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Standoff–my first audiobook
by Patricia Bradley
My first foray into the world of audiobooks was on a recent roadtrip by myself. Because I am a newbie to this medium, I was going to forgo a review. By the time I got to the end of Standoff by Patricia Bradley, however, I realized I do have some insights to share.
- Although the format, an audio book, is interesting, I don’t think it will ever replace actually reading the book. Just as I enjoy print copies and e-books, audiobooks are another tool in my toolbox but not my favorite at this point.
- You need uninterrupted alone time to be able to enjoy an audiobook.
- I listened to this book because I had read # 4 (Deception) in the series and wanted the backstory. That is not what I got. I discovered the series is composed of four different protagonists with some overlap in minor characters. These books can truly be read as standalones.
- As a newcomer to audio books, but not to dramatic arts, I hesitate in my judgement of Rachel Dulade, the book’s reader. She had a difficult task as she spoke in a deep South, Louisiana accent for a variety of characters, both men and women. It was difficult to distinguish her male characters from each other. Her narrator voice was without accent and well done.
- The plot itself was excellent. The book started out a bit slow, but by the end the pace was heart-thumpingly fast.
- My favorite supporting character is Daisy, an elderly neighbor of Brooke, the protagonist. Daisy is a wise and independent woman who hovers on the brink of needing extra help in her daily activities.
- There are a lot of moral and ethical issues the characters must face. Suspicion casts its shadow on a number of Rangers and political standouts. It is hard for Brooke to know whom to trust. The reader is also given an inside peek at the many ways people deal with grief.
- I recommend this book and series in whatever format you prefer.
Rating: book—5/5, audio—4/5
Category: Mystery, Suspense, Christian Fiction
Notes: #1 in the Natchez Trace Park Rangers Series, but is a standalone novel.
Publication: May 4, 2020—Baker Publishing, Tantor audio
The Book of Lost Friends–unforgettable
The Book of Lost Friends
by Lisa Wingate
Slavery and the Civil War tore families apart—especially Black families. Some of their stories appeared in the newspaper Southwestern Christian Advocate as desperate appeals to locate or discover news of long lost family members. Pastors were encouraged to read them to their congregations, and optimism sprang up in the hearts of many former slaves as they hoped and prayed to be united many years later with family who in countless cases were only a name passed down from parent to child. I can’t imagine the pain parents suffered at having their children ripped away from them and sold often never to be heard from again. The Black slaves were people, but they were regarded as disposable property.
The Book of Lost Friends begins with the story of Hannie Gossett who misses her family desperately. Unable to read or write, she has all of their names recorded in her memory. In 1875, Hannie and Tati who raised her are close to completing a ten year period of working a piece of land that belongs to her former slave owners. Just as the contract’s transfer should be completed, the former master disappears and the contract is put in jeopardy. Hannie begins a journey with great risks to find him. A black woman traveling alone is a dangerous undertaking, and her departure could annul the very contract she is trying to locate.
This novel has a dual timeline. Every other chapter alternates to tell the story of Benny Silva, a young teacher who has a past with secrets but a heart to make a difference for her students growing up in poverty in Augustine, Louisiana, in 1987. Constantly bombarded with negative messages about their worth, these students go to a different school from those who have more prosperous parents. The school building is in bad shape, the students’ attendance and behavior are abysmal, and parent support is almost non-existent.
When Benny discovers and obtains access to a private library of books, she thinks she may have found a motivator for her students. She wins support from some local women the students respect, and the teens become excited about a school project.
As both timelines move forward, it is difficult for the reader to leave one timeline to see where the story is going in the other timeline. In a good dual timeline novel, the reader is equally interested in both timelines and in discovering where they cross or overlap. Lisa Wingate is an expert at storytelling and at weaving her tales together. There are many other fascinating characters, and The Book of Lost Friends quickly became a book I didn’t want to put down. It is so well told that I could put myself in the story imagining vividly the struggles of the former slaves and of the students captive to poverty and dysfunctional families.
