The Best Mystery Stories of the Year: 2021 edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler

EXCERPT: taken from 30 and Out by Doug Allyn

The sign on the door read Sgt. Charles Marx, Major Crimes. I raised my fist to knock, then realised the guy at the desk wasn’t just resting his eyes. He was totally out, slouched in his chair, his grubby Nikes up on his desk, baseball cap tipped down over his eyes, snoring softly. Looked like a Class C wrestling coach after a losing season. Edging in quietly, I eased down into the chair facing his desk. When I glanced up, his eyes were locked on mine like lasers.

‘Can I help you?’

‘I’m Jax LaDart, Sergeant Marx. Your FNG.’

He frowned at that, then nodded. ‘The f*****g new guy,’ he said, massaging his eyelids with his fingertips. ‘Ah, right. You’re the home boy the chief hired, straight out of the army. I was reading your record. It put me to sleep.’ He spun the Dell laptop on his desk to show me the screen. ‘According to the Military Police, you’ve closed a lot of felony cases overseas, but the details are mostly redacted, blacked out.’

‘The army’d classify Three Blind Mice if they could. You don’t remember me, do you?’

ABOUT ‘THE MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP PRESENTS THE BEST MYSTERY STORIES OF THE YEAR: 2021: Under the auspices of New York City’s legendary mystery fiction specialty bookstore, The Mysterious Bookshop, and aided by Edgar Award-winning anthologist Otto Penzler, international bestseller Lee Child has selected the twenty most suspenseful, most confounding, and most mysterious short stories from the past year, collected now in one entertaining volume.

Includes stories by:

Alison Gaylin
David Morrell
James Lee Burke
Joyce Carol Oates
Martin Edwards
Sara Paretsky
Stephen King
Sue Grafton (with a new, posthumously-published work!)

And many more!

MY THOUGHTS: There are a couple of absolutely brilliant stories in here – Sue Grafton’s ‘If You Want Something Done Right . . .’ and Stephen King’s ‘The Fifth Step’ are the two that stood out for me. Others that I enjoyed were: ‘The Locked Cabin’ by Martin Edwards, Janice Law’s ‘The Client’, and David Morrell’s ‘Requiem For A Homecoming.’ There was one story I absolutely detested – Parole Hearing by Joyce Carol Oates, and I didn’t much care for David Marcum’s ‘The Home Office Baby’ either, or the first two stories which were ‘tough guy’ fiction and almost completely put me off reading any more of the collection. The rest fell somewhere in the middle and were mostly quite mediocre.

This is by no means anywhere near my favourite collection. Quite a few, I zoned out of as I was listening, and had to return to. They just didn’t hold my interest; absolutely no reflection on the narrators who, on the whole did an excellent job.

I know 2020 was a difficult year for all, but I am sure that there were far better mystery stories out there that could have been included in this collection.

⭐⭐⭐

#TheBestMysteryStoriesoftheYear2021 #NetGalley

#audiobook #contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #murdermystery #mystery #shortstories

Edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Highbridge Audio via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of The Best Mystery Stories of the Year:2021 edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman (The Thursday Murder Club #2)

EXCERPT: The nights are beginning to draw in a little, and the sun is sinking behind the trees on top of the hill as Elizabeth reaches Ruskin Court and rings the bell for number 14. Here goes nothing. There is a brief wait and she is buzzed up.

There are lifts in all the buildings, but Elizabeth will use the stairs while she still can. Stairs are good for hip and knee flexibility. Also it is very easy to kill someone in a lift when the doors open. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and a ping to announce that you’re about to appear. Not that she’s worried about being killed, it doesn’t feel to her like that’s what’s happening here, but it’s always important to remember best practice. Elizabeth has never killed anyone in a lift. She once saw someone pushed down an empty lift shaft in Essen, but that was different.

She turns left at the top of the stairs, transfers the flowers to her left hand and knocks on the door of number 14. Who will answer the door? What is the story here? Should she be worried?

The door opens, and she sees a very familiar face.

It’s not Marcus Carmichael, how could it have been? But it is certainly someone who knew the name Marcus Carmichael. And who knew it would get her attention.

And it turns out that, yes, she should be worried.

ABOUT ‘THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE’: It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

MY THOUGHTS: I just loved The Thursday Murder Club, but approached The Man Who Died Twice (don’t you just love that title!) with just a modicum of apprehension. Would the author fall victim to the second book syndrome? He didn’t. Osman hasn’t put one word wrong.

