Thursday, September 30, 2021

So, This is Christmas - Tracy Andreen

Yes, more Christmas tales! I never grow tired of them. :0)  

Tracy Andreen's newest book, So, This is Christmas, is a teen take on a Christmas tale.

Finley Brown is happy to return home to her small town of Christmas, Oklahoma  for the holiday. Her first semester at an elite boarding school hasn't gone as she had hoped and she doesn't think she'll return. Imagine her surprise when  she finds out that a boy from school, along with his aunt, are staying in Brown family inn for the holiday. Why in the world would he come to Christmas for - well, for Christmas?

Could it have something to do with the town's website - that Finley may have tweaked a wee bit? I did find Arthur's reason a bit of a stretch initially. But go with it - there's more to his decision that the reader will discover later. And it made much more sense.

Andreen has created a great lead character in Finley. She's so likeable and the reader can't help but be behind her as she navigates starting new chapters in life, returning home to find out that things didn't stand still while she was away and yes, maybe a bit of a romance as well! It's no secret that this is a rom-com tale (evidenced by that cute cover) and Arthur is the other half of the will they, won't they equation. He was just as well drawn as Finley. The supporting cast is populated with a mix of young and old players, all with their own stories and dramas.  

There's lot of Christmas activity in the book - baking, parades, light shows and more. You might want to add a few to your own traditions. And all of this activity only fueled my own list! (Hmm, it's not too early to put the tree up - is it?) And I will be hunting down the teas and cocoa Andreen serves her characters. 

So, This is Christmas is charming, heartwarming seasonal fare, seasoned with friendship, family and of course - romance. See for yourself - read an excerpt of So, This is Christmas.

(And here's a fun fact - Andreen has also written a number of Hallmark Christmas movies!)

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Santa Suit - Mary Kay Andrews

I can imagine some of you might be saying 'A Christmas review already?' is less than three months away!  

Mary Kay Andrews has just released The Santa Suit, a great seasonal novella perfect for stocking stuffing (and don't forget yours!)

I love Mary Kay Andrews books. There's always a likable lead character. In this tale, it's Ivy Perkins. (And Punkin the dog!) She's lost her business, her marriage is kaput and her best friend betrayed her. What's a girl to do? How about buying an old farmhouse - sight unseen? From a really nice, and yes handsome, real estate agent. Uh huh, the possible romantic thread of the plot. And in a really friendly little town populated with quirky, amiable folks. Well, all the elements are there for a classic MKA read!

But where does the Christmas bit come in? Well, most of the furnishings and bits of the previous longtime owners came with the farmhouse. And in a closet, in the pocket of an old Santa suit is a Christmas wish from a little girl many years ago...

The Santa Suit is just such a warm-hearted read. I loved Ivy and hoped she would find happiness again. Punkin was a most excellent dog character. ;0) The romantic thread is believable and written just right. The supporting cast is just as likable, with a mix of players, each with their own story. And the setting made me want to move to town. But the Christmas pièce de résistance is that note in the Santa suit. Andrews weaves together a resolution that I didn't see coming, but it's the perfect ending. 

The Santa Suit was a wonderfully festive novel that makes for warm, fuzzy, heartwarming reading. Best served with a cup of cocoa, a comfy chair and a warm blanket. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Santa Suit.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Moon, the Stars, and Madame Burova - Ruth Hogan

I was thrilled to see that Ruth Hogan had a new book coming out. The Moon, The Stars and Madame Burova has just released. And it was another wonderful 'heartwarming, heartstring tugging' book from Hogan.

Imelda Burova has spent her life as a fortune teller on the Brighton pier. She is ready to retire, but has one last promise to fulfill. Billie has lost her job, marriage, and her place in the world when a discovery upends her sense of who she is. "Determined to find answers, she must follow a trail…which leads to Brighton, the pier, and directly to Madame Burova’s door."

Oh, I loved every page! Hogan's description of the pier evoked vivid mental images for me. I'd love to stroll the promenade, hear the sea, eat some treats, ride some attractions -  and visit Madame Burova's booth. The other setting that really stuck with me was the Madame Burova's vardo (a Romany caravan). I'd happily live in it.

