#BookReview: Cities In The Sky by Jason M. Barr

Solid And Seemingly Comprehensive Examination Of The Topic. This is a book that takes a look at the ever-evolving quest to build the world’s tallest skyscrapers, from its origins in the 19th century (and the debate over who first created what) all the way through Summer 2023, when the book was being written. Along the way we learn of various periods of American skyscraper construction – yes, including Sears Tower, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center towers, and others. But we *also* get just as detailed a view of skyscraper construction in other areas of the world and how each builds on advances in the other locations as time progresses. We visit the Middle East and learn of its mega projects. We visit Hong Kong in both the Colonial and Chinese eras. We visit Taiwan and China and see how their standoff plays out in their construction efforts. Along the way, we get the histories and economics of how and why such structures are wanted and what makes them profitable – hint, it isn’t always the rents they generate from tenants. We even get a solid examination of the arguments for and against such structures, along with the (seemingly requisite in this type of book) predictions for the future and a few suggestions for how to make those predictions become reality.

Overall truly an interesting book, well written for the average reader – yes, there is some jargon, but Barr does a solid job of using it sparingly and explaining it reasonably well when he does. Also reasonably well documented, clocking in at 20% of the text of the Advance Review Copy edition I read.

Very much recommended.

This review of Cities In The Sky by Jason M. Barr was originally written on April 27, 2024.

#BookReview: The Second Chance Year by Melissa Wiesner

Scattered Tale Tries To Be Both RomCom And Women’s Fiction. Straight up, I’m fully aware that this is one of those reviews where many will rate this book at 5* for the exact reason I’m deducting a star here (though as you’ll see if you too peruse the reviews, at least some of my commentary will also mirror many of the existing 2* reviews as I write this review early in the morning on the US East Coast on release day for this book). Namely, the preachy hyper-focus on workplace discrimination and outright sexual harassment and even sexual assault… in what is ostensibly trying to be a romcom. If you approach this as a romcom – and perhaps that was my failing here, approaching it in such a way… these issues are far too heavy and completely drag the story down.

However, for those that approach this tale perhaps *wanting* the more Women’s Fiction side of it, where such heavy issues may be more expected, there you’ll get the heaviness the same, but also with the levity that the attempt at also being a romcom brings to the table. So the tale is still scattered, but when approached in such a manner, it likely won’t feel as off-putting. Hell, it may even feel quite a bit refreshing.

And of course my other failing here that must be mentioned is my love of The Family Man, the late 90s/ early 2000s movie with Nic Cage and Tea Leoni. It is my go-to reference for “glimpse” type tales such as this, where the main character is allowed to relive some portion of their life over. And while also a somewhat serious drama itself (with quite a bit of comedy), it was nowhere near as heavy as this book was fairly often. Also having this tale set in the end of year season – as that movie was – didn’t help me completely separate the two, but again, this is likely a failing of mine that perhaps some other readers may share.

Overall, the book actually does both of its scattered foci quite well… it simply fails in the combination, at least when one is expecting more of a “glimpse” based romcom. As mentioned previously, if approached from more of a Women’s Fiction tale, it works rather well.

For those potentially concerned that it doesn’t meet the full requirements of a “romance”… it does, actually – at least every rule I’m personally aware of. And for those concerned about spice level… this one will satisfy the “clean” crowd (while perhaps being too heavy for the “sweet” crowd, though perhaps not) in that the closest anything gets to any “action” – other than the sexual assault(s) – is heavy kissing and waking up in the same bed.

Ultimately one of those tales that will likely be at least somewhat divisive due to the dichotomies I’ve discussed here, it could also do quite well in certain circles and when approached from a certain direction. Recommended.

This review of The Second Chance Year by Melissa Wiesner was originally written on December 5, 2023.

#BlogTour: Kissing Kosher by Jean Meltzer

For this blog tour, we’re looking at . For this blog tour, we’re looking at Kissing Kosher by Jean Meltzer.

Here’s what I had to say on the review sites (Goodreads, Hardcover.app, TheStoryGraph, BookHype):

Fun, Informative Without Being Preachy – But *IS* Focused On Advocacy As Much As Romance. This is one of those books that works its advocacy into its story in a compelling way that doesn’t come across as preachy at all – but *can* feel like a bit of a “Sponsored By” kind of a tale. The issues it discusses, including both chronic pain and medical (and even recreational) marijuana use are very real, and in these areas the book is quite informative indeed – hell, I openly admit I learned quite a bit more about marijuana from reading this book than I ever had in 40+ yrs prior.

