#BookReview: Willie, Waylon, And The Boys by Brian Fairbanks

Well Researched Book Does Exactly What The Description Says It Does. You know how at times you read a book’s description and then you read the book and you want to know what the writer of the description was smoking when they wrote it and if you can have some of it, because the two were *nothing* alike? Yeah… this isn’t that book.

Here, you get *exactly* what the description (at least as of the writing of this review in the pre-dawn hours of May 12, 2024 along Florida’s Atlantic Coast) tells you you’re going to get: A well documented historical look at the lives of the Highwaymen – Waylon Jennings – where the narrative starts on the fateful night that he missed the plane on “The Day The Music Died” -, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson. We see each of their origins, we see how their careers progressed individually, and we see the fateful moment they all came together for a few legendary years. And in the end, we see how their lives and their music have impacted Country Music through the years, with a particular focus on 2010-current alt-country / Americana acts like Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Shooter Jennings, Brandie Carlisle, and others. Again, exactly what the description says we’re going to get.

Overall the writing is well done – there’s a lot of facts and a lot of quotes, but it never really feels like dense academic oriented text or a philosophical treatise, while still not being quite “conversational”. Yes, the focus on certain acts and the clear derision of others in the end is perhaps quite divisive – even much of the “Bro Country” the author clearly despises cite many of the Highwaymen as direct influences, and yes, it can be heard in their sounds as well – but again, we knew from the description which modern acts this text was going to highlight. So take that as you will and make your choice to read or avoid this text knowing exactly that – you know up front exactly where this is going.

Very much recommended.

This review of Willie, Waylon, And The Boys by Brian Fairbanks was originally written on May 12, 2024.

#BookReview: God Gave Rock And Roll To You by Leah Payne

(Mostly) Well Documented History Of the Entire History of ‘Contemporary Christian Music’ As The Term Was Known Through The Late 20th And Early 21st Centuries.

For those of us who grew up with ‘CCM’, this is actually a refreshing history that traces the roots of the music from its earliest days in 19th century songbooks through the early days of rock and roll through the heights of the late 80s- early 2000s boom and all the way to the seeming life support bed the genre currently finds itself on. Along the way, you’re going to hear tales of names both familiar and not and how they shaped or played a role in the genre and how it has been presented.

One thing to note is that the author *does* have a particular “it was always racist” bent to much of her commentary, so your mileage may vary there. But at 18% documentation, it is close enough to expected to classify as (mostly) well documented. (20-30%+ has been more of the actual norm in my experience, but I’ve noted in other reviews over the last several months that perhaps I should be revising that down to perhaps around 15% or so given more recent experience.)

This noted, I’ve never encountered a book quite so comprehensive in all my years both within the CCM community and as a book blogger, including having even worked books from Jaci Velasquez and Mark Stuart (lead singer of Audio Adrenaline) as advanced reader copies over the course of the last few years + read Jennifer Knapp’s memoir. Thus, having never come across any book quite like this one, given my own experiences, means it truly is quite likely quite rare indeed. That it is (mostly, again, see the YMMV comment above) so well written is almost a bonus given its comprehensive analysis of the history involved.

Ultimately this is one that some may want to defenestrate at times, but still absolutely a worthy read for anyone remotely interested in the subject. Very much recommended.

This review of God Gave Rock And Roll To You by Leah Payne was originally written on January 26, 2024.

#BookReview: Friends Don’t Fall In Love by Erin Hahn

Country Music Romance For The Anti-Second Amendment Crowd. So let’s get it out of the way as quickly as Hahn does in the book: Seemingly literally on page 1 of this tale, Hahn brings in an anti-Second Amendment screed. Which could have been excused… except that then became a recurring and even somewhat central theme of the overall book. And not even in a way that felt particularly organic, if anything it actually felt quite derivative of the real-life Dixie Chicks anti-Iraq War controversy of a generation ago. So there’s the star deduction, right there. And from a tactical side of “As an author, I want to sell as many books as possible”… tacking into the *anti* Second Amendment side of *Country Music*? As a lifelong fan of Country in all its forms… eh, there may in fact be a sizeable enough niche there to sell a few books. I wouldn’t recommend trying to build a career as a romance author specifically within that niche. (Though it is certainly wider within the overall romance novel reader set, and perhaps *there*, it could in fact be more sustainable in today’s hyper-divisive world.)

As to the actual friends-to-lovers romance here… it works, and it certainly has enough spice and XXX elements that the clean/ sweet crowd probably won’t like this one as much. And enough F-bombs that those who abhor those won’t like it either. But overall, for the characters as portrayed and the situations they are placed into, it actually works rather well. Maybe not as good as the first book in this series – but that could be the lingering aftertaste of the hyper politicization and preachy politics still tinging my thinking of this book.

