Thursday, March 4, 2021

Who Is Maud Dixon? - Alexandra Andrews

Who is Alexandra Andrews? She's the author of Who Is Maud Dixon

I love looking at a cover before turning to the first page. Do you see the two profiles made from that one line? It's a perfect representation of what you'll find inside.

From Little Brown and Company: "Florence Darrow is a low-level publishing employee who believes that she's destined to be a famous writer. When she stumbles into a job the assistant to the brilliant, enigmatic novelist known as Maud Dixon — whose true identity is a secret — it appears that the universe is finally providing Florence’s big chance." Uh huh, lots of ways this story could unfurl.....

For me, Florence was an unlikable lead - and was perfect for Andrews' tale. Florence seems to have something missing, an emptiness in her that she can never seem to fill. The book is told from her perspective, her thoughts and her actions. Which were more than a little disturbing.

"When she looked into the future, she saw herself at a beautiful next to a window, typing her next great book. She could never quite see the words on the screen, but she knew they were brilliant and would prove once and for all that she was special. Everyone would know the name Florence Darrow."

But, she's not the only unlikeable character - the author known as Maud Dixon is mercurial, eccentric and manipulative. She decides that the two of them need to travel to Morocco for research purposes. I loved the setting - Andrews does a great job of bringing it to life - the heat, the noise, the markets and more. Here we do meet some supporting players - and a few of them I did like, including Officer Idrissi. Oh yes, there is a police officer involved - but is there a crime? Andrews keeps the reader guessing as the story takes a different direction more than once, with some great twists. I appreciate not being able to predict a story.

Andrews herself has worked in the publishing industry and that insider knowledge adds to the atmosphere of the book. Her writing grabs you and hangs on tight. An excellent cat and mouse, mouse and cat plot, one I thoroughly enjoyed.

This was a fantastic debut novel for Andrews. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Who Is Maud Dixon? And I can see this one on the big screen as well.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

We Begin at the End - Chris Whitaker

Begin at the End is Chris Whitaker's new novel - and it's a fantastic read on so many levels. And that's also the opinion of one of my favorite authors - here's what Louise Penny had to say...."This is a book to be read and reread and an author to be celebrated."

Okay, so now you're asking - what is it about? From Henry Holt and Co:

"With We Begin at the End, Chris Whitaker has written an extraordinary novel about people who deserve so much more than life serves them. At times devastating, with flashes of humor and hope throughout, it is ultimately an inspiring tale of how the human spirit prevails and how, in the end, love—in all its different guises—wins. There are two kinds of families: the ones we are born into and the ones we create."

Thirteen year old Duchess Day Radley is a self proclaimed outlaw. A defensive measure as she is ostracized by her classmates - and many adults. She fiercely protects her five year old brother Robin and makes sure he eats, brushes his teeth and more. She also locks the two of them into their bedroom at night - unsure who her mother Star might bring home.

Walk and Vincent were friends with Star as kids, until a terrible tragedy changed everything. Thirty years on, Star is a mess, Walk is the local Police Chief and Vincent is getting out of prison. But the past has a long reach and a long memory. And Duchess and Robin are standing right in the way....

Whitaker's characters are so well drawn - they'll make you hurt, make you shake your fist at fate, make you want to close the book at the hard bits, but you won't be able to. The characters are all broken to some degree, even the supporting players. Each of those supporting players plays an important part in We Begin at the End. But within some are small fires, hope and redemption that drives them forward. None more than Duchess. But she makes mistakes and then the path twists and turns in another direction. (Scout Finch and Boo Radley came to mind as I read.)

"...Walk. You're like a kid. Better and worse. Bad and good. None of us are any one thing. We're just a collection of the best and worst things we've done." 

Whitaker's plotting is just as good as his characters. There is a present day crime that is difficult to solve. My thoughts on whodunit changed often as the book progressed, as there are numerous suspects and motives. I was surprised every time Whitaker's plot took a new direction.

 I was also surprised to find that Whitaker was British as the book is set in small town USA. He describes his setting well and I could easily picture the cliffs, the water, the wishing tree, the main street and more. 

Whitaker's prose are beautiful. Stark and raw, beautiful in their honesty. And heartbreaking, yet heartwarming as well. See for yourself - here's the prologue of We Begin at the End.

The title is enigmatic at the beginning of the book, but is referenced many times throughout the narrative. It'll have you thinking. And I thought about Duchess long after I turned the last page. Absolutely recommended. Read an excerpt of We Begin at the End.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Northern Reach - W.S. Winslow

W.S. Winslow's debut novel, The Northern Reach, releases today. What a beautiful cover - I'd love to be there. And the story inside? Just as captivating...

A heart-wrenching first novel about the power of place and family ties, the weight of the stories we choose to tell, and the burden of those we hide

Frozen in grief after the loss of her son at sea, Edith Baines stares across the water at a schooner, under full sail yet motionless in the winter wind and surging tide of the Northern Reach. Edith seems to be hallucinating. Or is she? Edith’s boat-watch opens The Northern Reach, set in the coastal town of Wellbridge, Maine, where townspeople squeeze a living from the perilous bay or scrape by on the largesse of the summer folk and whatever they can cobble together, salvage, or grab.

At the center of town life is the Baines family, land-rich, cash-poor descendants of town founders, along with the ne’er-do-well Moody clan, the Martins of Skunk Pond, and the dirt farming, bootlegging Edgecombs. Over the course of the twentieth century, the families intersect, interact, and intermarry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts.

W. S. Winslow's The Northern Reach is a breathtaking debut about the complexity of family, the cultural legacy of place, and the people and experiences that shape us." Read an excerpt of The Northern Reach.

“Is there anything better than getting to walk through a small and unfamiliar town and peer through the windows into the lives lived in the houses there? The Northern Reach gives you that rich and satisfying treat. Here is a Maine as various and stark as the pull of tides in every human heart.” – Sarah Blake, author of The Guest Book

Cr: Jeff Roberts
"W.S. Winslow was born and raised in Maine, but spent most of her working life in San Francisco and New York in corporate communications and marketing. A ninth-generation Mainer, she now spends most of the year in a small town Downeast. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in French from the University of Maine, and an MFA from NYU. Her fiction has been published in Yemassee Journal and Bird's Thumb. The Northern Reach is her first novel." You can connect with W.S. Winslow on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Postscript Murders - Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths is hands-down one of my favourite authors. And the Ruth Galloway series is my absolute favourite. Last year Griffiths wrote a standalone called The Stranger Diaries that featured DS Harbinder Kaur. It was a wonderful read! (my review) And I’m happy to say that wasn’t just a standalone! Griffith has just released the second book featuring DS Kaur - The Postscript Murders.

Peggy Smith is a senior who spends her days looking out her bay window in the  retirement home. She is older,  so it’s not much of a surprise when her carer Natalka finds her passed away one morning. But it is a surprise when Natalka finds a card a card with the body, listing Peggy as a murder consultant. Well, that opens up a wealth of opportunities and directions for the story to go, doesn't it? A mystery about mystery novels, a murder consultant, mystery writers and more bodies makes for great reading.

