Review: Just a Hat by Shanah Khubiar

BNR Just a Hat

 

About the book, Just a Hat Cover Just a Hat

  • Genre: Young Adult / Coming of Age / Jewish Fiction / Small-Town Texas / 1970s
  • Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
  • Page Count: 254
  • Publication Date: July 18, 2023
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Action-packed, humorous, and bittersweet, this 1970s-era coming-of-age novel is more relevant than ever–exploring how a second-generation immigrant kid in a new hometown must navigate bullying, unexpected friendships, and the struggle of keeping both feet firmly planted in two very different cultures.

It’s 1979, and thirteen-year-old Joseph Nissan can’t help but notice that small-town Texas has something in common with Revolution-era Iran: an absence of fellow Jews. And in such a small town it seems obvious that a brown kid like him was bound to make friends with Latinos–which is a plus, since his new buds, the Ybarra twins, have his back. But when the Iran hostage crisis, two neighborhood bullies, and the local reverend’s beautiful daughter put him in all sorts of danger, Joseph must find new ways to cope at home and at school.

As he struggles to trust others and stay true to himself, a fiercely guarded family secret keeps his father at a distance, and even his piano teacher, Miss Eleanor–who is like a grandmother to him–can’t always protect him. But Joseph is not alone, and with a little help from his friends, he finds the courage to confront his fears and discovers he can inspire others to find their courage, too.

Just a Hat is an authentically one-of-a-kind YA debut that fuses the humor of Firoozeh Dumas’s Funny in Farsi with the poignancy of Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad Is Untrue.

This book comes with an Educator’s Guide.

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About the author, Shanah Khubiar Author Photo Khubiar

Shanah Khubiar is a retired law enforcement officer, and she is now self-employed as a subject matter specialist. She holds a BS and MEd in education from East Texas State University and a PhD in philosophy.

A student of her Persian ancestry, she incorporates (Mizrachi) Middle Eastern Jewry into her fiction, examining the historical challenges and triumphs of a different culture and narrative than what usually appears in literature. Khubiar is a sometime resident and always fan of most things Texas.

Connect with Shanah:

Website | GoodReads | Amazon | BookBub | X (Twitter) | Blackstone Publishing


My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Shanah Khubiar’s new young adult novel, Just a Hat is a brilliant, sometimes discomfiting, portrayal of what it’s like to be “other” in America.

Set in the Texas of the late 1970s, with the Iran hostage crisis as its background, this story introduces us to teenaged Joseph (Youssef) Nissan, the only Jewish-Iranian boy in his class. We walk with him as he navigates the cultural differences he experiences – he’s brown skinned, so gets along with the Mexican boys, especially Roberto and Mateo who are both friends and defenders, but he’s not Latino. He’s Persian. He’s a piano student but practicing on Shabat is considered “work” and therefore disallowed. And then there’s the whole thing about not being allowed to touch girls, even casually. It’s a lot to handle when you’ve got feet in different worlds – the secular world at large, and the closer, religious world of his family.

As someone who is not Jewish, but sort of Jewish-adjacent (my stepfather was Jewish, and his mother, my Bubbie, was a special person in my life) I found the glimpses of Iranian Jewish traditions particularly interesting. I’m familiar with eastern-European (Ashkenazi) traditions, and have been recently learning more about Iberian (Sephardic) traditions, but it’s my understanding that most Iranian Jews are actually Mizrahi, and the specifics were new to me.

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What I loved was the relationship Joseph had with Miss Eleanor – LaLa – the elderly piano teacher whom he helps out by buying groceries and other household tasks. I also appreciated that Joseph and his Baba – his father – managed to work through family history and family secrets and end up with a closer relationship after tackling difficult subjects.

The title can be taken literally – the different hats Joseph wears include his kippah (yarmulke) and his football helmet. But it also works as a metaphor, representing the different “hats” we all wear, – the roles we have in life – including those we use in order to hide our true selves for whatever reason.

Overall, I found this to be a very moving story, with interesting characters, and a well-paced coming-of-age plot. At times very serious, because it deals with fear, racism, and antisemitism, it’s also heartfelt and full of humor – the kind that comes from real life.

Goes well with: peach sharbet.


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Review and Giveaway: Reap the Wind, by Joel Burcat

BNR Reap the Wind

 

About the book, Reap the Wind

  • Genre: Action-Adventure / Suspense / Climate Change / EcoThriller
  • Publisher: Milford House Press, an imprint of Sunbury Books, Inc.
  • Date of Publication: February 6, 2024
  • Number of Pages: 215 pages
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Cover Reap the WindTHE PERFECT STORM meets THE FIRM.

 

Reap the Wind is a thrilling action/adventure novel that follows three lawyers as they embark on a treacherous journey from Houston to Cincinnati during a catastrophic hurricane. Josh Goldberg is on a mission to be with his girlfriend for the birth of their child. Along the way, they’ll face terrifying obstacles like tornadoes, hailstorms, and driving rain. But the real danger may come from within as they struggle to survive each other’s company. His two travel companions—his best friend, a drug-addicted lawyer, and his conniving boss who has her own agenda.

 

Don’t miss out on this unforgettable odyssey that might just be a suicide trip.

Praise for this book:

Reap the Wind is a bold, bracing and blisteringly original take on the legal thriller form. Joel Burcat has fashioned a seminal tale focusing on the nightmare of all road trips in which a storm raging outside the car is matched only by the storm raging within. Burcat dares to tread on the hallowed ground of John Grisham and Scott Turow and ends up blazing a fresh, daring literary tale of his own. Not to be missed!” —Jon Land, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

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About the author, Joel Burcat Author Photo Burcat

Joel Burcat is an award-winning author of three environmental legal thrillers: Drink to Every Beast (illegal dumping of toxic waste), Amid Rage (a coal mine permit battle), and Strange Fire (a fracking dispute). His most recent book, Reap the Wind, is about three lawyers trying to drive from Houston to Cincinnati in a climate change-induced hurricane.

