Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Dangerous Women - Hope Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Fall of Koli - M.R. Carey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Sanatorium - Sarah Pearse

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

You'll Thank Me For This - Nina Siegal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 22, 2021

Every Vow You Break - Peter Swanson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 19, 2021

Later - Stephen King

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Memory Collectors - Kim Neville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Win - Harlan Coben

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Rose Code - Kate Quinn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 12, 2021

Search for Her - Rick Mofina

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Good Eggs - Rebecca Hardiman

It's such a treat to read the first chapter in a book - and know you're going to love every page that follows. Such is the case with Rebecca Hardiman's debut novel Good Eggs.

A good egg: a kind person, someone you're fond of. Of course there is the flip side....a bad egg: a disappointing or unpleasant person, a corrupt or unreliable person, a rogue. (And I remember my own Gran using this phrase!)

The good eggs in this books are the seven members of the Gogarty family. The book is told from three points of view (and three generations) - octogenarian Gran Millie, her son Kevin and his daughter Aideen. The bad egg? Well, I won't say as I don't want to spoil the story for you.

Oh my gosh, I adored Millie! We meet her as she is shoplifting a greeting card that she doesn't even need. She's feisty, optimistic, loves her family - but is dreadfully lonely. And the first signs of dementia are there. Kevin's solution? Bring in a carer who can help as well as keep an eye on her. Kevin himself has lost his job and is now looks after his four children as his wife travels for work. I must admit, I didn't like Kevin at all in the beginning, but as the book went on I warmed up to him. His solution? Hmm, you can guess right? He is definitely having a middle age crisis. And then there's Aideen. She's the one who doesn't conform like her three siblings and her temper gets her in trouble quite often. Kevin's solution? Boarding school.

Uh huh, lots that could wrong here for sure. And it does - in spades. But there's so much that is right as well - this is a family who love and care for each other. They just seemed have to lost their way a bit. The journey to finding their way again makes for a rollicking read. I loved the ridiculousness of some of the plot - most of that is down to Millie. I did laugh out loud more than once. Millie reading a racy novel in a senior's home was priceless. There are some serious turns as well for all three of the main characters. The one that happens to Millie made me quite angry as it's something that happens often. (Sorry, I'm being deliberately obtuse as I don't want to spoil the tale for you)

You just can't help but be behind the Gogartys - especially Millie, with Aideen being a close second. The Gogartys are a bit cracked, but are pretty good eggs. And their story was a light-hearted, entertaining read that let me escape. I'll be watching for Hardiman's next novel.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

A Funny Kind of Paradise - Jo Owens

It was this description from Penguin Random House Canada that had me picking up Jo Owens' debut novel, A Funny Kind of Paradise. 

"A poignant, uplifting, brilliantly insightful story of one woman's end-of-life reckoning with her past, her lost daughter and herself, for readers of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Still Alice and Elizabeth Is Missing."

If you're of a certain age, you will have spent time visiting loved ones in care facilities. I have. And it's hard. I read the first few chapters and thought - I just don't know if I can read this one. But, I did pick it up again - and ended up loving it.

Francesca is the lead character. She is in a care facility as she can't look after herself - a stroke has robbed her of her voice, her mobility, her ability to eat and more. But she still understands everything being said.

Francesca: "And nobody wants to lie there like a vegetable. We don't want it for ourselves, nor for our loved ones. Better to die quickly than to endure a half life. That's what we think. But I surprised myself. I just want to live."

Owens tell her story from past and present as Francesca remembers her children Christopher and Angelina and her best friend Anna. As well as recalling her drive to succeed, her parenting skills or lack thereof, her attitude towards life, brusque manner and more. She's seeing from a different point of view now she's reflecting on her life. At the mercy of others for her care, Franny's world grows smaller as her heart grows bigger. Stripped of the extraneous, Francesca finds comfort in the smaller things and connects with people in a way she didn't before the stroke.

We also meet other residents in the five bed room as they come and go. But it is the care workers that truly open up Franny's eyes and heart as they become the larger part of her life. Their conversations, both work related and personal, are told in italicized font. Their styles of care and attitudes are all different, but for the most part they care about the residents. The conversations are at times brutal in their honesty. 

Now, here's the thing....Owens has worked as a health care aide for twenty years in Canada. She knows what she writes. There is one long term carer named Molly that I really liked - and I think maybe there's more than a bit of Owens' self woven into this character. Owens also points out in the author's notes that "I want to mention that the care aides in this book are appallingly ad about talking shop in front of the residents, which is a professional no-no. I let them talk that way, even though they're good aides) and should know better, because I want to write about what actually happens, rather than what ought to happen."

A Funny Kind of Paradise is a heartbreaking, heartwarming read that will have you thinking of what is important and what you truly value in life. 

"But this is nothing like my old life, that's for sure. So I guess I could say it's a funny kind of paradise for me too." Read an excerpt of A Funny Kind of Paradise.

You can connect with Jo Owens on her website and follow her on Twitter. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Who Is Maud Dixon? - Alexandra Andrews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

We Begin at the End - Chris Whitaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Northern Reach - W.S. Winslow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Postscript Murders - Elly Griffiths

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

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

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

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

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

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