Tuesday, May 24, 2022

With Prejudice - Robin Peguero

With Prejudice is Robin Peguero's debut novel. 

I quite like legal suspense and am always on the lookout for new authors, so I happily picked up With Prejudice.

Peguero rapidly introduces us to a large group of characters - jury members, prosecution, defense and judge, all involved with a rape/murder case. We meet them in the present, but are then served up a snapshot of their past. A time that they exhibited prejudice - racial, faith, sexual orientation, social status and more. These moments can be tied to the present. 

But....yes, I have a but. Those time periods don't follow a pattern. So, that was difficult to keep track of. Sometimes the jurors are called by name, some by number. Also confusing. 

I agree with Peguero's take on the 'prejudices'. This happens and is indeed an issue. I applaud that part of the book. 

But the execution wasn't great for this reader. I found the courtroom legal machinations to be overly convoluted, with way too much legalese. Peguero has worked as a homicide prosecutor in Miami, so his take on that bit is spot on. But, I found myself skim reading some of those scenes as the end drew nearer. Which took a while for me to reach, as I kept picking up and putting down the book. It didn't hold my interest as I had hoped. Peguero did surprise me with a late entry twist that changed things. The jury is still out for me on the ending. For me it almost negated what had come before. On the other hand, it does show the cracks in our systems.

The prose are staccato, almost presented like court documents. It kept me at arm's length as the depiction of the characters was too clinical. They never became 'real' to me. 

A solid debut, but not a stand out for this reader. See for yourself - read an excerpt of With Prejudice.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Hidden Pictures - Jason Rekulak

I read Jason Rekulak's first novel back in 2017 and loved it. I was thrilled to see that he had penned a new book - Hidden Pictures. This descriptor and cover from the publisher caught my eye...."comes a wildly inventive spin on the classic horror story in Hidden Pictures, a supernatural thriller about a woman working as a nanny for a young boy with strange and disturbing secrets." Who else liked it? Stephen King did..."I loved it." 

I quite liked the flawed but likable lead character Mallory. She's a recovering addict and desperately wants this second chance to pan out. She's making good money, has her own little cabin to live in, the parents seem like good people and their little boy Teddy is a joy. Sounds great right? But...yup, there's that but. Young Teddy starts drawing some increasingly disturbing pictures. The parents dismiss her concerns but....

I'm going to leave things there for you to discover. Rekulak's plot is inventive and insidious. The creep factor increases as Teddy's drawings begin to tell an unsettling tale. The drawings included in the book  from illustrators Will Staehle and Doogie Horner add extra goosebumps. 

Hidden Pictures was a page turner for me. I was caught up in the story and really wanted to know what/who was behind the pictures as well as the why. I have to say, Rekulak surprised me with a twist that no reader could predict on the way to the answers. Bravo! I absolutely love being caught off guard with what direction a book is going to take. A few situations require a few grains of salt - but go with it. It's entertainment I'm after and I definitely found it in the pages of Hidden Pictures. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Hidden Pictures. 

Friday, May 20, 2022

Take Your Breath Away - Linwood Barclay

I know I'm in for a fantastic read when I see that Linwood Barclay has a new book out! His latest book is Take Your Breath Away. And yes, it was every bit as good as I knew it would be. 

One weekend, six years ago, Andrew Mason was away on a fishing trip with a friend. And when he got home - he discovered his wife Brie was missing. And despite having an alibi, Andy has always been the prime suspect for her murder, despite there being no body. But, he's moved on both physically and personally. Until a woman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Brie shows up at his old address. And then disappears again.... 


Oh, what a great premise! There's so many ways this could unfold. Barclay keeps the listener guessing from start to finish, with a wealth of characters (all with their own secrets) to choose from for the 'whodunit'. And there's nothing I like better than a good twist and turn that I didn't see coming. There's more than one in Take Your Breath Away. 

I like the level of detail Barclay puts into his settings, his players, the dialogue and of course, his clever  plotting. There are many sub plots and I wondered how the heck they would be woven together in the end. His writing is addictive, making it hard to stop reading or listening. I was entertained from the first page 'til the last. 

I chose to listen to the audio version of Take Your Breath Away. Harper Audio chose to employ a cast of readers to tell the story, which I personally prefer. It's easy to know who is speaking and it feel more realistic. The narrators were Joe Knezevich, George Newbern, Hillary Huber, Pete Simonelli, Michael Crouch, Lauren Fortgang, Jim Meskimen and Karissa Vacker. I've listened to many of these readers before, but have to add that George Newbern is one of favorites. He reads the lead character, Andy, and he was a great choice. He has the most interesting, expressive voice with a somewhat sardonic bent to it. He brings an author's work to life with his inflections, timber and tone. His voice is clear, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. The other readers were excellent as well. I always love getting lost in a story and listening immerses me in a tale. An excellent performance of an an excellent book.  Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Take Your Breath Away.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Island - Adrian McKinty

I really enjoyed The Chain - Adrian McKinty's previous book and New York Times bestseller. I eagerly picked up his latest, The Island, anticipating another suspense filled read.

The premise was good and took inspiration from an event in McKinty's own life. 
"While I was driving in rural Australia on a very isolated island inhabited by one large extended family, a woman wearing a hearing aid pulled out of a blind road on her bicycle and I swerved to miss her. I half jokingly told my wife, Leah, that if - God forbid - we had hit her we wouldn't have got off that island alive."

McKinty's characters - Tom, his teen children Owen and Olivia and his second wife Heather do hit the bicyclist. They make some bad decisions and suddenly they're fighting for their lives. Cue the Deliverance movie sound track. 

McKinty has created some godawful, depraved characters in the island folks. They are a law unto their selves and they want retribution from Tom and his family for the death of the cyclist. The narrative is experienced from Heather's viewpoint. Heather is a good lead and given some background. But there's not a lot of depth. It's all about the action. 

Initially I was caught up in the tension, the danger, the next twist of trouble in the family's attempts to escape the islanders. But about midway, it became more than a little unbelievable. Now, I'm all for suspending belief in a suspense novel. But it all became too much. Heather is now a kick butt warrior, the snotty stepkids are as well. Cue Bruce Willis. There's more 'grain of salt' plot lines, skill sets and more, but I don't want to provide spoilers. The plot is busy and by the end felt almost repetitive as the close calls and near misses just keep on coming. McKinty has also included First Nations folklore, customs and history. The relationship between Heather and the kids is often explored, but didn't really work either for me. It felt like an inserted element ticked off on a check list. 