 

He has received a number of awards, including the Gold Medal for environmental fiction from Readers’ Favorite for Strange Fire, and as a Finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Amid Rage.  He has written numerous short stories. Burcat imbues his novels with facts to educate his readers about critical environmental issues while they are being entertained by the story.

 

Burcat’s books are infused with realism developed over a forty plus year career as an environmental lawyer.

Connect with Joel:

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My Thoughts MelissaBartell - photo

Joel Burcat’s new novel Reap the Wind is described as “The Perfect Storm meets The Firm,” and that’s accurate to a point, but I feel like it’s more a mixture of those two stories with a soupçon of No Exit. At only 215 pages, it’s a fast read, but a meaty one with thrills, spills, and chills of various intensities.

 

Told from the perspective of two main characters, Josh and Keisha, and engaged couple who are about to have a baby, this story quickly splits into parallel plots when Josh is delayed in Houston after a business trip, and Keisha has a medical emergency on her flight to Philadelphia.

 

Keisha’s story then becomes a medical tale – she’s injured, about to have a baby, and stuck in a hospital in Cincinnati (she had a layover there) where she has to confront her past and make choices about her future. Meanwhile, Josh conscripts his friend Greg to join him on a mad dash from Houston to Cincinnati so he can be there for Keisha. When their colleague Diane insinuates herself into their trip, which they make in a second-hand limousine – it becomes the worst road trio ever. And did I mention that there’s a major hurricane disrupting weather in the entire eastern third of the United States?

 

Josh and Keisha are both written as sympathetic, if flawed, characters, and I found myself rooting for a romantic comedy ending, even though this novel is more of a thriller with a lot of emotional undertones.

 

Greg, Diane, and Abdul (the limo driver) are all interesting, though clearly created to serve the narrative. I wasn’t terribly invested in either of their stories and felt like their purpose was more to be obstacles in Josh’s path than fully realized human beings. Despite this, the novel is richer for their presence. Without them, you’d just have a lonely guy driving through a storm.

 

The storm, Hurricane Epsilon, is a character in its own right, and author Burcat did a fantastic job of making it the villain and the catalyst without ever actually personifying it.  Yes, it felt at times like the weather was taunting all of these characters, but it was just the well-crafted perception the author created. Climate change and the government and corporate responses to it is also part of the connective tissue of this novel. Perhaps, then, Climate Change is the villain, and the hurricane is its henchman.

 

Overall, I felt this was an interesting novel. It starts off slow but ends up careening through plot points like a car fishtailing on a storm-drenched highway. It kept my attention, and I would definitely read more of Burcat’s work.

 

I was slightly disappointed that the scenes with the Weather Service hurricane hunter that bookended the novel were there only to demonstrate the capriciousness of weather and the danger of not heeding warnings – I would love to read an entire book about that crew.

 

Goes well with: Hot roast beef sandwiches and steak fries.


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03/05/24 Hall Ways Blog First Line
03/05/24 Librariel Book Adventures Review
03/06/24 Jan Sikes Blog Review
03/06/24 LSBBT Blog BONUS Stop
03/07/24 StoreyBook Reviews Review
03/08/24 Guatemala Paula Loves to Read Guest Post
03/08/24 It’s Not All Gravy Review
03/09/24 Bibliotica Review
03/10/24 Forgotten Winds Excerpt
03/11/24 Boys’ Mom Reads Review
03/11/24 The Page Unbound Excerpt
03/12/24 Chapter Break Book Blog Notable Quotables
03/13/24 The Real World According to Sam Review
03/13/24 Rebecca R. Cahill, Author Author Interview
03/14/24 The Clueless Gent Review
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Spotlight and Review: The Knotted Ring by Myra Hargrave McIlvain

BNR The Knotted Ring Blitz

 

I’m thrilled to be spotlighting this book today. It looks like a moving story rich in history and character.

About the book, The Knotted Ring Cover The Knotted Ring

  • Genre: Historical Fiction / Family Saga / Historical Romance
  • Publisher: Next Chapter
  • Page Count: 412
  • Publication Date: December 7, 2023
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Susannah Mobley, expecting a baby by her lover, a slave owned by her family, submits to an arranged marriage to Hezekiah James who is headed to Texas to claim a Spanish land grant. Caught in a series of lies about the origin of a beautiful ring woven from her red hair and the circumstances of her pregnancy, Susannah embarks on the harsh trip to Texas, grieving for her lost love and determined to control her destiny.

On the wagon train journey, Hezekiah is tested by his beliefs and strengths with his slaves and Native Americans, as well as a strange Mad Stone. His determination to build a plantation as fine as Susannah’s home place and to make the best decisions for Susannah fails. Susannah will have to decide if she can live with the consequences of her lies and open herself to this man who shows every form of contrition or if she will allow longing for what she cannot have to destroy her life.

The Knotted Ring is currently a semi-finalist in the Laramie Awards for Western and Americana Fiction.

Praise for this book:

“An often engrossing and well-handled story of the 19th century.” —Kirkus Reviews

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About the author, Myra Hargrave McIlvain Author Photo McIlvain

Myra Hargrave McIlvain, a sixth-generation Texan, is a storyteller who has written Texas historical markers (yes, real people write those things lining Texas highways), articles for newspapers and magazines such as Texas Highways, and six nonfiction books about famous and infamous Texas characters and places.

