The Secret Letter by Debbie Rix

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EXCERPT: The letter landed on the mat, just as Imogen walked into the narrow hall from the kitchen. She usually ignored the uninteresting brown envelopes that slipped through the letter box. They lay undisturbed for days in an untidy pile until she was forced to gather them up simply to open the door. But even at a distance, this handwritten envelope was intriguing. In spite of her arthritis, she bent down slowly and retrieved it, along with the pile of bills, and carried them through to the conservatory at the back of the house, Winter sun streamed in as she sat down in her favourite wicker armchair. She laid the unwanted mail on the kelim covered footstool in front of her and examined the handwritten envelope, noting the German postmark and slid her long elegant finger under the flap.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Germany, 1939: Thirteen-year-old Magda is devastated by the loss of her best friend, shy and gentle Lotte, cruelly snatched from her and sent to a concentration camp – the Star of David sewn on her faded, brown coat. As the Nazi’s power takes hold, Magda realizes she’s not like the other girls in her village – she hates the fanatical new rules of the Hitler Youth. So Magda secretly joins The White Rose movement and begins to rebel against the oppressive, frightening world around her.

But when an English RAF pilot lands in a field near Magda’s home she is faced with an impossible choice: to risk the lives of her family or to save a stranger and make a difference in the war she desperately wants to end.

England, 1939: Fifteen-year-old Imogen is torn from her family and evacuated to the Lake District, a haven of safety away from the war raging across Europe. All she has to connect her to the bombs and the battles are the letters she writes to her loved ones. Little does she know, on the other side of the enemy line, her fate rests on the actions of one girl who will change her life forever…

MY THOUGHTS: I didn’t get what I was expecting…..and that was a secret revealed by a long lost letter that, through some circumstance, suddenly comes to light. To that end I think the book is mis-named. But that really is my only criticism of The Secret Letter. There is a secret letter, written by Karl to his sister Magda which, although he demands that she destroy it after reading, she hides in her bible.

What I did get was a beautifully written story, based on reality, set during WWII. The characters are well fleshed out and totally believable, as is the plot. The story begins with a letter received by Imogen in 2018, from Magda, a woman in Germany who had met Imogen’s husband during the war, inviting her to Germany. The story then backtracks to 1939 and we experience the war through the eyes of two young women, Magda in Germany and Imogen in England, firstly as schoolgirls then as young women helping with the war effort, before coming back to 2018/19 for a reunion of the survivors.

I think that because the author has based some of the story on the wartime experiences of her parents, there is an enhanced sense of reality; of people just getting on with it as best they could. While the war itself was inhumane, there were a lot of instances where people went to extreme lengths to help others, and these actions form the heart of this book. In the author’s own words, ‘I wanted more than anything else to explore the humanity that exists in wartime – the acts of selflessness and nobility, as well as the love and loss that affected ordinary people…..I also discovered acts of great courage performed by those who chose to rebel against the Nazi regime.’

Debbie Rix has done a wonderful job of portraying the ordinary people who had to fight and whose lives were devastated by the war. She has included them all, from the woman who simply went to bed and didn’t get up again, to those who put their own lives on the line.

This is the first book I have read by this author. It won’t be the last.

🤩😍😥😍🤩

THE AUTHOR:
I started writing novels after a long career in broadcasting and journalism. My first novel – The Girl with Emerald Eyes (originally published as ‘Secrets of the Tower’ in March 2015), is set in two time zones – the modern day and 12th century. It explores the extraordinary woman who left the money to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
My second novel: Daughters of the Silk Road follows the journey of a family of merchant explorers who return to Venice from China with a Ming Vase. The book again straddles two time zones.
The Silk Weaver’s Wife was published in 2017 and is set in the world of the Italian silk industry. The period story follows the journey of a young Veronese woman who is forced into an abusive marriage. The modern heroine uncovers her remarkable story.
My last two novels are set in 20th century. ‘The Photograph’ tells the story of Hungarian refugee Rachael who escapes to London from Budapest in 1956. Travelling to Sardinia with her archaeologist father, she meets the man who will change her life. Meanwhile in 2018, her anthropologist grand-daughter Sophie is struggling with infertility. As their two stories intertwine, Sophie uncovers her grandmother’s secret.
My latest novel: ‘The Secret Letter’ is due out on 22nd July. It explores the lives of two young girls in the 2nd world war – Imogen separated from her parents as an evacuee, and Magda who is determined to fight the Nazi regime. Their lives are brought together by a young RAF pilot. The story is based in part on the extraordinary experiences of my father who escaped a German prisoner of war camp at the end of the war.
I live in Kent with my family, four cats and chickens.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Secret Letter by Debbie Rix for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, and my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2891283309

