Friday, July 30, 2021

Radar Girls - Sara Ackerman

Land Girls, Bomb Girls and now from Sara Ackerman, a new WWII novel - Radar Girls.

Radar Girls is based on reality. The Women's Air Raid Defense was created in the Hawaiian Islands following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Stations were formed on every island and the women staffing them were local, military wives and recruits from the mainland. This is a fascinating piece of history and Ackerman does a wonderful job bringing it alive.

Daisy Wilder is the protagonist in Ackerman's novel. A native islander, she has been making her living as a horse trainer when she is recruited for the WARDs. Having dropped out of school in grade ten, she's determined to prove to herself, and to the other women, that she can do this. She's very likable. I'm always looking forward to meeting the supporting cast in these WWII novels - having a team is (IMO), a mandatory element. Ackerman's supporting group of 'gals' is perfect. (There are some mean 'gals' too, but isn't there always?) I admit to having a soft spot for the bubbly Fluff. I think it's the 'can do' attitudes, the camaraderie of the women and their determination to help the war effort that really appeals to me. There's a romantic storyline as well for Daisy, but it doesn't overwhelm the work these trail blazing women are doing. Many of the other women also have their own matters of the heart. 

There's lots of detail about how the radar actually worked. It seems so rudimentary compared to today's technology. But it worked and saved many lives. As well, her descriptions of the beaches had me wanting to visit Hawaii! The other settings are just as well drawn and I was able to easily imagine them.

I chose to listen to Radar Girls, especially after seeing that it was read by one of my favorite narrators - Cassandra Campbell. Her voice is quite pleasant to listen to - she has a smooth polished tone to her voice. Her speaking is well enunciated, easy to understand and the pacing is just right. She captures the female characters with different voices that perfectly suited each one. Daisy's voice was a little hesitant in the beginning, but as she builds her confidence it get stronger. The voice for Fluff was fun and sassy. She does male voices very well too, lowering the tone and cadence. The male voice for Daisy's love interest is believable. I've said it before and I'll say it again - listening to a book completely immerses me in the story. An excellent performance from Campbell - here's an audio excerpt. 

 Radar Girls is an excellent entry in the WWII fiction genre and one I would easily recommend! Well done Sara Ackerman!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Small Favors - Erin A. Craig

Erin A. Craig's new novel, Small Favors, has just released. It kept me company in a hammock for the weekend as I got lost in the tale of Ellerie and the town of Amity Falls. 

Amity means friendship and goodwill and the town of Amity Falls seems to be the epitome of that description. The isolated town was founded many years ago in a forest far from others. The strict set of rules the elders wrote has kept the town safe, both within and without. But when a lone horse is the only one to return from a supply train, the questions arises...have the monsters returned...?

Small, seemingly inconsequential events begin to happen - a broken tool, a rumor spread - and then grow in severity - crops destroyed, deformed animals being born, rumors growing to outright hate - and more sightings of the monsters. Oh, yes! An isolated town, clashing personalities, winter coming on and supplies are low. A recipe for trouble. Craig ramps up the tension to frighteningly creepy levels. To the point when you want to shout out loud at the characters - No, no, no!! Don't go there, don't talk to them, don't do that....

Eighteen year old Ellerie Downing is our protagonist. She is perfect for her role in this book. Kind, intelligent, responsible, determined, but also on the cusp of coming of age. And she does all the things you're going to want her not to do. She meets with a young man who traps in the pines beyond the town limits. He is welcomed into the Downing household. As are Ellerie's long lost uncle and his son. There are a number of supporting players as well. And Craig also provides a who's who list at the beginning of the book to help you keep track. 

Small Favors is a fairy tale of sorts - the kind with a dark, dark wood, an isolated settlement, an evil lurking presence, townsfolk not seeing the madness until it may be too late, and a golden haired heroine who may have the answers to save them all. Oh, and a prince of sorts.

I loved it! Kudos to Erin A. Craig on weaving a tale that kept me totally engaged. (And I'm long past my teens.) I loved the plot, was on side with the protagonist and couldn't wait to see what was on the next page. Craig's writing is excellent. Small Favors was an great, escapist read. See for yourself - read an excerpt. (And don't you love that cover!)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Safe in My Arms - Sara Shepard

Safe in My Arms is the new novel from Sara Shepard.

The Silver Swans preschool is the place the yummy mummys want to send their children. Three moms have just enrolled their children. But they don't fit the mold and it seems someone doesn't want them at the school. Vitriolic notes are found in their kid's backpacks telling them quit the school.

The three meet each other and band together - they're determined not to be drummed out of the school. The thing is though....Andrea, Lauren and Ronnie all do have secrets that they don't want brought to light. And the person leaving the notes seems to know those secrets....

I quite liked the three moms, although I admit to having a soft spot for Andrea.
Each of the women bring a different mindset and skill set to the friendship. The reader becomes privy to what their secrets are as the story progresses and three new plot lines are added to the book. Things at the school escalate and the three friends seem to now be suspects. So.....they decide to investigate on their own. I did find I had to suspend disbelief in a number of situations, including the police investigation into the crime at the school.

Shepard is the author of the successful teen series Pretty Little Liars. I'm not aware of any other adult books that she's penned, but I could be wrong. For me, I found this book to have a simpler style of writing. The tone was what I would call light suspense, not the edge of your seat suspense. Shepard does throw some turns into her tale as the end draws near. And kudos for doing it for all four plotlines. I did find the wrap up went on too long for me as the explanation for everything that has gone on is detailed in the run up to the final pages. And she throws in one more twist. Not sure that last one worked for me.

In the author's notes at the end, Shepard says that "As I wrote this story, much of the world felt unstable, uncertain and in flux, though as a result, I felt even more inspired to acknowledge the struggles of motherhood and how it's not always about being the 'best' or 'perfect", but accepting where you're at and cutting yourself some slack." Safe in My Arms was an interesting vehicle to carry this message.

A good book for the beach, but not as suspenseful as I had expected.  See for yourself - read an excerpt of Safe in My Arms.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Not A Happy Family - Shari Lapena

I've enjoyed each and every one of Shari Lapena's suspense novels. I was eager to read her newest - Not A Happy Family.  And like the ones gone before, I tore through it in two days!

Check out the synopsis below - you'll be hooked! From the publisher, Doubleday Canada:

"Brecken Hill in upstate New York is an expensive place to live. You have to be rich to have a house there, and Fred and Sheila Merton certainly are rich. But even all their money can't protect them when a killer comes to call. The Mertons are brutally murdered after a fraught Easter dinner with their three adult kids. Who, of course, are devastated."
 
Or are they? They each stand to inherit millions. They were never a happy family, thanks to their vindictive father and neglectful mother, but perhaps one of the siblings is more disturbed than anyone knew. Did someone snap after that dreadful evening? Or did another person appear later that night with the worst of intentions? That must be what happened. After all, if one of the family were capable of something as gruesome as this, you'd know. Wouldn't you?"

Lies. Secrets. Greed. Conniving. Scheming. Murder. Each and every character is unlikable and yes - detestable in one way or another, even the spouses of the Merton adult children. But it is Catherine, Dan and Jenna that are truly unbelievable. Their blatant desire to know how much they're going to inherit is brought up even before the funeral arrangements have been discussed. There are quite a few other players added to the mix - all with ties to the deceased Mertons. It did take me a bit of back and forth to keep track of who was who. But I loved having so many suspects. Kudos to Lapena on her characterizations.

