Friday, September 30, 2022

How to Survive Your Murder - Danielle Valentine

How to Survive Your Murder is new from YA author Danielle Valentine

Okay, if you're a fan of slasher and teen horror movies, you're going to want to pick up this one. There are so many references to 90's film culture that I recognized or knew. 

Alice and her sister Claire go to a high school Hallowe'en party held at....wait for it....a cornfield. (What's rule one? Stay out of the cornfield and look out for chainsaws!) Well, Claire ignored that caveat and died. A year has passed and Alice is attending the trial of the killer. She is the lone witness - and the Final Girl. And then there's a Cinderella moment - Alice is knocked out and when she wakes, it is Halloween night a year earlier, the same day Claire was murdered. Alice has until midnight to save her sister and find the real killer.

At first I wasn't totally sold on the Cinderella twist, but I quickly changed my mind and embraced it. There's a lot of leeway afforded to the plot with that twist. But best of all, the ropes keep coming and the choices for whodunit change rapidly. 

Valentine's dialogue and depiction of high school life, relationships, romance, teen culture and more rings true. (At least they do from my experience. ;0) 

And that ending? Did not see that coming! There's a couple of ways it could be interpreted and personally I would have liked a less nebulous finale. But I applaud the last page twist.

With Hallowe'en in the near future, this would be a perfect (and fun) seasonal read! See for yourself - read an excerpt  of How to Survive Your Murder. Just remember - stay out of the corn maze....or basement.....or check your backseat or....

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Shadow Murders - Jussi Adler-Olsen

Department Q is back! I've enjoyed each and every book in Jussi Adler-Olsen's wonderful series. The latest entry (#9) is  The Shadow Murders.

For those who haven't heard of this series...Carl Mørck is the head of Copenhagen’s Department Q - a small unit of four that investigates  cold cases. They're an eclectic bunch and do things their way - which has not endeared them to the rest of the police department. But, what no one can argue, is their success rate. Their latest case is foisted on them by Carl's superior, Marcus Jacobsen. One of Marcus's first cases has haunted him for decades. When a woman from that case dies, he wants them to have another look. I'll stop there...

Adler-Olsen has crafted a dark, disturbing and devious plot. Parts of it are not so far from some of today's newspaper headlines. We're given a insider look at the perpetrator and their mindset. Scary...

The tension grows with each page turned. There's a deadline in place. Will Carl and the crew solve the whodunit it in time to save a life? Their investigation is hampered by a number of factors, making it even more of an 'edge of your seat' read. 

Adler-Olsen has kept the lives of the four characters current and moving forward in every book. I've always enjoyed the banter amongst this eclectic four. And especially Assad and his proverbs. I find their personal lives are as much of a draw for me as the cases are. 

While there's a satisfactory ending to the case, the door has been left open for the next book. Actually it's a bit more than the door being open. Metaphorically, Carl has fallen down the basement stairs. I can't wait to see what the next book brings. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Shadow Murders. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

A Merry Little Meet Cute - Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone

I'm a big fan of Julie Murphy's books. I saw the cover and title of her latest book - A Merry Little Meet Cute, and thought oh, a Christmas tale! And a collaboration with a new to me author - Sierra Simone.

So, here's the premise...

Bee Hobbes is a successful, plus-size adult film star. Her favorite producer gives her the lead in a Christmas movie he's making.... for a clean, family channel. Her co-star ends up being  none other than her childhood crush, Nolan Shaw, an ex-boy band member in desperate need of a career boost. Oh, and that he recognizes Bee from her online gig - ClosedDoors. Uh can see where this might go, right?

So, I hit play and started listening. I really liked Bee. She's unapologetically herself. She's a great daughter, a wonderful friend and good at her job. I wasn't one hundred per cent sold on Nathan in the beginning, but he grew on me as the book and romance progressed. There's some over the top stuff on the movie set that's just plain fun. Bee and Nolan each have a voice and as listeners, we're privy to both of their thoughts. 

So, the plot was a surprise to me and is definitely not my usual genre. But it's good to step out of the usual path once in a while, isn't it? I thought the positive portrayal of sex workers and plus size characters was so good to read. The sex scenes? Well, not something I really read, so I'll say Murphy and Simone know better than me and that it's well done.

I've enjoyed Murphy's books in audio before and chose to listen again. The readers were Joy Nash and Sebastian York. Both performers were the perfect choice for their roles. Nash has such an expressive tone to her voice. She embodied the mental image I had created for Bee. Confident, proud, matter of fact and yet still unsure. York's voice has a deeper gravelly tone that's, well it's pretty sexy. He too absolutely fit the mental image I had for him. Both narrators easily bring Murphy and Simone's book to life with their expressive voices. Yes, that includes the steamy bits! Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of A Merry Little Meet Cute. 

