#BookReview: A Mother Would Know by Amber Garza

Slow Burn That Becomes Twistier And With More Crossings Than A Mountain Road Between A Railroad Track And A River. Let’s get the elephant out of the room up front: Through around the 2/3 or so mark of this 300+ page book – so for roughly the first couple hundred pages – this book is *slow*. So slow that it does in fact struggle to keep the attention at times. But then, Great Gatsby was *so much worse* in that regard and is regarded as one of the greatest books in American literature. This particular book will never be in *that* conversation, but like Gatsby it does have the moment where suddenly, it begins getting *so much better* and actually becomes a truly solid book by the end. Indeed, that back third – that last hundred pages or so- really is going to remind you of driving down a 2 lane mountain road between train tracks and a stream – there are so very many twists and crossings that it can get rather dizzying trying to keep track of who is crossing who and for what reason now. And yet it is this aspect of the book that is executed *so* well and almost *had* to have the slow buildup it got. Some of the stuff here is utterly horrific, others of it more simply extremely creepy, and in the end you will be left breathless. Very much recommended.

This review of A Mother Would Know by Amber Garza was originally written on November 22, 2022.

#BookReview: Off The Deep End by Lucinda Berry

Weird Book But Nothing Technically Wrong. Ever read a 5* review that is probably going to read like the reviewer actually rated it 1*? Well, if you haven’t… you’re about to. Because let me be clear up front: There was nothing from a technical/ objective-ish standpoint to hang a star reduction on here. There weren’t any clear technical/ editing mistakes, the story is at least plausible within the context of the world/ situation set up, etc. Thus, with my subtractive system where every book starts at 5* and I have to have objective-ish describable reasons to deduct stars… there simply weren’t any here.

AND YET… this book kinda sucked, y’all. I hate to say it, but it did. I’m down with a slow burn, I’ve defended a LOT of slow burn books over the years and even as recently as this week. What I can’t defend is a book that is just so *boring* and completely disjointed. Someone once said (paraphrasing) that if you show a red phone on Page 23, it better be used somewhere in the finale – and this… doesn’t happen. There *is* a massive twist at the end of the book, but it comes completely out of left field with absolutely zero foreshadowing *at all*. Instead we get all kinds of irrelevant details such as kid sister sleeping in the bed with her parents over fears of the “rampaging kidnapper/ serial killer”, among other completely irrelevant details that are never really explored or shown why they are crucial to the story being told. As at least one other reviewer pointed out, this story could likely have been told much better from different perspectives – maybe the two boys (even the one who dies in the opener – maybe in an “if i stay” type manner?), particularly given the twist at the end.

Overall though, this *is* a five star review, so I’m going to recommend you read this book – if for no other reason than maybe I’m wrong and there was genuinely a great tale in here that I just didn’t pick up on? Let me know in the comments wherever you may find this review, or on social media somewhere if that isn’t possible. Recommended.

This review of Off The Deep End by Lucinda Berry was originally written on November 24, 2022.

#BookReview: Take It From Me by Jamie Beck

They Say To ‘Write What You Know’… In this tale, Beck does an excellent job showing a middle aged mother struggling with empty nest syndrome (though this term is never really used in the book) and a new neighbor who is secretly a very feminist-forward progressive who also happens to be a struggling author in hiding. Beck is, herself, a middle aged mother whose children have left the nest and an established author who changed genres just a few years ago from romance to women’s fiction. As someone who has previously reviewed her books before and after that shift, she has proven herself to be an equally strong storyteller in either space. Here she manages to wrap different aspects of her own (publicly discussed) life into a compelling tale that also shows some other clear real-world correlations, with other recent books from Amazon Publishing – including at least The Magic Of Found Objects by Maddie Dawson and Other People’s Things by Kerry Anne King – also spinning their own tales around the common theme of ‘humanizing’ kleptomania. Beck weaves her own tale here and shows both common aspects (shame, fear of being misunderstood, etc) across the other books as well as her own distinct aspects (how it can impact a long term marriage, young adult children, etc) and again, shows her own skill as a storyteller in the process. As a long time reader of both Beck and Amazon Publishing in general, this was thus quite intriguing in many ways – though even someone who doesn’t have that experience will find a well written, compelling tale here. Truly an excellent work, and an solid representation of Beck’s style for any readers who may be new to her work. Very much recommended.

*Note: To be clear, I am not claiming that *every* aspect of these characters is inspired by the author’s real life. Only that the broadest outlines – middle aged mother whose kids have left home and an author who has direct insight into the “real world” of publishing – echo what Beck has herself publicly discussed being.