Ultimately, if you like spice and you like being in the room for sex scenes in your romance novels, you’re going to like this book – likely even if you don’t actually care much for Country Music itself and particularly if you find yourself to be more of a Dixie Chicks / Taylor Swift fan. If you happen to actually agree with its preachy politics, you’ll probably like it even more. For more Country Music traditionalists… eh, maybe less, maybe you want to build your trust in Hahn a bit by reading the first book in this series first before you come into this one.

And as more of a note to Hahn, herself a teacher who openly notes that she wrote the politics of this book this way due to her beliefs about the classroom… I myself am *also* a former teacher. One who actually had a high school senior lean across my desk and directly say “If you do [the thing I had just told him I was about to do, which was to write him up for blatantly sexually harassing a Junior in my classroom not 10 feet from where we were then standing], I *will* kill you.” Yes, I then wrote him up for the threat, and yes, he then spent a few days out of school. So yes, I’ve seen at least some of the same things you have. And I still disagree.

Recommended.

This review of Friends Don’t Fall In Love by Erin Hahn was originally written on October 19, 2023.

#BookReview: What You Do To Me by Rochelle B. Weinstein

Better Than Malibu Rising. I read and reviewed Mailbu Rising as an ARC, back before it came out. In that review, I noted that while it was a good story overall, I knew of many others that were at least as good – and would likely never get anywhere *near* the hype.

Here, despite being published by an Amazon imprint and thus having a pretty solid team behind even it… we have just such a book that is *better* than Malibu Rising… and yet isn’t getting anywhere near the hype, even though it absolutely should.

Even from the opening of the tale, before you even get to a word of Weinstein’s own alternate history of Hey There Delilah, the fact that she/ someone on her team was able to get Tom Higgenson from the Plain White T’s to write a foreword for this tale is freaking awesome.

Then, we get into the tale. And what a tale it is. I’ve read several of its type over the years, of coming of age, of finding yourself, of mysterious zeitgeist happenings, of journalists looking for their big break and landing on a secret they decide to try to find the truth of, of star crossed lovers and what comes of them, of famous rockers that famously either disappear or crash and burn or crash and burn and then disappear.

And yet… Weinstein manages to make this tale her own unique blend of all of the above, and a love song to the entire music industry and the songs that we all believe were written about specific people to boot. Choosing to lead into every chapter with a song referencing someone specific, then discussing so very many different artists and songs through the narrative – and even having cameos by various artists – was a great touch.

Including a condo in Miami was an interesting touch, and perhaps a nod to her own real-life tragedy as her family knew some of the victims of the 2021 Surfside Condos collapse – though this is pure speculation (about the nod) on my part. (Those who follow her on social media know she did in fact know some of those victims.)

Weinstein almost always brings her own Jewish faith into her tales as well, and this is no different – and yet, like the best Christian writers I’ve encountered over the years, she always does it seamlessly and without preaching, just bakes it right into the overall tale she is telling and uses it to even *enhance* the story she is telling.

The addition of a young character who barely speaks English when we first meet him is also quite relevant to where we originally encounter him – Miami, where thanks to the large Hispanic population, this is a particular character type that much more commonly gets overlooked – particularly in these types of tales.

And then there are the actual relationships here, and where the true magic and heartbreak of this story lies. The daughter who may not know as much about her parents or why they split as she thinks she does. The lover who pushes people away because she thinks she is unworthy of love. The soulmates forced into separation. The loving parent who never stopped wanting the best for their kid – even when the kid actively rejected them. So many others, and it all comes crashing together in this maniacal way that in less deft hands and with a less skilled storyteller could have been an absolute mess, but instead Weinstein pulls off masterfully in ways that will have you both breathless and bawling.

Truly an excellent work, and very much recommended.

This review of What You Do To Me by Rochelle B. Weinstein was originally written on October 17, 2023.

#BookReview: Fake Dating My Rockstar Roommate by Maggie Dallen

When You’re Dating A Celebrity – And Don’t Know You Are. This was one of the more entertaining “fake dating” type romances that spun the general idea on its head and runs with the idea of “what if a PR team claimed their client was dating someone – who had no idea the photo they are spinning had even been taken?”. From there, we get a realistic-ish look into the world of celebrity in the modern era, where *everyone* has a phone and even minor things most people wouldn’t even think twice about can go viral just because someone “famous” is doing it. Another fun entry into this series that works as a standalone, but one where the characters from previous books do show up. Very much recommended.

This review of Fake Dating My Rockstar Roommate by Maggie Dallen was originally written on November 17, 2021.

#BlogTour: Fan Club by Erin Mayer

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a book that starts a bit generically before diving into a surreal fever dream with the kind of abrupt ending that works here but that some have problems with. For this blog tour we’re looking at Fan Club by Erin Mayer.

