Bonafide Killing Machine

18923500The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

If religion ain’t how you like to swing from the tree branches, then there’s much you won’t like about THE LINCOLN MYTH. If you’re a southern who still refers to the Civil War as The War of Northern Aggression, you may find yourself nodding along at times, and still wishing you had shown those northern bastards a thing or two. The idea of a continuing, perpetual union was fought on the battlefield leading to what has continued to this day. Unless, of course, you’re in Texas, which ends up being its own entity entirely. But that’s a story for another day.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aka Mormons filled more than a few pages of this story, and I couldn’t help but have flashbacks (possibly visions or nightmares) to my Fifty Shades days. The body and soul may have departed, but the stench remains. I guess you could say Mormons aren’t exactly at the top of my Christmas list, so what follows might be slightly tainted by my own beliefs and opinions. Not visions. So if you’re still reading at this point, remember Jesus hasn’t told you to.

Cotton Malone may not sound like much of a man, but don’t let the name fool you, he’s a bonafide killing machine. He’ll rock your world six ways from Sunday, and he won’t even think twice about it, and that swift kick to the nuts you feel all the way in your toes, will drop you faster than a sack of potatoes. He can also be a bit slow to love, but that’s just because he’s seen a side of the world most of us only read about in newspapers and magazines.

I don’t know why, but the name Cassiopeia Vitt rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was just the name, but I wasn’t particularly endeared to her character either. She seemed a tad too manipulative for my tastes. She reminded me of a black widow ready to strike me dead. Had I been fortunate enough to live, I might have wished I hadn’t.

The story felt a bit long and drawn out, even if the plot did move at a somewhat expeditious pace. Even though I’d check off the religion category on the latest Excel spreadsheet iteration, the religious angle was a bit much for me at times. Other than Cotton Malone, the rest of the cast of characters lacked a bit of dimension to truly make them whole. While I prefer not to jump to conclusions without all the available facts, it did feel like Steve Berry had decided to coast a bit through this one, instead of shifting his car out of neutral.

If you’re new to the Steve Berry arena, you may be better served by starting a bit earlier in this series. But if you’re already a fan, and you don’t mind the appearance or reference of a few prophets, you may find yourself right at home between the pages.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Prose Popped My Nose

12497No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If I ever decide to sneeze sawdust and spit nails, I might just have to change my name to Anton Chigurh and move my wife to the Texas-Mexico border. Of course, that assumes I own a cattle gun, determine fate through the flip of a coin, and have approximately $2.4M stuffed in my jeans. During my subsequent relocation, I’ll acquire a pair of recently shined ostrich boots and a white cloth for my boots and nose, not to be used successively without prior washing.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN caused me to jump at even the slightest noise, and I might have pried my eyes open with toothpicks to help me sleep at night. The journey nearly led to a forty mph drive by through a stop sign, and I might have run a red light during the completion of this novel. The prose popped my nose and jaw out of alignment, and I might have hugged the sidewalk for warmth and comfort and moral support. Had I owned a shotgun, I might have tossed it out of my bedroom window (unloaded of course) and buried the shells in my backyard.

The sparse prose rocked me more than the San Andreas, and I might have considered a four-wheeler purchase to aid my night travels. I’d remove the toothpicks from my eyes for the completion of this journey. The dialogue confused me at times, since I’m a simple man who prefers quotation marks and contractions with the aid of an apostrophe. But that could just be me. Who needs grammar rules if you have a Pulitzer swinging from your gun belt? I ask you. Since I own neither a Pulitzer (unless you count the one I stole from that bastard from Kentucky) nor a gun belt, I guess I’ll have to continue to use punctuation correctly. But when I do acquire my Pulitzer through legal means, you bastards better watch out.

If you like your world filled with reprehensible characters and you want to watch as the world gets blown to smithereens, or maybe just the backseat of a Jeep, then this novel might just make you feel all warm and cuddly inside.

Heart-Pounding Thrill Ride

19941395The Accident by Chris Pavone
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If I didn’t already know the publishing industry was filled with a bunch of crazy bastards, THE ACCIDENT would have sealed the deal for me. So, of course, I was thrilled with my particular choice. But I digress. What thrilled me to no end were the constant references and insights and foresights into the world of agents and editors and writers that is publishing.