McIlvain found her real love when she wrote her first historical fiction. All her tales take place in Texas during major periods of its history. However, The Knotted Ring was inspired by an old family story, and in her search to understand what may have happened, she imagined their lives set in a time that she knew well––the establishment of the first Anglo colony.

McIlvain views history as the story of a people; the people she knows best have made Texas home.

Connect with Myra:

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

There are some books that you race through, and there are others that are better experienced as a slow simmer, taking time to truly savor the emotional truths and excellent research the author wrote into it. The Knotted Ring, by Myra Hargrave McIlvain is definitely one of the latter.

This story focuses on Susannah – her forbidden love, her struggle in the confines of a period in time where women didn’t have a lot of choice, and the trials and tribulations that come with life on the frontier. She’s a strong woman living in nearly impossible conditions, and I enjoyed meeting her, though I also felt for her situation.

This author is obviously highly skilled at her craft, because even though this novel abounds with lies and lawlessness and the hardship of a journey in less-than-ideal conditions, its heart is the often-strained, but still deep, relationship of a woman and man. The weaving in of Texas history felt organic and not overly expositional, and the plot moved at an acceptable pace.

Some novels are quick cups of soup – flavorful, but not necessarily sustaining. The Knotted Ring is a rich stew or Texas chili. Rich, hearty, and not without a little bit of bite in the form of social conventions and physical hardships. Ladle this novel into your reading bowl and immerse yourself in the storytelling. You won’t be sorry.

Goes well with: Chili made with brisket – no beans – and seasoned with “cowboy coffee.”


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Book Review & Giveaway – Finding Comfort by Kimberly Fish

BNR Finding Comfort

About the book Finding Comfort Cover Finding Comfort

Series: Comfort & Joy (Book 2)

Genre: Women’s Fiction / Contemporary / Cozy Mystery

Publisher: Fish Tales Publishing

Date of Publication: September 1, 2023

Number of Pages: 312 pages

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Even with all her experience, Gloria Bachman, retired banker and candy entrepreneur, didn’t see this coming.

Sweeties, the beloved Comfort chocolate shop, was ready for its cameo in advertising extraordinaire Jazzy Mezcal’s famous travel and food show! Comfort town folks had worked hard all summer to get their shops Hallmark-movie ready. On the eve of the TV crews overtaking the town, Gloria’s Chamber of Commerce welcome party gets drenched in a wicked rainstorm. Locals call it a “blue norther,” and a dreaded agent of change. Flooding seems like the worst of their problems until the celebrity TV host turns up dead.

In shock, Gloria’s friends turn to her to figure out who could be responsible for such a disaster. With the TV crew and guests in town for the 8th Street Market’s annual shopping event, suspects are endless. Reluctant to get involved, Gloria would much rather focus on the delicious romance with Mason Lassiter. And she would if a frenemy from Kerrville didn’t haunt her every step. Now as Gardner Rogers treads on her turf, everything feels suspicious.

With all eyes on Gloria to find the truth behind Jazzy Mezcal’s untimely death, she indulges her curiosity for problem solving while trying to disguise how unsure she is about the future with her boyfriend. Disruption in Mason’s world, mayhem in Comfort, and one epic chocolate disaster rouse Gloria to action and make her decide what’s worth fighting for. All she can say for sure, is that no one is finding any comfort in Comfort.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the Author, Kimberly Fish Author Photo Fish

Kimberly Fish has been a professional writer in marketing and media for over thirty years, with regular contributions to area newspapers and magazines. As an accidental historian, she wrote two novels, The Big Inch and Harmon General, both based on factual events in Longview, Texas that changed world history. Kimberly also offers a set of contemporary women’s fiction novels and novellas, based in the Texas Hill Country, that reveal her fascination with characters discovering their grit and sweet, second chances; all four of the novels have won distinguished awards. Finding Comfort is her latest novel, the second book in the Comfort and Joy Trilogy.

Connect with Kimberly:

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

I love visiting Comfort, Texas through Kimberly Fish’s books, and since the previous book in this series, Sweet Comfort, really resonated with me, I was excited to dive into the sequel. As ever, Fish’s storytelling does not disappoint. This novel is the perfect read for a crisp autumn evening, and since it starts in October and moves into the holiday season, it’s also a great way to escape from your relatives at Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas when family togetherness gets a little overwhelming.

Revisiting Gloria Bachman, banker cum candy store owner, was a wonderful reminder that those of us who are past our thirties and forties still have a lot of life, and that romance has no expiration date. Seeing her continue her relationship with Mason Lassiter was fantastic. These two are my endgame, as the kids say, and I’m rooting for them. That said, I love that their romance is a little rocky. It just makes them feel more like real people, with doubts and fears to work through.

But author Fish did not give us only a second-chance romance. Instead, this novel is the quintessence of cozy mysteries: adorable small town with charming shops – check, community of friends and relatives who all have opinions – check, charismatic outsider who may not be a villain but is definitely an antagonist (I’m looking at you Gardner Rogers), distraught father  of the deceased – check. But while this book hits most of the genre’s familiar notes, there’s nothing formulaic about it. Every character in Finding Comfort feels like someone you know, and their lives are intertwined the way people who live in close communities really are.

What I always appreciate about Fish’s work, and is especially evident in this book, are the grace notes she adds to her work. She addresses some of the issues of aging – Will Wanda’s daughter convince her to move away from Comfort and give up some of her independence ? – without delicacy and care, and I found myself as intrigued by such side stories as I was with the main story.

I also love that Gloria has surrounded herself with a circle of women friends who laugh with her, cry with her, celebrate and mourn with her, and indulge her habit of sniffing out crime a little too much. It’s the richness of the world that Comfort, Texas represents that keeps me reading, and reading, the books set there.

