FANTASTICLAND by #MikeBockoven

I was searching for something similar to Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre and FantasticLand was recommended multiple times. Similar in writing styles, both are written after the fact as follow up accounts of “true crime” too terrible to comprehend. The first time I read FantasticLand was just during the Covid lock down. Thinking that my mindset might have been influenced by the circumstances, I just read it again. Perhaps my thinking is still influenced by the circumstances. 😉

Several years ago, my family and I visited Silver Dollar City in Missouri. A crazy storm blew up out of nowhere and they shut down the park trapping a handful of families inside the park. In between tornadoes going overhead (typical for Missouri) and bursts of sunshine, the families would come out and enjoy the characters from the park or “play” with the various old timey gadgets that the park had all around. It was the strangest, most surreal day. I thought about that day while reading FantasticLand.

Set along the coast of Florida, FantasticLand was an amusement park lover’s dream. Similar to Disney Land but even better, it was divided into sections e.g. Pirate’s Cove, Princess Kingdom and the characters and rides were amazing. The problem is that it was far closer to the coast than Disney and the mother of all hurricanes was bearing down on it. The contingency plan, should something happen, was to get out all of the visitors and a core group of “employees” would stay in the lock down storm shelter and then, after the storm passed, ensure that the park remained safe. As with most amusement parks, the employees were mostly teenagers but no one really expected anything major to happen so it was all good. Until the storm hit.

What happens after the storm is one of the most chilling, horrifying tales I ever have read. Ever. The first time I read it wasn’t as bad as the second for the mere fact that I – we all have – watched as the world has devolved over the last year or so. We thought people would come together in a crisis, embrace and help one another, didn’t we? Instead we’ve seen the opposite happen culminating in the US with the insurrection at our US Capitol. People, humans, are behaving worse now than they have since…. when? The Middle Ages? So just imagine what would happen if you trapped some teens in a park for weeks on end and expected them to survive. It would put the television show Survival to shame. Horrifying with a capital H!

If you like horror, podcasts, fictional true crime then you should love FantasticLand and, by the way, I LOVE that cover art!!

Tell Me (Inland Empire 2) #AnneFrasier

Tell Me, the second in the Inland Empire (a specific area with the Mojave desert) series, picks up a few months after the first with Remi back in her desert abode and she and Daniel physically recovered from their previous ordeal. Daniel is called out to the Pacific Coast Trail in search of hikers who are missing after one of the hikers is found brutally murdered. He, of course, enlists the help of Remi because of her tracking skills. The secondary story line, searching for Daniel’s mother, also plays a key role in this offering.

Tell Me ultimately circles back to the role of social media influence, how much young girls will do in order to attract attention and gain viewers. The story here asks that question – is this really what has happened? Have these girls set up a fake scene in order to gain more followers?

While I didn’t find Tell Me to be as fast paced or compelling as the first in the series, I realize that second books seldom are. However, I love Frasier’s writing, her ability to illustrate the atmosphere from the claustrophobic woodlands of the Pacific Coast Trail to the sheering winds and glorious colors of the Mojave desert. I would read her books for her descriptions of locale alone, the fact that I also like her characters is just icing.

I highly recommend this series but you really must read the books in order or you will be totally lost in Tell Me. Then, after you’ve read these two, go back and pick up her other series. They are terrific as well.

Snow by John Banville

Not realizing that John Banville was actually one of my favorite authors who used a pen name, I wanted to read Snow, literally, due to the title. We were under a blizzard warning and it seemed quite a appropriate. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I was reading the famed Booker prize winning author whom I’ve always love but by a different name!

Snow is a very traditional piece of crime fiction. St. John Strafford is sent out on a murder inquiry in a small town in Ireland. The year is 1957 and the Catholic church is well in control of everything. As St. John carries out his duty, Banville provides us with a critique of the Catholic church at the time, and the present because not much has changed, the Irish “troubles,” and does so while beautifully using the Snow as a character all unto itself. At times the Snow is beautiful; at times it is oppressing but always it is present as Strafford works to uncover the killer.

Banville has a style of writing that is slow, methodical, atmospheric and brilliant. I’ve grown a bit weary of “fast paced thrillers” and their formulaic gimmicks, so I truly appreciated the writing that Banfield provided in Snow.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is such a lovely tapestry of a tale. From beginning to end, the story of Eva envelops you whole and does not let you go long after you’ve turned the last page.

I have an ever growing love for midwestern authors especially since moving to this beautiful region of the US. The writing style of the authors in this area is distinctly different from their counterparts in the rest of the country and has a flavor all its own. When that style is combined with metaphors of food, cooking and love then the result is nothing short of brilliance and that is exactly what happens within Kitchens of the Great Midwest. It is difficult to describe the plot because, while the story intricately revolves around Eva as she grows and matures into both a gorgeous, kind young woman as well as a talented chef, there are stories of so many others in Eva’s life, each of whom made a difference to her, her path, her ultimate success. Their stories are just as important as hers even though they are secondary. It is the whole, the complete when combined that makes this book so delicious – not unlike the perfect menu.

I highly recommend Kitchens of the Great Midwest and sincerely hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.

The Virus by Janelle Diller

I’m not entirely sure that early 2021 was the best time to read The Virus especially as the various vaccines are being rolled out across the world and all are being thrust upon the population and lauded as “safe” and “effective.” Nevertheless, I did read it for the PopSugar Challenge and it was eye opening.

