#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.

#BookReview: For Roger by Laura Drake

If You Only Read One 2023 Release, Make It This One. Wow. Phenomenal. I’m writing this review roughly 12 hrs after finishing the book, and I am still in awe of what Drake was able to do here. When I first encountered her books, Drake was writing cowboy romances. She’s extended into women’s fiction more recently and done a great job with it, and this one I would assume would mostly classify within that space as well.

But let me be clear: This book has a LOT going on, a lot that places Drake writing about very serious issues and very different spaces. We get medical discussions and specifically discussions around terminal illness, suicide, assisted suicide, and related issues. We get a legal courtroom thriller that dives deep into questions of justice vs mercy vs the letter of the law and even into what are laws and why do we have them. We get open discussions of how to make different spaces better and more responsive, and in these areas Drake shows several practical ideas that could genuinely work – even though this is a fictional tale. Throughout all of this. Drake proves herself capable of at minimum holding her own with even the masters of these spaces who only write explicitly within them, such as John Grisham’s legal thrillers.

And then there are the more traditional women’s fiction aspects, the relationships that make this book truly sing throughout all the heaviness of the above discussions. The loving wife who is barely older than her stepdaughter, despite being in absolute love with her husband. The stepdaughter who resents the stepmother being so very close to her own age. The brilliant husband who dearly loves his wife *and* daughter. The best friend who happens to be the Governor of Texas, with all the behind the scenes politicking that entails. The mother who loves her daughter no matter what. The misunderstood older sister. And yes, in a nod to Drake’s real life (as anyone who follows her socials will know), a mischievous and nearly scene-stealing cat named Boomer.

In telling such a moving story, Drake truly masters bringing in such difficult discussions that *need* to be held at every level and in every corner of this great land.

Issues of how to handle terminal illness within a marriage – how far is each willing to go? What is the loving thing to do? Do the local statutes matter when it comes to trying to make the right decision? What *is* the right decision?

Issues of criminal justice as it relates to terminal illness, echoing at a societal level the same types of questions every relationship needs to answer within itself.

Issues of what we expect from our penal system – can people be rehabilitated, or should they be exclusively punished? Is there a difference between someone committing suicide, their spouse helping them, their doctor helping them, another person outside of a legally protected relationship helping them? Does the situation itself matter, and if it does, what do we condemn and what do we excuse?

All of this and so much more, Drake crafts into a moving and poignant tale of one particular family struggling to navigate these very complicated and delicate issues.

Read this book. Think about how *you* would handle these things. Think about how *we* should handle these things…

Or not. Maybe you jus need to cry, or even bawl your eyes out. Maybe these issues aren’t theoretical for you – maybe they’re as real for you as they are for the characters in this book. Maybe you’re just trying to find answers yourself.

Read this book too. And may you find comfort within its words even in the midst of your own storm.

But read this book, regardless. Very much recommended.

This review of For Roger by Laura Drake was originally written on November 20, 2023.

#BookReview: The Stars Don’t Lie by Boo Walker

All Too Real. This book is all about a guy who hasn’t been back to his hometown in 20 yrs due to some massive trauma while he was in school who finally goes back home… and has his world and entire life and history rocked by shocking revelations about what *actually* happened back then. As someone who read this book, then went back to visit my parents near my hometown (they now live in the next County up, rather than the house I spent grades 7+ and college in), and had his dad just casually mention a previously forgotten if not outright unknown fact about his own high school history… yeah, this book is truly all too real. Add in the fact that I have my own version of “Mrs. Cartright”, a teacher who stepped in and stepped up at exactly the right moment in my life – in my case, Tommy Harris of Kingston, GA, who absolutely always deserves every accolade I can possibly give him… and yeah, like I said in the title… this book is all *too* real. And yet, that is exactly what made it so relevant and cathartic, even years after I like to think I’ve “fully” dealt with all my own real-world crap from that era. (Though in defining both who Carter, in the book, and myself, in my “real” life, became… perhaps one never *truly* moves on from that era and that pain… which is actually something Walker actively looks into even into the closing words of the text here.)

For anyone who has ever had one of those teachers worthy of a “Mr. Holland’s Opus Finale”, you’re gonna want to read this book. If you haven’t seen that movie, seriously, go back and watch it. Then come back and read this book. ๐Ÿ˜€

Overall truly a particularly well written and well told story, one that some will clearly relate to more than others – but which has enough universal truth to be truly transcendent, no matter the particulars of your own life. Very much recommended.

This review of The Stars Don’t Lie by Boo Walker was originally written on August 21, 2023.