I'm not going to detail the premise too much - it's better it unfolds unheard for you. The story unfurls over a span of fifty years, from present to past. In the past we meet the entertainers who worked at a 'holiday camp' attraction at the pier. Over the course of fifty years, many themes are touched on - love, loss, friendship, family, racism, workplace harassment, social strata and more. You may discover what the final answer will be for Billie before you reach the final pages - but it's the journey there that is the ah-ha.

The premise is wonderful, the setting perfect - but it is the characters that make this such a wonderful listen. Imelda is the standout lead - her calm manner, thoughtfulness and more, make her someone you wish you had in your circle of friends. The supporting cast is just as well drawn. Quirky, kind, lovable, bristly to the downright cruel. You'll find your favorites, but enjoy them all - except for maybe one. (And......there's a dog! :0)

I chose to listen to listen to The Moon, the Stars, and Madame Burova. I've often said that I become more immersed in a book by listening. And that's most definitely the case with Hogan's latest. The reader, Nina Wadia, was fabulous. She has a very versatile voice, providing different tones, speeds, accents and inflections for all of the players. Her voice is clear and easy to understand. Her speed of speaking is just right. There's a nice gravelly undertone to her voice. She inserts reality into her performance, such as laughter that felt and sounded real. Her performance had me feeling like I was part of the story. An excellent performance of an excellent book. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of  The Moon, the Stars, and Madame Burova.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Killing Kind - Jane Casey

Jane Casey is a Sunday Times bestselling author. Her latest book is a standalone titled The Killing Kind.

Ingrid works as a barrister. She defended John Webster on stalking charges and won. But, he then turned his attentions to Ingrid and her life.

Novels with stalkers in the mix are quite frightening. I think that's because it's quite real, especially with social media playing such a large part in so many lives.  For a novelist, it gives a plot many directions to take.

Casey did a great job creating a wonderfully creepy antagonist in John Webster. His dialogue and actions let the reader experience his sociopathic tendencies. I'm torn on Ingrid. She started off as a likable character, but then seemed to become a different person. In the end, I didn't like her at all. There are unknown characters that also play a part in this plot. We only know there's something afoot from their email exchanges.

Casey flips the timeline from past to present as we learn that what has transpired is affecting what's happening now. The connection is fairly obvious, but Casey puts a nice twist into the mix in the final chapters. (Saw that one coming too)

The Killing Kind was a bit of a chunkster coming in at 480 pages. I do think it could have been pared down a bit. The first bit had me totally engrossed, but the hold the book had on me lessened as it progressed. Ingrid got repetitive, essentially doing the same thing again and again. Cat and mouse games are fun, but only for so many times.  I will be the first to say that I'm quite pragmatic. I did find some of Ingrid's actions to also be more than a little far fetched for a number of reasons including - is she not in fear for her life? 

The Killing Kind is entertaining, but not as believable has I would hoped. That being said, I can see this one as a movie.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories - Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie was truly the Queen of Crime. Her books and stories have been enjoyed around the world.

But I have to say, my absolute favorite recurring character of hers, is Hercule Poirot. I love his style, mannerisms, dialogue, idiosyncrasies - and those "little gray cells" that drive the investigations. I always have enjoyed the deductions, the piecing together, the reasoning, the seemingly innocuous clue tucked into a sentence somewhere along the way. Christie was a clever, clever writer.

Now I'm not much of a short story reader. But! When I saw that Harper Audio had released Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Storiesan audiobook of 50+ Poirot stories, I knew I wanted to listen. There's 35 hours of listening just waiting for you! Most are just 30ish minutes long, but there are some longer novellas as well. The length of the short stories were perfect - eating lunch, waiting rooms, while crafting and those nights when I can't sleep. There's much satisfaction in having a case presented and solved in thirty minutes. There were some familiar cases and some I'd never read. But each and every one was a treasure.

