Featured New Release Of The Week: The Night Of Many Endings by Melissa Payne

This week we’re looking at a tale that manages to combine elements from disaster movies, The Lord Of The Rings, and The Breakfast Club into a beautiful and poignant tale with strong yet never preachy social commentary. This week we’re looking at The Night of Many Endings by Melissa Payne.

Adult Breakfast Club During A Disaster. Ok, so I love me a good disaster movie, and The Breakfast Club (look it up, kiddos) is one of the most iconic movies Hollywood has ever produced, at least for those of us who were anywhere from young kids (and mostly learning of its amazingness a few years after it released) to young adults (who were actively living it) in that era. Here, Payne manages to hit both notes while admittedly not having quite the same tear-jerking punches of both of her prior novels. The front part of the book sets up the disaster, and actually does nearly as good a job as the Tommy Lee Jones movie Volcano in showing just how “normal” the day of the disaster is. Then the disaster strikes and our more Breakfast Club mode kicks in. Here, our cast isn’t trapped by an overbearing Principal in detention, but in a life and death struggle to stay alive and stay warm during a brutal snowstorm – but the ultimate tones and themes are very similar, up to and including various relevant tragic backstories. (Note that only the currently-relevant-backstories-at-time-of-publication part is similar between the two. The actual backstories are actually wildly divergent and yet great looks into under-told stories of each type of person.) And yet – get ready for yet another movie reference – the ending drags on a bit similar to The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King. Ok, the “coronation” has finally happened. We don’t need half the tale being what happens after! (Note, nowhere near that bad here – more like the back 20% ish of the tale.)

Still, the writing is as beautiful and poignant as ever, the overall backstories are inventive in their rarity in literature, and ultimately this *is* a really strong book that everyone should read. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID!!!!!!!

A note to any and all authors and publishers, up front: I ABSOLUTELY, 10000%, DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID!!!!! I READ FICTION TO *ESCAPE* THE “REAL” WORLD!!!!! Write the stories if you feel you must. Maybe for your own mental health, you *need* to write COVID stories. For the rest of us, PLEASE do NOT publish them for a while. It is still *TOO* real, no matter what one thinks about the virus or any of the politics around it. (And remember, no matter your own thoughts on it, there are large segments of your potential customers who will disagree with you.)

All of the above noted, the actual story here is well crafted and well told. Picoult manages to bring in, from a more mysticism side, one of the aspects of Bill Myers’ Eli that made that book one of the most influential of my own life – even as he approached the concept from a more science/ science fiction side. The scenes in the Galapagos in particular are truly viscerally stunning. You feel yourself being there as much as our lead character is, in all of the messy situations she finds herself trapped in on this paradise as the world falls apart. Indeed, had the entire book been based there, to me it would have been a much better book overall – even though I objectively rated this story as a 5*, I must admit the latter third of the book, while still strong and compelling storytelling objectively, was less interesting to me (other than the mysticism mentioned above, as this is where those aspects come into play).

At the end of the day, I write this review roughly six weeks before publication and this book has nearly 600 reviews on Goodreads – at the time I began writing this, it looked as though this one will be number 569. Which speaks to the marketing reach and prowess of its publisher, and Picoult’s own status as, as I described her on Facebook earlier this morning “a grocery store book section level author that seems to occupy half of said grocery store book section”. And the mystic hook being so rarely used is perhaps reason to rate this book as more compelling than others, but overall the tale here and the level of the writing… as I mentioned on my review of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising: there is absolutely *no* doubt that this is a strong tale strongly crafted. But I really have read oh so many authors from less powerful publishers that are at least as good, and thus I truly don’t understand the hype.

For those that *do* want a “real” look at COVID in their fiction, whether that be in 2021 or later, this book is absolutely must read. For those that want island escapism and don’t mind COVID being a central part of the tale, you’re definetly going to want to read this one, even if you’ve never read Picoult (as I had never before this book). But for those who, for any reason at all, just can’t deal with COVID “realism” in their escapism/ fiction… maybe hold off on this one until you’re at a point where you can. And then read it, because it really is a great story overall. Recommended.

This review of Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult was originally written on October 15, 2021.

