#BookReview: Summers At The Saint by Mary Kay Andrews

Not A Casual “Beach Read”. With the cover and even a common understanding of the description, one might think going into this tale that it is a breezy easy beach read. Well, I’m of the belief that any book you read at a beach is a beach read, but this book takes some effort. If you’re looking for a simple tale… this aint that.

What this *is* though is a solid tale of survival on so many different levels. Yes, you have the tale of the struggle to save the resort that the description points out. But there is also *so much more* here, and the problems at the resort go *so much deeper* than is initially believed.

At first, this seems to be a tale of the resort manager building her team, Nick Fury building the Avengers style. As this slow burn story continues though, we see that not everything is as it seems, and Nick may have found Loki posing as Thor rather than the actual Thor…

Ultimately, all of the separate characters and threads do come together in a wonderful tapestry, but it takes a while to see the full picture of all that is happening and why, but for those that demand books that wrap up everything… this *is* one of those tales, at least.

Very much recommended.

This review of Summers At The Saint by Mary Kay Andrews was originally written on May 8, 2024.

#BlogTour: The Summer Swap by Sarah Morgan

For this blog tour, we’re looking at . For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Summer Swap by Sarah Morgan.

First, the review I posted to the book sites (Hardcover.app / BookHype.com / BookBub.com / TheStoryGraph.com / Goodreads.com):

Slow, Character Driven Coastal Tale Featuring Flawed Yet Understandable Characters. Yes, to an extent if you’ve read one Sarah Morgan non-Christmas tale, you’ve read every Sarah Morgan non-Christmas tale. (And her Christmas tales are simply a variant on the non-Christmas ones, featuring some extra Christmas emphasis of some form.) This noted, what Sarah Morgan does, she does solidly and has clearly built a fan base for a reason, and this is yet another example of why her formula works so well.

Here, yet again, we get three generations of female leads, with the guys mostly playing romantic foils of some form or another, and each of our female leads has her own dramas and insecurities and, yes, mistakes. Of course, in typical Sarah Morgan fashion… well, let’s not give away her endings in this review, shall we? Let’s instead say that the Hallmarkie type crowd will generally enjoy these books, even though the Sarah Morgan formula is at least *slightly* different than that one.

Overall a solid tale solidly written, and a perfectly fine, inoffensive, casual “summer” / “beach” read (that, to be clear, can truly be enjoyed any time). Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book info, description, author bio, social links, and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Summer Swap by Sarah Morgan”

#BookReview: Blackbird by Kay Bratt

Kay Bratt Goes “North Ga Dark”. Ok, so what the hell do you mean by “North Ga Dark”, Sexton? Well, growing up even “in the country” in North Ga, specifically the Atlanta exurbs (then, now northern suburbs), even on a pitch black, moonless night… you still had the glow of Atlanta and its suburbs over the horizon. Thus, even at nature’s absolute darkest… there was still *some* light, if well over the horizon and very faint.

And that is what Bratt has introduced here, with both our longer term story and one of the active cases in this story now focusing on themes of abuse in various forms. To be clear, this is one of those stories that will be quite difficult for some, perhaps many, readers – but as usual, Bratt manages to handle even these themes with a care not every other writer decides to put into their story, for any number of reasons. So while the evil is very present and menacing *in story*, it is more like a shark menacing – if you’re in its domain (ie, a character in this book, for the book evil, or pretty much anything in most any body of salt water, for the shark), you’re going to feel its presence and you should probably take appropriate precautions. The easiest of which for most of us is simply… stepping away from its domain for a bit. In which case, sitting on the beach with a good book is probably a solid idea for both. (With your beverage of choice, for when you need to step away from the book if it gets too menacing for you… as you ponder the water and the menaces within it. :D)

As with a few other reviewers, I noticed the lack of direct family involvement in this book, which had previously been a long-running staple of the series. And am I just forgetting (it has been 75+ books for me between Book 8 of this series, Starting Over, and this one), or did a certain sequence that was (somewhat briefly at that) explained as happening before the events of this book not actually happen in the previous book? Because I don’t remember that particular scene in that book, and I think I would have commented on at least its presence – even if somewhat obliquely to avoid any outright spoilers. If this is indeed the case, this was likely the most egregious miss of this entire series. While the series didn’t need a full on “Return Of The King” massive *event* for this particular scene… it still would have been great to see it “in real time”. (Note: While writing this review, I did go back to my copy of Starting Over and confirm that it did not include this particular scene. It included a blatant setup for the scene, but not the scene itself. So I stand behind my comment that this was a major miss, and a glaring hole from an author not generally known for such obvious misses.)

All of this noted, this *was* a supremely enjoyable and fast read, and it absolutely sets up for Bratt to either conclude the series (as was originally intended with Starting Over) with Book 10 – Hello Little Girl, out Summer 2024 – or possibly extend it again. It will be interesting to see which direction Bratt takes, particularly given that she seems to be actively writing that book at the time of me writing this review. Very much recommended.

