2016 Book 297: ANOTHER BROOKLYN by Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson 
ISBN: 9780062359988 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062446329 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062472663 (audiobook)
ASIN: B01825C5JI (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 9, 2016 
Publisher: Amistad

Running into a long-ago friend sets memories from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.

But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

Is it ever really possible to go back to the city of our childhood memories? Author Jacqueline Woodson revisits not just memories of Brooklyn but also memories of friendship, family, and grief in Another Brooklyn

August has strong memories of her mother and Tennessee, but those memories pale in comparison to her memories of her friendship with Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi in Brooklyn. Her life is a series of before and afters. Before and after with her mother. Before and after leaving Tennessee. Before and after arriving in Brooklyn. Before and after her father joined the Nation of Islam. Before and after tragedy and grief. As an adult, August reconciles those before and after childhood memories with all that she has learned along the way. 

Another Brooklyn is an amazing story of friendship, family, and survival. Yes, it is a coming-of-age story, but it so much more. Through the eyes of August, we see the bonds of friendship transcend to become the bonds of family.  We also witness tragedy after tragedy, as well as childhood and adult struggles with grief. Another Brooklyn is a hauntingly beautiful addition to Ms. Woodson’s list of amazing works of prose. I found Another Brooklyn to be an amazingly fast-paced read and one that I enjoyed. I wish I could say more about this book, but the only thing that needs to be said is this…read this book! 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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2016 Book 233: THE HUMMINGBIRD by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan
ISBN: 9780062369550 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780062369567 (ebook)
ASIN: B00R1K3V94 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: June 28, 2016 (paperback release)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Deborah Birch is a seasoned hospice nurse whose daily work requires courage and compassion. But her skills and experience are tested in new and dramatic ways when her easygoing husband, Michael, returns from his third deployment to Iraq haunted by nightmares, anxiety, and rage. She is determined to help him heal, and to restore the tender, loving marriage they once had.

At the same time, Deborah’s primary patient is Barclay Reed, a retired history professor and expert in the Pacific Theater of World War II whose career ended in academic scandal. Alone in the world, the embittered professor is dying. As Barclay begrudgingly comes to trust Deborah, he tells her stories from that long-ago war, which help her find a way to help her husband battle his demons. 

Told with piercing empathy and heartbreaking realism, The Hummingbird is a masterful story of loving commitment, service to country, and absolution through wisdom and forgiveness. 

Deborah Birch is a caring hospice nurse and only wants to make things easier for the dying and their families. She is also a loving wife and has no  idea how to help her husband, Michael, heal from the psychological wounds he suffers as a result of fighting in Iraq. Barclay Reed is a former college professor and dying from kidney cancer. Deborah enters at the end of Barclay’s life in The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan.

Deborah begins her time with each client by reviewing their records in the office and gently caressing her totem, a small wooden hummingbird. That hummingbird is a symbol and a reminder “…to see the person behind the problem.” Deborah has had difficult patients and difficult families to tend to in her years as a hospice nurse, but Barclay Reed is perhaps one of the most tragic. Mr. Reed, or Professor Reed as he has Deborah call him, is dying without friends or family. His 30+ year career ended in a huge scandal, so he isn’t even leaving behind the legacy of his good name. To say the Professor Reed is somewhat cantankerous is a major understatement. He wants what he wants, how and when he wants it. Sadly, in his quest to get what he wants he has gone through three hospice agencies and numerous hospice nurses. Deborah is determined to provide him not only what he wants but what he needs. Over the course of Professor Reed’s final weeks, Deborah learns more about the man and his final work that caused the scandal, The Sword. What is the lesson Deborah will learn from assisting Professor Reed?

