Online Issue 18: Happy Thanksgiving

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It isn’t the turkey or the stuffing or the pumpkin pie that will make your Thanksgiving truly great. It’s the books you can buy on Black Friday, and we’ve got you covered with tons of recommendations! First, Jenn Stroud Rossmann talks about what engineers read, then Susanna Beard shares what she has lined up and Rusty Barnes talks about what’s overloading his Kindle. Barbara Winkes also drops in to talk about the books she’s reading and ones she hopes to get to soon (such as Vox, which sounds fascinating). Who’s reading Gary Philips? Who has Max Ellendale’s latest on their nightstand? Who is anxious for Nicole Chung’s memoir? Check out those TBR piles to find out.

In my latest review I look at Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh. Lots of great insights about family, life and identity here, with appeal for teens and adults alike.

Need to escape all the family togetherness? Rusty Barnes talks about his latest novel, The Last Danger, and cross-border crime. (What could be a better gift for the wall supporter on your shopping list?)

And in case your family Thanksgiving is nothing but political squabbles and family drama, Susanna Beard has cuteness on tap with her two trusty author assistants, Cookie and Tipsy. Pictures here.

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Miss our latest issues? Issue 17 contents  – featuring Tom Leins, Paul Brazill, Kelli Owen, JL Abrama, JJ Hensley, Terrence McCauley, Barbara Winkes and more – can be found here.

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We’ll be back next week with CJ Lyons, Ovidia Yu, Wendy Webb and more.

Plus, December 1 I’ll kick off my Advent Calendar, covering a book, movie, TV series or something else I enjoyed from this past year and recommend.

(Not a ‘best of’ list, because I haven’t consumed everything so I couldn’t possibly say what’s best. And not a ‘best of stuff by my friends’ list either. Most or all come from people I have never met.)

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Review: The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh by Jenn Stroud Rossmann

512d1j1jarl14-year-old Chad Loudermilk is at the center of The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh. Although he is only one of a number of point of view characters that we follow, he is like the hub of a bicycle wheel, and all of the other characters are like the spokes that intersect there. They include his father, mother, and aunt. Like many teens his age, he’s trying to figure out who he is. This is complicated by several factors:

1. His best friend has transferred to a different school.

2. His parents are teetering on the edge of divorce.

3. He is adopted.

 

Oh, and an extra complication? He is black and his adoptive parents are white.

A lot of things unfold around Chad. They touch his life, and they affect him, although they are not usually incidents he’s been directly involved in. One of the trickiest things about this book is describing it without giving major reveals away. There are stories that involve smacking the reader on the nose straight out of the gate with action or a situation that’s clearly significant for the reader. Although Chad’s journey begins with him being driven to jail to pick up his dad, this book starts quietly. Each point of view character is established and they start their own journey, and at the center Chad is what connects them all. How they interact with him, how their choices impact his life and how they affect his journey is at the core of the story.

You could say this is a story about figuring out who you are. You could say this is a story about forgiveness. You could say this is a story about acceptance. All of those statements would be true. In many respects, The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh will mean different things to different readers, because it touches on so many different issues affecting teens, parents, mothers, fathers and friends.

This is, for me, what I call a thinking book. It isn’t about the events so much as it is a way of making people think about their own choices and their understanding or lack of understanding of the significant people in their life. I never realized forgiveness weighed so much. Jenn Stroud Rossmann infuses the story with profound insights gleaned from everyday things, like hummingbirds eating from a feeder and water flowing around rocks in a stream, and holds these insights up like a mirror to the reader, letting us see something of ourselves we perhaps had not previously defined or understood. Stroud Rossmann weaves the strands of the story together patiently and sets the stage for the way Chad’s life is reshaped, and how the lives of those he’s closest to are changed forever.

Now, I often start books without reading a description, so I go in cold and have to figure a story out on its own merits instead of seeing if it meets my expectations. In this case, it felt a little slow in the beginning, but it was well worth the pay off. I was at once both happy and sad for Chad, and disappointed and hopeful. Stroud Rossmann has eloquently expressed an understanding of identity that informs the choices the characters make, and ultimately who they will become as a result of those choices.

Stroud Rossmann doesn’t try to gloss over complex issues with easy answers and there are some things the reader will have to make up their own mind about, but that’s part of the magic of this novel. The characters are living beyond the page for me as I weigh whether or not X did this or that. Some things are left to our imaginations and for each of us, each outcome may differ.

“But in the end, Kara said, it was okay painting and packing, and it was really fun picturing their new house, imagining all the new people they’d meet in the new place. A fresh start. You could be anyone; you didn’t have to be the girl who used to wear a retainer and whose Mom gave her a spiral perm. You could start over, with a clean slate.”

Check out the books on Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s To Be Read pile!

