I read a book: The Keeper of Happy Endings, by Barbara Davis

I took a slightly different approach to choosing which books to add to the May book club selection poll. Usually I pick a bunch of books that I’ve accumulated through Amazon’s First Reads. I figured it’s a safe bet because lots of people have Amazon Prime, therefore have access to these books. And if they don’t have them, the kindle versions are always sold for $5 or less. Plus, libraries are a thing. Granted these books are not widely purchased by libraries, but I happen to know from my 20+ years of library work experience that libraries do take patron requests and if they aren’t in a position to purchase, they will try to find it via interlibrary loan. This month someone commented that she is unable to join book club because it isn’t available on Nook and I just shook my head. Come on. I’m doing my best to pick things that anyone can access. Fucking Nook…I bought one when they first came out, hated it, and returned it.

Anyway. This time I looked at bestseller lists and went as far as to make sure they were available at multiple libraries. Turns out that the one I added to my poll was also an Amazon First Reads from a while back. It isn’t one I own, but it is available on KU.

I’m rambling.

The book I chose was The Keeper of Happy Endings, by Barbara Davis. It is a cross between historical fiction and chick lit, two genres that are generally not my jam. A glance at my previous reviews or my Goodreads profile makes that pretty clear. But the book club loves this stuff, so here we are. I checked it out on KU and downloaded the Audible companion because when I’m reading genres that don’t usually keep my attention, I like to listen and follow along in the book. Keeps me focused. And boy did this one need the help in the beginning. Slow start. But when it picked up, it was so engaging that I didn’t want to put it down.

At first I didn’t care for the narration. This story is told from two different POVs, a young woman in the 1980s and an older French woman recollecting her work with the resistance and her lost love. The narrator for the latter chose to take on an accent and two different pitches to signify young Soline and current Soline. The accent was grating. The high pitched “youthful” voice was irritating. But the story was wonderful, so I sped up the audio to match my visual reading speed and plowed forward. I became so absorbed in the story that the things that bothered me about the narration no longer did.

I want to say that I figured out the twist fairy early on. The clues were there and I put it together as the story progressed. But it wasn’t so obvious that it ruined the journey. I went into this expecting happy endings and got them. Everything wrapped up in a neat little package, which usually annoys me, but in this case…I’m not mad. I loved it.

Maybe historical fiction/chick lit is my jam after all.

You can find The Keeper of Happy Endings on Amazon in print, ebook, and audio, all major retailers, or at one of many libraries in the country.

I read a book: NOT A LOT OF REASONS TO SING, BUT ENOUGH, by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre

Guante’s poetry takes me back to that one time I went to the Nueva Onda cafe with my friends many years ago. One friend was active in the local poetry community, and while I did want to be supportive, I know I did a poor job of it. There was a big slam poetry presence there and it didn’t speak to me. I didn’t get it so I wrote it off. My relationship with poetry has changed over the years and while I still mostly consume it in its written form, I find my self loving spoken word and slam more and more.

When I told my friend that I’d received an ARC of this book from NetGalley, his response was that he was just looking at it on Button Poetry’s website. I was already loving this book, but I found my friend’s response encouraging and continued on.

This collection of poems sets out to redefine your view of what poetry is and assures you that you don’t have to like poetry, and that maybe poetry just isn’t what you’ve been taught. Poetry doesn’t have to pretentious romantic rhymes. Anyone can enjoy it or write it. Or not.

Not a Lot of Reasons to Sing, but Enough tells a story through the memories of a robot recovered from a post-apocalyptic world. The format is unique and beautiful and a delight to read. I found myself rereading several passages and coming back to the illustrations that punctuate the collection over and over again. Guante hits on a lot of topic near and dear to my heart without being super direct and preachy. I’ll be buying a copy for my shelf, and if you are even remotely interested in poetry, you should too.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. Read this book. Do it.

You can buy a signed copy of Guante’s latest book NOT A LOT OF REASONS TO SING, BUT ENOUGH directly from the publisher Button Poetry. If you love his style and want to learn from him, check out his Button University Workshop.

I read a book: Bloodletting, by J. R. Curtis

I received an Audible code for a review copy of J. R. Curtis’s book Bloodletting from the author last week. He offered review codes in one of my favorite book groups on Facebook and I happily requested one. I looked up the kindle version, as I like to read along with audiobooks, and found that I already owned it. Good sign! I found the premise of this book interesting enough to have acquired it twice! And so I read my first western themed horror novel.

