#BookReview: Ladykiller by Katherine Wood

Slow Start Leads To Rollercoaster Twists. This is one of those books that starts out almost disaster movie slow. Other than the prologue that reveals an intriguing setup, a lot of the front of the book is solid enough in slowly building tension in an idyllic setting. But it really is more the back half, or maybe even the last third, of the book where it seems to become more of a cat and mouse, what the hell is going on, who can the reader actually trust kind of tale, one that ends with a deliciously ambiguous ending that would be intriguing to see a follow up to – IF Ms. Wood can manage to replicate the almost lightning in a bottle feel she has going on here, particularly through the last bit of the book.

Ultimately, this tale won’t be for everyone, for a variety of reasons. But if you’re looking for an interesting tale in a beautiful location and aren’t averse to a fair amount of onscreen sex (and not always exactly of the missionary-position-only-with-lights-off variety), this may be a book for you.

Very much recommended.

This review of Ladykiller by Katherine Wood was originally written on July 5, 2024.

#BlogTour: Forbidden Girl by Kristen Zimmer

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet featuring the lesbian daughters of Boston mafiosos. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Forbidden Girl by Kristen Zimmer.

First, the review I posted to the book sites (Hardcover.app / BookHype.com / TheStoryGraph.com / Goodreads.com):

Romeo And Juliet. But Lesbian. With Mob Families. In Boston. Without Suicide. Seriously, that’s most of what there is to this book, without going too deep into spoiler territory (as many other reviews have done, to my mind). Will this book be a Shakespeare level classic, nearly single handedly redefining literature for centuries to come? No. Is it an interesting spin on a tale that *did* do that? Yes. And honestly, for that reason alone it is one you should read.

Now, one flaw here that didn’t quite raise to the level of a star deduction, but does deserve to be mentioned, is the casual misandry of the text. It is one thing to be a feminist and want equal treatment for both sexes – an ideal I too share. But when you go so far as to be so overtly bigoted against either sex… you’ve stepped too far, and this book does that a fair amount. Again, not so pervasive as to warrant a star deduction, but often enough that a discussion in the review is warranted.

Overall, an interesting spin on a beloved classic that does enough blending of classic tale and modern stylings to be entertaining on both levels. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the “publisher details” – book info, description, author bio, social links, and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Forbidden Girl by Kristen Zimmer”

#BookReview: Husbands & Lovers by Beatriz Williams

Story Tries Hard But *Just* Misses + Story/ Cover Mismatch. This is one of those reviews where the review and rating may not seem to align, because for the vast majority of this book, I thought it was pretty damn good. It does a LOT – even more than similar Soraya M. Lane books usually do – and *for the most part*, it does those things quite well. We’ve got a romance tale in the 2000s era New England that alternates between 2022 (current) and 2008 (the halcyon summer where the couple first fell in love). We’ve got a historical fiction tale that alternates between the 1952 Great Cairo Fire/ Black Saturday period and early WWII period. Either one of those tales could be an entire book in and of itself, and yet we’ve also got a 23 And Me type DNA mystery that links the two (and which admittedly is a spoiler mentioning, sorry). I’ve read many entire books that would use any one of those three elements to tell an entire tale, and yet we get all three tales in one book here. And *for the most part*, it all works.

Where it fails, and the cause of the first star deduction, is that the climax of the Cairo tale is rushed and its fallout effectively buried in service of the New England romance and 23 And Me mystery. This book could have been *so much more* with maybe as little as 10 extra pages flushing out the Cairo tale in 1952 rather than the 2022 manner in which we get that information, and I think this is a close enough to objective opinion to merit a star deduction here.

The other star deduction is one I don’t encounter often, but *have* done a time or two before, and is warranted here for the same reasons I’ve used it before – the stories told here and the cover as it exists at publication (June 25, 2024) do not match. At all. The 1952 tale in Cairo -the era this cover screams to me – doesn’t really have even a pool scene at all, much less one involving a diving board. Even the 2000s era tales don’t actually involve any real pool activity, again particularly with a diving board. There are some ocean/ beach scenes that play key roles, but that isn’t what this cover evokes. Even in tone, this cover leads the reader to believe that this will be some 1950s era glam tale of some form… and it isn’t, not really. Yes, the Cairo tale is played as “exotic”… but that isn’t the tone I get from this cover.

So a lot of words, maybe too many words, to say that you really do need – as one 2* reviewer also noted – to read the description of the book to really know what you’re getting into here, and judging this book by its (admittedly great looking, in and of itself) cover may get you into a bit of a letdown situation with this particular book.

Overall, I actually really, really enjoyed this book. I thought it did a lot, and for the most part did well on damn near all of it. It simply lacked execution in a final detail and needed a cover that ties to the story more than the current one does.

Very much recommended.

This review of Husbands & Lovers by Beatriz Williams was originally written on June 28, 2024.

#BookReview: The Next Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine

Sociopathy vs Psychopathy vs Revenge. If the first “Mrs Parrish” book was a study in psycopathy vs sociopathy with a “normal” person caught in the middle – and it was -, this one is in some ways more of the same, but with the added twist of adding a new character who is just as cunning as both the sociopath and the psychopath, but a more ‘normal’ person with the added motivation of pure revenge.

