#BookReview: Never Back Down by Christopher Swann

Comic Book Justice. In this epic conclusion (?) to Suzie Falkner’s story, Swann manages to keep the tension tight even when filling in backstory – and showing that the characters have lived through the year ish since the publication of Never Go Home in near real-time with the rest of us. Except that for Suzie, that year has been spent being tormented by the fallout from Never Go Home. (In other words, read that book first in this particular case.) We spend most of the book with the Big Bad more a menacing presence in the shadows (ala the opening sequence) or the general background (most of the book) while showing off Suzie’s own skills ever more prominently, including several other tie-ins to Never Go Home. (Seriously, read that book first.) And then, in the last third of the book or so, Swann gets into Suzie’s toughest tests yet – and into some of the most creepy and traumatizing events of these books. Getting into the specifics would be spoilery, but one does need to be generally referenced in case the reader is particularly sensitive to this issue: there *is* a school shooting in this book, and yes, people die in it. Given the realities of the world today, that caution needed to be mentioned. Along those lines, Swann has a line or two where his personal politics tinge the page – but they tend to be throwaway lines that are not pervasive and are quickly moved past, and therefore don’t warrant a star deduction so much as a mention of their presence. Overall truly a breathtaking book that you won’t want to put down for even a second. Very much recommended.

This review of Never Back Down by Christopher Swann was originally written on December 2, 2022.

#BookReview: The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle

Meganets And Pre-Networks. Ok, I know what you’re thinking – what does computer networking and the Internet have to do with this book? Well, on some level, it is somewhat obvious – one of our main characters is a social media “influencer” with a million followers. But on another level… Belle actually manages here to show the pitfalls and advantages of two different eras of human history, perhaps without even being cognizant of doing this, just seeking timelines that worked for the story she was telling and making the other details work around that. Yet speaking of details, there are some wrong ones here, particularly around guns – which anyone who follows Belle’s own social media knows that the anti-gun paranoia expressed by one main character is at least somewhat close to Belle’s own real life feelings (though, to be clear, I am not saying the character’s specific motivations for these feelings are anywhere near Belle’s, as I have never seen any public comments from her anywhere near those specific actions). Specifically, guns are not “registered” anywhere in Georgia, not even in Fulton County (home of Atlanta and generally heavily left-of-center of American politics, much less non-Atlanta Georgia politics). Still, going back to the main thrust of this review, Belle truly does do a remarkable job of showing just how easily today’s meganets can be used for harm… while also showing that the pre-meganet era was still pretty dang bad itself. All told this is a remarkable tale that manages to bring elements to the general setup not often seen anywhere else – and never seen before in my own reading within the genre – and thus this alone is quite commendable. Very much recommended.

This review of The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle was originally written on October 30, 2022.

#BookReview: Never Go Home by Christopher Swann

Wherein My Own Reading Habits Do Me In. The story itself here was an excellent romp through mostly northern, Inside The Perimeter, Atlanta, and a great tale of a woman who has become quite good at skills few have. Maybe it got a touch bogged down in the backstory in Iraq, but before that point – when our main character is trying to really figure out what is going on – and after that point – when the tale switches gears to a cat and mouse game with someone even better at these skills than she is – this is actually a remarkably different book than its predecessor. It also *ends* with the title… which blatantly sets up at least one more book in this series.

But here’s where my reading habits did me in: I never once realized that this book was the sequel to 2020’s Never Turn Back while reading it. Because I had read 434 books between the two entries in this series. Yes, over a span of just 17 months or so. Indeed, I only realized it was the sequel when coming to Goodreads to write this review and seeing it labeled as “Faulkner Family #2, then reading both the description and my review of Never Turn Back.

So do yourself a favor: Don’t wait hundreds of books between the two in this series – and when you finish this one, you’re going to wish Swann already had Book 3 ready to put in your hands (which he may have, depending on when you read this review/ read this book). Very much recommended.

This review of Never Go Home by Christopher Swann was originally written on May 16, 2022.

BookReview: The Last House On The Street by Diane Chamberlain

Solid Exposition Of The End Of An Era. This is one of those that as a Son of the South – and of a region in particular that literally still bears the scars of that war criminal terrorist b*stard William Tecumseh Sherman – I find myself leery about going into… but which was actually respectful while not condoning any of the mistakes of prior eras.

