Friday, February 21, 2020

Rio Ruidoso ~ Lone Star Book Blog Tours Review & Giveaway!

RIO RUIDOSO
Three Rivers Trilogy, 1
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Historical Western
Publisher: Five Star Publishing
Date of Publication: February 19, 2020
Number of Pages: 299


2017 Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association:
Best Creative Work on West Texas

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Rio Ruidoso offers a gripping blend of history and story as two-time Spur Award-winner Preston Lewis explores the violent years before the famed Lincoln County War in New Mexico Territory. Seamlessly weaving fact with fiction, the author details the county’s corruption, racism, and violence through the eyes of protagonist Wes Bracken, newly arrived in the region to start a horse ranch with his alcoholic brother.


Bracken’s dreams for the Mirror B Ranch are threatened by his brother’s drunkenness, the corruption of economic kingpin Lawrence G. Murphy, and the murderous rampages of the racist Horrell Brothers. To bring tranquility to Lincoln County, Bracken must defeat those threats and stand his ground against the ever-changing alliances that complicate life and prosperity in multi-racial Lincoln County.



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HALL WAYS REVIEW: Rio Ruidoso is the first pure western I have ever read, and it’s my dad’s fault I hadn't read one until now. (Sorry, Dad.) He loves a good western and had shelves of them when I was growing up (now virtual shelves of them), but HIS westerns didn’t appeal to me. The graphic shoot ‘em up, hang ‘em up, and “he-ing & she-ing” Dad gushes about always solicit an eye-roll. The cowboys seem like cardboard cutouts: loners who are introspective and smarter and more cunning than the average Joe; and the women are doe-eyed, dumb, and good for only one thing. Why bother?

Then, about two years ago, I read Preston Lewis’s The Fleecing of Fort Griffin, which is a western but it’s a caper, reminiscent of The Sting, clever and laugh-out-loud funny at times, and I loved it. For Preston Lewis, I was willing to take a dive into pure western, and I will admit – I hated when the book ended, and I had to crawl out of Rio Ruidoso. Reading it was a totally immersive experience.

“The country was open and honest, not holding secrets from anyone.”

From the very start, Lewis masterfully describes the sweeping views and terrain of Lincoln County, all through the eyes of Wes Bracken. Coming from Arkansas, Wes talks of his relief at getting out of country “where the woods held the secrets and animosities of enemies,” and into country where growth more bush-like than tree “pimpled the slopes.”  Lewis’s rich descriptions coupled with his gift for penning a sentence make reading Rio Ruidoso a real pleasure.

“Thirsty weeds sprouted around it like beggars by a bank.”

By using figurative language and robust descriptions of people and place, readers are drawn into the setting and mind-set of the communities within Lincoln County. The visuals summoned by the words on the page show not only the beauty and bounty of the land, but those words also show the neglect and differences between those who have and those who have-not and the tensions between them.

“Feelings ran high, and emotions didn’t die, just kinfolks.”

Rio Ruidoso combines historical fact and fiction to remind readers of many ugly truths to the period leading up to the Lincoln County War in New Mexico Territory. The characters include John Chisum, Jesse Evans, and Lawrence Murphy – all real men involved in the war – and themes of greed, pride, racism, and revenge, which are all real motives that fueled the feuds. Lewis doesn’t shy away from any of it, and it’s uncomfortable in its honesty. The blatant racism and disregard for lives-other-than-white is embarrassing and hurts my heart and boggles my brain. I wish it were fiction, and I wish it were fully a thing that was only found in history books.

“By hard work a man could earn his dollars back, but he could never regain lost hours.”

An element that is mind boggling in a different way is the work ethic of the people. Regardless of skin color, gender, or purity of heart, everyone had to work to live. Feuds were put aside during planting season or harvest or in preparation for winter. For most, this wasn’t pansy work; the work was backbreaking and physical from dawn to dusk and later. I simply cannot fathom living that way, but thanks to Preston Lewis’s writing, I certainly can envision it. (Side note: this ARC is one of the cleanest I have ever read – another nod to the level of writing readers will enjoy. Top notch.)

While the ending resolves little, it gives readers a much-needed breather and reason to smile after the tension, intensity, and action of the story. And there is a little cameo that’s dropped in that makes me more excited than ever for the next book in the Three Rivers Trilogy. More good stuff’s coming, y’all. (But I am STILL not going to read any of my dad’s westerns.)