Review: The Line by Martin Limon

Reviewed by Theodore Feit

51fa0lflpul-_sy346_** (T)he Sueño and Bascom investigations (are) set in South Vietnam after the armistice.  This, the 13th in the series, is the most dangerous one yet for the irreverent pair, taking them directly into conflict with the North Koreans at the DMZ.

They are tasked with going right up to the line dividing North and South because of the murder of a South Korean corporal assigned to U.S. troops. The body lies across the line and they drag it back to the south, nearly causing a new war on the peninsula.  An American private eventually is blamed, to assuage the North Koreans, but neither Bascom nor Sueño believes him guilty.  However, they are taken off the case (but that doeesn’tstop them from pursuing it).  Meanwhile, they have another case involving a bored wife of a Corps of Engineers Captain who goes missing.

The author, who served a decade in the Army in Korea, applies his intimate knowledge to the fullest extent with detailed knowledge not only of Army life,but the conditions of the South Korean population.  Written plainly with clever plotting, the story will keep the reader turning pages until he/she reaches the extremely unexpected conclusion.

Recommended.

 

** A correction to part of the original review was issued by the publisher. Under the circumstances, the options available involved correcting the error according to accepted standards (using ellipses to indicate extractions and using brackets to indicate insertions) or to remove the content. The amount of ellipses required were distracting. I have therefore removed part of the content and revised the initial sentence used here according to accepted standards. Toe Six Press does not rewrite material; other than minor typos any significant changes must follow acceptable presentation for extraction and insertion or be completed by the author.

Review: In the Galway Silence by Ken Bruen

In The Galway Silence starts with Jack Taylor in a very unlikely place. He’s happy and seems ready to settle down, and with some financial gains has a lot less to worry about than he has in the past.

518ksborpcl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Hell, he’s even drinking less.

Of course, Jack Taylor is a man destined to undermine his own success, and soon finds his world turned upside down with personal drama and professional problems. He’s hired to find out who killed the sons of a wealthy man. His girlfriend has a work trip to America, and instead of going with her he stays back and is tasked with entertaining her son. He botches the bonding attempt. He saves someone’s life, finds out things about his case that nobody really wants to know, learns his family is bigger than he thought, and his girlfriend’s son is abducted by a pedophile.

Oh, and he’s also hired to find out who’s poisoning some dogs.

All of these random things converge in unexpected ways. What won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows Jack Taylor is that the happiness he’d found was fleeing and he’s soon drinking more than he should be, booze still failing to fill the empty space in his heart.

This book felt very familiar, as though I’d read it or parts of it before. Perhaps that’s because Jack Taylor follows a similar arc in each book of the series. Readers are somehow lured back to see if this time, Jack will find some happiness, or at least peace. I suppose we all have to take his good moments when we can get them, because they are overshadowed by so much darkness.

As with all Bruen books, In The Galway Silence moves at a blistering pace, and has the usual acerbic wit and lyrical style of a Bruen novel and Bruen fans will find this novel delivers on what Bruen is best known for.

Eclectic Mayhem – Halloween Horror Edition

I spent October reading horror. Here’s a couple of quick take reviews.

Cockblock by CV Hunt (Grindhouse Press) – I’ve been a fan of CV Hunt for a couple of years now. I missed it back in June when it first dropped but scooped it up with the quickness when I was prepping my reading list. The President is delivering a speech across all technologies that turns men to mindless rapists. The only way to stop them is a shot to the balls. Cockblock is a fresh take on the zombie story, one for the Me Too era. It also acts as a critique on the pervasiveness of technology and how quickly information can spread. The world created here is a patriarchal system cranked up to 11 with women leading the larger resistance that must take place to stop the President. It veers from the horrific to the humorous while maintaining a relentless drive forward. This is a very zeitgeisty novel without being overly obvious. Highly Recommended.

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Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books) / My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books): Grady Hendrix, with these books, writes what I’ll call horror with a light touch. They largely maintain a sense of fun, even through moments of genuine horror. There is nostalgia for the 70s/80s horror boom (an era we know Hendrix likes) without feeling like regurgitations or reproductions. Horrorstor is a haunted house story where the “house” in question is an Ikea knockoff store called Orsk (included are product descriptions that get increasingly more horrific). My Best Friend’s Exorcism seasons in some 80s nostalgia (never over the top) and brick by brick builds the great relationship between the two girls, building the the titular exorcism that will test them.

The first thing that needs to be said is that the physical versions of these books are gorgeous and are worth owning. Horrorstor is designed to look like, in part,  a store catalog. The paperback version of My Best Friend’s Exorcism looks like an 80s VHS tape.

It’s almost the kind of think you hate to say but, these two books might be a good fit for folks who say they don’t really like horror. Both Highly Recommended (though I liked My Best Friend a bit more).