Now, I *have* reached out to an aunt who actually lived in a similar region to the one depicted here in 1963 (specifically, in the countryside outside of Atlanta vs the countryside outside of Raleigh) and was of a similar age as Ellie at the time for her thoughts on the book as well. But for me and my experiences as a Southern White Male who grew up more in Kayla’s era (turned 30 in 2013, so a couple of years younger than Kayla)… this rings fairly true. Yes, there were absolutely horrors and tragedies in those prior eras, but as the recent Ahmaud Arbery case in my native Georgia shows… that isn’t the South anymore. And Chamberlain shows that as well here. Having had a good political friend (former Governor of Georgia candidate John Monds, the first Libertarian Party candidate ever to receive over 1 million votes) actually attend Morehouse and growing up with Hosea Williams Feed The Hungry being one of the most well known food drive campaigns in Atlanta, the scenes with Morehouse and Williams were particularly interesting to me.

Thus, for me the book works well in both timelines, and I truly found both timelines quite compelling – though for very different reasons. Ellie’s timeline was absolutely fascinating as almost a coming-of-age tale where a young woman learns what is important to her and why, and has to fight for her new beliefs against staggering odds. Kayla’s timeline is more of a light-ish domestic suspense, with a widowed mother alone in the woods facing an ominous threat. Very much recommended.

This review of The Last House On The Street by Diane Chamberlain was originally written on January 17, 2021.

#BookReview: Loserville by Clayton Trutor

Intriguing Look At Atlanta And Professional Sports History. As I sit to write this review, the Atlanta Braves are less than 90 minutes from First Pitch on Game 5 of the 2021 World Series – and with a 3-1 lead over the Houston Astros, Atlanta stands a chance at winning the series in front of the home town crowd before the sun rises again, its first in 26 years. And yes, I’ve made it a point to read this book – which I’ve had on my ARC Calendar for seemingly a couple of months now – this particular weekend, for exactly this reason.

Here, Trutor does a phenomenal job of showing the full history of the first decade of professional sports in Atlanta, with all five of its major league teams at some point in the late 60s to early 70s – my parents’ own childhood, on the exurbs of the very town in question. Indeed, Trutor speaks of the *development* of things that were well-established by my own childhood in the same region in the 80s and 90s, such as the Omni, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the Georgia Dome, and even Underground Atlanta (which apparently had been redone by the time of my childhood, as it wasn’t nearly so infamous then). He then does a great job of showing how while Atlanta was the first Southern City to acquire these franchises, there were (and are) several other Southern Cities that have largely followed Atlanta’s model over the decades since… with similar results, for the most part.

There are arguably two weaknesses to the version of this text I read: On a style side, the final chapter, covering in broad strokes what happened in the other Southern Cities that tried to follow Atlanta and how they turned out over the years, is a bit of an abrupt ending. Apt, but abrupt.

The other is that Trutor tends to argue that race played quite a bit of a role in the development of Atlanta Sports and what I came to know as the Geography of Atlanta. I wasn’t alive during the periods Trutor mostly covers, so I can’t speak to those periods as the Native Georgian I am. But I *can* speak to one move Trutor covers, if briefly – the Braves’ move from Turner Field to SunTrust (now Truist) Park over the last decade, where fans are finding their seats as I type this to hopefully watch their hometown baseball club win the 2021 World Series. I was actually there for that one, and as one of those fans on the northern Perimeter I can attest to a lot of the fears about safety and finding a good (yet not overly expensive) parking spot at Turner Field. (Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where I saw my first Braves games as a child and even a monster truck rally or two, was demolished right around the time my age began having two digits in it, so I can’t speak to issues there.) I can also attest that the new Battery design is much more conducive to getting me to spend money in the area immediately around the park, which is something the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium / Olympic Stadium / Turner Field site has never offered. But these are observations from a native who has been to the relevant areas throughout his life – vs a Vermont-based academic.

Even with these differences though, Trutor’s work here is truly well written and solidly documented – roughly 20% of this copy was bibliography, and the prose here is enlightening and engaging without ever going too deep into “academic speak”. Fans of Atlanta and Georgia sports or history are absolutely going to need to read this book, and indeed fans of major US sporting in general should fine quite a bit here to be illuminating. Even people who decry “sports ball” will find an utterly fascinating read about a little-documented series of events that has come to shape, in parts, the entirety of American professional sporting. Very much recommended.

This review of Loserville by Clayton Trutor was originally written on October 31, 2021.

#BookReview: Life On Loan by Ashley Farley

Make A Decision. This was an excellent book about finding yourself when you find yourself at the end of your rope. Full of sly real-world commentary, particularly as it relates to writing and reading, this book would do well as a vehicle for ageing former Hollywood starlets. The “second life” romance is starting to become more of a thing in women’s fiction, and this book is poised to ride that wave of a so-far apparently underserved market. My second book from Farley in just the last six months alone, this is very different from Only One Life and yet at the same time very much in line with that effort. Excellent work, and very much recommended.

This review of Life On Loan by Ashley Farley was originally written on October 6, 2019.