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A Price for Genius

by Lin Wilder

This is my third Lin Wilder book in the last 4 months, and I’ll be reading her Dr. Lindsey McCall series as long as she writes them.  Although each book could stand alone, as a methodical reader, I really appreciate reading a series sequentially. Watching characters grow and develop make or break any series, and Wilder is proving herself adept at stretching the boundaries for her characters.

Book 3 in the McCall series, “A Price for Genius” is very different than books 1 and 2. Reviews for those books can be found here:

https://eyesandearsbooks.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/the-fragrance-shed-by-a-violet/

https://eyesandearsbooks.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/do-you-solemnly-swear/

This book is primarily set in Switzerland, and much of the plot centers around a kidnapping. Wilder keeps the material fresh by introducing new characters, and they assemble to form a rescue team. Unlike the McCall we met in book 1, by book 3 a small community (more accurately a family) develops and we get to enjoy relationships growing deeper. It will be interesting to see how the group grows in book 4.  Yes, book 4 is in the works already.  blog

One thought which runs through my brain while reading all of Wilder’s books is that she must be very, very intelligent. Her writing is not dumbed-down and she manages to use her own previous experience in the medical field to write material which is interesting as fiction, but which also is informative to a reader.  I read a wide variety of material and I really am drawn to that which challenges me, rather than simply turning pages to finish. Wilder writes for a smart audience.

Here is an example of the level of intellect found throughout the novel:

But the threats to twenty-first-century man can rarely be solved by fighting or fleeing. Rather than dissipating through extreme physical exertion, these hormonal and neurochemical products are built up over time and can be toxic. The consequences of severe stress and adrenal exhaustion over prolonged periods of time can be fatal, leading to the belief that stress is considered one of the top contributors to the leading causes of death in the twenty-first century, heart disease and stroke, cancer.

The only thing I did not like, and I didn’t even realize it until the last chapter, is that one of my favorite characters didn’t get much time in this novel.  Max.  A Doberman. Yes, I missed the dog.

 

 

Taking on Water

by David Rawding

This was another book that was given to me, so I started out having no idea of plot or genre and was pleasantly surprised to find this a very good Audible listen. Set in a small fishing town in New Hampshire, this is a mystery/thriller novel involving the decline of the blue collar worker and the influx of illegal drugs.

blogAs a debut novel, Rawding was very successful in penning characters who seemed very real. Having grown up in a small fishing village on the coast of New Jersey, I was impressed with the attention to detail about fishing, and appreciated the time spent explaining the industry. Rawding also was very accurate (not speaking to the drug running, lol), but I certainly saw my share of fisher-families devastated by bad seasons, acts of God and industry regulations.

The main character, James Morrow, is employed as a social worker who has lived, and seen, his fair share of abuses. He is more than a 9-5 worker and because of his off work hours spent with young teen Kevin, Morrow is drawn into the underside of this “quiet” fishing village. A mixed race marriage to a police woman adds to the investment Morrow makes in the mystery of fishing and drugs and ultimately leads to traumatic loss and questionable choices.

“Taking on Water” is a very solid mystery worthy of a read. Having listened to this via Audible, my experience with the material, as always, is influenced by the ability of the narrator.  I’d never heard Curt Simmons before, but instantly connected with his voice. If you are an audio book listener, you likely know that it’s sometimes a hit or miss. There are some voices, inflections, pauses….which can ruin good writing. In my new world order, if I don’t enjoy a book, I’m out. Life is too short to waste on bad material. Simmons helped make this novel pleasurable and the time passed too quickly. His voice choices for each character were fitting, and aided in my own visualization of who was speaking which brought the work to life for me.

I recommend “Taking on Water” and would read more by Rawding and would definitely listen to another Simmons narration.

 

For the US Book Challenge – this was set in New Hampshire.

 

 

 

all we had

by annie weatherwax

Many of the books I read and review are given to me, and I’m grateful for the chance to experience such a wide variety of material.  I’m not complaining.  But there is something wonderful about selecting a book, anticipating the story and immersing yourself in the novel.  For Christmas a friend gave me a B&N gift card and I spent HOURS perusing the online store and was like a kid picking up, and putting back, the new toy until I found exactly the ones I wanted.

The first of my treasures I chose is “all we had” by annie weatherwax and, to be completely honest, I selected it because I was entranced by the cover. Yup, I judged this book by its cover and I’m so glad I did.