I love these characters, and the fact that we learn a lot more about them in the course of the book. Am I allowed to admit that as I was reading I was hearing Penelope Keith’s voice as Elizabeth?

This disparate club of characters will delight, charm and amuse. There were times I felt afraid for them, times when they amazed me. Never are they predictable.

I am not going to waste any more time talking about this book, other than to say ‘Read it!’ This is the book we all need.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#TheManWhoDiedTwice #NetGalley

I: @misterosman @penguinrandomhouse

T: @richardosman @PenguinUKBooks

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #humour #murdermystery #mystery #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Richard Thomas Osman is an English comedian, producer, television presenter, writer, and the creator and co-presenter of the BBC One television quiz show Pointless.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Penguin General UK via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village by Maureen Johnson and illustrated by Jay Cooper

EXCERPT: CRICKET
What a lovely English pastime. A sport where the players wear nice white sweaters, the matches go on for five days, and everyone drinks large quantities of tea and gin. The terminology is so quaint! Wickets, pudding, bunny, teapot, lollipop . . . Just a lovely, civilised time, with players running around a squishy green field with paddle-shaped bats, whacking a rock-hard ball, thinking about how much they resent their teammates. The highest trophy in the cricketing world is literally an urn full of ashes, so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

ABOUT ‘YOUR GUIDE TO NOT GETTING MURDERED IN A QUAINT ENGLISH VILLAGE’: In the England of murder mysteries and TV detectives, no destination is deadlier than a quaint country village, and you never know you’re in a murder village until it’s too late. No attraction or local character is safe–whether in the pub for a pint, or on the manicured grounds of the local estate for a shooting party, bodies can turn up anywhere! Danger lurks around every cobblestone corner. If you are foolish enough to make the trip, at least be prepared.

Brought to life with dozens of Gorey-esque drawings by illustrator Jay Cooper and peppered with allusions to classic crime series and unmistakably British murder lore, Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village gives you the tools you need to avoid the same fate, should you find yourself in a suspiciously cozy English village (or simply dream of going). Good luck, and whatever you do, avoid the vicar.

MY THOUGHTS: A mostly amusing and clever, tongue-in-cheek read for fans of classic English murder mystery series such as Miss Marple and Midsomer Murders, which I devoured along with my breakfast this morning.

I did think the section on the butler could have used a bit more work. After all, isn’t it always the butler?

And a note of warning – don’t do the quizzes! I only got one answer right, and it still killed me.

Not to be taken seriously, unless, of course, you are planning on visiting a quaint English Village.

I wonder if a body has ever been concealed in the thatch of one of those lovely chocolate-box cottages?

⭐⭐⭐.5

#YourGuidetoNotGettingMurderedinaQuaintEnglishVillage #NetGalley

I: @maureenjohnsonbooks @clarksonpotter @tenspeedpress

T: @maureenjohnson @TenSpeedPress

#humour #practicalguide #crime

THE AUTHOR: Maureen Johnson is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several YA novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Suite Scarlett, The Name of the Star, and Truly Devious. She has also done collaborative works, such as Let It Snow with John Green and Lauren Myracle (now on Netflix), and several works in the Shadowhunter universe with Cassandra Clare. Her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and The Guardian, and she has also served as a scriptwriter for EA Games. She has an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and lives in New York City.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed Press via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village by Maureen Johnson and illustrated by Jay Cooper for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Unheard by Nicci French

EXCERPT: People say you can’t die in your dreams but last night I felt I was going to die. I was falling, like she fell, and it was just before I hit the concrete – dark, rushing up at me – that I woke, gasping, sweating. I hadn’t got away. It was happening again.

ABOUT ‘THE UNHEARD’: Maybe Tess is overprotective, but passing her daughter off to her ex and his new young wife fills her with a sense of dread. It’s not that Jason is a bad father–it just hurts to see him enjoying married life with someone else. Still, she owes it to her daughter Poppy to make this arrangement work.

But Poppy returns from the weekend tired and withdrawn. And when she shows Tess a crayon drawing–an image so simple and violent that Tess can hardly make sense of it—-Poppy can only explain with the words, “He did kill her.”