The story begins with the description of a handcart company starting their journey and getting caught in a blizzard. Winter is harsh, and the group is in desperate need of food and supplies. Three men take on the task of traveling ahead to an old army fort to find help. The journey is long and difficult, and they find themselves overcoming the obstacles of weather and hostiles to get to their destination. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I was on the edge of my seat as one thing after another attacked them. Poor Caleb…that kid just couldn’t get a break! The three travelers make it to their destination, only to find the fort completely empty. This is where the story goes from survival story to an otherworldly tale of horror. As the title implies, it is graphic and bloody.

Come to think of it, none of them can seem to catch a break. We learn all about each of their tragic backgrounds as they try to survive in the abandoned fort.

There is a lot I loved about this book. The whole concept of western horror scratched an itch I didn’t know I had. The writing is descriptive in a way that makes the reader really feel the cold, isolation, terror, and despair. There is nowhere for our travelers to run, and that feeling is conveyed effectively. The audiobook narration was really good. Slow enough that even though I increased the playback speed quite a bit, it didn’t sound like chipmunks. And the narrator had just the right voice for this type of story. It had that same atmospheric feel that I got from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

That said, I feel like this book could have benefited from a little more time in editing. It gets repetitive at times. The dialog feels unnatural. But overall, it’s a good book.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️, 3.5 rounded up for star rating. I’ll definitely be reading more of Curtis’s work.

You can find Curtis’s books available on Amazon, Kindle Unlimited, and Audible. Borrow Bloodletting on KU or just buy it like I did!

I read a book: Mixed Feelings, by Abraham Rodriguez

Poetry is difficult to review. Poetry is emotion put to the page. How do you judge how someone expresses emotion? In the end, you don’t. Well, I don’t. I am not a poet, nor am I fully versed on the intricacies of poetry, so I don’t rate on a technical level. Poetry is as good as the emotion it elicits.

Unfortunately the emotions this collection of poetry elicits from me are mostly cringe. I try to find something positive to say about every book that I review, especially when I’ve received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for that review, but this one is proving to be a challenge. Rodriguez pours his heart out on the page in the form of poems and photos much like the example above. The poetry is reminiscent the words scrawled in a teenager’s journal with me + you scrawled in the margins over and over again. It brings up memories of scrolling through my LiveJournal feed back in the day. There are black and white photos throughout the collection, most are of a young man doing couple things on his own. Grabbing his own belt loop. Clawing at his own back. Photos of oranges. Squeezing them, biting them, gnawing on strips of peel. The whole thing is amateurish and unrefined.

But you know what, Rodriguez really put himself out there and that is admirable. The only way to get good at something is to be bad at something and keep doing it until you hit your stride. This is his first book and it does hold little glimmers of potential.

There are a couple instances where he takes a poem and writes it in English and Spanish in opposite directions. It is a format I find myself drawn to, even if the poem itself is not great. I am not fluent enough in Spanish to recognize if it is more impactful in Spanish. These dual lingual poems are my favorites of this book.

All that said, it feels like that first heartbreak when your emotions are all over the place because you haven’t learned how to cope yet.

⭐️⭐️. It’s okay. There is an audience for this, but I’m not it.

Mixed Feelings, by Abraham Rodriguez will be released on May 3. You can preorder on Amazon or any major retailer.

I read a book: Talia, by Daniel Volpe

Never was there a more appropriate intro to a book.

I chose Talia, by Daniel Volpe for Book Lovers Cafe‘s second Cool Ghouls read. My little book club has garnered some attention in the group, but if any of the people who sign up are reading the books, I have no idea because they’re not participating in discussion. I will keep at it though. I am determined to share my love of horror and bizarro to anyone who will listen.

I take it back. At least one person read it. They were not prepared.

I read Talia in one sitting. At 120 pages, I suppose that isn’t saying much, but for me it is. If a story isn’t immediately gripping, my attention wanders. Talia grips you by the throat and assaults your senses non-stop. This is the story of a young woman who moves to the big city trying to make a name for herself. She quickly learns that it is not easy to break through in the acting world and finds herself targeted by a sleazy adult filmmaker named Mike who can smell desperation. Talia has heard the rumors about this guy, rumors that he works for the mob and does more than porn, but she is in a tough spot and is willing to do what it takes to make some money.

At first, it isn’t so bad. She does some fetish films that get increasingly strange, but she makes friends with one of her costars and mostly hasn’t had to do anything too degrading. What’s a little piss in the grand scheme of things anyway? Rumors about Mike’s clientele prove to be true as the requests get stranger and more brutal. One day, Talia and her friend come in to do a film find themselves facing a tied and gagged man and a table containing whips of increasing levels of brutality. Is this just another pain fetish video? Is Talia built for the kind of films Mike has lined up? Is Mike prepared to face the monster he created?

I discovered (after reading Talia), that our heroine was introduced in Volpe’s earlier work, Billy Silver. Of course I have to read that now.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. Daniel Volpe, I see you.

