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Best Recent Reader Reviews

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Gloria M

Definitely Share This One With Family and Friends!
People read fiction for many reasons. Some want to be entertained. Others are looking to get some intellectual stimulation. Many simply want to feel something. The best books accomplish all three of these and Charlee Dyroff's first novel, "Loneliness and Company" attains membership in this group.

Lee has been working so hard for so many years to reach her goal of an offer of employment at one of the "Big Five." Instead, the placement system dumps her with an unheard of company working on creating an AI friend to combat loneliness, even though that word (though not the feeling) was expunged from this society.

Lee instantly captures our attention and we take this roller coaster of a journey with her, as she struggles with her past and her present and realizes the narrative she has been telling herself about her life is not exactly accurate. There are many memorable quotes that we all can relate to, but one that resonates the most is "These facts march behind my skull telling me that the reality I'm living in is one I never would have expected."

Dyroff sets the location as New York City, but one that seemingly has lost most of its former glory. The writing style is excellent and engaging, all the characters are well crafted and interesting, and this tale of a young woman searching for her identity and her purpose while learning about friendship and love and what it means to be human (possibly a lifelong quest) will linger in the reader's thoughts for quite some time. Definitely a book to share with friends and family!
Power Reviewer Cloggie Downunder

An adequate debut.
How To Solve Your Own Murder is the first adult novel by British author, Kristen Perrin. The audio version is narrated by Alexandra Dowling and Jaye Jacobs. Recently jobless, aspiring murder mystery writer Annabelle Adams is living with her mother in her great aunt Frances’s Chelsea house when she receives a summons from the woman’s lawyers.

Annie has been made the sole benefactor of her great aunt’s estate and assets, a woman she’s never met, and is attend her at Gravesdown Hall in the Dorset village of Castle Knoll to learn what responsibilities this entails. But when she arrives there, in the company of the lawyer and other interested parties, they find Frances Adams quite dead.

Since she had been told a fortune predicting her murder at a summer fair at age sixteen, Frances had always been wary of certain items, and had made it her business to know everything about everyone, in case they might end up trying to kill her. It didn’t increase her popularity in Castle Knoll.

The special conditions of her will require potential beneficiaries to reside at Gravesdown Hall and pits them against one another to solve her murder, for it is indeed murder, within a week, or the place will be sold off to developers, a premise that really is rather contrived. There’s a large cast so many of them lack depth and appeal.

The story is told over dual timelines, with the 1960’s narrative in the form of diary entries whose dating is a little confusing. It turns out that Frances Adams has the dirt on most of the people around her, giving them ample motive to kill her off. But Annie is distracted from her investigations by the unsolved disappearance back in 1966 of one of two teenaged friends with whom Frances had a toxic closeness.

The plot is quite convoluted and several aspects require the reader to don their disbelief suspenders. There are some twists and surprises, a dramatic climax, and a sequel that some readers may be interested to read. An adequate debut.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Quercus Books.
She Treads Softly

epic literary masterpiece
All the Colors of the Dark by Chris Whitaker is a brilliant literary epic drama spanning decades and genres. This exceptional, very highly recommended novel is certainly one of the best novels of 2024. If you loved Whitaker's We Begin at the End (2020) then please read All the Colors of the Dark.

It is 1975 in the small town of Monta Clare, Missouri, where Saint Brown and her best friend Joseph “Patch” Macauley are best friends. Saint, whose parents are both deceased, lives with her grandmother and keeps bees. Patch was born with one eye, thus the nickname and his love of all things pirate related. He lives with his neglectful single mother. When Patch sees a man attacking Misty, a popular girl from school, he steps in to stop it. Misty escapes but Patch is captured instead and held captive in a dark basement for many months.

Saint is determined to find her best friend and never loses hope, always seeking clues about his whereabouts. Her dogged persistence and tenacity is never-ending. While captive in the total darkness of the basement, Patch meets a girl, Grace, who tells him stories from places across the country and keeps him safe. Grace gives Patch hope and a reason to survive.

And this is just a very brief taste of what awaits you when reading All the Colors of the Dark.

What follows is a glorious, heartbreaking literary saga that covers 1975 to 2001. It is an in-depth character study that merges together, in part, as a domestic drama, a coming-of-age tale, a missing person mystery, a serial killer thriller, a story of obsession, and a love story, a prison drama, and more. The short chapters are from the point-of-view of Saint or Patch. Once I started reading All the Colors of the Dark I was totally immersed in the believable and heartrending world Whitaker paints. It is a long novel, but was impossible to put down.

