Tag Archive | Book Blog

Deadly Shore

by Andrew Cunningham

Narrated by Greg Hernandez

Audio books are a different breed. Unlike traditional books which require the reader to stop, sit and concentrate, an audio book coexists with your life. They are typically enjoyed while the listener does other things – drives, chores,  errands, etc.  While some audio books keep me company as I work, in the case of “Deadly Shores” I was finding things which had to be done just so I could continue listening.  If you knew me and chores, you’d understand this is truly high praise.  blog

As a child of the Jersey Shore (the actual place, not the ridiculous reality show), I love fiction set on islands and the excitement of an impending hurricane is a great plot device.  “Deadly Shore” gave me both.  Summer on Cape Cod is crowded with tourists and a category 4 hurricane barreling towards them provides high intensity excitement.  Then, the kicker, terrorists blow the bridges and hold the island captive.

Cunningham crafted some interesting characters including a former CIA agent now working as a PI, a “disgraced” local female cop, a feisty senior citizen prepared to battle storm and man (that was me in my head), terrorists and even Hurricane Chad.  Just a really well written, fast paced tale.  The kind of book you could read in a weekend, and be satisfied.

Narration is critical for any audio book.  Although I have never listened to a Greg Hernandez performance, I was immediately attracted to the cadence of his voice.  It was familiar and comfortable and brought the characters to life.  I’m a narrator snob and believe the quality of the voice can make or break even the best storytelling. I will even choose a book based only on the narrator; for example Scott Brick. He reads it, I’m listening.  Hernandez has made that list now.

Disclaimer to make the lawyers happy – I was voluntarily provided a free copy of this audio book by the narrator and this is my honest and unbiased review.  I wouldn’t hesitate to read another Cunningham novel and would gladly choose to listen to anything Hernandez narrated.

For the US book reading challenge, this was set in Massachusetts.


			

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.

 

 

 

Coal House

by W.S. Barton

I’ve been a reader all my life and at 51 find myself mostly reading contemporary women’s fiction about mid-life set in the United States.  It’s comfortable, sometimes enlightening and, certainly, plentiful.

And then I discovered Coal House by W.S. Barton.  Set in post World War II Wales, the book doesn’t pigeon-hole itself into a time period.  If you didn’t pay attention to details, it would be hard to say if this was late 19th century or mid 20th.  To me, it was the language of the book which transports the reader into the past.  blog

As an adult I’m reading fiction set in my time period, but as a teen my favorite books in the world were Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.  A chapter or two into Coal House and I felt like I was visiting an old friend.  The prose captured my attention and drew me into the tale, keeping me up late quite a few nights – apropos for a ghost story.

The premise of the novel centers around a married couple undergoing typical marital strife who, while on holiday trying to get past said strife, get caught up in the possibility of new beginnings and purchase an unbelievably well priced house at an auction.  Here’s a little wisdom learned from my five decades – if something seems like too good a deal, it probably is and will end with you having to battle demons, ghosts and murderous intent.

Much time is spent learning about the house, grounds and community which surround Coal House.  I am just floored by Barton’s use of language to captivate the reader.  I could pull any quote to share because I adored the feeling crafted by the words.  So that you may understand Barton’s prose, here is one short paragraph:

A quite marvellous feature of the library was the huge coal fire and although I had seen it earlier it was only on truly embracing the cold that I observed the true functionality.  It was a centrepiece worthy of it’s eponymity.  It would have looked wonderfully majestic when used for purpose and with the proximity to the mines, at some point, coal would have been in plentiful supply. I considered the lunacy which must have possessed whoever decided to remove all the trees, precious fuel, and I couldn’t fathom it.  It couldn’t be helped.  I realized the the outhouse must have been used to store coal.

Barton managed to write a comfortable, flowery, good old fashioned ghost tale but one which kept me guessing as to the plot.  Each chapter built upon the last and I kept changing my guess as to what was to come.  When the book came to a close, I took several days to begin this review.  It was a journey and I need time to process what I’d experienced.  I would highly recommend Coal House and hope to see more of Barton’s writing in future.

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

Tupelo Honey

by Lis Anna-Langston

Coming from a very dysfunctional childhood, at 52 both my parents and my brothers are now gone and I find myself drawn to novels which deal with childhoods filled with hardship.  If I was Oprah or Dr. Phil I’d probably say I’m using fictional works to help myself reflect on my past and mourn the imperfect world in which I lived until marriage.  Whatever the reason, I can definitely say that when I find a gem like “Tupelo Honey” and when the tears fall over that character, I feel a cleansing of my own pain.  And it is good.

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Set in Mississippi in the 1970s, author Lis Anna-Langston has penned a story which is touching and insightful. Main character Tupelo Honey is an 11 year old with an absentee junkie-mom, a loving grandma called Marmalade and slightly ‘off’ uncle Randall.  She is a smart, savvy child who faces more challenges at her young age than most will see in a lifetime.  As all of us do, Tupelo Honey craves a feeling of being wanted.  Loved.  This is a need which is supposed to be lavished on us as youngster by our parents, but never knowing her dad and a mom not interested in parenting leaves a void in her young life.

Interestingly, mom introduces a boyfriend into the picture who ends up being a blessing.  Nash, a low level drug dealer initially made my own mom-hairs on the arm rise, but Anna-Langston uses him to show normalcy and love the way a parent should behave.  I enjoyed this unexpected character twist and appreciated the fact that the author shows the reader appearances can be deceiving.

My other favorite thing about this novel is the feeling of nostalgia it offers.  I found myself smiling at my own childhood fondness for bologna sandwiches with mayonnaise.  Our world of gluten free ancient grain whole wheat bread with organic mustard and sprouts is just not the same as Wonder Bread and Kraft Mayo.  Anna-Langston does not punch us in the face with the fact this is set in the 70s, but there are enough mentions to bring that time period to life.

This is a can’t-put-it-down page turner. Despite my feelings of guilt that the author likely spent thousands of hours writing, and I’m whipping through it like a tornado, I read this in two days. And my emo was high through most of it. I cannot praise enough a book which makes the reader feel all range of emotions – sadness, laughter, joy, relief….  To be completely honest it took three days to finish the book. I had just 20 or so pages left to go at 2am, but I forced myself to stop. I knew my heart needed to see the end during the light of day and not while I laid awake processing the ache of this character.

I don’t keep every book I read because I don’t have shelf space and I won’t waste precious reading time going back to re-read something which was not wonderful.  “Tupelo Honey” gets my highest recommendation when I tell you this one sits in pride of place on my bookshelf to be picked up again and again in the years to come.