Monday, April 12, 2021

Savage Gerry - John Jantunen

It was the word 'apocalyptic' in the description of John Jantunen's new novel, Savage Gerry, that caught my eye. That and the somewhat different title....

What's it about? From ECW Press: ( My thoughts follow)

"A thrilling apocalyptic tale that rushes from the inside of a prison to a world that feels even more dangerous. The End couldn’t have come at a better time for Gerald Nichols.

Dubbed “Savage Gerry” by the media, Gerald Nichols became a folk hero after he shot the men who’d killed his wife and then fled into the northern wilds with his thirteen-year-old son, Evers. Five years after his capture, he’s serving three consecutive life sentences when the power mysteriously goes out at the prison. The guards flee, leaving the inmates to die, but Gerald’s given a last-minute reprieve by a jailbreak. Released into a mad world populated by murderous bands of biker gangs preying on scattered settlements of survivors, his only hope of ever reuniting with his son is to do what he swore he never would: become “Savage Gerry” all over again."

My Thoughts:

I loved having a Canadian take on an apocalypse. What happens when the nuclear power plants malfunctions? When the power fails? When there's a new drug guaranteed to thin the herd? When criminals are sent to mega prisons up north?  When the doors are opened...

Gerry is one of those who is released when The Sons of Adam MC takes down the walls. And what they want - is what they want. Power, anarchy and more. Savage Gerry has earned some respect for his crimes, but doesn't want to stick around to find out what The Sons going to do, so he heads out through the wilderness to try and find his son.

When we meet Gerry, we don't know the details of his background, his crimes and his purpose. As he moves forward, the details are slowly drawn. Initially I found him to be an anti hero, a deeply flawed persona. But my opinion changed with every new situation he found himself in - and his actions and reactions. He's not perfect, but...

Gentle readers, this one's definitely not for you. Violence abounds and the prose are visceral. Grit lit if you will. But it was impossible to put down. Will he make it? Find his son? Find redemption? This is perhaps the biggest piece of the plot - a man trying to make peace with what he's done and picking up the pieces to find the next chapter.

I had expected a bit more 'apocalypse'. It's there but just in the beginning stages. But, Mad Max and Rick Grimes would be right at home here.

I found this interview of John Jantunen that was really interesting. There's a bit of John in Gerry - some of his own story lives with Savage Gerry.

A decidedly different read for me - but one I quite enjoyed.

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Jigsaw Man - Nadine Matheson

Nadine Matheson's debut crime novel is The Jigsaw Man. That perfectly creepy cover hints at what's hiding inside...

Detective Inspector Anjelica Henley is just back to active duty after surviving an attack from serial killer Peter Olivier. He's behind bars in a maximum security prison. But the case she's called to seems to mimic his crimes - the dismembering of his victims. The brand he left on his victims is there as well. Does he have an acolyte on the outside? A copycat?

What a great lead character Matheson has created. I liked Anjelica from the get go. She's highly intelligent, driven, respected, but flawed as well. Although the physical wounds from Olivier's attack have healed, she's still emotionally scarred  and her personal life is a bit of a mess. Matheson has also built a solid cast of supporting players in the Serial Crimes Unit. I was quite drawn to trainee DC Salim Ramouter. And I heartily disliked Anjelica's husband and mother in law.

In the beginning I thought this was a second book for this crew, but it was indeed the first. Matheson does a great job building the characters, their history and their relationships in such a way that they all felt quite established already. They're a crew that work the dark cases.

The plot isn't straight forward, taking a number of turns that kept me guessing. There are quite a few suspects, victims and aliases,  so listen carefully to keep track of everyone. The police procedures hit all the right notes and are believable. My pet peeve is convenient clues that are dropped in a protagonist's lap. Not the case in The Jigsaw Man - Henley and her team have to work to put the pieces together. (Yeah, that one was on purpose!)

I chose to listen to The Jigsaw Man. The reader was Davine Henry. She has a lovely gravely, touched by honey tone to her voice. Her speaking timbre is low, easily drawing the listener into the book. Her British accent is easy to understand, she enunciates well and her speaking pace is measured. Henry captures the plot and emotions with her voice, interpreting Matheson's work very well. The voice for Anjelica absolutely suits the mental image I had created. Her voice changes for other characters, but the scariest hands down was for the killer Olivier - it just exuded evil. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Jigsaw Man.