Lapena lays a bread crumb trail of dropped hints, twists and turns on the way to the final whodunit. There's absolutely no way to predict the final aha moment. But I had a lot of fun guessing and re-guessing. Not A Happy Family had a bit of an Agatha Christie feel for me. (a good thing!)

I really enjoyed this latest. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Not A Happy Family.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Clockmaker's Wife - Daisy Wood

WWII fiction is all the rage these days. And if you're a fan of historical fiction, you're going to want to add Daisy Wood's new novel, The Clockmaker's Wife to your TBR list.

Nell and Arthur Spelman and their wee daughter Alice are living in London in 1940. With the blitz hitting too close to home, Nell and Alice go to live with her parents in the country. But, Arthur's job is too important for him to leave - he is a clockmaker who keeps the iconic Big Ben chiming.

Fast forward to present day America. Ellie finds a beautiful but broken watch in her mother Alice's belongings. It once belonged to - yes, you guessed it - Alice's mother Nell. Ellie knows nothing of her grandparents and her mother doesn't have much to offer her either. Ellie is determined to find her history for both herself and her mother. But what she finds isn't what she expected.

I love stories like this that go back and forth from past to present. I was initially caught up short when a crucial piece of Nell's life is presented very early on. But once I discovered this bit, I realized it wasn't a spoiler, and instead I became very curious.

I loved the 'past' chapters so much - characters that 'just got on with it', the sense of community, camaraderie and stalwartness. Wood did an admirable job creating wonderful characters that I easily engaged with. The settings were just as well drawn to with detailed descriptions that created vivid mental pictures. I loved Nell - and her love for Arthur. Nell's got gumption, smarts and a strong sense of duty to her country. The supporting cast is just as well drawn.

Ellie in present day was just as engaging. She's curious, kind and determined as well. I enjoyed the romantic thread woven into this narrative. What Ellie finds in Britain isn't what she had expected. She continues to search for bits of Nell's life even as the reader become privy to what happened to Nell in the past. The lead up to the final answer is action filled. The ending to the present day thread is perfect. Of the two timelines, I have to say I was drawn more to the war years. 

The Clockmaker's Wife was a wonderful read and I recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Clockmaker's Wife.

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Forest of Vanishing Stars - Kristin Harmel

I've been enjoying the myriad WWII books that are popping up everywhere. My latest listen is The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel.

Inga is only two when she is stolen from the home of her parents by an old woman. Things get a bit mystical here as the old woman takes Inga (now known as Yona) to live in the forest and teaches her how to survive. She also tells Yona that she has a very important purpose to fulfill. The two are alone for almost twenty years, until the old woman's death. And now Yona is alone. And the war has begun...

The premise intrigued me...what is Yona's purpose? Will she make contact with other people? How will the war tie in? Is she going to be safe? The connection with others is one the first questions answered. Can you imagine having seen only one person in twenty years and having no concept of what the 'real' world is like, despite being taught?

The scenes and the events in the forest are based on real events. Harmel provides a detailed author's note at the end, giving us the real accounts of the Jews who survived by hiding and living in the forest for years. It's quite fascinating. Gentle readers, Harmel's recounting of this piece of history also contains descriptions of atrocities committed by the Germans.

The Forest of Vanishing Stars is also a search for meaning, purpose, faith, relationships and yes, romance for Yona. I liked Yona and her inner strength. There are a large number of supporting characters as well. A few of these felt like caricatures, there for a specific purpose. Zus however was well drawn and I found him to be quite believable. And full of hard earned wisdom. "Your identity isn’t determined by your birth. All that matters is what we make ourselves into, what we choose to do with our life".

The reader was Madeleine Maby. She has an well modulated voice and her speaking speed is good. Her tone is somewhat 'full' if that makes sense. It's not as crisp as I prefer. Her voice is expressive, rising and falling to illustrate the tension and events of The Forest of Vanishing Stars. She captures Yona's innocence with her voice and it grows stronger as Yona does. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Forest of Vanishing Stars.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Other Passenger - Louise Candlish

I've had Louise Candlish's new novel, The Other Passenger, on my must listen list after seeing praise from other suspense authors that I enjoy, such as Ruth Ware, B.A. Paris, Lucey Foley etc. The audio version has just released.

I love books that open with strangers meeting on a train, a plane, or in this case, a water bus. There's a wealth of directions that a plot could travel from such an opener. Do they reveal personal details? Or is it just nice to have met some fellow commuters suffering the drudge of getting to work?

Jamie and Kit meet on the water bus and it turns out that their partners also work together. Jamie and Clare are older, but they enjoy Kit and Melia's company. Fast forward - Kit goes missing and the police want to question Jamie.

Okay, that's the (very) short version. There is so much that happens between that initial meeting and Kit going missing. Friendship, rivalry, truth, lies, secrets....and guess what? Yup, someone's lying.

The Other Passenger is told through Jamie's eyes - his thoughts, his actions, his recounting of what Clare did or thought, his opinion and take on Kit and Melia, as well as the other two members of the 'Water Rats' that take the water bus. And while I felt like I should be on Jamie's side, I had a hard time with that. I didn't find him to be likable, actually I didn't like any of the four main players. I do applaud Candlish's skill in creating them. They're perfectly unlikable.

But what's even better is Candlish's plotting! She adroitly manipulates the listener, taking us down one path, only to jump the hedge with no warning and take us in a completely different direction. (I actually rewound a couple of times, just to make sure I had hear right!) Detailed, devious and downright diabolical. And the ending? Not what I expected at all, but very fitting.

This was a first listen/reading of Louise Candlish and it most definitely won't be my last. Excellent!

I chose to listen to The Other Passenger. The narrator was BAFTA-nominated actor Steven Mackintosh.  What a fantastic choice!

 And how about this!? "Candlish said: "I'm guessing it's rare for a character in a novel to be written for a specific actor, but I've been a huge Steve Mackintosh fan for decades and always had him in mind for Jamie. He brings him to life with such charisma and sardonic menace. This is a very special treat for audio lovers - and for me!"

Mackinstosh has such a wonderfully expressive voice. He immediately draws you into the story and keeps you there, listening to just one more chapter, then another. Mackinstosh takes that unlikable character and gives the perfect tone - an innocent caught up in something beyond him, but then smug and condescending. His inner thoughts are very well played. His voice is easy to understand (British accent). This was interesting - Jamie is quite nervous at times and Mackintosh's swallows to highlight the character's state of mine. Odd, but it totally worked. His pace of speaking is just right, pausing to punctate and point or thought.An excellent performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Other Passenger.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Bone Code - Kathy Reichs

It's hard to believe that The Bone Code is the 20th book in Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan series! Having read or listened to the previous novels, it felt like catching up with an old friend.

Tempe is a forensic anthropologist who works on both sides of the border in Montreal and South Carolina. When a medical waste container washes up in a Carolina storm and is opened, the contents are horrific. Two bodies. Tempe is called in and recognizes the way the bodies are wrapped is identical to an unsolved fifteen year old case in Montreal. Could they be this far apart and related?

