Friday, May 28, 2021

That Summer - Jennifer Weiner

I've enjoyed Jennifer Weiner's writing from her first book, Good in Bed, through to her current release, That Summer.

Now, that cover shot does promise a 'beach read'. And indeed a lot of the book is set in Cape Cod, with much love for the the beach/sun/water and more. But there's a deeper story found in That Summer.

Daisy keeps receiving emails for a woman whose e-address is almost identical. They converse and Daisy and Diana decide to meet up. They hit it off and a new friendship is formed. But Diana seems to have a hidden agenda....

The point of view switches from Daisy to Diana, as well as Daisy's teen daughter Beatrice. The listener slowly learns about the past of each of the leads - and how and why their lives have crossed.

Both women are engaging characters and I connected and empathized with both of them, but felt more drawn to Diane. She's a stronger character, while Daisy seems to let life take direction from her husband. But, I have to say that I really loved Beatrice, whos seems to have her head on straight and her sense of self firmly defined by fifteen. And on the other side of the coin is Daisy's husband Hal. Seriously unlikable - which is being kind.

I don't want to provide spoilers, so I'm just going to say that Weiner always weaves relevant social issues through her books. Fair warning to gentle listeners - this one is pretty heavy. Weiner's handling of that issue has been written with thoughtfulness and care while still spelling out the aftermath. There's lots of food for thought in this novel. I must admit, I did have a hard time with the ending - it's not what I would have liked to see, and I questioned if it truly would happen outside of the pages of a book. The ending would make for a great book club discussion.

I chose to listen to That Summer. And I have to say that this book had a bigger impact on me in audio format than print. The narrator is always plays a big part in that. Sutton Foster was the reader and she was a great choice. I've listened to her before and have enjoyed her reading. She has a very pleasant voice that suited Daisy perfectly. She changes it up for Diana, so you know who is speaking. There's a rich undertone to Foster's voice that is quite pleasant to listen to. She enunciates well and her pace of speaking is just right. She infuses feeling into Weiner's words and easily transmits the many emotions of the plot. Another great performance for Foster. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of That Summer.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Giveaway - The Happiness Thief - Nicole Bokat

Nicole Bokat's newest novel, The Happiness Thief, has just released - and I have a Kindle copy to giveaway to one lucky reader! 

What's it about? From She Writes Press

"Forty-one-year-old Natalie Greene lost her mom and her childhood memories in a car crash two decades ago. What remains is a haunting feeling that she was responsible for her mother’s death. After her husband leaves for another woman, Natalie accompanies her famous stepsister, Isabel Walker (aka “The Happiness Guru”) on a retreat to the Cayman Islands. There, a late-night collision triggers Natalie’s long-buried trauma and a heightened sense of guilt.

Upon returning home to Boston, Natalie tries to settle back into her life as a food photographer and single mother to a teenage daughter—but then, one day, an anonymous email arrives about the Cayman accident that suggests foul play. In her search for the truth, Natalie must deal with a mix of fear, confusion, and suspects. With the help of Isabel and an attractive journalist, she uncovers a trail of deceit that begins on that deserted Caribbean road, circles back home, and ends in the most unexpected of places." Read an excerpt of The Happiness Thief.

"Bokat is an evocative wordsmith . . . she has crafted a sympathetic heroine as her main character. . . . A compulsively readable mystery and character study." Kirkus Reviews

"Nicole Bokat is the author of the novels Redeeming Eve and What Matters Most. Redeeming Eve was nominated for both the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction. She’s also published The Novels of Margaret Drabble: This Freudian Family Nexus. She received her Ph.D. from New York University and has taught at NYU, Hunter College, and The New School. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Parents magazine, The Forward and at More.com. She lives with her husband in New Jersey and has two grown sons." You can connect with Nicole on her website and follow her on Instagram as well as on Twitter.

Sounds good, doesn't it! Enter for a chance to win a Kindle copy using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US only, ends June 12/21
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Local Woman Missing - Mary Kubica

Local Woman Missing is Mary Kubica's latest novel - and a first read/listen of this author for me. It won't be the last!

From Harper Audio:

"Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they'll find…"

Kubica opens the book with a nail biting scene featuring Delilah that guaranteed I would be staying up late listening to just one more chapter - and maybe another, and another. Kubica employs one of my favorite story telling methods - the back and forth of a past and present timeline. The tension builds as we start to piece together what happened eleven years ago with what has/is coming to light in the present. 

