Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

EXCERPT: I haven’t looked at this music since the day I bought it in Rome. Now, as I clip the page to the stand, I think of that gloomy antiques shop, and the proprietor, lurking like some cave creature in the alcove. Goose bumps suddenly stipple my skin, as if the chill of the shop still clings to this music.

I pick up my violin and begin to play.

On this humid afternoon, my instrument sounds deeper, richer than ever, the tone mellow and warm. The first thirty-two bars of the waltz are as beautiful as I’d imagined, a lament in a mournful baritone. But at measure forty, the notes accelerate. The melody twists and turns, jarred by the accidentals, and soars into the seventh position on the E-string. Sweat breaks out on my face as I struggle to stay in tune and maintain the tempo. I feel as if my bow takes off on its own, that it’s moving as though bewitched and I’m just struggling to hold onto it. Oh, what glorious music this is! What a performance piece, if I can master it. The notes skitter up the scale. Suddenly I lose all control and everything goes off-pitch, my left hand cramping as the music builds to a frenzy.

A small hand grasps my leg. Something warm and wet smears my skin.

I stop playing and look down. Lily stares up at me, her eyes as clear as turquoise water. Even as I jump up in dismay and wrench the garden tool from her bloody hand, not a ripple disturbs her calm blue eyes. Her bare feet have tracked footprints across the patio flagstone. With growing horror, I follow those footprints back to the source of the blood.

Then I start screaming.

ABOUT ‘PLAYING WITH FIRE’: What if your child wanted you dead?

Julia doesn’t understand what is happening to her daughter, but she thinks she knows what’s causing it. She is terrified for Lily, and for herself, but what scares her more is that no one believes her.

If she is going to help Lily, she will have to find the answers alone, embarking on a search that will take her to the shadowy back streets of Venice.

There, Julia uncovers a heartbreaking, long-buried tale of tragedy and devastation – a discovery that puts her in serious danger. Some people will do anything in their power to keep the truth silent…

MY THOUGHTS: Wow! I picked this up and didn’t put it down until I had finished. Playing With Fire is an extremely cleverly crafted novel. The melody in ‘Incendio’ is not the only thing that twists and turns.

We switch between present day Brookline, Massachusetts with violinist Julia Ansdell, and the late 1930’s in Venice, Italy with violinist Lorenzo Todesco, composer of Incendio.

Interspersed with Julia’s battles to master this complex composition, and the atrocities perpetrated by her three year old daughter Lily, is Lorenzo’s story which takes place as the rights of the Italian Jews are being eroded, and eventually as they are rounded up and sent north to ‘labour camps.’ But as we all know, they were no labour camps. The reality was far more grim.

Playing With Fire gripped me from the first page to the last. There is a palpable sense of menace emanating from both storylines. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to fear that your angelic looking three year old daughter is trying to kill you. Nor what it must be like to be torn from your home in the middle of the night with only the clothes on your back, herded away from everything that is familiar and dear to you, and then forcibly separated from your loved ones.

Playing With Fire was nothing like I expected. It was even better.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#PlayingWithFire #NetGalley #tess.gerritsen #bantampress

@tessgerritsen @BantamPress

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #crime #familydrama #historicalfaction #mystery #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Internationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen took an unusual route to a writing career. A graduate of Stanford University, Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was awarded her M.D.

While on maternity leave from her work as a physician, she began to write fiction. Now retired from medicine, she writes full time. She lives in Maine.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld Publishing, Bantam Press via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen for review. I unreservedly apologise for taking so long to read this. 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

EXCERPT: October 20

I look up as a man with ruddy cheeks walks into the restaurant, shaking rain from his baseball cap. ‘Hey, sweetheart,’ he calls to the pink-haired girl mixing drinks behind the bar. ‘Any chance you can hang this in the window?’

‘Sure thing,’ she says, nodding toward the piece of paper in his hand. ‘Another fundraiser for the fire department?’

‘No, someone’s gone missing,’ he says.