This review of Blackbird by Kay Bratt was originally written on May 1, 2024.

#BookReview: The Mountain Mystic by Russell W. Johnson

Solid Second Book In Series. This is one of those tales where both the author and the reader are going on an adventure- ok, the first book was *awesome*, but I had all the time in the world to write the thing and now I need to produce a sequel in a timely manner since my name isn’t GRR Martin… so what do I do?

Johnson’s answer here is a thrilling ride that perhaps doesn’t have the same level of social commentary from the first book – though to be clear, there is still *some* here – yet manages to keep up with the action and even introduces some wrinkles not seen in the first book, going in a direction not often seen, but which makes perfect sense within this world.

And then… just when you think everything is all said and done… Thanos appears. No, not really. But there *is* that stinger scene at the end that reveals the storm clouds on the horizon… storm clouds that portend one *intense* battle coming up. Will we see that battle in Book 3, or will we simply edge closer to the storm? Yet again, I for one can’t wait to find out.

Very much recommended.

This review of The Mountain Mystic by Russell W. Johnson was originally written on April 29, 2024.

#BookReview: Safe and Sound by Laura McHugh

Solid Slow Burn Mystery Will Be Jarring For Some. While never a fan of content/ trigger warnings printed in books (I prefer them on the author’s website or in reviews like this, either way separate from the book at hand and easily findable with a modicum of research), let me say up front that if you have severe issues with child sexual abuse or child neglect… this may not be the best book for you. Same with violence against women generally, addiction, stripping, etc.

That dispensed with, this was a remarkable tale of generations of women trying to leave a dying small rural town… and failing miserably, only for the cycle to repeat with their own daughters ad nauseum. It is a slow burn missing woman tale where we do get both the current timeline of one of the women being missing and the older timeline of what her life was up to the very moment she became missing. Both parts of the tale carry the same dull, dismal, depressing stylings throughout, even as both sets of women actively rebel against their situations and try their damnedest to be the women that break the cycle.

For anyone who has ever spent time in a run down house or trailer, you know this life quite well. You’ve probably lived a version of it – hopefully *without* the abuse, though this is admittedly far more common than it should be in such situations. Which makes the story that much more “real”… and yet also that much more depressing, to a point, as many read fiction as a way to *escape* their current “real” world bonds.

The time switches could be a bit jarring – they are labeled, but the label is somewhat easily missed – and the inconclusive ending, with several questions still lingering, could put some off. Personally, I felt this particular ending made the tale that much more “real” and worked for the story told to that point, particularly in the final build up to the reveal. So it is absolutely a “your mileage may vary”, and unless you are just 100% opposed to such endings… do yourself a favor and read this book and see what you think of it yourself.

Overall truly a great and all-too-real (sadly) story, and very well told. Very much recommended. With the warnings noted in this review.

This review of Safe and Sound by Laura McHugh was originally written on April 13, 2024.

#BookReview: Watch It Burn by Kristen Bird

Small Town Southern Mystery Reminiscent of Malibu Rising. As I begin to think about this book and my experience with it, Malibu Rising keeps coming to mind – which, given that *that* book was a bestseller, tends to be a favorable comparison for this book – or so Ms. Bird likely hopes. Up front, this book does have several different POVs, which is clearly something some readers don’t enjoy. So if you’re one of those, know this book probably isn’t for you. That noted, Ms. Bird actually uses those POVs quite effectively, with the grandma character very much feeling like an old school small town Southern grandma, particularly of the “knows everybody and their business” variety. On some other aspects, at times the tale gets perhaps a bit *too* blatant in its commentary, seemingly coming millimeters from using the actual names (NXVIM, Allison Mack, etc) it is referring to. At other points, it is perhaps a touch too *obtuse*, at times using a few dozen words when a single word or short phrase would have worked just as well.

But ultimately this was a fun book that managed to keep the pacing and mystery solid enough to be entertaining without being so serious and deep as to be dragging. The surprises were done well and the villains were sufficiently creepy, and the humor was just enough to keep everything refreshing. Very much recommended.

This review of Watch It Burn by Kristen Bird was originally written on March 14, 2024.

#BlogTour: A Step Past Darkness by Vera Kurian

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a deliciously dark and creepy multilayered supernatural murder mystery reminiscent of IT and Stranger Things. For this blog tour, we’re looking at A Step Past Darkness by Vera Kurian.

