastal woods of Nova Scotia… and the wilds of coastal Alaska. It is a tale that brings you front and center to the chaos of being in the midst of one of the strongest earthquakes humanity has ever actively recorded… and a tale that brings you front and center to the chaos of finding out that those you thought you knew best, you hardly actually knew at all. It is truly an excellent tale, and it is truly superbly told. Very much recommended.

This review of A Storm of Infinite Beauty by Julianne Maclean was originally written on September 23, 2023.

#BlogTour: The Flood by G.N. Smith and The Island by G.N. Smith

For this blog tour, we’re looking at an atmospheric detective novel with BookAnon level connections to some of the most popular detective stories of the last century. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Flood by G.N. Smith. In a first for this blog, we’re also looking at a second book in the same tour – the sequel to The Flood, The Island.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites about The Flood (Goodreads, Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype):

Atmospheric Novel Can Get Repetitive At Times. This is one of those detective novels – not really a police procedural, since it is almost a “locked room” scenario (with the “room” in question being a sequestered area of a small town) with only a single detective available – where the setting seems as much as character as any of the actual human characters. Smith manages to put the reader right in the titular flood and the fight for survival from both the elements and the murderer that only our detective knows lurks in their midst. And yet, in repeating the detective’s personal motivation *so* often… Smith does in fact get repetitive enough to at least warrant mentioning in the review. Indeed, it becomes as tedious at times as seeming *every* Batman movie with a new actor portraying the character having to do some version of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders, or every new Spiderman movie having to do some version of Uncle Ben’s murder. With those franchises… guys, we get it. We already know these characters. With this particular book… the first mention was solid character development. Maybe a reference back here or there could have been good. But to be hit with a near word for word repetition of the motivation *so many times*… the editing could have been better here, at minimum. Beyond this though, the story itself was quite strong indeed, even within the “locked room” type space, and the overall plotting was quite solid, with the tension ratcheting up at a fairly steady pace and the reveals coming at enough of a clip to keep the pages turning. Overall a strong series starter and I’m interested to see where we’re going here. Very much recommended.

And here’s what I had to say on the review sites about The Island (Goodreads, Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype):

And So It Becomes Clear This Is An Open World “Locked Room” Series. This book largely follows the format of the first one in the series, and happens just a few days later in the world timeline. In other words, while still dealing with the repercussions – good and bad – from the first book, our detective is now thrust into *another* mystery where she is in an essentially “locked room” open world environment – she has quite a bit of area to work in (as do our perpetrators), but it is an area isolated off from the “main” world. This comes to bear in good and bad ways, though at least in this entry another variant on the theme is introduced… and again, the moves and countermoves this particular variant introduce open up their own possibilities. The main problems from the first book – the repetitive repetition of the detective’s motives – are largely still in play here, though this time at least a few of the repetitions give us a bit more of the backstory for the motivations, and thus a reprieve from the near copy/paste verbatim repetitions that seemed so prevalent in Book 1. But… the things that made the first book so good, specifically how the scenery itself very nearly becomes its own actual character as it is described so vividly and is so intrinsic to the story here, are *also* still in play here. Indeed, with the clear theme now established for this series, perhaps that is one of the more intriguing aspects going forward…. how can Smith manage to keep putting this same person in these same situations and keep them different enough? Based on this book, I for one am looking forward to seeing how he pulls it off again. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Flood by G.N. Smith and The Island by G.N. Smith”

#BlogTour: The Book Club Hotel by Sarah Morgan

For this blog tour, we’re looking at another Hallmarkie type Christmas tale done exactly as fans of such tales expect. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Book Club Hotel by Sarah Morgan.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Goodreads, Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype):

