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review 2018-04-07 22:26
Excuse me while I gush a little over this one...
Taking the Long Way - Max MacGowan

I've been very fortunate since realizing that contrary to my original thoughts I really enjoy audio books. I've listened to some awesome stories...some because the narrator was incredibly good...like Greg Tremblay or Nick J. Russo, just to name a couple or because the author has written an amazing story. Authors like T.J. Klune, Megan Derr or Mary Calmes writing books such as 'A Destiny of Dragons', 'The High King's Golden Tongue or 'Acrobat' again, just to name a few...or stories like this one by both an author and a narrator who are new to me.

 

Rye's a rent boy, paid companion, male escort...pick your term bottom line (no pun intended) he makes his living selling himself. Sometimes we do things out of necessity whether we like it or not really isn't the issue...for Rye is survival...it's all he knows.

 

Marcus is a functionally blind army vet given the opportunity to see a doctor who may be able to help him...but that doctor's on the other side of the country and flying is not an option for Marcus because of his injury and driving...well, did I mention functionally blind. Marcus wants this and who can blame him maybe he can recover at least some of his eyesight but getting there seems like the impossible dream until Rye and circumstances come together to make this a trip that could save them both.

 

So we've got a male escort, a wounded military vet and they're making a road trip add in some interesting and colorful secondary characters not to mention a couple of awesome dogs and back-up all of this with a narrator whose voice totally blew me away. I've come across narrators who have seemed more than a little amazing to me...narrators like Greg Tremblay, Nick J. Russo, Michael Ferraiuolo, Sean Crisden...there really are a lot of good narrators out there and several really exceptional ones...I think if future endeavors prove to be as well done as this one was that Matt Milne will fall into the latter category of being exceptional for me.

 

Throughout this book it wasn't like having someone read me a story or sitting down with a friend...no, it was better it was like having Marcus and Rye right there leaning over my shoulder whispering to me as they shared their story with me...now, this may sound scary to some but trust me at times this was really, really hella' hot...like cold shower, fanning my face hot...and sometimes that had nothing to do with the sex...I'ma just sayin'...listening to the story of how these two met and came to care about themselves and to mean so much to each other was simply delicious...I just don't have another word for it.

 

I honestly can't even begin to explain how much I loved the sound of their voices...both of them just absolutely totally did it for me but especially Rye. There were times that his voice had this slow, sexy, sultry tone that simply melted me the man could have asked me for the keys to Fort Knox and if I had them in my possession I would have gift wrapped them for him.

 

So simply put Matt Milne is totally on my radar as an audio narrator and while there currently only seems to be 4 books to this narrator's credit, I will definitely be on the lookout for more.

 

Truthfully, if I had to make one criticism about the narration I guess I'd have to say it was the fact that while the book is set in the United States both of the MCs have a slight British tone to their voices...and you know what, I didn't care. I admit there are times when this is enough to make me want to throw my laptop out the window...not this time...I simply didn't care. I just wanted to keep listening to Rye and Marcus talk...so, there you go, if accents are a big issue for you this might not be the book for you...but just to be sure you should head on over to Amazon or audible and check out the sound clip before making your choice...you might find that you don't care either and if you do than, you've saved yourself some time and money...either way it's all good.

 

Ok, now that I've gushed a bit about how much I loved the narration of this book let's move back to the actual story. As far as Rye being a 'male escort' I'm honestly neither here nor there in terms of this. For Rye being a male escort as I said was a life choice...he wanted to stay alive and the only way to do this was to be able to provide for himself...so, truthfully who am I to criticize? Sure I can say things like 'well, I'm sure there were other things that he could have done? there had to be another way?' but just like in the real world we can't know the hows and whys of someone's life if we haven't lived it. So to me Rye did what he had to in order to keep himself alive and I can absolutely respect that and to by honest I really liked Rye. I like his caring and his compassion, his snark and the fact that even though he maybe should have been one of the most cynical people out there given the hand that life dealt him he wasn't.

 

Then there's Marcus...again he should have been someone other than who he was considering his circumstances but for all of his bluff and bluster, he was a good and caring person...Marcus truly had a good heart and I loved his determination to remain so fiercely independent. I couldn't imagine going out into a world that I could no longer really see. I'm pretty sure I'd be hiding in a corner somewhere.