#BookReview: The Space Between by Jane Lebak

This Needs To Be Expanded (And That Is A Very Good Thing). Here Lebak creates an inventive yet relatable science fiction tale set on Pluto that is a great yet short read… which is really the only problem with the book. It is so intriguing that I for one would *really* like to see this expanded out into a full length novel, perhaps building in more suspense and mystery and *maybe* adding a few more named characters/ further fleshing out existing named characters. Played right, it could likely even be expanded into a trilogy – one that I for one would love to experience. Seriously great tale, and a very quick read. Which in and of itself is *great* for those with little reading time and/ or trying to squeeze in a few more books at the end of the year to meet reading goals for the year. Also great for younger readers, as there is no cursing / sex/ gore *and* it even has some actual science (explained to “an intelligent five year old”, as the Station Director directs in-book) to use as a teaching point. ๐Ÿ™‚ Very much recommended.

This review of The Space Between by Jane Lebak was originally written on October 13, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: A Dancing Tide by Grace Greene

This week, we’re looking at a book that the author originally had no intention of writing… and then the reviews began coming in from her fans (including this very blog) begging for a sequel… and so here we are. ๐Ÿ™‚ This week, we’re looking at A Dancing Tide by Grace Greene.

Here’s what I said on Goodreads:

Beautiful Sequel. Full disclosure up front on this one: I read the book a month ago and somehow forgot to write my review then. Fortunately, I’ve been slowing down and I’ve only read about a dozen and a half books since. ๐Ÿ˜€ This book was a great continuation of a story… that the author originally had no intention of continuing. But she listens to her fans – including myself – and when we began clamoring for a sequel to A Barefoot Tide due to several unresolved threads at the end of that tale, Greene eventually wrote this tale as well. And while I think we could continue in this world for at least one other book, most of the threads that were left a bit too open in the previous book are more fully explored here, and thus if this series ends as a duology, I think that too could work. But while it *can* *technically* be read first, you really should go read A Barefoot Tide before this book… and then you’ll be glad the rest of us begged Greene enough for this book that she finally wrote it. ๐Ÿ˜€ Very much recommended.

#BlogTour: The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a solid Halloween themed, Urban Legend backed mystery/ drama. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Halloween-Themed Mystery/Drama With An Urban Legend – And A Punisher Scene. In the early 2000s, pre-MCU version of The Punisher – the one with Thomas Jane as Frank Castle/ The Punisher and also featuring John Travolta and Will Patton – I’ve always LOVED the scene in the finale where Castle tells Travolta’s character “I made you kill your wife. I made you kill your best friend. And now I’ve killed you.”. This book actually has elements that played out there within it as well, and this book actually works the drama and even action in those sequences much better than even that movie pulled off. (Though in its defense, in that movie the scene in question is just a plot point in service of the actual story, and here the story ultimately revolves around this scene.) To my mind, all of the above is obscure enough that I haven’t actually gone into spoiler territory here, so let’s move on.

This is a tale where several characters are at play, but we only ever really hear from three of them – the newbie, the Queen Bee of the resident Mean Girls (in this particular case, the mothers who effectively run the school’s PTA board), and a mysterious “other”… who seems intent on killing someone on Halloween night. It mostly takes place in the leadup to that night, where we see that not all is as it seems on Ivy Lane, and that, in the words of Tony Stark (when referencing Nick Fury in The Avengers), her “secrets have secrets”. Which goes for most every “her” here, particularly the three we actually hear from.

Arguably the one knock here is that male characters are almost non-existent and pretty damn one dimensional, but eh, this is fairly common across the genre, particularly when written by females. Finding an author that actually does opposite-sex characters well in this genre is a bit difficult at times, so it is more easily excused – for better or worse- as simply the way things (currently) are when this occurs.

Beyond this quibble though, this is a strong enough book, and spooky/ creepy enough that it absolutely fits right in with the Halloween vibe and its release is thus perfectly timed in mid-October. Definetly not a classic “monster tale”, but if you prefer your monsters of the more human variety… this may be up your alley. (Though to be fair, there is nothing *overly* horrific here. Though there are absolutely some very bad people here.) Very much recommended.

