Baby Daddy Mystery: Shady Hoosier Detective Agency @DaisyPettles

I’ve been reading some very grim thrillers, gritty urban fiction and heartbreaking women’s fiction lately and I seriously needed a change of pace. How fortuitous that Daisy Pettle would publish the next book in Shady Hoosier Detective Agency series.

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For those of you who may be unaware, “Hoosiers” is the official name for those of us who are lucky enough to live in the midwestern state of Indiana. You can ask a dozen people where the nickname originated and you will receive a dozen different answers but it is now our official title. That said, this series with its quirky characters, often real-life Hoosier settings and true to life, ethnocentric humor, had me laughing-out-loud from start to finish. I adored the first book, The Ghost Busting Mystery, but The Baby Daddy Mystery was just too terrific, even better than the first!

Ruby Jane and Veenie are back and have been hired by one of the wealthiest women in town to verify the paternity of her late husband’s mistress’s children. However, the dead bodies soon begin to pile up as RJ and Veenie get closer to learning the truth. It doesn’t help that it is spring in PawPaw County and everyone – literally – is having a spring fling with somebody else’s spouse. What can I say? The Hoosier hills come alive in the spring time. 😉

These books are meant to be read with tongue in cheek. The joy of reading them is in their massive amount of humor and it comes in buckets. This one did, in fact, have a bit more actual sleuthing than the first and that made it a tad more enjoyable for me but I would read anything that featured RJ and Veenie. It is so incredibly rare for women their age to be featured as anything other than doddering old fuddy-duddies and I absolutely adore the fact that Veenie, well, is actually a lot like me! Now if only I could find that elusive pie hut I would be in heaven!

If you haven’t read anything in this series yet – well, what are you waiting for!?

Thank you so much to #Netgalley, @DaisyPettles and #HotPantsPressLLC for my copy of this delightful book!

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Northern Lights by Raymond Strom

There is something magical and a bit thrilling reading the debut novel of an author as brilliant as Raymond Strom, one you know is going to be a rising voice in today’s gritty, contemporary domestic-noir fiction. Northern Lights is a challenging book to read but one that rewards its reader in the end with the satisfaction of knowing characters who are surviving in a world that is meant to cripple or kill them.

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The bleakness of that cover underlies the dark ambiance found throughout Northern Lights. Shane is an androgynous youth in search of the mother who abandoned him years before. His father has died and his uncle has thrown him out of their family home. Before he begins university, Shane takes the summer to go to the last known place his mother lived: Holm, Minnesota. The first person he runs into sums up Shane’s entire existence with the question, “are you a boy or a girl?” It’s a question Shane often asks himself – not necessarily about his physical self but who he is psycho-sexually. As he wanders through town searching for his mother, he discovers those who hate him, accept him, wish to kill him, wish to love him and all parts in between. He cobbles together a group of “misfit” friends who live on the fringe of this small town; who exist in the shades of grey and have you questioning if there are real values of black and white. Although set in the time-frame of the early 90s, the novel has the feel of today’s setting with so much division, so much hate and far too much vilifying based on sexual identity and the color of one’s skin.

I read Northern Lights in one sitting. The narrative was tight and flowed in a such a manner that once I began, I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading until I finished. It was difficult – there is nothing lite or pretty about this book. Small town, rural life in middle America is not what it’s cracked up to be, but then I’m not sure life in America anywhere is any more. People are struggling. Our youth, with few exceptions, are struggling and “at risk,” and no one seems to be noticing or caring. It is easier to get immersed in reality television than it is to get involved in reality. That is the ultimate take-away from Northern Lights: look at these kids, see them, understand them. Look at the people in this town. They are all of us. While I know that this book will not be for everyone, of course, I do wish it was required reading for high school students everywhere; for those who need to read books with characters who are like themselves and for those who need to read books to understand the bullies that they have become.

I am grateful to #Netgalley, #RaymondStrom, and @SimonSchuster for allowing me to read and review Northern Lights.

NOTE: I’m also pleased as punch to be participating in two challenges. One is the Netgalley/Edelweiss 2019 challenge and the other is Pop Sugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge. Northern Lights meets the “Debut Author” prompt for that challenge.

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.

A Dolphin Named Star #Capstone

I read a wonderful review by Lana at Cole Campfire Blog about two young girls who live at a wildlife sanctuary. The book sounded so marvelous that I had to get a copy for myself! Thank you Lana!

A Dolphin Named Star is a delightful story that I’m assuming is written for tweens, perhaps a little younger. (8-11 years old) It reminded me of a cross between Nancy Drew and the old television show, Flipper. Yes, yes, I know I’m showing my age but I read all of the Nancy Drew books and watched re-runs of Flipper so often that I, literally, could recite entire episodes by memory. Is it any wonder that I loved A Dolphin Named Star!?

