Pinebox Vendetta: A Book Review

The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “The Gallaghers and Pruitts have dominated the American political landscape dating back to Revolutionary times. The Yale University class of 1996 had one of each, and as the twenty-year reunion approaches, the families are on a collision course.

Owen Gallagher is coasting to the Democratic nomination for president.

Rock Pruitt – the brash maverick whose career was derailed two decades ago by his association to a tragic death – is back, ready to reclaim the mantle of clan leader.

And fatefully in between lies Samantha Lessing. Sam arrives at reunion weekend lugging a rotten marriage, dumb hope, and a portable audio recorder she’ll use for a public radio-style documentary on the Pruitt-Gallagher rivalry – widely known as the pinebox vendetta. What Sam uncovers will thrust her into the middle of the ancient feud, upending presidential politics and changing the trajectory of one clan forever.”

I saw a new book by Jeff Bond offered on BookSirens. When I checked the title, I found it was also available on Kindle Unlimited. So, I used my KU account, borrowed it and got myself comfortable for a new thriller by an author I have appreciated in the past. Out of the three books I have read, this was my least favorite. Although, I just read this may be book 1 in a new series, so maybe the future titles in the series will redeem this one.

The series may be a continuation of the two political families, who have a 200+ year feud going and essentially live on either side of the libera-conservative divide. There is a lot of promise there and Bond has already introduced a variety of characters from both families.

This book was about politics and power and greed. The storyline was limited to a long weekend, but many things occurred during that time. I found most of the characterizations to be sterotypical and stiff. There was a little bit of a twist at the end and that is part of the reason I would be willing (maybe more than) to read the subsequent books in this series.

Throughout this book, the author chose not to use much profanity, some, but not much. He would instead cut off his characters and tell the reader in less offensive words what his character may have said. I found this somewhat off-putting. Maybe I borrowed the PG version from KU? Profane language can easily become offensive. And I have certainly been taken out of a story when the cursing feels abrupt or out of character, but I think this may have been worse. At one point, we get “She strung together four or five curses, a sequence that suggested extreme bodily contortion.” and then the next paragraph begins “She painted another profane image”. This happened multiple times through the story. Not with just one character nor with every character. I found it took me out of the story a bit.

I do believe with the number of small characters, especially from the two feuding families, we could see a greater breadth of good guys and bad guys coming from both sides. I hope in the future installments we will get to see a better balance of strengths and flaws on both sides. There was some good insights from both camps that I thought could have been better explored without assigning one as evil and the other flighty.

With all that said, I will continue to read Jeff Bond’s books. I think he has interesting and original stories. I have faith that writing can be practiced and improved upon, but originality and creativity can not be. I see his originality and will continue reading for it.

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A Reading Experience

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My role as stay at home aunt has taken on many new facets in recent weeks. With schools moving to distance learning, and my two local nieces spending several days a week with me, my time is spent re-visiting some of my favorite books from childhood.

We just read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler together. I still like this story, and my older niece liked it so much, she put it in her bag and took it home. This was my favorite book when I was in third grade, and now my third grader niece has taken it in as her own; how can I not be thrilled!

Claudia and Jamie’s adventure in 1960s New York was fun. These two young people may be a bit more mature than their present-day equivalents, but they were still kids making it work in a big city. These two kids were able to budget money, maneuver through the public transportation systems of a large city, and find inexpensive places to eat and do their laundry. All while hiding out undetected in a museum.

It was fun to read through the different parts of the museum. E and I had to pull out a book to figure out who Marie Antoinette was and why she was important (and why her bed would have been so comfortable). We did not need to look up Michelangelo thanks in part to a Magic Tree House installation. And she chose to do her ancient civilization project on Egypt in part because of our time with the mummies in the museum.

The framework of this story, older lady sharing the details with her lawyer, made it a good choice for reading out loud. As an adult, my voice did not distract from the story and reading with a 9-year-old made it so we could each have distinct parts in the story.

