Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Christmas Bookshop - Jenny Colgan

A Christmas book! A new Christmas book by Jenny Colgan! A new Christmas book by Jenny Colgan that features a bookshop! I knew I would love The Christmas Bookshop before I even turned a page!

Carmen feels like she's always lived in the shadow of her brilliant sister's accomplishments. Sophia lives in a perfect house with her perfect children, perfect husband and a perfectly ordered yuppie life. But when Carmen loses her department store job and can't find another, she begrudgingly takes Sophia's offer to come to Edinburgh help one of her clients with a failing bookstore.....

Oh, I always love Colgan's settings. The bookstore is in the old historical shopping district in downtown Edinburgh. The nooks and crannies, the other eclectic shops and especially McCredie's bookshop sounded exactly like a place I'd love to visit and explore. Colgan weaves in actual attractions and history throughout her story. 

The lead character in Colgan's books is always one I'm firmly behind and Carmen was no exception. She's sassy on the outside, but kind and caring on the inside and also a bit unsure of herself. Where is her life headed? Where is her non existent love life? Well, you just know there's going to be a 'right' one and a 'wrong one'. Blair is a successful self-help author. And then we have Oke - a dendrologist (he studies trees) I love the yes, no, maybe so of the burgeoning (or not) relationships. And although we know how things are going to turn out, the journey there is so much fun.

The supporting cast is just as fun. Oh my gosh, the snarkiness of Skylar, Sophia's nanny is laugh out loud over the top. I loved Sophie's children - their personalities, dialogue and interactions mirror the young Carmen and Sophia. Can the sisters repair their relationship?

And that brings me to the Christmas element - loads of Christmas books mentioned, decorations, traditions, celebrations and more had me happily lost in the season.

Another feel good, heartwarming novel from Jenny Colgan. She's my hands down favourite for a 'take me away from it all' read. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Christmas Bookshop. Best read with a cup of cocoa with marshmallows.

PS - I love when characters from other 'series' make cameo appearances in a novel. Faithful readers will be happy to see Ramsey and Zoe from The Bookshop on the Shore.

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Christmas Dress - Courtney Cole

Yes, more Christmas reading! This latest - The Christmas Dress - is new from Courtney Cole.

I love watching Christmas movies in the run up to the actual day - it's my not so secret vice. I can absolutely see The Christmas Dress as a movie!

Meg Julliard had dreams of making it in the New York fashion world. But, she's lost her job.....and her beloved father. She returns to Chicago and the apartment building he owned. Maybe she can sell it and use the money to set up her own label? Box 1 ticked.

But the building is old (as are the residents) and desperately needs lots of repairs. The handyman isn't old though - he's her age - and very attractive. Box 2 ticked.

The residents are a delightfully quirky crew.  Box 3 ticked. Meg quickly makes friends with Ellie, who is clearing out her possessions for an impending move. One dress captures Meg's attention. Its beautifully cut and sewn. The dress will figure prominently in this tale. You could say its almost magical. Cue Box 4.

Meg and the residents are determined to save their home and come up with some novel ideas. But will they work? The countdown is on and fingers are crossed. Box 5.

I quite liked the setting - the apartment building has lots of history. And setting the book's pinnacle moments around Christmas is perfect. Box 6.

There's heartache, heartstrings tugged, hope, friendship, love, loss and more. And you just know everything's going to work out in the end. Perfect seasonal reading. I quite liked it. Tick, tick, tick. 

Best read underneath a cozy throw with a mug of cocoa. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of The Christmas Dress.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Hunting by Stars - Cherie Dimaline

I was so excited to read Cherie Dimaline's new book - Hunting by Stars. It continues the story that began in her 2017 multi award winning novel, The Marrow Thieves.

In the not so distant future, a plague and natural disasters have decimated the world - and erased the ability to dream. Without dreams people go mad. Until...the government discovers that Indigenous people are still dreaming. And now they are being hunted for their bone marrow, as the government believes that's where the dreams are stored.

Seventeen year old French and his family have been on the run for years, hiding in the forests, determined to build their community, keep their language - and stay out of the hands of the Recruiters. But a single slip finds French in a cement walled unlit room - and he knows where he is...

There is a large cast of characters, with some being lost and some being found along the way. I've become quite invested in everyone's story over the two books. We come to know the stories of many characters through their own words. I love  the sense of community, the continuity,  the loves, the losses, the hopes and yes, dreams. And what family is.

Dimaline's world building is believable, well described and easily imagined as I read.

I started Hunting by Stars on September 30th, which seemed very fitting as the day was the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. There are many levels to Hunting by Stars. It's a fabulous, suspense filled page turner that you won't be able to put down. But it's also a narrative on the horrific treatment of  Indigenous people - fact, not fiction. Residential schools, horrific living conditions with no clean water, missing women on the Highway of Tears, racism and so much, much more. 

Gut wrenchingly good - absolutely a five star read! Dimaline is a consummate storyteller. See for yourself- read an excerpt of Hunting by Stars.  You'll want to read The Marrow Thieves first. I don't think this story is done - I'll be watching for the third book!

Monday, October 18, 2021

Our Class - Chris Hedges

Fiction is my favorite genre - it's a great escape to get lost in a book. That being said, I do also like to read non-fiction titles that challenge my beliefs, expose me to lives outside of my own perspective and have an impact on society. It is books about people that draw me in the most. Chris Hedges' new book, Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison is my latest listen - and its powerful.

Hedges is a Presbyterian minister, a former war correspondent and a Pulitzer prize winning author. In  2013 he started teaching in the college degree program offered by Rutgers University at the East Jersey State Prison. In that first class at the prison, the students started reading Black American playwrights, poets and leaders, with the goal being to write and stage their own play.

The students share their own histories, hopes, dreams and disappointments and these experiences form the basis of the play. Their recounting of life in the prison system are hard to listen to. The treatment inside the prison walls is degrading, cruel, racist, appalling and dehumanizing. The writing of the play, the learning, the discussion, the interior soul searching and being part of a dynamic group with the same goal, and the continued success  of those who took part is a testament to the program and the ideology behind it. And cathartic for the participants.

I enjoyed hearing each man's story - they are raw and powerful. Hedges weaves other articles, history and other leader's lives into the book. "It exposes the terrible crucible and injustice of America’s penal system and the struggle by those trapped within its embrace to live lives of dignity, meaning, and purpose."

I've said it before and I'll say it again - there are times when listening draws me deeper into a book, rather than reading a physical copy. Our Class is one of those cases. Prentice Onayemi was the reader and his performance was excellent. Onayemi has a rich, full, resonant tone to his voice that is so pleasant to listen to. His speaking is modulated and his pacing is perfect. There are many emotional elements to this audiobook and Onayemi captures them without losing that resonance or becoming strident. Instead, that low tone seems to underline and emphasize the work with quiet power. He was the perfect choice for the narrator. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Our Class.