“If you think of a person, anyone, even someone you dislike, if you imagine for a moment how one day they will lose everything—family and home and pleasures and work—and people will weep and wail when they die, you cannot help it: You feel compassion for them. Your heart softens. What’s more, every single human being is going to experience this same thing, without exception: Every person you love, everyone you hate, your own frivolous struggling self. It is the central lesson of hospice: Mortality is life’s way of teaching us how to love.” The Hummingbird, pp.195-196

You might think a story about a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a dying professor might be overly sad and morbid, but The Hummingbird is simply a darn fine story. Mr. Kiernan takes the current happenings between Deborah, Professor Reed, and Deborah’s husband Michael and alternates it with the story of a Japanese WWII pilot that firebombed Oregon and returned as a guest of the city years later. Michael is just as trapped by his sense of guilt over his actions as a sniper, as well as a sense of honor by serving his country as the Japanese pilot was in the past. Deborah must decide if she believes the Professor’s story and if she can find something that might allow her to help her husband. I thoroughly enjoyed rereading The Hummingbird and found it, once again, to be a riveting read. The first time I read it I stayed up all night and vowed not to repeat my allnighter the second time around. I failed; the story gripped me just as much the second time and I wound up staying up all night to finish reading it. I enjoyed the characters, the storylines, and the settings. Mr. Kiernan has a deft way of writing that pulls me into his stories with just a few pages. The Hummingbird deals with death, dying, and the trauma of war in a realistic yet sensitive manner. If you read The Curiosity then you’ll definitely want to read The Hummingbird. If you haven’t read The Curiosity, what are you waiting for . . . read it and then read The Hummingbird. I’m looking forward to reading more from Mr. Kiernan in the future. (I’ll probably be rereading his books until a new one arrives. Yes, they are both just that good!)

Disclaimer: I received a print copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photo credit: Noah Kiernan

About Stephen P. Kiernan

Stephen P. Kiernan is a graduate of Middlebury College, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. During his more than twenty years as a journalist, he has won numerous awards, including the Brechner Center’s Freedom of Information Award, the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the George Polk Award. He is the author of The Curiosity, his first novel, and two nonfiction books. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.

Find out more about Stephen at his website and connect with him on Facebook.

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2016 Book 205: STEPPING TO A NEW DAY by Beverly Jenkins

Stepping to a New Day by Beverly Jenkins 
ISBN: 9780062412638 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780062412645 (ebook)
ASIN: B015MOJ95A (Kindle version)
Publication Date: June 28, 2016 
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

NAACP nominee and USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins returns to the town of Henry Adams with a story of family, friendship, love, and second chances.

In Henry Adams, Kansas, you can’t start over without stirring things up . . .

Many a good woman has had to leave a no-good man, but how many of them took a back-seat to his 600-lb. hog? On her own for the first time, Genevieve Gibbs is ecstatic, even if certain people preferred the doormat version of Ms. Gibbs. Finding someone who appreciates the “new” her has only just hit Gen’s to-do list when T.C. Barbour appears in her life. 

A tiny Kansas town is a far cry from his native Oakland, California, but it’s just the change T. C. needs. While helping his divorced nephew acclimate to single fatherhood, T. C. lands a gig driving a limo for the most powerful woman in Henry Adams. It’s a great way to meet people—and one in particular has already made the job worthwhile. All it takes is a short trip from the airport for Genevieve to snag T.C.’s attention for good. 

But it wouldn’t be Henry Adams without adding more drama to the mix. When Gen’s ex Riley returns with his hog in tow, it sets off a chain of events that can ruin everything—unless the residents pull together once again to save the day.

Imagine a small town established by freed Blacks in the 1800s. Imagine that same town in the 21st century, struggling to survive. Now imagine the town is posted on eBay and sold. The buyer is a wealthy Black American female and she’s willing to put her money up to bring this poor rural midwestern town into the 21st century. The population is growing once again, there’s a school, a recreation center, a church, a grocery store, a beauty salon, a recording studio, and more. Return to Henry Adams, Kansas in Stepping to a New Day, the latest addition in the Blessings series by acclaimed author Beverly Jenkins.

