The East End Is a Must Read Debut

4 Stars to Jason Allen’s Debut, The East End

Curiosity and mischief can sometimes get the better of us. This is something Corey Halpern, a permanent resident of the Hamptons ,learns as he develops as pastime for breaking into rich people’s homes. The Sheffield’s home is one of the homes that is very familiar to him, his mother has worked for the family for many years. Corey harbors some resentment for this family for how the Sheffield’s reacted to his mother dropping an expensive vase. 

With careful and meticulous planning, Corey orchestrates his break in. But this planning soon crumbles beneath his feet and what happens next is a fast-paced plot of death, forbidden acts and consequences. Jason Allen’s debut shows that he is a masterful storyteller with lyrical prose and a plot development that makes you think. 

Thank you Park Row for allowing me to participate in the blog tour.

Q&A With Jason Allen

Q: What inspired you to write THE EAST END?

A: Initially, I mainly wanted to illuminate the inner lives of the working class people of the Hamptons. I grew up there, and as a working class person in a seasonal resort area that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, as the Hamptons does, it’s impossible not to compare what “they” have versus what “we” have. I’d always been fascinated by just how extreme the disparity was between the multi-millionaire visitors and those of us who scraped by year after year, and that tension played out in so many ways each summer season. So I wanted to explore class, but also addiction, secrecy, obsession, and to do my best to write a complex story that highlights that tension among the disparate classes of people in the Hamptons. What I found over time, after delving into the depths of each character’s psyche, is that I truly believe that we are all more than the assumptions others might impose upon us.

Q: What are some of the main themes in the book or some of the key takeaways?

A: The main themes are class (specifically class-divide), alcoholism and addiction, secrecy, obsession, loneliness and longing, and identity (including sexual orientation/ identification). The key takeaway, I hope, is that we should try our best not to judge any book by its cover. I had an easy time empathizing with the teenaged character, Corey, even as he starts breaking into houses, and also for his mother, Gina, even as she’s hitting bottom with alcohol and pills and is relatively absent from her two sons’ daily lives. I was surprised to find how much I cared about the billionaire character, Leo Sheffield, when in the past I could have easily written him off as just another greed-driven destroyer of the world, someone who deserves no empathy—but it was gratifying to care about them all, despite their flaws and bad decisions.

Q: What are the commonalities you discovered between the elite and the middle-class characters?

A: Everyone suffers. Everyone loves. Everyone longs for something or someone. We’re all so flawed, all bumbling along through our lives; we’re all having a human experience, no matter our socioeconomic status. It just so happens that it will always be a bit harder for working class people in general—hardest of all for the poorest of the poor.

Q: Your author bio says you grew up in the Hamptons and worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners.  How much did you draw from personal experience when writing this book?

A: I mined lots of lived experience for both the setting of the novel and the characters. My mother worked for a millionaire family at their summer estate in Southampton for more than a decade, and while the plot and characters are fictional, the setting is closely based on the estate where she worked (and where I worked with her for one summer). I also worked for the mega-rich in the Hamptons as a pool guy, a carpenter’s helper, lots of labor jobs in my teens and twenties.

Against Nature Goes Against the Grain

4 Stars for Against Nature

Casey Barrett was a new author to me that I discovered by participating in a Blog Tour. AGAINST NATURE is the second book the Duck Darley series. Duck Darley is an unlicensed private investigator in Manhattan that isn’t your typical PI. He’s a PI that thrives on brute strength and doesn’t always approach a situation with the methodical level-headedness we generally expect to see with someone of his profession. 

PI Darley receives a phone call from his ex-partner, Cass, telling him her boyfriend who was writing an exposé about doping on the East German Olympic team has been found dead and she’s suspects murder. This launches PI Darley on his search for the truth, with some antics that are both foolish and brilliant. This is a fast-paced book that was a joy to read. 

I also read the first book, UNDER WATER, and the storyline is contained enough that AGAINST NATURE is readable as a stand-alone, it’s mostly character development you’ll miss out on if you read by itself. 

Greg Iles Captivates with Cemetery Road

5 Glowing Stars to Cemetery Road!

Most people that know me know that I am a huge Greg Iles fan. I recommend his Penn Cage series to anyone that will listen, especially those that live in the South. A good friend recently said, “Being a Southerner and have not read Iles is like not having read Grisham.” And it’s true! The way that Iles writes the South is unlike any other and captures the essence of the South so beautifully. 

In his first stand-alone since his Penn Cage Trilogy (Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree, and Mississippi Blood) which focuses around civil rights, Cemetery Road tells a story of life in a small struggling town, political corruptness, and a forbidden love triangle. 

In one of the best opening chapters in literary history, we’re introduced to Marshall who “never meant to kill [his] brother.” Like most Southern men, at some point we find ourselves coming home to take care of our families. He has withdrawn from a very successful Washington DC reporting career to help his ailing and estranged father keep his small Mississippi town newspaper afloat. 

Shortly after his arrival Buck, a father-figure to Marshall is found floating in the Mississippi River. His wounds aren’t consistent with a fall or drowning and Marshall begins to find that perhaps some people of the community thought Buck was sticking his nose too far where it didn’t belong, potentially jeopardizing a business development that would be detrimental to the town’s success. 

In typical Iles fashion, the writing is phenomenal and the plot is full of twists and suspense that keeps you flying through the pages. 

Lyndsay Faye Dazzles with The Paragon Hotel

Two copies of Lyndsay Faye's novel The Paragon Hotel.
4 brilliant stars to Lyndsay Faye’s The Paragon Hotel!

Alice “No Body” James wants to get as far away as she can from Harlem, she finds herself on a Pullman car with two bullet wounds  straight through her chest, headed for Oregon in 1921. “No Body” is a nickname for her capacity to hide in plain sight. Which I think a lot of us can relate to in some aspect, but “No Body” is whoever you want her to be- or rather, whoever she feels she needs to be. On this Pullman car, she meets Max, who takes her immediately to the only hotel in Portland that accepts people of color. While Alice isn’t black, it’s clear she doesn’t fancy herself for a normal doctor. Max takes her to The Paragon Hotel where she meets and quickly befriends a resident, cabaret singer, and the ever so eloquent Blossom Fontaine. 

Blossom is my favorite character and I could listen to her talk in her whimsical and witty way forever. Blossom has had the opposite experience of Alice, she has at least as many secrets as Alice.  However, Blossoms’ secrets are the kind where she has to be relentlessly herself and defend it in a way where her persona does not waiver, but remain fixed always. 

The novel is a double-helix storyline of Alice and Blossom’s friendship at The Paragon Hotel and Harlem, where Alice finds herself in the middle of feuds between the five families of the Italian American Mafia. The story unwinds to reveal an ending that reminds us things aren’t always as they seem and illustrates the depths that we will go to keep others from finding out our secret. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Lyndsay Faye at novel., one of my favorite booksellers in Memphis. To celebrate the launch of Dustjacket Reviews, I had Lyndsay autograph two copies of The Paragon Hotel to giveaway. There are two chances to win: one copy will be given away on Instagram and the other will given away on Facebook. This giveaway is open to US residents only. This contest is open Jan 15 to Jan 25 midnight (CST). The winner will be announced on Saturday, Jan 26. Thanks for reading and following on social media.