Review: Outside In, by Doug Cooper

About the book, Outside In

Outside In

Hardcover: 253 pages

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press (August 13, 2013)

From Memorial Day until the student workers and tourists leave in the fall, the island community of Put-In-Bay, Ohio, thrives on alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and any other means of forgetting responsibilities. To Brad Shepherd–recently forced out of his job as a junior high math teacher after the overdose death of a student–it’s exactly the kind of place he’s looking for.

Allured by the comfort and acceptance of the hedonistic atmosphere, Brad trades his academic responsibilities and sense of obligation for a bouncer’s flashlight and a pursuit of the endless summer. With Cinch Stevens, his new best friend and local drug dealer, at his side, Brad becomes lost in a haze of excess and instant gratification filled with romantic conquests, late-night excursions to special island hideaways, and a growing drug habit. Not even the hope from a blossoming relationship with Astrid, a bold and radiant Norwegian waitress, nor the mentoring from a mysterious mandolin player named Caldwell is enough to pull him out of his downward spiral. But as Labor Day approaches, the grim reality of his empty quest consumes him. With nowhere left to run or hide, Brad must accept that identity cannot be found or fabricated, but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.

A look at one man’s belated coming of age that’s equally funny, earnest, romantic, and lamenting, Doug Cooper’s debut novel explores the modern search for responsibility and identity, showing through the eyes of Brad Shepherd how sometimes, we can only come to understand who we truly are by becoming the person we’re not.

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About the author, Doug Cooper

Doug Cooper

Doug Cooper has traveled to more than twenty countries on five continents and has held jobs in service, teaching, and business. He now lives and writes in Las Vegas. Outside In is his first novel.

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My Thoughts

I’ve said before that first person novels tend to be tricky. Many try them, most fail. Doug Cooper, however, makes writing in first person seem effortless, and as a result, when I read Outside In, which, by the way, I LOVED, I felt like I really was seeing things unfold through the eyes of a real person.

For me, even if I’m enjoying a plot or really like a character, it’s the details that make a story really sing, so scenes like the trip on the ferry, and later, the first glimpse we get of the Round House, really gave me a sense of place, but also made everything else seem vivid.

As someone who is on the far side of 40, I always find it interesting when authors recognize that “coming of age” stories aren’t limited to people who are 18-21 years old, but can happen when you’re 25, 35, or even in your sixties. Doug Cooper’s main character is a teacher who is about to finish grad school, but that doesn’t make this any less a coming-of-age tale.

With nuance and a great sense of both language and place, Doug Cooper kept my attention from wandering for the entire length of Outside In (a line about humid air feeling ‘like jelly on my skin’ really struck me) and at the end, I was sad to bid goodbye to Brad and Haley and the rest of the “cast.”

If you’re not certain that this book is for you, let me assure you: IT IS.

Goes well with A really good burger with crinkle-cut fries, and a cold beer, preferably from a joint that caters to summer tourists.

TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a virtual book tour sponsored by TLC Book Tours. For more information, or the complete list of tour stops, click here.

Review: Up at Butternut Lake by Mary McNear

About the book, Up at Butternut Lake

Up at Butternut Lake

• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (April 8, 2014)

In the tradition of Kristin Hannah and Susan Wiggs, Mary McNear introduces readers to the town of Butternut Lake and to the unforgettable people who call it home.

It’s summer, and after ten years away, Allie Beckett has returned to her family’s cabin beside tranquil Butternut Lake, where as a teenager she spent so many carefree days. She’s promised her five-year-old son, Wyatt, they will be happy there. She’s promised herself this is the place to begin again after her husband’s death in Afghanistan. The cabin holds so many wonderful memories, but from the moment she crosses its threshold Allie is seized with doubts. Has she done the right thing uprooting her little boy from the only home he’s ever known?

Allie and her son are embraced by the townsfolk, and her reunions with old acquaintances—her friend Jax, now a young mother of three with one more on the way, and Caroline, the owner of the local coffee shop—are joyous ones. And then there are newcomers like Walker Ford, who mostly keeps to himself—until he takes a shine to Wyatt . . . and to Allie.

Everyone knows that moving forward is never easy, and as the long, lazy days of summer take hold, Allie must learn to unlock the hidden longings of her heart, and to accept that in order to face the future she must also confront—and understand—what has come before.

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About the author, Mary McNear

Mary McNear

Mary McNear lives in San Francisco with her husband, two teenage children, and a high-strung, minuscule white dog named Macaroon. She writes her novels in a local doughnut shop, where she sips Diet Pepsi, observes the hubbub of neighborhood life, and tries to resist the constant temptation of freshly made doughnuts. She bases her novels on a lifetime of summers spent in a small town on a lake in the northern Midwest.

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My Thoughts

It’s the little details that make or break a book for me. On the surface, Up at Butternut Lake may seem like just another contemporary romance. It’s got the cute small town setting, the strong women who are going through personal struggles (two of them, actually, Allie, and Jax) and the newcomer who still has ties from out of town. But that’s just the surface, and it would be a mistake to write this book off just because it includes a few common tropes.

Instead, look at the details: in the early pages Allie’s young son Wyatt spins on a diner stool. We don’t have a lot of classic diners left in the USA, but trust me, there isn’t a kid alive who could resist the urge to spin on one of those. (I know this from experience because my family owned just such a diner on the Jersey Shore, and we kids used to spin on the blue vinyl stools til we were nauseous.)

Then there’s Allie herself. She’s at the lake in part because it’s a personal haven for her, full of good memories, but also because, having lost her husband, she wants to be in a place where she can rebuild trust in herself, without the often-stifling offers of help. She isn’t a misanthrope; she just needs to find her footing.

These are the sorts of details, details of plot, setting, and character, that Mary McNear has given us in Up at Butternut Lake, and this is why it’s not ‘just a romance’ but a story about strong women, and the people whom they love.

Goes well with Sweet tea and strawberry-rhubarb pie.

TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a virtual book tour hosted by TLC Book Tours. For more information, or to read the entire list of tour stops, click here.