Category Archives: book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: His Forgotten Fiancée by Evelyn M. Hill

My dear friend, Evelyn Hill, is starting out the New Year on a high note! Today, January 1st, is the release date of her debut novel, HIS FORGOTTEN FIANCÉE, from Harlequin’s Love Inspired Historical line. SQUEEE!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Evelyn is my friend and of course I’m going to say Nice Things about her book. Which is true, to an extent. I mean, I almost never review books and I’m definitely making an exception for her.

BUT, here’s what you might not know: I’ve never met Evelyn in person. We’ve never spoken to each other on the phone. I wasn’t even sure what she looked like until sometime last year when she posted author photos.

Everything I know and like about her is based on words she has written.

So it’s not true that I love her writing because she’s my friend. She’s my friend because for years I have loved her writing and her voice, not to mention her dry sense of humour, even when I could only read it in blog comments.

I was absolutely thrilled when she finally admitted she was writing fiction. I am not disappointed by the result.

So, about this book. I admit to feeling some trepidation when I learned it was an inspirational romance, agnostic heathen that I am. I’d never read one before and wasn’t sure what to expect. But that aspect was fine. I didn’t feel preached to or made uncomfortable about my own beliefs. Faith was clearly important to the main characters and it was just part of who they were. It was refreshing.

I loved the premise of a man losing his memory, not knowing who he is, not remembering he’d fallen in love and asked a woman to marry him. And then not being able to explain why he’d vanished for an entire year. I thought that was handled well — his confusion and frustration, even anger at times — and its eventual resolution was believable.

I admired Liza’s strength and courage and practicality. The details of that time period (c. 1850) rang true and fit with stories I’ve heard about the strong pioneering women who were my ancestors. I really enjoyed her sense of humour– and Matthew’s as well. Plus, the kitten was adorable. No, actually, it was Matthew’s interactions with the kitten that were adorable.

The threats and drama in the story were suspenseful even though the perpetrators were readily identified. I liked that there was some ambiguity in how justice was served. Life is often like that, probably more so in that time period.

I’ve got to say, I do prefer more kissing in my books — at times I was like those sea creatures in The Little Mermaid, “Go on and kiss the girl!” — but I can hardly fault the book for being true to conventions of the genre. After everything Liza and Matthew had been through and how their faith in each other had been tested, their happily ever after felt genuine.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read whatever Evelyn Hill publishes next.

Five shiny (and so very delighted) stars.

 

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When your karma needs a swift kick in the rear

A few days ago, I said something stupid and thoughtless and inconsiderate to a fellow writer on twitter, a writer whose work I admire greatly. I was trying to tell her how much I loved one of her books and instead . . . well, it was graceless to say the least. And I’m ashamed of myself. I know better than to try to say something complicated on twitter, let alone anything negative. Idiot. I considered deleting it, but it’s out there and I need to suck it up and own it. It’s not the first time and, knowing me, it won’t be the last. Nature of the beast.

But instead of dwelling on it, I decided maybe it’s time to remind myself to focus on the positive and recommend a few books I’ve read in the past several months and truly enjoyed. (Yes, that writer’s are among them.)

Keep in mind, these are NOT book reviews. I don’t do that anymore, partly because Amazon thinks writers shouldn’t be allowed to review books [really, Amazon? REALLY?], but also because on the rare occasions I’ve done a review over here I get a bunch of requests to do more. So please don’t ask me. I’m not a book reviewer. I’ll hate saying it, but the answer will be no.

I’ve been reading (and writing) a lot of romance lately, so these recommendations are all in that genre, although that might be the only similarity among them. Some are sweet romance and others are . . . a good bit darker. Or steamier. The links are all to Amazon but probably you could get these books elsewhere as well.

