The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

22860181 Another blind library pick. The description sounded good, so I gave it a try. Real mistake!

Stats: Audio book is 10 CDs, or approx. 12.5 hours. Print is 368 pages, first published in 2014

Blurb: Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated.

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project–an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past–Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared more than one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on.

What I liked: The narration by Fiona Hardingham was very good. She gave you a feel for every character, and there were many of them, including the dead people.

What I didn’t like: I’m sorry to say, Ms Hunter, but most of it. I was going to stop listening many times and at about disc 5 or 6 it started to pick up a bit so I thought, okay, here goes… but then it went nowhere. I kept going because I was curious where Ms Hunter was going to ultimately take the story but she didn’t take it anywhere. Jane was a portrayed as a real person but I never understood Jane’s quest and by the end, neither did anyone else. It was hard to figure out the point of it all. Jane was focused on finding out who “N” and how N fit in with  the lives of the people in an old asylum and the rich family that lived close by. Once she found out, it made no difference to the story, and as far as I could tell, no difference to Jane.  This was on top of Jane trying to come to grips with an old love and the lost daughter of that love, who she was responsible for. Hunter never ties any of this together so it’s hard to understand the point of it all. And then there are the dead people who come and go in the story and are following Jane on her quest – dead people who lived and worked in either the asylum or the home of the rich family. The concept of the dead watching and talking about us live ones is an interesting one, but again, I couldn’t see the point of their presence in this story and particularly in Jane’s quest. Hunt uses these dead people to reveal some information about the past, but otherwise they were mostly just annoying to listen to.

Rating: 1/5 – Sorry Ms Hunter

Published in: on May 23, 2017 at 11:26am05  Leave a Comment  
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And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

I had seen this in movie form (Title was Ten Little Indians – don’t know the year, there were a few of these made over the years) but had not read the book, so I was curious if they were the same or different. The ending was much different!

17070123Stats: Audio book is 5 discs or 6 hours, narrated by Dan Stevens – Matthew Crawley of the famed Downton Abbey fame! the print version is 264 pages.  This edition was created in 2013. The print edition was first published in 1939!

Blurb: (Goodreads): Considered the best mystery novel ever written by many readers, And Then There Were None is the story of ten strangers, each lured to Soldier Island by a mysterious host. Once his guests have arrived, the host accuses each person of murder. Unable to leave the island, the guests begin to share their darkest secrets; until they begin to die.

What I liked: For once, the blurb for a novel is not overstated. I think this is the best mystery and best Agatha Christie novel I have read so far. I loved how it was impossible to figure out. I had seen the movie, so when it started to veer away from the movie story line (toward the end) I was interested to see what Agatha had done. I had no clue who done it! And the answer was just as interesting. With ten people, there are lots of things of stories to juggle, but even listening to it, I manage to keep most of them straight, most of the time. Dan Stevens does a wonderful job with the narration. Each person has a personality and a definitive voice.

What I didn’t like: It was just a bit hard to believe the murder (won’t say who) managed everything so smoothly and the weather even cooperated so well to keep them on the island, but it is a fiction story, after all.

Rating: 5/5 highly recommend you listen to this one!

p.s. I just found out that this book was altered (even by the author) to make it more PC. I don’t know the details but I’m not surprised. Now I have to find the original. I guess the original was “Ten Little Indians.” I do understand this, but the reader has to be given a bit of a brain to know that something written in 1939 is not going to be the same as stuff written today (as the original Nancy Drew is not PC, but I wouldn’t want them to change those originals either – though they did. You can still find the originals, though).

Published in: on May 18, 2017 at 11:26pm05  Comments (9)  
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Midwest Book Award Winner – 2017!

I don’t feel comfortable tooting my own horn too much, but I did let you all know Intrigue in Istanbul: An Agnes Kelly Mystery Adventure was a Midwest Book Award finalist in the children’s book category, so I thought I should share that it WON!

How exciting is that. It was kind of funny. I didn’t actually expect it to win (not that I think it’s a bad story or anything – it did win a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award last year) but I had been a finalist before for Will the Real Carolyn Keene Please Stand Up, which did not win, so I guess I expected the same.

