Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Eat Your Heart Out - Kelly deVos

Oh my gosh - Kelly deVos's new YA novel, Eat Your Heart Out, was so much fun to read!! 

I think this description from Razorbill is perfect - and it's what had me so eager to pick up Eat Your Heart Out... "Shaun of the Dead meets Dumplin' in this bitingly funny YA thriller about a kickass group of teens battling a ravenous group of zombies."

There are six teens and and a leader in Vee's pod at Camp Featherlite for Overweight Teens. One of the other members is a aspiring film maker and she mentally slots everyone into a role - you know, The Outcast, The Jerk, The Nerd and more. This cemented the feeling of being immersed in a teen horror flick. Which I have to say, has been a long time guilty pleasure of mine.

deVos gives each of the characters a voice with their own chapters. They're all wonderfully drawn with strengths and weaknesses. But as a group, they're pretty formidable. The reader is privy to the overall picture - their secrets and the danger stalking them. And there are plenty of chances in Eat Your Heart Out, to pick up a pillow and yell, "Don't go outside - there are zombies!" 

Lots of action kept me rapidly turning pages. Eat Your Heart Out did read like a movie!

And that cover? Fantastic! Eat Your Heart Out was great escapist reading. But along with being a fun page turner, deVos has woven in a needed message as well. "...Because when you create a culture when people can be dehumanized for trivial reasons like body size, everyone's human dignity is in jeopardy. I intend for this read to be inclusive and affirming, and hope you read with care if these topics are ones close to your heart." This was a first read of deVos for me - and it most definitely won't be the last. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Eat Your Heart Out.

(And I leave you with this warning - be careful with your hazelnut coffee whitener...)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Night Hawks - Elly Griffiths

I really enjoy reading series books - following along with character's lives and settling in to catch up with old friends. Elly Griffiths' Dr. Ruth Galloway series is one of my absolute favorites. The latest (#13) is The Night Hawks.

Ruth is a forensic archaeologist in the beautiful Norfolk area in England. She's head of her department at the University and often consults with the police on cases.

I really enjoy Ruth. I think it's because she isn't a 'cookie-cutter' protagonist. She is a single mother looking at her fifties. She's shy and reticent about accepting praise. She is highly intelligent, empathetic and tolerant.  Griffiths has not endowed her with super sleuth abilities, rather she comes off as an actual person - unabashedly and happily herself. Her only worry is making sure her daughter Kate is happy as well. There's a large cast of supporting characters, including the local DCI Harry Nelson and a number of other well drawn, engaging players. The relationship between Nelson and Ruth is complicated and is one of the most intriguing storylines.  My favorite after Ruth is Cathbad, a self proclaimed Druid. He's enigmatic and he seems to see and recognize things that the others don't. A wonderful little sense of the mystical is woven throughout this series. 

The setting is also a large part of the books. Griffith's descriptions have had me exploring Norfolk online. I think I would enjoy living in her little cottage in the Saltmarsh, 'where the sea and the sky meet.'

The Night Hawks are a detectorist group who come upon a body - one recent and one very old. I am fascinated by the items that are found in the ground in Norfolk - the historical element of the books is quite informative and interesting. The mystery in each and every book is well plotted. This latest had me guessing to the end - I was quite surprised by the whodunit.

This series is so good on so many levels. But it is the characters that are the main draw for me. Griffiths always leaves the door open with a little teaser for the next book. For those that have read previous entries - it's a cliff hanger! 

I highly, highly recommend this character driven mystery series. You could certainly read this book as a stand alone, but do yourself a favor and start with the first book, The Crossing Places.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Bad Moon Rising - John Galligan

Sheriff Heidi Kick returns in Bad Moon Rising, the third entry in John Galligan's Bad Axe County series.