81HL-pHEgTL._SL1500_First is Jackie Ashenden’s TALKING DIRTY WITH THE BOSS. Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this book is about, y’know, talking dirty with the boss. Okay, fine, that’s part of it. But it’s so much more than that (hence my dislike for the title, but we just won’t talk about that) (any more). The hero has OCD issues, which is a spectrum and not the same for everyone, and Ashenden handles it so well and this guy comes across as troubled but also gruffly sweet and charming, and the relationship felt genuine. I loved this book and didn’t want it to end.

Besides being incredibly gracious when you say stupid things to her on twitter, Ashenden has become as close to an auto-buy as I get. I’ve purchased the first two books in her Nine Circles series — I loved the excerpts — and am saving them to read as a reward for finishing a project, but other books of hers I’ve read and would recommend are:

HAVING HER (Lies We Tell Book 2)
TAKING HIM (Lies We Tell Book 1)
NEVER SEDUCE A SHEIKH (International Bad Boys Book 2)
THE BILLIONAIRE’S CLUB: New York boxed set

Next up is Rebecca Zanetti. I read the first three in her Sin Brothers series and then pretty much gorged on her backlist while waiting for the fourth book, which recently came out. She writes the kind of ridiculously strong alpha male heroes that you’d want to strangle in real life and, if you like that (I love that), you probably can’t go wrong with any of her books. But this particular series is a “highly recommend” from me. It’s listed as paranormal, but it’s not your standard witches and vamps and were-things. It’s more that the heroes all have enhanced abilities (hearing, strength, etc).

FORGOTTEN SINS
SWEET REVENGE
BLIND FAITH
TOTAL SURRENDER

81WeEVt9H+L._SL1500_Carolyn Crane is another auto-buy for me. Just go to her Author Page and pick anything, but I especially love her Undercover Associates series. She also writes as Annika Martin and the book she co-wrote with Skye Warren, PRISONER, is one of the most disturbing yet well-written books I’ve read in a long time. But seriously, heed the warning about dubious (or complete lack of) consent. This book isn’t for everyone.

Let’s see, who else? I guess I’m really recommending writers more than particular books at this point, so I’ll just go ahead and link to their Author Page over at Amazon or I’ll be over here all day listing books.

Sarah Morgan is another auto-buy (the O’Neil Brothers trilogy is wonderful) and the first in her new Puffin Island series was delightful as well.

81NyUmbtEfL._SL1500_Victoria Dahl, of course. I’m a huge fan of her writing and, really, of everything she says on twitter (when she’s not taking an ill-advised well deserved extended break from it) (ahem). She has a new book coming out in July titled TAKING THE HEAT, which you can pre-order now (I sure did and I don’t even know, or care, what it’s about).

Oh, and Kelly Hunter is another terrific writer with an extensive backlist. She has recently started publishing with Tule (so have a bunch of other talented writers) and I’ve loved those books — SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and THE HONEYMOON TRAP, for example — as well as the ones with Harlequin, especially the ones subtitled The Bennett Family (strong heroes, stronger heroines).

Kat Latham has become a favourite as well. I absolutely love her charming rugby players and have read all of her books, including her latest that just came out in May. So good.

I’m also really enjoying Laura Kaye’s HARD INK series, even though I’ve gotten a couple books behind. The ones I’ve read have been fantastic.

Oh, and a relatively new-to-me writer, Karyn Lawrence, has two books out, KEEP and STAY. I read and enjoyed both and it looks like a third, SURRENDER, is coming out later this month. There’s a good bit of violence, so be wary if that offends you. Although, thinking about it, that’s true of many of the books mentioned above.

I think that’s enough for now. Pretty sure I’ve included enough links that this will go directly into the spam folder of those subscribing by email. Ooops.

Mind you, these are just a handful of writers whose books I’ve enjoyed recently. No one paid me, or even asked me, to recommend these books and I didn’t get any of them for free. Well, unless it was a free-to-everyone kind of deal. That’s entirely possible. It’s not an exhaustive list of favourites or even of All-Time Best reads. I’d never be able to come up with such a list. There are just too many.

But don’t take my word for it. My reading preferences are pretty varied and just because you might like my writing* doesn’t mean you’re going to like everything I read. So read the description and sample pages, peruse the reviews, make up your own mind. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover a new favourite.