Filled with big dreams and even bigger unfulfilled promises, the odds are stacked against you before you even step up to bat. And since nobody in America reads, other than the select few on Goodreads, you can be the next big thing in a country that doesn’t read. And as this brilliant novel so aptly proves, you can even get shot or killed or stalked or sued for your trouble, so if you’re a writer or a publisher, you’ve got that to look forward to as well. Again, it’s not as wonderful as you might think, because you actually have to have a good bit of luck involved, along with talent and skill, unless you happen to have the next big celebrity reveal stashed in your hip pocket.

If you want to know how to maneuver from the A list down to C level, you might want to talk to Jeffrey Fielder, who for a middle-aged man happens to be more gun shy than he’s ever been in his life. Or maybe you want to converse with Isabel Reed, who can be seen running through the halls of the ATM agency on her way out of town. Or maybe you’d prefer to take a gander at Camilla Glyndon-Browning, who can rock your world courtesy of the closest bathroom sink. Or maybe you’d like to speak to Alexis, who might be looking for a career change or a step up in an industry filled with plenty of novels and not always the best commissions.

If you want to know how to spend your next twenty-fours, you first might want to consider how you shouldn’t spend it. What this novel does is give you a whole lot of arguments for shying away from the present predicaments contained within this 402 page heart-pounding thrill ride. It ramps up the tension around every street corner and every neighboring town, and it doesn’t really ease off the gas until you’re headed across the finish line. So, yeah, you could say I was entertained.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Shallow Pools And Emotional Depths

16068341The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I am in awe of this book. I want to put it up on a pedestal and stare at it for hours. I want to buy a copy for everyone that I know, so that they can read it and love it as much as I do. I want to plaster this review and project it toward the heavens, so that every single bastard I don’t know can buy a copy for himself, his 2.5 kids, his two car garage, and maybe even his dog or cat. This book is that fucking good. It’s the best book I’ve read this year. No question. But will all of those people along with all of their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and grandmas and grandpas feel the same way about THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE that I do. Probably not. And that makes me sad. Like my stomach has sunk to the floor, and I might not be able to pick it back up again sad. And it makes me sad that I probably won’t be able to convince enough people to buy this novel, because I won’t adequately be able to project my feelings over the course of this review and I feel like I need to take a writing course just so I can properly convey my true love for this novel.

And it does feel like true love. When I reached the end, the butterflies in my stomach were floating around, and I wanted to sing and dance, but I also wanted to stomp and shout and cry, because I had reached the end and this world was over and all the feelings I had felt and the wonderfulness that consumed me would have to be set aside as I moved on to the next book and entered an entirely different world. But it won’t be the same, and I know I won’t feel the same way about the next book that I feel about this one, and it’s not really even fair to compare the two, because this book knocked me on my butt and flipped me down the stairs.

THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE ought to be required reading at every high school across the country, and across other countries, too, like China and India and Pakistan. Because the problems in our high school—the popularity contests, the hazing, the nerds and geeks, queens and outcasts and sluts, and the jocks and the cheerleaders—aren’t just confined to our high schools. So…every single bastard in every single high school around the world ought to read this fucking novel. And if it doesn’t make you stop and think about yourself, whether it’s for a minute or an hour or even the rest of your life, you might just have a major malfunction in your line of coding.

I mean, just over the course of this novel, we have Elaine and Kelsie, Josh and Brandon, and a bunch of other bastards who just follow along with the crowd, because it’s the easy thing to do. Because it might affect their status or their well-being if they actually lent a hand to someone else for once in their miserable lives. Because they aren’t strong enough to say, “No, that’s not right.” Because let’s be honest, people can be real shitheels, and it’s always easier and more fun to poke a finger at someone else than take a good hard look at yourself. So instead of self-reflection, you’re going to take the easy way out (again) and blame the poor bastard that’s already been kicked in the teeth a time or two, because well, she probably deserved it anyway. But, hey, that’s life…and high school.

Frankly, I’m glad I was Kurt in high school. The one that people just virtually ignored, because if I have to step on everyone to make my way to the top, then frankly, I don’t want to be there. Because it’s not worth it.

But this novel was so worth it. Like totally. What it had—strong characters, true to high school individuals, realistic dialogue, reflection (past) and present, multiple viewpoints, shallow pools and emotional depth, plot triggers and passion, a condensed story where every word mattered, a small town feel and atmosphere, and a journey that truly kept me on the edge of my seat—in less than 210 pages.