Something is horribly wrong. Tess is certain Poppy saw something–or something happened to her–that she’s too young to understand. Jason insists the weekend went off without a hitch. Doctors advise that Poppy may be reacting to her parents’ separation. And as the days go on, even Poppy’s disturbing memory seems to fade. But a mother knows her daughter, and Tess is determined to discover the truth. Her search will set off an explosive tempest of dark secrets and buried crimes–and more than one life may be at stake.

MY THOUGHTS: Oh, who to trust? Does Tess have something to worry about in Poppy’s behaviour, or is she becoming increasingly neurotic and seeing danger where it doesn’t exist?

The Nicci French team has written a gripping psychological thriller that messed with my mind. It was like walking on quicksand – the ground shifting beneath my feet as I first suspected one person, then another, and even Tess herself. But suspected them of what? Because that’s the question. What, if anything, has happened?

Poppy has said a few rude words. And, ‘He did kill. Kill and kill and kill.’ And wet the bed. And drawn a disturbing picture. So, yes, as a mother I too would have been concerned and taken my child to the doctor to be checked out. I would have watched carefully the people my child came into contact with. I would have been suspicious and protective. But Tess takes it to a whole new level . . .

The entire story is told by Tess. We share her worries, her fears, her suspicions, her anger as she finds out the truth about . . . let’s just say, people she thought she knew and could trust. We feel her frustration as people, including me, begin to feel that she has lost the plot and gone completely overboard. But Tess is doggedly determined, to the point of being obsessive, to find out who is behind the changes in her daughter, who is terrifying her. Some of the things Tess does are completely over the top, but make for brilliant reading.

The Unheard is a brilliantly plotted, intriguing, twisty psychological thriller that keeps the reader off balance throughout.

Narrator Olivia Vinall was a delight to listen to, and I will be watching for her narrations in future.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.4

#TheUnheardoliviavinallniccifrenchaudiobookswfhowes #NetGalley

I: #niccifrench @wfhowes

T: @FrenchNicci @WFHowes

#audiobook #contemporaryfiction #crime #domesticdrama #murdermystery #psychologicalthriller #suspense

THE AUTHOR: Nicci Gerrard was born in June 1958 in Worcestershire. After graduating with a first class honours degree in English Literature from Oxford University, she began her first job, working with emotionally disturbed children in Sheffield.

Sean French was born in May 1959 in Bristol, to a British father and Swedish mother. He too studied English Literature at Oxford University at the same time as Nicci, also graduating with a first class degree, but their paths didn’t cross until 1990.

Sean and Nicci were married in Hackney in October 1990. Their daughters, Hadley and Molly, were born in 1991 and 1993.

In 1995 Nicci and Sean began work on their first joint novel and adopted the pseudonym of Nicci French. Nicci and Sean also continue to write separately.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to W.F. Howes Ltd via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of The Unheard by Nicci French for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Watching What I’m Reading . . .

I am currently reading two books, both of which I have only just started: Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

Frankie Elkin is an average middle-aged woman, a recovering alcoholic with more regrets than belongings. But she spends her life doing what no one else will–searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never paid attention, Frankie starts looking.

A new case brings her to Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood with a rough reputation. She is searching for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teenager who vanished from her high school months earlier. Resistance from the Boston PD and the victim’s wary family tells Frankie she’s on her own–and she soon learns she’s asking questions someone doesn’t want answered. But Frankie will stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it means the next person to go missing could be her. 

And The Couple Upstairs by Shalini Boland

Our new home was supposed to be a chance to leave our past behind. But was moving here the worst mistake of our lives?

All our friends and family were gathered, glasses raised to toast our fresh start. It should have been a night for happiness and celebration. Zac and I had worked so hard for this: our first home together, just minutes from the sea. But the dream quickly turned into a nightmare…

We’d invited our neighbours too. I wanted to make a good impression – to show them we’re exactly the sort of people they want living on their street.

I hadn’t thought about who they might be, the strangers I was letting in.

It was going so well. There was laughter in the air and the wine was flowing. But then I noticed the narrowed eyes, the whispers.

And then the lights went out.

As my heart thumped in my chest, all the little things that had been going wrong since we moved here flashed through my mind: the food poisoning, the arguments, the flood of nasty reviews shaking my business.

Am I going crazy? Or is someone trying to destroy us?

I am 3/4 of the way through listening to The Best Mystery Stories of the Year: 2021

I didn’t much like this collection after the first two stories, but after these they became far more interesting.