The writing is eloquent, descriptive, poignant, and the final result is simply a masterpiece. Whitaker is such a gifted writer! All of his characters come to life as fully realized individuals with strengths and flaws. I felt like I intimately knew all of the characters and their story will continue to resonate with me for years. Bravo, Chris Whitaker - All the Colors of the Dark is a masterpiece of literature. Thanks to Crown Publishing for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.
Power Reviewer Cathryn Conroy

This Is a Great American Novel: Tender, Nostalgic, and a Really Good Read
This incredible book by Ann Patchett deserves to be named a Great American Novel. It has everything: an engrossing, multilayered storyline, deeply developed and vivid characters, and embedded literary themes. It's a ten-star book in a five-star world.

Taking place over two summers—1988 and 2020—this is the story of Lara, a 57-year-old happily married mother of three grown daughters—Emily, Maisie, and Nell—who lives on a cherry farm in Northern Michigan. It's the summer of 2020, and her three unmarried daughters have come home to live during the pandemic. Emily wants to take over the cherry farm someday. Maisie is a veterinary student, and Nell is an aspiring actress. Because the pandemic is raging, Lara and her husband, Joe, are unable to hire the usual number of cherry pickers, so the massive workload falls to the family.

While the four women are picking cherries day in and day out, Lara tells her daughters about the summer of 1988 when she played the role of the tragic heroine Emily in "Our Town" at the Tom Lake summer theater in rural Michigan. It is a story filled with love, romance, heartbreak, and wonder. And her girls are riveted because it was during that summer their mother dated Peter Duke, who later became a famous TV and movie star. It's also the summer that Lara and Joe met. (And the best parts of the story are those Lara imparts only to the reader and not her daughters or husband.)

It's a tender and nostalgic novel about romantic love—young love and married love—and the older-age thoughts of what could have been…if only that had happened. It's a novel about the choices we make when we are young and the impact those choices have on our destiny for decades to come. It's a novel about beauty and suffering.

And the ending: It's heartbreaking and perfect. Just like "Our Town."

This is an homage to Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" that not only pays tribute to the iconic American play set in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, but also goes one step further. Patchett has masterfully interwoven the themes of "Our Town" into "Tom Lake" with subtle plot points from the play that follow throughout the novel. Brilliant!

Tip: OK, this is more than a tip. This is strong advice. Take a couple of hours and read "Our Town: A Play in Three Acts" before you read "Tom Lake." Even if you have seen the play or vaguely recall reading it in seventh grade, read it again so it's fresh in your mind. There are many references and allusions to "Our Town" in the novel, and you will get so much more out of it if you read the play first.

Ann Patchett has cemented her place in my heart as one of my favorite novelists. She is truly an American treasure.
Gloria M

Must Read!
I vaguely remember all the great reviews and awards Rachel Khong received back in 2017 for her first published novel, "Goodbye, Vitamin" and thinking I should add it to my TBR list, which somehow never actually happened (which I totally regret-and it's on there now!) but I definitely was thrilled to get a free copy of "Real Americans" (thank you to Penguin Random House.)

I devoured this one in two days-which meant I did not pay much attention to real life-but, that's fine because it was so worth it. On the basic level it is a tale of Lily Chen, a 22 year old unpaid intern in New York City who meets Matthew, a wealthy heir to a pharmaceutical fortune. One of the most memorable quotes is Lily saying "More than I love you, I wanted him to say that he knew me. Who else did?" The expertly written and crafted tale shares their journey to love, with both obstacles and moments of joy, but also goes much, much further than that.

It includes multiple generations, with deep dives into Lily's parents-especially her mother , May and her son, Nick. May preferred her career in biology to her role as a mother, and this understandably resulted in many difficulties for Lily. But, a secret will soon be revealed that changes everyone's lives and raises relevant questions about nurture vs. nature, and the whole concept of family (including creating your own family outside of birth ties.) Throw in the issues of race and class and ethics and Khong has produced a modern classic.

