Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Drift - C.J. Tudor

Oh, I have been waiting for C.J. Tudor's new book - The Drift

Tudor has a very dark imagination - and I absolutely love it. Her books always keep me on the edge of my chair, rapidly turning pages.

The Drift is told through three different protagonists. 

Hannah wakes up in the school bus that was taking students to a retreat. But it's not on the road any longer. In the middle of a snowstorm, the bus has crashed and hurtled down a hill. They're trapped inside. Oh, and some of the passengers are sick...

Meg wakes up in a cable car that's not moving - in a snow storm. She has no idea how she got there and who the other riders are. Except for one - a cop from her past. At one time they both worked on the Infection Control and Public Unrest squad. (Gotcha wondering, right?) One thing they all agree on is that they were headed for a retreat. Oh, and some of the passengers are sick....

Carter, and a handful of others, live at The Retreat. Their generator dies when a snow storm hits. And puts their lives - and others - in jeopardy.

The Drift is told in rotation, from one location and protagonist to the next and the next. I adore this style of storytelling and literally can't put down a book told in this fashion. Tudor changes tack at critical moments, surprise revelations and dangerous situations, closing out the chapter and moving on to the next. I have to know what's going on so I just keep turning the page.

The plotting is brilliant. I had so many questions! What, if anything, will tie these three scenarios together? Apart from the snowstorm that is. Tudor is delightfully devious in presenting her tale. There was more that once where I went back and re-read a sentence and started to piece things together. And then I got tripped up with the twists Tudor lays out before the reader.

Tudor write such suspense filled books with a side of horror and mystery. The Drift was very, very good for this reader! See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Drift.  

(The title is clever as well, with many ways it can be used and interpreted.)  

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun - Elle Cosimano

Elle Cosimano has just released Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun - the  third entry in this fun, light hearted crime series. 

I would suggest starting with the first book, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, as each new entry builds on the one before. That way, you'll know how she got into this mess....

Finlay is a mom of two and writes romance novels as her job. All is well in her world...until it's not. Through a series of crazy events, she and her nanny Vero are now adept at hiding bodies, but aren't killers. Somehow though, a lot of dangerous people think she's - well - a contract killer. 

What ensues is laugh out loud chaos - in all three books. The predicaments are far fetched, but honestly, the more preposterous the plot is, the more fun it is to read. This latest has Finlay and Vero still trying to fix what's gone before. Perhaps attending a community police camp might help them in finding and appeasing the 'real' bad guys. And bonus points for the sexy detective running the camp. He and Finlay have a complicated relationship. And really, Finlay also needs to do some research for her latest romance novel. Right?

It's impossible to not like Finlay as a lead. I'm not always so sure about Vero. I think there's much about her that we don't know yet. There's a large group of supporting characters that appear in each book.

If you're looking for a fun, light-hearted, escapist read, you'll find in this series. 

When I read the first book, I immediately thought of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books. Indeed, Evanovich has provided a blurb for  this latest...."Fresh, heartfelt and witty, Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun is a twisty page-turner, and its relatable heroine Finlay Donovan is irresistible!" —Janet Evanovich.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Episode Thirteen - Craig DiLouie

Okay, it's just a picture, but those hands in the window creeped me out. And that's before I even turned a page of Craig DiLouie's new book Episode Thirteen.

I like 'intelligent' horror - a story that doesn't rely on a slash and burn rampage, but instead is a slow burning path to the 'don't go in the basement' moments. And DiLouie is one of those authors who hits all the right notes for me.

So, you may have watched one or two of those paranormal phenomenon and ghost hunters shows. Episode 13 takes us to an abandoned mansion that was used for some questionable testing forty years ago. There have been reports and sightings over the years. As the building is to be demolished, the Fade to Black paranormal research team have a small window for their investigation.

Episode Thirteen is told using an epistolary style - which is one of my favourite methods of story telling. We meet and come to know the five members of  Fade to Black through a series of journal entries, magazine articles, memos, memories, texts, transcripts and more. I like that we get to know each of the players through their own words, instead of through the eyes of just one main character. There are some very differing personalities - I think every reader will find one that resonates with them. 

I will say that the tension, uncertainty, creepiness and fright factor insidiously grows with every chapter. Things get a bit heavy at the end, but I really enjoyed the journey there. 

But...what about the house? Is it haunted? Well, I'm not to spoil the book for you, so you'll have to find out for yourself! Read an excerpt of Episode Thirteen. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Twyford Code - Janice Hallett

I thought Janice Hallett's book, The Appeal, was a fantastic listen. But, I think The Twyford Code is even better! 

