#BookReview: Starting Over by Kay Bratt

Starting Over. Yes, the title of my review and the title of this book are the same, because I want to emphasize just how well Bratt titled this particular story. Yet again, we get a pulse pounding crime unfortunately based on real-world events in the South, in this particular case (as the prologue shows, so no real spoilers here) an abduction from a Walmart parking lot. And there is a lot of action in this particular case, including hiking through one park I’m very familiar with and another I’ve been to a few times – Amicalola State Park and Unicoi State Park, respectively, both in the North Georgia mountain region. In particular, the camping areas, trails, even the hike-inn that Bratt mentions were all part of my teens in particular, with several trips out there from my home town not very far away.

But as always with this series, this tale is about the small town and family relationships as much as it is about the crime of the book, and it is here that we truly get a sense of this series – that was supposed to end here – is actually “starting over”, in all the best possible ways. We get a return to the true roots of this series, but with everyone involved in different situations than they were in at the actual beginning of the series. Being told with Bratt’s usual careful yet evocative styling, this book will leave you particularly glad the series is “starting over” rather than concluding here as was originally intended. Very much recommended.

This review of Starting Over by Kay Bratt was originally written on December 8, 2023.

#BookReview: Food Waste, Food Insecurity, And The Globalization Of Food Banks by Daniel N. Warshawsky

Solid Primer On The Concept Marred By Typical Academic Left Leaning Myopia. Quite simply, at roughly 38% documentation across just a 225 page or so text, this is one of the better documented nonfiction books I’ve come across in quite some time. Indeed, at times it seemed like there were citations on every sentence or maybe just every other sentence, they were that prevalent. So a lot of kudos on that end, and it really helps make the case of what Prof. Warshawsky is showing here in describing how food banks began in different regions around the world and what their current realities are. Through these sections, the book is truly a great resource for seeing just how widespread the idea is now and the various challenges each particular country and region faces in providing these services.

Indeed, the only real flaw here – and yes, it was big enough that it warranted the star deduction – is the typical left leaning (vs outright leftist) myopia common in Academic circles. Over and over and over again, Warshawsky blames corporations as only sponsoring these efforts in order to burnish their own public images and condemns these efforts as stymying truly productive reforms, all without truly looking to a more holistic approach to those very reforms or even to this specific issue. Instead, while so much else of the text is so well documented, that government providing these services is better than private efforts is seen more as a fait accompli never to be questioned or even examined.

So read this text, it really is quite remarkable so far as it goes. But don’t let its limitations limit your own imagination. There likely are better solutions to these issues out there – but assuming any one approach will work globally probably isn’t going to work, for the very reasons Warshawsky illuminates here. Very much recommended.

This review of Food Waste, Food Insecurity, And The Globalization Of Food Banks by Daniel N. Warshawsky was originally written on December 8, 2023.

#BookReview: This Spells Love by Kate Robb

Second Chance / “Glimpse” Type Tale Done Right. This is one of those second chance/ “glimpse” type tales ala the late 90s/ early 2000s movie The Family Man with Nic Cage and Tea Leoni done *right*, complete with wildly alternate lives for the male and female leads in this particular tale. And done by a debut author, and set in a suburb of Toronto to boot. So hey, a lot going on here to make it its own – yes, including brief discussions of a multiverse scenario. So if you like your romances with a tinge of magical realism/ scifi-ish ideas… this one is for you. That noted, if you’re among the “clean”/ “sweet” romance crowd… eh, this probably has a lot more thinking and acting on sex than you’d like, including some rather graphic terms… at least according to those types of sensibilities. Again, the actual spice level here is probably more akin to a chipotle – not actually all *that* spicy, but far more spicy than some stomachs can handle and perhaps far more spicy than some minds *want* to handle. Still, as long as you’re aware of that up front (thanks to reading this review), you can make up your own mind. Ultimately, I thought this was a particularly strong effort from a debut author, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Ms. Robb is capable of in her sophomore effort. Very much recommended.

This review of This Spells Love by Kate Robb was originally written on December 8, 2023.