Friday, October 15, 2021

A Season for Second Chances - Jenny Bayliss

A Season for Second Chances is Jenny Bayliss' new novel. 

I quite enjoyed last year's The Twelve Dates of Christmas and was eager to get lost in another escapist read.

Annie is forty four years old and is a successful restaurateur with two wonderful sons ... and a husband who is a serial philanderer. When she catches him, um... red handed it's the final straw. When she spies an ad for a seasonal caretaker for a wee cottage in a seaside town, she knows that it's just what she needs - to get away and reassess her life.

Ahh, I loved the setting. Living by the water in a quirky historical building sounds perfect! The rest of the town is also well drawn and I would happily sit in the pub with a pint, catching up with the latest.

Annie is a great lead character. I liked her being older (not that forty four is old!) and could connect with her. She's kind and friendly, as are the rest of the residents of Willow Bay. The supporting cast is eclectic and quirky as well. Annie easily slips into village life. 

Except for John - the nephew of the elderly lady who owns the building Annie is living in. He has his own plans for for it. But...he is rather handsome...

All the bits are there for a fun rom-com, will they, won't they read. And yes, this is a seasonal read. Willow Bay hosts a large number of festivals and events, with Christmas being the biggest hurrah. I wanted to put up my decorations right away!

I quite enjoyed A Season for Second Chances but ... yes, I have a but. There's a sex toy introduced in the book club that whole element just felt awkward, forced and not realistic. Frankly, it wasn't a needed piece of the story and I found it took away from the feel of the book. Other than that, a fun read in the run up to Christmas.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Wish - Nicholas Sparks

Get out your tissue box - Nicholas Sparks' new book, The Wish, has just released!

Do you remember your first love? Was it just a high school fling or the real thing? In 1995 for sixteen year old Maggie Dawes, Bryce Trickett was the real deal. 

It's now December 2019 and Maggie finds herself grounded in the gallery she runs. A sobering medical diagnosis has her reliving and recounting her past to the young man who is her assistant.

The past takes us to the North Carolina island of Okracoke - a real place I would love to visit. It is here that Maggie goes to live with her aunt and finish up her school year. She's fallen behind, so Bryce is hired as her tutor... Uh huh, they become friends and more. Sparks does a great job building the relationship in a thoughtful, caring manner. And it was easy to see how the two fell in love. The setting is absolutely wonderfully drawn as well. The supporting cast on the island are people you'd want to have in your own life - Aunt Linda especially. 

Sparks flips the narrative from past to present, with Maggie's story slowly coming to light. And just when you're totally caught up in either past or present, the time frame changes. A guaranteed way to keep me up late turning pages. Now, the present is not a static time. Christmas is around the corner and Maggie and Mark decorate and take in events and experiences, many of them based on Maggie's memories of Okracoke. Which made me want to start decorating already!

Now, you just know that Sparks is going to play on your emotions - and yes, I bawled my eyes out in the last few chapters. And I was pretty sure I knew what the final pages (and I was right.) But, I really enjoyed the journey there. Heartwarming and heartbreaking. 

Sparks is a consummate story teller and this newest only confirms that. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Wish.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Christmas by the Book - Anne Marie Ryan

Yes, the Christmas reading continues! Don't you love the cover of Anne Marie Ryan's new novel, Christmas by the Book

Bookstores are always wonderful, but even more so at Christmas - finding just the right book for a family member or friend. What about for someone you don't know? 

Nora and her husband, Simon have run a bookshop in their small British town for over thirty years. But as Christmas approaches, the writing is on the wall - and the bailiff at the door. The shop will close after the Christmas season. The pair are determined to thank the village for all their support over the years. Simon comes up with the idea of anonymously giving a Christmas book to those who might need a pick-me-up. 

I loved all the titles referenced throughout the book, but especially those seasonal titles. Ryan's love of books and bookshops is evidenced on every page. Now, those books are wrapped, so Nora simply drops one in each of the mail slots, not knowing who is going to get what title.

Here's the Christmas magic bit that I loved - each of the books is perfect for the recipient in one way or another and...... well you're going to have to read Christmas by the Book to find out the rest.

I loved Nora as a lead character. She's someone you'd love to have for a friend. Nora and Simon's relationship is lovingly drawn and is believable. The villagers are a lovely mixed bunch and are again, folks you'd love to have as neighbours and friends.

I know where I would be spending much of my time if I lived in this village - at the bookstore. I created vivid mental pictures of the shop with Ryan's descriptions. Cosy, creaky floors, a working fireplace, large easy chairs by that fire, a children's area, book clubs, events and so much more. Nora and Simon live above the shop - don't you think that would be a fabulous flat to live in! Oh, and there's a shop dog too. :0) 

Christmas by the Book was wonderful seasonal reading for me. Best read with a cup of tea and a quilt.Booklovers, I think this one might just fit in your stocking!

Fans of Jenny Colgan would enjoy this one. Jenny says "A heartfelt and lovely Christmas tale for book lovers everywhere!" I agree! Read an excerpt of Christmas by the Book.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Death at Greenway - Lori Rader-Day

Death at Greenway is Lori Rader-Day's latest book. 

WWII books are all the rage right now. Rader-Day has come up with a unique and different take on this genre. 

I was immediately intrigued when I read this descriptor from Harper Audio: "...a captivating suspense novel about nurses during World War II who come to Agatha Christie’s holiday estate to care for evacuated children, but when a body is discovered nearby, the idyllic setting becomes host to a deadly mystery."

I know what you're thinking - and of course I had to know. Christie did own a home called Greenway. And yes, children from London were evacuated to Greenway. There were two nurses to look after the children - and here's where Rader-Day makes the story her own. (Note that Christie's involvement in this book is very minor)

Bridey made a horrible mistake in her former hospital setting and has been terminated from her nurse trainee program. She is determined to make this posting a success, so she may reapply. But she hasn't shared that information with her employers. The other nurse is Gigi and she seems as lackadaisical as Bridey is devoted. She too seems to be harboring secrets. 

They're an odd pairing and Bridey is fascinated by Gigi. As a listener, I had my suspicions about her. Rader-Day slowly ekes out details about each woman's life, weaving a wide net that slowly grows smaller. When a body washes up on the shore near the house, it's deemed a murder, not a war casualty. And suspicions grow...

Rader-Day tells the story from not just Bridey and Gigi, but also from others living in the house - the nurses' employers, the Arbothnots, the butler and his wife and even one of the children. There are other village residents that make appearances and there was more than one I was suspicious of as well. The atmosphere is worthy of a Christie book, even more as we hear from those different points of view.

The mystery of the dead body is only one facet of a multi-layered story. Rader-Day provides lots of twists and turns on the way to the final chapters. And while I had guessed correctly at some of the outcomes, I was happily surprised by the others. Subplots include searching for a sense of self, relationships and friendships.

