Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

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This was a blind pick audio book from my library.

Stats: Published in 2019. Print book is 355 pages, audio book is 12 discs, narrator: Jennifer Lim

Blurb:

In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.

A showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?

What I liked: I liked most everything about this story. The characters are very real. I especially like how Kim explores those dark and very natural thoughts we all have at times. Things we don’t want to think or even admit we think about our lives or the people we encounter or live with. The situation seems real (even though it’s a bit far-fetched). The way Kim parcels out the bits of information makes for a very interesting read (or listen) and I think it is one of the big pluses to the story. I also liked how the wife stuck up for herself and what she believed was right, at the end. Would someone be able to do that in this situation is a good debate to have after reading this story (a good book for a book club read). Jennifer Lim does a great job with the narration.

Great debut novel! I’m jealous!

What I didn’t like: That the author lets a couple people off the hook at the end is a bit disappointing, but as she says in the audio version interview, it’s more realistic, which it is.

Rating: 5/5 (and I don’t give many of those 5’s away. Thought of giving it 4.5 but can’t really think of why, so 5/5 it is 🙂 ) I also agree with the author and editor, I like “Miracle Submarine” for the title.

Author Visit – Bill Ried

I’ve had Bill on my blog before, when he came out with his debut novel: Five Ferries.

Bill’s come out with his new book – Backstory – and it’s getting great reviews:

 “An original and deftly crafted novel that in an inherently riveting read from cover to cover, “Backstory” showcases author William Michael Ried’s genuine flair for the kind of narrative storytelling style that brings his characters to life and holds the reader’s rapt attention from first page to last.”

Midwest Book Review

Here is a little questions and answer with Bill.

How did you come up with the idea for Backstory and what does the book say about facts and truth?

The 2016 presidential election introduced us all to the concept of “fake news,” that truth was whatever candidate Trump said it was at the moment and anything else was fabricated to embarrass him. This struck me as straight out of George Orwell’s1984, where the Ministry of Truth “rectifies” historical records to accord with Big Brother’s current pronouncements.

I then thought about writing a novel about a character’s attempt to change his own history by altering someone else’s novel. I imagined six classmates and placed them in a setting twelve years prior to the current story, on the picturesque campus of Trinity College that has occupied the center of Dublin for hundreds of years. I then contrived to reunite the ex-classmates in 2016 in New York City, for one to start writing a novel based on their time together, and for another to see this will reveal secrets that must be kept hidden and contrive to alter the novel.

Once the characters occupied the setting, the story pretty much wrote itself and the characters sometimes surprised me. For example, I created Becca to fill a limited, supporting role, but she wrote herself in as another major character—and my favorite. But Backstory also illustrates the trap for the weak-minded in falling in line behind propagandists who try to revise facts to fit their self-interest. In the end, facts and truth do matter, in the history books as well as in the life of Ansel Tone. 

What authors inspire your work?

I suppose James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, James Fenimore Cooper and Charles Dickens are among the authors who have taught me most about writing. It is no coincidence the hero of Five Ferries reads works by or references these authors and sees Europe through the prism of their works.

I also enjoy modern novels by Caleb Carr and Hilary Mantel and so many others. In trying to craft Backstory as a literary novel with an element of mystery, I took inspiration from modern novels such as Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Tana French’s The Witch Elm and Lexie Ellliot’s The French Girl, although I should also acknowledge Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary for the counterpoint structure of the Yankee Stadium chapter. 

How do you approach cover design?

For Five Ferries I started with the image of a hitchhiker, created by an artist friend from actual photographs. I submitted this to 99designs.com along with a brief summarizing the novel and images of book covers I liked. I immediately received submissions from lots of graphic artists, with whom I conversed in real time through the site. After six days I chose six designers for a final round and continued to review submissions and make suggestions. I finally picked a winning design and only then learned my designer, Colum Jordan, worked in Dublin. 

