Bull Mountain @bpanowich @PutnamBooks #family #grit-lit #crime #duoreviews #fictionfriends @JanBelisle @absltmom

Gritty, in your face, and down and dirty are often words to describe a novel such as the one Jan and I read. We were constantly amazed how the author kept throwing in scenarios that tuned this family saga into something special, something we both found utterly fascinating and definitely one of those books we can refer to as “unputdownable”.

Bull Mountain
They had both looked deep within themselves and found an ugliness that couldn’t be stuffed back inside.”

Jan’s review

Grit Lit, Hillbilly Noir, whatever you call it, I call it terrific! I listened to this one and loved it. It’s the law of the Wild, Wild West on Bull Mountain. They live according to their own rules and with their own form of justice. Revenge and retribution are meted out mercilessly.

The Burroughs family has ruled the mountain for decades, operating outside the law. When the Feds close in on an operation, they enlist the help of the sheriff, who just happens to be Clayton Burroughs, the one member of the family that broke apart and lives on the right side of the law. The investigation sets off a chain of events that will unearth secrets, bring the past to light, and pit brother against brother. The characters are compelling, the dialogue snappy, and the women are as tough as the men.

A terrific debut that Marialyce and I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend!  We are looking forward to book #2 in the series, Like Lions.

Marialyce’s review

Don’t go near Bull Mountains for it belongs to the Burroughs’s family. Invested with genes for the nasty, the evil, and the dangerous, the men of the family from the grandfather on down to his sons and grandsons bring their kind of dark and malevolent forces into play as they deal with the nefarious activities of initially moonshine running, which morphed into growing marijuana, and then to making meth. This is not a family you want to mess with, and all are very aware of the goings on that occur on the mountain and yet there seems little that can be done to stop what some might call a mountain of terror.

All the brothers are bad that is all except one, Clayton, who breaks the mold and becomes a lawman much to the anger and hatred of his family. Add into all this is a federal agent who seems to be hot on the trail to shutting down the Burroughs and enlisting the help of Clayton.

Things turn and twist and the evil side of the family is shown so well by the vile character, Halford. This is a family that has no redeeming value, no morals, and no qualms about killing to justify getting what they think they deserve. Don’t mess with the mountain for it is theirs and no one can enter their realm unscathed and that includes your brother.

Told with a wonderful flair for straight on story telling, this book kept piling on the characters, the twists, and ultimately the idea that family no matter how bad always has ties that bind.

This is a book definitely recommended and as Jan mentioned above, we both can’t wait to tear into the next in the series, Like Lions.

and here’s the author: Brian Panowich

Image may contain: one or more people, hat and beard

Brilliant one-of-a-kind artists sometimes never find the recognition they deserve because Lady Luck didn’t happen to smile down at the right moment. In fact, they fail to be recognized more often than not. Artists and creators don’t follow the same type of paths to success that most doctors and lawyers do. Finding an agent to take you in and care as deeply about your art is a lot different from just being committed to refining your skill set and getting the proper schooling.

I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, since I was a small boy, that I would grow up someday to write comic books. That changed sometime in high-school when I knew beyond yet another shadow of doubt that I would grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine as the second coming of Kurt Cobain. (I know, go big or go home.) Neither of those dreams panned out the way I expected them to. I came close a few times, but never got that “lucky” break. When my first daughter was born, my time as a hard-traveling road dog was over. I was okay with that, as another chapter of my life was beginning—fatherhood. The problem was, as anyone reading this can tell you: you just can’t turn it off. We aren’t wired that way. You can try, but it only leads to resentment, misery, and a lot of unanswered questions. At least it did for me.

My writing has always been personal. It’s always been there underneath everything else I did, acting as a shield between me and the world, so it was natural to dive back into it since I was going to find myself at home a lot more often than I was used to. I began to write short stories and publish them online as a way to continue to create. I simply needed to do it. My first story was published in 2012—a flash fiction crime story called “Services Rendered” that I’m still proud of today—and I remember sitting in a chicken joint with my kids when I got the email saying it had been accepted. We got milkshakes to celebrate.

