A MelanieM Release Day Review: Bonfires by Amy Lane

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Ten years ago Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron George lost his wife and moved to Colton, hoping growing up in a small town would be better for his children. He’s gotten to know his community, including Mr. Larkin, the bouncy, funny science teacher. But when Larx is dragged unwillingly into administration, he stops coaching the track team and starts running alone. Aaron—who thought life began and ended with his kids—is distracted by a glistening chest and a principal running on a dangerous road.

Larx has been living for his kids too—and for his students at Colton High. He’s not ready to be charmed by Aaron, but when they start running together, he comes to appreciate the deputy’s steadiness, humor, and complete understanding of Larx’s priorities. Children first, job second, his own interests a sad last.

It only takes one kiss for two men approaching fifty to start acting like teenagers in love, even amid all the responsibilities they shoulder. Then an act of violence puts their burgeoning relationship on hold. The adult responsibilities they’ve embraced are now instrumental in keeping their town from exploding. When things come to a head, they realize their newly forged family might be what keeps the world from spinning out of control.

Bonfires is one of those Amy Lane books that’s bigger than any review any reader could possibly write about it.  It encompasses so many huge elements and hits so many big emotional targets that when it comes to pulling it all together in one review I find it escapes me.  It doesn’t help that you go willingly into this story knowing there’s an aspect of it that’s going to tear you apart in Amy Lane’s “shred your heart” way.  You do it knowing something worthwhile will come out of it, as it does here.

Bonfires is not simply a romance any more than starting a fire is about putting two twigs together and expecting a spark. No, Bonfires is about how families are built, how foundations are laid for people to come together to become a strong cohesive unit, powerful enough to withstand some of life’s worst blows, public condemnation and more.  First you get these two men who have already had long relationships that led to having families and children. The men are real, grounded in their lives and ages.  You get them and understand them immediately.

Then you get the amazing, believable, (and not so amazing) kids on both sides.  Yes, just as in life, not all the offspring are sweetness and light.  That’s always a relief to see that bit of reality hit the pages even if its not so welcome for the couple. There’s no instant meshing of families.  Things take time, talking, and work.  There’s actual adulting here.  There’s two houses, schedules, and how and if to come out to your various working environments and staff.  Complicated? You bet and  absolutely absorbing.  Why?  Because we care about these men and children.   We gotten to know them intimately.  At school and at their workplaces.  So when deeply concerning things are happening at the school to people, adult and teens we are intensely concerned about, we care about that too.

Along with Aaron and Larx trying to figure things out for themselves and their kids, there’s another storyline unfolding that’s of equal importance and intertwined with Aaron and Larx.  Its the element with the tragic repercussions that reverberate throughout the community and the two men’s burgeoning relationship.  All things elements, all these pieces of tinder that add up to Amy Lane’s powerful Bonfire….and there’s more.  Of course, there’s always more…

When I  said its about families.  I mean families of all types. Its also the flip side of families…those that do irreparable damage to their young and their community.  And its about the larger families found within the various social communities.  Here Amy Lane’s knowledge of the school system comes in handy with the interplay with the Board of Directors, the various school teachers and factions within the education system.  It all rings very true.

At the end of Bonfires, when you finish the last sentence and reflect back on all those lives and people that Amy Lane created and you spent time with, the tears shed,  the hearts that broke and got pieced back together again, the families made into one…I still think back over this incredible story and realize there’s so much more that I never addressed or could even begin to.   Its as though she crammed a series into one book and no one noticed.  What I do think you should do is read this book.  Its one for thinking about, thinking about families and love and all the astonishing things it takes to get that right.  If we’re lucky and work hard.   When making my Best of 2017 List, Bonfires will be on it.  That’s my recommendation.

Cover Artist: Anne Cain.  Works for the story, although I’m not sure I’m that crazy about it.  Don’t exactly know why.

