An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Publisher/Year: Penguin, 2009 (orig. 1925)
Format: E-book (Libby)
Pages: 1363
Rating: ⭐⭐


The classic depiction of the harsh realities of American life, the dark side of the American Dream, and one man’s doomed pursuit of love and success…

What I thought

Okay. So. Here we go. Where to begin? This book was a struggle. Ultimately, I’m glad I read it–partly because it is a classic and partly because I’m feeling a little proud of myself for sticking with it. I even struggled with what to rate this. One star didn’t feel right because even though I can say that I did not enjoy my read of this, I can appreciate what Dreiser did here. So, two stars it is.

Like I said, I “get” what Dreiser was trying to do here. And it’s obviously compelling enough to keep me reading to the end of this brick of a novel. There’s much here to contemplate and discuss–hence, its status as a classic. However, for really the entirety of this book, I just felt like I was slogging through it. I have read for more reasons than just enjoyment, but there were just too many things as a reader that I struggled with here.

First and foremost, I don’t care what anyone says–this book was TOO LONG. I do not need to know which direction this lake lies from that lake and which members of the law posse went this direction and which went that. It was TOO MUCH. My eyes were drying out in my head, which was getting hit over and over with the point Dreiser was making.

Also, I just really did not mesh well with Dreiser’s writing style. It felt very uneven to me. It would go from short and sweet (if campy) dialogue to these long expositions with sentences that had 45 subordinating clauses. Maybe that’s to someone’s taste, but unfortunately not to mine. I prefer writing that flows. Flowery prose I can handle (Dickens is my fav), but those clauses were painful. (You know what else was painful? Sondra’s baby talk–GAG.)

Finally, I just have to say that I did not like a single character in this book. Well, okay, I take that back–I did feel for Roberta, but she was more wet noodle-y than I can stand. But Clyde–oh, Clyde, how I abhorred you. I can appreciate an unlikeable character. When done well, they can be a testament to humanity. Clyde was a whiny, selfish, self-indulgent jerk, with literally not one redeeming quality. In his final moments in this book, I felt more pity for his mom than for him. Clyde was just the worst. I know I’m supposed to feel the tragedy of what unavoidable fate deemed to happen with the rise and fall of a man, but I just don’t. Maybe I’m heartless (it’s probably that), or maybe this just isn’t my book.

So. I’m glad I finished. I’m glad I checked this out from the library. I’m glad I can now enter discussions about this book. But mostly, I’m glad I am finished.

Lake of the Ozarks by Bill Geist

Lake of the Ozarks by Bill Geist
Publisher/Year: Grand Central Publishing, 2019
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 195
Rating: ⭐⭐


Before there was “tourism” and souvenir ashtrays became “kitsch,” the Lake of the Ozarks was a Shangri-la for middle-class Midwestern families on vacation, complete with man-made beaches, Hillbilly Mini Golf, and feathered rubber tomahawks.

It was there that author Bill Geist spent summers in the sixties during his school and college years, working at Arrowhead Lodge–a small resort owned by his bombastic uncle–in all areas of the operation, from cesspool attendant to bellhop.

What may have seemed like just a summer job became, upon reflection, a transformative era when a cast of eccentric, small-town characters and experiences shaped (some might suggest “slightly twisted”) Bill into the man he is today. He realized it was this time in his life that had a direct influence on his sensibilities, his humor, his writing, and ultimately a career searching the world for other such untamed creatures for the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and CBS News.

In LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Emmy Award-winning CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist reflects on his coming-of-age in the American heartland and traces his evolution as a man and a writer. He shares laugh-out-loud anecdotes and tongue-in-cheek observations guaranteed to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia for “the good ol’ days.” Written with Geistian wit and warmth, LAKE OF THE OZARKS takes readers back to a bygone era and demonstrates how you can find inspiration in the most unexpected places.