I chose to listen to Death at Greenway. The reader was Moira Quirk and she was an excellent choice. She created the perfect voices for each character and it was very easy to identify who was speaking. Bridey's starts off somewhat hesitant and unsure, but grows as the book progresses and she becomes more confident. Gigi's voice had a rich accent, dripping with ennui. When Gigi wants or needs something or someone, she uses her voice and her words to manipulate situations and people - and Quirk does a great job of bringing that to life. Quirk infuses each voice with lots of inflection. The voice for Mr. Arbuthnot, a self centered blowhard, is spot on. Mrs. Arbuthnot's supercilious tones aptly capture her high self regard. Quirk's speed of speaking is just right, she's easy to understand, has a lovely accent and enunciates clearly. I'm always amazed who a conversation is carried out between two or more characters by one reader. Quirk never misses and I would swear I was listening to more than one person. Quirk interpreted Rader-Day's work very well and turned in an excellent performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Death at Greenway.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Party Crasher - Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella's newest  book is The Party Crasher. 

This latest is a stand alone. And it's also the perfect read for a dreary, rainy day. 

Kinsella always creates a lovable lead character. In this case, its Effie. Now, she is an adult, but when you find out your parents are divorcing and everything you remember about your childhood may not be true, and your cherished family home is up for sale, well, it's devastating. How can her brother and sister be so accepting of their father's new girlfriend Krista? When Krista decides to throw one last party at Greenoaks, Effie doesn't receive an invitation. But, that's not going to stop her from attending....

And this is how it begins - Effie sneaks onto the grounds, into the house, hides in cupboards, attics and most spectacularly - underneath the dining room table. I totally remember hiding under a table as a youngster, hidden by a long tablecloth! I laughed out loud so many times while  reading The Party Crasher. 

So, with all the creeping about, Effie hears her own name being mentioned - more than once. Her clandestine skulking offers up a different picture than she had painted for herself. Or does it?

At it's heart, The Party Crasher is all about families and friends - the good, the bad and the ugly. Kinsella explores those relationships with humor, candor and wit. Indeed, I'm sure each reader will find something or someone that they can identify with. And it wouldn't be a Kinsella novel without some romance! There's a lovely will they, won't they storyline that is written just right.

The Party Crasher was perfect escapist, laugh out loud, heartwarming read sprinkled with some truths we can all identify with. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Party Crasher. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Sleepless - Romy Hausmann

I enjoyed Romy Hausmann's first English novel, Dear Child (my review) and happily picked up her newly released novel Sleepless

The premise? From Flatiron Books:

"It's been years since Nadja Kulka was convicted of a cruel crime. After being released from prison, she's wanted nothing more than to live a normal life: nice flat, steady job, even a few friends. But when one of those friends, Laura von Hoven--free-spirited beauty and wife of Nadja's boss--kills her lover and begs Nadja for her help, Nadja can't seem to refuse.

The two women make for a remote house in the woods, the perfect place to bury a body. But their plan quickly falls apart and Nadja finds herself outplayed, a pawn in a bizarre game in which she is both the perfect victim and the perfect murderer..."

Sleepless opens with a letter - the sender or recipient are not named. The letters continue throughout the book offering up a look at the past of the writer. I always enjoy epistolary entries in a book.

The time frames of Sleepless goes back and forth from chapter to chapter. Nadja's entries always have her name, but the other timeframes are identified only by date. A myriad of players populate these chapters. 

I found it impossible to connect with the lead character Nadja. I felt like I should because of her past, but she makes impossibly foolish decisions over and over again. There's another character called Nelly who appears at the beginning of the book in a past timeframe. Her I liked. As the book progressed I wondered how her story and Nadja would connect by the end of the book. But that connection ended up being only marginal and I questioned her even being in the book. Same goes for her counterpart Paul. He too only has a tangential connection with the main plot. Without saying too much, the epilogue was an odd add-on.

I liked Hausmann's premise, but felt the execution was lacking for me. The jumping timelines, the twists that defied belief and the disjointed feeling overall. I really had higher hopes for Sleepless based on Dear Child. I'm sorry to say this one was a bit of a disappointment for me. See what others thought on Goodreads.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Neighbor's Secret - L. Alison Heller

Cottonwood Estates is the place you want to live and raise a family in. Good schools, low crime - and wonderful neighbors. That's the setting for L. Alison Heller's newest novel, The Neighbor's Secret. I love this premise - it provides a wide open palette for the author's imagination. 

The Cottonwood Book Club officially meets once a month, but they've got numerous email chains on the go, keeping a close eye on their neighborhood. The monthly book club email reminder is priceless - quite witty. I quite enjoyed them. (And truth be told - it's a club I would join in a heartbeat)

There's a slew of club members, but the book focuses on three of them. Lena is an older long time resident of Cottonwood. She has closeted herself in her home, but is convinced to join the club. There's an undisclosed secret in her past, one she skirts around. And that only whetted my appetite for finding out what it was. Annie too has a secret she's tucked away. But her focus is on her teenaged daughter Laurel - her behaviour has become worrisome over the last few months. And last is Jen. Her son Abe is troubled, more than she lets on or acknowledges. A vandal is now targeting Cottonwood and scandals are simmering. 

Short flashbacks from the past gives the reader more of an idea how the present has been impacted. Heller does a great job of eking out bits of the secrets, dropping hints and clues that left me thinking I had figured out Lena's past. I'm happy to say that I was not completely right about the final reveals. I'm always glad when I can't predict endings.

The suspense was not as high as I had expected going in. Yes, there is some, but the focus is more on the relationships between mothers and children, wives and husbands, friends and acquaintances. 

The Neighbor's Secret is a well written, slow burning tale that will ask you - how far would you go to protect the ones you love? See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Neighbor's Secret.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Time Will Tell - Barry Lyga

Feeling the need for a fix of YA reading, I picked up Barry Lyga's new novel, Time Will Tell. The publisher's descriptor, "Perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying" sealed the deal.

I quite liked the premise - four teenagers dig up a time capsule that their parents buried in 1986. And amidst the retro memorabilia they find a knife with what looks like dried blood along with a note. "I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to kill anyone."
So many places this tale could go!

I'm hooked on teen detectives and always wanted to be Nancy Drew. Lyga gives us four great leads, all very different personalities, each with their own strengths - and weaknesses. Liam and Elayah were the two I enjoyed the most and they have a stronger presence than the other two.  Lyga's characterization of the teens is spot on in my opinion. The angst and joy of being a teen is very believably portrayed.

Now, get those four characters cemented in your brain because...Time Will Tell is told in a past and present narrative! And the past belongs to the parents who buried the capsule. Those past chapters and characters are well portrayed. There's one player that I absolutely despised and it was very easy to draw on my memories of high school and visualize him. 