This week I am planning on reading Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

And The Parents by Claire Seeber

Moving to this village was supposed to be a fresh start for me and my thirteen-year-old son Harry. After the tragic death of my husband, it was a chance to leave everything bad behind and make better memories at Primrose Cottage, the postcard-perfect house with honeysuckle around the door.

However, things haven’t exactly been easy since we arrived, and after what we’ve been though, I’m scared of letting anyone new into our lives.

But when one of the local dads asks Harry to join the weekend sports club, I find myself saying yes. The smile on my son’s face gives me hope that I might have made the right decision in uprooting our lives.

All the other parents seem so kind in welcoming me into the fold. At least, they are to begin with… Until someone begins anonymously exposing secrets about everyone in the group.

As betrayals surface and the claws come out, I see how imperfect these people really are; and how far they’ll go to hide the truth. Then when one of the parents ends up dead at the end of a party, I realise that it’s not just lies and scandal they’re covering up.

Too late, I realise that I should have stayed away…

And I plan to listen to Stranded by Sarah Goodwin

Eight strangers.
One island.
A secret you’d kill to keep.

When eight people arrive on the beautiful but remote Buidseach Island, they are ready for the challenge of a lifetime: to live alone for one year.

Eighteen months later, a woman is found in an isolated fishing village. She’s desperate to explain what happened to her: how the group fractured and friends became enemies; how they did what they must to survive until the boat came to collect them; how things turned deadly when the boat didn’t come…

But first Maddy must come to terms with the devastating secret that left them stranded, and her own role in the events that saw eight arrive and only three leave.

Only three new ARCs this week. They are: The Betrayal by Terry Lynn Thomas

Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger

and Prose and Cons by Wendy Corsi Straub

In my bookish travels this week,I have been all over the world in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year: 2021; Sydney, Australia; Kent, England; and Boston, Massachusetts. Have we crossed paths this week?

Sorry about the brevity of the this post but I have worked through the entire week and am still a week away from my next day off. Going to make dinner, soak in bath with one of my books, then head off to bed. Enjoy the remainder of your weekend. ❤📚

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

EXCERPT: The waitress approached the table . . . noting how they each sat in the same distinctive way, with their ankles locked around the front legs of their chairs, as if to prevent them from sliding away.

‘Excuse me?’

They didn’t hear her. They were all talking at once, their voices overlapping. They were definitely related. They even sounded similar: low,deep, husky-edged voices. People with sore throats and secrets.

‘She’s not technically missing. She sent us that text.’

‘I just can’t believe she’s not answering her phone. She always answers.’

‘Dad mentioned her new bike is gone.’

‘What? That’s bizarre.’

‘So . . . she just cycled off down the street and into the sunset?’

‘But she didn’t take her helmet. Which I find very weird.’

‘I think it’s time we reported her missing.’

‘It’s over a week now. That’s too long.’

‘Like I said, she’s not technically -‘

‘She is the very definition of missing because we don’t know where she is.’

The waitress raised her voice to the point where it was perilously close to rude. ‘Are you ready to order yet?’

They didn’t hear her.

‘Has anyone been over to the house yet?’

‘Dad told me please don’t come over. He’s “very busy”.’

‘Very busy? What’s he so busy doing?’

The waitress shuffled alongside them, in between the chairs and the wall, so that one of them might see her.

‘You know what could happen if we reported her missing?’ The better looking of the two men spoke. He wore a long sleeved linen shirt rolled up to the elbows; shorts and shoes without socks. He was in his early thirties, the waitress guessed, with a goatee and the low-level charismatic charm of a reality star or a real estate agent. ‘They’d suspect Dad.’

‘Suspect Dad of what?’ asked the other man, a shabbier, chunkier, cheaper version of the first. Instead of a goatee, he just needed a shave.

‘That he . . . you know.’ The expensive version brother drew his finger across his neck.

The waitress went very still. This was the best conversation she’d overheard since she’d started waitressing.

‘Jesus, Troy.’ The cheaper version brother exhaled. ‘That’s not funny.’

The other man shrugged. ‘The police will ask if they argued. Dad said they did argue.’

‘But surely – ‘

‘Maybe Dad did have something to do with it,’ said the youngest of the four, a woman wearing a short orange dress dotted with white daisies over a swimsuit knotted at the neck. Her hair was dyed blue (the waitress coveted that exact shade), and it was tied back in a sticky, wet, tangled knot at her neck. There was a fine sheen of sandy sunscreen on her arms as if she’d just that moment walked off the beach, even though they were at least a forty minute drive from the coast. ‘Maybe he snapped. Maybe he finally snapped.’