Now, the real reason I wanted to listen - David Suchet is one of the readers! There have been many actors that have portrayed Poirot, but he is the best in my opinion. Suchet portrayed Poirot for twenty five years! Hearing his voice immediately evoked a strong mental image of the character. And knowing the voice drew me right into the stories. Suchet brings Poirot to life with his voice. He captures Christie's work easily, changing the tone, tenor and emphasis as the plot progresses. Now, as excited as I was about Suchet, I was just as excited to find that Hugh Fraser was also a narrator. Fraser played Captain Arthur Hasting, Poirot's sidekick. Again, a familiar voice was like settling in with old friends to hear a tale. Nigel Hawthorne and Isla Blair rounded out the cast. Excellent performances all round. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Artist Colony - Joanna FitzPatrick - Spotlight and Giveaway

Joanna FitzPatrick's new novel, The Artist Colony, has just released and I have an eBook copy to give away to one lucky reader!

What's it about? From She Writes Press:

"In Joanna FitzPatrick’s charming and gripping new novel, set in 1924, Sarah Cunningham arrives in Carmel-by-the-Sea from Paris to bury her estranged older sister, Ada Belle. En route, Sarah was stunned to learn that Ada Belle’s death had been categorized as a suicide. The inquest’s verdict makes no sense. Ada Belle’s reputation was growing: her plein air paintings regularly sold out, and she was about to show her portraits for the first time, which would have catapulted her career. 

What begins as a short trip to bid Ada Belle adieu turns into a protracted stay for Sarah. She puts her own artistic career on hold and, trailed by Ada Belle’s devoted dog, Albert, becomes a secret sleuth—a task made harder by the misogyny and racism she discovers in this seemingly idyllic locale. From the posh Hotel del Monte to the windswept sands of Carmel Beach to Robinson Jeffers’s Tor House to Point Lobos’s Whalers Cove, The Sarah immerses herself in the women’s artist colony to discover Ada Belle’s secrets - and to expose a killer. 

Part mystery, part historical fiction, this engrossing novel celebrates the artistic talents of early women painters, the deep bonds of sisterhood, the muse that is beautiful scenery, and the dogged determination of one young woman to discover the truth, to protect an artistic legacy, and to give her sister the farewell she deserves."

"FitzPatrick keeps the pot stirred nicely, with revelations popping up like whack-a-mole. There is also a nice sense of scene, capturing this idyllic place on the Monterey peninsula. . . . The Artist Colony delivers an escape to gorgeous Carmel and an engaging mystery."--- Kirkus Reviews

Cr: Michelle Magdalena
"Joanna FitzPatrick was raised in Hollywood. She started her writing habit by applying her orange fountain pen and a wild imagination to screenplays, which led her early on to produce the film White Lilacs and Pink Champagne. Accepted at Sarah Lawrence College, she wrote her MFA thesis Sha La La: Live for Today about her life as a rock ’n’ roll star’s wife. Her more recent work includes two novels, Katherine Mansfield, Bronze Winner of the 2021 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) in Historical Fiction, and The Drummer’s Widow. The Artist Colony is her third book. Presently, FitzPatrick divides her time between a cottage by the sea in Pacific Grove, California and a hameau in rural southern France where she begins all her book projects. Find her online at The Artist Colony - Joanna FitzPatrick.

If you'd like to read The Artist Colony, enter for a chance to win an eBook copy using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US only, ends Saturday, September 25.21. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Stolen Hours - Allen Eskens

I read Allen Eskens' award winning debut novel, The Life We Bury, back in 2014 - and every book he's written since. They've all been fantastic reads and I can't recommend Eskens enough. 

His latest is The Stolen Hours. We first met Joe and Lila in The Life We Bury. It's Lila who takes center stage in this latest. She almost has her law degree and just needs to put in her time working with a prosecutor in the Hennepin County Attorney's office. Faithful readers will know of Lila's struggles to get this far. But the past comes barreling at her with a prosecutor who is determined to derail her dreams. Even worse is a suspect that Lila thinks has ties to her own past.

Lila is such a great character. She's so likeable and real - wounded, determined, clever and more. Eskens does a great job portraying her inner thoughts, struggles, trauma and memories realistically. The reader will be one hundred percent behind her. Joe makes a cameo and I hope Eskens has more in store for him. The supporting cast were just as well drawn, with Detective Nikki Vang returning and introducing prosecutor Andie Fitch. I hope she too is included in future novels.