That mystery is clever and will keep you guessing. There's lot of red herrings to keep the reader on their toes, as well as a wealth of suspects. I admit I didn’t see the final whodunit reveal coming. (I always appreciate being kept guessing!) And the one that saves the day surprised me as well. 

But here’s the real reason that I love Griffith's books. The characters. They’re just so wonderfully drawn and I find myself so easily transported into the story and the world Griffiths has created. All of the players are just a bit quirky. DS Kaur describes herself as the best gay Sikh detective in West Sussex. She's quite clever and solves cases with her own methods. (Her family is so warm and I wish I could sample her mother's cooking!) Harbinder's inner dialogue is priceless. She often mentally visualizes her partner Neil as a squirrel. The Postscript Murders also has a group of amateur detectives on the case. Natalka, who is quite sure (and worried) that her past has found her. Benedict, an ex monk, turned coffee shack owner and dapper, lonely octogenarian Edwin, who is very happy to be on the case. The burgeoning friendship between the three is a lovely as well. The characters are believable and the reader can't help but be behind them. 

I devoured this one far too quickly. Most definitely recommended. More Harbinder Kaur please!

(And there is a new Ruth Galloway book coming later this year. Watch for The Night Hawks.)

Friday, February 26, 2021

The Windsor Knot - SJ Bennett

I admit it - I am a Royal Watcher! I was intrigued by the announcement of  SJ Bennett's new series - Her Majesty the Queen Investigates. The first book is The Windsor Knot.

2016. Windsor Castle. A young Russian pianist who performed at a castle event is found dead the next morning - in the castle. MI5 suspects espionage and blames the Russians. As that avenue is pursued (by a self indulgent, aggrandizing agent) the Queen has her own suspicions and decides to steer the investigators onto a different line of inquiry. Without them knowing of course.

My first concern was how would the Queen be portrayed? Wonderfully is the answer! She is kind, gracious, wise, highly intelligent, well-spoken, observant, but imposing as well. Her inner dialogue is a treat to read and her sense of humor was spot on. Dry observations about her Royal family are a treat. The relationship between the Queen And Prince Phillip is lovely and loving. Indeed, there are many factual bits woven into Bennett's novel.

Okay, the logistics - how is the Queen going to be able to investigate? Rozie is the Queen's new Assistant Private Secretary. Don't let the high heels fool you - she has an admirable set of skills. The Queen sends Rozie out on errands and visits to those who might have an answer or insight to the Queen's questions and she reports back.

The mystery is well plotted and I really enjoyed following along. (And it's not so easy as the butler did it) I liked the setting as well - who doesn't want to know what the inside and daily life of the castle is like? But, bottom line, it's the great characters that drive this series. 

This was such a fun, clever and thoroughly enjoyable listen for me. The reader was Jane Copland. Her voice was perfect - with a rich, cultured tone that's quite pleasant to listen to and an accent that immediately brought the Queen to mind. The pace of the reading is just right as well -  never rushed. Keep calm and carry on! The subtle changes in intonation and emphasis are perfect for the Queen's manner. The unwitting (that MI5 agent) won't pick up on it, but the listener will. Different voices are provided for other characters and suit as well - a Russian national, Phillip and more - all believable. Her speaking flows very naturally. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Windsor Knot. 

I'm looking forward to the next in this series! (And a wee bit of me wonders if the Queen would ever pick up this book for a wee peek?)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Scorpion's Tale - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The Scorpion's Tail is the latest collaboration of authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. It's also the second book in the Nora Kelly series.

I enjoyed the first book, so was happy to listen to this latest.

Two characters who originally appeared in various Pendergast novels are at the heart of this new series. Nora Kelly is an archaeologist and Corrie Swanson is a rookie FBI agent. (On a side note, Pendergast fans will enjoy his cameo appearance in The Scorpion's Tale!) I quite like both of these characters. They're feisty, especially Nora. Corrie is still trying to find her place in the Bureau. Her treatment by some co-workers is shameful. (And probably not far from the truth) They're both dogged and driven to find answers. They play well off each and their skills complement each well.

Preston and Child often draw on history and actual events in their books. I'm always fascinated by this and often stop reading to go online to learn more. This time it's The Pueblo Revolt, The Trinity TestWhite Sands Missile Range - and yes - rumors of treasure -  all in New Mexico. 

We're along for the ride as the pieces are pieced together. Lots of action propels the tale forward.

You always know what you're going to get when you pick up a book by Preston and Child. A solid read that reads quickly and entertains easily. For me their books are comfort reading/listening fare.

I did find the last bit after the final ta-da to be a bit awkward and unneeded to bring the book to a close. But overall, another great book from this duo.

I chose to listen to The Scorpion's Tail. I was quite happy that Cynthia Farrell was brought back as the reader. She read Old Bones and it's nice to have the continuity. She has a very expressive voice and captures both action and emotion easily. Her diction is clear and easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. Hear for yourself - here's an audio excerpt of The Scorpion's Tale.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Paris Library - Janet Skeslien Charles

I kept hearing and reading wonderful reviews of  Janet Skeslien Charles' new novel, The Paris Library, and knew it was one I wanted to listen to.

There's a real surge in wartime historical fiction, especially WWII. The Paris Library is that, but it's a little bit more as well. The Paris Library is also based on fact. 

"...the incredible true story of the librarians who stood up to the Nazi “Book Protector..."

Janet Skeslien Charles actually worked at The American Library in Paris. The details, settings and atmosphere benefit from that first hand knowledge. I could imagine the smell of the library, the feel of a book, the taste of a café au lait, the cobbled lanes and so much more.

Charles tells her story in an absolutely perfect back and forth, past and present narrative. The bridging character is Odile, a young librarian at The American Library in 1939 and a reclusive neighbor of young Lily in 1983 Montana. The two end up bonding over their love of books and language. As a devoted reader, I loved the references to the Dewey decimal system, the turn of a phrase, choosing a book, the joy of the written word, getting lost in a tale and and so much more. 

The Paris Library is a love letter to libraries and books, but it's also a story of love lost, love found and love betrayed. Romantic, familial and friendship. And betrayal, also on so many levels.

As present day readers, we are aware of history and know what is going to happen. Charles does such a great job, bringing the past to life as Odile, her family and counterparts live through this horrific time. But it is done from such a unique and more personal perspective. Charles has included actual staff of The American Library as characters in The Paris Library. Their lives are truly remarkable.

The story in 1983 Montana is just as well written. Charles has also lived in Montana, and the place and time also benefits from that personal knowledge. Lily is also an engaging character. Her story too is a tale of relationships, with love and loss on the table.

I chose to listen to The Paris Library. A cast of three brought this book to life. I was happy to have multiple readers - Nicky Diss, Sarah Feather and Esther Wane. I'm not sure who did what part, but they were all very good. The voice for Odile in France was perfect - the accent rang true and was believable. The accent stayed with her as she spoke English as well. Other characters from the Paris setting were just as well done with each character being easily identifiable. The emotion was translated from the written word to the spoken and for me, this brought the book to life. That also goes of for the voice of young Lily - believable as a teenager and capturing the ups and downs of her life. All voices were clear, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I find listening to a book immerses me in a novel. This was very much the case with The Paris Library. The cast has done an admirable job. And I enjoyed the notes from the author as well.