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Elsa and her best friend Olivia spend all of their time at the Seaside Sanctuary for wildlife where Elsa’s parents work. The girls have bonded with the new dolphins who have been rescued and are acclimatizing to their new outdoor “pool.” However, worry sets in for the girls as the dolphins immediately begin to get sick, have sores and, eventually, one of the trio dies. No one can figure out exactly what is wrong with the dolphins since water samples come back clean. The girls do some sleuthing to find the answers, hopefully in time to save the remaining dolphins.

This is, of course, a book that is written for the minds and attention level of kids, however, it is intelligently written and covers a lot of bases regarding the sanctity of wildlife, ocean pollution, corporate wrong-doing. Because my own kids grew up with books like this, from Nancy Drew to Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, I think the book is perfectly written for their interests and knowledge base. In addition, as if the book weren’t terrific enough, there are discussion questions in the back of the book to encourage further dialogue and research. There also is a glossary of terms that might be unfamiliar to kids but which will further enhance their language skills and, hopefully, peak their interest so that they will search out other books on this topic.

A Dolphin Named Star is beautifully illustrated, marvelously written and a thoroughly enjoyable book. It is one in a set of four books about the girls and Seaside Sanctuary and would be an excellent gift for young readers.

Thanks again to Lana for putting this book on my radar, to #Netgalley and @CapstonePub for my advance copy – published by  #StoneArchBooks.

 

 

 

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!

Ohio by Stephen Markley

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Stephen Markley’s first fiction book, OHIO, is definitely not for the faint of heart. Having written previous non-fiction books, Markley undertakes an ambitious project writing about a rural, Northeaster, Ohio town suffering from the Great Recession, the opioid crisis and the after-effects of 9/11.

OHIO centers around the story of four high school friends who are reunited a decade after their graduation. It also circles around the story of one of those friends who was killed in Iraq. In fact, the entire beginning of the book is one long running commentary on the funeral parade for this man which occurs months after his actual burial, and which features an empty casket on loan from Wal Mart. There were many part of this exegesis that reminded me of Garrison Keillor and his Tales of Lake Wobegon. The writing flows with excess and verbiage that is both descriptive and, well, over-the-top. To a certain extent, though not as talented, it also reminds of William Faulkner who could describe a scene to death.

After this opening finally ends, Markley presents us with characters that are quite nearly a stereotype for small, Midwestern, rural towns. I should know, I live in one and I’ve known many from the area from which Markley is drawing his inspiration. In fact, Markley was reared in such a small town very much like the one he is describing – but he has been living in L.A. for  many years.

OHIO is an examination of the fervor  that occurred in many small towns after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Smelling blood, military recruiters swarmed into these towns whipped up “patriotism” like a spell across the land. Those who were poor, bored or looking for a way out of these towns, eagerly bought the lies that these recruiters were dishing out like candy. As a result, the Midwest now if faced with higher numbers of veteran homelessness, drug addition to the crisis point and crime, which is needed to feed their addictions.

This is a very dark, very descriptive – overly so – account of war, drugs, addiction and despair.

However, while I like the premise of the book, my criticism is two-fold.  Markley claims that the book is an accurate description of the war battles and recruitment during this time – he also admits that he “once was very anti-war.” His anti-war sentiments don’t come through for me in OHIO. His remarks about why he is not as adamantly “anti-war,” disturb me on a very deep level. Americans only now are beginning to look at 9/11 as “history” rather than current events.  Any time an author writes about it, their own biases and leanings are revealed. The fact is, many – too many – young men were lied to, sold a bill of goods that were rotten and the “war in Iraq” was nothing except a military exercise to build the American Empire. You can not talk about the “rust belt” of America without directly talking about the massive loss of jobs, the cut back in education funding, the lack of medical treatment – ALL courtesy of the American government. The darkness here, in my mid-west, is very real. The opioid crisis is staggering. But Markley’s views are merely more fiction added to the mix, militarily accurate according to the recruiters with whom he spoke, but we all know how truthful they can be.  For the record, I’m the wife of COL (ret) so I’m very familiar with the military, the war and the lies that were told after 9/11.

Secondly, one complaint that I have regarding Southern writers is that they use thirty words to describe what could be brilliantly written in ten. Markley writes more like a southern writer than one from the mid-west where words never are wasted and verbosity is, quite nearly, considered a sin. This book is too long, too drawn out, too much of everything that is not quality. Readers who think that the book is dark would see a more fitting picture of the Rust Belt if they didn’t have to wade through the unnecessary muck. I wanted to scream: “edit, Edit, EDIT.” Sadly, there was none.

If you want to read an astounding account of what reality is like in a rural rust belt town, I suggest instead that you read “Fast Falls the Night” by Julia Keller. It also is a very disturbing read but one based on fact, expertly written and staggering in its accurate  description of what it really is like to live in such a town as mine.

OHIO was given to me by #Netgalley in exchange for a review of the book.