Monday, June 14, 2021

The Damage - Caitlin Wahrer

The Damage is Caitlin Wahrer's debut novel - and I literally could not put it down. 

"An edgy, propulsive read about what a family pushed to the brink will do in the name of love and blood."

Tony is more like a father to his younger brother Nick. When Nick is sexually assaulted, Tony sees red. Tony's wife Julia is the voice of reason - she's a lawyer and believes justice will be served in the court system. Detective Rice is the cop on the case and he too believes Nick will have his day in court. 

Wahrer employs one of my all time favourite methods of storytelling - alternating past and present chapters. She takes us to 2015,  the time of the assault and investigation. Each of the main characters - Tony, Julie, Nick and Rice have a voice, allowing the reader to know what everyone is feeling, thinking, planning - and hiding. The time frame then flips to 2019. Rice and Julia are the focus of these newer posts. Rice is not well and wants to know.....what really happened back then? Does Julia know what answers Rice is looking for? 

There are so many layers to Wahrer's plot - the assault is tough to read about and will provoke many emotions for readers.  We see the impact through the four different perspectives and how this affects each member of the family. Wahrer's depiction of the aftermath rings true. She herself is a lawyer and "has worked on cases involving some of the broad issues she writes about in The Damage". Her portrayal of the assault is respectful and seems to have been well researched. Social commentary is also scattered throughout and speaks to preconceptions.

Those feelings, emotions, actions and reactions drive the second part of the plot, the one that will keep you wondering. What really happened? Wahrer ekes out references, clues and hints along the way to the final pages. And the twist that awaits you at the end of the book is a really good one!

The Damage is a powerful debut, combining suspense, family ties, mental health, trauma and more into one addicting read. I can't wait to see what Wahrer writes next. Read an excerpt of The Damage.

Who else loved The Damage? Stephen King says "The Damage pulled me in from the first page with smart narration, characters I cared about, a hold-your-breath plot, and a terrific final twist. Put this one high on your summer list.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Hard Cash Valley - Brian Panowich

Brian's Panowich's novel, Hard Cash Valley, has just been released in trade format. Described as one of 2020's ten best crime novels by The New York Time Book Review, I knew it was one I wanted to read.

The book opens with a bang - and a murder that leaves the reader wanting more - who, why and more. Dane Kirby is a former arson investigator and now works for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He's surprised and more than a little reluctant when he is called in to consult on the murder scene in Florida. And his new partner FBI Special Agent Roselita Velasquez doesn't want him there any more than he wants to be there. But there's an eleven year old boy with Aspergers out there all alone - and everyone has their own reasons for wanting to find him. So Kirby signs on.

Okay, where to start? I really liked Kirby as a lead. He's fighting his own demons - and ghosts - even as he tries to move forward with life. He's street smart and book smart, and as a born and bred McFalls County, Georgia resident he knows all the players. And there are some really dark, ruthless and downright frightening characters in this book. (Gentle readers this one's not for you!) The supporting characters are just as strongly written. The reader will have immediate reactions to each and every character. You'll be behind those you would think should be behind bars and question those with badges. 

The setting and atmosphere is just as much of a character in the books. Panowich makes his home in Georgia and the setting greatly benefits from that personal knowledge. Panowich's plotting is intricate and will keep the reader on their toes as another layer and direction is added to the narrative. And truly, there was no predicting what I was going to find in the final pages.

But, it comes back to the characters for me. Each and every one of them is chasing something - money, redemption, love, the past or maybe the future. And who finds what in the end sits just right for me. 

Southern grit-lit at it's finest. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of Hard Cash Valley.

This is actually the third book in Panowich's 'Bull Mountain' series. I had no problem reading this as a stand alone, but I'll be putting those first two books, Bull Mountain and Like Lions on my ever growing TBR list. And I'll be watching for his fourth book.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Hairpin Bridge - Taylor Adams

Taylor Adams kept me on the edge of my seat with his previous book, No Exit. And his latest book, Hairpin Bridge? Couldn't put it down! I love twists and turns, but Hairpin Bridge is a corkscrew of a read!

Lena's twin sister Cambry is dead - suicide they say. They? The cop who was the last to see her on the isolated Hairpin Bridge in Montana. But Lena doesn't buy it - there's just too many inconsistencies in Officer Raycevic's report. She asks to meet him on the site of Cambry's death - Hairpin Bridge. And he agrees.... Lena has her own agenda though...

I love books with epistolary elements. In this case its Lena's blog and entries are scattered through the book.

Hairpin Bridge is told from Cambry's point of view, giving the reader an inside look at what really happened to her. Or does it? The POV switches to Lena in real time on the bridge with Officer Raycevic. It starts off cordial enough, but there's an underlying, simmering tension on both sides that quickly comes to a boil. And again, what is the truth? Raycevic also has a few chapters of his own as well - and his are downright scary. 