Thank you to Lone Star Book Blog Tours and the author for a print ARC in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.


Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of thirty novels. In addition to his two Western Writers of America Spurs, he received the 2018 Will Rogers Gold Medallion for Western Humor for Bluster’s Last Stand, the fourth volume in his comic western series The Memoirs of H. H. Lomax. Two other books in that series were Spur finalists. His comic western The Fleecing of Fort Griffin received the Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association for best creative work on the region.



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Monday, February 17, 2020

Monsterland Reanimated ~ Blog Tour Audio Book Review & Giveaway!



MONSTERLAND REANIMATED
Monsterland Series, Book 2
BY MICHAEL OKON
Narrated by Luke Hannafin

Genre YA Horror / Science Fiction (Ages 13-17)
Length: 250 pages; Audio: 7 hours, 37 minutes
Categories Urban Fantasy, Apocalyptic, Horror, Science Fiction
Publisher Wordfire Press, LLC
Release date:   June 21, 2019
Content Rating: PG-13 + M: There is violence, blood, and gore.

Book Description
The Dark Fantasy Continues

After Monsterland has imploded, the entire world is thrown into chaos.  World leadership is gone, economies have collapsed, and communications are non-existent. Wyatt must go beyond the boundaries of his small town to reestablish contact with the outside world, and alert the government about a traitor-in-chief. During his journey he discovers a new threat released from the bowels of the defunct theme park.When an army of relentless mummies, a life-sucking ooze called The Glob, and a hybrid re- animated Behemoth rise from the depths of Monsterland, who will survive?

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BOOK REVIEW
Hall Ways Review: Audio Book Review: SPOILER ALERT! Monsterland Reanimated is a spoiler for book one, Monsterland, pretty much from the first sentences. Reanimated begins with a summary of where book one ended and soon after, readers get quite a thorough summary (Cliff’s Notes level) of what happened in book one that leads to where book two begins. This is great if you start with book two and have no intention of reading book one, but my recommendation is to start with Monsterland so you get fully connected to the personalities of the characters. And for those who’ve read book one and tend to get frustrated when too much plot-rehash takes place: stick with it. Once we get up-to-speed, the pace and action of Monsterland Reanimated take off, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat.

Now that those warnings are out of the way...to the goodies! Author Michael Okon again does a fantastic job of world building and uses figurative language to help readers visualize the settings.

“A bright moon painted the landscape pewter.”
“A gate screamed in the silence…”
“…the broken glass, littering the ground like diamonds.”

Okon’s use of similes, metaphors, and some brilliant analogies make the scenes in Monsterland Reanimated come vividly to life and set a very specific tone with some scenes reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand. Even when he paints the most serene of pictures, there is still that background vibe that all is definitely not peaceful.  

“Monsters came in all varieties -- more than he ever realized. As long as humanity was stronger, that was all that mattered.”

Through all the chaos and dire circumstances where lives are truly dangling by a thread, it is fun to see that some things will always be the same. Moms are always moms, and Gracie, main character Wyatt’s mom, is clearly trying to find just one thing to control in the madness and chastises her son for drinking soda. Teenage boys are always teenage boys, and Wyatt is driven by his attraction to females, even as he’s being pursued by monsters. These scenes are a refreshing reminder of what it is to be human and motivated by love.

Another place where the author’s writing shines is in his imaginative rendering of a wide variety of monsters. Okon goes beyond the vampires, zombies, and werewolves of book one and delivers some creative variations. At about the three-fourths point in the story, he throws a major curve ball and puts an exciting twist on things that brings a whole new mystical element to the table. Careful readers will catch some subtle hints about things to come, but don’t be too confident you’ll figure out exactly how the plot will unfold. Sure, readers may figure out some pieces of the puzzle, but the shock is in the vastness of the puzzle itself.