The prose are short and staccato. I became annoyed with one word pronouncements. Water. Sky. Sun. etc. 

The Island felt and read like a movie script. Which is kinda true, as Hulu has picked this up as a series. 

So, bottom line - implausible, but somehow gripping. I had to see what happened in the end. I'm in the minority on my three star rating - check out the other reviews on Goodreads. Or read an excerpt of The Island. That being said, I will pick McKinty's next book. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Book Lovers - Emily Henry

Well, I don't know how I've missed reading/listening to Emily Henry's books!  I absolutely adored her latest - Book Lovers.

Nora Stevens is a literary agent and Charlie Lastra is a book editor who don't see quite eye to eye. Both are based in New York. Nora is devoted to her clients - and her younger sister Libby. When Libby asked Nora to take a vacation with her to the small town of Sunshine Falls, she agrees. After all, she can work remotely. But Libby has other ideas about how they should spend their time. She's written up a sort of bucket list. Oh, and guess who they run into!

Oh my gosh where to start? I enjoyed Henry's characters so much. She brings her players to life with well rounded out backstories, excellent dialogue and believable emotions and situations. Although Nora is our lead, the supporting cast is just as likable and well drawn.

The setting? Well, Sunshine Falls is a lovely, quaint town with a wealth of quirky residents that I absolutely live in! Again, the descriptions created vivid mental images. Oh, did I mention that there's a book shop/cafe?

The dialogue/bantering is really well written - whip smart but also realistic - especially between Nora and Libby.

And yes, this is a rom com. So how's the romance bit? I love the yes/no/maybe so of the relationship. Can they make it work? (I found myself coming up with strategies to make sure that happened!) And the physical bits? Descriptive but not over the top. Instead it was just right. 

And not to be forgotten - the love of books that is woven into the novel. 

I chose to listen to Book Lovers. And boy was that the right choice. The reader is Julia Whelan - a perennial favourite of mine. The voice for the characters change to match their moods, emotions and settings. The Nora voice is wonderfully snarky and caustic at times, but also kind, vulnerable and more. There's a lovely smooth tone to Whelan's voice. Libby's voice is always upbeat and sounds younger. Whelan uses a low, growly (and yes, kinda sexy) voice that absolutely sounds like a man speaking. The speaking pace is just right. Henry's voice is clear and easy to understand. She interprets Henry's work very, very well. An excellent performance of an excellent book! What else can I say? I loved this audiobook! Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Last One Alive - Amber Cowie

The premise of Amber Cowie's new book, Last One Alive,  hooked me right away. 

What's it about? From the publisher: "A team of researchers exploring the myth of a witch find their numbers mysteriously dwindling in this irresistible psychological thriller for fans of Ruth Ware, Shari Lapena, and Lucy Foley."

I love 'locked room' mysteries. In this case, it's ten people on the site of an historic crime. And yes, one by one they die. But here's the thing that kept me guessing 'til the final pages. Is it the curse of the witch? Is there really something to the legends? Or is one of the ten turning on their fellow researchers?

Penelope is the organizer of the trip. While she has a good reason for the trip and says and does all the right things, I didn't like her. Or any of the ten for that matter. There's something 'off' with each and every one of them. Which only serves to have more suspects!

The setting descriptions easily conjured up a detailed picture in my mind. The isolation, the forest, the rocky beach, the old outbuildings and more all add to the unsettled feeling of the endeavor.

But what I enjoyed the most was trying to solve the whodunit - keeping track of who was where at a certain time, who was together, what was overheard, what was found. (I always wanted to be Nancy Drew.)

I did find some chapters ended quite abruptly and I would have to flip back to make sure I hadn't missed something. 

Cowie's book is well written, not easy to suss out and kept me interested right through to the final pages. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Last One Alive.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Murder Rule - Dervla McTiernan

I love a good legal suspense tale. There's been lots of buzz around Dervla McTiernan's newest book, The Murder Rule - and it's well deserved. I thought The Murder Rule was an absolutely fantastic listen.

"First Rule: Make them like you. Second Rule: Make them need you. 
Third Rule: Make them pay."

Hannah is a law student who leaves Maine to volunteer at The Innocence Project in Virginia. The impetus for the move is what she discovered in the pages of  her mother's old diaries - and the story they tell. And the man at the center of the latest case of the wrongly convicted justice group.

Oh, Hannah is a complicated lead character. She presents one persona to the group, hiding her real motives and self from the group and the public. But - she would do anything for her mother. She sacrifices much to keep her healthy and happy. I was so curious about the why and what of her plan.

Now here's the neat bit - McTiernan's inspiration for the Murder Rule was an actual case of The Innocence Project. It is indeed a real organization. McTiernan is a lawyer herself and that insider knowledge adds so much to the book. The courtroom pieces, the behind the scenes machinations and more have that ring of authenticity. But, that's not to say that McTiernan doesn't put her own spin on things, adding levels and more levels to her plotting. The answer to that burning question - is he innocent - is up in the air until the last chapters. 

Danger, suspense, action, corruption, betrayal and duplicity abound in The Murder Rule. And my favorite - twists and turns. I honestly couldn't stop listening. An easy five stars for me. 

The readers were Kate Orsini, Sophie Amoss and Michael Crouch. I really like having multiple narrators, as it makes each character easily identifiable. And it feels more 'real'. The voices used matched the mental images I created for the characters and suited the characters McTiernan created. The energy of the plotting, the emotions of the characters and more are all easily portrayed and performed, bring the book to life. Each narrator spoke clearly and was easy to understand. The speed of speaking was just right. A great performance by all. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Murder Rule. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

The School for German Brides - Aimie K. Runyan

There’s a wealth of World War II fiction just waiting to be read these days, told from many different points of view. Land girls, air taxis, nursing, codebreakers and more. Aimie K. Runyan gives us another view point in her latest historical fiction novel - The School for German Brides

What's different you ask? The book takes us to 1938 - 1939 Germany and is told from the sympathetic view of three young German women. One of them, Tilde, is Jewish. She and her mother make a living as seamstresses. Hanna has been sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Berlin. Her aunt is determined that Hanna will marry well. Hanna has other ideas, but her future is already written when an SS officer takes an interest in her. The third woman is Klara and her future looks just like Hanna's. I quite liked all three women and thought they were well drawn. The reader can't help but behind them. And of course there are those on the other side of the equation. Just as well done and you can't help but dislike them!

Now, about the School for German Brides. There actually were Bride Schools that taught the skills needed to be the (supposedly) perfect SS wife. Runyan has also woven historical figures and settings into her novel. 

