These Toxic Things by #RachelHowzellHall

It took me a little while to actually decide to read These Toxic Things for a few reasons. To be brutally honest, I haven’t read very many books written by Black authors. When I do, I end up loving them but I’m always a bit hesitant writing reviews for fear of being nonauthentic or coming across as artificial. At my age sometimes we’re still learning, you know? It’s sad that we have to learn at all but we are. With that said, I absolutely loved These Toxic Things!

Mickie is a young Black woman who creates Memory banks, holographic scrapbooks, for people. Do these even exist and if they do, I want one!! I created digital scrapbooks professionally for years for people and this is would be like the Tesla of the scrapbooking world. Anyway, she is hired to create a Memory Bank for an elderly woman who has Alzheimer’s. The woman is truly looking forward to telling her story to Mickie, they meet once and then the woman commits suicide. Mickie, however, is not convinced that it IS suicide and as she continues to work on the woman’s memories she finds that the memories are pointing her toward a very horrifying conclusion. In addition, there are things in Mickie’s personal life that are not as they seem which are becoming interwoven with her job on the Memory Bank and soon it all comes crashing down. Who survives? Who doesn’t?

Wow – there is so much going on in the book but there a few things that should be addressed. First, I seriously don’t give two shits whether Mickie, at age 24, is a millennial a Gen Zer, a Boomer or whatever other word our idiotic society has come up with to divide this society. She’s a character in a book. Get over it already. Second, Black is used with a capital “B” because that is how the publishing industry has set its standard from the Associated Press to Reuters to every worth publishing house in the US. If you don’t like, if you feel you need to give a book a one star rating based on this, then perhaps you should get help for your very overt racism. Third, there is CURSING in the fucking book. Yep, there is. That’s what grown ass adults do in the real world. If you are not adult enough to read a book with FUCK in it then might I suggest the Christian book section for you or Clifford the Big Red Dog!!!

There! I loved the book. The writing is authentic. The characters are REAL!!! The story is not predictable but you might figure out “whodunnit.” Who cares!? Go get your junior detective badge and pin it on. GREAT BOOK!!!!!!!! I’m off to read more of her books right now. I hope she curses in those as well!

The Spires by #KateMoretti

Five friends through university become five co-dependents in the year following graduation when they find that none of them are quite ready to move past the relationships that they have formed. Now twenty years later the strangeness, tragedy and secrets of that year have come back to haunt of the “spires” as they called themselves. But why? And who is doing this to her, to them?

There appear to be many books lately on the shelves dealing with “reunions.” Since I didn’t form these types of relationships during university nor have I ever attended a reunion, the idea of these hard and fast friendships and the secrets that go with them both intrigue and irk me. In The Spires, there are five struggling young people, none of whom have a strong family background or even family at all, who cling to one another at the exclusion or anyone else and, literally, all else until tragedy strikes and someone is killed. The five pay the psychological price for the next twenty years, a few even pay with their lives. It is the unraveling of one, Penelope, that is the focus of the story and Moretti does an excellent job of making her both interesting and sympathetic.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Spires. I had to suspend a bit of believability at the end but the very end was beautiful, quite worth the read. I will note that this is NOT a thriller. Labeling it as such does a disservice to an otherwise very good book. I’m growing quite tired of publishing houses sticking “thriller” on every mystery or domestic noir book that comes their way. Readers expecting blood and gore will be disappointed and readers who don’t like thrillers won’t read an otherwise very engaging book. Publishing houses should do better!

Bad Scene #MaxTomlinson

Max Tomlinson is back with my favorite character, Colleen Hayes, an ex-con (she stabbed her abusive husband, who could blame her) now private investigator in the 1960s/70s. This series began in the 1960s but with Bad Scene we’ve moved into the groovin 70s, an era filled with disco music, cults and political upheaval. God, I loved the 70s and I absolutely LOVED Bad Scene.

Colleen gets a tip from her source, Lucky, that there is going to be an assassination of the Mayor of San Francisco. The group responsible for the information turns out to be skinhead biker group that also holds clues to the whereabouts of Colleens daughter – a cult in South America that is striving for perfection through death via an erupting volcano. If any of this sounds familiar, it is. There is a lot of fact interspersed throughout Bad Scene and those of us who lived through the 70s will instantly recognize the murder of Harvey Milk and insanity of Jim Jones and his suicide cult. One would think the US had learned their lesson from cults but apparently not.

Colleen is ever fearless and and she charges full steam ahead trying to solve all of the above before anyone dies. Unfortunately, she only succeeds at a portion of her goals. Bad Scene is a fabulous piece of crime fiction with a well developed, strong female lead set in an era that is ripe for crime stories. Honestly, I’m so sick of WWII that I will read any historical fiction set in the 60s and 70s – thank you Mr. Tomlinson!! Now, somehow I missed the second book in the series so I’m going back to that one today. If you haven’t read any of these, go! Now! Grab the first one, Vanishing in the Haight and get started, although they all can be read as stand alone books as well. Please, Max, please don’t let this be the last of the series!!!