ABOUT THE NARRATION: Of note: the audio book of Monsterland Reanimated is an hour and eighteen minutes longer; yet, the print version of it is some twenty pages shorter than book one. Now that I have listened to book two, I know why. While narrator Luke Hannafin eventually found his stride, listening at regular speed was a beating. He reads slowly, and the pauses between what I imagine are paragraphs or line breaks are much too long; I actually thought the audio had stopped a few times. Conversations are too slow and seem unnatural. I bumped to 1.25x about 40 minutes in, but that was a little too fast for the next hour until the narrator found his pacing. (Wishing that Audible allowed for adjustments in smaller increments in the speed; 1.15, like I can do on the Authors Direct audio platform, would have been perfect.) Even with the increased listening speed, some of those pauses were long, and there was a bit of background noise. Hannafin’s pacing got better and more natural after a few hours, or it could be that the pace of the story picked up so much I didn’t notice the hiccups.  Though Hannafin had a couple of mispronounced words, and again, I wasn’t a fan of the Egor voice (in both books, it’s a mix of Young Frankenstein’s Igor and the Grinch. UGH.), Hannafin does an excellent job performing the dialogue that was broken by static and communicating over CB radios. Overall, the narration was a step down from book one and seemed less professional. However, the narrator improved dramatically by the end. Given that change, I’d give him another chance if he narrated the next book in the series because I think he has the hang of it now.

Overall, I continue to recommend the Monsterland series for action-packed, monster-filled fabulousness. I trust that book three (which the author assures us is coming! Hooray!) will spend less time bringing new readers current and more time on what we’re returning for: Okon’s masterful weaving of imaginative stories that keep readers holding their breath.
Thank you to the author and iRead Book Tours for providing me an audio code in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.  

Meet the Author:


Michael Okon is an award-winning and best-selling author of multiple genres including paranormal, thriller, horror, action/adventure and self-help. He graduated from Long Island University with a degree in English, and then later received his MBA in business and finance. 

Coming from a family of writers, he has storytelling in his DNA. Michael has been writing from as far back as he can remember, his inspiration being his love for films and their impact on his life. From the time he saw The Goonies, he was hooked on the idea of entertaining people through unforgettable characters.

Michael is a lifelong movie buff, a music playlist aficionado, and a sucker for self-help books. He lives on the North Shore of Long Island with his wife and children.

Connect with the Author:
website ~ facebook ~ twitter ~ instagram ~ goodreads

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY
5 print copies of Monsterland Reanimated
5 eBook copies of Monsterland Reanimated
1, $100 Amazon Gift Card Winner
(open USA)



Welcome to Monsterland, the scariest place on earth.

When world markets are decimated by a crippling plague, philanthropist, and billionaire businessman, Vincent Konrad decides to place monsters in a theme park setting to promote education and tolerance. Copper Valley is chosen as the primary site for the park in the United States.

Wyatt Baldwin, a high school senior is dying to go to the opening and when he lands special passes to the park, he and his friends are expecting the experience of a lifetime.
After all, in a theme park where real zombies, werewolves, and vampires are the main attractions, what could possibly go wrong?
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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Finding Esme ~ Lone Star Book Blog Tours Audio Book Review & Giveaway!


FINDING ESME
by
SUZANNE CROWLEY
  
Genre: Middle Grade (3-7) / Magical Realism / Family & Loss
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Date of Publication: August 14, 2018
Number of Pages: 288

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After her grandfather died from a heart attack while driving his tractor on Solace Hill, twelve-year-old Esme's been inextricably drawn to that spot, although her grandmother warns her to stay away. But when she follows her little brother, Bo, and her dog, Old Jack, up the hill while chasing fireflies, she makes an incredible discovery—dinosaur bones peeking out from underneath the abandoned tractor.


The bones must be a message from her grandfather, a connection from beyond the grave. But when word gets out that the farm is hiding something valuable, reporters, researchers, and neighbors arrive in droves. Esme struggles to understand who has her best interests at heart, especially as the memory of her grandfather begins to slip away.

Full of friendship and adventure, and featuring a palpable Texas setting, Finding Esme is a moving and heartfelt story about family, friendship, and learning to deal with loss.