I kept writing those short stories and kept putting them out there. Sometimes I’d get a big fat no, but sometimes I got a yes, and every time me and the kids got milkshakes. Those stories I wrote over the next year or so attracted an agent from New York, and within the next year or so, I’d written a novel and had a highly respected literary agent invested in my career. Doors began to open, and I just stepped through them. I figured if I came to one that was closed, I’d just bang on it until someone opened it, if for no other reason than to quell the noise. This year will see the release of my first novel, Bull Mountain. Will the book be a smashing success? I don’t know. All I can do is keep walking, and in some cases banging, through doors. But I do know this. I know if I had stopped trying, there would be no book. There would be no blog post for me to be writing right now. If I’d decided that I’d failed at comics, or I’d failed at music, or now that I was married with children that it was going to be too hard to continue being a dreamer, then what would have been the point of the past twenty years?

When people ask me how long it took for me to reach this point in my career, they are always surprised to hear that my first story was published in 2012. The normal reaction to that news is to tell me how lucky I am, and they aren’t entirely wrong. I did get lucky, no doubt about it. Luck was definitely at the party, but she wouldn’t have been had not tenacity sent out the invitations.


Places and Names: On War, Revolution, and Returning @elliotackerman @penguinpress #war #remembrance #iraq #afghanistan #duoreviews @Janbelisle @absltmom

Certainly there can be no better person to write a book about his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan than Elliot Ackerman. This author has been decorated with many of our country’s highest honors after serving five tours of duty in places most of us have read about but never really knew. Jan and I discovered in this book a world that held no answers but just a desire to know if the wars fought really in the end have meaning for those lost, and for those who returned all of whom were scarred in some way.

                            PLACES AND NAMES by Elliot Ackerman

Jan’s review

The author, a highly decorated Marine turned reporter, has a long list of accomplishments. A quick google search outlined his many awards and honors, both military and literary. Very impressive. 

It is from his viewpoint as both soldier and journalist that he tries to make sense of a war that “left a wake of destruction, forcing (us) to craft new lives from the ruins”. A war where the paradox is that the greatest achievements are tied to the greatest failures, where victory is tied to defeat. A war where winning battles is not as much of a problem as rebuilding after the battles, both physically and politically. The latter is, of course, a complicated matter in such a politically unstable area.  It’s complicated. The unintended consequences of war. The author offers no answers, but the questions exist between the lines of his stories.

As the title suggests, the book is a series of essays about the places he’s been and the names of fellow soldiers and resistance fighters. The ‘places’ sections were sometimes difficult for me to follow since I’m unfamiliar with the area. The ‘names’ sections, the human stories, were what I was especially drawn to.

The book ends with his Silver Star citation for his actions during the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004. Woven throughout the narrative  of his gallantry in action are the flashback memories he experiences when he returns as a reporter. It is an extremely powerful piece of writing.

Ackerman’s love of the military and his fellow soldiers is evident in these pages. The human and political costs are brilliantly outlined. I appreciate that the author doesn’t tell us what to think but instead makes us feel and gives us much to ponder.

This was a buddy read with Marialyce!

·    Many thanks to Shina at Penguin Press for my copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

Marialyce’s review

Honestly, it is hard for me to come to grips with this story for it contains no answers only questions as to our involvement in the conflicts we have found ourselves in for many years. Countless lives have been lost, including those of friends of the author and yet we have no resolution, no ending, no ability to see the fruits of our lost soldiers and the work of those who have come back home ladled with illness, stress, and PTSD. How can we reconcile the loss? Is it through understanding of our enemies humanity? Even if we get to know them, as Mr Ackerman was able to do, can the rest of the world understand that humanity can only succeed when the strife between nations ceases. We can declare a win and yet the minute we leave, the radical Islamic groups move right back in. Afghanistan, and to the same extent Iraq, have a tribal culture that has been in place for centuries. How can the US, or in fact any nation, hope to break that? The author points to the futility of the struggle. War does not solve anything really but it does create sorrow, pain, and the unending losses that plagued a nation. It has certainly plagued our nation. They say that there are always two sides to every story, and in this book we get to see the other side, the side that is hidden as the horrific scenes of warfare play across our TV screens and are broadcast in our news outlets.

