Forget You Know Me @jessicastrawser

When a video call between friends captures a shocking incident no one was supposed to see, the secrets it exposes threaten to change their lives forever.

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I have read and loved both of Jessica Strawser’s previous novels and knew that I would enjoy reading Forget You Know Me as well. I wasn’t wrong! From the first chapter to the end, the book had me hooked and greedily wanting more! While many erroneously believe that this is a thriller, the thing I’ve learned about Strawser is that, while the suspense is there, it is not the focal point of the story – the characters are where the interest lies and what makes you furiously read to the end. This is definitely a women’s fiction/general fiction, literary novel.

The story begins with two childhood friends making a video call. Their friendship, once forged of steel, is now weakening as both women deal with their own, very different adult lives. Neither wants to give up on what they had when they were younger, but neither do they know how to re-connect. It is during this video call, the call that they both hope will strengthen their friendship once more, that Liza sees a masked intruder in her friend’s home while her friend, Molly, is away from her computer to tend to her child. As Liza frantically calls 911, Molly is upstairs, unaware that anything has happened. When she returns, the laptop is closed and the police are banging on her door. Liza, terrified because her friend will not return her calls, hops in the car and drives from Chicago to Ohio to check on her friend, who, upon her arrival slams the door in her face. ??? Not what Liza expected at all. The story continues to unfold from each friend’s perspective. We learn about their fears, worries, trials and tribulations, marital problems, health problems – you know, all of the things that we all deal with every single day. Yet, somehow, Strawser makes their story so incredibly compelling that the reader becomes invested in their lives and the outcome of this harrowing event.

I will admit that there are some minor flaws in the storyline and some very nit-picking details that had me scratching my head at times. There also were many occasions that I wanted to reach into the book and slap all of the characters for being so stubborn and uncommunicative because, ultimately, all of their problems revolved around miscues, assumptions and miscommunication. Don’t people just talk to one another any more? Well, that is the question that this book will have you asking yourself. Ultimately, this is a book about friendships that come and go, old and new. It is about commitment and what it takes to make any type of relationship work. Most importantly, it is about bonds that we forge – human to human – what it takes to nurture them, strengthen them and when to know to break them for our own well-being. Forget You Know me is a strong, character driven tale in which Strawser deftly guides you along as you explore these characters’ lives, their quirks, pain and joy.

Forget You Know Me has repeatedly been listed as a “must-read” book for this winter and I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree. Strawser is an author that I know I can count on for a very good, well written, beautifully told story.

Immense thanks and gratitude to #Netgalley, @JessicaStrawser and @StMartinsPress for my advanced copy of this amazing book.

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Ghost Busting Mystery: A Shady Hoosier Book by @DaisyPettles

I moved to Indiana for my son, I stayed for the humor. Seriously. Midwesterners, Hoosiers particularly, are some of the funniest people I ever have met! It is that side-splitting, tongue-in-cheek humor that you will discover in the Ghost Busting Mystery: Book 1 of the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency series by Daisy Pettles, aka Vicky Phillips.

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A fellow blogger suggested that I read Ghost Busting Mystery  since I’m always on the hunt for good Midwestern books and authors. I was dubious based on the title and, okay, the description itself. Boy, was I ever glad that I read the book anyway! This is one of my Top Ten Books of 2018 and one of the funniest books I ever have read! As in, EVER!

Ruby Jane, known as RJ to all who know her, and her best friend for life, Veenie, are natural born snoops. They work part-time at the Shades Detective Agency in an extremely small town in Southern Indiana called Knobby Waters.  What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in colorful characters who reside there. RJ and Veenie are on the far side of “elderly,” although that’s not even a word that I ever would use to describe them. They like to snoop for Shades in order to get “twinkie money” that they use for, yes twinkies, emergency pie runs and “mystery meat” sandwiches at the local bar. They have agreed to take the case of the glowing bottomed ghosts hanging out in their neighbor’s orchard.

The author creates a cast of characters, including a drunk wiener dog, and a depiction of rural Indiana, chicken houses resembling the Senate building, so brilliantly and perfectly that I swear I have been there and met these folks. They will have you laughing out loud before you’ve finished the first chapter. Yes, there is a very fine plot/mystery but it is the humor, wit and sarcasm that will keep you glued to the pages of this comedy. It’s like Garrison Keillor meets Mel Brooks: folksy, irreverent, hilarity with a whole lot of Midwestern charm.

If you don’t read one other book before this year ends, you have to read Ghost Busting Mystery. I promise that RJ and Veenie will make glad that you did. If you need me I will be down in southern Indiana looking for the Pie Hut for emergency pie runs!

Loads of thanks to #Netgalley, @DaisyPettles, and #HotPantsPress,LLC for my copy of this comedic tale!

Virgil Wander – Midwest Saturday

We have waited a decade for more beautiful, heart-wrenching tales from the incredible Leif Enger but the wait was worth it to have the astounding story of Virgil Wander 

“He had a hundred merry crinkles at his eyes and a long-haul sadness in his shoulders.”

