“Fensetter Falls” by Jack Young

Genre:  General Fiction/HumorFensetter Falls
Pub. Date:  May 14, 2019

I am starting to wonder if I am the only person who has read this novel or even heard of Jack Young.   After finishing the book I googled the author to learn that he has written two other novels. When I googled “Fensetter Falls,” I could find it on sale in all the usual places, but not one single review on any of the standard reviewer websites. So, I may be the first to tell you that this is a dark comedy.  At times it is very funny.  At other times it drags out.

So here is what we got: Two over-the-top wealthy brothers who have never worked a day in their lives.  They also happen to hate one another.  One is an obnoxiously pious (and probably insane) clergyman wannabe.  The other is an obnoxious drunk who is a woman chaser.  They come home to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving to learn that the family estate is now broke and so are they.  We meet their mother who lives in denial regarding the mental health of her religious son. Their father is simply a dirty old man who enjoys nothing more than to cop a feel on any attractive female. Then we meet a woman from NYC who is a gypsy con-artist raising her streetwise, twelve-year-old nephew.  They both move in with the family.  Throw in a tax lawyer who loves Fensetter Falls, which is her hometown.  And, the sweet local cop who is trying to get the attention of the gypsy but he is clumsy with his interactions with females. There is also the lovable town’s sheriff who will remind you of Barney Fife. Oh, I almost forgot, you will also read about a near-sighted hitman who is sensitive in his own weird way. He too moves in with the family. The mother views him as an Italian, cultured European.  Now keep that all straight in your head. Actually, Young does a good job of balancing all his kooky secondary characters into the plot.

The whole story is a hoot. However, at times there is excessive detail similar to a comedian’s monologue that goes on too long and ceases to be funny.  For example, I really didn’t need to read more than a few sentences on when the religious brother (in middle age!) discovers masturbation. Or how all the male characters enjoyed the size of the con artist’s breasts.  However, there are laughs to be had in the tale. I think what I enjoyed most about this novel is that the author seems to be having so much fun, which allowed him to write a completely unbelievable, yet witty, satire.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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The Reading Woman 2019 Calendar: October

The epistle is opened and read—with a little wonder, most probably not a little vexation, …letitia_elizabeth_landontrue it is that no first love-letter ever yet gave satisfaction to either writer or reader. Its delight is another question. … and as many cups of coffee to a sentence, on the strength of which he keeps his bed for a week.–-Letitia Elizabeth Landon, 1802-1838

Better known by her initials L.E.L., her work hinted at the dark secrets of love.

“The Institute” by Stephen King

Genre:  Horror FictionThe Institute
Publisher:  Charles Scribner’s Sons
Pub. Date:  September 10, 2019

I haven’t read the great storyteller, Stephen King, in over twenty years. “It,” (the one where the preteens are against the evil clown) was the last book of his that I read until this one.  Still, I was a fan of his early work.  I enjoy his style of blending the “coming of age” genre with almost believable “horror.”  As a teen in 1974, I read “Carrie,” (who can forget that bloody prom dress) before it became a movie two years later.  His latest novel is similar to “Firestarter,” (the hunted little girl with telekinetic abilities) as well as to “It.”  In other words, it is a story of innocent preteens confronting evil. That is what caught my eye.  Writing about kids is vintage King.  One of my favorite stories by the author is “The Body.”  You may remember the film version, “Stand By Me.”  Set in early 1960, four 12-year-old boys, all from abusive families, tell their parents they will be camping out because they consider it to be a rite of passage. They really are searching for the rumored dead body of another boy.  The horror here is from their youthful imaginations and their living conditions at home. Few writers have King’s ability to create credible preteens. These four boys make corny off-color jokes about Goofy and Mickey, the sort of things that boys talk about before they discover girls. Probably, it is the coming of age part of his books that I enjoy so much.