Genevieve Gibbs is a sixty-something-year-old woman finding her niche in life. She divorced her husband after he chose his hog Cletus over his wife and embezzled thousands of dollars from the monies left to her by her father. Adding insult to injury, her home had to be demolished due to the destruction wrought by her ex-husband’s favored hog. Genevieve had begun to rekindle her romance with her high-school love, but he can’t accept her new found spirit and free will. Enter the newest addition to the Henry Adams family, T.C. Barbour. T.C. had moved to Henry Adams on a temporary basis to help out his nephew. Within days he’s obtained a part-time job as a chauffeur and found that small town life isn’t as bad as he thought. T.C. has also finally decided to follow through on a promise he made to his dying wife, he’s going to learn to read. Both T.C. and Genevieve struggle with their new lives, but one area that is struggle-free is their romantic interest in one another.

Stepping to a New Day is the seventh book in the Blessings series by Ms. Jenkins. I found it to be a fast-paced and engaging read. Just in case you couldn’t tell, I really like the Blessings series and was greatly looking forward to this new addition and it did not disappoint me. Ms. Jenkins has provided a story about second chances in family, love, and life for a variety of ongoing characters, including Genevieve and T.C. We also see the ongoing struggles with the children of Henry Adams and other residents. These characters struggle with the normal day-to-day routines and more. It’s been fascinating to watch the development of this town grow from an isolated small rural community to one that is basically an extended-family scenario. It’s always a delight to read about the interactions of the Henry Adams natives, transplants, and visits from out-of-state friends and relatives. Ms. Jenkins has created a diverse, multicultural town that I’d be proud to call home. If you’ve never read any of the books in this series, then I strongly encourage you to begin reading it. Seriously, start with Bring on the Blessings and continue all the way through to Stepping to a New Day. This series provides tons of romance, family angst and drama, and highlights small town life as well as midwestern Black American history…a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy. Go, read, and enjoy! I look forward to returning to Henry Adams in the future. 

Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Beverly JenkinsAbout Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins has received numerous awards, including five Waldenbooks/Borders Group Best Sellers Awards, two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times Magazine, and a Golden Pen Award from the Black Writer’s Guild. Ms. Jenkins was named one of the Top Fifty Favorite African-American writers of the 20th century by AABLC, the nation’s largest on-line African-American book club. She was recently nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Literature.

Find out more about Beverly at her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter

This review is part of a TLC Book Tour.

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2016 Book 162: GIRLS ON FIRE by Robin Wasserman

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
ISBN: 9780062415486 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062417169 (ebook)
ASIN: B013PKGT2O (Kindle version)
Publication Date: May 17, 2016 
Publisher: Harper

Girls on Fire tells the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town’s bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it’s a secret that will change everything…

Hannah Dexter was considered a normal, albeit quiet and somewhat isolated, teenager. She went to school, studied, and avoided any attention or trouble. All that changed when she was befriended by the “new” girl, Lacey Champlain. The story of their friendship and devotion are revealed in Girls On Fire by Robin Wasserman.

Hannah Dexter quickly goes from being the invisible kid in school to Lacey’s mini-me sidekick Dex, wearing Doc Martens and flannel shirts, listening to grunge rock, and taking on the resident mean-girl and queen bee, Nikki Drummond. Dex and Lacey want to escape small town life and go about it in all the wrong ways (think of an evil and darkly twisted younger version of Thelma and Louise). Their friendship spirals from being supportive to a level of devotion that is unsettling. Although the main characters of Girls on Fire are teenagers and the story does contain a certain amount of teenage angst and drama, this is anything but a young adult novel. Ms. Wasserman introduces a host of dark and evil behaviors such as Satanism and rape. The language is coarse and filled with profanity. The action takes place in a small town in Pennsylvania during the earlier 1990s. Girls on Fire is not an easy read (or at least it wasn’t for this reader), primarily because of the dark nature of the two primary characters as well as the profanity and violence. (Yes, my inner prude raised its head several times and I had to set the book aside just to regain my equilibrium.) I think that this is going to be a book that people either love or hate (not hate the writing but hate the dark side that is revealed in the book). I didn’t like the characters or even where the story went, but I appreciate the talent of Ms. Wasserman to pull me into a story that I constantly wanted to turn away from. Girls on Fire is not for the faint of heart but it is a read that you won’t soon forget.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Read an excerpt from Girls On Fire here.