The twists and turns come hard and fast. What is the truth? Its near impossible to tell and very hard to predict what's coming next. There are most definitely some gruesome parts and creepy conversations - and great gotchas.

Kudos Taylor Adams - you made me squirm! That tension and action never really lets up and it was hard not to flip to the final pages! Over the top in spots? Absolutely - but it made for addictive reading. Hairpin Bridge would also make a great movie. (Gentle readers, this may not be the one for you)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

How Lucky - Will Leitch

I really like the simple unassuming cover of Will Leitch's new novel How Lucky. But the real reason I picked it up was Stephen King's blurb - "A fantastic novel. . . . You are going to like this a lot." And yes, I really, really did!

Daniel lives in Athens, Georgia, works for an airline answering customer issues online, goes to football games on the weekend and hangs out with his best friend Travis. One morning while out on his porch, he sees what he thinks is a kidnapping of a student who walks by daily. But did he? She seemed to get in willingly. But then Ai-Chin is reported as missing. Daniel attempts to let the police know about what he's seen, but....

And a lot of that but has to do with the fact that Daniel has a degenerative physical disability - SMA - Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The police officer sent to talk to him, can't seem to see beyond the wheelchair. Daniel's concerns and information are blithely explained and written off. 

What a fabulous lead character! I loved Daniel's voice, his sense of humor and his refusal to define himself with his condition. The supporting cast is just as great - everyone needs friends like Travis and Marjani.

I learned so much about SMA through Daniel. The hard, cold facts but also the human emotions, attitudes, strengths and joys that Daniel embodies. He considers himself to be lucky. You'll need to have a tissue handy in more than one chapter. And maybe see your own life through his lens.

Back to Ai-Chin - she's still missing and Daniel decides to investigate online. And I'm going to leave it there.....

I chose to listen to How Lucky. With such an engaging lead character, the reader needed to be just right. I'm happy to say that Graham Halstead was the perfect choice. His voice is clear and both easy and pleasant to listen to. His voice matched the mental image I had created for Daniel. There's lots of movement in his voice, capturing Daniel's thoughts, emotions and interactions and bringing them to life. Halstead captures the overall tone of the book easily. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I find myself more drawn into a tale by listening. And that is definitely the case with How Lucky. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of How Lucky.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Pumpkin - Julie Murphy

Hands up if you adored Julie Murphy's previous two books - Dumplin' and Puddin'! The latest in this series is Pumpkin - and it was another brilliant listen!

"Waylon Russell Brewer is a fat, openly gay boy stuck in the small West Texas town of Clover City. His plan is to bide his time until he can graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and finally go Full Waylon so that he can live his Julie-the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music-Andrews truth." (And the nickname Pumpkin is thanks to his red hair and his Grammy.)

I couldn't wait to meet Waylon! I loved him from the get go - his spunky attitude, his dreams, his confidence (although it definitely wavers in private) and his determination to live his life the way he wants to. New Clover City students are part of the supporting cast, all just as well drawn. And I was thrilled to see Willowdean and Millie again.

Pumpkin takes place in the last months of the senior year. Plans for what's next with his twin sister have gone awry. Being nominated for Prom Queen was a supposed to be a cruel joke played on Waylon - but he embraces it - and I'll leave you there.....

Murphy excels at depicting the inner thoughts, dialogue, emotions and actions of her characters. They're so believable and I am sure everyone can relate to them in one way or another. (I'd be happy to be part of Waylon's group of friends.) The budding will-it, won't it, romance is so well written as well. 

Julie Murphy has done it again. Pumpkin is a feel-good, cheer for the underdog, wish for happiness, heartwarming listen. There are some difficult situations, such as bullying and shaming, which unfortunately are realistic. Grrr!

I am so glad I chose to listen to Pumpkin. I always feel more immersed in a story when I listen. It's much of that depends on the narrator. And actor Chad Burris was the absolute perfect choice. His voice immediately started building an image and sense of who Pumpkin was. His voice is clear, easy to understand he enunciates well. His voice has such movement. But it's the sass in his voice and the tones and emotions he imbues his performance with that made this a stand out performance for me. The book really came alive with his interpretation of Murphy's work.  Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Pumpkin

Pumpkin could be listened to as a stand alone, but do yourself a favor and listen to the first two as well. I'm quite sad that this is the end of these characters. Julie Murphy - "It’s hard to say goodbye. I’m ready to move on creatively, but I don’t know if it’s a door I can ever fully close. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Clover City." But I'm still going to have my fingers crossed for the possibility of more from Clover City. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot - Marianne Cronin

Although my favorite genres are mysteries and suspense, I like to take a break and mix things up with something different.