“The Institute” is set in the present, located in, but where else, Maine, which is King’s home state and the location of most of his novels. The plot emulates “Firestarter,” and “It.” In this one there are no ghosts, devils, clowns, diabolical invaders or magical kingdoms.  The horror comes from the average people who run the place which is similar to “The Body.”  The actual institute may or may not be a secret government project.  Their purpose is to kidnap children with psychic powers and use them to dispatch of targets who are considered dangerous to human survival.  This makes the tale mostly believable.  Think “The Manchurian Candidate.”  They use the kids until they cease to exist.  As one of the kidnapped girls explains to the newbie kid, “The Institute, is like the roach motel.  You check in, but you don’t check out.”  She also tries to sooth the new boy’s fear by reprimanding the other boys who are ignoring him and playing basketball, “don’t you remember how weird it is to wake up here in what looks like your own room?” The author ensures, maybe one too many times, that these kids’ fates are similar to those children near certain US borders. Although I agree with his views on Trump, I am tired of finding the theme in my fiction.  Still, it is terrifying to read about the kids, who are hostages in the institute, who will eventually end up looking like a character from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”  Plus, the woman in charge of the “school” is portrayed as a perfect Nurse Ratched.  She represents how one can desensitize themselves to torture allowing them to dehumanize the children. Basically, King is questioning the theory that the ends can justify the means.

So, once again King writes on the battles between good and evil, just like he did in “The Stand,” (where a super flu virus makes for an apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic tale).  Like many other King fans, “The Stand” is still my favorite.  Maybe this is because in 1978 it was a fresh story. In 2019, the author seems to be rewriting his most popular books. I say, So what?  This reviewer enjoyed the blast from the Stephen King past.   From reading the book’s blurb, I knew just what it was about the book that I was looking forward to reading: a coming of age story in the most severe of situations. I wasn’t looking for something fresh.  I wasn’t looking for a literary read.  I was looking for King going back to his roots.  And that is what I got.  Sometimes, “The Institute,” unlike “The Body,” has 12-year-old slang that is questionable.  Do kids say “necking” anymore? Would they really be able to sing Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart?”  If both are not true, I do not care, it worked in this story. Plus, I would have been disappointed if he left out his trademark musical references.

In between the terror, King teases us by poking fun at himself and how long he has been at his craft. There are a pair of seven-year-old girl twins at the Institute who are reminiscent of the twins from, “The Shining,” (You know the film. “All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy”).  When one boy in the institute meets them for the first time he thinks that they are just like the twins “in some old horror movie” but he couldn’t remember the name of the film.  If you are looking for something new from the Lord of Darkness, this is not it.  If you go in knowing this, you will enjoy this creepy read about a boy who one day wakes up in a bedroom that looks just like his, but isn’t.

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“The Secret Wife of Aaron Burr” by Susan Holloway Scott

Genre:  Historical FictionThe Secret Wife
Publisher:  Kensington Books
Pub. Date:  September 24, 2019

Susan Holloway Scott has written a well researched, epic tear-jerker novel that was inspired by a real-life enslaved woman, Mary Emmons. You will not find her in the many biographies of Aaron Burr. She has been forgotten by history. The author weaves together truth and fiction to tell her story and that of the American Revolution. The novel is told through Emmons’ voice to highlight the cruelty and hypocrisy of the founding fathers. They fought for liberty and freedom while they owned slaves and continued to own slaves even after they won their freedom from the English.

This is not your typical slave story of life on a big plantation. We meet Mary when she is a child in India. At the age of eight, her uncle sells her to a French woman. Her owner is unbearably cruel. Holloway Scott’s writing will make you cringe for the child. She is whipped many times and wore a collar around her neck worthy of any instrument of torture. She is then bought by the husband of Theodosia Provost of New Jersey. This is how she came to live in the American colonies. Theodosia is a kinder, but not a kind owner. When Theodosia husband dies she later marries Aaron Burr.