Thus, the action tends to be just as despicable here as in the first book, and for that reason many who did not like the first one may in fact not like this one either – so if that is you, seriously, just spare the author the 1* review and skip this one.

But for those who are willing to endure the despicable acts knowing that this book *is* more revenge focused and *does* have some significant (and seeming conclusive, for at least some of the players involved) payoffs… this book is actually quite delicious. Where the first one was more slow and methodical, this one almost seems like a director who has only now learned about quick scene cutting, particularly relative to just how slow the first book was. Almost like an old school, plodding, hours long chess match… and then the next match is over in a brilliant storm of lightning. Not one that will necessarily leave you breathless, but absolutely one where you begin to wonder just how much you’ve seen and how fast you’ve seen it. Particularly, again, after the utterly glacial pace of the first book.

Whereas the first book had almost no redeemable qualities about almost none of the characters, here we do get to have a bit more sympathy for at least some of the characters, and that alone will make this book better than the first one for some readers – but you absolutely have to read the first book to be able to fully understand this book.

Ultimately, this was truly well done, and some parts of the ending were truly delicious indeed given all that had happened to that point.

Very much recommended.

This review of The Next Mrs Parrish by Liv Constantine was originally written on June 26, 2024.

#BookReview: Find Me In California by Kerry Lonsdale

Cathartic Trippiness. Imagine a Stanley Kubric type acid trip – and now imagine it in full virtual reality 8K. That is what reading one particular pivotal scene of this book is like, and it is in this sequence in particular that Lonsdale pulls out storytelling elements that even after having read literally every book she’s written to date, I didn’t know she had. Which is one of the reasons I love checking in every year for her annual release and seeing what she has come up with now – she is a master of evolving and expanding her skillset while still remaining true to the emotional depth and complexities of characters that she has crafted in every book, no matter the particulars or particular mechanics of the book at hand.

This is one of those books where the current fad of “magical realism” is done particularly well, even competing with one of my favorite scifi based such scenes in any medium ever, where in the movie Frequency (2000), the ending sequence features things happening in two timelines at once at a pivotal moment and the past being shown to directly impact the present in a key way. What Lonsdale manages to do is almost the opposite yet also quite the the same in a sense, and eventually we get to where we can almost *see* the character at hand’s neurons re-wiring as all that has happened becomes known.

And then there is the catharsis on so many levels. As noted above, Lonsdale excels in creating particularly complex characters, and this tale is no exception. That she manages to create *so many* characters that are each equally complex shows true skill – I’ve read quite a few books even just when counting as starting around the same time I read my first book from Lonsdale, and rare indeed does a book have quite this level of depth and “flavor”.

Overall truly an intriguing book that will likely be remembered for many years by at least some.

Very much recommended.

This review of Find Me In California by Kerry Lonsdale was originally written on July 11, 2024.

#BookReview: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

Sometimes One Shot Really Can Change Everything. This is one of those tales where it should have been over from the very beginning – these two people are just *so* broken by their lives to this point that it *shouldn’t* work…

And yet it does, because this is a romantic comedy and that is the very *purpose* of romantic comedies, to give the rest of us hope that something like this *can* work – even in our own completely broken states. And hell, *particularly* when the book is meta enough to actively make *that very same point* within its text. (Helped by the overall plot of… actively writing a romantic comedy movie. 😉 )

Yes, some of the things that both characters do are horrible. Yes, perhaps some (or even much) of this tale doesn’t or even can’t happen in real life. Well, again as pointed out within the text here, neither can zombies or space aliens or some such… and yet people love those movies for somewhat similar reasons as to why they love romantic comedies.

So sit back and enjoy the ride and the feels. If you have to turn your brain off and enjoy the spectacle for sheer spectacle, *do that*. But don’t criticize a book that many will truly love and find catharsis in over your own hangups. Particularly don’t review bomb something just because “that can’t really happen”. *Particularly when one of the main issues in the book is exploring how reality doesn’t really apply in romantic comedies, including this one.*

Overall a strong tale with complex and complicated characters, with a lot of laughs, some smiles, and even a few dusty room scenes to boot. Come in expecting to laugh and perhaps wet your eyes a bit, and you truly won’t be disappointed here.

Very much recommended.

This review of The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center was originally written on July 11, 2024.

#BookReview: Follow Her Down by Victoria Helen Stone

Moving Thriller Set Against Family Trauma. There are times when you find a thriller tale that has genuine heart, when a book that is supposedly intended to make your heart beat faster also manages to make the room quite dusty at times. This is one of those tales.

There is quite a bit to unpack about this story, but to reveal the things that truly make it as powerful as it is could delve too far into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that the setup itself is done well – we are many years after a massive trauma for a family and even their small community, and the trauma reverberates to this day in many different ways. Stone manages to craft a story that is pitch perfect thriller – more bodies are piling up *now*, and it seems they may be connected to the original trauma, at least if some people are to be believed. It is the way she goes about executing this story, exploring the various internal dynamics within our main character and the larger dynamics within her family and community, that give this book its heart and its soul.