What I thought

This book was so difficult to rate! First, there’s that dilemma on “how to rate/review” memoirs. And then there’s the fact that this book was not what I was expecting or hoping for, which is certainly not the fault of the author. I picked this one up because I have a fascination with this time period–’60s/’70s–but also with coming of age stories during this time. So, I think I was hoping for something that would give a more generalized view of the times, whereas what this turned out to be was one man’s individual tale of his summers spent at Arrowhead Lodge. Which…duh…this is his memoir, so of course it’s individualized. I dunno what I was thinking (or if my rambling even makes sense), and that isn’t the fault of the author. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this book wasn’t what I was hoping it would be. But I did end up enjoying parts of it, namely Bill Geist’s humor. There’s no better way to describe his writing than to call it humorous–the guy’s funny. And honestly, this year we can use all the humor we can get. There were also moments of poignancy, and I did enjoy his reflections on how the people and places we grew up with change through the years. Overall, although not what I was expecting, this memoir was full of humor and wit, and it made for an enjoyable read.

Six Months in Montana by Pamela Kelley

Six Months in Montana by Pamela Kelley
Publisher/Year: Piping Plover Press, 2013
Format: E-book (Nook)
Pages: 147
Rating: ⭐⭐


Molly Bishop loves living in Manhattan and managing a boutique luxury hotel. She’s about to be promoted to her dream job of General Manager, the roles she’s been striving for her entire career.

There’s only one thing standing in her way.

The will of her childhood friend, Christian Ford’s grandfather. She hasn’t even seen Christian in over ten years, but a recent run-in with his grandfather during a rare visit home, resulted in a new condition to the will. Christian will only inherit the ranch he’s been running and the real estate development business that he has expanded if he marries Molly and stays married for at least six months…

What I thought

Another Nook freebie that just didn’t do it for me. The only thing it did do was make me hungry. It was cute and simple enough, but in the end, I just thought it was okay. I’m sure there are others who would enjoy this one–it just wasn’t my cuppa tea.

The Hairbrush and the Shoe by Jeanne D. Stanton

The Hairbrush and the Shoe by Jeanne D. Stanton
Publisher/Year: SparkPress, 2020
Format: ARC – paperback
Pages: 204
Rating: ⭐⭐


A hairbrush vanished. The piano played. A bed moved out from the wall. But when a workman was pushed and hissed at by something invisible on the stairs, Jeanne Stanton began to take the idea of a ghost seriously. The Hairbrush and the Shoe is the story of her attempt to find out if a ghost is living in her family’s 150-year-old townhouse–and, if so, who that ghost might be.

Formerly a case write at Harvard Business School, Stanton approaches the ghost issue with the discipline of a skeptic, asking first if ghosts even exist. Armchair research soon leads her into the byzantine world of the paranormal, where a flourishing subculture of mediums, psychics, ghost hunters, and amateur sleuths seeks contact with spirits of the dead. She learns that many scholars and writers have shared a belief in spirits, including William James, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charles Dickens, and that research into telepathy is ongoing. Fascinated, Stanton joins the London-based Ghost Club and consults a psychic, who assures her that more than one ghost is occupying her home.

Wary of fraud, and curious to know how science might approach her query, Stanton studies current research in psychics and neurology, and learns that spirits and the afterlife are dismissed and research into telepathy is mostly discredited. Tackling the final question of who the ghost might be, she discovers a new website listing a number of eminent “Boston Brahmins” among her home’s former families–including one strong candidate for her resident ghost.

What I thought

Thank you to BookSparks and Jeanne D. Stanton for the free finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This was an interesting read, but I have to say, it wasn’t quite what I had expected. As someone who is utterly fascinated by everything to do with the paranormal, there was a lot of information here that I already knew. I did learn a few things that kept me interested though, and I did like that I was able to pick up a few book recommendations based off of some the author read herself.

I think that the reason why this book was just okay for me was that this was more of a contemplation of belief on the author’s part than I was expecting. The bulk of this book was the author presenting her research into both sides of the question of whether ghosts exist or not. I think I was expecting more about the experiences that took place in her home.

