#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. ๐Ÿ™‚
Very much recommended.

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

#BookReview: The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle

Meganets And Pre-Networks. Ok, I know what you’re thinking – what does computer networking and the Internet have to do with this book? Well, on some level, it is somewhat obvious – one of our main characters is a social media “influencer” with a million followers. But on another level… Belle actually manages here to show the pitfalls and advantages of two different eras of human history, perhaps without even being cognizant of doing this, just seeking timelines that worked for the story she was telling and making the other details work around that. Yet speaking of details, there are some wrong ones here, particularly around guns – which anyone who follows Belle’s own social media knows that the anti-gun paranoia expressed by one main character is at least somewhat close to Belle’s own real life feelings (though, to be clear, I am not saying the character’s specific motivations for these feelings are anywhere near Belle’s, as I have never seen any public comments from her anywhere near those specific actions). Specifically, guns are not “registered” anywhere in Georgia, not even in Fulton County (home of Atlanta and generally heavily left-of-center of American politics, much less non-Atlanta Georgia politics). Still, going back to the main thrust of this review, Belle truly does do a remarkable job of showing just how easily today’s meganets can be used for harm… while also showing that the pre-meganet era was still pretty dang bad itself. All told this is a remarkable tale that manages to bring elements to the general setup not often seen anywhere else – and never seen before in my own reading within the genre – and thus this alone is quite commendable. Very much recommended.

This review of The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle was originally written on October 30, 2022.

#BookReview: Snatched by James Beltz

Chilling Combination Of Police Procedural And Paranormal. Beltz apparently wrote this entire trilogy at once, before releasing each book a month after the previous entry, and here we find the two cops at the center of Book 1 – Twisted – involved in yet another paranormal mystery where the only connective tissue between the books is the cops themselves. Here, rather than the tele-muchness of Twisted, we get a different type of paranormal ability, and yet Beltz still manages to use these abilities in surprising ways to fight a particularly cunning and chilling bad guy. This is one of those books that will absolutely make you rethink some of the things you allow your children to do/ you allow to be done to your children – and yet Beltz does this perfectly within the story he is telling here, without ever being preachy about any real-world topic. Very much recommended.

This review of Snatched by James Beltz was originally written on September 29, 2022.

#BlogTour: Taken Before Dawn by B.R. Spangler

For this blog tour we’re looking at the most intense Casey White series book yet. For this blog tour we’re looking at Taken Before Dawn by B.R. Spangler.

You Probably Won’t Want To Read This Right Before Bed. In this next chilling installment of this series, we get what is quite possibly Spangler’s most chilling villains to date – and the most direct threat to Detective Casey White since I picked up this series around book 4 or so. One sequence in particular, taking up somewhere around a quarter of the book or so, is so truly chilling that the title of this review was warranted – you’re not going to want to try to go to sleep while reading/ soon after reading this particular section. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll be a bit oblique and note that there is a popular horror franchise that is actually *less* chilling, though around the same type of idea, as what is going on here. Before and after this section, the book is actually more of a “standard” Casey White series police procedural. We get to see the team doing its thing both professionally and personally, including how later developments in the series (again, being vague to avoid giving anything away) continue to play out. Certainly one of the better books in this series, which is saying quite a bit itself, and arguably the best to date – which is saying *quite* a bit. I know this thing releases almost a full month after I’m writing this review, but BR… Imma need number 8 like, *now*. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Taken Before Dawn by B.R. Spangler”

#BookReview: Things We Do In The Dark by Jennifer Hillier

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.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Beyond The Moonlit Sea by Julianne MacLean

This week we’re looking at a book that is a master class in how to take a tale that could veer into the prosaic and at least somewhat uninteresting and elevate it into a captivating and charming tale simply by making smart decisions in exactly how to tell exactly the same story. This week we’re looking at Beyond The Moonlit Sea by Julianne Maclean.

Interesting Case of Storytelling Excellence. This is one of those books where had the author chosen to tell this very same story in a more typical fashion, with just a single narrator that we follow over several decades of her life, it wouldn’t have been near as engaging or near as engrossing as the tale becomes by telling it the way she instead chose to tell it. As a singular narrative, the story is a solid tale of a woman struggling to find herself in her twenties and thirties, both as she finishes college and a bit later in the aftermath of a tragedy, who then has to deal with the repercussions of these events throughout her life. With the particular perspectives that MacLean adds – which do add extra length to the text that wouldn’t be present without them – we get a much more fleshed out tale that actually adds extra depth both to certain characters and to the overall story, and thus the extra length is absolutely warranted in this case. Ultimately a satisfying tale in a vein somewhat reminiscent of the great Robin Williams movie Bicentennial Man, without its length in years. ๐Ÿ™‚ Very much recommended.

