The Real Definition Of Try

Try is a rather arbitrary term. What I’ve often found, though, is people draw a line in the sand when they try a particular task for the first time. They say, “I’ll put this much effort into it, and if it doesn’t work, then I’ve done all I can do.” But have you really? Or have you just made an excuse for not completing whatever it is you set out to do in the first place? Then, the next opportunity to try comes along, and the task is repeated all over again with the same result: failure. And after you’ve failed a few times, you decide to give up altogether and not really take any risks at all. And that’s a great life, isn’t it? You don’t really have to fail at anything because you’ve never really tried.


I’ll let you in on a little secret. I fail at writing every single day, most of the time it’s multiple times a day, and in rarer cases I fail for months or even years at a time. I’ve scrapped words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and entire drafts all in the slim hope that I might somehow improve my writing. I’ve written multiple drafts before I’ve submitted my work anywhere; I’ve written reviews where the audience has peeled back layers of my skin; and I’ve written novels where I was attacked on both a personal and professional level for my work. Yet, I’m still standing and writing and accumulating rejection letters and prolonged bouts of silence for my latest manuscript endeavor at a record clip.


The only reason I’ve had even the slightest inkling of success: I didn’t draw a line in the sand. Not even a little one. If I had, I would have either moved the line over a thousand times by now, or I would have given up about thirteen years ago. Without even realizing it, I probably would have placed an expiration date on my writing. Writing, though, is better served on a platter without a sell by date.

Days Of Thunder

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Maybe I had Days of Thunder on my brain when I read this novel. Before you ask me what the hell I’m talking about, I’ll tell you. The scene with the moonshine and commuting across state lines and telling stories reminded me of home, and when the female trooper gives Cole Trickle a thorough frisking and then rips open the top part of her state trooper’s uniform, all I could say is “Damn!” Yeah, this novel was like that. Only it was 416 pages of bodice-ripping good times. To the point that I was lost in feelings and sensations and moments and more intimate moments and heat. Yep, there was plenty of heat here, thus the title HEATED, and yours truly had the sensation of flushed skin on more than one occasion.

If I didn’t already have a weak spot for cops, this novel would have set me on edge and caused me to develop a twitch in my right eye. The twitch was there, though, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Nor did I really want to. Maybe I need to get my wife a Halloween costume a wee bit early this year, but I suppose I could have worse problems.

Sloane Watson was one part cop, one part stripper, one part exhibitionist, and three parts curves and angles…and yeah, there was probably a holy wow moment or two or five. And Tyler Sharp may have had a rough life facing a past filled with serious consequences, but steel abs and a good heart made more than one woman drop her drawers. Even if he’s still a bit rough around the corners, he has laser-focused intensity and probably even a set of dimples to match.

The story may not have been wholly original, and the ending maybe even less so, but the characters made me want to stand up and scream for joy, or at least allowed me to forget who I was for a few hours or so. The sex scenes weren’t filled with crazy acrobatics, and the BDSM was probably a bit on the lighter side, but the fucking was as intimate and pleasure-filled as a hot fudge sundae. So, yeah, you may not want to read this novel in public, and certainly not if there are any children within 500 feet of you. Otherwise, you might find yourself being carried away by men in dark sunglasses.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Formal Style

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

The rhythm of DANGEROUS ILLUSIONS felt off to me. Like I was the one playing the drums, instead of Phil Collins up on stage pounding away in front of thousands, bringing The Garden to its knees. The style felt a bit formal, a bit stilted, like Joseph J. Gabriele understands the rules of writing, but he left all of his passion and sensation back at his former place of residence. And when I finished the novel, I found myself shrugging my shoulders and saying, “So what?”

Don’t get me wrong. The man can write. He breathed life into Eliot and Blaire and Yvette and Laura and other individuals that flitted across the stage of this three act play, but I found myself never really fully invested in the outcome. I found myself dropping my eyes in the cheap seats and listening with only one ear. I stared out into the great abyss, and then I promptly averted my gaze.

Even the story felt a bit off at times. Like we’d hit more than a few potholes on some backcountry road and now my wheels were out of alignment. A new set of shocks wasn’t entirely out of the question either. But I kept pressing, kept moving forward in the hope that I was wrong. In the end, though, I don’t think I am.

I wanted to believe in this tale, but I lost my faith somewhere along the road, and I couldn’t figure out a way to bring it back.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

The Voice Kept Me Turning Pages

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

What I hope to find (and what will get me to spend my money quicker and invest hours upon hours of my own time) when I pick up a book is one that doesn’t sound like 95 out of 100 books that I pick up and read the first few pages of, a voice that grabs my nose and yanks harder than a semi-truck in the middle of I-95.