‘Missing? What happened to her?’

‘Not her. Him.’

‘Him? Well that’s not something you hear every day.’

‘Disappeared the night of the storm. Trying to get the word out.’

The door closes behind him as she walks to the end of the bar and picks up the flyer, reading aloud to the woman eating lunch at the corner seat. ‘Dr. Sam Statler, a local therapist, is six foot one, with black hair and green eyes. He’s believed to be driving a 2019 Lexus RX350.’ Whistling, she holds up the piece of paper. ‘Whoever he’s gone missing with is a lucky lady.’ I steal a glance at Sam’s photograph – those eyes, that dimple, the word MISSING in seventy-two-point font above his head.

‘I saw the story in the paper this morning,’ the woman at the bar says. ‘He went to work and never came home. His wife reported him missing.’

The pink-haired girl goes to the window. ‘Wife, huh? Sure hope she has a good alibi. You know the old saying: ‘When a man goes missing, it’s always the wife.’ ‘

ABOUT ‘GOODNIGHT BEAUTIFUL’: Newlyweds Sam Statler and Annie Potter are head over heels, and excited to say good-bye to New York and start a life together in Sam’s sleepy hometown in upstate New York. Or, it turns out, a life where Annie spends most of her time alone while Sam, her therapist husband, works long hours in his downstairs office, tending to the egos of his (mostly female) clientele.

Little does Sam know that through a vent in his ceiling, every word of his sessions can be heard from the room upstairs. The pharmacist’s wife, contemplating a divorce. The well-known painter whose boyfriend doesn’t satisfy her in bed. Who could resist listening? Everything is fine until the French girl in the green mini Cooper shows up, and Sam decides to go to work and not come home, throwing a wrench into Sam and Annie’s happily ever after.

MY THOUGHTS: I made this comment when I was 38% through Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy, ‘OMG! This is like a packet of chocolate biscuits. You just can’t stop at one!’ Only it’s not like a packet of chocolate biscuits, it’s like a box of your favourite chocolates. An endless box….

I read Goodnight Beautiful voraciously. I devoured it, and licked my fingers afterwards. This is a cleverly plotted and addictive read. I read it every moment I could, and many when I shouldn’t have.

Goodnight Beautiful is a true psychological thriller. I am not going to recap the plot, or talk about the characters. I read the synopsis back in September 2020 when I requested the ARC. I didn’t reread it before I started reading, and I recommend you do the same. The twists and turns will knock you for six, so clear your day and settle down to read this in one session.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.8

#GoodnightBeautiful #NetGalley #aimeemolloy718 #hodderstoughton

@aimeenmolloy @hodderbooks

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #crime #psychologicalthriller #suspense

THE AUTHOR: Aimee Molloy is a New York Times bestselling author of several books such as: However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph. She is also the co-author of many non-fiction books like Jantsen’s Gift and The Perfect Mother.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay

EXCERPT: They found the bodies on a Tuesday. Two days after the family had missed their flight home. Six days after all texts and social media had gone dark. The last post was a selfie saying they’d arrived in Mexico: the dad and mom making exaggerated duck faces, the teenage girl pink-cheeked and mortified, the little boy wearing plastic sunglasses and a gap-toothed smile.

The rental wasn’t beachfront. It was off the beaten path, a small structure at the end of an unpaved alleyway, carved into a patch of roadside jungle in Tulum. The smell hit the local cop in the face when the property manager opened the front door. The maid hired to clean up after departing guests was sitting on the cement stoop, her hands working a string of rosary beads, her face streaked with tears.

The place was sweltering.

And filled with the buzz of flies.

ABOUT ‘EVERY LAST FEAR’: After a late night of partying, NYU student Matt Pine returns to his dorm room to devastating news: nearly his entire family—his mom, his dad, his little brother and sister—have been found dead from an apparent gas leak while vacationing in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI and State Department seem far less certain—and they won’t tell Matt why.