This story encompassed mystery, adventure, coming of age, and humor. It made for good reading for our experiment in home-schooling. The themes of independence, curiosity and perseverance were affirming and fun to talk about.

The language in this book was mature (not crass), but most of the vocabulary words were easily discovered using context clues. This book is set in the 1960s, so there were a few obsolete or out of favor activities; but for the most part, this book was easily accessible even to a 21st century child.

I loved this book as a child, and it warmed my heart to see the next generation embrace this story and love it like I did.

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What I am Reading

I have seen a handful of blogs discuss their current/upcoming reads on a weekly basis. It appears Wednesday is the day to share this information. So, I thought I would join the party. Better late than never, right?

The Poet-a book by Michael Connelly that is not part of a series. I am super excited to read this one with a forward from Stephen King!

A Goddess Among Men-this is my latest ARC read. I will happily thank Net Galley for this one.

Her Every Fear-An audio book from Hoopla. I don’t frequently advertise audio books, but whatever. I am making a new knit mask protectant and need an audio book. So, this is the one I am using.

Streams to the River, River to the Sea-a childhood favorite which I will be talking about in upcoming days. Sacagawea may be a woman to whom we should all look up to.

Physical Books

In recent years, I have become an avid digital book reader. I enjoy listening to books when my eyes or hands are otherwise engaged and I am unable to curl up with a new book. And I have found it incredibly convenient to be able to purchase or borrow digital titles any time I want. However, I have lately found that I miss the feel of a new-to-me book in my hands. With both my library and local bookstore closed, getting a new physical book into my possession has been a struggle. Of course, I have access to Kindle Unlimited, Overdrive, Libby, Hoopla, and a variety of other online sources for digital books, but when I am listening to a thunderstorm, or curling up for bed, I want a *real* book.

Audio books have a special place in my life. I prefer to listen to a good story while working out, completing a jigsaw puzzle or knitting. I have also found they help make both indoor and outdoor chores more tolerable. I don’t have the same relationship with books I listen to instead of read, but I can still appreciate the craft, the word play and can further enjoy the narration (when done well). My older niece has started to enjoy them, too. She also likes the fact that we can both listen while we use our hands to work on arts and crafts projects and we aren’t quite as stifled with one of us needing to hold and read a book. Audio books certainly have a place in my life.

Digital books have become very popular and I certainly have benefited from the medium. I love having a library of books at my fingertips. I own both a Nook and a Kindle and have apps for both of them on various devices. I pick up free and cheap books for either app on a variety of sites. And of course, I have a fantastic local library resource. The best thing about being digital, is in the middle of the night (or snow storm or nap time or whatever), I can pick up the next book in whatever series I may be reading, or that books whose title I have just now remembered. Digital books have made my life more convenient.

Physical books, however, will always be my favorite. Even with all of my other options, I was a weekly visitor to my local library and would frequently walk out with 10 or more books I just needed to have right now. I used the hold feature to make sure I had early access to new releases and less popular titles alike. Browsing the shelves was an afternoon activity for me. I own hundreds (if not more) physical books and proudly house them in a main floor library in my home. There is not a room in my house that does not have a few (or more) books in it.

During this unprecedented time of everything being closed and leaving the house being frowned upon, I have missed bringing new-to-me titles into my home. I made a comment about this to my husband last week. He immediately made a plan to visit our local dollar store, without telling me. He went there with the sole purpose of being able to inexpensively bring me home a collection of new titles. Our dollar store is awesome, it carries a wide variety of hard and soft cover books that are always $1.00. I have made some amazing finds there. So, he goes out, purportedly, for our weekly grocery shopping and comes home with two bags full of new titles for me to peruse. I am a very lucky woman!

So while there is a great variety of types and availability for books new and old, I am glad for the old standard and am glad when I feel the heft of a new exciting story. Are other people experiencing this? Have most of us readers moved to the digital world?

