#BookReview: The Boys From Biloxi by John Grisham

Needs More Showing And Less Telling. This is almost “Novel Writing 101” these days, but a classic and oft repeated bit of advice for new writers is that they should *show* the actions of their characters rather than *tell* the readers about it. Here, Grisham – a normally masterful storyteller and legend in the business – somehow manages to miss that, to the detriment of the overall tale here. The tale itself, a multi-generational saga tracing two families through 60 or so years of Coastal Mississippi history, is actually quite good. I was 15% into the tale before I even realized it, and not much had happened at that point. The back quarter to third or so could *really* have been quite legendary in its own right with more showing and less telling, but even in this format it was still a compelling tale. The ending is a bit abrupt and perhaps too open-ended for some readers, but other than the abruptness I thought it actually worked reasonably well. But getting there, across nearly 500 pages that other readers have compared to investigative nonfiction rather than an legal fictional thriller, can in fact be a bit of a slog. Still, other than the “show don’t tell” aspect, there really isn’t anything here to actually say “this is particularly bad” about. Thus, only the single star reduction. Still, this really is a great tale for those who can bear with it, and for that reason it is very much recommended.

This review of The Boys From Biloxi by John Grisham was originally written on October 17, 2022.

#BlogTour: Here For The Drama by Kate Bromley

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a fun and witty romantic comedy with heart – where the author seemingly read my review of her last book and corrected the issue in this one. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Here For The Drama by Kate Bromley.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

The One Where The Author Seemingly Read My Review Of Her Last Book. I’ve now had the pleasure of working both of Bromley’s books as blog tours, and this book shows her progression as a writer and storyteller – she is able to make a book that is just as fun and witty as her debut, but add in some serious angst and drama to boot, and in turn morph this romantic comedy into a blend of romantic comedy and women’s fiction. But the most interesting facet of this book, for this reader looking back at his review of her last one, is my commentary on an unnecessary feature in that first book’s epilogue… which gets mirrored (to a degree) in this book’s epilogue. It seems that at minimum, Bromley was aware that this issue existed, and actively chose to go a different (and refreshing) route in the epilogue here. Oh, and this is one of those romantic comedies where the dog dang near steals every scene he is in, if not the entire dang show. Truly a fun and witty tale with heart, and very much recommended.

Below the jump, an excerpt followed by the “publisher details” – description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Here For The Drama by Kate Bromley”

#BookReview: It All Comes Down To This by Therese Anne Fowler

Nothing Technically Wrong, Yet SLOW. This is one of those books where there is nothing technically blatantly *wrong* about the storytelling… and yet the reader is left with the sense that this story could have been so much more engaging had it been told differently. To the level that while this book is around the 350 page mark, it almost reads as though it is a dense academic tome of twice its length – even though it very clearly is *not*. As other reviewers have noted, there are a LOT of characters to keep up with early, but that does in fact get easier probably by even the 25 – 33% mark, once we’ve visited each a couple of times and get a sense of where their individual arcs are. In the end, this is a solid slice of life family drama that touches on very real and very messy issues, but could have been better told in this format with several dozen fewer pages (to speed the pacing) or with this number of pages in a different format. Still, as noted, there is nothing technically wrong here and other readers may have a better time with this book. Recommended.

This review of It All Comes Down To This by Therese Anne Fowler was originally written on June 20, 2022.

#BookReview: Such Big Dreams by Reema Patel

Big Lift That Mostly Hits. This is going to be a very different book for most American/ Western readers, as it is essentially an “Annie” tale from a century ago or so in the US, but in modern India. As an American currently charged with “leading” a pair of teams of Indian developers, this was particularly eye opening to me to see just what still can happen over there. (And admittedly, there are quite a few parallels re: Eminent Domain in the US right this second.)

Between Rakhi’s struggles as an orphan essentially growing up on the streets before being abandoned in an orphanage to the slums she lives in to the (Indian) “White Knight” that “saves” her – yet expects slavish devotion because of it, Rakhi’s tale has quite a bit in and of itself. Then the back third really gets into a discussion-without-saying-the-words of urban redevelopment and the havoc it can wreak on those “least” able to handle havoc. And of course “least” has to be in quotes in the prior sentence because the tale through this section actually does a great job of showing just how resilient those people are – and how fragile those that think themselves resilient can be.

Overall a strong book that could have used a touch better editing – the flashbacks to Rakhi’s childhood and back to the current timeline were a bit jarring – but that certainly has more depth than is readily apparent to a casual reader. Very much recommended.

This review of Such Big Dreams by Reema Patel was originally written on May 8, 2022.

Featured Release Of The Week: Everything Must Go by Camille Pagan

For this week’s Featured New Release, we’re looking at a solid examination of childlessness, divorce, and Alzheimer’s as experienced in the life of a woman in her thirties. This week, we’re looking at Everything Must Go by Camille Pagan.