An easy five star listen. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Paris Library.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Pretty Little Wife - Darby Kane

Darby Kane is a pseudonym for author Helen Kaye. Pretty Little Wife is her first book published under the Kane name.

What's it about? From Harper Collins Audio:

"Darby Kane thrills with this twisty domestic suspense novel that asks one central question: shouldn't a dead husband stay dead?

Lila Ridgefield lives in an idyllic college town, but not everything is what it seems. Lila isn’t what she seems.

A student vanished months ago. Now, Lila’s husband, Aaron, is also missing. At first these cases are treated as horrible coincidences until it’s discovered the student is really the third of three unexplained disappearances over the last few years. The police are desperate to find the connection, if there even is one. Little do they know they might be stumbling over only part of the truth….

With the small town in an uproar, everyone is worried about the whereabouts of their beloved high school teacher. Everyone except Lila, his wife. She’s definitely confused about her missing husband but only because she was the last person to see his body, and now it’s gone."

My Thoughts:

I enjoy domestic suspense novels - they're usually fully stocked with twists and turns. And I do quite enjoy a good twisty tale. Killing your husband and then having the body disappear was a good starting point! Lila of course is a 'person of interest' in her husband's disappearance. Kane gives us other suspects to consider along the way, but Lila seems to be the most likely culprit. Proving that though, will take some work. The cat and mouse game between Lila and the lead detective, Ginny, was probably the part I enjoyed the most. The reader is privy to Lila's thoughts and secrets as well as how the police investigation is progressing. I did find I confused two of those other suspects along the way as they seemed very similar to me. There's also an investigation by a podcast team into the disappearance of other women. So...lots going on in this town!

I chose to listen to Pretty Little Wife. The reader was Xe Sands - she's a favorite of mine. She was the perfect choice to read this book. She has a measured way of speaking, paced to capture the nuances of the plot and the character speaking. Different voices are used and are easy to differentiate. The male voices employed a lower, gravelly tone that was believable. She enunciates well, reads at the right speed and is pleasant to listen to. But it's the pauses and inflections that really make her one reader I love to listen to. Hear for yourself - here's an audio excerpt of Pretty Little Wife.

I enjoyed this book, but Kane lost a star as later revelations seem tawdry and a bit over the top. (Gentle readers, this is a good time to mention there are some triggers in this plot) But overall it was a good listen as I quilted away on some snowy days.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Wife Upstairs - Rachel Hawkins

After reading so many great reviews of Rachel Hawkins' new novel, The Wife Upstairs, I added the audiobook to my holds queue at the library.

Here's the synopsis from St. Martin's Press. My thoughts follow.

"Meet Jane. Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.

But her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester. Recently widowed, Eddie is Thornfield Estates’ most mysterious resident. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend, their bodies lost to the deep. Jane can’t help but see an opportunity in Eddie––not only is he rich, brooding, and handsome, he could also offer her the kind of protection she’s always yearned for.

Yet as Jane and Eddie fall for each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty with a rags-to-riches origin story, who launched a wildly successful southern lifestyle brand. How can she, plain Jane, ever measure up? And can she win Eddie’s heart before her past––or his––catches up to her?"

My thoughts:

Hmmm....I thought the premise was good, having taking some inspiration from Jane Eyre. I was curious to see what Hawkins had come up with.

I found each and every character to be unlikable. Jane isn't a lead that earned any empathy from me at all. She's a conniving user, a thief and a fake, matching much of what she despises about the wealthy residents of Thornfield Estates. I'm okay with having no clear 'good' or redeeming character in a novel, but found the character development missed the mark for me as well. I never bought into the 'romance' between Jane and Eddie at all.

Most of the story is told from Jane's point of view. Chapters from Bea do pique the reader/listener's curiosity. I do applaud Hawkins' manipulation of the reader/listener as we hear more from Bea. But again, it was somewhat predictable. I just, well I just expected more I think. More of a fresh story perhaps. The Wife Upstairs ended up being just an okay book for me. Still, this was a good listen while doing some quilting. I'm definitely in the minority on this book. 

St. Martin's chose to use multiple readers for this book - Emily Shaffer, Kirby Heyborne, Lauren Fortgang. They're all readers I have enjoyed previously and they all did a good job with this novel. Listen to an excerpt of The Wife Upstairs.

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Woman Outside My Door - Rachel Ryan

The Woman Outside My Door is Rachel Ryan's debut novel.

What's it about? From Simon and Schuster Audio:

"All children have imaginary friends, Georgina tells herself. It’s perfectly normal, and they all grow out of it in the end. But when her seven-year-old son, Cody, tells her about New Granny, the friend he’s met in the park, Georgina is instantly suspicious. Something—call it maternal instinct—tells her he isn’t making it up.

But maybe Georgina is losing her mind. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all. And with her own mother’s recent death leaving her bereft and trying to cope with life as a busy working mom, it’s no wonder she’s feeling paranoid that Cody has invented a “New Granny” to replace his beloved grandmother.

Her husband, Bren, becomes the voice of reason, assuring Georgina that it’s just a game, the product of their son’s overactive imagination. But what if Cody’s imaginary friend is not so imaginary after all."

My Thoughts:

There are times when an audiobook is a much better 'read' for me than a printed book. The Woman Outside My Door was one of those books. 

There is so much emotion woven throughout this novel - love, betrayal, loss, fear, guilt and much more. Alana Kerr Collins was the reader and she did a wonderful job of interpreting and presenting Ryan's work. Her accent is lilting and very pleasant to listen to. She enunciates well and is easy to understand. She captures all of that emotion quite easily. I've said this before, but a good narrator makes you feel like you're right alongside the characters in an audiobook. Such is the case with this reading.

Ryan did a great job of keeping the listener guessing - is New Granny real or is she an imaginary friend? There are a number of supporting players offered up that could indeed be the culprit - if she was real. And a number of reasons why Cody would have invented her if she isn't.' I liked the uncertainty. Ryan keeps things moving along at a good clip, building the tension as things hurtle towards the inevitable. I stayed up quite late, listening to 'just one more chapter' until I was so close to the end that I wouldn't have been able to sleep without knowing the outcome. The final reveal was good and without providing spoilers, provides food for thought for those unaware. I know - enigmatic - but necessary.

Listeners will be firmly on Georgina's side, even as others question her mental state.

The Woman Outside My Door was a great debut and I would absolutely pick up Ryan's next book. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Power Couple - Alex Berenson

Alex Berenson's new novel, The Power Couple has just released. If you're looking for an action packed page turner (with a nice little gotcha), then you're going to want to pick up the Power Couple!

The cover hints at what's inside. From outside looking in, Rebecca and Brian Unsworth seem to have it all. Jobs with the FBI and National Security Agency, nice house and car, two wonderful teenagers and a marriage that works. But after twenty years, cracks are showing. And the power struggle inside their marriage has added to that. In an attempt to rebuild, they decide to take the family to Europe for an anniversary trip. And that's where the unthinkable happens.....their daughter Kira disappears....