I was a little obtuse when it came to the title. What is a meet cute? Here you go if you're a little out of the loop like me! "(in a movie, etc.) a humorous or interesting situation in which two people meet, that leads to them developing a romantic relationship with each other." Ahh - that makes sense now!

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Meet Me Under the Mistletoe - Jenny Bayliss

I can hear it now....A Christmas book? So early?! Well, technically, Christmas is only 92 days from today! Jenny Bayliss's latest book is Meet Me Under the Mistletoe.

Elinor (Nory) Noel is the lead character in this novel, but she is one of a large cast of players. There's a core of old school friends reuniting for a wedding. The wedding is taking place at the castle in the village. Many of those who live in the village are also part of that supporting cast.

There's a lot of baggage with this group - and I'm not talking suitcases. There's still a line between the haves and the have nots, after so long. Themes of friendship, duty, love, loss, family and more all bubble up to the surface over the week as old wounds, slights and hurts and more see daylight again. 

Nory is very likable as are her family, closest friend and her employee Andrew. Andrew and Nory work in Nory's second hand book store. I appreciated her love of second hand books and her ability to find just the right book for a reader. Definitely a store I would be frequenting!

On the flip side, there are some of the 'old gang' that are not so attractive. The bridezilla grew a bit tiresome. And there's one male characters that is truly horrible. I get that there always needs a negative player, but his behaviour is tolerated more than once, when I would be calling the local constabulary. 
'Nuff said.

I'm sure you'll guess the romantic thread if I mention that the castle has a handsome, single gardener on the payroll... I did enjoy this bit of the plot and thought it played out well.

Meet Me Under the Mistletoe weighs in at 432 pages, which is quite long for this genre. I do think things could have pared down a bit. I've enjoyed Bayliss's books in the past. This one didn't grab me like those previous novels. It became somewhat repetitive. And I think that one male character's actions and the response left a sour taste in my mouth. 

While the title promises a Christmas read, it's not as Christmassy as I expected - if that makes sense. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Other Side of Night - Adam Hamdy

The early praise of crime writer Adam Hamdy's new novel, The Other Side of Night, caught my attention. 

Here's the description from the publisher:

"The Other Side of Night begins with a man named David Asha writing about his biggest regret: his sudden separation from his son, Elliot. In his grief, David tells a story. Next, we step into the life of Harriet Kealty, a police officer trying to clear her name after a lapse of judgment. She discovers a curious inscription in a secondhand book—a plea: Help me, he’s trying to kill me. Who wrote this note? Who is “he”? This note leads Harri to David Asha, who was last seen stepping off a cliff. Police suspect he couldn’t cope after his wife’s sudden death. Still, why would this man jump and leave behind his young son? Quickly, Harri’s attention zeroes in on a person she knows all too well. Ben Elmys: once the love of her life. A surrogate father to Elliot Asha and trusted friend to the Ashas."

Initially, this description is what caught my eye. But it's presented differently than I had expected. The plot is intricate, somewhat byzantine, and falls into the literary mystery genre in my opinion. To be fair, I found the book to be a bit overwhelming. The narrative explores a theory I won't name, to prevent a spoiler. What I will say is that it didn't interest me. Given the description, I had expected more of a traditional mystery. That being said, I did finish the book, but in jumps and spurts.  I grew tired of hearing about 'a secret' over and over again, but with no answer. 

I chose to listen to The Other Side of Night. The reader was Justin Avoth. He has a wonderful rich full voice with a wonderfully resonant undertone. He's easy on the ears and his speed of reading was good. He uses his voice effectively to accentuate the author's work. However, the same voice is used for all the characters. I would have preferred a different tone or tenor to discern who was speaking. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of The Other Side of Night. 

I'm in the minority of this one - I encourage you to check out the five star reviews on Goodreads. 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Forsaken Country - Allen Eskens

Once I discovered Allen Eskens back in 2015, I started recommending him to everyone I knew. Since that first book, Eskens' writing has only got better and better. (Which is saying a lot as that first book was really good!)

His latest (and eighth) book is the newly released, Forsaken Country. For those of you who know his works, you'll be just as excited as I was to find that Max Rupert is at the heart of the book. 

In this latest, former Homicide Detective Max begins to question his self imposed solitude. Why? Well, Lyle, a retired lawman, comes to Max with a desperate plea for help. His daughter and grandson have gone missing - and the local sheriff has already made up his mind that she's run away and closed the case. Max has his reasons as to why he finally agrees to take a look at the case. Those who have read previous books, will know why he is so reluctant. New readers, there's certainly enough backstory to fill in the 'what came before'.

