Posted in ARC, Audio, Mystery, Psychological Suspense, Thrillers

Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

Liv Reese wakes up to discover that strangers live in her apartment and there’s a bloody knife in her pocket. Her hands and arms are covered with strange messages like “stay awake”, “don’t sleep”, “don’t trust anyone”.

Each time Liv wakes up she’s living in a nightmare. She can’t remember the last two years of her life and each day is like starting all over. She writes messages on herself to try to prompt memories. Over and over, she discovers a large scar on her torso. She can’t remember how she got it.

When a man is found murdered in his bed, the clues lead the police to consider Liv the prime suspect. But how do you get enough evidence to prosecute a woman who can’t remember what she did yesterday?

Stay Awake is an anxiety inducing mystery-thriller. If you’ve ever woken up and briefly panicked, not knowing where you are, you’ll get an inkling of what Liv feels each and every waking moment of her life. In the beginning of the book, I was working right along with Liv to try to work through the murky mess that is her life. Eventually, other voices gave me clues as to what is going on, which greatly helped my agitation.

I listened to the audio version and have to confess it kept ME awake! But there were two reasons for that and I am going to rate the book accordingly. The author, Megan Goldin, gets five stars for a first-rate thriller.

The narration was much more jarring. The narrator created a voice for Liv that was extremely distracting. It was halting, and alternated between peevish, puzzled and angry. Puzzled, I can understand, but there was no “normal” base voice, just this constant barrage of over-the-top moods. About halfway through the book, this leveled out quite a bit, and the listening experience was a lot more enjoyable. The narrator for Liv’s voice also mispronounced several words.

Stay Awake is recommended for readers of Psychological Suspense and Thrillers, but I suggest reading the text version.

book cover, Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

My Ratings: Book — 5 Stars, Grade A
Narration — 3 Stars, Grade C

Posted in Africa, British Mystery, Cozy Mystery, historical mystery, Series

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness Series #13

Georgie and Darcy are on their honeymoon at last. After Darcy announces their upcoming trip to Kenya in front of the queen, Georgie is stunned by this surprise. She quickly gains her composure when the queen pulls her aside and tells her that David is also on his way to Kenya. She asks Georgie to keep an eye on her son, who might just take the opportunity to elope with that Simpson woman.

After an exhausting whirlwind of travel by a variety of conveyances, the newlyweds arrive in Happy Valley. Georgie and Darcy met a few people along the way, particularly Freddie, the local government man. Upon arrival, they meet their hostess and neighbors. Their hostess is a lovely, independent woman named Diddy Ruocco. The rest of the residents of Happy Valley are less lovely. Georgie finds herself among leches, hedonists, liars, and a potential diamond thief. She begins to suspect that Darcy has arranged this honeymoon to be a bit of a busman’s holiday. After a prominent landowner is murdered, it is obvious that there is more than one criminal harboring secrets.

At the time Love and Death Among the Cheetahs takes place, this area of Africa was under British rule and was called the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya. The native peoples mentioned in the novel, the Maasai and Kikuyu, were forced into servitude. In her introduction, Rhys Bowen comments a bit on the history of the area and the treatment of the indigenous people. She realizes that today’s readers may find parts of the novel offensive. But, she is trying to be realistic in her portrayal of that time and place. The author also did extensive research and includes a bibliography of sources at the end of the book.

I like the way the author handled a tricky, serious, historical topic in a cozy mystery. While the majority of the Happy Valley residents are absolutely horrid to the native people, Georgie’s inner thoughts are the voice of dissent for the reader. Georgie’s reactions are completely in character. Despite her royal heritage, Georgie is always good-hearted, down to earth and not the least stuck-up.

After thirteen novels, I have come to love the characters. This is my go-to series when I just want to snuggle up with a book that feels like going home.