Mary is very bright and since she is brought to the colonies on the eve of revolution she becomes politically astute by reading the newspapers. She is taught to read by a black freeman friend who will later become more to her than a friend. The love scenes between them are tender, sweet and sad as she is not a free woman. This is when she sides with the rebels over the loyalists  because she longs for her own freedom believing their promise that if they win then all blacks will be freed.

The reader will learn so much more about Burr then what most remember of him: the duel that killed his rival Alexander Hamilton and ended Burr’s political career. The author shows as many sides of Burr as she could find. This reviewer appreciated the length of pages in the endnotes. Burr was a very interesting man—loving, determined, unbending and most of all commanding. Holloway Scott also gives us much detail regarding the two children that he and Mary had together. The reason for this is that the author found more facts on them than she could find on their mother.

Of course, the author takes liberties in Mary and Burr’s highly complicated relationship. He was her master and she was his slave. They loved one another in a way that is hard to understand. One immediately thinks of Thomas Jefferson and his relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave mistress of forty years. The author does a good job of showing how Mary and Aaron loved one another without minimizing the imbalance of power.

If you enjoy romance in your history—maybe a tad too much for those who do not (such as myself)—you will enjoy “Secret Wife.” But make no mistake, you will experience the undeniable pain that comes with war. You will also feel as if you were part of the American Revolution, getting more than a glimpse into the personalities of the famous men behind the Boston Tea Party. You may also chuckle at these constantly bickering men who drafted the Constitution. They can remind you of current times in the White House.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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Watching Glass Shatter is an AUDIOBOOK – Want to listen to it? (2 GIVEAWAY CONTESTS) — This Is My Truth Now

Autumn is my favorite season. To celebrate, I’ll be sharing tons of exciting news over the new few months. Along with kicking off the season and revealing the overhaul of my author website (check out those falling leaves)… I announce the launch of the AUDIOBOOK version of Watching Glass Shatter and a giveaway contest for […]

via Watching Glass Shatter is an AUDIOBOOK – Want to listen to it? (2 GIVEAWAY CONTESTS) — This Is My Truth Now

“Temper” by Layne Fargo

Genre: Mystery & ThrillersTemper
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Pub. Date: July 2, 2019

In this book, the theater is written as a bloody place on and off the stage, though I’m not sure why it is marketed as a mystery and thriller. It is more of a psychological drama. Think of a less kinky “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Or a not as well written version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” In a Chicago community theater, you will meet Malcolm. He is one of the theater’s co-founders, director and always one of the play’s main characters. Fargo does a good job of portraying Malcolm as a darkly charismatic creep. He has a reputation of being a merciless director doing whatever it takes for his fellow actors to give the performance he wants from them. Then there is Kira. She is the actress who finally lands the role of a lifetime in a two-person play. Guess who is her director as well as her costar?

Do you know what the term knap means in the theater? I didn’t until this novel. During a slap scene, one of the actors whacks a part of their body so the audience hears the sound of skin hitting skin. The purpose is so that no actor actually gets hurt—except when one is working with Malcolm. Kira is supposed to pretend to slap him in the face and do the knap on her bare thigh, which is not in the audience’s view. He makes her rehearse the scene for hours in a row. So she, herself, black and blues her thigh. One of her ex-boyfriends sees the massive purple bruise and angrily asks, “Did he do this?” The author is clever here. What can she say, “no, I did it to myself.” Of course not, she would sound like a fool. So instead of answering, she changes the topic by seducing him. Fargo gives Malcolm many other nasty tricks up his sleeve. He invites another of Kira’s ex-boyfriends to the opening-night rehearsal without filling her in. The purpose is to bring out her old rage at the man so she can use it in the play. No “red room,” but still lots of punishment.

