“A Week at Surfside Beach Short Stories” by Pierce Koslosky Jr

Genre: Literary Fiction/Short StoriesA Week
Publisher: Vertel/Loba
Pub. Date: June 9, 2020

Author Pierce Koslosky Jr. has created sixteen slice-of-life short stories with unrelated characters.  What they do have in common is that they all rent the same beach house with an ocean view, Portofino II-317C. All the characters become temporary inhabitants for one week in a single rental season that spans from May to December.  As a beach lover, how could I resist this collection?  To further capture my interest, Koslosky Jr., along with his family, has gone to Surfside Beach, South Carolina for over twenty-five years, staying in the same blue home where his shorts take place. The image of the house on the book’s cover is the actual house.  My first thought was of Mark Twain’s famous quote, “Write what you know.”Although set at the beach, this is not a typical beach book. It is not fluff. The stories’ characters are of all ages and come from varying backgrounds.  The tones of the shorts fluctuate. Some are laugh-out-loud funny, some are sad, some are thought-provoking. However, they are not all hits with this reviewer. Some are unsurprising, Some are unsurprising, feeling repetitive.

My favorite and, one of the funniest, is “The Right To Bare Arms, June 20-27.”  Going on a vacation with close friends who have a brood of children the same age as your own always seems like a good idea.  However, being on vacation disrupts one’s everyday routines, which is what bonds these two families to one another in the first place.  The battle begins the moment they arrive. They are large families so they rented two homes that sit next to one another, but Portofino II-317C has a glorious ocean view and Portofino II-317B does not. The family that is stuck with 317B begins the feud. Not helping a bit, a Romeo and Juliet situation emerges. The young teens learn to kiss between their braces, making their already annoyed parents see red. The night before they are to return home, the wives set up a dinner at a restaurant on the pier. The purpose is to discuss how to ease back into their normal suburban routines, which force them to depend on one another for car-pooling, school meetings, and after school activities. I chuckle just remembering the scene where they arrive at the restaurant. Two long tables await them—one faces the ocean, the other faces the kitchen.

When a stressed young family with three children goes on a vacation, there is no vacation from the fighting between mom and dad.  Spending every waking moment with three children all under twelve years old would cause any parents to quarrel. “Lucy, June 27-July 4” is a story about three-year-old Lucy who goes missing on the beach while her parents are bickering. This tale is too preachy for my taste.  The author does a good job of laying the foundation, yes. There’s that first moment of panic, the call to the police, the visions of their child on a milk carton. There is good suspense going on here. Also, the author did make me wonder why we enjoy reading so many stories about missing children. Is it because we are grateful that our kids are safe, no one has abducted them? However, none of this stops the tale from feeling tedious. The moral is obvious.

“Swimming Lessons, July 4-11” could feel preachy but doesn’t.  Readers will follow a father brave enough to take on the challenge of going on vacation with his two teenage sons and one of their friends. One thing that can grind the fun to a halt faster than bad weather on a beach vacation is a group of teenagers. Of course, the plane ride is hell, constant bickering and shoving among the boys. Naturally, dad needs a cocktail to calm himself down. Once inside the blue beach house, the attitude among the boys necessitates further cocktails. “Get out of my life, but first drive me here, and buy me this, etc.”  What could be worse?  How about if the oldest, most sullen son was recently arrested for stealing? The week on the beach isn’t a reward, but rather the dad is hoping to teach his oldest a lesson on owning up to one’s mistakes through relaxed, heart-to-heart conversations. If you have ever had a teenager you can guess how these chats can go. This short has many funny scenes because the dad is so over his head. The scenes in which he learns his own lessons also land.  I think this story didn’t have that holierthanthou vibe because of the humor that dominates the tale.

The author has an appealing, folksy style of writing. He packs his characters’ suitcases with sunscreen, kids’ toys, and their individual life experiences. There may be one too many tales with a happy ending. Still, the themes of community, friendship, family, love, and loss create scenarios in which all readers can relate. I mean, who hasn’t spent at least one rainy vacation cramped in a rental or someplace that brings out your worst behaviors?