Sales Links

Book Details:

ebook, 280 pages
Expected publication: March 24th 2017 by Dreamspinner Press, LLC
Original TitleBonfires
ISBN 1635333415 (ISBN13: 9781635333411)
Edition LanguageEnglish

Review: Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Know Not Why coverHowie’s social life is suffering, along with everything else not going on in his life.  Howie’s back home, living with his mom. He hopes his support will help her adjust after the car accident that caused the death of his dad. But  leaving school and his hopes behind has left a fierce void in his life.  He lacks a girl friend, a job, even just a motivation to get out of bed every day.  So when the idea comes to him that he can find girls by getting a job in a craft store full of girl employees then he acts on it.  Sounds great, right?  But getting a job at Artie Kraft’s Arts ‘N Crafts doesn’t work out quite the way Howie thought it would.

Sure there are some cute girls working at Artie Kraft’s Craft store, but neither is what he expected.   Sure Kristy, blonde, bubbly, adorable Kristy, seems perfect,  But she is oblivious to Howie’s charms, more friend than date.  And Cora?  Wild, tiny,  super pierced, fierce force of nature Cora?  No, not to any stretch of Howie’s imagination would that work.  And then there is his boss, store owner Arthur Kraft.  Arthur just confounds Howie.  Howie is only a few years younger than Arthur but Arthur seems so much older in outlook and actions.  Arthur just rubs Howie the wrong way, sure the guy is cute and all.  He is kind and knowledgeable and very gay.  So why is the very straight Howie spending all his time thinking about Arthur?

Who knew that a small time craft store could cause such an upheaval in Howie’s life?  Everything starts to change whether Howie is prepared or not, including himself.

I had been hearing good things about this self published story by Hannah Johnson but I was unprepared for how much I really liked it.  Before I knew it, I was heart deep in the lives of Howie, his friends Amber and Mitch, as well as Arthur Kraft, and all the employees of Artie Kraft’s Arts ‘N Crafts.  Johnson’s narrative is witty, light hearted and topical.  The dialog of the characters just snaps with the verve and idiomatic phrases of youth.  What fun, what joy in characters and a story well told! Oh how I enjoyed that.

Know Not Why is told from the point of view of 22-year old Howie, English Lit major at a community college.  Howie is an intelligent, somewhat sarcastic young man. A verbal acrobat who is bitter over his current situation, Howie makes an amusing, snappish narrator. His is a voice that overflows with current cultural references from indy movies to popular songs, throwing in lines, plots and authors most likely found among the syllabuses for English Literature majors at college.  Think about a narration along the lines of Ferris Bueller, and you can begin to get a feel for the type of flow you will find in Know Not Why.

But Howie is not the charming, immensely likable Ferris Bueller, not by a long shot.  One he is older and his living situation is far more serious than Ferris’.  A tragic car accident has cost him his father and his mother is still mourning the loss even as she supports them through a new terrific career as a romance writer and teacher at the same community college Howie now reluctantly attends.  He has a wonderful relationship with her, the same goes with his best friend Amber.  But as a young man desperate to connect with the opposite sex, he comes across as a little sketchy in his approach and lack of understanding to women outside his small circle.

One of the elements I appreciated about Johnson’s characters as well as story development is that we go from a superficial understanding of Howie where he is almost a smarmy, self centered sort of individual to a deeper, more layered character that evolves as more and more details about his situation and past history surface.  And the revelations about Howie keep pace with the growth of the character as working at the craft store and its employees have a marked affect upon his life.

All the characters that Johnson has created here are well crafted and thought out.  Where certain people, Kristy and Mitchell come to mind, could have been so stereotypical in their personalities, these characters come across as layered, and realistic, although it may take a while before the reader realizes it.  Kristy is such an effervescent, naive personality that disliking this character would be the equivalent of kicking kittens.  No matter how much one might be inclined to disparage even the very idea of a Kristy, the character wins you over with unexpected depths and charm of this person.  I can say much the same for all the characters found here.  Superficially they all appear to be one thing, yet as the story develops, so does the superficiality disolve from each one to reveal the well rounded persona that has existed there all along.  Even minor characters like a Heather Grimsby achieves authenticity by the end of the story.

