Thursday, May 6, 2021

Finlay Donovan is Killing It - Elle Cosimano

Oh my gosh - the first chapter of Elle Cosiman's newest book, Finlay Donovan is Killing It, had me laughing out loud. And I kept laughing as the book progressed. Which is a little odd as its also a murder mystery!

Finlay's husband has left her, she's struggling to make ends meet as an author, her husband fired the childminder and her agent is demanding the book that Finlay's already been paid for. Here's the fun bit...while having lunch with said agent, their discussion about the plot is overheard - and misconstrued. Somehow, Finlay seems to have been mistakenly taken on a contract - to kill a 'problem husband.'

Trust me, it is funny. And much of that's down to the wonderful lead character Cosimano has created. Finlay is just so quirky and likeable! Her struggles are real and she's a hot mess a lot of the time. Totally relatable. Except for the contract killer part! A sidekick is a must. And in this case we have Vero, Finlay's childminder. She's clever and has a sardonic sense of humor. They make a great team.

Cosimano's plot inventive is clever and engaging. There's no down time in this book - action and bodies propel things along at a fast paced clip, Yes, some situations are improbable, but just go with it. What a wonderful, escapist lead this one was! Oops, there's a side of romance included too.

I did chose to listen to Finlay Donovan is Killing It. The reader was Angela Dawe - and she was the perfect choice. She has a very expressive voice and absolutely matched the mental image I had in mind for Finlay. She interprets Cosimano's work and brings it to life with reading, capturing the humor, action  and more easily. She provides easily discerned voices for each character, both male and female - and child. Her speaking is clear and easy to understand. Her speaking speed is perfect. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Finlay Donovan is Killing It.

And I'm happy to say, there's another Finlay Donovan in the works - Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead is due out in February 2022. Definitely on my must listen list! 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Newcomer - Mary Kay Andrews

Here's a question for you - how do you know when summer is just around the corner? And the answer is.....when Mary Kay Andrews releases a new book! The Newcomer releases today - and it's such a great read!

We meet our lead character Letty as she pulls into the Murmuring Surf Motel (don't you love the kitschy name?), in the Florida town of Treasure Island. She's driven non stop from New York with her four year old niece. Why? The unthinkable has happened - Letty's sister and Maya's mother Tanya is dead. Tanya always said "If anything bad happens to me - it’s Evan. (her ex) Promise me you’ll take Maya and run. Promise me.”

In the last few books MK has added a mystery alongside the romance and feel good nature of her books. It really works for me, adding another layer to her books.

I loved each and every character in the book - from Letty and the extremely cute Maya, to the warm and welcoming motel owner Ava, her daughter Isabelle, the crotchety, but lovable senior residents, Ava's handsome son Joe - and more. They're all so well drawn and likeable. All except that Evan - MK did just as good a job drawing such a loathsome antagonist.

I loved the setting! It reminded me so much of my holidays when I was younger and I would happily stay there today as well. It has such a welcoming feel - kinda like a 'Cheers' vibe.

And yes, romance is another facet that makes Andrews books such great summer reading. It's not overt, sappy or in your face. The attraction is well done and fits seamlessly into the plot.

Now, take these wonderful characters, the fantastic setting and weave in the mystery of who killed Tanya. What have you got? A book you don't want to put down. And I didn't. Five stars for another engaging, heartwarming, eminently readable, take me away from it all, beach worthy read.  See for yourself - here's an excerpt of The Newcomer.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Find You First - Linwood Barclay

Linwood Barclay is on my list of favorite authors - I don't even bother reading the synopsis - I just know I'm going to enjoy it. And I most certainly did with his latest - Find You First.

Miles Cookson owns a successful tech company. He struggled financially when he was starting out - even resorting to being a paid sperm donor. He's just received some disturbing medical news - he has a terminal condition that can be passed onto the next generation. Well...the only children he has would be the result of those donations. He's determined to find them..... but so is someone else.....

Miles was a great protagonist, eminently likeable, calm (mostly) and caring. The first of the nine he finds is Chloe and she's front and center with Miles for the rest of the book. She's smart, sassy and seemingly fearless. The interactions between the two are well played. And there's some poignant moments as well. You'll have no problem identifying the antagonists - some nasty characters there.

The plot of Find You First is full of unpredictable twists and turns, keeping the listener in suspense from first chapter to last. There's so much more going on than just a hunt for those nine progeny. One element of the plot has taken inspiration from news headlines. 

There are multiple points of view in Find You First that really worked for this book, giving the listener an inside look at all of the plot threads. There are lots of choices for the whodunit. The action is non stop and made for addictive listening.

I chose to listen to Find You First. I was delighted to find that  George Newbern was the reader. He is hands down one of my favorite narrators. He has the most interesting, expressive voice with a somewhat sardonic bent to it. He brings an author's work to life with his inflections, timber and tone. His voice is clear, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. He changes things up for each character and it is easy to know who is speaking. Another five star performance for Newbern. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Find You First.

Friday, April 30, 2021

The Last Thing He Told Me - Laura Dave

I've enjoyed many of Laura Dave's previous books and I was eager to read her latest - The Last Thing He Told Me. I quite like the cover - those houseboats and wide open sky.

What's it about? From Simon and Schuster: (my thoughts follow)

"Before Owen Michaels disappears, he smuggles a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers—Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered, as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss, as a US marshal and federal agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared."

My Thoughts:

I was intrigued from the opening chapter - what - or who - does Hannah need to protect Bailey from?   