WHEN IN DOUBT, ADD BUTTER is such a book, and it managed this feat admirably from the very first sentence of the very first page. “When I was twelve, a fortune-teller at the Herbert Hoover Junior High School carnival said to me: ‘Gemma Craig, you listen to me. Do not get married. Ever. If you do, you’ll end up cooking for a man who’d rather eat at McDonald’s; doing laundry for a man who sweats like a rabid pig, then criticizes you for not turning his T-shirts right side out; and cleaning the bathroom floor after a man whose aim is so bad, he can’t hit a hole the size of a watermelon–’ ” I could go on, but you get the general idea. This is a book that I’m invested in; where I want to know what happens; and that I can’t wait to get to the ending, because like Beth Harbison, the author, I’m going all in. And then it becomes a mad rush to get to the finish line.

For me, this was such a book. The characters and the story line certainly kept my attention, but it was the voice, that voice kept me turning pages as fast as frying butter in a saucepan, and when I reached the end, I felt completely satiated. While this was the first Beth Harbison book I read, I’ll certainly keep my eye out for another one with a voice as fulfilling and unique as this one.

I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

Open Orifices

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

Reading a book about a guy drinking his own piss would have been easier to swallow than this particular novel. To be clear, this isn’t a bad book. It’s not even a poorly written book. The structure, with letters and interviews and the plot moving forward, kept me on edge, while the slaughtering and stomach-churning antics kept my nausea on red alert. If I could have punctured a hole through my brain without doing any permanent damage, I might have briefly considered the notion, before I permanently discarded in the ocean. If I could have jammed about five thousand volts of electricity through my body without the need for a diaper, it might have been a viable alternative. But in the end, selective amnesia works just fine, and I plan on using it to its fullest.

What disturbed me more than tapeworms exiting through open orifices was there wasn’t a single character that I could stand behind without worrying about taking an elbow to the chin. THE TROOP made me want to march in the opposite direction in a most expeditious manner, and I kept reading through sheer determination and a need to push myself to the limit rather than some impending notion that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I probably looked away from the page as much as I looked at it.

This tale made me realize that coming up with the absolute worst case scenario and working backwards isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when the boat was stuck at full speed ahead, and I couldn’t find a way to turn off the engine or drop anchor. I plan on employing a taste tester to consume my food before I do, and if I see any suspicious or slightly pale or slow-talking individuals, I plan on running first and asking questions later.

And if you want to read a review by a reviewer or four who actually knows what the hell he or she’s talking about, you might want to take a gander at what Dan or Trudi or Kelly or Karen has to say on the subject. Since after wiping my brain, I will now consume applesauce, Jell-O, smoothies, and liquid vegetables for the rest of my days.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

A Weakness For Cops

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Maxine “Max” Revere might have what one could call a strong personality. She knows what she wants, and she’s not afraid to go after it, diving right into the swimming pool. Whether it’s men, or a friend, or a story, or a dead body, she’s not afraid to mess up her manicure. Her strong will could bowl over even the hardest of hearts, and she has one devilish smile to even out the fair trade. And she knows how to dress for all occasions, even if it means she might get a little blood on her clothes.

She may have a weakness for cops, or one might call it an obsession, and she’s rather adept with a pair of handcuffs. While I appreciated her sticky situation, I had trouble with my focus at various points along the way. Max, while intriguing, managed to keep me at a distance throughout much of the story, even while her NOTORIOUS circumstances managed to hold me in suspense and despair.

The cold case concept intrigued me, and her beguiling smile deceived me, and her off-putting attitude caused her a whirlwind of trouble wherever she went, even if she kept her head in the game, and her eyes on the horizon. Making friends might not have been at the top of her list, but she commanded attention and a second glance wherever she managed to turn up next.

Other than Nick Santini, many of the males felt like caricatures, instead of full-bodied versions ready to spring off the page and into my living room. Had the men measured up to the women, it might have provided a bit more balance to the equation, and made it a bit easier to swallow for this particular reader. Not bad writing, or a bad story, mind you, but not a tale that showcases Allison Brennan at her story writing best.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

More Populated State

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I must be one sentimental bastard. While I’d like to say, “I ain’t missing you at all.” I’d be hard-pressed to do it with a straight face. Eighteen years? No problem. But, on the other hand, life’s too short to let that much time pass. Seize the moment. That’s what I always say. Or maybe it was Sigmund or Freud or Siskel or Ebert.

MISSING YOU did have its sentimental moments. But it also contained a rather prominent criminal element, since this novel falls smack dab in the suspense/thriller category. With detectives and captains and bad dudes galore, and at least one bloodbath soaked its way through the printed pages, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better roller-coaster ride. I even managed to get a little soppy on at least one occasion, but shhhh (holds a finger up to my lips), you can’t tell anyone. And when blood made its metallic appearance, I had one of my woo-hoo moments. Probably one of just many reasons why I’d say I’m not necessarily a normal member of society.

That’s also why I probably need to find a slightly more populated state for my twilight years. I’d have to say I’m a bit creeped out to live in isolation, so I’m scratching Wyoming and the Dakotas and Montana off my wish list for the sake of my own sanity. The quiet and the possibility of being a mile or so from my nearest neighbor just doesn’t necessarily give me the same warm feeling that an axe to the jugular does. No, wait, a hug around the neck would probably be more appropriate here.