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Virgil Wander is a sad tale about a declining rust-belt town; a town that has seen much better days as has it people. Yet the perspective changes when Virgil’s car plunges off a cliff into the icy waters below. His survival, subsequent “spidery” thoughts due to a concussion and the arrival of a mystical Swede named Rune, will offer hope and perhaps a small bit of redemption for all they meet.

Enger has given us a book of imagery, a parable of sorts, with characters that resonate and amuse the reader. They are quirky Midwesterners who have a way of making even the worst of times appear to be humorous. The book personifies goodness and evil, hope and despair in a way that only a extremely gifted writer can accomplish – and Enger is, indeed, that gifted writer.

Rarely have I loved a book as much as I have this one but then rarely does an author create a place as marvelous as Greenstone, MN or with characters who steal your heart the way that Greenstone’s residents have stolen mine. You will laugh with them, cry and hurt and, yes, rejoice with them. This is a book that will stay in your heart and mind for a very long time. My only regret is that I have only FIVE STARS to offer this book – it deserves far greater.

Thank you to the author for this enrapturing tale; to the publisher, #GroveAtlantic, and to #Edelweiss for my advanced copy of #VirgilWander.

 

The Fifth To Die by #JDBarker

When girls go missing, later turning up dead in a different person’s clothes, the public suspects the MK4 killer has returned or is this a new madman stalking the streets of Chicago?

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The Fifth to Die by J.D. Barker picks up just after the event of his previous book, The Fourth Monkey. The much loved characters from the first book have returned, although much battered after the events that transpired and with reputations tarnished after Bishop’s (aka the Fourth Monkey) escape. When the murdered girls begin appearing, while sadistic and horrifying, the murders do not have the same “MO” as The Fourth Monkey. Soon, however, Det. Porter sets off on his own “secret” mission to find Bishop by looking for his mother which, of course, will lead to disastrous and dubious results.

The Fourth Monkey was one of my favorite books for 2018 and ranks very high in my all-time favorites of all time. The writing was fresh, the characters were original. I loved the dialogue between the cops and between them and Bishop. It was the type of conversation that you know happens with cops but rarely is included in crime fiction. Knowing that I had high expectations for this follow-up, I tried to tamp down my excitement when I read The Fifth To Die. The second book is a series is always difficult to write, especially when following one as marvelous 4MK. However – don’t you just hate howevers – I was very disappointed in The Fifth To Die. 😦

While I knew that Porter was struggling after the death of his wife, his complete derailment was puzzling for me. Tiny “tells” that were so intriguing in the first book, were plodding in this second. Without giving anything away, there were certain characteristics about Bishop that made him the mad genius that he was – now many of those “facts” were called into question. Yes, I know that there is a storyline that Barker is following and “all will be revealed in the final book,” but to suspend belief in this book was more than I was willing to do. But the one thing that pushed me over the edge was the dialogue. It was so incredibly brilliant in the first book, yet in the second I wanted to put tape over their mouths just to get them to shut up. If Nash had called Clair “Clair Bear” once more, I would have stopped reading the book and series completely! In the era of the #metoomovement, you show me one female cop, regardless of circumstances outside the force, regardless of their relationship with their partner, who allows a male cop to call them by a “pet name” as belittling as this one IN PUBLIC! Not one. It is too hard to be a female cop in the first place, to keep your reputation in tact to allow this continue. It was infuriating.

There has been a lot of hype about the ending – it’s a cliff hanger. The ending didn’t bother me in the least. That is what cliff hangers do – leave you hanging, wanting more. I hope I want more but it is going to take a bit of time to get over my disappointment in this book. I love Barker’s writing. I’ve read his previous books; I’ve read his upcoming co-authored book, Dracul, and he really is a genius. But this one left me tattered, sad and disappointed.

Thank you to the author and to Maxine (Booklover Catlady) for my copy of this book. I apologize for taking so long to review – I read it three times hoping I would feel differently.

 

 

 

Hard Cider

Hard Cider is a meandering, tangled tale that takes you on an emotional path toward a beautiful resolution.

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Women’s Contemporary Fiction is not a genre into which I often delve. The scenarios in the book either are so far from my wheelhouse that I cannot relate, or they mirror my own problems so closely that there is no escape or joy in the reading for me. However, because I absolutely adore hard cider, I had to give this book a try. What a wonderful surprise I had in store for me within the covers of this book!

Abbie Rose Stone has retired from teaching, navigated the stormy seas of infertility, adoption, raising her somewhat eclectic family to adulthood and, now, is ready to begin the next chapter of her life – one of her own choosing – making hard cider. Neither her sons nor her husband are completely on board with Abbie’s plan, but this is her passion and something she wants to do, with or without their support. As she prepares her orchard, meets with other growers and learns her trade, she begins to feel confident in what she’s doing. That confidence, however, is threatened when a young woman comes to Abbie with a secret that could potentially destroy the tenuous threads of Abbie’s family.