I stumbled across the first book a couple of years back and was immediately hooked. Why? Well, the lead character has much to do with that. Sheriff Kick is a former Wisconsin Dairy Queen turned Sheriff. But don't let that fool you. Kick is seriously bad***. She doesn't back down from anyone or anything. She's had to fight the local council, the local thugs, the good ol' boy network and much more. She's also a mom with three kids and a husband - and a lot of folks think her personal life is fair game too. 

She's up for re-election this year and the other guy running is playing down and dirty. Heidi will deal with that when she can, but there's other pressing matters first. Homeless men are going missing - and the last one found was buried alive. Veteran and ex newspaper editor Leroy Fanta has an idea of who might be the perp.

So, a great protagonist and an intriguing plot. Galligan has a scary mind - the who and the why behind the missing men is truly twisted. Although there are some truths behind the madness. And that crazy is stealing past the confines of the hollow to the light of day.

And last, but certainly not least is the setting. Bad Axe County. I doubt I would stop in Bad Axe County - it just says 'keep on driving' to me. In Bad Moon Rising, the county is in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures breaking 100 degrees F. The heat is relentless - almost enough to drive you mad.

There's lots of action in Galligan's books and I was engaged from first chapter to last. I'll be eagerly awaiting the fourth book and more of Sheriff Kick. 

I chose to listen to Bad Moon Rising. I've listened to to the first two as well. I'm happy that Simon and Schuster has continued with the original reader - Samantha Desz.  Her voice is perfect for this character and matches the mental image I've created for Heidi. Desz's voice has a nice gravelly tone, is easy to understand and easy on the ears. She rarely raises her voice which is absolutely right for this character. The calm way of speaking belies her determination. It's well paced, never rushing and perfectly modulated. The voices employed for other characters are really good as well. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Bad Moon Rising.

(Gentle readers, this series is quite gritty and may not be the read/listen for you.)

Friday, June 25, 2021

Our Woman in Moscow - Beatriz Williams

Over the last year, I've been really enjoying historical fiction. Beatriz Williams is a New York Times bestselling historical fiction author. Her latest (and a first for me) novel is Our Woman in Moscow.

Our Woman in Moscow has its roots in WWII, but Williams takes us past that and sets most of the novel during the Cold War years in the early 1950's.

The novel is told from two sister's alternating points of view - Iris and Ruth. Once close as children, but as adults they haven't seen each other for over a decade. No one has seen Iris, her diplomat husband Sasha and their children for four years. And then a postcard arrives for Ruth - and its from Iris. And Ruth thinks she knows where Iris might be - and that she must go to her.

Williams has created some great characters. Sassy, in your face Ruth -I loved her dialogue and attitude. Iris is quieter, but still waters run deep. The book explores the relationship between the sisters, as well as their romantic entanglements. This personal line is paired along with the setting, atmosphere, machinations and politics of the Cold War. 

The tension builds with each new chapter in the present time frame, but also in the 'past' chapters as the listener learns how this situation, this point in time, came to be. I did have an inkling as to what might transpire in the final chapters, but it in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

It was only on listening to the author's notes at the end of the book, that I learned Williams' story took inspiration from The Cambridge Spy Ring. Fascinating! 

I chose to listen to Our Woman in Moscow. The readers were Nicola Barber (a new to me narrator) and a perennial favorite - Cassandra Campbell. Each reader employed voices that suited the character they were reading. Barber's voice was quieter, matching Iris's personality. Campbell perfectly personified the larger personality of Ruth. Each reader's manner of speaking was clear, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. The British accents were authentic. Each reader also provided Russian accents that were believable. I was quite happy with having two narrators. It made for distinctly knowing who was speaking/on center stage. I thought both readers captured and portrayed Williams' book perfectly. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Our Woman in Moscow.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Sunrise by the Sea - Jenny Colgan

Oh, I am always so excited when I see that Jenny Colgan has a new book coming out! Her latest - Sunrise by the Sea - has just released. (And I've already finished it!)

Colgan has a number of series on the go - Sunrise by the Sea is the fourth in the 'Little Beach Street Bakery series. This latest akes us back to the wee Cornish island of Mount Polbearne. 

