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review 2019-11-21 17:42
All In by L.K. Simonds
All In - L.K. Simonds

Twenty-nine-year-old novelist and blackjack dealer Cami Taylor seems to have it all—but just underneath her confident exterior and newfound celebrity is a young woman in trouble. Cami’s boyfriend, Joel, wants to get married, buy a house on Long Island, and raise a family—a life that’s a million miles from Cami’s idea of happiness. Her therapist suggests compromise and trust, but Cami would rather bolt like a deer. Breaking things off with Joel, Cami launches herself on a new quest for happiness. But her pursuit of pleasure only takes her further from herself—and toward a harrowing new reality unlike anything she’s faced before.





In her debut novel, L.K. Simonds introduces us to main character Cami (Camille) Taylor, who, on the cusp of thirty in the late 90s, has found professional success over the years as a blackjack dealer and published author with one best seller already under her belt. Cami's Long Island boyfriend, Joel, is more than ready to marry her and settle into domestic bliss; his only frustration with her is the emotional wall she tends to have up, blocking them from ever reaching that deepest level of emotional intimacy.


Cami's not even sure she wants to go as far as marriage. She's always valued her independence far too much. But she does love Joel, so she makes an attempt to work on her emotional wall by going to therapy. In the beginning, she hopes the gesture will appease him, but it soon becomes clear that her heart isn't in the therapy process at this stage in her life. Joel and Cami come to accept they just want different things in life and the nearly two year union quietly dissolves.


While splitting up felt like the right move, it still hurts to lose someone whose presence you've gotten so used to. She tries to dip her toe back into the dating world but the pickins' ain't great out there. Even when she thinks she's scored a maybe, things turn sour one night when he mentions his girlfriend, followed by "You didn't ask." UGH. It'd be super cool if it could just be an understood rule all the way around that if you're already in a relationship YOU DON'T GO FISHING FOR ANOTHER.


This little talk does wonders for Cami's already fragile mental state and she gets to reflecting on her former life, working casinos back in New Mexico as Leona Lingo (her birth name). She thought she'd finished with that era of her life, but feeling herself heading towards a dark headspace in NYC, she figures a trip back to her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona might not be such a bad idea. But "going home" just ends up being a safe space to binge on vices. By this point in the story I was reminded a little of that Charlize Theron movie, Young Adult.


Note: the mention of casino life does not factor largely into this story except through some of Cami's referenced memories.


More of the same isn't going to be enough. I can see that now. When I think about it, I realize it isn't strange at all to need new goals after having reached all the old ones. I should've seen this coming. I'm doing okay, professionally, and now I need to concentrate on feeding my soul. Just as soon as I figure out what exactly my soul needs.


Eventually Cami works her way back to NYC, where she has an unexpected introduction to distant relative Kate Davis. After a day spent getting to know each other, Kate invites Cami to a family reunion being held in Texas. This ends up being the start of a legit growing family bond between the ladies that will serve Cami well later in the story when she'll need all the support she can get after receiving some life-altering news.


Cami's main motivation for going to new places or meeting new people often seems to fall to "well, it'll be great material for the next novel." Though she's rarely in it to make new friends or grab life by the horns, she still grudgingly puts herself out there time and again. By doing so, life shows her (and through her experiences, the reader) that if one is willing to embrace experiences even halfway openly, the takeaway can be so much more than ever imagined. It's no different when Cami takes on Texas (even if she's inwardly laughing to herself about just how out of her environment she truly is). I did find it a little weird, though, her being flirty with Jake. Yeah, he's a distant cousin... but, still. Should be a pretty standard rule: don't hit on people at a family reunion!


Throughout the entire story, it's alluded to that there might be something off with Cami's health, but she drags her feet getting herself checked out. Finally, after a bout of sickness that scares her enough to finally make an appointment... the diagnosis the doctor comes back with... wow, I was not expecting the story to go that direction at all! Virtually nothing hints at it, save for maybe one scene. The reality check leaves atheist Cami pondering on God, life, all the big questions.


Cami as a character, well, she can be a tough one to bond with because she often reads emotionally flat. It makes sense, that's part of the character flaw in her that sort of sets her on this whole path. Still, it can make for frustrating reading when she comes off as so emotionless. But I don't think it's a matter of her being devoid of feeling, but more her being afraid to feel. Life experiences, the world at large... it's all left her with a lot of disappointment. You go through enough of that for long enough, you get to where it seems like the easier path to just numb your heart to any more stabs. As far as other characters, it seemed like each one has a quality to them that'll have you saying YES! I know someone exactly like that! So, bravo to Simonds on wonderful attention to character detail!