Got any recommendations of your own? Leave a title or a link in the comments, all genres welcome. I’m always looking for new ways to procrastinate good books to read. I read fast and devour a LOT of books when I’m not writing, or embarrassing myself on twitter. Which I will go back to doing now. The writing, not the other thing.

*Reminder: if you want me to send you an email when I have a new book available, sign up here for my mailing list.

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Filed under book reviews, twitter, writing

Fan Mail from Prison and Other Milestones

I’ve heard several writer friends say you know you’ve “made it” as a writer when you receive fan mail from prison. It’s a thing. A bit of black humour, obviously, as I’ve never known any writer who seriously thinks they’ve “made it.” It’s an intriguing idea, fan mail from prison. Especially these days when ebooks are gaining in popularity over print books. Are inmates allowed internet access to download ebooks? I have no idea.

I haven’t received any fan mail, let alone from prison, but two things happened recently that hit near the top of my own personal squee-o-meter and that feel like milestones in my writing career. Mind you, this stuff is subjective. Pretty sure you could find a writer or three who would disagree.

The first thing was getting an alert that showed one of my books [How Did This Happen? Lunch with Imaginary Friends and Other (mostly) True Stories] was listed on a piracy site. My initial gut reaction was something along the lines of, “What. The. Hell. That’s my book. I created that and you– you– fuck you, man– you just took it? You stole my book and decided you could offer it up over there for FREE? You slimy goddamned bastard.”

Ahem. What can I say? Probably it’s a primal human emotion, possessiveness.

That outrage lasted for about thirty seconds. Okay, maybe a full minute. I’m surprised it lasted that long, or even existed at all, because I decided a long time ago that piracy is not a bad thing. That it is, in fact, a good thing. As a fledgling writer, my greatest enemy is obscurity. Piracy is a nice boost in visibility for someone in my position.

I’ve come to think of (free*) pirate sites as sort of like a library, only without express permission. God knows, I wish I could interest libraries in carrying my books. A Pirate Library increases my exposure to readers. Readers who, for whatever reason, might someday decide they want to or are able to pay for the books they read. And even if they don’t ever become paying customers, I’m thrilled any time someone reads a thing I wrote. That’s sort of the whole point of putting your writing out in public.

*To be clear: piracy sites that take other people’s work and SELL IT and PROFIT FROM IT are engaged in indefensible black-hearted gutless thievery and deserve every particle of bad karma and aggressive legal action aimed at them.

I found it amusing that part of their shtick was, “There used to be a book called…” Like it was no longer available and they were doing everyone a favour by finding it and once again making it available. Clever. But the icing on this particular cake was the blurb they wrote:

A First Opinion: A Book that Realistically Describes Teen Life

Imagine a book that inspires you to stand up and act out scenes at lunch to your co-workers! Imagine a book that you mark pages to read to specific people in your life: your husband, your friends, your students, your siblings …

I love that. Even though it’s the extent of what I could see without logging in.

Honestly, I can’t tell whether someone actually read the book and wrote that or whether they just have a really good algorithm that picks up on keywords and writes relevant reviews. Either way, I thought this blurb was awesome. Way better than anything I’ve managed to come up with. Do you think I could get away with posting it on retail sites as an editorial review? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind me stealing it sharing it with others.

Another thing that sort of made me go “awww” was a comment after the blurb (I can’t access it anymore, so probably someone targeted the site for takedown) that said, “Thank you so much for posting this book!” I think it was from someone named Jenny B. Or maybe Julie T. I’m so bad with names. Whichever, Jenny or Julie, you’re most welcome. I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you share it with a friend. For free.

The second thing that happened is that I finally got a two-star review. Of that same book, actually. I didn’t even need to pause to gather my thoughts on this. My immediate reaction was, “OMG! YES! This is SO awesome!!” And then I laughed — literally, out loud — in sheer delight.