 

 

The Last Safe Place by Rob Hart – Hey, remember that time Rob Hart, author of the successful Ash McKenna series, wrote a zombie novella? Wait, what? It’s out of print now but he did. In The Last Safe Place Rob Hart places his zombie apocalypse survivors on Governor’s Island in New York. They have cobbled together a surviving, but not necessarily thriving, community. Then shit goes wrong, as it always must. Clocking in at a little over 100 pages, it is the perfect length for Hart to get in, establish some characters and their relationships and dynamics then quickly jump to a couple of zombie action sequences. It’s lean, mean, and moves quick, exactly the way you want a story like this to be. Recommended

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Lost Films edited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing) – One of the things that I appreciate about this anthology, and what the fine folks at PMMP are doing, is that it can, in no way, be considered run of the mill. It’s unlikely they will ever publish an anthology with some general theme, like Haunted Houses. With them you get anthologies about haunted films, haunted sounds, or pizza horror. And that original starting point pushes the authors out of their comfort zones some, with some strong fiction as a result. Recommended.

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Online Issue 16

Lots of crime fiction and horror goodness with Eryk Pruitt, Lucy A. Snyder, Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts, plus a resurrected article on doing great bookstore events (with insights from someone who does this for a living!) and thoughts on authors and social media and toxic tropes.

 

First, an important public service announcement:

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Here on Toe Six:

Eryk Pruitt on truth and storytelling, reading bad books and the appeal of writing short stories

Eryk Pruitt talks about the appeal of writing short stories and how the process helps him focus on lean, mean writing, as well as the inspiration he took from a man with Parkinson’s and The Knockout Game.

The Journey to Publication, Axe Throwing and Tough Protagonists: Lucy A. Snyder talks, snakes, spiders and Garden of Eldritch Delights

Your female horror fix is in: Lucy A Snyder’s Garden of Eldritch Delights puts a lot of female protagonists into stories with titles like “The Yellow Death”, “Blossoms Blackened Like Dead Stars” and “That Which Does Not Kill You” – just in time for Halloween.

Lucy A. Snyder’s Purrbuddy, Monte

Lucy shares about her author assistant, Monte.

Teeth of the Wolf authors Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts talk spending eternity with Hermione Granger, Geysercon, fighting zombies with measuring tapes and hair clips and more

Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts talk about whether or not they relate to their characters and who’s tougher. Dan tells us, “Matiu would kick my butt with one hand in his back pocket, and still look chill while he does it.” Plus, Lee and Dan share their casting call for Teeth of the Wolf.

Reviews:

Review: Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton  Reviewed by Theodore Feit

Review: Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger  Reviewed by Theodore Feit

Bonus:

Flashback Feature: Having a Successful Bookstore Event

Trying to figure out what will work and what won’t? Author Sarah L. Johnson speaks from experience – both as an author and as a bookstore events coordinator.

 

Over at The Big Thrill:

Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? How much value do authors place on social media? This week we’re joined by ITW Members Colin CampbellEllen ByronLee MurraySandra Ruttan and DiAnn Mills as they discuss authors and social media. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along!

What did we all have to say? Check out our thoughts in the comments and chime in with questions or insights. Initially, I’d planned to post a short response about most authors overestimating the value of sites like Facebook for selling books; however, recent events prompted me to expand. The other authors have weighed in as well. If you’re considering how to use social media as an author there’s plenty of food for thought.

And On Twitter:

I don’t need to rehash what was covered in my thoughts at The Big Thrill, so if you want to see what I think about the Caffeine Nights debacle and the Chuck Wendig situation, head on over to the ITW post linked to above.

However, I did see this particular gem on Twitter and thought it was worth sharing:

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And what may be the best book dedication ever goes to Megan Spooner. From her book, Hunted:

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Review: Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger

Reviewed by Theodore Feit

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Stephen O‘Connor, Cork O’Connor’s young son, has always had visions presaging tragedies.  This novel is based on one in which he sees an eagle shot from the sky and a menace he can’t identify at his back.  And then a plane carrying a U.S. Senator and her family crashes on Desolation Mountain.  Cork and Stephen subsequently join others attempting to find survivors and clues.

Soon, some of the first responders go missing, and father and son begin to investigate.  Then Cork inadvertently meets Bo Thorson, a character from a long ago novel, then a secret service agent, now a private investigator.  They join forces, but soon Cork begins to doubt Bo’s role.  The area is overrun with representatives of various federal agencies and is cordoned off.

The plot centers on the meaning of the vision and solution of the cause of the crash.  This is the 18th novel in the series, and provides, for the first time, a deeper look into Cork and Stephen’s relationship.  As is a constant in the series, it is well-written, and the descriptions of the North Country graphic and excellent.

Highly recommended.