February 2020: "Wanting Peace: Book 2 of the Reclaiming Life Series" by Alaine Greyson

Summary:

“Wanting Peace” welcomes readers back to Bracken Point with a new romance novel! This sequel in the “Reclaiming Life” series by Alaine Greyson returns us to this small community set in a small-ish town near the Chesapeake Bay. Cassie Roberts and her sister Bex must first deal with the loss of their mother to cancer. Cassie has her own inner demons she must face, but the problems of those around her provide ample distraction. Even better, she’s an accomplished professional finishing the requirements necessary for independent practice in the local rehabilitation clinic, so who better qualified to be giving said life advice?

But when her mother’s dying wish was for Cassie and her sister to reconnect with their estranged father, what is someone in her position to do? Can they confront and heal from that abandonment? Bex begins acting out as she is unable to regulate her own emotions. All this while Cassie and Michael realize that there’s something more than friendship between them. But can Cassie keep herself from meddling and prying into everyone’s secrets?

Overlapping with the end of “Chasing Peace,” this book brings whole new light to the unique characters of Bracken Point.

Overall Response:

First off – this is the sequel to the book that inspired me to start writing reviews. Bracken Point is a fictional place that feels like home to me because it’s along the Chesapeake Bay. The premise of these books captured my attention with book one. These books are so much more than romance novels. I again want to commend the author for the incredible job she does writing these books in a compassionate and understanding way that does not judge characters. She chooses instead to focus on the complexities of mental health, recovery, and the role of the family in recovery. These books push for healthy relationships through communication, boundaries, and conflict resolution. Sometimes it’s cheesy, sometimes it’s steamy – “Wanting Peace” is everything I hoped for.

Book 2 is more graphic than the first book in the best possible ways. Greyson does not dance around the details of drug use, providing more imagery for the reader. As an example, “A waft of ammonia, smoke, and cat urine filled the air. Michael pinched his nose, wondering why he had never noticed the putrescent smell before tonight.” That snippet is one of many contained within the book that demonstrates an understanding critical for reaching an audience that needs the hope offered in this book. I recently purchased both books 1 and 2 of the series for a couple I love to read and review because they’re involved as leaders in the addiction recovery community. 

I have one discussion point that remains from the previous reviewWhat are the roles of a psychiatrist versus a therapist (aka psychologist) in drug rehabilitation, and what is the difference in their level of education? Can someone be both? (discussion relevant to the US only)

First off, I am not a mental health professional, but I do work in the health professions. This doesn’t make me an expert on something that isn’t my field. Psychiatrists and psychologists work together. People can be both. I had not done enough research in that first book review. I recommend checking out RehabCenter.net’s answer. Having never been in a rehab center and spending more time researching this question, I have learned that there are psychiatrists that specialize in dual-diagnosis. Additionally, I learned about the holistic treatment of addiction in specialized centers like the one discussed in Bracken Point. These psychiatrists call themselves “addictionologists,” according to Clearview Treatment Programs. And they are trained as therapists. Thank you to the very tolerant patient care coordinator that chatted with me. I appreciate your help explaining all of this, knowing I was reviewing a book and not seeking treatment.

LGBTQA+:

There is a recurring character in this book that is a member of the LGBTQA community. There is a scene I personally appreciated where the author presents a situation regarding disclosure and invasion of privacy. It was well done.

Grammar +:

This book is very close to meeting the 1/10,000 error standard. They did not interrupt the reading experience at all and mostly consisted of missing words.

Twilight Zone Moment:

This is a different kind of twilight zone. This is a twilight zone RESOLUTION. Remember how I got a little scared because I had no idea who lit the candles in book one? It all adds up now. I’m not freaked out any more.

About The Author And The Series:

Alaine Greyson is the author of many short stories, the Reclaiming Life series (Buy Chasing Peace here, Wanting Peace here, Preorder Finding Peace here), and will be soon releasing the Trapped Soul Series – preorder the first book here. Her publisher is Creative James Media.

Thank you to everyone that reads these. Without you I’m shouting into a void. I hope they help the indie writing community in some way.

February 2020: “But I Am Here” by Pamela Bettencourt

This review is going to be a little bit different for a couple of reasons. First, I received this book from the author after receiving an email asking if I would read it and consider reviewing it on my website and in my LiveTweet format. Upon reviewing a summary and the website my answer was a resounding yes. This was my answer because the author is not alone. It was good to know that I’m not alone.