Don't you love the cover shot of all those colorful seaside houses? I think (no, I know!) I could very easily live there. The scenery is lovely, but it's those who live there that make this series so heartwarming. 

Polly (the owner of the bakery) is of course there, along with her husband Huckle and their twins Daisy and Avery. The twins have grown and their dialogue is priceless. Another member of their household is Neil the puffin - a reader favorite! It's always lovely to catch up with returning characters - I feel like I'm catching up with old friends.

But, this book belongs to Marissa. Her beloved grandfather has died and she doesn't seem to be able to move on with her life, retreating more and more into herself and away from the world. Through a set of circumstances she ends up in Mount Polbearne in a wee rented house. It's quiet and peaceful - until a new tenant moves in next door.

Colgan has done a great job depicting Marissa's illness, it's written with care and is believable. I'm sure we've all felt like Marissa at some point in time. I loved Marissa's online Skype relationship with her grandmother in Italy. (And I missed mine all the more) And it wouldn't be a Jenny Colgan book without a romance (or two). That new neighbor? Interesting. Loud. Annoying. The will they, won't they, yes, no, maybe so, romantic plotlines are always great fun. And the descriptions of food? Mouth watering!

Mount Polbearne is that place you'd want to live - and the better part of that would be down to the residents. They're caring, quirky and community driven. Barring moving to Mount Polbearne (it is indeed fictional), I'm quite happy to visit in the pages of Jenny Colgan's imagination. 

Another heartwarming, addictive, escapist, just lovely read from Jenny Colgan. I loved it. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Sunrise by the Sea. I can't wait for her next book!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Suburban Dicks - Fabian Nicieza

Oh my gosh, I picked up Fabian Nicieza's debut novel - Suburban Dicks - and was hard pressed to put it down. It's a quirky, fun read with some really well drawn leads. Oh, and a murder or two.

It was only on turning the final page that I discovered that Nicieza is the co-creator of  Marvel's Deadpool. Uh, huh that same wry, sarcastic biting humor, an unusual, intriguing mystery (swimming pool permits are a key factor) and two decidedly different leads. 

Kenny Lee - "A Pulitzer at twenty-two, disgraced by twenty-seven, irrelevant at twenty-nine." And when he gets an inkling of what might be his comeback story, he's all over it. Can I mention that Kenny is a bit of a narcissist? He'll spin the story so he's the hero. But he'll need Andrea's help.

And the other lead? Oh, I couldn't get enough of her! Andrea Stern was an up and coming profiler with the FBI over ten years ago. And then she got pregnant, got married and is now expecting her fifth child. When she inadvertently stumbles across a crime scene it awakens the need in her to solve the crime, to bring justice to the victim. But she'll need Kenny's help. Her skills are still sharp, but the methods are a bit different - needs must. (Call in the Cellulitists!) And her mothering skills had me laughing out loud.

Fresh, fun and with no way to predict what would happen next, Suburban Dicks was a fantastic read for me. And with that said, I really hope there's another Suburban Dicks book in the works. The ending hit just the right note - but I want more Andy - and okay, more Kenny. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Suburban Dicks. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Dream Girl - Laura Lippman

Today is release day for Laura Lippman's latest novel - Dream Girl.

Here's the premise....."After being injured in a freak accident, novelist Gerry Andersen lies in a hospital bed in his glamorous but sterile apartment, isolated from the busy world he can see through his windows, utterly dependent on two women he barely knows: his young assistant and a night nurse whose competency he questions." There are so many possibilities in this plot! 

I don't want to spoil the details for you, but let me say that Misery and Gaslight sprang to mind as I started listening. But Lippman puts her own spin on things as the book progresses, with a nice gotcha at the end.