If those two weren’t enough to keep the reader busy, Fargo adds in the character of Joanna. She is the other co-founder of the theater, its manager and Malcolm’s roommate. She is also his enabler. Joanna has always wanted his sole attention and views the actress as a threat. Did I mention that for over a decade she has sexually longed for him? They sleep in the same bed but do not have sex. Did I mention that the sexual tension between Malcolm and Kira is through the roof: Nothing happening between them either. Though Kira does have sex with her bi-sexual male roommate, and Joanna does have sex with another woman, and Malcolm is having sex with every other woman in the Chicago but those two —“Payton Place” 2019.

Clearly, Malcolm is the bad boy and these two women bend to his wishes. I’m guessing there are no “pink hats” in either Kira’s or Joanna’s wardrobe. This doesn’t really fly in today’s MeToo times but it does make for a decent psychological suspense story. “Temper,” is the kind of book you read just to be entertained. No real thinking required.  There are better ones out there. Still, I did appreciate Fargo’s surgeon-like precision with her characters. I bet if I read this one in the summer on a beach I may have enjoyed it more. If you are looking for a quick read with lots of twists, then I recommend Fargo’s debut novel.

PURCHASE “Temper” on Amazon

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“Temper” by Layne Fargo

Genre: Mystery & ThrillersTemper
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Pub. Date: July 2, 2019

In this book, the theater is written as a bloody place on and off the stage, though I’m not sure why it is marketed as a mystery and thriller. It is more of a psychological drama. Think of a less kinky “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Or a not as well written version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” In a Chicago community theater, you will meet Malcolm. He is one of the theater’s co-founders, director and always one of the play’s main characters. Fargo does a good job of portraying Malcolm as a darkly charismatic creep. He has a reputation of being a merciless director doing whatever it takes for his fellow actors to give the performance he wants from them. Then there is Kira. She is the actress who finally lands the role of a lifetime in a two-person play. Guess who is her director as well as her costar?

Do you know what the term knap means in the theater? I didn’t until this novel. During a slap scene, one of the actors whacks a part of their body so the audience hears the sound of skin hitting skin. The purpose is so that no actor actually gets hurt—except when one is working with Malcolm. Kira is supposed to pretend to slap him in the face and do the knap on her bare thigh, which is not in the audience’s view. He makes her rehearse the scene for hours in a row. So she, herself, black and blues her thigh. One of her ex-boyfriends sees the massive purple bruise and angrily asks, “Did he do this?” The author is clever here. What can she say, “no, I did it to myself.” Of course not, she would sound like a fool. So instead of answering, she changes the topic by seducing him. Fargo gives Malcolm many other nasty tricks up his sleeve. He invites another of Kira’s ex-boyfriends to the opening-night rehearsal without filling her in. The purpose is to bring out her old rage at the man so she can use it in the play. No “red room,” but still lots of punishment.

If those two weren’t enough to keep the reader busy, Fargo adds in the character of Joanna. She is the other co-founder of the theater, its manager and Malcolm’s roommate. She is also his enabler. Joanna has always wanted his sole attention and views the actress as a threat. Did I mention that for over a decade she has sexually longed for him? They sleep in the same bed but do not have sex. Did I mention that the sexual tension between Malcolm and Kira is through the roof: Nothing happening between them either. Though Kira does have sex with her bi-sexual male roommate, and Joanna does have sex with another woman, and Malcolm is having sex with every other woman in the Chicago but those two —“Payton Place” 2019.

Clearly, Malcolm is the bad boy and these two women bend to his wishes. I’m guessing there are no “pink hats” in either Kira’s or Joanna’s wardrobe. This doesn’t really fly in today’s MeToo times but it does make for a decent psychological suspense story. “Temper,” is the kind of book you read just to be entertained. No real thinking required.  There are better ones out there. Still, I did appreciate Fargo’s surgeon-like precision with her characters. I bet if I read this one in the summer on a beach I may have enjoyed it more. If you are looking for a quick read with lots of twists, then I recommend Fargo’s debut novel.

PURCHASE “Temper” on Amazon

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