The plot kept me on the edge of my seat, as the pages flipped with effortless ease, and I ground my teeth to relieve just a bit of the tension. Kat and Dana and Brandon proved a dynamic trio that I could get behind, or in front of, as we headed off into battle, even if I ended up in a rather precarious position. The ending came a bit too soon (although not at the wrong time), but I wanted to continue to dangle on the edge of the plateau staring down at the river below.

Was I satisfied? Yes, Stagger, I believe I’d say I was.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Damn Near Deadly

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

She’s a tool. A weapon. Like Jason Bourne or James Bond. Able to blend into her surroundings. She speaks 22 languages, and she’s damn near deadly with a knife. And she’s androgynous. She’s Vanessa Michael Munroe. Or Michael for short.

Revenge might as well be her middle name, though. She reminded me of Lisbeth Salander with the way rage completely consumed her. And yet she still managed to show some heart, or at least her slightly abbreviated version of it. Emotions seemed to fill her, consume her, even as she struck out at the imperfections of this world.

Her ability to seek out, consume, and process information rapidly helped explain the title. Even when she was just traversing through a particular area, it felt as though her brain worked at a higher level than everyone else around her. Almost like a game of dominoes where she already had the perfect plan mapped out in her head.

The Equatorial Guinea setting proved as real and as feral to me as she was, and it was the perfect setting for such an untamed creature. Had THE INFORMATIONIST been set anywhere else, it probably wouldn’t have worked as well as it did.

Kudos to you, Ms. Stevens. Michael is one interesting, intriguing character, and this proved to be one interesting and intriguing read.

Poked Me In The Nose

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

How far would you go to save your children? For many parents, you don’t even see a line. In your mind, it doesn’t exist. You’d do whatever it takes. Special film for windows, creams, ointments, face masks, friend screening, and neighbor counseling sessions are only the tip of the iceberg. You’d probably shoot out halogen lights with a shotgun from your front porch with a bottle of Jack standing ready by your side. You’d wheedle and cajole and squeeze out one more day, one more month, or one more year for your son or daughter, even if it meant another child or two ended up with the short straw out of the haystack.

Even though the prose poked me in the nose, and the poignant conversations left me feeling complete and fulfilled, I hated every last one of the sons-a-bitches in THE DEEPEST SECRET. From Eve to Tyler to Melissa to David to Charlotte to Holly, I could have punched them individually or as a group, and that still might not have been enough. I’d hoped for a sympathetic character, and instead, I had a slew of misfits and miscreants who might have been better served on The Jerry Springer Show.

It was hard to dig myself out of the funk of despair that permeated throughout the pages, with lies and isolation and deception rising up from the blackness and wrapping around my neck. There’s talent at work here—I have no doubt—but I need a character that I can stand behind without worrying about taking an elbow to the chin.

On a totally unrelated note, I’d have to say the following was my favorite line of the entire novel: “The Steelers rolled over the Eagles.” Had this been discussed in a bit more detail, I might have found myself rising up out of the muck, even if it was only briefly.

I received this ARC for free at Bouchercon.

A Slow Burn

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I admit I like free shit. I also admit I’m not entirely rational in my thought process. For example, I happily hand over my Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime Conference fees and feel like I’ve won the lottery when I receive a bag filled with books. Seriously, this ends up being one of the major highlights of these conferences. So in my continued pursuit of this high, minus the conference fees, I have decided to scour Amazon for the best free short stories and books available. With that being said, let’s get to the review.

The beginning of A COLD DAY FOR MURDER reminded me of a tall sequoia, as I stood on the uppermost branches, staring out at a picturesque world, before I slipped and then smacked every branch on the way down. Even though I’ve never been to Alaska, I feel like I could paint a picture of its vast wilderness and attractive scenery and include a few interesting characters to boot, if I should so desire. Several of the chapters began with multiple pages of description, the text coming to life right before my eyes, springing forth like a cactus in the desert.

It wasn’t until I was about 36% through this tale on my Kindle (this transfers to roughly 71 pages into the print edition) before the mystery really took hold and took off. Had it not been for some lovely description and Kate’s straightforward, no-holds-barred mentality, I might have given up on this novel earlier. As it stands, though, I was rather glad I pushed through. Even though Kate isn’t the most likeable character, I really enjoyed her toughness and even found her abrasiveness rather amusing most of the time. She’s a character with some rough edges that I’m sure will get smoothed out in one of her later adventures.

As for the other characters, none are as fleshed out as Kate Shugak, but all showed signs of life and enough enthusiasm for further tales. The mystery proved interesting and engaging, but at times it felt like it took a backseat to the characters and the scenery. In the end, though, this was an enjoyable read from the first page to the last, it all fit together perfectly, and I look forward to catching up on more of Kate’s exploits.