This review of Take It From Me by Jamie Beck was originally written on September 18, 2022.

#BookReview: Bet On It by Jodie Slaughter

Gen Z Mental Health Dang Near Erotica… Romantic Comedy? Up front, there was nothing technically wrong about this story – hence the five stars here. There is nothing for me to hang a star deduction on as objectively wrong here, and indeed there are several things to actively like. Such as the interracial romance in the South, where neither character tries to bring in bygone eras that were dead long before either of them were alive. As a Xennial / elder Millenial Southerner, this was genuinely refreshing to see in novel form, since so many try to depict the South as some racial tension hotbed that isn’t actually present in reality. Or at least that’s not what the *entire* South is, nor any that I’ve ever experienced in a lifetime of living here. So for fellow Southerners tired of so many novels looking down on us and trying to force depictions of us that aren’t always accurate… give this one a try, I think you’ll like it. ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, onto the stuff that those same fellow Southerners might actually have more of an issue with.

For one, if you don’t like hot and heavy, dang near erotica level sex in a book… this one isn’t for you, no matter where you’re from. If you prefer “sweet” / “clean” romances where the couple barely kisses or where anything beyond maybe heavy kissing is “behind closed doors”… this book isn’t going to be something you enjoy. There are two sex acts performed essentially in public – one in a car in a parking lot, the other inside the Mayor’s Mansion during a town festival (and on a couch in a room, rather than in some closet!). Along these lines, there was much talk of condoms and STI testing (at least at first), and again, these are some issues that I know some will LOVE being included but others will wish had not been, so either way you now know to expect them and can proceed according to your own attitudes on the subject. ๐Ÿ™‚

For another, and this is absolutely one where your mileage may vary depending on any number of factors, there is a LOT of talk about mental health here, to the level of being fairly preachy at times – particularly in espousing a more Gen Z view of the field. Both of our leads suffer from anxiety, and at times it feels the focus of the book is on these issues rather than anything remotely romantic or even comedic. While it is absolutely refreshing to see these issues discussed so openly, and I absolutely love that a book featuring this is on the market, I also realize that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. So hey, better to skip the book because I warned you than to read it and leave a 1 star review complaining about all the “pansy ass whiny bullcrap” or some such that I know several people personally would absolutely complain about. ๐Ÿ™‚

In the end though, this *was* a mostly fun, relatively light (particularly given its subject matter) romantic comedy, and it *does* work within that genre, just far from your typical entry there. As someone who constantly seeks new wrinkles I hadn’t seen before, I enjoyed it from that side in particular. Very much recommended.

This review of Bet On It by Jodie Slaughter was originally written on July 6, 2022.

#BookReview: Murder In The Neighborhood by Ellen J Green

Green Finds The Eggs, Butter, and Sugar. Yes, the title here references one particularly poignant line deep in the text – just 7% or so from the final words. Through this point and after, Green has managed to tell the story of what happened on River Road in Camden, New Jersey on September 6, 1949 through the eyes of nearly all of the people who survived the events there that day. A bit later, she’s even going to connect it to a more recent event that was in the news – and that the granddaughter of one of the survivors happened to be at. This is narrative nonfiction, and it has next to no documentation (and hence the star deduction), but it is structured and told much in the manner of a novel – which makes it infinitely more readable. But the most remarkable thing about this book is just how truly balanced it is. A horrible tragedy occurred that day, but rather than painting the perpetrator as some otherworldly monster as so much coverage of and conversation around more recent similar people does, Green builds the case that this man is just as human as the rest of us. There is no “other” here, simply a man – a man who had faults, but also a community that had faults too (and also had amazing things as well). Indeed, the entire reason I picked up this book was because I saw a Yankee author and British publisher working on a book about “the first” (not really) mass shooting in the US… and this defender of the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment worried that it would be just ever more anti-gun drivel. For those who may be looking at this book with similar thoughts, know that there is little of that here. Yes, Green calls a “magazine” a “clip” repeatedly, particularly when discussing the actual actions that day. But even when she brings in Stoneman Douglas (Parkland), she never actually goes those directions at all really. (At least one person she chronicles does, but it is clear that this is that person’s position only and not an “official recommendation” from the book.) But even that speaks to just how well balanced the book overall is. Truly an excellent and admittedly unexpected work, and very much recommended.