And - multiple points of view as well - another favorite device! I love knowing more than the individual characters and thought I had things figured out. Umm - no. Kubica fooled me many times and I absolutely didn't see the twists coming. I did find one twist needed a grain of salt - but just go with it.

I liked Meredith as the lead character. She's kind and good, but perhaps too trusting - I'll leave it at that. Her son Leo also has a voice and his is quite real - and heartbreaking at times and the same with Delilah's chapters. There are a number of supporting players (and suspects). As this is a domestic suspense read, you'll find many neighbours and friends with their own opinions - and agendas.

There are some dark moments for sure and some of those might be triggers for gentle readers.

I loved that Harper Audio decided to use a cast of readers for Local Woman Missing -  Brittany Pressley, Jennifer Jill Araya, Gary Tiedemann, Jesse Vilinsky. It just seems to make things more 'real' if you will. I've said it quite often, but I find I get more immersed in a book by listening and having a cast really adds to that. With four voices it was easy to know who was talking. Each narrator brought something to their character(s) with their voice - fear, anger, disdain, uncertainty and so many more emotions to their role. I thought each reader interpreted Kubica's work really well. Each spoke clearly, was easy to understand and the speaking pace was just right. The action was transmitted well also. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of Local Woman Missing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

On Harrow Hill - John Verdon

John Verdon is the author of the Dave Gurney series. On Harrow Hill is the seventh book in the series. What's it about? Here's a description from Random House Audio - my thoughts follow.

"When an old colleague comes to him for help solving the mysterious death of his town's most prominent resident, retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney must use all of his analytical skills to hunt a murderer who just might be killing from beyond the grave.

The idyllic community of Larchfield is rocked to its core when Angus Russell, its wealthiest and most powerful citizen, is found dead in his mansion on Harrow Hill. A preliminary analysis of DNA gathered at the crime scene points to the guilt of local bad boy Billy Tate, whose hatred for the victim was well known. Except that Tate fell from the roof of a local church and was declared dead by the medical examiner the day before Russell was killed. When police rush to the mortuary, they discover Tate's coffin has been broken open from the inside and the body is gone.

A series of murders soon follows as Larchfield loses its collective mind. Gun sales explode. Conspiracy theories and religious fundamentalism spread. The once-peaceful town becomes a magnet for sensation seekers, self-proclaimed zombie hunters, TV producers eager for ratings, and apocalyptic preachers rallying the faithful for the end of days. His quiet retirement shattered, ex-NYPD detective Dave Gurney finds himself not only facing down a murderer, but struggling to restore order to the town rapidly spiraling out of control.

My Thoughts:

I've been a fan of John Verdon right from the first book 2010. I've enjoyed every one since.

Verdon crafts some great plot lines - and this one is a doozy with quite a few red herrings and garden paths - which I happily travelled. I really enjoy Gurney's deductive processes. His calm, cool, intuitive manner belies an intense curiosity and drive to solve cases.

Verdon has developed his characters over the course of seven books. We know what kind of detective Gurney is, but we also get to see beneath his controlled exterior.  Gurney's enigmatic wife Madeleine continually intrigues me. Her love of nature, colour and life are in stark contrast to Gurney's pursuit of killers. She rarely gets upset and seems to know the right thing to say at the right time. 

This is the first time I've listened to one of Verdon's books. I discovered that one of my favorite readers - Scott Brick was the narrator. He has the most versatile, expressive voice. And after so many years of visualizing Dave Gurney, he has the right voice as well. Brick conveys the tone and tenor of Verdon's plot easily, drawing the listener deeper into the story. His voice is easy on the ears, clear and the pace of speaking is just right. Here for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of On Harrow Hill.

I'm looking forward to the next in this series - Gurney might be retired, but he loves a good mystery - as do I!

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Do Something for Nothing - Joshua Coombes

Joshua Coombes' new book, Do Something for Nothing: Seeing Beneath the Surface of Homelessness through the Simple Act of a Haircut, has just released. 

Preconceptions. We're all guilty of it to some degree I think. I've worked in a setting where I did serve the downtrodden, the poor, the mentally ill and the homeless. The best tools I used were common courtesies - looking at someone directly, saying hello with a smile. "When you’re on the fringes of society, being noticed can mean everything."

Joshua Coombes had some additional tools in his backpack - his hairstyling tools. He has travelled across many countries, seeking out the homeless and offering them a haircut, a conversation, a chance to be seen and heard - and friendship. This simple gesture has become - #DoSomethingForNothing -a movement that encourages people to connect their skills and time to those who need it.