There is an understated lyrical quality to Simond's writing style that I ended up quite liking. It took me a little time to really get into this plot... but I'll admit I wasn't in the best mood the day I decided to start this one. Initially, I wasn't sure I was going to like Cami, but, if I'm being honest, it might've been because I was seeing more of myself in her than I liked LOL, some of the sides of me I'm not so proud of. But like Cami, I'm working on them in my own time and I'll get there, eventually.


FTC DISCLAIMER: BookCrash.com & author L.K. Simonds kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2019-10-04 19:52
Forged Through Fire (memoir) by Mark McDonough, MD
Forged Through Fire: A Reconstructive Surgeon's Story of Survival, Faith and Healing - Mark D. McDonough, MD

When Mark McDonough was a teen, a catastrophic fire claimed the lives of his mother and younger brother. It also left Mark with burns on over 65 percent of his body. During a long and painful recovery, his faltering faith in God was strengthened by a remarkable near-death experience. Inspired to pursue a career as a plastic surgeon to help those who suffer as he has, McDonough has overcome numerous other adversities on his journey, including addiction and a stroke. Now he shares his incredible true story of survival and perseverance to bring hope and healing to those dealing with great physical and emotional pain. Anyone who has suffered or watched a loved one suffer from a personal trauma, disease, or loss that has tested or stolen their faith and exhausted their emotional resources will find real hope in this redemptive story.






In 1976, author Mark McDonough, as a teen, survived a house fire that tragically took the lives of his mother and youngest brother while also leaving 65% of his own body covered in deep burns. McDonough uses Forged Through Fire to share with readers his story of painful healing --- both emotionally and physically --- and the life lessons learned along the way. 


Doctors roughly calculate the mortality or likelihood of burn death by adding the age of the victim to the percentage of burns relative to their total body surface area. Sixteen years of age plus burns to 60-70% of my nearly naked body indicated that I had roughly a 20% chance or less of surviving. 


In addition to surviving the house fire, McDonough also includes stories of other medical challenges he's survived that required similar therapy programs, from contracting Guillian-Barre Syndrome as a small boy (which led to him temporarily being placed in an iron lung) to being surprised by a stroke as a young married man. If that's not enough, he also has a tale of falling prey to but eventually overcoming a period of alcoholism --- something he always promised himself would never be part of his life, despite coming from two parents who also struggled with alcohol addiction. McDonough's experiences with addiction begin as a way to self-medicate the pain of his injuries. That particular pain management option begins to lose its allure for him, but once a habit develops, the process out is a tricky one, requiring much dedication and patience.


Many claim that when faith is strong enough, there is no cause for fear. But for me, it was within the context of fear that my quest for faith began. It seemed only natural that I should fear the potentially challenging obstacles ahead or the pain that I expected to confront along the way. Yet, I was learning that I could have those fears while remaining faithful that God would stay nearby if I asked him to, helping me meet the demands head-on.



WARNING, READERS: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH! I have a pretty strong stomach for most things and even I was cringing and squirming through several of the medical procedure descriptions shared here. It's not ALL rough. I mean, there are passages describing some of his therapy including learning to speak and swallow again because his throat lining was so badly damaged in the fire. He mentions developing pressure sores from being kept supine for so long while waiting for his skin grafts to take. Description-wise, those parts aren't so bad, but the OTHER parts --- the cleaning of the wounds (when he talks of having the cleanings done with Betodine --- I had my own memory recall from that one! The brief but intense BURN of that stuff! *shudder* It is effective though!), the bandage dressing, anathesia not taking and him waking up during one of his surgeries.... yeah! 


Some of the therapists and doctors I met, like Dr. Fratianne, were among the most intelligent and admirable people I knew. I respected their character and their demonstrated ability to care. A few, however, had no idea about how to communicate or deal with people. They could tend to the body but overlooked the person, and they all but denied the spirit. I felt particularly sensitive to issues of pain and being dependently at the mercy of others; this was where I felt I could really make a difference and affect a positive change. I began to nurture that notion.