The tragedy makes headlines everywhere because this isn’t the first time the Pine family has been thrust into the media spotlight. Matt’s older brother, Danny—currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his teenage girlfriend Charlotte—was the subject of a viral true crime documentary suggesting that Danny was wrongfully convicted. Though the country has rallied behind Danny, Matt holds a secret about his brother that he’s never told anyone: the night Charlotte was killed Matt saw something that makes him believe his brother is guilty of the crime.

When Matt returns to his small hometown to bury his parents and siblings, he’s faced with a hostile community that was villainized by the documentary, a frenzied media, and memories he’d hoped to leave behind forever. Now, as the deaths in Mexico appear increasingly suspicious and connected to Danny’s case, Matt must unearth the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison—putting his own life in peril—and forcing him to confront his every last fear.

MY THOUGHTS: Every Last Fear is a book that deserves to be read in one intense breathless supercar paced sitting. I couldn’t do that and it was frustrating. It is a book that demands to be read this way. It needs to be read this way.

Every Last Fear is a thrilling read. It is suspenseful. The characters are realistic and relatable. The plot driven and well developed. It ticks all my boxes! BUT I wouldn’t label this a ‘psychological’ thriller. A crime thriller – yes.

The story is told in the present from the points of view of Matt and FBI agent Keller, and in the past from Evan, Olivia and Maggie. Yet despite the multiple points of view and time lines, it never gets confusing or loses its focus.

There are layers of intrigue, from the initial bungled investigation to the multiple cover ups. But still the author had me wondering at times if Danny had indeed killed Charlotte. And if he didn’t, then who did? Who killed the Pine family? Who is trying to kill Matt? And why? What doesn’t he know that he knows?

Every Last Fear is an extremely satisfying read. It is a
riveting mystery, with bucket loads of suspense and thrilling twists leading to an ending I had never envisaged.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.8

#EveryLastFear #NetGalley
I: #headofzeus #ariaandaries #alexfinlayauthor
T: @HoZ_Books @Aria_Fiction @AriesFiction

#fivestarread #crime #thriller #suspense

THE AUTHOR: Alex Finlay is the pseudonym of an author who lives in Washington, D.C. Born in Opelika, Alabama, Alex’s formative years were spent traversing the globe, from a tropical island in the Pacific to a small village in the UK to a remote region in the Far East. But it was on a vacation in Tulum, Mexico that Alex was inspired to write Every Last Fear. (Amazon)

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Head of Zeus, Aria and Aries, via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

A Caller’s Game by J.D. Barker

EXCERPT: ‘I asked if you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night and wondered if this is it. If today is the day you’ll die. And if it was, if you could be absolutely certain of that, how would you live out the rest of the day?’

‘Are you threatening me, Bernie? I thought we were friends.’

‘No, of course not. Like I said, I’m just making conversation’

Jordan sighed. ‘Well, I’m getting bored, and I don’t do bored.’ Her finger hovered over the disconnect button. She studied the list of callers on her second monitor.

‘All this talk, and we nearly forgot the game,’ Bernie said softly. ‘Don’t you want to play with me?’

ABOUT ‘A CALLER’S GAME’: “I’m going to offer you a choice.”

Controversial satellite radio talk show host, Jordan Briggs, has clawed her way to the top of the broadcast world. She doesn’t hold back, doesn’t spare feelings, and has no trouble sharing what’s on her mind. Her rigorous pursuit of success has come at a price, though. Her marriage is in ruins, she hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, and she’s distanced herself from all those close to her. If not for her young daughter, Charlotte, her personal life would be in complete shambles.

When a subdued man calls into the show and asks to play a game, she sees it as nothing more than a way to kick-start the morning, breathe life into the beginnings of drive-time for her listeners. Against her producer’s advice, she agrees, and unwittingly opens a door to the past.

Live on the air with an audience of millions, what starts out as a game quickly turns deadly—events long thought buried resurface and Jordan Briggs is forced to reconcile with one simple fact—All decisions have consequences.

