Friday, February 26, 2021

The Windsor Knot - SJ Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Scorpion's Tale - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Paris Library - Janet Skeslien Charles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 19, 2021

Pretty Little Wife - Darby Kane

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

What's it about? From Harper Collins Audio:

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Wife Upstairs - Rachel Hawkins

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

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

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

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Woman Outside My Door - Rachel Ryan

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Power Couple - Alex Berenson

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Electric Kingdom - David Arnold

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 8, 2021

Never Far Away - Michael Koryta

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 5, 2021

The Captive - Fiona King Foster

The Captive is Fiona King Foster's debut novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Shadow Man - Helen Fields

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Downfall - Robert Rotenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

A Stranger in Town - Kelley Armstrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 1, 2021

Hadley and Grace - Suzanne Redfearn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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