Summary (Caution – Mild Spoilers):

In her memoir “But I Am Here” Bettencourt uses prose poems and free verse poetry to tell the story of her abuse, how it impacted her life, still impacts her life, her attempts to get help, and when she had to make the choice to tell her husband and the world.

The book begins with reflection as an adult, then transports the reader into the mind of a child. In each section the reader lives through Bettencourt’s eyes as she tells these stories without ever using names. Each section concludes with a reflection on the experience from the adult perspective based new insight gained through healing.

Overall Reaction:

In this powerful, moving memoir I ache for the author and her experiences. I feel very passionate about protecting children and helping those that are survivors of sexual abuse. The author does not use complex language, nor does she need to. She hides information appropriately to ensure that the reader experiences each moment the way she experienced it. This amplifies the experience of the book.

I found I had to take several breaks due to the intensity of the material. The book does not hide its content warning. It’s on the front cover. There are resources in the back for those that read it and need help processing any emotions or past trauma that may come up while reading the book. All of this is extremely well thought out.

The amount of vulnerability involved in this writing and the amount of information shared by the author is incomparable to books like “Helping Her Get Free” or “Perfect Daughters” due to the accessibility of the information. Both of these books discuss forms of abuse experienced in childhood and how that shapes adult behaviors with heavy analysis. In contrast, Bettencourt brings the reader inside her own head. We are guided through her thoughts and experiences overtime to see how she got into each head space without going into the academic view point beyond helpful information any reader can understand. This makes the book accessible to a very broad audience.

I am sad that more was not mentioned about the experience of disclosure to loved ones. I believe that part of the purpose of the book was the disclosure. This is both painful and makes complete sense.

In terms of my own personal experiences and what the book brought up for me, I will be brief. For survivors of childhood sexual assault/abuse it is a hard read, but I felt a deep connection. The book takes great care in the reflections shared to connect with the reader’s experiences and own journey, whether these realizations be new or old. It does not try to explain the realizations – they can all be explained to the reader on their own journey by the resources in the back or through therapy.

“But I Am Here” is a painful, beautiful read. Reality is stranger than fiction and child sexual abusers are a great example.

LGBTQA+

I believe this book is absolutely relevant to anyone, including members of the LGBTQA+ community, who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. There is no mention of LGBTQA+ individuals in the book, but this does not impact my opinion on this matter.

Grammar & Punctuation

There are a few spelling errors that can easily be corrected in future printings of the book. These errors do not interrupt the overall reading experience.

For More Information On Getting Help

You can visit online.rainn.org or call 1-800-856-4673 (US) – these are mentioned in the back of the book.

Additional organizations that provide information, work to assist in reporting, and help victims and survivors:
https://www.d2l.org/
https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/sexual-abuse
https://thercc.org/get-support/supporting-loved-one/supporting-child-sexually-assaulted/
https://www.dvrcv.org.au/help-advice/sexual-abuse-in-childhood

I would love to expand this list – please feel free to submit additional websites to lopotterwrites@gmail.com

Want To Read More About The Author?
You can visit the book’s website here. For each copy of the book sold through the publisher’s website the publisher will donate $1 to the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline. You can follow the author on Twitter here.

February 2020: “Trillium” by Margaret Lindsay Holton

Summary (Caution – Mild Spoilers):

Margaret Holton’s “Trillium” is a story of how three families settle in the Beamsville, Ontario area. The first family begins with Colonel Thomas Hartford and his land grant after the end of the North American Theater of the Seven Years War. These original colonizers eventually chase the native population away, bringing their European culture and farming techniques. With this, they also bring European plants, and with each new wave of immigrants, the crops change ever so slightly.

Skip ahead 80 years. The next immigrant introduced is 15-year-old Francesco “Franco” Di Angelo. He is a hard-working Italian that comes to the region with the dream of working the land and buying a piece of his own. He is passionate about agriculture and family. It takes some time to build up his fortune, and the reader watches through the eyes of a laborer as the Niagara region experiences the earliest stages of its infrastructural revolution. Eventually, Franco joins forces with Thomas Hartford’s descendent (also named Thomas Hartford), and their families become intertwined.

Skip ahead another 50 years, and our third immigrant is introduced. Paddy O’Sullivan is an Irish immigrant looking for his big break, and he gets it. He manages to purchase unused land and other properties and leases adjacent land to the Hartford Farm on a 99-year lease.

