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

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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

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

 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and RedemptionSometimes my work allows me to listen to books while I work. I was happy to see this one available from my library online service. I had heard the title and was interested in the topic.

Stats: It was published in 2014, which surprised me. I didn’t know I was so slow on the draw, but it explains why it was available to me from the library. Narrated by the author. It is 11 hours in length.

Blurb: Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

What I liked: Mr. Stevenson is an impressive man and this book does a good job telling his story. It’s not surprising that they picked this up to make a movie about it (which I would also recommend). It’s quite a story. A definite eye opener of the continued injustices in our judicial system.

What I didn’t like: Not sure I can think of anything.

Rating: 5/5

A Better Man by Louise Penny

44034500I always enjoy a stroll through the small but dangerous town of Three Pines 🙂

Stats: Published in 2019, print is 437 pages, audio is 11 discs, narrator, Robert Bathurst (as always)

Blurb: It’s Gamache’s first day back as head of the homicide department, a job he temporarily shares with his previous second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. Flood waters are rising across the province. In the middle of the turmoil a father approaches Gamache, pleading for help in finding his daughter.

As crisis piles upon crisis, Gamache tries to hold off the encroaching chaos, and realizes the search for Vivienne Godin should be abandoned. But with a daughter of his own, he finds himself developing a profound, and perhaps unwise, empathy for her distraught father.

Increasingly hounded by the question, how would you feel…, he resumes the search.

As the rivers rise, and the social media onslaught against Gamache becomes crueler, a body is discovered. And in the tumult, mistakes are made.

What I liked: There are enough questions about “Who done it” that you really don’t know until Penny tells you (or at least I didn’t). I don’t know what number this is in the Gamache series and I’ve only read a few of this series, but it still feels fresh. Penny is so good at making the characters and their lives seem very real. The backstories of the supporting characters play into the mystery so well. Bathurst does a wonderful job, as usual. I love his interpretation of the duck.

What I didn’t like: (Spoiler Alert) To keep the real “killer” hidden, Penny kind of lies to the reader. The person really responsible tries to pin it on someone else. Is that lying or is that what a person might actually do. For this character, it seems unlikely, but it makes the story work.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Giver of Stars – Jojo Moyes

The Giver of StarsI have read this author before so I thought this would be a safe pick.

Stats: The audio book (which I “read”) is 11 discs, 14 hours, narrated by Julia Whelan. The print book is 400 pages, published in October of 2019.

Blurb: Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

What happens to them–and to the men they love–becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

What I liked: I enjoyed the story in part because it was obvious it was based on some facts. It initially appears to be about Alice – the immigrant from England, but it really seems more about Margery – the feisty local that does and says what she likes. The library and the bond that forms with the women that run it is heartening and the things they encounter seem very real, as do the characters. I can see how, if they enjoyed reading, how they would like sharing that with people that would normally not be exposed to books. Plus, it’s understandable for the time period for the women to appreciate the independence this job gave them, a job men would generally have little interest in so suited them perfectly. Julia Whalen does a wonderful job with the narration, making each character unique.

What I didn’t like: It seems to takes Alice an extra long time to figure out what she decides to do once she (spoiler alert) leaves her husband. It also takes too long for the trial to happen. (I won’t tell you who is on trial.) I’m not sure why Moyes draws this out for so long. Generally, the book moves along in a saunter, like the women on their horses. It’s not the “epic” the publisher would have you believe, but it’s enjoyable.

Rating: 3.5/5