MY THOUGHTS: J.D. Barker would have to be the best crime thriller writer out there.

Having said that I detest ‘shoot them/blow them up’ books and movies, usually because any vestige of a plot they may have is simply a vehicle for mindless violence. Barker has turned that belief on its head.

I was hooked from the beginning. A Caller’s Game is a breathless, heart-pounding, runaway train wreck of a read and I loved it. The plot is devious and clever, the pace warp speed 9.9. The characters are magnificently depicted. Some you will love, some you will hate, and some will shock you. I still have nail marks in the palms of my hands over Charlotte!

And the twists! Diabolical and totally unexpected.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes, the full five stars!

#ACallersGame #NetGalley @jdbarker_author @jdbarker
#hamptoncreekpress

#fivestarread #crime #detectivefiction #suspense #thriller

THE AUTHOR: A note from J.D.
As a child I was always told the dark could not hurt me, that the shadows creeping in the corners of my room were nothing more than just that, shadows. The sounds nothing more than the settling of our old home, creaking as it found comfort in the earth only to move again when it became restless, if ever so slightly. I would never sleep without closing the closet door, oh no; the door had to be shut tight. The darkness lurking inside needed to be held at bay, the whispers silenced. Rest would only come after I checked under the bed at least twice and quickly wrapped myself in the safety of the sheets (which no monster could penetrate), pulling them tight over my head.

I would never go down to the basement.

Never.

I had seen enough movies to know better, I had read enough stories to know what happens to little boys who wandered off into dark, dismal places alone. And there were stories, so many stories.

Reading was my sanctuary, a place where I could disappear for hours at a time, lost in the pages of a good book. It didn’t take long before I felt the urge to create my own.

I first began to write as a child, spinning tales of ghosts and gremlins, mystical places and people. For most of us, that’s where it begins—as children we have such wonderful imaginations, some of us have simply found it hard to grow up. I’ve spent countless hours trying to explain to friends and family why I enjoy it, why I would rather lock myself in a quiet little room and put pen to paper for hours at a time than throw around a baseball or simply watch television. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I want to do just that, sometimes I wish for it, but even then the need to write is always there in the back of my mind, the characters are impatiently tapping their feet, waiting their turn, wanting to be heard. I wake in the middle of the night and reach for the pad beside my bed, sometimes scrawling page after page of their words, their lives. Then they’re quiet, if only for a little while. To stop would mean madness, or even worse—the calm, numbing sanity I see in others as they slip through the day without purpose. They don’t know what it’s like, they don’t understand. Something as simple as a pencil can open the door to a new world, can create life or experience death. Writing can take you to places you’ve never been, introduce you to people you’ve never met, take you back to when you first saw those shadows in your room, when you first heard the sounds mumbling ever so softly from your closet, and it can show you what uttered them. It can scare the hell out of you, and that’s when you know it’s good.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Hampton Creek Press (IBPA) via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of A Caller’s Game by J.D. Barker 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

We Are Not in The World by Connor O’Callaghan

Happy publication day for February 18 2021 to Connor O’Callaghan, Random House UK, Transworld Publishing, Doubleday for this wonderful book!

EXCERPT: Whither the plan, big guy?

She knows I hate her calling me that. I won’t rise to her bait.

Short term? We wend our merry way out of this particular circle of hell, ideally without being stopped. Thereafter we hit the northern rim of Paris before sundown, check in with Carl at some pre-ordained routier. Thereafter egg, chips, bed. Long term? The two of us on the road, with only the occasional incoming or outgoing text to maintain radio contact and to stave off all search parties.

Roger Wilco, she says. Six days?

Six days minimum.

Meaning?

We may investigate the possibility of stringing it out. Not a dicky bird.

Seriously? she says. She stares bewildered into middle distance. Who am I gonna tell?

Your mom?

You really worry me, she says quietly. You know that?

I know nothing.

