#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: Only Girl Alive by Holly S. Roberts

Creepy Series Starter. This one has a more rare premise than any detective story I’ve ever encountered: Set in Utah, the lead detective here was raised in the polygamous – and heretical, according to current LDS doctrine as I understand it – branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons. Her squad is sent in to deal with particularly sensitive investigations primarily involving this group, and in this particular case actively involving her former family. Which is interesting enough, but then you get into the truly creepier/ seedier side of humanity generally and this particular sect specifically, and it gets truly… icky, let’s go with. There is a LOT of crazy to unpack here, and a lot of childhood trauma for our lead detective to try to handle in the process. Overall the mystery itself is solid, but this is clearly yet another in the police procedural genre where you’re coming into this for the team/ personal dynamics as much as for any given mystery, and Roberts does a great job of setting that up and setting it in motion. The *one* criticism is that our lead Detective is constantly referred to as “Detective Sergeant”, which is a British position and not an American one, at least per my own knowledge of American policing. (Which in some areas is quite extensive, but admittedly exact ranks within departments and peculiarities among States in those ranks is not one of them. It is *possible* that this rank exists in Utah and I am simply unaware of it, and it is a minor detail anyway, though one that can throw the reader out of the book when encountered.) Overall an interesting tale well told, and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in this series. Very much recommended.

This review of Only Girl Alive by Holly S. Roberts was originally written on November 24, 2022.

#BookReview: The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth

Interesting Tale Told In Unconventional Manner. I mean, come on, how often do you get a dual timeline tale with two women – both alive in the past, but one now dead and yet still telling her tale – where both women feature in both timelines? I’ve read a LOT of books over the past few years alone, and I can probably count on one hand – *maybe* both of them – the number of times I’ve come across a remotely similar dynamic. So read the book for that alone, as Hepworth makes it work quite well.

The rest of the tale, about both of these women’s love for their husbands and the lengths they will go through to save and protect both their husbands and their marriages, is interesting enough to be readable, but for some reason it just didn’t hit me as hard as Hepworth’s prior works. There was never a real sense of “I *must* know what happens next!”, though the ending was quite beautiful in and of itself, and yes, even if you’re struggling with the book, you need to read it to get the full beauty of what happens there. Overall, as noted, an interesting tale unconventionally told. Recommended.

This review of The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth was originally written on November 2, 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: Charlie by James Beltz

Interesting Twist On The Series. With the first two books in this series – which is held together primarily by being the adventures of a buddy cop pair – the mysteries were of a more paranormal nature. With this one, Beltz creates an interesting challenge as a storyteller while taking the series in a more science fiction direction. This ultimately still has the same general tone and structure from the first two tales in this series, and thus series fans will most likely still enjoy it. And hey, for those that like tales with interesting characters, this is absolutely one of those as well. Keeping this review completely spoiler-free is challenging even on this end… *because* of the challenge Beltz gave himself as an author. So it will be interesting to read future reviews of this tale as they come out to see how they handle that. 🙂 Overall this was a solid yet also very different book in its series, and the series feels like Beltz could take it almost as long as he wants to – even though he is very open about having written these first three books back to back to back all at once before releasing them a month apart several weeks later. Very much recommended.

This review of Charlie by James Beltz was originally written on October 1, 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: Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz

Haunting Yet Preachy. This is a book in the vein of if i stay, though here we know up front that our narrator is dead – and she knows it. Still, when searching through my memories trying to find a comparison point, that is what comes up and I think the comparison works. This tale has a similar haunting effect, not from the haunting itself (though the narrator is, if anything, a benevolent ghost just trying to be helpful), but more from the style of the story being told. There is a lot of trauma here in terms of child molestation/ exploitation (though within the last few months pre-18th birthday, at least on screen). adultery, abuse, and safety generally. It is on this last point – safety generally – that this book veers too far into the “preachy” side, hammering the reader over the head several times with its own metaphorical version of the murder weapon used here, and this is the reason for the star deduction. Still, overall the tale is solid if a touch slow, but interesting enough to want to find out what is going on and to keep reading through the end. Very much recommended.

This review of Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz was originally written on October 24, 2022.

#BookReview: My Husband’s Lover by Jess Ryder

Solid Mystery/ Suspense. This is an interesting tale told mostly from the perspective of a wife whose husband had informed her (before the events of this book) that he had had an affair – and now she’s trying to pick up the pieces of her life. The other perspective we (sporadically) get is mysterious… until it outs itself in a rather shocking twist. Ryder here manages to convey the isolation of her environment well – isolation that this American didn’t realize was possible at all on that particular island across the pond. And she uses this isolation well to both increase the sense of danger and to convey the emotions swirling around her central characters. Truly a solid read within its genre, and very much recommended.

This review of My Husband’s Lover by Jess Ryder was originally written on October 13, 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”