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Sunday, February 28, 2021

#ATBR2021 Review: The Minders by John Marrs

The Minders
by John Marrs

Thank you Berkley Books for these gifted copies.

Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: February 16, 2020
416 Pages
Genres: Thriller, Science Fiction

In this electrifying near-future thriller, five strangers guard government secrets, but only four can be trusted.

In the 21st century, information is king. But computers can be hacked and files can be broken into - so a unique government initiative has been born. Five ordinary people have been selected to become Minders - the latest weapon in thwarting cyberterrorism. Transformed by a revolutionary medical procedure, the country's most classified information has been taken offline and turned into genetic code implanted inside their heads.

Together, the five know every secret - the truth behind every government lie, conspiracy theory and cover up. In return, they're given the chance to leave their problems behind and a blank slate to start their lives anew.

But not everyone should be trusted, especially when they each have secrets of their own they'll do anything to protect...

My Review:

John Marrs is one of my all time favorite authors.  It's so rare that I've now read 6 of his books and every single one of them has been 5 stars.  What can I say, I'm fascinated with his mind.  He is a genius and noone can tell me different.  With The Minders, he brings yet another scary situation where some very special people get classified governmental information implanted into their minds. SAY WHAT.

One thing that I absolutely love is when an author references his other books.  There's that FEELING you get when recognize these and in The Minders, he definitely gives a nod to his other books - mostly with The One and Passengers and I couldn't have been happier to see that!  But fear not, you can read this just fine without having read those, though I highly recommend you go back because they're freaking amazing.

I'm not going to bore you with the endless things I loved about this read.  I'll just say that you'll want to read this.  Chock full of twisty little moments and (some) characters I hope to see again, this is a full on win and the best way to end my February reads.

Mr. Marrs - you have a fan in me and I can't wait to see what else you bring to the table.  I would love to pick your mind someday.

Readers - if you haven't read any of his work, I implore  you to do so now. 


Jessica's Review:

John Marrs has been an auto-buy author for me for quite some time. I've loved everything since THE GOOD SAMARITAN and he has not disappointed this time. THE MINDERS is another science fiction meets thriller and this is action packed from start to finish. More of a plot driven book than character driven and it worked really well. What I really enjoy about these futuristic plots is that they don't that far-fetched, like this doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility in the near future.

Would you want to be responsible for keeping all of the government's most protected information? Imagine having it all stored directly into your mind. Everything government lie and cover up, everything conspiracy theory that is actually true, classified information of all kinds. I don't think I could do it. It would be so hard to make sure nothing slips out in conversation or not being able to tell anyone. What I will always love about the books by Marrs is that they are so unique. There aren't any other thrillers out there, that I'm aware of, that are similar. This isn't the same kind of suspense plot or have the same tropes.

What I liked the most was that this was in the same universe as his other books, THE ONE and THE PASSENGERS. I would highly recommend reading both, because they're incredible, if you don't want the potential of things getting spoiled in those books. You don't need to read them in order to follow along and get this book as it is a standalone. Once again, John Marrs has cemented his place as an auto-buy author for me and I can't wait to see what he has in store for us next.

5 stars 

#ATBR2021 Review: You Love Me by Caroline Kepnes

You Love Me 
by Caroline Kepnes

Thanks to Random House for this free review copy.

Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: April 6, 2021
400 Pages
Series: You #3
Genre: Thriller

The highly anticipated new thriller in Caroline Kepnes's hit You series, now a blockbuster Netflix show...

Joe Goldberg is back. And he's going to start a family - even if it kills him.

Joe Goldberg is done with cities, done with the muck and the posers, done with Love. Now, he's saying hello to nature, to simple pleasures on a cozy island in the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in a long time, he can just breathe.

He gets a job at the local library - he does know a thing or two about books - and that's where he meets her: Mary Kaye DiMarco. Librarian. Joe won't meddle, he will not obsess. He'll win her the old fashioned way... by providing a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand. Over time, they'll both heal their wounds and begin their happily ever after in this sleepy town.

The trouble is... Mary Kaye already has a life. She's a mother. She's a friend. She's... busy.

True love can only triumph if both people are willing to make room for the real thing. Joe cleared his decks. He's ready. And hopefully, with his encouragement and undying support, Mary Kaye will do the right thing and make room for him.

My Review:

Joe lovers, don't kill me for this rating... I absolutely loved You, and Hidden Bodies was a fun sequel where I felt like Joe didn't particularly feel like *him* and if I'm being completely honest, and after much thought, I preferred the season two of the adaptation better than the read.  BUT, I also knew I had to continue the series so here I am. I couldn't help myself and read this one as soon as it showed up on my doorstep.