Gentle readers, this one may not be for you as the crimes are quite brutal and graphic. (Think Silence of the Lambs)  Matheson is herself  a criminal defense attorney and the plot and characters definitely benefit from this inside knowledge. I've got my fingers crossed that Matheson is hard at work on another Anjelica Henley book! (The Jigsaw Man has also been optioned for television.)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Giveaway - The House Uptown - Melissa Ginsburg

Melissa Ginsburg's new novel, The House Uptown is newly released and thanks to the great folks at Flatiron Books, I have not one, but three copies to giveaway!!

What's it about? From Flatiron Books:

"Ava, fourteen years old and totally on her own, has still not fully processed her mother’s death when she finds herself on a train heading to New Orleans, to stay with Lane, the grandmother she barely remembers.

Lane is a well-known artist in the New Orleans art scene. She spends most of her days in a pot-smoke haze, sipping iced coffee, and painting, which has been her singular focus for years. Her grip on reality is shaky at best, but her work provides a comfort.

Ava’s arrival unsettles Lane. The girl bears an uncanny resemblance to her daughter, whom she was estranged from before her death. Now her presence is dredging up painful and disturbing memories, which forces Lane to retreat even further into her own mind. As Ava and Lane attempt to find their way and form a bond, the oppressive heat and history of New Orleans bears down on them, forcing a reckoning neither of them are ready for." Sounds good doesn't it! Get a sneak peek - read an excerpt of The House Uptown.

Credit: Chris Offutt
"Melissa Ginsburg was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is the author of the novel, Sunset City, and the poetry collection Dear Weather Ghost. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Mississippi in Oxford." You can connect with Melissa Ginsburg on her website, follow her on Goodreads and as well as on Twitter.

Enter for a chance to win one of three copies using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US only, no PO boxes please. Ends April 23/21. (And these are physical copies!)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Mother May I - Joshilyn Jackson

Mother May I is Joshilyn Jackson's latest release. If you're a suspense reader/listener, you're going to want to pick this one up!

Jackson starts things off with a great opener. Bree Cabbat is at her daughter's school, watching a practice. She has her infant son Richard with her. Or she did. Uh huh, she turns around and her baby is gone. But there's a note - warning her she is being watched and if she wants her baby back, she shouldn't call the police or deviate from the instructions she'll get. Bree is stunned - this can't be happening.

I love this type of premise - an everyday person thrust into an untenable position. There's so many avenues Jackson could take her story from this starting point. And she takes it down some unexpected - and dark - paths. Mothers (good and bad), motherhood and what a mother will do to protect her child are the backbone of this plot. She also takes a page from an issue often seen in the news as the impetus for the kidnapping. That opening set the pace for the rest of the book - it's non stop action from first page to last. 

I really liked Bree as the lead character. I was behind her all the way as she follows the kidnapper's increasing demands. Her friend Marshall is also one of the good ones. And the bad ones? Oh, you'll have no problem labeling them at all. 

I chose to listen to Mother May I. And a lot of that choice was because Jackson herself narrates the book! What a treat to have an author read their own work. She brings the tension, the danger, the emotions and more to life as she presents her work. Her diction is clear, pleasant to listen to and is very, very expressive. She provides believable voices for all the characters, allowing the listener to know immediately who is speaking. They also suited the mental images I had created for the players. Her presentation has lots of movement, sharing the tone and tenor of the plot very easily. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of Mother May I.

Remember that game? Mother May I? Jackson takes it to a whole new level! There are a few bits that require a pinch of salt (that's the pragmatist in me talking) but they in no way detracted from my enjoyment of Mother May I. A great listen.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Other People's Children - R. J. Hoffman

Other People's Children is R.J. Hoffmann's debut novel. 

What's it about? This is the lead line in the Simon and Schuster's description (so, not a spoiler from me!) "A riveting debut novel about a couple whose dream of adopting a baby is shattered when the teenage mother reclaims her child."

With that descriptor, I knew what I would be reading about, but intuited it wouldn't be a straight forward tale. Other People's Children is based on that premise, but it is the characters that are the focus of the book. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of Hoffmann's characterizations. 

 Hoffman explores generations of parenting, different takes on parenting, what it means to be a parent, parenting styles, the repercussions of childhood through the points of view of prospective parents Gail and Jon, pregnant teen Carli, her mother Marla and adoption agent Paige. As the reader is outside looking in, it is easier to see each each player's perception and give credence to their mindsets and emotions. But as the book progressed, I became biased and knew the outcome I wanted for Other People's Children. I think each reader's own experience will shape their hope for the ending. 

Hoffmann is a talented writer and his prose are quite beautiful. I admit, I was initially surprised that a male author was writing a book with mothers as the main characters. Could he actually capture their thoughts and actions? I thought he did a pretty good job of it, but found Marla to be too much of a caricature. I wonder if this book took some inspiration from his own life?