What a great setup and premise! The Power Couple is initially told through two points of view - Rebecca and Kira. We're with Rebecca and Brian as they try desperately to get help in a foreign country. We're privy to flashbacks of Becks and Bri's lives together and how they came to be where they are now. It's real time chapters from Kira - which are just downright terrifying. Now, I did feel for Rebecca - what's happening is unthinkable. But, you know - I just didn't like her at all. And that's all good - unlikeable characters make for interesting plots. Brian? Nope, didn't like him either. I was on board with both of the teenagers though.

Berenson has done his research. And I've found that in his other books as well. The details ring true in the espionage, the technology and the agencies and their methods. And underline how real all of these machinations are.

I really enjoy the back and forth storytelling between the two points of view. It makes for addictive 'just one more' chapter reading 'til late at night. The suspense never lets up and just when it did, I realized there were still fifty plus pages to go in the book. What was left? A nice little gotcha that was a great ending! Berenson's melding of domestic noir and espionage absolutely works. Excellent escapist reading - definitely what I wanted.  See for yourself - here's an excerpt of The Power Couple. (I could see this one on the big screen too.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Electric Kingdom - David Arnold

Well, if the words apocalyptic or dystopian are used to describe a book, it automatically goes on my TBR list. Such was the case with The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold.

Here's a synopsis from Viking Books For Young Readers. My thoughts follow.

"New York Times bestseller David Arnold's most ambitious novel to date; Station Eleven meets The 5th Wave in a genre-smashing story of survival, hope, and love amid a ravaged earth.

When a deadly Fly Flu sweeps the globe, it leaves a shell of the world that once was. Among the survivors are eighteen-year-old Nico and her dog, on a voyage devised by Nico's father to find a mythical portal; a young artist named Kit, raised in an old abandoned cinema; and the enigmatic Deliverer, who lives Life after Life in an attempt to put the world back together. As swarms of infected Flies roam the earth, these few survivors navigate the woods of post-apocalyptic New England, meeting others along the way, each on their own quest to find life and love in a world gone dark. The Electric Kingdom is a sweeping exploration of art, storytelling, eternal life, and above all, a testament to the notion that even in an exterminated world, one person might find beauty in another."

My Thoughts:

Well, the setting is bound to make you wonder....a Fly Flu that has decimated the world as we know it. Close to home in these times...

The novel is told from three points of view - eighteen year old Nico and her dog Harry (loved Harry!), twelve year old Kit and a person called The Deliverer. I love the multiple points of view delivery style. It's guaranteed to keep me up late, reading just one chapter to see what's going on with each character.
Although they have stayed safe all these years, circumstances, wants, desires, curiosity and more drive each of them out into the world. I was just as curious to see what Arnold had imagined. 

Kit and Nico are wonderful leads. I loved the way Kit thought - and his love of 'his' library. He was so well drawn and immediately captured my heart. Being older, Nico is more of a critical thinker - could the stories her father tells be real? There are a number of supporting characters that also have stories to tell. The Deliverer's is the most enigmatic.

Out on the road, the evidence of a ruined world is there. But, that's not the focus of Arnold's tale. Instead it is about relationships missed, treasured, remembered - and those that might be. I found myself wanting a bit more of the ruined world.

As their trek continues, Arnold begins to knit together the threads of the three stories. He does so in a way I hadn't anticipated or imagined. And, I must admit it - in a way that had me struggling to put it together sometimes. Definitely thought provoking though. This is marketed as a YA novel. I would think that older teens would be more likely to grasp Arnold's work.

I did enjoy The Electric Kingdom, but not as much as I had hoped. I think I was looking for more of the ravaged world, instead of ...... Well, I'll leave that alone as I don't want to spoil things for prospective readers. The Electric Kingdom weighs in at 432 pages. Which kept me rapt for most of the time, but near the end I felt like things could have been tightened up and told in fewer pages. Here's an excerpt of The Electric Kingdom.  

I liked it, but didn't love it and I think I'm in the minority on this one. Check out what others thought on Goodreads.  

Monday, February 8, 2021

Never Far Away - Michael Koryta

I discovered Michael Koryta a few books back and have been a fan ever since. He writes fantastic thrillers. His latest is Never Far Away.

Okay, the prologue was crazy good and I was immediately hooked! Nina disappeared ten years ago in Florida, presumed dead. She left behind two children in their father's care. In Nina's place, Leah was born. Leah has kept a low profile, working as a wilderness guide in a remote area of Maine. And, yup guessed it - the past comes a calling and her children are in danger.

Koryta has created a great lead in Leah. I liked her right away. She's not a trained killer or secret agent. But you know what they say...don't poke the mama bear. She'll do what she has to do to protect her kids. The kids, Hailey and Nick, are also well drawn - their thoughts, responses, emotions and interactions with Leah ring true. Now, onto the men in pursuit of Leah. They're two stone cold hit men on a mission, especially the one called Bleak. (great name!) But...here's the fun bit. If you've read If She Wakes, you're going to know this name - Dax Blackwood. Yes, the young hit man is also interested in Leah and her pursuers. But is he there to help or hurt? I love this antagonist - his dialogue and thoughts are so unpredictable. Is he crazy or cunning?

The action is non-stop in Never Far Away and kept me up late with the 'just one more chapter' mantra running through my brain. The plot is inventive and unpredictable. Some twists require a grain of salt, but just go with it. Koryta is a master of this genre.  An escapist novel that reads like a movie. I can absolutely see it on the screen. Here's an excerpt of Never Far Away

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Captive - Fiona King Foster

The Captive is Fiona King Foster's debut novel.

Sometime in the near future, one state has decided to secede from the union. (An idea that has been bandied about by more than one state in the US.)

Brooke Holland, her husband, Milo, and their their two daughters make their home on a farm in that seceded state. They've carved out a life that sustains them. "Poor but free." And for fifteen years, Brooke has steered clear of revealing her past to Milo - until the day Stephen Cawley shows up at the farm. The Hollands and Cawleys have had a blood feud for generations. (I immediately thought Hatfields and McCoys.) There's a bounty on Cawley's head and Brooke sees it as a way to deliver him to the Federal Marshalls, collect the bounty and keep her family safe. That's the idea anyway, but the best laid plans.....

I liked the idea of the rebel state, imagining what that would look like. King Foster's setting is a throwback to rural history and suits the story being told. The juxtaposition of  old and new, then and now, rural vs city, provides a great backdrop for a inevitable reckoning. In more than one way for Brooke. 

Her past is slowly revealed in memories and gives the listener a better idea of who and why she has chosen to disappear down a remote country road. While there are plenty of action and tense situations, The Captive is a character driven novel, with Brooke at the helm. Mothers, daughters, families, love, loyalty loss and more all figure into King Foster's novel.

I'm not sure how I felt about Brooke. I applauded her loyalty to her husband and daughters, but the time for revealing the why of what they're doing came and left more than once. A lot of what happened could have been resolved by speaking the truth. And it made me a little frustrated with her. But, on the flip side, she believes she is protecting them. Milo, in fact, ended up being favorite character. 

Without providing a spoiler, I did find one of the plot devices used in the final chapters out of sync with the tone of the journey there. But all in all, The Captive was an enjoyable listen and a great introduction for a new writer. 

