#BookReview: Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth

Excellent Twisty Thriller With Uniquely Broken Characters Will Be Far Too Difficult For Some. Straight up, I loved this one. It was so *oppressively* dark, yet done in such a way that even though there is truly little light to be had and also with no supernatural element to the darkness at all… you still want to see exactly what happened to make this tale this way.

The reason it will be difficult for some, perhaps many, is because of the *rampant* child abuse, including some sexual abuse and even a rape – though while “on screen” it is more “dark room” based. Still described, but not as… vividly… as it could have been. Showing that Hepworth *does* show restraint when going even more explicit doesn’t add anything further to the actual story. There is also a rather horrifying birth scene, though this is far from the “splatterpunk” / “horror” that one reviewer described it as. Though going further would perhaps spoil what happens there *too* much, so I’ll show the same restraint in the review that Hepworth did in the text. If such scenes are difficult for you… this may not be the book for you.

The reason I actually enjoyed the book though was because of how the central characters – three chosen sisters bound not by blood, but by shared trauma and survival- were both broken… and how they used that brokenness as adults, showing that even some of the most difficult times, the darkest times of someone’s life, *can* be overcome to varying degrees. Not that any of our adults are truly “normal” healthy – again showing a great deal of reality here – but that they’re still, to use a term used to describe Autistics that I truly despise but fits here, “functional”. Ish.

Ultimately this is one of those books that will likely prove divisive in at least some groups, but I thought was done well, with the author using so many real world horrors (and yes, in my own work through my church as a teen and just generally being an observant adult, I’ve seen this and so much worse on occassion) to craft the story she is trying to tell… while showing restraint where further graphic details don’t add any more needed information to extract the desired emotions from the reader. Showing that Hepworth truly is a master of her craft, even when she is somewhat intentionally pushing some buttons of some people.

Very much recommended.

This review of Darling Girls by Sally Hepworth was originally written on April 24, 2024.

#BookReview: The Resort by Sara Ochs

Solid Tropical Murder Mystery Will Be Problematic For Some. Straight up, this book features an “on-screen” rape and an “off screen” predatory “relationship” between a teacher and a student. And yes, that last bit is a bit spoilery – but it is also something a lot of readers are going to want to know about before they get to that point in the tale. If either of those issues are absolute no-gos for you, you’re going to want to avoid this book.

But if you’re still here… beyond those two issues, this book was a *great* cat and mouse thriller that has twists almost literally through the last page of the text, and you’re going to need to be clairvoyant to catch the last one in particular because it comes that far out of left field, but in a Now You See Me type manner where well, you were just looking too closely.

It also uses its tropical setting absolutely stunningly, in all its beauty… and perils. This book is going to make you want to go to Thailand and find one of these remote island resorts… but just be careful about it. 😀 And if you read J.M. LeDuc’s Eastern Drift, based in Miami but featuring a trip to Thailand itself, near in time to reading this book – as I did – you’re *really* going to be tempted to look up pricing for flights out to Bangkok. (Looks like around $3K for a late April 2024 round trip flight, staying a week. Just saving you some time on a casual check. :D)

But seriously, the scenery is both beautiful and visceral in this tale – you’re going to feel like you’re there as much as you want to be there. Indeed, the scenery is used so well in the tale that at times it actively overshadows the overall plot… but that is actually a great thing in the early stages of a tale such as this, because I in particular almost *want* that to happen in a book such as this. Ground me in the lush tropical setting. Give me some hints of some trouble, but have it overall be about just how amazing this place is. *Then* hit me with the “well… paradise for some may be hell for others” bit. Which Ochs does spectacularly, then proceeds to ratchet up the tension and ultimately action sublimely.

Again, if you can withstand the onscreen rape and offscreen predatory “relationship”… this truly is an excellent book that I sincerely hope the author can replicate in future works. Very much recommended.

This review of The Resort by Sara Ochs was originally written on February 23, 2024.