You can find Volpe’s books available on Amazon, Kindle Unlimited, and Godless. Borrow Talia on KU or just buy it! A cover like that will look great on your bookshelf.

I read a book: Plenitude, by Daniel Sarah Karasik

April is National Poetry Month. Poetry is part of my regular reading, but since it is a time of recognition, I will be doing reviews of both ARCs and other books on my shelf. First up, an ARC I received via NetGalley, Plenitude, by Daniel Sarah Karasik.

When I pick up a book by an author I have not read before, the first thing I do is Google them. Karasik is the author of five other books, including plays, poetry, and short stories. Five! How fortunate for me that there is a back catalog to read now that I’ve had a taste of their work.

This collection of poetry is a demonstration of how so many different issues intersect and overlap. Karasik tackles not only sexuality and gender, but human rights, Palestine. It’s personal and political. It’s the kind of poetry that you read and reread because there are just so many layers to unpack.

This one is for the folks who don’t understand what it means to be trans in the current political climate. It’s for the ones who are actively trying to be better allies. It’s for the trans people looking for representation and understanding. It’s for the people who think that it’s not for them.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️, 3.5 rounded up for star rating.

Sample some of their poetry on their website and then get your copy of Plenitude, by Daniel Sarah Karasik on April 7.

I read a book: White Fuzz, by William Pauley III

It started with a friend request on Goodreads. I don’t accept every author friend request. I look at their profiles, I google them, I read their websites and their book reviews. According to his bio, William Pauley III writes sci-fi/horror/bizarre fiction and that was enough for me to accept the friend request and add a couple books to my TBR. Doom fiction? Count me in.

I’ve watched his name come up on my Goodreads feed for about a month now. William Pauley III is now friends with Hugh Mann. William Pauley III likes Hugh Mann’s status. William Pauley III wants to read Another Weird Book. This is not criticism of how active he is on Goodreads. It is merely an description of how that portrait of a shaggy haired man with his head tilted upward, pouty lips, eyes closed, one side of his face dripping with blood got into my head and led me back to his website. There I found Audible codes and YouTube links, making my decision of where to start easier.

Because I’m on a novella kick and because I’m a sucker for good cover art, I chose White Fuzz. It’s the story of a man who gets a text from a stranger, goes to her home, and proceeds to have the weirdest night of his life. My gears were turning early in the story, as I had just read Pest, by Matt Shaw and the premise of a guy meeting a strange woman in her home after one text interaction was feeling a bit familiar. That’s where the similarities between the two stories ends though. Pauley’s story starts out almost a cute rom-com with our two main characters teasing each other on the phone before Franklin decides, against his better judgement, to pay this mystery woman a visit. While things seem to be going well, Franklin notices a lot of strange things about the apartment and about his new lady friend. The apartment is filthy, permeated with the smell of mold, death, and cat. Lynda’s mood changes from flirty and a little awkward to a range of anger and sadness at the drop of a hat. Franklin’s shifting in emotional state is similar, but internal. Franklin didn’t know what he was getting himself into and neither did I. As I’ve come to expect from the genre, White Fuzz leaves you with that wtf did I just read feeling. The story is well written and the audiobook is actually really good. Perfectly cast narrator.

Relatable

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. William Pauley III is on my radar now.

You can read White Fuzz as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. Or just buy the book. The eBook is only a couple bucks and the print version would look great on your shelf.

I read a book: Fire in His Blood, by Ruby Dixon

Sometime last summer I saw Ice Planet Barbarians on my Goodreads feed. I had dabbled in the romance/erotica/smutty genre many years ago but the few books I read didn’t really do anything for me so I just thought I wasn’t into it and moved on. Then I saw IPB on an old high school acquaintance’s Goodreads and I decided to give it another shot. I tore through IPB, the spin-off Ice Home, Corsairs, Corsair Brothers, and Risdaverse. That’s a lot of books featuring abducted human woman and sexy blue aliens and I loved them all. When I got through them all, I tried another monster romance by another author but didn’t love it and went back to Ruby Dixon‘s catalog. There is a drakoni in the Ice Home series, so I was familiar with them before I started the Fireblood Dragon series. The drakoni are less appealing to me than the Messakah.

Fire in His Blood describes a post apocalyptic Earth, one where a rift was opened and dragons came through, went mad, and destroyed the world as we know it. As in all post apocalyptic stories, there are human survivors spread across the world in camps that are controlled by whatever militias pop up. In most zombie apocalypse stories, those militias are usually the type who are semi-secretly preparing for the government to declare martial law in the real world. You know the type. This one didn’t specify where the militia came from, or if it did, I missed it. Anyway, this is the story of Claudia, a woman who scavenges to earn enough to keep herself, her sister, and her friend fed and sheltered. There are only two real options for women in this world, scavenging (which is against the law) and whoring. Claudia opts to lead a life of crime, which leads to her capture and incarceration by the militia. And eventual nonconsensual participation in an experiment involving women and dragons.