Meet the author:

Robin Wasserman is a graduate of Harvard University and the author of several successful novels for young adults. A recent recipient of a MacDowell fellowship, she lives in Brooklyn, New York. Girls on Fire is her first novel for adults.

Find out more about Robin at her website and connect with her on Twitter.

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Girls on Fire
Girls on Fire


Girls on Fire
Girls on Fire
Girls on Fire 

2015 Book #267: THE 3RD WOMAN by Jonathan Freedland

The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland
ISBN: 9780062207555 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062207579 (ebook)
ASIN: B00FJ32ZWE (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 4, 2015 
Publisher: HarperCollins

The first two murders went unnoticed. The third will change everything. . . 


Journalist Madison Webb is obsessed with exposing lies and corruption. But she never thought she would be investigating her own sister’s murder.


Madison refuses to accept the official line that Abigail’s death was an isolated crime. She uncovers evidence that suggests that Abi was the third victim in a series of killings that’s been hushed up as part of a major conspiracy.


In a United States that has yielded to the People’s Republic of China, corruption is rife – the government dictates what the ‘truth’ is. With her life on the line, Madison must give up the story, or face the consequences…

Madison “Maddy” Webb is an investigative reporter. When Maddy is told her youngest sister is dead due to an overdose, she knows something is wrong. Maddy begins to do what she does best, investigate. She quickly learns that her sister’s death is actually a murder and that she was the third victim of a serial killer that may have ties to the People’s Republic of China. Take a series of murders, a gubernatorial election, possible police corruption, and an investigative reporter that won’t quit until answers are found and you have The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland.

Early on the morning after Maddy Webb has published an expose on local sweatshops, she receives a visit from a police officer and friend telling her that her youngest sister has died of an apparent self-inflicted overdose. Over the course of the next few days, Maddy uncovers two other “deaths” under similar circumstances and all three women are blonde and pale. The more Maddy investigates the more she learns that these murders are being covered up by the police and that there may be ties to the Chinese government. If dealing with a murdered sister isn’t enough, Maddy suffers from chronic insomnia, and must deal with the side effects of lack of sleep, as well as the political fallout of her investigation into her sister’s murder.

The 3rd Woman is a fast-paced read with a lot of action. The story takes place in a USA that’s not too hard to imagine. The US has defaulted on its loans and China is the major lender. In an effort to recoup some of the monies owed, the Chinese government has installed “bases” at port cities along the Western coast of the US. The US is now a country that uses Weibo instead of Twitter and where Chinese-manufactured vehicles are just as prevalent as Japanese, European and American-made vehicles. I found the characters and the action to be highly plausible and realistic. Mr. Freedland does provide a couple of twists and turns in the story just to keep things slightly off and the reader unsure of where the story will end (no, I won’t tell you how it ends). Yes, there’s a lot going on in this story: political campaigns, possible police department corruption and cover-up, a grassroots protest to ensure justice prevails, family and friends mourning deceased loved ones, and more. If you enjoy reading suspense thrillers, then you’ll want to add The 3rd Woman to your TBR list.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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2015 Book 162: FOR YOUR LOVE Review

For Your Love (Blessings #6) by Beverly Jenkins
ISBN: 9780062207999 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780062208002 (ebook)
ASIN: B00QQMNINM (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: William Morrow & Company

Return to Henry Adams, Kansas–an unforgettable place anyone would want to call home. . . .