 

I loved the road trip setting for this one. I am totally a fan of road trip stories and the connection between Rye and Marcus for me was perfect. It wasn't a love at first sight for them it started with simply liking and being comfortable with each other and the banter between these two was filled with snarky humor and often enough honesty to have one or both of them feeling uncomfortable. 

 

'Taking the Long Way' was a story about more than just one journey. Yes, there was the obvious trip across country for Marcus to get to his doctor's appointment but there was also a journey made by each of these men to find themselves...a journey that they needed to make in order to make that final journey that would allow them to find their way back to each other. 

 

I loved this story and yes, it may have some flaws in it but ultimately I connected with it on a level that left me feeling like I'd gone on a bit of a road trip as well, as I traveled along with Rye and Marcus on their cross country journey. 

 

I'm looking forward to more from both this author and the narrator of what is  very probably going to be one of my favorite audio books EVAH!!!

 

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An audio book of 'Take the Long Way' was graciously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2018-04-06 23:44
Water monsters and other beasts in the prewar Okanagan
Our Animal Hearts - Dania Tomlinson

Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book via the Goodreads Giveaways program.

 

I generally find literary novels to be a challenge to review/rate because they often aren't the sort of thing that you 'like'. They're not asking to be liked or to provide entertainment in the same way genre fiction does. So when I say I didn't like this book, that's not meant as a criticism, exactly. It was an engaging, well-written piece of fiction and an excellent debut.

Iris is a preteen of British descent living in the Okanagan around the turn of the last century. Her working-class Welsh mother prefers to be called by her first name, drifts around their fanciful house with her pet peacock generally defying propriety, and tells alarming legends or fairy stories. Her father is upper-class English and generally absent. Iris's mother may be a seer, a character from legend, a madwoman, an abusive parent, an epileptic, an abused child, unfaithful, or a mother of monsters. Iris is her mother's daughter and lives in her mother's world of magic and monsters. It is not a kind world.

 

I would have enjoyed more emphasis on the supernatural elements, and less of the dark heart of man, but that's not the sort of book this is. It reminded me of Gone With The Wind - selfishness, pettiness, jealousy, cruelty and a lack of taking responsibility for one's actions wrapped up in a story about coming of age as your world falls to the violence and loss of wartime. This is not a book about the redemptive power of stories. It is not a story about using magic to escape or defeat darkness.

 

However, there is much to like. The setting - a tiny lakefront settlement in the Okanagan in the early 1900s - is tangible, rich, earthy and otherworldly by turns and all at once. I appreciated the nuanced portrayal of diverse communities, both their existence and the challenges they faced. I hadn't previously been aware of a significant Japenese community in the Okanagan working the orchards, and while the book doesn't quite cover both wars, it does stretch up to the Japanese internment tragedy. The First Nations community exist mostly as ghosts or a marginal presence, quite literally unseen or half-seen at the edges of things, and the tension between British-descent Canadians and immigrants, and other white (specifically Eastern-European) immigrants and their children was also handled well. Supernatural elements similarly feature a blending of influences, most strongly in the water monster in the lake, who is referred to by Welsh, First Nations, and Japanese terms.

 

This story is both beautiful - ethereal, intricate, magical - and horrific in its portrayal of humanity. Its excellent quality, historical detail, imaginative format, and philosophical positioning will likely make it a polarizing read, with both fervent fans and those who won't appreciate its uniqueness. I wouldn't be surprised to see it shortlisted in more than a few of next year's literary prizes.

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review 2018-03-29 19:19
Funny, unsettling, fragmented literary thriller
Bellevue Square - Michael Redhill

Fascinating exploration of character, identity and perspective with excellent character writing. Not in love with the lack of closure in the wrap-up, but it's very literary and in keeping with the fragmented structure and unreliable narrator. Features nuanced depictions of mental illness, quirky character studies, excellent Canadian world-building/description, and some borderline horror/suspense elements. Despite a lack of traditional story structure, the reading experience was engaging; I basically inhaled this book in (almost) one sitting. Is there such a thing as a literary thriller?