I’ve been hugging it close since I first saw it, keeping it to myself, savoring it like a secret treasure. It felt too precious to share.

You think I’m kidding, perhaps being sarcastic? I assure you, I am not.

I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to write a one- or two-star review of one of my books. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve wanted this to happen. I’m surprised it just now happened for a book I published three and a half years ago. Ebooks really are an equalizer of time.

This book has gotten a couple two-star ratings on Goodreads, along with one three-star rating. Those made me smile too, but those are just ratings, not actual reviews. I’ve been waiting and hoping for someone who was underwhelmed enough to bother with a review. Here it is:

2.0 out of 5 stars

ended up boring, April 15, 2014

By TMS (Texas) – See all my reviews

Verified Purchase (What’s this?)

This review is from: How Did This Happen? Lunch with Imaginary Friends and other (mostly) True Stories (Kindle Edition)

This book had some funny spots, it’s a bunch of short blog notes. But, after awhile it got really boring. I got about 75% done and just quit.

Boring. She thought it was boring! Tee hee. I giggle every time I read that. It wasn’t anything personal. She wasn’t angry or vitriolic. She simply didn’t enjoy the book. It’s ridiculous how happy this makes me.

Okay, I shouldn’t have to say this, but DO NOT go over there and harass this person or down-vote her review. I mean it. That’s not cool and I’d be very disappointed with you if you did. In fact, don’t go over there at all. Well, unless you want to buy the book.

I’m halfway convinced that every time someone looks at a book on Amazon and ends up NOT buying it, Amazon gives it a higher (worse) rating. I imagine a wizened little man wearing a transparent green visor sitting in the back room over there with a creased scorecard and a stubby golf pencil, taking note, “Another visitor, another NO SALE. Tsk. Black mark for you, my dear.” People look but don’t buy and the ranking goes higher and higher until they simply run out of known numbers and then the book quietly implodes, turning into fairy dust, never to be seen again.

I figure I’m only a half-dozen views away from that fate as it is. So. Just don’t.

How can I explain this happiness? I know darn well there are a ton of people out there who wouldn’t like that book. Or any book I write, but especially that one. If you like my blog posts, you might like that book. Because that’s what it is, blog posts. Personal essays. I think they’re some of my best pieces. I selected them carefully and I’m proud of that book, but I never expected to reach beyond a very small specific audience with what was essentially an experiment in self-publishing.

The people who enjoyed that book are people who have been following me on the internet for a while now. People who say they love my voice and who get my dry sense of humour and claim they’d read anything I write. I’m humbled by their faith in me. I am incredibly lucky to count them as friends. But they’re a minority. As they should be.

Thing is, I know those “other” people are out there, the ones who think my writing is boring or just not their kind of thing. And I love it that one of them decided to say so, publicly. It feels like a major accomplishment just to have finally reached one of those others. That one of their vast number picked up a book written by a stranger and gave it a try.

I was starting to think it might never happen. I mean, every other writer I know has one- and two-star reviews of their books. Several of them, in fact. What was wrong with me, that I couldn’t get even one?

Now, I’m not suggesting you all should go rush over there and write disappointed reviews of my books to make me happy. Well, unless you really truly feel that way. Then, you know, go right ahead.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate people who do enjoy my writing. I treasure them more than I can say. They keep me sane and motivate me to keep on writing when I want to throw my hands up in frustration and say to hell with it. And it’s not that I think they’re less than honest in their opinions. Not at all. But opinion is subjective. It should be wide-ranging.

Sure, I want people to enjoy my stories. I hope the people who do enjoy them continue to outnumber those who don’t. That’s why I write, to entertain people. Well, and also with the hope that I might make some money. So, yes, I want people to like my writing. But not ALL people. In the same way that I’d be very concerned, even alarmed, if EVERYONE liked mint chip ice cream. Or rollercoasters. Or cats. That would be disturbing as hell.

I don’t want my writing to be universally loved. The thought of that kind of unanimity of opinion makes me feel all snarly. I’d begin to suspect I was doing something horribly wrong if that happened.