Solid Examination Of Childlessness And Alzheimer’s. This book continues Pagan’s trend of writing books about real-world issues women in their 30s ish encounter and doing so in a thoughtful and poignant manner that allows people to more fully explore their own thoughts and feelings on the matters at hand even while telling its own unique story. In this particular book, Pagan brings out two issues that I’ve seen up close and personal in my own (late 30s male) life – childlessness and Alzheimer’s. While there are some (such as my wife and I) who start out childless (no kids, want them) and later become childfree (no kids, don’t want any) and there is considerable debate within the childless and childfree communities (yes, they are distinct), this tale accurately explores a woman realizing that becoming a mother is truly important to her and what she must do to ensure that. Its explorations of Alzheimer’s and the familial relationships it both strains and enhances also ring true to what I observed from my own mother – then in her late 30s/ early 40s – when she, along with her over half a dozen siblings, dealt with her own father developing the disease. I’ve even known friends and family to divorce as seemingly seamless as happens here, particularly before kids are involved. So ultimately, I see the plausibility in virtually everything Pagan did here, and the story thus became, for me, likely more of the thoughtful examination she meant for it to be rather than getting hung up on “I don’t think [this thing or that thing] is realistic enough” as so many of the other reviewers (on Goodreads as of December 29, nearly 4 months before publication) have done. While not quite as powerful or funny as Pagan’s previous books (which you should absolutely read as well), this one still does its thing quite well indeed, and is thus very much recommended.

#BlogTour: A Family Affair by Robyn Carr

For this blog tour, we’re looking at an otherwise strong family drama marred by COVID references and bigotry. For this blog tour, we’re looking at A Family Affair by Robyn Carr.

Bigotry And COVID Mar Otherwise Strong Family Drama. On its whole, this is a mostly solid family drama about a mom and two of her three children dealing with a tragedy and trying to move on with their lives in the wake of it.

However, it does have significant problems, problems I’ve yet to see any of the other 44 Goodreads reviews in existence at the time of this writing address.

The first is the near-constant references to the insanities of 2020-2022, mostly as a way to ground the story in a sense of time and place. But here’s the thing: I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT COVID. PERIOD. And thus a star was deducted for this. Maybe you, the reader of my review, are less adamant about this or maybe you even appreciate such references. Good for you, you’ll enjoy those parts of this text. But for those who feel as I do on the matter, know that it happens here.

The second major issue is the portrayal and handling of the Autistic third child. To say that this is a highly bigoted view along the lines constantly spewed by the Autistic hate group Autism Speaks is still being a bit too polite, to this Autistic’s mind. This character is every tired and worn out Autistic stereotype rolled into one, and while the family claims to love her, they also drug her into oblivion so that Carr can write her out of the back half of the book. Indeed, if an author treated pretty well any demographic other than the neurodiverse/ Autistics like this in a book, that author would likely go viral for social media cancelling them – and yet something tells me most will be silent about or even praise Carr’s reprehensible treatment of this character. That it publishes just days after World Autism Acceptance Day and during World Autism Acceptance Month is a slap in the face to Autistics from the publisher, but perhaps they were not aware of just how offensive this characterization truly is and were not aware of April being so designated.

The third issue, a throwaway line that further reveals Carr’s political leanings, is a reference to a school shooting where the shooter got “automatic weapons” from his dad’s garage. In California. In the 2000s. BULLCRAP! For one, while *some* automatic weapons *are* legal, the manner in which they are legal is INCREDIBLY expensive to obtain and subjects one to an entire alphabet soup of agencies – both Federal and State, particularly in California – knowing exactly where and how you store such weapons. Further, in the *extremely* rare case of Columbine/ Parkland style attacks as is described in this part of the text, such truly automatic weapons are virtually *never* used. But someone who only follows certain paranoid propagandists on this matter would have no clue about these facts, and Carr reveals herself to be just such a person in this instance. However, this did *not* result in a third star deduction as this was more of a one-off throwaway backstory line and not a pervasive element within the book as the first two issues were.

Ultimately, this is one of those books where your mileage may vary quite a bit. If you don’t mind references to COVID in your fiction and if you agree with Carr’s views on Autism and guns, you likely will enjoy this book quite a bit. And to be clear, other than these issues – which were *not* on every page – the story itself really is quite good. But if you feel as I do on these issues… still read the book. It really is that well written, mostly. Just know there is going to be some infuriating moments. Recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: A Family Affair by Robyn Carr”

Featured New Release Of The Week: Deconstructed by Liz Talley

This week we’re looking at a book that is a solid cross between Mark Twain and the 2014 comedy The Other Woman that also does a great job of showing a wide swath of Southern US culture. This week we’re looking at Deconstructed by Liz Talley.