So, as the kids in the present are piecing together what may or may not have happened, we slowly begin to build our suspicions as to the whodunit from the clues and avenues in those past chapters. Clever, clever plotting. And some nice twists. I'm an avid mystery reader and Lyga had me guessing to the final pages.

Lyga weaves social issues through his plot - racism, sexual orientation, violence, mental health and more. Kudos to Lyga for utilizing sensitivity readers of ethnicities and orientations in his writing.

If you're a Nancy Drew or Riverdale watcher, you'll enjoy Time Will Tell. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Time Will Tell.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Last Girl Ghosted - Lisa Unger

I really enjoyed Lisa Unger's last book, Confessions on the 7:45. (my review) I couldn't wait to read her latest book Last Girl Ghosted.

"She met him through a dating app." That little sentence opens up a wealth of directions for a book to go...

Wren seems to have it all - and on the surface she does. When she meets Adam she thinks she's found the one. Until the day he leaves her with one last text and disappears. She's been ghosted. Instead of saying good riddance, Wren is determined to find him. Someone else is also looking for Adam - a private investigator looking for Adam's last girlfriend as she's gone missing...

I liked the premise, liked Wren, liked the PI and the possibilities Unger's plot held. Wren has a secret in her past and I really wanted to know what it was. She revealed it to Adam right before he left, but the reader has no idea what it is. Roughly halfway through the book Unger takes us back to Wren's childhood and we relive her past. Unger has come up with a background  that also offers up lots of possibilities.

As the book heads towards the final pages and resolution, that initial 'I'm behind you Wren' feeling started to dissipate for me. She made some choices that I had a hard time with and honestly couldn't believe anyone would make. The ending was a bit too much and tied up a bit too pretty for me. 

Unger is a talented writer and I will be picking up her next book. Last Girl Ghosted was good, but not great for this reader.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

So, This is Christmas - Tracy Andreen

Yes, more Christmas tales! I never grow tired of them. :0)  

Tracy Andreen's newest book, So, This is Christmas, is a teen take on a Christmas tale.

Finley Brown is happy to return home to her small town of Christmas, Oklahoma  for the holiday. Her first semester at an elite boarding school hasn't gone as she had hoped and she doesn't think she'll return. Imagine her surprise when  she finds out that a boy from school, along with his aunt, are staying in Brown family inn for the holiday. Why in the world would he come to Christmas for - well, for Christmas?

Could it have something to do with the town's website - that Finley may have tweaked a wee bit? I did find Arthur's reason a bit of a stretch initially. But go with it - there's more to his decision that the reader will discover later. And it made much more sense.

Andreen has created a great lead character in Finley. She's so likeable and the reader can't help but be behind her as she navigates starting new chapters in life, returning home to find out that things didn't stand still while she was away and yes, maybe a bit of a romance as well! It's no secret that this is a rom-com tale (evidenced by that cute cover) and Arthur is the other half of the will they, won't they equation. He was just as well drawn as Finley. The supporting cast is populated with a mix of young and old players, all with their own stories and dramas.  

There's lot of Christmas activity in the book - baking, parades, light shows and more. You might want to add a few to your own traditions. And all of this activity only fueled my own list! (Hmm, it's not too early to put the tree up - is it?) And I will be hunting down the teas and cocoa Andreen serves her characters. 

So, This is Christmas is charming, heartwarming seasonal fare, seasoned with friendship, family and of course - romance. See for yourself - read an excerpt of So, This is Christmas.

(And here's a fun fact - Andreen has also written a number of Hallmark Christmas movies!)

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Santa Suit - Mary Kay Andrews

I can imagine some of you might be saying 'A Christmas review already?' Well....it is less than three months away!  

Mary Kay Andrews has just released The Santa Suit, a great seasonal novella perfect for stocking stuffing (and don't forget yours!)

I love Mary Kay Andrews books. There's always a likable lead character. In this tale, it's Ivy Perkins. (And Punkin the dog!) She's lost her business, her marriage is kaput and her best friend betrayed her. What's a girl to do? How about buying an old farmhouse - sight unseen? From a really nice, and yes handsome, real estate agent. Uh huh, the possible romantic thread of the plot. And in a really friendly little town populated with quirky, amiable folks. Well, all the elements are there for a classic MKA read!

But where does the Christmas bit come in? Well, most of the furnishings and bits of the previous longtime owners came with the farmhouse. And in a closet, in the pocket of an old Santa suit is a Christmas wish from a little girl many years ago...

The Santa Suit is just such a warm-hearted read. I loved Ivy and hoped she would find happiness again. Punkin was a most excellent dog character. ;0) The romantic thread is believable and written just right. The supporting cast is just as likable, with a mix of players, each with their own story. And the setting made me want to move to town. But the Christmas pièce de résistance is that note in the Santa suit. Andrews weaves together a resolution that I didn't see coming, but it's the perfect ending. 

The Santa Suit was a wonderfully festive novel that makes for warm, fuzzy, heartwarming reading. Best served with a cup of cocoa, a comfy chair and a warm blanket. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Santa Suit.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Moon, the Stars, and Madame Burova - Ruth Hogan

I was thrilled to see that Ruth Hogan had a new book coming out. The Moon, The Stars and Madame Burova has just released. And it was another wonderful 'heartwarming, heartstring tugging' book from Hogan.

Imelda Burova has spent her life as a fortune teller on the Brighton pier. She is ready to retire, but has one last promise to fulfill. Billie has lost her job, marriage, and her place in the world when a discovery upends her sense of who she is. "Determined to find answers, she must follow a trail…which leads to Brighton, the pier, and directly to Madame Burova’s door."

Oh, I loved every page! Hogan's description of the pier evoked vivid mental images for me. I'd love to stroll the promenade, hear the sea, eat some treats, ride some attractions -  and visit Madame Burova's booth. The other setting that really stuck with me was the Madame Burova's vardo (a Romany caravan). I'd happily live in it.

I'm not going to detail the premise too much - it's better it unfolds unheard for you. The story unfurls over a span of fifty years, from present to past. In the past we meet the entertainers who worked at a 'holiday camp' attraction at the pier. Over the course of fifty years, many themes are touched on - love, loss, friendship, family, racism, workplace harassment, social strata and more. You may discover what the final answer will be for Billie before you reach the final pages - but it's the journey there that is the ah-ha.

