Monday, August 30, 2021

Take Me With You When You Go - David Levithan and Jennifer Niven

David Levithan and Jennifer Niven's new YA novel is Take Me With You When You Go.

Fifteen year old Ezra wakes up one morning to find that his almost eighteen year old sister is gone. Things are bad at their house - Darren is an abusive stepfather and their mother is no better, turning a blind eye. Bea and Ezra have talked about getting out, but how could she leave without him?

The authors have chosen to present the book using an epistolary method, which is one my favourite literary devices. The story unfolds through a series of emails between the siblings. Along with Ezra, the reader learns where Bea has run to, what she is looking for, and what the future might hold for her. And along with Bea, we worry at the escalating situation that Ezra finds himself in. 

The missives between the two are hard to read at times. (There are trigger situations) But on the flipside the love between the two is tangible. The two main characters are well drawn and are believable. And sadly, the situations and emotions are also believable. The reader can't help but be behind these two as they try to find a safe place for themselves where they can thrive. 

The supporting cast is just as well drawn. There are some wonderful characters such as Ezra's boyfriend, but you won't have any problem hating Darren.

The authors throw in some unexpected turns for Bea and Ezra that kept the story fresh for me. Endings are only perfect in fairy tales. And sadly, life for many young people is anything but. But the ending the authors imagined is just right. This is a story of sibling love, finding your footing and making your own future. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Take Me With You When You Go.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The Last Chance Library - Freya Sampson

The Last Chance Library is Freya Sampson's wonderful debut novel. Honestly, I was hooked by the title and once I read the premise, I knew I was going to love it - and I did!

June Jones is shy, introverted and is happiest with a good book for company. But where she shines is when she's working at the Chalcot village library - as did her deceased mother. She loves her job and her patrons. But, the local council has decided that it will be closing a number of smaller libraries - and Chalcot is on the chopping block. What can be done to forestall the closure?

Yes, you guessed it - a quirky band of  townsfolk band together to try to save the heart of the village. Sampson has drawn very vivid images for her characters and I had clear mental pictures of the FOCL (say that fast) Friends of the Chalcot Library. All very different, but with a common purpose. Each one endeared themselves to me. But, I have to say that Stanley was my favourite supporting character - and I'm sure he'll be yours as well. June was a great protagonist. You can't help but like her and be behind her as she breaks out of her shell and finds friends, purpose, goals, dreams and yes, maybe love as well. But the most important find will be finding her self again.

I love 'underdog' books where a scrappy bunch takes on a 'Goliath'. You'll be cheering from the sidelines. You'll laugh, and yes, you'll cry. And you'll wish you were part of the group.

The Last Chance Library is a love letter to libraries and readers and books and those who have found their way into a library for any reason. And for those who haven't? Take a trip to your local library - it's so much more than books.

A great debut Freya Sampson - I'll be watching for your next book! See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Last Chance Library

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The Family Plot - Megan Collins

The Family Plot is Megan Collins' third novel. 

Dahlia Lighthouse and her three siblings were raised in a secluded house on an island. They were also homeschooled by their parents - and murder was a large part of the curriculum. Not committing it, but learning about, researching and reenacting high profile cases and holding ceremonies to honor the dead. The four eventually all leave their island home, but one goes missing or chooses to distance themselves. On returning home for a funeral....

I'll leave you to discover what has happened - and who might be responsible. 

I have to admit that I thought the whole schooling in murder idea was a bit far fetched. But not improbable. I liked the setting - an old mansion on an isolated island gave the setting a lovely Gothic feel. Collins adds in some reclusive neighbors, suspicious townsfolk and a sketchy cop to round out the cast. And....the Blackburn Island serial killer. Yup, there are a number of women who have been murdered on the island over the years.

The story is told from Dahlia's point of view. But can we trust her memories or her perspective on the current events? We are given a lot of information early on and I was quite happily turning pages, but by mid book, I felt like the momentum had slowed. Delilah's recounting seemed repetitive, with the same emotions voiced over and over again. A lot of the situations required more than a few grains of salt. 

