#BookReview: The Hook by Victoria Helen Stone

Feminist Horrible Bosses. If you’re familiar with the 2011 movie Horrible Bosses starring Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, and Charlie Day… you’ve got a good idea of what you’re getting into here. Though that movie was played for comedy, and this is much closer to suspense/ thriller here, and from a much more feminist perspective. These three ladies have been *wronged*, and the bastard that did it must *pay*. Except that there are those things that are illegal, and then there are those things that are wrong… and then there are those things that are prosecutable. And rarely do those three things intersect – and nothing any of these guys has done is technically all three. Indeed, one could argue that one of the guys was actually a moral, outstanding citizen who simply sought to have the laws enforced. Yeah, right. 😉 Still, the tale ultimately becomes a cautionary one, as things begin to spiral out of control… as these things tend to do. In the end, this was a solid bit of escapism for a few hours, and really that is all that I really expect in any entertainment medium. As others have noted, Stone’s Jane Doe series is genuinely superior to this particular tale, but where I disagree with some of them is that this one wasn’t *bad* – it just wasn’t as good as the Jane Doe series. Still, if you need some escapism and perhaps some catharsis… this book may just provide a touch of both. Recommended.

This review of The Hook by Victoria Helen Stone was originally written on May 10, 2023.

#BookReview: Beautiful Union by Joshua Ryan Butler

Proposing A New View Of Sexual Ethics. This book is remarkably well written and remarkably well balanced, one that no matter your views on any sex or gender related topic, at some point here you’re most likely going to fall into the classic preacher joke of “Woah, woah, woah, preacher! You’re stepping on my toes!” “I apologize, my [brother/ sister] in Christ. I was aiming for your heart.” (and/ or, in this case, the brain as well) 😀 In other words, no matter your views on these topics coming into this book, there are more than likely going to be things you’re wholeheartedly agreeing with… and others that are likely going to make you want to throw the book out of the nearest window. For those who have routinely been condemned by existing Christian ethics, know that there is no condemnation here – indeed, Butler spends a fair amount of time examining exactly what Paul was doing in Romans, one of the oft-cited condemnation passages, and explains how it doesn’t really directly apply to sexual issues, but to *all* issues. And yet, at the very same time, Butler does not shy away from the idea that homosexuality is a perversion of God’s perfect design and intention, and explains a new view of exactly why he still holds to this position. Ignoring Frank Viola’s Parable Of Marvin Snurdley, Butler does a truly remarkable and seemingly thorough job of looking at all issues surrounding sex and gender and shows that traditional views are the closest to being correct… though not always the closest in actual reasoning or in explaining *why* they are correct, which is something he seeks to change here. Oh, and those who have read Ted Dekker’s Circle Series are likely to notice some similar language. Indeed, while it is unknown to me if Butler had ever read this particular (somewhat famous in Christian circles) series, Butler here truly elevates and grounds some of the concepts Dekker explores particularly early in that series.

The single star deduction is for prooftexting, which while not *as* prevalent here and while Butler *mostly* explains the full contexts of the passages he spends extended time with (such as the creation account in Genesis and the aforementioned passage of Romans, among a few others), he *does* still engage in citing Biblical verses out of context at times in “support” of some point or another, and I am on a one-man-war to eradicate this practice everywhere I see it. In book reviews, my only weapon is the single star deduction, and thus I apply it in all cases where I notice the problem.

Ultimately this is a book that will prove highly controversial, and yet it is also a book that truly everyone, particularly those who consider themselves “thinkers” or “educated” or “learned” or some such, will need to at least read and consider. Very much recommended.

This review of Beautiful Union by Joshua Ryan Butler was originally written on December 6, 2022.

#BookReview: A Light In The Forest by Melissa Payne

Strong Story Well Told – Yet Very Preachy As Well. I’ve been reading Melissa Payne’s books since the very first one, and I can assure long time fans that while this book is in fact quite preachy on a couple of subjects in particular (more on that momentarily), it is also her usual quite strong storytelling here. For people that haven’t read Payne yet, this is a good one to start with *if you don’t have issues with the topics she is preachy about here*. (Otherwise go with literally any of her other books – The Secrets of Lost Stones, Memories In The Drift, or The Night Of Many Endings.)

