Yes, I know it's not the end of the month, but I have a special book treat to share with you today! My friend Carrie, who's a rather brilliant writer, is now the Publicity Coordinator for Holland House Books. She asked me if I would read and do a write up of their current and upcoming books. In full disclosure - I was given Kindle copies of the books for free so that I could do this. It's been fun reading books by new authors...and I am happy to share my comments and opinions about the books!
1. The Absent Woman, Marlene Lee - Marlene Lee is a local writer, who came to my attention back when Carrie first became acquainted with Holland House. I actually purchased and read this book last July. Here is what I originally said, "Unfortunately, this book suffered from the circumstance that it happened to be what I was reading during the lead up to Tanith's surgery...and thus I was really not so inclined to relate to the protagonist in any way, shape or form as she's left her husband and kids to find herself. This is the sort of book that relates a slice of real life...in which there is little in the way of what we normally think of as plot, but much in the examination of human story in all it's messy, unfinished glory." Upon rereading the book (in a better frame of mind, sans scary surgery hanging over our heads) I would like to add that Lee is very gifted in her development of place and her characters - especially some of her secondary characters - are compelling. I still have trouble relating to Virginia, but I fully recognize that that's about me...and not about the book.
2. Greenwood Tree, B. Lloyd (Grey Cells Press imprint)- I loved this book. I absolutely, completely, and with my whole heart loved it! Of course, Lloyd might as well have had me in mind when she wrote it. Set in the past? Check. Green Man mythology? Check. (Hello...title of my blog!) Fun characters? Check. Epistelery sections? Check. Fun interplay between past and present? Check! It was a real treat to read, and I was thoroughly charmed by the entire book. I actually had to tear myself away from the end so that I could go to a school event...and that drove me nuts! While yes, it is a mystery, it rather reminded me of the Alexander McCall Smith books in that the mystery is almost secondary to everything else...and I do enjoy that. I look forward to reading more Julia Warren Mysteries!
3. Sunflower, Cass McMain - First, the good. I had very strong reactions to some of the characters, and it's always good when a writer manages to create an emotional response in a reader. Also, the set up for the book was interesting and in some ways unusual. It's not often, for example, that I read of a frustrated artist who's a man...and certainly metalwork art was a unique spin on that theme. McCain's sense of place was also very well done, and there were passages about the act of and or desire to create that were lovely. The bad, though, is that ultimately this just wasn't my sort of book. There just wasn't enough in the way of plot to hold my interest, and I ultimately got so frustrated with the behavior of the characters that I wanted to throttle them. I wanted more...more plot, more tension, more drama.
4. The Most Distant Way, Ewan Gault - I really enjoy it when a book introduces me to something that I'm completely unfamiliar with. The strength in Gault's book is the way in which he captures a very specific lifestyle and place - that of running training camps in Kenya. There was also a lot of potential in the characters, and the pacing for the plot was very well done. If it had been written in third person, it would have been amazing. Instead, though, it's writen in first person through two different characters. While this is a style I usually enjoy, I felt that in this case neither character's voice was really all that well developed. There were also often times where the events in the book didn't match up to the way in which the character was speaking at that particular point. I would really like to see some future work by Gault. I have a feeling that he will improve as he gains experience, and I hope he continues to tell unique stories.
5. Killing Jar, Ann Brandvig & Rick Becker (Grey Cells Press imprint) - Until fairly recently, I didn't read mystery novels, and they still aren't a go-to genre for me. Having said that, I've found that periodically I really enjoy dipping my toes into a good mystery. I will say that the title was a bit off-putting, making me expect something more hard-boiled and perhaps cheesy. I'm so glad I was wrong about that. I absolutely love our PI, Georgia. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that the authors found a really nice balance to the overall tone of the book. It was fun and lighthearted in places, but it had enough darkness to give it depth. Georgia herself is a complex character, and not a cardboard cut out. I'm not enough of a mystery afficianodo to comment on how well designed the puzzle of the mystery was...but I did enjoy it!
6. Five and a Half Tons, John Bayliss (Grey Cells Press imprint)- Another super-fun mystery! (By this time I was giggling over the fact that I was enjoying mysteries so much.) This time we get a bumbling detective in the style of an old film noir. In a genre that I think often takes itself a bit too seriously, it is a joy to read a book like this. In fact, it quite charmed me! I found myself frequently laughing out loud, and shaking my head over the exploits of our characters. This is exactly the sort of light-hearted book that I find myself needing periodically.
7. Rebecca's Road, Marlene Lee - Lee is clearly interested in the idea of women seeking to find themselves later in life, which is a valuable story to tell. I was drawn in immediately by Rebecca's past and crazy family life, and I was curious to see how her story developed. She's a fascinating character - almost more of a child than a grown woman - and I wish she had been just a tad more developed because there was a lot of potential there. I gather from reading the author's note in the back that originally this was written as a series of short stories that were then strung together to make a novel. That would explain some of the odd disjointedness there was between chapters...as well as the frequent (and very annoying) slips in the timeline. That aside, I couldn't put it down and read through it in one sitting.
One last comment - as a small, new publisher, Holland House could really benefit from better editing. I did find minor errors in almost all of the books. I'm guessing that most readers wouldn't notice, but they might. I happened to catch it because I was reading very carefully...although in a couple of places the missteps were obvious. I'm hoping as they continue forward they are able to rectify that! (Edited to add: I spoke with Carrie today, and it's entirely possible that the copies of the books which I have are not the finished works...which would explain the errors that I found.)