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The Ghetto Blues

The Ghetto Blues by [Brooks, Tammy Campbell ]

The Ghetto Blues by Tammy Campbell Brooks unexpectedly won my heart. The book’s full title is The Ghetto Blues – An Autobiography of Tammy Campbell Brooks’ Trepidation, Tragedy, and Triumph, and it follows the life of Tammy from childhood through adulthood. In the opening pages of the prologue, Tammy’s daughter writes, “In this book, you will go through different stages of emotions from tears, laughter, happiness, and joy of growing up in poverty and impoverished environments, but not letting the circumstances define you.” As I began the book, I was skeptical that I would experience all these emotions, but as I concluded the final chapter, “Bells Will Be Ringing,” I found that Tammy’s daughter had been entirely right all along.

Typically, authors are referred to by their last names in reviews, but after reading Tammy’s story, I feel it only right to call her by her first name. Tammy’s story was incredibly challenging for me to read at the beginning because it is so disparate from my own experience in suburban America. Growing up in the projects of San Antonio, Tammy had an upbringing that is almost unbelievable for most readers – gunshots, emotional and physical abuse, poverty, extreme hunger – but she avoids writing about her experiences in such a way as to say, oh woe is me! Completely the opposite, Tammy describes herself as driven and dedicated. Even though she experiences setbacks and succumbs to vices that will have readers wanting to call her up and say, what were you thinking?!, she does not let her weaknesses or mistakes define her, and she is always striving for the best out of herself.

Tammy’s autobiography is written in an almost spoken format, and not at all how Strunk & White might have preferred. While the typos and grammatical errors irritated me at the beginning on the book, I came to realize that if it had been written like Faulkner, for example, it would not have truly been Tammy’s autobiography. Her story is edgy and uncomfortable, and sometimes painful to read. It is the opposite of polished, but it is honest and eye-opening. That said, the book would have benefitted from some additional editing to correct some of the simple spelling errors and word usage errors. Those glaring errors are the only reason I would give the story four stars instead of five, because Tammy’s story is undeniably a full five stars.

Describing Tammy to someone who hasn’t read her autobiography feels almost as if she must be fictional: how could one woman overcome all those challenges thrown at her? Not only is Tammy an inspiration, but she was also eye-opening to me. I knew nothing of the ghetto lifestyle in the projects that she describes, and her story reiterates the age-old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” At the conclusion of her autobiography, my overwhelming emotion was one of thinking that Tammy’s story would be amazing to share through radio or podcast. The courage and strength that it took Tammy to share her and her family’s story with readers should not be underestimated, and I hope that many readers have the opportunity to learn from her experiences.

Pages: 257 | ASIN: B07BFKCQZ9

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Mr. Wonderful

Mr. Wonderful by [Smith, Daniel]

Mr. Wonderful, by Daniel Blake Smith, is the touching tale of Brian Fenton, a college professor in the throes of a crisis like none he has ever faced. Brian and his wife, Corinne, are parents to a thirty-year-old son, Danny. The two adopted Danny as an infant at Brian’s insistence. From the beginning of Danny’s life with the Fentons, Corinne struggles to find her motherly instincts and is, for lack of a better word, relieved when Danny becomes a self-sufficient adult and leaves them as empty nesters. Danny’s return to their home turns Corinne and Brian’s lives upside down as Brian, in turn, deals with his elderly father’s declining health and the increasing pressures of a career he, may or may not, still love.

Smith weaves an intricate story of love lost between parents and children. The first person narrative is highly effective at drawing the reader into Brian’s sorrow, frustration, and his panic at being the voice of reason both at home between Corinne and Danny and long distance as he goes head-to-head with his brother, Jeff, over his father’s care. It is hard to watch Brian ponder the differences between his memories of his father’s treatment of him and his brother and the way in which his stepmother, Claire, speaks so lovingly of Robert, his father, as she cares for him. His emotions are raw, real, and easily relatable.

Corinne–not my favorite character. Her coldness toward Danny and her disdain at having to see him again in her home is as amazing as it is heartbreaking. Danny, not the best behaved boy on the block, is not welcomed by Corinne, and the blame she throws at Brian is somewhat misplaced and a struggle to witness. I found myself wanting her turnaround to come–and to come soon. Smith has written a memorable, if infuriating, character in Corinne.