This book follows the Hartford family’s farm through the generations starting in 1759 and closing in 2001. The Hartfords, Di Angelos, and O’Sullivans cross-pollinate through trials and tribulations of agricultural life. “Trillium” follows the constant battle between Capitalism and Traditionalism, with the secret ingredient of remembering your roots.

Overall Reaction:

I find the story of a multigenerational farm and its growth fascinating. I think the book has potential. There’s murder, intrigue, incest, affairs, and mystery. There are very human characters that make mistakes and ignore the faults of others. There is an alluring family vendetta that is so vile and gross it makes the reader feel soiled.

One of the recurring themes I enjoyed was that of building renovation and redecorating overtime. The additions of indoor plumbing to a farmhouse or new double pane windows to keep drafts out involve the reader over time. Additionally, this is where I noticed the struggle between capitalism and traditionalism the carried out in the changing of home furnishings and preservation of heirlooms. Additional details, such as the effects of the passage of time on buildings, molding statues, and chipping paint, provided an elegant backdrop to the impact of neglect in home life. How the home evolved over 250 years never left me wanting for detail.

In historical fiction, great liberties can be taken with many things, but not dates and facts. Many historical fiction books have bibliographies at the end of them from the fact-checking process. With both of these factors in mind, the structure of a historical fiction book should not necessitate a separate written timeline to be made and math to be done on the part of the reader to place when different events are occurring. This is particularly troublesome when there are inconsistencies in the dates of events.

The majority of the action occurs late in the book and focuses on a very privileged set of characters. I connected most with this famiglia that seemed to get left behind even though they did a lot of the work. The decreasing focus resolves to include a few of the family members in the privileged characters’ shenanigans. By far, this jovial, mostly virtue driven family, brought a smile to my face more often than not.

I had a hard time suspending disbelief. This difficulty was due to historical inaccuracies, changing the referred names of characters without context as to why a character would use that name for someone, and misnaming of characters present in a scene. Additionally, I experienced cognitive dissonance with my own life experiences, having grown up and worked in and around agricultural communities for the majority of my life.

Let me explain the cognitive dissonance: I grew up in small-town semi-rural America. My exposure to wineries came in my late 20s in rural California and Montana. Rustic and modest is how I’d describe the ones I’ve seen, but I’ve never been to Napa Valley. I spent the earliest part of my life fresh out of undergrad in the agriculture and land surveying industries in different parts of the United States. I never saw the opulence described in this book. Even the best-managed multigenerational farms of the American side of the Great Lakes are scrappy as hell trying to keep everything together. To me, the money from material objects over time mentioned in the book didn’t add up to buying in to social clubs or status. To check other inconsistencies, my mom worked on an “organic” by the 1970s definition co-op farm, so I gave her a call and ran my dissonance by her. While this helped by explaining how definitions changed, it did bring a lot of my conflict back to the fact-checking concern.

I recognize that this is different from rural Canada, though the Niagara region seems to have moderate pockets of rural life. [Addendum for clarification: the following is from my own life and is not from the book – this is part of my own cognitive dissonance and is part of me explaining why I do not connect with the characters] I don’t know how often in rural Canada when over at the neighbor’s house they’ll tell you the name of the cow you’re eating at a barbecue. Perhaps I don’t possess the frame of mind to connect with the privilege these characters have with their multi-million dollar lifestyles.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the premise of the story and some of the characters, but found myself unable to be involved in the story as I was constantly jarred away and unable to suspend disbelief. That said, other readers may not share this experience.

LGBTQA+

While there are major characters that are LGBTQA+, I would not recommend this book for booklists looking for positive, accurate representation as these characters perpetuate what the Advocate’s Tracy E. Gilchrist and Daniel Reynolds describe as “17 LGBT Tropes Hollywood Needs to Retire“. For further explanation, GLAAD has been fighting statistically inaccurate misrepresentation in storytelling for some time. As a member of this community it is my duty to include a content warning. This book contains the following potentially harmful tropes:

  • pedophilia & predation tropes related to repression
  • sex, drugs & hedonism
  • “bury your queers”
  • “the depraved homosexual”
  • “the sissy villain”
  • “the bi-erasing bisexual”
  • “the promiscuous queer”

Grammar & Punctuation

There were issues with grammar and punctuation that, while interrupting to the reading experience, could easily be corrected with editing software such as Grammarly, Hemingway, or Fictionary.

Twilight Zone Moments

The structure of the book jumps around without specifying dates, while using highly specific details lending themselves to dates leading to inconsistencies and confusion. The examples I’m going to use is regarding a car that a character buys and a disappearing character.