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The Darkest Summer by Ella Drummond

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EXCERPT: ‘They’ve found a body.’

What did he say? I stared at him, stunned. ‘Who has? Where?’

ABOUT THIS BOOK: One hot summer, Dee disappeared. Now she’s back…but she’s not the girl you knew.

Sera and Dee were the best of friends.

Until the day that Dee and her brother Leo vanished from Sera’s life, during a long hot summer fifteen years ago.

Now Sera is an adult, with her own child, five-year-old Katie, and has returned to her childhood home after her husband’s death.

While she grieves, the past haunts Sera at every turn … and then Dee and Leo return to their small Hampshire village, along with Dee’s young daughter.

But Dee is silent and haunted by her demons; no longer the fun-loving girl that Sera loved. And when Sera uncovers the shocking secret that Dee is hiding, it’s clear that the girl she knew is long gone – and that the adult she has grown into might put all of them in danger…

MY THOUGHTS: We all occasionally wonder what happened to people who have disappeared from our past, but they don’t usually disappear in the dramatic way Hazel, Dee and Leo did. I love a good mystery. I loved the premise of The Darkest Summer but, unfortunately, the execution leaves much to be desired.

The story is told over multiple timelines, from the points of view of Mimi, Sera’s mother, as a young woman; Sera as a teenager; and Sera as a young widowed mother back living with Mimi.

It took a good two thirds of the book before I really became interested. I never quite became involved or fully immersed in what was happening mainly because the author tells the reader what is happening, rather than letting us experience it. The writing is often awkward and ungainly and is littered with inconsistencies, e.g. Sera goes downstairs and makes coffee and then says Leo has made it; Henri shows Sera the puppies and invites her in for a beer and she feels that ‘he’s in a bad mood’…..

This could have been a really good read and, with a little work, still could be. I would love to see this rewritten.🤔🙂🤔

THE AUTHOR: Ella Drummond is a pseudonym of author Deborah Carr. She recently signed with HarperCollins’ romance imprint, HarperImpulse, to write an historical romance to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War and also writes romance series as Georgina Troy.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Hera via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Darkest Summer by Ella Drummond for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system.

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2891292040?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Watching What I’m Reading

Here we are, over half way through winter in the southern hemisphere, and some of our deciduous trees are tenaciously still clinging to their leaves. This winter hasn’t been as cold as usual, but temperatures have fluctuated wildly and there is a lot of very nasty flu about. I am struggling with mine and just cannot seem to shake it. And while, when I am well, I often think a sick day would be nice, the reality is that I am too sick to enjoy it! I read for a while, fall asleep and then, when I wake, have no idea what I have read. So it’s flipping back the pages until I find something I recall. 😴🤒🤧🤯

I am currently reading
45362366._sy475_ and I was enchanted from the start. The writing flows beautifully. Debbie Rix sets the scene magnificently at the beginning with the arrival of a letter, and then we are taken back to the start of WWII, and the story begins to unfold.

This week, I also hope to read
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There is a stranger outside Caroline’s house.

Her spectacular new beach house, built for hosting expensive parties and vacationing with the family she thought she’d have. But her husband is lying to her and everything in her life is upside down, so when the stranger, Aiden, shows up as a bartender at the same party where Caroline and her husband have a very public fight, it doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary.