If I were smarter, I would have read it in one sitting. But I’ve never claimed to know what the hell I’m doing. Luckily for me (and you) Jennifer Mathieu does, and I have a feeling she’ll be around for a very long time.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Slitting Your Throat

19826961That Night by Chevy Stevens
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I needed to write this review, and it wasn’t because Jesus told me to. I just wanted to clear the air on that particular point, because a few of my proclivities and tendencies will be made abundantly clear over the course of the next several hundred words, and if profanity ain’t your cup of java, you may want to leave the building before Elvis does.

Sonofabitch, she’s back. I don’t know where she went for novels two and three. I can speculate, but I prefer to stick to the facts, since I’m a simpleminded person at heart. What I do know is that I read Never Knowing and wasn’t particularly impressed, and I’ll probably read ALWAYS WATCHING at some point before I kick the bucket, but I’d say the chances are better than average that I’ll be underwhelmed. But in the meantime, let’s focus on the task at hand, and if I had to sum up THAT NIGHT in one sentence it would be thus: It was damn good.

This was one serious mindfuck from the first page to the last. Women can be some serious bitches and torment each other for years, decades even. Men, on the other hand, simply don’t function that way. We’re either not smart enough, or vindictive enough, or maybe it’s some combination of the two.

I mean growing up I thought my brother was a little shit, and to be perfectly honest, I was probably a little bastard, but I didn’t plan his imminent demise for sixteen years of my life. If you’re looking for that kind of deep-seated revenge, you might as well start planning out multiple graves, or maybe you’ll need a whole cemetery to bury the bodies. But it makes for good entertainment. Just ask the creators of Revenge.

Sorry, getting back on track here. More than once, my eyes were wide, and the little voice in my head said, “That couldn’t possibly happen.” And then the roller coaster of emotions started, and I found myself clinging to the edge of the cliff by my teeth. The pages flipped with effortless ease like I was giving the fuzz the bird from the front seat of my Corvette. I piled emotions on top of emotions until I was buried in a haze and cloud filled stupor, the bottle caressing my lips over and over again.

Shauna and Rachel, Kim and Cathy reminded me of a viper or a praying mantis. If I ever had any inclinations of returning to high school to relive my glory days, I’d bury them right now in my own backyard. If you want to see nasty, it doesn’t get much nastier than the four of them. Holding your hand one minute and slitting your throat the next is just how these girls roll, and if you don’t like it, you can back the fuck off. Dealing with the bodies might prove to be a bit of a challenge, but one that can be overcome with smiles and more hand holding and quite possibly a tire iron.

Despite my better judgment, I liked Toni. While some reviewers might shout at the heavens and curse her very name, I found myself rooting for her. She wasn’t just dealt a bad hand; she had an entire deck of fraudulent cards. If you don’t like her pity party, that’s fine, but she truly wants to turn her life around and move on, and if that means she stumbles once in a while, she just needs to pick herself back up.

If you believe I have a soft spot for the underdog, you’re absolutely right. That’s just how I roll. Nicole, though, was the good one, the pretty one, and she used all of her assets to her advantage, her mother doting on her like she was a doll. So, yeah, she didn’t get any sympathy points from me, but then I like to see the little gal win.

It’s easy to say that these teenagers are mere caricatures, but when have young adults not been a bunch of bastards and bitches. I was young once, I know how it all goes down on the playground. And if you’re in the popular crowd, it’s like being in a mosh pit at the latest hard rock concert. I stood back and watched all the madness unfold, and that’s exactly what I did here. If you’re smart, you’ll do the same, and might even glad you partook in the festivities.

You might, however, be a bit disappointed in the ending, and I can’t say that I’d blame you in that regard.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Deleted Random Lines Of Code

19421846The Here and Now by Ann Brashares
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

I guess I just don’t have it in me to truly trash a novel. At least not in the manner currently undertaken by certain individuals. Should you wish to read a review where THE HERE AND NOW is dragged behind a pickup truck for 248 miles on the I-405, I’d direct your attention to a different public service announcement.

I bring up this particular calamity, because I read a review filled with wrath and vengeance that tainted my reading experience. Did I like the novel? No. Would I have liked THE HERE AND NOW had I not read this other review first? No. But after reading said review, I might have been slightly traumatized for a brief moment in my otherwise happy existence. When I finished the story, I realized it was an okay read, but might not have deserved the full-on shellacking it had received on a previous occasion…Sorry, getting back on track and on to the review.