Runyon does a great job of giving us an inside view of Germany at this time. She makes it personal as we see it through the girls' eyes. Their stories build towards an inevitable meeting of the three. Lives hang in the balance and their bravery, sense of rightness and their own ideals are called upon. There’s love, loss and hope and an ending is satisfying. 

Fashion funnily enough plays a large part in uniting these three women. I really enjoyed the descriptions of fabrics, patterns and the dresses worn. 

WWII fiction fans, this one's recommended for you. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The School for German Brides.   #BooksofHCC   @harpercollinsca

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Night They Vanished - Vanessa Savage

I enjoyed Vanessa Savage's first two books and happily picked up her latest - The Night They Vanished.

"A family with a secret. A past about to catch up with them."

Hanna has had a very rocky relationship with her family over the years and now barely sees her dad, step-mom and younger sister Sasha. But when she sees a picture of their home alongside a horrific headline on a 'dark tourism' website, she tries immediately to get in touch with them....and can't reach them. And so begins a roller coaster of a read. 

Savage plays her clues close to her vest, eking out the details of the reason why Hanna is so unwelcome in her family home and village.  And fair enough, it goes both ways. Her father is very unlikable. That thread runs parallel to what's happening in the present. Has her family been harmed? Where are they?

The supporting players give us a wide group of suspects, with each one with something to hide, to lie about. Who can Hanna trust? I honestly had no idea of who was going to be the culprit until the last few chapters. 

I thought the dark tourism plot device was a unique and frightening idea. Savage's carefully given clues, twists and revelations kept me reading 'just one more' chapter 'til the late hours. Both Sasha and Hanna have voices. As a reader we can see the danger in Sasha's actions and what might unfold. My attention was held through to the final pages. There are a few bits that ask the user to suspend disbelief, but they didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book. Another great read from Savage. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Night They Vanished.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Remarkably Bright Creatures - Shelby Van Pelt

I was intrigued by the premise of Shelby Van Pelt's debut novel - Remarkably Bright Creatures. And I was hooked by the first few chapters.

Tova's son Eric died over thirty years ago and her husband is gone as well. She has coped with her grief by cleaning, both at home and on the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. She's the only one there at night and often speaks to the creatures who live in the tanks. Including Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus. No, he's not a talking octopus, but he is a sentient being.

Tova's grief is tangible, evidenced by the way she cleans and tidies, keeping her heartbreak locked away behind the façade she presents to the world. She's a lead character that you simple can't help like and feel for. There's a quirky group of supporting players. Ethan, the local Sowell Bay grocer - and gossip. And Cameron, a young man who jumps from job to job, searching for what is missing from his life. And a few more as well, including Tova's friends, the Knit Wits.

Tova, Cameron and Marcellus are given voices. The listener can see the tendrils of connection between the three lives. But how Van Pelt weaves those threads is an absolute joy to listen to. Van Pelt deftly explores grief, loss, love, family and friendship in this book. Heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. The ending brought me both joy and sadness.

The narrators were Marin Ireland and Michael Urie. Ireland is a longtime favourite of mine. She's quite talented, providing easily identifiable voices for each character. Tova's voice is crisp, clean and unfailingly polite. The Scottish brogue for Ethan was spot on. As well as a believable voice for Cameron that matched his age and personality. And if that wasn't enough - all of the supporting players had different voices as well. Ireland's reading is clear, well enunciated and easy to understand. Her speed of reading is perfect. Michael Urie's interpretation of Marcellus was absolutely perfect - a dry, droll, sarcastic tone, with a rich timbre. He also conveys the sadness of Marcellus with his voice. Both narrators interpret the plot well and bring Van Pelt's story to life. I've said it before - listening to a book draws me deeper into a story. That's definitely the case here. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of Remarkably Bright Creatures. Great book, great performances. 

Remarkably Bright Creatures is an amazing first book. It's hands down one of my favorites for 2022. I can't wait to see what Van Pelt writes next!

And just because I was curious, I looked up the great Pacific octopus. They are indeed quite intelligent ' "Like other octopuses, the giant Pacific octopus is extremely intelligent and has been observed opening jars and mimicking other species."

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Homewreckers - Mary Kay Andrews

You know that summer is on the way when Mary Kay Andrews releases a new book! MKA's thirtieth book - The Homewreckers - is newly released. You're going to want to add this one to your beach bag!

I'm a fan of MKA's storytelling. Why you ask? Well, there's always a lead character that you'd like in real life. Hattie Kavanaugh is that character. She's a young widow and works with her father-in-law and best friend flipping houses in Savannah, Georgia. She's ambitious, smart and driven. The supporting cast of characters are just as warm and likeable. Most of them that is. There needs to be some antagonists in every tale as well. Oh, and there's a dog. Every good book has a dog. ;)0

When the latest flip loses money, Hattie has to find a way to recoup their losses. She finds a property, but it's still going to be a struggle. Until....a Hollywood producer offers Hattie a chance to star in a 'home show.' I have to admit, I love those shows. It was fun to read what transpires 'behind the cameras'.

There are some strings attached to the offer though - including one in the form of a co-host - an attractive designer. And there's the next bit - a romantic angle - or two. There's always the right one and the wrong one. We just need Hattie to see what we see!

The last few books have included a mystery as well. Someone seems determined to not have Hattie succeed with this latest reno. But who and why? Well, we discover the why, but the who takes us right to the final pages. There are lots of suspects for the answer to the whodunit, and I was kept guessing. 

And let's not forget the setting. The house they're working on is on Tybee Island, Georgia. Mary Kay Andrews herself has ties to the island. Her descriptions make me want to visit, sit on a porch or walk on the beach. Here's a fun fact  - "Mary Kay is an intrepid treasure hunter whose favorite pastime is junking and fixing up old houses."

Now, take these wonderful characters, the fantastic setting and weave in the mystery and romance and what have you got? A book you don't want to put down. And I didn't. Five stars for another engaging, heartwarming, eminently readable, take me away from it all, beach worthy read. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Homewreckers. And so begins the wait for next year's book!

Monday, May 2, 2022

The Agathas - Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson

My last few reads have been 'heavier', so I was ready for a fun escapist YA read. And The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson was beckoning to me!

From the publisher: "Who killed Brooke Donovan? It’s the biggest mystery of the summer, and everyone in Castle Cove thinks it’s the wrong guy. Fans of One of Us Is Lying and Riverdale can’t miss this page-turning who-done-it that’s sure to be the next must read Young Adult thriller!"