But that gets to a bit of a heart of the dilemma – I can now tell you as much about the intricacies of how marijuana actually works as I can about the specifics of this ostensibly enemies to lovers romance tale. I can tell you as much about how chronic pain can completely take over a person’s life as I can about the actual character who has it and her budding relationship throughout this tale. Indeed, the actual “conflict” here is largely over just about 50% into the tale, with another blowup a bit later. But it is this section in between in particular where the book is at the height of its paid promotional ad feeling, without ever naming specific real world organizations. (This feeling isn’t helped by the fact that several of these elements come back to bear in the wildly extended epilogue – a short (ish) stinger on the end of the story, this epilogue is not. Indeed, it reads and feels more like just another final chapter rather than a true epilogue.)

Overall, there is nothing technically wrong here, so no star deduction. And the tale itself, outside of the advocacy, really is sweet and charming and most everything anyone really wants in a romance with a few comedic moments. But the advocacy, while never actually preachy, is still such a prevalent force here that it does in fact take away from the ultimate feel of the romance. Still, quite entertaining and truly informative. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Kissing Kosher by Jean Meltzer”

#BookReview: Someone Just Like You by Meredith Schorr

Hilarious NYC-Based Rom-Com. This book has several different things going on at once, which can seem a bit chaotic – and seems to be meant to. The base setup, of two sets of siblings planning a joint anniversary party for both sets of parents, is chaotic enough. Then you throw in the actual romance here, of a boy and girl who almost literally grew up together and have a lifetime of bickering with each other and pranking each other behind them (which we get to see a lot of), and it becomes a recipe for… well, everything. The love is deep and heartfelt – even as neither of them realizes it. The comedy, both in the past and present, is pure gold. The drama… is both real (parents) and Hallmarkie (romance) and yet also comedic (a famous movie that has been remade at least twice, but revealing which one reveals things about the book). Overall, it hits all the genre “rules” and while it isn’t for the “sweet”/ “clean” crowd, also isn’t anywhere near erotica level either. In fact, as others have mentioned (both positively and negatively), the first “encounter” is rather comedic (and, I would argue, *real*).

At the end of the day, this is one of those kinds of books where your mileage really will vary. If you love zany “what the fuck” stories with a LOT of side characters and all kinds of stuff happening all around the main storyline, you’re going to love this book. The more you have a problem with that kind of setup, the less you’re going to enjoy this one.

Overall, I thought this was freaking hilarious and truly well done. Very much recommended.

This review of Someone Just Like You by Meredith Schorr was originally written on July 25, 2023.

#BlogTour: Women Of The Post by Joshunda Sanders

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a great work that shows the complex yet all too real lives of some WWII veterans you’ve likely never heard of. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Women Of The Post by Joshunda Sanders.

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

Well Told Story Based On Real Unit/ People. This is a story probably unlike most any other you’ve encountered in historical fiction of WWII. Even if you’ve read about mail carrriers (there are a few such books out that I’m aware of, and likely more that I’m not), you likely haven’t read about *these* mail clerks. Even if you’ve read about African American servicemembers during the war, you likely haven’t read about *these* African American servicemembers during the war. Even if you’ve read about LGBT people during the war… you get the idea.

One thing that became interesting to me as I read this was thinking of the grandmother I don’t often think of much, my mom’s mom. But this was the grandmother that was married during WWII, and who bore her first child – my oldest uncle – just months before D-Day. Her husband at the time, my grandfather, I’ve spoken of a fair amount in reviews of WWII books, including his Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge. But here, the connection is with his wife, back home in Georgia alone (presumably with family around) with their infant son. You see, even when I knew her almost 40 years later, during the dawn of the Personal Computer era and as the Net was coming online (she would die a few years after the Dot Com Bust of the mid 2000s, having outlived both of her husbands and sharing this earth for over 23 years with me)… that woman always *loved* writing and receiving letters. Actual, handwritten, long form, letters. As with my grandfathers and their experiences in WWII, I can’t *know* what she went through living through that era – I never once asked her about it. But seeing how letters and morale were stressed so dearly in this tale here, and knowing her own situation at the time, I can maybe make some assumptions about how *I* would feel in similar situations, and it brings another level of depth to both this tale and my memories of her life.

Even if you don’t have a personal connection, however tenuous, to the subject here though, this really is an interesting and clearly at least somewhat well researched tale showing a “based on” level tale of real people who really lived and did and likely experienced these very things during that period, up to and including the Klan burning crosses in their front yards and the active discrimination that was so rampant even after the war, even well after supposed “integration”.

About the only suspect detail here is the idea that lesbians could live more comfortably in post-war Ohio than in South Carolina, but that is perhaps explained away as being able to get to an area where neither person is known by anyone, and thus be able to craft your own identity and reputation away from those who have ever known anything but what you tell and present to them. Which, one could argue (and build a genuinely solid case for) is simply no longer possible in today’s hyper-connected world.