Steve Smith is in his fifties when he's discharged from prison. Having had lots of time to ponder on things, he is determined to solve a mystery from his childhood. As a child, Steve found an illustrated children's book left on a bus, took it to school and showed it to his teacher Miss Iles. As the five students in the remedial class cannot read well, she reads the book to them. And as a treat, she takes the children on a field trip to one of the places the book describes. And....she disappears.

Determined to find out what happened to Miss Iles all those years ago, Smithy starts investigating. Armed with an old iPhone, he records his thoughts, memories, interactions and more. What a novel way of telling a story. I love epistolary books and The Twyford Code is the audio version of that style. Brilliant!

I was completely caught up in the complex puzzles that arise as the search begins - and the direction they take. Hallett is a clever, clever writer. Listen closely to those iPhone entries - the answers are there. But they're difficult to see and hear. A story within a story is waiting for keen listeners. I was (happily) caught completely off guard at the final 'ah hah' moment. 

I've often said I feel more immersed in a tale when I listen to it. And that is absolutely the case with The Twyford Code. The narrator was Thomas Judd. His voice is pleasant to listen to and he enunciates well. The pace of his reading is just right. Judd interprets Hallett's book perfectly, capturing the emotions and actions of the plot. His voice is changed to work with different characters. An excellent presentation of a wonderful book! Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Devil You Know - P.J. Tracy

I really enjoyed P.J. Tracy's Monkeewrench series. The latest book from P.J. Tracy - The Devil You Know - is the third entry in the Detective Margaret Nolan series.

P.J. Tracy is the pseudonym for the mother-daughter writing duo of P.J. and Traci Lambrech. Sadly, P.J. Tracy passed away in 2016. Traci has continued to write on her own.

Which makes it all the harder to say that this newest book is a rare DNF for me. The premise sounded good - a female detective on the LAPD force and the death of an actor. But it was the delivery for this reader. I even went back and read the first few chapters, but it was the same on a second reading. 

I gave the book fifty pages, but had to call it a day by that point. I found the prose to be overwrought and the sentences to be too long. The use of many alternate choices for commonplace descriptors felt like a thesaurus had been used deliberately. 

Here's a sample:

"The bold, black headline possessed astonishing metaphysical properties, like the power to rearrange his anatomy: his heart was beating in his stomach, which was now in the the vicinity of his throat, and his balls had apparently departed from his body altogether, because he couldn't feel them." All one sentence.

The book opens with a murder - promising in this genre. Then a new chapter with a letter from 1864. Then we meet Sam, then Margaret, then Daphna, Seth, Evan and Becca. I'm sure there are more, but this hit the 50 page wall. More and more characters are added without clarity. What has happened? What is the role of all these players? Sadly, by then I had lost interest. I was hoping for a good police procedural. But The Devil You Know was all over the place. 

Not the book for me. But, loads of people enjoyed this title - I encourage you to read those reviews on Goodreads.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Better the Blood - Michael Bennett - Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue

Better the Blood is the first book in a new series from Michael Bennett.

Hana Westerman is a Detective Senior Sergeant with the Auckland Criminal Investigation Bureau. She receives an anonymous video that leads to the discovery of a secret room - and the dead man inside that room. When there's another murder, Hana realizes they may be linked. And that there's a larger plan at work here...

Bennett has penned a good police procedural featuring a likable, believable protagonist in Hana. I did have issues with her daughter and her actions.

It was the exploration of the culture of, and the injustices done to the Māori people that grabbed my attention. And saddened me more than I can say. For me, this was the larger part of the book, with the current day crime taking a backseat to the historical crimes. Better the Blood is a bit of a slow burn, with some points being referenced many times.

I did choose to listen to Better the Blood. I've often said that I become more immersed in a book when I listen and that was certainly the case with this book. The narrators - Miriama McDowell and Richard Te Are were excellent. Both of them captured the tone of the book's plotting with their voices. Both of them speak the Māori language and the tone of the book is enhanced with that facet. Hear for yourself - listen to an excerpt of Better the Blood.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone - Benjamin Stevenson

Oh my gosh...if you're a fan of "Clue" style mysteries, a clever narrator with a dark sense of humour, a dangerous, dysfunctional family and a plot like no other,  you need to pick up Benjamin Stevenson's new book, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone!