Constance by Matthew FitzSimmons

Rarely do I have the pleasure of reading pure Sci-Fi since most Sci-Fi written today involves space fiction or fantasy but Constance was a rare treat of pure hard core science fiction set in the not-so near but near enough future so that, thankfully, it did not require world building (I hate world building, sorry.)

At its heart is the story of cloning. The rich elite get to keep themselves going forever, basically, with a few unfortunate catches. Your clone has to come back as an exact replica as yourself and the age that you were when you died. Of course, you have all new body parts but not a new shell. Bummer. Who wants this body!? But your brain and emotions and memories in tact. Again I asked, who wants THIS body!? Okay, okay… brains and memories are good but, seriously, if I’m going to pay for a clone I want a new body, okay!? And, well, that’s what a lot of people want in the book as well.

FitzSimmons has a great premise throughout with the mystery that he has developed – why Constance has been cloned in the first place – but he also goes deeper into the realm of ethics regarding cloning and about how people, especially in a religious country would respond to clones (not good, obviously!) and what rights would these clones have with new bodies but the same brain and memories but, supposedly, no soul. And then there is the question of a soul. Do we have one? Do clones? I thought the moral implications throughout the book were fascinating.

If you like hard core sci-fi and if you are the type to read a little deeper into a storyline that what is on the surface then I think you will find that Constance is very intriguing book and one that I highly recommend.

Three For Thursday: I Will Make You Pay, On Cold Ground and Tell No Lies

There was a time during 2020, when I simply had to step away from crime fiction and thrillers. Perhaps it was the reality of death everywhere or maybe I had hit a tipping point of reading too many but I switched gears into other genres. I’ve gone back to some types of crime fiction as you can tell from my posts, but thrillers and suspense still leave me dry. The three books that I am featuring today were some I set aside and came back to and, for the most part, I’m glad that I did.

I WILL MAKE YOU PAY by Teresa Driscoll

Driscoll is one of my favorite go-to authors for creepy, timely crime fiction. She nearly always hits on a subject that we’re already feeling a bit uncomfortable with such as social media. I Will Make You Pay is another in that same vein. Alice is a journalist who begins receiving strange phone calls every Wednesday like clock work. At first she brushes it off as a crank call but when gifts begin arriving as well, she realizes she has a stalker. Uhm, yes Alice, you do. It took her a bit too long to come to this realization I think.

Alice’s boss wants her to take some time away from work and her husband hires a private detective but he discovers more secrets about Alice than he does about the person stalking her. So many secrets, lies and miscues and so much stupidity from Alice made this book hard for me to stomach. Of all of Driscoll’s books, this is my least favorite just because I cared so little for Alice. I won’t give up on Driscoll but I cannot recommend this book either.


On Cold Ground is the fifth book in the Karen Hart series and I think it is the best thus far. I got sidetracked with other British police procedurals and then realized that I completely missed this one. Good thing I discovered my error because On Cold Ground is terrific!

Karen Hart is out enjoying the holiday festivities when she hears a scream from the nearby cathedral. Although it is her night off, one of few, she runs toward the scream and discovers a dead male with a cross carved into his forehead. Unknown to Karen, she has been followed for the past few hours by a person known as “the sparrow” and as the case gets more involved and twisted, there is a hint of police corruption involving a car accident. SO much to keep up with and yet it all ties together and is brilliantly done so with Butler’s deft writing skills. If you like British suspense then I highly recommend On Cold Ground which can be read as a stand alone, however, I encourage you to enjoy the entire series.

TELL NO LIES by Allison Brennan

I absolutely loved (!) The Third to Die which is the first in this series by Allison Brennan and I was really looking forward to reading the second! On top of that, the book’s subject matter was totally in my wheelhouse – environmental disasters and industry pollution killing wildlife and our national parks. Sadly, I couldn’t even finish the book. 😦 To be very honest, I have no idea why. I love the characters. I do. But the writing for this book was so utterly different from the first that I have difficulty believing that it was written by Allison Brennan. I am going upstream against all those who loved the book and I know that but this is one that I cannot recommend and Iwill be very leery about reading the next in the series.

Please share your thoughts with me. Have your read these books or others in the series? What did you think about them?

Preserving the Season by Mary Tregellas

Years and years ago, maybe hundreds, I learned to make a simple strawberry jam with my grandfather. I thought I was a proper know it all at that point because none of my friends knew how to do that. It was like magic watching the berries and pectin slowly meld into such a marvelous concoction. That simple strawberry jam was as far as I got for year and years more until I discovered the joys of food preservation. Now I look forward to summer when I gather fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables together knowing that I can make this bounty last all winter long.

That knowledge is the basis of Mary Tregellas’ book, “Preserving the Season,” a beautifully illustrated, simple to understand guide, full of easy to understand recipes about using and preserving the wealth of your garden or local market. There is an introduction to items you will need or find useful for preservation which moves into the recipes for actual preservation. The recipes are varied and mostly unique ranging from jams, jellies and marmalade to cordials and vinegar.

Some of my own preservation thus far this season. Yummy!