Overall truly a great work that shows the complex yet all too real lives of some WWII veterans you’ve likely never heard of. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Women Of The Post by Joshunda Sanders”

#BlogTour: Two Little Souls by B.R. Spangler

For this blog tour, we’re looking at an explosive tale that is an immediate sequel to the events of the book before it. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Two Little Souls by B.R. Spangler.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

Explosive Tale But Make Sure You Read Book 8, Their Resting Place, First. Without revealing any actual details, all I’m going to say here is that this book picks up immediately after the prior book in this series – and because of that, you really need to make it a point to read that book first.

Here, our team has several problems to work through – both professionally and personally. The case they find themselves involved in is even more time sensitive than most of their prior cases, and yet the team’s personal priorities are also in a state of flux. Spangler manages both sides of the police procedural format masterfully here, combining both to excellent effect to create quite possibly one of the best complete books of this series to date.

Overall truly a compelling tale that won’t quite leave you with that “I NEED THE NEXT BOOK RIGHT THIS SECOND” feeling from the prior book, but will still leave you satisfied and waiting anxiously for the next book to come out anyway, as you want to learn what happens next in the lives of our investigators. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the “publisher details”, including book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Two Little Souls by B.R. Spangler”

#BookReview: The Girl In Lifeboat Six by Eliza Graham

Complicated Story. This tale is one of those stories where the front half and back half are wildly divergent, and thus one’s feelings of the overall tale may become more complex and nuanced – even as this book gets ever more preachy towards the end, even though it too started out more nuanced.

The front half of the book, spending roughly 30% of the front of the book establishing the various characters and their relationships, as well as the esteemed luxury liner they all find themselves on in the early periods of WWII – before December 1941. The next 20% or so is then spent in disaster/ survival mode, showing what happens with these characters as the worst happens and they are now in a desperate fight for survival. Indeed, this section even feels very reminiscent of the tales of the Titanic survivors, though I suppose those are only the most famous of the unknowable number of people over the course of human history to survive a ship sinking in the northern Atlantic ocean. Through these two sections in particular, we get a very good degree of nuance and showing, as The Imitation Game said it best “sometimes it is those no one imagines anything of that do the things that no one can imagine”.

The back half of the tale begins to focus more and more on the aftermath of the sinking – and of British efforts to get America involved. This is where, as an American who has studied the relevant histories in some depth and who had direct family involvement in the era… the tale gets a LOT more complicated, personally. The writing is still great, and the tale itself flows very well. But my own thoughts and reactions to the tale became much more complicated.

At the time of the setting of this tale, one of my grandfathers had already enlisted in the US Army, knowing a war was on the horizon. It would be two more years, as the US military built up to the event now known as D-Day, before my other grandfather would come into the Army. While I never knew this second grandfather – he died weeks after my birth – I learned quite well his legacy in my own life, from the stories of my grandmother (his ex-wife) and my dad (who has made his point in life to largely do the opposite of what his own father did). The first grandfather, I shared the last 20 years of his life with the first 20 years of mine, and knew him as little more than a somewhat stereotypical southern US farmer grandfather. By the time I came around – and apparently even when my mom was growing up – he *NEVER* spoke of his time in WWII. I learned much when I got both of their service records about a decade ago now, and this is where my more complicated feelings about this book come to bear.

The first grandfather clearly believed similarly to our characters here in the back half of the tale, that Hitler *must* be stopped and America *must* join the fight. no matter the reason or cost. (Thinking of this now, it sounds eerily similar to statements some make about another ongoing European war in 2023…) Both of my grandfathers were at the Battle of the Bulge, and this first grandfather got a Silver Star and a Purple Heart because when he was ordered to clear a building on a particular corner in a tiny hamlet of a town, the Germans in that building came out in body bags, and he came out with an injury severe enough to send him to the field hospital. That was 38 years to the day before my birth, when his oldest son was something like 18 months old and my mother – his next to youngest child – was far off. He would die 58 years and a few weeks after that day, apparently the most decorated WWII veteran in his home County at the time of his death.

But that other grandfather. He was at the Bulge, but he was AAA infantry – and at that point, AAA infantry was being used for little more than cannon fodder for German tanks, sometimes literally being told to make do with broomsticks painted black to look like rifles. He was in the Division that liberated the first concentration camps on the American side of the war, though I have no record of where he individually was at that time. From hearing the second and third hand stories over the years, these experiences changed him – and little for the better. Nothing excuses what he became… but it was these very experiences, this very change that he had resisted for so long… what would have changed in *my own life* had that grandfather never been there, had the US never been in the war at all?

So getting back to the book, when the back half here is spent trying to manipulate the press into manipulating America into a war, when it is a tale of working to manipulate the press to make certain domestically popular positions as unpopular as they are in other nations – particularly nations America spent literally two *other* wars breaking away from… it becomes a much more complicated tale, both in the setting at the time and in the current environment where press manipulation is all too rampant – and equally, inaccurate cries of press manipulation (itself a press manipulation) are also all too rampant. Reading it with my own history of the war then and my own thoughts on the war now, the tale becomes much more complicated in this back half.