Unfortunately, it was fun to be in Joe's head for only a few minutes.  I enjoy his inner monologue that weirdly makes sense, even in his own twisted way.  But it seemed to take forever to get to any *fun* part of this read.  A lot of back and forth and repetition and well, it's exactly what you would expect.  More Joe doing what Joe does... in a new town, reminiscing over Love and Forty while concentrating on the new *love of his life*.  You can probably figure out what's going to happen because it's basically the same story in a new spot with a new woman and new people getting in the way.  I was hoping it would go completely sideways and kept waiting for that shoe to drop but instead... whatever dropped, I wasn't picking up. 

Listen, you cannot take away the sheer brilliance that is Kepnes and the way she brings you a story.  She's truly talented and I will read whatever she puts out there.  And yes, most likely will pick up the next in this series, if there is one.  Joe is like that ex-boyfriend you just can't shake, even when you start to think he's tired and not worth it. If you're a fan of his and love being in his head, you're gonna love this read.


Jessica's Review:

The highly anticipated third installment is here and I was so excited to get back into Joe's head! YOU LOVE ME is the next book in the YOU series, and while I loved the first books and the adaptation series, I did like this one but I didn't love it. I'm not quite sure what it was, but there just seemed to be something missing for me. If you're expecting a psychological thriller then you may also be disappointed as I would probably classify this as more of a domestic suspense/drama.

I think it felt a little too predictable when it comes to the story. It's almost exactly what you would expect when it comes to Joe and his choices. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I can't really get into detail without potentially spoiling something, but this is exactly what you should expect with this series. I feel like I was waiting for things to pick up and it just wasn't happening. There's no denying how well Kepnes weaves a story and the incredible character she has brought us in Joe Goldberg. If you haven't picked up this series, then I recommend you start at the beginning! I know I'm in the minority with this book, I have seen countless glowing reviews for this installment, so don't let me deter you. Without a doubt, if there's a fourth book in the series, you better believe I'm going to be picking it up. 

3 stars

Review: The Boy In The Woods by Scott Thomas

The Boy In The Woods 
by Scott Thomas

Thank you to Inkshares and Night Worms for this gifted copy.

Publisher: Inkshares
Publish Date: October 31, 2020
Kindle Edition
90 Pages
Genre: Horror

A disfigured boy must fight back when his camp counselors turn into blood-thirsty killers.

My Review:

Summer Camps seemed always equal parts fun and frightening. As someone who has been reading horror since I was a teeny little thing, I could put a scary tinge to just about anything.... and especially so to camp scenarios... and the more horror stories I hear/read about these camps, the happier I get that I never attended one. Thomas, who brought us Kill Creek and Violet, now brings us this novella about Camp Cottonwood, and let's just say it has helped to nudge the equal parts of fun and frightening to the more frightening scale.

Kids are mean, annoying, spirited, blunt, resilient and malleable. Eddie is bullied because of a disfigured face so staying another night at Camp because his parents couldn't make it to pick him up on time isn't the ideal scenario, but at least most of the kids are gone... right? Thomas does a great job of putting us inside Eddie's head and bringing us to the summer camp atmosphere. Which, quite frankly, is always fun to read because you knoooooow some shit is going to go down... and it certainly does here.

I won't go into too much detail as this novella only spans 90 pages, but I'll certainly remain phantom itchy for a while and wonder about that ending. 😉 With Cabin Fever vibes and damp forest smells, let Thomas transport you back to young summer nights and be extra careful when that sun goes down. Can someone please scratch my back for me?


Review: A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman

A House at the Bottom of a Lake 
by Josh Malerman

Publisher: This Is Horror
Publish Date: October 31, 2016
116 Pages
Genres: Young Adult, Magical Realism

Both seventeen. Both afraid. But both saying yes.

It sounded like the perfect first date: canoeing across a chain of lakes, sandwiches and beer in the cooler. But teenagers Amelia and James discover something below the water’s surface that changes their lives forever.

It’s got two stories.

It’s got a garden.

And the front door is open.

It’s a house at the bottom of a lake.

For the teens, there is only one rule: no questions. And yet, how could a place so spectacular come with no price tag? While the duo plays house beneath the waves, one reality remains:

Just because a house is empty, doesn’t mean nobody’s home.

My Review:

"What was it about the stars that, no matter how they lit up the night sky, they couldn't remove the night?"