Collins gives us a number of options for the final whodunit, with each suspect being quite plausible. I placed money on one suspect in the middle of the narrative and was proven right in the end. 

I chose to listen to The Family Plot. The reader was Emily Tremaine. Her voice absolutely matched the mental image I had of Dahlia. She has a clear, strong speaking voice, easy to understand. Her pace of narrating is just right. Tremaine is a very expressive reader and captures the tone of Collin's work very well. A really good performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Family Plot.

The Family Plot was definitely a different read and I enjoyed it, but not as much as I was hoping to.

Monday, August 23, 2021

About Us - Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty's new novel has three couples and one therapist's couch as the base for her new book, About Us

Moriarty has cleverly chosen three couples of varying ages and stages of life, each with their share of issues and conundrums. So, there's a character or situation that any reader can connect with.

Ken and Ann are at the retirement stage of life, but it's not living up to what either had imagined. Niall and Alice have four children and not a lot of energy left for each other. Orla is carrying baggage from her past and has a medical issue. She meets Paul and adores him, but can their relationship thrive?

The therapist all three attend is an American who has set up practice in Ireland. I found this a bit odd. Do Irish therapists not tackle sexual issues? Sex does seem to be the biggest 'problem' brought to the office, although other issues are explored as well. 

The chapters rotate through the three sets of characters. About Us is told from the women's viewpoints. I found myself most drawn to Alice, but the other two women are just as likable. I thought Moriarty did a good job portraying the women's inner thoughts, needs and wants. The therapist's advice seems reasonable and well written. But. Yes, for me there's a but. I grew tired of the therapist's scenes. While there is some what I assume is good advice (was an actual therapist consulted?), I found it becoming a bit 'textbooky' and repetitive for me. And that slowed down my finishing the book. I do think things could have been reconciled a bit sooner.

About Us was an okay read for me, but not a standout. And for me, not as funny as some have mentioned. See what others thought on Goodreads

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Cold Vanish - Jon Billman

The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wilderness by Jon Billman makes for fascinating reading.

"These are the stories that defy conventional logic. The proverbial vanished without a trace incidences, which happen a lot more (and a lot closer to your backyard) than almost anyone thinks. These are the missing whose situations are the hardest on loved ones left behind. The cases that are an embarrassment for park superintendents, rangers and law enforcement charged with Search & Rescue. The ones that baffle the volunteers who comb the mountains, woods and badlands. The stories that should give you pause every time you venture outdoors."

The disappearance of Jacob Gray in Olympic National Park is explored in depth as his father Randy invites Jon to be part of the search. That search utilizes any and all leads and means, including some that could be termed 'out there'. Randy's determination to find his son is tireless and heartbreaking. The reader is privy to the intimate details of the search for Jacob.

The sheer number of people who go missing, fall off the radar and disappear every year in national parks and wilderness areas surprised me. Also surprising is the lack of a centralized database for those missing in the wild to the difference in search and rescue protocols and the wildly varied responses of the parks. 

Other cases are interspersed throughout the book as well. It is eye opening to see how fast an afternoon hike can go wrong. A side trail, a wrong turn and no gear can be a death sentence. And on the flip side, there are those who choose to walk away and disappear into the wild. And another chilling avenue - humans can be as deadly as the wildlife.

The Cold Vanish was dense reading and addressed heavy subject matters, so I didn't read it straight through, instead opting to read a few chapters at a time. My heart is with those who are searching for loved one. 

If you've enjoyed  Jon Krakauer's books, you'll enjoy The Cold Vanish. Read an excerpt.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Yours Cheerfully - AJ Pearce

I absolutely adored AJ Pearce's debut novel, Dear Mrs. Bird. I was thrilled to find she had written a second book featuring the indomitable Emmy Lake. Yours Cheerfully is newly released - and it's just as wonderful as the first book!