I highly recommend this book to all who love family stories and literary works of art!
Gloria M

Succinct and Special!
After reading the ARC of "Clear" so generously supplied by Simon and Schuster (Scribner) there is a new author on my favorites list-Carys Davies. Succinct and special, this novel eloquently and masterfully tells the tale of John Ferguson, a minister who is in financial straits due to his leaving his position with the established church of Scotland for the newly formed Free Church of Scotland and Ivar, the last remaining tenant of an island whose owners wish it to be completely cleared of humans and animals, so that they can proceed with a money making scheme involving sheep.

The eloquently written portraits of these two men, strangers who do not even speak the same language, and the beautiful descriptions of the landscapes traveled draw the reader into a narrative that slowly reveals their personalities and tragedies from their pasts and takes a journey into their unlikely friendship precipitated by an awful accident that befalls John in his attempt to earn some desperately needed funds as he traverses the island in search of the man he must evict.

Add to the plucky protagonists, Mary-John's loving wife, who bravely chooses to follow her husband's path when it becomes clear he must be in some sort of danger. Her journey is just as important and equally well crafted. This novel has a powerful ending and is ideal for lovers of historical fiction and those who favor literary fiction. Grab a copy and prepare to be enthralled!
Power Reviewer Cloggie Downunder

an outstanding debut.
Where The Crawdads Sing is the first novel by award-winning, best-selling American wildlife scientist and author, Delia Owens. In 1952, when she is almost seven, Miss Catherine Daniella Clark, known to everyone as Kya, watches her mother leave. She doesn’t return, and her older siblings, fed up with their abusive, alcoholic father, quietly slip away, one by one, leaving her to deal with her Pa, Jake Clark in their North Carolina marsh shack on her own.

They form an uneasy alliance: Pa is often gone for days at a time, and Kya learns to look after herself, conceal her mother’s absence from nosy Barkley Cove shopkeepers, hide from truant officers, and appreciate the beauty of the marsh and its creatures. Things get more difficult when she’s ten: Pa goes off and doesn’t return, meaning the sporadic cash he gives her from his disability cheques dries up and she has to fend for herself if she doesn’t want to give herself up to the authorities. Which she doesn’t.

She does have Pa’s boat, can travel the marsh waters to the estuary, pick mussels and oysters to trade. She covers the fact that Pa is gone, trying to stay under the radar, but there is a boy for whom she keeps an eye out: Tate Walker was kind to her once, shares her love of the marsh, and doesn’t feel dangerous like some do. She’s unaware that some others are looking out for her, concerned about her welfare and surreptitiously providing some of what she needs.

By the time she’s fourteen, she’s adept at fending for herself and staying under the radar. Her interest in marsh flora and fauna is boundless; she collects and sketches specimens, and when Tate offers to teach her to read and write, she’s able to record what she knows and observes. Abandoned by everyone in her family, she’s wary of giving her love, but takes a chance with Tate. Then he goes off to college to study the thing they’re both interested in, and breaks his promise to return.

Kya is absorbed in her study of the marsh, but still lonely, until Chase Andrews begins to take an interest in her…

In late October 1969, Sheriff Ed Jackson is alerted of the death of a local by two young boys who have caught sight of the corpse near an abandoned fire tower. Chase Andrews, star quarterback, town hotshot and favourite son of Barkley Cove, has been dead some ten hours, and when the Sheriff and Deputy Joe Purdue examine the scene, they are mystified: there are no tyre tracks or foot prints anywhere near the body. It looks like Chase fell from the tower, but neither are there fingerprints.

There’s plenty of speculation in the town: despite being married to Pearl, Chase was known for his tomcatting, so perhaps he fell foul of a jealous husband? But Barkley Cove is a small town, and enough people knew of his regular visits to the Marsh Girl that suspicion falls on Kya.

Owens gives the reader a dual-timeline coming-of-age tale, a love story, a murder mystery and a courtroom drama, all enclosed in some gorgeous lyrical prose. Her vivid descriptions really evoke the setting, the peace and beauty of the marsh, and the era, while there is enough intrigue to keep most readers guessing about the young man’s fate until the final reveal. Moving, heart-breaking and beautifully written, this is an outstanding debut.
Power Reviewer Anthony Conty

Feminism for the Un-Initiated
“Disobedient” by Elizabeth Fremantle, author of the phenom “The Queen’s Gambit,” masterfully bridges the gap between the 17th century and today’s society, a feat that top-notch historical fiction often accomplishes. As a reader, I was captivated by the narrative, even though I had no prior knowledge of the real story. The book's ability to resonate with modern readers, such as myself, is a testament to its relevance and the author's skill in storytelling. I found myself relating to the protective father’s overbearing nature, a universal theme transcending time.