As her marriage collapses around her and the lavish lifestyle she’s built for herself starts to crumble, Caroline turns to Aiden for comfort…and revenge. After a brief and desperate fling that means nothing to Caroline and everything to him, Aiden’s obsession with Caroline, her family, and her house grows more and more disturbing. And when Caroline’s husband goes missing, her life descends into a nightmare that leaves her accused of her own husband’s murder.

And 46288004._sy475_
This morning, I was packing up lunches, ironing, putting on the laundry I should have done last night. Now my precious daughter is accused of murder.

When ten-year-old cousins Maddy and Brianna are arrested for a terrible crime, Maddy’s mother Juliet cannot believe it. How could her bright, joyful daughter be capable of such a thing?

As the small village community recoils in horror, the pressure of the tragedy blows Juliet and her sister’s lives apart. And things get even worse when their daughters retreat into a self-imposed silence. Can anyone reach Maddy and discover the truth before her fate is sealed?

Juliet is crushed. Nothing will ever be the same for her darling girl. But she knows that to find out what really happened that day, she and her sister must unlock the secrets of their own terrible past, a past they swore never to speak about again …

Four approvals from Netgalley this week –
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Have a happy week. I hope that you read only wonderful books. Stay safe my friends. 😍📚💕📚💖📚💗📚🤩

The Girl in the Grave by Helen Phifer

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EXCERPT: ….all of them were standing in a circle staring down into the dark, sodden grave. There, poking through the soil, a pair of mottled green and blue legs were clearly visible, the remains of a torn pair of tights still clinging to parts of them. Higher up, a hand with green painted fingernails and half a face were also partially exposed; one milky, glazed eye with long eyelashes stared up at the sky.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: When the body of a teenage runaway is found hidden inside someone else’s grave in a small-town cemetery in The Lake District, an urgent call is made to Forensic Pathologist Beth Adams. Still traumatised by a recent attempt on her own life, one look at the beautiful girl’s broken body is enough to bring Beth out of hiding for the first time since her attack. She’s the only one who can help her trusted friend, Detective Josh Walker, crack the most shocking case of his career.

Beth struggles to believe it’s a coincidence that the gravesite was scheduled to be exhumed, exposing the evidence. Does this twisted killer want to be caught?

Throwing herself into her work Beth discovers traces of material beneath the victim’s fingernails that sets the team on the killer’s trail. But this critical lead comes at a dangerous price, exposing Beth’s whereabouts and dragging her back into her attacker’s line of fire once again.

With Beth’s own life on the line, the investigation is already cracking under the pressure. Then another local girl goes missing… Can Beth stay alive long enough to catch the killer before he claims his next victim?

MY THOUGHTS: I seem to be in the minority for my rating of The Girl in the Grave by Helen Phifer. It was an okay read for me – nothing more. There were a few things about it that I definitely didn’t like. The major thing was the bit by bit reveal of what had happened to Beth prior to the start of this book. If it was meant to ratchet up the suspense it didn’t work; mainly because we already know she survived it. Personally, I would have preferred the book to have started off with the attack on Beth, then jumped forward to the exhumation.

Another thing I was disappointed in was the speed at which Josh and Beth’s relationship moved. There was no courtship, no easing into it….it was just full speed ahead from a standing start. I would have preferred to see them circling about warily for a while, both having been subject to bad (and that is an understatement) endings in their previous relationships.

I also didn’t think that the points of view from the killer added anything to the story.

I didn’t get any sense of suspense or trepidation as I was reading. I think the writing style is fairly flat, which I found quite surprising as I have previously enjoyed this author’s Lucy Harwin series.

This isn’t a series I will follow up on. 2.5*

THE AUTHOR: Helen Phifer is a published author.

Phifer was born in Barrow-in-Furness, a small town. She grew up there and continued to live there as an adult with her husband and children. She says that the town can occasionally receive some not great press, but confirms that it is a nice area to live in. It is surrounded by gorgeous scenic coast line and is fairly close to the Lake District, which is another beautiful area.

Helen confesses that she has always loved reading as well as writing. When it comes to reading, she likes to pick books that make the hair on her neck go up! Helen always has had a penchant for scary stories. When she eventually could not find enough books in this genre to suit her requirements, she decided that she would boost the amount of scary story books out there by writing some of her own!