Below the jump, an excerpt (that if I remember correctly is the entire prologue) followed by the “publisher details” – including basic publishing data, book description, author bio, author web/ social media links, and links to buy the book.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski”

#BookReview: The Extinction Trials by AG Riddle

Preachy Philosophy And Just-Too-Far-Out-There Part V Mar Otherwise Stellar SciFi Novel. Outside of some hyper preachy philosophy in Part IV and a Part V that simply breaks everything previously established and shatters all possible suspension of disbelief, this book was truly a stellar scifi suspense/ action tale. One that should have simply ended with the conclusion of Part IV. You’ve got elements of Brett Battles’ PROJECT EDEN, James Dashner’s MAZE RUNNER, THE MATRIX, WATERWORLD , BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, Ted Dekker’s CIRCLE QUADRILOGY, and a jump-right-into-the-action opener ala Jeremy Robinson’s UNITY or (a bit more precisely) MASS EFFECT 2’s opening level. And these are all franchises that I personally LOVE. In other words, if you like scifi at all, this is going to be something you’ll want to explore. Even if scifi isn’t really your thing, the meat of the story here, of forced proximity creating a family-of-choice, secrets, lies, betrayals, and survival… those are all human elements that Riddle uses effectively to tell his story remarkably well. So well that were it not for the issues noted at the beginning of this review, this is very *easily* a 5* tale. As is, it is still a mostly solid, action packed book, and still recommended.

This review of The Extinction Trials by AG Riddle was originally written on October 10, 2021.

#BookReview: Audience-ology by Kevin Goetz

Intriguing Look At A Facet Of Hollywood Most Are Unaware Of. This is a memoir from someone committed to client confidentiality but who happens to be one of Hollywood’s foremost experts in gauging how audiences will react to a given film – and someone who manages to find a creative solution to be able to tell his story without violating his principles. It *also* has wide ranging applications, applications that don’t seem to be obvious to Mr. Goetz. Specifically, in describing how movie executives see anything less than “very good” (on what is essentially a 5 * rating system where “very good” is equivalent to 4*, with “excellent” being 5*) as “mediocre at best”, Goetz may as well be talking to so many people reviewing books, no matter the platform. This is because book executives (and algorithms) tend to have the same general opinion on the matter, as do many fellow consumers of the medium. But even beyond the rather obvious applications to book reception, Goetz’s explanations, pontifications, and examples show how utterly critical end-user/ consumer feedback is to making *any* product as strong as it can be. And yes, there are all kinds of Hollywood case stories sprinkled throughout, from the very beginnings of Hollywood through at least 2018, and yes, several of the bigger names throughout that period pop up. Including little films no one has ever heard of like Jaws, Star Wars, Forrest Gump, Titanic, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Charlie’s Angels – among many, many others. Truly an outstanding book that project leaders of all stripes would do well to read professionally, and most everyone else would do well to read both for personal growth and entertainment. Very much recommended.

This review of Audience-ology by Kevin Goetz was originally written on October 7, 2021.

#BookReview: Falling by TJ Newman

I Just Want To Watch The World Burn. I’m of two minds on this book, so I’ll write both reviews here. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Every Airplane Action Movie You’ve Ever Seen – And That Is Why It Works. Briefly looking through the other Goodreads reviews (as I do before writing my own reviews), I saw a few criticisms along the lines of “you can pretty well imagine any airplane action movie you’ve ever seen, and that is what you have here” – and, yes, that is actually valid. But need I remind readers of this review that many of those movies have made *millions* of dollars at the box office, and at least a few others have achieved a cult following over the years? There are *reasons* these movies work, and it is for these same reasons that this book works as well. Another, much more valid, reviewer noted that the opening scene – featuring a hole in the side of a falling aircraft – had absolutely nothing to do with the book, and in fact (my own point here) was immediately retconned at the beginning of Chapter 1. This, along with the visual of the cover that makes the reader think that this will be about a falling aircraft, *almost* smacks of deceptive advertising – which a careful examination of the cover shows is *barely* averted by the fact that if you remove the title and flip the image into a 3D (mathematical) plane such that one end of the cover is closer to you than the other, it is clear that the actual image is *not* of a plane *falling*, but *flying*. Which is actually the action tale we get – a man forced into a Job-esque (or perhaps Solomon-esque?) decision of watching his family be murdered… or he can murder 150 people while committing suicide. Along the way, the FBI gets involved and we get a compelling ground story, though the bit at *Yankee* Stadium (not Dodger Stadium as another reviewer noted) during the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series is in fact contrived yet cool. Ultimately even with these issues, this is still a 5* book – though yet again, I do not understand why *this* book gets all the hype and publicity while other books that are at least as good languish in obscurity.