Book cover

My Rating: 5 Stars, Grade A

Posted in ARC, Audio, Contemporary Fiction, Crime Fiction, Japan, Mystery

The Kimono Tattoo by Rebecca Copeland

Ruth Bennett is a translator working in Kyoto, Japan. Tall, redheaded Ruth is immediately recognizable as a foreigner, but she speaks impeccable Japanese and thoroughly embraces Japanese culture. She was born and raised in Japan while her parents worked as missionaries, although not the stereotypical sort. Her father was an obstetrician in a Christian hospital. Tragedy struck the family when her father was embroiled in a baseless malpractice case and her younger brother mysteriously vanished. Ruth’s parents returned to America, but Japan was home for Ruth.

Ruth’s current translation job is rather boring. She has no relatives nearby, few friends, and she’s not currently in a relationship. When a stranger knocks on her door offering her a chance to translate a novel by an author everyone assumed was dead, she gladly accepts the challenge. But as she reads the manuscript, she finds inconsistencies in writing style and the subject matter is about a dead woman’s body found naked on a nearby path. The body is covered in stunningly artistic tattoos that strongly resemble kimono fabric. After a very similar story appears on the television news, she knows the woman has been murdered.

Ruth slowly discovers she is the target of a very dangerous and powerful person. As she works to solve the puzzle of the manuscript and the tattooed woman, she discovers that she also has allies, friends and support from unexpected places.

In The Kimono Tattoo, kimonos are mentioned and observed in great detail so frequently, the reader can’t miss them. But as someone who knows very little about kimonos, I found this fascinating. The author also described the setting near Ruth’s home so well that I could picture myself walking those paths.

The mystery is just as complex as the dead woman’s tattoos. I listened to the audio version of this book and I was so engrossed in the story that I had to keep reminding myself to turn it off and go to sleep!

I looked up the author’s webpage and biography. Rebecca Copeland draws her main character’s history from her own life experiences. She is also an illustrious Japanese translator and literary critic. This is her first work of fiction.

Thank you NetGalley and Brother Mockingbird publishers for the opportunity to listen to the audio version of this book. The Kimono Tattoo is now available at your favorite print or audio book retailers.

My Rating: 5 Stars, Grade A

Posted in 20th Century, African American, General Fiction

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Ray Colson just wants to get through life in one piece.

When the novel begins, Ray owns a small used goods and furniture store in Harlem, dealing mostly in honest trade. He and his wife are expecting their first child. Her parents, who live on Strivers Row in Harlem (the street name speaks for itself), don’t think much of Ray. They are sure their daughter could have done better for herself.

Ray had a challenging childhood, with a delinquent father, in more ways than one, and a dead mother. When his father disappeared for a couple of months, he went to live with his Aunt Millie, and his cousin, Freddie, and there he stayed. His aunt is a blessing. Freddie is a double edged sword.

Ray has a college education, but what can a black man who just wants to keep his head down do with that in 1950’s Harlem? He uses both the schooling he got on the streets and in the classroom to work sales both above and below board. He has a nose for quality new and used goods to display in his store. Behind the counter, he never deals in anything too shady or traceable. Ray is a smart and cautious man.

His cousin, Freddie, however is not. Freddie is always getting into trouble. When Freddie comes looking to Ray for assistance in handling the various scrapes he gets into, Ray is there for him like a brother. Freddie’s antics escalate until Ray has to use all of his wits to keep himself, his business and his family safe.

Harlem Shuffle is the July 2022 selection for my book club. I might not have picked it up otherwise. While I didn’t like it as much as Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, I’m glad I read it. I learned a few things, which is always a plus!

Although I was born almost two decades later than the main character, there are locations in the novel that are relatable and nostalgic. I remember early used electronics shops like Aronowitz’s and furniture stores much like Ray’s. Descriptions of the era brought back feelings from childhood. But as a white woman who grew up in middle class suburbia, much of the novel was like reading about a foreign land. Despite working both sides of the fence, pun intended, Ray is at heart a deeply honorable man who loves his family and his neighborhood. While I can’t begin to put myself in Ray’s shoes, I gained a deep respect for him. That was a fine accomplishment by the author.