#BookReview: The Second Chance Year by Melissa Wiesner

Scattered Tale Tries To Be Both RomCom And Women’s Fiction. Straight up, I’m fully aware that this is one of those reviews where many will rate this book at 5* for the exact reason I’m deducting a star here (though as you’ll see if you too peruse the reviews, at least some of my commentary will also mirror many of the existing 2* reviews as I write this review early in the morning on the US East Coast on release day for this book). Namely, the preachy hyper-focus on workplace discrimination and outright sexual harassment and even sexual assault… in what is ostensibly trying to be a romcom. If you approach this as a romcom – and perhaps that was my failing here, approaching it in such a way… these issues are far too heavy and completely drag the story down.

However, for those that approach this tale perhaps *wanting* the more Women’s Fiction side of it, where such heavy issues may be more expected, there you’ll get the heaviness the same, but also with the levity that the attempt at also being a romcom brings to the table. So the tale is still scattered, but when approached in such a manner, it likely won’t feel as off-putting. Hell, it may even feel quite a bit refreshing.

And of course my other failing here that must be mentioned is my love of The Family Man, the late 90s/ early 2000s movie with Nic Cage and Tea Leoni. It is my go-to reference for “glimpse” type tales such as this, where the main character is allowed to relive some portion of their life over. And while also a somewhat serious drama itself (with quite a bit of comedy), it was nowhere near as heavy as this book was fairly often. Also having this tale set in the end of year season – as that movie was – didn’t help me completely separate the two, but again, this is likely a failing of mine that perhaps some other readers may share.

Overall, the book actually does both of its scattered foci quite well… it simply fails in the combination, at least when one is expecting more of a “glimpse” based romcom. As mentioned previously, if approached from more of a Women’s Fiction tale, it works rather well.

For those potentially concerned that it doesn’t meet the full requirements of a “romance”… it does, actually – at least every rule I’m personally aware of. And for those concerned about spice level… this one will satisfy the “clean” crowd (while perhaps being too heavy for the “sweet” crowd, though perhaps not) in that the closest anything gets to any “action” – other than the sexual assault(s) – is heavy kissing and waking up in the same bed.

Ultimately one of those tales that will likely be at least somewhat divisive due to the dichotomies I’ve discussed here, it could also do quite well in certain circles and when approached from a certain direction. Recommended.

This review of The Second Chance Year by Melissa Wiesner was originally written on December 5, 2023.

#BookReview: Emerald Heart by Grace Greene

Sometimes Life Just Breaks You. If you find yourself in this place, this is the kind of book you *need* to read. It will hurt. You will cry. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a modicum of catharsis here too.

If you haven’t found yourself in this place – yet – read this too. Maybe get a better understanding of the “bitter old woman recluse” in your life. Because let’s face it – we *all* either have one of these or had one of these or very likely will have one of these in our lives at some point. And to be clear, it isn’t just women, as men could very easily be shown to be dealing with identical things as are shown in this book. But this particular tale happens to be a women’s fiction tale focused on a woman and her relationships, and thus the description above.

Told with Greene’s usual great care to characterization and description, you’re both going to feel like you’re there on Emerald Isle with these characters *and* you’re going to feel their issues as though there were your own. Because, again, Greene shows us that no matter where we are in life, at some point nearly all of us will see ourselves in at least one of these characters and what they are going through in theirs.

And there, there is where Greene truly shows Grace ( ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) and hope.

Very much recommended.

This review of Emerald Heart by Grace Greene was originally written on December 4, 2023.

#BookReview: The Predictable Heartbreaks Of Imogen Finch by Jacqueline Firkins

Quirky And Spicy. Straight up: If quirky books with a touch of magical realism/ off-the-beaten-path type vibes isn’t really your thing… eh, you likely won’t like this book. If spicy books with several (I wouldn’t necessarily call them “frequent”) on-screen sex scenes of various forms isn’t your thing… this probably isn’t the book for you, as it does feature them. If you’re looking for a “perfect” “cowboy rides off into the sunset with his woman in the saddle behind him” type HEA… the HEA here works for this couple, but aint that type. So maybe this isn’t your thing either, but in your case I’d say give it a shot anyway, as it *does* fulfill all known “requirements” (which I use loosely, as I’ve been known to wage war with purists on them) for the romance genre… in its own ways.