In the book, we see a 'before' picture of someone living rough and then we meet the person, hear their story, their hopes, regrets, love, loss, joy and more. And at the end of the essay, a second photo with the haircut. The smiles at seeing such a change are priceless. Such a simple gesture boosts someone's mood, what they think of themselves - and what society thinks of them. And while the haircuts are of value, it is Coombes' interest, caring and friendship that are of greater value.

Hopefully, you can take inspiration from Coombes and this book to really 'see' someone, to hear them, to question what you could do for nothing... whatever that might be.

"Joshua Coombes is a British hairstylist and founder of #DoSomethingForNothing—a movement encouraging people to connect their skills and time to those who need it. When Coombes launched the project in 2015, his intention was to positively impact people’s lives by offering free haircuts to those experiencing homelessness. By posting transformative images on Instagram, his platform continues to grow as he amplifies the stories of many that go unheard. Coombes’s mission caught the attention of media outlets in Europe and has rippled worldwide. Coverage includes appearing in National Geographic’s new series The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman, released on Netflix internationally. Today, Coombes continues his efforts in new countries, humanizing this issue globally. He currently resides in London, UK. Do Something for Nothing is his latest work."                                         


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Just Released! The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman

Oh, here's a just released book you'll want to add to your summer reading list - The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman. (It's on my list - watch for my review!)

What's it about? From Graydon House Books:

""Like a true friendship, The Clover Girls is a novel you will forever savor and treasure." —Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author

Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where over four summers they were the Clover Girls—inseparable for those magical few weeks of freedom—until the last summer that pulled them apart. Now approaching middle age, the women are facing challenges they never imagined as teens, struggles with their marriages, their children, their careers, and wondering who it is they see when they look in the mirror.

Then Liz, V and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily with devastating news. She implores the girls who were once her best friends to reunite at Camp Birchwood one last time, to spend a week together revisiting the dreams they’d put aside and repair the relationships they’d allowed to sour. But the women are not the same idealistic, confident girls who once ruled Camp Birchwood, and perhaps some friendships aren’t meant to last forever…" Here's an excerpt of The Clover Girls.

"#TheCloverGirls by @viola_shipman is in stores NOW! Grab a copy of this "beautiful novel" (@nancythayer) that @kristywharvey calls "a love song to long-lost friends, an ode to the summers that make us who we are." Sweet, nostalgic, and loaded with 80s references, THE CLOVER GIRLS is the tale of four women whose friendship was formed at the Lake Michigan summer camp of their youth. Shipman deftly explores how the bonds of friendship are tested over time, and the value of never losing sight of the people and places that make us who we are. As @maryalicemonroe says, "Like a true friendship, THE CLOVER GIRLS is a novel you will forever savor and treasure." @graydonhousebooks @authorwaderouse #summerreading #beachreads #authorsofinstagram"

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Not Dark Yet - Peter Robinson

Not Dark Yet is the 27th entry in Peter Robinson’s fabulous Inspector Banks series. I’ve read each and everyone and couldn’t wait to pick up this latest. 

Not Dark Yet picks up where the last book left off. We met Zelda in the 25th book, Careless Love. She worked with law-enforcement to identify those in the sex trafficking trade, that she herself survived. She moved to Eastvale and has found a partner and new life within Banks' circle. But for Zelda, she feels like she has unfinished business with her past.

Banks and his team have business to attend to as well - there's been a double murder at a luxury home. The Albanian mafia may have been responsible - and a series of covertly filmed videos that add another layer to the case.

The plotting in Robinson's books is always intricately woven. Seemingly disparate threads are slowly but expertly woven together. The conclusion is always satisfying, but not always what the reader might have imagined. The plots ring true, often taking inspiration from current social issues and headlines. 

Banks has always had a strong moral compass,- but it doesn't always fit into the legal parameters of the department. Indeed, he makes some interesting choices in Not Yet Dark - and I can't say I disagree with them. Regular supporting characters Annie and Gerry are back. Annie has always been a favorite of mine and Gerry has really grown on me. 

Inspector Banks books are meant to be savored. The story moves along well, but at a thoughtful pace that allows the reader to ruminate along with Alan. I enjoy his honest self contemplation and his love of music. (I often search out his playlists) He seems world weary in this latest - I hope it doesn't herald the end of Banks....

Another excellent addition to this series. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Not Dark Yet. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

V for Victory - Lissa Evans

I've always hoped Lissa Evans that would write a follow to the absolutely  wonderful Crooked Heart. And she has! V for Victory has just released.

