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Peach

by w.s. barton

I received an advanced readers copy of the book, Peach, by the author W. S. Barton.  Because of a brain injury several years ago, I cannot read Kindle books or look at screens for long periods of time and Barton was kind enough to mail me a physical copy from the U.K.  Knowing about my illness, he warned me the type was very different and he wouldn’t want me to struggle to read.  I assured him all would be fine and then my jaw dropped when I saw this book was printed in an unbelievably small font (perhaps 3-point) with room above and below each line for comments and corrections.  I started reading knowing I would NEVER finish the 500+ pages as it was just too difficult for my poor brain.  A few chapters in and I knew I would not stop without knowing how Peach ended. It is that good. blog

Barton is unique as a writer in that he uses words the way a painter uses colors. Every sentence has meaning and adds to a picture created in the mind of the reader. And it is beautiful. Reading at night next to my sleeping husband, I often had to stop myself from reading aloud as Barton’s writings deserve to be spoken out loud for the brain to truly absorb the beauty of his pen.

Barton writes for readers – those who truly invest themselves in the plot and characters created. Peach isn’t a lightweight beach read to be read quickly and just as easily forgotten. This is a novel that will own your soul while you absorb it, and for many days after you are finished.

The story of Freddie Ward is an onion with layers requiring a slow peel. One chapter is full of life, excitement, possibilities as the song writer and musician begins a fast paced life with an industrious and companionable new love, Ailie. Their story, at the start, is like many new beginnings and pulls you in and then….the next chapter leaves the reader guessing as to what has happened. What has changed that even the words in your head come out maudlin and heavy and you can’t go faster to discover the …. tragedy? Surely it must be a tragedy because a life full of rainbows and unicorns would not merit a 500 page novel.  Keep in mind I read this as an arc, with that small font, so the final published work will likely be shorter.

Freddie did of course alter his history, reacting to a loss by sabotaging the relationship which had spurred him from neer’-do-well busker to up and coming song writer. At the first opportunity, his poor decision making left him alone and on a plane to the fields of Idaho to work for an aging, former singing sensation.  Peach is a novel about finding oneself and redefining self perception and appreciation.

Peach isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s heavy; life questioning, introspective. There is death, dying, soul searching …. and at the age of 52, an orphan child with children who have outgrown my parenting, I found myself sad during periods of this story. When in despair, one of the characters says, “What is this life? What is this life?”, I couldn’t help but feel I was in a conversation rather than an uninvolved person reading about fictional people. Again, this is from the arc and quotes can be cut or altered in the final version.

Much of this story is set in Idaho and centers around young Freddie at the start of his life, afraid to commit and convinced of his own valuelessness. His employer Hal had a successful career, but a personal life of emptiness after becoming a widower at a far too young age. Now facing death, Hal shares his life with the young songwriter and through their long talks, the reader inevitably must examine his own life. This is a heavy novel but well worth the time and emotion the reader will invest.

Freddie is a man who moves in and out of relationships with blurred lines and complications. Barton’s writing ability is such that the reader isn’t a disinterested third party, but an emotionally connected member of each relationship. And, as in real life, bumps in the road cause heartache. Just as I thought Freddie was catching a bit of good luck, things would change…and it made me sad.  I found myself reading this book with my breath held, and grief at the ready.  Time passed, my own life was on my mind while I lived in this novel and I’m once again impressed by the ability of Barton to create visual worlds which draw a reader into the story.

Read Peach; you’ll be better for having experienced it yourself.
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This is my second work by Barton and I’m completely astounded at how different Peach is from his earlier work, Coal House. I would not have known the same author wrote both books. Here’s my review of that work which I absolutely adored:

 

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The Thing About Leftovers

by C.C. Payne

True confession time: I’m a retired woman, on a budget in a town of 600 people with a teeny library.  To feed my book habit, I enter EVERY contest I can find.  Every Single One. Most times I am unaware of the author, and often don’t even bother to read the book description.  There was over a year of my life when a brain injury meant I was unable to read, and once healed I vowed to read like a maniac. So, I contest like mad.  blog

I won The Thing About Leftovers and eagerly began the book several days ago.  A few pages in, I became suspicious and started looking closely at the book information. I was saddened when I read: Penguin.com/Young Readers Ages 10 up.