Keep in mind, this memoir is written by a doctor, so it naturally does run heavy with medical terminology, but to his credit McDonough does a pretty solid job of quickly following up with an explanation in layman's terms. He also shows incredible talent for getting his readers to truly feel the struggle and anguish of his painful journey to "being okay", you might say. McDonough doesn't hold back about keeping things real regarding his emotions, frustrations, the trying path of learning to overcome new physical limitations, and ultimately the joy in small victories during this arduous experience in healing. And healing wasn't just about his skin resealing or him regaining movement. McDonough also gets into the shift in the bonds between him, his father, and his surviving brothers, as well as the guilt associated with the amount of attention his outpatient recuperation period required of everyone. 


Contrary to the beliefs of many, nowhere in the Bible does it say that God won't give us more than we can handle. But much is written about how God will provide the strength we need to survive those things we fear handling.



After intensive physical and occupational therapy sessions (one story notes he was able to finish high school, in part, because the school accepted his hours of therapy as PE credits), McDonough is inspired to become a physical therapist himself. His experiences with patients in this field later encourage him to take it further, becoming a reconstructive surgeon. With his work in medicine, and now this memoir, McDonough hopes that his story can inspire others working to overcome various traumas to continue fighting the good fight.



Dr. Frat spoke about how some people get stuck harboring resentments, exhausting themselves over things of the past that they don't understand. Something started to stir inside me. I knew what it was like to have no energy left to do anything.  Why waste those precious resources on things that aren't going to change anything? Why not invest that limited energy or strength into something real, positive, and in the here and now, not in a past that cannot be changed?



In another part of this memoir, McDonough also mentions the guilt 

his father struggled with because of new smoke detectors

that he had purchased for the home but decided to delay installing

until he came back from his business trip. McDonough's father was

on this trip when the fateful fire broke out.




On a sidenote, kudos to him for closing his acknowledgements section with a shout-out to EMS workers. As a firefighter wife, I had to smile at this! :-)


I was also not expecting him to close the book with an eyewitness account of the murder of singer / Youtuber Christina Grimmie!


Honestly, I'm surprised this hasn't been optioned as a movie, but I won't be surprised if I see it is later. 



FTC DISCLAIMER: Revell Books kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2019-08-23 09:14
Glory Road by Lauren K. Denton
Glory Road - Lauren K. Denton

In one summer, everything will change. But for these three strong Southern women, the roots they’ve planted on Glory Road will give life to the adventures waiting just around the curve. Nearly a decade after her husband’s affair drove her back home to South Alabama, Jessie McBride has the stable life she wants—operating her garden shop, Twig, next door to her house on Glory Road, and keeping up with her teenage daughter and spunky mother. But the unexpected arrival of two men makes Jessie question whether she’s really happy with the status quo. When handsome, wealthy businessman Sumner Tate asks her to arrange flowers for his daughter’s lavish wedding, Jessie finds herself drawn to his continued attention. Then Ben Bradley, her lingering what-could-have-been from high school, moves back to the red dirt road, and she feels her heart pulled in directions she never expected. Meanwhile, Jessie’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Evan, is approaching the start of high school and navigating a new world of emotions—particularly as they relate to the cute new guy who’s moved in just down the road. At the same time, Jessie’s mother, Gus, is suffering increasingly frequent memory lapses and faces a frightening, uncertain future. The only thing certain is change—even in a place as steady as Perry, Alabama, on a street as old as Glory Road.






For the past decade, Jessie McBride has been operating Twig, a garden shop next to her home on Glory Road in the small town of Perry, South Alabama. Having moved back to her hometown to rebuild her life after a failed marriage, all these years later Jessie suddenly finds herself juggling two potential love matches: Ben Bradley, that "one that got away" love from high school, who also recently moved back to town, and suave, successful, and wildly rich golf course engineer Sumner Tate... who stumbles into Jessie's shop when his grumbly belly directs him towards the sign advertising "free pie with purchase" at her shop. Impressed with her horticulture skills, Sumner wants to hire Jessie to do the flower arrangements for his daughter's upcoming nuptials.


While Jessie works out which way to take her heart, her daughter, Evan, is not only stepping into her first year of high school but also feeling her way through her first teenage crush... which just happens to be directed at Ben Bradley's son, just a few years older than Evan. Also in the mix is Jessie's mother, Gus (Augusta), who is sensing that she might be starting the early stages of dementia that previously took her own mother and grandmother. With all of these ladies, it's anyone's guess what the future will hold! 