Brian’s relationship and subsequent discoveries about his father’s past are poignant. Robert, ailing and entering the stages of dementia, is also hard to like. The manner in which Brian describes his past with his father left me wanting desperately to not feel sorry for Robert. Here, again, Smith crafts a turn of events that left this reader feeling a sense of compassion she did not see coming–but appreciated in the end.

I have to admit I saw Brian as weak. I didn’t want to, but I found myself wanting to shake him and jerk him upright from the downhill slide he was surely taking as the days passed him by. By the story’s climax, in Brian’s hometown of Juniper, Texas, I was more than ready for Brian, and Corinne, to show growth. Smith creates the perfect opportunity for self-awareness and life-changing decisions with his choice to bring his characters together in Juniper.

I have to give Mr. Wonderful an emphatic 5 stars out of 5. Smith’s use of the alternating first person points of view creates a deep connection between readers and characters. The Fenton family and their trials are not to be missed.

Pages: 164 | ASIN: B077Z3WK9N

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The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger

The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger: Volume 1 by [Hayes, Misty]

Misty Hayes, author of The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger Volume: 1, is handing readers a unique take on the vampire stories of late. Her main character and narrator, Larna Collins, relates a tale deeply woven in history, family secrets, and bloodlust. Larna, quite the social outcast in her high school, graduates and embarks immediately on a mission to find her estranged father in England. Using her father’s journals and her own burning desire to find answers to her endless string of questions about his sudden disappearance, she leaves Texas just as her lifelong friend, Corinth, reveals his desire to be more than a tried-and-true confidante.

The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger Volume: 1 is written to appeal to young adult readers, but is so exceptionally written and full of wit and wisdom it easily resonates with a much larger audience. The idea of the socially downtrodden heroine is not a new one, but Hayes manages, quite successfully, to fashion Larna Collins into character unlike any readers will encounter within other books in the same genre. Larna is thoughtful, and the reader is privy to all of her emotions, anxiety, and, ultimately, her pride and power.

Character development appears to be Hayes’s forte. Dropping little hints throughout the plot, the author draws robust images of each character from Paul the Volkswagen/taxicab-driving vampiric sidekick to Gabriel–the devil incarnate. Each of Hayes’s characters adds a rich element to the story, and she masters the plot twist with the best of the action/adventure writers out there.

Hayes provides a captivating mixture of budding romance and action sequences. In addition, she takes literary risks with her characters’ fates. She, by no means, sticks with what the reader expects. At every turn, Hayes delivers something new and unexpected, but more than appreciated. The tension between Corinth and Larna and the ever-present question of romance between Larna and Alastair keep the reader guessing from beginning to end.

Hayes offers an originality with her presentation of the vampire tale. She successfully juxtaposes the deteriorating architecture of old England with present-day Texas and tosses in a healthy amount of technology and modern references–all easily within the schema of the young adult audience. Those expecting to find the vampires of the Twilight series will be pleasantly surprised to find a quite different vamp sketched before them as Hayes offers up a down-to-earth creature with far-reaching abilities and deep-rooted emotions.

I am giving The Outcasts: The Blood Dagger Volume: 1 a solid 5 out of 5 stars. Hayes offers a well-written, smooth read which mesmerizes readers from the first paragraphs. The relatable struggles of its main character, Larna, take an unexpected turn early on and pull readers in for a ride like no other. Hayes will soon find herself with a growing fan base yearning for more from Larna and her crew. By giving her audience the story they want with a cast of characters far-removed from those of the typical vampire tales, Hayes has succeeded in paving the way for her band of outcasts.

Pages: 356 | ASIN: B077XL9WHH

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Mr. Wonderful Book Trailer

In spite of the world’s struggle and sorrow, life sometimes shows us the wonderful.

Brian Fenton’s life is falling apart. A professor at a bankrupt “directional school,” Brian suddenly learns he must either take early retirement or double his workload. As he confronts the embarrassment of his job going south, Brian discovers that his loopy son, Danny, is paying a surprise visit—which can only mean a hand out for money and a need to crash. To top it all off, Brian is fielding frantic calls about his aging father who’s declining rapidly with dementia.

Once a family doctor in Juniper, the small Texas town where Brian was raised, “Doc Fenton” is going down fast—forcefully reminding Brian of his own mortality and the painful issues separating him from his domineering father—a man only his loving wife could call “Mr. Wonderful.”

When Brian’s father passes, the gathered Fenton family partakes in a volatile small-town Texas funeral—at once hilarious and poignant—which produces startling revelations about Doc Fenton that propel Brian and the whole family into a new direction, a new path forward.

