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.
I Refuse To Be My [Parent]. Yes, a version of the title line of this review is said in the book. And that was the moment the book hit particularly hard for me. Because I’ve lived it. Not directly, but as the child of a person that did. To be clear, it was not the same kind of abuse that my parent endured, but it *was* abuse and it *did* shape that parent in ways that have played out over the course of my own life. So at that moment, this book became very, very real for me and I could see that character’s actions as clear as day and understand them on levels I don’t often get to even in fiction.
The rest of the book, with a present day murder and blackmailing, a secret identity, a true crime podcast looking at a murder years ago and how it all ties together… was all excellently done. Other reviews complain about the backstory, but for me that was the actual story – because it shows everything that caused the person to utter the line I titled the review with. Overall a strong tale that survivors of domestic abuse may struggle with, but which ultimately should prove cathartic indeed even for them. Very much recommended.
This review of Things We Do In The Dark by Jennifer Hillier was originally written on July 10, 2022.
Imagine The Outsiders. Now Set It In A Poetry Commune. That’s largely how I wound up seeing this book. Our main character is a great fish out of water that gets sucked into this world she really has no clue about and finds herself navigating new friendships and controversies along the way, all while trying to understand the enigmatic leader of the group and uncover what this leader is hiding. There is quite a bit of meta commentary here, both generally and in the final reveal of exactly what had been happening for all these years, but even that didn’t really ascend to “preachy” levels, more just spice to the overall story. Yes, there was quite a bit of humor in this book too, but for me the humor made it more readable without taking away from the overall serious tone I was getting for some reason. But perhaps I’m just weird. (I know I am, but maybe my reactions to this book were particularly weird?) Very much recommended.
This review of The Poet’s House by Jean Thompson was originally written on July 10, 2022.
This week we’re looking at a staggering tale of loss and recovery. This week we’re looking at When We Let Go by Rochelle B Weinstein.
Emotional Tale Of Loss And Recovery. This is one of those tales where you know up front that it is dark… and then it gets darker. And darker. And darker. With just enough humor to lighten things up a bit… and then a gut-punch of a form that may be used a bit often (as another reviewer claimed), but which works within the tale being told here. Similarly, as this is ultimately a tale of *recovery* from such devastation, one element of the epilogue that I’ve panned as unnecessary and even detracting from other books in other reviews actually works in this particular tale. And it works *specifically because* of the tale told up to that point. Truly an excellent work, and very much recommended.
For this blog tour, we’re looking at a solid yet unexpected entry in this great police procedural series set in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Lighthouse Girls by BR Spangler.
Another Solid Entry In Series. With Book 5 (The Memory Bones) wrapping up the core long-term mystery of the series (and this book spoiling that reveal early, so be forewarned if you haven’t read that book yet), I wondered then if Spangler was closing out the series, not really seeing how it could move forward. Here, in a sense Spangler is offering more closure, with former teammates returning and (without going *too* far into spoiler territory) another teammate’s death in this tale – while not yet offering any hint of any further long term mystery. Still, this is a murder mystery series with heart, and I’m absolutely along for the ride in Book 7, whatever Spangler decides to do with that. Start earlier in the series if you’re new to it – possibly all the way back at Book 1 (Where Lost Girls Go), but I personally started at Book 4 (The Crying House) and found that to be a reasonable entry point as well. When you do, you’re going to want this book on hand anyway, just to come back to a now-favorite storyline. 🙂 Very much recommended.
After the jump, the “publisher details”, including book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Lighthouse Girls by BR Spangler”
For this blog tour, we’re looking at a workable yet promising debut featuring a pair of murders in a small college town separated by several years. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich.
Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:
Compelling Mystery. Could Have Used A Bit Better Editing. This is one of those debuts where the author clearly shows quite a bit of promise – even if trying to wrap in as many tropes as remotely plausible within the story – yet could clearly still use some polish. The mystery (ies!) is actually quite compelling, and the reader finds themselves *wanting* to know who the murderer (s!) is. That noted, using third person to tell the stories of both timelines makes them a bit harder to distinguish – particularly without any kind of time reference at the beginning of the chapters. Very much recommended.
After the jump, an excerpt from Chapter 2 of the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich”
This week we’re looking at a dense, dark, and disturbing Southern Gothic tale from a debut writer who clearly has a strong career ahead of him. This week we’re looking at The Cicada Tree by Robert Gwaltney.