Dream Girls is fully stocked in unlikable characters. I found Gerry to be a pompous, self inflated lout who is quite sure in his own mind that he is not. He's been married many times and is also quite sure he has been a more than adequate lover to many along the way. The two young women he has hired are Victoria, the personal assistant and Aileen the night nurse. Victoria seems passable, but his hiring of Aileen had me questioning his competency. Which of course, is part of the plot....

As always, Lippman's writing is clever and I quite enjoyed the dark, satiric humor she ascribes to Gerry's inner dialogue. Lippman slowly builds the tension with every new turn in the story. And we explore Gerry's life through his past memories and present predicament.

And....Tess Monaghan makes a cameo appearance! I miss her...sigh....

I chose to listen to Dream Girl. The reader was Jason Culp and he was the perfect choice for this tale. His voice has a lovely gravelly undertone that's quite pleasant. He enunciates well and is easy to understand. Culp's voice suited the age of the character and cemented my mental image of Gerry. He speaks at just right speed, allowing the listener to fully appreciate every word. He captures and projects that dark humor so well with his voice. Different voices used for the the supporting cast. And this was the perfect book to listen to, rather than read, for me.

Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Dream Girl

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Lucky List - Rachael Lippincott

Rachael Lippincott is the co-author of Five Feet Apart, which I really enjoyed. She's just released her solo novel, The Lucky List.

Emily and her mother were really close. Were, because three years ago her mom died - and nothing has felt right since. As Emily and her dad begin to pack up things for an imminent move, Emily finds a bucket list her mother made back in her high school days. And suddenly she knows - she has to do the same list....

Lippincott takes the reader back to the final days of high school. And all the angst, drama, friendships, relationships and the question of what's next. But Lippincott puts more on Emily's plate - unresolved grief over her mother's death and questioning her sexuality. 

Emily is a great protagonist and I thought she was well drawn. Her actions, reactions, internal turmoil and more, are realistic and believable. Blake seems a little too perfect at first, but she seems to know herself more and has confidence in who she is. Lippincott has written the burgeoning relationship in a measured, thoughtful manner. I was a bit skeptical of the relationship Emily had with her dad. He makes a decision without consulting Emily that I thought was a bit of a reach. But, we all grieve in out own way. The supporting cast is filled in with old family friends and high school friends, each with roles to play.

Well done. I chose to listen to The Lucky List. The reader was Rebekkah Ross. I've listened to other books she's narrated and I really like her voice. Its pleasant to listen to, clear, and easy to understand. Her voice is believable as a teenage girl. Her narration is very expressive and has movement, easily capturing the emotion of the book. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Lucky List.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Lie Beside Me - Gytha Lodge

Lie Beside Me is the newest entry in Gytha Lodge's  DCI Jonah Sheens series. 

Lodge starts things off with a great premise...

"Louise wakes up. Her head aches, her mouth is dry, her memory is fuzzy—but she suspects she’s done something bad. She rolls over toward her husband, Niall. The man who, until recently, made her feel loved. But it’s not Niall lying beside her. In fact, she’s never seen this man before. And he’s not breathing. . . ."

This is a premise I've read before, but I'm always curious to see how an author puts their own spin on things

Lodge gives us a blackout drinker in Louise, who can't seem to remember anything of the night before. Truth or fiction? Louise is a fractured personality. She refers to herself as Drunk Louise and Sober Louise and prefers her drunken self. "I was aware, though, of a growing disconnect between Drunk Louise and me. I would occasionally be alarmed at things she'd done." Louise is married and her relationship with her husband Niall is disconnected as well. Her best friend April is hard to pin down - is she using Louise or does she truly care about her? She seems to enjoy bringing out the best - or the worst of Louise. Three very unlikable characters drive the plot forward. There are quite a few other peripheral players that are just as unpleasant.

These ugly characters are tempered by the police squad investing the murder. This is the third book to feature DCI Jonah Sheens and his team. Not having read the first two books wasn't an issue - this entry could easily be read as a stand alone.  Lodge has fleshed out her recurring characters well, giving them personal storylines that make them interesting. I was particularly intrigued by the enigmatic Ben Lightman.

