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Naked Alliances by S.K. Nicholls

First an acknowledgement … I was a beta reader for this book.  At least once, probably twice.  I have been a big behind the scenes supporter of Susan’s efforts.  So, take my review with a grain of salt if you must, but know that I have read the manuscripts for a couple dozen self-published books over the last couple of years and you haven’t seen a review of many of those books here on my blog.

Naked Alliances is the first of what Susan promises to be a series of Florida crime fiction novels.  We’re introduced to private investigator Richard Noggin and Brandi, a particularly unique character you may find only in Florida (okay, maybe in some places in California and New York City, too).  Noggin is asked to solve a cold-case murder.  His investigation and a twist brought into his life by Brandi thrust him into a different side of Orlando — nudist resorts, swingers clubs, sex slave rings, and murder.  It’s a tale with suspense and intrigue and characters you’ll look forward to reading more about in future entries in the series.

Because I’ve helped Susan along the way with Naked Alliances, I know that she is one self-published author who cares about the craft and quality of her published work.  She hasn’t taken this lightly and rushed something out before it was in great shape.  Her dedication shows.  Naked Alliances and the stories that will follow should take their place alongside the rest of Florida’s crime fiction genre.

I recommend Naked Alliances to you.  Give it a try, support an author who cares her readers and the quality of her work.

Buy it here.

Check out S.K. Nicholls’ website here.


A Timely Read

Carrie Rubin is one of my favorite writer/bloggers.  I’m not sure if the statistics would bear this out, but I feel like she was one of the first writer/blogger I started to follow and who followed back and ever since, it’s been, I hope, a mutually rewarding experience of reading and sharing each others thoughts as expressed through our posts.  So, too, she has published a novel, Seneca Scourge, that was an enjoyable read.  Now comes her second novel.

Eating Bull is Jeremy’s story.  He 15 years old and obese.  As he struggles to deal with his weight and life’s issues — like a surly grandfather who nicknames him Eating Bull, the school bullies who ratchet up their attacks on him, and the stresses that lead him to over-eat — he gets swept up in a lawsuit brought against the food industry.  All while a murderer seems to be stocking the overweight.

Eating Bull is a murder mystery/thriller with plenty of potential suspects and questions along the way.  It’s well-written with characters you want to cheer for, but not necessarily in an uncomplicated way.  Even the heroes have their flaws.  And it passes the key test of such a story … it’s a page-turner, pulling the reader along to the finish.

It also deals with a social issue that continues to grow in this country and I think Carrie pulls it off well.  While one or two of the characters gets preachy and holier-than-thou about the issue of overeating and the food-eating industry’s role in the obesity epidemic, the book itself isn’t preachy.  Those characters who are preachy — well, it fits their character and fits the arc of the story.  It would be somewhat odd to have characters in their roles who weren’t somewhat over the top in their views of the issue.  So, well done, Carrie, well done.

* * * * *

Which leads to why this book is timely for me.  I’m 51 years old and while I’m not obese, I’m about 10-15 pounds above what I’d like to be and I’ve battled that weight for a handful of years now.  I remember back in my 30’s working with a few people who were older than me, who looked enviously at what I consumed and nodded knowingly.  “Don’t worry.  It’ll catch up to you when you’re 40.”  Or 50.  I shuddered at the thought that I would one day have to watch what I ate and swore that I would remain active enough through running and cycling and other activities that I would continue to be able to eat without care for years and years to come.

Well, yeah, maybe not.  I have spoken these words:  “I had a big lunch, I’d prefer something light for dinner.”  My god, what happened to me?  In addition to the inevitability of age, I tore a groin muscle a few years ago and it knocked me back a bit.  My regular exercise routine took a big hit and it’s been a struggle ever since.  For a lot of reasons and because of that, I’ve known I need to change my eating habits.  And, damn, if that’s not ridiculously difficult to do.

Here’s the other thing … I have long said I really have only one ism.  It’s ageism.  I have long struggled with older people.  I’ve struggled the patience needed because they move slower, think slower.  You know, patience is not one of my virtues.  Reading Eating Bull, I realized I’ve been wrong all these years.  I have another ism.  It’s weightism.  While I would never call somebody fatso, or pig, or ridicule them for their weight, I have no patience for people who are excessively overweight.  I’ve struggled to understand “how they can let themselves get that way.”  Why can’t they control their eating?  What is wrong with them?  Don’t they realize what they’re doing to themselves and their families?

And I realized something reading Eating Bull — as Jeremy struggles with those life stresses and finds release in food time and time again — that I am no better and no more in control.  I have my food/drink addictions and let them control me no matter how much I know not to.