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

Deliciously Dark And Creepy Multi-Layered Tale Reminiscent Of IT And Stranger Things. This is one of those dual timeline tales where a group of six kids get pulled together as teens to fight off an incredible supernatural evil in their rural smalltown hometown, then as adults have to come back home to end it once and for all. So like I said in the title, pretty well a blatant homage, all these years later, to IT. And of course, some say “homage”, others say “blatant rip off”. I’ll leave that to those who choose to read both my review and Kurian’s work. But if you have problems with dual timeline or multiple perspectives… just know up front that this book isn’t for you. It is truly a great story, but meh, even I know of what I know to be *phenomenal* stories that even I simply can’t read. (Looking at you, Lord of the Rings.)

Where Kurian shines particularly brightest is in giving these characters realistic Xennial (that weird merger of the youngest of Generation X with the oldest of the Millenials) character arcs, and yes, that does include LGBT discovery for at least one character. Again, if that is a problem for you… maybe not your book here.

Particularly strongest for me personally was Maddy’s own arc, particularly as a teen, as she is deeply immersed in conservative Christian culture of the early and mid 90s – as I myself was as a male just a few years behind her in the same period and in a similar small town atmosphere. (Here, our kids are Sophomores that school year, and I was in 7th grade that year – so just 3 yrs younger than our characters.) Maddy’s arc in some ways has a lot of things that were specific to females in that culture in that era, but in a lot of other ways were common across teenagers of both sexes during this period, and this is where I connected with the story the deepest. Maddy’s struggles as she realized what was going on and her role within it, and her desperate attempts to try to change and correct things… yeah, that was the early years of my own young adult form. So again, and particularly for any females reading this – there is quite a bit of discussion and action around purity culture in the conservative evangelical American church circa the mid 90s, including some of its atrocities being actively shown “on screen”. If this is something you can’t handle exploring in fiction form 30 yrs later (OW!)… maybe not the book for you.

Overall this was a deliciously dark and creepy tale that hit so many strong notes and was so very layered and multi-dimensional… it really was quite a ride. I very much enjoyed it, and I very much look forward to seeing what Kurian thinks up next. 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: A Step Past Darkness by Vera Kurian”

#BookReview: Pity Pact by Whitney Dineen

Solid Romantic Comedy Builds On Characters From Prior Book. This was a solid romantic comedy – yes, in the Hallmarkie type vein – where two people in Small Town USA suddenly find themselves on the same reality dating show that is being shot not only in their small town, but actually in the country club one of them owns. Both of the main characters here played fairly heavily into the prior book, Pity Party, and it was nice to see some strong character growth from the male lead in particular between the two books. Otherwise, there are yet again some fairly hefty subjects broached here, including high school bullying. There are a few laugh out loud moments – always great in something billed as a comedy 😉 – and I enjoyed that this book was much more directly about our lead couple and the people surrounding them. Yes, including the couple from the prior book. One scene in particular may give the clean/ sweet romance crowd a case of “the vapors”, but to be clear even that scene isn’t actually a sex scene. Overall a fun romance that at least somewhat sets up the next book as well, which I’m very much looking forward to reading. Very much recommended.

This review of Pity Pact by Whitney Dineen was originally written on February 7, 2024.

#BookReview: Pity Party by Whitney Dineen

Strong Hallmarkie Romance, Kid Nearly Steals Show. This is a sunshine/ grumpy romance that also features a single parent, and this is one where the child very nearly steals the book with the focus on her and her antics. Which is normally not my thing, but it works in this particular case. There’s also a “friends with benefits” / “situationship” thing going on, but all “action” is behind closed doors – so be warned, whichever direction you may fall on those issues. Overall this is another small town, hallmarkie style romance, and it absolutely works within that mold. Very much recommended.

This review of Pity Party by Whitney Dineen was originally written on February 6, 2024.

#BookReview: Kinfolk by Sean Dietrich

A Rare View Of The South As It Really Is. As a native Son of the South – and in particular of a region *so* steeped in most *all* of its history, from prehistoric Native American burial mounds to the first female (and last slave owning) US Senator – it is rare for me to find a book that portrays Southern life *well*, both in its strengths and its weaknesses. This book does exactly that. It doesn’t shy away from our ne’erdowells, it doesn’t make excuses for assholes. But it shows that most everyone is somebody to someone, even if it takes them a lifetime to figure that out. There’s a lot here that may make some uneasy, including a violent on screen suicide to open the book, a detailed discussion of breast cancer in an era before that particular affliction was as well known as it is now, a mother’s untimely death, and I’m sure even more depending on the reader’s own sensibilities – those are just the biggest ones. But even there, Dietrich uses those things in furtherance of the story he is telling, and he does in fact wind up using every single one quite well to paint a particularly vibrant tapestry of words. There are many stories to tell of Southern life, but if one is looking to read a zany at times tale that will pull the heartstrings quite a bit – and yes, even make the room quite dusty a time or two – this is absolutely one of those types of tales. What Jimmy Buffett’s fiction did for the Caribbean, Sean of the South’s is doing for the American South in general. Very much recommended.

This review of Kinfolk by Sean Dietrich was originally written on December 29, 2023.