Category: Historical Fiction
Notes: 1. All of the Hannie chapters include a letter to the editor of the Lost Friends column so you can read for yourself this part of history.
2. At the author’s website, lisawingate.com there are valuable resources listed under the heading “for book clubs” that include discussion questions and pictures and information the author gathered by visiting plantations and national parks. There are also links to pertinent interviews and podcasts as well as a database that has been created based on the Lost Friends letters.
Publication: 2020—Ballantine Books (Random House)
Few things are more life affirming than watching an idea that was fledgling and frail in its infancy, seemingly destined for birth and death in almost the same breath, stretch its lungs and curl its fingers around the threads of life, and hang on with a determination that can’t be understood, only felt.
The thing about so many of the kids here—country kids, town kids, a sad majority of these kids—is that their norm is constant drama, constant escalation. Conversations start, grow louder, get ugly, get personal. Insults fly and then lead to pushing, shoving, hair pulling, scratching, throwing punches, you name it…All too often children in Augustine grow up in a pressure cooker.
When you’re a kid in a tough family situation, you’re painfully vulnerable to trying to fill the void with peers. As much as I’m in favor of young love in theory, I’m also aware of the potential fallout. I can’t help feeling that Lil’ Ray and LaJuna need a teenage relationship about as much as I need five-inch stilettos.
Murder in the Bayou Boneyard–town of Pelican tries to attract tourists
Murder in the Bayou Boneyard
by Ellen Byron
Although I do not usually favor Halloween themed mysteries, I had a good time with Murder in the Bayou Boneyard. Obviously set in Louisiana, Ellen Byron’s series takes the reader to the Crozat Plantation where the family works together to maintain their property by running a B & B.
A lot is going on in the little town of Pelican as the B & B’s in the area try to attract tourists with Pelican’s Spooky Past packages including a special mystery play, themed edible treats, crafts, and spa specials. Hopefully this will counteract the efforts of Gavin Grody who is buying up affordable housing and using them as tourist rentals.
There are so many plot threads! While all this is going on in the town, the Crozat’s distant cousins from Canada arrive bringing chaos and murder with them. Oil companies are making offers on the plantation land whose ownership may be in question. Don’t take any of the characters at face value; some are not who they seem to be, from the scary gardener to the amiable stage manager to the overacting thespian. There are multiple murders and other dangers along the way, but I promise that all the threads connect with a surprise ending.
My only disappointment was the minimal inclusion of Gopher, the Crozat family’s rescue basset hound in the story despite being featured prominently on the book’s cover. Byron makes up for neglecting Gopher by introducing Louie, a quite talkative parrot with a pivotal and humorous role.
I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #6 in the Cajun Country Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone. The author dumps you into the story with a prologue that may seem confusing, but will be made clear in the conclusion of the novel. Then she proceeds to provide some background even as the story begins.
2. The characters in the book are listed with relations and connections if the reader needs a reference.
3. The book includes 5 recipes with a Cajun twist.
Publication: September 8, 2020—Crooked Lane Books
“Sandy’s got me on this health kick. There should be a state law against making jambalaya with quinoa, whatever the heck that is.”
“He can be smug, overbearing, opinionated, lazy, a total slob—“ “And you’re with him why?” Sandy teared up. “Because he’s smart and funny and loves me more than anybody I’ve ever known.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Bo said, flummoxed. “That’s a whole lotta word salad, chère. You need to calm down. Take deep breaths.”
Mardi Gras Murder–lots of Louisiana flavor in this mystery
Mardi Gras Murder
by Ellen Byron
Mardi Gras Murder takes place in Pelican, Louisiana, as the townsfolk work together to recover from flooding. Maggie Crozat is an artist who works at her family’s B & B as well as a tour guide at Doucet, the plantation that belonged to her mother’s family. The story starts with action as a body no one can identify shows up during the cleanup, but the author, Ellen Byron, also very quickly gives a background introducing many of the characters. It is fortunate that Byron includes a list of characters because I had to refer back to it may times. Families and lineage are very important in determining status in Louisiana, and it seems like everyone is related to or at least knows everyone else in Pelican.