As someone with firmly held beliefs maybe this book just wasn’t meant for me. This was an intelligently written and interesting book. I would definitely recommend this book to you if you are unsure of which side of the fence your beliefs fall upon.

29 Seconds by T. M. Logan

29 Seconds by T. M. Logan
Publisher/Year: St. Martin’s Press, 2019
Format: ARC
Pages: 360
Rating: ⭐⭐


What if a 29 second phone call could change the course of your life forever?

Sarah is a young professor struggling to prove herself in a workplace controlled by a charming and manipulative man. Alan Hawthorne is a renowned scholar and television host who preys on female colleagues behind closed doors. And Sarah is his newest target.

When Sarah rescues a young child in trouble, she expects nothing in return. But her act of bravery puts a powerful and dangerous man in her debt.

A man who believes all favors must be repaid.

What I thought

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Unfortunately, this book was not for me. This was one of those books that ended up being just an “okay” read for me, which genuinely surprises me because it got rave reviews. It was a quick read, even though it took me a while to get through. When I did feel like picking it up, the pages flew by quickly as the chapters were really short, which I do like in a thriller. So, the pace was on point, I just struggled with connecting to the story.

I knew from the get go that the plot was going to be far-fetched, and I can suspend my disbelief as much as anyone. But once the phone call went awry, I just couldn’t anymore. The story just went off the deep end. I thought the ending was awful–I didn’t buy it, and I’m honestly still not sure what even happened. Not to mention, I never felt remotely like the villain got what he deserved.

As far as Sarah goes, I simply couldn’t stand her as a protagonist. She was so wishy washy and whiny and felt 100% like a woman written by a man. There was a scene that so bothered me that I had to rant about it to my husband. Sarah eats lunch with a friend who orders fish and chips while she has a lowly ham salad sandwich. And she has this inner dialogue where she wonders how her friend can eat like that and still maintain her figure while she nibbled her sandwich and ultimately threw the whole thing away. That makes me cringe even typing it out. Heaven forbid that a woman eat some freakin’ fish and chips and not worry about the effect on her figure! And I think why it bothered me so much was that this was a book clearly written as part of the #MeToo movement where we see a professor who habitually sexually harasses (and borderline assaults) his colleagues and who ultimately “pays” for it. So that scene felt so contradictory and even hypocritical to me.

And now I’m just rambling, so suffice it to say that this wasn’t the book for me. Please don’t take just my word for it–plenty of people enjoyed it, and I do believe that there’s a book for everyone. This one just happened to not be for me, and that’s okay.

Salvage by Duncan Ralston

Salvage by Duncan Ralston
Publisher/Year: Shadow Work Publishing, 2014
Format: E-book (Nook)
Pages: 281
Rating: ⭐⭐


Something is lurking under the lake…

When his sister drowns, Owen Saddler follows in her footsteps, determined to uncover the circumstances surrounding her death by diving into the murky waters of Chapel Lake.

30 years ago, the town of Peace Falls was flooded for a hydroelectric dam, and its ruins remain below. The disappearance of the church’s Pastor and parishioners still haunts the citizens of Chapel Lake, but does the church haunt the lake itself? Is Owen really seeing ghosts, or has he succumbed to the depths of madness?

Salvage is the debut novel of author Duncan Ralston, a darkly disturbing story of depression, religious fanaticism, and the afterlife, illuminating the darkness lurking within us all.

What I thought

Unfortunately, this book was just an okay read for me. It looks like plenty of others loved it, though. I think Duncan Ralston is a talented writer, don’t get me wrong. This story is completely original. I’ve never read anything even remotely similar, which speaks for this book in a way. I also really enjoyed Ralston’s use of description. He definitely had a way of writing that brought Chapel Lake to life, and as a reader, I love when an author creates a vivid world in which I can escape for a little while. I think where I struggled with this one was that I never reached that moment where it just clicked for me, where I was hooked. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I just never connected with this book. But that’s only me–you might really enjoy it, plenty of readers do. For a debut novel, it was pretty good, I just think it could use a little trimming and polishing, that’s all.