I'm not entirely sure what I just read... but I think I liked it! I have such a love for Malerman's mind.... but I tend to find while I love most of his books for the majority, it's the endings I always have a hard time with. And this may be true for this as well... but I'm also intrigued and wondering about the symbolism of this house. It's a rare time where I'm wondering what I'm missing but love the vast interpretation you could put on it to suit whatever you need it to be. I think. 🤣

Remember your first butterflies, your first love, and that anticipation of the unknown? I LOVE their rules of not asking HOW or WHY when it came to "their house", which helped their bond of something so unique that they could just call their own. While there were some suspenseful moments, I didn't find this to be in the horror category but more in magical realism, which I absolutely think suits Malerman's writing style. I certainly became curious and more obsessed with the house as Amelia and James did.

While this novella won't frighten you or raise the hair on your skin, it is a fun and curious look into first love, secret bonding and adventure. Open your heart and your mind for this unique story. And while I may mention that this isn't the scary, horror book you may be expecting due to the author, it certainly doesn't help my fear of the unknown dark waters either. 


Review: The Thirteenth Koyote by Kristopher Triana

The Thirteenth Koyote
by Kristopher Triana

Thank you Death's Head Press and Night Worms for this chonker!

Publisher: Death's Head Press LLC
Publish Date: December 29, 2020
502 Pages
Series: Splatter Western #8
Genre: Horror

An evil has returned to the town of Hope’s Hill.

When a grave robber unearths the corpse of Jasper Thurston, a piece of the body is stolen, one that will call the Koyotes from across the plains. They are a vicious company of outlaws, part madmen and part wolves. Their leader is Glenn the Dreadful, and he’s out to gather the power of the Menhir, a particle from an ancient evil.

The fate of Hope’s Hill—and perhaps the world—rests in the hands of unlikely heroes. A rugged U.S. Marshall, a teenage girl out for revenge, an emancipated slave, a nun with a dark secret, and a mysterious half-breed with the number thirteen tattooed on his neck.

The Thirteenth Koyote is a werewolf western from Splatterpunk-Award-winner Kristopher Triana, author of Gone to See the River Man and Full Brutal. Filled with gunfights as well as ghouls, it is a horror epic as big as the open range. 

My Review:

Excuse me? A werewolf splatter western?!  YES PLEASE!  I haven't read a werewolf story in SO LONG, but if I'm going to get back into them, this is definitely the way I want to go.  This is a chonker compared to the other installments in this Splatter Western series, but each of the 500+ pages are absolutely necessary.  I started this one late last night and woke up super early for a Sunday to finish it.  

Welcome to the band of outlaws known as the Koyotes, led by Glenn the Dreadful... whom we get to learn a LOT about.  I would have to run into any of them.( Why does their former leader, Jasper Thurston ring a bell for me?)  Glenn is after the Menhir, an talisman that will give him great (evil) power.  But he and his Koyotes, come across some very unlikely heroes.

There's quite the large cast of characters and I enjoyed learning about every single one.  The good, the bad, the ugly and the violent.  Some passages were fist biters.  Graphic, bloody and everything a horror lover like myself loves.  I admit this is probably the SPLATTER of all SPLATTERS compared to the first seven books in this (standalone) series.  Nothing really shocks me in reading books or watching movies that are fiction... but woooooweeee, there were some doozies splattered within (see what I did there?...  yeah, I'll see myself out of here in a minute 😉).  And this is where we see just how genius Triana is in his writing.  The story telling itself keeps the reader stuck to each and every page - the action is continuous, the blood getting stickier with each brutal meeting. 

Prepare yourself for an onslaught of gory goodness... but also know that it's so much more than that.  You want to know what's going to happen.  You WANT to see retribution - you end up just wanting it ALL.  Shocking and not for the faint hearted - horror lovers buckle in and enjoy the ride.  Now excuse me, I have a tattoo I need to go get.


Friday, February 26, 2021

Review: A Good Girl's Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson #ATBR2021 #BuddyReadsToDieFor

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder 
by Holly Jackson

Publisher: Electric Monkey
Publish Date: May 2, 2019
Series: A Good Girl's Guide to Murder #1)
Genres: Young Adult, Mystery

The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it.

But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn't so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth?

My Review:

Convicted murder, house parties and warning notes, OH MY.

I love Pippa and how she decided to try and solve a murder case by making it her senior year project.  I was a bit apprehensive - why is it that high schoolers can solve murder mysteries better than the actual police can? Huh? What is UP with that?!  But I do love me a good YA thriller and this one had quite the reputation to uphold.

This is a fast paced read and I really enjoyed the mixed media provided within.  You can tell Pip is an extremely smart girl and I liked her approach to figuring out the madness.  Uff, y'all.  To be in high school in this day and age, I couldn't even imagine! I was a little "say what" about one part because it didn't quite make a lot of sense to me but whatever.  Go Pip, GO!