I was hooked before I even read the first chapters. The prologue includes the membership oath of a secret society of mystery writers (Including Christie) from 1930, as well as the 1929 Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction from Ronald Knox. Our narrator uses these in the telling of this tale. 

Reluctantly, the members of the Cunningham family have gathered together at a remote lodge. In the winter with a storm on the way. With bad cell phone coverage. Old hurts, wrongs, clashes of personalities and secrets soon rear their ugly heads. And then a body is found....

Ernest Cunningham is the narrator and defacto lead sleuth. Ern's voice is full of dark humour, keen observations and questionable actions. Just wait until you meet his family...

"Everyone in my family has killed someone: my brother, my stepsister, my wife, my father, my mother, my mother-in-law, my uncle, my stepfather and me."

You'll need to be on your toes as there are many characters to keep track of. Ern details what is going on, sharing his observations and some of his theories. Are you be keen enough to see what and who the final 'ah hah' moment might be? I certainly wasn't!

Stevenson has written a elaborate plot, one that will keep you guessing. For this reader, it was Ern and the dark humour that kept me up late. Stevenson is an award winning stand-up comedian. I'd say his sense of humour translates well to the written page. 

#BooksofHCC   @harpercollins.ca   #Ad   I received a review copy of this title from Harper Collins Canada. This in no way affects my honest review. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Just the Nicest Couple - Mary Kubica

I've enjoyed previous books from Mary Kubica, but I think her latest - Just the Nicest Couple is hands down my favorite!

Lily loves walking in a certain park. A chance encounter with a coworker's husband, (Jake) at the park is the catalyst for what follows. 

Jake's wife Nina confides in Lily at school the next day. She and Jake had a serious argument and he didn't come home the night before. Lily goes home and tells her husband Christian of the encounter with Jake - and what happened. Christian is madly in love with his wife and would do anything for her...

I am being deliberately obtuse here. Why? Because how this plot plays out is so darkly delicious, making for simply addicting reading.

As Christian and Lily think they've dealt with one thing, another issue pops up, compounding the mess this has become. And with every day that passes without a word from Jake, Nina doesn't know what to think.

As readers, we are privy to what is happening on both sides of the fence as Christian and Nina each have a point of view. Kubica gives us lots of twists and turns, along with some red herrings on the way to the final 'ah ha" moment. (nicely done!) There's one last chapter that ties everything up. I'm not sure I liked all of the resolutions, but that's a minor thing and didn't detract from my enjoyment.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Girls Who Disappeared - Claire Douglas

The Girls Who Disappeared is new from author Claire Douglas.

Journalist Jenna Halliday wants to make her mark as a podcast host. She's found a cold case that she thinks will be perfect - the twentieth anniversary of the disappearance of three young woman. Four went out on the town and only one - Olivia - came home. Not a sign of the other three. Were they abducted? By something otherworldly? By someone? Could they still be alive? The small village that was home to the girls is not overly welcoming to Jenna. But she is determined to find the answer....but at what cost?

I liked the premise - having so many options for what might have happened keeps the reader guessing. 

Jenna was an interesting lead - braver than I think I would have been in some situations. She's quite pushy at times. Douglas worked as a journalist herself and I think that the book and character benefit from that inside knowledge. 

There's a dual narrative with the other voice being Olivia's. She has secrets and memories that she has kept quiet about, for all of those twenty years. Seeing the same supporting characters through different eyes and experiences again gives the reader more information than Jenna has.

There's an italicized group of short chapters that focuses on a number of unknown people. What is their story and connection to the book? And last, but not least - there's also a fairly large group of supporting/suspect players, each with a role to play. I did find some of these players a bit caricaturized.

The plotting of The Girls Who Disappeared is quite busy and does ask the reader to suspend disbelief at a number of junctures, including the police investigation and Jenna's involvement in it. But on the flip side, that brings our protagonist closer to the whodunit. Just go with it. The final whodunit wasn't who or what I had thought it was going to be. Douglas also adds one more twist in the final pages that was also unexpected. Nicely done.

The Girls Who Disappeared is another good read from Douglas. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Girls Who Disappeared. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

You Will Never Be Found - Tove Alsterdal

You Will Never Be Found is the second book in Tove Alsterdal's 'High Coast' series. While this is a series, you don't need to have read the first book to enjoy this latest. There are enough references to let you know who's who and their relationships etc.

