Review of Cold, by Mariko Tamaki

Cold

by Mariko Tamaki
read by Katharine Chin and Raymond J. Lee

Macmillan Young Listeners, 2022. 4 hours, 37 minutes.
Review written August 19, 2022, from a library eaudiobook

Cold is told in two voices, and one is the voice of Todd, a boy who just died. He’s hovering over his body, in a park naked and frozen in the snow, when his body is found by a dog. Detectives come and begin trying to figure out what happened to him and who killed him.

The other narrator is Georgia, a girl who didn’t even know Todd. But as she learns about him, she feels like they have some things in common. They’re both queer and don’t have many friends at their respective high schools. It turns out that Todd was a Senior at the boys’ school where Georgia’s big brother Mark is also a Senior. Mark tells her he didn’t know Todd, but something’s bothering her about that statement.

Meanwhile, while Georgia is thinking about Todd’s death and what might have happened, Todd’s ghost is following the investigation. The detectives are interested in the one teacher who was kind to him. Todd didn’t have a lot of friends, and maybe if he hadn’t wanted one so badly, things would have turned out differently.

This isn’t really a detective story, as the mystery isn’t solved so much as slowly revealed. When Georgia and the reader find out the answer, all the pieces fall together.

Todd’s ghost watching events takes some of the sting out of the story of a 17-year-old being murdered — but not entirely. I was left with a sense of sadness, as Georgia’s left thinking about what it all means.

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Review of How to Raise an Elephant, by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Adjoa Andoh

How to Raise an Elephant

by Alexander McCall Smith
narrated by Adjoa Andoh

Recorded Books, 2020. 8.5 hours on 8 compact discs.
Review written October 7, 2021, from a library audiobook

Here’s the latest installment of the adventures of Mma Ramotswe and her associates with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana. This audiobook has a new narrator, and I wasn’t crazy about some of her character voices, but I did love the way she rolls all her Rs and of course her delightful accent.

If you haven’t read any other books in this series, I do recommend beginning with the first book, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. That one is better written as a detective story, but the main point of these stories are not the cases the agency must deal with, but the relationships between the delightful characters and their observations on life and human nature.

In this one, there are three main cases to be considered: a distant cousin of Mma Ramotswe’s asking for money, new neighbors moving in next door who seem to be having marital troubles, and Charlie borrowing Mma Ramotswe’s tiny white van for a mysterious purpose.

The cases aren’t solved by figuring out puzzles, but as we see the ins and outs revealed, we gain insights on relationships and approaching life with compassion. Though Charlie’s story – which is not too surprising because of the title – ends up involving an orphaned baby elephant.

I’ve taken to listening to these books on my commute because I don’t quite have patience for the rambling and meditative observations on human nature when reading an actual book. But stuck in traffic, they never fail to make me smile. The books are anchored in Botswana, and I’m starting to feel like the country itself is a beloved friend.

recordedbooks.com

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Review of State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny, read by Joan Allen

State of Terror

by Hillary Rodham Clinton
and Louise Penny
read by Joan Allen

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2021. 15 hours, 41 minutes on 13 CDs.
Review written May 27, 2022, from a library audiobook

Normally I would never check out a novel written by a celebrity, but the pairing with Louise Penny, a distinguished mystery writer, was enough to intrigue me. Surely a former Secretary of State can write very convincingly about plausible terrorist threats.

Actually, it’s a little too convincing. The story begins with a female secretary of state recently appointed by her political rival. The new president appointed Ellen Adams essentially to ruin her political power, and they don’t like each other very well. The narrator sounded a lot like Hillary Clinton, and the set-up got me wondering if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had disliked each other as much as the two characters do.

But the characters are in a very different situation. The previous president was “Eric Dunn,” and they go on about what an incompetent buffoon he was. There’s another scene that includes the president of Russia, I guy named Ivanov, who is portrayed as pure evil. Mind you, the secretary of state gets the better of both of them! How much is that wish fulfillment fantasy and how much is it just rational commentary on what the world could be like after our last president?

I didn’t think the writing was stellar, and the plot had things about it that I can nitpick and also that I did see coming, but it certainly held my interest and kept me awake on my commute.

Shortly after the book starts, a large bomb goes off in Europe, followed by another. And then they get evidence there will be a third bomb, and it’s going to happen on the same bus in Frankfurt where Ellen Adams’ reporter son has been following a lead.

But that’s only the beginning. Who is responsible for the bombs? And what are their plans now?

It was probably a little self-indulgent of the author to make it the female secretary of state who figures out the answers and deals with tyrants and saves the day. I mean, why not write a book where the hero reminds everyone of you?

I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I reveal that some of the villains are right-wing idealists in the United States, even in positions of power. They’re willing to work with Al Qaida and bring terror to American soil if it will put a liberal president out of power and start things fresh, back to “real” America.