1941 Britain. Emmeline Lake works for Women's Friend magazine. She's now in charge of the advice column, Yours Cheerfully. Her role expands even further when women's magazines are asked to help recruit female workers to the war effort, such as working in munitions factories.

What has endeared this series to me? Pearce has created an absolutely delightful character in Emmy. She's plucky, (don't you love that descriptor?) irrepressible and so darn likeable. The supporting cast includes best friend Bunty, the magazine staff, the women in the factories and more and are just as well drawn. I easily became invested in their stories.

Pearce has captured the stalwart attitude of the Brits in the war years, the 'can do' attitude, the camaraderie of the women and their determination to help the war effort. Her plotting is based on historical happening. Her detailed descriptions paint vivid mental images of wartime Britain. And I quite liked the features, stories and letters from the magazine.

Pearce also weaves romance into her books, both found and lost. Again, all capturing the time period. The social mores, the joy in simple things, the making do and more. And more is what I want! Pearce is working on the third book and I can't wait to see what's next for Emmy and et al. Absolutely recommended! 

I chose to listen to Yours Cheerfully. The narrator was Anna Popplewell and she was the perfect choice. Her voice matched the mental image I had created for Emmy. Popplewell also voiced the first book and the continuity is appreciated. She has a lovely rich British accent that is very pleasant to listen to. She enunciates well and speaks at a good speed. Her voice has movement, rising and falling as she narrates She easily captures the emotions of the characters, the tone of situations and the action of the book with her voice. An excellent performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Yours Cheerfully.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Billy Summers - Stephen King

Oh, I have been eagerly awaiting Stephen King's latest book -  Billy Summers. I've read every book King has written and this one is absolutely one of his best. 

Billy is a hired killer. But he only kills those he deems 'really bad men.' He needs to wait around until this latest job is a go and to blend in he's given a rental home in a suburban neighborhood, an office and a cover story as an author. To his surprise, Billy makes friends in the neighborhood, blends into the office strata and he actually begins to write a story. He decides that this is going to be his last job. 

At least that's his plan. But nothing goes to plan, nothing.

I'm in awe of King's storytelling. Billy is so likeable despite his profession. The reader cannot help but be on his side. Even more so as we become privy to Billy's past from the book he's writing. I love the book within a book trope. It's a great way to bring the past into the present. 

The plotting is intricate, detailed and full of surprises. I'm going to let you discover those surprises on your own. Billy presents what he calls his 'dumb Billy' to those who have hired him now and over the years. But Billy is far from 'dumb.' Getting himself out of this mess is going to take all his cunning, skills and tricks. King keeps the reader on their toes as the plot takes numerous turns that you won't see coming. And as I got closer and closer to the end of the novel, I had stop listening a couple of times. I didn't want the book to end and I was afraid of the ending King had chosen. I knew what I wanted to have happen, but what would I find in the final pages?

I chose to listen to Billy Summers. I've listened to the last few King books in audio format and find his already great storytelling is made even better by listening for me. I become completely immersed in the book. The right reader is key and Paul Sparks was the perfect choice. He has a smooth, slightly gravelly, low, modulated speaking voice that absolutely suits the mental image I had of Billy. It draws you in and makes you listen carefully. Sparks speaks clearly, at a good speed, enunciates well and his voice is easy on the ears. He provides distinctive and believable voices for the supporting characters, ranging from gangsters to a young girl and many others. I was able to immediately know who was speaking and the conversations were realistic. Sparks uses his voice to bring the twists, danger, tension and action to life and drops the listener right into the story. A great performance! And an amazing book! Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Billy Summers.

(Faithful King readers will enjoy finding the Overlook Hotel mention.) 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Unthinkable - Brad Parks

I've enjoyed previous books from Brad Parks. His latest is Unthinkable.

Parks has used a premise that I really like in previous books and reprises it in this latest. Everyday guy put in an untenable situation.