A New Legal Thriller

No Truth Left To Tell by Michael McAuliffe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first accepted this title from NetGalley and the publisher because the author and my mother went to the same college. The author for law school, my mother for her undergraduate studies. The college is not very big, and it is always fun to see what other alums are up to.

This book was captivating from the beginning. It was ugly sometimes, but isn’t that the way of the world? Through a courtroom drama, we are shown racism, bigotry, small-mindedness and hate. But we are also shown kindness and loving and grace. I think Mr. McAuliffe did a very nice job on his debut novel of balancing character development with story telling and, of course, revealing some truths many of us would rather ignore.

Set in a small town in Louisiana, the Federal Government has been brought in on a KKK cross burning crime. We get to see some of the thoughts and actions of people on both sides of the law and spend quite a bit of time hearing from the victims and how their lives change.

There were some interesting legal challenges brought up to help keep the suspense taut and the story fresh.

At about the 75% mark, I found this quote: “Prosecutors are empowered to seek justice, and nearly every prosecutor starts off believing in that purity of purpose. But it all flounders when justice isn’t obvious, when it’s not sitting on open ground waiting to be claimed.” There were more great quotes throughout the book, but this one hit me as most appropriate for the biggest conflict in the story: good guy versus himself.

I look forward to reading more by this author and will be recommending this book to others.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for my digital ARC of this book.

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Cozy Series Review

As I am still a book reviewer at heart, I thought I would share my thoughts on a series I have been reading. The Crime with Classics series by Katherine Bolger Hyde is only 4 books long (so far), but they are fast reads and entertaining. There is a little bit of escapism in them, especially for lovers of classic literature. With titles like <I>Arsenic with Austen</I> and <I>Death with Dostoevsky</I>, how can they not draw in mystery fans who love older books.

Emily Cavanaugh is a mid-fifties widow who has taken sabbatical from her professorship in Portland, Oregon, to settle her aunt’s estate. As the main beneficiary, Emily inherits a mansion (complete with amazing library) and a lot of money. She takes advantage of her position and moves, at least temporarily, to a small Oregon coast town to figure out what she wants to do with her life post-teaching, and after the death of her husband.

Unfortunately, this does not go over smoothly. She encounters several murders in and around her home. With the help of the police chief, her once and current love interest, she sets out to solve the crimes. Many of these crimes have a clue that reminds her of a book she has read. As a book-lover, I can relate to that. How many times in a week can I say, “Oh, that reminds me of that book I read”?

With money being no object, a fun cast of recurring characters and a charming protagonist, this is a cozy mystery series I hope the author manages to continue.

Beta Reading

Several weeks ago, before the world turned topsy turvy, I offered up my services as a beta reader to several authors. My timing could not have been worse! I did some research, put together some feedback worksheets and put myself out there for clients. Then, the world changed. My world was not spared this change, and I have found myself reading more about what is happening in the great wide “out there” and focusing less on these amazing manuscripts I have been given.

After a few scary weeks, filled with the unknown and people (family) around all the time, my new normal has begun. I am satisfied with my altered life and am excited about getting back to my beta reading; both finishing up my previously accepted manuscripts and taking on a few more.

What is beta reading? one may ask. In the simplest form, it is reading a manuscript before it is sent to agents or publishers (or self-published) to look for plot holes, character issues, glaring grammatical errors and the likes. The hope is to further polish a novel before it gets into the hands of readers and reviewers who will either love it or hate it.

I had a spate of poorly edited advanced reader copies at the end of last year into the beginning of this year, and thought that perhaps if there were a few more people offering beta reading services (for free or a nominal fee), then maybe more new authors would use them. So far, I have not been disappointed. I have gotten a number of requests and the several manuscripts I have read have been more polished than some of the published works I have encountered.

So, while I may not have picked the best time to start a new endeavor, the idea of starting something new when life has taken on a new normal is exciting. And now that my life for the foreseeable future is somewhat more predictable, I am thrilled to be embarking on this experience.