One thing of note. While the story was perfectly paced and the characters well-drawn, there were more than the typical number of typos and grammar issues than I’m accustomed to seeing in published copies of any work – and especially in a Kimberly Fish novel. My heart goes out to her because these are things a proofreader or line editor should have fixed. I’ve never met Ms. Fish, but I can bet she’s less than pleased, and my heart goes out to her. I’m such a fast reader, and so good at closure, that my brain autocorrects most things for me, and they don’t detract from the reading experience. Slower readers may not be so lucky.

Despite this, I recommend this book, because everyone needs to find a little Comfort, and with this book, they will.

Goes well with: Ginger snaps, but not the commercial kind, and a cafe cortado.

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10/24/23 Reading by Moonlight Review
10/24/23 Hall Ways Blog BONUS Stop
10/25/23 The Book’s Delight Review
10/25/23 LSBBT Blog BONUS Stop
10/26/23 Bibliotica Review
10/27/23 Jennie Reads Review
10/27/23 The Page Unbound BONUS Stop
10/28/23 The Plain-Spoken Pen Review
10/29/23 Rox Burkey Blog Review
10/30/23 StoreyBook Reviews Review
10/31/23 Carpe Diem Chronicles Review
11/01/23 Boys’ Mom Reads BONUS Stop
11/01/23 It’s Not All Gravy Review
11/02/23 Forgotten Winds Review

 

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Pringle Prawn by Michael Scott Clifton – Review and Giveaway

BNR Pringle Prawn

 

About the book, Pringle Prawn Cover Pringle Prawn

  • Genre: Contemporary Urban Fantasy / Fairies / Humor
  • Publisher: Book Liftoff
  • Date of Publication: September 19, 2023
  • Number of Pages: 310 pages
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Move over Tinker Bell. There’s a new fairy in town!

Ben’s luck is changing. He has his iconic VW bus, a hot, wealthy girlfriend, and he’s managed to buy an old fixer-upper in an upscale neighborhood—just the thing to convince his girlfriend’s influential father that he’s husband material. But his new home has a secret, and when Ben opens a mysterious grandfather clock, he finds himself dropped into a magical land. There he meets Pringle, a six-inch prawn with a supercharged attitude and a pouchful of fairy dust. She saves his life, and when Ben returns to his world, Pringle returns with him.

Pringle’s adjustment to the modern world is a hilarious series of incidents that completely disrupt Ben’s life. When Russian mobsters and a vengeful HOA president attempt to hijack Ben’s life, Pringle zooms to the rescue—a pinch here, a pinch there, nothing a little fairy dust can’t fix.

But it’s when Pringle begins to grow that things really get interesting, because as Pringle’s size increases, so do her feelings for Ben. Ultimately, Pringle must decide whether to return to her world—or follow her heart and stay with Ben.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Michael Scott Clifton Author Photo Clifton

Multi-award-winning author Michael Scott Clifton lives in Mount Pleasant, Texas with his wife, Melanie. An avid gardener, rapacious reader, and movie junkie, his books contain facets of all the genres he enjoys—action, adventure, magic, fantasy, and romance. His fantasy novels, The Janus Witch, and the Conquest of the Veil series, (The Open Portal, Escape from Wheel, A Witch’s Brew, and Cavern of the Veil Queen) all received 5-Stars from the prestigious Readers Favorite Book Reviews. The Open Portal has been honored with a Feathered Quill Book Finalist Award. In addition, his YA novel Edison Jones and The Anti-Grav Elevator received a Feathered Quill Book Award Bronze Medal. Two of his short stories have earned Gold Medals, with “Edges of Gray” winning the Texas Authors Contest, and “The End Game”, winning the Northeast Texas Writer’s Organization Contest. Professional credits include published articles in the Texas Study of Secondary Education Magazine.

Connect with Michael:

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

As a previous reader and review of Michael Scott Clifton‘s work, I was excited to read his latest. Pringle Prawn is, at once, a delightful romp through a fantasy world (think Terry Brooks mixed with Lev Grossman) and a contemporary thriller in the vein of David Baldacci, combined into one immensely satisfying, unique package.

The fantasy elements are what drew me to this title. I loved the fish-out-of-water Ben exploring the fantasy forest (and running for his life!) and the spunky Pringle the prawn, though in this case a prawn isn’t something you eat, but a being much akin to a fairy. Tinkerbell gone wild, maybe. But the parallel plot of human trafficking grounded the fantastic parts of this novel in a very real, very gritty world and gave real purpose to Ben’s adventures in not-so-wonderful land.

The characters are what really sold me on this book. Ben and Pringle, obviously, but the Russian criminals were deliciously villainous, and Ben’s girlfriend Cara who embodied the perfect self-absorbed rich girl who may not be as shallow as she initially seems.  Clifton has a gift for writing dialogue that feels real, and his work in this novel is no exception. I particularly liked Pringle’s failure to grasp Ben’s colloquial English, and I appreciated the breezy, affected air of Cara’s speech. Maude the HOA president was also wonderfully written – I think I know her.

The pacing of Pringle Prawn is also perfect. From the opening in media res to the very end, I was completely immersed in the story. It never felt draggy, and the necessary exposition was provided organically. It’s a bit over three hundred pages long, but moves along so swiftly that I devoured it in one sitting on a rainy autumn afternoon.

Bottom line: if you, like me, never pass a wardrobe without checking to see if it leads to an enchanted forest, this novel is for you.

Goes well with: a hearty beef stew and a tankard of ale.


