‘The Fighter’

the fighterAs a reader, I’m in love with Michael Farris Smith. I’m also afraid of him. Smith is at the top of his game with “The Fighter.”

As with his other novels, he takes readers to an emotional place in his latest novel. It’s a place filled with darkness, danger, yet one rimmed with light.

Jack Boucher, known in fight rings as The Butcher, is in pain. His body is broken, and his heart is empty. As he travels through the Mississippi Delta, he only wants to make things right for his adoptive mom. But nothing comes easy as his past races after him. Gambling debts, crippling aches and pains, homestead foreclosure, family dysfunction and more follow him like a starving dog on an lonely road.

The pain we feel for Jack is a testament to Smith’s writing skills. He creates characters with depth, baggage, but always with a touch of redemption. Smith definitely has scored a knockout with “The Fighter.”

ARC provided by NetGalley


‘What You Don’t Know about Charlie Outlaw’

charlieLeah Stewart did a great job of combining suspense and insight for this novel.

The kidnapping of Charlie Outlaw plays out much as expected, but the characters of Charlie and Josie are not what I expected, Stewart’s storytelling, even though it’s fictional, allows us to understand the depth that actors and actresses must reach to play out their parts.

Fascinating perspective at what may go on behind the scenes in real-life for those in the acting profession.

ARC provided by NetGalley

‘The Hush’

the hushJohn Hart has set a high bar with “The Hush,” an intense journey through one man’s private hell. From the first page when we are re-acquainted with tree-perching Johnny Merrimon, who we first met in “The Last Child,” readers are in for a treat that involves past ghosts, present demons and future mysteries.

Johnny and his childhood friend Jack have secrets that others are dying to know. Some would give anything, including sex, to learn the secrets surrounding Johnny’s heroic efforts 10 years earlier. Others are dying in the swamps and forest that Johnny now calls home. And Jack, well, he’s got in the middle between trying to protect his friend and save his own life.

To say more about the plot would be cruel to the readers. They need to read – and feel – the power of the Hush Arbor.

In my opinion, this is the author’s best novel. Hart writes with a style that draws readers into the heart of his story and characters. This author never disappoints with his superb storytelling!

ARC provided by NetGalley

‘The Mars Room’

mars‘The Mars Room” is a gritty, get-down-in-the-dirt novel, and I liked it!

Rachel Kushner gives us a rough lead character named Romy Hall, and by the end of her story, readers will either love or hate her. It’s her interaction with a contracted teacher that gives insight into the desperation of seeking freedom whether from a prison or life’s hard knocks.

Some say the character of Gordon Hauser, a teacher in a fictional women’s prison, is the storyteller in the novel, but I disagree. Romy is a woman of strength in a rough setting, whether it’s at the Mars Room where she’s a stripper, or as an inmate sentenced for murder. Her love for her son is complete, despite the circumstances and her failed attempts at motherhood. That deep emotional need to be with him is what gets Romy out of her cell bunk each morning. It’s what pushes her to take action – for good or bad.

Kushner describes an environment of give and take, and each has its own intentions. Does a man surround himself with woman purely with no desires but to help? Does a woman, imprisoned or not, seek out men without ulterior motives? In “The Mars Room,” is there room for selfless giving?

The author has said in interviews that she wanted to know more about the our society’s structural use of prisons. Yet she also insists her book is not a “prison” novel, but only a novel. I can’t say if her description and perceptions are right or wrong since I’ve never been in her characters’ shoes. I can say, though, that Kushner touched me with her words.

ARC provided by NetGalley

‘The Pisces’

piscesI was looking forward to reading this novel after seeing all the publicity touting it. Unfortunately, I could not get past the offensive language and situations. A few chapters were more than enough.

Some may say the writing is current, but not to me. I look for good writing, good stories and ideas that expand my horizon. “The Pisces” did none of this for me.

ARC provided by NetGalley

‘The Broken Girls’

brokenI didn’t know what to expect when I started ‘The Broken Girls.” The prologue left me wondering where the story was going. It didn’t take more than a few more pages, though, to get me hooked.

Simone St. James has done an excellent job of combining the past and present in this ghostly tale of a missing girl, heartbroken friends and a young woman, Fiona, determined to set herself apart from her famous father. The 1950s goings-on at Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for unwanted girls, lead to the 2014 search for answers.

Four friends are trying their best to survive life at Idlewild. They are most forgotten, abandoned by families, and with few hopes for the future. When one of the girls never returns from a rare visit to a relative’s home, they are left to deal with their own ghosts literally and figurately.

Decades later, someone wants to restore the old school, but the skeletons won’t stay buried for long. Fiona, haunted by the murder of her own sister, is determined to find out what happened to the missing friend. As she works to track down the old friends, she learns that there’s more to the story than just an old abandoned school. I’ll stop here, so it’s up to the reader to read what happens.

St. James, good job! Add me to your fan list.

ARC provided by NetGalley

‘The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station’

old el pasoJ. Reeder Archuleta (Rio Sonora) uses the rural West Texas nothingness as the backdrop in “The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station.” a group of short stories focusing on a boy trying to find his place in the world. The

We’re introduced to Josh, a boy growing up in the 1950s and ’60s with the help of broken-down cowboys, bar owners, bar regulars – and no mother. Through the author’s eyes, we see the despair, hope and maturation of a young man who learns, often by the hard way, that if he wants a better life, he has to do it for himself.

Kudos to the author for his choice of settings. I grew up in West Texas. It’s a beautiful region, but it comes with hard knocks and self-determination. The small town and rough landscape are the perfect backgroup of this coming-of-age collection.

ARC provided by NetGalley