Overcome: Memoirs of a Suicide by Kimberly Tocco

This book review has been published on Reedsy/Discovery.

When memoir writers limn tragic stories, you get the sense or perhaps hope that transforming thoughts into words is therapeutic and that it provides them some level of comfort. What is distinctive about Kimberly Tocco’s memoir is that her story is a pursuit to help others and how, almost as a by-product, this helps her too.

The story begins with the normalcy of a typical family on the frenzied morning of a school day with a mom, Kimberly, trying to get the kids to eat breakfast before school as dad, Pete, needs to rush off to work. The children are Brian, 14, Jason, 13, and two-year-old twins, Joey and Petey. This was the morning Jason shot himself.

The stages-of-grief model are evident in her writing, but the author describes it in a unique way:

Denial and isolation come first, then anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. I felt them all, or sometimes just one, and certainly not in this order. Yet they do show up in these stages and circulate, coming back, fading in and out, until you deal with them and find a way to work through them.

Kimberly opens her wounds to share the aftermath. Some people disconnected because of the stigma of suicide. Close friends inhibited her from airing her feelings when she desperately needed to talk about Jason. At the same time, strangers probed for details. Hurtful rumors spread. Pete was a rock for the family, but at what expense? The children seemed resilient; however, that did not stop Kimberly from feeling guilty about her inability to fully function for them. Honoring Jason’s memory was a recurring theme throughout the book, and in the end, that pursuit led to her survival, success and this book.

The author writes in a relatable style, and the book is well-edited. I read it quickly, feeling her pain and rooting for her as she began to jettison discouraging words, financial roadblocks, and the baggage filled with remnants of a painful personal history. When I finished the book, I felt like anything is possible and that you can create good from bad.

I recommend this book to people who have suffered a personal loss, want to understand how life is possible after that and need to know they are not alone.

The Bushido Way / a Sam Phillips Mystery by M. Anthony Phillips

This book review was published on Reedsy Discovery.

Sam Phillips is a private investigator in Los Angeles, and the year is 1976. The story begins after his return from active duty in Vietnam as he tries to leverage his military background to launch his own PI agency with his loyal secretary, Constance Turner. Sam is taunted by his landlord for past-due rent when his first client appears.

Michelle Yamada introduces her brother, Ken, and hires Sam to protect Ken from a dangerous Japanese gang known as Yokohama Black Rebels. Sam’s second client is Lauren Tolliver, a wealthy has-been actress who asks Sam to find an emerald stone necklace valued at $1.5 million. In both cases, Sam suspects his clients of withholding information but remains committed to do what he has been paid to do. He solicits the help of his friend, Armstrong Jones, an ex-convict who has PI aspirations of his own. The danger centers around Bushido, the Samurai’s code, which is “to exact revenge without hesitation.”

As a story of mystery and crime, it kept me intrigued and held my interest with surprises at several points in the story. It is written in the first person from Sam’s point of view. Sam takes the reader through his nightmares from the war, love interests, and the bonds he holds dearly with family and friends.

I found more than one part of the story out of sequence. For example: “I follow Ken and Michelle back to their place so he could pack up his belongings to bring back with me.” Following that statement is “I instruct Ken to sit low in the back seat as to not be recognized.” If Sam followed them in his car, how did Ken end up in his back seat? There are also events that seem to come out of nowhere, such as a marriage proposal that did not follow any surge of passion relatable to the reader. During the series of fatalities, I wanted to feel empathy for Sam, but the writing lacked the intensity of emotion.

I enjoyed the way the mysteries overlapped and unraveled. The side stories within the larger story kept it interesting. I prefer a writing style with more fervor so I could hold a strong connection to the characters, but as a mystery & crime book, the story line kept my attention.

Drawing a Line by William S. Hubbartt

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

Gina Girardi, a private investigator and former patrol officer in Chicago, is hired to find a killer. She accepts the assignment and temporarily puts her other work on the back burner to dedicate time to her new client, James O’Rielly. Mr. O’Rielly is the CEO of a successful American corporation. His two sons, Patrick and Sean, manage the finance and marketing/sales areas, respectively. The genre is mystery and crime, but as a possible motive for murder, the theme is sexual harassment in the workplace; where, when, why and how it happens, and the corporate culture that perpetuates it.

The story is written mostly in the first person from Gina’s perspective. At times, it switched to the third person. Considering the theme of sexual harassment, I can see where this made sense. Accusations of exploitation are often met with the defense that there are two sides to every story. Sean is the perpetrator in this book, proud of his ability to use women and get away with it. His extreme vanity obscured his view during those times when women were actually using him. In those instances, it was particularly enjoyable to peer into the thoughts of women who had leverage; just desserts for Sean’s untenable behavior. But the main theme was about the tragedy that falls to the victims and the devastating consequences that cascade to every aspect of their lives. The courtroom drama took on the nature of a legal thriller with captivating maneuvers and discoveries.