ABOUT THIS BOOK: Heartbroken after a long, painful love affair, a man drives a haulage lorry from England to France. Travelling with him is a secret passenger – his daughter. Twenty-something, unkempt, off the rails.
With a week on the road together, father and daughter must restore themselves and each other, and repair a relationship that is at once fiercely loving and deeply scarred.
As they journey south, down the motorways, through the service stations, a devastating picture reveals itself: a story of grief, of shame, and of love in all its complex, dark and glorious manifestations.

MY THOUGHTS: I made the comment, part way through We Are Not In The World by Connor O’Callaghan, that this is an incredibly strange book, but equally compelling. As the novel progresses and the purpose of the journey becomes clearer, it becomes a little less strange, but no less compelling.

This is not an easy read. O’Callaghan makes the reader work for his enjoyment. The narrative meanders backwards and forwards in time seemingly randomly and totally without warning. It is often difficult to tell what is happening to whom. It can be like trying to watch a drive-in movie in shifting fog. Just when you think you have a handle on something, that you are able to grip something solid, it all shifts, and you are once again quite unsure of that of which you were absolutely sure only moments ago. And yet, it is quite beautiful. I could no more have stopped reading than not have preordered the new Stephen King.

Paddy (NOT Pat) has grown up the elder son in a dysfunctional family. His father is dead, and his younger brother, Art, named for his father- usually the privilege that falls to the eldest- is educated at his father’s old boarding school. Paddy basically brings himself up, his mother spending her days smoking and drinking whisky in front of an endless stream of old movies on the TV. And yet, it is after his mother that Paddy names his daughter, Kitty. And Art, the distant younger brother, is her godfather. She calls him The Godfather, and he calls her Madam. They are close. He takes her under his wing when Paddy’s marriage implodes.

This is a novel of grief and loss, a broken marriage, a love affair, family relationships, regrets and aspirations, and ‘the thing we never mention.’ It is this thing that leads to the road trip.

Not everyone will love this book. I do.

❤❤❤❤.5

#WeAreNotInTheWorld #NetGalley

Time does what time does best. It passes.

She tells me, with all the joie de vivre of a stoned hippopotamus, how moved or excited she is.

The lyrics seem to detach themselves miraculously from any meaning and acquire, in fragrant humidity, all the sheen and substance of bubbles blown by a child in a suburban garden.

So much of love is how another sees you.

Happiness comes and goes. It tends not to hang around. Unhappiness has a habit of outstaying its welcome.

THE AUTHOR: Connor O’Callaghan is originally from Dundalk, and now divides his time between Dublin and the North of England.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld, Doubleday via NetGalley for providing a digital ARC of We Are Not In The World by Connor O’Callaghan 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon,Instagram and Goodreads.com

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

Happy publication day for The Sanatorium, written by Sarah Pearse, published by Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press 18 February 2021

EXCERPT: She closes her eyes and hears echoed threats.

‘Only babies tell, and you’re a baby.’

‘Tell tell tit, your tongue will split.’

Her head is throbbing.

‘Do that again and I’ll kill you.’

ABOUT ‘THE SANITORIUM’:
EVERYONE’S IN DANGER. ANYONE COULD BE NEXT.

An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother’s recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it’s beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous – as does her brother, Isaac.

And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancée Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin’s unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

But no-one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they’re all in . . .

MY THOUGHTS: An exciting read that left me breathless. It is spine-tingling and raised those little hairs on the back of my neck in places.

The Sanitorium is a stunning debut novel by Sarah Pearse that cleverly leaves the way open for a sequel. I can’t wait!

It is an atmospheric, chilling, twisty read set during a blizzard in a hotel in the Swiss Alps. A modern locked room mystery that incorporates horrific historic murders with the present day ones. The setting is creepy in a modernistic minimalist way, incorporating old subterranean parts of the original Sanitorium that was converted into a luxury hotel.