The plot gets complicated as Maggie has to substitute for her grandmother as a judge in the Miss Pelican Mardi Gras Gumbo Queen competition, there is another murder, and Maggie uncovers a lot of local secrets. The storyline is interesting, and I enjoyed the Louisiana setting and a generous sprinkling of Cajun French dialogue. It was also fun to read about the local cuisine, frequently leading me to the Internet for personal searches to learn more. Gopher, a Bassett hound pictured on the cover, attracted me to the book, but he has only a minor presence. All in all, Mardi Gras Murder is an enjoyable read.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #4 in the Cajun Country Mystery Series. There are a LOT of characters in this book, but the author seems aware of potential issues and manages them well. This was my first foray into the series, but I enjoyed it.
2. A detail that makes a fun side story, but is inaccurate: A cast iron pot used for the gumbo cook-off had been passed down the family line. The seasoning that had accumulated over the years was supposedly ruined when some dogs licked it. Actually “seasoning” does not affect the flavor of foods cooked in the pot. Seasoning makes it nonstick and prevents rusting. The well-seasoned, prized pot need not have been discarded. A simple hand washing, heating to dry, and wiping with lard or oil would have restored the pot quite satisfactorily.
Publication: October 9, 2018— Crooked Lane Books
He made himself sound important, but it came across as someone trying very hard to inflate a small balloon.
“Boy, I had a bad case of SDS back there,” Denise said. She saw the puzzled expression on Maggie’s face. “Southern Door Syndrome, where you take almost as long to say goodbye as you stayed at the party.”
“You know the old cliché, chére. Ninety-nine percent of American families are dysfunctional, and the other one percent is lying about it.”
Dead on the Bayou–great setting, but…
Dead on the Bayou
by June Shaw
Sunny and Eve are identical twin sisters in the cozy mystery Dead on the Bayou. The sisters try to keep their home repair and renovation business going while exonerating themselves and friend Dave Price from murder charges. Sunny is the narrator of this tale and shares with the reader in endless repetition her attraction to Dave and how she stifles it because her twin sister is also attracted to him. Much information about her investigation is also repeated to the point that as a reader I wanted to yell “I know. I was there!”
The plot idea is good. The ending is a surprise, but in a disappointing way. There are no clues to lead Sunny and Eve in that direction at all. The setting is well executed with descriptions of the bayou and Louisiana food. Even better are the descriptions of the living facility where the twins’ mother resides. Accurate details include little groups of chatting ladies, assigned tables with self-assigned seats at early mealtimes, and seniors with walkers who by necessity are totally focused on keeping themselves upright and headed to their destination. Unfortunately the author, June Shaw, keeps returning the twins fruitlessly to this home to investigate even though the residents have little more than rumor to offer and usually are not even available. The twins are not honest, being willing to bend truth and fabricate stories to cover themselves. I found myself looking for diversions each time I finished with a chapter or two. Dead on the Bayou is not a page turner.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Twin Sisters Mystery Series
Publication: August 22, 2017— Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)
…she reminded me of my first-grade teacher, who didn’t know about my dyslexia any more than the rest of us did at that time. Every time I read a few words or a group of numbers in class, she gave me that same hard shake of her head and finger wag as though I had been a really bad puppy. She would end this display of negativity toward me by speaking my name with a sharp tone and say, “No, you are wrong. Again.” No wonder I hated my early schooling.
Bless my third-grade teacher, who figured I was dyslexic and had me tested.
Eve must have read my mind since she called me the instant I sat in my truck and pulled out my phone. Maybe that was an occurrence with a lot of people, but over our lifetimes my twin and I so often received the same vibe at the same time that our connection was hard to discount.