This is a story about a transient, underemployed, kindhearted mother Rita and her daughter, 13 year old Ruthie.  Rita has led a hard life becoming a mom at 16 and forced to use sex as a tool of power to find men willing to take them in and provide shelter and food.  This lifestyle is unimaginable to me, but Weatherwax managed to pen the character in such a way that she seems like a tragic human caught in a terrible situation doing what she has to in order to survive. She also understood the circle of poverty which can trap a person and she was determined to ensure her daughter got into an Ivy League school and made a better life for herself.  Commendable especially as a 29 year old having to resort to using, and being used, by men.  blog

Mom and daughter hit the road in a barely drive-able car and head from California to Boston, home of many top colleges. Despite the fact Ruthie is only 13, Rita is working toward the future and wants her daughter educated in the best schools and nearer to her future freedom from poverty.

…..and then things take a turn for the unexpected.

The women end up at a diner in a dying town in New York state and a cast of characters become the family they never had before.  Rita ends up waitressing, Ruthie works part time as a dishwasher and we get to watch a life build as money is made, housing is secured and friendships blossom.

I really loved the time in the diner. Weatherwax fleshed out each character, and as a reader, I was impressed with her ability to hook me despite my own initial misgivings.  One of the waitresses is transgender and not someone I’ve ever experienced in my own life but by the end of the book, Peter Pam was my favorite. I felt an attachment I wouldn’t have thought possible and was invested in her character.

And like many great novels, there is more to the story than just the adventures of a mom and daughter. Weatherwax was writing a fictionalized account of what much of America suffered during the sub-prime mortgage crisis in our country. People wanting to create their own American dream and instead ending up worse off than before.  Dreaming of home ownership but instead becoming caught even further in a cycle of poverty.  Besides the main characters, this is represented throughout the novel as factories move, diners disappear, neighbors going from frequent Walmart truck deliveries to destitution and, of course, Walmart encroaching on mom & pops which used to be a way of life.

I read this book in 2 days and had to force myself at 3am to put it down. I hope Weatherwax writes many more books. She is stellar.

 

For the US Book Reading Challenge – this was set in New York.

 

Attuc

by Jeffrey Koval

If you are a regular reader here you know my story and know I suffered a brain injury which took about two years of my life.  During that time I was unable to read or listen to books because I couldn’t process plots or retain information.  Following that awful period, my mantra has been GIVE ME EVERYTHING to read. I’m making up for lost time, and celebrating the return of a skill even 5 year-olds manage.

That said, I am always on the hunt for new material, authors, narrators and I happily volunteer to read and review work.  I go into things blindly and very rarely have any idea of the material genre until I begin.  I came across the narrator for “Attuc” on Twitter and he kindly sent me this audio book from Audible.com.

And then I saw it was a 45 minute short story. Sigh.

I HATE short stories. I’m the 10-20 hour book listener and believe it takes an hour to properly introduce a character. I want to immerse myself in every detail.  I learned to hate short stories in high school when it felt like literature was dumbed down to fit the class period.

But I had agreed to listen to this so I turned up the iPod and busied myself with New Year’s resolution #86 – pantry organization.

And I was sucked into this story by Koval, and especially Skyler Morgan’s narration.

This is the story of a man attending the funeral of a college roommate, and speaking of the times they shared long ago, with a horror twist.

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By happenstance, I am actually from central New Jersey as is the author, and I attended Rutgers where the story takes place. That upped the creep factor of this chilling tale for me as a listener.

This 45 minutes ended far too soon.  I got mad at the last sentence when I realized it was over. Morgan has a soothing voice and his narration was well done.  I would not hesitate to listen to him in more works.  Checking now to see if Koval has written more, which is the highest praise I can give a writer.

 

Jackaby

by William Ritter

The past year I’ve invested a lot of time seeking out new authors using social media.  Thanks to fellow bloggers and peeps on Twitter, I’ve managed to win many books and discover new talent I would never have come across.  There are pluses and minuses to this method of building a TBR list, but as long as you are open to adventures you might otherwise have missed, I’m finding this an excellent way to read some amazing works.

Jackaby by William Ritter was a novel I won, and to be honest, I entered the contest because of the gorgeous cover.  I rarely read the book descriptions and roll the dice whether the material will be my cup of tea.  I’d classify Ritter’s first novel as a detective fantasy work.  It is also considered a YA novel, but it easily crosses over to readers of all ages.  Set in 1892 New England, this tale features Jackaby, a Sherlockian detective with a flare for the paranormal and his new intrepid girl Friday, Abigail Rook, who is on the lam from her boring life seeking adventure.  I love these two characters together.  blog

The writing is witty and the characters are both charming and strong. A heroine who doesn’t faint in the face of danger, especially in a 19th century setting, is very much appreciated.  Despite fantasy and paranormal not being my regular choice of genres, Ritter created a story which was highly entertaining, and which I looked forward to returning to every day.

The small town of New Fiddleham is the stalking ground of a serial killer and between Jackaby’s knowledge of mythical underworld beings, and Abigail’s ability to notice everyday nuances, the team leads the reader on a very enjoyable adventure.