Yup, you caught my attention with that description. But what clinched it for me was the fun premise. WWAC do? What would Agatha Christie do! Yes, our intrepid teenaged sleuths take their inspiration (and lots of tips) from Christie's mystery novels. Each chapter opens with a Christie quote that is perfect for what's going on in the chapter.

What about the cast of characters? Oh, Glasgow and Lawson capture high school life perfectly. Our lead pair of investigators come from very different backgrounds and school social cliques. Alice is wealthy and a member of the 'Mains.' You know - the popular 'it' crew with money to burn and lots of attitude. And for her, school is really just a place to socialize. Iris is from the wrong side of the tracks and is one of the 'Zoners' - the kids that are smart, the nerds, and kinda the bottom of the social strata. This unlikely pair find common (but a bit rocky) ground in their pursuit of a murderer. There's a large cast of supporting players that provide lots of sub plots - and many, many choices for the 'whodunit'. 

My guess for whodunit changed many times as the book progressed. Glasgow and Lawson lead the reader down the garden path many times on the way to the final pages. The mystery is well done. But, the other bits that's also well done are the situations, emotions, stressors, highs and lows of being a teenager. Of that hard bit of finding yourself and what you want. 

I could easily picture the settings of The Agathas. The school, the roller rink, the country club and more.(Maybe more than a little bit of Riverdale in my mind as well) 

The Agathas was the perfect, fun, escapist read. And it looks like the door might be open to another 'Agatha' tale? I'd be happy to visit Castle Cove again. Fingers crossed! See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Agathas.

Friday, April 29, 2022

When We Fell Apart - Soon Wiley

When We Fell Apart is Soon Wiley's debut novel. Which, I have to say surprised me. His writing is simply beautiful. 

Min is a young Korean -American man who has taken a job in Korean. He has always felt like he never quite fit into his life. Perhaps moving to Seoul and exploring his heritage will bring a sense of belonging. He meets and begins to date Yu-jin, a young woman also trying to find peace in her life, a place, a belonging. She is an only child and is expected to excel and achieve the goals her parents have laid out before her.

Now, this isn't a spoiler as it's front and center in the publisher's description. Yu-jin dies. Was she murdered? Or was it suicide? This news hits Min extremely hard. He can't understand why or how she died and takes it upon to seek out the answer to those questions.

Wiley tells his story in dual timelines - the present for Min and the time before her death for Yu-jin. Wiley did a fantastic job of bringing Yu-jin to life for me, from memories as a young child to the young woman questioning her life, her goals, her wants, her needs and more. As an observer, we can see the danger just waiting to cross her path. 

Min becomes focused on nothing but the reasons for her death and who is responsible. We come to know him through his thoughts and actions. The mystery of Yu-jin's death consumes him and as he chases answers, and he realizes he didn't know the real Yu-jin at all. My suppositions on whodunit changed often as I read. 

I loved the vibrant descriptions of Seoul, the people, the food, the attractions, the shops, the karaoke bars and more. 

Wiley deftly explores family relationships and their expectations, the search for one's identity, culture, love and more. His prose are eloquent and nuanced, making for thoughtful, introspective reading. See for yourself - read an excerpt of When We Fell Apart.

"In Korea they call it Han. It's a feeling of sorts A kind of collective despair in response to being conquered and oppressed for long periods of time, over generations. To choose you own destiny - that's what an individual, a nation, craves most. Han is a result of that most basic desire being crushed. "

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Children on the Hill - Jennifer McMahon

The Children on the Hill is Jennifer McMahon's new book. 

From Simon and Schuster: "From the New York Times bestselling author of The Drowning Kind comes a genre-defying new novel, inspired by Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein, that brilliantly explores the eerie mysteries of childhood and the evils perpetrated by the monsters among us." You had me at Frankenstein....

McMahon employs one of my favorite storytelling methods - past and present. The past in this case is 1978 at Dr. Hildreth's renowned psychiatric treatment center in Vermont. Her grandchildren, Violet and Eric, also live with her. The present is 2019 with Lizzy Shelley, host of the Monsters Among Us podcast. She is on her way to Vermont to follow up on a sighting of 'Rattling Jane'. And you really had me at monster sightings.

The Children on the Hill has a gothic feel to it - secluded, gated psychiatric hospital avoided by the locals, questionable 'treatments', a sense of mystery and suspense, and someone in peril. There are some creepy excerpts from Violet and Eric's homemade "Book of Monsters, that's full of how to information - how to find them - and more.

Will Lizzy find a monster hiding in the woods? And what is the draw of this legend for her? Hint - it's personal...

McMahon does a great job of building the suspense and danger in both timelines. She also gives the monster and young Violet a voice. The listener is able to start piecing things together with those different views and times. The nod to Shelley is easy to spot, but McMahon ends things on a lovely, didn't see that coming twist in the final pages. Another great read from McMahon.

I chose to listen to The Children on the Hill. I find I become more immersed in a story when I listen to it - especially suspense novels. (Note - even creepier when listening in the dark...) The reader was Erin Moon - a new to me reader. I thought she did a great job. She provides a slow, dark almost hissing voice for the monster that just says 'danger'. Lizzy's voice was engaging and likable. She provided believable voices for the supporting cast, including children, teens and males. Her diction was crisp, easy to understand and pleasant to listen to. She interprets McMahon's work very well accentuating the danger, suspense, action and emotions. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Children on the Hill

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

An Honest Lie - Tarryn Fisher

An Honest Lie is Tarryn Fisher's new novel. The title had me taking a second look...I liked the juxtapose of the two words.

Rainy has moved to Washington state be with her boyfriend. She's happy with just her own company, but is making an effort to make friends - for Grant's sake more than hers. She reluctantly agrees to go on a Vegas weekend with 'the girls'. Rainy has her reasons to stay out of Vegas, but ultimately goes with them.

It is here that Fisher splits her story into a then and now narrative. Then takes us back to young Rainy (aka Summer) who was a member of a cult. Fisher provides us with her own take on cults and their leaders. I do think the whole cult angle has been done so many times that it's hard to come up with anything truly fresh. The now thread amps things up when of the group going missing. Could the two past and present intersect? And how?

I did enjoy Rainy as a lead character. She's a survivor, smart and capable. The supporting players in the 'now' are somewhat cliched - it seems there's a mean girl and peer pressure no matter where you go. In this case it's Tara. Again well depicted - you can't help but dislike her. Taured - the leader of the cult - is also written that way. His dialogue, manipulations and actions will infuriate you. As they're meant to do. There are a few 'good' characters, such as Violet.

