Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Hello, Transcriber - Hannah Morrissey

The cover of Hannah Morrissey's debut novel caught my eye - and the description of Hello, Transcriber sealed the deal.

"Every night, while the street lamps shed the only light on Wisconsin's most crime-ridden city, police transcriber Hazel Greenlee listens as detectives divulge Black Harbor's gruesome secrets."

We meet lead character Hazel as she stands on a bridge in the city of Black Harbor...where the river is whispering to her to jump.

That dark, unsettling, foreboding tone and atmosphere continues on, living on every page. I was totally drawn into the story from those first pages. And the best bit of all was that I had no idea what was going to happen. The plot of Hello, Transcriber was different, unexpected and appreciated. I was caught off guard many times. Hazel was not what I expected at all. Her choices lead her into questionable relationships and dangerous situations. Definitely some 'don't go into the basement' moments.

The idea of a transcriber getting personally involved with a case was such a great premise. Fellow mystery lovers - can you imagine transcribing the details of a crime and following the investigation - let alone inserting yourself in it? 

The supporting players are also unpredictable and dangerous, each with their own secrets and agendas, keeping their own secrets. The city itself is a character as well, especially that bridge. Morrissey's description are visceral.

Hello, Transcriber was an atmospheric, gritty, addictive read for me. Kudos to Morrissey for a great debut - I'll be watching for her next book. See for yourself - read an excerpt. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

You'll Be the Death of Me - Karen M. McManus

Time for a YA fiction read! Karen M. McManus is one of my favourite teen fiction writers. Her newest is You'll Be The Death of Me.

Cal, Mateo and Ivy were the best of friends in Grade eight. They've since drifted apart and are now seniors. A chance meeting outside the school entrance has them all deciding to pull a Ferris Bueller day. They've each got their own reason for wanting to ditch school. It's a great idea - until it's not. They stumble across a crime scene....

McManus has created three very different protagonists. They're all likable and each brings a different dynamic. McManus always captures and portrays her teen characters in a believable manner. You'll Be the Death of Me is told in rotating chapters from each of the three. As readers, we're privy to their thoughts, angst - and secrets. McManus devotes time to the romantic entanglements as well as family issues of the the three, but this only adds to the overall feel of the book. 

That crime scene? Each of them has a connection to what has occurred.....

McManus gives us lots of choices for the whodunit. The final aha won't be overly hard to suss out, but it's the journey there that's the most fun. And I did have fun reading this one. Ferris Bueller with a side of Scooby Doo. McManus has a formula that works - and she had me happily ensconced on the couch for on rainy Saturday afternoon. See for yourself - read an excerpt of You'll Be the Death of Me. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

A Blizzard of Polar Bears - Alice Henderson

With winter temperatures here and snow on the ground in my part of the world, Alice Henderson's latest book, A Blizzard of Polar Bears, seemed to be a timely listen.

This latest is the second book in Henderson's Alex Carter series. Carter is a wildlife biologist. Her latest research posting takes her to Hudson Bay in the Canadian Artic to study polar bears. But someone seems bent on derailing her research - missing samples, break-ins, staff quitting and more. Why? 

I liked Alex as a lead character. She's dedicated, clever and a bit of a kick butt protagonist. She needs to be tough as she finds herself in more than one life or death situation. 

I was impressed by the detailed descriptions of Alex's research, methods, climate change and reasons why these studies are so important. It was only on looking at the author's bio that I discovered she is a wildlife researcher herself. The book benefits greatly from this insider knowledge. 

There are two threads to the plot with the first introduced in a prologue and the second in the Alex incidents. I wondered how the two would tie together? Well, they're tied together with lots of action! 

A Blizzard of Polar Bears is a different style of mystery and suspense, but one I quite enjoyed. If you've read Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series or Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford books, you would enjoy this title. I'm sure there's more in store for Alex.