This is a slow-burn style story, so if you're one for wild action and fast plot, you may need to sit this one out. Presented in chapters with rotating POVs between Jessie, Evan, and Gus, Glory Road is all about relationships --- whether it be the familial, friendship, or romantic-based variety --- all wrapped up in the cozy Southern setting of summer thunderstorms, porch swings, peach cobbler, and long night talks outside. Author Lauren Denton also makes the cute choice to start each chapter with a little snippet from various gardening manuals. The gardening tips are presented in a philosophical way, meant to subtly foreshadow the events of that chapter. Just out of curiosity, I looked up some of the titles to see if they were from actual manuals, but having no hits on those titles, I can only assume the manual excerpts were purely a figment of Denton's imagination --- I'm impressed! The tone sounded legit! 






The story itself sometimes went on a little long for me. It often felt like I was reading the same conversations multiple times over, just worded differently. 


The romance elements were also a little flat. I didn't find myself all that invested in the outcome of Jessie's love life either way. Sweet guys in general, but it was pretty clear where this story was headed from the very beginning, so the journey in that regard almost felt pointless. And Sumner got on my nerves a little bit. Sure, he was outwardly charming, but I didn't love how he seemed to like to lowkey flex his wealth around Jessie. The way he spoke to her also felt a little like he saw her as a novelty in a way, almost like he was getting a kick out of "slumming" it with someone beneath his tax bracket. That said, I loved seeing the growing relationship between Harvis and Gus --- now THAT got my heartstrings!



"I think you marry the one who, when everything else is stripped away --- money, job, arguments, disagreements, --- he's still the one you'd want to sit on the porch and .... just... do nothing. Or do anything. Pick the one who matters more than all the stuff of life."


Be ready to be at least a little frustrated with the story, as it ends up being one of those ones where a good majority of the problems could have been easily avoided if the main characters would've just been brave enough to say what they mean early on, and be clear about what they want. On one hand, it's a lesson in how fear can sometimes paralyze a person in the midst of their life path... but in the case of Jessie and Ben, they both end up having children with other people, and while the relationships don't work out, they both admit the choices they made were worth it to end up with their children. So, in a way, the story poses the question, is it really a life mistake just because the end result got messy, or merely an instance of unintentionally taking the long way 'round to where you were meant to be anyway?


For interested book groups, this paperback edition does include a discussion question guide at the back. 



FTC DISCLAIMER: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 







*A feature on Glory Road in Deep South magazine



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review 2019-06-28 07:33
Someone Not Really Her Mother by Harriet Scott Chessman
Someone Not Really Her Mother: A Novel - Harriet Scott Chessman

This masterful and compassionate novel is split into a series of interlinked stories that tell the tale of Hannah Pearl. As Hannah’s memory of the present begins to fade, she increasingly inhabits the world of her ardent and frightened youth in war-torn France and England, while her memories of life in America with her daughter and granddaughters have almost been erased. Throughout the book each character must negotiate the fraught intricacies of memory, geography, and motherhood. The reader will discover and illuminate, with miraculous effect, all the pieces of this intelligent and dream-like puzzle.




The plot revolves around three generations of women in a Connecticut family: Hannah Pearl, her daughter Miranda, and Miranda's grown daughters, Fiona and Ida. Hannah's mind is slowly being robbed by dementia. Living in an assisted living facility, most days Hannah's reality often has her slipping back to the year 1940, when she was a young wife and mother trying to escape France during World War II. The growing frequency of these moments becomes painfully aware to the family when Hannah is brought to Fiona's Sip & See for her new baby and the sight of the newborn mentally transports Hannah back to the day she gave birth to Miranda. Hannah mistakes Fiona's child for baby Miranda and tries to keep anyone else from taking the child away from her. 


Meanwhile, Miranda becomes emotionally strained with the experience of being forced to watch her mother slowly fade away. The further Hannah slips, the more she reverts to speaking in French, which frustrated Miranda, who only learned minimal Latin and Spanish in school.


Love is difficult, bien sur. Yet one must love in any case. The world is terrible enough without it, in spite of its beauty: this light, this day, the trees burning yellow, gold, the white bird swinging past the window. 