So it feels like an affirmation to have finally found this person — or have her find me, whatever — who took a chance on reading something that wasn’t to her taste. Something she found boring. I’m unreasonably proud of her for taking that chance, for reading something outside the norm. I hope she tries some other new thing some day soon and really does enjoy it. Or maybe not. Maybe someone else is even now impatiently anticipating her next two-star review, just as I was.

So, there you have it. Two recent events that made me outrageously happy. I guess the next milestone will be garnering enough reviews of a book that they number in double digits. A small thing, I know. But hey, there are a lot of little steps on the way to that ultimate writerly accomplishment: having a book banned and/or burned. That would make me pretty damn happy too, although I’ll have to really step it up before that’s even a possibility. I’m working on it.

Disapprobation and piracy. Way better than fan mail from prison.

 

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Filed under book reviews, deep thoughts, reader opinion

What’s the worst that could happen?

There has been a good bit of noise on the internets lately about book reviews. Mostly this has consisted of writers accusing reviewers of being mean and snarky or inappropriately critiquing the writer along with the book, causing reviewers to tell writers to sit down and shut up because they weren’t even talking to them. This kind of argument is unfortunate and the type I used to resolve by sending my kids to time out.

As far as I can tell, everyone is behaving badly.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” -Kurt Vonnegut

But this post is directed at all you offended writers out there. Because I think your perspective is a bit . . . off. You’ve decided you should be up in arms because your work has been disrespected or your reputation has been besmirched? That a “bad” review is the worst thing that could happen to a writer? Seriously?

You are mistaken. In fact, you’re not even close.

Here is a list of all the things that could happen out in the big bad world of being a published writer, starting with the worst:

1.  The worst thing that could happen is that no one reads your book. Ever. Write this down somewhere: Obscurity is your worst enemy.

2.  The next worst thing? Nope, NOT a bad review. The next worst thing is that someone reads your book and feels nothing. Or they stop reading somewhere in the middle because they’re swamped with “meh.” Completely ambivalent. Bored out of their fucking mind. They don’t love it and they don’t hate it. They set it down in a dusty corner of their ereader — out of sight, out of mind — and never mention it to anyone. Ever.

3.  The next worst? Again, NOT a bad review. The next worst thing is that someone reads your book and is incredibly moved — and by this I mean they either love it OR hate it — and they hoard this opinion like it’s their very own precioussss and never tell anyone, not even the cat. This is actually a very good thing, but we’re talking here about things that have an effect on you publicly. And remember? Obscurity is not your friend.

4.  And now we’re getting into territory that is more accurately described as “best” rather than “worst.” The second best thing is that someone who is full of the “meh” feels compelled to go online and post a middle-of-the-road three star review that says your book wasn’t the best they ever read, but hey, it wasn’t the worst either. Probably this person’s favourite ice cream is vanilla. Without sprinkles. But you love them anyway because they read your book and made the effort to say so. That’s a big deal.

5.  Finally, here it is: the BEST thing that could ever happen is that someone read your book and it made them FEEL something or THINK something and those thoughts and feelings were so strong that person went online and told everyone they know, and a bunch of strangers too, all about it.

You love this person. You love all their five-stars and all their one-stars equally. Why? Because you got to that person. You struck a chord, evoked a response. Your words made them feel and think and they were compelled to share that reaction with others.

“The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.” -Edwin Schlossberg

It does not matter whether the things they say are “good” or “bad.” It is none of your business whether they loved your book or hated it. And it is not your job to judge or provide commentary about what people think and feel. Your job is to tell the story the best way you can and put it out there for people to read and hope it evokes a response. Period. That’s it.

You want to obsess over what people think and how they react and why? You’re in the wrong profession. Go back to school and become a psychologist.

You want unconditional love and acceptance? Get a dog. A dog will love you no matter what. You could create the worst piece of driveling dreckitude ever written and pepper it with bad grammar and egregious typos and even run-on sentences and a dog won’t care. The honey badger won’t care either, but a dog will love you. And not try to kill you. While you sleep.