The second half of the book is dedicated to using what you have preserved – herbs, jams, etc., in your cooking. There are recipes for herb breads and scones, chutneys and so much more, all using the items from your well preserved panty. While the book and recipes are written simply enough that a beginner preservationist could certainly understand, I think the content might be geared more toward those like me who have been doing this for some time. We’ve got the basics down and now are looking for new ideas and ways to use what we actually preserve, taking it to the next step. We rarely do see guides that answer these questions and Preserving the Season does that brilliantly. I loved it; it’s a perfect addition to my kitchen library and I hope it will be to yours as well.

Not One of Us @DebbieHerbert

I lived in the Southern US nearly my entire life and, honestly, didn’t like it one bit. I did, however, love southern literature. When I moved north, however, I found I didn’t enjoy reading southern lit nearly as much as I once did because it seemed less honest or real, more sappy and contrived as though the authors were attempting to create a genteel place that only existed in their minds or perhaps in Scarlett O’Hara’s mind. I do love Southern Noir, though. Those writers who dig deep, find the darkness that lurks under the low hanging Spanish moss and the evil that hides behind those big tobacco laden grins. Debbie Herbert is one of those authors. While she has written some really interesting paranormal romances in the past, recently she has penned the Normal, Alabama series and now she gives us Not One of Us, set once again in the backwoods of Alabama.

When Jori Trahern was in high school her boyfriend and his entire family disappeared. Now you have to understand that while they lived just across the field from one another, Jori lived in a trailer and her boyfriend lived in a mansion. When he didn’t show up for their prom date, she was convinced by her grandmother that he had a change of heart – but then the family was never seen again. Now, Jori has returned to this backwater town and she is determined to find answers, answers that may get her killed.

What appears to be a formulaic thriller plot line surpasses your expectations due to the vivid imagery of the southern bayou, Herbert’s fabulous character building and the fact that Jori has Synesthesia, the ability to “see” sounds as colors. I swear, I learn something new in every book I read! These three thing elevate Not One of Us to a higher level than your normal southern ho-hum and Herbert’s ability to keep things unusual and interesting are what keep me coming back to Alabama.

Recent Reads, Rapid Reviews: The Heirloom Garden, The Long Call, The Fourteenth of September

It’s time for some quick-fire reviews of books that I’ve pulled from my TBR list, some which were hits and others, well, not so much.

The HEIRLOOM GARDEN by Viola Shipman

For the PopSugar reading challenge I needed a book about a passion of mine. As you know, gardening is a huge passion for me, this year more so than in the past. When I saw the title of this book I thought it would be a perfect read for me. Sadly, I should have read the synopsis more closely. What I read was a younger woman and an older one bond both of whom are suffering bond over their love of the flower garden. What the book is about is a woman who endured the suffering a loss of WWII and a family suffering the effects of the Iraq war. The fact is that I’ve grown a bit weary of reading books about WWII written from the romanticized viewpoint of the US and UK and I simply do not read books about the unjustified Iraqi invasion. Period. I’m very sure that readers of Viola Shipman will love and adore this book. It’s very predictable, a bit on the saccharine sweet side but it definitely wasn’t a book for me. 😦

THE LONG CALL by Ann Cleeves

You already should know what I think about Ann Cleeves writing – I think she is a master, in a class all her own. Since I’m quickly nearing the end of the Vera series and am almost caught up with the Shetland series, I’m thrilled that The Long Call is the beginning of a new and quite different series by Cleeves.

The Long Call introduces us to Matthew Venn, a Detective from North Devon, who has just attended the funeral for his estranged father when he receives a call regarding a murder very near his home by the sea. The case brings Matthew in circles back to his former life in a very strict church which then collides with his new life for which he was ostracized by his family and church. As always with Cleeves, the story unfolds slowly as the characters and the clues unfold allowing the characters to come alive for the reader. I was a bit unsure about Matthew when the book began but by the end I wanted more and, thankfully, the next book in the series is out this summer!! If you like Ann Cleeves, you will adore The Long Call. If you haven’t read her before, this is the perfect starting point for you.


At the opposite end of the plethora of WWII novels is the scarcity of books about the Vietnam war. Amazingly, here in the US, we just skim right over that war as though it’s the black sheep stepchild we’d rather forget, pushed in a corner, brushed under the rug, out of sight, out of mind. And then along comes books like The Fourteenth of September to remind us exactly why we never should forget that period in US history and why it changed an entire generation of American lives forever.

On September 14, 1969, Private First Class Judy Talton celebrates her nineteenth birthday by secretly joining the campus anti-Vietnam War movement. When her birthday is pulled from the draft lotto a few weeks later, she realizes that if she were a male, she would have been one of the first ones shipped out to Vietnam with very low survival expectancy. This realization propels her toward action that will alter her life forever.

This book is a stark, realistic look at the late 60s/early 70s, the anti-war movement, the emerging feminist movement and the anger that was sweeping across university campuses throughout the US. It is extremely well researched and very tightly written. What appears as hyperbole is actually just the facts of that time. It’s harsh and thorough and a must read, especially for Americans. It asks the question, will anyone remember? I do! I will never forget and my entire life has been based on what I learned from this war, from the atrocities committed by the US government during the entire era (50s-70s) and the horrors that linger long after the governments say the war is over.