The premise is wonderful, the setting perfect - but it is the characters that make this such a wonderful listen. Imelda is the standout lead - her calm manner, thoughtfulness and more, make her someone you wish you had in your circle of friends. The supporting cast is just as well drawn. Quirky, kind, lovable, bristly to the downright cruel. You'll find your favorites, but enjoy them all - except for maybe one. (And......there's a dog! :0)

I chose to listen to listen to The Moon, the Stars, and Madame Burova. I've often said that I become more immersed in a book by listening. And that's most definitely the case with Hogan's latest. The reader, Nina Wadia, was fabulous. She has a very versatile voice, providing different tones, speeds, accents and inflections for all of the players. Her voice is clear and easy to understand. Her speed of speaking is just right. There's a nice gravelly undertone to her voice. She inserts reality into her performance, such as laughter that felt and sounded real. Her performance had me feeling like I was part of the story. An excellent performance of an excellent book. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of  The Moon, the Stars, and Madame Burova.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Killing Kind - Jane Casey

Jane Casey is a Sunday Times bestselling author. Her latest book is a standalone titled The Killing Kind.

Ingrid works as a barrister. She defended John Webster on stalking charges and won. But, he then turned his attentions to Ingrid and her life.

Novels with stalkers in the mix are quite frightening. I think that's because it's quite real, especially with social media playing such a large part in so many lives.  For a novelist, it gives a plot many directions to take.

Casey did a great job creating a wonderfully creepy antagonist in John Webster. His dialogue and actions let the reader experience his sociopathic tendencies. I'm torn on Ingrid. She started off as a likable character, but then seemed to become a different person. In the end, I didn't like her at all. There are unknown characters that also play a part in this plot. We only know there's something afoot from their email exchanges.

Casey flips the timeline from past to present as we learn that what has transpired is affecting what's happening now. The connection is fairly obvious, but Casey puts a nice twist into the mix in the final chapters. (Saw that one coming too)

The Killing Kind was a bit of a chunkster coming in at 480 pages. I do think it could have been pared down a bit. The first bit had me totally engrossed, but the hold the book had on me lessened as it progressed. Ingrid got repetitive, essentially doing the same thing again and again. Cat and mouse games are fun, but only for so many times.  I will be the first to say that I'm quite pragmatic. I did find some of Ingrid's actions to also be more than a little far fetched for a number of reasons including - is she not in fear for her life? 

The Killing Kind is entertaining, but not as believable has I would hoped. That being said, I can see this one as a movie.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories - Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie was truly the Queen of Crime. Her books and stories have been enjoyed around the world.

But I have to say, my absolute favorite recurring character of hers, is Hercule Poirot. I love his style, mannerisms, dialogue, idiosyncrasies - and those "little gray cells" that drive the investigations. I always have enjoyed the deductions, the piecing together, the reasoning, the seemingly innocuous clue tucked into a sentence somewhere along the way. Christie was a clever, clever writer.

Now I'm not much of a short story reader. But! When I saw that Harper Audio had released Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Storiesan audiobook of 50+ Poirot stories, I knew I wanted to listen. There's 35 hours of listening just waiting for you! Most are just 30ish minutes long, but there are some longer novellas as well. The length of the short stories were perfect - eating lunch, waiting rooms, while crafting and those nights when I can't sleep. There's much satisfaction in having a case presented and solved in thirty minutes. There were some familiar cases and some I'd never read. But each and every one was a treasure.

Now, the real reason I wanted to listen - David Suchet is one of the readers! There have been many actors that have portrayed Poirot, but he is the best in my opinion. Suchet portrayed Poirot for twenty five years! Hearing his voice immediately evoked a strong mental image of the character. And knowing the voice drew me right into the stories. Suchet brings Poirot to life with his voice. He captures Christie's work easily, changing the tone, tenor and emphasis as the plot progresses. Now, as excited as I was about Suchet, I was just as excited to find that Hugh Fraser was also a narrator. Fraser played Captain Arthur Hasting, Poirot's sidekick. Again, a familiar voice was like settling in with old friends to hear a tale. Nigel Hawthorne and Isla Blair rounded out the cast. Excellent performances all round. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Artist Colony - Joanna FitzPatrick - Spotlight and Giveaway

Joanna FitzPatrick's new novel, The Artist Colony, has just released and I have an eBook copy to give away to one lucky reader!

What's it about? From She Writes Press:

"In Joanna FitzPatrick’s charming and gripping new novel, set in 1924, Sarah Cunningham arrives in Carmel-by-the-Sea from Paris to bury her estranged older sister, Ada Belle. En route, Sarah was stunned to learn that Ada Belle’s death had been categorized as a suicide. The inquest’s verdict makes no sense. Ada Belle’s reputation was growing: her plein air paintings regularly sold out, and she was about to show her portraits for the first time, which would have catapulted her career. 

What begins as a short trip to bid Ada Belle adieu turns into a protracted stay for Sarah. She puts her own artistic career on hold and, trailed by Ada Belle’s devoted dog, Albert, becomes a secret sleuth—a task made harder by the misogyny and racism she discovers in this seemingly idyllic locale. From the posh Hotel del Monte to the windswept sands of Carmel Beach to Robinson Jeffers’s Tor House to Point Lobos’s Whalers Cove, The Sarah immerses herself in the women’s artist colony to discover Ada Belle’s secrets - and to expose a killer. 

Part mystery, part historical fiction, this engrossing novel celebrates the artistic talents of early women painters, the deep bonds of sisterhood, the muse that is beautiful scenery, and the dogged determination of one young woman to discover the truth, to protect an artistic legacy, and to give her sister the farewell she deserves."

"FitzPatrick keeps the pot stirred nicely, with revelations popping up like whack-a-mole. There is also a nice sense of scene, capturing this idyllic place on the Monterey peninsula. . . . The Artist Colony delivers an escape to gorgeous Carmel and an engaging mystery."--- Kirkus Reviews

Cr: Michelle Magdalena
"Joanna FitzPatrick was raised in Hollywood. She started her writing habit by applying her orange fountain pen and a wild imagination to screenplays, which led her early on to produce the film White Lilacs and Pink Champagne. Accepted at Sarah Lawrence College, she wrote her MFA thesis Sha La La: Live for Today about her life as a rock ’n’ roll star’s wife. Her more recent work includes two novels, Katherine Mansfield, Bronze Winner of the 2021 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) in Historical Fiction, and The Drummer’s Widow. The Artist Colony is her third book. Presently, FitzPatrick divides her time between a cottage by the sea in Pacific Grove, California and a hameau in rural southern France where she begins all her book projects. Find her online at The Artist Colony - Joanna FitzPatrick.

If you'd like to read The Artist Colony, enter for a chance to win an eBook copy using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US only, ends Saturday, September 25.21. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Stolen Hours - Allen Eskens

I read Allen Eskens' award winning debut novel, The Life We Bury, back in 2014 - and every book he's written since. They've all been fantastic reads and I can't recommend Eskens enough. 

His latest is The Stolen Hours. We first met Joe and Lila in The Life We Bury. It's Lila who takes center stage in this latest. She almost has her law degree and just needs to put in her time working with a prosecutor in the Hennepin County Attorney's office. Faithful readers will know of Lila's struggles to get this far. But the past comes barreling at her with a prosecutor who is determined to derail her dreams. Even worse is a suspect that Lila thinks has ties to her own past.