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10/10/23 The Book’s Delight Review
10/10/23 The Clueless Gent Review
10/11/23 Book Fidelity Review
10/11/23 LSBBT Blog BONUS Stop
10/12/23 Reading by Moonlight Review
10/12/23 StoreyBook Reviews Review
10/13/23 Bibliotica Review
10/13/23 Hall Ways Blog BONUS Stop
10/14/23 Boys’ Mom Reads Review
10/15/23 The Real World According to Sam Review
10/16/23 It’s Not All Gravy Review
10/17/23 Forgotten Winds Review
10/17/23 Shelf Life Blog BONUS Stop
10/18/23 The Plain-Spoken Pen Review
10/18/23 Chapter Break Book Blog Review
10/19/23 Carpe Diem Chronicles Review
10/19/23 Rox Burkey Blog Review

 

 

 

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Book Review: Rip the Sky, by Mark Packard – with Giveaway

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About the book, Rip the Sky Cover Med Res Rip the Sky

  • Genre: Speculative Fiction / Fantasy / Science Fiction
  • Publisher: Bluestreak Publishing
  • Page Count: 317 pages
  • Publication Date: August 21, 2023
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After a shocking courtroom tragedy, a disturbed Vietnam veteran and the vindictive judge who sent him to prison become an unlikely pair of time travelers in a chaotic multiverse. The fallen angel who rescues them wants to guide them to a radiant new life. But first they must return to the scene of a ghastly crime.

Billy Worster was a naïve teenager ill-prepared for the gruesome realities of war. The sole survivor of a deadly massacre in a Vietnamese jungle, he avoided certain death only because he ran away when the shooting started. Riddled with guilt, he comes home to a dusty Texas farm with post-traumatic stress disorder and the crazy notion that he can fly in and out of parallel worlds.

As Billy struggles with addiction and questions his sanity, he is arrested on a drug charge and ends up in the courtroom of Judge Madeline Johnston, a bitter old judge tormented by a dark secret surrounding her father’s death. She callously tosses Billy into prison, but when a greedy executor files a lawsuit to steal his inherited land, Billy is hauled back to her courtroom in chains, where a stunning twist of fate launches them into the sky on an odyssey of discovery and healing.

Spanning forty years from the jungles of Vietnam through infinite, parallel worlds, Rip the Sky examines how the power of forgiveness can lead us toward a better life, no matter how many worlds we may live in.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Mark Packard Author Photo cred Adair

Mark Packard spent the last 38 years as a trial attorney and is now retired from the courtroom and working as a mediator. In a life before lawyering he was a journalist and regrets waiting far too long before returning to his roots to write his first novel, Rip the Sky. Though he knows he should have jumped off the merry-go-round years ago, he hopes to hang around long enough to craft a few more tales.

Connect with Mark:

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

In many ways, Mark Packard’s debut novel Rip the Sky is a war story. Actually, it’s a war story on many levels. There’s the literal war that the main character, Billy Worster, fights in Viet Nam. There’s the mental war between the PTSD he suffers as a result of his experiences in the jungle. There’s the chemical war Billy fights against the drugs and alcohol that make his pain recede. And there’s the metaphysical one, fought not just by Billy, but also by the Judge whose fate is tied to his: Madeline Johnston, the battle for forgiveness of self and others, the fight for a clear conscious and an easy mind.

Author Mark Packard tells all of these war stories elegantly. His descriptions of both the physical – the jungle, the farm where a woman named Rachel gives Billy a literal lifeline, the unforgiving courtroom where Madeline presides – and the metaphysical – the “patch of Eden” that both characters long for – are visceral, cinematic and incredibly specific. His use of language – Billy is not a particularly bright person on the surface – or at least, not academically – while Madeleine is analytical, hiding behind the law as much as interpreting it- is deft. Each word feels carefully crafted, but the overall story never seems contrived. The events that are depicted are often grim, but everything is grounded so well in emotional truth that the story is compelling. I read this book straight through in one evening (then skimmed it a bit later so it would be fresh for this review.  I was rooting for Billy all the way through, even when he made poor choices. By the end, I was willing Madeleine to make the right choices, too.

While this novel isn’t obvious science fiction, there are elements of fantasy flowing through it, and those elements are organic, coming mainly from the capacity of the human mind to give us sanctuary from our own realities when we are at our lowest points. Of course, there’s also a fallen angel, so not all the fantasy is imagined. (Or is it? Aren’t the places we create in our minds as real as the spaces we inhabit?)  The term “speculative fiction” fades in and out of common use, but it’s the most applicable one for this unique novel.

Coming in at a meaty 317 pages, Rip the Sky immerses the reader in Packard’s prose and his gripping, well-paced storytelling. This novel is gritty in places. There is drug use, alcohol abuse, and violence in these pages. But the story is brilliant both as a piece of literature, and as an object lesson in two things: the resilience of the human spirit, and the need to better care for our military veterans.

Goes well with: Prime rib and pinot noir.


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Book Review and Giveaway: Things Get Ugly by Joe R. Lansdale

BNR Things Get Ugly

 

About the book, Things Get Ugly: The Best Crime Stories of Joe R. Lansdale Cover Things Get Ugly

  • Crime Fiction / Mystery / Short Stories
  • Publisher: Tachyon Publications
  • Date of Publication: August 15, 2023
  • Number of Pages: 352 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Edgar Award winner Joe R. Lansdale (the Hap and Leonard series) returns to the piney, dangerous woods of East Texas. In this career retrospective of his best crime stories, Lansdale shows exactly why critics continue to compare him to Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner.

  • In the 1950s, a young small-town projectionist mixes it up with a violent gang.
  • When Mr. Bear is not alerting us to the dangers of forest fires, he lives a life of debauchery and murder.
  • A brother and sister travel to Oklahoma to recover the dead body of their uncle.
  • A lonely man engages in dubious acts while pining for his rubber duckie.