The Virus begins with the death of one person, a middle easterner, from Smallpox. Soon there are unconfirmed cases popping up all over the US and deaths are reported in every region of the country. Smallpox is a virus that has been tackled before so the government quickly ushered out a vaccine before the economy could suffer too badly and before too much hysteria set in. In order to travel, attend school, etc., you had to have the vaccine. 🙂 Sounds a little familiar already, doesn’t it? The itty bitty problem is that there is no “vaccine.” What it actually does do is for you to find out by reading this fast paced, wonderfully written thriller.

After reading other reviews I would like to post that this is not an anti-vaxxer book. It is a government conspiracy book not unlike so many others out there. That is what fiction writing is about – asking the what if’s, how about’s, could it be’s…. To read something other than what it actually is into this book shows that reviewer’s own prejudices. This was a great thriller and I highly recommend it – even now.

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

Finally! I’ve seen Ann Cleeves books for years but never could find the time to go back to the beginning. I’ve even watch the television show, Vera, based on these books but never got around to reading the actual series. With Covid, the time arrived and I’m so glad!

The Crow Trap is divided into sections devoted to the primary characters ending with Vera. We aren’t really introduced to her until halfway through the book, although we do get a glimpse of her early on. There is a suicde, a murder, lots of suspicion and another murder before the book finally settles down into a proper police procedural. For some readers I suspect that the book would read “too slowly.” Cleeves is well known for her descriptive, atmospheric, very detailed writing and it really comes through in these early books more so than in her later series. It is this style of writing that I particularly love about British writers, however. Perhaps you remember books from an earlier time period and recall that it took us more than one day to read them. Yes? That is because of the detail; they contained more than fast paced action and tons of dialogue. I had started to miss that type of writing despite really adoring crime fiction. My answer – Ann Cleeves. If you like crime fiction told with very well developed characters, a great whodunnit with loads of atmospher then give Ann Cleeves a try. She is worth every minute (days) of your time.

Valentine’s Day with Snowman Paul by Yossi Lapid

Sooooo, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. Are you ready? Do you celebrate with hearts and roses or, perhaps, you do the “galentine” thing with your friends? Me? Nothing. For nearly 50 years I have despised this day, this month, like a curse on my existence. Name something horrific that can happen to someone and I can assure you that it has happened to me on this day. HOWEVER – that is a really huge HOWEVER – this year a dear author and someone I’ve come to call friend sent me a book all about this day that I despise and it has changed my entire week, my month and, dare I say, outlook? Valentine’s Day with Snowman Paul is a simple and yet profound look at the true meaning of love. What is love asks a snowman who believes he has no feelings…. As Paul discovers, love is so many different things to each and every one of us. It can be family, it can be someone special, it can our love of SNOW, most importantly it can be our friends who come along just when we need them the most.

This is, as always, a marvelously written children’s story and the children in my life (including myself) loved it. We have read and reread it multiple times. Joanna Pasek has created beautiful illustrations that capture the imagination of all who look upon them and lend so much enrichment to the book. I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough to any and all who have young children or to those who may need a bit of a lift this holiday.

Yossi, thank you for your gift of friendship. Your love continues to make this world a better place for us all.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward is the story of Edward Adler, the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed his entire family along with many others. Told primarily through Edward’s perspective, we also flashback to other passengers on the plane and follow their stories leading up to the crash. This, of course, is hearwrenching as we learn of their good and bad qualities, their secrets and their desires, all of which vanish with them in an instant. Except for Edward’s. As Edward physically recuperates, we also see him mentally grow stronger as he deals with his new reality with the help of his aunt, uncle and their wonderful next door neighbors. This is a story of pain, love, growth and giving and it is one that I am so thankful that I read.

So, why not 5 stars? There was a point about midway through where I almost quit reading the book. It meandered to the point of feeling lost and confused. Then, just as I was about to put it down, it turned a corner and the remainder of the book was far better than the first; so much so that Dear Edward will go into my top favorite reads. It is a book that stays with you to remind you just how precious life truly is.

One Last Child by #AnniTaylor

Anni Taylor is a new to me author and, truthfully, it was the starkness of this cover that drew me in and made me want to read the book. I’m very glad I judged this book by its cover because I loved it!

Kate Wakeland is an older homicide detective nearing retirement age but that hasn’t slowed her down at all. When she hears about five children going missing from a park, she doesn’t give it a second thought since it’s not her area – mispers vs homicide – that is, until she finds out one of the missing is her granddaughter. Kate desperately wants on the investigative team but is hampered for multiple reasons. Once the brass finally relents, Kate reviews all of the “clues” and begins unraveling who might have taken the children and why. When the children begin reappearing years later, the case is thrown into turmoil. However, One Last Child does not come home – Kate’s granddaughter!

The storyline is well written and it was marvelous reading about a detective who is a woman, brilliant and older!! Some of us who are not young are growing very tired of only seeing young women cops or screwed up old men detectives. I’ll take more like Kate Wakefield any day!! I loved the all of the characters, even the ones that were unlikeable. This definitely is a series I’m going to enjoy!

The Plus One by #SarahArcher

Part Sci-Fi, part RomCom, The Plus One is a fun, funny and endearing story about what may possibly be our near future.

I actually hesitated even calling this “sci-fi” because the reality is that AI is far to close to the reality portrayed in The Plus One. Kelly is a robotics engineer who is a genius but also a bit socially inept. When she needs a date to a wedding and cannot find one, she builds him instead. Meet Ethan, the perfect “man” for Kelly. But that is the problem, he IS the perfect man for her. She knows she cannot “keep” him, he isn’t a pet, but she has developed real feeling for her AI creation. The story of Kelly and Ethan is as endearing as it is funny. I loved them BOTH and love the perfect ending even more.