Detective Eira Sjodinn is the lead character. She's a dogged, determined investigator that will follow the slimmest of clues to close a case. While she excels at work, her personal life is a bit of a mess. This personal thread adds much to the character. And I'm curious as to how some of her choices are going to play out.

She's caught her work cut out for her when a man reported missing is found in a remote, unpopulated area in a cellar. And then another man goes missing...but this one is personal.

I liked Alsterdal's plotting. The tension grows as the search widens and still nothing or no one is found. It seems like a needle in a haystack. And this is where Eira's critical thinking comes into play. Does she have the answer? There's no room to be wrong as we head to the final pages. Alsterdal kept my attention from first page to last. And an unexpected door is left open for the next entry in the series - which I would happily pick  up. See for yourself - read an excerpt of You Will Never Be Found.

Tove Alsterdal has won the awards for Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year and the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

All the Dangerous Things - Stacy Willingham

I really enjoyed Stacy Willingham's debut novel, A Flicker in the Dark, last year and was excited to see she had written a second book. All the Dangerous Things is another excellent suspense novel.

Isabelle's young son Mason was taken from his bedroom in the night a year ago. After all that time, the case has gone cold for the police. But not for Isabelle - she's made it her job at the cost of her marriage and her health. She doesn't sleep, just catnaps and blackouts. When a podcaster asks to interview her, she says yes. Who knows - maybe someone will hear it and have information. 

But he makes her nervous. He's asking questions about herself, her own past, her actions, her marriage and more. Isabelle begins to doubt herself on many fronts. 

Willingham slowly reveals Isabelle's past through a then and now timeline. There's lots of unexpected twists and turns in the past points of view that creep their way into the present. What is real? What truly happened? Willingham does a great job of building the tension of the book with each new uneasy interaction, revelation and unsettling memory. I love unreliable narrators and Isabelle is definitely one of those. It's fun reading to try and find the truth amongst the misdirection. If you love twists and turns like I do, you'll find some good ones here! I was easily caught up in All The Dangerous Things. And the ending? Completely did not see that coming. I appreciate being surprised!

Now, I chose to listen to All the Dangerous Things. The narrator is Karissa Vacker, an award winning reader I've enjoyed previously. She has a lovely, somewhat gravelly undertone to her voice that is really pleasant to. She speaks clearly and enunciates well. I am so impressed at the voices she uses for male characters. She flips back and forth between characters and you'd swear there was more than one reader presenting the book. She has captured Willingham's plotting and does an excellent job of capturing the emotions and action. Hear for yourself -listen to an audio excerpt of All the Dangerous Things.

Monday, January 9, 2023

The House of Wolves - James Patterson and Mike Lupica

James Patterson and co-writer Mike Lupica's latest collaboration is The House of Wolves. It was a page turner for me and I devoured it in a couple of days.

What's it about? Well, let's talk dysfunctional families. When Joe Wolf is murdered, his three sons expect to inherit and take control of Joe's empire. But when the will is read, it's their sister Jenny will now be in charge of it all - including the Wolves - a California NFL football team. Uh huh....it doesn't sit well with her brothers at all.

That's just from the first few chapters. What follows is a deadly game between the siblings. And others. Patterson and Lupica have done a fabulous job with the twists, turns and the 'oh my gosh, didn't see that coming' moments. And there are a lot. Not one character in the book is telling the truth. There's no way to predict which direction the plot is going to take. I really like being unable to predict how a book is going to unfold. 

Jenny is a great lead - smart, savvy and strong. I was behind her all the way. But, she too kept me on my toes. To reiterate - they all lie. As readers, we see the book unfold through Jenny's point of view. 

Now, we know that James Patterson writes suspense thrillers - and does it well. Add Mike Lupica's name to that list. Lupica is a sportswriter and The House of Wolves benefits greatly from his insider knowledge. Although I don't faithfully watch football, I do understand the game. Lupica brings the reader on to the turf, inside the dressing room and into the meeting rooms where deals are made and broken. He's also written many fiction titles himself. 

This duo have penned an excellent story, one that kept me engaged from first page to last. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The House of Wolves.

This comparison from the publisher is quite apt...a family more ruthless than Succession's Roys and Yellowstone’s Duttons."

Friday, January 6, 2023

Small World - Laura Zigman

Small World is Laura Zigman's new novel. 

What's it about? Family. Two sisters - Joyce and Lydia - find themselves sharing an apartment after their divorces. This proximity has them reliving and often reverting to childhood behaviour. But can this close physicality perhaps help them to confront and deal with unresolved issues as well? 