Relationships play a big part in this book with a focus on Hannah and Bailey's non-connection. Hannah keeps reaching out, while Bailey keeps swatting her away. Until they have a common goal - to find Owen. Dave does a good job of portraying this. And I think she nailed the sixteen year old mindset! 

The reader learns more about Hannah and Owen's relationship as she recalls the last two years, searching for clues to where he might be now. And Hannah and Bailey follow tenuous connections from Bailey's memories. I thought the clues and the chasing down of confirmation was well written, albeit a little hard to believe at times. I did question Hannah's skill set in approaching and reading certain people (sorry - deliberately obtuse) She is a wood turner by trade and it was a bit of a stretch for me to buy into her 'powers of persuasion'.

The why and the who are found, but it felt like I'd already read this story. Dave does put her own stamp on things, especially the ending, but at a certain point I pretty much knew how things were going to play out.

The Last Thing He Told Me is more light domestic suspense than a thriller.  It was a good read, but I like my suspense a little grittier and a bit quicker paced. I found it more character driven than action driven. If you like Joy Fielding or Iris Johansen, you'll enjoy this one.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Her Three Lives - Cate Holahan

Cate Holahan's latest book is Her Three Lives. The cover is suitably ominous with the torn background for the title. The covered mouth as well.

What's it about? From Grand Central Publishing: (My thoughts follow)

"Her public life: Jade Thompson has it all. She’s an up-and-coming social media influencer, and she has a beautiful new home and a successful architect for a fiancé. But there’s trouble behind the scenes. To Greg’s children, his divorce from their mother and his new life can only mean a big mid-life crisis. To Jade, his suburban Connecticut upbringing isn’t an easy match with her Caribbean roots.
Her private life: A savage home invasion leaves Greg house-bound with a traumatic brain injury and glued to the live feeds from his ubiquitous security cameras. As the police investigate the crime and Greg’s frustration and rage grows, Jade begins to wonder what he may know about their attackers. And whether they are coming back.
Her secret life: As Greg watches Jade’s comings and goings, he becomes convinced that her behavior is suspicious and that she’s hiding a big secret.  The more he sees, the more he wonders whether the break-in was really a random burglary. And whether he’s worth more to Jade if he were dead than alive."

My Thoughts:

I liked Jade as a lead character  - she seems to truly love Greg. (Although I can't see why) Abigay, Jade's mother has the clearest thinking of anyone in this novel. Jade should have listened to her mama! I can understand the anger Greg's adult children and soon to be ex feel towards Jade, but the vitriol thrown by Greg's daughter Violet is really over the top. Jade takes it - I wouldn't and I don't understand why Greg lets it happen.

Greg's brain injury opens up some interesting avenues for the plot to go, as well as a choice of suspects. Kudos to Holahan for the chapters written from Greg's point of view - they are quite frightening. This part of the book kept my attention. And I was ready for the resolution....but. Yes, there's a 'but' for me. The ending Holahan has chosen just doesn't sit well with me. I'm not going to provide spoilers, but I found the ending to be unrealistic, far fetched and disappointing.

This one ended up being just an okay read for me. The 'thriller' descriptor fell short for this reader. But see for yourself - here's an excerpt of Her Three Lies.

Thank you to the Hachette Book Group and Grand Central Publising for the review copy.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Hana Khan Carries On - Uzma Jalaluddin! Oh my gosh, Uzma Jalauddin's new book, Hana Khan Carries On was such a wonderful read!

Hana Khan Carries On is set in Toronto in the Golden Crescent neighbourhood. Hana's family runs the Three Sisters Biryani Poutine halal restaurant. Things are a bit slow and and the announcement of a new halal restaurant opening up on the same street is very worrisome. Hana is happy to work with her family, but her real dream is to tell stories - on the radio.

The book opens with a entry from Hana's podcast and an exchange of messages with a listener. I love epistolary elements and these are continued throughout the book. Her 'mission statement' for the podcast is thought provoking. "What do you want out of life? What do we owe the people we love? How do our histories and stories influence who we become? And how do you know that the thing you want is actually the thing you want?"

The other thing that struck me was the obvious love this family has for each other. I have to say I had a soft spot for visiting cousin Rashid, but every player in the supporting cast has their own story. The standout character is Hana herself. She is wonderfully drawn - her voice, her hopes and dreams, her struggles to be true to herself, her values, her community and her faith had me caring so much about her. Hana's voice is real.

But, let's not forget romance. Remember that competing halal restaurant? Well, the new owner is quite attractive, but thoroughly annoying - and he's trying to put the Three Sisters Biryani Poutine out of business. Still...there's an attraction there....

Jalaluddin is such a clever wordsmith. I couldn't stop turning pages - I was totally caught up in the lives of each and every character, their past, their present and their future. The rom-com thread will have you hoping things end up the 'right' way, there's lots of light hearted humour, but also a serious look at reality. The hate crimes perpetrated against Hana, her friends and community are sadly based in truth. And the treatment she receives at her workplace is shameful. 

Just a fabulous read and highly recommended. I'm off to hunt down a copy of Jalaluddin's first book, Ayesha at Last. And I will be eagerly waiting for her third! (Maybe more Rashid?!) 

 See for yourself - here's an excerpt of Hana Khan Carries On. (And this book would make a great film!)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Music of Bees - Eileen Garvin

Are you looking for your next feel good read? Looking to escape Covid for a little while and disappear inside an book? Look no further than Eileen Garvin's just released debut novel, The Music of Bees.

Alice has withdrawn from friends, family, neighbours and more following a series of heartbreaks. She goes to work and then goes straight home. She is alone except for her beloved bees. "Alice kept certain thoughts behind a firmly closed door in her mind..."