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Girl in the Grave by Helen Phifer for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system, please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the ‘about’ page on my webpage sandysbookaday.com

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2891282829?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Trust No One by Clare Donoghue

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EXCERPT: I should feel guilty, but I don’t. It might not have gone according to plan, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t succeed.

How does someone who does this for a living feel? A contract killer, working for the government. Do they feel guilt? They must be handed a dossier: this is the target, this is their life, this is the time to do it and this is how much you’ll be paid. Do they take pride in a job well done, or do they sometimes look at the folder in front of them and think – this man doesn’t deserve to die? If they had been handed a dossier on Richard Taylor, would they hesitate or, like me, would they do what was necessary? Or better still, what about a serial killer? One of those ghouls they’re always showing on Channel 5: the Barn Butcher. Did the Barn Butcher start out with his morals intact? Did he feel guilt? I guess what I really want to know, what’s making me curious, is:did he mean to kill, that very first time?

ABOUT THIS BOOK: A marriage is what you make it, isn’t it? It’s what you put into it. It’s not just about love, it’s about understanding another person’s point of view. Sometimes there are things you find out about yourself and each other which means the marriage has to end. Sad, particularly when kids are involved – but all pretty normal. Normal that is, until there’s a murder. DS Jane Bennett and DI Mike Lockyer are called in to investigate one of the South London murder squad’s most difficult and distressing cases yet – where family and friends come under scrutiny in the hardest of circumstances.

MY THOUGHTS: This seemed to be a lot more about DS Jane Bennett than Lockyer or, for that matter, the murder. But having said that, this was twisty with lots of evil, nasty, people to pick the villain from. But having said that, I expected more suspense, and it just wasn’t there for me.

Trust No One was a bit of a conundrum. As I said, twisty, with evil nasty people, but very little suspense. I should have been furiously flipping the pages, but I wasn’t. There was something lacking…..or perhaps there was just a little too much of Jane’s private life. And it was all a bit flat…the dialogue, the lack of suspense, the characters, all cardboard cutouts.

Not a series I will be following up on I’m afraid.

***

THE AUTHOR: After ten years in London, working for a City law firm, Clare Donoghue moved back to her home town in Somerset to undertake an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University. She was long-listed for the CWA Debut Dagger in 2011.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Pan MacMillan via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Trust No One by Clare Donoghue for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the ‘about’ page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system.

This review and others are also published on my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2882192378?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Across the Common by Elizabeth Berridge

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EXCERPT: I was nearly asleep when Aunt Seraphina came in. She was in her long summer dressing gown and the flowers on it looked black in the white light from the uncurtained windows. She half-drew the curtains against the strong light, fearing moon madness. Her hair was brushed long over her shoulders, grey and fine, and her face looked smaller on the long wrinkled neck. A withered bud, a frosted rose on a long stem. Circe in decline.

She looked at me, hesitated, but did not come to kiss me. At the door she turned, asked quietly, ‘I would like to know the real reason for this visit, Louise.’

Just as quietly I replied, secure in my childhood room looking up at that tree patterned ceiling, remembered yet strange, telling her the truth, too tired not to, ‘I want to know why my marriage has failed. This is where I can find out.’ And went to sleep surprised at myself, for the truth is not a courtesy the young often extend to the old.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: One secret can tear a family apart…

Sensing the end of her marriage, Louise Yeovil takes the initiative and leaves her husband.

Twelve years ago and madly in love, she’d eloped with Max Yeovil, much to her family’s disbelief.

Life with Max had been good, but it had its challenges.

A series of miscarriages and Max’s eccentric, never-ending, stream of friends and colleagues filtering into their lives, had left Louise unable to cope with the path she’d chosen.

But she knew there was more to it than just that.

Returning to her home, The Hollies, the house she’d grown up in, Louise believes she will find the answer to some of her niggling thoughts.

Nothing much has changed in the twelve years she’s been away.