What do I enjoy about this series? I like Tempe, her intellect, her drive, her tenacity - and yes her crime solving skills. Those skills have been used in each and every book from Reichs. She knows what she's writing -Tempe owns Reichs' real life skill set. The mysteries and outcomes benefit greatly from this knowledge. This latest is no exception with DNA is at the heart of The Bone Code. I'll leave it there, but the plot is very, very current. I always learn a lot from the medical and forensic bits of the plot. The plotting for The Bone Code is intricate and will keep the listener on their toes. In addition to this main plot, there are other seemingly disparate threads, with one of them eventually being connected to the bodies in the barrels. Others are just 'shake your head' tales.

Another constant thread in this series is Tempe's relationship with long time beau Quebec Detective Andrew Ryan, now a PI. The dialogue between the two is fun and the romance believable. And lets not forget well traveled Birdie - the cat.

This was another great entry in this long running series. I'm looking forward to #21!

I chose to listen to The Bone Code and was very happy to see that Linda Emond was the reader. She has narrated at least the last ten books in the series. The continuity is great as she has become the voice of Tempe for me, matching my mental image. She has an interesting voice - there's a slight gravelly undertone and it rises and falls within a single sentence punctuating a point, reaction or emotion. A voice that carries an authoritative tone when needed. And a voice that matches the age of the character. Emond speaks clearly, enunciates well and is easy to understand. She does a great job with the French phrases as well. Emonds has interpreted Reichs' novel very well - an excellent performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Bone Code.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Closing Costs - Bracken MacLeod

Bracken MacLeod's new novel, Closing Costs, has just released. If you like thrillers, then this is a book for you!

Nelle and Evan have just closed on their 'forever' home. It's perfect - there's only one neighbor they can't see and their property backs onto a state forest. Uh huh....you're getting an inkling aren't you...? Nelle is alone when a man invades her home...

MacLeod uses one of my favorite devices, writing a past and present narrative from two points of view - Elle and Mack, the invader. The pivot point is the sale of the house. Where did Elle and Evan get the money for such a house? Who is Mack and what does he want? You'll be quite surprised by the answers to both questions. MacLeod throws in a nice turn I hadn't expected.

Closing Costs reads like a movie in the vein of Bruce Willis. Nelle and Mack just keep getting up again and again, going far beyond what you would think the human body could tolerate. But, like those movies, suspend your disbelief and keep turning pages. The action is non stop and the tension is really high! And you've just got to know how it all turns out. 

I'm not sure I liked Elle very much, even though I was behind her need to best or escape Mack. Mack is, as my gran used to say, a piece of work - a violent misogynist. MacLeod's depiction of him gave me the shivers. 

Closing Costs could perhaps shortened up a bit - the escapes, near misses and more started to lose their impact after so many times. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of Closing Costs.  And make sure your doors are locked. 

(Gentle readers, this one's probably not for you - there are definitely trigger situations.)

Monday, July 19, 2021

False Witness - Karin Slaughter

After I finish a Karin Slaughter novel, I always say 'oh, that was her best one yet'. But with this newest novel - False Witness - I really do think that it's going to be hard to top. 

From the outside looking in, Leigh Collier has a 'normal' life - she's a successful lawyer, has a daughter and an amicable relationship with her ex. That's what everyone sees...but Harleigh has a dark past with secrets she has tried to bury in more than one way. Then, one of her law firm's partners assigns her to defend a wealthy man accused of rape. He has asked for her specifically. And when Leigh meets him, the past coming roaring into the present. "He saw what you did. He knows who you are…

The prologue is a gut punch scene from the past and sets the premise and tone for the story that's going to unfold. Harleigh is part of it - but so is her younger sister Callie. The relationship between the sisters is complicated and quite emotional, but unbreakable. Where Leigh has taken her life is in the opposite direction from Callie's life. Callie is an addict and has been for many, many years. Now, they're both part of the narrative, but I have to say - my heart and my hopes were with and for Callie. She was so well drawn. There's much more to her than her addictions. The scenes in Dr. Jerry's veterinary practice were so good. (And I loved Dr. Jerry) Their mother Phil is the epitome of lousy parenting both then and now. But it was the client - Andrew - that gave me the heebie jeebies. He is evil, manipulative and downright terrifying. And he's playing a scary cat and mouse game with Callie and Leigh.

Slaughter's plotting is, as always, brilliant. I couldn't predict how the story would unfold. (I love that!) Slaughter adds in additional characters, twists and a turn I didn't see coming. The tension is ramped up so high, I had to put the book down and walk it off before returning to rapidly turning pages. The ending? Not everything I wanted, but it was just right.

There's a lot of food for thought and social commentary throughout False Witness with sexual abuse, sexual harassment and drug use at the top of the list. Covid 19 is also a part of the book, with the timeline set squarely in the last year.  

Gentle readers - this book contains many triggers and descriptive writing and may not be the book for you. 

An easy five stars for this reader. I'm hoping there's a new Will Trent book in the works as well.

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Therapist - B.A. Paris

New York Times bestselling author B.A. Paris has just released her latest book, The Therapist. If you enjoy psychological suspense, this one is a must read/listen!

Alice and Leo have just moved in together in a small gated community, affectionally known as The Circle. It's only after they're in the house, that Alice learns of a disturbing crime that occurred two years ago in her new home. Alice becomes consumed with the crime and begins asking her new neighbours about the past. But, they're not interested in sharing with her. After all, it's done and gone - right?

The Therapist has the feel of a 'locked room' mystery, which I absolutely love. There's a set number of houses in The Circle, and we come to know the residents, their temperaments and yes, some of their pasts as details are slowly but surely revealed. The 'new house' sheen is wearing off for Alice and Leo and their relationship begins to develop cracks.....

Alice is an interesting lead. I liked her, but found her intrusive as she continues to pry into the past. (I am indeed being purposely obtuse about the crime so as not to provide spoilers.) She continues to push and I'm not sure I wouldn't have shut the door in her face. The residents of The Circle are a varied bunch and the whodunit could have been any one of them. I suspected every one of them at one point or another. As the book progressed, I had my suspicions, but I was happily only partly right. Lies, obfuscations, Alice's imaginings (or are they?) all serve to ramp up the tension.

I chose to listen to The Therapist. The Therapist was a great book, but even better in audio IMO. The reader was Olivia Dowd and her performance was wonderful. She has a lovely accent that's easy to understand. Her voice is very pleasant to listen to and has a rich undertone. The voice suited the character I had mentally imagined. A lot of the book is conversations and Dowd makes it feel like there are different personas there. She captures the emotions and tensions in the plot easily with her interpretation. An excellent performance. There's a limited male role performed by Thomas Judd - his voice was perfect for the character and atmosphere. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I become much more immersed in a story when I listen to it. Another excellent book from Paris!  

Thursday, July 15, 2021

London's Number One Dog Walking Agency - Kate MacDougall

At first glance, the cover of Kate MacDougall's new book - London's Number One Dog Walking Agency hints at a fun rom-com read. Well, there is romance, there is comedy...BUT! This is a memoir - a wonderful recounting of an idea and a life and so much more. Oh, and dogs. Lots of dogs. :o)

In 2006 Kate was putting her degree to use at Sotheby’s in London. But she wasn't happy. And so, London's Number One Dog Walking Agency was born. Kate grew up with dogs and quite liked them, but had no special expertise with either dogs or running a business. And at this point in time, professional dog-walking was in it's infancy.

There's so much to enjoy in this memoir. I loved Kate's 'voice' - her take on life, her honesty, her sense of humor and more, making me wish I could sit down for a cuppa with her. I'd also like to visit many of the neighborhoods and parks that are the setting for the dog walks. 