In the engaging vein of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth and Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, Daniel Blake Smith’s debut novel is at once a comic and heart-wrenching family saga. It offers a piercingly honest window into how we struggle to make sense of ourselves, our families, and our life purpose. If we’re lucky, we discover Mr. Wonderful.

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Weird, right?

Bruce McCandless Author Interview

Bruce McCandless Author Interview

Sour Lake follows Sheriff Reeves as he tries to solve a brutal murder while navigating the towns racial tensions and economic despair. What was the the inspiration behind the setup to this interesting novel?

It started as a more or less straight horror story, based on legends and tall tales I heard growing up about Texas at the turn of the 20th Century. My wife’s family is from the Big Thicket area, and the more I started talking and writing, the more interested I became in the social history and mores of the people in the area.

The story takes place in 1911 in a small Texas town. Why did you choose this setting for your story?

1911 was something that came to me in a dream, about halfway through the story. In the dream, I was searching through old newspapers for clues about the central mystery in the book. I looked down to turn the page, and I saw the date: October 17, 1911. Weird, right? So I just went with it.

Sheriff Reeves Duncan lost his wife, is a recovering alcoholic, but manages to keep a level head in intense situations. What obstacles did you feel were important to push his character development in the story?

Reeves Duncan is a fun character. I think what I like most about him is that he’s comfortable in his own skin. He knows his own limitations, but at the same time he has a pretty fierce streak of stubbornness that compels him to do the right thing, even if he knows he’s going to be disliked for it. Apart from having to wrestle with the bizarre nature of the crimes he is investigating, the biggest obstacle he faces is having to stand up to his own friends and neighbors in order to protect an innocent man and, ultimately, bring the true killer to justice.

What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?

I’m actually working on a prequel to Sour Lake, but I can’t say much about it because it’s still in its very early stages. If anyone’s interested in reading something that, like Sour Lake, combines horror and history, please check out my novel The Black Book of Cyrenaica. Or, if you’re not interested in horror, please try my coming-of-age story Color War, which is also set in East Texas, this time though in 1974.

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Sour Lake by [McCandless, Bruce]It’s 1911. Someone, or something, is leaving the good citizens of East Texas’s Ochiltree County savagely mutilated and drained of blood. Slow-talking Sheriff Reeves Duncan needs to put an end to the murders, and soon. But it won’t be easy. This is the Big Thicket, dark and brooding, haunted by racial tensions and economic despair. Fortunately, Sheriff Duncan can count on the assistance of an undersized but tough-as-rawhide Texas Ranger, two physicians, a mechanical wunderkind, and a soft-spoken idiot savant who knows the sloughs and baygalls of the Thicket like his own backyard. This league of unimpressive gentlemen is about to be tested by the cunning and ferocity of an enemy that walks by night–and the tentacles of a desperate sectarian plot that threatens the very survival of the human race.

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Sour Lake Or, The Beast

Sour Lake: Or, The Beast

Keep the lights on when you read this book! Sour Lake Or, The Beast will transport you back in time to East Texas, 1911. Chapter one is called Pray, and that is your only warning of what is to lie ahead. A brutal and gruesome death of the young school teacher Lenard Dalchau leads you into the world of this small Texas county of Ochiltree. Prejudice and racism run high and the locals want this death solved and forgotten quick. Reeves Duncan, the sheriff however isn’t one to just jump to conclusions and hang the wrong man. Agreeing with the sheriff that this is no ordinary murder case is “Doc” Walter McDivitt that has seen enough brutality for a lifetime. These two take the lead in discovering the truth. Together they discover a truth that no one wants to hear, and no one would believe if they did.

Bruce McCandless III is a talented author that is a cross between Steven King and the voice actor Robert Clotworthy. The historical descriptions and language are offensive to modern society but are accurate for 1911. It is so clear you feel like you are really back in Texas in the early 1900’s and living with this society. I’m not typically a person that enjoys horror novels because my imagination will just keep me up all night with every bump in the dark. McCandless however has written a story so engaging I couldn’t put it down. There are so many surprises in the pages it is hard to reveal much for fear of giving away the next piece of the plot. I can say I fell in love with the character of Sheriff Duncan. A man that lost his wife, became an alcoholic and overcame it. A mild mannered man that wants to be fair and not rock the boat. He does have a conscience and uses that to guide him as the story progresses, that inner instinct and unwillingness to follow a mob mentality. Sheriff Duncan believes in facts, and even when those facts point to things that should not be real he doesn’t discredit it. When all is said and done, he just wants to walk away. But how can you walk away from the nightmares he endured?