For an FYI Intrigue in Istanbul is what I call a family story – it’s written for middle grade readers and up. I’ve had many adults who have enjoyed it, which is what I was going for, so I like to hear that. It’s set in  1961 and is about a 12 year old girl who’s father dies. Her grandmother, her father’s mother, takes her on a trip to Istanbul after the funeral where Agnes finds out her dad died under suspicious circumstances and she also learns some other shocking news.

Nice surprise!

My mother came with me. Photo by  Nancy Chakrin Photography

So to celebrate – anyone who comments below will get a free ebook of your choice. Just tell me what book you want in the comment section and I’ll contact you and send you the book!

The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn by Janis Hallowell

After listening to a couple known authors, I’m back to trying some blind library audio book picks.

The Annunciation of Francesca DunnStats: Published in 2004, discs – I think there were 8, print is 336 pages. The audio book was narrated by 4 different people: Tyler Bunch, Dristen Kilian, Beth MacDonald and Mia Pitasi.

Blurb: (from Goodreads) Told from the viewpoints of four unforgettable characters, The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn is the story of an ordinary girl who is believed to be a modern-day Holy Virgin. At the heart of the story is Francesca: a shy and moody teenager hungry for her absent father’s love, she is frightened and intoxicated by her sudden elevation to the rank of divine. Chester is a visionary homeless man who first ‘discovers’ Francesca and makes himself her protector. Anne is Francesca’s no-nonsense mother, whose religion is Darwin and biology. Sid is Francesca’s troubled friend, who keeps a few secrets of her own.

What I liked: I liked the 4 different points of view, especially the homeless man who initially “discovers” Francesca’s divinity. Listening to what is happening from these 4 different characters read by 4 different people allows the reader to understand how something like this could happen. Hallowell even makes you wonder if the child really does have this divinity, which is a real trick, I think. As odd as things can get in the world these days (or maybe it’s just that we get to see the oddity more because of the internet and media), this story’s premise isn’t that far out there.

What I didn’t like: The supposed intellectual mother of Francesca is conveniently unaware of what is going on until it has gotten way out of hand. Hallowell makes her out to be self-centered and so much into her own life and work that she ignores what is going on with her daughter – which is plausible, but it’s a bit hard to believe when they are living under the same roof. I also didn’t believe that this very independent woman runs to her ex when things get really bad. This too, seems unreal given the way the author has portrayed her up to that point.

Rating: 4/5

Midwest Book Award – finalist!

Wanted to share with all my blog friends that Intrigue in Istanbul: An Agnes Kelly Mystery Adventure is a finalist for a Midwest Book Award!

As I probably already told you, it received a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, so a Midwest Book Award would be icing on the cake, as they say.

The “Gala” – aka the event where they announce the awards – is set for Friday, May 12th, in St. Paul, so I’ll keep you posted how it does.
Keep you fingers crossed for me 🙂

Published in: on April 17, 2017 at 11:26pm04  Comments (7)  
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A Terrible Beauty by V.M. Devine – Author Interview

A Terrible Beauty: the murder at Joyce's Tower by [Devine, V.M.]I recently became aquainted with half of the writing duo of A Terrible Beauty (Valerie Ganzevoort) and was interested in her story and her book, so I invited her and her father to share a bit about both. I think you might find it interesting.

V.M. Devine is the pen name for the writing-collaboration of Valerie Ganzevoort and her father, Michael Mahony.

1.       How did you come to write a novel together?

Valerie’s Response: My Dad had started on the book during a break that he was having from writing a series of theological books. He had always wanted to write a murder mystery and decided to give it a go. I was helping him proof read some of his theological work and so asked to look at the new novel early on in his writing. After a few discussions, he asked if I would like to help him write it and we started to reengineer the book and worked on it from there.

2.       Since you both live in South Africa, why did you chose Dublin, Ireland, as the primary setting for the book?

Mike’s response: The setting came from the place where I grew up. As kids we used to play in the James Joyce Tower in Dublin, Ireland – this was long before it was restored to the formal museum it is today.