She literally runs into eighteen year old Jake one evening - and knocks him out of his wheelchair. Jake too has withdrawn from his friends, interests and his dysfunctional family. "He hated what he had done to his stupid life and that he had no one else to blame. He was broken in a way that could not be undone."

Harry has been living with his great uncle in a condemned trailer, hiding from his past, his parents and any social interactions. "Harry, stuck as he was between the recent debacle of his past and the uncertainty of his future, was happy to pause here, suspended between what he had done and what he might make of himself."

Three people that have no idea how to fix themselves - but maybe together they can find a way. 

Alice's beehives touch each character in a different way and become the propolis that cements their friendships. What is propolis you ask? Well, it's "glue-like material is used by bees to build their hives and fix any cracks and tears and also creates an even and hard surface inside the beehive." I learned that and much more about bees, hive life etc. in The Music of Bees. It was only on finishing the book and reading the author's bio that I discovered Garvin is a beekeeper herself.  Her knowledge and love of bees certainly shows in her descriptions and settings. Take the time to read the bee quotes at the beginning of every chapter - they directly tie into what's happening with Alice, Jake and Harry.

All three characters are so wonderfully drawn and the reader can't help but feel their pain and hope that they can heal and go forward. There are antagonists as well - some particularly nasty co-workers for Alice and a "nefarious pesticide company". 

Having a friend is the start and from there goals, a purpose, courage, happiness and yes, even love seems possible again for each of the three. The Music of Bees is uplifting, heartbreaking and heartwarming.  An excellent read - and especially now. Here's an excerpt for you.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Breakout - Paul Herron

Breakout is Paul Herron's debut thriller. 

Jack Constantine is an ex-cop, currently serving time at Ravenhill Prison for murder. Its Kiera Sawyer's first day on the job as a guard at the prison. And it's also the day a massive hurricane hits the coast - with Ravenhill right in it's path. What to do? Well the warden makes a decision - gather the employees and leave - and hope the National Guard shows up to evacuate the 800 prisoners. He leaves the cells locked, but an underling opens the doors - and now each and every prisoner is free, including Jack. And one lone guard who missed the bus.

What a great premise eh? I immediately thought of Bruce Willis and his Die Hard movies. Breakout reads like a movie - and that's no surprise as Herron has worked on over twenty seven television shows. 

Jack is a complicated lead character - part criminal, part cop. The reader isn't ever quite sure which path he'll take. And Sawyer is too darn innocent -she want to save everyone. She did surprise me though. But things are down to save yourself. The prison isn't going to stand up to the hurricane. Their only option is get over to an adjacent old lock up that has tunnels to hide out in 'til the storm passes. But first they're going to have to get past every killer, every gang and the downright crazy on the way there. Oh and a few of the guys that Jack put away.

Herron has come up with some terrifying obstacles for Jack, his cellmate Felix and Kiara. His descriptions of time and place were really good. I could easily picture the prison and where they were and where they were trying to go. The storm's increasing power is mentioned at the beginning of every chapter, ramping up the tension. The action is pretty much non stop, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat.  Gentle readers, this is definitely not the book for you. Visceral violence abounds. But seriously, this one screams movie. Read an excerpt of Breakout. 

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the review copy.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Girl, 11- Amy Suiter Clarke

Ready for another addictive suspense read? Amy Suiter Clarke's debut novel - Girl,11 - is a great choice!

I love novels told in an epistolary fashion. In Girl, 11, much of the book is told through a podcast. (I love podcasts!) Elle is the host and the investigator behind a true crime podcast called Justice Delayed. Season Five focuses on the Countdown Killer. It's been twenty years since the last death and he's never been caught. Is he dead? But within days of Elle's podcast, there's a new kidnapping - and death. Could he be back? Is there a copycat using the podcast as a template?

The podcast style rings true - interviews, monologues from the host and more. (I bet the audiobook version would be good to listen to.) Elle is a great lead character and I quite liked her. She's intelligent and driven. But that drive to find the killer is verging on obsessive, damaging her reputation, taking a toll on her marriage and friendships and her own wellbeing. The supporting cast was good as well.

Clarke's plotting is not straight forward. (Yay! I like not being able to guess.) There are a number of times Elle is sure she has nailed some fact or clue down, only to be proven wrong. There are a number of suspects - all worthy of being 'the one'. The tension and action gets tighter and more urgent as the hours and days pass. Clarke inserts a really great twist that caught me off guard in the last third of the book. I did find the extent of Elle's involvement with the police investigating the crime to be a bit of a stretch.

There are many points of view in Girl, 11 - Elle's, the killer and one of the captives. The killer is quite disturbing. And the young captive's are nerve wracking.

This was an impressive debut and I will be watching for Clarke's next book. I'm kinda hoping Elle and her podcast might return with a new case? Read an excerpt of Girl, 11.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Drowning Kind - Jennifer McMahon

The Drowning Kind is Jennifer McMahon's latest book.

"From the New York Times bestselling author of The Invited and The Winter People comes a chilling new novel about a woman who returns to the old family home after her sister mysteriously drowns in its swimming pool…but she’s not the pool’s only victim."

Right from the start, there's a Gothic feel to this latest from McMahon - Sparrow Crest was built on the ruins of an old hotel, there are rumors and perhaps truths about the springs - healing powers, granting wishes - but is there a cost? Be careful what you wish for....

McMahon tell her tale in a past and present format - one of my favorite formats. The past takes us to 1929 and introduces us to Ethel, who desperately wants a child. Uh huh, you guessed it. In the present, Jax finds her sister's research into the springs and takes it in, but with a grain of salt. Lexie had mental health issues and this could just be part of her illness. But the listener is privy to both timelines and knows more - but not everything. 