The Mazda RX7 came out in 1978 and someone could get one in Canada if you knew a guy who knew a guy, if you drove across the border into the United States. This purchase is mentioned without the year. Then the story changes to a different scene years before this car was available without mentioning the year, causing disorientation.

A character disappears and is never heard from again after her brother returns from WWII and takes over the family farm. It is unknown if she outlives her brother, but I would have imagined that she would have received some part of his will. Right? Perhaps I have a better relationship with my siblings.

Want To Read More About The Author?
You can read my interview with Margaret Lindsay Holton here. You can purchase the book here. Follow the book on Twitter here.

January 2020: “The Engineer: A Chronicles of Actaeon Story” by Darran M Handshaw

Summary (Caution – Mild Spoilers Balanced with Extreme Vagueness):
Actaeon of Shore comes to the Pyramid in search of his future. He hopes to establish his profession as one of importance to his people because he sees its value. But others don’t – that’s the first hurdle. What is a capital “E” Engineer? Actaeon must prove what that is to the aristocracy to earn his place. And thus, our hero begins this life journey. The reader tags along as he defeats various threats to the great capitol city, houses refugees, prevents invasions, and discovers the potential good and evil technology brings to the world of Redemption.

During these many adventures Actaeon grows from a young man without ties to the owner of his own workshop. He takes on apprentices and employees, extending the benefit of his knowledge. He forges alliances of diplomatic importance by association with his homeland as a consequence of his own good humor and drive for success rather than political gain.

More importantly, Actaeon grows from a young man into a mature adult that is in love with strong values that were not shaped, nor present at the beginning of the book. He falls in love and finds that his entire life shifts as he has to rebalance his own priorities on multiple occasions to better suit these new circumstances. One this is certain: every action is not without consequence.

Overall Response:
First off, I need to address 2 pachyderms currently hanging out with me while I write this review: LitRPG and pacing. Let’s hand pacing the first peanut. This is a long, slow paced book. The language and pacing is similar to that of the Charles Dickens serial story telling style. This is not for everyone. It may frustrate some readers, though I think it works well for a book that needs slow, deliberate pacing and language that detaches a reader from the present day. That said, readers should go into the book knowing it is a slow paced 600 pages broken up into short segments filled with every aspect of life.

Next peanut – the book is LitRPG. As far as I’m aware, this is the first LitRPG book I’ve read. I had to read up on the genre, and previously I boycotted reading Ready Player One because the concept annoyed me. I read more and as it turns out, I definitely did this with NeverWinter Nights as a preteen. If I had skipped the forward, I would have never thought of the book as a “video game” and instead thought of it as fantasy. The details and mechanics of Redemption are built upon in such a way that I would never have known or had to have looked for more information.

The pacing works because this is a modern bildungsroman for a mature audience. The entire overarching story is Actaeon’s life and character growth as he develops his profession and falls in love – then learns what both of those things mean. Life changes and character growth don’t happen overnight, so the speed is realistic. I found myself having epiphanies with the Engineer as he watched his inventions be used for good and evil. There are moments where the most painful tragedy in a scene is the loss of innocence a young adult must face as a result of their own naivety. Who can’t relate to that?

Handshaw approaches serious topics including neurodiversity, politics, religion, love and death with a sense of humor and the friendly detachment of a fictional setting. ‘The Engineer’ is a deep and thought provoking read.

On a separate note, I found myself in awe when I realized that this book truly is a love letter. I admit it’s really romantic.

Grammar:
While at times confusing or frustratingly passive, the pace is purposeful. The book meets or exceeds the <1 error/10,000 word industry standard.

LGBTQA+:
There were no major characters that overtly fell into this category. That said, there is distinct discussion of “otherness” and being separated and outcasted. Additionally, there is a touching coming out scene for a character experiencing otherness and revealing this to someone they love and trust. Based on the presence of a coming out scene, otherness, and constant challenging of what gender means, I think this book lands potential inclusion. I would love to hear what others think.

Twilight Zone Moment:
Every book has at least one. There are a couple strange religious groups that show up in the background and some loose ends from super minor characters that disappear. These aren’t necessarily Twilight Zone Moments as much odd details that melt into the background without knowing more about the game the book is based on.

Want to know more about the author?
To read more by Darran M Handshaw’s author page on Amazon or buy the book here. You can follow his new writing and wit on Twitter as well. A man dedicated to his engineering and family he did share with me that his wife, Stefanie Handshaw, has a book of poetry and photography recently released called “My Ephemeral Light” also available here.