The book is told in twenty four chapters. Each chapter begins with how many dogs are being walked in total and the name of the dog featured. We meet the dogs and their owners, hear about their issues (dog and owner!) and meet their agency walker.

I must admit, I am a dog lover. My favorite dog in the book? Stanley - a mutt of mixed lineage with his own opinions. We catch up with many of the dogs as time moves on with additional entries. Stanley has five or six. Fair warning - he and his walker, Tom had me reaching for the tissue box. The walkers are a mixed bag as well, with some working out and some not. The owners run the gamut - from kind and caring to unbelievably rude and arrogant. And wound into every chapter is Kate's life as she grows and changes and moves forward.

"But, as Kate says, “It’s all down to the dogs” and what they taught her about London - and life."

It's difficult to 'rate' someone's life or experiences. Thank you Kate for sharing! I really, really enjoyed your memoir.

I chose to listen to London's Number One Dog-Walking Agency. The reader was Anna Popplewell. Her voice is very pleasant to listen to - rich and full. She has a lovely British accent that is easy to understand. She has lots of movement in her voice and easily captures the emotions and events in the book. Her reading kept me engaged from first chapter to last. And she did justice to MacDougall's work. A great performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of London's Number One Dog-Walking Agency.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Retreat - Elisabeth De Mariaffi

The Retreat is Elisabeth De Mariaffi's newest novel. The locked room premise is a favourite of mine, so I was eager to check out The Retreat. 

Maeve has taken herself to an arts retreat high up in the Rockies. She was a prima ballerina, but with a failed marriage, two children and an aging body, she has now has her sights on having her own ballet company. The two week retreat will give her inspiration and help her plan. 

The choice of profession for the protagonist was quite different. As Shakespeare said..."Though she be but little, she is fierce." The six other staff and visitors in residence are quite the varied cast. There's something off about each and every one of them. And Maeve feels the tension right away. Personally, I would have turned and ran. But she stays...and an avalanche ensures that no one is going anywhere in the near future. The dead body is definitely going anywhere.

With the avalanche cutting the group off, the murderer has to be one of them. The first bit of the book was a bit slow for me. But the action picked up after the murder and kept racing forward from there on to the final pages. This is the bit I enjoyed the most. De Mariaffi has ensured that the reader will suspect everyone right down the final pages. I did find the murderer's 'why' to be a bit of a stretch. And as much as I thought I should, I never really bonded with Maeve as a lead character.

The Retreat was a good read, but not a standout for me. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Retreat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Such a Quiet Place - Megan Miranda

I'm a fan of Megan Miranda's writing and was eager to read her new novel, Such a Quiet Place.

Hollow's End is a gated neighbourhood, an idyllic place to live, where the neighbours all know each other, host neighbourhood events, maintain an online community board, help each other out and more. Idyllic up to the point where two residents were murdered a year ago.  Another resident of Hollow's End was convicted of the murders - but the conviction was overturned. And Ruby has returned to the neighbourhood/scene of the crime. (And isn't the name Hollow's End just a little bit creepy?)

Ohh, the places this plot could go! And go it does. We meet all of the inhabitants and realize that that perfect veneer hides the sins and omissions of almost every resident. Harper Nash is the one resident who was close to Ruby. Harper was never quite sure of Ruby's guilt, but went to court and dutifully testified as to what she knew. Was it really Ruby? Harp still has doubts. But, she's under pressure from the rest of the neighbourhood to stick with the facts they presented last year. They also want Harper to convince Ruby to leave. Ruby is never given a voice, but is instead revealed through everyone else's memories, perceptions and actions. The first half of the book is slower while we come to know all the players. 

I loved the uncertainty as to who the real culprit was. Miranda kept me guessing with each new twist added to the narrative. I suspected every last one! Things move along much quicker in the second half of the book as the tension ramps up.

This is a great mystery read, but also a nice exploration of privilege, mob mentality, community and more. It's more than a little scary as it's not far from the truth at all. The ending caught me unawares and was a wee bit of a stretch. But overall, another great read from Megan Miranda. See for yourself - here's an excerpt.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Look What You Made Me Do - Elaine Murphy

Elaine Murphy has come up with an interesting premise for her new novel, Look What You Made Me Do

Carrie and Becca are sisters with very different temperaments - and interests. You see, Becca is a serial killer and over the years Carrie has helped her dispose of quite a few bodies. It's hard to say no to Becca and there's no telling what would happen if Carrie did refuse. When a large number of bodies are found buried in a park, Becca swears they're not her kills. Could there be another serial killer in their town? Becca decides they need to find him or her.

Okay, yes you're going to have to suspend belief a bit. Although, there are a number of actual cases with serial killer accomplices. 

The story is told through Carrie's point of view. And with that pov, the reader can see how manipulative and dangerous Becca is.  And once you're in, you can't get out. 

A cat and mouse game begins with the other killer and Carrie seems to be the prize. Every time Carrie comes home and opens her front door, she's not sure what she'll find.  Murphy did a great job ramping up the tension. I had a sense of watching a horror movie, ready to yell 'look under the bed' at Carrie.

There is more than one choice as to who the other killer is. I was leaning towards one character in particular and was happily surprised when it ended up being another. Murphy provides a nice turn in the plot midway and provides an unexpected, gotcha twist at the end. And she sprinkles some dark humour throughout.

For me, Look What You Made Me Do wasn't a serious suspense novel, if that makes sense. Still, I thought it was a novel idea that kept me turning pages and entertained. See for yourself - read an excerpt.

Friday, July 9, 2021

To Sir, With Love - Lauren Layne

Lauren Layne's new novel - To Sir, With Love - is the perfect audiobook to download for the beach.

Thirty-something Gracie Cooper has been running her family's champagne store since her father's death. She loves it, but it is a struggle at times to turn a profit. And Gracie wonders if she'll ever find a romantic partner. So, she decides to join a "blind dating app where matches get to know each other through messages and common interests before exchanging real names or photos." 

I think a blind dating app is a great premise to start with - there's lots of places that the plot could go from there. (And I think the app's premise is a good one!) Grace ends up paired with someone she address as Sir and she becomes Lady. And they seem to really, really click.

But on the flip side....back at the shop, Sebastian Andrews, the landlord, is looking to buy out the champagne shop's lease. Gracie simply can't stand the man....although he does have the most beautiful eyes.... 

And I think you might be able to predict where things might go from there! Layne has penned a light-hearted romance with lots of yes, no, maybe so woven in. And that's the fun of this type of storytelling. The listener knows more than the players. It's just a matter of time before they figure it out themselves and the fun is in the journey to the inevitable (fairy tale) ending.

I liked Gracie as a lead character - she is outspoken and sassy, but kind and caring as well. The supporting cast of Gracie's family and coworkers is just as engaging. And Sebastian Andrews? Yummy!

I listened to To Sir, With Love. There were two readers - Rachanee Lumayno and Shaun Taylor-Corbett. Lumayno's voice was perfect for Gracie and matched the mental image I had created for this character. Her voice is strong without being loud. It's pleasant to listen to, easy to understand, with crisp enunciation. She captures the emotion of the character and the action. Taylor-Corbett has a very rich and full tone to his voice and it absolutely suited the character. And his voice was perfect for Sir. While Gracie is the voice we hear the most, I enjoyed having another reader for the male characters of Sir and Sebastian. It was more realistic that way. A good performance from both readers. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of To Sir, With Love.