Solid Sarah Morgan Christmas Tale. For long time fans of Morgan or those who have never heard of her, know that this particular tale is *exactly* the type of tale she always tells for Christmas, at least in my few years’ experience reading her books. In this particular case, it is long time friends – each with their own secrets they’ve been hiding from the others – reuniting for Christmas at a small town bed and breakfast… that happens to have some needs of its own that these three friends just so happen to be particularly well suited to help with. You’ve got the Hallmarkie charm and at least one romance thread, you’ve got the female friends bonding even more, you’ve got the small Northeastern town at Christmas, complete with all the decorations and snow. You’ve got the slight flair for the dramatic, just to spice things up a bit. And overall you’ve got the great “cozy-read-by-the-fireplace-in-the-evening” feel that Morgan so often brings to the table so well. Again, nothing truly earth shattering here… but sometimes “not earth shattering” is exactly the kind of book you’re looking for. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Book Club Hotel by Sarah Morgan”

#BookReview: Baal by David Wood and C.B. Matson

Wild Ride Action Adventure. This one has everything – exotic (at least to American audiences) locations throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, unintentional/ intentional skydiving, long distance endurance swimming, running from bad guys via various means, lots of guns, a few explosions here and there… and a touch of the mystic, just because this *is* Maddock and Bones and, well, that’s kind of what they do these days in particular. ๐Ÿ™‚ This time, they’re back with the more complete team, and as such this *is* one of the longer, more involved adventures – this isn’t one of the shortish adventures that may be able to be read in an hour or two, but it also isn’t so long as to feel out of place in the overall series or genre. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy the ride. Very much recommended.

This review of Baal by David Wood and C.B. Matson was originally written on September 16, 2023.

#BookReview: Cupid Season by Nicola Marsh

Short, Fun, And Little Drama. This is one of those romance tales that is great for someone who wants a mostly lighter-side tale with just enough actual drama and backstory to make things interesting without overly weighing the tale down. Throw in some reality-show type antics, and you’ve got a solid formula for an easy vacation/ by the fire read for those times when maybe you don’t have the time or energy to invest in a tome, but you just want or need something a bit on the lighter and shorter side. Very much recommended.

This review of Cupid Season by Nicola Marsh was originally written on September 15, 2023.

#BookReview: Thank You For Sharing by Rachel Runya Katz

M/F Romance For The Queer Theory / Traditional-Masculinity-Is-Toxic crowd. I’ve read a lot of books in a lot of genres with nearly every bent you can imagine outside of swords and sorcery fantasy – which I simply can’t get into, no matter how much I try – and this one has some interesting things going for it. Our female lead is a museum curator – not usually shown in such books, male or female – and has an awesome career opportunity laid out in front of her. Our male lead is a digital marketing specialist – has there ever been a more “Millenial/ Zoomer” job? – who is unsatisfied in his own career, and this next project is make or break for him. So there’s a lot of work angst here in addition to the history of these two together. Combine their friends into one common group, and you’ve got a solid story that at a high level, the Hallmarkie set can easily enjoy.

But then… then you’ve got the pervasive bigotry against virtually anything non-queer, traditional, and/ or white. To the tune that this line deep in the book gives a good indication without even being anywhere near the worst examples: “”I fully endorse lesbian country songs and murder ballads about abusive husbands if you want to play those. It’s the I-like-guns-and-women-and-beer-and-trucks stuff I can’t stand.” (For the record, this reviewer has a problem with murder and domestic violence *no matter who is being attacked or why*.) So, Carrie Underwood and the Dixie – oops, I mean, just “The Chicks” – are perfectly fine, Brad Paisley (whom Underwood has worked *many* events with) and Alabama are out. Got it. But again, this is just a minor example that is concrete evidence of the overall problem. And to be clear, since readers of this particular review may not follow *all* of my reviews and may not know how I work this particular issue (and really, if you want a wide range of good books to read that you’d likely have never found on your own… you really should follow me wherever you’re reading this :D), I look at bigotry by flipping the demographics involved. If [insert demographic A] was behaving this way or saying these things about [insert demographic B], would it be seen as a problem? If it would, and yet [insert demographic B] is behaving that way or saying those things about [insert demographic A]… *it is still a problem*.