When I began reading Hard Cider, I felt as though I was trapped in a maze that was going no where. There is a bit of skipping forward from one time to the next that left me rather confused. The author spends a great deal of time on minute daily details of Abby’s life and then skips entire months or years into the future. At first, this was frustrating; however, as I continued following along Abbie’s story, I found that this style worked really well. Not only did it work, the details and the flowing prose of Abbie’s thoughts, deeply pulled me into her life and that of her family. Soon realized that the conversations Abbie was having with her grown children were, in fact, some of the more difficult conversations I’ve had with my own adult kids. The messages she would tell herself in order to remain calm while discussing problems with her husband – yep, I had done, said and thought those things as well. Rather than boring me or pushing me to set the book aside as “too familiar” with my own life, I was further drawn into the story as I related more and more to Abbie and her life. I, too, began an “adventure” at mid-life, one that had no support from my immediate family. Watching as Abbie grew as a woman and as an entrepreneur helped me to see how I, too, could grow and change. It is, in essence, a “coming of age” story for women in the 21st century. It helped, too, that I love heirloom apples, cider making and hard cider because there is a lot of information about this process within the book which also highlights the incredible beauty of the Midwest that I have come to love so dearly.

I suspect that this might not be a great read for men; it is, after all, labeled as Contemporary Women’s Fiction. However, I would not categorize it as “chick lit” either. Hard Cider is a solidly written story about women, their strength, character and growth. It’s a short read, very enjoyable and one that I highly recommend.

Southern Saturday – Blazing Summer

I was raised in the south and honestly did not like the summers there. There were too many bugs, too much heat and far too much humidity to make me a happy southerner. Now the heat waves have moved north with me and I feel as though I am “back home” in Arkansas once more. All of this heat makes me want to do nothing except sit in the AC, sip lemonade and READ – and that is exactly what I am doing!

Blazing Summer – Darling Investigations 2 is the sizzling summer read – pun intended, of course. It’s hot, filled with tension and great for a quick read on a lazy summer afternoon. However….

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Blazing Summer is the second book in the Darling Investigations series by Denise Grover Swank however it also works as a stand alone since the first chapter is devoted to catching you up with Summer Butler since the last book. Summer is a former actress from a police show, a former beauty queen who worked the pageant circuit, who now has her own reality television show featuring her investigations in her Alabama hometown. In the reality show she investigates interesting but small time crimes while in reality she is investigating, and often solving, bigger cases. The cast of characters is rather typical: her cousin, Dixie, (of course it’s Dixie, right?) her former boyfriend with whom Summer is in an on-again/off again relationship and also just happens to be the Police Chief in the small town, as well as a horrific, infuriating producer who, while female, should be sued for her sexist remarks. But then again, it is the south and that’s how they typically roll. In the second installment, Summer’s former television co-star has joined the reality show which leads to more drama, more angst and more sexist dialogue.

Blazing Summer is a good “cozy mystery.” If you like that genre then you will find this book enjoyable. Perhaps it is because of my dislike for typical southern anti-woman comments which I had to endure for most of my life, I found the book very irritating, especially considering that it is written by a woman. While Summer is portrayed as very strong and capable of handling herself, she rarely (never?) speaks up for herself when these verbal abuses are hurled her way. I get that this is supposed to be a “cute” book but messages repeated over and over soon become the norm and the manner in which Summer deals – or not – with the stereotypical southern sexist remarks left me cold.

Denise Grover Swank, who is a southerner herself, perfectly captures the atmosphere of the small southern town, stereotypically develops the personalities of these characters and adds the prerequisite sexual tension needed for a cozy southern tale. I think it is because of all of the above that it left me wanting a glass of hard lemonade to cool off my hot head.

I can neither recommend or not this book to you. I am sure that there are readers who will enjoy it. It is well written, just not something that I care to read.

Thank you to Goodreads Giveaway program for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Southern Saturday Lit

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Gods of Howl Mountain takes us far down onto the Southern Literary Trail, deep into the mountains of North Carolina. Taylor Brown has created a very dark, intense, somewhat mysterious tale of bootlegging, clan wars and folk healing set in the turbulent 1950s.

Rory Docherty, a Korean War hero, has returned home to live with his grandmother, a folk healer. There he runs whiskey for one of the most powerful bootleggers in the mountains. It is also where he fights his demons – from the war, the loss of his men and his leg, the past that took his father from him at the hands of his own mother. This is a very noir, but realistic, look at the mountain folk of the south throughout twentieth century – not just the 1950s but even, somewhat, today. There are secrets, mysteries, the unknown, that are easier to hide in the mountains than they are in the open land.

This is not a “thriller” or even a suspense novel, but a slow moving tale of these mountain people. There were times that I felt there was too much emphasis on description and too little on the actual plot. However, southern writers tend to be more descriptive and disquisitional so that should be taken into account.

Brown has been compared to Wiley Cash and Cormac McCarthy, both of whom are favorite authors of mine. Although all three write dark, atmospheric tales set in the south, there is a depth that is missing in this Brown novel that would prohibits it being placed in a category with the others. I do see a similarity between Brown’s characters and those of Flannery O’Connor; whether or not that is intentional or a product of southern literature, I’m unsure.

Gods of Howl Mountain is not going to be a book for everyone, however, if you like good, narrative fiction with great detail to character development and setting, then you will enjoy reading Taylor Brown. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 for quality.