This review of Murder In The Neighborhood by Ellen J Green was originally written on April 24, 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: The Lost Book Of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock

Interesting Twist On Dual Timeline Historical Fiction. Over the course of 800+ books in the last three years alone, I’ve read quite a few dual timeline historical fiction books. Generally, one of the timelines is “current”, or at least mostly current – end of the 20th century at its oldest. Here, the “current” timeline is actually much older – the last months of WWII – and the “older” timeline is *much* older – 16th century. The poetic prose here highlights the idealized South of the pre-air conditioning era… and yet also doesn’t shy away from discussing some of its lower points, including both slavery and extrajudicial murders. (I intentionally don’t use a particular “l” word there, as it generally has connotations that do not apply in the particular situation in the book.) All of this is wrapped around the mysterious Dare stones and how so many of them could be judged to be fake… except the first one, Eleanor Dare’s stone and the tale therein inscribed isn’t necessarily so easily dismissed. The care Brock takes to show an atypical yet also completely realistic and plausible tale of what happened and why to Ms. Dare is quite remarkable, and indeed this shines through in the variety of other situations portrayed in this book as well. It quickly becomes readily apparent that Ms. Brock is a Southern storyteller of the best form – one that doesn’t excuse the atrocities of our past, yet one that also respects the real and vibrant cultures of the era, showing that even while misguided on particular points, the overall people were not the monsters many non-Southern (or even Southern of particular political persuasions) writers portray them as. Truly a remarkable work in so many ways, and very much recommended.

This review of The Lost Book Of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock was originally written on April 23, 2022.

#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”

Featured New Release Of The Week: Other People’s Things by Kerry Anne King

This week we’re looking at one of those books I love to find where an author takes a topic usually seen as “other” and shows just how human – and how powerful – it can be. This week we’re looking at Other People’s Things by Kerry Anne King.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

New Wrinkle On Oft-Derided Issue. I don’t suffer from kleptomania myself, but as someone who is Autistic and is interested in unique takes on various issues society deems “mental disorders”, I always appreciate books that can take a topic that is often derided and make it much more “human” and much less “other”. Here, King does just this, and she does it in a whimsical manner that has its share of tragedy as well. An excellent book that rarely takes the “conventional” route, and yet tells the story of how one person’s “mental disorder” can actually work to be a very positive thing when the person learns to truly harness her power.. Very much recommended.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Troubled by Kenneth R Rosen

This week we’re looking at a troubling – yet anecdotal – tale that bears further research. This week we are looking at Troubled by Kenneth R Rosen.

Here’s what I had to say about the book on Goodreads, and below that I’ll have a confession about a degree of a personal connection. ๐Ÿ™‚

Tragic. Rosen uses case studies of four particular people and their experiences with wilderness re-education camps (and residential, boarding school style similar institutions) to paint a truly tragic picture. On an anecdotal basis, these camps seem horrifying in an Orange Is The New Black kind of way – an in depth look at the what really happens to some individuals. For what it is – these anecdotal experiences with a few claims backed up with the barest of bibliographies – it really is a strong read and a needed one. However, I would welcome a much more comprehensive, and cited, further examination along the lines of Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop or Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Because this particular topic, based on the strengths of these particular anecdotes, seems to warrant such an investigation. Very much recommended.

And here’s my personal connection to the book, such as it is:

Back during my personally-infamous “Year of Failure”, when virtually nothing was going right in my life, I actually worked at a Wilderness Education Camp for a month. In the middle of summer. In the mountains of North Georgia. (And, in my final week with that long-defunct company, the tidelands of the Big Bend area of Florida.) I thought, based on my own history, I might be able to make a difference in this type of environment, working with these types of kids. I quickly learned otherwise, but the overall experience – over 15 years ago now – was remarkably memorable in many ways, and indeed some of the lessons I learned there prodded me in directions that came to dominate at least some of my thinking for the past 15 years and, possibly, for the remainder of my life. So I personally look back on my own time in such a camp with a degree of fondness, and yet I can very much understand the tragedy of what these camps did to at least some kids. (To be perfectly clear, in my month there I never personally witnessed anything remotely like what Rosen describes in this book. One situation I personally witnessed involved a kid storming off on his own through the woods, and a counselor having to track him and try to talk him into rejoining the group. Another I learned about from the person it happened to after the fact was when a kid brought a copperhead into camp, proud to show it off. The counselor – who was originally telling me this story when I found him in the counselors’ cabin after having been to the Emergency Room over this – told the kid to bring the snake to him. The counselor got the snake from the kid, “calmly” walked over to a nearby cliff, and proceeded to try to toss the snake out of camp and off the cliff. Whereupon the snake wrapped down and bit him on the leg – resulting in the ER trip. But these are the only two incidents I remember of my time there that are even remotely similar to what Rosen describes.)