Stolen Things by R. H. Herron

Stolen Things by R. H. Herron
Publisher/Year: Dutton, 2019
Format: E-galley (via NetGalley)
Rating: ⭐⭐


A sensational crime, a missing teen, and a mother and daughter with no one to trust but themselves come together in this shocking debut thriller by R. H. Herron.

“Mama? Help me.”

Laurie Ahmadi has worked as a 911 police dispatcher in her quiet Northern California town for nearly two decades. She considers the department her family; her husband, Omid, is its first Arab American chief, and their teenaged daughter, Jojo, has grown up with the force. So when Laurie catches a 911 call and, to her horror, it’s Jojo, the whole department springs into action.

Jojo, drugged, disoriented, and in pain, doesn’t remember how she ended up at the home of Kevin Leeds, a pro football player famous for his on-the-field activism and his work with the CapB–“Citizens Against Police Brutality”–movement. She doesn’t know what happened to Kevin’s friend and trainer, whose beaten corpse is also discovered in the house. And she has no idea where her best friend Harper, who was with her earlier in the evening, could be.

But when Jojo begins to dive into Harper’s social media to look for clues to her whereabouts, Jojo uncovers a shocking secret that turns everything she knew about Harper–and the police department–on its head. With everything they thought they could rely on in question, Laurie and Jojo begin to realize that they can’t trust anyone to find Harper except themselves…and time is running out.

What I thought

Thank you to NetGalley and Dutton for the free e-galley of this book! This does not affect my opinion presented here in this review.

Unfortunately, this book turned out to be just “okay” for me. There were aspects of it that I did like, but then there were others that I didn’t, so let’s just dive in. There’s a lot going on in this novel: racism, feminism, rape, LGBTQ rights, police brutality, police corruption, mental health, and more. And while this speaks to today’s society and current events, it just felt like too much. I am all for using one’s voice to make a difference, but to me, it was just laid on too thick. It felt gimmicky, like the author was just throwing hot topics in there to get your attention.

All of that being said, my biggest issue with this novel was that so much of it felt, frankly, unbelievable. I know this took place in a “small town,” but it just seemed to me that there’s no way that Laurie and Jojo could have gotten away with some of the measure they took. Maybe I’m wrong–I have never worked for a police department–but I don’t buy it. I do want to give credit where credit’s due–what I did enjoy about this book was that, at times, it got my heart pounding, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I do want to warn readers that this one does get pretty graphic. Even I felt uncomfortable at some parts. One final point I wanted to make was that the ending felt kind of abrupt. The final chapters built up to this almost maddening pace, which was great, but then it was just over, with very little resolution.

As you can see, I felt pretty torn about this one. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t love it. Again, Stolen Things was just okay for me. If this one sounds like something you enjoy, I say go for it because it was a heckuva thriller. I just don´t think that personally I´d be interested in other books by this author.

Mirror, Mirror (Grace #1) by Staci Stallings

Mirror, Mirror (Grace #1) by Staci Stallings
Publisher/Year: Spirit Light Publishing, 2014
Format: Kindle
Rating: ⭐⭐


A Contemporary Christian Epic-Novel

California golden girl, Sage Wentworth’s life looks perfect from the outside looking in. She’s got money, friends, and all the social status a girl could want. But underneath the glitz and glamour, Sage’s perfect existence holds many dark secrets–secrets even she herself doesn’t know. When she is unceremoniously sent to live with her biological father’s family in North Carolina for the summer, Sage finds herself swimming in very unfamiliar waters with seemingly friendly sharks poised to eat her alive on every side. Can Sage navigate these treacherous waters long enough to get back home, or has life for this golden girl changed forever?

