The Child Next Door by Shalini Boland – (Audiobook)

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 – 4.5 stars

Kirsty Rawlings is beside herself with fear. She overheard something on her child’s baby monitor that horrified her. She summons the police and informs her husband of her suspicions. But her fears seem unfounded.

Kirsty is feeling a bit insecure. After their baby, Daisy, came along, her relationship with her husband, Dominic, has become mostly platonic and less romantic. Money is tight, and her nerves are on edge after a mess of strange, unexplained occurrences have happened. Paranoia grips her. She’s always harried and suspicious of everyone around her. Neighbors regard her cautiously. Do they think she’s crazy? Is somebody trying to take her baby? Is her husband involved with someone else? Has her best friend betrayed her? Is she delusional?

This book!! I have to admit that when I first started it I thought it was going to be just another predictable psychological thriller. I was wrong. I did not anticipate the twists and turns that left my mouth agape and my mind whirling. And that epilogue!!

This was my first Shalini Boland book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I purchased this audiobook from Audible. The narrator, Katie Villa, was excellent and contributed to my enjoyment of the book. Recommended.

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Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neely – (Audiobook – Tantor Audio)

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 – 4.5 stars

When four of her employers go out of town without informing her, or paying her, sassy domestic worker, Blanche White, is forced to write a few bad checks that land her in hot water. She might be headed off to prison. Fortunately, a commotion surrounding an unfortunate event involving the county commissioner enables Blanche to make her escape from the courthouse without notice. What will she do? Where will she go? She finds herself in the home of a wealthy family, disguised as a former worker. Blanche figures she can make some money in the meantime before she’s found out and then move on with her life. But she’s chosen the wrong house to get lost in. Things are not what they appear to be in the household. So when two murders happen within her short stay at this hideout home, Blanche will need her quick wits to get away safe, and to uncover who did away with her newfound friend.

This book immediately drew me in. It was creative right from the start, which hooked me. And then Blanche’s personality, which mimicked some women I’ve encountered in real life and in the movies, entertained me. How can I explain her character? 🤔 It was a little like a mix of Octavia Spencer’s character, Minnie, from The Help, and Madea from one of Tyler Perry’s movies. One of my favorite characters was Mumsfield, a mentally challenged man with a big heart, a love of cars, and an instant attachment to and wholesome affection for Blanche. Mumsfield, although autistic, was very keen in many ways, and there was just so much to love about him.

I would not characterize this book as a cozy mystery because it contains some mature themes and serious subject matter; material that’s best suited for adult readers. It was not the comedic mystery that I thought it would be based on the cover. The setting was the Deep South, and if you are particularly sensitive about outspokenness regarding racial inequalities and prejudice, I’d think twice before picking up this one. Blanche can be a bit salty with her tongue, and other characters are not shy about expressing their feelings about minorities and using condescension in their tones. Nonetheless, the mystery aspect was top-notch, and I was both impressed and surprised by the outcome.

The audible narrator’s performance given by Lisa Reneé Pitts was OUTSTANDING!! She imitates male and female voices, dialects and accents with ease. As the villain, her maniacal laugh was priceless. I look forward to listening to other books she’s narrated.

Thank you, Tantor Audio, for a complimentary audio download of Blanche on the Lam. All opinions expressed about it are my own.

Worth the Risk (Pine Valley novel – book 1) – by Heather B. Moore (Audiobook – Tantor Audio)

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 – 4.5 stars

He broke her heart back then, will he be worth the risk ten years later?

Alicia didn’t want to see Jeff ever again after he took her to the senior prom, ditched her there, and took up with some other girl he thought he liked. Alicia was crushed. They were best friends. They confided in each other about everything. How could he do that to her?

It’s ten years later and Alicia and Jeff run into each other. He’s never forgiven himself for doing her wrong so many years ago. Alicia’s reluctant to give him a chance to make it up to her. She’s already got her hands full trying to care for her mom who’s a hoarder with serious mental health issues. Alicia’s made tremendous sacrifices and difficult decisions to deal with that situation. Does she want to possibly bring more heartache into her already complicated life?

I love a good knight-in-shining-armor-like story. 😃 Jeff was a jerk to Alicia back when they were in High School when he left her at their prom, and he knows it. She’s always been the girl he’s cared deeply for. His superficial, brief relationships since then are a testament to that. But now he’s been given a chance to make things right between them. How he goes about doing that is sweet and endearing and made for a tender love story that warmed my heart.

The audio narrator, Ann Marie Gideon, did an excellent job portraying Alicia and the other characters. She helped me to feel connected to the story.

Thank you, Tantor Audio, for a complimentary download of Worth the Risk. All opinions expressed about it are my own.

The Dough Must Go On: (Oxford Tearoom Mystery – Book 9) by H.Y. Hanna

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5-stars

Gemma Rose gets the opportunity of a lifetime when a wealthy talent show creator, Monty Gibbs, chooses her Little Stables Tearoom to provide the daily catering for his show, From Pleb to Celeb.

A menagerie of contestants ranging from the talented to the eccentric, eager to get their chance at fame, are practicing their talents in preparation for their big chance at winning the show.