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

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…

https://books6259.wordpress.com/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…

https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…

https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/

https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\

https://www.amazon.com/

https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

“The Second Home” by Christina Clancy

Itsy-Bitsy Mini Review

Genre:  Women’s FictionThe Second Home
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:  June 2, 2020

This is a women’s fiction beach book. The kind I like to read sitting in the sun with a glass of chilled wine in my hand. Considering that I am not usually a fan of women’s fiction and because I read “The Second Home” at the beginning of February, I am surprised that the book kept my interest. The story revolves around a couple with two biological daughters and one adopted son. We follow the kids’ life struggles from their teen years until they are in their thirties. There is rich descriptive writing. The author breathes much life into the families’ generational Cape Cod summer home. (I so wanted to be there). There are thought-provoking dark themes in the plot. However, as the years go by, the story became a bit too melodramatic for my taste. Yet, I went past my 50-page rule and finished the novel. Maybe that is because I enjoyed the family, especially the hippie parents. On the other hand, maybe, it is just that, while reading the novel, I was pretending to be on a warm beach.

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

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…

https://books6259.wordpress.com/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…

https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…

https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/

https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\

https://www.amazon.com/

https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

“The New Husband” by D.J. Palmer

Genre:  Mystery and ThrillerThe New Husband
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:  April 14, 2020

Mini Review

After minor hand surgery, I wanted an easy read to keep my mind off the discomfort. (Please forgive me if this review is not up to par; typing is still a challenge).  I wanted easy, but this book is, well, sophomoric.  I know many other ARC reviewers enjoyed this one, but once again, I am in the minority.  However, this time I am not completely alone. As Goodreads reviewer Meredith puts it, this book reads like a Lifetime movie.  Those were my exact thoughts on this one.  (I had already written this before reading her review). You know what I mean, with movie titles such as “Sleeping with the Devil” or “Escaping My Stalker,” etc. you know you are watching a film that will be somewhere between a weepy melodrama and a campy thriller focusing on the various ways women suffer by men who first charm them until they show their true colors.

“House” revolves around a single mom with two kids.  Her husband has been missing for two years.  His family and the police assume he is dead.  The wife lets a new man into her life.  He moves in, gets along with her teenage son, but not with her middle school-aged daughter. That is really all you need to know because, from the moment, the new husband begins keeping her from her friends, you know exactly what you’re reading. Of course, there are twists, though, in my opinion, unbelievable ones.  Like a Lifetime movie, this novel can feel like mindless entertainment to be read when you want to keep your mind off real life.  Since the novel accomplished this for me, as lame as it is, I feel obligated to give it two out of five stars.

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

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

 

 

 

“Dreamland” by Nancy Bilyeau

Genre:  Historical Fiction Murder Thriller Dreamland
Publisher:  Endeavour Media
Pub. Date:  January 16, 2020

Mini-Review

I had some disappointment with this novel. I thought it would be a shoo-in for me since I was reading about my childhood backyard. The novel is set in 1911 in Coney Island, Brooklyn NY. Back then, the amusement park truly earned its nickname of “America’s Playground.” For more than 100 years Coney Island has been synonymous with summer. I am a summer person. I couldn’t wait to dive into the story. The author does a good job of capturing the park’s energy and the feel of the times. There is also a decent murder mystery. My issue is with how the protagonistic—a 20-year-old who is from one of the wealthiest families in America—is not a believable character. She flip-flops from wanting to be a suffragette to acting like a prim and proper young woman from old money. Even though I was disappointed, overall I enjoyed the describitive writing in the tale

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

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

 

 

 

“Before You Know Kindness” by Chris Bohjalian

Genre:  Domestic DramaBefore You Know Kindness
Publisher:  Random House
Pub. Date:  Aug. 9, 2005        

Chris Bohjalian is one of my all-time favorite authors.   However, this is not my favorite Bohjalian novel.   Actually, it is probably my least favorite.  “Kindness” is a character-driven novel about the importance of family.  Later I will get to what I didn’t like about the story.  I did enjoy the well-developed characters. The novel centers on a 70-year-old grandmother, her two grown children, her children’s spouses, and her grandchildren, two preteen girls and an infant boy.  The grown son and daughter grew up in their mother’s luxurious apartment in NYC.  As children, they summered in their country home in New in Hampshire. The family has owned both homes for generations. We are talking old money here—lots of it. In the present, at the end of each summer, all three generations meet at the country home for one week of tennis, golf, the club, the pool, the beach, and summer cocktails.