Overall? Light and fun with a lovely dose of romance, perfect for summertime listening or reading.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Hunted - Roz Nay

Oh Roz Nay, you had me hooked right from the first chapter! If you're a suspense reader, you're going to want to pickup Nay's just released novel, The Hunted!

Stevie and her boyfriend Jacob decide to leave their small town and go on an adventure. They're headed to a secluded island where they'll work at a dive camp. (#1Beware of secluded islands!) On their way to Rafiki, they stay at a hostel that's a bit iffy. (#2) Stevie feels like someone is watching her. But then they meet Leo and Tamsin, a pair of seasoned travelers that make them feel a bit more settled.  And guess what! Yes, they're headed to Rafiki as well. (#3) Oh, the stage is set. (And there's one little detail in the opening chapters that I thought was perfect - take note of what book one of the other hostel guests is reading...)

We see the trip through Stevie's eyes and are privy to her worries, her doubts - and her fears. And who else has a point of view? Leo does. I'm not going to say more, but Leo's inner thoughts and dialogue are more than a little scary. The reader is aware of the overall picture - and the danger. I love that 'watching a scary movie with a pillow, ready to yell 'Don't go in the basement' feeling. And Nay has nailed it!

The tension builds with every chapter, ensuring a 'can't put it down read.' Which I didn't - it was done in a day. There's a nice twist as the end comes closer - I had my suspicions that this twist might transpire, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment at all. Perfect for back porch, beach chair reading! See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Hunted.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The 22 Murders of Madison May - Max Barry

Max Barry opens up his latest book, The 22 Murders of Madison May, with a prologue that gave me the shivers. A lone real estate agent named Madison May and a prospective buyer at a showing....Felicity Staples is the reporter who ends up covering the murder. 

Sounds like a straight forward murder mystery right? Nope. Barry throws a curve ball. Look at the title again. Madison May has been murdered numerous times - in numerous realities. (not a spoiler - this is part of the publisher's description) 

Felicity becomes obsessed with the case and becomes part of the shifting realities. I enjoyed Barry's take on how that might look. Parts of Felicity's life remains the same with every shift, but with subtle differences. I was quite curious to see what version of Felicity's boyfriend Gavin would appear each time. As well as what version of Maddy. The other constant is Levi, a crusty old reporter who also works at the newspaper. I quite enjoyed his dialogue. The killer's dialogue and interactions are definitely creepy. But he seemed one dimensional to me. (pun intended) Other shifters are part of the hunt as well. I was drawn to the enigmatic traveler Hugo.

Barry is a clever writer and will keep you on your toes following the various timelines and narratives. It was quite a different read for me and my first of Barry. I am a regular reader of mystery and crime fiction. While this is the vehicle the story begins with, it is the multiverse idea and the possibilities they provide that takes center stage. The book slowed down for me about two thirds of the way in and I was ready for the ending - which was perfect. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The 22 Murders of Madison May.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Razorblade Tears - S.A. Cosby

I thought S.A. Cosby's novel Blacktop Wastelands was brilliant. His latest book, Razorblade Tears releases today - and I have to say it's even better imo.

Ike and Buddy Lee don't have much in common - one is Black and the other is White. Their paths wouldn't normally cross in their small Virginia town. But what they do have in common are their sons. Sons that loved each other, married and had a child. Sons that are now dead, gunned down for who knows what reason. The cops don't seem to be making any progress with the case, so the two men reluctantly join forces to try and find who killed them. And make them pay. The other thing they have in common? They were both alienated from their sons for their own homophobic bias, they've both served hard time and although they're living the straight and narrow now, they each have a history of violence.

Cosby has created two anti heroes that will immediately have the reader firmly behind them on their quest for justice. Or maybe vengeance is a better descriptor. The action is non stop, the plotting intricate and believable, the dialogue true and the writing addictive. I couldn't put the book down.

"There was no turning back. There was no path that led anywhere except down a long road as dark as your first night in hell and paved all along the way with bad intentions. They could call what they were seeking justice, but that didn't make it true. It was unquenchable, implacable vengeance. And life, inside the graybar and out, had taught him that vengeance came with consequences."

But the real draw amongst all the above is Ike and Buddy Lee. There's more to these two than what they show to the world. They loved their sons, but.... And along the road to redemption, those buts are challenged, their guilt, grief, loss and yes, love is revisited. There's a number of supporting players that are just as well drawn. 

Razorblade Tears is a raw, powerful, gritty, gut wrenching good novel - with many truths woven through it. Absolutely, positively recommended.

And the title? "Tears ran from his eyes and stung his cheeks. Tears for his son. Tears for his wife. Tears for the little girl they had to raise. Tears for who they were and what they all had lost. Each drop felt like it was slicing his face open like a razorblade." 

Razorblade Tears has already been optioned by Paramount Players. The casting has to be carefully chosen to do right by Cosby's book. This reader also hopes that Cosby is hard at work on his next book. He's firmly planted on my 'must read' list. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Razorblade Tears.

You can connect with S.A. Cosby on Twitter, his blog and on Facebook.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Falling - T.J. Newman

Falling is T.J. Newman's debut novel. And I just have to tell you the story behind the book before I tell you how much I enjoyed Falling!

T. J. Newman, a former bookseller turned flight attendant, worked for Virgin America and Alaska Airlines from 2011 to 2021. She wrote much of Falling on cross-country red-eye flights while her passengers were asleep. But getting it published was a whole 'nother thing.... From the publisher:

"Bookseller turned flight attendant writes sensational thriller set on an airplane, gets rejected by forty-one literary agents before finding the right one, and then sells it in a major multibook deal to the first editor to whom it's submitted." 

I am most definitely not a fan of flying. (You might not be either after this tale!) This isn't a spoiler, but is the publisher's description...." You just boarded a flight to New York. There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard. What you don't know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot's family was kidnapped. For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die."

Oh, great premise! There are so many ways this plot could unfold - and Newman gives us enough twists and turns to make you dizzy. Newman's familiarity with commercial flying gives her setting and characters detail and believability.  The characters are all intense, from the captain, the flight crew and the 'bad guy'. I think Jo, the lead flight crew member was my favourite, but Big Daddy is a close second. Just as intense is the action - it just never lets up. And that means I couldn't stop turning pages. Easily done in a day. 

Yes, you might have to suspend belief a few times, but just go with it. 

Falling reads like an action movie - think Die Hard and Speed. The film rights have already sold to Universal Pictures. (Betcha those first forty one agents that said no are kicking themselves!)

Looking for an addictive read for the the beach bag? Pick up Falling! And I can't wait to see what Newman writes next. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

That Weekend - Kara Thomas

Is there anything better than a lazy day in the hammock, reading an entire book? Especially when its YA fiction - my guilty pleasure! What was the book? That Weekend by Kara Thomas.

Claire, her best friend Kat and her boyfriend Jesse all decide to head to Kat's family's mountain getaway instead of going to prom. A great idea....but things don't go to plan....Claire wakes up in the woods with a severe head injury and amnesia. And Jesse and Kat are missing....

A great premise that opens up all kinds of avenues for the plot to take. And the lead character has amnesia? Another device that I really like - trying to figure out what the truth is and what is misconception. 

