Thursday, February 2, 2023

The House in the Pines - Ana Reyes

I started seeing quite a few reviews of Ana Reyes's debut novel, The House in the Pines. When Reece Witherspoon made it her next book club selection, I decided to listen to it and see what it was all about.

Maya had three weeks before she left for university. But in those three weeks, her life changed when her friend Aubrey died - in front of Frank, the man Maya had been seeing. 

That was seven years ago. Maya still doesn't really understand happened that summer. She doesn't trust her own memories. But after a chance viewing of a disturbing video, she knows she has to go back home and find answers at last.

Unreliable narrators are a favourite of mine and Maya is definitely unreliable. Reyes mixes in more than one reason for her memory lapses and current day behaviour. Once she's back at her childhood  home, the pieces of that summer are slowly put together as Maya starts to revisit those three weeks. I'm was firmly behind Maya as she searched for answers. But... I mulled over teenage Maya's actions, emotions and thoughts as I listened. It could be my pragmatic nature, but I didn't totally buy into her behavior back then. 
 
Now, there is a reason for that behavior that I'm going to let you discover. It's at the core of the book. Having had it revealed, I thought it an unusual and unique idea. But, that pragmatic nature of mine had me appreciating the novelty of it, but not really buying into it.

There's a connection in Maya's life to Guatemala and I enjoyed learning from these bits of history.

I enjoyed this listen and thought it was a good debut. Not quite the wow I had anticipated though. 

The narrator was Marisol Ramirez and I thought she did a great job. Her voice is really easy on the ears, with a soft undertone. She speaks clearly and enunciates well. Her voice rises and falls as she reads, adding movement to the narration. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The House in the Pines

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Drift - C.J. Tudor

Oh, I have been waiting for C.J. Tudor's new book - The Drift

Tudor has a very dark imagination - and I absolutely love it. Her books always keep me on the edge of my chair, rapidly turning pages.

The Drift is told through three different protagonists. 

Hannah wakes up in the school bus that was taking students to a retreat. But it's not on the road any longer. In the middle of a snowstorm, the bus has crashed and hurtled down a hill. They're trapped inside. Oh, and some of the passengers are sick...

Meg wakes up in a cable car that's not moving - in a snow storm. She has no idea how she got there and who the other riders are. Except for one - a cop from her past. At one time they both worked on the Infection Control and Public Unrest squad. (Gotcha wondering, right?) One thing they all agree on is that they were headed for a retreat. Oh, and some of the passengers are sick....

Carter, and a handful of others, live at The Retreat. Their generator dies when a snow storm hits. And puts their lives - and others - in jeopardy.

The Drift is told in rotation, from one location and protagonist to the next and the next. I adore this style of storytelling and literally can't put down a book told in this fashion. Tudor changes tack at critical moments, surprise revelations and dangerous situations, closing out the chapter and moving on to the next. I have to know what's going on so I just keep turning the page.

The plotting is brilliant. I had so many questions! What, if anything, will tie these three scenarios together? Apart from the snowstorm that is. Tudor is delightfully devious in presenting her tale. There was more that once where I went back and re-read a sentence and started to piece things together. And then I got tripped up with the twists Tudor lays out before the reader.

Tudor write such suspense filled books with a side of horror and mystery. The Drift was very, very good for this reader! See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Drift.  

(The title is clever as well, with many ways it can be used and interpreted.)  

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun - Elle Cosimano

Elle Cosimano has just released Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun - the  third entry in this fun, light hearted crime series. 

I would suggest starting with the first book, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, as each new entry builds on the one before. That way, you'll know how she got into this mess....

Finlay is a mom of two and writes romance novels as her job. All is well in her world...until it's not. Through a series of crazy events, she and her nanny Vero are now adept at hiding bodies, but aren't killers. Somehow though, a lot of dangerous people think she's - well - a contract killer. 

What ensues is laugh out loud chaos - in all three books. The predicaments are far fetched, but honestly, the more preposterous the plot is, the more fun it is to read. This latest has Finlay and Vero still trying to fix what's gone before. Perhaps attending a community police camp might help them in finding and appeasing the 'real' bad guys. And bonus points for the sexy detective running the camp. He and Finlay have a complicated relationship. And really, Finlay also needs to do some research for her latest romance novel. Right?

It's impossible to not like Finlay as a lead. I'm not always so sure about Vero. I think there's much about her that we don't know yet. There's a large group of supporting characters that appear in each book.

If you're looking for a fun, light-hearted, escapist read, you'll find in this series. 

When I read the first book, I immediately thought of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books. Indeed, Evanovich has provided a blurb for  this latest...."Fresh, heartfelt and witty, Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun is a twisty page-turner, and its relatable heroine Finlay Donovan is irresistible!" —Janet Evanovich.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Episode Thirteen - Craig DiLouie

Okay, it's just a picture, but those hands in the window creeped me out. And that's before I even turned a page of Craig DiLouie's new book Episode Thirteen.

I like 'intelligent' horror - a story that doesn't rely on a slash and burn rampage, but instead is a slow burning path to the 'don't go in the basement' moments. And DiLouie is one of those authors who hits all the right notes for me.