Oh my gosh, I could not put the book down. The plotting is brilliant. The action is non stop and had my stomach in knots. What to do? Yes, I stayed up very late until the last page was turned. I had to know the ending before I could sleep.

Eskens' characters have depth and introspective voices. Max's losses, love, pain, determination and struggle to be in the world again ring so true. On the flip side, there is an antagonist that will make your skin crawl, but again he rings true. There's a second antagonist had my sympathy by the end chapters. Each of these three have a voice with their own chapters.

What else is there to say - it's a fantastic book. And a very easy five stars. I can't wait to see Eskens' next book.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Wheel of Doll - Jonathan Ames

I read the first book in Jonathan Ames's 'Doll' series last year and absolutely loved it. The second book, The Wheel of Doll, has just released - and it delivers another additive read.

For those of you, who, like me, love hardboiled, down on their luck P.I. fiction, you're going to want to introduce yourself to 'Happy Doll'. Uh huh, that's his name.

The case? A beautiful young woman turns up at the office, wanting to hire Hap to find her missing mother. And her mother just happens to be a woman Doll once loved. You got it - he takes the case and immerses himself into the search.

The home setting is LA and I immediately get a noir feeling from the settings and characters - Hank's office, his occupation, (which is officially a Security Consultant since he lost his PI license), his home under the lights of the Hollywood sign, his knowledge of back alleys, encampments and the denizens those who call them home and more. 

Happy's inner dialogue is wickedly sharp and darkly humourous. He acts on impulse quite often and doesn't seem to realize that he isn't immortal. He's quite likeable and you can't help but behind him. Oh, and his dog George is an excellent sidekick. 

Another heckuva ride tale with a no apologies lead character. Can't wait for the next case! See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Wheel of Doll.

Gentle readers this book may not be the one for you - this book contains violence, drug use and more.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Bookish People - Susan Coll

Oh my gosh - Susan Coll's new novel, Bookish People, had me laughing out loud so many times!

If you love books, bookstores and/or have ever worked in a bookstore, this one's for you. I have indeed worked as a bookseller. Coll's depiction of an independent bookstore and it's patrons, staff and authors had me wanting a shift on the front desk.

Bookish People is told from two points of view. First from the owner, Sophie, who is tired. She's had enough of the bookstore and really, of the world in general. She's got a plan to cope with things though. (I really love her solution!) The other voice belongs to Clemi, the store manager. She's at a different stage in life, but is feeling the pressure everyday as well. 

There's a character for every reader - younger, older, married, single and more as they all navigate the bumps and joys along the road of life - and the stacks of the store. There are two other 'characters' that figure into Bookish People. One is Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - a tortoise and the other is the bookstore vacuum. (It actually figures quite prominently!) Coll's work benefits her expertise as the Events and Programs Director at a Washington DC bookstore. (The author events were hilarious!)

I chose to listen to Bookish People. The narrator was Alexa Morden. She was a great choice! Her voice is clear and clean, enunciated well and pleasant to listen to. She brings different voice to the various characters, making it easy to know who is speaking. She captures Coll's plotting with her pacing, pausing and the tone, tenor and emphasis of the words. Her voice suited the mental images I had created for the players. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt. An easy five stars for this listener. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Marple: Twelve New Mysteries - Agatha Christie

New Miss Marple stories?! All written by some of my favorite authors?! Yes please!!

Marple: Twelve New Mysteries has just released and features fresh Marple tales from some of the best mystery authors around -  Naomi Alderman, Leigh Bardugo, Alyssa Cole, Lucy Foley, Elly Griffiths, Natalie Haynes, Jean Kwok, Val McDermid, Karen M. McManus, Dreda Say Mitchell, Kate Mosse and Ruth Ware. This collection has the seal of approval from Christie's estate. 

The details of this iconic character are used in all of these stories - her knitting, her prim and unassuming manner, her cozy village of St. Mary Mead, her nephew, author Raymond West and his wife, the respect Miss Marple has earned from her amateur sleuthing and more. 

Some of the tales take us from St. Mary Mead to far off locations and some are closer to home. But what hasn't changed are her keen observational skills. I always enjoy the seemingly effortless way Miss Marple deduces who the culprit is. I'm with the supporting cast in each tale - just waiting for the final word on 'whodunit'. 

I really enjoy short story collections. It's nice to stop and take a break with a cuppa to read a story or two and have the closure of a solved case. I can honestly say I enjoyed each and every story. I've read most of the contributors works and it was fun to see bits of their own styles in the Miss Marple stories. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Marple: Twelve New Mysteries.