The characters are magnificent and entirely plausible. I really didn’t like Elin at the beginning, but as she developed and came into her own, she grew on me. She is uncomfortable in her own skin, prone to panic attacks, and on extended leave from the police force following something that went terribly wrong on her last case. Her brother Isaac, I didn’t warm to at all, but I adored Will, Elin’s ‘boyfriend’, and often felt miffed with Elin for the way she treated him. Isaac’s girlfriend Laure, is a bit of a mystery. She and Elin were childhood friends whose relationship came to an abrupt end. She comes across as very self-confident, but there are secrets lurking there too. Elin and Isaac have grown apart over the years following their younger brother Sam’s death and, despite being at the hotel to celebrate Isaac and Laure’s engagement, there is a palpable tension between them.

There is also a tension between another brother and sister, Lucas and Cécile. Lucas owns the hotel, and his sister works for him. There is a history between Lucas and Laure.

So we have:

Complicated family relationships

Family secrets

Stunning scenery (obliterated by a blizzard, but)

A modern hotel built on a creepy past

No way in our out, so the murderer must still be there

A limited pool of suspects

Twists aplenty

I had no idea who was behind the murders, yet thinking back, the author has left a little trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. I was too busy avidly flipping pages and devouring the words on them to pick up her occasional clues.

I loved this read. There was only one point, almost at the end, when my belief wavered a little, but only momentarily. I had a wonderful time reading The Sanitorium and, honestly, I could go back and read it all over again.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.8

#TheSanatorium #NetGalley @SarahVPearse @sarahpearseauthor

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #familydrama #murdermystery #suspense #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Sarah Pearse lives by the sea in South Devon with her husband and two daughters. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick and worked in Brand PR for a variety of household brands. After moving to Switzerland in her twenties, she spent every spare moment exploring the mountains and the Swiss Alpine town of Crans Montana, the dramatic setting that inspired her novel.

Sarah has always been drawn to the dark and creepy – remote spaces and abandoned places – so when she read an article in a local Swiss magazine about the history of sanatoriums in the area, she knew she’d found the spark of the idea for her debut novel, The Sanatorium.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Sanitorium by Sarah Pearse 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW BY A.J. FINN

EXCERPT: With a tumbler in one hand and the Nikon in the other, I settle down in the corner of my study, cupped between the south and west windows, and survey the neighbourhood – inventory check, Ed likes to say. There’s Rita Miller, returning from yoga, bright with sweat, a cell phone stuck to one ear. I adjust the lens and zoom in: she’s smiling. I wonder if it’s her contractor on the other end. Or her husband. Or neither.

Next door, outside 214, Mrs Wasserman and her Henry pick their way down the front steps. Off to spread sweetness and light.

I swing my camera west: two pedestrians loiter outside the double-wide, one of them pointing at the shutters. ‘Good bones,’ I imagine him saying.

God. I’m inventing conversations now.

Cautiously, as though I don’t want to be caught – and indeed I don’t – I slide my sights across the park, over to the Russells’. The kitchen is dim and vacant, its blinds partly down, like half-shut eyes; but one floor up, in the parlour, captured neatly within the window, I spot Jane and Ethan on a candy-striped loveseat. She wears a butter yellow sweater that exposes a terse slit of cleavage; her locket dangles there, a mountaineer above a gorge.

I twist the lens; the image sharpens. She’s speaking quickly, teeth bared in a grin, her hands in a flurry. His eyes are on his lap,but that shy smile skews his lips.

I haven’t mentioned the Russells to Dr Fielding. I know what he’ll say; I can analyse myself: I’ve located in this nuclear unit – this mother, this father, their only child – an echo of my own. One house away, one door down, there’s the family I had, the life that was mine – a life thought lost, irretrievably, except there it is, right across the park. ‘So what?’ I think. Maybe I say it; these days I’m not sure. I sip my wine, wipe my lip, raise the Nikon again. Look through the lens.

She’s looking back at me.

I drop the camera in my lap.

No mistake: even with my naked eye, I can clearly see her level gaze, her parted lips.

She raises a hand, waves it.

I want to hide.