Know Not Why charts the personal and emotional growth of not just Howie, but many of the secondary characters around him.  In a realistic fashion, the events that happen take place over a year’s time.  And the emotional upheavals that happen to each character here are those that naturally occur as relationships change and evolve.  Life is about change, whether you want it to or not.  And whether you are ready for the change to occur or not.  Mothers move past grief and get ready for a new love.  Friends and your relationship with them will never remain in stasis no matter how much you want things to stay the same.  Howie has to deal with all that and more, including his sexuality and love for another man.  Its funny, howlingly so at times, irritating, and so slow in acceptance you could swear you saw a turtle doing laps around Howie as he ponders his attraction towards men in general and one in particular.

And that brings me to the two elements that some readers will find exasperating.  The first is Howie’s narration.  Its long, self involved (at least to start off), constantly rambling,  and assured of its own relevancy and intelligence.  So much so that how you relate to Howie and his personality will reflect in how you feel about this story.  If you love a main character’s almost non stop gamboling storytelling format as well as a well defined realistic personal growth, I think than you will love Howie and his story.  If you lack the patience to deal with this sort of personality and long, rambling style to the point of what may seem self indulgence, than you might be quick to give this a pass.  It’s all in how you relate to Howie.   Love him, love the story.

Secondly, for me at least, there is the length.  I think that it could have been edited downwards, making the story more concise and sharp in tone and format.  In my opinion, Howie rambles on a little too long as the same things are gone over several times in the narrative when, in my opinion, just once would have sufficed.  I understand the author’s need to give full voice to Howie, but wish her inner editor (and perhaps her outer one as well) would have let her cut away some of the excess verbiage to let the many gems found here shine more brightly.

I found Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson so enjoyable that I am now off to seek out what others stories she may have written. I certainly look for more from this terrific author and definitely recommend Know Not Why to y0u all.  It’s a fun, enjoyable read full of characters and dialog that just  sparkle.

Hannah Johnson can be found at http://alaskanandromeda.blogspot.com

Charmingly simple cover, with its yarn heart.  Loved it.

Book Details:

ebook, 317 pages
Published April 23rd 2012 by Smashwords
original title Know Not Why: A Novel
ISBN13 97814

Review: Fall For Me (The Rock Gods #1) by Ann Lister

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Fall For Me coverRyan Pierce, music reporter for Music Spin magazine, has an assignment to interview the lead singer of the rock band Black Ice.  But his past experience has not prepared him for the rocker he is to interview.  Dagger Drummond is all swagger,  sex on two legs.  He is also tired and not happy about being interviewed after his last gig.  He tells his manager to cancel the interview and enters his tour bus.  But miscommunication follows, with Ryan, Dagger’s manager in tow, entering his tour bus to everyones embarrassment and anger.  Accident aside, the mens attraction to each other is instant and fierce, not that either would show it.  Dagger is all about manipulation and Ryan is straight, isn’t he?

What follows is a complicated relationship that deepens quickly.  Ryan is left reeling not only over his new found attraction to the very male Dagger but hiding explosive information about Dagger that could make him as a journalist but ruin Dagger’s life.  Will Ryan choose his career over a chance at love?

Ann Lister is a new author for me and her subject matter is one genre I grab up immediately – that of a story about a rock star and love.  So with those things in mind, I really wanted to like the first book of Lister’s that I have read. What I found after enthusiastically diving into Fall For Me is all together different.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a nice story about love and discovering your sexuality.  But in my opinion, it never rises higher than just nice or perhaps sweet.  And the reasons for that are both varied and elemental.  Its all about the characterizations, writing style and editing. Or lack thereof.