I'm always the one watching a scary movie from behind a pillow, yelling "don't go in the basement!" This time its 'don't go in the water." Dark water where you can't see the bottom? Ummm, no thanks. I got shivers every time someone decided to go swimming or visit the springs. McMahon has done a great job, building the atmosphere and keeping us in suspense 'til the very end.

I chose to listen to The Drowning Kind. I find I am often more drawn into a book by listening instead of reading. Such is the case with this book. Two narrators were used - Joy Osmanski and  Imani Jade Powers - both readers I have enjoyed in the past. Osmanski voices Jax in the present. Her voice suits the mental image I had created for this characters. She speaks crisply, cleanly and her voice is easy to understand. She uses her voice to great effect, easily bringing the suspense of McMahon's book to the listener. Her voices for supporting characters are differentiated. Powers is voice for Ethel in the past. She has a slower, well modulated tone of speaking that is just right for this character. It absolutely captures the suspense surrounding the springs - almost a dreamy tone. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Drowning Kind

And the ending? It caught me off guard and I had to go back and read it again. But it was just right.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Last Thing to Burn - Will Dean

Oh my gosh.....okay, so how long does it take you to read 256 pages? And factor in how quickly you can turn pages. That's the length of time you need to block off in your calendar. Because once you start reading Will Dean's newly released novel - The Last Thing to Burn - you're not going to be able to put it down. 

Jane (not her real name, but the one the monster gave her) has been a prisoner in a run down house on an isolated farm for seven years. And then the unthinkable - she's pregnant. And there's someone new in the cellar. Jayne has tried many times to escape, but...

There's more, but I'm not going to spoil it for you. Jayne's internal thoughts and dialogue let us get to know who she really is and how she ended up as a captive in Lenn's house - and what she has endured over the years. It's hard to read, but I kept turning pages frantically - I had to know if the 'right ending' happened. The tension, danger and suspense that lead up to the final pages are nerve wracking! And the scariest thing? Will Dean didn't make this up - what happened to Thanh has happened in real life to many.

If you enjoyed Room by Emma Donoghue, you'd enjoy Last Thing to Burn. But fair warning gentle readers - this may not be the book for you. Here's an excerpt.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Mirrorland - Carole Johnstone

Oh my gosh - Carole Johnstone's debut novel Mirrorland is simply amazing! It's easily one of the best books of the year for me.

Cat and El are identical twins - mirror twins as their mom says. They grew up  in a large rambling house at 36 Westeryk Road with their mother and grandfather. They were homeschooled and had vivid imaginations, inventing a world called Mirrorland - full of pirates witches, clowns, cowboys and more. But they grew up - and Cat left Scotland and El behind for twelve years. The only thing that brought her back was the news that El was missing.....

Where to start? At the house at 36 Westeryk Road of course. When Cat returns it's as if time stood still. Johnstone's descriptions of the house and the rooms within gave me the shivers. The girls named the rooms as well - who's not worried about a room called The Clown Café? Or the world that waits underneath the pantry stairs? The whole overall feel is very Gothic. (Yay! I love Gothic)

Johnstone's plotting is fabulous. Mirrorland is told from Cat's point of view, past and present. Are Cat's memories of their childhood accurate? And I know it sounds outlandish - but could Mirrorland be real? The possibility is definitely there. Is El really missing or is this another fantastical game? Johnstone's writing kept me on the edge of my seat as I tried to parse out what was real, what happened years ago and what is happening now.

I chose to listen to Mirrorland. I often say that I become more immersed in a book when I listen instead of reading. And this was most definitely one of those times. The narrator was Katie Leung and she was a great choice. I loved her Scottish accent - it gives the narration movement. Her voice is clear and easy to understand and her reading pace is just right. She interprets Johnstone's work very well and uses her voice effectively to bring the story alive.

A psychological thriller, a crime tale mixed with a dose of fantasy. Excellent for this reader! If this was Johnstone's debut - I can't wait to read what she writes next.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Second Chances - Craig Grossi

Second Chances by Craig Grossi is the newly released follow up to his first book, Craig & Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, and How They Rescued Each Other.

Craig found Fred the dog in Afghanistan and had him taken back to the US. Grossi suffers from PTSD and Fred is a very important part of his life. The two of them now travel America together, "spreading the message of stubborn positivity."

In this latest book, Grossi and Fred go inside Maine State Prison and meet the incarcerated men who live - and work - on the veteran unit. Here, they train Labrador Retrievers to be companions for disabled vets.

This type of training program is available in almost 300 prisons in 50 states. They provide a 'second chance' for the incarcerated trainer, as well as the veteran who will receive the dog. Maine State works with the non profit, America’s Vet Dogs.

We meet the the trainers as well as other vets who join Grossi's new writing group at the prison. We become privy to their stories as they share details of their lives and hopes for the future. I had not read the first book, but Grossi shares many details of his life and his service career in the military with the men. There were some startling revelations. I think the men were able to share with Grossi as he was a veteran and 'got' it. The benefits of both the writing group and the dog training went both ways. The sense of self worth, accomplishment, pride and hope are direct results for the men - and Grossi as well.

Details of the dog training process are presented as well and I found those interesting. At times, I did find the level of detail to be a bit overwhelming - detailed descriptions of rooms etc. that do set the stage but felt like filler.