The word repetitious comes to mind early and often in my description of this novel, to the point that I might have to repeat myself to further emphasize a few dramatic points. But that’s okay, as long as I wash my hands first. The dialogue felt more forced than natural, and it circumvented the point a bit too often instead of being more direct and hard hitting. It resembled Elmore Leonard if he had smoked too much weed and fried nearly half of his brain cells and couldn’t remember who he was for long periods of time and possibly had a metal plate in his head and his wife fired up the microwave a little too close to his presence.

Would I call this novel thrilling? I’m going to go with no here, Bob. The pace was too slow for most thrill seekers, and the characters were whitewashed and steam cleaned to the point of a starchy outer coating. Prenna James might have been interesting if she hadn’t been a tad too bland, and Ethan Jarves wasn’t doing a whole lot better for himself. Mr. Robert and Ben Kenobi and Mona Ghali and Andrew Baltos proved on about the same wavelength as our hero and heroine. The romantic relationship felt a bit lacking in the spark department. Maybe electricity doesn’t work as well in the future as it does right now.

Instead of recalling basic pieces of the novel as I write this, there are gaps in the logic and plot that just aren’t there for me. Almost like a hacker deleted random lines of code in the program, and now it’s just not working properly. If time travel were possible, this book doesn’t exactly endear me to that particular experience. Maybe you’ll feel differently, and that’s perfectly okay, but my enthusiasm died within the first few pages, and it never managed to regain its composure.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Reality Avenue

20566182Real Happy Family: A Novel by Caeli Wolfson Widger
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Danger Will Robinson. I’m about to get nostalgic on your asses, and I really hope you’ll indulge me for just a minute. If you’re looking for my review, it’ll begin in the next paragraph. But I honestly can’t think of another way to do this. What I’d like to do is take this opportunity to say thank you. I started on Goodreads to improve my social media footprint and get my name out there via another avenue, and maybe discover another book or two, but it’s become so much more than that. It’s become a community. A family. My wife has said, “You’re pretty lucky.” But I’d go above and beyond that, and say that I’m damn lucky.

If you’re looking for that other type of family—you know the ones that snort drugs and bomb out on reality television and drift away from their respective husbands and wives and might not behave like true parents and veer off script more often than they stay on it and just happen to come in all various shapes and sizes—then REAL HAPPY FAMILY is for you. This novel takes Speidi and Bennifer to the brink of extinction with the proverbial train wreck waiting on every corner and maybe twice on Reality Avenue.

Sure, it’d be easy to call this novel a disaster, and then hang my head in shame, as I run for the nearest restroom to get a little bump to go along with my steak tartare and Pinot Grigio. But I was proud to discover this find, even if it reminded me of the rubberneckers on 95 or the 405. With characters that proved somewhat simple in nature and constantly choosing the wrong door, I was happy that I only temporarily occupied the stark raving universe otherwise inhabited by Colleen, Darren, Carl, Lorelei, and Robin and a handful of other misfits and oddballs and eccentrics and cranks.

The story followed a non-linear construct, so if straight lines and moving in order from A to B to C are your modus operandi, you might find yourself scratching your head a time or two. But the pace moved along at a reasonable clip, and I found myself a little sad to reach the end, even if it took me a few pages to find myself fully immersed in this tale.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Sardonic Poetry

6473959Sloppy Firsts (Jessica Darling, #1) by Megan McCafferty
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Since I had to explain to my wife that my latest reading excursion was not in fact a between-the-sheets adventure with multiple terms for male and female genitalia, I might have reached my erotica novel quota for the month of May and possibly June as well. In case you haven’t already figured it out, this is not erotica, nor is it even classified as romance. But I was romantically involved with it all the same. SLOPPY FIRSTS punched my two front teeth out and slapped me hard on the cheek. It lifted my feet six inches off the ground, and turned me upside down. Had I managed to offer the world a coherent thought or two, I probably would have followed it up with a giggle.

Jessica Darling might have been the greatest thing to happen to my otherwise miserable existence. She actually made me happy to be alive, and I even managed to smile for once in my dejected life. She made me want to attempt night running and swoon over poetry and wander the hallowed halls of my youth aimlessly and have crushes on Spanish teachers and pretend that I had a big sister named Bethany who was so full of herself that her head was a ticking time bomb and run through malls…and yes, it really was that fucking good.