The preachiness here is *mostly* around trans/ LGBT issues, though there is also a fair amount of “country men who don’t agree with my opinion on these issues are all backwards a**h***s”. (I’m not going to say outright misandry, because there *are* a few male characters who are both country and shown in quite positive lights – so long as they agree with particular views on the above issues.)

Beyond the preachiness though, there *is* a genuinely strong story here. Perhaps not quite as strong as the prior works by the author, all of which created strong dust storms no matter where they are read, as this reader’s eyes got watery no matter what environment he was reading them in – and *that* never actually happened with this book. Still, as a story of finding oneself even in tragedy – a few times over – and how traumas can last to new generations, this really was quite a strong tale. And heck, there are even elements of the tale that the most hyper militant pro-LGBT types probably aren’t going to like much either, but discussing those gets *way* too far into spoiler territory to mention beyond the simple fact that they exist.

Overall truly a strong tale well told, and one that while preachy, is still readable and enjoyable by most anyone – one that even if you would normally be put off by the preachiness, it is still a tale strong enough to push through those feelings and read anyway. Just please, if you do that, don’t lower your rating because of the preachiness. Do what I did here, and put your thoughts on that subject in the text of the review. 🙂
Very much recommended.

This review of A Light In The Forest by Melissa Payne was originally written on November 2, 2022.

#BookReview: Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner

Dang Near Erotica Level MILF Lesbian* RomCom. Seriously: Read the title of this review. If that type of book isn’t for you for any reason at all… save yourself the time and the author the 1* review and just find something else to read. The sex scenes start in Chapter 1 and are fairly frequent throughout the book – and *far* from closed door. XXX “on screen”, in fact. And all the sex is between a 40 something woman whose daughter is in college and a 21yo female college senior. Again, if that isn’t your thing… just move on. Finally, there are f-bombs and other curse words quite heavily as well (not sailor/ programmer level, but also not Independent Baptist Church level either). So yet again, not your thing… just move on. Please.

For anyone else that is still here… this is a somewhat slow ish angsty romcom, but the resolution comes perhaps a bit too quickly once it finally gets to that point. Still, there actually is a decent amount of drama here, and a seemingly realistic (enough) portrayal of people actually in these types of situations. The comedy part of the “romcom” label is mostly in the initial few scenes between the leading couple, but there are laughs to be had throughout the book and the romance itself picks up when the comedy wanes, so it works. Really the only quibble for those still here is the flash-forward epilogue, which is one of those things your mileage may vary on but which does add a bit of humor to the tail end of the tale.

Overall this was a solid tale well told, and the characters themselves are rare enough that anyone seeking “something different” will find this quite refreshing indeed. Very much recommended.

*Note: While the characterization of the leading couple is *actually* bisexual, according to the text here, and one has even been married and had a kid (and the other had a boyfriend before the events of the book), the only romantic/ sexual relationships actually in the book are all of the sapphic nature, and thus for actual purposes of review would be considered lesbian in at least some circles.

This review of Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner was originally written on October 8, 2022.

#BookReview: Nation Of Victims by Vivek Ramaswamy

Stacey Abrams == Donald Trump. And The Way Back Is To Ignore Both. Ok, so the title here was a bit intentionally inflammatory – but Ramaswamy *does* essentially make this very point late in the book, pointing to how both Abrams and Trump see themselves as victims of election fraud rather than candidates who lost elections because more voters legitimately sided with their opponents. But to get there, and to get from there to how we can truly come back, Ramaswamy dives through American history, legal theory, and even his Hindu religion to show how both progressives and conservatives have largely adopted a victimhood mentality. Interestingly, he never once cites Ayn Rand’s examinations of this same idea in Atlas Shrugged. Overall an interesting book worthy of consideration, and with a fairly normal bibliography at about 21% of the overall text here. Very much recommended.

This review of Nation of Victims by Vivek Ramaswamy was originally written on July 17, 2022.