Despite a couple of inconsistencies within, this was a very enjoyable read.  Weirdly though, I can't find myself running to pick up the next book (but also, don't threaten me with a good time!).  Prepare to suspend a little reality but have fun following along.  I had actually binged Veronica Mars for a couple seasons a couple months ago and then *voila* - Pip, meet Veronica.  Veronica, meet Pip.  


Jessica's Review:

I haven't been reading a lot of YA thrillers lately and I need to start picking up more of them. A GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER was so much fun and still really suspenseful as the investigation unfolded. A high school girl, Pippa, has decided to cover an interesting topic for her senior capstone project - a local murder that happened five years ago. Pip isn't completely convinced that they had the right killer and she is determined to do her own investigation in the name of a school project.

My favorite thing about this book was the addition of other formats. We get transcripts from recorded conversations/interviews, messages, and Pip's project updates/journal entries. I will forever love that when it comes to crime fiction or mystery books because it's a fun way to fill in information for the readers. It was refreshing seeing an investigation that wasn't from the police or detective's POV, instead from an inexperienced and curious high schooler.

This YA thriller had plenty of twists and turns to keep us guessing on who the killer was. Did the cops have it right the whole time? Did someone frame Sal five years ago? Every new lead and discovery kept the list of possibilities growing and I had so many different theories as to who it could have been. I really enjoyed this and I definitely want to check out the next book coming out in the series!

4 stars

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Review: Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

Milk Fed 
by Melissa Broder

Thank you Simon Schuster Audio & for this copy.

Publisher: Simon Schuster Audio
Publish Date: February 2, 2021
6 hrs 48 minutes
Genres: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+

A scathingly funny, wildly erotic, and fiercely imaginative story about food, sex, and god from the acclaimed author of The Pisces and So Sad Today.

Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.

Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.

Pairing superlative emotional insight with unabashed vivid fantasy, Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we as humans can compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is a tender and riotously funny meditation on love, certitude, and the question of what we are all being fed, from one of our major writers on the psyche—both sacred and profane. 

My Review:

I don't know why I thought this was a memoir at first. 🤣

Broder puts us right into Rachel's blunt, obsessive and horny head and her voice is LOUD.  As a loud person myself, I absolutely appreciate this.  What I related to the most was how she constantly played out scenes in her head, the obsessive personality, the insecurities we all face in one way or another and how the smallest word or phrase could change the mood in an instant.  I HEAR YOU, RACHEL.  However, I did feel like things were SOOOO repetitive.  Now, I'm sure this was intentional as this is what obsession looks like, but it wore on me after a while.  And while I'm not opposed to the word 'pussy', I'm so over hearing it.  There are about a zillion other words for pussy and yet this was the word thrown out over and over and over again. Make it stopppppppppp.

To be quite honest, I think had I not listened to this on audio, I probably would have DNF'd it.  I didn't find it particularly funny and almost quit early on... but I decided to stick with it and grew to find myself involved.  Those scenes where Rachel is first meeting Miriam was so frustrating because as a picky eater, I do NOT like when people question why I do or don't do something with my food. Like, just let me do what I want please and not pressure me into sprinkles or some shit, ya know? Again, I hear you, Rachel.

I truly wanted to like this more than I did.  I loved the bluntness and raw whatever that was being put across but most of the time I felt myself cringing and happy when it finally ended.  Eep.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

#ATBR2021 Review: Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Finlay Donovan is Killing It 
by Elle Cosimano

Thanks so much to Minotaur for these gifted books.

Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publish Date: February 2, 2021
368 Pages
Genre: Thtiller

Finlay Donovan is killing it . . . except, she’s really not. She’s a stressed-out single-mom of two and struggling novelist, Finlay’s life is in chaos: the new book she promised her literary agent isn’t written, her ex-husband fired the nanny without telling her, and this morning she had to send her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an incident with scissors.

When Finlay is overheard discussing the plot of her new suspense novel with her agent over lunch, she’s mistaken for a contract killer, and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband in order to make ends meet . . . Soon, Finlay discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart, as she becomes tangled in a real-life murder investigation.

Fast-paced, deliciously witty, and wholeheartedly authentic in depicting the frustrations and triumphs of motherhood in all its messiness, hilarity, and heartfelt moment, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It is the first in a brilliant new series from YA Edgar Award nominee Elle Cosimano.

My Review:

Thank goodness for the zany ladies in this read because all of the men sucked - except for maybe Julian. 😉  I cannot express enough just how FUN this book is! And I love that this book was forged in a Panera - the same as Finlay discussing HER book. (People, read the acknowledgements, k?)