I chose to listen to A Blizzard of Polar Bears. The narrator was Eva Kaminsky. She's a talented reader that I've enjoyed in the past. Kaminsky's voice has a low, slightly gravelly, yet smooth tone. It's very pleasant to listen to. She enunciates well and easy to understand. The speed of reading is just right. Kaminsky really captures the danger and suspense of the plot with her voice, employing a staccato, clipped, tight voice that easily communicates the tension. She uses different voices for the characters.  Her reading has lots of movement, easily holding the listener's attention. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of A Blizzard of Polar Bears 

(I'm always curious about the collective terms for animals. I had thought polar bears would be blizzard, but instead it is a 'celebration' of polar bears.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Christmas Promise - Richard Paul Evans

You know Christmas is on the way when Richard Paul Evans releases his yearly holiday read. The Christmas Promise is this year's tale.

As children, Richelle and Michelle couldn't be more different, even though they were twins. As adults, they each went their own way. And now, Richelle finds herself alone. Her work at the hospital keeps her busy and her writer's group lets her dream of being an author. Still, she is lonely. When Justin joins the writer's group, there is an immediate attraction....

You always know what to expect with Evans' annual Christmas missive. Relationships are always at the forefront, as is love, loss, redemption and a satisfying conclusion with fresh starts. 

I liked Richelle as the main character. Her dedication to her patients on the children's ward is admirable and she has aspirations, but she still resonates loneliness. I was happy for her when she met Justin. The connection is there, he says and does the 'right' things. But I'm quite a pragmatic person, so her jumping into the deep end right away seemed to be a bit reckless. And somewhat dangerous as one supporting character voices. 

Now, I had my suspicions as to what might found in the latter chapters. And yes, I was right. Normally Evans would have hit all the right notes for me, but this one just fell a bit short. Why? Justin isn't completely honest with Richelle and her decision making employs the partial truths he doles out. And honestly I found him to be more than a little sanctimonious. (I'm deliberately trying to be obtuse as I don't want to provide spoilers)

Helene Maksoud has narrated some of the previous Christmas novellas by Evans. It's nice to have that continuity. She is an excellent reader and again provided a wonderful performance. Her voice is clear spoken, easy to understand and quite pleasant to listen to. Her reading is well paced. The voice she uses for Richelle suited the character well. As the story unfolds, she uses her voice to capture the emotions, interactions and plot developments. She deepens her tone and provides a male voice that suited the mental image I had for Justin. The two characters are differentiated enough that you always know who is speaking. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Christmas Promise.

A good performance, but just an okay tale for me.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Judge's List - John Grisham

John Grisham brings back Investigator Lucy Stolz in his newest release, The Judge's List.

Lucy works for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, investigating complaints involving judges. A woman who hides behind a number of aliases brings a case to Lucy's attention regarding a sitting judge and some heinous crimes. Jeri has been looking into this judge for over twenty years. She is terrified of the man and wants Lucy to take it from there. 

What a neat concept. I had no idea there was such an overseer of judicial conduct - but there is. Who better than John Grisham to write about a legal process?

You'll be astounded at the perpetrator's motives and methods and fascinated with how he has covered his track for so many years. Quite chilling. Jeri was difficult to like for me - she's pushy, single minded and at first I thought she was overreacting with her precautions. (She's not) I liked Lucy in The Whistler and was quite happy to see her in another book. Her team is an eclectic bunch and add to the story. 

Though mostly told through Lucy's viewpoint, Jeri and the judge also have chapters of their own.

We do know who the culprit is, but it's the race to capture him before he commits additional crimes that is the story. I'm not sure if I was 100% on board with the judge's actions at the end, but I quite enjoyed the journey. And I'd be very happy to see Lucy again.

I chose to listen to The Judge's List. Grisham has an author's note in the beginning and it's a nice opener to the book. The narrator was Mary-Louise Parker. She speaks clearly, is easy to understand. Her speaking speed is at measured pace. The voices for Lucy and Jeri are very similar and you'll have to keep track of who is speaking. A great tale and a good listen. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt The Judge's List.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Pledge - Kathleen Kent

The Pledge is newly released third entry in Kathleen Kent's "Detective Betty" trilogy.

Just when Dallas Detective Betty Rhyzyk thinks life has settled down, the past comes back to bite her - again. A cartel leader who goes by the name of The Knife gives her an ultimatum. Betty has two weeks to find their shared enemy, cult leader Evangeline Roy, or Betty and her family will pay the price. Betty and her wife Jackie have taken in Mary Grace, a young mother of a seven month old girl. But Mary Grace has gone on the run again, leaving the baby behind. So, suffice it to say, Betty's plate is pretty full.