I chose to the listen to the audio version of Second Chances. The author himself is the narrator. It's always a treat to hear an author read their work - they lived it and the emphasis, the emotion and more is just there. Grossi has a clear speaking voice and its pleasant to listen to. His speed of speaking is measured and precise, although a bit slow for me. I always find listening to a book immerses the reader more. I did enjoy Grossi's tale and hope that he continues to find healing and keeps sharing his 'stubborn positivity' message. I hope too that the incarcerated men we met have gone on to their second chance.

Friday, April 16, 2021

A Man Named Doll - Jonathan Ames

I picked up Jonathan Ames's new novel - A Man Named Doll - on a rainy Saturday morning and finished it before dinner. It's just over 200 pages - but those pages make for addictive reading.

Meet Happy Doll - yes, that's his real name, but he does answer to Hank. Former Navy, LAPD and currently a struggling Private Investigator.  He also works security for a massage parlor to make ends meet. And for the reader - a unique lead character.

An old colleague stops by the office to see if Hank would be willing to donate him a kidney. And that one act is the start of a string of bodies and a set of crimes that you just can't predict.

The setting is LA and I immediately got a noir feeling from settings and characters - Hank's office setting, his occupation, his home under the Hollywood sign, the buxom barkeep at his local and more.

Happy's inner dialogue is wickedly sharp and darkly humourous. He acts on impulse quite often and doesn't seem to realize that he isn't immortal. He's quite likeable and you can't help but behind him. Oh, and his dog George is an excellent sidekick.

The plot kept me guessing with every new turn (and body). There was no way to guess how things were going to turn out. The pacing of the book is fast and furious, with no downtime. Well, maybe a tad - Hank does get knocked out quite a bit.

The writing was excellent, the lead character engaging and the plot was inventive. Lee Child says this about A Man Named Doll - "Quirky, edgy, charming, funny and serious, all in one." I couldn't have said it better myself. And.....there's more Happy-ness to come. The first chapter of the next book is included at the end.  The Wheel of Doll is due out next year.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Just Get Home - Bridget Foley

No word of a lie - I read Bridget Foley's new book, Just Get Home in a day (and a bit of the night!)

See the crack on the cover? Uh huh - earthquake time in Los Angeles. Single mom Dessa is on a rare night out with her friends, having left her young daughter with a new babysitter. Beegie is a foster home runaway who is headed back as she has nowhere and no one else. 

Now, I have no experience with earthquakes other than the news. But Foley's descriptions were terrifying. Even more disquieting is the behaviour of those who see this disaster as a chance to loot - and worse. (Gentle readers take not that there are more than a few triggering situations in Just Get Home.) "The earthquake isn't the real disaster, Dessa. The disaster is what happens after."

Initially the two characters are each on their own. Their paths cross more than once and they end up travelling the same way together. It is the action and danger that propels the book forward at a breakneck speed, but Foley has also developed her characters. Dessa loves her daughter Oliva to the moon and back, but she is struggling mentally and financially. Beegie's story broke my heart - "Because if you care about something it has power over you. Caring can give someone else the ability to control you and the only real way to own yourself was to let go." 

Their journey is fraught with danger at every turn. I (barely) resisted the urge to flip ahead in the book to see if things worked out the way I wanted. Just Get Home reads like an action movie - and I can absolutely see it on the big screen. Five stars as I couldn't put it down.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Ocean Prey - John Sandford

Ocean Prey is the 31st entry in John Sandford's long running Lucas Davenport series. I've enjoyed each and every one and this series has only gotten better as it progresses. Now you might notice that Virgil Flowers is listed on the cover as well - this will be his 13th novel. There's always a cameo appearance by that f*****g Flowers in a Davenport book, but this time around, he has a pivotal role in the plot. I knew I was going to love Ocean Prey!

Three Coast Guardsman are killed as they try to apprehend a boat full of drug smugglers - and their product. The FBI's investigation has stalled and they need help (not that they'll admit that) Who to call? Uh huh - Lucas Davenport who is attached to the US Marshall's office, but really only reports to politicos. 

He and Bob, another Marshall make progress but need another player - an undercover agent - or two. Who better to play a perpetually stoned, scuba diving, small time criminal who's a bit witless? Yup, Virgil flowers. And Marshall Rae plays his girlfriend. 

Ocean Prey was nice change of pace from the political hot footing Lucas has been investigating the last few books - a different setting and a fresh crime, rather than building on the previous book. And one that truly takes inspiration from headlines and reality - drug running, organized crime and murder.

The dialogue is so snappy, wry and witty - and rings true. There's a dark humor running through much of the conversations and interactions. The action is fast and furious, the plot is intricate and believable and the danger is palpable. Which all adds up to one heckuva page turning read!

Sandford's writing is still fresh and engaging, even after so many books. I'm dreading the day he puts down his pen. 'Til then, bring on the next tale! Read an excerpt of Ocean Prey.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Savage Gerry - John Jantunen

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Jigsaw Man - Nadine Matheson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Giveaway - The House Uptown - Melissa Ginsburg

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

What's it about? From Flatiron Books:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Mother May I - Joshilyn Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 5, 2021

Other People's Children - R. J. Hoffman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 2, 2021

Anywhere For You - Abbie Greaves

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Dangerous Women - Hope Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Fall of Koli - M.R. Carey

The Fall of Koli is the final entry in the Rampart Trilogy by M.R. Carey. The first is The Book of Koli (my review), and The Trials of Koli is the second (my review). I've been eagerly awaiting this final entry. It's newly released and is a delicious chunkster with 532 pages of addictive reading!

I don't read a lot of sci fi or fantasy, but if the setting  is post apocalyptic, it's one I definitely will pick up. I am fascinated by the imaginings of what the world might be like if....