This is a novel you just can’t put down, it will draw in readers that like historical fiction, horror, a little sci-fi and a lot of action and gore. All the main characters are given rich back stories so you feel you really know who they are and how they ended up in Ochiltree County. The story line is unique and completely original probably because of when it takes places. Overall, I recommend this book to anyone that needs an escape from modern drama, this book will take you away and make you think, as well as surprise you from one chapter to the next.

Pages: 228 | ASIN: B06XR9T91W

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Songs from Richmond Avenue

Songs from Richmond Avenue

Songs from Richmond Avenue by Michael Reed is a dark novel about characters that could be found in any town. The main character is a journalist that seems to know all the questionable characters that hang out on Richmond Avenue in Houston. He meets a beautiful woman named Michelle that he becomes infatuated with from the start. Michelle could change things for the journalist, but not before he gets caught up in some seriously crazy shenanigans that include kidnapping, booze and roommates. Among everything else, you get to know some barflies who have very interesting stories and a love for alcohol and bets.

This story isn’t long, but packs quite a bit into such a small package. I can imagine this story set in any small local dive bar. There would be those regulars that have extremely colorful stories that are darkly humorous. The writing is unique and paints a descriptive image of all the characters in the book. Each one has personality and detail that many authors gloss over. His descriptions made it easy to visualize and even smell each and every one.

There will be a number of readers who will identify with the different characters and most likely sympathize with them as well. I felt as though I was getting a glimpse into someone’s real life experiences, not the work of fiction. The journalist doesn’t even have a name, yet throughout the story I didn’t even notice. I made it pretty far in before thinking, “Hey, what the heck is this guys name?”

“Songs from Richmond Avenue” could almost be called a drunks love story, as the journalist finds himself wishing for a future with Michelle. He may not exactly be a romantic character, it’s love just the same. Throw in some depressing thoughts while mixing in some humorous parts and that sums up this story.

It took me some time to really get into the story. Michael Reed has a unique way of developing his characters that takes a bit of adjusting to. Once I got farther into the story and got use to the craziness, I was in for the long haul and wasn’t bothered in the slightest. This is definitely not a light and airy read, but I think that is part of the appeal. I had to read slower than I usually would have with any other book which made me connect with the locations and situations. I honestly don’t want to tell you too much, so that you can have the same experience as I did. The antics that take place are so off the wall I wouldn’t want to ruin the fun for the next reader!

While it did pick up later, it was a bit hard to get into at first. Many readers I know would put down a book they weren’t drawn into from the beginning. While I know that a slow beginning doesn’t mean anything, that doesn’t make you not feel a bit frustrated. I would suggest anyone who enjoys dark humor and crazy drunken stories to give this book a shot.

Pages: 185 | ASIN: B01N039ZM7

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The Taking of Peggy Martin

The Taking of Peggy Martin

Karen Glista sets the book The Taking of Peggy Martin in the deep south of Texas. The book details the tribulations of a once God-fearing widowed nurse known as Peggy. She suffers from sleeplessness, which she takes advantage of to regale tales of her childhood and traumatizing loss of her husband. We see her struggle in a mental asylum and her contact with a wild young man by the name of Morgan in Piney wood thicket. The author mingles horror with science fiction to illuminate the mystery in the book. The author uses lots of colorful language to conceal the horror of murder, rape, and macabre details witnessed by Peggy.

The author does a great job of keeping the readers interest in the book despite the vile and gory details. Peggy witnesses what we would call horrendous encounters of eviscerations, decapitations, and murder. To those who are not fans of horror, the flowery language of the author encourages one to read on. However, the author uses colloquial expression and slang which would keep the reader unfamiliar with Texan dialect researching on what some of the words mean.

I tried to pin down what genre this book would be in, but then gave up and just enjoyed the blend of mystery, horror and macabre recounts in the Texan thicket.

Within just the first quarter of the book the author has packed so much information character building that sets the rest of the book up nicely to proceed with vigor punctuated by horribly enthralling events. For those who love the quick speeds at which the story unfolds, you would thoroughly enjoy this edge-of-seat thriller.