The plot and characters were drawn from my own personal journey of life which encompassed living in Ireland, Nigeria, England and South Africa.

 3.       Why did you decide to write a murder mystery?

Valerie’s Response: My Dad has always read Agatha Christie and P.D. James so, for me, growing up and rummaging through the bookshelves for something to read often resulted in my reading them as well. We both enjoy the ‘puzzle-like nature’ of a murder mystery, where the book is not just a story but a mystery to be solved. We have particularly enjoyed hearing from readers who followed certain red herrings in the story or told us of their delight ay having picked up on certain clues which were important in solving the murder. Though, to date, we have not heard from any reader who has successfully guess the murder, so if anyone does guess correctly, we would love to hear about it.

4.       The Penname for the collaboration is V.M Devine, where did this come from?

The V and the M comes from our initials (Valerie and Mike) and the Devine is Mike’s mother’s maiden name, so a surname that felt fitting for both of us.

5.       Have you started writing another book?

Mike’s Response: Yes, I have recently returned from a family visit to Ireland where I visited the scene of our next murder, the Chester Beatty Library. I had arranged to meet with the Operations Manager of the Chester Beatty Library, Derval O’Carroll who was somewhat intrigued by the prospect, eventually even helping me to select the specific location within the library where the murder will now take place!

While in Dublin, I also met with the curator of the Dublin Writers Museum (Robert Nicholson) who is also the curator of the James Joyce Tower & Museum in Sandycove where our current novel, A Terrible Beauty – the murder at Joyce’s Tower, by V. M. Devine, has its setting. The book has since been catalogued into the museum and is on permanent display at the James Joyce Tower for visitors and tourists to flick through at their leisure. This was a great moment for us as the book ‘found its home’ in own setting.

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You can pick up A Terrible Beauty: The Murder at Joyce’s Tower on Amazon. And remember, if you don’t have an ereader or kindle, you can pick up a free app from Amazon to read it on any device.

Michael hails originally from Dublin, Ireland but has spent the greater part of his life in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a retired IT guy.

Valerie was born in Johannesburg. In between exploring her interest in Children’s Fiction, and writing in collaboration with her dad, she is primarily focussed upon raising her three very young children.

“A Terrible Beauty – the murder at Joyce’s Tower” is V.M. Devine’s first novel.

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

Secrets of EdenI had been hitting the reject button for the last three audio books I picked up at the library lately, so when I say this one, from an author I have always liked, I went for it.

Stats: Published in 2010, Audio book is 11.5 hours/9 discs, narrated by Mark Bramhall, Susan Denaker, Rebecca Lowman and Kathe Mazur. Print is 370 pages.

Blurb: (Goodreads) “There,” says Alice Hayward to Reverend Stephen Drew, just after her baptism, and just before going home to the husband who will kill her that evening and then shoot himself. Drew, tortured by the cryptic finality of that short utterance, feels his faith in God slipping away and is saved from despair only by a meeting with Heather Laurent, the author of wildly successful, inspirational books about . . . angels.

Heather survived a childhood that culminated in her own parents’ murder-suicide, so she identifies deeply with Alice’s daughter, Katie, offering herself as a mentor to the girl and a shoulder for Stephen – who flees the pulpit to be with Heather and see if there is anything to be salvaged from the spiritual wreckage around him.
But then the State’s Attorney begins to suspect that Alice’s husband may not have killed himself. . .and finds out that Alice had secrets only her minister knew.

What I liked: Every book of Bohjalian’s that I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed, even though not all of them have been great. Mostly this is because of Bohjalian’s skill at writing. There was a section or tow of this that was a bit slow and I’m not sure why they were included, but it didn’t make me want to stop, just because I enjoyed the writing. I also did enjoy this story, however. It wasn’t hard to figure out, who did it, so to speak, and I’m sure Bohjalian knew this, but there was a slight twist at the end, so I’m sure that’s why he wrote it as he did. Along with that good writing is the author’s skill at character development – most notably the Reverend, who starts out this book. And having Mark Bramhall narrate his voice (I always enjoy listening to Mr. Bramhall) really made it that much more entertaining and believable. The other narrators did fine as well, by the way.