As a quick catch-up...sometime in the future, the human race has been decimated. Small pockets of survivors live in their own fortified villages and encampments. Society has reverted to a much earlier time with survival being the goal. Nature has turned on humans, with predator plants and trees. Tech from the past is revered. Koli from Mythen Rood is the main protagonist in this trilogy. Without spoiling things for a new reader, Koli has left his village and is travelling with his compatriots towards a signal. Who could be still broadcasting? Is it simply a computer still functioning somewhere? Or could it be a group farther along in rebuilding than those in Koli's sphere?

Well, in this latest entry, they make it to the source of the signal. And it's not at all what they had imagined or hoped for. More questions than answers and the residents of Albion are more dangerous than safe. Carey kept me reading late into the night by switching the narrative back and forth at crucial junctures from Koli to Spinner of Mythen Rood. She is leading the fight to keep the village safe from a megalomaniac and his followers.  And there's a third character given a voice in this last entry. I was so surprised and thrilled to see this player be given a bigger (and truly pivotal) role. And yes, I'm going to be obtuse about who it is as I don't want to provide spoilers. 

I loved Carey's world building and imaginings of what such a world might look like. (And its a tad scary to be reading a book where a virus wipes out most of humanity at this time...) Science and technology play a large part of  the books - as defender, weapon, and is revered and is of the utmost value and status. Lots of food for thought here...

I've become invested in the characters from the first page of the first book to the sadly turned last page. There's been loss and love, adventures and trials, and I was mentally standing with them as they faced the unknown. The Fall of Koli gives us that final showdown if you will - an epic battle that will change what is left of their world. 

Carey's writing is addictive and invites the reader to be a part of the story. I'm quite sad to see this trilogy finish up, but am looking forward to Carey's next work.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Sanatorium - Sarah Pearse

I was browsing my library's new e-audiobooks and came across Sarah Pearse's novel, The Sanatorium. I'm always a bit leery of celebrity endorsed books, but this one seemed to be the kind of tale I would enjoy.

The Sanatorium takes place in a luxury hotel high in the Swiss Alps. Did I mention it was built on the ruins of an old sanitorium, a murder occurs and an avalanche cuts the hotel off from the authorities? I love 'locked room' mysteries. This premise isn't new, but Pearse puts her own spin on things.

Elin and her boyfriend Will are visiting the hotel at the invitation of Elin's brother Isaac and his fiancée Laure. When Laure goes missing, Isaac insists Elin help him find her. After all, Elin is a British police officer. She reluctantly agrees as she is on medical leave because of crippling anxiety. Her own uncertainty bleeds into her investigation.

Each and every character, including the supporting players, is hiding something - which makes for a wealth of choices for whodunit. I love trying to spot the lies. Pearse does a great job of keeping the listener guessing. Without giving it away, there's more to the plot as the reason is finally revealed. (That reason has it's roots in reality.) 

While the ending ties things up for this book, there's a nice little gotcha in the final chapter. I wonder if there might be another book featuring Elin? Or if this is a stand alone. 

I often find I become more immersed in a book when I listen to the audio version. This was definitely the case for The Sanitorium. The reader was Elizabeth Knowelden. She has a lovely British accent. Her voice is pleasant to listen to, well enunciated and has a measured pace of speaking. She easily transmits Elin's panic, the suspense of the plot and the tone of the book with her voice. She created different voices for the other characters and they are believable. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Sanatorium.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

You'll Thank Me For This - Nina Siegal

It was this descriptor that had me wanting to read Nina Siegal's latest novel - You'll Thank Me For This

From Mullholland Books: "A pulse-pounding psychological thriller based on the popular Dutch tradition of blindfolding and dropping teens and preteens in the middle of a forest - and what happens when it goes horribly wrong."

Well, it's a real thing! What a great premise to weave a story into.

Siegal tells this story from two points of view in alternating chapters - that of twelve year old Karin and her mother Grace. I liked Karin - she has all the attributes you want in a plucky young protagonist - a thinker and ready to act. She's twelve, but I did find her to be a young twelve - a bit too trusting. Initially I thought Grace was okay - she and Karin are part of a new blended family. But as I read further, my opinion changed. She's got rose colored glasses on and seems determined to not take them off. If it happens once, it will happen again.

The plot starts off good. There's some conflict within the dropping group, but what could have been some Lord of the Flies territory ended quickly. I found the forest scenes of Karin's journey just too farfetched for me. The wolf scene. C'mon. Really?  The 'scary' people in the forest. The plot was pretty predictable after a certain point as well. The final why is a bit of a stretch, but still plausible.

I found the writing a bit stilted and choppy. I thought perhaps it was a translation thing, but no, it was written in English. The other thing I checked was what target audience was - adult or YA. It was adult. I found Karin's chapters to be quite juvenile (because she is juvenile, I know), but they just didn't grab me. I wanted 'pulse-pounding', but it never hit that mark for me. Just okay for this reader. Here's an excerpt of You'll Thank Me For This.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Every Vow You Break - Peter Swanson

I liked the premise behind Peter Swanson's new book -  Every Vow You Break. 

Abigail is happy to be marrying Bruce - she loves him. And it doesn't hurt that he's a millionaire. He'll never find out about her one night stand on her hen night - will he? Well, when the guy shows up on the isolated island Bruce has picked for their honeymoon, there is a distinct possibility that he might...he claims to be in love with Abigail.

Ohh, there's lot of places this plot could go! 

For me, Abigail was an unlikeable protagonist, even though I felt like I should be behind her. I found her to be shallow, too in love with the money and marrying someone after having slept with a stranger was trashy. And she's more than a little clueless. (Really - what couple goes for solo hikes the day after getting married?) But, you don't have to love the lead to enjoy the plot. (I should mention that none of the characters were likeable!) It makes things interesting.