ABOUT ‘APPLES NEVER FALL’: The Delaney family love one another dearly—it’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaneys are fixtures in their community. The parents, Stan and Joy, are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are Stan and Joy so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups and there is the wonderful possibility of grandchildren on the horizon.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. The Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, when Joy goes missing, and Savannah is nowhere to be found, the police question the one person who remains: Stan. But for someone who claims to be innocent, he, like many spouses, seems to have a lot to hide. Two of the Delaney children think their father is innocent, two are not so sure—but as the two sides square off against each other in perhaps their biggest match ever, all of the Delaneys will start to reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.

MY THOUGHTS: Apples Never Fall is an excellent family drama/mystery that delves into family dynamics with disarming honesty and more than a little humour. I laughed as I recognized shades of myself and my three brothers in these conversations. Even Savannah was startlingly familiar. Though the cuckoo in our nest was called Sharilyn, and she was far more benign than Savannah.

Moriarty has a definite talent for characterisation. Her characters are vibrant and alive, and tend to leap off the page and move into your life for the duration of the book. This, combined with her devious mind which conjures up intriguing mysteries, guarantees a read that just can’t be put down.

Like an onion, the layers of the Delaney family are peeled back one by one, revealing their insecurities, their resentments, their petty jealousies, their disappointments, their fears. Like most families, they have wallpapered over the cracks in their lives, given up on their dreams, settled for second best, all the time telling themselves that it’s just life, that this is the reality of adulthood. But when Savannah intrudes and Joy goes missing, the plasters are ripped off, the wounds and battle scars exposed for all to see. There are some shocking revelations and surprises!

Although the mystery of Joy’s disappearance is always there, it is not the main focus of the story. It is merely a vehicle for the dissection of a family unit under pressure; an examination of their values, their loyalties, their coping strategies. I would be interested to learn if Brooke ever has another migraine.

Apples Never Fall had me laughing and, at one point, snivelling into a fistful of tissues. Moriarty put my emotions through the wringer. Apples Never Fall is an irresistible read. It’s charming, and surprising, just what I have come to expect from one of my favourite authors.

What I wasn’t expecting was that final chapter. Stunning!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#ApplesNeverFall #NetGalley

I: #lianemoriarty @macmillanaus

T: #LianeMoriarty @MacmillanAus

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #familydrama #mystery

THE AUTHOR: She lives in Sydney with her husband, son and daughter. When she’s not writing she can be found reading, demanding coffee, being taken for a brisk walk by her Labrador, skiing like she’s thirty years younger than she is, recovering from skiing injuries, talking to old friends about getting old, and begging her children for help with technology.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Friday Funnies . . . for us oldies, along with a bit of nostalgia

But first, a little sage advice –

I grew up in the 60s, and if we even looked like we were getting a cold, Mum would rub Vicks on our chests. Still love the smell.

and we didn’t have mathematics . . . it was just called arithmetic.

We didn’t have mobile phones, so our parents never knew where we were until it was time for dinner. Then, if we weren’t home, they would just go outside and yell. I would go out riding my horse and not come home until dark. When I was eight, I would ride my bike over the other side of town, crossing the highway, and mow my grandmother’s lawns. By the time I was ten, I could make dinner for the family, and bake cookies and cakes.

What do you remember about your childhood that most children now miss out on?

Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillipi Ryan

EXCERPT: She felt tears begin, felt their dampness on her face, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand, furious, and terrified. She wanted her mother, she wanted her father, she wanted someone, anyone, to come help her and fix this, and take care of her and tell her what to do. She pressed her palms to her face, trying to hold it all in and make it go away and when she opened her eyes, Jem would be laughing at her. And she’d be so mad. Then she’d storm out of here and never see this idiot again.

She stared at him, ignoring her own tears now, willing him to be joking with her, some stupid insane boy joke, and she’d laugh, she promised she would. But Jem’s face, serene and still, and blood on his cheek, seemed to taunt her.

There could be no more wishful thinking. She had to do something.

She took a deep shuddering breath.

Okay. She knew what to do. First, stop being hysterical. Then call 911. She reached for the receiver of the black phone on the end table, the one that Jem had probably used to call his friend. She stopped, hand in midair, halfway to the phone.