What I didn’t enjoy: As mentioned, there was a section or two that was too long, but not enough to make me want to stop. It was a bit unbelievable the way the daughter – Katie’s – reacted to her parent’s deaths, but again, not so much that it ruined the story. It was a bit more unbelievable the State’s Attorney’s reaction. I won’t say more as not to give anything away.

Rating: 4/5

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451I had listened to this a while back but I wanted to listen to it again. It was a bit disturbing how some of it rings true to today.

Stats: Audio book – 4 discs, read by Christopher Hurt. 174 page print, published in 1953

Blurb: (Goodreads) Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

What I liked: Bradbury really makes you care for Guy Montag and you’re releaved that he things turn out (though I won’t say too much if you haven’t read it.) though do they really turn out? That would be something to debate for sure. It is a bit hard to believe we could function without books, but in this digital age, it isn’t like it couldn’t happen. And, of course, there would be hold outs. The neighbor girl is interesting and I’m not sure how “they” would have an excuse to get rid of her, so that is left vague. And I really don’t like the mechanical hound. A good – bad character. And Christopher Hurt does a great job with the narration. His voice was perfect for the story and he did well with the different voices, especially the fire chief.

What I didn’t like: Guy’s wife, though I know I’m not supposed to like her, so I should say, Bradbury did a good job in making her annoying and vacuous. So I should say there really wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the story other than it’s not very upbeat, but it’s not supposed to be.

Rating: 4+/5

Published in: on March 15, 2017 at 11:26pm03  Leave a Comment  
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Rock Paper Scissor Book Author Interview – A Lizzy Ballard Thriller

Matty is an author I know so I wanted to share her latest book with you. I haven’t read it yet myself, but it’s on my list!

What is the underlying theme of Rock Paper Scissors?

The underlying theme of all my books is how a person with an extraordinary ability deals with that ability in the context of the ordinary world. In the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels, The Sense of Death and The Sense of Reckoning, it’s Ann’s ability to sense spirits, an ability that sets her apart from other people, and causes the end of an important relationship. In Rock Paper Scissors, the first of the Lizzy Ballard Thrillers, it’s Lizzy’s ability to cause strokes in others, an ability that forces her to live in isolation, for the safety of others as well as herself.

Since Rock Paper Scissors is billed as a thriller, I suspect that Lizzy’s ability results in some mayhem!

Yes! The people who are responsible for Lizzy’s ability, and who are scheming to use it to further their own goals, are Gerard Bonnay, the head of a Philadelphia fertility clinic, and his wife and head of research, Louise Mortensen. During the course of the story, they acquire an unexpected ally, and Lizzy’s situation becomes even more perilous.

Does Lizzy have any allies to help her deal with the challenges her ability poses, and with the people who are trying to take advantage of it?

Initially, Lizzy’s primary allies are her parents, Charlotte and Patrick. The novel begins with Lizzy as an infant, and describes some incidents when she is a toddler and young girl to illustrate the dangers of her situation. However, most of the action of the story takes place when Lizzy is a teenager, and is triggered by a trip she wants to take from her home in the Philadelphia suburbs to New York City to see the sights at Christmas-time. At that point, it appears her closest allies are Owen McNally, a neurobiologist and friend of her father, and her family’s housekeeper, Ruby DiMano. But is Ruby really an ally? It’s clear that Ruby’s loyalties are torn, but it’s unclear which way she will ultimately throw her support.

You mentioned that Lizzy lives near Philadelphia—is that the main setting for the story?

As with The Sense of Death and the beginning of The Sense of Reckoning, most of Rock Paper Scissors is set in the Philadelphia area, near my home in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The Ballards initially live in Paoli, Pennsylvania, and as their fortunes decline, they move further out along the Main Line, which is the name given to the towns along the rail line that stretches west from Philadelphia. Lizzy and her mother also spend some time at the family cabin in the Pocono Mountains, a couple of miles to the north of Philadelphia. There’s also a critical meeting that takes place in Longwood Gardens, which is one of my favorite spots in Chester County. Patrick Ballard and Owen McNally work at William Penn University, which is my stand-in for my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and Lizzy hides out for a time in a slightly fictionalized version of the Spruce Lane Lodge and Cottages in Smoketown, Pennsylvania, in Lancaster County.