I found the family drama interesting.  Both marriages are in trouble for different reasons.  Bohjalian does a good job of explaining what can happen when one of the husbands is obsessed with his work for animal rights.   And the other is feeling the strain of having a newborn in middle age.  The author does an excellent job of nailing down preteen dilemmas.  Out of the female granddaughters/cousins, one is a bit shy of thirteen who desperately wants to be sixteen.  The other is a bit shy of eleven and her older cousin’s tag-along.  One night the female cousins go to a teenage bonfire where there is pot and beer.  Both girls get in way over their heads while their parents’ lost in their own dilemmas are clueless.

Before the reader even gets to know the family, the novel opens with a prologue describing the aftermath of a tragic accident involving a rifle. As the tale progresses, we learn that the man who is shot (no spoiler here) is the father who is the animal rights activist as well as an advocate and lecturer for abolishing hunting.  These are two noble causes.  My issue with the author’s narrative is that the characters often seem to have been forgotten so that he can write what feels like a lengthy paper on these social issues. There is so much extensive detail on the subject, pages long worth that I found myself skimming.   If the master storyteller simply would have cut out some of the lecturing, this would have read more like his usual novels, consisting of an interesting plot with believable, well fleshed out characters, rather than a close-to-boring term paper.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

“Copperhead” by Alexi Zentner 

Genre:  Adult FictionCopperhead
Publisher:  Viking Press
Publication Date:  July 9, 2019

Mini-Review

“Copperhead” has a “Sins of the Father” theme. The novel reads like YA, but it is an adult story about racism that asks the question:  Can you ever out-run your family history? We meet a17-year-old high school football player who has a good chance of getting into an Ivy League school on a scholarship.  He is the star of the team and his grades are good. He desperately needs this scholarship to be able to attend college.  He lives paycheck-to-paycheck in a trailer and takes care of his mom and his 12-year-old sister.  His brother and stepfather are in jail for the murder of two black college students.  However, the students attacked his brother, not the other way around.  The stepfather was only given a four-year sentence since he arrived after the murder.  His crime was just wiping the murder weapon clean.  His family, but not himself, belongs to a white supremacist church.   Many in his town call him white-trash, even though he has shown himself to be a decent and hard-working young man. The book begins with his stepfather’s release from prison on the same day of the school’s big game.  Throughout the story, we watch the teenage linebacker struggle simply to avoid trouble while remaining loyal to his family and friends.  Zentner’s prose is taut and powerful. You can almost hear the music of Johnny Cash playing in the teen’s pick-up truck.  But the author never shares how this boy was able to see beyond his family’s beliefs.  Most of us can not accomplish this while still living in the family system. Still, this is a heck of a good coming of age story for our times.

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

Purchase “Copperhead”

on Amazon https://amzn.to/2NyOmwp

 

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

“My Life as a Rat” by Joyce Carol Oates

Genre:  Literary Family DramaMy Life as a Rat
Publisher:  HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date:  June 4, 2019

Oates’ latest novel is raw.  It is hard to read, yet hard to put down.  The story is fiercely written in an urgent tone to expose every nasty aspect of paternalism and male entitlement.  We follow a 12-year-old girl from a working-class tight-knit Irish Catholic family.  The setting is South Niagara, New York during the 1990s.   Her life as a “rat” begins after she accidentally slips to her school nurse that her two eldest teen brothers were involved in a racially motivated attack that left a male African American honor student dead.   Once her father’s favorite, she is now exiled to live with her aunt.  Her dad has forbidden her mother and sisters to visit or even phone her.  She is in a new home that doesn’t feel like home and friendless in a new school.  Confused and in shock, she is easy pickings for a male teacher to sexually abuse.  It seems fitting that her family begins a slow mental and financial decline after banishing their youngest child:  A just punishment for deserting a child who did nothing wrong.