But, as I also say quite frequently, there will *always* be someone out there who LOVES the book (or item, more generally) for the EXACT reason a particular reviewer HATES it (and vice versa), so the more you agree with the title and the line I quoted, eh, the more you’re probably going to enjoy this book.

Overall, again, if you remove the pervasive bigotry here, it actually is a rather interesting tale that fully hits everything a younger Millenial/ Zoomer would expect in a romance and meets all genre requirements I am aware of. Combined with others sharing a similar political bent across the generations, and I’m sure Katz can still make quite a career playing into these same ideologies – we see both in books and elsewhere these days that what I once thought impossible is now a daily occurrence, so far as cutting out roughly half of your potential market and yet still having a wildly successful career goes.

Recommended, if you’re open to the particular biases here. The more opposed you are to them… the more you’re going to want to throw this book through the nearest window and DNF it, then leave a scathing 1* review strictly because you didn’t like the politics/ biases at play. Spare Katz the drama and yourself the heart and headache, and just skip it in that case.

This review of Thank You For Sharing by Rachel Runya Katz was originally written on September 5, 2023.

#BookReview: The Lost Supper by Taras Grescoe

Intriguing Romp Through The History Of Food That Fails The Sagan Standard. One of the core features of the scientific method, and indeed of rational thought more generally, is what is known in some circles as the “Sagan Standard” after he quoted it so much: Extreme Claims Require Extreme Evidence.

And this is where this otherwise truly intriguing tale utterly fails, coming in at just 10% documentation despite claims as extreme *even in the prologue* as claiming that 90% of US milk production comes from a particular breed of cows and ultimately is the product of just two bulls that ultimately created that particular breed.

Reading the text as less science and history – even though much science and history are discussed – and more as the “creative nonfiction” Grescoe writes of once describing his writing to a security officer as, the book flows quite a bit better and provides quite a bit of interesting and intriguing nuggets for people of various persuasions to track down on their own. For example, the global histories Grescoe explores, from the Aztec culture of eating certain bugs to the Phonecian/ Mediterranean culture of eating very fermented fish to the Canadian First Nations’ peoples’ culinary pursuits and several others as well all provide rich stories that *beg* for a more documented history. On the other hand, if one is more gastronomically inclined ala the author, perhaps one simply wants to try to track down these particular foods and techniques for him or herself to sample these items as the author did – including a particular breed of pig that “originates” from a small island not far from where this reviewer lives on Florida’s First Coast.

Ultimately, once one abandons any standard of documentation the way one would abandon any sense of “reality” upon entering a cinema to watch the latest MCU movie and appreciates the sheer spectacle of what is presented to you… this is a truly great book that foodies in particular will absolutely love. Given the literal hundreds of different shows about food and culinary pursuits, including several actively traveling around the world highlighting various dishes and techniques just as this book does… clearly there is a market for exactly this kind of tale, and this one does in fact appear to work perfectly within that market. Very much recommended.

This review of The Lost Supper by Taras Grescoe was originally written on September 3, 2023.

#BookReview: Right Kind Of Wrong by Amy C. Edmondson

Well Documented Examination Of How To Make Failure Work *For* You. This is one of those organizational psychology/ self-help pop psychology books that is fortunately about as light on the psychobabble bullshit as such as a book can be, and instead focuses on the science of how to fail intelligently and how to mitigate, minimize, and learn from other failures as well – yes, even some of the most catastrophic failures of the past 50 years or so (where most of Edmondson’s examples come from) can be at minimum learned from, and this is one of the large points of the text here. At roughly 30% documentation, it is on the higher end of average in my own experience, which is a great thing given all of the claims here. Organized into just a couple of handfuls of chapters, each built around explaining one of Edmondson’s core principles, this is a book that will work well in any learning environment, from college level business education classes to corporate book clubs/ leadership retreats to personal self development. And it is in fact quite practical, with quite a few lessons that can be easily (or at least readily) applied in almost any situation that seems to be becoming SNAFU or even FUBAR. Very much recommended.

This review of Right Kind Of Wrong by Amy C. Edmondson was originally written on September 3, 2023.