Peggy comes across as a pious lady who is unfortunately haunted by her past. She is enigmatic and one cannot tell what caused her husband’s death or if she had anything to do with her dark past… “The more we learn about her, the darker she gets”. Peggy is a strong, resilient lady, given her struggle at the mental asylum. We do not have much information about Morgan except that he is mute and wild, having grown into a feral man. The author has employed various styles in the book such as contrast, colloquialism, vivid description, and slang. The main ideas in the story revolve around rape, murder, and mental instability.

The Taking of Peggy Martin has excellent narration and is an engaging and mysterious thriller that touches even the deepest of our emotions. The plot has a nice flow that takes you through Peggy’s emotional roller coaster, and as things unfold, we can unravel some of the issues in the book.

Pages: 382 | ASIN: B07466DS5H

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Going Gone!: A Trackers Novel

An intricate scheme to abduct the children of the most powerful politicians on Capitol Hill gets disrupted when Kerry Branson, ex-homicide detective turned private investigator, inadvertently rescues one of the victims on a fog-laden backroad in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

When Kerry discovers the six-year-old boy is the son of a U.S. Senator kidnapped from his Austin home, her call to the FBI is just the beginning of her problems. Pursued by a ruthless band of mercenaries who seem to know her every move, Kerry is forced into an uneasy alliance with the agent assigned to the case, FBI Tracker Ryan Barr.

As the abductions continue, their search for the children will pit Kerry and Ryan against a formidable adversary who uses his wealth and political power to cloak a psychopathic obsession. His manipulation extends deep into the government even to the Office of the President.

A horrific plan slowly emerges—one that has drug cartels and terrorist groups lined up to cash in.

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The Resulting Blood Shed

Kwen Griffeth Author Interview

Kwen Griffeth Author Interview

In Vengeance is Mine Sam is determined to become the man he believes he was meant to be and fights for a life that leaves death and violence behind. How did you identify those things that were core to Sam’s belief and how did you set him on a path to find them?

Sam was raised like many young men, believing if he worked hard, did the right thing and believed good things would happen to him. Through the course his life took into combat and the resulting blood shed all those things were lost to him. Sam is a mix of several men I was lucky enough to meet while working as an alcohol rehabilitation counselor in the military. Many of the problems the men faced could be traced back to the horrors of war, which they were not prepared to face.

I felt that this novel took a more personal look at Sam’s character? Did you always have Sam’s character mapped out? Was there any surprises in his character development in this third book?

Originally, there was too be only one book. It was not until I got into the first book that I began to know Sam and the other characters as well. What I started as a typical western, more or less, became the story of a man finding his way back to himself, then reestablishing contact with others, and lastly making peace with his creator. It felt, at times, that Sam was telling me the story and I was to record it for him. Some people will read the story and say, “Sam and Laura got married, I knew it all along. But the real story is Sam finds his way to be worthy of marriage.

What is your writing process like? How do you set about creating such in depth characters?

I write as if I was on a land navigation course. I have a starting point, a few way points that I have to find and the ending point. To help me I have a map in my head that helps keep me on track and a mental compass that keeps me in the right direction. I allow the characters to tell the story as best I can. My characters are the backbone of my story. When asked what genre I write, my answer is I write people stories. I write and rewrite until the character becomes as real to me as my neighbor.

Is this the last book in Sam and Laura’s story? Or will there be more?

Several of the Sam and Laura fans continue to ask me to continue the series. For the couple, the story is complete, but there are several stories yet to be told with other characters. Johanna, Sam’s sister is a story rich in history and character. Hack Baskins and the other Texas cowboys, as well as G.W. Lincoln. I have other projects but I would like to round out the Sam and Laura universe.

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Vengeance Is Mine: Resurrections (Sam and Laura's Story Book 3) by [Griffeth, Kwen D]“The hawk was created in the image of a hawk. That means he must use violence every day of his life if he wants to eat and live another day. He can never wake up one morning and say to himself, “I no longer wish to eat mice and snakes; I want to eat seeds and nuts like the cardinal. No, he cannot do this and why? Because he was created in the image of a hawk.”

“I don’t see…”

“Sam, I know your father taught you this, but you have forgotten. The hawk was created in the image of a hawk. What image were you created in?”

Sam whispered, “God, I was created in the image of God.”

The Amish elder smiled, “Yes, you were created in the image of God and as such you were granted the ability to choose. You can choose to do right or wrong, good or bad, be peaceful or violent. You can even choose to eat mice and snakes if you like.”

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