Now, I'm years past, but I think Thomas has nailed the dialogue, the worries, the pressures and the complicated relationships that the teen years bring. I liked Claire as a lead character and was behind her as she tries to deal with the aftermath, the guilt and the suspicion. It is her voice we hear for the most part, but Kat is also given a voice. Thomas artfully manipulates the reader as the book continues - I had bought into the lies being told by some of the supporting characters and was caught completely off guard by the twists and turns woven into the last bit of the book. Especially that last one - I'm still not completely on board with it, but it's a darn good one. I did have to suspend disbelief for some of the police procedures (or lack of), but that's just my pragmatic nature. Just go with it. That Weekend makes for some entertaining summer reading. 

I really liked Thomas's writing. This was a first read of her, but won't be my last! See for yourself - here's an excerpt of That Weekend

Thursday, July 1, 2021

The Last Goodbye - Fiona Lucas

The Last Goodbye is Fiona Lucas's newest novel. She pens "heart-warming love stories and feel-good women’s fiction" and this latest is both. 

Anna's husband Spencer died three years ago. She is still struggling with the loss and can't seem to move on with her life. On a lonely New Year's Eve, she calls his cellphone number to hear his voice again on the message. But this time, it's not Spencer's voice she hears - it's someone else named Brody, who has been assigned the number. And he's very much alive.

I thought this was such a great premise - hearing a loved one's voice one more time is something everyone can relate to I think. There are lots of ways this plot could progress...

I liked Anna as a lead character. She's kind, thoughtful and is self aware. Brody is a wounded soul as well, keeping himself to himself. But he's happy to talk to Anna. And talk they do - their conversations become more and more personal, despite never having met. It's is Anna's situation that takes the lead - it's quite awhile before we're privy to the reasons as to why Brody has isolated himself from family and friends. There are a number of strong supporting character as well. Anna's best friend Gabi is quite outspoken and a little loud and pushy, but she does care for Anna. Anna's mother in law Gayle's behavior borders on cruelty. But then again, everyone grieves differently. And that's what Lucas writes - how grief is handled from different viewpoints. And of course the question - can you ever love again after such a loss?

There's a lot of two steps forward, one step back as Anna begins to make progress. The friendship with Brody is a large part of her progress. Can it ever be more? I'm not telling!

I chose to listen to The Last Goodbye. The reader was Antonia Beamish. She had a lovely tone to her voice, very pleasant to listen to. She speaks clearly and is easy to understand. She has lots of movement in her voice, capturing the emotions of the character and the action of the book. She does provide different voices for the characters, including the male players. But...sorry, yes I have a but. I could not stand the voice for Gabi - it just grated on me. It is mentioned that she is Brazilian and Beamish has provided a unique voice for her. But for me, she was too loud, I couldn't stand her dropped letters on every word that ended with ing and shortened, staccato words or on the flipside - long drawn out single words. She just didn't ring true with me. So, I ended up fast forwarding through her appearances. Other than that, a good performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Last Goodbye.

The Last Goodbye was a thoughtful, slow burning exploration of grief and loss and the search for self - and love. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Eat Your Heart Out - Kelly deVos

Oh my gosh - Kelly deVos's new YA novel, Eat Your Heart Out, was so much fun to read!! 

I think this description from Razorbill is perfect - and it's what had me so eager to pick up Eat Your Heart Out... "Shaun of the Dead meets Dumplin' in this bitingly funny YA thriller about a kickass group of teens battling a ravenous group of zombies."

There are six teens and and a leader in Vee's pod at Camp Featherlite for Overweight Teens. One of the other members is a aspiring film maker and she mentally slots everyone into a role - you know, The Outcast, The Jerk, The Nerd and more. This cemented the feeling of being immersed in a teen horror flick. Which I have to say, has been a long time guilty pleasure of mine.

deVos gives each of the characters a voice with their own chapters. They're all wonderfully drawn with strengths and weaknesses. But as a group, they're pretty formidable. The reader is privy to the overall picture - their secrets and the danger stalking them. And there are plenty of chances in Eat Your Heart Out, to pick up a pillow and yell, "Don't go outside - there are zombies!" 

Lots of action kept me rapidly turning pages. Eat Your Heart Out did read like a movie!

And that cover? Fantastic! Eat Your Heart Out was great escapist reading. But along with being a fun page turner, deVos has woven in a needed message as well. "...Because when you create a culture when people can be dehumanized for trivial reasons like body size, everyone's human dignity is in jeopardy. I intend for this read to be inclusive and affirming, and hope you read with care if these topics are ones close to your heart." This was a first read of deVos for me - and it most definitely won't be the last. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Eat Your Heart Out.

(And I leave you with this warning - be careful with your hazelnut coffee whitener...)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Night Hawks - Elly Griffiths

I really enjoy reading series books - following along with character's lives and settling in to catch up with old friends. Elly Griffiths' Dr. Ruth Galloway series is one of my absolute favorites. The latest (#13) is The Night Hawks.

Ruth is a forensic archaeologist in the beautiful Norfolk area in England. She's head of her department at the University and often consults with the police on cases.

I really enjoy Ruth. I think it's because she isn't a 'cookie-cutter' protagonist. She is a single mother looking at her fifties. She's shy and reticent about accepting praise. She is highly intelligent, empathetic and tolerant.  Griffiths has not endowed her with super sleuth abilities, rather she comes off as an actual person - unabashedly and happily herself. Her only worry is making sure her daughter Kate is happy as well. There's a large cast of supporting characters, including the local DCI Harry Nelson and a number of other well drawn, engaging players. The relationship between Nelson and Ruth is complicated and is one of the most intriguing storylines.  My favorite after Ruth is Cathbad, a self proclaimed Druid. He's enigmatic and he seems to see and recognize things that the others don't. A wonderful little sense of the mystical is woven throughout this series. 

The setting is also a large part of the books. Griffith's descriptions have had me exploring Norfolk online. I think I would enjoy living in her little cottage in the Saltmarsh, 'where the sea and the sky meet.'

The Night Hawks are a detectorist group who come upon a body - one recent and one very old. I am fascinated by the items that are found in the ground in Norfolk - the historical element of the books is quite informative and interesting. The mystery in each and every book is well plotted. This latest had me guessing to the end - I was quite surprised by the whodunit.

This series is so good on so many levels. But it is the characters that are the main draw for me. Griffiths always leaves the door open with a little teaser for the next book. For those that have read previous entries - it's a cliff hanger! 

I highly, highly recommend this character driven mystery series. You could certainly read this book as a stand alone, but do yourself a favor and start with the first book, The Crossing Places.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Bad Moon Rising - John Galligan

Sheriff Heidi Kick returns in Bad Moon Rising, the third entry in John Galligan's Bad Axe County series.

I stumbled across the first book a couple of years back and was immediately hooked. Why? Well, the lead character has much to do with that. Sheriff Kick is a former Wisconsin Dairy Queen turned Sheriff. But don't let that fool you. Kick is seriously bad***. She doesn't back down from anyone or anything. She's had to fight the local council, the local thugs, the good ol' boy network and much more. She's also a mom with three kids and a husband - and a lot of folks think her personal life is fair game too. 

She's up for re-election this year and the other guy running is playing down and dirty. Heidi will deal with that when she can, but there's other pressing matters first. Homeless men are going missing - and the last one found was buried alive. Veteran and ex newspaper editor Leroy Fanta has an idea of who might be the perp.