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review 2018-03-21 20:08
A Nordic noir thriller with two fascinating protagonists, D.I. Hulda Hermannsdóttir and Iceland.
The Darkness - Ragnar Jónasson

Thanks to NetGalley and to Michael Joseph for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I’ve followed with interest the rise in popularity of the Nordic/ Scandinavian Thrillers in recent years, although I have read random titles rather than becoming a dedicated fan of any single writer. (I’ve also watched quite a few of the crime TV series produced in those countries and I’ve particularly enjoyed Wallander, The Bridge, and The Killing). This is the first novel I read by Ragnar Jónasson, although I suspect it won’t be the last.

The novel contains some familiar elements, although with interesting variations. The main character, Hulda, a Detective Inspector, that works in Reykjavík, is 64 and on her way to retirement. She is surprised by the news that this retirement has been brought forward, and, as an afterthought to keep her quiet, her boss tells her she can work on a cold case of her choice. She chooses the apparent suicide of a Russian girl, an asylum seeker because she mistrusts the lead investigator. The novel, written in the third person, mostly from Hulda’s point of view, follows her last three days in the force. I say mostly because there are other fragments that are told from other characters’ points of view, although at first, it is not that clear who they are. We come to understand how they relate to the main story later, but I must clarify that they are clearly distinct, easy to follow, and do not cause any confusion. They do provide additional information, a different perspective, and they help us understand the story and the characters more fully (and yes, they might also mislead us a tiny bit), although I suspect some readers might catch on faster than others as to their true relevance.

Hulda is a known standard of the genre: the old detective forced to leave the job that is determined to solve one last case before retirement. Only, in this case, she is a woman, and she does reflect on how difficult things have been for her because she is a woman, glass ceiling and all. She does share some of the other attributes sometimes typical of these characters: she is very good but not that very well liked; she has to work alone because she is not a favourite among the other detectives; she resents her younger boss and many of her teammates; she is effective but might bend the rules slightly; she is reserved and has suffered tragedies in her life… The author is very good at creating a very compelling character and then making us question our judgment. At least in my case, I really liked Hulda to begin with, but after a while, I realised that she might be one of those favourites of mine, an unreliable narrator (or, although not directly a narrator, her point of view is unreliable). She makes decisions that are morally questionable; she drinks a bit too much; and well… I am keeping my mouth shut. My feelings for this character went from really liking her, to not being so sure, to not liking her very much, and then… This change in opinion and perception is cleverly achieved and extremely well done, and it reminded me of books like We Need to Talk about Kevin (not the story itself, but the way the writer slowly makes us empathise with a character to later pull the rug from under our feet).

The story is dark in more ways than one. As I said, there are morally grey areas (or even quite dark): the subject matter and the fact that a young asylum seeker and her death are not considered important and have been all but forgotten a year down the line (unfortunately that rings true), Hulda’s own life and the secrets she keeps, and Iceland. Although there is not a great deal of violence (and definitely not explicit), there is a certain unsettling air and a cold and menacing atmosphere, that comes in part from Hulda’s paranoia and her personality (suspicious and mistrustful), but goes beyond it. The setting is very important and it contributes to the story and its effect on the reader. Iceland is a character in its own right. The descriptions of the many locations in the book create a picture in the reader’s mind and help understand how important the place is to the mood, the characters, and their way of life. A place where light and darkness rule people’s lives, and where the inhabitants have adapted to conditions many of us would find difficult and hostile. The title is apt for many reasons (as we learn as we read on). It is a noir novel, where nobody is exactly as they appear at first, and where red herrings, false clues, and side-stories muddy the storyline, adding layers of complexity to what appears straightforward, at first.

The writing is fluid, and versatile, providing different registers and clearly distinct voices for the different aspects of the story and the varied points of view, and although it is a translation, it is well-written and the style fits in perfectly the content. It is not the usual fast-paced thriller, but one that builds up tension and organically incorporates the psychology of the characters and the setting into the story.

A couple of examples:

Time was like a concertina: one minute compressed, the next stretching out interminably.

‘She’s being deported. It happens. You know, it’s a bit like those games of musical chairs you play as a kid. The music starts, everyone gets up and walks in a circle and when the music stops, one of the chairs is taken away and someone’s unlucky.’