The book has all the elements of a fast-moving crime drama. I did come across many typos, including the name of the company. In some instances, it was spelled O’Rielly; in others, O’Reilly.

The primary reason I gave this book two stars is that I thought the writing style disrupted the flow. An example is the part where Gina attends a sexual harassment presentation, and her thoughts preceding and following the event. It seems like the author is using the book as a platform to inform the reader about the subject. Of course, awareness of sexual harassment is critically important. However, the ubiquity of this topic across media, academia, religious institutions and the corporate world makes the educational form of narrative seem dated and detracts from the mystery to be solved. It seems like Hubbartt is attempting to educate and entertain simultaneously, and I am not sure if the formula worked.

There were many times throughout the book where the author presented a recap of events as though the book was a television series where the viewer needed to be refreshed on the previous episode. Several times, the author defined vernacular that most people would know. Examples include “Facebook website, this so-called social media,” and “I set the phone into a dash-mounted holder. Now I could pay attention to driving with one touch.” These reminders and explanations seemed superfluous and caused the mystery at the center of the story to lose momentum.

The ending wonderfully closed up loose ends and left the reader curious about Gina’s next assignment. She is a likeable character and one I would want to follow.

A Saint and a Sinner by Stephen H. Donnelly with Diane O’Bryan

This review is published on Goodreads.

I have to admit my initial trepidation to read this book. Knowing it was the memoir of a priest, my thinking was that the narrative would not be relatable because I follow a different faith. I am glad I did not allow my concerns to stop me. The underlying themes are not only relatable but integral to our everyday lives on a conscious or subconscious level; mortal imperfection, remorse and forgiveness woven into the folds of the inescapable truth that our childhood experiences leave their mark on our core through adulthood.

Donnelly’s story is set against the backdrop of far-reaching historical events, including 9/11, rebellion of the 1960s and 1970s, disclosure of child abuse by clergy, and the tragedy of opioid addiction. The journey begins in the 1950s and ends in 2018. The setting is primarily Long Island, New York. In vivid detail, Donnelly describes his family trauma and winding road through priesthood, duplicity, infidelity, addiction, recovery, regression, reverence and enlightenment.

A hint of the inevitable is in the author’s reflection in the beginning, “As a young child, I realized that if I presented myself as perfect – caring, generous, understanding and compliant – then I could control how people felt about me. At all costs, I wanted to be loved!” In later years, a psychologist put this in perspective when she said, “your father’s rejection of you and your family at such an impressionable age imprinted the fear of rejection and the need to be seen as perfect in everyone else’s eyes.” I felt the exigency at each turn of events, internalizing his pain, seeing the red flags up ahead and wanting to magically transmit a warning through the pages: Beware!

Donnelly overcame gargantuan hurdles and evolved into a reverend priest and friend that deeply touched countless lives. When parishioners, friends and family outwardly acknowledged and celebrated his accomplishments, I wondered why the book did not end there. The fact that there was more to unravel took me by surprise. This book does not have a fairy-tale ending. My impression is that this memoir is meant to be thought provoking, daring readers to consider what haunts us, what we are capable of and, albeit some sins are untenable for some, why we should withhold judgment. I think most readers would agree the author has accomplished that.

Deadly Odds 3.0 by Allen Wyler

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

The story centers around Arnold Gold, an American with ties to the FBI, pitted against Naseem Farhad, a Middle Eastern terrorist with a personal vendetta. The story begins as Naseem presents herself after Arnold had begun to move on from past conflicts between them that left several people dead.

Naseem deploys her team with a vengeance, plotting to usurp Arnold’s state-of-the-art artificial intelligence system, SAM, insistent that it could be used as a weapon to strengthen her jihad. The story is about Arnold’s quest to protect those he loves as well as his system and to obliterate Naseem from his life once and for all. In an attempt to defeat Naseem, Arnold involves Palmer Davidson, his lawyer, and FBI Agent Gary Fisher.

This is a fast-paced techno-thriller suspense story written in the third-person point of view. It is the third in a series, and I think I would have appreciated it more had I read the first two books. I get the sense that if I understood the events and Arnold’s personal experiences that preceded this story, certain gaps would be filled. I was trying to understand Arnold’s role with the FBI as it was unclear if he served the agency solely as a technical expert, was more heavily involved in espionage or somehow got pulled into acts of terrorism because of his technical skill. To readers interested in this book, I recommend you add the earlier books in the series to your reading list before this one. Also, the dynamics between characters seemed off. For example, Arnold expressed strong feelings of friendship with Palmer Davidson but usually referred to him as Mr. Davidson while Davidson called Arnold by his first name.