Stay at home Dad Nate Lovejoy is kidnapped by a secret society that tells him he must kill his wife to save a billion people. What?! The leader of the society, Vanslow DeGange can see the future. Nate's wife Jenny is a lawyer with a case against a large power company. The society says one life sacrificed to save many is what needs to be done. And it has to be Nate who kills her. Nate doesn't believe a word of it.....and then he does. He can't honestly be thinking of killing the love of his life - can he?

Okay, so secret societies have driven many plotlines in many books in the past, so this isn't anything new. And I don't mind taking a few grains of salt to buy into a plot. But, in Unthinkable, I was holding on to the whole shaker. Parks throws in some twists that changed things. I appreciated those. Even with changes to the direction things were going, I still found the plotline to be just too much to buy into. And the actions of Nate and Jenny were Unbelievable. I did keep reading as I really did want to see where Parks took things in the end. Which fell flat for me. 

Often, an author will raise funds for charity by including a donor's name in the book. Parks has done this for Unthinkable and the names are listed in the notes at the end. One distinctive name, Marcus Sakey, is not listed there. This is the name of another suspense writer. His name appears more than once and it felt like a cheap inside joke as the name is attributed to a homeless man.

I'm disappointed with this latest, but hey, you can't love them all. Check out the other reviews on Goodreads.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Last One at the Party - Bethany Clift

Last One at the Party is Bethany Clift's fantastic debut novel.

Clift has written a book that embraces one of my favourite premises - an apocalyptic road novel. Covid has come and gone in this book, only to be replaced by an even more deadly virus at the end of December 2023. Virus 6DM will kill you in six days maximum. And it seems to have wiped out everyone in Britain - except for one woman.

I know, I know - why would I want to read about a virus? Personally I am always fascinated by an author's imagining of what might be, what might happen and who might be left if the world as we know it ended. Clift's imagining makes for addictive reading.

Our protagonist is never named, yet we come to know her intimately. All alone, she questions if she wants to live or die. She relives her life, questioning and examining her choices, her mistakes, her triumphs, her loves and her losses. What would she have done differently? And what does it matter now? I enjoyed this woman's personal retrospective. I thought Clift did a really great job of depicting this woman. She doesn't snap into uber survivor mode - instead she flounders about. And for me, that made her believable. I was firmly behind her as she makes decisions, both good and bad. One of the really good ideas? A dog. :)

Clift pairs up the personal side of the book with a hefty dose of danger. There were some situations where I broke my cardinal rule - I had to peek ahead to see the outcome and then go back to read the missed pages. I had an inkling about the twist Clift throws in our unnamed woman's path - it was a great addition to the plot. And though you wouldn't expect it - there are humourous moments scattered throughout. 

And the ending? Just right - it answered most of my questions, but left me to imagine about a couple. And I loved the publisher's tagline - "The end of everything was her beginning."

A cracking debut and I will be watching for Clift's next novel. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Last One at the Party.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Where the Truth Lies - Anna Bailey

Anna Bailey's debut novel Where the Truth Lies has just released.

From Atria Books: "When seventeen-year-old Abigail goes missing, her best friend Emma, compelled by the guilt of leaving her alone at a party in the woods, sets out to discover the truth about what happened. The police initially believe Abi ran away, but Emma doesn’t believe that her friend would leave without her, and when officers find disturbing evidence in the nearby woods, the festering secrets and longstanding resentment of both Abigail’s family and the people of Whistling Ridge, Colorado begin to surface with devastating consequences."

Where the Truth Lies is a simmering cesspool of a tale. Bailey gives us multiple points of view through a number of characters. Within those points of view, the time frame moves from past to present, allowing the reader access to the background of the players as well as the how and why of what's happening now. While the mystery of Abigail's disappearance or murder is always there, it isn't the driving force of the plot. Instead it serves as a catalyst for an inevitable final reckoning amongst townsfolk and within families.