How do you decide when to use a place’s real name and when to change it?

I change it when I want to reserve the right to adjust factual details to meet the needs of the story. I may also change the name if I may be portraying the place in a negative light. For example, early in the writing of Rock Paper Scissors, I thought the villain might be affiliated with the university, so I didn’t want to refer to it as the University of Pennsylvania. Similarly, I changed the real Philadelphia Inquirer into the Philadelphia Chronicle because I wanted to reserve the right to have one of its reporters engage in some less than ethical reporting.

Even though I’m tweaking the facts to support the story, I feel I’ve still been able to create a consistent world that runs through the books and across the series. For example, Lincoln Abbott, a reporter at the Chronicle who first appeared in The Sense of Death, pens several newspaper articles that appear in Rock Paper Scissors. Also, readers who are familiar with the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels will be pleased to hear that Detective Joe Booth makes a brief appearance in Rock Paper Scissors.

What are you working on next?

I just started work on Lizzy Ballard Book 2. Book 1 ends in Sedona, Arizona, and my husband and I were just there for our yearly getaway from the Pennsylvania winter. Book 2 will start in Sedona, so I wanted to get started on that while I was still under the influence of the Sedona vibe. I also just finished my first Ann Kinnear short story, which I plan to make available to subscribers of my newsletter.

Where can people connect with you to sign up for your newsletter or to keep track of Ann Kinnear and Lizzy Ballard’s next adventures?

They can sign up for my newsletter at my website, mattydalrymple.com. For more frequent updates, they can connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

matty-dalrymple-author-photo-2016-headshot-2

Matty Dalrymple is the author of the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels, “The Sense of Death” and “The Sense of Reckoning,” and “Rock Paper Scissors: A Lizzy Ballard Thriller,” which launches in March 2017. She lives with her husband, Wade Walton, and their dogs in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which is the setting for much of the action in “The Sense of Death” and “Rock Paper Scissors.” In the summer, they enjoy vacationing on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, where “The Sense of Reckoning” takes place. Matty also blogs, podcasts, and speaks about independent publishing as The Indy Author.

Matty is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Brandywine Valley Writers Group.

You can purchase Matty’s book on Amazon.

Published in: on February 17, 2017 at 11:26pm02  Leave a Comment  
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Thrice the Binded Cat Hath Mew’d – Alan Bradley

My daughter bought this and she shared it with me once she was done with it.

StatThrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (Flavia de Luce, #8)s: published in 2016, hardcover is smaller than most hardcover, it’s 331 pages.

Blurb: (Goodreads) In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough. Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits. But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core.

What I liked: Flavia is her usual, enjoyable self, even after eight books. Bradley has a good end to the murder mystery. Why he ended the book (not the mystery itself) is a big question, but I’m not going to discuss that so I don’t give it away. I listened to part of this (with the talented Jayne Entwistle as narrator, as usual) and read part, which confirmed that listening is more enjoyable to me. I also notice I miss less or remember more (not sure which) with audio.

What I didn’t like: This wasn’t my favorite Flavia story. It didn’t seem quite as tightly written – meaning there were things in the book I didn’t know why Bradley put it in and some odd things with the writing. For example – Flavia meets a significant character (a stranger to her) and Bradley doesn’t fully describe what he looks like until she meets him (Hillary) the second time. And when she meets him the first time, she ends up rubbing his shoulders. This seems out of character and in addition, an odd thing to do to a stranger. Another odd addition is the Horn Dance that apparently happens in town each year. It just seemed like it was stuck in there just so a character can sing at it (the reasoning of which is part of the plot). I assume Bradley didn’t tell the reader why Flavia was ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada because he’s mention this more in the next book, but it was something that felt was missing, along with the secret organization (forget the name) and what that groups goal/work is, which I thought would be discussed. I thought that was a line in his other books that he was working toward, but not with this book.

Rating: 3.5/5  As I said, not my favorite Flavia novel but still entertaining. From the ending, Bradley’s obviously going to write another one.