I’ve read some reviews and noted that many of the complaints are about Claudia and repetition, and those are valid complaints. There is a lot of repetition. And it’s all coming from Claudia and her one track mind. Her entire existence since the dragons set the world on fire has been survival and protecting her sister. So when she’s incarcerated and then forced into this experiment, the one thing she keeps thinking about is how her sister will survive without her. Most of the book is told from Claudia’s perspective and a lot of it is her thinking about how she can get back to her sister and deal with her dragon at the same time. She could have gotten swept up in the romance and left her life behind, but stayed true to herself and figured out a way to come through for her sister, with the help of her dragon of course.

While I still find the drakoni less appealing than my beloved Messakah, I did enjoy this book and will be reading the rest of the series. There isn’t a whole lot of spice, and the spice that is there is timid compared to IPB, but that’s okay. That’s one of the things I like about Dixon’s books. There’s spice, but the story is always good enough that I don’t even mind if the spice level is low. I’m looking forward to more world building, meeting more drakoni, and possibly addressing the problem of the female dragons. All of Ruby Dixon’s books that I’ve read so far feature human women and alien men, so I’m not sure if she will tackle the female dragons, but a girl can dream.

I read a book: Gone to See the River Man, by Kristopher Triana

For the last couple months I’ve been running a book club in one of my favorite book groups on Facebook, Book Lovers Cafe. Titles have mostly been chosen from Amazon First Reads. They’ve been good, but not stuff I’d typically read. Bored with the same old thing, I decided to start up a secondary book club for horror aficionados like myself. I dubbed it the Cool Ghouls Book Club. The first book I selected was one I’d seen recommended a lot in a different book group, Books of Horror. Gone to See the River Man, by Kristopher Triana.

At first it seemed like it was heading in a typical thriller path and I thought the main character was somehow going to end up being murdered by the man she obsessed over. Which…did happen. But the path from meeting him in prison to meeting him in her apartment was not typical thriller material. One might wonder why someone would find themselves obsessed with a serial killer, but as the story unfolds and you learn more about Lori, it isn’t so mysterious. Lori is seriously flawed, cut from the same cloth even. She has shared all of herself with Edmund and he knows she is the right person for his mission. Like Lori, you’ll find yourself wondering how much of the journey to see the River Man is real and how much is in her head. Is the River Man real? Or is he a manifestation of her mental and moral decline? This book is dark and graphic and utterly disturbing.

It’s a short read, but doesn’t feel like it’s lacking story building like some novellas do. If you like horror, splatterpunk, otherwise dark stories and don’t mind gore, give this a read. And if it’s your first horror book ever, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised, as this one group member did.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. Closer to 5 honestly, but I made my rating and I don’t like to go back and change ratings unless I reread.

Great book. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work. Grab your copy on Amazon.

I read a book: Porn Land, by Kevin Shamel

Oh no, porn is illegal! So begins the synopsis of Porn Land, by Kevin Shamel on Goodreads.

I want to start by saying that while a title like Porn Land is sure to catch the attention of bizarro fans like myself, I feel like there was a missed opportunity at naming this book. Our heroes are called Phil and Zed, so of course my mind conjured up a more obvious title. Phil and Zed’s Sexcellent Adventure. I’m sure that was intentional.

The stage is set right on the first page. Porn is illegal and Phil is determined to archive as much of it as possible before it’s all scrubbed from the internet, much to the dismay of his roommate Zed. In his quest to archive all the porn the internet has to offer, he comes across an old website…one that he thinks may actually be the first porn website to have ever existed. Porn Land. He is intrigued by its low traffic. With one click, he and Zed are sucked right into the website, Stay Tuned style. (Side note: if you haven’t seen Stay Tuned, do it. I feel like the author has definitely seen it.)

Just as the couple in Stay Tuned move from one warped version of a familiar show to another, Phil and Zed move from one familiar porn scenario to another. They land in a sorority house and go to jail. Then they meet a guy who tells them they’re there to save Porn Land from disappearing and the real world from losing “good old-fashioned hedonism” and it just snowballs from there.

This book is everything I expect from the genre. You won’t find flowery poetic language here. There are no life lessons. A book snob might call it “poorly written”, but I view it as easily readable, vividly descriptive, and just plain fun. Listen, a book doesn’t need to be lyrical to be good. This book is great fun. There’s so much going on, but I won’t spoil it for you. Just read it.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 rounded up for the rating. Super fun book (standard disclaimer: if you’re into bizarro).

This book will be released on April 11, 2022. Pre-order your copy now on Amazon.