Thursday, January 27, 2022

Just Like the Other Girls - Claire Douglas

I've read and enjoyed previous titles from Claire Douglas. She writes suspense, which is one of my favorite genres. I thought I would try listening to one of her titles as well - Just Like the Other Girls. 

"Carer/Companion wanted for elderly lady. Young female preferred. Competitive salary. Room and Board included."

Sounds like a good job, right? Una Richardson thinks so. She'll save some money and then take off travelling in a few months. But things are not quite idyllic in the McKenzie house. Elspeth is mercurial in her moods, demands and demeanor. Her adult daughter Kathryn is downright rude. And it seems that Una is not the first companion. There have been at least two before her.....

I liked the premise - there's so many places this plot could go. I got a gothic feel from the set up - an elderly (but not really pleasant) woman in a large, well-to-do home, a bitter daughter and our protagonist living in a room in the attic. 

As listeners, we are privy to not just Una's thoughts, but also Kathryn's. And Kathryn's are more than a little disconcerting. I did find Una to be too trusting and naïve. But, of course that just adds to the tension. There's a number of supporting players (aka suspects). Una's best friend Courtney ended up being my favorite character.

Douglas surprised me with an abrupt change-up that I didn't see coming midway through the book. I did find the first bit of this change up to be very similar and repetitive to what has already occurred in part one. There were some bits that I found to be a bit far fetched and somewhat questionable, such as the police response and the rationalizing that the companions make about what's going on. The narrative definitely had that 'don't go in the basement', 'get out of the house' feeling! The ending provided a whodunit that was a surprise.

The reader was Georgia Maguire and she did an excellent job of presenting Douglas's work. She employs differing tones and accents to define and easily identify each character. She spoke clearly and is easy to understand. She captures and easily portrays the emotions of the characters and the suspense of the plot with her voice. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Just Like the Other Girls.

Overall, an entertaining listen. I'm looking forward to her forthcoming novel - The Couple at Number 9.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Greenwich Park - Katherine Faulkner

I've been looking forward to quite a few new titles coming out in 2022. Katherine Faulkner's debut novel, Greenwich Park, has been at the top of the list. And if you enjoy twisty suspense that will keep you guessing, you need to put this book on your must read list.

Helen, her husband Daniel, her brother Rory and his wife Serena all went to University together. They lead the enviable lives of the wealthy. And now Helen and her sister-in-law are each expecting their first child. For Helen it's a frightening time as she's had many miscarriages. So, she is off work and ordered to take it easy. Helen ends up solo at her prenatal classes and meets Rachel - a young woman who is also pregnant. Rachel is loud, flamboyant and doesn't seem to read social cues. She's the opposite of Helen, but still, she is drawn to Rachel. Perhaps it's because she's lonely....

Uh huh - you can see where this is going can't you? Or can you? Is Rachel what and who she says she is? Or does she have another reason for befriending Helen? Faulkner puts her own twist - or I should say twists - on the idea of a stranger insinuating themselves into someone's life.  

Helen is the perfect unsuspecting, unreliable lead character. She's afraid to offend anyone, wants to do the 'right' thing and seems to not want to address the cracks in her own life. The supporting cast provide many choices for the 'whodunit'. None of them are truly likeable and each seems to be harboring their own secrets. Some of those supporting players are given their own voice, giving the reader more clues as to what is going on - and why.

I thought I had things all figured out - I was happily proven wrong. I love being surprised by a author. And just when I thought things were all neatly tied up, Faulkner changes the endgame - again. Bravo!

A binge worthy debut and I look forward to Faulkner's next book. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Greenwich Park.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? - Lizzie Damilola Blackburn

Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? is Lizzie Damilola Blackburn's just released debut novel. I was going to love it from the first pages...

Huzband (pronounced auz*band)

" A nonexistent man in a nonexistent marriage whose whereabouts is often asked, usually by Nigerian mums and aunties, of single British-Nigerian women. e.g. "So, Yinka, where is your huzband? Ah, ah. You're thirty-one now!"

Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? was an absolute joy to read. Even more so with the world today. Sometimes you just need an 'escape' read - one that will take you away, make you laugh, make you nod your head in agreement or disbelief (those aunties are intense!) And I believe every reader will connect with the book through a situation or a piece of dialogue. The depiction of family, friendship, culture and community was so very well done. It's not all perfect, but instead is believable and mirrors real life.