I chose to listen to The Captive. The reader was Courtney Patterson. She has a lovely voice, pleasant to listen to and clear and easy to understand. She provided many easily identifiable voices for the characters. (Teenager Holly's was perfect!) She has lots of movement in her reading, matching the action of the plot and the emotion of the characters. I had expected Brooke's voice would be a bit 'rougher' given her past. But she grew into the character I had imagined. I do enjoy listening to books as I find I become more immersed in the story. And that was true with The Captive. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Captive.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Shadow Man - Helen Fields

I've quite enjoyed Helen Fields' D.I. Callanach series. When I saw she had a new book coming out, I didn't even read the flyleaf description - I just knew I'd be in for another great read. The Shadow Man was amazingly good! It kept me up late frantically flipping pages.....and double checking that the door was locked.

The prologue starts things off with a decidedly morbid scene that sets the pace for the story to come.  Fields gives us an unusual protagonist. Dr. Connie Woolwine is an American psychologist and profiler brought in to assist Scottish D.I. Baarda. The search is on for a missing woman, and then another, and then a child and then a man..... Are they connected? Are they alive? 

This duo worked really well for me. Woolwine is an unusual woman and her methods are different from what the tightly wrapped Baarda is used to. I enjoyed the banter between the two - it gave them personality and their own storyline in addition to the crime thread. (I would truly like to see more books featuring these two). Woolwine's profile building has the ring of truth to it and is believable. Fields has done her homework here.

The reader is going to know much more than our lead characters do. Fields gives us a (very scary) glimpse into the actions and mindset of the suspect. The Shadow Man's thoughts and actions will give you goosebumps. Fields' description and depiction of him are visceral, unsettling and downright creepy. We are also privy as to what's going on with the victims. I have to say that of the three missing people, young Meggy stole my heart. She's a gutsy little girl faced with the unthinkable. But the others were just as well drawn.

There was more than one time where I thought the story had reached a certain point and was over. But, Fields kept me on my toes with turns I didn't see coming. The action is firmly in the 'edge of your seat' category. And the ending? Crazy good! I could see this book as a movie. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Downfall - Robert Rotenberg

I was quite happy to see that Robert Rotenberg had a new entry in his Greene and Kennicott series. The sixth book is the newly released Downfall.

Ari Greene is the head of homicide in Toronto, Ontario. Greene has a calm, measured way of speaking and thinking and often knows and sees more than he lets on, playing his cards close to his chest. Detective Kennicott has learned from Greene and is also a keen investigator. Greene's daughter is a news reporter and gives another viewpoint on things. I'm not totally sold on her yet, but her appearance in the books adds to Greene's personal story line. I am quite fond of Greene's elderly father. The rest of the supporting players in Downfall include some familiar faces and some new characters. The homeless were given dignity and real voices in their character building.

The crime at the heart of this novel is not imagining on Rotenberg's part. Instead, homelessness and the killing of homeless people is fact. In this case, Ari has more than one murder on his plate. 'Toronto is now the fourth largest municipality in North America and there are over 10,000 people in Toronto who are homeless on any given night.' Encampments, gatherings and tent cities are part of every large city's make up. In Downfall, one such tent city has drawn the ire of an elite Toronto golf club. The tensions between the wealthy and the homeless is at the heart of the story. 

Rotenberg has been called Canada's John Grisham. This is an apt descriptor as Rotenberg himself is a criminal lawyer. That expertise brings much to his writing and his plotting. Rotenberg also makes his home in T.O. Actual streets, places and more make up the setting. Having been to some of them, it was easy to envision places as I read. 

Rotenberg keeps things moving along at a good clip, with no down time for our investigators. I had my suspicions as to the whodunit as the book progressed, but this certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book. I was right to a certain degree, but hadn't sussed out the details. 

A really good addition to this series. And the plot lends itself to food for thought in regards to homelessness. I will be happily looking for the next entry in this series. Here's an excerpt of Downfall.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

A Stranger in Town - Kelley Armstrong

Oh, I've been eagerly waiting for this next entry in Kelley Armstrong's addictive 'Rockton' series! The sixth book is A Stranger in Town.

Quick catch-up for those of you who haven't read this series yet. (Start at the beginning with City of the Lost!) Rockton is a town that doesn't exist on any map, completely off-grid, hidden in the Yukon. The residents? They're all running from something or hiding from someone. Nobody asks too many questions. A town full of liars, thieves and criminals provides a wealth of opportunities for story telling. But even this town needs some laws - and someone to enforce them. That's where Detective Casey Duncan comes in - she was a homicide cop 'down south'. She and Sheriff Eric Dalton are partners at work - and at home. 

But occasionally the anonymity of Rockton is breached. In a Stranger in Town, a Danish tourist is found outside the barrier wall of Rockton, gravely injured. What -  or maybe who -attacked her? Strangers aren't welcome in Rockton though, so the sooner she's gone, the better.

Why do I love this series so much? I'm fascinated with the idea of a hidden town in the northern reaches of Canada. It's certainly a possibility. Armstrong's imagining of this is so detailed, from settings inside the walls and beyond. The outlying settlements and other wilderness dwellers have opened up so many plot lines. 

The characters are just as well drawn. Casey is such a great lead - she's tough, intelligent and determined - but not perfect. I really enjoy her internal reasoning and subsequent deductions as she investigates. Her relationship with Dalton is well written. I'm not a big romance reader, but Armstrong does it well. Their relationship is believable, not 'over the top' and enhances the book, rather than being the main focus. There are many, many supporting players, each with their own secrets, strengths and weaknesses. They all have a role to play and I've come to appreciate how they add to the overall depth of the plots and the fabric of Rockton. Storm the dog, with his baleful looks and chuffing, is a favorite of mine.

The mysteries Armstrong presents are not easily solved and I quite like being kept guessing .This latest is no exception.

There's always more to want from this series. The details on the settlements and the hostiles have been slowly eked out over the previous five books. A Stranger in Town gives us answers I couldn't have imagined. And there's a satisfying resolution that closes this latest case. But, that last chapter leaves the reader - and Rockton - wondering what's next for their town and the residents. I cannot wait for the next entry!  Armstrong's work is just so, so...well, so readable! And addictive. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of A Stranger in Town.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Hadley and Grace - Suzanne Redfearn

Suzanne Redfearn took inspiration from the movie Thelma and Louise for her new novel, Hadley and Grace. But she's made this story her own. 

Hadley has endured her marriage to Frank. She's been biding her time, waiting for the moment when she can take her two kids and disappear. Grace has a five month old and a hard luck past. She too is looking for a fresh start. The two women's lives cross in a fortuitous twist of fate. They need each other for that one night....or maybe a bit longer.....

They're on the run and the reader just can't help but cheer them on. I don't know what it is, but I am always on the side of the underdogs. Redfearn has done a great job creating and fleshing out two very different leads. I think readers will have a favorite out of the two. For me, it was Grace - she's lived a life I can identify with. The two women are polar opposites, but each has skills the other lacks. Rounding out the cast is teenager Mattie and all her angst, baby Miles and Skipper. Skipper is based on a real life figure - a baseball savant. Redfearn's character copes with life in the same fashion. And he quite endeared himself to me. The adult male characters are easy to define and play supporting roles. The POV alternates between Hadley and Grace.