PRAISE & HONORS FOR FINDING ESME:
“Esme is a brave, appealing heroine with the odds stacked against her… Bad blood and layered family secrets drive this story to its ultimately optimistic and satisfying conclusion.” -- Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)

“Esme McCauley is a lonely but spirited 12-year-old who feels nothing ever happens to her the way it’s supposed to...A poignant tale for readers who enjoy character-driven realism.” -- School Library Journal

“Readers muddling through preteen changes or unstable family lives will identify with Esme’s struggles, but the thrill of discovery will appeal to most.” -- Booklist
Texas Library Association 2019 Spirit of Texas (SPOT) reading program selection

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HALL WAYS REVIEW: Audio Book Review: Finding Esme, though geared for a middle grade audience (and appropriately so), has MUCH to love for all ages because of the timeless themes and struggles that define what it is to be human. Those elements, coupled with characters who come from basically the same molds of people found everywhere, in every small town, give the book universal appeal. Finding Esme is a lot of things including a subtle mystery but also an exploration of grief, poverty, disappointment, and identity. It’s a coming-of-age story that includes crotchety old women and nosy neighbors, good and not-so-good people with good and not-so-good intentions, and those who are abused, abandoned, and avoided. And dinosaurs! And ghosts…maybe.

“My momma used to say we look back on our lives when we’re afraid of what’s in front of us.”

Finding Esme is a book that you want to quote line after line; it’s lyrical and beautiful from the very beginning, and as much as I adored the audio version, I am going to have to buy the print version as well because there are passages I want to revisit and absorb. You just can’t do that with audio.

Author Suzanne Crowley’s characterization is outstanding. Her sketches of folks are so descriptive that these people feel like neighbors or family or the friends of friends that we all hear about. It’s the small details that Crowley includes that flesh-out and bring people to vivid life. From the Johnson’s Baby Powder scent that wafts around one person, to the cigarettes always present like an appendage on another, to how Bee “always had something on her that wasn’t supposed to be there,” like a piece of peach on her cheek, readers not only see the people in Esme’s life, we smell them. We experience them.

“My, she’d have to stand on her toes to look a rattler in her eyes. When’s she gonna grow up?”

And there is Esme, who makes you want to reach into the story, yank her out, and hug on her until all her pain and worry and grief wash away. Esme reminds us of how grief can consume a person and of how desperately the grieving hang on to memories of loved ones lost – even when the loss isn’t due to death but due to the physical and emotional absence of them. The defense systems Esme creates to protect herself and deal with it all are both amazing and heartbreaking, but she is a resilient little thing who deflects the verbal criticisms and the pain of being ignored and shut out. She calls her mother, grandmother, and father by their first names; but her grandfather is Paps; there is a lot of untold meaning there.

An interesting aspect of Finding Esme is that the timeframe is a little wiggly but really works perfectly. (I don’t think this is because I read with my ears, but it’s possible.) The time period within which Finding Esme takes place seems like it is whatever you want it to be. There are references to things that you don’t find much anymore such as landlines (party lines, no less!) and people mailing real postcards. But there are a few more modern references, which remind you that sometimes time stands still and in a time warp in small towns.

There is a mostly subtle thread of magical realism running through the book, but it feels like something many readers have experienced, whether we buy into it or not. There is also a touch of the paranormal, and while some of it feels realistic, there is one integral part of the story that I felt needed more explanation to strengthen the story. But just like Esme is with most questions in her own life, readers are left to draw their own conclusions.  

ABOUT THE NARRATION: I wasn’t sure initially about narrator Cassandra Morris’s voice; it is high-pitched and there is a serious Texas twang to it. My uncertainty lasted about three minutes before I realized that Morris’s performance is spot-on perfection for the voice of Esme. Childlike but with the old soul that comes through from Crowley’s writing of Esme, Morris owned it, and I never again thought about it. I listened at regular speed – the exception, not the rule for me – and the pacing was perfect. From a technical standpoint, it was glitch-free and a real pleasure to listen to the story without distractions.

Finding Esme is among my favorite middle grade books I have read, and even several weeks after finishing it, it sticks with me. I find myself thinking about Esme and if life is better now that she’s found Louella Goodbones, found some closure, and more than anything else, found herself. I highly recommend Finding Esme for ages 10 and up (some of it could be a little too creepy and confusing for younger audiences).

Thank you to the Lone Star Book Blog Tours and the author for providing me audio CDs in exchange for my honest opinion – the only kind I give.

✪✪✪✪✪




Suzanne Crowley is the author of two acclaimed novels for young readers, The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous and The Stolen One. The author, who is also a miniaturist and dollhouse collector whose work has graced the covers of magazines worldwide, was born in a small town in Texas and lives in Southlake, Texas. When not hugging her dog or imbibing in chocolate, she can often be found taking a nap.





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February 11-21, 2020
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