This storyline is nothing new for the acclaimed writer.  Violence against women is a recurring theme in her work: “Do With Me What You Will,” 1973, “We Were the Mulvaneys,” 2002, “The Gravedigger’s Daughter,” 2007, “Blonde: A Novel, 2009,” “The Sacrifice”, 2016.  Just when you think Oates must have finally run dry on the subject she pulls off another winner.   So why does Oates’ unwavering theme on the abuse of women keep working for her?  Possibly, it is her willingness to unabashedly dive into the darkest cavity of the human psyche.  And let’s face it—such tales are fascinating to read.   More importantly, her work has been part of  #MeToo decades before the movement existed.  She forces the reader to acknowledge that her male protagonists seeking emotional release by abusing women are mentally ill men.  And her female characters are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse because of a male-dominated society.   Unlike other writers, Oates does not use violence in a sensational manner.  She uses violence to echo the misogyny found in modern times, which is where her characters dwell. At least, that is what this reviewer thinks.

“Rat” has a lot in common with Oates’ 1996 novel, “We Were the Mulvaneys.”   The Mulvaneys are another large Irish Catholic family living in upstate New York. This once-proud family also began a descent into financial ruin after a disgraced daughter was either raped or had consensual sex with a high-school boy.  This reviewer preferred “Mulvaneys” over “Rat.”  The litany of traumas inflicted upon the female protagonists in “Rat” can seem like they are one too many.  This may be because the author expanded on what had been published as a short story a decade and more ago.  Still, this doesn’t mean that “Rat” isn’t another literary success in the world of JCO.  The characters are painfully real.  Oates is begging the question, how does a child feel safe and loved in a universe with rules one doesn’t quite understand.

Purchase book

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list…
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review…
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr…
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco…\
https://www.amazon.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord

“The Emancipation of Veronica McAllister” by Shawn Inmon

Genre:  FantasyThe Emancipation of Veronica
Publisher:   CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Pub.  May 2018

This is the fifth book in the Middle Falls Time Travel Series.  Still, it is a standalone read.  This reviewer didn’t know that the novel was part of a series until after finishing the book.  The story begins in 2018 when the protagonist, 80-year-old Veronica, is on her deathbed.  She is ready to die.   As she breathes her last breath she is anxious to learn the answers to the question we all wonder about—what happens after death?  Is there a heaven?  Is there a hell?  Or will it be an eternity of nothingness?  Once dead, Veronica opens her eyes, to see that she is back in 1958 and is a teenager again, wearing a poodle skirt and apparently babysitting.  The author does a good job with her complete confusion and excitement at seeing her old friends and parents again.  “Oh, Daddy, you’re so young and handsome,” she says.  Often you may think of the comedy-drama film, Peggy Sue Got Married.

But the story theme isn’t really about time travel.  The author is asking the question, What If you could live your life over and over again until you got it right?  What would you do differently not to duplicate your mistakes made in each life?   Not an original thought but an interesting one, especially when you imagine yourself in such a situation. Where the story begins to become a bit tiresome is after Veronica’s second or third life. Each time she dies, she wakes up as a teenager at the same babysitting job.  Until she finally learns her own personal meaning of self-actualization, she and the reader are stuck in a purgatory-like, Groundhog Day existence.  If the author would have stayed with keeping his protagonist to a one do-over life, while adding in anything new to the theme, this may have been an interesting tale regarding the nature of changing oneself kept light with humor.  Instead, it can read as a bit preachy—neither marriage nor money guarantees happiness— time-loop redemption tale.  The novel is too cliché to encourage this reviewer to read the first four in the series.   This may not be the case for other readers who enjoy when characters get to stop the clock and start over again.  You will have to read the book yourself to decide.