I enjoy being kept guessing in a book, trying to suss out the whodunit with the clues the author lays out. Lodge did indeed keep me on my toes with lots of twists and turns. An epistolary element is added as Louise pens an ongoing letter to her husband, explaining things. I applaud Lodge's complex plotting. But...yes, there's a but. I'm going to be in the minority here - but by the run up to the final pages, I was growing weary of the deception and lies and just wanted a resolution.

Lie Beside Me was good, but not a stand out for me.  Check out the other reviews on Goodreads.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The World Gives Way - Marissa Levien

I am fascinated with the imaginings of what Earth might look like in the future. Marissa Levien has come up with her own spin on in her new novel, The World Gives Way.

"In fifty years, Myrra will be free." Myrra Dal was born into a 'contract', as were generations before her. But in fifty years, her servitude will be done and the Earth will have made it to a safe place. For you see, Earth has been recreated on a massive scale - as a ship. They've been travelling for over one hundred years already. The earth as we know it is just a memory, with some artifacts still around. (Interestingly wood is one of those artifacts. At today's Covid prices, we might be heading there!)

Levien's world building is quite beautiful, with every country having added their bit of the world, the ship. But it is built for the elite, the wealthy. Then, the unthinkable happens and everything changes for Myrra, and she grabs the unexpected opportunity. The reader is along for the journey as she runs from her current situation to what is hopefully a safe haven. 

I initially thought The World Gives Way would be more dystopian, more sci-fi. It is, but the human connections are what drives this book forward and take center stage. There are two main characters - Myrra and Tobias, the agent chasing her. Expectations and duty start to take a backseat to real human emotions, desires, wants, hopes and more. 

Levien is a beautiful writer. The descriptions of time and space are vivid and bring the world, the ship to life. But again, it is that exploration of what it is to be human, to feel and to just be that really drew me in. She captures the uncertainty and then the freedom of just living through her two leads. The ending? Not what I imagined, but exactly right. 

The World Gives Way is a slow burning, strong debut. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The World Gives Way.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tell Me When You Feel Something - Vicki Grant

Okay, so I read the synopsis of Vicki Grant's latest young adult novel, Tell Me When You Feel Something, and knew it was one I had to read! 

Many of the high school students in Tell Me When You Feel Something have part time jobs working as SPs - simulated patients - for the local university's medical students. I too have worked as an SP - although we called it standardized patients. I'm curious too as to how Grant came to use this as part of her plot. It's a great idea with lots of ways the book could unfold - and it does. 

The book is told from three points of view with Viv being at the center of things. She's the 'it' girl - the one who has it all. Or that's how it looks from the outside in. Davida is the girl nobody notices, but she and Viv click. And Tim - all round quirky good guy. Grant has done a great job in creating believable teen characters - the pressure, the angst and the uncertainty of finding your place. The adults in their lives are a very mixed bag.

Now this isn't a spoiler - it's in the publisher's description and is the first chapter - something happened to Viv and she's in a coma. From that point, the book goes back and forth from past to present recounting what lead up to Viv being in a coma. I adore multiple points of view and timelines. There's some epistolary elements as well with police interview transcripts. They all combine to make addictive reading. The reader knows what is going on with every character (including the supporting cast) and can start to figure out the answers to why Viv is in a coma. But who is telling the truth? That supporting cast comes complete with lots of choices for the final 'whodunit'. (I did find the cab driver to be an odd insert) I certainly did have my (jaded) suspicions and in the end was proven right. The icky feel stuck around for a while....There were a few things that felt unresolved at the end for this reader - what about Jack - and poor Eva?

The title is clever - it can refer to physical or mental sensations, feelings or emotions. Take note that there are trigger situations in this book and it would be best for older teens. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Damage - Caitlin Wahrer

The Damage is Caitlin Wahrer's debut novel - and I literally could not put it down. 

"An edgy, propulsive read about what a family pushed to the brink will do in the name of love and blood."