For years I have battled to stop drinking soft drinks.  And the battle goes on.  Every morning, I say to myself “No Pepsi today.”  And as the morning progresses, at work this happens and that happens, and rather than having the natural lemonade drink in the fridge, I crave the sweet release of a cold, carbonated, massively over-sugared Pepsi and more often than not, I give in to its siren call.

For a couple of years I have battled to stop drinking beer.  And the battle goes on.  Every morning, I say to myself “No beer today.”  And as morning turns into afternoon and evening approaches, my commitment weakens and by the time I get home, well, a couple of beers later, the evening is done.  The reality is that neither of these things is necessarily fatal to my existence, but I do know that my beer consumption has creeped up over the last couple of years and, given my general lack of physical activity (at least in compared to pre-groin injury), the calories are not helping me.

What’s even worse, however, is my inability to eat healthier.  A few months ago, I set out to eat healthier lunches at work.  Salads, crackers with hummus, carrots, a piece or two of string cheese.  Something better than the pizzas, burgers, Mexican food, and the like that filled my weekly lunch menu.  But, you know …

A couple of weeks ago, I made carne asada for tacos one Sunday night.  There was left over meat, so I used it to make a healthy salad for lunch the next day.  I dutifully packed it up and put it in the fridge at work.  Where it sat for the entire week as those lunch time cravings took over.  Just as Jeremy in Eating Bull did, I found release and satisfaction in the greasy goodness of a cheeseburger, in the spicy bite of tacos and chips and salsa.  All sandwiched between sips — no, gulps — of the sweat, carbonated beauty of an ice-cold Pepsi.

It’s really kind of amazing how food does this to a person.  When I was a kid, my mom packed lunches for us — they always consisted of either a bologna sandwich or a PB&J sandwich, a fruit, and a couple of cookies or a hostess product.  Because of that sweet treat at the end of every lunch, it took me decades to kick the sweet craving that came after every meal.

And why is it that, when under stress, when dissatisfied with life’s events, we find comfort in the greasiest, fattiest, sugariest (is that a word?), most high calorie foods there are?

All I know is this … when I’m at work, and the morning has gone to hell, which it all too frequently does these days, and I’m thinking about lunch, there is a big blinking sign that says “Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi!!!!”  And below those words are an image of the greasiest, cheesiest double cheeseburger you can possibly imagine.  That salad in the fridge, the tub of hummus with the crackers?  Nah … absolutely will not provide me with what I feel I need in that moment.  And all too frequently, it is the craving that gets sated.

So, yeah, I get it now.  Jeremy’s inner battles as described in Eating Bull are spot on and describe what many people experience, even if they aren’t obese.  Battles.  Daily battles.


A Book Review My Way — Kevin Brennan’s Town Father

Quick Review … Kevin Brennan’s Town Father: Or, Where Graceful Girls Abound absolutely rocks.

Long, drawn out review, in which I discuss my family, a book, and many other things:

One of the joys of parenthood is spending your time taking care of your kids when they get themselves into a pickle.  Anybody who read that sentence without at least a hint of sarcasm needs to go back and try again.

A little over a week ago, the Queen and I were awakened shortly before midnight by one of those calls.  You know, there is no good call at midnight on a Saturday.  It was the older Prince Midget, calling to let us know he had been an accident.  He was fine, nary a scratch on his hair or hide.  Problem is that his car was totaled.  While the kid had a rental paid for by the insurance company for a few days, that wouldn’t go on forever, so Friday night, I made arrangements to fly down to Long Beach and help him find a replacement car.

Meanwhile, over at Kevin Brennan’s blog, he revealed that his new book was officially out in paperback.  Kevin is one of those rare self-published authors who hit the lottery with his first book — before the e-book and self-publishing craze came along — when it was traditionally published.  Since then, he has written a number of books — Yesterday Road, Occasional Soulmates, and now Town Father.  I’ll be honest, the first of his books I read was Yesterday Road and I wasn’t quite sure about the book.  It was … OK.  But I started following Kevin’s blog and when he published Occasional Soulmates, the description of the book struck me as something I needed to read.  So, I did and I really enjoyed it.  Enough that I got his traditionally published book, Parts Unknown, read it and enjoyed it as well.

When Kevin revealed that he had another book waiting in the wings, I started thinking like a teeny bopper (that’s for you, Tamrah, in case you read this) waiting for the next Justin Bieber single.  I couldn’t wait.  I wanted to read his new book.

One of the things that I really appreciate was that he decided to skip the e-book option, at least at the outset, and try to get the book-reading public interested in a paperback and forking out $10 or $11 for a self-published author.  I have a huge amount of respect for that and I think more of us self-published authors need to consider this.  We need to stop pushing our works for the lowest price possible and start putting our work out there at the price it deserves.  But anyway, I digress.