I love a good mystery and courtroom battle. Eskens is a former defense attorney and that inside knowledge adds much to his plotting. The 'bad guy' in this case? A malevolent man named Gavin. He's quite sure he is smarter than the cops, his lawyer and the prosecutors. After all, he's been at this for awhile and has a foolproof plan if he's ever arrested. He's given a (chilling) voice with his own chapters. And I have to say that I was completely fooled by Eskens as to the whodunit! I love being unable to predict the final pages. 

Eskens' writing flows easily and makes for addictive reading - I devoured The Stolen Hours in a day. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Stolen Hours.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Never Saw Me Coming - Vera Kurian

Never Saw Me Coming is Vera Kurian's debut novel.

Kurian's book has an unusual premise. Seven students have been given funds to attend a DC college as part of a clinical study. The hook? All seven are documented psychopaths, but they don't know who the others are.

It was on reading the author's bio that I discovered Kurian is a scientist and has a PhD in Social Psychology. That 'inside' knowledge benefitted the book.

Chloe is one of the seven and is the lead character. She came to Adams College for a different reason. Someone she knew years ago who did her wrong also attends the college and Chloe has plans for him. The reader is privy to who some of the others are and we get a look at their thinking as well.

When one of the seven is killed, the question arises - was it one of the others in the study? Who are the others? Does Chloe have a target on her back? And so begins a nice little cat and mouse game, with the roles blurring and changing with each new action and revelation. I quite enjoyed this part of the book.

As the characters are psychopaths who "lack empathy and can’t comprehend emotions like fear or guilt" it was impossible for me to like any of them or be behind them at all. Instead I was more of an observer, curious as to the final outcome of Never Saw Me Coming. The final pages do have a nice twist, but it was a bit predictable. 

The voices in Never Saw Me Coming are all college students and that's reflected in the dialogue, settings, actions and thoughts of the characters. It does read like a YA novel. 

Overall, a creative premise and a solid debut. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Never Saw Me Coming.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Friends Like These - Kimberly McCreight

Kimberly McCreight's latest book is Friends Like These.

"Everyone has those friends. Doesn’t matter how long it’s been, or how badly they’ve occasionally behaved, or how late it is when that call finally comes—you show up. No questions asked."

Oh, there's so many avenues McCreight could take us with a premise like that! Five college friends reunite ten years after they graduated. Secrets, lies, complicated relationships - and a dead friend are part of the past that keeps this group of friends bound to each other.

Well, it was very easy to not like any of group. They're all hiding something, they all lie and despite their seeming love for each other, they all have their own agendas. The only character I really liked was the police detective.

I found the plot to be a bit confusing at times as the narrative jumped timelines - and there were many timelines. Past, present, and times within the present - days and weeks. For this listener it was just too much, too many, too convoluted. The ending did however, provide a really good twist.

One reason I was excited to listen to Friends Like These was the use of multiple readers for this title. Eight to be exact - Carlotta Brentan, Ewan Chung, Susan Dalian, Lauren Fortgang, James Fouhey, Stacey Glemboski, Joe Knezevich and Alex McKenna. I can't tell you who played what role, but their voices all suited the characters they were portraying. The standout for me was the police detective - she has a cigarette and whiskey rasp to her voice that really worked for the role. A few voices did seem somewhat similar, so I had to listen to the name given at the top of each chapter to confirm who was taking center stage. I think all the reader's performances were very good. But for this listener, having so many narrators just exacerbated the 'too much' feeling of the timelines and plotting. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Friends Like These.

I've read and enjoyed previous books by McCreight, but this one ended up being just okay. Three stars.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Night She Disappeared - Lisa Jewell

I've enjoyed all of Lisa Jewell's previous books, but her latest - The Night She Disappeared - is a new favorite!

Tallulah and her boyfriend Zack disappear one night without a trace. Tallulah's mother Kim knows her daughter would never abandon her wee son. But a year passes and the police are no closer to an answer. That changes when a new headmaster and his girlfriend Sophie, a cozy mystery writer move into the village. When she finds a sign saying 'Dig Here" in her back garden, Sophie does. And the first clue to what might have happened is found...

Jewell tells the tale in three timelines with multiple points of view. I was hooked as every chapter gives us more hints to the past, more information in the present and a cold inkling as to what might have transpired. 