#BookReview: The Beauty Of Rain by Jamie Beck

Beck’s Most Powerful Book To Date. Somewhat surprisingly, I seem to either own and/ or have read every single book Beck has put out to date – and I think there’s only four (the Cabot trilogy + In The Cards) that I haven’t actually read yet. So I can absolutely speak with a degree of authority on that title here in particular. With her move towards women’s fiction over the last few years, after spending her earlier career in romance novels, Beck has seemingly been working to exactly what she pulled off here – a balls to the wall, full out emotional rollercoaster that has the sheer power of the best coasters around, even Universal Orlando’s Velocicoaster (my personal standard for most powerful coaster online today).

To be clear, those struggling with suicidal ideation should absolutely steer clear of this book, as that subject plays a substantial and substantially heavy role in this tale – and which Beck herself makes clear in a forward to the book.

Also, this book is nearly black hole heavy, with a few jokes and other lighter moments thrown in, but the emotional weight of all that has happened before this book and is happening during this book truly is some *heavy* stuff – and indeed that is one of the things that makes this book so great. Because even while it is indeed so heavy, it never feels oppressive or hopeless. Quite the opposite – Beck does a tremendous job of showing the hope even in the depths of such tragedy and misfortune.

Overall, if you’re looking for something more light and fluffy, go with one of Beck’s earlier books. But if you’re ready to see some hope even in some of the darkest times that normal people do in fact experience… maybe you’re ready for this book. Very much recommended.

P.S.: While this book does in fact mention COVID, it is in the period before the events of this book, and while the events that play out in that period are significant here – COVID never really is, thus I did *not* deduct a star there.

Also, the struggles of parents of Autistic children is a major storyline in this book, and for my fellow Autistics as well as our parents, I want to point out just how *real* that story does in fact play out. Yes, at times it seems like Beck may be following that agency that claims to “Speak” for Autism (yet is actually the Autistic community’s KKK, according to many of us) and their “hopeless” commercial (one of the things we hate so much about them), but I need to stress here that there is no mention of that organization or even that idea. There is no child endangerment or abuse here. No so-called “Applied Behavioral Analysis” that so many of us in the community consider to be active child abuse. Certainly no filicide that is all too rampant among far too many parents. Instead, Beck shows a very real view of a parent just trying to do her best for her Autistic child. And indeed, even when looking for positive, Autistic Adult created and/ or inspired resources for parents, *even as someone who was once plugged into various Autism advocacy networks*… it was shockingly difficult to find something so basic “Here’s some resources if you think your child may have Autism” from the more respected organizations. And y’all… that’s on us. We need to create those resources to help these exact types of parents and prevent them from becoming the parents who actively harm their children.

But again: Unless you’re struggling with suicidal ideation… read this book. It really is Beck’s Most Powerful Book To Date.

This review of The Beauty Of Rain by Jamie Beck was originally written on July 10, 2023.

#BookReview: The Girl’s Last Cry by Alison Belsham

Pulse Pounding Criminal Innovation. This is the book that cements the Lexi Bennett series as must read, as it starts off feeling a touch like a disaster flick – everything is normal-ish, except that someone has jumped from a tall building seemingly intentionally. Then the deeper into the story we get, we find an almost Kilgrave level villain (though to be clear – just a human, no superpowers)… and this is where the story *really* takes off, becoming ever more inventive, ever more cat and mouse almost perfect spy thriller type… except that this is a police procedural where murders are being investigated. The ending sequences are some of the most inventive and innovative of all, going particularly dark even. As in, I’m not sure even Preston and Child get *this* dark and twisted, even with Diogenese Pendergast. Which is high praise in that particular arena, because if you like that particular style… you *know* how good Preston and Child are there. Belsham here *may* have truly bested them. Seriously.

Ultimately, this is one of those tales that you’re going to need and light and funny comedy to bring back your mental balance from, and for those that struggle with suicidal ideation… perhaps not the book for you until you deal with those issues. Still, very much recommended.

This review of The Girl’s Last Cry by Alison Belsham was originally written on June 30, 2023.

#BookReview: Borrowed Time by Kay Bratt

Crystal Palaces Still Hide Much. Growing up, it seemed that one aunt in particular always had the perfect… well, everything, other than not having kids herself and having married a couple of times. She was the one that my brothers and I always dreaded coming over, because we knew we would have to clean the house to her (damn near white glove) level, and we *hated* that. (Meh, we were young Southern boys. ie, not exactly the cleanest neat freaks around. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Get to a point about the freaking book, Sexton…

I’ve noted in reviews of other books in this series that Bratt manages to detail small town rural northern Georgia (outside of the Atlanta Metro area) remarkably well, and here Bratt shows even more of both the features and the bugs of the region. Including the all-too-real scenario of the aunt who has it all… but doesn’t, as I’ve learned later in life. In real life as in this book, there are a lot of trials and travails that for various reasons the person chooses to hide, particularly from their siblings’ kids and even from their siblings themselves. Even the exact scenarios here… are all too common. (To be clear, even now I have no idea about the exact circumstances in my real-life aunt’s case.)