#BookReview: Hello Goodbye by Kay Bratt

Shocking Final Chapters Leave Readers Breathless. This book was one of the more interesting in this series both because the crime being investigated here is one of the more brutal Bratt has ever put into her fiction (at least in my now 5+ yrs of reading most of her work) *and* because Bratt’s style doesn’t normally lend itself to “oh my god I can’t stop reading I have to know what happens next NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” level pacing… and yet this one’s last several chapters read exactly that way. Thus, showing a truly deft hand with her storytelling along with strong growth as a storyteller. Indeed, perhaps one minor weakness here is that given the somewhat limited number of characters (wait, what? I know – but bear with me here), it isn’t really *possible* to show just how shocking this particular crime would be throughout an entire region of small Southern towns – though even here, Bratt works well within her style and within the world she has crafted through this series to relay that as best as possible. And yes, as others have noted, given everything that happens here… Book 8 *could* be the series finale… but I too agree I’d like to see it continue well beyond that point. Very much recommended.

This review of Hello Goodbye by Kay Bratt was originally written on November 17, 2023.

#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.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Moment In Time by Suzanne Redfearn

This week we’re looking at a sequel of sorts that takes its original’s much more imminent question of actual physical survival and turns it around to ask questions of survival after less life threatening, but similarly life shattering, trauma. This week we’re looking at Moment In Time by Suzanne Redfearn.

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

Interesting Sequel Of Sorts. This book takes as two of its primary characters some of the characters from her 2020 hit In An Instant – and pretty majorly spoils that book almost from the get-go. For those who don’t mind such spoilers (particularly such major ones), this one *can* be read first. But based on reading other GR reviews where the reader hadn’t read In An Instant first… I’d say go back and read that one first. There are also two other key characters introduced later in the story from Redfearn’s 2021 book Hadley and Grace, though their characters are developed enough here and without any truly overt ties (that I remember, hundreds of books later) to that one that it isn’t *as* essential to read it first to understand them. Overall I do think In An Instant hits harder, but I think this one shows a more “everyday” survival that far more people face than the truly life threatening scenario in In An Instant. Both books do great jobs of showing how even seemingly minor choices can have major impacts on how major events play out, and indeed this one seemed all too realistic. Furthermore, Redfearn does a tremendous job of showing the aftereffects of rape on both the victim and those around her – *without* showing the rape itself on screen (which, let’s face it, is difficult at best to read even for those who *haven’t* been through that trauma). Overall a solid and compelling book, and very much recommended.

#BookReview: Her Renegade Cowboy by Lora Leigh

Strong Romance – With A Couple Of Issues. As a romance book, this one works. It has the all the requisite parts and even a couple of the optional ones – clean/ sweet crowd, you’re not going to like all the XXX sex in this one, and there is more of it here than many romance novels, even those that include such scenes. As a bit of a psychological drama, it still kind of works, with the female lead clearly having issues she needs to work through. As a suspense… well, the only actual action here occurs in the last few chapters, the rest of the suspense here is more of the “looming threat” variety. Which works well enough here, but never really makes the pulse pound.

No, there really are two primary issues, one of which has been mentioned by at least one other reviewer and the other of which no existing review on Goodreads mentions: First, this is a female who it is made quite clear fairly early on (to the reader) has been assaulted. While there is indeed a fair amount of studies and even anecdotes of this turning the woman a bit promiscuous – for a variety of reasons – the more general feel seems to be that women become much more closed off to sex after this, particularly when still struggling with dealing with the events – as our female lead here is. And yet, the sex scenes here start pretty damn rapidly once she and our male lead connect. Again, in-story, it works well enough. This is mostly a “wait a second” level observation after the story, at least for this reader. (For others, it may well be a true game-stopper.)

The other issue, that hasn’t been mentioned in a Goodreads review yet, is the constant mention of a gun’s “clip”. NO! It is a “magazine” or “mag”. It is NOT a “clip”, and a former Army Ranger and current US Marshall would *damn* well know this! Still, even with this rather glaring example of complete unfamiliarity with the subject, it is one that readers similarly unfamiliar with the subject would think works reasonably well within the story.

And then there is the whole thing about this being titled as a cowboy story… and yet there is very little cowboy’ing happening here. Other than a ride inspecting fence posts, the rest of the “ranch” scenes could pretty well have any other location as their base of operations and the book would both read and work the same, almost without any even word changes.

Still, these are mostly more observational level issues that didn’t really detract from the book – other than the “clip” / “magazine thing – and the story itself, even with the magazine issue, is pretty solid with an action packed ending. And despite being marked as “Book 3” here, it actually works quite well as a standalone, which is how I read it.