FYI, I am way up past 10 years old.

Sigh.

But, I’d won the book, the author had kindly personalized it and mailed it quickly.  I determined to stick it out. I figured at 52 I could read faster than a 10 year old and would zip through to ease my guilt.

A funny thing happened….I became absorbed. I actually read it in two days, not to get it over with, but because I couldn’t put it down.

Payne wrote a novel with a compelling main character, Fizzy, a sad young girl who had her life ripped from her when her parents divorced.  Mom relocated to another town.  Dad found another woman. Fizzy became the new student (outcast) at an unfamiliar school.  Most teachers were uninterested, old friends abandoned her, Mom began a new relationship and Fizzy was lost.  Leftover from an old world, unsure of her place, feeling unloved, this is the story of pain, loss, rebuilding.

The Thing About Leftovers punched me in the gut.

I lived much of Fizzy’s life. My mom was married and divorced three times. There were multiple dads among the siblings, and by marriage number three I was one of the last remaining kids at home.  I had the stepfather who moved in and took over.  I lost my older siblings who fled and remained away for decades.  The only other sibling who stayed was drinking at 19, an alcoholic in his 20s and dead at 37.  My purpose as a youngster was to be the peacemaker.  To make people laugh. To be good and not cause problems.

My entire childhood was fractured and upon my parent’s deaths I was freed and packed away (much) of that pain.  I worked very hard to create a different life for my kids where they were loved unconditionally and my marriage was strong and filled with joy.

Payne crafted a novel which caused me to remember.  I remembered through Fizzy and I cried.  Several times I actually had to stop reading because I felt so much pain for a fictional character, and for me who had forgotten how hard my childhood was all those years ago.

I am sure my reaction to Fizzy’s mom is much more vitriolic than the author intended, but I felt anger any time she was in the story. Every “yes, ma’am” uttered by Fizzy hurt me.  Even though the book ended on a positive note, with some moral (hopeful) lessons for other readers, this reader hurt and felt lots of discomfort.

I am glad I won this book.  I am glad I’m polite enough to have stuck with it because the catharsis was liberating.  It’s amazing how much I’d packed away and completely forgotten.  It says a lot about the writing skills of the author that she was so spot on describing the angst experienced by many of us during our formative years.

 

 

 

Yukon Audit

by Ken Baird

Wow! Wow! Wow!

There is a real leap of faith when a reader invests their time in an unknown author. Sometimes that investment pays off hugely. It did for me when I discovered Ken Baird and his first novel “Yukon Audit.”

I did read the About the Author section of the book prior to beginning. I do this with new indie authors primarily because, in a perfect world, I would be a writer and I’m always in awe of those brave enough to pursue their dream. I’m glad I learned of Baird’s background prior to starting “Yukon Audit” because it lent a real authenticity to the story. He ran a gold mine and is a pilot. How cool is that? I may or may not have watched hundreds of hours of Discovery and History Channel programming about man vs nature in the pursuit of riches, but this is the first book I’ve read from anyone remotely connected to that lifestyle. blog

The book is a mystery/thriller/adventure novel set in the Yukon featuring C.E. Brody an independent guy who lives in a cabin by a lake with his dogs.  He has a minimalist lifestyle, runs a mechanic shop and also uses his private plane to make a living.  As a recent transplant to an isolated West Virginia mountain, I related to this character and culture.  The pace is slower, people know each others business, and everyone works multiple jobs to get by…but getting by is enough.

Life would have continued on uneventfully for Brody, except an extremely attractive female showed up at his shop in need of car repairs. Her beauty, a car far older and worn than matched her appearance, a warning to avoid her from the local police are all too intriguing for Brody who becomes embroiled in a mystery which spans the next 500 pages of writing.  Yes, you read that correctly – 500 pages.  I admit that knowing not all writers are created equally, I dreaded facing what could be 500 pages of blah blah blah.  What a relief I felt to discover Baird has a unique quality to tell a story with enough details that the reader becomes enthralled but not so bogged down that it’s burdensome.