Fiona often chooses to ignore her grandmother's worsening condition, while Ida desperately wants to know the full story behind the memories. She decides to research Hannah's history, hoping whatever she uncovers will inspire her writing pursuits. After finishing college, Ida takes a journalism job in Paris, France. Fiona, having traded her graphic design career for motherhood, is a little jealous of her sister's life abroad.


Chessman uses a similar "domestic snapshots" approach to what she did with the vignettes crafted in Lydia Cassat Reading The Morning Paper. The writing here is still nice, but lacks that moving blend of warmth and melancholy (at least the level of it, it's here to some degree) of Lydia Cassat. There are some pretty heartbreaking scenes though, such as Hannah going out on her own and getting lost at the pharmacy, or the flashbacks to the war years, the loss of her sister Emma, being helped by a pharmacy clerk named Emily and confusing her for Emma. 


I didn't find the characters of Miranda or Fiona terribly interesting. Though I understand the need for their presence in the plot, I would have preferred to have more of the story around Ida and Hannah, the relationship between them.

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review 2019-06-26 00:02
The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott
The Wonder of All Things - Jason Mott

On an ordinary day, at an air show like that in any small town across the country, a plane crashes into a crowd of spectators. After the dust clears, a thirteen-year-old girl named Ava is found huddled beneath a pocket of rubble with her best friend, Wash. He is injured and bleeding, and when Ava places her hands over him, his wounds disappear. Ava has an unusual gift: she can heal others of their physical ailments. Until the air show tragedy, her gift was a secret. Now the whole world knows, and suddenly people from all over the globe begin flocking to her small town, looking for healing and eager to catch a glimpse of The Miracle Child. But Ava's unique ability comes at a great cost, and as she grows weaker with each healing, she soon finds herself having to decide just how much she's willing to give up in order to save the ones she loves most. 






POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING:  Sensitive material within this plot for those who have lost a child. Suicide is also mentioned, though only momentarily. 



In the town of Stone Temple, North Carolina, Ava, the teenage daughter of town sheriff, Macon, attends an air show one day where she witnesses a horrific plane crash that not only takes down a grain silo but also gravely injures her best friend, Wash. Instantly at his side, by just placing her hands on Wash and saving his life, Ava reveals a healing gift she's kept secret for years. 


Once her secret power is revealed, of course it takes no time for members of the scientific community to start up pleas to study Ava. Specialist doctors show up in Stone Temple, loaded down with cameras and electrode equipment. What they don't realize is that each time Ava taps into her gift, it weakens her with each healing. With each "save", Ava battles through various illnesses, temporary blindness, drastic weight loss, persistent chills, at one point even falling into a coma. Still, it doesn't stop locals from visiting her, asking for help "just one more time". How many healings does she have in her before the damage is irreversible?


There's quite a bit of sadness weighing this story down. The plot centers around that transitional period in life between the magic of childhood and the painful realities of adulthood, the earliest moments when adulthood begins to chip away at that youthful, dreamy optimism with the stark realities of sickness, death, fractured relationships. But there's also that internal fight to hold onto some of the former magic.... what a struggle that can be!


Macon, as the father character, was a bit of a disappointment. For a father and sheriff, there seemed to be a lack of backbone in him. Often, when at a loss for what to do in a situation, he chooses to just go with the crowd, sometimes to the detriment of his daughter's well-being. Carmen, Ava's stepmother, seemed much more protective of her. The relationship between Ava and Walsh is what really drives the story along. 


This was one of those ones where the plot had a ton of potential but fell flat on the follow through. I was really expecting a heavier presence of the fantasy / paranormal element to be worked in but it just never really reached the intensity I was hoping for. Good story in the moment, but much of it fades from memory pretty quick. I will say though, there are quite a few powerfully written passages... makes me curious to pick up some of Mott's other work! 


"... I can't think of a single time when I didn't want to hear the sound of your voice... just talk to me, Wash. Sing something to me. I just want to hear your voice a little more...."


Beneath the roof of the old cabin, among the dust and the cold night wind that came through the broken window, carried on the legs of the moonlight, beneath the gentle crackling of the fire and the warmth that was filling the cabin more and more, beneath it all a boy held tightly to the girl he loved and a girl slept in the arms of the boy she loved and the rest of the world did not exist.


The paperback edition includes a reader's guide with discussion questions, author Q&A and an excerpt of Mott's debut novel, The Returned (which later inspired a tv show by the same name). 

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