I always wonder what people around me may think of my topic of conversation sometimes.  But imagine discussing murder for the plot of your book and being overheard by a woman who takes it seriously and wants to pay you $50,000 to get rid of her husband.  Even if it wasn't a pandemic where people are barely scraping by, it would be hard to pass up.  Especially if you already have a bad taste in your mouth for men in general because your ex-husband is so hugely an asshole that his whole body puckers when he clenches. And what starts off as *innocent* research for the book turns into something else entirely.

EVERYBODY, please pick this book up.  Finlay's head is SO much fun to be in. Add in her nanny, Vero and voila - a hilarious duo who could use a little extra money.  Couldn't we all?  And that epilogue.... I loved it. How I would love to see how that all played out.

A unique, fun and binge worthy read.  


Jessica's Review:

Talk about an unexpectedly fun thriller! Picking up FINLAY DONOVAN IS KILLING IT I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I've gotten so used to the gritty thrillers with serial killers and the investigation side of things. Well, this was a breath of fresh air because Finlay Donovan is definitely not a detective and she is in way over her head. This was as funny as it was suspenseful and I couldn't help but cheer on Finlay as she got more and more entangled in this new criminal world she put herself in.

Finlay Donovan is a single mom of two and she's struggling. Her ex-husband isn't making things any easier, she hasn't even written her next novel that was promised to her agent, and a whole list of things that come with being a mom. One day she is mistaken for a contract killer and is approached with a job. The money is enticing and how hard could it be, right? Well, so begins Finlay's crazy decent into the criminal world and she is quickly realizes it is much different than the fictional situations that authors come up with.

I don't want to give away much more of the plot because it was fun seeing everything unravel and how Finlay was going to take on the next obstacle. She's witty, hilarious, smart, and determined. Finlay is a character and narrator you will fall in love with because of her flaws and tenacity. You have to give credit where credit is due, she won't give up without a fight! I highly recommend this if you're looking for a fun thriller and a lighter read. I heard this is the beginning of a new series and I can't wait for more Finlay Donovan.

5 stars 

Spotlight: She Wore a Yellow Dresws by John R. Cammidge

She Wore a Yellow Dresws 
by John R. Cammidge

Publisher: Gatekeeper Press
Publish Date: February 16, 2021
478 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

A spark is lit on Bonfire Night in Northern England in 1965, but for John and Jean-Louise the fireworks continue to explode for decades to come. An awkward Yorkshire farm boy with few prospects and a sophisticated town girl from Manchester, John and Jean-Louise blossom, grow - both together and apart - and find ways to compromise in this coming-of-age story that goes beyond the wedding where the curtain often drops. She Wore a Yellow Dress by John R. Cammidge is at once nostalgic and contemporary in the themes it explores so deftly. An autobiographical streak runs throughout that lends authenticity and depth of detail. 


Five years in the writing, this is an account of two young people from very different backgrounds who find love and affection together, despite jealousies and self-interest. They must cope with the social chaos created in Britain during the 60s and 70s by governments, trade unions and businesses.

An  awkward Yorkshire farm boy (as described in the separate novel Unplanned), with few prospects and a sophisticated town girl from Manchester meet for the first time during their final undergraduate year at Hull University on Bonfire Night (5th November) in 1965. The relationship develops and this coming-of-age story goes well beyond the wedding where the curtain often drops in other stories.

As a young adult, John is preoccupied with building a career at Ford of Britain whereas Jean-Louise teaches and expects to receive his dedicated attention, spontaneous affection and unquestioning loyalty because of the sacrifices she has made for him.  When that does not happen, she seeks help from elsewhere.

The challenges of cohabitation extend well beyond their domestic disagreements thanks to the national upheavals that take place in Britain during this period.  The couple struggles to adjust financially and socially, not helped by their different political values.  Examples of their challenges include:

  • UK general elections 1966, 1970, 2/1974 and 10/1974
  • The 1968 Ford Dagenham sewing machinists’ strike for Equal Pay
  • Efforts to control the trade unions through In Place of Strife, 1969 and the Tories Industrial Relations Act, 1971
  • New decimal coinage introduced February 1971
  • Britain taking up membership in the European Common Market at the start of January 1973
  • The national 3-day working week 1Q1974 caused by the miners’ dispute

Ever since his childhood, John has held a passionate interest in bird watching and Jean-Louise encourages the hobby throughout their relationship.  As the years go by, John realizes that, as well as serendipity and the help from others, his career and social life has advanced as a result of the skills acquired from his hobby of birding.  Each chapter ends with an illustration and a description of a bird species of Britain that reflects the theme of bird watching throughout the book, and mirrors the characters’ development at each stage of the story.