On a more serious note, Redfearn does weave some serious themes into her story along with as exploration of family and friendship.

 This was a great escapist read and I knew the ending I wanted. Redfearn surprised me a little bit with a plot turn I hadn't anticipated. The journey to those final pages includes lots of action, a gamut of emotions, setbacks, triumphs and more. Pragmatists may question some of the nuts and bolts of their road trip and their eluding the authorities, but take it with a few grains of salt - the story is more than the details.  Here's an excerpt of Hadley and Grace.

"Suzanne is the bestselling author of four novels: Hadley & Grace, In an Instant, No Ordinary Life, and Hush Little Baby.

Born and raised on the east coast, Suzanne moved to California when she was fifteen. She currently lives in Laguna Beach with her husband where they own two restaurants: Lumberyard and Slice Pizza & Beer. In addition to being an author, Suzanne is an architect specializing in residential and commercial design." You can connect with Suzanne on her website, follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook.

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Butterfly House - Katrine Engberg

I read (and quite enjoyed) the first book of Katrine Engberg's Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner series last year. The second book is The Butterfly House - and I have to say I enjoyed it even more than the first.

Both leads are detectives with the Copenhagen Police. Jeppe has a new partner this time round as Annette is on maternity leave. But she can't help but work the case on her own time. 

What is the case you ask? Well, more than one body, has been been found in the same outdoor fountain, marked with strange wounds. When the connection is found between the deaths, it's even more horrific - and far reaching. And what about that hospital nurse with her own definition of 'care'.

Engberg happily takes us down the garden path, with lots of red herrings and suspects along the way. The plot is well written and not easily solved by the listener. I enjoyed having more than one mystery to follow. And I actually didn't guess the final whodunit in the main storyline! 

But what I really like about this series are the characters. Engberg gives them detailed personal lives that make them easy to connect with. Mothers, motherhood, new relationships starting anew and more. Jeppe and Anette play well off each other with very different personalities. I wasn't as keen on Anette in the first book, but quite like her in this latest. The banter between the two is entertaining. And their sleuthing skills are sharp. Esther from the first book is also included and she too has a mystery on her hands.

I chose to listen to The Butterfly House. The reader was Graeme Malcolm, one of my favorites. He has an accent that works for many locales. His voice has a lovely, unique, gravelly tone to it and it's quite pleasant to listen to. He depicts the emotion and tone of both characters and plot lines easily with his voice. He also has a somewhat sardonic tone at times that perfectly suits the verbal sparring and inner thoughts of the lead characters. The speed of the reading matches what's going on in the book. He speaks clearly and is easy to understand. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Butterfly House.

I'm looking forward to the next in this series. Nordic police procedural lovers, this one's for you!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Ready Player Two - Ernest Cline

I read Ernest Cline's debut novel, Ready Player One, back in 2011. The sequel is finally here - Ready Player Two. My thoughts can be found after the description of the title from Random House Audio:

"Days after winning OASIS founder James Halliday’s contest, Wade Watts makes a discovery that changes everything. Hidden within Halliday’s vaults, waiting for his heir to find, lies a technological advancement that will once again change the world and make the OASIS a thousand times more wondrous—and addictive—than even Wade dreamed possible.
 
With it comes a new riddle, and a new quest—a last Easter egg from Halliday, hinting at a mysterious prize. And an unexpected, impossibly powerful, and dangerous new rival awaits, one who’ll kill millions to get what he wants. Wade’s life and the future of the OASIS are again at stake, but this time the fate of humanity also hangs in the balance."

My Thoughts:

I loved the first book and was quite happy to see there was at last a follow up to the adventures of the High Five. Ready Player Two again has Wade and his friends on one more epic quest - one to save millions of lives from - of course - a nefarious entity. Good vs. Evil. David vs. Goliath. Cline has the reader/listener firmly on the side of the underdogs. Can they reprise their first victory?

The Player books draw heavily on '80's references - Pac Man, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, song lyrics, film scenes and a whole lot more - as these are the clues used to solve the puzzle. Now I absolutely 'got' almost every reference and could picture the film scenes easily. Younger listeners may not relate to some of the references. Or they may now be chasing down some classic films and tunes!

I liked Wade as a lead in the first book and he still appealed to me in this second book. Cline gives him some weaknesses and some life lessons in this book that make him human and give him a personality instead of just a game player.

That being said, Ready Player Two is all about the game, the clues, the chase and the run up to a final showdown. The book is action, action and more action!

I listened to this book and the reader was Wil Wheaton, a favourite of mine and the perfect choice for a narrator. He did the first book as well and the continuity was much appreciated. He has the most expressive voice! His tone suits Wade, is believable and totally suited the mental image I had conjured up for this character. (He did well with the other players as well.) He brings the book to life with staccato sentences, inflection that matches what's going on, (a nicely sardonic tone at times) and emotion that suits the plot.  He's easy to understand and enunciates well. Hear for yourself - here's an audio excerpt of Ready Player Two.

I wonder if there will be a movie made of this book as well? And if there might be a Ready Player Three in the future?

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Girls I've Been - Tess Sharpe

Tess Sharpe's new book, The Girls I've Been, releases today. If you're a teen fiction fan (*hand up*), you're going to want to pick this one up!


"A slick, twisty YA page-turner about the daughter of a con artist who is taken hostage in a bank heist.

Nora O'Malley's been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up as her mother's protégé. But when her mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.

For five years Nora's been playing at normal. But she needs to dust off the skills she ditched because she has three problems:

#1: Her ex walked in on her with her girlfriend. Even though they're all friends, Wes didn't know about her and Iris.

#2: The morning after Wes finds them kissing, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised at the bank. It's a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly, because:

#3: Right after they enter the bank, two guys start robbing it.

The bank robbers may be trouble, but Nora's something else entirely. They have no idea who they're really holding hostage . . ."

My Thoughts:

What an excellent premise! A bank robbery - three teens amongst the hostages - and one that has mad skills. Nora knows how to read people, how to manipulate them. She knows what needs to be done and adapts as things change. Her grifter skills are well honed.

I love kick butt female characters and Nora is most definitely one! Her background lends her to many talents, mind sets, strengths, weaknesses and more. The three supporting players are all just as well drawn, coming in with their own unique skills and histories. The relationship between the three teen characters is real and really well portrayed. The reader can't help but be on their side in all things.

"Me, I was born into the con. Came into the world with a lie on my lips and the ability to smile and dazzle, just like my mother. Charm, people call it. Useful is what it is. To see into the heart of someone and adjust accordingly, instantaneously, to mirror that heart? It's not a gift or a curse. It's just a tool."

Sharpe draws out the revelation of Nora's life (lives) in detailed chapters interspersed between the current day's events. We come to know how she became the girl she is today - and why. 

The situation in the bank is a non-stop page turner and reads like an action movie - which I loved. But amongst all that action are some weightier issues. Gentle readers, there are some triggers. 

This reader loved The Girls I've Been .... and I'd like to know what happens after the final pages. Maybe we could have another book with Nora, Wes and Iris? What do you think Tess Sharpe?