Blackburn also explores faith, social issues and the workplace. There's a myriad of supporting characters, each with a different outlook that adds greatly to the overall story. But the book belongs to Yinka as she tries to find what's next for her in life, in love and more. And it's most definitely not a straight path.

From Operation Wedding Date to the final revelation, the reader will be behind Yinka as she looks for love - and herself. From the author's dedication page...."And to all the women who question their worth. Remember, you're always deserving of self-love..."

A wonderful debut and I look forward to Blackburn's next book.  See for yourself - read an excerpt of Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Ex-Husband - Karen Hamilton

Karen Hamilton's new novel, The Ex-Husband, has just released. 

Hamilton opens up with a prologue from the past that introduces us to Charlotte, an employee on a cruise ship. She's waiting in line at customs clearance, with her husband Sam, but they get separated. And it's Charlotte's suitcase that has a passenger's missing necklace in it..

The timeline switches to the present. Charlotte has rebuilt her life - without Sam. They've had no contact, so she is quite surprised to hear from him. Sam tells her to be careful. It looks like their past is going to catch up with them - he's been threatened and wants to warn Charlotte to be careful. So, when she is offered a job on a private yacht is seem like the right time to be on a boat on the sea. Unless, of course, danger follows her.....

Hamilton unspools her tale in a past and present format. I always enjoy this method of storytelling. The reader becomes aware of whose lives crossed paths with Sam and Charlotte and the how and why. So, in present day, there are many choices for the person seeking retribution. I also liked the 'locked room' setting with all of the suspects in one place.

I felt like I should be behind Charlotte - but couldn't convince myself to like her. Perhaps because I did become aware of her past - and her skill sets.

The run up to the final pages is a bit of a slow burn. The ending requires a few grains of salt, but certainly isn't beyond the possible. You know what they say about leopards and spots...

Domestic suspense fans will enjoy this one. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Ex-Husband.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

A Flicker in the Dark -Stacy Willingham

“A smart, edge-of-your-seat story with plot twists you’ll never see coming. Stacy Willingham’s debut will keep you turning pages long past your bedtime.” ―Karin Slaughter

A debut novel that has a blurb from Karin Slaughter? (And many others!) A Flicker in the Dark was a must read for me.

Chloe was twelve when her father confessed to the killing of six teenage girls in their small Louisiana town. Twenty years later, Chloe has tried to escape the past and the stigma, moving away and becoming a psychologist. When one of her teenage patients goes missing, it brings it all back. The similarities between this case and her father's crimes are eerily similar....

Willingham's lead character is wonderfully unreliable - a favorite device of mine. I love trying to see between the lines, interpret Chloe's memories, deciding what might be true and what may not. Alcohol and drugs magnify that unreliability. There's some gaslighting as well - again, another device I truly enjoy.

Willingham also gives us a myriad of suspects for the whodunit. The reader is kept guessing all the way to the final reveal with suspect behaviour, hidden agendas, ulterior motives and more. Willingham delightfully manipulates the reader and their perceptions with a final reveal that I only sussed out in the final pages. 

The premise of a serial killer father isn't new, but Willingham has put her own stamp on this idea. The writing grabbed me and it was hard to put the book down. See for yourself - read an excerpt of A Flicker in the Dark. I look forward to Willingham's next book!

HBO Max and Emma Stone are working together to develop an adaptation of Stacy Willingham's upcoming novel A Flicker in the Dark. Pretty impressive for a first novel!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Anthem - Noah Hawley

I really enjoyed Noah Hawley's previous book - Before the Fall. (my review) His new novel is the recently released Anthem

I was intrigued by the plot description. From Grand Central Publishing:

"The first big novel of 2022: an epic literary thriller set where America is right now, in which a band of unlikely heroes sets out on a quest to save one innocent life—and might end up saving us all.

Something is happening to teenagers across America, spreading through memes only they can parse.  

At the Float Anxiety Abatement Center, in a suburb of Chicago, Simon Oliver is trying to recover from his sister’s tragic passing. He breaks out to join a woman named Louise and a man called The Prophet on a quest as urgent as it is enigmatic. Who lies at the end of the road? A man known as The Wizard, whose past encounter with Louise sparked her own collapse. Their quest becomes a rescue mission when they join up with a man whose sister is being held captive by the Wizard, impregnated and imprisoned in a tower.  