There is indeed a meeting of past and preset, which I will leave for you to discover, so as not to spoil it for you. There are a few plot devices that require the listener to suspend disbelief, but just go with it. As well, I'm not sure the 'my man' thread worked for me.

I chose to listen to An Honest Lie. The reader was  Lauren Fortgang. She did a great job. She enunciates well and her voice is pleasant to listen to and the pace of speaking was just right. Fortgang has come up with voices that really suit the characters. The voice for Rainy suited her strength. Tara? Oh, the perfect mean girl tone and inflections. And a suitably sinister one for Taured. Fortgang captures the tone of Fisher's book and presents it very well. She captures the action, the emotions and situations of the plot. Her voice has movement, instead of 'just reading'. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of An Honest Lie.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Wild Girls - Phoebe Morgan

Phoebe Morgan's latest book is The Wild Girls. And it's a wild tale!

As teenagers, Grace, Felicity, Alice, and Hannah dubbed themselves The Wild Girls. They were fast friends until something happened two years ago that destroyed the friendship. As listeners we don't know what that 'until' is. But, when Felicity contacts the other three with an olive branch - an all paid escape to a Botswana holiday spot to celebrate Felicity's birthday - they all agree to go.

Morgan gives a voice to all four women and we slowly learn more about their friendships, their personal lives and their inner thoughts. Morgan slowly lets the listener to get closer to what happened amongst the four. And...what is happening now. Because there's something very wrong at the holiday spot.  

Morgan deliciously ramps up the suspense with every new chapter, often changing the narrator at a critical spot. (Which only ensures I will be up late listening to 'just one more chapter.'

Now, I thought I had things all figured out as the end drew near. I had guessed one bit, but didn't see the last 'gotcha' coming. Well done Phoebe Morgan!

I am so glad that four narrators were used for this book - Stephanie Racine, Polly Baron, Silvia Presente and Olivia Dowd. Each had a completely different voice that made it easy to know who was speaking. Each voice suited the character they were reading. The readers were very expressive in their roles, easily capturing the uncertainty, the unknown, the danger and the tension of Morgan's book. All four spoke clearly, enunciated well and were easy to understand. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I become more immersed in a book when I listen. And The Wild Girls is the perfect example of that. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Wild Girls.

The publisher has suggested that if you like Ruth Ware and Lucy Foley, you'll like Phoebe Morgan. I agree. Great plot, great listening experience. Five stars for me. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Watch Out For Her - Samantha M. Bailey

Watch Out For Her is Samantha M. Bailey's second novel. 

Sarah and her husband Daniel decide to take on Holly as a summer babysitter for their young son Jacob. Holly is the daughter of one of Daniel's colleagues. And it's good in the beginning - until it's not. Sarah and her family end up packing up and moving from Vancouver to Toronto to put distance between themselves and Holly. 

So, what happened? Bailey tells her story from a now and then narrative, alternating between Sarah's and Holly's point of view. I didn't like Holly at all, despite what's going on with her. I initially liked Sarah in the beginning, but changed my mind fairly early on in the book. There are a number of supporting players in both locales, providing lots of options for suspicious behavior. 

As I read Watch Out For Her, I started to note some plot points with a 'really?' There were just too many coincidences, unrealistic behaviors and too many threads that were simply unbelievable for me. The whodunit is fairly obvious and easy to suss out. Much of the plot is cliched and the overall effect was too much. Less can sometimes work better than so many disparate and farfetched threads. 

I'm in the minority on this one. Check out what others thought on Goodreads.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Free - Lauren Kessler

Free is the new book from award winning author Lauren Kessler

The cover provides a good guess as to what's inside - which is a fascinating, eye-opening look at what happens after an incarcerated person is released from prison. The statistics alone tell a story. 

"With just five percent of the world's population, the United States accounts for close to 25 percent of the world's prison population." "...on any given day one-third of adult Americans are either incarcerated, on probation, or on parole."

And building on that - "Nearly half of all who are released are rearrested within the first year, and two-thirds are rearrested within the first three years." So what happens when an incarnated person is released? How are they prepared? What help is available pre and post release? After reading Free, I can see where there are cracks in the system and a set of stumbling blocks just waiting. What can we as a society or as an individual do? 

Kessler has opted to combine the investigative bit with a window into the personal lives of six released prisoners and their 're-entry' journey over the course of a few years. How do you measure success? Being released is not equal to free. I found the stories of the six people to be compelling, especially that of  Sterling Cunio. Those personal stories illustrated the hurdles or re-entry well.  

Kessler's writing is forthright, knowledgeable and compassionate. Free is a thought provoking book that will have you thinking... See for yourself - read an excerpt of Free.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Kew Gardens Girls at War - Posy Lovell

The Kew Gardens Girls at War is Posy Lovell's new novel. I can't seem to get enough of  WWII historical reads. 

Settling in, I thought that Lovell might have already written a book set in Kew Gardens. I did a quick check and saw that yes, she has written one set in the WWI years at the Gardens. (I've added it to my teetering TBR pile.) But there's no need to have read that book before reading The Kew Gardens Girls at War.

I liked the premise - which is based on historical fact. ("Kew Gardens is now officially home to the largest living plant collection on earth.") In the war years, a showpiece Victory Garden was grown, showing how even a small patch could feed a family year round. But, I didn't know about the County Herb Committees which were nationwide medicinal plant collecting committees. I really liked the descriptions of the gardens and the veggie plots. A great setting. Lovell's descriptions of war torn London also brought the setting to life.

But, the best bit of all is the characters. Daisy and Beth are our leading characters. They're both from very different backgrounds, with different goals and are at different stages of life. But they hit it off and become fast friends. The supporting cast brings in a number of strong personalities, who change the narrative with their actions as well.

Lovell captures the Keep Calm and Soldier On attitude of the Brits in wartimes. Needs must and you just have to get on with things. But there are wounds don't show as well. Lovell brings some serious issues into her story, including shell shock and racism. 

The Kew Gardens Girls at War is a warm, caring, comfortable read that celebrates family, fortitude, friends and yes, romance.  See for yourself - read an excerpt.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Last Party - Cassidy Lucas

The Last Party is Cassidy Lucas's new book. 

It's a first read of this author for me. And quite honestly after reading the first chapter, I thought it might not be. 

Each chapter is prefaced with a date and a confirmation of whose point of view we're reading. The first chapter introduces Raj (the Drifter). Raj is mentally ill and/or high as a kite. Or both. I finished that first chapter and wondered about what I'd just read. Did I want to keep going?