For Backstory, I repeated this process, in the end receiving 144 designs and variations from some 35 designers. For this book I provided the artists with no central image but did summarize the story and the settings. Unfortunately, I noted the story involves a beautiful woman and two high-end sports cars. Some of the submissions looked more appropriate for a romance novel or a muscle car magazine than a serious novel, so I revised the brief to eliminate women and cars. The winner, Mikhail Starikov d/b/a michaelstar*, actually had it right from the beginning, and he stood out for employing genuine artistry rather than simply applying a font to a stock image. When I chose this winner, I found that he works in Moscow, which led to discussions about Tolstoy and the war of 1812. 

As to fitting the cover design to technical specs for print and e-books, I rely upon my editor/publisher Christine Keleny at CKBooks Publishing. 

How do you research your novels?

Five Ferries started as a memoir, so the basic research was simply living the story. However, memories fade and after 30 years of writing I turned the book into a novel, which required a lot of research. The internet made this much easier; I no longer had to visit the library’s map room to locate a village or find photography books to describe a building. However, I realized I also needed a person native to each country through which my hero travels (England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Wales and Ireland) to advise about geography, language and customs, as well as native speakers from other countries, to get the slang right. This led to extensive correspondence, one of the things I most enjoyed about writing the book.

Backstory is largely set in my backyard and peopled with Americans who talk like me, so the research was simpler. But the backstory within the novel is set at Trinity College in Dublin. I sent a blind email to the Literature Department at Trinity and found a faculty member who answered my questions and corrected my descriptions. Also, two of my characters drive high-end sports cars. I haven’t even owned car in fifteen years and so needed specific technical expertise. My cousin the engineer loved helping out, and enlisted a friend of his who works in a pit crew. I also found a friend to describe the work life of a university professor, another to counsel on New York criminal law, and a third to help with the perspective and dialect of a twenty-five-year-old woman. As to the study of propaganda, which relates to changing history and thus is part of the theme of the novel, I did the reading myself.

I find that people really enjoy contributing their expertise to a novel. They feel part of the creative process, which enriches the collaboration and makes it fun.

What’s next? I have nearly completed the first draft of my next novel, as yet untitled. It is the story of a young man who lives an entitled life until tragedy strikes and forces him to get by on his own. It marks my return to first-person narrative, which I hope will allow me to explore the emotional challenges the hero seeks to overcome. I’ve also had fun including a Australian Shepard as a character and creating a family compound occupying a large bluff on the southern coast of Maine. I hope to publish this book in early 2022.

Here are links to Bill’s book:

Amazon  

Smashwords 

Goodreads – paperback –  e-book 

Rekuten Kobo

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble NOOK

Google Play


Bill’s first book:

Bill’s first book: Five Ferries

The Searcher – Tana French

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Another blind pick recommendation from my library. I got the audio book.

Stats: Published in Oct 2020. Print is 451 pages. Audio book is 12 discs (14.5 hours), narrator: Roger Clark.

Blurb: Retired detective Cal Hooper moves to a remote village in rural Ireland. His plans are to fix up the dilapidated cottage he’s bought, to walk the mountains, to put his old police instincts to bed forever.

Then a local boy appeals to him for help. His brother is missing, and no one in the village, least of all the police, seems to care. And once again, Cal feels that restless itch.

Something is wrong in this community, and he must find out what, even if it brings trouble to his door.

What I liked: It was an interesting what if… story, if however improbable. Not sure I buy a ex-Chicago cop with a daughter in the States, going all the way to Ireland to live. Lots of desolate places in the US to choose from. That’s not a dig, just seems improbably. The story itself is enjoyable. I thought the characters were real and I cared what happened to them, especially Tray (spelling?). French really makes you want to root for Tray. And I didn’t figure out what was going on until I was told, though I suspected after a while that things weren’t as they appear. Roger Clark does a good job at narration. It everyone sounded very real. I always enjoy listening to a good Irish accent, too.