When reading contemporary fiction, I want my characters grounded in reality and I can’t quite say that about the character of Ryan Pierce.  As created by Lister, Ryan is an entertainment reporter with years of experience covering the rock music beat.  Yet he comes across as not only naive about the rockers he interviews but unaware of the ethics of his profession. Especially with regard to getting involved with the subject of his assignment.  One of the major ethical considerations for those who work in the news industry is that the reporter stay clear of any bias, so that their objectivity can’t be questioned,and that it cannot be  said of their  article/newscast that it tilted towards favoritism.  But Ryan and Dagger become best friends, texting away almost immediately. Several of Ryan’s actions defy common sense to a huge degree and further disconnect the reader from any belief that he is a seasoned reporter  or responsible adult.  Ryan’s disingenuousness is almost beyond belief as is Dagger’s pursuit of a man in a profession he is wary of and a reporter who could out him to his adoring public.  Dagger mentions numerous times that he doesn’t trust the media.  Yet Dagger’s implicit belief in Ryan’s honesty and trust is swift and unyielding.  Consistency is a problem in Fall For Me especially with regard to her characters and their personality traits and backgrounds. Ryan has worked for Music Spin for years but the interview scene sounds anything but professional.  Here is a quick example.  Ryan is back at the office and meeting a new intern, Sebastian, for the first time.

 “I’ve heard you’re the ‘go-to’ guy for interview skills.”

“Is that so?”

“It’s been suggested I talk to you, maybe watch you work, so I can improve how I conduct an interview.”

Ryan scratched his head.  “Well, I don’t have anything scheduled until next week.  Then I’ll be sitting down with Zander Metcalf and his band Ivory Tower.”

“Damn!  Ivory Tower?  Their new album is their best yet.”

Ryan nodded.  “Well, you’re welcome to tag along with me, if you want.”

“I’d like that,” Sebastian said.  “Maybe you’ll let me take you to dinner a few days before that and I’ll help you outline your interview material?”

“I suppose that’d be okay,” Ryan said.

Never would a seasoned reporter let a new intern outline his work for him.  Not in any respect does the character of Ryan Pierce work as a real reporter. However, the character of Dagger is still more authentic than Ryan and I could easily see him as a rock star, mostly.  Many rock stars today are savvy about media exposure and working the press is as much a part of their business as the music.  Dagger seems oblivious to that as any 80’s rock star would be.  In my opinion both characters could have been shored up by better research and more attention to detail.

Unfortunately, the plot was very predictable.  So formulaic that I knew exactly how the story would play out by the third chapter, not great in a book that contains 19 chapters.  When that occurs in a book I am reading, I would expect other aspects of the narrative to elevate the story past the predictable into a higher state.  A level  that said the author had put their own stamp on the plot in some way, whether it be in the outstanding characterizations, the high quality of the writing or the dialog that is so entertaining and yet pertinent to the characters and situation that it sings. Lister failed to do that here as well.  I know it is hard to add a new element to such a well used story but a savvy writer can find a way.

At issue here is also Ryan’s sexuality.  Ryan thinks he is straight.  He had a long term girlfriend. But his attraction to Dagger has him reexamining his past and his feelings towards Dagger and all men in general.  Even Ryan can’t decide if he is gay for Dagger or just gay.  I liked that the author had him bringing up the “gay for you” question for discussion.  But again, Ryan’s actions and the dialog kept this aspect of the story from feeling authentic and involving.  Plus Dagger goes from manipulator to man in love just as neatly and quickly as can be expected.  Somehow neither man ever really involved me in their issues or their possible future.

One last element to talk about is the editing.  This story is far too long.  It is repetitive and dense in some areas.  There are many paragraphs, even pages that could be cut to make this a tighter, better balanced story.  As it is, getting to that last page made a very long journey indeed.

Not everyone will feel this way about this book.  Some will love it just for the subject matter alone.  Those readers will be very happy to find out that this book is the first in a series about the other musicians in the band and their friends.  But I have read far too many outstanding books about rock bands and their singers and those make this story anemic in comparison.  For those rock star addicts out there and those alone,  this one is for you.

Cover Art Design:  Kari Ayasha.  It is a nice design, a little dark in tone and color.

Book Details:

Kindle Edition
Published May 11th 2013 by SleighFarm Publishing Group
ASIN B00CQWDQA6
edition language English
series The Rock Gods