For those that are still here… this is actually a fun, off-beat, light-yet-serious tale of one woman’s search for love – despite the curse from her mother – and the dude who has always been there but hasn’t always been there. At around 350 pages, it isn’t short, but it also isn’t unnecessarily drawn out either. Sure, maybe some scenes could be cut (I know, the “clean” / “sweet” crowd wishes the sex scenes were cut, and I’m sure other readers would want others cut), but overall the tale works well with what it has and nothing actually feels *truly* out of place.

Ultimately, I had fun with this zany tale and its road-less-traveled take on love, and those looking for a romance book that isn’t like seemingly literally *every other romance book out there* I think will at least enjoy that this one *does* go places many don’t. Very much recommended.

This review of The Predictable Heartbreaks Of Imogen Finch by Jacqueline Firkins was originally written on December 1, 2023.

#BlogTour: The Talk Of Coyote Canyon by Brenda Novak

For this blog tour, we’re looking at . For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Talk Of Coyote Canyon by Brenda Novak.

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

Down Syndrome Kid Steals Show. First, about the title of this review – as an Autistic, I *despise* so-called “person first” language, because it doesn’t actually put the person first. It claims that a person whose so-called “disability” is integral to their very personhood and way they live instead could simply discard it as easily as changing their hair color, among other easily changed things a person is described as “with”. Bullshit. Such an ability permeates the person thoroughly, and directly influences how the person perceives – and thus processes and expresses their thoughts and feelings about – literally everything around them.

Thus, the Down Syndrome character himself- and the brilliant and very human way Novak shows him – is actually one of the better features of this particular tale, one that I’ve seen no other reviewer discuss thus far, even though this character is a major motivator for our hero of this book. Of note, other than mentioning the Down Syndrome near the time the character is first introduced, it is rarely if ever mentioned again – to the point that I actually had to go back and search the book to verify the actual description initially used for the character as I began to write this review. And this is *exactly* what one would expect in a small town where everyone knows everyone – by the time of our story here, everyone in town is already well aware of this kid and his condition, so why bother repeating it?

As to the romance itself, other than the fact that both of our leads are well drillers – presumably a rarity for a female in particular, and not exactly a profession many in suburbia and/ or the Eastern US are familiar with – … eh, fairly standard slow burn enemies to lovers type tale, with a lot of complications due to varying family and small town dynamics. As usually happens, particularly within the enemies to lovers space. (And no, this is no Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet was teen angst gone murderous, with a remarkably high body count for such a short overall tale. Here, our leads are not exactly “old and wisened”, but they’re also well away from teen angst… even if they’ve never actually resolved some very big issues from earlier in their lives (yet).

And yes, the ending here was a bit abrupt. Did Novak realize she was at her target word/ page count and simply rush the ending, rather than fill it out a bit more completely as the story seemed to demand here? Who knows. But it absolutely felt rushed and even a bit lackadaisical. Certainly, Novak has proven with other books – including the first book in this series! – that she is capable of much better.

One final note, specifically for the “clean” / “sweet” romance crowd – yet again, likely not one for y’all. Novak isn’t shy with on screen sex when it serves the purposes of the story, though this isn’t one of those “damn near erotica” level books either. So for everyone, know that the spice level here is roughly along the lines of a chipotle. Fairly mild, overall – yet still far too spicy for some.

Overall, this book was one of those that had a couple of stand-out features that were done truly particularly well (Down Syndrome character + well drilling profession) and otherwise was more of a routine (yet solid, to be clear) small town enemies to lovers romance, maybe with some extra dynamics to add a touch more drama/ fill some extra pages. I’m very much looking forward ot the next book in this series.

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 Talk Of Coyote Canyon by Brenda Novak”

#BlogTour: The Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor

For this blog tour, we’re looking at one of the few books in the last few years that I can honestly say I read in a single sitting. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor.

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

I Literally Read This Book In One Sitting. Yes, the book is just over 300 pages. I said what I said. This is one of those books that just traps you in and you *need to know what will happen next*. There’s enough creep/ ick factor, yes – but there is also several strong mysteries here. Including some that seem to touch on real-life issues. The twists and turns are well done, if some of them at least are somewhat expected given the overall genre and even plot to that point.

For those that prefer clear cut endings with every question definitively answered… eh, read the book for yourself… but *I* didn’t get as many answers as I had questions. But maybe I missed some answers?