There is Aunt Seraphina, who steals cuttings from under the park-keepers’ noses; Aunt Rosa, the eldest, who has the ability to hurl a cushion as straight as a die, with her one eye; and Aunt Cissie in her wheelchair, tiny and malevolent

An unexpected turn of events results in Louise learning of troubles that had been kept secret from her and she makes it her mission to unearth the truth from her ever-cunning aunts.

But how can she find out more about the secret she revealed?

A chance encounter with someone from her childhood leads Louise to The Common, just outside their garden gates.

The Common had always been a place that attracted danger, of one sort or another; a place her aunts had always warned her about as a child.

But how was it connected to the secrets her aunts had kept from her all these years?

Louise needed to find out what happened… at whatever cost!

MY THOUGHTS: This is a beautifully written journey of discovery as one woman seeks to make sense of the demise of her marriage, in a time of social change.

Should you be thinking that this is a book of angst and vitriol, you couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is a voyage of self discovery for Louise, she also begins to make sense of many things from her childhood that puzzled her over the years as she unravels a labyrinth of secrets and lies perpetuated by her aunts.

A gentle story, an unexpected joy, that left me wanting to read more by this author.

A couple of my favourite quotes from Across the Common – ‘Might as well be dead now,’ said old Mr Protheroe. ‘We’re in the book, but we’ve lost the page we’re on.’

– ‘Reality’s all right,’ she added strongly, ‘that is, for some people, but you can’t live with it all the time.’

THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Berridge grew up in the ‘safe London suburb’ of Wandsworth Common. A year in Switzerland and a ‘hateful’ period at the Bank of England, described in Be Clean, Be Tidy (1949), was followed by work in a photographic news agency. She married Reginald Moore in 1940, published her first short story in 1941 and, in 1943, after the birth of the first of her two children, moved to a remote house in Wales, where Moore edited Modern Reading and other wartime anthologies and she wrote the stories reprinted in Tell It to a Stranger – published as Selected Stories in 1947; they returned to London in 1950. Elizabeth Berridge published nine novels, Across the Common winning the Yorkshire Post Award for Best Novel of the Year in 1964. She reviewed fiction for the Daily Telegraph for twenty-five years. Her last novel, Touch and Go, was adapted as a play by BBC Radio 4.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Endeavour Press via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Across the Common by Elizabeth Beresford for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon and my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2810874271

Those People by Louise Candlish

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EXCERPT: – Yes, we’re aware that someone’s been killed, of course we are. What a terrible way to die, absolutely horrific. My wife was one of the first on the scene. She’s over the road right now at number two, Sissy Watkins’ house – Naomi Morgan, she’s called, you’ve probably spoken to her already?

– I personally wasn’t here, no, I was playing tennis at the club on the other side of the high street…

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Lowland Way is the suburban dream. The houses are beautiful, the neighbors get along, and the kids play together on weekends.

But when Darren and Jodie move into the house on the corner, they donʼt follow the rules. They blast music at all hours, begin an unsightly renovation, and run a used-car business from their yard. It doesn’t take long for an all-out war to start brewing.

Then, early one Saturday, a horrific death shocks the street. As police search for witnesses, accusations start flying–and everyone has something to hide.

MY THOUGHTS: I was rather disappointed with this read…I had heard a lot about the author, but for me this was ‘meh’. The writing is very detached which, in some instances, can work very well. But not here. I was left not caring about any of the characters, except perhaps for Sissy, a sixty-year old woman running a B&B and struggling to make ends meet.

We hear the story from the points of view of all the immediate neighbours, so we tend to go over the same ground again, and again…..

The story is slow and just, only just, staggers along.

2.5*

THE AUTHOR: Before writing fiction, I studied English at University College London and worked as an illustrated book editor and advertising copywriter.

Though my stories are about people facing dark – often dangerous – dilemmas, I try to get through the day without too much drama of my own. I live in a South London neighbourhood not unlike the one in my novels with my husband, daughter and cat.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Berkley Books via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Those people by Louise Candlish for review. All opinions expressed in this review are my own personal opinions.

Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the ‘about’ page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system.

This review and others are also published on Twitter and my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2694705550?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1