And this! "Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown is set to lead the cast in a Netflix film based on Tess Sharpe's novel, The Girls I've Been, which will be published in 2021. The 16-year-old actress is producing the project alongside Ozark actor-director Jason Bateman." Oh yeah!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Last Ones Left Alive - Sarah Davis-Goff

I am inevitably drawn to apocalyptic and post apocalyptic fiction, fascinated by what an author imagines our future might hold. And more than a little bit frightened, given the times we're living in.

I read the premise of Sarah Davis-Goff's novel, Last Ones Left Alive, and knew it was one I wanted to read. I picked it up on a snowy Sunday and literally couldn't put it down. Yes, it's that good!

Orpen has been raised by her Mam and Maeve on a deserted island off the coast of Ireland. When she turned seven she started her training. Training to defend herself against the skrake - a threat she's never seen. But as the years pass, Orpen wants to know more. More than the edited version that her Mam and Maeve provide. What's on the mainland? Are there others left? 

Davis-Goff tells her story from Orpen's point of view. We meet her in the first chapter, finally on the mainland, pushing Maeve in a wheelbarrow. What led to this point? Where is she going? What will she find? The answers to those questions and more are provided in a past and present narrative. This is a writing device that I really enjoy. Although, it does keep me up very late as I simply can't stop turning pages. I simply need to know what happened and what is happening.

The skrake are the dead, incredibly fast and their bite will kill you. But, there are indeed other humans still left on the mainland. And yes, you guessed it. Their paths will cross with Orpen's. Those scenes, the danger and the uncertainty all make for an action packed read. Davis-Goff has done a fantastic job - the tension is palpable as we travel alongside of Orpen. (And the urge to flip ahead to see if things 'work out' is very hard to deny.) 

But along with this, Last Ones Left Alive is a coming of age story, a story of mothers and daughters, a finding of ones own self and purpose. Emotions, interactions, loss, desire and more are woven into Orpen's story and journey. 

I mentioned enjoying the imaginings of an author's take on our future. I really enjoyed Davis-Goff's take on what might be left. And how a young woman might find herself and her place in such a world. An excellent, five star read for me. Read an excerpt of Last Ones Left Alive

"Remember your just-in-cases. Beware tall buildings. Always have your knives."

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Giveaway - The Merciful - Jon Sealy

Jon Sealy's new novel, The Merciful, has just released and I have a Kindle e-book copy to give away to one lucky reader!

What's it about? From Haywire Books:

"A lonesome highway. A hit and run. A coastal town in turmoil
In the vein of Russell Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter and Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, Jon Sealy’s The Merciful explores a hit and run in a coastal South Carolina tourist town and the subsequent trial, providing both a gripping courtroom drama and a probing look at questions of justice and mercy in our era of social media, fake news, and online outrage.

When 19-year-old Samantha James is killed by a driver while riding her bike home from work one night, the town sets out to crucify the alleged culprit, Daniel Hayward. The headlines tell a compelling story, but the truth is much less clear. As in the film Rashomon, everyone has a “story” about what happened: the media, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, Daniel, and Samantha’s family.

As the book examines these myriad perspectives, The Merciful’s stunning scope ranges from characters striving for a kind of American success that’s just out of reach, to questions of data analytics, brain emulations, and the very survival of humanity. Ultimately, however, the novel is a morality play about one moment, one accident, one decision, and the way an instant can change the course of a life forever."

"Jon Sealy is the author of The Whiskey Baron (Hub City Press, 2014) and The Edge of America (Haywire Books, 2019). An upstate South Carolina native, he has a degree in English from the College of Charleston and an MFA in fiction writing from Purdue University. His short fiction has appeared in The Normal School, PANK, and The Sun, among other venues, and his nonfiction has appeared in The Rumpus, The Millions, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He currently is a freelance writer and the publisher of Haywire Books, which has published Patricia Henley, Heather Bell Adams, and Mark Powell. He lives with his family in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia.." Find him online at jonsealy.com and on Twitter at @jonsealyfacebook.com/jon.sealy.

Sealy keeps the narrative running smoothly throughout….A thought-provoking volume about how a wrong choice can have huge repercussions.”—Kirkus Reviews

If The Merciful sounds like a book you'd like to read, enter using the Rafflecopter below for a chance at a Kindle e-book. Ends February 4/21. Open to US only. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Moonflower Murders - Anthony Horowitz

I'm a big fan of Anthony Horowitz's writing. His latest is Moonflower Murders, the second in his Susan Ryeland series.

Susan Ryeland returns as the 'detective'. She's a retired book editor and now runs a hotel in Crete with her boyfriend. I quite liked her from the first book and was happy to see her again. She's incredibly smart and dogged in her search for the final 'whodunit'.

The Treahornes are guests at Susan's hotel, and they tell her the story of a murder at their hotel in England. A man was convicted but their daughter Cecily believes he was innocent and that the real sulprit might be in the pages of a book that Ryeland edited for now deceased author Alan Conway. (Another of his books was the basis for the first book in this series - Magpie Murders) Susan is ready for a change of scenery and agrees to travel to London, stay at their hotel and see if she can shed any light on things - especially now as Cecily has gone missing.

Okay, that a great starting point, but the plotting of Moonflower Murders is so much more involved than you can imagine. It's absolutely fantastic. There are many, many characters, so readers or listeners will want to pay close attention. 

The Treahornes and their employees all seem to be harboring secrets. Susan decides to learn what she can about them all before re-reading the book. And here's the part I love. When she does start reading the book, Horowitz takes us completely into the book. Story within a story. Hard to do well, but Horowitz does it brilliantly. The book is 'Atticus Pund Takes the Cake', a series that Conway penned. Pund brings Hercule Poirot to mind, in mannerisms and methodology. This second murder is just as well plotted as the first. How are the two related? How and what has Conway hidden in his fictional book?

Horowitz is fiendishly clever. I really enjoyed the 'recap' at the end, 'seeing' the clues that I didn't pick up on. The twists, turns, red herrings and more kept me guessing til the last final whodunit . I most certainly didn't figure it out!  

Absolutely recommended for those who love 'old school' mysteries, where the answers are in deduction, not DNA. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of Moonflower Murders.

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce

The Lies You Told is Harriet Tyce's latest book. 

What's it about? From Grand Central Publishing:

"In the playground it’s the law of the jungle

But at the school gate, there are no rules at all…

When Sadie Roper moves back to London, she’s determined to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. First, she needs to get her daughter settled into a new school-one of the most exclusive in the city. Next, she’s going to get back the high-flying criminal barrister career she sacrificed for marriage ten years earlier. But nothing goes quite as planned. The school is not very welcoming newcomers, her daughter hasn’t made any friends yet and the other mothers are as fiercely competitive as their children. Sadie immediately finds herself on the outside as she navigates the fraught politics of the school gate.

But the tide starts to turn as Sadie begins to work on a scandalous, high-profile case that’s the perfect opportunity to prove herself again, even though a dangerous flirtation threatens to cloud her professional judgment. And when Julia, queen of the school moms, befriends Sadie, she draws her into the heart of the world from which she was previously excluded. Soon Sadie and her family start to thrive, but does this close new friendship prevent her from seeing the truth? Sadie may be keeping her friends close, but what she doesn’t know is that her enemies are closer still…

Dark, addictive and compelling, The Lies You Told is a compulsive psychological thriller from a master storyteller."