Mayor Trent July and his wife, Lily, are enjoying life as newlyweds and embracing the challenges and joys that come with being adoptive parents to two wonderful boys. But fatherhood has inevitably forced Trent to think about his own birth mother.

Raised by his grandmother Tamar–and, in many ways, the good people of Henry Adams–Trent was blessed with a childhood full of love. But he can’t help wondering what happened to the scared teenage girl who gave birth to him. And questions that he’s never voiced are now begging to be answered: Who was she? Is she still alive? Why didn’t she want him?

Trent has always believed that no good comes from dwelling on the past, especially when you have a loving family, a strong community, and folks who depend on you. But when the past comes to Henry Adams, Trent has no choice but to face it–and the woman who left him behind. The truth will shake his very being and everything he thought he knew about life, love, and the bonds that hold families together . . . but can also tear them apart. 

Imagine a contemporary small, rural town filled with loving, caring people. Imagine a town with little, if any, unemployment. Imagine a town where everyone works together for the betterment of that town and its inhabitants. Now imagine this town was founded by Black Americans in the mid-1800s and that multiple generations of descendants of the founding families have continued to reside there and raise their families. This mythic town is the town of Henry Adams, Kansas and is the setting for the Blessings series of stories by Beverly Jenkins. For Your Love isn’t just the story of this town or one family, but multiple families and their search for more.

The first person we’re introduced to is Rita Lynn Babcock in California and the only thing we know is that she’s received a letter from her deceased mother revealing a shocking secret from her past. Next we’re introduced to Trent July. His family is one of the founding families of Henry Adams. Trent is on his third marriage and has two adopted sons, Amari, and Devon. Trent’s father, Malachi July, is a trained veterinarian and owner/operator of the Dog and Cow restaurant in town. Trent is a trained architectural engineer and is currently working as the mayor of Henry Adams. Trent’s only regret in life is that he doesn’t know his birth mother. Just when you think you know where this story is going, the reader is whisked to Dallas, Texas and introduced to nineteen-year-old Bobby Douglas, his nineteen-year-old girlfriend Kelly “Kiki” Page, and their eleven-month-old twins, Tiara and Bobby Jr. Bobby and Kelley are struggling to provide for their young family when they are asked to relocate to Henry Adams, Kansas. What follows is a story of a town offering a foundation to a young family, affording them respite from abject poverty and the chance to be a part of something bigger.

Over the course of this story, Trent reconnects with his birth-mother, Rita. And Bobby and Kelly realize that there are good people willing to offer a helping hand to those in need. Needless to say, there is a lot more going on than just the story of Trent, Rita, Bobby, and Kelly. The reader is introduced to the older generation of Henry Adams, as well as the youngsters (trust me when I say you’ll want to read about Devon and his swagalicious wardrobe). Are there problems to be faced in Henry Adams? Of course there are, and one of the bigger problems is dealing with a loss of support services from a neighboring town. Throughout all the ups-and-downs, this tiny community bands together to ensure that no one is fighting a battle alone.

For Your Love is actually the first story I’ve read by Ms. Jenkins. At first I was a little lost since there was obviously quite a bit of backstory to this town and its residents that I didn’t know. However, once I got into the story it didn’t really seem to matter about what came before (although I’m adding all of the previous titles in this series to my TBR list just so I can catch up). Ms. Jenkins has crafted a wonderful story about a town and community anyone would want to live in. Not all of the people in this town are wealthy financially, but they have a wealth of friendship, love, and support that can’t be measured. There’s family drama, old jealousies and hurts, greed and avarice, and more. If you enjoy stories featuring families and communities dealing with realistic problems, then you’ll want to add this HEA (happy/hopeful-ever-after) story to your TBR list. I look forward to catching up on the Blessings series and reading more from Ms. Jenkins in the future.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes via TLC Book Tours. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

About the Author

Beverly Jenkins is the author of thirty historical and contemporary novels, including five previous books in her beloved Blessings series. She has been featured in many national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, People, the Dallas Morning News, Vibe, and many other publications.