About the Author

I began a writing career after I left the University of California in July 2013.  My Human Resources career spans nearly 50 years, first with the Ford Motor Company Ltd. (UK) for 12 years,  then with Bank of America for 22 years, based in London, San Francisco and Los Angeles, followed by directing the Staff Human Resources function at Stanford University and afterwards in the Oakland Office of the President for the system-wide University of California.

Why did I start writing?  I think it began with a desire to keep an agile and active mind in retirement but also the need to record what my mother had told me when she admitted the details of my conception 5 years before my retirement. After she died, I was able to investigate  my biological father and obtained details of his life from his daughter, my half-sister, who I eventually traced. Maybe it was therapeutic. It was emotional and helped me understand my childhood experiences.  Because the story is sensitive and its viewpoints are heavily influenced by my mother ‘s statements, which are non-verifiable, I have fictionalized the narrative and use pseudonyms for the protagonists.

I enjoyed the investigative research of Unplanned  and, as a consequence, when I began to research the story of a Jewish family living in Berlin during the 1930s, I was encouraged by colleagues to write a similar story which became Abandoned in Berlin. The genuineness of these events is so compelling that I chose to keep the novella a “true story”.

Separately, I started to write a third book about my adolescent life, my career at Ford and my early years of marriage. It’s not a sequel to Abandoned but picks up on my life after university. The story expanded to include the perspectives of my spouse towards me and how my life-long bird watching hobby affected my adult development, and thus She Wore a Yellow Dress was born. The writing taught me more about my wife than I ever appreciated.

I grew up on a remote moorland farm near York, England,  attended Upper Poppleton Primary school,  then Nunthorpe Grammar school in York, and was accepted as an undergraduate by the University of Hull in 1963.

Throughout my life, I have been an avid birdwatcher, first collecting birds’ eggs and then spotting birds when egg-collecting was made illegal in Britain.  I received my first bird book at the age of 9 and started to record birds I saw shortly afterwards. As I wrote She Wore a Yellow Dress, I realized how important the hobby had been to my development.

In July 1966, I was awarded an honors degree in Geology and Geography by the university , and chose to join Ford Motor Company in Brentwood, Essex as a graduate trainee, rather than pursue the alternatives I was offered.  Much of what I report about Ford in She Wore a Yellow Dress are my actual experiences and I have the UK Institute of Personnel Management (as it was then called) to thank for educating me in a way that allowed me to accomplish a successful career in Personnel Management (now Human Resources).

I and my family moved to the Bay Area, California in summer 1979, lived in Los Angeles 1981-83, and after 3 more years in San Francisco, returned to London for a three year assignment; thereafter, it was back to San Francisco and the family made the decision to become U.S. citizens.  Both my daughter and son are married, and have their own children.  I have a delightful sister living in York on my mother’s side, and in recent years, I have fallen in love with my newly-discovered half-sister on my biological father’s side, resident in Shropshire.  She provided the foundation for his side of the story in Unplanned.

Most important of all, I was married to a wonderful woman who contributed the basics  for Jean-Louise in She Wore a Yellow Dress.  I lost her to cancer a few years ago but regard myself as a very fortunate human-being for having known her for 45 years of her life.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Review: Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Riot Baby 
by Tochi Onyebuchi

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publish Date: January 21, 2020
3 hrs 46 mins
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Ella and Kev are brother and sister, both gifted with extraordinary power. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by structural racism and brutality. Their futures might alter the world. When Kev is incarcerated for the crime of being a young black man in America, Ella—through visits both mundane and supernatural—tries to show him the way to a revolution that could burn it all down.

My Review:

Kev is the Riot Baby - born during the Rodney King riots when the officers were acquitted. Ella is his sister who has this Thing from astral projection to time travel to entering people's minds.  When Kev becomes a victim of the system simply by being a young Black man, we spend the majority of this novella with him at Rikers where Ella comes to visit him in various ways.

Onyebuchi takes us back and forth through time, giving us glimpses into the history of racial oppression, violence and injustice. While this is slated into a near futuristic "dystopia", I don't feel this is a dystopian read. Shit's been happening for centuries.  Justice system is terrible, police brutality is still all too real and well... racist roots won't be pulled and discarded - they just may be mulched and then reinserted into the earth.  Even when Kev gets out, he's put into a place where he still can't see anyone, is regulated by a chip that was placed in his body and must stay in a certain establishment. Um, hello further incarceration.  And Ella is also confined within her own abilities. 