So, a great protagonist and an intriguing plot. Galligan has a scary mind - the who and the why behind the missing men is truly twisted. Although there are some truths behind the madness. And that crazy is stealing past the confines of the hollow to the light of day.

And last, but certainly not least is the setting. Bad Axe County. I doubt I would stop in Bad Axe County - it just says 'keep on driving' to me. In Bad Moon Rising, the county is in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures breaking 100 degrees F. The heat is relentless - almost enough to drive you mad.

There's lots of action in Galligan's books and I was engaged from first chapter to last. I'll be eagerly awaiting the fourth book and more of Sheriff Kick. 

I chose to listen to Bad Moon Rising. I've listened to to the first two as well. I'm happy that Simon and Schuster has continued with the original reader - Samantha Desz.  Her voice is perfect for this character and matches the mental image I've created for Heidi. Desz's voice has a nice gravelly tone, is easy to understand and easy on the ears. She rarely raises her voice which is absolutely right for this character. The calm way of speaking belies her determination. It's well paced, never rushing and perfectly modulated. The voices employed for other characters are really good as well. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Bad Moon Rising.

(Gentle readers, this series is quite gritty and may not be the read/listen for you.)

Friday, June 25, 2021

Our Woman in Moscow - Beatriz Williams

Over the last year, I've been really enjoying historical fiction. Beatriz Williams is a New York Times bestselling historical fiction author. Her latest (and a first for me) novel is Our Woman in Moscow.

Our Woman in Moscow has its roots in WWII, but Williams takes us past that and sets most of the novel during the Cold War years in the early 1950's.

The novel is told from two sister's alternating points of view - Iris and Ruth. Once close as children, but as adults they haven't seen each other for over a decade. No one has seen Iris, her diplomat husband Sasha and their children for four years. And then a postcard arrives for Ruth - and its from Iris. And Ruth thinks she knows where Iris might be - and that she must go to her.

Williams has created some great characters. Sassy, in your face Ruth -I loved her dialogue and attitude. Iris is quieter, but still waters run deep. The book explores the relationship between the sisters, as well as their romantic entanglements. This personal line is paired along with the setting, atmosphere, machinations and politics of the Cold War. 

The tension builds with each new chapter in the present time frame, but also in the 'past' chapters as the listener learns how this situation, this point in time, came to be. I did have an inkling as to what might transpire in the final chapters, but it in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

It was only on listening to the author's notes at the end of the book, that I learned Williams' story took inspiration from The Cambridge Spy Ring. Fascinating! 

I chose to listen to Our Woman in Moscow. The readers were Nicola Barber (a new to me narrator) and a perennial favorite - Cassandra Campbell. Each reader employed voices that suited the character they were reading. Barber's voice was quieter, matching Iris's personality. Campbell perfectly personified the larger personality of Ruth. Each reader's manner of speaking was clear, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. The British accents were authentic. Each reader also provided Russian accents that were believable. I was quite happy with having two narrators. It made for distinctly knowing who was speaking/on center stage. I thought both readers captured and portrayed Williams' book perfectly. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Our Woman in Moscow.


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Sunrise by the Sea - Jenny Colgan

Oh, I am always so excited when I see that Jenny Colgan has a new book coming out! Her latest - Sunrise by the Sea - has just released. (And I've already finished it!)

Colgan has a number of series on the go - Sunrise by the Sea is the fourth in the 'Little Beach Street Bakery series. This latest akes us back to the wee Cornish island of Mount Polbearne. 

Don't you love the cover shot of all those colorful seaside houses? I think (no, I know!) I could very easily live there. The scenery is lovely, but it's those who live there that make this series so heartwarming. 

Polly (the owner of the bakery) is of course there, along with her husband Huckle and their twins Daisy and Avery. The twins have grown and their dialogue is priceless. Another member of their household is Neil the puffin - a reader favorite! It's always lovely to catch up with returning characters - I feel like I'm catching up with old friends.

But, this book belongs to Marissa. Her beloved grandfather has died and she doesn't seem to be able to move on with her life, retreating more and more into herself and away from the world. Through a set of circumstances she ends up in Mount Polbearne in a wee rented house. It's quiet and peaceful - until a new tenant moves in next door.

Colgan has done a great job depicting Marissa's illness, it's written with care and is believable. I'm sure we've all felt like Marissa at some point in time. I loved Marissa's online Skype relationship with her grandmother in Italy. (And I missed mine all the more) And it wouldn't be a Jenny Colgan book without a romance (or two). That new neighbor? Interesting. Loud. Annoying. The will they, won't they, yes, no, maybe so, romantic plotlines are always great fun. And the descriptions of food? Mouth watering!

Mount Polbearne is that place you'd want to live - and the better part of that would be down to the residents. They're caring, quirky and community driven. Barring moving to Mount Polbearne (it is indeed fictional), I'm quite happy to visit in the pages of Jenny Colgan's imagination. 

Another heartwarming, addictive, escapist, just lovely read from Jenny Colgan. I loved it. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Sunrise by the Sea. I can't wait for her next book!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Suburban Dicks - Fabian Nicieza

Oh my gosh, I picked up Fabian Nicieza's debut novel - Suburban Dicks - and was hard pressed to put it down. It's a quirky, fun read with some really well drawn leads. Oh, and a murder or two.

It was only on turning the final page that I discovered that Nicieza is the co-creator of  Marvel's Deadpool. Uh, huh that same wry, sarcastic biting humor, an unusual, intriguing mystery (swimming pool permits are a key factor) and two decidedly different leads. 

Kenny Lee - "A Pulitzer at twenty-two, disgraced by twenty-seven, irrelevant at twenty-nine." And when he gets an inkling of what might be his comeback story, he's all over it. Can I mention that Kenny is a bit of a narcissist? He'll spin the story so he's the hero. But he'll need Andrea's help.

And the other lead? Oh, I couldn't get enough of her! Andrea Stern was an up and coming profiler with the FBI over ten years ago. And then she got pregnant, got married and is now expecting her fifth child. When she inadvertently stumbles across a crime scene it awakens the need in her to solve the crime, to bring justice to the victim. But she'll need Kenny's help. Her skills are still sharp, but the methods are a bit different - needs must. (Call in the Cellulitists!) And her mothering skills had me laughing out loud.

Fresh, fun and with no way to predict what would happen next, Suburban Dicks was a fantastic read for me. And with that said, I really hope there's another Suburban Dicks book in the works. The ending hit just the right note - but I want more Andy - and okay, more Kenny. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Suburban Dicks. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Dream Girl - Laura Lippman

Today is release day for Laura Lippman's latest novel - Dream Girl.

Here's the premise....."After being injured in a freak accident, novelist Gerry Andersen lies in a hospital bed in his glamorous but sterile apartment, isolated from the busy world he can see through his windows, utterly dependent on two women he barely knows: his young assistant and a night nurse whose competency he questions." There are so many possibilities in this plot! 

I don't want to spoil the details for you, but let me say that Misery and Gaslight sprang to mind as I started listening. But Lippman puts her own spin on things as the book progresses, with a nice gotcha at the end.

Dream Girls is fully stocked in unlikable characters. I found Gerry to be a pompous, self inflated lout who is quite sure in his own mind that he is not. He's been married many times and is also quite sure he has been a more than adequate lover to many along the way. The two young women he has hired are Victoria, the personal assistant and Aileen the night nurse. Victoria seems passable, but his hiring of Aileen had me questioning his competency. Which of course, is part of the plot....