Tony is more like a father to his younger brother Nick. When Nick is sexually assaulted, Tony sees red. Tony's wife Julia is the voice of reason - she's a lawyer and believes justice will be served in the court system. Detective Rice is the cop on the case and he too believes Nick will have his day in court. 

Wahrer employs one of my all time favourite methods of storytelling - alternating past and present chapters. She takes us to 2015,  the time of the assault and investigation. Each of the main characters - Tony, Julie, Nick and Rice have a voice, allowing the reader to know what everyone is feeling, thinking, planning - and hiding. The time frame then flips to 2019. Rice and Julia are the focus of these newer posts. Rice is not well and wants to know.....what really happened back then? Does Julia know what answers Rice is looking for? 

There are so many layers to Wahrer's plot - the assault is tough to read about and will provoke many emotions for readers.  We see the impact through the four different perspectives and how this affects each member of the family. Wahrer's depiction of the aftermath rings true. She herself is a lawyer and "has worked on cases involving some of the broad issues she writes about in The Damage". Her portrayal of the assault is respectful and seems to have been well researched. Social commentary is also scattered throughout and speaks to preconceptions.

Those feelings, emotions, actions and reactions drive the second part of the plot, the one that will keep you wondering. What really happened? Wahrer ekes out references, clues and hints along the way to the final pages. And the twist that awaits you at the end of the book is a really good one!

The Damage is a powerful debut, combining suspense, family ties, mental health, trauma and more into one addicting read. I can't wait to see what Wahrer writes next. Read an excerpt of The Damage.

Who else loved The Damage? Stephen King says "The Damage pulled me in from the first page with smart narration, characters I cared about, a hold-your-breath plot, and a terrific final twist. Put this one high on your summer list.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Hard Cash Valley - Brian Panowich

Brian's Panowich's novel, Hard Cash Valley, has just been released in trade format. Described as one of 2020's ten best crime novels by The New York Time Book Review, I knew it was one I wanted to read.

The book opens with a bang - and a murder that leaves the reader wanting more - who, why and more. Dane Kirby is a former arson investigator and now works for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He's surprised and more than a little reluctant when he is called in to consult on the murder scene in Florida. And his new partner FBI Special Agent Roselita Velasquez doesn't want him there any more than he wants to be there. But there's an eleven year old boy with Aspergers out there all alone - and everyone has their own reasons for wanting to find him. So Kirby signs on.

Okay, where to start? I really liked Kirby as a lead. He's fighting his own demons - and ghosts - even as he tries to move forward with life. He's street smart and book smart, and as a born and bred McFalls County, Georgia resident he knows all the players. And there are some really dark, ruthless and downright frightening characters in this book. (Gentle readers this one's not for you!) The supporting characters are just as strongly written. The reader will have immediate reactions to each and every character. You'll be behind those you would think should be behind bars and question those with badges. 

The setting and atmosphere is just as much of a character in the books. Panowich makes his home in Georgia and the setting greatly benefits from that personal knowledge. Panowich's plotting is intricate and will keep the reader on their toes as another layer and direction is added to the narrative. And truly, there was no predicting what I was going to find in the final pages.

But, it comes back to the characters for me. Each and every one of them is chasing something - money, redemption, love, the past or maybe the future. And who finds what in the end sits just right for me. 

Southern grit-lit at it's finest. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of Hard Cash Valley.

This is actually the third book in Panowich's 'Bull Mountain' series. I had no problem reading this as a stand alone, but I'll be putting those first two books, Bull Mountain and Like Lions on my ever growing TBR list. And I'll be watching for his fourth book.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Hairpin Bridge - Taylor Adams

Taylor Adams kept me on the edge of my seat with his previous book, No Exit. And his latest book, Hairpin Bridge? Couldn't put it down! I love twists and turns, but Hairpin Bridge is a corkscrew of a read!