More Amusing Than Timing A Centipede Across The Kitchen. Yes, the title here is actually a play on a line from the book. So sit down, grab some popcorn (Michael Jackson meme style), and get ready for a funny yet poignant cross between Mark Twain (as another Goodreads reviewer noted, which I found appropriate) and the 2014 movie The Other Woman (the one with Cameron Diaz, Leslie Bibb, and Kate Upton’s boobs). This book has a solid look at “well, maybe the grass *aint* so greener on the other side” as we see two women from different sides of the tracks – one an ex-con, the other a respected banker’s wife who owns her own antique shop – realize that they actually have quite a bit in common and quite a lot to offer each other as they develop a solid friendship. And this is a world that feels like this particular book does a good job setting up… and which could be fun to come back to in a loosely coupled series that maybe looks at some of the other characters introduced here while having many of the primary characters “drop by” in those future stories. Who knows, I’ve suggested similar in reviews before and the author later ran with it, so maybe Talley will too. 😀 Overall truly a fun book, and a solidly relatable dose of humor set in the Southern US, but relatable to most anyone. Very much recommended.

#BlogTour: Light Years From Home by Mike Chen

For this blog tour we’re looking at a strong tale remiscenent of both the X-Files and ET: The Extra Terrestrial where scifi is used more as setup for women’s fiction level family drama, but which is still strong enough to comfortably classify the book within the bounds of scifi as well. For this blog tour we’re looking at Light Years From Home by Mike Chen.

Space Opera Scifi For The Women’s Fiction Crowd. This is one of those books where you go into it expecting a lot of scifi… something. Drama, action, maybe comedy, whatever. Instead you get scifi as setup for more women’s fiction type family drama. Which is actually an interesting spin, but which will leave both crowds a bit perplexed. Overall though, Chen actually serves both crowds quite well, with enough of an off-screen hint of a backstory that he could come back to this world and give it the full-on Richard Phillips’ Rho Agenda-style trilogy of trilogies exploring just the stuff he left *off* the page in this book – and yet what he *does* put on the page is truly solid women’s fiction where brother and father’s disappearances set in motion chains of events that mother nor either daughter could have ever dreamed of. Most of the actual tale here is more about the two sisters and how their lives have changed since that moment 15 years ago – and how they can move forward. The climax, with the FBI hot on the siblings’ tails as they race toward brother’s ultimate redemption, is as taught as anything in scifi and is reminiscent of both X-Files (the author’s stated inspiration) and even ET: The Extra Terrestrial. Truly an excellent tale strongly told, and very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Light Years From Home by Mike Chen”

#BookReview: The Abbey House by Elizabeth Bromke

Compelling Conclusion. This is an excellent conclusion to the short novel/ novella trilogy of Heirloom Island, where all three sisters play prominent roles in each book yet with each book focusing primarily on one of the three in particular. Because it is such a great conclusion, I have to make the rare recommendation of actually starting with Book 1 of this series, The Boardwalk House, and reading through the entire trilogy – which is still shorter than some single books out there. And when you do that, you’ll be glad you had the entire trilogy at hand at one time. 😀 Very much recommended.

This review of The Abbey House by Elizabeth Bromke was originally written on January 5, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Why She Left by Leah Mercer

This week we’re looking at a solid family drama that has some elements of mystery and even a few of suspense – but is completely grounded within the family drama. This week we’re looking at Why She Left by Leah Mercer.

Solid Family Drama With Some Mystery. Reading through the Goodreads reviews (as I do before writing my own), a lot of the more negative reviews (anything less than 4* is considered by Goodreads/ Amazon to be negative, fwiw) tended to center around complaints that this book wasn’t a suspense/ thriller. And yet looking around through the description and other materials available, I find no claims from the publisher that this is a suspense or a thriller. The closest claim is that it is a “suspenseful family drama”, which is 100% accurate. There was an event years ago that caused one daughter to flee, and there are a few different events in the present day that build a decent amount of suspense (for a family drama, which is truly what this is, anyway). Yes, the years-ago event becomes rather obvious rather quickly – *hopefully* Mercer intended that. But there are many more wrinkles here that aren’t so obvious, and even my usually fairly perceptive reading didn’t actually catch some of the bigger reveals until they were actually revealed. Indeed, arguably the one true weakness here I can think of isn’t actually one anyone else has cited – it is never truly established just how bad the situation the returning daughter is fleeing from now actually was. Still, for what this tale *actually* is, and seems to *actually* be being marketed as, this is actually a fairly solid story that will trigger some in a variety of ways but which is a truly solid story for most everyone else. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the various “publisher details” including book description, author bio, and social media links.
Continue reading “Featured New Release Of The Week: Why She Left by Leah Mercer”