#BookReview: Last Dance On The Starlight Pier by Sara Bird

Powerful Examination Of Oft-Ignored Areas. Know up front that there is a LOT going on in this book, and to me it absolutely warrants the 400 page length. The book begins and ends in Galveston during the Depression, when one family had absolute control of the island. In between, we see a lot: the burlesque shows of the era – including their seedier sides engaging in open pedophilia, the dance marathons that were cheap entertainment for so many in this pre=television era and the marathoners that endured so much just to stay off the streets, the politics of the era (where your mileage is absolutely going to vary, but was true to the period at minimum), the treatment of homosexuality in the era, a new surgery meant to cure so many mental health issues – including homosexuality – that was just as barbaric as described late in the text here, and so much more. For those that care about precise historical fact in their historical fiction – I personally tend to give authors at least a touch of leeway, depending on particulars including overall story – know that this surgery was real, and the details provided about both it and the doctor that originated it – Dr Walter Freeman – are real. Bird simply moved up the timeline by about 15 years or so, and used it to great effect within the confines of her story. Truly a remarkable work, and very much recommended.

Note: For those seeking more details on the real horrors of the transorbital lobotomy described in this tale, My Lobotomy by Howard Dully – which I first encountered as a late night NPR broadcast – is truly tragically horrifying.

This review of Last Dance On The Starlight Pier by Sara Bird was originally written on April 23, 2022.

#BookReview: Sink Or Swim by Annabeth Albert

Atypical MM Romance. This is at least a somewhat atypical MM romance in that we get two guys who neither one is a big fan of penetration (and yet, it *does* happen – a couple of times, at least) and who are both fairly well fleshed out in their motivations and who they are, and both ring fairly true. One is the Navy guy that finds himself at a career crossroad, the other is a single uncle/dad going through a messy divorce. Being at a bit of a career crossroad myself and having a few nieces and a nephew and having to at least consider what happens here… yeah. Both of the situations here hit hard. The steam… not so much. I think I’ve seen coffee with thicker steam, but I actually *like* that about this tale – it is part of its atypicality, in very good ways. If you’re into radioactive heat and steam you can’t see your hand in front of your face through… this isn’t for you. If you’re more into *real* without being *too real* (ie, “real”, but still escapist)… this is going to be more your thing. Overall a strong continuation of this series, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Albert takes this next. Very much recommended.

This review of Sink Or Swim by Annabeth Albert was originally written on March 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Going Public by Hudson Lin

Strong Atypical MM Romance. As an MM romance, this one both works and does a good job of showing off atypical sexualities – specifically pansexual and demisexual. And both leads are well fleshed out, with strong and compelling backstories along with solid reasonings for why they haven’t yet gotten together. On the business side… there are more issues with the story. For one, a late development should have happened sooner and for a very different reason, and likely would have in reality. For another, while it is refreshing in that the author had the courage to go *there*, one has to question just how real such a scenario truly is. But for those seeking to simply get lost in a MM romance and ignore pesky “reality” questions… this actually works quite well. Very much recommended.

This review of Going Public by Hudson Lin was originally written on March 5, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: In An Office by Janey Klunder

This week, for the first time since I began this book blog, we’re looking at a book that I actually had a hand in bringing forth. This week we’re looking at In An Office by Janey Klunder.

I met Janey nearly a decade ago when I was working a project I called Autism Through Our Eyes – a project that lives on in the name I use when publishing Janey’s books, Autism Through Our Eyes Publishing. This is the fifth book we’ve published together, with Janey writing them and doing most of her own marketing, and me helping with getting them actually into Amazon (sometimes even in print form), including actually writing the official description of the book, and doing at least some marketing/ publicity myself.

And this was the first book where I actually included a Publisher’s Note at the end, pointing out just how real this book is for so very many Autistics and providing a “Recommended Reading” section of a few books I’ve reviewed on this very site regarding Autism from a more nonfiction perspective, including Neurotribes by Steven Silberman, We’re Not Broken by Eric Garcia, On The Spectrum by Daniel Bowman Jr, and The Pattern Seekers by Simon Baron-Cohen.