Fortunately (so far as I know), it never got quite as intense as the one scene from the trigger warning in the book. And while I’m no fan of trigger warnings… yes, even that nearly successful attempted suicide scene – it is stopped in the last seconds by an intervening action – deserves a mention in reviews at minimum, as it *is* something that could cause others issues. Seriously, that thing was *that* intense, some of the most tense moments Bratt has ever weaved into any of the dozen or two of her books that I’ve now read.

But that is still just one scene in an otherwise compelling book that continues the story of Deputy Taylor Gray’s family and community, this one with yet another heinous and yet all too real crime, though I do not remember seeing an author’s note to see if this one (like others in the series) was based on specific cases from the general region.

Start with book one, but go ahead and order the entire series if you haven’t yet. You’re going to want them all anyway. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Very much recommended.

This review of Borrowed Time by Kay Bratt was originally written on April 11, 2023.

#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.

Featured New Release Of The Week: This Place Of Wonder by Barbara O’Neal

For the fifth straight year, Barbara O’Neal‘s annual release is the Featured New Release on this blog. This tradition began in 2018 with The Art Of Inheriting Secrets, which was the very *first* FNR post, and continues this week with This Place Of Wonder.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

O’Neal Delivers Yet Another Solid Family Drama. O’Neal’s solid 2018 book The Art of Inheriting Secrets was the very first Featured New Release on my blog, and I have kept up that tradition every year since – and 2022 is no exception there. Her 2019 book When We Believed In Mermaids continues to be one of my most “liked” reviews on Goodreads to this day, and continues to garner attention seemingly every few days.

All that to note that I have a rich if recent history with O’Neal’s work, and this is yet another truly solid and sensual tale of family secrets and drama. In this particular work, we get four women struggling with the sudden death of one man that all were connected to – his ex-wife and mom of his step-daughter and step-mother to his daughter, his most recent girlfriend, and both of the daughters in question, though we only “hear” from the two elder ladies + his biological daughter.

While this tale “hits” a few solid blows emotionally, it doesn’t really land the haymakers that Mermaids did – this is more in line with most of her other books, including Secrets, on that level. This noted, it is ultimately a very satisfying tale that has several great moments not always seen in novels, including the daughter’s actions in the prologue and the elder ladies’ blend of pragmatism and romanticism. Several issues from alcoholism to rape to child abuse are touched on, so be prepared for that if one needs to be. Overall truly an excellent tale, and yet another wonderful read from O’Neal. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Things We Do In The Dark by Jennifer Hillier

I Refuse To Be My [Parent]. Yes, a version of the title line of this review is said in the book. And that was the moment the book hit particularly hard for me. Because I’ve lived it. Not directly, but as the child of a person that did. To be clear, it was not the same kind of abuse that my parent endured, but it *was* abuse and it *did* shape that parent in ways that have played out over the course of my own life. So at that moment, this book became very, very real for me and I could see that character’s actions as clear as day and understand them on levels I don’t often get to even in fiction.

The rest of the book, with a present day murder and blackmailing, a secret identity, a true crime podcast looking at a murder years ago and how it all ties together… was all excellently done. Other reviews complain about the backstory, but for me that was the actual story – because it shows everything that caused the person to utter the line I titled the review with. Overall a strong tale that survivors of domestic abuse may struggle with, but which ultimately should prove cathartic indeed even for them. Very much recommended.

This review of Things We Do In The Dark by Jennifer Hillier was originally written on July 10, 2022.

#BlogTour: Her Silent Husband by Sam Vickery

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a solid tale of a not-often-told side of one well-known issue. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Her Silent Husband by Sam Vickery.

Visceral Look At The Underbelly Of Trying To Keep Up. This is one of those books that is largely depressing and frustrating – 75% or so of the book is all about a couple’s fights, the wife/ mother’s struggles with her kids, or the aunt’s own demons. But even through here, while depressing, it is also very *real* – and that fact alone should be celebrated at times. Yes, many of us read to escape reality. But sometimes you need to see “reality” in fiction to get a degree of catharsis about your own situation, and this is one of those books that could actually help there. The flip in the last quarter or so is a bit abrupt, particularly given the characterizations to that point, and the almost Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King style check-in-with-every-major-character multiple epilogues was a bit hit or miss, but otherwise this was a solid story, one that discusses a lot of important concepts like male depression, a man’s drive to provide for his family, a wife/ mother’s drive to do the best by her kids, suicide, drug addiction (heroin specifically is particularly well done here), and a teenage boy’s struggles to do the right thing even when “the right thing” isn’t so crystal clear. Very much recommended.

Below the jump, the “publisher details”, including the book description, author bio, and a link directly to Amazon to buy the book.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Her Silent Husband by Sam Vickery”