As always, Lippman's writing is clever and I quite enjoyed the dark, satiric humor she ascribes to Gerry's inner dialogue. Lippman slowly builds the tension with every new turn in the story. And we explore Gerry's life through his past memories and present predicament.

And....Tess Monaghan makes a cameo appearance! I miss her...sigh....

I chose to listen to Dream Girl. The reader was Jason Culp and he was the perfect choice for this tale. His voice has a lovely gravelly undertone that's quite pleasant. He enunciates well and is easy to understand. Culp's voice suited the age of the character and cemented my mental image of Gerry. He speaks at just right speed, allowing the listener to fully appreciate every word. He captures and projects that dark humor so well with his voice. Different voices used for the the supporting cast. And this was the perfect book to listen to, rather than read, for me.

Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Dream Girl

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Lucky List - Rachael Lippincott

Rachael Lippincott is the co-author of Five Feet Apart, which I really enjoyed. She's just released her solo novel, The Lucky List.

Emily and her mother were really close. Were, because three years ago her mom died - and nothing has felt right since. As Emily and her dad begin to pack up things for an imminent move, Emily finds a bucket list her mother made back in her high school days. And suddenly she knows - she has to do the same list....

Lippincott takes the reader back to the final days of high school. And all the angst, drama, friendships, relationships and the question of what's next. But Lippincott puts more on Emily's plate - unresolved grief over her mother's death and questioning her sexuality. 

Emily is a great protagonist and I thought she was well drawn. Her actions, reactions, internal turmoil and more, are realistic and believable. Blake seems a little too perfect at first, but she seems to know herself more and has confidence in who she is. Lippincott has written the burgeoning relationship in a measured, thoughtful manner. I was a bit skeptical of the relationship Emily had with her dad. He makes a decision without consulting Emily that I thought was a bit of a reach. But, we all grieve in out own way. The supporting cast is filled in with old family friends and high school friends, each with roles to play.

Well done. I chose to listen to The Lucky List. The reader was Rebekkah Ross. I've listened to other books she's narrated and I really like her voice. Its pleasant to listen to, clear, and easy to understand. Her voice is believable as a teenage girl. Her narration is very expressive and has movement, easily capturing the emotion of the book. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Lucky List.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Lie Beside Me - Gytha Lodge

Lie Beside Me is the newest entry in Gytha Lodge's  DCI Jonah Sheens series. 

Lodge starts things off with a great premise...

"Louise wakes up. Her head aches, her mouth is dry, her memory is fuzzy—but she suspects she’s done something bad. She rolls over toward her husband, Niall. The man who, until recently, made her feel loved. But it’s not Niall lying beside her. In fact, she’s never seen this man before. And he’s not breathing. . . ."

This is a premise I've read before, but I'm always curious to see how an author puts their own spin on things

Lodge gives us a blackout drinker in Louise, who can't seem to remember anything of the night before. Truth or fiction? Louise is a fractured personality. She refers to herself as Drunk Louise and Sober Louise and prefers her drunken self. "I was aware, though, of a growing disconnect between Drunk Louise and me. I would occasionally be alarmed at things she'd done." Louise is married and her relationship with her husband Niall is disconnected as well. Her best friend April is hard to pin down - is she using Louise or does she truly care about her? She seems to enjoy bringing out the best - or the worst of Louise. Three very unlikable characters drive the plot forward. There are quite a few other peripheral players that are just as unpleasant.

These ugly characters are tempered by the police squad investing the murder. This is the third book to feature DCI Jonah Sheens and his team. Not having read the first two books wasn't an issue - this entry could easily be read as a stand alone.  Lodge has fleshed out her recurring characters well, giving them personal storylines that make them interesting. I was particularly intrigued by the enigmatic Ben Lightman.

I enjoy being kept guessing in a book, trying to suss out the whodunit with the clues the author lays out. Lodge did indeed keep me on my toes with lots of twists and turns. An epistolary element is added as Louise pens an ongoing letter to her husband, explaining things. I applaud Lodge's complex plotting. But...yes, there's a but. I'm going to be in the minority here - but by the run up to the final pages, I was growing weary of the deception and lies and just wanted a resolution.

Lie Beside Me was good, but not a stand out for me.  Check out the other reviews on Goodreads.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The World Gives Way - Marissa Levien

I am fascinated with the imaginings of what Earth might look like in the future. Marissa Levien has come up with her own spin on in her new novel, The World Gives Way.

"In fifty years, Myrra will be free." Myrra Dal was born into a 'contract', as were generations before her. But in fifty years, her servitude will be done and the Earth will have made it to a safe place. For you see, Earth has been recreated on a massive scale - as a ship. They've been travelling for over one hundred years already. The earth as we know it is just a memory, with some artifacts still around. (Interestingly wood is one of those artifacts. At today's Covid prices, we might be heading there!)

Levien's world building is quite beautiful, with every country having added their bit of the world, the ship. But it is built for the elite, the wealthy. Then, the unthinkable happens and everything changes for Myrra, and she grabs the unexpected opportunity. The reader is along for the journey as she runs from her current situation to what is hopefully a safe haven. 

I initially thought The World Gives Way would be more dystopian, more sci-fi. It is, but the human connections are what drives this book forward and take center stage. There are two main characters - Myrra and Tobias, the agent chasing her. Expectations and duty start to take a backseat to real human emotions, desires, wants, hopes and more. 

Levien is a beautiful writer. The descriptions of time and space are vivid and bring the world, the ship to life. But again, it is that exploration of what it is to be human, to feel and to just be that really drew me in. She captures the uncertainty and then the freedom of just living through her two leads. The ending? Not what I imagined, but exactly right. 

The World Gives Way is a slow burning, strong debut. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The World Gives Way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tell Me When You Feel Something - Vicki Grant

Okay, so I read the synopsis of Vicki Grant's latest young adult novel, Tell Me When You Feel Something, and knew it was one I had to read! 

Many of the high school students in Tell Me When You Feel Something have part time jobs working as SPs - simulated patients - for the local university's medical students. I too have worked as an SP - although we called it standardized patients. I'm curious too as to how Grant came to use this as part of her plot. It's a great idea with lots of ways the book could unfold - and it does. 

The book is told from three points of view with Viv being at the center of things. She's the 'it' girl - the one who has it all. Or that's how it looks from the outside in. Davida is the girl nobody notices, but she and Viv click. And Tim - all round quirky good guy. Grant has done a great job in creating believable teen characters - the pressure, the angst and the uncertainty of finding your place. The adults in their lives are a very mixed bag.

Now this isn't a spoiler - it's in the publisher's description and is the first chapter - something happened to Viv and she's in a coma. From that point, the book goes back and forth from past to present recounting what lead up to Viv being in a coma. I adore multiple points of view and timelines. There's some epistolary elements as well with police interview transcripts. They all combine to make addictive reading. The reader knows what is going on with every character (including the supporting cast) and can start to figure out the answers to why Viv is in a coma. But who is telling the truth? That supporting cast comes complete with lots of choices for the final 'whodunit'. (I did find the cab driver to be an odd insert) I certainly did have my (jaded) suspicions and in the end was proven right. The icky feel stuck around for a while....There were a few things that felt unresolved at the end for this reader - what about Jack - and poor Eva?

The title is clever - it can refer to physical or mental sensations, feelings or emotions. Take note that there are trigger situations in this book and it would be best for older teens.