It was curiosity that had me picking up the book again. The setting is the Celestial Ranch in the Topango Canyon. Seven old friends get together to celebrate Dawn's fiftieth birthday. Okay, friends might be a stretch. They used to have a connection, but something went wrong many years ago. But it's all good now - right?

Each and everyone of the guests is unlikable, dysfunctional and honestly quite cruel. The ranch staff is only Twyla, her husband and a friend of Twyla's who is a psychic. I liked Twyla and that's about it. Everyone else has their own agenda. And the birthday activities? Seriously? I won't reveal them in case you do choose read The Last Party. Bad decisions abound. Peer pressure at fifty. 

The connections and behaviour of each and every player was patently ridiculous. I still kept reading, because I simply had to know what the ending would bring. Why did the author give Raj the final pages? And end it the way they did? Why not tie up the loose ends of the group of seven? What happened after the basement?

On looking at the Cassidy Lucas webpage, I learned that Cassidy Lucas is actually the pen name of writing duo Julia Fierro and Caeli Wolfson Widger. Maybe too many ideas between the two? It felt like every last one seemed to make it into this book. There were some good ideas that would have benefitted from focus, instead of so much and so many. On turning the last page, I felt a kinship with Raj - what the heck just happened....

Monday, April 18, 2022

Blood Sugar - Sascha Rothchild

Blood Sugar is Sascha Rothchild's debut novel. 

The first chapter is a real 'gotcha'. Shocking and unexpected. And on the heels of that chapter, we meet Ruby...at the police station being questioned about a murder. Actually it's more than one...

And as she's being questioned she remembers and silently recounts her life. This was a great storytelling method, keeping me hooked with every revelation - and every murder.

What a complicated character Ruby is. She's kind, has friends, relationships and is a truly caring psychologist. I quite liked her. As the book progresses it's hard to reconcile this likeable persona with the crimes she is accused of. The focus of the book is Ruby herself.

Rothchild is also a Emmy-nominated screenwriter - and it shows in her writing. Her prose are smooth and make for addictive reading. Her plotting is very clever with twists that delighted me. I really enjoy twists you can't see coming.  See for yourself - read an excerpt of Blood Sugar.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Nobody But Us - Laure Van Rensburg

Nobody But Us is Laure Van Rensburg's newly released, debut novel. 

Ellie and Stephen are headed out for a weekend away at a secluded cabin. An unexpected snowstorm and loss of a cell signal seals them off even more.

The book begins with a prologue from a police perspective at the cabin. So, right from the first pages, we know right away that one of the two doesn't make it out. I wanted to know who and why.

The first thing that glared out at me was the age difference between Stephen and . And that Ellie is a student and he is a literature professor. I'll be honest - I immediately thought been there, read that. 

Van Rensburg tells her story from three points of view - Ellie, Steven and and that of an unknown character. That third perspective kept me curious. I have to applaud Van Rensburg for her depiction of Stephen. He was absolutely intolerable, so sure in his own mind and ego that he is a catch and that any female he takes note of should be thankful. My opinion of Ellie changed as the book moved forward. I can't say I really liked her either.

I can see the motive for one character's actions, but I didn't entirely buy into the plot. I think things could have been tightened up a bit, as the back and forth between the two started to feel repetitive. For me, this novel was a slow burn.

To be fair, Van Rensburg does put her own spin on things, but it still wasn't enough to lift this book from just okay for me, despite the descriptor of "a locked room high concept thriller". That being said - Van Rensburg's final 'why' is an important one. Gentle readers, there a number of triggers in this book.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Patron Saint of Second Chances - Christine Simon

The Patron Saint of Second Chances is Christine Simon's newly released debut novel. If you're looking for a light-hearted, humorous listen, this is the perfect book for you. (Especially if you've enjoyed other books that feature a grumpy senior trying to do the right thing with mixed results, a small village filled with quirky, lovable characters and a David and Goliath story!)

Simon has set her book in Prometto, Italy (population 212). Senor Speranza acts as the mayor of the village and so it is he that finds out that the village water system needs repairing - at a cost of 70,000 Euros. How can he raise the needed funds without worrying the other residents - or having them move away? Hmm, why not start a rumor - that movie star Dante is going to be filming a movie in and around Prometta!? Surely that will bring in the tourists.

Simon has come up with a fun, light-hearted premise that's just plain fun to listen to. The rest of the village becomes enamored of the film idea, especially with heart throb Dante starring. Uh huh - you can see some flaws in his idea can't you? You just know things aren't going to go to plan for Senor Speranze, no matter how many saints he calls upon.

Simon does a great job with her characters. I love quirky characters and The Patron Saint of Second Chances is chockablock with them. I quite liked Senor Speranze, but his assistant Smilzo was my favorite. (You'll love his screenplay ideas) Simon explores the power of community, relationships of many types and the power of believing in something and someone in her story. A lovely listen that kept me company as I puttered.

I chose to listen to The Patron Saint of Second Chances. The reader was Tim Frances. He did a great job of bringing Simon's work to life. He has a lovely, gravelly tone to his voice that absolutely fit the mental image I had created for Senor Speranze. And it suited the age of the character. Frances is an enthusiastic reader, easily capturing the emotions of the characters and the tone of the plot. He provides a suitable, believable Italian accent for the characters when they are speaking. As the 'narrator' he speaks in his own British accent, which also has lots of movement. See for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Patron Saint of Second Chances.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Investigator - John Sandford

‎I am a long time fan of John Sandford's writing, having literally read everything he’s written. 

Sandford has moved his characters along in real time - they age and change as their lives move forward. Davenport's adopted daughter Letty is now 24 years old. When she joined the series, I have to admit I really didn’t like her. She has continued to make appearances in the Prey series and slowly but surely she has grown on me. Sandford's latest book, The Investigator, features Letty as the lead character. And after just a few chapters, I was solidly in Letty's court. 

The opening chapter gives you a feel of what the rest of the book(s) are going be like - which is one heck of a good page-turner. Letty is working for a Senator (shades of her dad) and ready to quit (she's bored) when the Senator offers up an investigative position working with a member of Homeland Security. She's intrigued, takes the job and is paired with investigator John Kaiser. The two make a really good team - age and experience combined with youth and intelligence. Both have the drive to go the extra mile. The dialogue between the two is short and snappy, suits the characters and echoes Sandford's style. 

Oh my gosh - the plotting! The case is ripped from newspaper headlines and is more than possible. I'm sure it's happening already somewhere. It's brilliantly written and will have the reader on the edge of their seat, turning just one more page. There’s so much action in this book and the danger level is set to high.