Lena's twin sister Cambry is dead - suicide they say. They? The cop who was the last to see her on the isolated Hairpin Bridge in Montana. But Lena doesn't buy it - there's just too many inconsistencies in Officer Raycevic's report. She asks to meet him on the site of Cambry's death - Hairpin Bridge. And he agrees.... Lena has her own agenda though...

I love books with epistolary elements. In this case its Lena's blog and entries are scattered through the book.

Hairpin Bridge is told from Cambry's point of view, giving the reader an inside look at what really happened to her. Or does it? The POV switches to Lena in real time on the bridge with Officer Raycevic. It starts off cordial enough, but there's an underlying, simmering tension on both sides that quickly comes to a boil. And again, what is the truth? Raycevic also has a few chapters of his own as well - and his are downright scary. 

The twists and turns come hard and fast. What is the truth? Its near impossible to tell and very hard to predict what's coming next. There are most definitely some gruesome parts and creepy conversations - and great gotchas.

Kudos Taylor Adams - you made me squirm! That tension and action never really lets up and it was hard not to flip to the final pages! Over the top in spots? Absolutely - but it made for addictive reading. Hairpin Bridge would also make a great movie. (Gentle readers, this may not be the one for you)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

How Lucky - Will Leitch

I really like the simple unassuming cover of Will Leitch's new novel How Lucky. But the real reason I picked it up was Stephen King's blurb - "A fantastic novel. . . . You are going to like this a lot." And yes, I really, really did!

Daniel lives in Athens, Georgia, works for an airline answering customer issues online, goes to football games on the weekend and hangs out with his best friend Travis. One morning while out on his porch, he sees what he thinks is a kidnapping of a student who walks by daily. But did he? She seemed to get in willingly. But then Ai-Chin is reported as missing. Daniel attempts to let the police know about what he's seen, but....

And a lot of that but has to do with the fact that Daniel has a degenerative physical disability - SMA - Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The police officer sent to talk to him, can't seem to see beyond the wheelchair. Daniel's concerns and information are blithely explained and written off. 

What a fabulous lead character! I loved Daniel's voice, his sense of humor and his refusal to define himself with his condition. The supporting cast is just as great - everyone needs friends like Travis and Marjani.

I learned so much about SMA through Daniel. The hard, cold facts but also the human emotions, attitudes, strengths and joys that Daniel embodies. He considers himself to be lucky. You'll need to have a tissue handy in more than one chapter. And maybe see your own life through his lens.

Back to Ai-Chin - she's still missing and Daniel decides to investigate online. And I'm going to leave it there.....

I chose to listen to How Lucky. With such an engaging lead character, the reader needed to be just right. I'm happy to say that Graham Halstead was the perfect choice. His voice is clear and both easy and pleasant to listen to. His voice matched the mental image I had created for Daniel. There's lots of movement in his voice, capturing Daniel's thoughts, emotions and interactions and bringing them to life. Halstead captures the overall tone of the book easily. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I find myself more drawn into a tale by listening. And that is definitely the case with How Lucky. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of How Lucky.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Pumpkin - Julie Murphy

Hands up if you adored Julie Murphy's previous two books - Dumplin' and Puddin'! The latest in this series is Pumpkin - and it was another brilliant listen!

"Waylon Russell Brewer is a fat, openly gay boy stuck in the small West Texas town of Clover City. His plan is to bide his time until he can graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and finally go Full Waylon so that he can live his Julie-the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music-Andrews truth." (And the nickname Pumpkin is thanks to his red hair and his Grammy.)

I couldn't wait to meet Waylon! I loved him from the get go - his spunky attitude, his dreams, his confidence (although it definitely wavers in private) and his determination to live his life the way he wants to. New Clover City students are part of the supporting cast, all just as well drawn. And I was thrilled to see Willowdean and Millie again.

Pumpkin takes place in the last months of the senior year. Plans for what's next with his twin sister have gone awry. Being nominated for Prom Queen was a supposed to be a cruel joke played on Waylon - but he embraces it - and I'll leave you there.....