The suspense was continuous from cover to cover as I found myself cheering for the good guys. I thought Arnold’s affection for his dog, who played a starring role in the story as Arnold’s beloved sidekick, was a cute touch and served well to offset the tension of the chase. The ending satisfied my appetite for closure and piqued my interest in the next book of the series.

 

Death Wins All Wars: Resisting the Draft in the 1960s by Daniel Holland

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

In this memoir, Daniel Holland transports the reader back to a time that will forever be remembered for the war, protests, police brutality, civil unrest, and an empowered generation convinced they had the power to change the world. Times have changed. Maybe not so much.

Holland gives the reader a bird’s-eye view of two combat zones; the one in Vietnam and the one at home in the United States, underpinning the themes of moral conscience, conviction and governmental authority. Each chapter begins with a running tally of deaths as a reminder of the sacrifice made by soldiers who lost their lives and the families who mourned them. Throughout the book are stories of the sacrifices made by protesters, activists and conscientious objectors strategizing how to achieve their overall objective of peace while risking imprisonment.

Holland interjects some levity, like when he describes the legal journey he navigated as a consequence for his acts of opposition to the war. In his initial interaction with the judge who addressed Daniel as “Danny” but objected to being addressed by his own first name, Daniel explained, “Miles, the greatest respect I can pay any man is to treat him as my equal. If you are going to use my first name, especially the familiar form, then it is only respectful I do likewise with you.” They came to terms on addressing each other as “Mister.” The judge confirmed agreement by saying, “Good. I’m glad we got that settled, Danny,” to which Danny responded, “Me too, Miles.”

But for the most part, the book is a serious look back at a tumultuous time in the U.S. and its impact on Holland’s life in particular. The buildup to stories of near-misses with the law and self-proclaimed patriots kept the story moving. One example is when Holland overheard people plotting a violent attack against him. The reader rides the intensity of emotions with him; fear conjoined with resolve. Be forewarned, however, that the book is clearly one-sided. Some readers may have an issue with that.

From a personal perspective, I am close enough in age to the author to remember those times well. But I was looking through the lens of a kid swept away with the landscape. Holland provides a window into what transpired in the inner circles of those who studied, committed to and deeply believed in the cause. His ability to provide that panorama makes this a book worth reading for those who lived through the era and the generations that followed. It serves as an inspiration to question objectionable laws that contradict morality and propagate crimes of humanity, and to stand up and be heard.

The Hidden Agenda by Ajinkya Dharane

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

The story begins in Ottawa, Canada at the home of Dr. Emily Rogers, an epidemiology expert at Health Canada. She learns a secret from a letter written by her father who had passed away a month ago, leaving the reader with a sense of what the secret might be but wanting to know more. Jack Wilson is the next main character introduced, beginning his morning at a police department in Ontario in his role as an inspector with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). As the lives of Emily and Jack intersect, the story moves from Canada to China where they launch a mission to save the world and perhaps themselves.

The story is a fictional mystery against a backdrop of a virus pandemic, told from the third-party perspective. In some instances, the author shared too much from this perspective, stating the obvious. For example, “There were no glass walls or windows open to hallways. Jack believed that the company wants to keep the activities behind the doors private.” The second sentence could have been omitted, left to the reader to make that deduction.

The theme intertwines the global crisis with family ties, justice and power. The story line moves quickly, and the surprise ending wraps it up well. However, I had difficulty relating to any of the characters or feeling empathy for them. I could not get behind the family losses that caused Emily and Jack so much suffering. I did not feel vested in the close-knit bonds between Emily and her father, and between Jack and his grandfather. Likewise, I did not feel their loss. I also found certain characters unbelievable and simplistic. Mr. Lee is the chairman of one of the biggest corporations in Asia, yet his character is unguarded and weak with a dialogue uncharacteristic for someone in that position.

The twists and turns of the story piqued my curiosity, propelling me forward in the book. With some work on helping the reader connect with the characters, the book has the potential to evoke emotions of loss, fear and love as well.

 

Fairly Familiar: A Collection of Short Stories by Dani J. Norwell

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

Each of the eight short stories touch on the complexity of familial relationships. The main characters vary by age, gender and role within the family. The commonality is the emotional roller coaster they work through as they try to reconcile expectations with their own reality.

The third-person perspective challenges the reader to consider conflicts from varying viewpoints. It is an opportunity to hover over each character separately, and develop an understanding of their actions, motives and decisions. In “Missed Moments,” I felt sorry for Clara, a 9-year-old child with a single, hard-working mother, Kim. But my empathy shifted to Kim as I learned more about her.