Although I’m not a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes movies and television offerings of my youth (70s and 80s), I do like Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and couldn’t help but see his face as I read Jackaby’s nonplussed reactions to a world most of us cannot see.

Ritter is an author to watch and the first chapter of book two of the Jackaby series, Beastly Bones, is included at the end of this novel.  Glad to know he is continuing the characters, but, of course, I didn’t read this teaser.  I prefer to open a book having no idea where I am to be led.

 

The Siege

By James Hanna

Part of the excitement of discovering new authors is appreciating the fact that each of us lives such disparate lives.  If I had to write my author bio on the back cover of my probably-never-will-be written book, it would be very boring.  52 year old woman, married to one man for almost 3 decades, homeschooled 2 sons, retired to West Virginia mountains = snooze fest.  New indie author James Hanna has led a life which looks anything but boring: wandered Australia for 7 years, employed in the world of criminal justice, counselor in the Indiana Department of Corrections and probation officer in the San Francisco domestic abuse and stalking unit.  Wow.  My trips to Safeway would not lead to a novel worth reading.  To me, understanding how Hanna lived his pre-author life is notable because he has penned a psychological thriller set in an Indiana correctional facility involving riotous prisoners holding guards hostage.  Clearly Hanna followed the age old advice to write what you know.  blog

Hanna creates a varied cast of characters including a charismatic pedophile, power hungry guards, rival gangs drawn together by shared ideology, employee unions exercising totalitarian control, and the central character, dorm counselor Tom Hemmings chosen by the prisoners to conduct negotiations during the siege. Hanna does an excellent job of providing the viewpoints of many in the story, never dwelling too long on one character.  Use of flashbacks move the story forward and keep the reader guessing as to the true motives of the individuals.

The book is well written, with dialogue far above what I would have anticipated from a novel set in a prison.  Hanna is a storyteller who demonstrates above average skill at painting a picture with words.  For example:

The light in the kitchen was still burning,  illuminating the crowded bookcase that supported the television set.  He stooped, searching compulsively for something to read, but was uninspired by the contents of the shelves: detective digests, more Harlequin romances, and two narrow hardbacks whose titles – The Land Fish and Father Flanagan, Friend to Youth – convinced him to leave them unopened.

“The Siege” is a complicated, character driven tale of a world most of us will never experience.  Hanna does such a stellar job of detailing this hostage situation, I actually googled to find out if this was based on a true story.  While I could not relate to many of these personalities on a personal level, for the several days I lived inside that prison setting in my head, and appreciated how human nature battles itself and institutional politics, Hanna successfully sold the story.

 

US State Map Challenge – set in Indiana

 

Do you Solemnly Swear?

by Lin Wilder

It’s always interesting to read sequels featuring characters you loved in previous novels.  Lin Wilder successfully follows up her first novel “The Fragrance Shed by a Violet” with this legal thriller “Do you Solemnly Swear.”  blog

Having recently completed book one, the returning cast was very familiar to me and I enjoyed the immediate jump in time detailing their growth and changes.  “Solemnly Swear” features: Dr. Lindsey McCall, newly VERY rich, who has graduated from prison inmate to medical director to the prison system; intrepid reporter Kate Townsend who has attained the highest praise of a writer and is now exploring developing her personal life and Lindsey’s new husband Rich Jansen who once again makes a career change from prison administrator back to attorney-at-law.

Wilder also smartly introduces new, intriguing characters in the form of private investigators, lawyers and, most compelling, a returning US soldier and current Texas State Trooper who becomes the catalyst for the plot.  Gabe McAllister battles the trauma of war and through a series of unfortunate events becomes involved with a dicey single mom.  His decision to leave this unstable woman prompts a charge of rape against McAllister; the victim being the 6-year old daughter of the ex-girlfriend.

The subject matter is uncomfortable, but Wilder is careful to not make the novel so graphic as to be unreadable.  As much as the author spent time in her “Fragrance” book educating the reader on the inner workings of drug development, this novel provides a great deal of information about the legal system and the incidences of false charges regarding sexual crimes.  Having no knowledge of these things, I found this background interesting. Wilder is proving herself quite deft at writing novels which serve both to entertain as well as educate.

Sometimes it is necessary to read all the books in a series in order to understand the long term developing plot, “Lord of the Rings” comes to mind.  Wilder’s books could stand alone, but if you’re like me and very orderly and systematic when it comes to character development, please do start with book one.  And, bonus! Book three is in the works so if you care to binge over a winter’s snowy evening……

I enjoyed the “Fragrance” novel (see my earlier review here: https://eyesandearsbooks.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/the-fragrance-shed-by-a-violet/ ) and I think this sequel is even better.  I imagine at this rate, the third book in the series is likely to be the best yet.

For the US State Challenge – Texas – fast becoming my biggest source of fiction.