I loved that Joyce and Lyndia were not cookie cutter characters. They're both quirky and believable. I didn't love them all the time, but quite liked them. Perhaps because Zigman has captured the truth with her characters? 

Small World is told in a past and present narrative. This style of storytelling gives the reader aha moments as the 'why' pieces of the present snap into place. 

The book was a slow burn for the first part, but picked up momentum as part two brings supporting players to the table - and more issues. Or perhaps not...

Zigman captured the emotions and hurts alongside the joy and acceptance. On reading the author's notes, I discovered there is more than a little of her own experiences woven into the book. 

An excellent read on many fronts. And I have to say, I stopped more than once, reflecting on my own familial ups and downs. Zigman is a very talented wordsmith. See for yourself - read an excerpt of Small World. 

Oh, and there are also many entries from a neighbourhood online group (called Small World)  that have been turned into poetry by Joyce. I quite enjoyed them!

Thursday, January 5, 2023

The Stranded - Sarah Daniels

I love YA fiction for my 'slouch on the couch' escapist reading. My latest is Sarah Daniels' excellent debut YA novel - The Stranded.

Dystopian and post apocalyptic fiction are some of my favorite genres. Daniels has imagined a world set in 2094. Thousands of people were caught out on the European ship Arcadia and were denied permission to land on the shores of the Federated States when another pandemic hit. So they've been on the cruise ship for over forty years. New generations have no idea what it feels like to be on land. But they have a plan to try and find out....

Daniels' descriptions are detailed and bring the ship to life. The claustrophobic rooms holding more people than they were ever meant to, the rusty and decrepit machinery, gangs in the below decks, broken everything, shortages and more. At the same time, there are 'futuristic' items being used in a number of ways - health and weaponry. 

And who's in charge? Not the captain, but a cruel, brutal officer of the Federated States. You're going to love to hate him for sure. And who are you going to be on board with? (Unintended pun, but I like it) The resistance and the teens who have a plan - Esther, her boyfriend Alex, her sister May and friend Nik. Your loyalty to one or more of the teens will change as the plot moves forward. I have to say that May was my favorite. There's some romance, but it's not overdone. There's a large group of supporting character, all with a role to play. Action and danger drive the book forward and kept me rapidly turning pages. 

If you've liked the movie/series of Snowpiercer and the Hunger Games books, you'll enjoy The Stranded. I did! This book is listed as Stranded #1 - I will be watching for #2. I'm eager to see what's next - there's more story to be told. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Stranded. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The Blackhouse - Carole Johnstone

I thought that Carole Johnstone's debut novel, Mirrorland, was brilliant. I was so excited when I saw she had a new book - The Blackhouse - coming out. I have to say, that for me, it's even better than her first book.

Take a second look at the cover. You'll see the sea and the waves at first glance. But what about that upside down house? It just oozes that Gothic feel doesn't it? I had goosebumps before even turning the first page. 

What adds to that Gothic feeling? Well, Johnstone has set this intriguing mystery on a sparsely populated island called Kilmeray, in the Outer Hebrides. What about the inhabitants? There aren't many, less than twenty. And not overly welcoming to outsiders. 

"For her entire life, Maggie MacKay has sensed something was wrong with her. When Maggie was five years old, she announced that a man on Kilmeray - a place she’d never visited - had been murdered." She returns to Kilmeray twenty years on to try and expunge the ghosts of her past and present. More goosebumps. There's another voice - that of Robert who also made his home on Kilmeray.

Get to know who's who as the book opens, as they all play a part in this imaginative, multilayered plot. Add the sea itself as a character. Johnstone's descriptions of the water, the waves, the sand, the cliffs and  evoke clear mental images. I could imagine standing on the shore, but afraid to step out further  as it feels like the sea has a life of it's own. 

The secrecy of each character will keep the reader guessing if what's presented is the truth. Everyone has their own agendas, secrets and lies. There are many twists and turns as the narrative takes another path with every unveiled revelation.

Johnstone's plotting is dark, gritty, tangled. unexpected and oh so addictive. The mystery is the lead element, but love, loss, guilt, mental illness, redemption, a hint of the mystical and more is woven throughout. It's all just so very, very good. See for yourself - read an excerpt of The Blackhouse. 

Best enjoyed on a dark and stormy night with the door locked.....

I will be eagerly awaiting a third book from Johnston, who is firmly on my 'must read' list.