Gemma isn’t too keen on the show’s creator. She’s figured out that behind his magnanimous facade is an ambitious businessman more interested in sensationalism than the welfare of his contestants. He’s even resorted to embellishing their backgrounds and exploiting them for the benefit of ratings. And although some may have checkered pasts, Gemma is adamant that it’s no reason to take advantage of them. So when one of the contestants is found dead behind the stage, Gemma wonders just how far Monty Gibbs might go to advance his show. Or might there be some other killer lurking amongst them?

H.Y. Hanna has done it again. I was thoroughly entertained by The Dough Must Go On. The “old biddies” characters are always comical….

“The police are as effective as a chocolate teapot.”— Old Biddies

One of the highlights of this series is revisiting some of my favorite characters. Gemma’s geeky friend, Seth, always teaches some interesting scientific fact or lesson that enlightens me. And Gemma’s uppity but harmless, sweet mother is a great character whose appearance in the books always makes me happy. These Oxford Tearoom Mysteries never fail to provide a hilarious scene or three, and I can count on a great mystery and a top-notch narrating performance from the inimitable Pearl Hewitt. The Oxford Tearoom Mysteries is one of my absolute favorite cozy mystery series.

Thank you, H.Y. Hanna, for a complimentary download of The Dough Must Go On. All opinions expressed about it are my own.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 5 stars

I have to admit, I thought it might seem odd listening to the memoir of someone so young, but after hearing what Trevor Noah had to say I concluded that he’s lived a more colourful and hazardous life than many people twice his age.

Trevor Noah is fortunate to be alive to tell his story. He talks of growing up in South Africa as a “coloured” child (a child of mixed race) during Apartheid and its aftermath, with a mother who was determined to defy the government that sought to oppress her. He was somewhat of a menace and juvenile delinquent during the impressionable years, and narrowly escaped his abusive step-father who almost killed his family.

Trevor spoke a lot about his mother, Patricia. She is an incredible woman, strong and determined, who surmounted many formidable obstacles including poverty, racism and abuse, and yet still managed to teach Trevor many valuable lessons that no doubt shaped him into the highly intelligent and talented individual he is today. She didn’t stifle his exposure to grander things in life, but rather she expanded his world by teaching him and showing him that he could achieve a better life than she’d had.

I was impressed to learn that Trevor Noah speaks several African languages, including Afrikaans. Knowing English, as well as these other languages, was of great benefit to him in many ways in South Africa. If you want to know how, you’ll have to listen for yourself. 😉

Trevor’s transparency in sharing details about so many aspects of his life endeared me to his story. I see where he gets some of the material for his comedy shows.

I didn’t know much, if anything, about Trevor Noah before “reading” this book, but after having listened to him tell his story I have developed a deep respect for him. He’s overcome many challenges and has prevailed, and considering all he’s been through, that is truly amazing. EXCELLENT!!

WARNING: This book contains some profanity.

We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ – 5-stars

EXCELLENT writing!! This story is a gradual build-up. I felt like the writer was taking me on a leisurely stroll through time, casually relating events in the lives of three women, blood relatives. As we continued to walk along I could feel the tension mounting until it reached a crescendo, and I couldn’t bear to abandon it until I turned the last adventure-filled page!

We Hope for Better Things is set in and around Detroit, MI, and follows a triple timeline—Lapeer County, 1861 (civil war); the 1960’s (civil rights movement and Detroit riots); and modern day Detroit.

When Journalist, Elizabeth Balsam, is given a camera and the promise of some old photographs to deliver to a great aunt she’s never known, by a black man who claims his uncle was married to her aunt, her interest is piqued. The photos, which were allegedly taken during the ‘67 Detroit riots, are just the thing Elizabeth could use to develop the kind of story that aligns with her reputation as one who exposes corruption and neglect. Recently fired, Elizabeth is eager to get her hands on the elusive photographs, but first she has to visit with their rightful owner, her old great aunt, Nora Balsam. Nora lives in the old family house in Lapeer County, Michigan, which was also the home of Nora’s great-grandmother, Mary Balsam. All three women, Mary, Nora and Elizabeth, are linked by blood, and as Elizabeth stays on at the Lapeer house and gets to know Nora through the many objects in her home, where she finds treasures from the attic to the cellar, she’s intrigued. What does it all mean? Close-lipped thus far, Elizabeth hopes that in time Nora will open up and contribute to her story in her own words. As time goes on, and Nora starts talking, secrets about the past overshadow Elizabeth’s career ambitions and she becomes more determined to devote herself to contributing to her family’s legacy.

Forbidden relationships, racism, secrets, lies, betrayals, tragedy. Yup, it’s all in there, cleverly constructed with each little fragment eventually coming together to form a unique, atmospheric tale that was impressive. I couldn’t believe this was the author’s first book.

Here’s another thing that I loved. Although there were tumultuous scenes and turbulent times depicted, there was not one profane word or gruesome account. That’s what I call excellent writing. When I can envision what a riot must be like through dialog or prose, without having it described to me in expletives, I consider that the mark of a great writer. Very highly recommended.

Thank you, Revell Books, for a complimentary copy of We Hope for Better Things. All opinions expressed about it are my own.

Thanks for reading!! 😊