“Sullen Eyes” was written in the first-person perspective. Karrie is a behavioral analyst, observing a father-daughter relationship, which Karrie interprets as a hindrance to the progress of Margot, a 5-year-old autistic child. For this story, writing in the first person makes sense because Karrie is outside the family, looking in. We want to see the dynamic from her vantage point.

The author has a talent for beginning a story with a captivating statement and then gradually revealing the landscape. “Bad Badhaus” begins with the statement, “Everyone else was grieving but Jeremy couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief.” I immediately wanted to know more. As the drama of each tale unfolded, I was drawn into every word, anticipating which of the potential pathways the characters would choose to embark. The endings surprised me but felt right.

The characters are multidimensional. There are no good guys and bad guys. They are all a product of their experiences. The reader is not served perfectly happy endings but rather food for thought. I enjoyed every one of the stories and highly recommend this book. The narration is relatable and reminds us to reserve judgment as there may be an underlying story yet to be told.

Native Fate by Mark Reps

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

“Native Fate” is book number 10 in the Zeb Hanks series. The book begins with Zeb and Echo on their honeymoon in Paris while back home, in Graham County, the sitting sheriff has met his demise. Bizarre circumstances of Sheriff Black Bear’s death are revealed one strange fact at a time. Throughout the book, Zeb Hanks, along with his bride and inner circle, become embroiled in a series of events that range from enlightenment to danger as the characters struggle to distinguish truth from deceit.

This is a mystery wrapped around a theme of the strong beliefs and ancient rituals inbred in the Native American community. It is written in the third person, which works well as the reader is introduced to stories within stories. The underlying theme of deep friendship is clear from the closeness and longevity of male bonding between Jimmy Song Bird and Jake Dablo, and between Doc Yackley and Dr. Nitis Zata. The author keeps the momentum going as clues to solve the murder engender more questions with still more mysterious answers. The inner stories of relationships between friends and within families add a dimension to the book that makes the reader root for the good guys’ success and grieve for their losses. The story ends with loose ends tied up, almost a little too neatly, but does not delve deeply into the driver of greed that transforms people into monsters. I did find a few typos but no inconsistencies within the story itself.

Shappa is the archenemy of both Zeb and Echo. The mystique surrounding Shappa, which is revealed at the end, extends beyond reality, which would make it difficult for some readers to relate. Additionally, I noticed several redundancies throughout the book. For example, Helen’s relationship to Zeb was clearly stated early in the book. Yet later on, she is introduced again as, “Helen Nazelrod, Zeb’s aunt and his mother’s sister.” I am not sure why the relationship was repeated in this manner. It was as though the author thought perhaps the reader had forgotten the character.

Overall, I enjoyed the layers of mysteries, interesting set of characters and subplots. I would recommend it to fans of mysteries and especially to those who belong to a lineage of ancient rituals and mythology.

 

Code of War by Tom Shepherd

This review is published on Reedsy/Discovery.

Tom Shepherd’s ability to build a crescendo of suspense carried me swiftly from one chapter to the next.

Jen Yates is at the helm of a covert team of highly skilled hackers, Marcus Keen and Harrison Lowe. Work requests are ordered by officials who never meet the cohorts and involve targets only seen virtually. As the story unfolds, the author adeptly alludes to members of the secretive trio carrying personal secrets of their own.

The story line introduces another set of characters with a focus on Gabriela Martinez, a CIA agent. The introduction of her character and connection to the hackers is intertwined effectively. With the author’s ability to pivot back and forth between scenarios, I was able to easily migrate from the viewpoint of one character to another.

Code of War is a techno-thriller that surpassed my expectations. It is written in the third person, which enables the reader to learn the strategic thinking of intense characters. Various themes emerge throughout the book: Power and backlash of technology, loyalty and betrayal, and global repercussion of political decisions and revenge. Shepherd does not allow the story to lose momentum. I was riveted from beginning to end. The story begins with action and ends with a longing to know what happens next.

My curiosity piqued at every hint of what Marcus and Harrison were concealing, and although primary questions were answered, I felt an urge to peel back the layers to learn more of the underlying reasons for their actions. Some of the dialogue struck me as a bit cartoonish. Jen referred to Marcus and Harrison as “boys,” and Marcus addressed Jen as “boss lady.” Overall, it was well-edited, though I did find two spelling errors.

I recommend Code of War to readers fascinated with technology and espionage. Be aware there are some violent scenes of torture, but that underscores the tenacity, perseverance and heroism of the main characters. The book excited me from cover to cover, and I am looking forward to the next adventure that follows this debut thriller.