I loved reading about Brody’s life.  Frequently I found myself smiling or laughing as this character shared his perspective.  Baird fleshed out a guy who anyone would gladly sit and have a beer with and feel better because of it.  He isn’t the typical tough guy hero; he is just a decent man caught up in a series of unfortunate events which leads to violence.  Brody has brains, enough brawn and decency.  The other thing I appreciated about the characters was the relationship between Brody and the female protagonist, Sarah.  Yes, she was drop dead gorgeous which is pretty typical with female leads – after all, appearance is primary for women (read that with snark), but Baird changed up roles.  There is less about her looks and the physical chemistry and more about her strength and personality.

I absolutely loved this book and felt sad when it was over.  Even at 500 pages, I wanted more.  I know I can’t legally demand Baird continue Brody’s story with a sequel, but I demand Baird continue and give us book 2.  Soon.

 

 

Returning and grateful

It’s been a long time since my last book review.  Many of you may know I have been ill and recovering from a brain injury.  For a long time I couldn’t manage to read words on a page with any understanding.  I listened to the first chapter of the same audiobook every night as a source of comfort and because words and stories have always been part of my life.  The book was Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank and shutting down my healing body at night with the words of a favorite childhood book helped.

When the ability to read began to return, I read and posted reviews.  Then I realized, despite being able to read, part of me didn’t return right away.  I couldn’t feel.  Authors were investing their hearts into material and characters that I saw but didn’t appreciate.  Any plot line in any book seemed frivolous compared to my own real life struggle.  I decided that it was unfair to read and review given my jaded perspective on pain.

After 18 months of near total bedrest, I am happy to say I am about 95% healed.  I feel again.  Things and people matter.  Life feels beyond your understanding unless you have come so close to losing it.

Thanks for your patience those of you who have stuck around.  I’m happily working on a book now and ENJOYING it.  A review will be posted soon.  In the meantime, please look back at old reviews.  Those with many stars clearly were impressive to a damaged brain.  Any author who managed to make me appreciate his work while I was dealing with my own illness is probably worth you taking a look.

Book #40 – Sunrise, Book 3 Ashfall Trilogy

by Mike Mullin blog

Man, I hate trilogies.  Trilogies mean you fall in love with characters, watch them grow, share in their lives and then they leave you.  Forever.  That said, I LOVED the Ashfall Trilogy.  I was honored to receive an advanced copy of Sunrise for review and highly encourage you to buy this one when it is released.  And if you haven’t had the opportunity to read the first two (reviewed earlier in this blog), run out and get those read now.

This is a realistic post apocalyptic series where bad things happen to good (and bad) people.  It is classified as young adult fiction, but as an almost 50 year old I can promise you the material is written for adults as well.  Mullin has the ability to present young characters without dumbing them down or making the dialogue and subject matter boring to older readers.  I especially thought that this third book, Sunrise, presented ageless characters rather than the “innocent” teens we met in book one.

The premise behind the series is the eruption of the supervolcano Yellowstone and the chaos which quickly ensues.  As society breaks down, small groups form, the remaining government becomes as evil as you can imagine in a world without controls and heroes arise.  Book one introduced us to our two main characters, young teens Alex and Darla.  Immediately it is clear Alex is pretty naive and Darla is a well-prepared brain for this new world.  Watching the evolution of these two as Alex matures and rises to leadership, and Darla is crucial not only for her engineering skills but also as a level-headed partner for Alex, was interesting as a reader.  I found myself totally able to see how this new world either makes you or breaks you.

As I spent two nights awake reading and reading because Mullin writes books which can’t be left on the bedside table once begun, I found myself getting angry.  As I said earlier, bad things happen to good people.  Several times in this final book, I found myself very mad at Mullin.  Just absolutely astonished at some of the turns taken for my two friends.  But then I realized, wow.  Mullin is good.  He made me angry because first he made me care.  I love these two teens.  I was invested in their future and I wanted rainbows and unicorns.  But in a post apocalyptic future, rainbows and unicorns are the first things to die.

The worst part of the book Sunrise is that it ended.  Knowing this was the final part of the story is sad for a fan and I’m hoping that perhaps one day…..maybe….book four????  Please.