Noah Hawley’s new novel is an adventure that finds unquenchable lights in dark corners.  Unforgettably vivid characters and a plot as fast and bright as pop cinema blend in a Vonnegutian story that is as timeless as a Grimm’s fairy tale.  It is a leap into the idiosyncratic pulse of the American heart, written with the bravado, literary power, and feverish foresight that have made Hawley one of our most essential writers."

Okay, here's the thing - and it's very hard for me to say this. But, Anthem is a very rare DNF for me. I've picked up and put down the book many times. At page 114 I threw in the towel. 

I want to stress that Hawley is a truly talented writer. His scathing depictions and dismantling of society, politics, religion, business, pharmaceuticals, history, climate and more are unsettling, yet strangely spot on. Hawley is writing about our world, now and in the near future.

Anthem takes place a few years after the Covid pandemic has passed. The generation of teenagers who will be the new leaders in a few years have chosen to kill themselves - in droves. This was pretty hard to read as so many of us are feeling pandemic fatigue. "Now we had to wonder, had that endless lockdown our children endured, had long-term mental health effects - all that computer schooling, the chronic fear of falling behind academically, socially, the endless months of heightened anxiety and uncertainty?

Page 114 details a text exchange between an unknown male and a young teenage girl. And it's ugliness saddened me. And I thought - I just don't want to read anymore. I admit to sneaking ahead to the last few chapters - and I thought yes, I've confirmed my decision to myself. I wasn't up for the journey to that last chapter. But I did find that last chapter was redemptive. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Find Me - Alafair Burke

I'm always excited to see that Alafair Burke has a new book coming out. But, I try not to read the synopsis beforehand. I know I'm going to enjoy whatever she's written - and I like a surprise. Well, that latest - Find Me - releases today. And it was as good as I knew it would be!

I've read all of Burke's novels and was thrilled to see that Ellie Hatcher was in Find Me. I've always hoped Burke would continue her story. But you don't have to have read the Hatcher books, as this latest can absolutely be read as a standalone. 

Fifteen years ago, Lindsay Kelly rescued a woman from a car crash. She survived, but has no memories of her life before she was found. She goes by the name of Hope. Lindsay is her best friend and is now a lawyer. Hope decides it's time to move out of the small town she's called home for the last fifteen years. Lindsay supports her, but is more than a little worried when she doesn't hear from Hope. And rightly so.....

Where does Ellie fit in you ask? Ahh.....those who will have read the Hatcher books will know about the case that led to her father's death. (And it won't detract from this book if you haven't!) How in the world could these two incidents be connected? Hampered by a cop who can't be bothered to do his job right, Lindsay and Ellie start to work the case themselves. 

Burke weaves seemingly unrelated incidents, occurrences and overlooked clues on the way to resolution. I couldn't predict what that resolution might be and happily joined the search for answers. The reader only knows what the two women do, so we can only hypothesize as the links to then and now start to  start to coalesce. And I loved that kick at the end!

Burke has given us some strong lead characters in Ellie (my fave) and Lindsay. Hope is a wild card and I had my reservations about her past....and her memory. There are a number of supporting players and at times I had to stop and think who was who.

Burke is a former Deputy District Attorney and is now a Professor of Law teaching criminal law and procedure. The plots of Burke's books are enhanced by the author's background and legal knowledge.

Another great read for me. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Find Me.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

A Deadly Affair - Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie's mysteries are classics. I've read them all and watched the television and film versions at some point. But what I hadn't done was listen to them until Harper Audio started to release a number of Christie collections in audio format. One of the latest - A Deadly Affair, is a collection of  'Unexpected Love Stories from the Queen of Mystery'.

I've quite embraced short story collections on audio. Purists might listen in order of presentation, but I tend to pick and choose based on the length of the story and what time I have available.

This collection features a number of Christie's beloved and well known characters including Poirot (my favorite!), Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence as well as some lesser known, such as Parker Pyne and Harley Quin. Fourteen stories in total. And what a treat to find the last entry was Christie's own love life.

Each character brings a different style, tone and method to their crime solving skills. And it makes you realize truly how brilliant Christie was with her writing. I enjoyed each tale as they were all so different. But, what they all have in common is crime. 

The narrators were David Suchet, Hugh Fraser, Joan Hickson and Judith Boyd. These are the original actors who portrayed the iconic characters of Poirot, Hastings and Miss Marple on television. That familiarity was wonderful and I had mental images of each character while listening. I did have to adjust the speed on Hickson's stories due to her accent and rapid fire delivery. Easily done. Other than that, everything was spot on!