And yet, in the end, it really is a great tale, solidly told, and sometimes… sometimes we need those complicated stories that roil our hearts, without destroying them. Sometimes we need those complicated stories that make us think, both of our histories and of our current realities. Sometimes we need a tale that while escapism on its face, isn’t quite the escapism we were expecting and instead confronts us with these Big Complicated Ideas.

If you’re looking for a more “pure escapism” “Summer Read”… maybe this isn’t that. And maybe you should read it anyway.

Very much recommended.

This review of The Girl In Lifeboat Six by Eliza Graham was originally written on July 5, 2023.

#BookReview: The Peer Effect by Syed Ali and Margaret M. Chin

Overt Racism And Extensive Elitism Mar Otherwise Intriguing Premise. In “shit sandwich” form, let’s start out with something good, shall we? The premise here, that peer groups affect behavior more than most other factors, is one that few sociologists – at least those I’ve seen in my 20+ years on the outskirts of that field – have openly espoused. Thus, this book was immediately intriguing and in fact had at least some promise here.

But then we get to the overt racism against anything white male and the extensive elitism in promoting New York City and in particular one particularly exclusive high school as the epitome of virtually everything, openly declaring multiple times that NYC is the cultural heart of the US, among several other elitist (and typical New Yorker) claims. The longer the text goes, the more and more overt the authors get in showing their anti-white male racist misandry, until finally at one point, after clearly establishing “cultures that are longstanding” and similar phrases to mean “white male”, the authors openly state “Cultures that are longstanding have a built-in legitimacy to them; to change them means that people inside and outside of that culture *have to see aspects of their identity, their culture, as illegitimate, as immoral, as wrong.*” (emphasis mine). Imagine the outcry if a white author had made the same statement in reference to virtually any other demographic – and *that* is my standard for detecting bigotry: invert the demographics involved. If there would be outcry, it is likely bigoted. Thus, one star is deducted for the overt racism in particular, and the other star is deducted for the pervasive elitism.

Finally, I can say that the bibliography being roughly 20% of the text was perhaps a touch low, but at least on the low end of *normal* in my extensive experience with Advance Reviewer Copies. And yes, as I am writing this review almost fully six months prior to publication, this means that I am in fact reading and reviewing an ARC here.

Overall, there is enough positive and worthy of consideration here to keep this fairly safely above my dreaded “gold mine” label, but there is still enough detritus here that one should approach the text a bit warily. Still, it does in fact bring some worthy wrinkles to the public discourse, and for that reason it *should* be widely read. Recommended.

This review of The Peer Effect by Syed Ali and Margaret M. Chin was originally written on May 24, 2023.

#BlogTour: The Irish House by Ann O’Loughlin

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a solid tale of family taking care of each other. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Irish House by Ann O’Loughlin.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

A Grandmother’s Love. This is, ultimately, a tale of a grandmother’s loves – for her daughters, her granddaughters, and her home. O’Loughlin does an excellent job of making the grandmother feel like an active character, even though she is already dead in the very first scene, and indeed the grandmother winds up driving the narrative as much as anything else. Outside of the grandmother, this is a tale of one woman’s decisions as her life is thrown into chaos in more ways than one, and now she is tasked with repairing a house and her cousins… while also repairing what she can of her own life. It is a tale of learning and loving and the mistakes we make big and small and the love and understanding that gets us through them all. Written very conservatively without being preachy, this is one that the “sweet”/ “clean” crowd will like, and those that expect more cursing and/ or bedroom action in their women’s fiction/ romance blends may find a bit lacking. Overall a solid tale for what it was, this is absolutely one worthy of a few hours of your time. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Irish House by Ann O’Loughlin”

#BookReview: Moonlight On The Lido Deck by Violet Howe

Solid Blend Of Several Elements. This book, despite its 230 ish page length, has quite a bit going on. You’ve got a women’s fiction type tale of a woman losing everything and having to discover anew just who she is and what she wants out of life. You’ve got the good looking adventurous dude with a shady history. You’ve got a fake relationship between the two… set up by the sister of the woman/ gay best friend of the guy. And you’ve got all of this set in bustling NYC, sandy Cocoa Beach, FL, and the wonders of the Caribbean on a beautiful cruise ship. And yes, the titular moonlight on Lido deck… can truly be life-changing (noted from near-personal experience – it is almost always magical, at minimum). Overall truly a solid tale that combines all of these elements and makes them enhance each other into a fun, and short-ish, story. Very much recommended.

This review of Moonlight On The Lido Deck by Violet Howe was originally written on March 12, 2023.