Luke Baker has always considered himself a slacker of the first order. He’s not particularly athletic, musical, talented or intelligent. In fact, his “talents” such as they are run more in the vein of helping people when they most need it, and right now, that talent is much-needed by his best friend, Jaycee Lawrence who is facing the arrival of the stepsister she had gladly forgotten ever existed. A whole summer trying to talk Jaycee down off the ledge while simultaneously fighting like mad not to fall for her gorgeous, unattainable older sister? Yeah, this should be fun…

What I thought

Sometimes those free Kindle books turn out to be winners for me, and sometimes, unfortunately, they don’t. Sadly, this was one of those books that just wasn’t for me. I did like the story well enough to finish. Admittedly, I did want to see how things would turn out with Sage and Luke. However, as a whole, I think this novel was in need of some serious editing. I felt like it was entirely too long, and there were quite a few typos. The writing has heart, but some of the minute-by-minute detail could have been eliminated without being too detrimental to the overall plot. And I’m sorry, I know this is something so minor, but if I had to read the phrase “Eep!” or “He put his hand to his beltline” one more time, I could have screamed.

I truly don’t enjoy disliking a book, but unfortunately, this wasn’t for me. It had a sweet message, though, so even though this wasn’t my favorite, plenty of other readers have enjoyed it. I’m a firm believer in the fact that there’s a reader for every book, so if this sounds like something you might be interested in, I say go for it!

Twisted Reasons (Twisted Trilogy #1) by Geza Tatrallyay


Twisted Reasons (Twisted Trilogy #1) by Geza Tatrallyay
Publisher/Year: Deux Voiliers Publishing, 2014
Format: E-book
Pages: 317
Rating: 🌟🌟


Synopsis (from Goodreads)

TWISTED REASONS, the first in a trilogy of international thrillers based on arms and human trafficking from a modern ‘rogue’ Russian state, is the tale of two college friends who get drawn into the heist of nuclear material from a former Soviet site. Arriving in Vienna to find his friend Adam Kallay, an official at the International Atomic Energy Agency, presumed dead, crime novelist Greg Martens teams up with Interpol Agent Anne Rossiter and Julia, Kallay’s Russian girlfriend, to solve the case and track the disappearance from a former Soviet nuclear site of enough uranium to make a bomb. The story moves from espionage entrepȏt Vienna to radioactivity contaminated Chelyabinsk and to front-line Georgia, as the three combat arms merchants allied to Russian secret police to prevent the stolen uranium from getting into the wrong hands. Along the way, Greg learns brutal truths about himself and his family.

What I thought

I’m going to be honest, this book just wasn’t for me. It was okay. I do think there are readers who would enjoy this. It really was an intriguing & suspenseful storyline. I am not very familiar with the history or the layout of the area of the world where the story takes place, so it was a little hard for me to follow at times. Again, that’s something that was more of a personal preference than any fault of the book. It was very clear that Mr. Tatrallyay knew his material, and he came across as very knowledgeable. There were some scenes that made me uncomfortable but I think that’s because this book was not something I’d normally read. I did find this story very entertaining though & I think this would be a great read for fans of crime thrillers with a touch of history.

Note: I did receive a free copy of this book from the author. This in no way affected my review.

Must Love Mistletoe (Holiday Duet #1) by Christie Ridgway

32950597 Must Love Mistletoe by Christie Ridgway
Publisher/Year: Christie Ridgway, 2011
Format: E-book
Pages: 242
Rating: 🌟🌟



Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Bailey Sullivan can’t stand Christmas, even though her family’s business is a store specializing in the perfect holiday. But now her hometown’s chief supplier of rooftop Rudolphs and treetop angels is in danger of going under–and it’s up to Bailey to save the shop.

She has it all planned: She’ll arrive on December 1 and be gone by Christmas. Plus there’s always spiked eggnog to ease the pain. But “Humbug” Bailey’s not the only one home for the holidays. Finn Jacobson, legendary local bad boy turned Secret Service agent and Bailey’s long-lost high-school boyfriend, is once again the boy next door. Only this time he’s all grown up, and the sparks are flying faster and hotter than ever!

Bailey believes in true love about as much as she believes in Santa Claus. But as the holiday draws closer, she’s starting to think about one thing she’d like to find under the tree…

What I thought

This was one of those books that just wasn’t for me, unfortunately. Honestly, I wish I liked it more than I did. I loved the general idea of the story, but for me, the execution just fell through. I stress that this is just my own opinion because I really didn’t think this was a bad book. I just thought it was okay.