The ending… I will not talk in detail about it but although perhaps not unexpected, is a bit of a shocker.

A great (and not long) novel for lovers of Nordic thrillers, or anybody who enjoys thrillers that deviate from the norm. I’d also recommend it to anybody intrigued by Iceland and unreliable narrators. And I’d also recommend it to authors always intrigued by other authors’ technique and voice. I intend to keep reading the series. And enjoying it.

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review 2018-03-06 15:50
It's mystery time...
Bone to Pick - Alan Moore,Michael Fell

"Bone To Pick' is my first time with a story by author T.A. Moore and seriously you can just color me impressed. I have to admit that being new to this author I had no idea what to expect so while I like the familiar as much as the next person...which, I did get that because hey, Nick J. Russo narrated this one and as a lot of my friends already know he's a fav of mine when it comes to audio book narrators and never fails to deliver me a solid, well narrated story.

 

But as much as I like the familiar I also welcome the chance to discover something new and what I found here was an author that can deliver a solid mystery/thriller story with a touch of romance? mmm...maybe, not so much romance but definitely a relationship going on here between a couple of the MCs.

 

Cloister Witte works for the San Diego County Sheriff's Departments K-9 Unit. He's a man who's past haunts him...dad's a deadbeat, stepdad's a criminal and his brother disappeared and was never found and this is the demon that drives Cloister to do for others what no one did for his brother. Cloister and his K-9 partner, Bourneville bring the missing home.

 

When Drew Hartley goes missing Cloister and Bourneville are brought in to aid in the search and as much as he wants to help being brought in to help F.B.I. agent Javi Merlo is not high on Cloister's list of things he wants to do...but with a child missing both men try to put aside their animosity towards each other...notice I said try...yeah, some things are harder to do than others. While it's readily apparent that the animosity between Cloister and Javi is fueled as much by their attraction as it is by their past encounter.  For me the relationship here is far more physical attraction than any kind of emotional connection. I'm not saying that it doesn't have to potential to become more...just that throughout the course of this story while the physical attraction was definitely there if readers are looking for some kind of grand romance than they're going to be disappointed.

 

It's definitely the mystery/thriller part of this story that has prominence and takes center stage for most of this story. While I liked Cloister from the word go and of course I liked Bourneville...I mean really how can anyone not like a service dog. These dogs are the heroes of the dog world. Don't get me wrong they're not the only heroes when it comes to our canine companions but you have to admit service dogs are pretty damned amazing and this is also part of the reason why I just couldn't warm up to Javi with his less than informed attitude towards service dogs and what they are capable of...yeah, Javi was often times a self-righteous, condescending, jerk and truthfully my feelings towards him didn't really change but that didn't really seem to impact how much I enjoyed this story. 

 

Like many others I loved Bourne. For the most part I really liked Cloister. He was awesome with Bourne and fairly good with people in general...was he perfect...no, but really who is and for me this just added to making Cloister feel like a real person someone that I could actually meet one day. 

 

As for Javi...well sad to say I can imagine meeting him one day too...oh, wait I think I've already met him a time or two at least and I think this is part of why even though I wasn't a fan of Javi, he didn't spoil the story for me. Along with the good and the bad that was Javi and Cloister there were secondary characters who helped to fill out this story adding to the tension and realism of events. 

 

I admit it I loved this story not because of the 'romance' but more in spite of it. The mystery for me was enjoyable, the character interaction intriguing and the potential for more solid and I'm definitely on board to check out more by this author and last but not least...the narrator...Nick J. Russo.

 

I'm not sure what more there is that I can say here about Nick J. Russo...I can add a whole lot of flowery, gushy words and go on and on about the fact that he's definitely in my top 5 list when it comes to audio book narrators and when I'm looking for an audio book to listen to if he's the narrator it's not even a consideration that I'll enjoy the audio...so, like I said I'm not sure what more I can so except maybe if you enjoy audio books and you haven't listened to anything by Nick Russo...what the hell? How have you managed that and you need to fix it ASAP! and this is as good a book as any to start with if you enjoy a good mystery.

 

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An audio book of 'Bone to Pick' was graciously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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