Sure, you hope people will enjoy your books. Of course you do, that’s human nature. No one likes to hear negative criticism or be the target of snarky personal remarks. [And honestly, reviewers? You want to be taken seriously, review the damn work.] But as a writer, you need to be as immune to and oblivious of the criticism of readers as you should be of their accolades. Really. You can’t let the praise get to you either. That stuff is lethal.

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” -William James

Frankly, you shouldn’t even be reading reviews of your own books. That’s not why you’re writing. Reviews are not the end product of your work. Your goal is to tell stories. People are not like dogs, in case you haven’t noticed. Most of them don’t even have fleas, let alone big brown adoring eyes. No, people are difficult and ornery and unpredictable as hell. Some will love your work and some will hate it. Some will react so strongly to your stories they will decide they also love or hate YOU, the writer.

But it has nothing to do with you personally. Neither the love nor the hate. Those reactions have everything to do with each individual reader in the same way that once they read your story, once they process it through their own unique filter, it belongs to them in a way you can neither imagine nor control. Granted, the “meh” is sort of a ringing indictment of your abilities, but you’ll get better at evoking a reaction the more you write.

So go write another book. And if you happen to accidentally stumble across someone who has read your book and is talking about it AT ALL, smile quietly and congratulate yourself and be grateful. Because that’s the best thing that could ever happen to a writer.

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COUNTY LINE by Bill Cameron: a book review

Bill Cameron’s new release COUNTY LINE occupied a special place in my heart long before the final draft was finished. Because I got to name a character in it [see links below]. I know how much time and attention writers give to naming characters, so I expected the character with the name I chose — Nash — would be killed off at the earliest opportunity. Imagine my surprise and delight when Chief Nash not only survived but also turned out to be someone who was mentioned more than casually. He even has lines of dialog. (BTW, I really really REALLY like this character.)

Oh, but wait, before I go any further, thanks to the FTC and my conscience, probably you should know the following, if you don’t already:

DISCLAIMER #1:  I am not a book reviewer. You can tell because I do it all wrong and go on at length here before I even get around to talking about the book.

DISCLAIMER #2:  Bill Cameron is a Very Nice Guy and I kinda like him, even though I’ve never met him, and not just because he’s one of three people who will occasionally talk to me on twitter (okay, there are maybe four). I mean, really, he could be from Minnesota. He’s that nice. Even his agent is nice. (What? She totally let me win that bid.)

DISCLAIMER #3:  I did not pay for my copy of COUNTY LINE so, technically, it was free. Then again, I only got a free copy because I was the highest bidder (aka, Most Tenacious Participant) in one segment of an online auction held last spring to benefit flood victims in Nashville. As a result, I also received “free” copies of Cameron’s other books: LOST DOG, CHASING SMOKE and DAY ONE as well as the anthology KILLER YEAR in which he has a short story. Since it’s public knowledge that my bid was $333.00, one might alternately conclude that I paid $66.60 for each of those five books. I know, that’s sort of ridiculous, budget-wise, except it was for a good cause. And a rare opportunity to have fun and say completely outrageous things in public.

In any event, one might question my judgment here, either as a reviewer or a purchaser of books. Probably both. And you might be right, but the fact is that I read a crap ton of books and rarely review one and only do so when I think it is in some way exceptional.

So… in my humble opinion, you all should buy COUNTY LINE simply for the exceptional dedication. And because I’m also mentioned in the acknowledgments.

Okay fine, I’ll be serious.

In spite of receiving those four books from Bill Cameron roughly a year ago, I haven’t read any of them. Partly that’s because I’ve become thoroughly addicted to ebooks and the books I received were print versions and they were so… damn… heavy. I mean, they each weigh, like, fifty pounds. Maybe more. Plus there’s all that strenuous manual labour of turning pages…

The real reason? I started reading DAY ONE and got about a half chapter into it and, even though it was interesting and well written, I just knew it was not going to end with rainbows and unicorns. My head was in a very dark place at that time and I pretty much needed to read something more along the lines of lighthearted romance. So I set it aside. And never got back to it. My bad.