The Pledge takes place over the course of those two weeks. The first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book. The action is non-top and makes for page turning, late night reading.

I really like Betty as a lead character - she's tough, smart, fearless and her family is her first priority. I gotta say she really takes a licking and keeps on ticking. The amount of injuries and lack of sleep she amasses over the two weeks is pretty impressive. And yes, a wee bit unbelievable. But hey, just go with it - the plotting is pretty darn good with some truly nasty antagonists and a number of subplots that are slowly but surely woven together.The supporting cast is good as well. Betty's wife Jackie is the voice of reason. Betty's squad is back as well, with her partner Seth and a new transfer with an attitude. I really liked the two women private investigators Rocky and Peg.

I was quite saddened to hear that The Pledge is the end of the Betty books. Kent ties up all the loose ends in this last entry. If you've read Michael Connelly's Renée Ballard character, you'll enjoy Detective Betty. See for yourself - here's an excerpt of The Pledge.

And I wonder what Kent will write next? Her first two books were historical fiction and are well worth a read as well. Maybe some more crime with the two PI's? Whatever it is, I'll be picking it up!

Monday, November 15, 2021

The Christmas Bookshop - Jenny Colgan

A Christmas book! A new Christmas book by Jenny Colgan! A new Christmas book by Jenny Colgan that features a bookshop! I knew I would love The Christmas Bookshop before I even turned a page!

Carmen feels like she's always lived in the shadow of her brilliant sister's accomplishments. Sophia lives in a perfect house with her perfect children, perfect husband and a perfectly ordered yuppie life. But when Carmen loses her department store job and can't find another, she begrudgingly takes Sophia's offer to come to Edinburgh help one of her clients with a failing bookstore.....

Oh, I always love Colgan's settings. The bookstore is in the old historical shopping district in downtown Edinburgh. The nooks and crannies, the other eclectic shops and especially McCredie's bookshop sounded exactly like a place I'd love to visit and explore. Colgan weaves in actual attractions and history throughout her story. 

The lead character in Colgan's books is always one I'm firmly behind and Carmen was no exception. She's sassy on the outside, but kind and caring on the inside and also a bit unsure of herself. Where is her life headed? Where is her non existent love life? Well, you just know there's going to be a 'right' one and a 'wrong one'. Blair is a successful self-help author. And then we have Oke - a dendrologist (he studies trees) I love the yes, no, maybe so of the burgeoning (or not) relationships. And although we know how things are going to turn out, the journey there is so much fun.

The supporting cast is just as fun. Oh my gosh, the snarkiness of Skylar, Sophia's nanny is laugh out loud over the top. I loved Sophie's children - their personalities, dialogue and interactions mirror the young Carmen and Sophia. Can the sisters repair their relationship?

And that brings me to the Christmas element - loads of Christmas books mentioned, decorations, traditions, celebrations and more had me happily lost in the season.

Another feel good, heartwarming novel from Jenny Colgan. She's my hands down favourite for a 'take me away from it all' read. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Christmas Bookshop. Best read with a cup of cocoa with marshmallows.

PS - I love when characters from other 'series' make cameo appearances in a novel. Faithful readers will be happy to see Ramsey and Zoe from The Bookshop on the Shore.

Friday, November 12, 2021

The Month of Borrowed Dreams - Felicity Hayes-McCoy

The Month of Borrowed Dreams is the 5th entry in Felicity Hayes-McCoy's 'Finfarran Peninsula' series, set on Ireland's West Coast. I had read a previous entry - The Transatlantic Book Club - and quite enjoyed it. 

There is a large cast of characters in this series. It did take me a few chapters to get back up to speed on who was who. 

Hanna and the library are the starting point of the novel, this time running a book and cinema club. Familiar characters are again met and other previously minor players take a larger part this time around. There are many I'm fond of and enjoyed revisiting. I have to say that the enigmatic Fury O'Shea, who seems to turn up at the right time and knows what is, or isn't needed is a favorite of mine. He runs a close second to his dog - The Divil.

Love takes center stage this time round, with engagement, marriage and relationships explored in a number of characters' lives. You'll easily find players you enjoy - and there's always at least one (two for me in this latest) who seem to be a problem. 