So with all of this noted up front, here’s the review that I put on Goodreads:

Intriguing Ideas. This is a book that explores a couple of ideas unlike any I’ve ever seen before – and this was book number 256 in 2021 alone for me. Specifically, the idea of community members simply helping each other, rather than having to have some formal, government “approved”, structure for doing so.

In one case here, we see a caring member of the community help an Autistic understand the world around her and figure out her place within it. And yes, while the exact scenario here can feel limiting, and one could want this character to want more for her life… as the Publisher’s Note says at the end, this is an all too real and all too common scenario for so many Autistics, and it is refreshing to see it portrayed so well and with such care in fiction. (Possibly not hurt by the fact that the author herself is Autistic.)

In the other case here, when the owners of a Bed and Breakfast suddenly and tragically die in a fire, their son comes up with an “insane idea” to redirect the facility in a new and interesting way… that ultimately helps its community in ways that no government program ever really could. The author never knew this (until she sees this review), but other than the specific focus on LGBTQ+ people, this is actually eerily similar to an idea I myself had in my teens about how a then-friend and I could eventually help our own community. (Note: This never actually came to pass, for a variety of reasons, but I’m glad to see the idea being independently revived in fiction.)

Overall truly a powerful work for the ideas it introduces to the zeitgeist, a powerful exposition of the lives of so many Autistics, and a solid story even without these particular things. Very much recommended.

(Disclosure: While I had no part in actually writing the narrative of this book, I did assist the author in getting it into KDP and Autism Through Our Eyes Publishing, the publisher of this book, is my own project.)

And because I can, here’s an excerpt from the book – Chapter 1, to be precise. 🙂

No one within a half-mile radius would ever forget the night of the fire. It hadn’t spread to any of the surrounding buildings – as it turned out, it had only been contained to one part of the house – but still, almost everyone in the street had been woken by the fire engines. Many of the elderly residents had stood in the road in their dressing gowns in the warm August weather, fretting: Where were Miriam and Angus? Had they made it out in time? They had been running the popular B&B for decades now without any issues. There was only a small amount of smoke visible from the street; no burning heat could be felt from where they stood. And Miriam was a larger-than-life personality, loved by everyone… Nothing could take her down. Right?

Soon Miriam and Angus were taken away on stretchers. Sent to the hospital. They weren’t moving. But surely they’d be all right?

When a very sad-looking fireman finally came up to break the news to the group, nobody could believe it. Miriam and Angus were only in their early sixties – how could they be gone? How could something as simple as a small electrical fault have taken them away, when they were so cheerful and full of life? They had been such a close family – how would their son and niece cope without them?

Unfortunately no one had those answers. And a week and a half later, when their niece, Josie, stepped out of her shower and rubbed her still-red eyes, she still had no answers. She was tallish, dark-haired and pretty, but there was little joy in her face as she dried herself off, pulled on her dressing gown and let her damp hair down. With a sigh, she headed out of her bedroom.

The old-fashioned strip light in her kitchen was blindingly bright, and she winced as it flicked on. As she only rented her flat, swapping the light out for something a bit less harsh was sadly not an option. Josie’s tastes in interior design were very specific, to say the least, and it often pained her to prepare her meals underneath something so ugly and industrial-looking.

Alongside three identical Mason jars containing sugar, tea and the regular instant coffee she served to visitors was the much smaller jar of Beanies Creamy Caramel flavoured instant that her amazing aunt had introduced her to. Making up her own travel mug was a lot cheaper than going to Starbucks five mornings a week, but Josie still felt guilty on occasion about the amount of sugar she needed to add to her morning coffee to make it even remotely tasty. She went through a lot of granulated sugar for a woman who hardly ever did any baking.

“Never apologise for having specific tastes in anything,” Aunt Miriam had said. “Be glad that you live in a world where making those choices is an option for you. Not everyone has it so lucky.”