In this collection of nineteen unforgettable crime tales, Joe R. Lansdale brings his legendary mojo and witty grit to harrowing heists, revenge, homicide, and mayhem. No matter how they begin, things are bound to get ugly—and fast.

Praise for this book:

“A terrifically gifted storyteller.” -– Washington Post Book Review  

“One of the best crime writers in the business.” — Ace Atkins, New York Times bestselling author of The Revelators  

“While Lansdale’s work is as varied as the regions of Texas, there is one common link through it all: his brilliant storytelling.” –- Grimdark Magazine

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About the author, Joe R. Lansdale Author Photo Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale (Savage Season, The Donut Legion) is the internationally bestselling author of more than fifty novels, including the popular, long-running Hap and Leonard novels. Many of his cult classics have been adapted for television and film, most famously the films Bubba Ho-Tep and Cold in July and the Hap and Leonard series on Sundance TV and Netflix. Lansdale has written numerous screenplays and teleplays, including for the iconic Batman: The Animated Series. He has won an Edgar Award for The Bottoms and ten Stoker Awards, and he has been designated a World Horror Grandmaster. Lansdale, like many of his characters, lives in East Texas, with his wife, Karen.

Connect with Joe:

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

In the second introduction to this collection of short stories, Things Get Ugly, the author, Joe Lansdale, states that he doesn’t use trigger warnings, which I appreciated, though I’d argue that that is a form of trigger warning. Still, if you haven’t read any of Lansdale’s previous work (I haven’t), you should know that his use of coarse language, rough sex, and extreme violence makes Stephen King’s work seem PG-13. So, yes, these stories are gritty, earthy, violent. They combine horror, noir, and pulp-fiction. They will push you to the edge of your comfort zone, and leave you feeling a little squeamish. But good writing and good storytelling should provoke a reaction.

They are also BRILLIANT. Lansdale’s writing is vivid and visceral. Even when I was confronted by content I would not typically choose (the first entry in this collection, “The Steel Valentine” would require an entire page of entries at Does the Dog Die, if it were included there), I could not stop reading. The characters leap off the page, capture you in a strangle-hold, and do not let go until you’ve finished their story.

For the most part, these are not people I’d want to meet, but the stories are quirky, original, and interesting. Sure, some of them, like the afore-mentioned “The Steel Valentine” feel like the violence is almost gratuitous, but then there’s “The Ears,” which is the kind of Hitchcock -meets-O. Henry thriller that I love, and “Billie Sue,” which manages to be poignant in places. “Santa at the Cafe” is perfectly layered, and truly funny, while “Dead Sister,” is a truly unique take on ghouls (and may I take a moment to applaud the author for understanding the ghouls and zombies are totally different things?) .  And then there’s “Mr Bear,” which introduces us to a side of Smokey Bear (yes, that Smokey Bear) that I almost wish I could un-read, except that as dark and twisted as it is, it’s also perfect.

Things Get Ugly includes nineteen stories in all, each with a short introduction from the author. I’m not going to review every one of them. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea – or fifth of gin – but they’re definitely worth the time spent reading, and you can tell that the author put care into every word. The beauty of short story anthologies is that you can read one, skip around in the book, or even keep it for bathroom reading (though if you’re like me, your feet will fall asleep if you do that).

Goes well with: A juicy steak and a glass of Scotch.


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08/08/23 Bibliotica Review
08/08/23 Hall Ways Blog Excerpt
08/09/23 The Clueless Gent Review
08/09/23 LSBBT Blog BONUS Stop
08/10/23 The Book’s Delight Review
08/11/23 Forgotten Winds Review
08/12/23 Jennie Reads Review
08/13/23 The Real World According to Sam Review
08/14/23 It’s Not All Gravy Review
08/15/23 StoreyBook Reviews Review
08/15/23 Chapter Break Book Blog Excerpt
08/16/23 Rox Burkey Blog Review
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#Book #Review and #Giveaway: Dreams of Arcadia, by Brian Porter

BNR Dreams of Arcadia

 

About the Book, Dreams of Arcadia Cover Dreams of Arcadia

  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Publisher: Legacy Book Press
  • Date of Publication: June 27, 2023
  • Number of Pages: 222 pages
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Veterinarian Nate Holub takes a job in his father’s Texas hometown, wondering if a city boy has what it takes to be a country vet. As he struggles to adapt, Nate reconnects with his family and discovers that his father’s accidental death thirty years earlier was much more complicated than he realized.

Nate delves into the past, afraid of what he might find. He encounters a resentful cousin, a wary town patriarch, a reclusive uncle, a beguiling hidden garden, and a mysterious illness. Nate is drawn to the Holub family farm, where he seeks refuge in nature and tries desperately to reach Viola, his inscrutable grandmother. The farm is a place that haunts his memory, a place where dark secrets dwell.

Dreams of Arcadia is a touching portrait of an American family. It explores the enduring ties that hold us together and bind us to the land.

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About the Author, Brian Porter Author Photo Porter

Brian Porter lives in College Station, Texas, where he works as a veterinary pathologist.

He previously worked in private veterinary practice and once taught high school chemistry.

Dreams of Arcadia is his first novel.

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

On the surface, Brian Porter’s debut novel Dreams of Arcadia is a simple story of a man returning to his rural roots. But in the deft hands of this virtuoso storyteller, Nate Holub’s story is more than merely simple. Rather, it explores the complex relationships we all have with the places where we grew up, the people who raised us, and the dreams that were dear to us, some of which never came true, and some of which evolved into unexpected choices. In this case, we have a “big city” veterinarian who has returned to his rural Texas hometown to discover new facets of himself, and the father who died thirty years before. Nate is a father himself, which adds depth to the story. In addition to discovering truths about his family, he must also provide a strong foundation for his girls – one that is tied to the land he came from,
but not necessarily beholden to it.