 I found I had to pick up and put down the book numerous times. I can only take so much ugliness, cruelty, bigotry, abuse of power, brutality and intolerance in one sitting. Gentle readers, this is most def not a book for you.

There are 'good' characters and others that are downright despicable. Those who still have goodness in them struggle mightily to exist in this town. I shouted out loud more than once for them to run, leave, get away and leave this godforsaken place behind.

My visceral reaction to Bailey's novel speaks to the strength of her prose, character development and descriptions of time and place. That being said, I did find overall that while well written, it was also overwrought in terms of the depravity in this town and it's inhabitants.

Bailey was born in England and raised in England but moved to Colorado after university. In 2018, she returned to the UK Where the Truth Lies, Tall Bones, inspired by her time in the US. Which is a little scary.... 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Rabbit Hole - Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham pens one of my favourite crime series - the Tom Thorne books. But he also writes standalones -  the latest is Rabbit Hole

Now, what do think when you hear the title? Merriam Webster defines a rabbit hole as "a complexly bizarre or difficult state or situation conceived of as a hole into which one falls or descends." 

Alice Armitage find herself in a rabbit hole. She's a "medically retired" police officer. After witnessing the death of her partner, she develops PTSD and starts self medicating with drink and drugs. Which lands her sectioned into a secure psychiatric unit.

"A murder isn't really anything to write home about in a place like this, not when you think about it. It's almost inevitable, I reckon, like the noise and the smell. You ask me, a murder's par for the course."

Uh huh, a patient is murdered and Alice, as police, decides to work the case from inside. Great premise! Oh, Alice is a wonderfully unreliable narrator! She has memory issues, is paranoid and takes a boatload of meds every day - as does everyone she lives with. The killer could be any one of the residents. 

There are a number of supporting players in Rabbit Hole - both residents and staff. The book is told from Alice's point of view and that's how we get to know the others. I have to applaud Billingham's description of those residents and their illnesses, as well as the setting and the every day life on the ward. We learn bits and pieces of what came before for Alice from interactions with some ex colleagues, friends and family. There's some dark humour scattered thoughout.

As to the 'investigation - I was just as stymied as Alice. I was with her as she pieced together answers that seemed quite logical, but changed often with new observations, memories and occurrences. I truly (and happily) had no idea who the killer would be. I thought things were being wrapped up in the run up to the final pages, and was caught off guard by an unexpected twist. Nice ending!

In my opinion, the idea for Rabbit Hole was really different (in a good way), the setting jumped to life, the characters were intriguing and really well drawn and I couldn't solve the mystery myself. Well done Mark Billingham! I'll be waiting for your next book. Read an excerpt of Rabbit Hole.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

All the Lonely People - Mike Gayle

Oh my! Mike Gayle's new book All the Lonely People is one I'll be recommending to everyone. If you liked A Man Called Ove, you're going to want to meet Hubert Bird.

Hubert is an eighty something widower living on his own in London. His daughter in Australia does make a weekly phone call to check in with him. Hubert shares with her what he and his friends are up to, meals, activities and outings. This latest call brings unexpected news - Rose is coming home to visit. But, here's the problem - Hubert has made it all up. He has distanced himself from friends, neighbours and his community over the years. And now, his only friend is Puss the cat. What is he going to do? In four months he needs to find some friends. And it would be even better if their names were Dotty, Dennis and Harvey.

What a great premise! Loneliness truly is an issue and it's very easy for someone to fall through the cracks. Even more so in these Covid times. 

Before Hubert has thought of what to do, a new neighbour comes knocking at his door. Ash is a single mother to toddler Layla - and she too is looking for friends. "...Hubert realized something he hadn't quite understood before now: he was lonely, really lonely and most likely had been for a very long time." But that's just the beginning....