Lila is such a great character. She's so likeable and real - wounded, determined, clever and more. Eskens does a great job portraying her inner thoughts, struggles, trauma and memories realistically. The reader will be one hundred percent behind her. Joe makes a cameo and I hope Eskens has more in store for him. The supporting cast were just as well drawn, with Detective Nikki Vang returning and introducing prosecutor Andie Fitch. I hope she too is included in future novels.

I love a good mystery and courtroom battle. Eskens is a former defense attorney and that inside knowledge adds much to his plotting. The 'bad guy' in this case? A malevolent man named Gavin. He's quite sure he is smarter than the cops, his lawyer and the prosecutors. After all, he's been at this for awhile and has a foolproof plan if he's ever arrested. He's given a (chilling) voice with his own chapters. And I have to say that I was completely fooled by Eskens as to the whodunit! I love being unable to predict the final pages. 

Eskens' writing flows easily and makes for addictive reading - I devoured The Stolen Hours in a day. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Stolen Hours.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Never Saw Me Coming - Vera Kurian

Never Saw Me Coming is Vera Kurian's debut novel.

Kurian's book has an unusual premise. Seven students have been given funds to attend a DC college as part of a clinical study. The hook? All seven are documented psychopaths, but they don't know who the others are.

It was on reading the author's bio that I discovered Kurian is a scientist and has a PhD in Social Psychology. That 'inside' knowledge benefitted the book.

Chloe is one of the seven and is the lead character. She came to Adams College for a different reason. Someone she knew years ago who did her wrong also attends the college and Chloe has plans for him. The reader is privy to who some of the others are and we get a look at their thinking as well.

When one of the seven is killed, the question arises - was it one of the others in the study? Who are the others? Does Chloe have a target on her back? And so begins a nice little cat and mouse game, with the roles blurring and changing with each new action and revelation. I quite enjoyed this part of the book.

As the characters are psychopaths who "lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt" it was impossible for me to like any of them or be behind them at all. Instead I was more of an observer, curious as to the final outcome of Never Saw Me Coming. The final pages do have a nice twist, but it was a bit predictable. 

The voices in Never Saw Me Coming are all college students and that's reflected in the dialogue, settings, actions and thoughts of the characters. It does read like a YA novel. 

Overall, a creative premise and a solid debut. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Never Saw Me Coming.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Friends Like These - Kimberly McCreight

Kimberly McCreight's latest book is Friends Like These.

"Everyone has those friends. Doesn’t matter how long it’s been, or how badly they’ve occasionally behaved, or how late it is when that call finally comes—you show up. No questions asked."

Oh, there's so many avenues McCreight could take us with a premise like that! Five college friends reunite ten years after they graduated. Secrets, lies, complicated relationships - and a dead friend are part of the past that keeps this group of friends bound to each other.

Well, it was very easy to not like any of group. They're all hiding something, they all lie and despite their seeming love for each other, they all have their own agendas. The only character I really liked was the police detective.

I found the plot to be a bit confusing at times as the narrative jumped timelines - and there were many timelines. Past, present, and times within the present - days and weeks. For this listener it was just too much, too many, too convoluted. The ending did however, provide a really good twist.

One reason I was excited to listen to Friends Like These was the use of multiple readers for this title. Eight to be exact - Carlotta Brentan, Ewan Chung, Susan Dalian, Lauren Fortgang, James Fouhey, Stacey Glemboski, Joe Knezevich and Alex McKenna. I can't tell you who played what role, but their voices all suited the characters they were portraying. The standout for me was the police detective - she has a cigarette and whiskey rasp to her voice that really worked for the role. A few voices did seem somewhat similar, so I had to listen to the name given at the top of each chapter to confirm who was taking center stage. I think all the reader's performances were very good. But for this listener, having so many narrators just exacerbated the 'too much' feeling of the timelines and plotting. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Friends Like These.

I've read and enjoyed previous books by McCreight, but this one ended up being just okay. Three stars.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Night She Disappeared - Lisa Jewell

I've enjoyed all of Lisa Jewell's previous books, but her latest - The Night She Disappeared - is a new favorite!

Tallulah and her boyfriend Zack disappear one night without a trace. Tallulah's mother Kim knows her daughter would never abandon her wee son. But a year passes and the police are no closer to an answer. That changes when a new headmaster and his girlfriend Sophie, a cozy mystery writer move into the village. When she finds a sign saying 'Dig Here" in her back garden, Sophie does. And the first clue to what might have happened is found...

Jewell tells the tale in three timelines with multiple points of view. I was hooked as every chapter gives us more hints to the past, more information in the present and a cold inkling as to what might have transpired. 

Jewel gives us well drawn protagonists in grieving parent Kim and amateur detective Sophie. These characters are imbued with personal storylines as well, quite believable in their relationships, doubts, loss and more. Jewell ekes out the story of Tallulah before she disappeared and the reader can see what's coming as her narrative progresses. (Don't peek ahead though! I wasn't entirely right in my guess) There are plenty of supporting characters and each and every one of them seems to have trouble with the truth. Who should we believe? 

I really enjoyed Sophie's sleuthing skills. I always wanted to grow up and become Nancy Drew, so mysteries are favorite genre. And Jewell has written a great one - the plotting is excellent, the settings are atmospheric (love the creepy mansion in the woods) and the varying timelines and voices really worked for me. And kept me up late as I really needed to know what (or who) happened to Tallulah. A great page turner. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Night She Disappeared.

Friday, September 3, 2021

The Quiet Zone - Stephen Kurczy

"What if there was a place where people weren't constantly scrolling? Where forest hikes weren't tainted by a ringtone? Where getting lost meant really getting lost? These questions led me through rugged Appalachian backcountry and into the heart of ... The Quiet Zone."

I had watched a news feature about The National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) and was fascinated by the idea that there was a town that was just 'turned off'. By choice? Well, in Green Bank, West Virginia, radio transmissions are restricted by law "to facilitate scientific research and the gathering of military intelligence." 
Kurczy spent a lot of time in Green Bank over the course of a couple of years. Rather than just accepting what could be seen on the surface (which the news feature I had watched did), Kurczy took the time to meet and interact with many residents of the Quiet Zone. Those born there, the electrosensitive - those who are escaping radio frequencies for health reasons - and those just looking for a quiet place to live. But is it really quiet? Kurczy's investigation takes an in depth look at Green Bank. What he finds is fascinating, including unsolved deaths, hippies, a nearby Neo-Nazi compound, many opinions … and noise.

There's lots of food for thought in The Quiet Zone. I couldn't help but stop and ponder what it would be like to just turn off my devices. To live more 'in the moment'. To be more conscious of the time spent on aimless scrolling. Kurczy himself does not have a cell phone. His reasons are compelling and thought provoking. 