What I didn’t like: Hum… not sure. It wasn’t a gripping story but it was a good one. Maybe the improbability of the setup is what hinders me giving it a 5/5.

Rating: 4/5

The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni

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Got this out of my local library when I was looking for a new audio book.

Stats: Published in April 2020, Audio book is 9 discs, narrated by Heather Masters, print book is 349 pages.

Blurb: It feels like a fairy tale when Alberta ”Bert” Monte receives a letter addressed to “Countess Alberta Montebianco” at her Hudson Valley, New York, home that claims she’s inherited a noble title, money, and a castle in Italy. While Bert is more than a little skeptical, the mystery of her aristocratic family’s past, and the chance to escape her stressful life for a luxury holiday in Italy, is too good to pass up.

At first, her inheritance seems like a dream come true: a champagne-drenched trip on a private jet to Turin, Italy; lawyers with lists of artwork and jewels bequeathed to Bert; a helicopter ride to an ancestral castle nestled in the Italian Alps below Mont Blanc; a portrait gallery of ancestors Bert never knew existed; and a cellar of expensive vintage wine for Bert to drink.

But her ancestry has a dark side, and Bert soon learns that her family history is particularly complicated. As Bert begins to unravel the Montebianco secrets, she begins to realize her true inheritance lies not in a legacy of ancestral treasures, but in her very genes.

What I liked: The premise of the book was very fun. Who wouldn’t like to get something in the mail telling you you have a castle in the Alps, holdings in a tree plantation, and a home in Paris! I also enjoyed the narration. Heather Masters does a wonderful job with all the characters. And Alberta – the new heiress – seems real person in a real situation until strange things start to happen and she starts to act strangely too.

What I didn’t like: Alberta does things, little by little, that just don’t ring “true.” She is dropped off at this castle, being told she’d be picked up in a week. Three weeks go by when she finally realizes they aren’t coming back to pick her up – sorry, no way. No cell service in the mountains (sounds right), but they have a land line (okay, maybe), but she doesn’t insist on using it to leave, even though she is told she’s the new owner of the place. She tries to run away to a local (deserted?) village in tennis shoes without gloves or hat. She lived in the Hudson Valley, so she knows what winter is (not a realistic). And when she okays a murder… (nope) I kept reading because I was listening in the car, otherwise I might have stopped. And Trussoni tries to make it more spookier than it has to be. It could have been a strange and thought-provoking story, but it seems she tried too hard to make it something else

Rating: 3/5

Firefily Lane by Kristin Hannah

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 I wanted to read this book before I watched the TV series based on the book, so I ordered the audio book from my local library. Now I wonder what the TV show will be like. 

Stats: Publishing in 2008, hardcover is 479 pages, audio book is 18 hours, narrated by Susan Erickson

Blurb: In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the “coolest girl in the world” moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all—beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable.

Firefly Lane is for anyone who ever drank Boone’s Farm apple wine while listening to Abba or Fleetwood Mac. More than a coming-of-age novel, it’s the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices. It’s about promises and secrets and betrayals. And ultimately, about the one person who really, truly knows you—and knows what has the power to hurt you . . . and heal you.

What I liked: I enjoyed Susan Ericksen’s narration. Each character seemed like a different person. She didn’t miss a beat. I am mostly of the generation that Hannah is writing about here, so it was fun to walk down memory lane with her. The things the characters deal with feel real but…

What I didn’t like: I just couldn’t get myself to care much for these characters. I can’t put my finger on why but it wasn’t a book I couldn’t wait to get back to. The writing seemed a bit jagged to me, not consistent. It’s a large book, so I can understand how that might happen, but it’s the editor’s job to help Hannah fix that. I got particularly bored with the struggle Kate had with her daughter. It went on too long and was suddenly dropped on a couple occasions – that jaggedness I mentioned – then revived again. I wasn’t hard to figure out something was going to happen to their friendship and not hard to figure out what it would be that would bring them back together. I haven’t read any of Hannah’s other books but I’ll look closer at ratings before I do.