Dense, Dark, And Disturbing Southern Gothic. Gwaltney here manages to craft a Southern Gothic tale that will give fans of the genre chills. The world as seen through the eyes of 3rd grader Analiese… well, who knew that the third grade schoolyard could be so reminiscent of the corporate boardroom and its constant behind the scenes power plays? The back third is where the book gets particularly disturbing, as a massive brood of cicadas emerges to devastating effect right as the events of the last several weeks in Analiese’s life begin to come to a head. The finale will disturb many for its revelations, and for those that like perfectly tied up endings… be prepared, you don’t get that here. Which actually speaks to just how well Gwaltney commands his genre here. Indeed, the one knock I have on this book is just how very *dense* it is. It is supposedly around 300 pages, but reads as though it were twice as long. Still, the tale is intriguing enough that you’re going to want to stay in and see just what happens next, and Gwaltney here truly does show great prowess as a storyteller. Very much recommended.
Poetic Prose But Intensely SLOW Story. This is one of those tales where the actual words and descriptions are so incredibly beautiful – and yet the plot moves along about as fast as a snail in cryostasis. Basically somewhat similar to The Great Gatsby, but with a more poetic front end and where Gatsby has an action packed back end, this one manages to finally hint at some mysteries around the middle of the book that will compel you to finish it. Then, it even manages to pack a *bit* of action into the final 15% or so of the text, as one final calamity strikes – the first calamity of the book to happen within the “current” time period. For those who dislike dual perspectives/ dual timelines, know up front that this book has those – and that I would argue that you should read it anyway, because here they completely work together to show the mysteries more fully. Ultimately a satisfying read with an ending that some will love and others will hate, the only reason this book got dinged a star was because the front half in particular was *so* slow. Very much recommended.
This review of The Women Of Pearl Island by Polly Crosby was originally written on November 14, 2021.
Human Hubris Leads To Disaster. This is a creature feature tale combined with a disaster tale, with a unique and fairly inventive creature combining with a massive blizzard in the Arctic Circle to create one hell of a ride. McBride uses a dual timeline approach to show us how the creature came to be and just how one scientist in particular had their noble goals turn out so horrifically, along with showing the “now” of having to rescue any possible survivors once the creature runs on its inevitable (due to the genre) rampage. McBride actually teases some even more horrific creatures, but the focus is completely on the titular Chimera. While not in any way a political book (similar to the greats of the genre in that regard), in showing yet another way that altruism and hubris can in fact lead to disaster, this book actually makes some solid points about caution and even corporate and government interests – and back-room dealings – in the areas at hand. But again, these are more minor points in the tale, more throw-away commentary that fleshes out minor characters than truly central to the actual story. Truly a story that fires on all cylinders and offers much for anyone that is remotely a fan of science fiction in general or creature features in particular. Very much recommended.
This review of Chimera by Michael McBride was originally written on September 26, 2021.
Complicated Yet Beautiful. Hawker has a way of painting pictures with words that are utterly beautiful, and yet also utterly ugly at the same time. Ultimately, this book reads like a more evocative, more painting quality version of the somewhat similar story David Duchovny created in Truly Like Lightning, even as it seems that both authors were working on these works for quite a number of years. Particularly in their showing of the worse sides of Mormon life, complete with overbearing and hypocritical fathers, this reads almost like as much an attack on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as the character study that it is. And yet, again, the way Hawker executes it here is utterly beautiful in its prose and storytelling. Hawker sucks you in, weaving these plot threads near and around each other before bringing them all together to grand effect. Ultimately the biggest quibble with this entire effort isn’t Hawker’s writing, but the actual description of the book – which leads one to believe certain aspects arguably happen sooner than they do. Indeed, Linda becoming “privy to a secret Aran and Tamsin share that could dismantle everything everyone holds dear” happens quite late (later than 80%, maybe even closer to the 90% mark), though again, the actual execution here is quite solid and indeed allows the book to end in surprising ways that were only very subtly hinted at much earlier. Even Aran and Lucy getting together to begin with seems to happen much later in the tale than the description seems to indicate, though that relationship *is* particularly well developed. Ultimately this is a book that Mormons likely won’t like, people with various misconceptions about Mormonism will probably tout, but one that tells a remarkable tale in the end. Recommended.
This review of The Rise Of Light by Olivia Hawker was originally written on May 21, 2021.