I enjoyed Kurczy's writing style. This was his debut book and I would happily pick up his next. 

Here's the ironic bit - I chose to listen the The Quiet Zone - and did so on my iPhone. The reader was Roger Wayne. He has worked as a broadcast journalist in the past and that experience adds much to his reading. His voice is clear, easy to understand, has a nice gravelly undertone and is quite pleasant to listen to. He brings Kuczy's work alive with his pacing, intonation, emphasizing. His reading matched the subject and I felt like I was listening to an investigative show. His presentation easily held my attention. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Quiet Zone.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Rock Paper Scissors - Alice Feeney

I've read all of Alice Feeney's previous books, but I think her latest - Rock Paper Scissors - is my favourite. If you're looking for a book you can't put down 'til the last page is turned, you're going to want to pick this one up. I finished it in a day on the back deck.

Why is it so good you ask? Feeney deliciously and deviously hoodwinked me, turning all my assumptions upside down in the last pages. I well and truly appreciate not being able to predict what direction a plot is going to take. 

Mr. and Mrs. Wright's marriage hasn't been right for a long time. When Mrs. Wright wins a weekend getaway, it sounds like the perfect opportunity to rekindle things. 

The getaway happens to be in a remote part of Scotland in a very old, renovated church. Cue the creepy vibe. The only other person in the area lives in a run down cottage down the road. (Check) Oh, and did I mention that Mr. Wright has face blindness? He literally cannot recognize faces, including his own. (Check) And both Mr. and Mrs. know there's much more than a happy marriage on the line this weekend.

As readers we are privy to both character's thoughts in alternating chapters. Mrs. also writes a yearly anniversary letter to her husband, but never gives it to him. It does give us more information though. And I quite like the yearly word and it's definition included in the letter as well. They're unusual words that tie right into the plot.

And the plotting is superb. That twist at the end had me rethinking what I'd read. It was there in front of me, but I didn't catch it. The atmosphere is perfect, isolated with a sense of eeriness that can't be defined. The characters are perfectly drawn. And there's a dog.  :0)  

Clever, clever, clever! I loved this one to bits. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Rock Paper Scissors. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Take Me With You When You Go - David Levithan and Jennifer Niven

David Levithan and Jennifer Niven's new YA novel is Take Me With You When You Go.

Fifteen year old Ezra wakes up one morning to find that his almost eighteen year old sister is gone. Things are bad at their house - Darren is an abusive stepfather and their mother is no better, turning a blind eye. Bea and Ezra have talked about getting out, but how could she leave without him?

The authors have chosen to present the book using an epistolary method, which is one my favourite literary devices. The story unfolds through a series of emails between the siblings. Along with Ezra, the reader learns where Bea has run to, what she is looking for, and what the future might hold for her. And along with Bea, we worry at the escalating situation that Ezra finds himself in. 

The missives between the two are hard to read at times. (There are trigger situations) But on the flipside the love between the two is tangible. The two main characters are well drawn and are believable. And sadly, the situations and emotions are also believable. The reader can't help but be behind these two as they try to find a safe place for themselves where they can thrive. 

The supporting cast is just as well drawn. There are some wonderful characters such as Ezra's boyfriend, but you won't have any problem hating Darren.

The authors throw in some unexpected turns for Bea and Ezra that kept the story fresh for me. Endings are only perfect in fairy tales. And sadly, life for many young people is anything but. But the ending the authors imagined is just right. This is a story of sibling love, finding your footing and making your own future. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Take Me With You When You Go.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Last Chance Library - Freya Sampson

The Last Chance Library is Freya Sampson's wonderful debut novel. Honestly, I was hooked by the title and once I read the premise, I knew I was going to love it - and I did!

June Jones is shy, introverted and is happiest with a good book for company. But where she shines is when she's working at the Chalcot village library - as did her deceased mother. She loves her job and her patrons. But, the local council has decided that it will be closing a number of smaller libraries - and Chalcot is on the chopping block. What can be done to forestall the closure?

Yes, you guessed it - a quirky band of  townsfolk band together to try to save the heart of the village. Sampson has drawn very vivid images for her characters and I had clear mental pictures of the FOCL (say that fast) Friends of the Chalcot Library. All very different, but with a common purpose. Each one endeared themselves to me. But, I have to say that Stanley was my favourite supporting character - and I'm sure he'll be yours as well. June was a great protagonist. You can't help but like her and be behind her as she breaks out of her shell and finds friends, purpose, goals, dreams and yes, maybe love as well. But the most important find will be finding her self again.

I love 'underdog' books where a scrappy bunch takes on a 'Goliath'. You'll be cheering from the sidelines. You'll laugh, and yes, you'll cry. And you'll wish you were part of the group.

The Last Chance Library is a love letter to libraries and readers and books and those who have found their way into a library for any reason. And for those who haven't? Take a trip to your local library - it's so much more than books.

A great debut Freya Sampson - I'll be watching for your next book! See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Last Chance Library

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Family Plot - Megan Collins

The Family Plot is Megan Collins' third novel. 

Dahlia Lighthouse and her three siblings were raised in a secluded house on an island. They were also homeschooled by their parents - and murder was a large part of the curriculum. Not committing it, but learning about, researching and reenacting high profile cases and holding ceremonies to honor the dead. The four eventually all leave their island home, but one goes missing or chooses to distance themselves. On returning home for a funeral....

I'll leave you to discover what has happened - and who might be responsible. 

I have to admit that I thought the whole schooling in murder idea was a bit far fetched. But not improbable. I liked the setting - an old mansion on an isolated island gave the setting a lovely Gothic feel. Collins adds in some reclusive neighbors, suspicious townsfolk and a sketchy cop to round out the cast. And....the Blackburn Island serial killer. Yup, there are a number of women who have been murdered on the island over the years.

The story is told from Dahlia's point of view. But can we trust her memories or her perspective on the current events? We are given a lot of information early on and I was quite happily turning pages, but by mid book, I felt like the momentum had slowed. Delilah's recounting seemed repetitive, with the same emotions voiced over and over again. A lot of the situations required more than a few grains of salt. 

Collins gives us a number of options for the final whodunit, with each suspect being quite plausible. I placed money on one suspect in the middle of the narrative and was proven right in the end. 

I chose to listen to The Family Plot. The reader was Emily Tremaine. Her voice absolutely matched the mental image I had of Dahlia. She has a clear, strong speaking voice, easy to understand. Her pace of narrating is just right. Tremaine is a very expressive reader and captures the tone of Collin's work very well. A really good performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Family Plot.

The Family Plot was definitely a different read and I enjoyed it, but not as much as I was hoping to.