Josie’s heart ached, as it had most days for the past week and a half. They were really gone. Two of her favourite people of all time were never going to give her great advice or celebrate with her or even speak to her ever again. She had dealt with personal grief before, but not as an adult. It was somehow more difficult to deal with…

Deep breath, honey. Deep breath. It’s got to be tougher for Sawyer and you two have something big to tackle today…

Once her coffee was finally ready, she sank down into her favourite armchair in the living room and pulled her laptop onto her knee. As it flickered to life, she was greeted with the home screen her older cousin had set up for her a couple of months ago. An enormous countdown with bright pink words that filled the entire screen with a reminder she’d sooner have forgotten about.


Sawyer had celebrated his thirtieth birthday four years earlier by spending two weeks in Alicante and getting drunk with a handsome señor on the beach every night, which wasn’t really Josie’s style. And on her current wage, it seemed unlikely that she could afford it anyway. Still, she could already hear Sawyer’s counterargument to her protests. Then why don’t you take a few days off work and book two nights in a spa hotel or a log cabin with a hot tub?

“Thirty, divorced and on holiday alone?” she muttered aloud, without really meaning to. “That is so lame…”

Determined not to think about the big three-oh – especially now that her aunt and uncle wouldn’t even be around to celebrate it with her – she checked her emails (nothing out of the ordinary) followed by Facebook (a few notifications, nothing to get excited about) plus a quick, naughty peek at Pinterest (Oh God, I love that wallpaper… and that dresser… and those bathroom tiles… Would that rug fit in my bedroom?)

Then, slightly less cheerfully, she opened up Tinder. She hadn’t particularly wanted to join, but Sawyer had pestered her into it – which, annoyingly, he was highly skilled at after almost a whole lifetime of practice.

“Come on, it’s been over a year since Conrad moved out,” he had said. “And even longer since you last got laid, am I right?”

Josie would rather have covered herself in jam and sat on a wasp nest than admit it to him, but he was right. Her efforts on Tinder hadn’t turned out many favourable results so far, however, and her latest match hadn’t seemed very promising.

Uh oh… Three new messages. With a weary sigh, she opened up the chat log – and it was exactly as she had expected.

So wut u up 2 this wknd?

Hello? Why u not answrin?

I thot you were better than just disappearin on a nice guy!

“Well, here we go again,” she said to the room at large, sipping her coffee and bracing herself for utter honesty. When she was ghosted before there could even be a first date, she accepted it and moved on. Why did men always have to lash out when their pride was hurt?


Despite the fact that I do look young for my age (thanks for noticing), I’m approaching 30, not 13. Hate to break it to you but not many self-respecting women in my age bracket will put up with some of the behaviours you’ve displayed during our ten-day “courtship”. Just a few examples being:

* Commenting that my profile pic makes me look like a hippie
* Telling me it sounds like I eat too much chocolate
* Saying that interior design isn’t a real hobby when you think that Rick’s nihilism in Rick & Morty is something to be admired
* Dissing my favourite colour
* Saying you find cats annoying
* Describing your ex as a “psycho”
* Using the phrase “Piers Morgan had a point”
* Saying you’d message me on Tuesday evening and then not bothering until Thursday morning
* Claiming that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt

You can pretend I inserted the phrase “no offence” here if you like, but all that makes you sound like an asshole, and I’m on here looking for something genuine.

P.S. I would also advise you against expressing pride that you share a first name with the guy who sang ‘Blurred Lines’.

And send.

“Another one bites the dust.” Josie rubbed her eyes and sighed again. “Don’t know why I bother…”

Her gaze fell upon the well-thumbed copy of He’s Just Not That Into You that sat on her shelf. She had tried her best to follow Greg Behrendt’s sage advice since she was around seventeen, although the lack of decent, local, available men had really been getting her down recently.

A loud ping drew her attention back to Facebook. She had received a multi-recipient message, and as soon as she saw who it was from, she blushed bright pink.
Sorry for those of you who this affects, but the Wednesday morning class is cancelled! Got to take my old mum up to the hospital, my apologies!

This change in scheduling by the owner of the gym she attended didn’t affect Josie herself – she worked full-time and could only make the evening classes – but any communication from her very handsome instructor set her face flaming.

