Tracks by Jim Black



Jim Black (Adult Fiction)

It’s 1968 in the small town of Archer City, Texas.  Fifteen-year-old Jim and his friends, Charles and Gary, are freshmen in high school and the world is suddenly full of hope and possibility…and broken hearts, broken noses, and a few bruised egos.  Yes, life is good until strange things begin to happen.  There are reports of livestock being found mutilated just outside of town and rumors of satanic cults and aliens begin swirling around faster than a Texas dust storm.  Every nerve in town is raw and on edge and that could only mean one thing: the time is absolutely ripe for Jim, Charles, and Gary to pull off a prank worthy of the ages.

Tracks is the sequel to Jim Black’s delightful and humorous semi-autobiographical River Season.  I was gifted my copy of Tracks by the author himself (who also kindly signed it) who mailed it to me after reading my review of his first book and noting that I was looking for a copy of his sequel.  I must say, I was a bit apprehensive when I started reading Tracks.  Would it capture the same magic and nostalgia as its predecessor?  What if I didn’t like it?  How can I tell an author, who personally sent me a copy of his book, that it fell a little flat and then afterwards, how would I be able to fake my own death?  I shouldn’t have worried because Tracks captures the same heart, soul, and humanity that originally endeared me to three teenaged lads in a small Texas town.

Like Black, I grew up in a small, southern town.  During the 1970s, my town had a population of only 646 and I remember the barbershop with the lighted barber’s pole, the diner, the hardware store, post office, service station, bank, library, and courthouse that stood along Main Street.  Black’s novel isn’t just a story about the special bond of friendship and how family goes way beyond blood, it’s a sentimental and tender journey back to a time when after a fight or a bad date, all it took to set the world right again was a fried fruit pie and a flavored Coke with your best friends sitting beside you in the corner booth.  A time when you walked into the diner and all you had to be asked was, “The usual?”  A time when your mom served you Malt-O-Meal for breakfast, you played Parcheesi with your grandmother on Sunday, and you sat around the television set watching Bonanza at night.  It was a time when friendship meant that someone always had your back and was ready to offer up a hand or a shoulder when needed.  It’s a story about life and everything that goes with it: humor and heartbreak, hope and disappointment, pitfalls and promises.  It’s the uncertainty and the adventure that makes life worth living and a story that each of us writes for ourselves with every breath we take.

I will never be able to thank Jim Black enough for his kindness and generosity for sending me Tracks (he sent me a second book which I will be reading and reviewing in the very near future).  I read because I love getting lost in a story and I write because it is what God gifted me to do.  When the two meet and happen to come across an appreciative eye, it makes life all the more sweet.

Ben Franklin once said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”  With the help of his two best friends in the world, Jim Black was able to accomplish both.

Rating: 5/5

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The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman

The Inn at Lake Devine

The Inn at Lake Devine   

Elinor Lipman (Adult Fiction)

“It was not complicated, and, as my mother pointed out, not even personal:  They had a hotel; they didn’t want Jews; we were Jews.”

In the summer of 1962, Natalie Marx’s mother mailed about a dozen inquiries to various cottages and inns along Vermont’s Lake Devine.  All came back with the standard rate card and cordial note.  All, that is, but one.  “Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles” was neatly written on textured white stationery.  This act of blatant and brutal honesty ignites young Natalie’s quest to seek justice and acquire vindication and understanding.

This book was an engaging read, but seems to fall victim to its own misleading marketing.  On the cover, it’s touted as a “witty romantic comedy”.  While there are spots of flirtatious frolicking, describing it as a Romcom might be a bit of a stretch.  Also, in the synopsis, we’re led to believe that Natalie encounters “a small bastion of genteel anti-Semitism” at this particular lakeside inn.  In reality, it is only one individual who openly exhibits this prejudice.  Ironically, we find out that Natalie’s own family is not immune to their fair share of prejudice, which proves to be far more damaging to Natalie than what she experienced at Lake Devine.

Lipman gives us a charming book with enough plot twists and interesting characters to keep the reader’s interest.  However, don’t expect “a tale of delicious revenge” as one reviewer stated on the back cover.  Rather, The Inn at Lake Devine is a light read, which can be made even more enjoyable if sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking a lake.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to