Book #31 – The REAL MADMEN – The Renegades of Madison Avenue and the Golden Age of Advertising

by Andrew Cracknell blog

As a devotee of AMCs blockbuster show, Mad Men, I have become interested in this time period of our history.  I remember some of the culture as a young girl, and the show seems spot on in much of the dynamics of the era, clothing, hairstyles, house decor.

I found this book and thought it would be intriguing to learn more about the actual profession highlighted in Mad Men – mass advertising.  Although the author has included quotes from Mad Men characters, this book is about that era and advertising, not the AMC series.

Initially this book was hard to read because there is too much detail regarding specific individuals and long-named advertising firms.  Interestingly, I often felt like I recognized firm names and initials from the TV show.  I almost quit reading as names became confusing, but there is enough general material to keep the reader going.  I wanted to learn about the psychology of how ads work, and see the “tricks” employed to lure consumers in via print or screen.  There was some of this, but I think Cracknell was writing a book for people in the profession, not interested in the profession.

Since this is a non-fiction book, facts learned are the guts of the quality of the material.

  • Advertising existed for more than a hundred years before Mad Men, but was primarily newspaper, boring, and done directly by the company
  • Fast forward to post-WWII and advertising agencies who marketed, showed creativity, competed for massive amounts of money at the time and this profession became a killer.  A 1956 survey showed that “senior advertising executives die at an average age of 57.9, ten years younger than the national average.”  (page 20)
  • Patent medicines were a BIG money maker for agencies.  Boy, does this quote remind you of today and all the Big Pharma ads with sad, then happy, actors?

The inventiveness of the manufacturers and the copywriters in coming up with increasingly vague scary diseases and afflictions that only they could fix was unbounded, preying on the fears of a simply-educated and gullible public.” (page 22).

I do not remember seeing medicine ads on TV 20 years ago.  Now, we are inundated with ads for anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, cholesterol, high blood pressure and on and on.  The advertisers want patients to believe these ads and lobby their doctor for prescriptions.  Plus, if you are familiar with the names of these meds, they must be “normal”, not to be questioned, simply something we take because it is a “cure”.

  • The original purpose of coupons wasn’t to give the consumer a bargain, or even sell the product.  These coupons were instead intended to tell the company which method of advertising was successful.  These coupons were coded to specific advertisements and when returned provided the only real proof of which ads were working.

I wish Cracknell had talked less about specific people, and focused in a more general sense on the ads and how they worked, but as a writer, he wrote what he wanted and did manage to make the material interesting.  There are many reprints of original ad work included in the book – those were especially eye opening.  Back in the day, apparently people liked to read a LOT in ads.  Not sure our current multi-tasking, channel clicking, move on to the next thing society would bother reading what our parents and grandparents read.

The standard look to a 50s/60s newspaper ad

The standard look to a 50s/60s newspaper ad

Book #11 – The Virgin of Small Plains

by Nancy Pickard book 11

Murder mystery set in a small town in Kansas in 2004 and 1987.  I may have had my own built in prejudice by chapter two – I dislike the time jump of then and now, then and now.  Sometimes it is confusing to the point you need to thumb back pages to confirm what year you are now “in”.  On a blizzardy night in 1987 while searching for downed and pregnant cattle, a family runs across the dead body of an unknown girl.  Or is she unknown??  Da da da dum……

Very quickly a new set of evil becomes evident when honorable men in town do dishonorable things.  The real victims in this book are not the dead body, but two characters forced to live apart because of “the danger”.  So melodramatic.  I realized half way in that this book was reminding me of a Harlequin romance novel, a genre I read as a naive teen girl, but have outgrown for many reasons.

Fast forward to our tragic hero returning, only to discover that in his 17 year absence the “unknown” murdered girl has garnered a place of legend as a healer.  Apparently the dead was so grateful to be treated with kindness and given a lovely burial and tombstone, that she grants healing to those who seek her out.  Yeah.

The ending where all the mysterious wrapped up was interesting; it is unfortunate that everything before the ah-ha moment was so boring.

Not a keeper, and cannot recommend.

1.5/5 Stars