I live in a military area. I know people who have fought in both Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, and I have seen the lives they now live. Many of them have medical problems, suffer from combat stress, and yet when or if their country asked them to, they probably would go once again into the war zone. I had to wonder at the conclusion of the eye opening book, whether the author would ever do what he did once again. I tend to think the answer would be no. We can’t and shouldn’t be the world’s police.

Thanks go out to Elliot Ackerman, Penguin Press, and Edelweiss for an advanced copy of this thought provoking book. Also Mr Ackerman, thank you for your service to our nation.

and here’s the author


The Binding @bridgetcollins #brcollins @WmMorrowBooks #mystery #magic #memories @absltmom

Some books entice you with their details , their wonderfully alluring premise, and work their way so very well into your imagination, that you are ever so sad to see them end. This was such a book.

The Binding
“I ran through air that held me back.”

Emmett Farmer is to become a book binder. This is no wonderful thing for him since this is a profession that is feared, filled with suspicion and ill omens, and one he is loath to consider, and yet here he is apprenticed to Seredith. She is an old binder and although Emmett has been drawn to books, he fears them for they contain something so special and dangerous, one’s memories. Seredith is a master craft person, and she leads Emmett down the path to becoming one who can capture memories and erase them from the bearer’s mind.

There is evil afoot in the guise of tradesmen, who use this skill and what the books contain to their own wants. While Seredith is a master, teaching Emmett how to weave these stories into beautiful bound books, others are out for their own gratification and Emmett is about to fall into their web.

This is a mysterious story, one that brings together a forbidden love. It is a tale of Emmett and Lucien. It is a story of family, of mystery, and of how our memories erased can change exactly who we are and how we face the future unknowing of the dangers that have been erased.

Bridget Collins evokes a world of mystery, one of magic where as the story weaves back and forth through Emmett’s life, his family, and of course his interactions with Lucien. We are taken into a place where memory reigns, where a secret relationship can bring ruin, and where books are feared. I recommend this story as a well written, compelling tale that takes the reader on a journey that is filled with danger, magic, characters that are vivid, evil, and loving, and a wonderfully authentic different adventure. It’s a journey well worth taking.

and here’s the author

Chase Darkness With Me @Billyjensen #audibleaudio @Sourcebooks #truecrime #investigativejournalism #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

According to some statistics, one third of the murders in the United States go unresolved. For many, especially the families of those who were murdered there is no ending, no resolution, no justice until the killer or killers is found, tried and brought to justice. For Jan and I, listening to this book was an eye opening experience as Billy Jensen took us on his journey to bring some resolution to the families, and perhaps in a small way allow justice to be served on those who chose to kill.

Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders

Jan’s review

True crime is having a moment. Growing up, I used to sneak read True Detective magazine under the covers. But now, those of us who are true crime fans can admit to our fascination without sounding too weird. 

What drives an interest in true crime? Contrary to what some may believe, fans do not derive voyeuristic pleasure out of the misery of others. Investigative journalist Billy Jensen’s driving force is empathy for the victims and their families and the desire to make the monsters pay for their crimes. The focus of his work, and this book, is justice, not gratuitous details.

Jensen details his early work as a journalist and what drove him to crime investigations. He is unflinchingly honest about his frustrations and failures, as well as his successes.  

He writes about his friendship with Michele McNamara, who was investigating and writing a book about the Golden State Killer at the time of her untimely death. The author, along with Michelle’s husband and her research assistant, finished the book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (a book I highly recommend). Michelle’s death was the catalyst for the author to take his work to the next level. 