Jem had called his friend. Who was on his way here. She felt her heart racing, constricting, making it difficult to breathe. Whoever showed up here – Jem’s friend or the ambulance people, or whoever – would find her here in this apartment.

What if he even died?

ABOUT ‘HER PERFECT LIFE’: Everyone knows Lily Atwood—and that may be her biggest problem. The beloved television reporter has it all—fame, fortune, Emmys, an adorable seven-year-old daughter, and the hashtag her loving fans created: #PerfectLily. To keep it, all she has to do is protect one life-changing secret.

Her own.

Lily has an anonymous source who feeds her story tips—but suddenly, the source begins telling Lily inside information about her own life. How does he—or she—know the truth?

Lily understands that no one reveals a secret unless they have a reason. Now she’s terrified someone is determined to destroy her world—and with it, everyone and everything she holds dear.

How much will she risk to keep her perfect life?

MY THOUGHTS: There is no such thing as a perfect life, no matter what we see on social media. But, to all her followers and fans, that is what TV star Lily Atwood has, a myth perpetuated by her sycophantic producer, Greer. As long as Lily is adored and successful, Greer has job security. But there are things about Lily that not even Greer knows. In fact, there’s a lot about Lily that Greer doesn’t know. Only Greer doesn’t know that she doesn’t know. At least not until the mysterious ‘Mr Smith’, source of some of their most successful stories, puts her in the picture. But ‘Mr Smith’ has his own agenda. He is a master manipulator.

Lily
has skeletons in her closet. Things she is torn about. Does she want her sister back in her life if she can find her, or would finding Cassie put everything she holds dear in danger?

Lily spends her life exposing other people’s secrets and misdemeanors. She is focused; on her career, her daughter. In order to protect her secrets, she never lets anyone get close to her. So how is she going to feel, and what is she going to do when her past, her secrets, are in danger of being exposed?

I was very ambivalent about Lily’s character. She comes across as hard boiled, but daughter Lily is her Achilles heel.

One thing struck me as very odd – she doesn’t actually do any work whatsoever at any point in this novel! And come to think of it, Greer doesn’t do that much either.

Despite several stupid decisions on both their parts, Her Perfect Life is a twisty mystery. What happened to Cassie? Is she alive somewhere? If she is, why hasn’t she contacted her baby sister? After all, Lily’s not exactly hard to find. Or is she dead, her body hidden by her killers? And does Lily really want to know? After all, once you know something, it’s difficult to unknow.

The chapters are short and sharp, and are told from the points of view of Lily, Greer, and Cassie (retrospective). There are a lot of surprises, one of which is absolutely jaw-dropping. I felt sucker-punched!

This is a mostly tense, and definitely twisty thriller. The characters decisions aren’t always rational, but whose are when under pressure, and there are perceived threats to a loved one?

As I said, mostly tense. There were a few places I found repetitive. But only a few. I liked Her Perfect Life, a lot. But I didn’t love it like The First to Lie.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.1

#HerPerfectLife #NetGalley

I: @hankpryan @macmillanusa

T: @MacmillanUSA

#contemporaryfiction #crime #familydrama #mystery #suspense #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Hank Phillippi Ryan is an American investigative reporter for Channel 7 News on WHDH-TV, a local television station in Boston, Massachusetts. She is also an author of mystery novels.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillipi Ryan for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

The New Home by Chris Merritt

EXCERPT: The key slides smoothly into the padlock, and it clicks open. I remove it from the hasp and pull the door open. It sticks, the wood groaning as the door separates from the lintel, while the hinges screech as if in pain. I’m sure someone must have heard me. With a final look over my shoulder, I hang the open padlock back on the hasp and step inside, pulling the door closed behind me to avoid being seen.

The interior is almost pitch black. Whatever light there is has been filtered through the cobwebs and mold coating the inside of the tiny, smeary window. I take out my phone and switch on its torch.

The first thing I see is more cobwebs, and I’m temporarily paralyzed with fear as I clock the number of them, lying as thick as wads of cotton wool in the corners. My torch beam picks out a cluster of huge, fat spiders, motionless, as if they’re waiting to attack me. I know it’s ridiculous to be frightened of them, that they won’t hurt me. I tell myself that out loud and remind myself why I’m here: to find out what happened to Emily and Thea.