I loved the colors, flowers and stars on the cover of Marianne Cronin's debut novel, The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot.

Seventeen year old Lenni and eighty three year old Margot are both living on borrowed time. Lenni is on the terminal ward and Margot is in for heart surgery at a Scottish hospital. Their paths cross in an arts and crafts class at the hospital and despite their difference in age, they hit it off. 

I liked the story telling method that Cronin chose for her novel. Lenni and Margot decide to share their lives, told in stories and paintings - all in a run up to their 'one hundredth birthday' - a combination of their ages. The point of view is back and forth between the two, both past and present.

Lenni is the first character we meet and I have to say that after the first few chapters, I wasn't quite sure that I would enjoy this book. I found Lenni's actions, inner dialogue and outward questions to be that of a much younger person. She makes friends with the hospital pastor (who was a great, kind patient character) and asks questions such as 'why can't he wear his dress (vestments) to garden in'. I'm not sure if Cronin was aiming for precocious, but I found her to be a bit annoying. And I felt bad about it, as we know she is dying. My opinion did warm up as the book progressed and we come to know her past, her hopes and fears more intimately.

But.....I have to say that I loved Margot! Perhaps because I am closer in age to her and can relate easier to her. Her life story is fascinating as we watch her grow, change and embrace what life throws at her. That's not to say there isn't heartbreak in her life, but she seems to makes it a part of herself and moves on. I couldn't wait for her next chapter.

There are a number of 'good' characters that are positive and populate Lenni's world, but there's also a'Nurse Ratched'. I had a difficult time believing this awful character's actions and attitude.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot gives us two different perspectives on life. One barely begun and one reaching towards the end. Each has heart warming and heart breaking bits. Cronin's tale will leave you wondering what your own story might be.....

I chose to listen to The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot. I often feel closer to and more engaged with a book when I listen. The readers were Sheila Reid and Rebecca Benson. I thought I recognized Reid's voice from a television show as I listened and was proven right once I went looking. She's got a lovely gravelly tone to her voice that connotes an older character, along with a Scottish accent. She's got a measured pace of speaking that added to the mental image I had created for Margot. She easily makes the character come alive, interpreting and presenting Cronin's work well. The voice that Benson provided for Lenni sounds young and suits the character. Her voice is clear and easy to understand. What I wasn't as keen on on was the speed of her narrating and the longish pauses. She also did the voice for Father Arthur and it felt warm, suiting the character. Listen to an excerpt of The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot.

Film rights have already been sold. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

That Summer - Jennifer Weiner

I've enjoyed Jennifer Weiner's writing from her first book, Good in Bed, through to her current release, That Summer.

Now, that cover shot does promise a 'beach read'. And indeed a lot of the book is set in Cape Cod, with much love for the the beach/sun/water and more. But there's a deeper story found in That Summer.

Daisy keeps receiving emails for a woman whose e-address is almost identical. They converse and Daisy and Diana decide to meet up. They hit it off and a new friendship is formed. But Diana seems to have a hidden agenda....

The point of view switches from Daisy to Diana, as well as Daisy's teen daughter Beatrice. The listener slowly learns about the past of each of the leads - and how and why their lives have crossed.

Both women are engaging characters and I connected and empathized with both of them, but felt more drawn to Diane. She's a stronger character, while Daisy seems to let life take direction from her husband. But, I have to say that I really loved Beatrice, whos seems to have her head on straight and her sense of self firmly defined by fifteen. And on the other side of the coin is Daisy's husband Hal. Seriously unlikable - which is being kind.

I don't want to provide spoilers, so I'm just going to say that Weiner always weaves relevant social issues through her books. Fair warning to gentle listeners - this one is pretty heavy. Weiner's handling of that issue has been written with thoughtfulness and care while still spelling out the aftermath. There's lots of food for thought in this novel. I must admit, I did have a hard time with the ending - it's not what I would have liked to see, and I questioned if it truly would happen outside of the pages of a book. The ending would make for a great book club discussion.

I chose to listen to That Summer. And I have to say that this book had a bigger impact on me in audio format than print. The narrator is always plays a big part in that. Sutton Foster was the reader and she was a great choice. I've listened to her before and have enjoyed her reading. She has a very pleasant voice that suited Daisy perfectly. She changes it up for Diana, so you know who is speaking. There's a rich undertone to Foster's voice that is quite pleasant to listen to. She enunciates well and her pace of speaking is just right. She infuses feeling into Weiner's words and easily transmits the many emotions of the plot. Another great performance for Foster. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of That Summer.