Find out more about Beverly at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

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Book Showcase: DUKE CITY HIT by Max Austin

Duke City Hit by Max Austin
ISBN: 9780553390315 (ebook)
ASIN: B00L6YJ67W (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Alibi (Random House)
Publication date: December 16, 2014

Duke City Hit (Duke City Trilogy, #2)

Book Synopsis: 

Max Austin takes readers back to Albuquerque for another action-packed thrill ride in Duke City Hit, as an elite assassin takes aim at—well, everyone.

 According to Vic Walters, the secret to happiness is low overhead and few demands. Living rent-free in a modest bachelor pad behind his boss’s house, he has no debts, no entanglements, and no expensive relationships. He works just a few days a month, but his bank accounts keep growing.

Vic is a high-priced hitman with a legendary record of success. That is, until someone starts eliminating his marks before he can get to them . . . until his manager puts him in the middle of a vicious drug-cartel feud . . . and until a young man walks into his life with a big .45 and a startling revelation.

For Vic Walters, it’s time to step out of the shadows. Which means it’s killing time in Duke City.

About the author:

Max Austin is the pseudonym of writer Steve Brewer. He lives in Duke City (Albuquerque), New Mexico.

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Guest Post: Gil Reavill – author of 13 HOLLYWOOD APES

The Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to host a visit by Gil Reavill, author of 13 Hollywood Apes, discussing the quandary on writing about Hollywood.

Writing About Hollywood (OR NOT)

As a subject and a setting for a writer, Hollywood offers a lot of gnarly challenges and a few hidden advantages. It’s well-trodden ground, for one thing. The greats have pawed over it pretty thoroughly: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Didion, Waugh, Chandler, James M. Cain, Robert Stone. So rookies are beat before they write word one. (I’ve heard this called the Mona Lisa Quandary, meaning that if you can’t paint the Mona Lisa you feel convinced that you have to quit painting.)

Another drawback is that Hollywood has already written itself. It’s pure meta. The medium has been the message for a long time now. How to compete with an entity (and Hollywood is not a locale so much as a state of mind, or perhaps a state of mindlessness) that pumps out so much stuff, spins off so much verbiage, is jawed about on every talk show and in every beauty parlor in the land? It’s like writing about the air.

My own brush with the place began back in the early 1990s. A publisher wanted me to do a book on movie landmarks in Los Angeles, everything from famous locations, star homes and studios to theme parks and historical sites. The difficulty was, I lived on the East Coast. I knew L.A. only vaguely. But this would be my first book, and I desperately wanted to nail down that credit. It was an absurd, foolhardy idea, writing about a place I had visited not more than a half dozen times. I took the gig.

I fell in love with the city. Since I was there as a freelancer, I could avoid rush hour and choose my time on the freeways. That’s everyone’s first entry into L.A., the freeways. It’s a town defined by motion. I liked Los Angeles for the same reason I liked New York City. There’s no place like it.

One great aspect of Hollywood makes it easier, not harder, to write about. Research resources are everywhere. All that press agent blather and media reporter prose, well, it’s been piling up for almost a century now. I spent a lot of time at the Margaret Herrick library on La Cienega, where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences keeps its archives. If you want to ground yourself in a place, a good first move is to check out its history.

Los Angeles became home. I moved into a bungalow in the Hollywood Hills that was formerly owned by Simone Simon, the French-born star of Cat People and The Devil and Daniel Webster.

I wrote a lot of screenplays and even got one produced, Dirty, a corrupt-cop crime thriller starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. I got deep enough into the Business (“Don’t call it the Business!” Nicholas Cage’s screenwriter character wails in Adaptation) to realize that the process of making movies could be a cruel and shallow money trench, disheartening at best, downright wrist-slashing depressing at worst.