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Lost Ticket - Freya Sampson

I love my mystery and thriller reads, but the books that stick with me a bit longer are those that tug at my heart strings.

That's very much the case with Freya Sampson's latest novel, The Lost Ticket.

Libby is a newcomer to London, and arrived carrying some emotional baggage, along with her suitcase. An elderly passenger strikes up a conversation with her while they both ride the 88 bus. Sixty years ago, while riding the bus, he met a girl. A girl who he thought could be 'the' one for him. She gave him her phone number.....but he lost it. And so, every day, for sixty years, he's ridden the same route, hoping to find her. There's another rider that day as well that will become part of the search for Frank's lost girl.

Uh huh, all the right elements are in place for a 'tug at your heartstrings' read. Love lost, love found, loneliness, friendship, purpose, meaning and connections. What we all need - people, not things.

I adored the three main players in The Lost Ticket. Working together, they find what they were missing when they were alone. The supporting cast is just as endearing.

I loved the premise as well. The big question is of course, do they find the girl on the bus? I'm going to leave you to find out for yourself. The ending was, for this reader, satisfying. (But have a tissue handy.) An easy feel-good five stars!

See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Lost Ticket. Sampson's writing is a delight.

And be sure to check out Sampson's debut novel, The Last Chance Library. It's just as heartwarming! My review.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Fairy Tale - Stephen King

Oh, I'm a long time fan of Stephen King's writing. I love getting lost in his imaginings - other worlds, other times, what we can't see, what we can see, (but don't want to) and more. Each book is new and fresh, infused with the touch only King can bring to a tale.

The latest book is Fairy Tale. What a wealth of possibilities that title hinted at! I think this descriptor from the publisher sums it up nicely.

"...spellbinding novel about a seventeen-year-old boy who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, and the stakes could not be higher - for that world or ours."

I love the amount of detail King puts into his characters, settings, plotting and world building. They paint vivid mental images for me, bringing the story to life. Charlie is a great lead, easy to like and root for. And there's a dog. :0) I loved the whole idea of another world with a hidden entrance just waiting for the reader. King pulls out pieces of childhood fairy tales and weaves them into his imagined world. And as we know, not all tales are fairies and lightness....

I chose to listen to Fairy Tale. Seth Numrich was the reader and he was the perfect choice. (He has read a previous King book and I enjoyed his narration) The protagonist is a seventeen year old boy and Numrich's voice embodied the mental image I had created for Charlie. There are a wealth of characters in the book and Numrich does a fantastic job of providing different voices for the players, making it easy to know who is speaking. And there are some real challenging characters. He absolutely brings the book to life with his voice. The action, emotions, danger and more are easily portrayed. His voice is easy to understand, pleasant to listen to and is well enunciated. There's a nice little gravelly tone to his voice as well. His reading speed accentuated the dialogue. Fairy Tale makes for addictive listening. There's more around the next corner, and the next and the next. The run time of Fairy Tales is only 24 hours and 6 minutes. Yes, only, as I could have listened to much, much more! Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of Fairy Tale

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Bad Day Breaking - John Galligan

I really like John Galligan's 'Bad Axe County' series. The fourth book - Bad Day Breaking - has just released. 

What do I like about this series? 

The protagonist, Sheriff Heidi Kick, has fast become one of my favorite lead characters. When I first 'met' Sherriff Heidi, I couldn't help but think bad a**, as I got to know her. She's tough, smart and determined to keep her town as crime free as possible. And she's a wife and mother to three as well. Now, as much as she wants to erase crime, there are those who are determined to get rid of Sheriff Kick and run things their way. The more things heat up, the cooler Sherriff becomes. On the outside she presents calm and cool, but inside she's paddling hard.  

Next up are the plots. Galligan's plotting is fantastic and makes for addictive reading. This time round, there's a cult that has to be evicted. But the formerly quiet group seem to have some new members with different ideas. And....we get to know more of the 'Dairy Queen's' past. There's some darkness there and an old acquaintance is determined to bring it to the light. 

I like that we are not just seeing everything from Sheriff Kick's point of view. Instead we get inside looks at what's happening at the cult, from those innocent and those with evil in their hearts. As listeners, we have more information that Heidi does and that just kept me glued to my player.

The ending is not at all what I expected, but is a great way to close this book. This listener will be eagerly awaiting Galligan's next book. 