Along with DNA databases, crowdsourcing on social media is a game changer, and allows for average citizens to assist in identifying victims and catching the criminals. I found this section of the book to be most interesting.

 If you’ve ever wanted to become a citizen detective, the author has a section at the end of the book with instructions, complete with a list of rules, tips and cautions. 

This was a compelling buddy read with Marialyce. The author’s persistence, passion and dedication shines through. This is a must-listen for fans of true crime.

An Audible Original, the hardback will be published on August, 2019.

Marialyce’s review

Sometimes a tragedy can spur one onto doing something, of taking a stand, of getting involved. With the death of his friend, Michele McNamara, the author of I’ll Be Gone In the Dark, a book I read and so enjoyed, Billy Jensen becomes involved in the concept and tracking of killers who got away. With the advent of DNA tracking, many, who were previously living among us, though that was denied the ones they killed, were fated to be found. While Ms McNamara died before the Golden State killer was identified, her relentless and exhaustive research on him was the catalyst to spur Mr Jensen on to taking up the gauntlet pursuing other killers. Jensen was also one of those who assisted in completing Michelle’s book after her untimely death.

Through the use of the internet, social media platforms and research, Jensen has helped to solve a number of cases, bringing to justice those who had escaped the consequences of their crime. He presents us with how he was spurred on by his love of true crime stories started early on by the stories his father shared with him and later as a journalist, tuned off by the intrusion into the lives of the bereaved. He turned to the concept of crowd sourcing to catch, to ferret out, and find the perpetrator, bringing to some families a closure of their circle of grief.

The book is fascinating, even providing a how to guide to become your very own investigative detective and help the police to ferret out a possible murderer. I definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy true crime stories and the audible version I listened to narrated by the author was done so very well. Perhaps now with the internet, social media platforms and of course the use of DNA, many more will be brought to justice and the families of those who lost their loved ones will be able to know that while their loved ones have lost their lives, those who killed them might no longer walk among us free to live their life, a life they denied others to have.

and here’s the author

Billy Jensen
  • Billy Jensen is a true crime journalist focused squarely on unsolved murders and missing persons. But after 17 years of writing hundreds of stories with no endings, he was fed up–and decided to try and solve the murders himself using radical social media techniques. And it worked. Billy has solved or helped solve ten homicides. Law enforcement agencies now reach out to Billy to help in cases that have them stumped, using him as a “consulting digital detective,” or as Men’s Journal referred to him: The Facebook Detective.
  • He has written crime stories for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Magazine and the Long Island Press, and was most recently a producer and investigator on the Warner Bros. show Crime Watch Daily, where he covered the Allenstown 4 murders, the Humboldt 5, the gap in the system when it comes to missing persons and unidentified remains and the unique talents of citizen detectives. His investigation into the wrongful conviction of Kimberly Long helped earn her release from prison.
  • After his friend Michelle McNamara suddenly passed away in 2016, Billy helped finish her book on the Golden State Killer, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, alongside her researcher Paul Haynes and her husband Patton Oswalt.

I Miss You When I Blink @marylauraph @AtriaBooks #essays #life #humor duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

Sometimes it’s so strange seeing oneself inside the pages of a book that someone else wrote. How could they know your life? How could they be a part of the way things were in your history? Did they follow you around and see exactly how your life was unfolding, or is it that their experiences as a mother, wife, and worker in life, that make their experiences so much like yours? Jan and I saw ourselves reflected in this book and all the things we thought were only ours turned out to be theirs.

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays
“I miss you when I blink. I have felt it so many times in my life, at points where I didn’t really know who I was anymore, where I felt that when I closed my eyes, I could feel myself gone.”

Jan’s review

I knew the author and I were simpatico when, in her first essay, she tells the story of having no sense of direction and she loses her car in a parking garage. This is my life and I’m totally stealing her tip to start taking pictures as a bread crumb trail.