Rating: 3/5

The Turn of The Key – Ruth Ware

This book was recommended on an online book group I’m a part of, so I requested it from my local library.

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Stats: First published in 2019, the paperback is 352, audio book is 10 discs, read by Imogen Church

Blurb: When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the home’s cameras, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder—but somebody is.

What I liked: I mostly like the narration done by Ms Church. She was good at making it a bit creepy. Of course, that means that the writing was good at making it creepy, and it was. And the characters in the story were very real but from the word and from the narration.

What I didn’t like: The story itself was a bit slow. The twist at the end did surprise me a bit, but it wasn’t an OMG moment by any means. And it was a touch hard to believe the the person that died could have done what he/she did, especially related to the house. (I don’t want to give anything away for those that want to read this story.) And finding out who did kill the character was actually a sad moment in the story, almost believable but also not quite.

Rating: 2.5/5

One By One by Ruth Ware

One by One

This book was recommended by one of my local librarians.

Stats: Published in 2020, Audio – 11 CDs, Narrator – Imogen Church, Print – 372 pages

Blurb: Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?
When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?

What I liked: As people started getting picked off “One by One” in a situation where there is only so many people involved in a place where they can’t get away from each other (in a snowed in chalet), I definitely thought of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (which started out with a not socially acceptable – now – title). And Ruth reproduces the feeling of that great Christie story pretty well. You definitely feel like you’re in the chalet. You definitely get the feeling of the different characters (and Imogen Church helps this a lot too), and I didn’t know “who done it” until she tells you. I was listening so I couldn’t really go back and see if she “cheated” at all in how she used the different people’s voices (the different sections are told by different characters), but I trust that she’s a good enough author that she didn’t do that. I also like how the Ware does tell you who the murder is but there is still more of the book to go. The final ski down the mountain was a nasty. I’m not a skilled downhill skier, so it put me on edge for sure.

What I didn’t like: The end was a bit slow and I don’t remember learning with happened to some of the other characters when they split up. I would have liked to know why they didn’t come back in time.

Rating: 4/5

Formula For Wealth – Author Interview

I work with authors all year in various capacities through my book publishing company: CKBooks Publishing.

I can help with editing (all types), print and ebook design and formatting (yes, books you read have to be designed and formatted by someone), cover design, or even publishing. For Alan James (pen name), it was all of the above. 

Since I am an author myself, I like to help my clients when I can by featuring them and their books. So Alan has answered a few questions for us about his debut book: Formula For Wealth, which has garnered a 5 star review from Reader’s Favorite, btw. Good going, Alan!

 

This is part of what the reviewer (Foluso Falaye from Reader’s Favorite) said:

Formula for Wealth by Alan James details realistic and measurable ways to achieve certain financial goals. As clearly stated by the author, it is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Rather, it is a book for the wealth builders who are willing to put in the effort and the time it takes.

A wide range of subjects that determine wealth is examined: personal finance, wealth management, spending habits, lifestyle choices, unplanned expenses, assets and liabilities, and much more.

As the title suggests, Formula for Wealth includes some calculations, which would help in mapping out plans with specific time frames for achieving financial goals. In his richly packed book about acquiring wealth, Alan James leaves nothing untouched.

——————————————–

 

Some questions for Alan. 

Alan, how do you determine what your wealth is and what it can become?

You can know your wealth by calculating your net worth and you can use the equation for wealth to see what your wealth will become.

Can you determine how decisions that you are making will affect your wealth?

You can put the information into the equation for wealth to see the effect on your wealth. A couple of examples used in Formula For Wealth (link to amazon https://www.amazon.com/Formula-Wealth-Alan-James/dp/1949085341/) are buying a car and buying a house.

What prevents me from getting wealthier?

Decisions that you make and the actions that you take can prevent you from getting wealthier. The Formula For Wealth goes through factors like credit, instant gratification, and market pressure. It also provides tips for being successful implementing wise decisions.