This was published in October 2021, and would have been written well before that. I thought it was interesting that even in this scenario, the authors didn’t think of having the right-wing talking about election fraud. And they talked about the danger that the Taliban would take over Afghanistan when they had to pull out troops based on the deal made by “Eric Dunn.”

So it was all rather disturbing. And probably a touch too realistic.

I don’t think there’s any danger that people who are politically conservative will want to read this book. If you pretty much agree with Hillary Clinton’s assessment of Donald Trump, I mean “Eric Dunn,” then this book emphasizes how many bad results could still come to pass from his presidency.

But try to listen to it as a realistic thriller of what could have happened, but is not happening in real life.

simonandschuster.com

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Review of Good Girl, Bad Blood, by Holly Jackson, performed by MacLeod Andrews and a full cast

Good Girl, Bad Blood

by Holly Jackson
performed by MacLeod Andrews and a full cast

Listening Library, 2021. 10 hours, 48 minutes.
Review written May 24, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Big thanks again to my coworker Lisa who recommended the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series to me! This is Book Two. Each book has a complete case, but you’ll want to read them in order so you don’t have the surprises in the earlier books spoiled.

Pip is a high school senior and spent the last book solving a cold case of murder and disappearance as her Senior Project. She told about the case in a wildly popular podcast. But now her parents want her to slow down and focus on school. Her life was in danger at the end of the first investigation, and she was obsessed with finding out more. So when one of her best friends comes to Pip about his missing brother Jamie, Pip tries to say No.

But when the police don’t consider Jamie’s disappearance to be high-risk, Pip feels she has to get involved. Jamie’s mother and brother beg Pip to use her new notoriety to spread the word about Jamie’s disappearance and get more people looking.

And so a new case begins, and a new season of Pip’s podcast. Pip herself saw Jamie at a memorial service for the victims of her last case. So now her task is to trace Jamie’s movements after that event. But getting answers brings more questions. And yes, some of the answers bring danger to Pip and others.

Being a teenage sleuth sounds like a lot of fun, but this author explores how investigating affects Pip’s life and relationships. Besides a gripping mystery, these stories make us care about Pip and her family and friends. And we think with her about what it takes for justice to be served.

listeninglibrary.com

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Review of The Murder of Mr. Wickham, by Claudia Gray

The Murder of Mr. Wickham

by Claudia Gray

Vintage Books (Penguin Random House), 2022. 386 pages.
Review written June 30, 2022, from my own copy.
Starred Review

A huge thank you to my sister Becky, who sent me this book for my birthday — such a perfect gift!

The Murder of Mr. Wickham is about a house party that brings together characters from all of Jane Austen’s novels. Emma and George Knightley are hosting the party, and they’ve invited Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy, along with their oldest son Jonathan. From Sense and Sensibility, we’ve got newly married Marianne and Colonel Brandon, who it turns out is Emma’s cousin. Much to my delight, it turns out that Catherine Tilney has become a novelist, and her daughter Juliet has been invited to provide another young person. And Hartfield was being rented to tenants Captain Frederick and Anne Wentworth — but a staircase collapsed, so they’ve been invited to join the party. On top of everything, Knightley’s clerical relative Edward Bertram is coming with his wife Fanny.

So we see all these characters we know and love, a varying number of years after their marriages. But then on a dark and stormy night, Mr. Wickham turns up, and it turns out that all the characters gathered there have reasons to hate him, mostly because he’s been investing other people’s money, but for some other dark reasons as well.

So when young Juliet Tilney finds the dead body of Mr. Wickham, it turns out that one of the other guests is probably responsible. Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney are the only ones without a strong motive, and they begin doing a little investigating together. The magistrate, Frank Churchill, seems to be overlooking some evidence, after all.

I found this book completely delightful, and the author even managed to pull off an ending that satisfied me. I loved the look at all these beloved characters as married couples. All of the marriages were having some strain when thrust into this difficult situation — and the specific tension in each marriage was consistent with the characters of the people involved. Claudia Gray really made me believe this is how the futures of these couples might turn out. And it was tremendous fun to read about their interactions.

This is a must-read for all Janeites.

claudiagray.com
vintagebooks.com

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Review of To the Land of Long Lost Friends, by Alexander McCall Smith

To the Land of Long Lost Friends

by Alexander McCall Smith
read by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2019. 9 hours on 8 compact discs.
Review written June 16, 2021, from a library audiobook

Okay, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series seems to me like it’s getting more slow-moving than ever. But I have come to love the people who inhabit the pages, and I’m happy to spend time with them. My impatience with the pace is mitigated by listening to Lisette Lecat’s lilting accent during my commute. And I have to say that I did enjoy my time spent listening to this book, visiting with old friends. This is the 20th installment.