And then there’s her to-do list. I thought I was the only crazy person who had a post-it note addiction. Like the author, If it’s not on my list and I complete a task I will write it down just to have the satisfaction of crossing it off.  Hello Type A Personality, I get you!

Plus she loves animals. How can you not love someone who loves animals?  

I’m not going through a career crisis or depression, and I’m on the other side of raising children and suffering career angst. But, I still related to many of her thoughts and feelings as she reflects on her life and re-invents herself. I think all women, young or old, single or married, working or retired,  with children or childless, will find much that resonates.  In other words, women of all ages and stages of life will find something in this collection that speaks to them.

 I highly recommend listening to this book on audio, as the narrator is the author telling her own story in her own words. Although, I’m glad I also have a hard copy so I can re-read it with my tin of book darts at my side.

Another terrific buddy read with Marialyce and one we both recommend! My only complaint? I wanted more. 

Marialyce’s review

How can we sum up our life’s experiences? Does it boil down to a word, to a moment, to an event that defines us and makes us who we are? In this collection of essays, one might find oneself totally depicted as a wife, a mother, a person so trying to achieve that excellence that our mothers so ingrained in us. Is this a revelation that happens at a certain age, a time when we feel the years speeding up so much that you want to yell “stop”. I want this day, this hour, this minute, to hold still, to never leave, to always be the moment I am living through. Unfortunately, as the author so wonderfully tells us these moments are fleeting, yet they so define the person you are.

We are products of our upbringing and we become, perish the thought, but it happens, what our mothers were. How many times have I said while growing up, I would never do or say that? And yet, here I am doing and saying exactly that. Have I wanted my children to be perfect? A definite yes because my mother required I be perfect. However, as I grew into parenthood, I found that all the things I thought were perfection were allusions for my kids were people not little robots that I could program with the result I so desired. As I read more of these essays, I realized that Mary Philpott was on the very same journey as I, as all mothers, and wives find themselves on. Looking back at the mistakes, finding fun in the life of family, and making lots of decisions that perhaps might not work out the way we wanted them to. After all that’s life, is it not?

and here’s the author

Mary Laura Philpott is the author of the memoir-in-essays I Miss You When I Blink. Her writing has been featured in print or online by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, and other publications. She’s the founding editor of Musing, the online publication of Parnassus Books, as well as an Emmy-winning cohost of the show A Word on Words on Nashville Public Television. She also wrote and illustrated the humor book Penguins with People Problems, a quirky look at the embarrassments of being human. Mary Laura lives in Nashville with her family.

Henry Himself @stewartonan @penguinrandom #oldage #family #reflection #fictionfriends #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

Looking back on your life can often be a very sobering time. As you age, the events of the past become clearer and a lot of should of , could of, would of slips into out thought and makes you wonder, now with time and maturity, how would I have handled things. This was another book that Jan and I read together and for a much better perspective I think you should definitely read her review.

Henry, Himself

Jan’s review

Simply said and simply beautiful. With spare prose, this lovely book has much to say about the ordinary. I’m a huge fan of the author and Emily, Alone was a favorite when I read it back in 2012.  No one can write about the ordinary in such an extraordinary way as Stewart O’Nan.

This is the prequel to Emily, Alone.  Henry is 75, and married to Emily.  I was touched at the quiet, deep love he still has for his wife.

As Henry and Emily go about the rhythm of their days and the seasons, we are privy to his thoughts and musings.  He muses about his childhood, his time in the service during WWII, meeting and falling in love with his wife, his children, the past, and his hopes for the future. He reflects on his life and the meaning of it all.

Not everything in Henry’s life turned out the way he’d hoped. The reality of Henry’s age and mortality hovers over it all. He sees his cohorts dying, and knows he has fewer days in front of him than behind him. This is a quiet introspective novel, one where nothing much happens on the surface. It’s a poignant look at an average elderly man looking back over his life and coming to terms with it, eventually accepting what can’t be changed, and enjoying the life he has left. He is a good man, an unsung hero.