I sweep the beam around the edges of the space. It’s full of junk. I see big sacks of compost, plant pots, folded garden chairs and tools. None of it looks as though it’s been used in years, and part of me wonders if this is a wild goose chase, and whether Michael and Emily haven’t even set foot in this place the whole time they’ve lived here.

But I remember the shoe and the ring I discovered outside. And the brand new padlock that must have been put on the door for a reason. As I shine the beam down to the floor, I freeze. I think I’ve found that reason.

Blood.

ABOUT ‘THE NEW HOME’: Freya loves her new home on a quiet suburban street. And her beautiful neighbour Emily is everything she’s ever wanted in a best friend. Finally, she has somebody to share her secrets with over a glass of wine. But as Freya watches her new friend setting the table for dinner one evening, she sees something shocking that makes her think that Emily’s life might not be as perfect as it seems. Days later, Emily and her daughter vanish…

When you meet Emily’s husband, you will think you know what he’s hiding.

You will ask yourself whether Emily and Freya really did meet by chance.

You will think you know what happened to Emily and her little girl the night they went missing.

But when you discover the truth, it will shake you to your core and you will lie awake at night wondering if you can ever really trust the people in the house next door…

MY THOUGHTS: The New Home is a suspenseful, slightly creepy mystery that had me flipping the pages. My suspicions flitted from one character to another to yet another. I just didn’t know who, if anyone, I could trust, including the narrator, Freya.

None of the characters are particularly likeable, except Cathy, Freya’s elderly next door neighbour who appears to be in the early stages of dementia. But in amongst her ramblings, there may just be a few grains of truth.

Freya herself tends to be obsessive, which is fine in her career as a documentary maker, but it can lead to problems in her day to day life. She’s a complex character. One moment my heart would be breaking for her, the next I would be wanting to tell her to get a grip. By the way, did you know that 62% of violence against women is committed by family members or partners. If you didn’t, you certainly will by the time you get to the end of this read. Freya produces this statistic regularly, almost like a mantra.

Freya’s partner, Jack, is an overworked cardiologist, but the clinical approach he uses in his work probably isn’t the best approach to take with his fiance at home. He loves Freya, and thinks he’s doing his best for her, even after he discovers the secret she’s been hiding from him.

Michael is the missing Emily’s husband, he’s not particularly sociable, and borders on rude a lot of the time. He comes across as aggressive and uncaring. He doesn’t seem particularly concerned about her whereabouts, and neither do the police.

Although I enjoyed this book, there were a couple of things I thought could have been done better. The author hasn’t spent much time or effort establishing the friendship between Freya and Emily. We are told by Emily that they were great friends, but I didn’t feel it. At one point I wondered if this friendship was a delusion on Freya’s part, which could be a deliberate ploy by the author. I certainly didn’t feel that the friendship was close enough to account for Freya’s reaction and subsequent actions after Emily and Thea going missing.

I also found the short chapters told from the point of view of an unknown person annoying. I don’t feel that they added any value to the reading experience. Each one was essentially the same, and eventually I began skipping them. I know that this is currently a popular trope, but I have found very few novels where it has actually worked as intended. It doesn’t work here, even after the final revelation.

Chris Merritt has written a good, suspenseful mystery; one that I enjoyed.

⭐⭐⭐.8

#TheNewHome #NetGalley

I: @cjmerritt81 #chrismerritt @bookouture

T: @DrCJMerritt @Bookouture

#contemporaryfiction #domesticdram #mentalhealth #mystery #suspense

THE AUTHOR: Hello! I’m a British author whose crime thrillers combine psychology, suspense, and characters you care about.

All my novels are set in London, where I live. My first trilogy starred Zac Boateng and Kat Jones, two detectives motivated by family, who tackle organised crime and police corruption. LAST WITNESS, the second Boateng and Jones book, reached #13 in the UK Kindle chart in 2019.

My second series features detective Dan Lockhart – an ex-soldier with a missing wife – and psychologist Dr Lexi Green, an American living in London. These novels are darker, more psychological serial-killer cases, with romantic relationships as a central theme.

I began writing fiction in 2014, after previous careers as a diplomat, based in Iraq and Jerusalem, and later as a psychologist working with victims and perpetrators of crime. I specialised in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which sparked my interest in telling stories about how people cope when faced with extreme adversity.

Now, I spend most of my time writing novels and drinking coffee while ‘thinking’ about writing novels. When I’m not writing, I love climbing and playing basketball.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The New Home by Chris Merritt for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com