The first book in the series had some very clever solutions to cases. This one did cover a few cases, but the solution ended up having some fairly large coincidences bring about a solution. It’s fun, but doesn’t necessarily highlight their detective work.

Mma does reconnect with some long lost friends in this book, which gives the title. As always, this book is loaded with charm and philosophical musings about things such as meeting up with long lost friends.

And Charlie! Charlie, who for a long time was just a “young apprentice” as a mechanic, is now jostling for respect as an “apprentice detective,” and he wants to get married! He has to come to terms with what he’s willing to do to make that happen.

recordedbooks.com

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Review of One By One, by Ruth Ware, read by Imogen Church

One By One

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2020. 13 hours and 8 minutes.
Review written November 13, 2021, based on a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

One By One is a mystery and thriller designed with nods to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The setting is a ski chalet in the Alps. Soon after a ski outing where a guest goes missing, there’s an avalanche that cuts them off from civilization.

The guests this week are from Snoop, a U.K.-based app that lets you listen to the music other people are listening to. But Snoop’s in trouble financially, and they have to decide whether to take a buyout offer or try to turn things around with new technology. Tension is high because of that decision, and millions of dollars are at stake.

But the new technology is location-based and using it shows them the missing founder is in the bottom of a gorge. And may not have landed there by accident. When deaths follow that are definitely not accidental, we know that a killer is stuck in the chalet with them.

As is traditional, we start the book with ten people in the chalet — eight from Snoop, plus the two staff for the chalet, Erin the hostess and Danny the chef. We get alternating perspectives from Erin and from Liz, who was once a personal assistant at Snoop, and is now the smallest shareholder with two shares. But that means she’s the deciding vote for whether the company should take the buyout or not, which puts her under lots of unwanted pressure.

We get a window into the complicated relationships among the Snoop coworkers from Liz, who thought she’d left it behind long ago. Erin has an outsider’s perspective, but we get hints of some secrets of her own.

As time goes by, their phones have no connection, their power goes out, the temperature drops, the snow keeps falling, and the police fail to come. All while more deaths happen and tension builds.

I wasn’t surprised by Whodunit — I’ve read enough Agatha Christie mysteries to suspect this person — but I still thoroughly enjoyed the way it was unveiled. And yes, as is traditional with thrillers, figuring out the solution puts the one who figures it out in terrible danger.

I had to find things to do that would let me listen to this book to finish it as quickly as possible. Too much suspense to set it aside! Wonderful!

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Review of Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper’s Daughter

by Angeline Boulley
read by Isabella Star LaBlanc

Macmillan Audio, 2021. 14 hours.
Review written September 21, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Firekeeper’s Daughter is an amazingly good mystery/thriller for teens by an indigenous author. From the cover image, I mistakenly expected a fantasy, but got a lovely contemporary novel focusing on Daunis Fontaine, the daughter of a Native American Firekeeper and a non-Native woman. Only her mother is still alive, but Daunis has embraced Native American spirituality and the traditions of her people.

Since I listened to the audio version, I don’t trust myself with spelling the Native American terms freely used through this book in a natural way, but the narrator helped make their use seamless. As the book begins, Daunis has graduated from high school, but has not left for college because she doesn’t want to leave her grandmother, who recently had a stroke, and who is being cared for by Daunis’s mother. Daunis is also troubled by the recent death of her uncle, a chemistry teacher, which neither she nor her mother believes was really from an overdose of meth.

Daunis had been a star on the hockey team, but an injury has sidelined her, though she still supports the team with her brother the captain this year. An attractive new kid has come to town, but he turns out to have some secrets.

And before long, there are more deaths and more people using meth, and Daunis gets pulled into the investigation and mystery of who is behind the meth ring and how does that relate to her uncle’s death. It all seems tied up in the reservation and the hockey team, and Daunis has insider information on both.

This book is wonderful on many levels. Yes, it becomes suspenseful and yes, our main characters are in danger. But it also works as a richly emotional story before any suspense is present, about romance and family and belonging and caring for others and learning to trust. There are also underlying issues as to Native American people and their treatment by law enforcement, and citizenship issues on the border with Canada.

Something I loved about this book was the same thing I loved about Darcie Little Badger’s Native American fantasy, Elatsoe — Daunis is part of a community and gets help from the community. She respects and values her elders and gets important help from them, and it’s lovely how it works out.

angelineboulley.com

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Review of Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins
read by Rachel Bavidge with a Full Cast

Penguin Audio, 2017. 12 hours.
Review written March 8, 2021, from a library eaudiobook

I decided I’d been reading too many children’s books and I was ready for a thriller, so I checked out this book by Paula Hawkins, who wrote the incredibly suspenseful The Girl on the Train. This one does have suspense, with danger and mysterious deaths.