Prospective readers, this is a slow burning, thoughtful novel. It does speed up close to the end with a dramatic turn of events, although I did find the final pages to be a bit predictable. Read an excerpt of Other People's Children.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Anywhere For You - Abbie Greaves

There's something about reading a first chapter and thinking 'I've stumbled onto something really good here..." Well, it didn't take a full chapter to know that I was going to love Abbie Greaves' new novel, Anywhere for You. I was hooked immediately.

Mary O'Connor finishes her shift at the grocery store every day and heads to Ealing Station. There, she stands in the same place day after day, holding up her sign that reads 'Come Home Jim'. She's kept this routine for seven years....

Okay, my curiosity was peaked - I needed to know more about Mary, why is she looking for Jim, who is Jim, where has he gone?  Alice, a young reporter who needs a story to save her job sees the answer to her problems in Mary's story. Maybe she can even find Jim...

Greaves tells Mary's story in alternating chapters from present and past. I love this style of storytelling - it's guaranteed to keep me up late reading one more chapter as we slowly get to know who Jim was and what he meant to Mary. What a brilliant lead Greaves has created. My feelings for Mary ran the gamut - sad, happy, worried and more. All of the other players are just as well portrayed. Alice also has her own chapters and she too has 'baggage' - and a good heart. The supporting cast is made up of Ted, Olive and Kit - all volunteers at the local helpline. (I adored Kit.) And they too are harboring their own heartaches.

The journey to Jim's whereabouts is so very, very good. Greaves' writing is wonderful. I was caught up in the story from start to finish, I genuinely cared about the characters and the message woven into the book is true, timely and more. Anywhere for You is by turns heartbreaking, heartwarming and life affirming.  Definitely recommended. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Dangerous Women - Hope Adams

I stumbled across Hope Adams' new novel Dangerous Women in a library newsletter and knew immediately it was one I wanted to listen to. 

What's it about? From Penguin Audio: (My thoughts follow)

"London, 1841. One hundred eighty Englishwomen file aboard the Rajah, embarking on a three-month voyage to the other side of the world. 

They're daughters, sisters, mothers - and convicts. Transported for petty crimes. Except one of them has a deadly secret, and will do anything to flee justice.

As the Rajah sails farther from land, the women forge a tenuous kinship. Until, in the middle of the cold and unforgiving sea, a young mother is mortally wounded, and the hunt is on for the assailant before he or she strikes again.

Each woman called in for question has something to fear: Will she be attacked next? Will she be believed? Because far from land, there is nowhere to flee, and how can you prove innocence when you’ve already been found guilty?"

My Thoughts:

First off, I loved that cover! I was aware of the history of the prison ships that delivered convicts to Australia and Van Diemen's Land. (Tasmania) I think its a fascinating piece of history. Knowing the name of the ship from the publisher's blurb, I had a quick look online first - and discovered that Adams has based her novel on facts. You can find out more about the women on the Rajah here - names, sentences and where they were sentenced. The other thing I discovered was the Rajah Quilt. In the novel, a group of women work on this quilt on the journey. Today it hangs in the National Gallery of Australia. It is a stunning quilt. You can see it here

Okay, history, quilting and a mystery - I just knew I was going to love this book! Adams' protagonist is ship's Matron, Kezia Hayter. She's quite young, but is fiercely protective up the women, standing up for them against the Captain, Ship's Doctor and the Ship's Reverend. These characters are also based in fact. 

When one of the women below decks is 'grievously harmed', an investigation is launched. Adams gives a voice to a number of the women, allowing us to hear their stories, their wants, their regrets and their hopes for a second chance in Van Diemen's Land. And from Kezia's chapters, the desire to have her words and thinking taken seriously. Taking clues from their narratives, the listener/reader can narrow down the suspects.

I enjoyed every facet of Adams' novel - the women's stories resonated with me, the challenges faced by women in that time period are still relevant today. I enjoyed the slow resolution of the crime, solved by questions and deductions, a nice change from DNA solving the case in a matter of hours.

Adams captures the setting, with vivid descriptions of the below decks quarters, the joy in a patch of sun on deck as well as descriptions of the fabric and stitching. As the quilt grows, so does the camaraderie of the women, the pride in their work - and themselves.

I chose to listen to Dangerous Women. The narrator was Fenella Woolgar and she was the perfect choice. She captures the different tones, timbres and accents of the women. And also proved believable voices for the male characters as well. Her voice is clear and easy to understand and her speaking pace is just right. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of Dangerous Women.

I really, really liked this one. Five stars for sure.