This book is listed as the first in the new series an I for one cannot wait to see the second book featuring Letty - and John as well I hope. See for yourself – read an excerpt of The Investigator

And for those of you who are long-term time fans like myself there is a mention of you know who in the book. Virgil Flowers. And speaking of Virgil and Lucas - keep  your eyes out for Righteous Prey (#32) due out in October 2022.

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Sign for Home - Blair Fell

It's no secret - I love to read and listen to books. I have my favourite genres but I really, really appreciate being caught off guard with something new, different or unexpected. Blair Fell's new novel The Sign for Home is one of those books.

Arlo Dilly is a young DeafBlind man, a Jehovah’s Witness and is under his uncle's guardianship. His life is strictly regimented by that uncle - no friends, no extracurricular activities, just church work, no internet, no video phone, just a narrow, prescribed life. Arlo finally convinces Brother Birch to let him take a creative writing class at the local community college. He’s put on strict warning to behave and another JW will act as his ASL interpreter. When a second interpreter is needed, that's when Cyril comes in.

We come to know Arlo bit by bit through his inner thoughts and his writing. A reference to something and/or someone in his past tantalizingly unfolds as Arlo finds his voice and his wings, slowly but surely. Cyril is a part of that, wanting more for his client. He too has his own memories that he needs to confront. He's not perfect, but he tries to be and do the best he can. Sanctimonious Brother Birch had me shouting out loud - he made me so angry! Cyril's best friend Hanne is a free spirit who doesn't hear the word no.

I would’ve loved this book if I read it, but I chose to listen - and that was the perfect choice for this story. I always feel immersed in a story when I listen. I was thrilled to find that it was the author himself narrating his own work. Fell actually works as an ACL interpreter. He knows what he’s writing about  and his work has that ring of authenticity. Fell is a very expressive reader. He captures the loneliness, frustration, sadness, anger, hope and love that Arlo experiences. Arlo 'speaks' in staccato bursts that I feel are an accurate depiction. Fell provides different voices for the supporting cast that make it easy to know who is speaking. His voice is clear and easy to understand. A great book and a great performance. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Sign for Home. 

Arlo's awakening and reckoning made for a 'just one more chapter' listen, keeping me up 'til late at night. The Sign for Home is gut wrenchingly good and heartbreakingly sad. You’re gonna love it. Absolutely, positively recommended. An easy five stars.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Sari, Not Sari - Sonya Singh

Sari, Not Sari is Sonya Singh's debut novel. I really enjoyed it! 

What's it about? From Simon and Shuster: "This delightful debut rom-com follows the adventures of a woman trying to connect with her South Asian roots and introduces readers to a memorable cast of characters in a veritable feast of food, family traditions, and fun."

Our lead character is Manny - the owner of a unique business. 'Breakup' helps people ease the pain of ending their relationships. They'll help find the right way and words to break up - by email and/or text. A fun premise for sure. You'll find email requests at the beginning of each chapter that are quite funny. I found this tidbit reading Singh's bio - "Sari, Not Sari, is an ode to her own personal dating experiences, during which she honed the art of writing the perfect break-up email/text."

Now, following the rom-com formula, Manny has her own relationship issues, there's a client that might just be more than business, a find yourself epiphany for our lead character, a great bunch of quirky supporting characters and the ending that you really want. I quite liked Manny as a lead - she's warm, funny, caring and - she can't see that her fiancée is a bit of a donkey's behind. 

Singh gives us more to love with Manny's search for her South Asian roots and the large, boisterous and loving Patel family. Seriously, I'd love to go to one of their family get togethers - food, family and dancing - what's more to want? (Note that I really like Bollywood movies and can see this novel as a film!)

I loved Sari, Not Sari - what a great debut this was. Pick this one up for the beach bag this summer. 

I look forward to Singh's next book. But for now - read an excerpt of Sari, Not Sari. You can connect with Sonya Singh on her website and on Instagram.


Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The Diamond Eye - Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn's previous book The Rose Code was my favorite historical read last year. When I heard she had a new book coming out I wondered - could she match that fantastic read? Well, the answer is a resounding yes! The Diamond Eye has just released and it too is a fascinating blend of fact and fiction.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Mila Pavlichenko. You’ll recognize the first name, but most likely not the second. Pavlichenko was a Russian sniper in WWII who came to be known - and feared - as Lady Death. 

Quinn brings Mila to life in the Diamond Eye. We meet her as a young mother, a hard worker, a loyal patriot, and a historical librarian student. When the Germans declare war, she immediately steps up to defend her country. She’s such a great lead character, strong, feisty, determined and clever. She’s also a woman and a mother and Quinn explores and depicts those facets of her life as well. She faced great deal of adversity on all fronts. Not everyone thinks Mila should be the sniper she is, or the face of the Russian soldier. There’s lots of action, danger and a mystery woven into The Diamond Eye.

I chose to listen to the The Diamond Eye. The reader was one of my favorites -  the very talented Saskia Maarleveld. She has the most wonderfully expressive voice. Her voice is rich and full with a gravelly undertone. She provides different voices for each of the characters that very much suited the mental images I created for each. Mila's voice is so strong and absolutely brought her to life. And yes, her Russian accent was realistic and consistent. There are many male characters as well and the voices and tones Maarleveld provided were also believable. She captures the plot of Quinn's work easily with her voice. As well as the emotions and settings. Her voice is easy to listen to, well enunciated and the pace is just right. I've said it before and I'll say it again - when listening to a book, I find I am much more immersed in the story and that was definitely the case with The Diamond Eye. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of The Diamond Eye.

Monday, April 4, 2022

A Sunlit Weapon - Jacqueline Winspear

A Sunlit Weapon is the 17th entry in Jacqueline Winspear's long running and much loved Maisie Dobbs series. Picking up the latest in this series feels like settling in with an old friend to catch up.

I appreciate that Winspear keeps the narrative moving forward. We’ve been with  Maisie through her younger years through to the current time period - 1942 WWII. She's gone from a servant on an estate to now being a licensed psychologist and private investigator with her own office.

Winspear takes historical events and weaves them together with a mystery in each book. I really enjoy the historical bits. A Sunlit Weapon uses the air ferry women as a basis for one of Maisie's cases.