My Rating 4.75 Stars, Grade A-

Posted in ARC, Book Preview, suspense, Thrillers

The Lost Boy by Jane Renshaw

Rod Clark is an avid birdwatcher. Another bird enthusiast, Anna, from his online birding group, offers him a free one-week vacation on her island/nature preserve off the Scottish coast. Rod is over the moon with excitement. His wife, Penny, not so much. Her concern is saving their failing transportation business. A week away is the last thing she wants.

Penny reluctantly packs up their two boys and heads off with Rod. While he treks off into the woods and along the rocky shoreline, Penny struggles to keep their two hyperactive boys in line while working remotely. Anna appears to be a very understanding hostess. She puts up with the boys’ rather destructive antics while harboring unstable thoughts. But after the older boy goes missing, it becomes obvious that someone besides Anna is keeping dangerous secrets.

The Lost Boy is a captivating thriller of revenge and suspense. I pretty much figured out the twist about a third of the way through the book, but I didn’t lose interest. I love the remote island setting and the way the characters are portrayed. The narration is omniscient, so you get to hear the inner thoughts of several people. This makes the book quite effective despite a fairly transparent plot line.

If you like the suspense and thriller genres, you may enjoy The Lost Boy. But I’d recommend not reading it on vacation in a remote area!

The Lost Boy, Jane Renshaw, Book Cover

My Rating 4 stars, Grade B

Thank you, NetGalley and Inkubator Books, for my Advanced Reader Copy.

Posted in Historical Fiction, Romance, World War II

The Riviera House by Natasha Lester

The Past: When the Nazis invade Paris, they steal works of art owned by French museums and the Jewish people. Having been forewarned, the museum staff whisks away some of the most valuable works of art, including the Mona Lisa. But the plunder is astoundingly heartbreaking, in both quantity and value.

Two women work in secret and in constant danger to catalog the stolen art, so it can be returned to its rightful owners after the Nazis are defeated. One of them is a young woman named √Čliane. Before the war, she worked at the Louve, as well as her family’s small cafe. She risks her life to save the artwork and what is left of her family.

The Present: Remy is struggling with depression after the loss of her husband and young daughter in a car accident. She retreats to a house on the Riviera, which she inherited as a baby. There she meets a photographer, Adam, who helps her take photos for her vintage clothing business. As she starts to unravel the mystery of a stunning painting that was also part of her inheritance, she falls in love again.

I enjoyed the parts of the book that takes place in Paris in the 1940’s. The sections that take place in the present, not so much. The present timeline section read like a boilerplate romance with very little substance. In my opinion, if this book had only taken place in the 1940’s, it would have been a much better book. I also took issue with the cover, which depicts a glamorous woman casually looking through a window. This is not a book about high society and fashion. At its heart, this is a book about war, starvation, danger and the bravery of those who fought behind the scenes in the French Resistance.

The Riviera House, Book, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Natasha Lester

My Rating 3.5 Stars, Grade C+

Posted in Fantasy, Witches, Women's Fiction

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Superficially, the story is as old as time. Three sisters are born in a rural area, living a fairly meager existence. Their mother dies, their father becomes cruel and only their wise grandmother gives them love. When grandmother dies, the two older sisters are shipped off, leaving the youngest to deal with her abusive father. They lose touch with each other and the youngest becomes feral and angry. She assumes she’s been abandoned by her sisters.

The three sisters learn words and charms from their grandmother. These are simple things, rhymes that make life just a little easier. When the three woman become adults, these charms are mostly forgotten. Then one day, evil comes to the town of New Salem and the women are pulled together by forces they barely knew existed. Soon, they are at the center of a revolution.