Overall a strong tale, though perhaps not *so* atypical as to be heads and shoulders standing above others of its form and genre. Still, for those that enjoy this type of tale – or even those open to exploring if they like this type of tale – this is certainly a strong entry within the space, and a worthy read indeed.

Very much recommended.

This review of Follow Her Down by Victoria Helen Stone was originally written on June 5, 2024.

#BookReview: For The Love Of Summer by Susan Mallery

Solid Susan Mallery Tale Of Finding Friends Even In Difficult Situations. I admit, I’m a bit weird here due to how my own family was as I was growing up, and even how my wife’s family is to this day. You see, my grandparents divorced well before I was ever born. I never knew them married. And yet, my grandmother and step-grandfather lived on my grandfather’s property, at times even inside his own house, at a few different points of my childhood. Similarly, my wife’s mom’s best friend… is the ex-wife of her husband (my wife’s stepdad).

Thus, when I find myself reading a tale such as the one here, where a new wife suddenly finds that her only real chance at moving forward is the generosity of her husband’s ex-wife (prodded on by their daughter)… it actually isn’t that far out of the realm of “normal” for me. 😀

So maybe I had an easier time accepting this plotline than some, but for me it absolutely worked quite well. Yes, it could get a touch repetitive at times as Mallery was driving home her major thematic elements, but… that is kinda part of Mallery’s style, at least of late. Yes, her books – including this one – could easily be 20 or more pages shorter without all of the repetition, but I honestly think that many of Mallery’s bigger fans appreciate this to some level.

Ultimately, this is a tale of hope and found family/ found friendship and how these can make life bearable even under difficult and somewhat unusual circumstances. This is a tale of women bonding even in situations that would likely tear many female bonds apart, and it is a tale of the power of friendship. I for one thoroughly enjoyed it, even if, yes, it did run perhaps a touch too long. But again, that is just something one comes to expect from Mallery, who I’m beginning to think has some kind of deep seated aversion to publishing a book with less than 400 pages in it.

Very much recommended.

This review of For The Love Of Summer by Susan Mallery was originally written on June 5, 2024.

#BookReview: The Lighthouse Cafe by Bebe Reed

Short Cozy Family Drama Sets Up Series Well. This is one of those barely 200 page books that packs quite a bit in it – but is also one of those books where everyone is lying to someone about something, which is where much of the drama comes in. Meant to be more of a cozy coastal foodie vibe primarily, it actually does work as that down the stretch… it just takes a bit to get there. The titular Lighthouse Cafe really comes into its own eventually – kinda sorta ala settlement building in Fallout 4. Yes, the pieces are there and broken when you first encounter them, but this is where a lot of the beauty for a lot of people comes in, seeing just how these people mend themselves as they mend the building and business.

Overall a breezy book with perhaps more drama than many would want on a “beach read”, but also great for those cold winter nights when you need to be transported to a more tropical location in your mind.

Very much recommended.

This review of The Lighthouse Cafe by Bebe Reed was originally written on June 5, 2024.

#BookReview: Unstuck by Stephanie Stuckey

Fascinating And *Southern* Tale Of Near-Death Of Road trip Staple. Stephanie Stuckey has led a life few Georgians have. She is a scion of a family that had become somewhat rich and somewhat powerful over the last century, whose grandfather once proclaimed (per Stuckey, here in the text) that he had made more money than his grandchildren could ever spend (but which they did, again, per Stuckey here), whose father had been a Congressman and who herself had been a State Representative for nearly 15 years. Both she and her father are UGA alumni, both from well before the era where the HOPE scholarship made such an achievement much more doable for many Georgians.

All of this is included here, but really, this is the tale of the ascent to those heights… and the downfall from them, as changes mostly made by others – as well as a few mistakes made within the company – led to near non-existence of the family company, fortune, and even legacy.

Herein lies a quintessential Southern tale of Southern family and business acumen, of a legacy built, nearly destroyed, and of one woman’s fight to restore that legacy to all that it had once been… and maybe, just maybe… even increase it for her own children.

The story is told with all of the grace, grit, and wonder of a granddaughter who clearly grew up living at least some of the history involved, but only much later in life finding out all that she *didn’t* know, including just how fundamental the black community was to her (white) grandfather’s success in the era of Jim Crow, and how mutually beneficial and respectful the relationships there were. Up to and including Civil Rights activists actively encouraging their people to stop at Stuckey’s, knowing that they would be treated with the respect they didn’t always get in the South in that era.

As someone who has also uncovered lost family history later in life – and who has lived in some of the regions this tale centers around, as well as, yes, having sampled quite a few of the family’s candies-, this was a story I could connect with on several levels, even as my own family was… let’s go with “not quite so fortunate” over the years, to the point that when I graduated from Kennesaw State University near the turn of this Millennium, I was the first in my family to have graduated college at all.

Overall truly a triumphant and hopeful tale, well told with the respect, humor, and candor one doesn’t always get in such deeply personal tales fraught with such sensitive topics as race relations in the South. Very much recommended.

This review of Unstuck by Stephanie Stuckey was originally written on May 24, 2024.