Swanson ups the tension with the appearance of the one night stand. Abigail starts to open her eyes and realizes that everything is just 'not right' at the island camp. I'm going to leave it at that without spoiling the plot for you. I was quite engaged with the book until we got to a signpost in an seldom used tunnel - and I knew what was coming next. I was a bit sad that it went in a predictable direction as Swanson has penned some really great twists and turns in previous books. But, he gives us an action filled 'run for the money' in the last bit of the book that kept me quite engaged.

I chose to listen to Every Vow You Break. The narrator was Karissa Vacker and she did a wonderful job of bringing the story to life. Vacker has a rich, slightly gravelly tone to her voice that is pleasant to listen to. And it absolutely suited the mental image I had created for Abigail. She enunciates well and has a good speaking pace. She interprets Swanson' work well and brings emotion to her reading. A great job. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of Every Vow You Break.

Swanson is on my list of authors that I read. I enjoyed this latest, but it wasn't the best he's written IMO. But...I can see this one on the big screen.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Later - Stephen King

I am a big Stephen King fan and am always eagerly awaiting his newest release. Later is the latest - and is just as good as I knew it would be!

Later is told completely from Jamie Conklin's point of view in a storytelling fashion. He takes us back to his childhood when he discovers that he sees things that no one else does. His single mother warns him to not tell anyone else, but she does let it slip to her girlfriend Liz. What does he see? Dead people. They can see Jamie as well and talk to him before they fade away. And...they cannot lie to him. The adults in his life see the potential in Jamie's gift. His mother's request is made to keep their small family afloat. But Liz.....well, she see other opportunities...

You just know there's going to be something evil amongst the dead Jamie sees and talks to. There is, and it's downright terrifying. Even more so as Jamie is just a child.

Jamie was such a fantastic lead and I loved his voice. He's an adult as he recounts his past and his voice is by turns is self deprecating, wry, frightened and more as he shares his past - and present - with the listener. King does 'young person facing incredible evil on their own' so very, very well. It's impossible to not get caught up in the tension of the plot. There's also some dark humor that I always appreciate.

I loved the cover image and the retro feel. And the title? The word later is used very effectively as foreshadowing by Jamie and is guaranteed to keep you staying up later than you should.

I have actually listened to the last few books and am now hooked on the audio versions of King's work. The narrator was Seth Numrich and he was such a great choice. His tone matched the mental image I had for an adult Jamie, but he also captured the fear, danger and uncertainty of young Jamie. The voice for Mom was spot on. And the thing's voice? Goosebumps, every time it spoke. The voice for Liz suited her actions and personality. Numrich captures the tone and tenor of King's plot so very, very well with his expressive narration. His speaking is clear, easy to understand and the pacing was just right. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I become so much more immersed in a tale when I listen to it. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Later.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Memory Collectors - Kim Neville

From Atria Books: "Perfect for fans of The Scent Keeper and The Keeper of Lost Things, an atmospheric and enchanting debut novel about two women haunted by buried secrets but bound by a shared gift and the power the past holds over our lives."

Ev makes her living dumpster diving. She sells her wares at a night market in Vancouver. But she is particular about what she touches and sells. You see, she can feel the emotion attached to a found object. She has labeled those objects as 'stained'. Harriet also collects found items - she's older and has been at it for many years. And yes, the term hoarder could be used with Harriet. She too can feel the emotions, but refers to her objects as treasures. It seems inevitable that the two will meet.

I must admit to (clears throat) having collected a few treasures of my own. I am fascinated with found bits and pieces. Who loved this object? What were they like? Was the item lost or discarded? But I love the pieces I have inherited from my grandmothers. The idea of being able to feel the history - memories and emotions - was thought provoking. 

In The Memory Collectors, emotions can be felt, but not recognized by those who pick them up. Now, not every emotion is a positive one, is it?  As the book progresses, Ev and Harriet's 'powers' change, strengthen and become more than a little frightening.

The Memory Collectors is told through two points of view - Ev and Harriet. We slowly come to know more about their pasts. And how it might be influencing and changing the present. There are two supporting players - Owen, a friend of Ev's that is calm, thoughtful and caring. Loved him. And then there's Ev's sister Noemi - I have to say that I heartily disliked her. But she is the perfect antagonist. It is Noemi that awakens the past and sends all four lives into a...a battle I would say.

The Memory Collectors was an interesting, unique mixture of magical realism, suspense, family dynamics, emotions and how the past shapes the present. I'm not one hundred percent sold on the epilogue, but it fits.

Neville is a talented writer and this was an impressive debut. PS - That cover is gorgeous.

And I leave you with this quote: "Retail stores disturb her, rows and rows of empty objects. Products with no soul, no energy, people buying and discarding them before they have the chance to take on any kind of life, the world growing more cluttered and at the same time more barren every day."

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Win - Harlan Coben

Well truthfully, if Harlen Coben wrote it - I want to read it. Even more so when I discovered this latest featured Windsor Horne Lockwood III - aka Win.

Coben has penned a great series featuring Myron Bolitar - sports rep/detective. I know, odd combo, but it really works. And Myron's sidekick is the aforementioned Win. Win doesn't say too much in those books, but later entries have given readers peeks into this enigmatic character. Until.....yes, you guessed it, this book features Win as the lead!

Win is hauled in by the FBI and taken to the site of a murder. A missing painting that belonged to his family as well as a suitcase bearing his crest and monogrammed initials has been found at the scene. And Win is now officially a suspect.