The voice was filled with sardonic poetry and wisdom and wit and charm, and she sounded older than she really was, even if her body had the developed pace of a kindergartner. Whether it was Burke or Bridget or Marcus or Manda or Sara, I was hooked, lined, and snickered, and I found myself reeling in a big mouth bass.

Whether I actually did or not is hard to say, but I found myself bouncing along the halls with my head held high and my corduroys on rye and a picture perfect wave across the sky helping me find my way home.

If I really stop to think about it, I probably shouldn’t have fallen in love with this novel, but you can’t always choose what books you love, and in this case, I tried to say no, but I ended up saying yes. Over and over and over again.

Run For The Hills

19830753Surrender by Tawny Taylor
My Rating: 1/5 Stars

This book may have been about passion and SURRENDER, but I wanted to run. Run for the hills and never look back. I might have done it, too, but I felt a compelling need to finish this tale. Maybe so I could write this review, expunge this novel from my brain, and pretend that my life is filled with rainbows and pixie sticks. Or maybe I have a slightly sadistic nature when it comes to my reading material.

I like candy, and therefore I like candy books. I had hoped to add this book to my pastel collection. This novel, however, left a taste so sour in my mouth that I swallowed a bottle of Listerine, and yet the last hint of sourness still lingers between my teeth or under my tongue or maybe it’s at the back of my throat. Any way you slice it, though, it’s a battle that I lost, and come to think of it, I probably was never really in this fight to begin with.

Let’s start with the good. The sex. There was plenty of it to saturate my male fantasies, and still leave me with a few bated breaths for the next rip-roaring horizontal tango. And now I’m done with the good. So, in that regard, this book probably fits right in with Karen’s monster porn series. Only there were no monsters, unless you count acting like teenagers well beyond your teenage years in the monster category. Yeah, it scared the shit out of me, too.

I didn’t just dislike Abby and Kameron, although I’d rather not delve into another four-letter word just yet, so we’ll skip on by that particular calamity. The dialogue made me cringe in fear and cower in the corner. Both of these mishaps affected the sex, but we’re still in a plus on the BDSM factor. Call me a generous soul.

But then we get to the plot. Which was a bit all over the place. Had this book intensified its focus, we might have been able to add another plus here or there. But, yeah, we’ve got another minus in this particular realm. The rest of the characters proved to be mostly idiots and miscreants, and the supposed pretzel twist was a bit too easy to unravel. The story loop skipped ahead a few frames as I turned the pages, similar to a movie reel that someone had hacked away at with a pair of scissors. Possibly one of the “teenagers” from this novel.

The loves me-hates me-loves me dance grew mold way too quickly, and I had to clamp down on whatever ridiculous notions were about to pop into my brain. So, yeah, I made it to the end, but I’m not particularly happy about it.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

A Little Punch With My Applesauce

21951372The Shill by John Shepphird
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

If I ever need a little punch with my applesauce and pinto beans, I might just have to focus my gaze in the direction of John Shepphird, and hope to heck I don’t blink first. With Jane Innes in my corner, it’d be hard to steer myself in the wrong direction. Sure, she’s had her share of bad luck, but I’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t ran into a door or two in her day, or ended up as a hood ornament on a Chevy Impala in the middle of Sunset Boulevard. That kind of shit happens all the time in LA. If this city is filled with angels, then I must have gotten off at the wrong bus stop. And while it does add a certain amount of tragedy to the situation, it amps up the reading factor by about six or seven.

THE SHILL reminded me of a clown, who was bitten by a rattlesnake, injected with steroids, and then fed human flesh until his ears popped. The pace nearly dropped me over the edge of the cliff, a hail of bullets accosted me from every direction, and an errant branch was my only saving grace that kept me out of a tunnel of water three hundred feet below.

The dialogue had more punch than grace or style, and the prose may have lacked a bit of flowery language. But I don’t need roses and rhododendrons when there are guns and ammo to break my fall. This novella was filled with masculine words and musk and AXE and clipped phrases and femme fatales and seduction and dead bodies and I didn’t want to look away.

Full disclosure: I’m on the hook for a novella with Stark Raving Press.