And from the other side…

“That was then. Now I Just Want You To Burn.” Ok, so that title is a bit spoilery, as it is in fact a line that occurs late in the book. Though out of context, it is just cool. ๐Ÿ˜€ This is one action-packed book that has a few cliches – hello, ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series- yet still manages to keep the reader glued to the page, desperate to see what happens next. Like some (yet far from most) other airplane action tales, this one has a strong ground game (even the dang World Series scene turns out cool, if contrived) mostly featuring an FBI agent regularly frustrated by FBI bureaucracy and seemingly as immune to damage as Halo’s Master Chief. (Seriously, I think this dude absorbs more critical wounds than I’ve ever seen in any other action movie.) If you’re looking for a straight up “don’t think too much and just enjoy the action” type of tale, this one really is pretty dang good, up there with most any Die Hard *movie* (the books the first two Die Hard movies were based on actually had a *bit* more thinking involved, and yes, I’ve read them both – about three years ago, IIRC). While I still don’t understand the *massive* hype and publicity of this book – I’ve seen as-good-or-better tales languish in obscurity *this year* simply because they don’t have the strength of a Mega publisher behind them – again, for what it is, this book is truly solid and a really fun time.

As you can see from both lines of thinking, this book is still, even with its issues and even with my questions re: strength of publisher, very much recommended.

This review of Falling by TJ Newman was originally written on October 6, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: In Another Light by AJ Banner

This week we’re looking at a compelling drama of grief and the psychological effects it can have. This week we’re looking at In Another Light by AJ Banner.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Compelling Drama of Grief. This is a very compelling drama/ mystery of a woman’s struggles in the years following the death of her husband. The grief is all-encompassing, felt in nearly every letter on every page – which can make this book a bit dreary at times, but the mystery and mental struggles Phoebe faces are compelling enough and fast paced enough (in this short-ish, 252 page book) that the plot never really has the time to become *truly* overbearing in the grief. Revelations begin to stack up late, and much is made clear – to both Phoebe and the reader – even as the book chooses its path to be the less expected, more atypical one. Which I found quite remarkable, as this particular path allows Banner to plumb Phoebe’s fragile psyche that much more and kept the overall tone of the book solidly in place. Truly an excellent work, and very much recommended.

#BookReview: Christmas In Peachtree Bluff by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Interesting Blend Of Gilmore Girls, Home Alone, Hurricane Survival, and Hallmark Christmas. I’m pretty sure this has one of the more interesting premises of any Hallmark Christmas type tale I’ve ever seen, one that blends elements of Home Alone with a tale of a post-Thanksgiving major hurricane along the Georgia coast before transitioning into a more “traditional” / “typical” Hallmark Christmas type tale. For those that don’t mind coming into an existing world, you’ll be able to follow everything perfectly fine here. For those others that can absolutely never have any prior book’s events revealed before reading that book… well… this is actively marketed as Book Number 4. ๐Ÿ˜€ A solid if standard-ish tale of its type (re: Hallmark Christmas), this one is told from five female perspectives – a grandmother, her three daughters, and one of those daughters’ own teenage daughter – and even the various guys involved here are given solid characterizations and never belittled, which can at times be a problem with other authors. (This is my first book from Harvey.) Indeed, it is actually with the involvement of one of the guys in particular where the Gilmore Girls elements *really* come to play, with some recurring hilarity. Overall a truly solid book within its type, and a good break for those looking to break away from their own situations during the holidays. Very much recommended.

This review of Christmas In Peachtree Bluff by Kristy Woodson Harvey was originally written on October 3, 2021.