Once Kevin posted on his blog that the book was available, I raced to Amazon and purchased a copy of the book.  And then I waited.  My god, if it was an e-book I’d be reading it right way, right?  But, patience is a virtue and maybe that’s a part of books.  So, I waited.

The book arrived.  Thank you to Amazon Prime’s free two-day delivery.  Meanwhile, in the last week, there were three other books I purchased for various reasons.  But Town Father was in my hot little hands.  I started reading it Thursday night and by Saturday, had read about 50 pages.  Yes, when you can only read in those moments before sleep time, it’s somewhat difficult to get through much more than 20 pages or so per night.

Saturday, however, was a thing of beauty.  I had a flight to catch and hours to sit in an airport and then on an airplane.  I packed myself up … four books (because you never know if you’ll like what you’re reading, am I right) … and headed to the airport. After checking in and nearly stripping to my undies to get through security, I settled in with Town Father.  A couple of hours later, I boarded the plane and a little over an hour after that, I landed in Long Beach.  In those three hours, I barely stopped reading.  Apparently, I didn’t need those other three books, except for the flight home.

Here’s the thing about Kevin’s stories.  They are on some level, just that, stories.  Generally speaking, rather simple, but that’s part of the charm.  There’s not a lot of complexity.  But at the same time, on a whole other level, there’s a lot of meaning in them.  They are chock full of messages if you are the type who wants something other than to just read a story.

Town Father tells the story of Hestia, a town born in the California foothills of the Sierra Nevada in the latter part of the 19th century.  Formed by a group of women who decided they wanted to live apart from the “larger world”.  More specifically, they decided they wanted to live apart from men and their influence because of men’s competitiveness and evil ways.  They formed Hestia and went along swimmingly for a few years, eventually gathering 300 women to the town until they realized that there was one thing they still needed a man for.  And so they advertised for a Town Commissioner and Henry O’Farrell answered the call.

After I finished reading Town Father and started thinking about what I would say about it here, I struck on something.  Back when I was a kid, my parents took us to old-fashioned melodramas in Folsom, a California town nestled in the very beginnings of the same foothills where Hestia is located.  These were plays based in the Old West of the late 19th century, where there were villains and heroes and damsels in distress.  There was corny love, humorous asides, and the audience was expected boo the villains and cheer the heroes and the damsels.  Town Father struck me as being a literary version of a melodrama — but more grown up, a little more real, a little more serious.  There are villains and damsels in distress (lots of those) and a most unlikely of hero and plenty of opportunities to cheer and boo along the way.

I’d like you to give Kevin Brennan’s book a try.  Even in the old-fashioned paperback mode.  Is it a perfect story?  Of course not, but it is a good little story that may just entertain you as you read and also give you reason to stop and think bit by the end.  To me, the highest praise any writer can receive is the idea that somebody sat down to read his or her book and found it impossible to put it down for hours to come.  That, in a nutshell, was my experience with Town Father.  I hope it is yours, too.  And if you read it and experience the book the way I did, spread the word.

A Book Review My Way — Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I’m struggling to figure out how to satisfy my reading needs these days.  I go for weeks relying on the library, then I buy a couple of paperbacks, then a few e-books for my Kindle, and back and forth I go.  I think that’s a good thing because each avenue leads me to different kinds of books.

With my Kindle, I struggle to pay “full price” for e-books.  What amazes me is that there are traditionally published books where the e-book costs more than the paperback.  Lots of them.  I just find that stunning and exhibit A of what is fundamentally wrong with the publishing world these days.  As a result of that struggle, I decided to start looking in the bargain bin in the Kindle Store and see what’s there.  This was prompted in part by Carrie Rubin offering up a couple of recent novels she read and enjoyed.  One of which was, although traditionally published, was in the $2.99 for the e-book range.  I read it.  It wasn’t classic literature.  But it was a page-turner.  So, I went back to the bargain bin for seconds.

Somewhere in the Kindle Deals section I came across Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion.  The blurb seemed interesting.  It was decently reviewed and it was only a couple of bucks.  So, I bought it and started reading it yesterday.  And by the end of the first paragraph, I was disgusted.  Here is the final sentence of that first paragraph:

My friend M says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can’t smile, because your lips have rotted off.

A zombie novel?  Seriously?  I did not sign up for zombies.  Count me as somebody who has completely avoided the whole zombie craze.  As I read and boiled at the introduction of a zombie as the narrator, I was convinced that the Amazon blurb for this book made no mention of zombies.  It didn’t.  I insist it didn’t.  I would have never bought the damn thing if it had.  I have absolutely no interest in zombies.  And even less in zombie love stories.

So, yeah, 24 hours later I read the final pages of Warm Bodies.  The e-book ends with a sample of Isaac Marion’s next book, The New Hunger, a prequel to Warm Bodies.  I thought about it.  I thought about writing this post.  I thought some more.  I was going to slam the powers that be that would write a book blurb that leaves out that key ingredient to the story.