#BookReview: My Wife Is Missing by DJ Palmer

Strong Cat And Mouse Tale Actually Harmed By Final Reveals. There is no escaping writing about my feelings about this book without up front stating that while the first of two final reveals was a decent twist – not great, given the story to that point, but serviceable enough – the second one in particular was just lackluster, lazy, and didn’t fit with the rest of the book at all. And for it to be the epilogue of the book only leaves the reader disappointed.

Which is sad, because the book before that point, and even during the course of the first reveal, is a nail biting cat and mouse game that had me invested from the very beginning. A man comes back to his hotel room in NYC from getting his family pizza… only to find barely a shred of evidence that they were ever there to begin with. From here we get a dual-timeline-ish tale where we see both husband and wife and the one’s efforts to find the other while the other tries desperately to hide from the one seeking them, and this part of the tale is deftly told showing Palmer’s usual skill at maintaining a solid level of tension throughout the tale. With a better ending, this tale could actually have been one of Palmer’s stronger ones. As it is, it is simply middling. Which is still a great tale from a great storyteller, simply not this particular storyteller at the top of his game. Still very much recommended.

This review of My Wife Is Missing by DJ Palmer was originally written on May 4, 2022.

#BookReview: Unmissing by Minka Kent

Sick, Demented, Twisted… But A Slow Build To Get There. This is one of those stories where the description sounds intriguing and the prologue certainly does its job of dragging us into the book (Do *not* skip it, as it is essential)… but then we get more of a slow burn mystery build through the front half of the book. Not far into the second half, things pick up with a particular revelation, and then the snowball begins rapidly rolling downhill. The final chapters become utterly riveting, with revelation after revelation and so many twists you’re not going to want to go too fast down this mountain road. And then everything gets wrapped up tidily as one would generally expect in the genre. Indeed, if there is any qualm to be had here it is that this particular story could likely have done well with a much more open and speculative ending – but I know I’m in the minority of readers in appreciating those (when appropriate). Very much recommended.

This review of Unmissing by Minka Kent was originally written on February 16, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf

For this week’s Featured New Release we’re looking at a tale of suspense set in three different timelines – present, years ago, and unknown – that all merge into a masterclass of suspense of a finale. This week we’re looking at The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

Master Class In Suspense. Up front, this tale is told in three different timelines from three different perspectives – so if you’re a reader that struggles with that… well, this is an excellent read and you should still try it, but I get it. ๐Ÿ™‚ That noted, what makes this tale so strong is that each of the three threads – present day, years ago, and unknown – could be separate books and still be equally compelling, and yet here Gudenkauf weaves them together so masterfully that they play off each other even better and produce an overall much tighter grip on the reader’s mind. Yes, they all ultimately come together – and when they do, the finale is ultimately some of the best suspense of the entire book. Which is saying quite a bit, given just how good the parts before that are. This is another one that uses its setting in winter well, as well as its setting in the US central plains arguably even better than its winter placement of the present day timeline. Truly a remarkable work, 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 “Featured New Release Of The Week: The Overnight Guest by Heather Gudenkauf”

#BookReview: Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger

Interesting Use Of Second Person Perspective. This book uses second person perspective for most of the narrative, which is interesting enough in its scarcity that the review needs to be based around that simple fact. And I gotta admit, it was the only real issue I had with this book – yet it was fairly significant. To the tune that I could easily see others reducing stars over this issue alone.

Still, as a story, this one was compelling. You had all the right elements for a solid missing person thriller, including a tragic backstory for our primary narrator. You had the major reveals spaced well and a plotline that never felt overly lagging. For fans of this type of story, this one was perfectly within the usual wheelhouse there, and you’re likely going to enjoy this one.

If you can get beyond the second perspective storytelling, which was so jarring that I truly feel the need to bookend the review with noting its presence. Very much recommended.

This review of Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger was originally written on August 29, 2021.