I fell in love with Vee and Noel in the previous book. Vee, aka Mar, has left the scamming behind and instead runs a lodging house, giving Noel a stable home.  Their lives are as good as they can be, given the times. But when Vee is called as a witness to an accident, their carefully constructed life may come crumbling down.

Evans has created such tangible characters in Vee and Noel. I like them both very much, but I must admit that my heart belongs to Noel. He's clever and kind, a teenager now, but inside he's still the boy without parents. That need to know propels one of the plot lines in this latest. There are other characters, each with their own plotlines as well - Winnie the local air raid warden, her twin sister turned author, and the myriad lodgers. And slowly but surely, the disparate threads start to weave themselves together. The wartime setting is also a character in Crooked Heart. The rationing, the attitudes, the bombings and more all shape, direct and change the course of each and every character.

Now, yes, there are sad situations, but.....Evans has a wickedly dark sense of humour that's quite appealing. Her sly wit is visible in a description, a look or a snippet of dialogue, or a passage from a book.

I love books that speak to the human condition - life, love, death and everything that comes in between. Even more poignant in wartimes. Evans easily captures all of the above.

V for Victory is heartwarming, heartbreaking and so very good. Heartily recommended! Read an excerpt of V for Victory.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Sooley - John Grisham

John Grisham writes legal thrillers. But he also writes stand alone sports novels that are just as wonderful. The latest is the newly released Sooley.

Samuel's home in is South Sudan, a war torn country beset with violence. Samuel dreams of someday playing basketball in the US - and bringing his family with him. And through a series of events...he makes it to the US....

Oh, I love a good underdog story! Sooley's story is one of those. The listener will fall in love with him and have their fingers crossed that he fulfills his dreams. Grisham has done a fantastic job building his characters. The supporting cast of coaches, teammates and supporters drew me in just as much as Sooley did. There are some real life people woven into the story as well.

Sooley is told in alternating settings - with Sooley in the US and then cutting to the Rhino Refugee Camp in Uganda where Sooley's family is.

I thought the plot was fantastic, believable and possible. I was caught off guard with an unpredictable development that I must admit, made me a little angry. But it was indeed a believable turn. Grisham hits many social issues in this book. 

All in all - I loved it! 

I chose to listen to Sooley. The narrator was Dion Graham and he was the perfect choice. His voice is rich and full and really pleasant to listen to. He provided different voices for every character - they suited the mental images I had of the characters and it was easy to discern who was speaking. The voice for Sooley was so very good. Graham easily interprets Grisham's book with his expressive voice. And extra points for  'calling' the basketball games. It sounded just like we were in the stadium. I've said it before and I'll say it again - listening immerses me in a book and I feel like I'm part of the story. Even more so in this case. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Sooley.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Plot - Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot is Jean Hanff Korelitz's just released novel. It's gathering lots of buzz...

What's the plot of The Plot you ask?

"Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book.... When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot....When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that―a story that absolutely needs to be told...."

Korelitz is a clever writer. I always wonder how hard it is for a novelist to create a character that shares the same profession? How much is fact? Drawn from personal experience? Imagined?

Jake was a distinctly unlikable character for me. Not just for what he does, but for his inner dialogue, passing judgement on others so easily, but not seeing the man in the mirror. Kudos to Korelitz for her characterization. 

I've read other 'book within a book' novels and have always enjoyed this plot device. I have to say - I quite like the stolen book plot and would happily read the whole thing! Now, you just know, the theft of the plot is not going to go unnoticed by someone. It does indeed catch someone's eye. And I'm sorry to say - but I wasn't too upset with his being caught out. Just desserts as they say. But I was quite interested in what Korelitz had planned for Jake. Stolen ideas/books aren't a new idea, but Korelitz does a nice job coming up with her own twist on things. I had my suspicions and was proven right in the end, but the journey to the last page was intriguing and entertaining. 

I did find the beginning a bit slow, but it picked up for me once the threats began. While The Plot is suspenseful, it wasn't quite "breathtakingly suspenseful" for me.

Who else thought so? Here what Stephen King thought..."“The Plot is one of the best novels I’ve ever read about writers and writing. It’s also insanely readable and the suspense quotient is through the roof. It’s remarkable.”

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Finlay Donovan is Killing It - Elle Cosimano

Oh my gosh - the first chapter of Elle Cosiman's newest book, Finlay Donovan is Killing It, had me laughing out loud. And I kept laughing as the book progressed. Which is a little odd as its also a murder mystery!