Overall a solid, well paced book that fits well within its genre. 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 Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor”

#BookReview: Manipulating The Message by Cecil Rosner

This Review Is *NOT* A Paid Ad. Up front, because one of the large points Rosner makes is about just how much “influencer” peddling actually happens, let me be 100% perfectly clear: I had never heard of Rosner nor his publisher before picking up this book from NetGalley (yes, it is an advance reader copy). The title and description sounded like something that was interesting to me, so I picked it up. Period.

But that actually *does* get to the very points Rosner makes throughout this text, and he repeatedly uses real world examples both well known and very obscure to show his points. Basically, *everyone* is suspect – and you *should* do your own research. Yes, there are experts. Yes, objective truth exists. But are you actually hearing from them? Are you actually getting anything remotely close to the objective truth on the topic at hand? Rosner spends about 86% of his nearly 300 pages showing that… eh, you may not be, on either question. No matter where your “news” is coming from. At any level.

Truly a phenomenal expose on the topic, very well written and extremely informative. While Rosner is based in Canada and thus several of his examples are also based there, he also covers the situation in the US in particular quite well – and because of this, his points likely hold reasonably well at least through Western nations and *possibly* in every location on the globe (and beyond).

The star deduction is really two half stars – one half because at 14%, his bibliography is just shy of the range I normally expect to see in a book such as this based on my extensive experience reading these types of nonfiction ARCs, that range being closer to 20-30%. The other half star is due to the elitism that is so pervasive throughout the text. While actually decently balanced – while he spends an entire chapter *mostly* railing against Libertarian think tanks in Canada, he *does* also point out others of other political persuasions that are just as bad, and spends at least some actual time covering them and their faults as well, for example – even in the balance, the overall elitist disdain for so many of us just pours through his writing. And to be clear, I myself am a former political blogger – well before my book blogging days – that actually broke several local and even Statewide news items. And had more journalistic integrity than at least some of the “professionals” on those beats. (But those are ultimately stories for another time and place. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) My point here being that at least this reader is not simply some fly by night *very* minor “book influencer” (as some authors have called me *with pride* – rather than disdain), and Rosner realistically should have expected that many, perhaps even most, eventual readers of this book would have some level of journalistic experience. Which makes the elitism that much harder to swallow.

Still, ultimately this truly was a very good, well written expose on just how much media manipulation is in our every day lives, from the local to the national and throughout even social media as well.

Very much recommended.

This review of Manipulating The Message by Cecil Rosner was originally written on November 22, 2023.

#BookReview: Following Caesar by John Keahey

Not A Christmas Book. Admittedly, I saw “Caesar” and the release date and for some reason thought this had… anything at all to do with Christmas. To be clear, it does not. Just in case anyone else was somehow thinking it might. ๐Ÿ˜‰

What we *do* get, however, is actually a rather intriguing tale in its own right, of the author’s adventures in a post-collapse world to try to find the last remaining vestiges of ancient Roman roads in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and surrounding areas. We get a decent amount of history, but to be clear – this is far more travel book (and almost travel log even) than history book. We get tales of espresso and kind strangers and parking woes, and we get tales of finding obscure patches of ancient Roman roadway or bridgeworks or some such often deep in farmer’s fields – and which the author only stumbled upon because he happened to stumble into a local who happened to know what he was looking for. We also get several tales of various “official” sites being closed, some of which the author was able to sneak into anyway either by outright sneaking or by some official or another looking the other way.

Indeed, this was, as I mentioned above, quite an intriguing tale for what it is – just *really* don’t go in here expecting some detailed treatise on the exact engineering of ancient Roman roadways and how at least certain sections of them have managed to last all these centuries. Go in expecting a 2020s era romp through the region at hand… and you’ll probably leave a lot more satisfied here.

The one star deduction comes from having next to no bibliography, despite having so many historical details and references. Instead, the bibliography is simply a “selected reading” and clocks in at less than 4% of the overall text – compared to closer to 20-30% being my expected norm based on reading hundreds of nonfiction advance review copies of books across nearly every discipline these last few years as a book blogger.

Still, I had a great time with this book and learned a lot about a subject the author is clearly passionate about. I felt I was right there with him through many of these adventures and woes, and really… what more do you actually want in a book of this type?

Very much recommended.

This review of Following Caesar by John Keahey was originally written on November 22, 2023.