The setting is an important part of the book. It all happens in Beckford, at the Drowning Pool part of the river that runs through town. Years ago, they used to use the pool to put accused witches through their ordeal and end up drowning them. In more recent years, it’s been the site of multiple suicides.

Nell Abbot has always been obsessed by the Drowning Pool and those who died there. She used to terrorize her little sister Jules with stories of the little boy who saw his mother jump to her death. She was working on a book about the “troublesome women” who died there. But now Nell Abbot is dead, having jumped off a cliff into the river. Or did she jump?

Her fifteen-year-old daughter Lena is convinced she did, and is devastated because of the argument they had shortly before. Jules has been called back to Beckford to care for Lena, and Jules has her own guilt because she’d refused to talk to her sister for years, and had been convinced the urgency in her voice on the phone recently was just a bid for attention.

All of Jules’ narrated sections are in the style of her talking to Nell. She thinks she hears Nell’s voice, and she sees Nell in everything, in all the memories of being in the same house where they grew up, and looking at Lena, who looks so much like Nell when they were young.

But it turns out that the little boy of of Nell’s old story is Sean Townsend, the detective in charge of her case. He didn’t actually see his mother jump into the river so many years ago, but he was at the river, and his mother’s death in the same way brings extra emotion to the case. And there was another death in the river only a few months before Nell, when Lena’s best friend Katie jumped to her death. Katie’s mother can’t forgive Lena for still being alive, and she couldn’t forgive Nell for being so obsessed with women drowning in the river that she surely gave Katie the idea.

But that’s just the beginning of this complicated story. We’ll find out more about all those recent deaths – from Sean’s mother to Katie to Nell. And to do it will take many perspectives. I wish I had paid attention and realized when I started listening that it was a full cast production. At first, I quickly lost track of who was who in the many voices I heard. It helped when I realized my eaudiobook showed the name of the current narrator on my phone screen, and I think if I’d read the book in print, that would have been easier to follow. There were so many characters, the different voices didn’t help me keep track of who was who.

It’s a sordid story. It seems like almost everyone in it was having sex with someone they really shouldn’t have had sex with. And I’m not talking merely adultery. There’s an awful lot of death, too – though we know that right from the start. Let me just say that not all the deaths in this book turn out to be suicide, which is also not a surprise. Who is responsible for different deaths is more of a surprise.

The characters also aren’t tremendously likable. Though by the end, I was especially rooting for Jules and Lena to make a family relationship with each other and find peace.

So it’s not exactly a pleasant story – but it’s certainly suspenseful and engaging. I stayed up an extra hour to finish it when I got to the end because I didn’t want to put off finding out what happened. Paula Hawkins does know how to weave a suspenseful story and feed us bits of what happened in a way that realization gradually dawns on us how much is at stake.

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Review of Even If We Break, by Marieke Nijkamp

Even If We Break

by Marieke Nijkamp

Sourcebooks Fire, 2020. 306 pages.
Review written December 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction

Even If We Break is a Then There Were None-style thriller for teens. As the book begins, five teens are making their way to a high-tech mountain cabin owned by one of them. There was a storm the day before that blocked the path for the car and boulders on the path still make it difficult for the two who have mobility issues.

We get the perspective of different teens in each chapter. Finn and Ever are transgender, with Ever using they/them pronouns. Finn uses crutches and Maddy, who is autistic, has been in an accident recently that changed her from a star lacrosse athlete to someone whose knee hurts when she walks, especially over boulders. Liva is the one whose parents own the cabin, and Carter works for her father’s company.

They are all high school students, but Liva, Carter, and Finn have graduated and will be going off to college at the end of the summer. So their three years of playing a role-playing game together will come to an end. They’re going to have one last immersive game experience in the mountain cabin first. Even though Finn hadn’t been joining them as often lately, and even though Liva’s ex-boyfriend Zac had stopped altogether.

There are stories that the mountain is haunted, and Ever, the gamemaster, weaves that into their adventure. Every adventure started with a murder, as the group are Inquisitors from the land of Gonfalon, and the Council hires them to use magic and skills to solve crimes. For this adventure, a councilor herself (represented by a pile of blankets) is dead.

But as the adventure begins, things begin to become all too real. The power goes out. They hear a music box, just like the story of the haunted mountain. Then bloody handprints. And yes, there’s murder. And that high-tech cabin? It’s hard to get out when it locks.

Never mind solving the murder – the teens who are left want to escape with their lives.

The author pulls the story off well. I’m tempted to say more, but won’t for fear it will give you clues. I did love the central role of the transgender teens and enjoyed that all the characters had emotional depth.

And I was very glad I had a chance to finish it in one sitting! This is not a book you want to set aside.

mariekenijkamp.com
FIREreads.com

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