My Thoughts:

There's one in every organization, school, workplace and more. A bully. I do find them hard to read. And Tyce has  truly created a horrid bully in Julia. She's head of the PTA and most of the other school gate parents are her sycophants. The children's behavior is also influenced, and Sadie's daughter Robin is treated shamefully at the prestigious school. Why not leave the school? Press for change? Well, Sadie has come back to her home town and is living in her deceased mother's home. Their relationship was fractious and to own the home and fulfill the will, Robin must attend the school. Hmmm..... a bit of a stretch for me. Sadie has also left her marriage. Okay, that fits, but he makes an appearance later on that was again a bit of a stretch for me. 

I had read Tyce's debut novel Blood Orange, and my main problem was with the protagonist. I do like Sadie better, but still have issues with her choices. As in the previous book, Sadie is a barrister, one trying to get back into chambers after many years. I grew quite irritated with her when she made some questionable choices.

I don't doubt the bullying part of the plot - I can absolutely imagine it. But, the cruelty shown to both her and her daughter in the beginning doesn't seem to ring any alarm bells and again, I questioned Sadie's subsequent choices. I have to mention here that I think Robin was the character I enjoyed the most - and she seems to be the only well adjusted character.

There's a lot happening in The Lies You Told - a bit too much in my opinion. The court case, disappearing and reappearing husband and the dead, evil mother was overload. The bullying plot line was enough. Tyce comes up with a action filled run to the final pages and a nice little twist at the end. The Lies You Told was just okay for this listener.

I did choose to listen to The Lies You Told. The reader was Sarah Durham. She has a lovely voice, pleasant to listen to and well enunciated. She speaks with a British accents that is easy to understand. She uses different voices - Julia's is particularly well done. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Lies You Told.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The Perfect Guests - Emma Rous

I adore twisty, turny plots that surprise me. Emma Rous's new book, The Perfect Guests releases today - and it is most definitely a twisty tale!

Rous starts us off in the past where fourteen year old Beth visits "Raven Hall, a rambling manor in the isolated East Anglian fens" with her aunt. (Bonus points for setting!) Beth becomes friends with the daughter, Nina. But her parents aren't quite the people they present.

Fast forward to present day and meet struggling actress Sadie. When she's booked for a murder mystery weekend, it sounds like easy money. Guess where the event is being held? Uh huh at Raven Hall. And the game isn't quite what she had expected....

Oh, Rous does a fantastic job of keeping the reader on their toes! The book flips between past and present at Raven Hall. I thought I had figured out the connection between the two time frames - but was happily wrong! Rous has penned an inventive plot line that makes for addictive reading. The Perfect Guests is reminiscent of closed room murder novels - a favorite of mine. Eight players...which one could it be?

The final answers are a bit of a stretch, but the run up to the final pages is a wonderful escapist read. Perfect for a snowy day inside. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of The Perfect Guests. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Sentinel - Lee Child and Andrew Child

I had fallen a few books behind in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, but when I read that he was passing the reins to his brother Andrew Child, I thought I would catch up with the latest (#25) - The Sentinel. Going forward it will be Andrew Child only.

Reacher does what he does best - just travelling across the country. His latest ride lets him off in Pleasantville, Tennessee. And true to form, he finds trouble when he see injustice and steps in to even the odds. Told to leave town, he digs his heels in even deeper.

I think that's what we all love about Reacher - he's the guy that will stick up for the underdog and right a wrong - in Jack Reacher style. And that style includes some great dialogue before the fists fly. "Rule one: if you don’t know the trouble you’re in, keep Reacher by your side."

This latest book has a fairly intricate plot bringing in a US Intelligence Agency, Nazis, Russians and more. Take that grain of salt and just enjoy a great escapist read.

Now, I am sure Jack Reacher purists will find some fault with someone new. Inevitable. (I noticed he talked a little more and used some technology) But for me, I was entertained and engaged with the book. And that's all I'm asking for - and The Sentinel delivered.

I chose to listen to The Sentinel. I was thrilled to see that the narrator had changed from previous novels and Scott Brick (a favorite of mine) was the new voice. He has the most expressive voice, easy to understand and great to listen to. He interprets the book very well and showcases the book fantastically. The action, tension and more are effortlessly presented for the listener. See for yourself - here's an audio excerpt of The Sentinel.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Push - Ashley Audrain

There's been a lot of buzz around Ashley Audrain's debut novel. And deservedly so. The Push is going to be 'that book' for 2021.

Blythe is happy in her marriage to Fox. Fox wants a child, but Blythe is reluctant. She has reservations based on her own childhood. When baby Violet arrives, Blythe tries so very hard to be a good mother to her. But....

And I'm going to leave it there - you really need to experience reading this book for yourself. The prologue hints at the end and I couldn't wait to delve into the book. And I literally couldn't put it down. Audrain subtly drops startling turns into her narrative that caught me off guard. Had I really read that? I was torn between stopping to go back and check or just return to frantically turning pages.

Parts of The Push are hard to read, yet it's truthful, capturing the light and dark of motherhood with no filters. Audrain explores generational motherhood with excerpts and memories from and of Blythe's mother and grandmother. Nature vs Nurture? Blythe's own inner dialogue is brutally honest. Again, many truths.

Alongside that perspective is the psychological suspense plotline that's going to leave you stunned. Audrain doesn't hit the reader with it front on. Instead, it is insidious, leaving both Blythe and the reader unsure about their suppositions.....until there is no doubt. And that ending? Perfect!

Cr: Barbara Stoneham

The Push is a great title, being open to many interpretations and applications in the plot. This was a fabulous first book for Audrain - I can't wait to read her next. Here's an excerpt of The Push.

 "Ashley Audrain previously worked as the publicity director of Penguin Books Canada. Prior to Penguin, she worked in public relations. She lives in Toronto, where she and her partner are raising their two young children. The Push is her first novel." You can connect with Audrain on Twitter.

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

I loved the cover and the premise of Matt Haig's novel, The Midnight Library.

What's it about? From Viking Books:

"“Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?” 

A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place."

My Thoughts:

Well, Haig had me at library. And a library of an endless number of books that are alternate possible lives? That opens up so many possibilities. "Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?"

Nora Seed has lost her will to live, but she now has the opportunity to see what might have been if she'd made different choices. The reader can't help but wonder and look back at their own lives to see what difference a single choice would have made. Nora explores many lives and her thinking changes. I liked her as a lead character - her honesty, her curiousness, her exploration of what makes a good life. 

Haig's imaginings of how an alternate 'multiverse' might play out was intriguing. Dropping Nora into each new life with little or now background made for fresh reading each time she travelled. I did find that Nora's possible lives were all fairly successful. I would have liked to see possible lives that were not as fortuitous

There's lots of food for thought in The Midnight Library - Nora has a philosophy degree in her 'root life' and Haig presents much of Nora's introspection through those posits.

Which life does Nora choose? You'll have to discover that yourself - but remember.. "Never underestimate the big importance of small things." 

Read an excerpt of The Midnight Library. A New York Times bestseller | Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction | A Good Morning America Book Club Pick.