The only thing that kept this book from 5 stars is there were parts that I thought were too slow and detailed, such as the golf game. But overall, I loved this story for its quiet simplicity, and for Henry who grew on me as the novel progressed.

As an aside: I often laughed in recognition at some of the conversations he and Emily had. Did the author eavesdrop on conversations between my husband and myself?  I read the part about the dog pee spots on the lawn aloud to my husband and we had a good laugh. The author nailed it 100% from my response  to my husband’s solution. Haha….men and their lawns.

Marialyce and I buddy read this together. We both enjoyed it, me more than her. For a balanced look, read both our reviews

Marialyce’s review

For Henry Maxwell, time has passed and now into his seventy-fifth year, he reflects back on the life he has lead. He finds himself thinking about what he was and is, a husband to Emily, a father Margaret and Kenny, and a grandfather, and as he looks to his life, a life filled with traditions, he wonders has he been a good man, a good husband, a good father? As in any family, there has been trials. His daughter Margaret is a recovering addict addicted to drugs and alcohol facing a marriage that seems to be falling apart, while his son Kenny, seems to maintain a distance that Henry sees as his fault as a parent. Even his wife Emily seems at times to be his only constant along with Rufus his beloved dog, but Emily too, seems to be distant.

This is a look back on life and a wondering if. It’s something all of us do as we age, we often think if only I had done this or that differently, maybe things would be better not only for me but the people I love.

While I did enjoy the story, I found myself not totally engaged with the whole book. I tended to lose a bit of interest as the author seemed to concentrate somewhat on the game of golf which in all honesty, I know nothing about. Honestly, there was also some skimming going on as well.

This was an introspective book, one that takes a deep look into characters and their actions, and tries to make the reader understand that we are all tied to the things we have done. Our good decisions and mostly our bad ones, seemed to plague our minds and certainly they do with Henry as he wonders where did I possibly go wrong? It is something all of us wonder at various times of our lives. As an aside, I believe one has to be a patient reader to fully enjoy this tale. As I was very much caught up in the imminent birth of our twin grandchildren, I fond that I didn’t have the patience I do think was necessary to appreciate this story fully. I do recommend this story to those who love a character driven story on memory an the things we believe we could have done better.

Thank you to Stewart O’Nan, Penguin Random House, and Edelweiss for a copy of this story.

and here’s the author


It’s my happy day for two reasons……@absltmom

Cute quote for twins and parents of the baby

Well today and more to the point Thursday were very happy days for me. My husband and I became grandparents for the fifth and sixth times as our twin grandchildren were born on Thursday. It is always such a thrill and a miracle to welcome a baby into the family, but to welcome two was beautiful and a gift from God. The babies, a boy Miles, and a girl, Madison, came into this world weighing five pounds and five pounds eleven ounces. They are beautiful children so welcomed by not only us but the entire family and friends. Mother, Father, brother, and the grandparents are all doing well. One often forgets, because time passes so quickly, the joy of holding a newborn child in your arms, and now I have that feeling times two. I want to hold onto that for as long as I can.

Thought of the Jay!: Happy 1st Anniversary!

The other event in my life, not quite as memorable as our twins of course, was the fact that I have been blogging for a year. I was inspired by my dear friend, Jennifer, another Southern girl, who started blogging a bit before me. She encouraged me to take a chance and I have so enjoyed the experience not to mention the wonderful people I have “met” along the way. Add to that, I have a wonderful reading partner, Jan, who, even though we live miles apart, is a fantastic sounding board not only for all things book related, but also as a dear confidant. (plus also being grandmothers to recently born twins). I have certainly come out a winner in all of this.

So thank you dear friends for the happiness of not only seeing your reviews, but the ability to share something we all love to do…reading books!

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