Finlay's husband has left her, she's struggling to make ends meet as an author, her husband fired the childminder and her agent is demanding the book that Finlay's already been paid for. Here's the fun bit...while having lunch with said agent, their discussion about the plot is overheard - and misconstrued. Somehow, Finlay seems to have been mistakenly taken on a contract - to kill a 'problem husband.'

Trust me, it is funny. And much of that's down to the wonderful lead character Cosimano has created. Finlay is just so quirky and likeable! Her struggles are real and she's a hot mess a lot of the time. Totally relatable. Except for the contract killer part! A sidekick is a must. And in this case we have Vero, Finlay's childminder. She's clever and has a sardonic sense of humor. They make a great team.

Cosimano's plot inventive is clever and engaging. There's no down time in this book - action and bodies propel things along at a fast paced clip, Yes, some situations are improbable, but just go with it. What a wonderful, escapist lead this one was! Oops, there's a side of romance included too.

I did chose to listen to Finlay Donovan is Killing It. The reader was Angela Dawe - and she was the perfect choice. She has a very expressive voice and absolutely matched the mental image I had in mind for Finlay. She interprets Cosimano's work and brings it to life with reading, capturing the humor, action  and more easily. She provides easily discerned voices for each character, both male and female - and child. Her speaking is clear and easy to understand. Her speaking speed is perfect. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Finlay Donovan is Killing It.

And I'm happy to say, there's another Finlay Donovan in the works - Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead is due out in February 2022. Definitely on my must listen list! 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Newcomer - Mary Kay Andrews

Here's a question for you - how do you know when summer is just around the corner? And the answer is.....when Mary Kay Andrews releases a new book! The Newcomer releases today - and it's such a great read!

We meet our lead character Letty as she pulls into the Murmuring Surf Motel (don't you love the kitschy name?), in the Florida town of Treasure Island. She's driven non stop from New York with her four year old niece. Why? The unthinkable has happened - Letty's sister and Maya's mother Tanya is dead. Tanya always said "If anything bad happens to me - it’s Evan. (her ex) Promise me you’ll take Maya and run. Promise me.”

In the last few books MK has added a mystery alongside the romance and feel good nature of her books. It really works for me, adding another layer to her books.

I loved each and every character in the book - from Letty and the extremely cute Maya, to the warm and welcoming motel owner Ava, her daughter Isabelle, the crotchety, but lovable senior residents, Ava's handsome son Joe - and more. They're all so well drawn and likeable. All except that Evan - MK did just as good a job drawing such a loathsome antagonist.

I loved the setting! It reminded me so much of my holidays when I was younger and I would happily stay there today as well. It has such a welcoming feel - kinda like a 'Cheers' vibe.

And yes, romance is another facet that makes Andrews books such great summer reading. It's not overt, sappy or in your face. The attraction is well done and fits seamlessly into the plot.

Now, take these wonderful characters, the fantastic setting and weave in the mystery of who killed Tanya. What have you got? A book you don't want to put down. And I didn't. Five stars for another engaging, heartwarming, eminently readable, take me away from it all, beach worthy read.  See for yourself - here's an excerpt of The Newcomer.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Find You First - Linwood Barclay

Linwood Barclay is on my list of favorite authors - I don't even bother reading the synopsis - I just know I'm going to enjoy it. And I most certainly did with his latest - Find You First.

Miles Cookson owns a successful tech company. He struggled financially when he was starting out - even resorting to being a paid sperm donor. He's just received some disturbing medical news - he has a terminal condition that can be passed onto the next generation. Well...the only children he has would be the result of those donations. He's determined to find them..... but so is someone else.....

Miles was a great protagonist, eminently likeable, calm (mostly) and caring. The first of the nine he finds is Chloe and she's front and center with Miles for the rest of the book. She's smart, sassy and seemingly fearless. The interactions between the two are well played. And there's some poignant moments as well. You'll have no problem identifying the antagonists - some nasty characters there.

The plot of Find You First is full of unpredictable twists and turns, keeping the listener in suspense from first chapter to last. There's so much more going on than just a hunt for those nine progeny. One element of the plot has taken inspiration from news headlines. 

There are multiple points of view in Find You First that really worked for this book, giving the listener an inside look at all of the plot threads. There are lots of choices for the whodunit. The action is non stop and made for addictive listening.

I chose to listen to Find You First. I was delighted to find that  George Newbern was the reader. He is hands down one of my favorite narrators. He has the most interesting, expressive voice with a somewhat sardonic bent to it. He brings an author's work to life with his inflections, timber and tone. His voice is clear, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. He changes things up for each character and it is easy to know who is speaking. Another five star performance for Newbern. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Find You First.