Then, a couple weeks ago, along comes COUNTY LINE. Finally! Cameron sent me the ebook version (and incredibly, generously, also put a signed HC copy to me in the mail!) (did I mention he’s nice?), so no excuses about weak arm muscles and lack of stamina. I’ve been SO looking forward to this book but was genuinely afraid to read it. Because, you know, I really kinda like Bill Cameron. What if I hated his book? Crime fiction is not exactly my favourite genre, though I can overlook that. But what if he wasn’t as good a writer as I suspected he was? What if I had nothing positive to say about this book? What if there were plot holes and inconsistencies and… and… and, I don’t know, typos! Or BEARS!!

Have I ever mentioned my tendency to worry needlessly? I need to stop doing that.

Here’s the actual review. Once Amazon fixes the unholy mess they made by listing information about a completely different book, I’ll post it over there too:

COUNTY LINE is a masterpiece of storytelling. Some critics have described it as “crime noir” — I’m not entirely certain what that means, but it seems to fit: the book has an undeniably dark tone and crimes are committed. It’s a genre in which I’m not well read. But I know good writing when I see it, regardless of genre, and in reading this book it became patently obvious very early on that Cameron is a fiercely talented writer.

The protagonist, Skin Kadash, a homicide cop for 25 years, is now retired and living in Portland, OR. Ruby Jane, the woman he cares about — even he seems reluctant to define her as something more serious, given that he’s not quite sure his feelings are reciprocated — has gone missing. And there’s a dead guy in her bathtub. So Kadash sets out on a mission to find her. This book is about his relentless journey halfway across the country and back, and deep into Ruby Jane’s painful past, to find a woman who seems determined not to let anyone discover where, or who, she really is.

Kadash is smart and also a bit of a smart-ass. He’s wryly self-deprecating while at the same time projecting a tough quiet confidence in his knowledge and experience as a cop. He’s not afraid of physical pain, in fact seems to expect it, but is vulnerable to emotional anguish — his own, but especially that of others. It’s a delicate balance and Cameron draws that line with finesse.

Ruby Jane is a pure mess. We see her primarily though the hellish yet oddly matter-of-fact first hand account of events from her distant past. She’s a character featured in earlier books, but I haven’t read those so my first impressions are not of her as a grown woman but as a teen, a girl with experiences and responsibilities beyond her years. Her story is heartbreaking without being maudlin. Her strength and resilience stand as defiant affirmation without the lecture. Again, an incredibly difficult but brilliant characterization.

In fact, the depictions of Ruby Jane’s horribly dysfunctional home life and of teenage girls with their capacity for cliquish cruelty are handled so well, with such simple unflinching authenticity, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend COUNTY LINE as a YA selection.

Cameron employs a complicated and potentially disjointed method of telling this story, switching between present and past events and offering narrative from diverse alternate points of view, but he pulls it all together seamlessly. There’s just enough wry humour to keep it from being too dark, just enough sensitivity to serve as a salve to the brutality, and definitely enough “what the hell is going on?” to make it gripping and unpredictable all the way to the end.

I highly recommend COUNTY LINE to anyone who loves a darkly compelling story with flawed yet fascinating characters and appreciates a writer who demonstrates a commanding facility with language. Not to mention a deft hand with a dedication.

I’m giving it 5/5 stars.

Frankly, I’m sort of intimidated now, in awe of Cameron’s talent as a writer, and will probably never talk to him on twitter, ever again. [Did I just hear a distant sigh of relief?]

Not that I’ll have time to spend on twitter any time soon. I’m going to have to start lifting weights so I can read that hefty backlist of his sitting over there on my bookshelf, sulking in all its neglected magnificence.

Or maybe I’ll just buy the ebook versions…

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