As the novel progresses, it becomes apparent that this is so much more than a story about three witches. This is a novel about the oppression of women by men (and sometimes other women). The Once and Future Witches is both fantasy and reality. Although the novel is set in a fictional past, it is thoroughly modern. Just substitute shirtwaist factories and suffrage with economic justice, reproductive rights and domestic violence.

The writing is very clever and often made think, look twice at what I just read or smile. The spells are drawn from fairy tales and childhood nursery rhymes, which were very relatable and simple. No need for eye of newt, cauldrons or memorizing complicated spells. These were so simple, any woman could do them. And that was just the point. ANY woman could rise above, be more, reach her full potential, could be a witch.

It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I was absolutely gobsmacked by the layers of meaning. This book won The Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2021, given by the British Fantasy Society.

Rating: 5 Stars, Grade A+

Posted in Alternative History, Science Fiction, Time Travel

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart

Set a few decades into the future, The Paradox Hotel is a mind bending book about the possibilities and pitfalls of time travel. A summit of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful are gathering to submit bids to purchase the hotel from the government. They all have their private agendas and wish lists for what they wish to change from the past. The sale is a tricky and dangerous undertaking.

January Cole, the head of security, is struggling with time flashbacks and flash forwards. Time travel does have its mental and physical downsides, if you do it too frequently. In her flashes, she sees murders and nefarious schemes all around her.

Adding to the general mayhem of the summit, logistics, electrical outages, cancelled trips and mysterious strangers, someone brought back three velociraptors that manage to get loose. Honestly, this was one of my favorite parts of the book. The dinosaurs provide both horror and dark comic relief.

It took me quite a while to get into the writing style. All the time-flipping was confusing until I just let it ride. Once I got used to it, the novel was unique and enjoyable.

I picked up this book because I like science fiction, but also because I’ve read another book by Rob Hart, The Warehouse, which I absolutely loved. For creepily timely topics and general readability, The Warehouse is the better book, but The Paradox Hotel is unique and unconventional.

My Rating : 4 Stars, Grade B

Posted in Psychological Suspense, Thrillers

The Housemaid by Freida McFadden

Nina Winchester needs a maid to help clean her house, run errands and look after her daughter. She also has a problem to solve, so she needs just the right person.

Millie has a problem and desperately needs a job. She’s an ex-con, out on parole with few job options. The jobs she’s had haven’t paid enough to get a roof over her head other than the one on her car. When Millie is offered a job as a live-in maid in the Winchester’s opulent home, she thinks all of her problems will soon be solved. She couldn’t be more wrong.

Take a roller coaster ride with this clever, twisty thriller. I couldn’t put it down and read it in a single afternoon. I definitely did not see a few things coming, despite having figured out that all could not possibly be as depicted. The ending was awesomely jaw dropping!

The Housemaid is the first book I’ve read by this author. I’ve already put another on my wish list. (I struggle to keep my wish list under a rather unwieldy 500 titles).

I read this book for FREE with my Kindle Unlimited subscription. I consider this month’s subscription fee money well spent!

My Rating 5 Stars, A+

Posted in Post-Apocalyptic Fiction, Thrillers

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Imagine a world where humanity as we know it is gone. A fungal parasite has taken over the brains and bodies of people of all ages and no-one is immune. This invasive species turns people into zombie-like creatures who must eat flesh to survive. They are basically incapable of thought, with all of their actions driven by the need to feed.

There are a few exception to this, particularly in the young. The military and a female scientist are trying to figure out what makes these children different. The most outstanding is a girl who not only demonstrates high intelligence, but also emotion, compassion and love.

When a group of rogue, violent humans break into the military camp, the people most interested in the exceptional mutant girl take her and go on the run. Most of them want her to survive, but not all of them.

I am not generally a fan of shuffling, drooling, brain eating zombie books and movies. But The Girl With All The Gifts transforms the typical zombie theme into an exploration of what makes us human.

Recommended for readers of Thrillers and Post-Apocalyptic fiction.

My Rating 5 Stars, A