Very much recommended.

This review of Her Renegade Cowboy by Lora Leigh was originally written on August 23, 2021.

#BookReview: Driving Back The Nazis by Martin King

Engaging Account Of Oft Overlooked Era. The period between D-Day (and the summer of 1944 generally) and the Battle of the Bulge (again, and winter 1944-45 generally) is one of the more overlooked eras of WWII, particularly in the zeitgeist of at minimum Americans. (I cannot speak to what Europeans think/ know, as I’ve never been closer to that continent than off the coast of the State of New Hampshire.) Here, King sets out to tell the tales of this overlooked period via numerous first hand accounts and other sources, showing through the eyes of the people that were there what was happening and through the other sources of history what was going on around those events. This is one of those books that will serve as a wakeup call to those who romanticize this particular war and these particular soldiers, as King makes the point quite well – and repeatedly – that given the pervasive and frequent abuses from *all* sides, there truly were truly few innocents involved in any angle of this, certainly of the adult (and even teenager/ young adult) variety. Even knowing that both of my grandfathers were there among some of these very events (both would survive the Bulge itself), I find King’s prose and commentary compelling here. He does a tremendous job of truly showing just how horrific this period was on *everyone* involved, not just the soldiers and not just the victims of the Holocaust – though he does indeed cover many of the horrors both of those groups saw in this period as well. Truly an outstanding book, and one anyone interested in WWII needs to read. Very much recommended.

This review of Driving Back The Nazis by Martin King was originally written on April 25, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Take It Back by Kia Adbullah

This week we’re looking at a strong British courtroom thriller that seems to set up a new series. This week we’re looking at Take It Back by Kia Abdullah.

Writer’s block still plagues me, but here’s the Goodreads/ BookBub review:

Nuanced Courtroom Thriller. This is an interesting one. One with a main protagonist that… has several rough edges, at least a couple of which come back to bite her. One with a strong commentary about the role of Muslims in British (and by slight extension, Western) society, at many different levels. One with a strong discussion of what it means to be the “other”… in so many different ways. And one with secrets almost literally to the last word. Tremendous book, and very much recommended.

#BookReview: There’s No Such Thing As A Bad Kid by Thaddeus Bullard

Gator great Thaddeus Bullard writes a compelling memoir.

Of his time in WWE, he says little but brings up his two most “defining” moments.

Despite his conception, his tale is of a poor inner city kid becoming comfortable

And giving to as many as possible the leg up that was given to him.

While Thaddeus didn’t have an easy childhood, he shows the power of

Good, caring, hard working men stepping in and showing him a better path.

Since these mentors meant to much to him, he has made it is mission to pay it forward.

And thus ends my creative attempt at a review. Truly an amazing tale of some of the worst hardship possible being overcome with the power of a caring adult mentor. WWE fans looking for a “WWE lockerroom” book won’t find that here. Gator fans looking for a book about his time at Florida will find a bit more of that here, but even then, it isn’t the actual focus of the book. But Bullard’s message is one that needs to get out, and he has done a remarkable job using the fame he has to get it out. Truly a commendable man and a very much recommended book.

This review of There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Kid by Thaddeus Bullard (aka Titus O’Neil) was originally published on July 3, 2019.

Featured New Release Of the Week: Only One Life by Ashley Farley

This week we are looking at a generational tale of love, loss, secrets, and a mother’s enduring love for her children. This week, we are looking at Only One Life by Ashley Farley.

Structurally, this book was intriguing. The “normal” structure for these types of books that delve into stories in both past and present is to alternate chapters or sometimes even scenes within a chapter. This book takes a seemingly novel approach to the novel and instead opens in the present, goes back to the past to tell that entire story up to the present day, and then comes back to the present to finish out the overall story. For the story of this particular tale, this structure worked very well indeed – and even within this structure, managed to save some surprises for late in the book.

The tale itself was heartbreaking and yet also full of hope. The struggles that the primary mother and daughter go through are immense, but the ending gets to a happily ever after that manages to leave at least one key plot point resolved yet ready for a sequel, should Ms. Farley choose to pursue it. Overall an excellent tale, my first from this Lake Union author, and yet again not my last. Very much recommended.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon:
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