I think part of the problem was that I found myself unable to really connect to the characters. Objectively, I knew that it was the bad boy/good girl, both with trust issues, thing between Bailey & Finn, but I thought how it actually played out was lacking. Half the time, I got the impression that they didn’t even like each other, it was just about sex, so the “falling in love” wasn’t believable.

My biggest issue was Bailey’s lack of character development. She had a chip on her shoulder for the entire story & I get it–she has HUGE trust issues. But she doesn’t change throughout the whole novel & yet has this epiphany right at the end? I’m sorry, but I didn’t buy it. Also, minor annoyance–I really, really, really did not like the nickname GND. I don’t really know why that bothered me so much, but it did.

I hate to sound so negative. There were some things I did like. As I said before, I really did like the premise. It was cute & romantic enough to put you in the holiday mood with some naughty bits on the side. I adored The Perfect Christmas, and it made me nostalgic for the days I spent working in a a “‘Tis the Season Shoppe.” Plus, the occasional humor really helped to lighten up some of the more dramatic parts.

Overall, for me this turned out to be an “okay” read. A few issues, mostly lack of connection, kept me from loving this. But if you are looking for a simply entertaining story with some angst to put you in a Christmas mood, this might be the book for you.

The Crisscross Shadow (Hardy Boys #32) by Franklin W. Dixon


The Crisscross Shadow (Hardy Boys #32) by Franklin W. Dixon
Publisher/Year: Grosset & Dunlap, 1997 (1953 original pub.)
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 177
Rating: 🌟🌟


When a man selling leather goods door-to-door steals the key to their detective father’s file cabinet, Frank and Joe Hardy set out to track him down.

An odd mark on a key case which the man sold to their mother leads the teen-age sleuths to an Indian village, whose chief begs them to help him. Two strangers have claimed title to the Indians’ land, the deed to which had been secretly buried by the chief’s father, along with other valuable tribal possessions, shortly before he died. The only clue to the location is that a crisscross shadow marks the site when the October full moon is low in the sky.

How Frank and Joe find the missing deed and the other Ramapan treasures, how they prevent the phony leather-goods salesman from carrying out a ruthless scheme, and how they help their father solve the top-secret case he is working on for the U.S. government makes exciting reading for all fans of the Hardy boys.

What I thought

Reading this as an adult, this is just an “okay” read for me. I was entertained for a while, and it was an easy read. I like going back & visiting children’s classics, in case I ever have kids of my own.

The writing seems a little dated, but I didn’t mind that. I like that it takes you back to a simpler time.

Although I probably won’t re-read this anytime soon, it was a fun & entertaining read. I honestly wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen, even though this is one of those where you know everything will work out in the end. This would be a good way to spend an afternoon–caught up in a good old-fashioned mystery/adventure.

Gettysburg Battlefield Hauntings by Lawrence J. Gavlak

GETTYSBURG BATT20170415_111724LEFIELD HAUNTINGS by Lawrence J. Gavlak
Publisher/Year: LJ Gavlak Publishing, 2008
Format: Paperback
Pages: 112
Rating: 🌟🌟



Contains spine-tingling stories of ghostly encounters from the Battlefield at Gettysburg. Several photos take the reader visually to where each encounter occurred! The ‘Bonus Section’ contains tales from selected other sites.

What I thought

I’m gonna keep this review short & simple, as this book is short & simple. I enjoyed this book for what it was, but I will say I think there are “better” Gettysburg ghost books out there. The stories here are simply entertaining & interesting, so I won’t say I disliked the book. I wish some of them had included more details. I will say, I really did like the author’s attitude about respecting the battlefield & remembering to honor those that fought there. Overall, I’m glad I have this book to include with my Gettysburg collection although it isn’t necessarily one of my favorites. I met the author & he seemed like a pretty nice guy. This would be a good book to read around a campfire at night!