I’ve worked in pet rescue, so I’m a sucker for an animal story, even when it’s really a people story, as Dreams of Arcadia is.  In this case, I felt making Nate a veterinarian was a wise choice. Moments with the animals and vet staff interjected light and humor when they were needed, but also provided poignant counterpoint at times. I got a kick out of Nate limiting a local farmer on the amount of medicine he’d provide, so he wouldn’t treat the entire rural community. I also think Nate’s rapport with animals also softened some aspects of the story, like his relationship with his cousin Wink – who seems to have an issue with him – and with his aging grandmother Viola and his aunt Ruthie and her family.

I appreciated the pacing of this novel. Nothing was rushed, but neither did the story feel like it was too slow. Rather, this was the literary equivalent of a balmy summer day. You know crisper weather is lurking behind the sunny skies but you have time to savor the light and heat. I also loved the vivid descriptions of the land, especially the gardens  – including one that’s essentially secret – where Nate finds himself. The land in this novel is truly a character in its own right. Part family drama, part “All Creatures Great and Small – Texas edition,” and part mystery, this book has elements to please any reader, and what’s better is that they form a cohesive whole and satisfying story.

Goes well with a summer salad with garden fresh greens, nuts and berries, and a glass of sweet tea.

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06/27/23 Shelf Life Blog Excerpt
06/27/23 Hall Ways Blog BONUS Stop
06/28/23 Reading by Moonlight Review
06/28/23 LSBBT Blog BONUS Stop
06/29/23 Chapter Break Book Blog Notable Quotables
06/30/23 Bibliotica Review
07/01/23 Jennie Reads Review
07/02/23 Forgotten Winds Author Interview
07/03/23 The Plain-Spoken Pen Review
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Book #Review and #Giveaway: Watermelon Tattoo by Tony Burnett

CBNR Watermelon Tattoo

 

About the book, Watermelon Tattoo Cover Watermelon Tattoo 1

  • Genre: Psychological Thriller / Suspense
  • Publisher: Watertower Press
  • Date of Publication: February 14, 2023
  • Number of Pages: 300 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway!

Naïve but charismatic farm girl, Jacquelyn Benderman, has her life perfectly planned until her town blames her for the accidental death of the local high school’s star running back. Feeling like a pariah, she flees to Austin, Texas where her luck seems to change. Her rapid rise to stardom as a blues diva is derailed when an anonymous stalker begins systematically murdering her associates, leaving the police to suspect her.

As Y2K approaches, she wrestles with the guilt of falling for her roommate, a Romanian folk singer who survives as a call-girl, while the show band she sings with rehearses for a national tour.

Can she protect her new lover from danger? Will the world end at midnight? Is there no hiding place when everyone knows who you are?

Praise for this book:

“Burnett has created an unconventional and magnetic character who makes a memorable first impression.” Kirkus Reviews

“Bodies, wrecked and loved, Wiccan handfasting, sex work, guns, watermelons, and music—lots of music—light up this thrilling nail-biter.” –Lesley Bannatyne, author of Unaccustomed

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the author, Tony Burnett Author Photo Burnett

Award-winning poet and songwriter Tony Burnett is the Executive Director of Kallisto Gaia Press. He served as President of the Writers’ League of Texas from 2013 to 2017. His poetry, short fiction, and environmentally focused nonfiction appear in over 70 publications. His previous books include the story collection, Southern Gentlemen and a full-length poetry collection, The Reckless Hope of Scoundrels. He resides in rural central Texas with his trophy wife and several rescue dogs who pay him no mind unless hungry. His hobbies include poking wasp nests with short sticks and wandering aimlessly about. He hopes you enjoy meeting his imaginary friends.

Connect with Tony:

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My Thoughts MissMeliss - 2023

Watermelon Tattoo, the new novel from award winning poet and songwriter Tony Burnett, is probably the most intense book I’ve read this year. It’s gritty. It’s earthy. It’s sex-positive and some of the humor is scatological. It’s set against Y2K so there’s no texting culture. It’s also poignant and engaging, and at times it’s even heart-warming. It’s the kind of novel only a musician could write, because it takes many seemingly discordant notes and combines them into a distinctly American – distinctly Texan – symphony.

This novel gives us a dynamo of a lead character in Jaqui Benderman. She’s the only daughter of a widower who is renowned for the Black Diamond watermelons he grows, and while she wants to be a dutiful daughter, she also wants to live her own dreams of being a singer, and I love that she took ownership of those dreams early in the story. Yes, there are times when she’s still a bit of a lost little girl, but she always has her vision.

Her childhood friend Langley provides the countermelody in the story, adding another perspective but never taking over the lead. He’s important to the plot and important to Jaqui and her growth as a person and an artist, but he’s definitely a supporting player, not the lead.

Then there’s Sarge – Jaqui’s father. He drinks too much and is still mourning her long-dead mother, but his heart is in the right place. When Jaqui eventually introduces him to her Romany girlfriend, Katrine, his acceptance of their relationship is beautifully written, resoundingly real, and a model for the way every parent should be when their child finds love.

While there is a mystery (albeit not a terribly cryptic one) that runs through Watermelon Tattoo, of “who wants Jaqui dead,” the real draw – for me, at least – is just following Jaqui’s journey and seeing the behind-the-scenes parts of the Austin music industry. Even though Jaqui prefers torch songs (same, girl, same) to head-banging metal, this story has a strong sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll vibe.

If you haven’t grasped that this novel is absolutely meant for adults, let me make it plain that it is. There is a lot of alcohol use, both recreationally and as a form of self-medication for both Jaqui and her father. There is drug use. There is a lot of sex (m/f and f/f).  Another author may not have handled this much material so deftly, but Burnett has a coherent vision, and has composed a story that is so well-grounded in emotional truth that this ride, while wild, is worth every breathless second.