Gayle tells his story in one of my favourite methods - alternating between past and present. Hubert is a wonderfully rich character, truly someone I'd like to have a cuppa with. We meet Hubert as he emigrates to England from his native Jamaica in the late 1950's. He is full of hope for a better life and perseveres despite the racism he encounters. But it is meeting Joyce that makes life wonderful for Hubert. We're privy to their lives even as Hubert struggles to find connections in the present. Gayle has done an amazing job creating Hubert - I cared about him and felt so much empathy. And the same goes for the supporting cast - Ash is just as well drawn, as are the others who cross Hubert's path.

Gayle's writing flows so easily and kept me so engaged. (Why have I not read him before?!) I laughed, I cried (more than once), I cheered, I empathized, I got angry, I crossed my fingers and well, I loved each and every page.

All the Lonely People is hands down one of my top reads for 2021. See for yourself - read an excerpt of All the Lonely People.  And hey - say hello to your neighbour...

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Dark Roads - Chevy Stevens

Canadian author Chevy Stevens takes inspiration from reality in her latest novel, Dark Roads.

An estimated forty women have been killed or gone missing on the The Highway of Tears in British Columbia, Canada. Stevens' book takes place in a fictionalized town and on a fictionalized highway. 

Hailey is a young woman in Cold Creek. Her father has died and she now lives with her aunt, whose new husband is a cop in town. If you want frightening and downright evil look no further than Sergeant Vaughan. Stevens has created such a creepy character in him. My skin crawled as I read his scenes.

I liked Hailey right away, her love of nature, her friend Jonny and her feisty nature. But why oh why, did she not tell her aunt, the RCMP or someone about Vaughan! So, yeah you guessed it - something bad happens - and she goes on the run. (Gentle readers, this is a good time to mention that there are numerous trigger situations in this book.)

The second half of the book is recounted in Beth's voice. She's the sister of another young woman that went missing. I didn't like her as much as Hailey, who is younger, but more mature. It was while reading Beth's pov that I wondered if Dark Roads had been written as a YA novel. I found Beth's actions, reactions and emotions to be quite juvenile. And the rapidity of her relationship with Hailey's best friend Jonny seemed a bit unbelievable to me. There is a fourth character that I adored - Wolf the dog. Loved him and his huffing.

The third half of the book alternates between Hailey and Beth as the tension and the danger ramps up. The pragmatic reader in me questioned some of Vaughan's actions and the fact that he keeps getting away with stuff. But it most certainly adds to the suspense. Stevens throws in a nice twist at the end alongside some truly nail biting scenes. 

The prologue and epilogue were thoughtful and respectful to those who have gone missing and/or been found. 

Dark Roads did keep turning pages, eager to see what would happen next. And just hoping that justice prevails in the end.

Monday, August 2, 2021

If The Shoe Fits - Julie Murphy

A new Julie Murphy book! If The Shoe Fits is the first entry in a new adult series that is "inspired by the classic fairy tale stories we all know and love, perfect for adult readers who crave contemporary, escapist rom-coms." That's me!

Cindy has a stepmother, two stepsisters (but nice ones), loves shoes and fashion. Hmm, getting an idea yet? There are some balls and …. yes a prince of sorts.

All the elements are in place for an absolutely wonderful escapist fairy tale of a read. Murphy puts her own signature style on this tale. Cindy lands on a reality television show called Before Midnight. She's a plus size woman that viewers adore. Cindy's happy to be a positive model for women. But what about the competition for the bachelor's heart and hand? She's not interested - or is she? I loved Murphy's take on the Bachelor premise.

But it is Cindy that will steal your heart - her love of her family, friends and most importantly - herself. The slow building relationship between Cindy and Henry is just right for a rom-com novel, full of lots of  yes/no/maybe so's. But what will happen at midnight? Will Cindy find her prince - or follow her heart and find her own dreams?

I love Murphy's writing - she tackles real issues in her novels, always creates a wonderful protagonist and her prose keep me eagerly turning pages. Sad to say I finished this one in a day. More please!