I spent my free time, which as an unemployed screenwriter I had a lot of, collecting agent jokes. You’re in an elevator with a gun in your pocket that has only two bullets in it. Suddenly the doors open and Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler and a Hollywood agent get in. Q: What do you do? A: Shoot the agent twice.

For my first crime novel, Thirteen Hollywood Apes, I wanted to write about Los Angeles and the film industry, but sought to approach the subject slant-wise, not on-the-nose. My lead character, Detective Layla Remington, doesn’t have anything to do with filmmaking. She comes from a cop family. Her father is big on noir classics like Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity, but as a lifelong L.A. resident Layla herself looks at Hollywood with a somewhat weary, somewhat wary eye. She’s seen too much to be star struck.

I placed Layla not in Los Angeles proper but in Malibu. The celebrated beach town is not Hollywood, not exactly. It serves more like an adjunct or an annex. You can’t toss a rock along Zuma Beach or in the Malibu canyons without hitting someone with some connection to the movies. At the same time, Malibu was just far enough out of the studio swirl to allow for a sense of perspective. They don’t usually make films there. It’s where they go after they’ve made them.

Write what you know, my betters have always instructed me, so I used a lot of my L.A. experience in 13HA. My experience years ago renting Simone Simon’s former home got transformed into this passage in the book:

Pia Liebstein lived in a mini-mansion that was originally owned by Simone Simon, the kittenish Thirties film star, lead actress in the movie 1942’s horror classic Cat People. In Los Angeles, owning a place with an old Hollywood pedigree bestowed some added cachet. Not that Liebstein needed the boost. But at dinner parties she liked regaling friends with Simone Simon’s practice of making golden keys to the house for her numerous lovers. Then Pia would casually toss one of the antique keys onto the table, to the oohs and aahs of her guests.

These few sentences underscore another plus about using Hollywood as a setting or subject for a novel: it’s just so much damned fun. Golden keys for a starlet’s lovers? Movie folks are outsized, eccentric, definitely not run of the mill. And when they do turn out to be run of the mill—say, when you hear platinum blonde actress Jean Harlow wanted nothing so much as to be a cooking, cleaning, kid-raising housewife—even that fact becomes interesting.

The initial crime in my novel, the triggering incident, to use screenplay terminology, is the mass murder of thirteen chimpanzees. The victims had all retired from show business careers and taken up residence in a animal sanctuary. Eventually, of course, I get around to a few human murders, too. But again, talking about show chimps was another way to talk Hollywood using a tangential, slightly off-kilter viewpoint.

So, Layla Remington, a non-Hollywood cop with cinephile father. Malibu, a place where actors sometimes live and where stars sometimes retire. Both elements duck back from the immediate, overwhelming glare of moviemaking. If there’s a 500-pound gorilla in the room—or, you know, thirteen Hollywood apes—maybe it’s better to step out onto the porch and describe the scene from there.

About the book:

13 Hollywood Apes by Gil Reavill
ISBN:  9780553395051 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00LDQOZW4 (Kindle edition)
Publication Date:  December 16, 2014
Publisher:  Alibi

In a savvy, stylish thriller debut perfect for anyone who loves the crime novels of Michael Connelly or Nevada Barr, Gil Reavill unravels a chilling tale of murder and mayhem among humans and their closest evolutionary relatives—a primate family that may just be too close for comfort.


As a wildfire rages outside the Odalon Animal Sanctuary in the rugged Santa Monica foothills, the retired Hollywood movie chimpanzees housed there are shot and left for dead. When Malibu detective Layla Remington reaches the grisly scene the next morning, she’s deeply disturbed—and even more confused. The victims are not human, so the attack cannot be classified as homicide. Yet someone clearly wanted these animals dead, and executed them with ruthless efficiency. Miraculously, there is one survivor: a juvenile male named Angle.