I did choose to listen to Bad Day Breaking. I've said it before and I'll say it again - listening to a book draws me deeper into the book. That is definitely with the Bad Axe books. The reader is Samantha Desz and her voice is perfect for the mental image I've created with the characters, especially Heidi. I've appreciated that she has done all four books. The continuity is important to me with a series. Her speaking voice is measured, calm and has a wonderfully low tone that draws the listener in. The calmness matches the character perfectly. Now that's not to say she doesn't show emotion. She does, but it's contained. Desz captures Galligan's characters and plotting wonderfully. An excellent presentation of an excellent book. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of Bad Day Breaking

If you're a 'grit-lit' fan, you're going to enjoy this series. You could absolutely read this as a stand alone, but I would start at the beginning with the first book, Bad Axe County.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Daisy Darker - Alice Feeney

I absolutely love Alice Feeney's writing. I just knew her latest book, Daisy Darker, would be another riveting read. But for those of you who haven't read Feeney yet, this description might interest you...

"A family reunion on a tiny tidal island leads to murder in this delightfully twisty and atmospheric thriller with a wink to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None."

Daisy Darker's family is most definitely dysfunctional. And each of them is harboring secrets. The characters are all so unlikable, barring Daisy. But, they've gathered as a family to celebrate their Nana's 80th birthday. The tide cuts off the island for eight hours. And the first hour brings the first body. A poem written about the deceased on the kitchen wall. And clues to ..... well you can see what might be about to happen, right?

Feeney's writing is so addictive. And her plotting is so devious, delivering a twist at the end that can't be predicted. I love being caught off guard! The setting was so atmospheric - the isolation and the rambling house itself. Daisy is the narrator and we see things through her eyes as well as her memories of the past. Take the time to enjoy Feeney's prose as well - there are some gems in Daisy's recounting.

Loved it! See for yourself - read an excerpt of Daisy Darker. (Loved that name/title too)

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Wake - Shelley Burr

Wake is Shelley Burr's debut novel - one I quite enjoyed! 

Nannine is a tiny outback town in the center of Australia. Years ago it was a thriving community. Now it's known as the place where young Evelyn McCreery disappeared nineteen years ago. The case is still unsolved and draws many amateur sleuths to the area, all hoping to cash in the reward offer. Mina McCreery is Evelyn's sister. The loss has affected Mina's life greatly - she has become a recluse on her property, refusing to be interviewed or to speak about her sister. Until Lane, a private investigator arrives in Nannine. He has his own reasons for trying to solve the case. And he won't give in.

Burr has written a wonderful debut, successfully combining the mystery itself with the lives, thoughts and actions of the two wounded lead characters. Wake is a slow burn, perfecting suiting the plot. I liked the slow unfurling of clues, with plenty of time to decide if I was right in my guesses for the final whodunit. (I was and I wasn't) I had envisioned another ending, but the one Burr has written absolutely fits what came before.

Burr's own background adds lots of detail and authenticity to both her plot and the setting. I could feel the heat baking the ground, the vast open spaces, the isolation and the loneliness.

I chose to listen to Wake. The reader was Jacquie Brennan and she did a great job. Her Aussie accent is clear and pleasant to listen to. She speaks a good pace and is easy to understand. But I think the best thing was the tone of her voice. It's low, somewhat sultry and has a wonderful gravelly undertone. She never rushes and the pauses and tenor of her performance matches the meatal images and actions of the characters. A great performance of a great debut novel. I would absolutely pick up another by this author. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of Wake.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Rules at the School by the Sea - Jenny Colgan

Jenny Colgan is my go to, favorite feel good author. I've started listening to her books and find I am enjoying them even more. 

Rules at the School by the Sea was first published in 2010 across the pond, but has just been released by Harper Collins Audio. 

Maggie is our lead character. She survived her first year as a teacher at a British girl's boarding school and year two is just beginning. Colgan's lead characters are always someone you'd like to be friends with in real life. What's different about this series is that a core group of her young charges are also given a voice.  In the first book, I questioned the inclusion of the young teen's plotline, but their experiences are relevant and just as engaging and I was happy to see they were back. And of course there are stumbling blocks on Maggie's path, both personal and professional. There was one large question left hanging at the end of the first book and I was quite eager to see if things played out the way I wanted them to. There's a varied group of supporting players that have their own stories as well.

I really appreciate the continuity provided to a series by using the same narrator every time. In this case it's Jilly Bond who does an absolutely fantastic job! She 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. Her accents are easy to understand and quite pleasant to listen to. A great job bringing a wonderful story to life! You could certainly listen to this as a stand alone, but I enjoy starting at the beginning of a series. Hear for yourself  - listen to an excerpt of Rules at the School by the Sea. And this listener is eager to listen to the next book!