Murphy excels at depicting the inner thoughts, dialogue, emotions and actions of her characters. They're so believable and I am sure everyone can relate to them in one way or another. (I'd be happy to be part of Waylon's group of friends.) The budding will-it, won't it, romance is so well written as well. 

Julie Murphy has done it again. Pumpkin is a feel-good, cheer for the underdog, wish for happiness, heartwarming listen. There are some difficult situations, such as bullying and shaming, which unfortunately are realistic. Grrr!

I am so glad I chose to listen to Pumpkin. I always feel more immersed in a story when I listen. It's much of that depends on the narrator. And actor Chad Burris was the absolute perfect choice. His voice immediately started building an image and sense of who Pumpkin was. His voice is clear, easy to understand he enunciates well. His voice has such movement. But it's the sass in his voice and the tones and emotions he imbues his performance with that made this a stand out performance for me. The book really came alive with his interpretation of Murphy's work.  Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Pumpkin

Pumpkin could be listened to as a stand alone, but do yourself a favor and listen to the first two as well. I'm quite sad that this is the end of these characters. Julie Murphy - "It’s hard to say goodbye. I’m ready to move on creatively, but I don’t know if it’s a door I can ever fully close. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Clover City." But I'm still going to have my fingers crossed for the possibility of more from Clover City. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot - Marianne Cronin

Although my favorite genres are mysteries and suspense, I like to take a break and mix things up with something different.

I loved the colors, flowers and stars on the cover of Marianne Cronin's debut novel, The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot.

Seventeen year old Lenni and eighty three year old Margot are both living on borrowed time. Lenni is on the terminal ward and Margot is in for heart surgery at a Scottish hospital. Their paths cross in an arts and crafts class at the hospital and despite their difference in age, they hit it off. 

I liked the story telling method that Cronin chose for her novel. Lenni and Margot decide to share their lives, told in stories and paintings - all in a run up to their 'one hundredth birthday' - a combination of their ages. The point of view is back and forth between the two, both past and present.

Lenni is the first character we meet and I have to say that after the first few chapters, I wasn't quite sure that I would enjoy this book. I found Lenni's actions, inner dialogue and outward questions to be that of a much younger person. She makes friends with the hospital pastor (who was a great, kind patient character) and asks questions such as 'why can't he wear his dress (vestments) to garden in'. I'm not sure if Cronin was aiming for precocious, but I found her to be a bit annoying. And I felt bad about it, as we know she is dying. My opinion did warm up as the book progressed and we come to know her past, her hopes and fears more intimately.

But.....I have to say that I loved Margot! Perhaps because I am closer in age to her and can relate easier to her. Her life story is fascinating as we watch her grow, change and embrace what life throws at her. That's not to say there isn't heartbreak in her life, but she seems to makes it a part of herself and moves on. I couldn't wait for her next chapter.

There are a number of 'good' characters that are positive and populate Lenni's world, but there's also a'Nurse Ratched'. I had a difficult time believing this awful character's actions and attitude.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot gives us two different perspectives on life. One barely begun and one reaching towards the end. Each has heart warming and heart breaking bits. Cronin's tale will leave you wondering what your own story might be.....

I chose to listen to The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot. I often feel closer to and more engaged with a book when I listen. The readers were Sheila Reid and Rebecca Benson. I thought I recognized Reid's voice from a television show as I listened and was proven right once I went looking. She's got a lovely gravelly tone to her voice that connotes an older character, along with a Scottish accent. She's got a measured pace of speaking that added to the mental image I had created for Margot. She easily makes the character come alive, interpreting and presenting Cronin's work well. The voice that Benson provided for Lenni sounds young and suits the character. Her voice is clear and easy to understand. What I wasn't as keen on on was the speed of her narrating and the longish pauses. She also did the voice for Father Arthur and it felt warm, suiting the character. Listen to an excerpt of The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot.

Film rights have already been sold.