Twenty Something Angst Turned Fever Dream. This is a book that you can largely pluck the *exact* details out and have a version of pretty well every single angsty twentysomething “My life sucks and this pointless job is draining my very soul” tale out there. At least through the first third ish. Then our lead character allows herself to be drawn into an obsessive and honestly creepy “fan club” of a singer (consisting of exactly four other members). Around the 50% mark, some feature of the narration or possibly just a lack of editing turns the tale into more of a fever dream, where all of a sudden we’re sporadically getting the perspective of the very singer the narrator is now obsessed with. At this stage, the book becomes much harder to follow in any logical form, and the reader just has to adapt to diving into the crazy and holding on to whatever shred of sanity ties you into the “real” (ie, the reader’s own) world, because with the combination of knocks to her head, illicit drugs, and other factors… it becomes truly less clear for a bit what is real and what isn’t, in-story. But then we come out of that for the ending, which is one of those abrupt ambiguous types that many other readers have problems with and I personally rarely do. (Nor do I here.) Ultimately I’m chalking up the weirdness of the back half to a lack of editing rather than a functional error in storytelling, which preserves the five stars for the overall book. Recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book, followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, social/ web links, and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Fan Club by Erin Mayer”

#BlogTour: Second Chance Love Song by Jessica Lemmon

For this penultimate stop on our Slide Into Summer Romance Blog Tour Series, we’re looking at a solid second chance Harlequin romance. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Second Chance Love Song by Jessica Lemmon.

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

Solid Harlequin Romance. This is a Harlequin romance of the classic type, though they’re trying to get away from the somewhat infamous cover set apparently. ๐Ÿ˜€

For those that love that style – and there is a very clear business reason why the publisher puts out so many books of exactly the same style – know that you’re getting exactly what you’re after here. Solid romance, a couple of sex scenes, a Hallmarkie type plot and conflict resolution (with a fair amount of angst to boot), etc. This book is perfectly within your comfort zone, and it is a solid, fun, and short-ish book to boot. So go ahead and hand over the money you know you’re going to anyway, and have fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

For those that are more hesitant, perhaps *because* of the infamy, know that if you’re open to the romance genre at all, this one is going to be pretty well exactly what you expect (see above). It is truly enjoyable, but also very much within the conventional bounds of the genre. Some heartstrings pulled, and a fun (if foreseeable due to genre rules, but still interesting in exact manner) resolution that plays on a bit of a darker moment from earlier in the book.

There really isn’t much more to say here. Again, if you’re open to the genre at all, you’re going to have fun with this book. If you’re not, you probably aren’t even reading this review. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt and the publisher details. ๐Ÿ™‚
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Second Chance Love Song by Jessica Lemmon”

#BookReview: Darling At The Campsite by Andy Abramowitz

Quirky With Heart. This is one of those books where it doesn’t seem like much is happening other than a loveable loser continually losing… except then you find its real heart, even amidst the continual “what the fuck” situations. If you’re a fan of slower paced, zany, small town explorations… you’re going to love this one. If that isn’t normally your thing, you should still try it out, because this is a good example of that kind of story. Because sometimes people *do* wait until they’re in their 30s to find out what they really want out of life. Even if it is both the same as and yet completely different from everything they ever imagined. Very much recommended.

This review of Darling At The Campsite by Andy Abramowitz was originally written on March 23, 2021.

#BookReview: Spirit of The Violinists by Maddie Evans

Solid Romance That Does What It Must. With this particular book seemingly bringing the story of the Castleton String Quartet to a close, there were certain events that those following this series knew had to come to pass – and when they did, it was utterly heartbreaking. And yet Evans manages to wrap a solid romance around this and even give a Mr. Holland’s Opus finale level sendoff to the series to boot. And since that is one of my favorite musical moments in film *ever*… that is high praise and is a style that is always appreciated by this reader. ๐Ÿ™‚ Very much recommended.

This Review of Spirit Of The Violinists by Maddie Evans was originally written on February 1, 2021.

#BookReview: Faking The Harmony by Maddie Evans

Fun, Fast Read With Lots of Heart. This is a shorter novel at around 150 or so pages, and that actually makes it near perfect for a quick escape from family during the holiday season. You know, for those who may desire such an escape for some reason or another. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Small town second chance romance that deals with some pretty weighty issues including bullying and attempted suicide, but in the typical Evans fashion of tackling them head on yet still sensitively. Excellent foundation for the series, with several secondary characters introduced – enough such that one gets the sense this series could go for a while, but none standing out quite so blatant as to be the obvious main character in the next book. Very much recommended.

This review of Faking the Harmony by Maddie Evans was originally written on October 28, 2020.