Monday, August 23, 2021

About Us - Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty's new novel has three couples and one therapist's couch as the base for her new book, About Us

Moriarty has cleverly chosen three couples of varying ages and stages of life, each with their share of issues and conundrums. So, there's a character or situation that any reader can connect with.

Ken and Ann are at the retirement stage of life, but it's not living up to what either had imagined. Niall and Alice have four children and not a lot of energy left for each other. Orla is carrying baggage from her past and has a medical issue. She meets Paul and adores him, but can their relationship thrive?

The therapist all three attend is an American who has set up practice in Ireland. I found this a bit odd. Do Irish therapists not tackle sexual issues? Sex does seem to be the biggest 'problem' brought to the office, although other issues are explored as well. 

The chapters rotate through the three sets of characters. About Us is told from the women's viewpoints. I found myself most drawn to Alice, but the other two women are just as likable. I thought Moriarty did a good job portraying the women's inner thoughts, needs and wants. The therapist's advice seems reasonable and well written. But. Yes, for me there's a but. I grew tired of the therapist's scenes. While there is some what I assume is good advice (was an actual therapist consulted?), I found it becoming a bit 'textbooky' and repetitive for me. And that slowed down my finishing the book. I do think things could have been reconciled a bit sooner.

About Us was an okay read for me, but not a standout. And for me, not as funny as some have mentioned. See what others thought on Goodreads

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Cold Vanish - Jon Billman

The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wilderness by Jon Billman makes for fascinating reading.

"These are the stories that defy conventional logic. The proverbial vanished without a trace incidences, which happen a lot more (and a lot closer to your backyard) than almost anyone thinks. These are the missing whose situations are the hardest on loved ones left behind. The cases that are an embarrassment for park superintendents, rangers and law enforcement charged with Search & Rescue. The ones that baffle the volunteers who comb the mountains, woods and badlands. The stories that should give you pause every time you venture outdoors."

The disappearance of Jacob Gray in Olympic National Park is explored in depth as his father Randy invites Jon to be part of the search. That search utilizes any and all leads and means, including some that could be termed 'out there'. Randy's determination to find his son is tireless and heartbreaking. The reader is privy to the intimate details of the search for Jacob.

The sheer number of people who go missing, fall off the radar and disappear every year in national parks and wilderness areas surprised me. Also surprising is the lack of a centralized database for those missing in the wild to the difference in search and rescue protocols and the wildly varied responses of the parks. 

Other cases are interspersed throughout the book as well. It is eye opening to see how fast an afternoon hike can go wrong. A side trail, a wrong turn and no gear can be a death sentence. And on the flip side, there are those who choose to walk away and disappear into the wild. And another chilling avenue - humans can be as deadly as the wildlife.

The Cold Vanish was dense reading and addressed heavy subject matters, so I didn't read it straight through, instead opting to read a few chapters at a time. My heart is with those who are searching for loved one. 

If you've enjoyed  Jon Krakauer's books, you'll enjoy The Cold Vanish. Read an excerpt.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Yours Cheerfully - AJ Pearce

I absolutely adored AJ Pearce's debut novel, Dear Mrs. Bird. I was thrilled to find she had written a second book featuring the indomitable Emmy Lake. Yours Cheerfully is newly released - and it's just as wonderful as the first book!

1941 Britain. Emmeline Lake works for Women's Friend magazine. She's now in charge of the advice column, Yours Cheerfully. Her role expands even further when women's magazines are asked to help recruit female workers to the war effort, such as working in munitions factories.

What has endeared this series to me? Pearce has created an absolutely delightful character in Emmy. She's plucky, (don't you love that descriptor?) irrepressible and so darn likeable. The supporting cast includes best friend Bunty, the magazine staff, the women in the factories and more and are just as well drawn. I easily became invested in their stories.

Pearce has captured the stalwart attitude of the Brits in the war years, the 'can do' attitude, the camaraderie of the women and their determination to help the war effort. Her plotting is based on historical happening. Her detailed descriptions paint vivid mental images of wartime Britain. And I quite liked the features, stories and letters from the magazine.

Pearce also weaves romance into her books, both found and lost. Again, all capturing the time period. The social mores, the joy in simple things, the making do and more. And more is what I want! Pearce is working on the third book and I can't wait to see what's next for Emmy and et al. Absolutely recommended! 

I chose to listen to Yours Cheerfully. The narrator was Anna Popplewell and she was the perfect choice. Her voice matched the mental image I had created for Emmy. Popplewell also voiced the first book and the continuity is appreciated. She has a lovely rich British accent that is very pleasant to listen to. She enunciates well and speaks at a good speed. Her voice has movement, rising and falling as she narrates She easily captures the emotions of the characters, the tone of situations and the action of the book with her voice. An excellent performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Yours Cheerfully.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Billy Summers - Stephen King

Oh, I have been eagerly awaiting Stephen King's latest book -  Billy Summers. I've read every book King has written and this one is absolutely one of his best. 

Billy is a hired killer. But he only kills those he deems 'really bad men.' He needs to wait around until this latest job is a go and to blend in he's given a rental home in a suburban neighborhood, an office and a cover story as an author. To his surprise, Billy makes friends in the neighborhood, blends into the office strata and he actually begins to write a story. He decides that this is going to be his last job. 

At least that's his plan. But nothing goes to plan, nothing.

I'm in awe of King's storytelling. Billy is so likeable despite his profession. The reader cannot help but be on his side. Even more so as we become privy to Billy's past from the book he's writing. I love the book within a book trope. It's a great way to bring the past into the present. 

The plotting is intricate, detailed and full of surprises. I'm going to let you discover those surprises on your own. Billy presents what he calls his 'dumb Billy' to those who have hired him now and over the years. But Billy is far from 'dumb.' Getting himself out of this mess is going to take all his cunning, skills and tricks. King keeps the reader on their toes as the plot takes numerous turns that you won't see coming. And as I got closer and closer to the end of the novel, I had stop listening a couple of times. I didn't want the book to end and I was afraid of the ending King had chosen. I knew what I wanted to have happen, but what would I find in the final pages?

I chose to listen to Billy Summers. I've listened to the last few King books in audio format and find his already great storytelling is made even better by listening for me. I become completely immersed in the book. The right reader is key and Paul Sparks was the perfect choice. He has a smooth, slightly gravelly, low, modulated speaking voice that absolutely suits the mental image I had of Billy. It draws you in and makes you listen carefully. Sparks speaks clearly, at a good speed, enunciates well and his voice is easy on the ears. He provides distinctive and believable voices for the supporting characters, ranging from gangsters to a young girl and many others. I was able to immediately know who was speaking and the conversations were realistic. Sparks uses his voice to bring the twists, danger, tension and action to life and drops the listener right into the story. A great performance! And an amazing book! Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Billy Summers.

(Faithful King readers will enjoy finding the Overlook Hotel mention.)