So, you may have watched one or two of those paranormal phenomenon and ghost hunters shows. Episode 13 takes us to an abandoned mansion that was used for some questionable testing forty years ago. There have been reports and sightings over the years. As the building is to be demolished, the Fade to Black paranormal research team have a small window for their investigation.

Episode Thirteen is told using an epistolary style - which is one of my favourite methods of story telling. We meet and come to know the five members of  Fade to Black through a series of journal entries, magazine articles, memos, memories, texts, transcripts and more. I like that we get to know each of the players through their own words, instead of through the eyes of just one main character. There are some very differing personalities - I think every reader will find one that resonates with them. 

I will say that the tension, uncertainty, creepiness and fright factor insidiously grows with every chapter. Things get a bit heavy at the end, but I really enjoyed the journey there. 

But...what about the house? Is it haunted? Well, I'm not to spoil the book for you, so you'll have to find out for yourself! Read an excerpt of Episode Thirteen. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Twyford Code - Janice Hallett

I thought Janice Hallett's book, The Appeal, was a fantastic listen. But, I think The Twyford Code is even better! 

Steve Smith is in his fifties when he's discharged from prison. Having had lots of time to ponder on things, he is determined to solve a mystery from his childhood. As a child, Steve found an illustrated children's book left on a bus, took it to school and showed it to his teacher Miss Iles. As the five students in the remedial class cannot read well, she reads the book to them. And as a treat, she takes the children on a field trip to one of the places the book describes. And....she disappears.

Determined to find out what happened to Miss Iles all those years ago, Smithy starts investigating. Armed with an old iPhone, he records his thoughts, memories, interactions and more. What a novel way of telling a story. I love epistolary books and The Twyford Code is the audio version of that style. Brilliant!

I was completely caught up in the complex puzzles that arise as the search begins - and the direction they take. Hallett is a clever, clever writer. Listen closely to those iPhone entries - the answers are there. But they're difficult to see and hear. A story within a story is waiting for keen listeners. I was (happily) caught completely off guard at the final 'ah hah' moment. 

I've often said I feel more immersed in a tale when I listen to it. And that is absolutely the case with The Twyford Code. The narrator was Thomas Judd. His voice is pleasant to listen to and he enunciates well. The pace of his reading is just right. Judd interprets Hallett's book perfectly, capturing the emotions and actions of the plot. His voice is changed to work with different characters. An excellent presentation of a wonderful book! Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Devil You Know - P.J. Tracy

I really enjoyed P.J. Tracy's Monkeewrench series. The latest book from P.J. Tracy - The Devil You Know - is the third entry in the Detective Margaret Nolan series.

P.J. Tracy is the pseudonym for the mother-daughter writing duo of P.J. and Traci Lambrech. Sadly, P.J. Tracy passed away in 2016. Traci has continued to write on her own.

Which makes it all the harder to say that this newest book is a rare DNF for me. The premise sounded good - a female detective on the LAPD force and the death of an actor. But it was the delivery for this reader. I even went back and read the first few chapters, but it was the same on a second reading. 

I gave the book fifty pages, but had to call it a day by that point. I found the prose to be overwrought and the sentences to be too long. The use of many alternate choices for commonplace descriptors felt like a thesaurus had been used deliberately. 

Here's a sample:

"The bold, black headline possessed astonishing metaphysical properties, like the power to rearrange his anatomy: his heart was beating in his stomach, which was now in the the vicinity of his throat, and his balls had apparently departed from his body altogether, because he couldn't feel them." All one sentence.

The book opens with a murder - promising in this genre. Then a new chapter with a letter from 1864. Then we meet Sam, then Margaret, then Daphna, Seth, Evan and Becca. I'm sure there are more, but this hit the 50 page wall. More and more characters are added without clarity. What has happened? What is the role of all these players? Sadly, by then I had lost interest. I was hoping for a good police procedural. But The Devil You Know was all over the place. 

Not the book for me. But, loads of people enjoyed this title - I encourage you to read those reviews on Goodreads.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Better the Blood - Michael Bennett - Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue

Better the Blood is the first book in a new series from Michael Bennett.

Hana Westerman is a Detective Senior Sergeant with the Auckland Criminal Investigation Bureau. She receives an anonymous video that leads to the discovery of a secret room - and the dead man inside that room. When there's another murder, Hana realizes they may be linked. And that there's a larger plan at work here...

Bennett has penned a good police procedural featuring a likable, believable protagonist in Hana. I did have issues with her daughter and her actions.

It was the exploration of the culture of, and the injustices done to the Māori people that grabbed my attention. And saddened me more than I can say. For me, this was the larger part of the book, with the current day crime taking a backseat to the historical crimes. Better the Blood is a bit of a slow burn, with some points being referenced many times.

I did choose to listen to Better the Blood. I've often said that I become more immersed in a book when I listen and that was certainly the case with this book. The narrators - Miriama McDowell and Richard Te Are were excellent. Both of them captured the tone of the book's plotting with their voices. Both of them speak the Māori language and the tone of the book is enhanced with that facet. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Better the Blood.