Jewel gives us well drawn protagonists in grieving parent Kim and amateur detective Sophie. These characters are imbued with personal storylines as well, quite believable in their relationships, doubts, loss and more. Jewell ekes out the story of Tallulah before she disappeared and the reader can see what's coming as her narrative progresses. (Don't peek ahead though! I wasn't entirely right in my guess) There are plenty of supporting characters and each and every one of them seems to have trouble with the truth. Who should we believe? 

I really enjoyed Sophie's sleuthing skills. I always wanted to grow up and become Nancy Drew, so mysteries are favorite genre. And Jewell has written a great one - the plotting is excellent, the settings are atmospheric (love the creepy mansion in the woods) and the varying timelines and voices really worked for me. And kept me up late as I really needed to know what (or who) happened to Tallulah. A great page turner. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Night She Disappeared.

Friday, September 3, 2021

The Quiet Zone - Stephen Kurczy

"What if there was a place where people weren't constantly scrolling? Where forest hikes weren't tainted by a ringtone? Where getting lost meant really getting lost? These questions led me through rugged Appalachian backcountry and into the heart of ... The Quiet Zone."

I had watched a news feature about The National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) and was fascinated by the idea that there was a town that was just 'turned off'. By choice? Well, in Green Bank, West Virginia, radio transmissions are restricted by law "to facilitate scientific research and the gathering of military intelligence." 
Kurczy spent a lot of time in Green Bank over the course of a couple of years. Rather than just accepting what could be seen on the surface (which the news feature I had watched did), Kurczy took the time to meet and interact with many residents of the Quiet Zone. Those born there, the electrosensitive - those who are escaping radio frequencies for health reasons - and those just looking for a quiet place to live. But is it really quiet? Kurczy's investigation takes an in depth look at Green Bank. What he finds is fascinating, including unsolved deaths, hippies, a nearby Neo-Nazi compound, many opinions … and noise.

There's lots of food for thought in The Quiet Zone. I couldn't help but stop and ponder what it would be like to just turn off my devices. To live more 'in the moment'. To be more conscious of the time spent on aimless scrolling. Kurczy himself does not have a cell phone. His reasons are compelling and thought provoking. 

I enjoyed Kurczy's writing style. This was his debut book and I would happily pick up his next. 

Here's the ironic bit - I chose to listen the The Quiet Zone - and did so on my iPhone. The reader was Roger Wayne. He has worked as a broadcast journalist in the past and that experience adds much to his reading. His voice is clear, easy to understand, has a nice gravelly undertone and is quite pleasant to listen to. He brings Kuczy's work alive with his pacing, intonation, emphasizing. His reading matched the subject and I felt like I was listening to an investigative show. His presentation easily held my attention. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Quiet Zone.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Rock Paper Scissors - Alice Feeney

I've read all of Alice Feeney's previous books, but I think her latest - Rock Paper Scissors - is my favourite. If you're looking for a book you can't put down 'til the last page is turned, you're going to want to pick this one up. I finished it in a day on the back deck.

Why is it so good you ask? Feeney deliciously and deviously hoodwinked me, turning all my assumptions upside down in the last pages. I well and truly appreciate not being able to predict what direction a plot is going to take. 

Mr. and Mrs. Wright's marriage hasn't been right for a long time. When Mrs. Wright wins a weekend getaway, it sounds like the perfect opportunity to rekindle things. 

The getaway happens to be in a remote part of Scotland in a very old, renovated church. Cue the creepy vibe. The only other person in the area lives in a run down cottage down the road. (Check) Oh, and did I mention that Mr. Wright has face blindness? He literally cannot recognize faces, including his own. (Check) And both Mr. and Mrs. know there's much more than a happy marriage on the line this weekend.

As readers we are privy to both character's thoughts in alternating chapters. Mrs. also writes a yearly anniversary letter to her husband, but never gives it to him. It does give us more information though. And I quite like the yearly word and it's definition included in the letter as well. They're unusual words that tie right into the plot.

And the plotting is superb. That twist at the end had me rethinking what I'd read. It was there in front of me, but I didn't catch it. The atmosphere is perfect, isolated with a sense of eeriness that can't be defined. The characters are perfectly drawn. And there's a dog.  :0)  

Clever, clever, clever! I loved this one to bits. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Rock Paper Scissors.