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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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

In the Garden Room

by Tanya Eby

Some book reviews are easy to write and I bang them out quickly.  I read the book, the plot was (good or bad), the characters (were, were not) fully developed, I (do or do not) recommend the book…..

And then there are the rare books like “In the Garden Room” by Tanya Eby which punch you in the gut and leave you stunned.  These are the books which you don’t stop thinking about after the cover is closed for the final time.  The one which makes you feel so many feels, that processing and being able to adequately express an opinion is nearly impossible.  blog

I confess to being an Eby superfan, but as a narrator.  When she is associated with an Audible book, I don’t hesitate to add it to my library.  I was unaware she was also an author and was both excited and a little jealous to find this out.  How can one person have such a variety of talent?  I started Garden Room much the same way as I do most books nowadays, with absolutely no clue the subject matter.  This has proven to be a wonderful way in which to find treasure I might otherwise have not chosen had I known ahead of time what the story explored.  That said, if you are reading a review prior to reading the book, I assume you are actually looking for guidance or opinion on it.  This one is tough.  It’s not a book about rainbows and unicorns, and the subject matter could be a trigger for some women.

The story centers around two women in the early 1900s.  We meet mother, Cora, and daughter, Lillian when the women lived a boring, but safe life.  Having married a fisherman with dreams of creating a good life, but reeking of the stench of fish, almost 30 year old Lillian sees her future only as doom and gloom.  She was unhappy, never content and easily swayed by the charms of a vagabond who ends up being a talent scout for a Chicago brothel.

And the ladies lives go downhill from there…..Lillian creates a fantasy life in her head and sneaks away with her young daughter while her husband is away working.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what is coming.  In the early 20th century, a 30 year old woman was OLD, but her very innocent young daughter was a great commodity.  As I said, this subject matter might be difficult, but Eby presents it so smartly, that as a reader I was drawn into the story despite the un-comfortableness of it all.

I listened to this book via Audible and must give kudos to the narrator, Christa Lewis.  She had me believing in the spoiled Cora, the defeated Cora, the regretful Cora as well as the unfortunate personality changes of naive Lillian to warrior Lillian.  There is one scene in the book detailing the inauguration of this child into the dreadful world of brothel life which literally caused me tears.  Lewis WAS that young girl.  Between the words Eby penned, and the voice Lewis spoke, that was one of the hardest paragraphs I ever heard on an Audible book.  It was not gratuitous. and was completely essential to the character development, but it was hard to hear.

This was also one of those audio books where you found yourself wishing you had pen and paper to jot down some of the lines because they were so impactful.  This one especially summed up the idea behind life as a woman:

So much of a woman’s happiness depends on what type of a cage she was kept in.

I’m glad I listened to this book and would not hesitate to try another Eby novel or listen to more of Lewis’ narration.

 

For the US State reading challenge – this one is set in Illinois.

 

The Fragrance Shed by a Violet

by Lin Wilder

If you follow my personal blog, https://newoldgirl.wordpress.com/ you are aware that I am NOT A FAN of the medical profession and feel great disdain for Big Pharma.  This attitude change occurred in the last 4 years and one additional side effect of the trauma of my iatrogenic illness was losing an entire genre of books.  I used to read every single medical thriller I could find, and laugh at the memory of my one overnight hospital stay where the book I was reading was by Robin Cook.  As a sort of exposure therapy, I decided to delve back into medical fiction and see if I could separate my own trauma from a fiction book.  I am so glad I discovered new indie author, Lin Wilder.  She was the perfect author to pull me back into my old stomping grounds.  blog

“The Fragrance Shed by a Violet” is not your typical medical thriller.  I would probably not even add “thriller” to the descriptor except that most books set in the medical industry do involve mayhem – murder, espionage, the evils of the industry, etc.  Wilder has written a book which involves the medical profession, but truly I felt this book was character driven.  Yes, Dr. Lindsey McCall is a brilliant researcher employed by a large Texas medical center, but there are so many pieces to this story, it felt more like contemporary fiction involving relationships rather than subterfuge.  This, I think, was key for me truly enjoying the work.  Wilder presents us strong, driven, intelligent female characters like McCall and investigative reporter Kate Townsend.  As the foil to those strong women, we also spend time with Lindsey’s sister, Paula a nurse with a troubled past who proves prominent in the direction Lindsey’s life takes.

As the sister of two alcoholic brothers who passed very early because of their disease, I felt a real connection to the siblings in this book.  As a reader, finding connections to characters brings the story to life and Wilder wrote a good story.  Wilder pulled me in not only with her writing but with the use of prophetic quotes at the start of each chapter, and the presence of spirituality in the story.  This did not read like smack-you-in-the-face Christian fiction, but as in many real lives, faith plays a role for some of her characters.  Reading this book was comfortable and enjoyable.

I did read the author bio prior to starting the book and I appreciated throughout my reading the fact that Wilder spent decades employed in the medical field.  Somehow, to me, knowing she had real life experience behind her gave a sense of legitimacy to her writing, especially during the parts where research and drug development was explored.  It was also quite clear that Lin Wilder is one smart cookie.  The novel is very well written, the characters are fleshed out and the story felt complete.  This was a great first medical book for me to start with and I highly recommend “The Fragrance Shed by a Violet.”

 

 

For the US Map Reading Challenge, this one is set in Texas.  Yes, I’ve read another Texas book this year, but it’s a big state so I’m recording this one as well.

The Bleeding Door

by Todd Cook

As a new resident to Appalachia, I was excited to read “The Bleeding Door” as it is set in the woods of Kentucky in the 19th century.  Todd Cook clearly spent a lot of time studying the culture and integrating it into the story.  In fact the author bio explains his passion for, and investigation of, the well known Hatfield-McCoy feud, and acquaintanceship with sources who live in the area in which he sets this historical fiction.  “The Bleeding Door” is a retelling of this feud with characters who are fleshed out and made real to the reader. blog

It took a while to become immersed in the story.  The first part of the book develops slowly and jumps among time and characters.  I am glad I stuck with it, though, because the author builds upon that early material in order to tell a good, old-fashioned tale.  By the time the story ended, I had favorite characters and connected to them and their ultimate fate.

“The Bleeding Door” is a novel which uses the setting as a main character.  The geography of Kentucky, the mystery of the dark woods, the isolation of those who reside there are all critical to exactly what happens in the hills.  The Civil War was very impactful for those states whose residents could go either way.  Face it, a Massachusetts neighborhood was more likely to be all pro-Union while the residents of Kentucky had decisions to make.  This resulted in in-fighting and danger for families and vengeance was a popular problem solver.

I hesitate to make this criticism because I never know if what I experience is as a result of the writing, or remnants of my brain injury with which I still deal.  Keep that in mind as this may not affect other readers in the same way.  Cook worked hard at incorporating the language of the hills from the 1800s.  While much of the story is written in our modern English, character dialogue is written in its original Appalachian speak.  For example:

“Whar are you fixin’ to take us?” demanded Melvin. “We hait done nothing’!” The captors did not answer.

Melvin grew more frantic.  “I hain’t never throwed off on Vance and Phillip! Them two never throwed off on me!”

“I sware t’warn’t me,” interjected Robert. “I was out fightin in Virginny when they was shot, I sware hit!”

From context I could understand the plot, but I did find myself having to read (and sometimes re-read) much more methodically.

“The Bleeding Door” is a nice tale and I will look for the next book Todd Cook pens.

 

 

US State Reading Challenge – Kentucky