I am such a cliché…

The ring of her phone, thankfully, distracted her from that depressing thought. She picked it up and groaned; the number on the screen was all too familiar. I should have seen this coming. And under any other circumstances, she would have ignored it – she normally only had to endure these calls at Christmas time – but instead, her thumb moved of its own accord and pressed ‘Answer’.

“Hello?” Completely casual.

“Hi, Josie… It’s me.”

“Hi,” she said blankly.

“How… how are you holding up? We… uh… we heard about the accident. It’s been such a horrible shock.”

Despite her initial annoyance, Josie found herself thawing a little; there was real choked-up emotion in the woman’s voice. Even if you hadn’t seen someone in years, it could still be quite jarring to be told they were gone and you’d never have a chance at seeing them again.

“Um… I’ve not been too bad, I guess. Still just working and that. I’m meeting up with Sawyer this morning to talk about the funeral.”

“Yes… well, that’s why we’re calling. Ahem.” Embarrassed pause. “When is the date?”

“Erm… I can’t remember, actually.” Lies. “But we’re currently in the middle of arranging it all… You should get an official notice in the mail within the next week or so.”

“Right. Uh… thank you.” Another embarrassed pause. “How is Conrad?”

Internal scream. “He’s… doing fine, last time I heard. He lives pretty far away now; we only really catch up now and again.”

“Anyone… new in your life, then, honey?”

Josie managed not to snort, but it was a close one. Yeah, like she really cares. “No. Not at the moment.”

“Oh, right.” Pause. “Well, um… we don’t know for certain if we’ll be able to make the journey, but we’ll certainly let you know. Once we’ve decided.”

“Of course.” Josie’s voice was flat. There wasn’t much point in asking them what they’d been up to; they never did anything exciting.

“You… take it easy, then, hun.”

“You too. Bye!” She hung up faster than was perhaps polite, but every call from them was exactly the same.

Here’s hoping Sawyer’s prepared to let me rant a bit.

Josie dressed relatively quickly and sat down at her tiny vanity table. She swirled an Avon cream blush stick across both cheeks, then rolled her eyes at her reflection. As if it mattered to Sawyer whether she wore makeup or not.

Although maybe he might be pleased that I’m making the effort, just on the off chance that there are any cute single straight men in the cafe…

Several minutes later she grabbed her bag, stepped out of her front door – and was promptly accosted by her favourite tiny terror.

“Oh, hi, Scraps!” she beamed, her entire face lighting up at once as she bent down to pet the gorgeous little brown dachshund that skipped excitedly around her ankles.

“Morning, Josie,” said her elderly neighbour, who was only halfway up the stairs with a bright red leash in one hand. “He always runs ahead when he hears your door open!”

Josie loved little dogs and had dog-sat for Patricia on a few occasions. “How’s he getting on?”

“More fighting fit than me, that’s for sure,” Patricia chuckled as she reached them. She bent down with a small wince and scooped the excitable dog up into her arms. “Come on, sweetheart, we’ve got some special treats for you! Have a nice day, Josie.”

They disappeared inside, and for the first time in a while, Josie was able to smile a little.

Guess family isn’t always just people…

#BlogTour: Sailor Proof by Annabeth Albert

For this blog tour we’re looking at the first entry in a new series of gay military romances. For this blog tour we’re looking at Sailor Proof by Annabeth Albert.

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

Solid Military Romance. This is a fairly standard romance / Annabeth Albert romance with one guy in uniform and the other not… and eventually, neither is. 😉 She’s done the virgin thing at least once or twice (I fully cop to not reading her full back catalog, and I seem to remember her covering this even in the books I *have* read from her), and here it works just as well as it did the last time. For those looking for “clean” / “sweet” romance… Albert uses the virgin trope to explore as many successive sex acts as she can squeeze into a book. So this won’t be something that fits those definitions, but will work well within the more general romance/ gay romance reader crowd. The family dynamics are fun, some of the situations border on silly yet work, and the military scenes are accurate enough for someone who is only vaguely aware of US Navy operations. Looking forward to seeing where this new series will go. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt and the details about the book from the publisher, including the book description, author bio and social media links, and links to buy the book.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Sailor Proof by Annabeth Albert”