A must for Christie fans and a great introduction for new readers/listeners. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of A Deadly Affair. Run time is 6 hours 47 minutes.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Seasonal Work - Laura Lippman

I've read every one of Laura Lippman's books. But what I haven't read are any of her short stories! I was eager to listen to Seasonal Work - Lippman's newly released collection. These stories have been published previously in various compilations but the last one is new, novella length and set in these Covid times.

What I love about short stories is an author's ability to introduce characters, a setting, a plot and a satisfying ending - all in a short space of time. They're like mini getaways. Now, some short story lovers are purists - listening in the order presented. Me? I hop around, picking a tale on it's length and how much time I have to listen. 

I enjoyed each and every story. There's a broad selection of tales, all quite different. What they do have in common are strong female protagonists, varying in ages and mind sets. They're not all nice...

Lippman brings life into her tales, with all the joy and hurt that living brings. Some of them were just desserts in my opinion, others were the inevitability of society and those who prey on others. And yes, there's some good mixed in as well!

It's hard to pick favorites, as I truly did enjoy them all. I was very happy to see Tess Monaghan (a series character) in two stories that were new to me. And surprised by the story inspired by Tess's parents as newlyweds. Book Thing was an ode to books in a novel situation. (yes, pun intended ;0) ) The title tale, Seasonal Work, was a great leadoff and ended with a lovely twist. And the last one - Just One More - had a great gotcha at the end as well. There's no repetition here - each story is fresh, different and and satisfying.

I chose to listen to Seasonal Work. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I find I become much more immersed in a book when I listen. Seasonal Work had a stellar list of narrators that I was looking forward to. Each only read one story. And each turned in an excellent performance. I do have my favorite readers and was happy to see many familiar names. And the opportunity to discover new narrators. Each performance was clearly spoken, the speed was right. And each interpreted the story they were presenting very well, capturing the tone, emotions and action. I enjoyed the author's comments about her work and inspiration for the stories.

Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Seasonal Work. And if you've not read Lippman before, this is a great way to experience her very talented writing. 

There are twelve tales ranging in length from twenty four minutes to an hour and ten minutes. Total run time is 8 hours 56 minutes.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Maid - Nita Prose

Happy 2022 to you! It's a new year and there are some great titles coming out in the next few months. 

Nita Prose's debut novel The Maid releases today and it's a brilliant read to start off 2022! I was hooked from the opening pages...

Molly works at the upscale Regency Grand Hotel as a maid. "Every day of work is a joy to me. I was born to do this job. I love cleaning. I love my maid's trolley, and I love my uniform." But one day her ordered life is upset by the death of wealthy Mr. Black, whose room she cleans. It is Molly who finds his body.

Now, the other thing you need to know about Molly is that she struggles with social skills and can't read the nuances of interactions - facial and conversational.  Her beloved Gran, now deceased, left her with routines and rules to help navigate a world that Molly doesn't fully 'get'. "The truth is, I often have trouble with social situations; it's as though everyone is playing an elaborate game with complex rules they all know, but I'm always playing for the first time.

Well, first off, you're going to absolutely love Molly - her innocence, her upbeat attitude, her manner of speaking and those rules and sayings that guide her life. And then there's Gran. Even though she is gone, her presence is felt throughout the book. (It made me miss my Gran too!) The supporting cast of players gives us a large number of suspects for the whodunit. You'll have no problem deciding who you like - and who you don't. The reader can see what's happening - but Molly doesn't. Your heart will break for Molly as she misinterprets what's going on.

But. there's a turn in the story - one that I am not going to expound on, but it's absolutely perfect. Suffice it to say that Molly and her Gran read lots of Agatha Christie and watched all of Columbo...…

What more could you want - characters you'll be rooting for, a murder mystery, and some insightful thoughts about love, loss and life. Prose's writing will keep you turning page after page late into the night. Heartily recommended! See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Maid.

This is the first book that Nita Prose has written, but not the first time she's been involved in the publishing of a book.  From her website: "Currently, I’m vice president and editorial director at Simon & Schuster in Toronto, Canada, where I have the privilege of working with an incredible array of authors and publishing colleagues whom I credit with teaching me, manuscript by manuscript, book by book, the wondrous craft of writing." That experience shines through in The Maid. I'm really looking forward to the next book Prose pens. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Maid.