SO MANY things this novella will make you think about and we all need to.  I do wish I we knew more about Ella and her powers.  And this chip Kev has implanted with all its robotic, almost Stepford type amenities it provides. There were definitely moments I felt could have been expanded on.    

I almost wish I had read the book rather than listened to the audio ONLY because there were several quotes I can't remember now but that I wanted to jot down or mention.  The author does an fantastic job narrating this himself.  Definitely would recommend.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Review: The Chain by Joy Richards

The Chain 
by Joy Richards

Thank you Bloodhound Books!

Publisher: Bloodhound Books
Publish Date: February 23, 2021
Kindle Edition
Genre: Contemporary

What does it take to make a house a home?

When four sets of strangers all decide to move, their lives become linked and changed forever.

Paul is a young man who is struggling to piece his life back together. Married couple Florence and John are having problems. The empty-nesters Claire and Michael are adapting to their new life. Sarah and Alex are a city power couple who are hoping to relocate.

As each of them navigate the troublesome path of buying and selling houses, relationships come under strain.

Does moving to a new house mean a fresh start? And is home really where the heart is?

My Review:

You have either moved and had to deal with all the intricacies that become involved with it or you have a friend/family member who has and you've definitely heard about it from them. There's so much to handle and the tiniest of things can turn the whole process into a nightmare.

What exactly does make a home? I've moved around so much that I consider home wherever my parents are and have never had an attachment to an actual abode I've resided in.  Granted, I've loved some places more than others but overall, nope.  Richards introduces us to 4 links in a moving chain of events and how when one of them makes a decision that affects the entire chain of events... well, hi there.

I absolutely love the concept of this read. We rarely look past our own circle of events and don't realize that decisions we make can affect a multitude of people - some we never even know exist.  Seeing these strangers go through this process and learning about each of them, I felt like I was spying on their lives.  Reading like a soft soap opera, we get all the ups and downs and as an avid thriller reader, it was fun to get a view of all these happenings without the constant wonder of who is going to die and raising eyebrows at every decision being made.  This cast of characters felt very real and despite the down moments, was really an uplifting read.

Come take a tour of their lives and maybe the next major decision you make, you'll remember that we are all linked invariably to everyone around us... even if we don't know it.


Saturday, February 20, 2021

#ATRBR2021 Review: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

              Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Publish Date: July 7, 2020
Kindle Edition
400 Pages
Genres: Retelling, Fantasy, YA, Queer, Fairy Tale

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

My Review:

Retellings are always a hit or miss for me but I can't help but read them because... well, fairy tales... and who doesn't love a darker version? Definitely not this reader.  Here we get a world where men rule maniacally and women must comply.  At a certain age, girls must attend a ball in Cinderella's honor in hopes of being chosen.  And if they're not, they're forfeited... and can also be forfeited for any other reason if they go against the rules.

"People who don't fit nicely into the boxes the kinds of Mersailles have defined are simply erased, as if our lives don't matter."

There are so many things I love about this book.  We get a queer Black girl as the lead who discovers she'd rather have the princess rather than the prince.  And we get to see her fight against the patriarchy of Charming's legacy that is oppressive.  We see a completely different view of Cinderella and her story.  (And yes for some humor.... pockets, we do love them!)  My absolute favorite part was the reimagining of the fairy godmother, Amina, and the important lessons strewn into the storyline.

However, there were things that also just didn't work for me here.  I just couldn't with the instalove - especially in the whiplash way it was presented.  Also, I would've loved to see a bit more depth in general with the characters and a bit more world building.  To see Sophia's disenchantment as she grew would've really brought her character a little more to life.  But I will state that while this is pretty predictable, there was one part that did surprise me and I absolutely loved it!

The author touches on homophobia, domestic abuse and rampant misogyny (to name a few). And I was here for all of this and truly was enthralled with the storyline.  Much respect to the author for this unique take and portraying more of what we need in books these days.


Jessica's Review:

I love fairytales, but I love retellings even more. Dark retellings are my favorite because it's always so cool to see how people will twist and turn the stories we all know into something scary and unique. CINDERELLA IS DEAD by Kalynn Bayron has been described as "queer Black girls overthrowing the patriarchy" and I think that is absolutely perfect. The author pulls apart the Cinderella story we all know and gives us something unique and new that touches on a lot of different topics (homophobia and misogyny to name a couple - heavy on the misogyny). 