While the plotting and mysteries are always excellent, it is the characters that have me coming back for each new book. Maisie is a great lead - calm, thoughtful, somewhat impulsive and curious. Winspear has kept the personal lives of all the characters moving forward as well. I've become quite invested in their lives and what might be next for them all. Maisie's assistant Billy Beale is a perennial favorite supporting character. He and Maisie work well together. All of the characters have suffered some loss over the years - which mimics life. But, they continually put one foot in front of the other and move forward - can do, keep calm and soldier on. 

The latest case is a complicated one and as things progress, two of Macy’s cases seem to have something in common. I appreciate the way the cases are solved with leg work, conversations and slowly piecing together clues and observations. And with Maisie there's also that extra little bit intuition. 

The settings have always been a character in these books as well - each described so well that I can picture them. (I'd love to be in the car with Maisie, motoring down a country road.

Excellent plotting, wonderful characters and prose add up to another satisfying tale. But I knew it would be! If you love historical fiction and you haven't read Jacqueline Winspear you're missing out on an excellent series. See for yourself - read an excerpt  Sunlit Weapon.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Spotlight - Treasures of the Sky - Jenny Tinghui Zhang

I'm today's stop for the blog tour of Treasures of the Sky - Jenny Tinghui Zhang's debut novel.

What's it about? From Flatiron Books:

"A propulsive and dazzling debut novel set against the backdrop of the Chinese Exclusion Act, about a Chinese girl fighting to claim her place in the 1880s American West.

Daiyu never wanted to be like the tragic heroine for whom she was named, revered for her beauty and cursed with heartbreak. But when she is kidnapped and smuggled across an ocean from China to America, Daiyu must relinquish the home and future she imagined for herself. Over the years that follow, she is forced to keep reinventing herself to survive. From a calligraphy school, to a San Francisco brothel, to a shop tucked into the Idaho mountains, we follow Daiyu on a desperate quest to outrun the tragedy that chases her. As anti-Chinese sentiment sweeps across the country in a wave of unimaginable violence, Daiyu must draw on each of the selves she has been - including the ones she most wants to leave behind - in order to finally claim her own name and story.

At once a literary tour de force and a groundbreaking work of historical fiction, Four Treasures of the Sky announces Jenny Tinghui Zhang as an indelible new voice. Steeped in untold history and Chinese folklore, this novel is a spellbinding feat." "Engulfing, bighearted, and heartbreaking." - Ann Patchett

Photo Credit: Mary Inhea Kang
Read an excerpt of Treasures of the Sky.

"Jenny Tinghui Zhang is a Chinese-American writer. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Apogee, Ninth Letter, Passages North, The Rumpus, HuffPost, The Cut, Catapult, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the University of Wyoming and has received support from Kundiman, Tin House, and VONA/Voices. She was born in Changchun, China and grew up in Austin, Texas, where she currently lives. Four Treasures of the Sky is her debut. You can connect with Jenny on Instagram."
 

Friday, April 1, 2022

What We Harvest - Ann Fraistat

What We Harvest is Ann Fraistat's debut novel - a YA read entitled What We Harvest. 

For 150 years, the four founding families of the small village of Hollow's End have prospered. Their animals and crops are marveled at by visitors. Wren's family grows 'rainbow' wheat that is delicious in bread. Some even say it has almost magical health benefits. All four families are thriving until…the blight arrives. The last farm to be touched is Wren's family farm. Wren believes it's up to her  to save the farms - as she thinks she caused the blight. There's one other person she can ask to help - her ex boyfriend Derek who is also a descendant of the original four families. The will they, won't they romantic storyline is well done. And - what book doesn't benefit from a loyal dog?

If you’re kind of a fan of zombie movies (raises hand) you’ll enjoy Fraistat's world building. The blight is mercurial, slithering and sliding into everything and everyone. It gave me goosebumps. Wren is great lead character - she’s strong, brave, a bit reckless, but determined save the farms and folks of Hollow's End. What she finds isn’t it at all what she expected. Or  me either. 

There’s lots of action and danger as encounters and skirmishes with the blight increase both in frequency and danger. How can the blight be beaten? Will Wren have to sacrifice herself for the good of the town and it's inhabitants? I do think there was perhaps one too many skirmish for me. It started to feel just a tad repetitive to me. I was eager to get to the resolution.

Isn't the cover gorgeous? And I liked the title's nod to the phrase "You reap what you sow." What We Harvest is a strong debut. I would happily pick up the nest book from this author. See for yourself - read an excerpt of What We Harvest.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Welcome to the School by the Sea - Jenny Colgan

Welcome to the School by the Sea is Jenny Colgan‘s latest release in North America. It’s the first of a planned four part series.

I love Jenny Colgan's writing! Her books are just comforting, feel good, sit back, lose yourself in a story reads. In this latest, Colgan takes us to a boarding school for girls in England. Maggie is the the new, young addition to the teaching staff. She hails from Scotland. And she's about to have all her preconceived dreams of a wonderful new teaching experience challenged. 

Maggie is quite likable - she's not perfect, but has a kind heart and good intentions. I quite liked her inner dialogue. There’s a range of personalities amongst the girls with a social hierarchy you'd (sadly) find in any group setting. One of the girls is especially nasty. My heart was with Simone, a scholarship student who has a very difficult time at Downey Hall. As Maggie circumvents the pitfalls, the joys and the unexpected surprises of her new post, she too is hampered by the girls' attitudes, but sometimes helped as well. Let’s not forget about the teachers - some are some strict disciplinarians, rule followers and some are mired in same age old ways. Colgan gives one of the senior staff an unexpected story line. Now, what about that boys school just over the hill? There’s a rather attractive history professor there - and that presents another dilemma for Maggie. Will she succumb to her feelings or is she loyal to the boyfriend she left back at home? I can’t say I agree with every decision that Maggie meets but that’s what makes her human and relatable.

There are some unanswered questions and I'm keen to see where Colgan takes things. I wonder if the same group of girls will be back, a little bit older and a bit wiser. And I'm very eager to see how the romantic plot line unfolds. It's all about the characters for me in Colgan's writing and this latest is no exception. I can’t wait to see what the second book - Rules at the School by the Sea, due out in August 2022 - brings.

I chose to listen to Welcome to the School by the Sea. Jilly Bond is the narrator and she does an absolutely fantastic job! She’s provides unique and distinctive voices for all of the characters. It's easy to suss out who is speaking. She captures the personalities of all the characters - young, old, male and female with her voice and I easily created vivid mental images of each one. She portrays the emotions of the characters as well. I did end up turning down the speed a notch or two as she is a quick speaker and that was perfect for me. Hear for yourself – listen to an audio expert of Welcome to the School by the Sea.