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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Southern Noir

Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever by Caleb Pirtle III

friday-nights

The dream of college football propels Casey Clinton into the best and worst times of his life. On Friday nights in Avalon, Alabama, football reigns supreme. Quarterback Casey Clinton’s magic arm drives recruiters and his opponents wild. Girls worship him. A preacher’s wife seduces him. Life can’t be any better. But when slick college football recruiters offer the small-town high school player the chance for fame and glory, it’s no longer a game. It’s business. And it’s brutal. Lavish promises of money, women, and a spot at the top of the football world take Casey into a violent world he could never imagine. Temptation is great. His life spirals out of control. His world crumbles out from under him. Football is no longer a sport. It’s a fight for survival in a game where everyone but Casey knows how to play.

Many thanks to All Reviews Matter for gifting me this book for review!

Many things make this book a winner.

The first is the authentic Southern atmosphere that pervades every word and scene of FRIDAY NIGHTS. You can hear the drawl in the voices, and sense the underlying desperation of the players as they worship the only god they know – football.

Second is the multi layered character development – of Casey, Chelsea, Lucas, and the attitudes and actions of the rest of the townspeople. The pressure that is put on these confused teenagers is immense, and is echoed all over the South on any given Friday. The author knows this, and uses it to his advantage to create a deeply moving story that uses contrasting backgrounds to spin the plot forward.

These characters could have been easily written as a stereotype – but Pirtle makes them so much more. He makes them earnest and believable, easy to root for and to hate. Some characters, like Lucas, force you to vacillate between emotions: sadness because of his upbringing, scorn because of how he treats others.

Third is the fascinating backdrop of the cutthroat world of college football. Reading about Casey getting call after call from colleges promising him everything while denigrating other schools in the same breath made me realize just how much manipulation is done in the name of a winning season.

The author’s writing style is clean, yet raw – no extra words or filler here, just emotion, suffering and hope. It didn’t take me long to become immersed in the microcosm of Avalon, Alabama.

Especially cringe-worthy is the scene where Casey meets the great Alabama coach Frank Hatchett at the airport, thinking he is always at the forefront of Hatchett’s mind. The coach’s asides to his traveling companions show just how far from the truth his (and other coaches’) machinations can be. I felt truly naïve after reading this – and will never be able to watch college football again without thinking of this book.

Think of this as a companion to the classic movie ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, and likewise the classic novel FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Life can be excruciating when you see only one chance to make your life matter – and the choices you make in order for that to happen can be unforgiving.

This book was thoroughly enjoyable – you can grab your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1940460387″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Murder on Moonshine Hill by Joan C Curtis

murder on moon

When Jenna decides to go to a friend’s wedding, she expects to dredge up old secrets and old hurts, and she expects to see people from her past, but she doesn’t expect to stumble on a dead body.
Jenna’s friend is arrested. The wedding is cancelled. And Jenna’s tendency to stick her nose where it shouldn’t be leads her into the path of the killer.
Set in the serene mountains of North Carolina, Murder on Moonshine Hill is filled with suspense, humor, and a quirky cast of supporting characters.

 

Thanks to the author for gifting me this review copy!

One of my favorite things about this book is the extensive cast. From ex-best friend to spoiled trophy wife, author Joan Curtis displays her masterful knowledge of character development. Everyone has an agenda – some are selfish, some are hidden, and one in particular is the thing that Jenna is trying to discover.

Imagine getting a wedding invitation from your best friend – the one that broke your heart when she dropped you like a hot potato after a death in the family. Would you turn a blind eye to the snub to see her on the happiest day of her life? Reluctant at first, Jenna decides to go after a hidden plea for help drops out of the invitation envelope. She becomes immersed in the extensive family drama swirling around the joyous (or not) event, and soon it is up to her to save her friend’s life. Even if her friend doesn’t want to be saved.

Curtis enjoys the setting of North Carolina; it’s evident in the loving and descriptive way she describes the scenery. When a book is written in a way where the setting complements the plot, that adds another level of enjoyment to my reading.

Jenna’s friend Quentin is adorably protective of her, often deflecting her overbearing mom’s attention away from her and onto himself, using tried-and-true methods that had me laughing. What girl doesn’t need a Queer Eye For The Straight Girl BFF?

Another hallmark of Curtis’ writing is that the villain is not always obvious. My mental finger was pointed at quite a few people before the troublemaker was finally exposed. I love when a book is written in this manner; my interest is held all the way until the end, no early boredom sets in!

Jenna’s character is not without flaws – she is a strong woman with feelings that can be hurt, as demonstrated in her internal dialogues detailing her confusion and sorrow after her childhood girlfriend suddenly vanishes from her life without an explanation. Most of us have been there in some way or another – but we may never get the chance for closure like Jenna does.

I strongly recommend picking up this book; it’s an easy, well written mystery that will keep you entertained all the way through. You can pick up your own copy [easyazon_link identifier=”B01HWOR4J6″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

They Call Me Crazy by Kelly Stone Gamble

call me crazy

 

Cass Adams is crazy, and everyone in Deacon, Kansas, knows it. But when her good-for-nothing husband, Roland, goes missing, no one suspects that Cass buried him in their unfinished koi pond. Too bad he doesn’t stay there for long. Cass gets arrested on the banks of the Spring River for dumping his corpse after heavy rain partially unearths it.

The police chief wants a quick verdict—he’s running for sheriff and has no time for crazy talk. But like Roland’s corpse, secrets start to surface, and they bring more to light than anybody expected. Everyone in Cass’s life thinks they know her—her psychic grandmother, her promiscuous ex-best friend, her worm-farming brother-in-law, and maybe even her local ghost. But after years of separate silences, no one knows the whole truth. Except Roland. And he’s not talking.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book in exchange for this review!

Sometimes I get review requests and I’m not sure I’ll like the book, but something tells me to take a chance anyway. THEY CALL ME CRAZY was one of those. I did some brief research and discovered that Goodreads had excellent reviews, so I took a gamble. I’m so glad I did! Well written and a shining example of the Southern Noir genre,  this was a fantastic ride.

The chapters are all told in the perspective of each of the characters, which makes everyone a pretty unreliable narrator. Cass herself is also unreliable, as she is determined to be the “crazy” one early on. She routinely denigrates her husband, while others who know him paint him as a wonderful man. Those characters who appear as shining paradigms may or may not turn out to be the bad guys—you just have to read it and see for yourself.

Cass is a pretty sympathetic character right off the bat, despite her townsfolk attesting to the contrary. She is just marching to the beat of her own drummer and is comfortable there. She is definitely one of the most colorful characters I’ve come across this year.

The author’s knowledge of country towns and their foibles make the tale sing—her descriptions of the houses, hobbies, weather, and people’s sartorial choices place the reader firmly in the middle of Anytown, Kansas. You get just a whiff of desperation in the background; those who have not managed to escape to A Big City are resigned to make life as interesting as they can, while tearing down poor old crazy Cass.  All through the book she maintains her guilt, telling anyone who is willing to listen that, of course, she DID kill her husband. How this story was going to be wrapped up was a big question in my mind as I read on. The author does not disappoint–the ending is just to the left of center and quite satisfying.

As the reader begins to understand the entire story (by piecing together everyone’s separate version of the truth), THEY CALL ME CRAZY turns into quite the delicious story; like one of those chocolate truffles that have many layers and then a sweet nougat at the center.  Completely satisfying, humorous, and suspenseful, this unassuming story will make you think twice about those people in your life that seem just a little odd.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1940215412″ locale=”US” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

 

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