Goes well with: tequila-soaked watermelon cubes served with mint and lime.


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05/30/23 Boys’ Mom Reads Review
05/30/23 Hall Ways Blog Spotlight
05/31/23 StoreyBook Reviews Review
05/31/23 LSBBT Blog Spotlight
06/01/23 Reading by Moonlight Review
06/02/23 The Real World According to Sam Review
06/03/23 Jennie Reads Review
06/04/23 The Book’s Delight Spotlight
06/05/23 Forgotten Winds Review
06/06/23 Chapter Break Book Blog Spotlight
06/07/23 The Plain-Spoken Pen Review
06/08/23 The Clueless Gent Review
06/08/23 Bibliotica Review

 

 

 

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#Book #Review and #Giveaway: Ghostly Bugles by Max L. Knight

BNR Ghostly Bugles

 

About the Book, Ghostly Bugles Cover Ghostly Bugles

  • Genre: Historical Fiction / Texas History
  • Publisher: Wild Lark Books
  • Date of Publication: February 23, 2023
  • Number of Pages: 210 pages
  • Scroll down for Giveaway

Do the souls of the dead reach out from beyond the grave? Do echoes of the past resound through the ages? Are such insights a privilege or a curse? An old man grapples with these questions and his own mortality as he re-examines one of the most famous battles in history – the Alamo.

The 1836 siege and battle as well as current efforts to restore Alamo Plaza to hallowed ground and create a world-class attraction unfold as the old man tries to make sense of his memories, dreams, and perceived outreach by the dead whose souls cry out to him for inclusion and recognition. Beyond the myth and the legend are their stories as well as his own.

Ghostly Bugles is a fictional re-creation of the Alamo story, rich in historical detail with a unique paranormal element. The narrative combines elements of the traditional storyline with contemporary efforts to “Re-imagine the Alamo”. The dual timelines balance our understanding of this world- renowned event and provide new perspective and appreciation for the courage and sacrifice of everyone involved – Texian and Tejano defenders, and Mexican soldiers

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

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About the Author, Max L. Knight

Author Photo Max Knight

MAX L. KNIGHT was born in Panama and grew up in the Canal Zone and in San Antonio, Texas, where he and his wife reside. In addition to degrees from Texas A&M University and Campbell University, Max served twenty-four years in the United States Army (1973-1997), retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

He became the first Alamo Docent in 2004, but the tragic events of 9/11 compelled him to reactivate his security clearance and, when the approval finally came through, he returned to work in support of U.S. Counterintelligence operations. A stage IV throat cancer diagnosis in 2014 abruptly ended that phase of his life, and he turned to writing to help him get through the chemo, radiation, and surgeries. Max is currently cancer free.

His other works include Silver Taps, Palo Duro, and Tarnished Brass.

Connect with Max:

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My Thoughts

MissMeliss

The first thing that struck me about Max L. Knight’s latest historical novel, Ghostly Bugles, was the language. It’s gorgeous. Every word feels like it was carefully chosen, and the overall effect is that the reader feels immersed in the story – even the grimmer bits, because, this is, after all, the story of the Battle of the Alamo, and there is no small amount of discussion of dead bodies and battle victims, though, it should be said, there is no glorification of death in this story.

This novel is far more than that, however. It’s a deep exploration into people that are just names in history books for most of us: Santa Anna, Bowie, Crockett, Travis, the thirteen-day siege that was a defining moment in Texas history, the 90-minute battle, the aftermath, and the way it all echoes into modern times, including current restoration and development efforts.

Fictionalizing a real event requires great knowledge and great craft, and in this book, author Knight displays both. He uses a contemporary character known only as The Old Man to ground the story in the here and now, and we are left wondering if he is dreaming or actually remembering the events of 187 years ago, and the people involved.

Aside from the brilliant use of language, what I really liked is that Knight turned these historical figures into dimensional people. I did NOT grow up in Texas (though I ultimately lived there longer than anywhere else) so I don’t recall a lot of time spent on the Alamo in my history classes, but it was certainly mentioned, especially in California, which also shares a border with Mexico. So it was only in this book that I learned of Bowie’s failing health, or that Crockett and Travis were at odds with each other, and had supporting factions who were equally so. I also hadn’t realized that Travis was known for his oration skills. It’s this humanization of legends that really made this story sing for me.

Or maybe it wasn’t singing, but the sound of the eponymous ghostly bugles. As someone who has a visceral reaction to the sound of “Taps,” the title evoked the realities of battle as much as the story it introduced.

Overall, this is a richly descriptive story, fictional, but based in truth. It’s a compelling read, but it also sent me on a hunt for non–fiction accounts that were deeper than what’s in a grade school or high school textbook. I love it when a novel provokes that sort of response in me, and I suspect other readers will, as well.

Goes well with: chicken quesadillas and Shiner bock.


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Signed copy of Ghostly Bugles

(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 5/25/23)

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05/15/23 The Clueless Gent Review
05/15/23 Hall Ways Blog Review
05/15/23 StoreyBook Reviews BONUS Stop
05/16/23 Guatemala Paula Loves to Read Review
05/16/23 Writing and Music Review
05/16/23 LSBBT Blog BONUS Stop
05/17/23 Bibliotica Review
05/17/23 Book Fidelity Review
05/18/23 Shelf Life Blog Review
05/18/23 The Real World According to Sam Review
05/18/23 All the Ups and Downs BONUS Stop
05/19/23 Forgotten Winds Review
05/19/23 Reading by Moonlight Review

 

 

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