What would it take to become a millionaire?

One way to become a millionaire is to invest about $100 a week into a retirement account where your employer matches your contribution and then when you get 10 percent return on your investment you will become a millionaire in less than 26 years.

Now, what about you? 

So why would I use some of my time during retirement to write a book? I had come up with a statement that simplified the equation for wealth and wanted to share it. I began to write a book to explain the equation for wealth and the simplified statement that I call the Formula for Wealth. When I begin a project, I find it very hard not to complete it, which helped to get my book available to help readers understand wealth.

Now that I am done writing my book, what will I do to keep busy? We moved to Arizona for retirement. I bought a house that needed some attention, so there are lots of chores to do. If there is not enough work around the house, there is be plenty of work around the church that can be done. I try to exercise regularly. My wife and I have taken up line dancing and we take the dog hiking. We are enjoying exploring the southwest, too.

Thanks, Alan. Enjoy your retirement!

Echo Burning – Lee Child

394715I needed an audio book to listen to and this one was available from my library.

Stats: Published in 2002 this is the 5th Jack Reacher Novel by Child. Print it is 432 pages, audio is 17′, narrator is Dick Hill

Blurb: Thumbing across the scorched Texas desert, Jack Reacher has nowhere to go and all the time in the world to get there. Cruising the same stretch of two-lane blacktop is Carmen Greer. For Reacher, the lift comes with a hitch. Carmen’s got a wild story to tell—all about her husband, her family secrets, and a hometown that’s purely gothic. She’s also got a plan. Reacher’s part of it. And before the sun sets, this ride could cost them both their lives.

What I liked: This story was interesting because it had Reacher stumped (and me too). In the typical Child way, Reacher figures things out the only way Reacher can, with his background knowledge of… (I won’t tell you and give away the fun of discovery). As usual, Child’s characters are all so real and the situation plausible (mostly). The setting helps enhance the mood of the story and the child increases the stakes. And in the typical Child way, there are people in the story that you don’t know why they are in the story until toward the end. I always enjoy Dick Hill’s narration of the Reacher stories. He was a good pick for the job.

What I didn’t like: Some of the detail is overdone a bit but that is Child’s style too. Easy to overlook in an audio format.

Rating: 4.5/5

Beating About the Bush by M.C. Beaton

43263431Since I can’t get into my local library yet to pick out audio books, I saw this one and thought it might be a light, cozy mystery. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to “read” anything too serious right now. I had seen one Agatha Raisin BBC program and wasn’t that impressed by it, but I thought I’d give one of the books a go.

Stats: The audio was produced in 2019, same year as the print edition. The print is 236 pages. I didn’t pay attention to the length of the audio book – sorry. Narrated by Penelope Kieth.

Blurb: When private detective Agatha Raisin comes across a severed leg in a roadside hedge, it looks like she is about to become involved in a particularly gruesome murder. Looks, however, can be deceiving, as Agatha discovers when she is employed to investigate a case of industrial espionage at a factory where nothing is quite what it seems.

The factory mystery soon turns to murder and a bad-tempered donkey turns Agatha into a national celebrity, before bringing her ridicule and shame. To add to her woes, Agatha finds herself grappling with growing feelings for her friend and occasional lover, Sir Charles Fraith. Then, as a possible solution to the factory murder unfolds, her own life is thrown into deadly peril. Will Agatha get her man at last? Or will the killer get her first?

What I liked: There were some funny bits, and I liked the donkey.

What I didn’t like: I wasn’t pulled into the story and didn’t really care for the two main characters, especially Agatha Raisin. Her personality grated on me and I don’t know why her sidekick stayed with her and took her verbal abuse (even if it was meant to be helpful.) So it was hard to care about how the story ended up. The body didn’t show up for quite a while into the story and I had a hard time keeping the bad guys straight. I’ll be staying away from Agatha Raisin. The narration was okay, but also not my favorite.

Rating: 2/10