Friday, April 30, 2021

The Last Thing He Told Me - Laura Dave

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Her Three Lives - Cate Holahan

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Music of Bees - Eileen Garvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 26, 2021

Breakout - Paul Herron

Breakout is Paul Herron's debut thriller. 

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the review copy.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Girl, 11- Amy Suiter Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Drowning Kind - Jennifer McMahon

The Drowning Kind is Jennifer McMahon's latest book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Last Thing to Burn - Will Dean

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Mirrorland - Carole Johnstone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 19, 2021

Second Chances - Craig Grossi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 16, 2021

A Man Named Doll - Jonathan Ames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Just Get Home - Bridget Foley

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Ocean Prey - John Sandford

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 12, 2021

Savage Gerry - John Jantunen

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Jigsaw Man - Nadine Matheson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Giveaway - The House Uptown - Melissa Ginsburg

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

What's it about? From Flatiron Books:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Mother May I - Joshilyn Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 5, 2021

Other People's Children - R. J. Hoffman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 2, 2021

Anywhere For You - Abbie Greaves

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

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

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

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

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