Then I started thinking about the story and that there was another book about the two main characters … how they got to where they were when Warm Bodies picked up … and I started to get intrigued by the idea.  There was something about Warm Bodies that just got its hooks in me, zombies and all.  I wanted more about these characters, as unrealistic and farfetched as the whole story was.  I wanted more.

So, I went to Amazon and checked out Book #2.  It’s only available in paperback.  From third party sellers.  This for a “follow-up” prequel to a novel that was apparently made into a movie and is published by Vintage.  No e-book.  No availability through Amazon.

Here’s the kicker.  I checked the blurb out again to confirm its content before I went off here about the foul practices of the publishing industry.  And there it is in the second sentence of the blurb:

R is having a no-life crisis — he is a zombie.

I absolutely guarantee that sentence wasn’t there when I looked at this book to buy a couple of days.  What happened?

What happened is that I read a story that started with annoyance and frustration and turned into something I wanted more of.  And, oddly enough, it aint there.

Now I don’t know what to do.

It’s Been Awhile … A Book Review My Way

I get a book for each of my son’s as part of their Christmas gifts from me.  A few years ago, wandering through an old-fashioned thing called a bookstore, I decided to get The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for my older son.  He read it and said he liked it.  My younger son read it and said he liked it.  I read it and thought, “it’s okay.”  It was a pleasant story, but it really didn’t strike a chord with me.

Fast forward to last month and with my older son again going off to college, I had a few days off to help pack him up and move him down to Long Beach.  With a trip planned, I did what I usually do — treat myself to a couple of paperbacks for reading while I’m away.  Perusing the bookstore again, I found another book by Paulo Coelho.  Here is what the back of the book has to say about the story:

“I want to change.  I need to change.  I’m gradually losing touch with myself.  Adultery, the provocative new novel by Paulo Coelho, best-selling author of The Alchemist and Eleven Minutes, explores the question of what it means to life life fully and happily, finding the balance between life’s routine and the desire for something new.”

Well, you know, that little blurb just spoke volumes to me.  I picked the book up and read it that weekend.  It had me with the opening words:

“Every morning, when I open my eyes to the so-called ‘new day,’ I feel like closing them again, staying in bed, and not getting up.  But I can’t do that.”

We then learn about the narrator, a Swiss woman with a perfect marriage to a perfect husband.  Two charming children.  And a job she wants.  And none of it is satisfactory to her anymore.  As perfect as things seem to be — her marriage is stale, her kids are more in tune with their electronics, and her job keeps her from the things she wants to do.  Only problem is she’s not really sure what she wants to do, until she meets an old boy friend, ushering in a battle between the things she should be doing — caring for her family, doing her work — and the things she wants to do.  Her old boyfriend.

Hello!  Talk about a book that speaks to me.  Those opening two sentences describe how I feel every day.  The narrator’s dissatisfaction with what she should view as a good life describes much of what I struggle with as well.  Rather than getting up and confronting it all, far easier would be to just stay in bed.  But I can’t do that.  So, I soldier on — wondering where the happiness is.

And this is where I think the book fails.  It really bothers me when the blurb for a book over promises.  The blurb says the book “explores the question of what it means to live life fully and happily, finding the balance between life’s routine and the desire for something new.”  Only problem is that while the narrator was exploring the question, she was completely disinterested in “finding the balance.”  And, ultimately, the ending basically allowed her to escape the responsibility for the decisions she made while she was in her exploration mode.

I checked out how this book is reviewed on Amazon.  While it has the laundry list of positive reviews from the professional critics, 20% of the readers who rated it on Amazon gave it one star, which I’m pretty certain is the highest percentage of one star reviews I’ve ever seen.  (Well, except for books I read about Israel and Palestine which have a more balanced presentation of the conflict and all of the pro-Israel lunatics come on and rate the book one star and accuse the author of being an anti-Semite.)

Anyway …

I read a few of the one star reviews and many of them have a point.  There are aspects of this story that clearly reflect that it is written by a man trying to narrate it from a female perspective.  And some of it just doesn’t work.  And then there’s just the whole ending and how she is able to escape responsibility.  I think Coelho likes to think he wrote stories (and I think his readers expect this as well) that teach a lesson.  There’s some moral or ethical lesson to learn.  The only lesson I learned from this book is to make sure you marry a perceptive, but forgiving spouse.

If I had to rate it on Amazon, I’d probably give it three stars.  It’s still a good story.  Coelho has a way with words and a way of communicating feelings that is masterful.  There are a number of places where I dog-eared the page because of something he wrote.  I may come back to some of those passages and write more here about them.  But at the end of the day … the story has too many flaws to rate higher than that.

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