Historically, Artemisia Gentileschi is a famous artist constrained by the limits on women in 17th-century Italy. She suffers a horrible indignity you may know about if you studied her. A little knowledge of art, which I do not have, would help as we examine how people admire and simultaneously dismiss the female artist’s work and treat her like an object.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised by the gender politics in Italy during this era, but it was extreme. Any sexual assault was essentially the woman’s fault and expected. Artemesia becomes an unlikely symbol of feminism for reasons you would learn from a simple Wikipedia search; nevertheless, do not do that so that the book still surprises you.

Retellings remain one of the trickier genres to tackle since they involve taking actual, well-known events and trying to insert thoughts and feelings into them. Empathizing with strong-willed Artemesia is easy.

The themes of self-reliance, feminism, sexual assault, and individual autonomy remain relevant today. Knowing Artemesia’s work makes the story more interesting. It effectively puts you there. Our heroine refuses to follow orders and norms to make her life easier. Art and personal freedom matter to her, and she feels no need to take the easier route. She wanted the right to live.
Jill

Dark Thriller
Narration by: Jessica Regan, Stephen Hogan and Sara Lyman was exceptionally well done and highly recommend.

“When I die, put me out with the bins. I'll be dead, so I won't know any different..."
When the time came...I followed his instructions."

—— and you are immediately drawn inside the life of Sally Diamond.

Another chilling and haunting psychological thriller that Liz Nugent has written; with complex characters that I throughly enjoyed. I could not stop listening to this. Following the story of Sally Diamond haunted by a traumatic yet forgotten past. The repressed memories and events of her childhood influence her personality, actions, and psychological well-being.

The novel shifts between various timelines and multiple narrators to unveil the mysteries of her past. Sally receives a gift in the mail that will bring in another theme running through this dark and twisted story.

Examining the dilemma of nature versus nurture and good vs. evil, making for one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a long-time. Will a series or movie come from this…. I can only hope for. This is Liz Nugent at her best yet.
Power Reviewer Cloggie Downunder

Brilliant Aussie slow-burn crime fiction.
The Lost Man is a stand-alone novel by award-winning, best-selling Australian author, Jane Harper. In outback Queensland, Nathan Bright and his teenaged son, Xander abandon the fence-mending chore on his own property to return to the family’s holding when they learn that Nathan’s younger brother is dead.

Cameron Bright was meant to meet the youngest Bright brother, Bub, at Lehmann’s Hill for a repair job on Wednesday. Instead, he lies dead against a remote gravestone in the blistering mid-December heat, his car, replete with food and water, parked nine kilometers away. His brothers are mystified.

Sergeant Ladlow, a city-trained stand-in for their local cop, Sergeant Glenn McKenna, asks about Cameron’s mood over the previous weeks: it’s clear he believes Cam walked away from his car intending to end his life, although how he could have attained that distance in the heat is a puzzle.

With just days until what will be a very subdued Christmas, the family gathers at the homestead, stunned at the news, incredulous, asking each other when they last saw Cam and was there any sign that this was in his mind.

A few things niggle at Nathan: that the two British backpackers employed as hands seem wary of police; the very particular way Cam’s car keys were placed in his car; that their farm manager, Harry Bledsoe located the car so easily; and Bub’s light mood in the face of such a grave situation. And Xander draws Nathan’s attention to the thorough preparations Cam made for the planned repair, hardly the actions of a man intending suicide.

The presence of Cam’s wife (now widow), Ilse is also distracting: there is a history between them, and despite his avoidance, the attraction is still there. Nathan’s self-imposed exile, born of the same incident that saw him ostracised by the entire community of Balamara, means that he has missed a lot of what has transpired at his family’s home. Over the next few days, the funeral and Christmas, what he sees and hears gradually reveals exactly what has happened.

Harper easily evokes the outback setting and the prevalent community attitudes. She gives the reader a tale that features isolation, loneliness and suicide risk, as well as domestic violence, coercive control and sexual harassment. Fans may note that the events of Harper’s first novel in KIewarra, The Dry, intersect with the story at a certain point. Brilliant Aussie slow-burn crime fiction.

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