But as Layla reaches the veterinarian’s office where Angle is recovering, a man with rock-star good looks and a laid-back Southern California attitude swoops in and removes him. And just like that, an unusual case turns truly bizarre. Soon reports surface of ferocious attacks against Odalon employees . . . with Angle as the prime suspect. As a wave of senseless violence reaches its apex, Layla chases a mystery man and his chimp—but everything comes back to that terrible night at the sanctuary.

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Book Review: DANGEROUS DENIAL by Amy Ray

Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray
ISBN: 9781935460961 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781935460046 (ebook)
ASIN: B00JJDNZ60 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 8, 2014
Publisher: Barking Rain Press

Denying the past proves deadly for BK Hartshaw and Trevor Mayhew in this gripping noir novel where nothing is as it seems. BK is a rising star at a public relations firm, and tonight’s charity ball should be a high point in her career. But a closely guarded secret threatens to destroy her chance for happiness with the only man she’s ever loved… a man who is also hiding a deadly secret. Trevor has tried to put the past behind him, pretending it never happened. But the conniving father he’s been running from for years has finally found him-and is determined to settle the score once and for all. BK and Trevor’s deeply buried secrets are about to catch up with them-and everyone they know and love. Who will pay the ultimate price for their dangerous denials? 

“The sins of the parents are visited upon their children in this entertaining thriller. BK’s (short for Beatrice Karen) and Trevor’s lives collide when a charity ball erupts into violence. Tightly plotted suspenseful moments and a deftly-executed plot twist combine to keep readers holding onto this novel until the wee hours.” – Publisher’s Weekly 

BK Hartshaw and Shelby Fulton have been best friends since they were teenagers. Shelby was born into a wealthy and influential family. BK’s mother married into a wealth by snaring an entrepreneur. BK and Shelby met when BK moved into her stepfather’s house beside Shelby’s family. They were roommates at boarding school, in college, and again as young, urban professionals striving to make a name for themselves in their chosen professions. Shelby was there for BK when she was ostracized by her family for being fat and tries to be there for her while BK is dealing with anorexia. BK has been by Shelby’s side while she dealt with a psycho stalker and continued to be her support system years later. Shelby is in love with her former high school crush, a doctor, and BK is in love with one of her clients, a young entrepreneur – Max Emerson. Just when they both think that all is right in their worlds they receive the biggest surprises of all. On the night that should be a shining jewel of achievement in BK’s career in public relations, everything seems to spiral out of control and lives are at risk. People aren’t who they seem to be and secrets from the past may end with bloodshed. Will BK and Shelby be able to survive?

I began Dangerous Denial late yesterday evening and read it through until the last page in one sitting. Ms. Ray provides an interesting glimpse into the present with her prologue and then throws you back in time to 1977, 1985-86, 1996, and then back to the present – the early 2000s. At first I wasn’t quite sure how these three time periods would intersect, but trust me having the backstory to the major and minor characters is necessary for everything to make sense. Dangerous Denial provides the reader with a lot in one compact story: mystery, suspense, romance, murder, stalking, rape, eating disorders, child abuse, dysfunctional families, and more. Just when I thought I knew who everyone was and their role in the story, Ms. Ray threw in a nice twist. (No, I’m definitely not going to tell you what the twist is, you’ll have to read the story for yourself!) What I can tell you is that Ms. Ray has crafted an amazingly intricate story with vivid characters that kept this reader’s attention from beginning to end. I found Dangerous Denial to be a fast-paced read with convincing good and bad guys as well as realistic scenarios. If you’re looking for a great mystery-suspense-thriller with a bit of romance and a lot more, then you’ll want to add Dangerous Denial to your TBR list. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Ray in the future. 


Want to dine out and discuss some great books? Enter this giveaway for your chance to win a prize that includes a $25 GC to Applebees AND two ebook downloads from Ms. Ray’s publisher, Barking Rain Press.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the author via TLC Book Tours. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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