Our main character, Sophia, is a queer Black girl and she is sick and tired of the traditions in the kingdom surrounding Cinderella. Everyone knows about the ball where Cinderella found her Prince Charming and they lived happily ever after, but that was 200 years ago. The King has arranged a ball for all of the girls in the kingdom to attend when they are of the right age, and they will be "chosen" by one of the men. Those that are chosen get their happily ever after and the others aren't heard from again. Little does Sophia realize, she is beginning to start a resistance of sorts against the King and their horrible traditions.

I did find the progression of the book to be more predictable, but that didn't take away from the entertainment value of the book. I also would have loved a little more character development just so we could get to know them all a bit more. Don't think that it means I couldn't connect with or get invested in the characters, because that isn't the case. I just found myself wanting a little bit more! I think this is the retelling we needed right now. I'll be keeping an eye out for more from this author in the future. 

4 stars

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Review: Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet 
by Laekan Zea Kemp
Narrated by: Andy Aragon & Arami Malaise

Huge thank you to & Hatchette Audio for this listen.

Publisher: Hachette Audio
Publish Date: April 6, 2021
8 hrs 45 mins
Genres: Contemporary, Romace, Young Adult

Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father's restaurant, Nacho's Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans-leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she's been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho's who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she's been too afraid to ask herself.Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho's is an opportunity for just that-a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo's, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander's immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his newfound family and himself. Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong in order to save the place they all call home.This stunning and poignant novel from debut author Laekan Zea Kemp explores identity, found families and the power of food, all nestled within a courageous and intensely loyal Chicanx community. 

My Review:

If you want a delectable young adult contemporary romance that will not only pierce your heart and get your salivary glands working overtime, but will also challenge your thinking and give readers more than just your typical romance... well, you'll want to eat this one right up.

Pen and Xander are our main characters and you immediately grow to love and root for each of them.  Pen is dealing with familial expectations vs her own dreams and Xander is undocumented and looking for his father, who doesn't seem to want to be found.  When their paths cross it sparks a multitude of changes for them both. Yes, we get the YAY LOVE moments, but this comes across through more than just this *unlikely* couple... the author brings us so so much more.  Rather than just focusing on the two of them and their romantic journey, we also receive the loves of everyone else around them.  Family, friends, the community in general... prepare to pick up your emotions at the end.

I think what resonated the most for me was just how real everything felt.  Pen and Xander are relatable - oh the expectations our families put upon us and how hard it is to go against that.  How difficult being invisible can feel even when we know we *have* to be. The emotional and mental challenges that come not only from the family within but also from the racial discrimination faced every day.  LIFE. And we cannot forget to mention the food because YESSSSS.  In general food is comforting and how families come together .. whether every evening, just on the holidays or whatever special occasion arises.  I especially love that the romance part did come across more "organically" and without all the instalove we come to expect with YA.  

Kemp has cooked us up a story full of flavor, humor, life lessons and the grit life throws at us.. which we can grind down and make into our own pearl... if we so choose.  


Review: Red Station by Kenzie Jennings

Red Station 
by Kenzie Jennings

Thanks so much to Death's Head Press & Night Worms
for this copy and continuation in the Splatter Western series.

Publisher: Death's Head Press
Publish Date: November 12, 2020
146 Pages
Series: Splatter Western #7
Gnere: Horror

There is a house overlooking the vast, rolling plains. A home station where a traveler will be welcomed with a piping hot meal and a downy bed. It is a refuge for the weary. A beacon for the lost. A place where blood and bones feed the land.

For four stagecoach passengers... a doctor in search of a missing father and daughter... a newlywed couple on the way to their homestead... and a lady in red with a bag filled with secrets... Their night at the Station has only just begun. 

My Review:

Well well well... what have we here? *wipes blood from corner of mouth and smiles*

I've been having a love/hate relationship with this series but oh the LOVE I have for this installment.  Oh, did y'all stop to rest but maybe picked the wrong place to settle for the evening? Which way do you go and who do you really root for?  Well, like with all good horror, I have a tendency to root for them all - whether that's rooting for them to die or not.... *wink*

At under 150 pages, this story never lets up.  I could feel the dust in my nose, could almost taste the coppery tang of blood on my tongue and found myself enthralled with every page.  Give me a lady in red and you bet she'll likely end up my favorite and hellooooo Clyde! While this installment still holds true to the time period, we also get this protagonist with such a presence... you may find yourself sitting up a little bit straighter when she arrives on your pages.  

Jennings does NOT hold back with the gore and splattery goodness we all love in these types of reads.  And I appreciate that there are no supernatural elements featured like with the past installments.  Instead we get good old fashioned evil people doing their thing.  *hat tip*

Each installment can be read as a standalone and this has moved into my favorite spot of the series so far.  Horror lovers, get yourself a copy and feed yourself.