I appreciated the descriptions of the Irish countryside and would be very happy living there! Hayes-McCoy has a cottage of her own in Ireland and the setting details benefitted from this first hand knowledge with lots of descriptions.

This is a lovely, paced, gentle series that will appeal to readers who have enjoyed Nancy Thayer or Maeve Binchy. 

I chose to listen to The Month of Borrowed Dreams. The reader was  Marcella Riordan. She has a lovely, lilting Irish accent that is just perfect for this book. She has an expressive manner of speaking. She changes up the tone and timbre of her speaking to portray the many different characters. The narrating speed is also sped up or slowed down. I did find the sped up voices to be a bit hard to understand as in addition to the speed, the tone ratchets up to a shrill level. There's one character (Eileen) who seems to laugh at the end of every sentence and I found her bits to be very annoying. That same laugh is used with a few other players as well. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Month of Borrowed Dreams.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

A Line to Kill - Anthony Horowitz

A Line to Kill is the latest entry (3#) in Anthony Horowitz's Hawthorne and Horowitz series. 

I can't recommend this series enough. It's clever in so many ways. The protagonist is the enigmatic Hawthorn, let go from the police force and now working as a P.I. Hawthorne is such a great character - a brilliant detective, but somewhat lacking in personal interactive skills. I quite like him. And playing Watson to his Holmes? Anthony Horowitz. Uh huh - Horowitz has written himself in as a character in the series! He plays himself, writing about Hawthorne's cases. The relationship between the two is...interesting...

Hawthorne and Horowitz are invited to a literary festival that's being held on the island of Alderney to promote their first two books. They attend and meet the other presenters - who are a peculiar bunch. When a murder occurs and the island is locked down, Hawthorne's expertise is called upon. And Horowitz is along to document what may become the basis for their third book.(He fervently hopes so, as then his contract would be fulfilled and he'd be done with Hawthorne.)

I adore 'locked room' mysteries. There's always a wealth of characters to sift through for the final whodunit. None of them will tell the truth and we're along for the ride as Hawthorne interviews, investigates and pulls on the threads that will unveil the culprit. My suspect list changed with every revelation. Horowitz adds in his two cents worth as well. There is a large cast of possible suspects and I did have to stop and make a mental list of who was who. The mystery is well written, intricately planned and the final ah hah wasn't easy to suss out. But what I enjoy the most are the characters. I want to know more about Hawthorne's past. There are some hints and clues leaked in this latest, with one final revelation opening the door for the next book. My curiosity is more than whetted. And again the clever way Horowitz has inserted himself in the story. I wonder how much of the book character is Horowitz himself? The verbal sparring and mental jousting between the two is so much fun.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I find that I become more immersed in a book when I listen. And this is definitely the case with A Line to Kill. The reader is Rory Kinnear and his reading is fantastic! Kinnear has narrated the first two books and has cemented the mental images I have created for this duo. Hawthorne's is low with a slightly gravelly tone and he speaks in measured tones. On the other hand Horowitz has more of a frantic tone, often incredulous, put out and frustrated. Supporting players have different tones, speeds, accents and more for both male and female characters. Again, all of them suit the characters. Kinnear easily captures the (real) author's work wonderfully. Kinnear's voice rises and falls, changes speed and timbre, capturing the emotions and actions as the plot dictates. His speaking is easy to understand. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of A Line to Kill.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Dark Hours - Michael Connelly

I have been eagerly awaiting the fourth book - The Dark Hours - in Michael Connelly's Ballard and Bosch novels. And IMO, this is the best one yet!

It's New Year's Eve and Renée is again working the night shift - by choice. By tradition, revelers shoot their guns into the air at midnight in Los Angeles. Sounds like a recipe for disaster doesn't it? Uh huh, it results in one of the first homicides of the new year. Here's the thing - the bullet may be tied to an unsolved case - one worked by Harry Bosch. Now retired, Bosch has become a mentor and a sometime off the books partner of Renée. 

