Friday, May 27, 2022

On A Quiet Street - Seraphina Nova Glass

On A Quiet Street is Seraphina Nova Glass's new novel. 

The perfect neighborhood, beautiful houses, lovely neighbours - what more could you want when you're living on such a lovely, quiet street. Ahh, the possibilities that await in such a neighborhood! 'Cause we just know it can't be perfect behind every closed door. I'm always curious to see what direction an author will take a domestic suspense read.

Glass gives us a core group of three. Cora, whose husband may or may not be cheating on her. Paige is grieving the loss of her son. And no one really knows much about Georgia, as she never leaves her house. Each woman is given a voice and we learn about what's going on in their lives. And as the book continues, their lives are woven together in an unexpected manner. I admit I went in thinking I'd have a good idea of the plot from 'meeting' the characters. I was happily proven wrong. Glass takes these neighbors down a darker, unexpected road. Some of the plot devices do require a few grains of salt, but just go with it- it makes for very entertaining and addictive listening. I wasn't able to predict what was going to happen and the ending took a nice, unexpected turn as well. 

I chose to listen to On A Quiet Street. I saw that Imogen Church was the reader and she is one of my favorites. She is a very versatile performer and I was curious as to how she would differentiate the three lead characters. Paige opens the book and Church has used a loud, in your face, taking no prisoners tone for her. It was perfect. Cora is the mother hen of the the group and is a people pleaser. Again, the voice - somewhat prim, always proper and somewhat saccharin tone matched the character. And for Georgia, an English accent is employed that is softer, and polite, but somewhat nervous. Again, just right. Church also provides different and believable voices for the male/teen characters. She speaks clearly and is easy to understand. The speed of speaking is just right. Church interprets Glass's book well, bringing lots of emotion and action to her reading. Hear for yourself - listen to an audio excerpt of On A Quiet Street.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Downton Shabby - Hopwood DePree

Hopwood DePree's new book, Downton Shabby: One American's Ultimate DIY Adventure Restoring His Family's English Castle, caught my eye. Having lived in an older (150 years) home for many years, I was drawn to DePree's book about his restoration - which is a little older at 600 years!

How does a Hollywood actor, producer and more end up England, restoring a ruin? It's all in the name. When he was younger, Hopwood went by his middle name. As an adult, he choose to use his given name, as it was memorable. Whilst researching on genealogical sites, he discovers a past - and the home of his ancestors - in the remains of Hopwood Hall. 

I quite enjoyed being along for the trip as Hopwood makes connections, makes friends and willingly upends his whole life for Hopwood Hall. His family is just as enthusiastic. As are the supporters of the Hall, who are trying to preserve this historic building. Geoff and Bob are the two core supporters who guide and educate Hopwood on the Hall's past. Their dedication was and is admirable. Hopwood meets many others who are happy to lend a hand. It was fascinating to uncover the historical past of the Hall with Hopwood. The descriptions of the Hall - and included photographs - made me want to come and visit! 

DePree is enthusiastic and able to laugh at himself. I quite enjoyed his book, but the journey isn't over. You can see more on his website. Downton Shabby (clever title) was an entertaining, easy read that kept me engaged. 

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.