Did I mention that Win is incredibly rich? Has his own sense of justice? Is drawn to violence? Is not someone you want to cross? Is unpredictable? Is a man who loves the finer things in life? Yup, all that and more. Oh, and that the exterior belies who is really inside that designer label suit. Which only adds the delicious unknown in predicting where the plot is going to go.

And it heads places completely unexpected - domestic terrorism, with some side stops along they way. We learn more about the Lockwood clan. The plotting in Win is unique and I was surprised by every revelation - and twist. I so appreciated being unable to guess what's next. Coben kept me on my toes,  right 'til the last pages.

It was fascinating to get into Win's thought processes, his reasoning and what makes him tick. Scary, but brilliant. His inner dialogue and observations are also darkly humorous and sardonically witty and wry.

Win was such a great read for me - addicting, page turning, unexpected and has just left me wanting another 'Win' book. Have a look yourself - read an excerpt of Win.

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Rose Code - Kate Quinn

The Rose Code is bestselling author Kate Quinn's latest release - and it's another fantastic piece of historical fiction. 

Quinn takes us back to WWII, Bletchley Park and code breakers. The Rose Code is told through three very different young women -  debutante Osla, self-made Mab and spinster Beth. Each brings with them a skill set that will help to defeat the Nazis.

But the narrative also takes us to 'after the war' in 1947. One of the three is in a desperate situation and needs the other two to help save not just her, but to find a traitor. 

What is it about WWII novels that we enjoy so much? I think it's the people and their attitudes. Keep calm, carry on. Needs must. Honor, duty, loyalty, a sense of camaraderie and much more from not just those in uniform, but those holding the home front as well. And although we know the outcome of the war itself, there are so many stories to be told.

Quinn does a fantastic job telling this tale. The characters were all so different and wonderfully drawn. I loved Osla's sassy spirit, upbeat attitude and quick mind. Mab has overcome much to get where she is - she presents a hard front to the world, depending on no one but herself.  Beth has a brilliant mind, but has been stymied by her overbearing mother. The war gives her a chance to escape her heavy hand. Three unlikely women thrown together by the war. I can't say I liked one more than the other, they each brought so much life to the plot. Supporting characters are wide and varied and include Prince Philip with a cameo from Lilibet.

I was fascinated at the behind the walls look at Bletchley Park and what it took to break codes and how those breakthroughs shortened the war. Fact is woven through Quinn's plot as well - there were indeed traitors and spies passing on information. The mystery of who that is in The Rose Code is slowly played out in a back and forth from during the war and after.

Love - and loss - also play a part in The Rose Code. Wartime romance is much different than present day with distance and uncertainty playing a large part back then. The romances were well written, poignant and tugged at the heartstrings.

I chose to listen to The Rose Code. It was narrated by one of my favorite readers - Saskia Maarleveld. She has the most wonderfully expressive voice. She provided different voices for each of the three lead characters that very much suited the mental images I created for each. (I really did like Osla's!) There are many male characters as well and the voices and tones Maarleveld provided were believable. She captures the tone and tenor of Quinn's work easily with her voice. And the emotions of the characters as well. Her voice has a lovely British accent that is pleasant to listen to. She enunciates well and her speaking voice is well paced. Her voice has a rich tone to it. I've said it before and I'll say it again - when listening to a book, I find I am much more immersed in the story and that was definitely the case with The Rose Code. The audiobook is 15 hours and 40 minutes long - and it never lags or drags. In fact I would have been happy with more!

And excellent historical read based on fact, populated with engaging characters I cared about and a mystery to boot. I was caught up immediately in the story and loved every bit. Five stars from this listener. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Rose Code.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Search for Her - Rick Mofina

Rick Mofina is a new to me author. His latest book is Search for Her. 

Mofina starts off with a frightening premise. Fourteen year old Riley decides to wait in the RV while the rest of her newly blended family heads into the truck stop. When they get back on the road, they assume she is taking a nap in the bedroom. It's not until they're miles down the road that anyone genuinely checks. And yup, you guessed it - she's missing....

The search for Riley is anything but easy. The police don't seem to believe Grace and husband John that it was an accident. Instead they're focusing on the family as suspects. The police work in Search for Her is busy, with many agencies involved as the case crosses state lines. Although all the right words are there, I had a hard time believing some of the investigation. Information or leads are discovered at fortuitous points in the story. Technology breaks down and isn't discovered for days. Mofina gives us lots of suspects right from the get go including the family. It seems every one of them is hiding something. The listener is given hints as to each family member's hidden secrets, but it takes a while before they are revealed. This does serve to keep the listener engaged. There are also lots of peripheral characters that may or may not have a bearing on the case. One caught my eye as the way they were portrayed was just too 'good' IMO. 

Understandably, the family is panicked. Especially Grace. And I felt for her - I really did. But I got so tired of her caterwauling 'Where's Riley?' I know, I know, her child is missing. Character development takes a back seat in Search for Her. Instead, it action that propels the book forward. There are twists along the way, but some of them seemed awkward to me, including the reasoning and mind set of the initial suspect.

I chose to listen to Search for Her. The reader was Jennifer Jill Araya. This was a first listen of this narrator for me. She has a nice clear speaking voice, enunciates well, paces her speaking speed, and is, for the most part, really easy to listen to. She provides tones and voices for many, including males that are believable. She is indeed a very expressive reader and captures the tone of Mofina's book with her interpretation.  Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Search For Her.

Mofina hits all the right notes for what I would call 'light suspense.' But, I prefer my suspense a little darker and my police procedures a little more believable. I encourage you to check out the other reviews on Goodreads. Overall, an easy read for the beach bag this summer.