Purchase on Amazon

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

Find all my book reviews at:

Goodreads
WordPress
Twitter
Barnes & Noble
Amazon Books
Facebook
Pinterest
Instagram

 

 

“Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano

Genre:  Literary FictionDear Edward
Publisher:  Random House
Pub. Date:  Jan. 14, 2020

After losing everything, a pre-teen boy discovers there are still reasons to continue living. This is just the sort of sappy novel that I usually do not care for. Surprisingly, I enjoyed and recommend “Dear Edward.” The unique writing style is what made the difference for me. The reader goes in knowing that twelve-year-old Edward’s older brother, his parents, and almost 200 other passengers will die when the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor. The book is divided into two timelines, the past, which is during the flight, and the present. On the plane, we get to understand the family dynamics of Edward’s immediate family. We also meet a Wall Street rising star, an unlikeable septuagenarian business billionaire who is the rising star’s role model, an unmarried young woman who takes a pregnancy test while on the plane, a wounded vet with a secret, and an uninhibited, possibly crazy woman who happens to believe in reincarnation. These well-developed characters are very much a part of Edward’s story, creating interesting storylines that are not about overcoming tragedy. This helps make the novel less fatiguing to read since the bulk of the story in the present describes Edward’s overwhelming depression.

The events that occur on the flight are divided by time right down to the minute of the crash. (Boarding your next plane might feel different after reading this one). Even though we know the ending, this part of the tale still reads like a page-turning mystery. In the present, we meet a few new characters. In Edward’s new life, disagreeing with myself, there are characters that read a bit saccharine. His aunt and uncle, new best friend and high school principal are just too self-sacrificing and flawless to feel like true people. This contrasts with the realness felt in the characters from the plane ride. Still, in my mind, Napolitano’s weaving of past and present makes up for that over-sweetening. Plus, by the end of the novel, it can also read as a coming-of-age story, which is a genre I have always liked. Clearly, the novel is not all doom and gloom. By the end of the novel, as the author intended, I had a smile on my face. Heartwarming endings can be a good thing.

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

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesr
https://www.instagram.com/martie6947/
https://www.pinterest.com/martienreco

 

 

“Little Faith” by Nickolas Butler

Genre:           Psychological FictionLittle Faith
Publisher:    HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date:    March 5, 2019

This is a story about religious extremism and how it can destroy a family as well as a town.  But this is not the loud and angry tale one might expect from such a premise.  It’s a quietly and delicately penned.  In many ways, Butler’s “Little Faith” reads like “Plainsong,” written by the acclaimed American author Kent Haruf.   “”Faith” also has similarities to any novel written by Howard Frank Mosher, a much loved American author.  “Plainsong” is located in Denver.  Mosher’s fiction takes place in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.   “Faith” is also located in another small American town, this one in Wisconsin.

The residents are plain-spoken people, needing not much from the world, but a good crop, family, friends, and a place to worship together as a community.   The reader will meet grandparents who are in their mid-sixties—not quite old but content being in their autumn years.  They are helping to raise their five-year-old grandson, whom they adore.   He is the child of their single-mother daughter. The daughter may be the only character who is difficult to grasp.  Butler never really explains why she can be unkind and manipulative towards her parents.  She left home years, ago returning with a little boy.  The grandfather is the story’s narrator.  Some of the novel’s sweetest scenes are between himself and his grandson. “Oh he loved the boy; and that was all there was to it.”  The book is divided into seasons.  The lyrics to the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” are the essence of this novel.  “To everything, There is a season, And a time to every purpose, under heaven.”

Friction in their little family begins when their daughter falls for a new young preacher who has just come into their little town.  He creates a new fire and brimstone congregation.  He may or may not be selling snake oil.  No matter, she is smitten.  As Dusty sang “The only one who could ever reach [teach me] was the son of a preacher man.”   When he tells her that he is convinced that her son has healing powers, she never doubts him for a minute.  This will lead to a crisis that will boil over into their community.  Throughout the book, the reader will follow all the main characters on their own private religious journeys.  However, although the story is filled with theological questions, and undoubtedly the book is exploring one’s religious beliefs or lack of them, its strength lies in the author’s tender descriptions of how his characters chose to live their lives.

Purchase on Amazon

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q

https://www.pinterest.com/martienrecord/books-worth-reading/