I'm always so happy to see Harry again. He's like an old war horse that just keeps riding into battle. His experience, (usually) calm demeanor and drive for answers and justice keep him going. "Everybody counts or nobody counts" Renée is fearless and has that same drive for justice. Her determination has not endeared her to her fellow cops. Connelly has woven current events and happenings and the turbulent state of policing and politics into the narrative. While others do just the bare minimum, Renée never lets up. In addition to the New Year's Eve case, she's also trying to find a pair of serial rapists who've been labeled as The Midnight Men. A lot goes on on the late show....

Connelly's crime novels are second to none. The characters, the settings, the details, the plotting - all of it makes for fantastic reading. And yes, lots of action. 

The dynamic between these two really works. In the final pages, I thought I saw where the Ballard and Bosch books might be headed in the fifth book, but Connelly throws in an alternative. I can't wait to see which way things end up. 

Highly recommended! See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Dark Hours.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

All of Us Villains - Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman have joined forces and co written the upcoming YA fantasy novel, All of Us Villains.

I try always try to  post my reviews within a few days of the book's publication date. All of Us Villains was next up on my Netgalley shelf, so I got started reading a few days ago. I got to page 86 and the galley ended. It was only then that I remembered it was a sampler copy! 

So, from what I did read, it's pretty good. In some time and place, Common Magick is used by the masses. High Magick is thought to have disappeared to have disappeared.....but it hasn't. Seven families in the town of Ilvernath know, use and protect the High Magick. Control of it is determined by pitting a young 'champion' from each family against each other in a Magick tournament.

I know what you're thinking - because I thought that too - The Hunger Games right? Very similar, but with magick instead of food. Indeed, the publisher uses that comparison in their marketing. "You Fell in Love with the Victors of the Hunger Games. Now Prepare to Meet the Villains of the Blood Veil."

Foody and Herman have created a large cast of characters - the seven champions, their families and those who back the tournaments - the spellcasters and makers and someone from the government this time round. The masses are also aware now that High Magick is indeed still alive....

You'll easily find the champion you want to back, decide quickly which family are devious and manipulating, and wonder  - what Foody and Herman have in store for the tournament...

And that's where it ended! So, yes my curiosity is whetted! What I've read so far is well written - and you can see for yourself - the free extended preview is on Amazon.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The Donut Trap - Julie Tieu

Are you looking for your next listen? Julie Tieu's debut novel, The Donut Trap, is it's a sweet choice - in more ways  than one!

It was this descriptor from Harper Audio and Avon Books that caught my eye..."Julie Tieu sparkles in this debut romantic comedy, which is charmingly reminiscent of the TV show Kim’s Convenience..." I love that show and just knew I would enjoy The Donut Trap.

Tieu gives us an eminently likable protagonist in Jasmine Tran. She's finished college and just doesn't know what's next for herself. Until she's figured things out she works in the family business - Sunshine Donuts. And tries to fend off her mother's attempts to find her a husband. 

And then Jasmine meets Alex - or should I say re-meets? The burgeoning relationship between the two is well written although it did feel a bit accelerated to me. Now here's where that Kim's Convenience comparison comes in. Both Alex and Jasmine are first generation immigrant children. The respect given to their parents, their values and their culture is there, but so is the desire to step outside the expectations put on them. This is an important part of The Donut Trap and I think Tieu's exploration of this rings very true. It's also a coming of age for Jasmine as she finally sets her own goals, desires and path. This thread does seem to take precedence over the romantic plot line.

The other thing that needs to be addressed is - donuts! Oh my gosh, I had some serious donut craving while listening to the descriptions!

I chose to listen to The Donut Trap. The reader was Natalie Naudus. She was a great choice. Naudus's voice is pleasant, easy on the ears, well paced and she enunciates well. The voice for Jasmine matched the age of the character and the mental image I had created. There's lots of internal dialogue for Jasmine and the slightly sardonic tone used was just right as well. She does a great job with the male voices as well, deepening her tone to a believable level. Alex's voice has a nice gravely tenor to it that really works for the character. Naudus also reads the part of  all the parents with accurate and convincing accents. Jasmine's best friend is Linh and her voice is bouncy and upbeat. Naudus captures the dynamics, happenings, thoughts and emotions of the plot with her interpretation of Tieu's work. A great performance and a narrator I would definitely enjoy again. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Donut Trap.

I enjoyed all aspects of The Donut Trap. I'm looking forward to Tieu's next book, Circling Back to You, due out in summer 2022.