ABOUT ‘THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW’: Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

MY THOUGHTS: The Woman in the Window is everything a psychological thriller should be. It is gripping. It is unpredictable. Amazing. Riveting. Twisty. Compelling. Dark. Exciting. Creepy. This is my new benchmark for psychological thrillers. Every one I read from now on will be measured against The Woman in the Window.

I danced around the room more than once because I was just so excited at how good this book is. I found myself holding my breath, more than once. The writing is so good that I felt like I was in that house with Anna, her shadow, watching her as she watched everyone else. I loved the characters, every damned one of them. And the ending is brilliant!

If you haven’t read this yet, and I am only three years and twenty odd days behind the eight ball with this, read it. It lives up to all the hype. In fact, it far exceeded all my expectations.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (I need more stars!)

THE AUTHOR: A.J. Finn, pseudonym for Daniel Mallory, has written for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement (UK). A native of New York, Finn lived in England for ten years as a book editor before returning to New York City.

DISCLOSURE: I own my copy of The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, published by Harper Collins. This is the second book I have read this year that is going on my ‘keep forever/save from fire’ shelf. 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Exit by Belinda Bauer

EXCERPT: In the front bedroom an old man was leaning out of a bed by the window, trying to reach a walking stick that had apparently fallen on to the wooden floor. He propped himself on an elbow, glared at Felix and grumbled:
‘You took your time!’

Felix froze.

Took in the gaunt grey face, the frail body, the bedside table filled with pills . . .

Then he stepped backwards out of the room and pulled the door smartly shut behind him.

Amanda was at his shoulder now. ‘What is it?’ she said, but Felix couldn’t speak because all the words he’d ever known seemed to be whirling round inside his skull like bingo balls.

The ones he needed finally dropped slowly from his numb lips.

‘We killed the wrong man.’

ABOUT ‘EXIT’: IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE MURDER …Pensioner Felix Pink is about to find out that it’s never too late … for life to go horribly wrong.

When Felix lets himself in to Number 3 Black Lane, he’s there to perform an act of kindness and charity: to keep a dying man company as he takes his final breath … But just fifteen minutes later Felix is on the run from the police – after making the biggest mistake of his life.
Now his routine world is turned upside down as he tries to discover what went wrong, while staying one step ahead of the law.

MY THOUGHTS: Belinda Bauer’s books always take me by surprise. Exit starts out as a gentle slow burn then veers off in directions I could never have foreseen.

I love Bauer’s characters . . . they just jump right off the page, they are so realistic. The main two characters are Felix, a seventy-five year old widower who became an Exiteer after his son died of cancer, then his wife of dementia. The second main character is policeman Calvin Bridge who suffers from a lack of confidence, exacerbated by his wife leaving him. Neither of these characters have gotten over their losses, and both are vulnerable.

Bauer injects the subject of assisted dying with wit and humour, but doesn’t lessen the gravity of the subject at all. She cleverly presents both sides of the argument wrapped up in a heartrending and heartwarming story that could almost be called a comedy of errors. I both laughed and cried during this read.

This is one of those stories that grew on me as I read and became embroiled in the characters lives. Bauer has written an entertaining piece of crime fiction that also poses a moral dilemma.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

#Exit #NetGalley

#contemporaryfiction #crime #mystery

THE AUTHOR: Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa. She has worked as a journalist and screenwriter, and now lives in Wales.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press, for providing a digital ARC of Exit by Belinda Bauer 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com

Family by Owen Mullen

HAPPY PUBLICATION DAY!! January 2021, to author Owen Mullen and publisher Boldwood Books

Photo by Anna-Louise on Pexels.com

EXCERPT: There was no warning. The car left the road, lifted by the force of the blast. Pieces of metal and glass ripped through a bus queue waiting for the 185 to Victoria. In that moment lives were irrevocably changed: people fell to the ground, blood pouring from wounds they hadn’t had a second ago; the windscreen of a Vectra coming in the opposite direction shattered, blinding the driver, who lost control and ploughed into a West Indian fruit and veg shop, crushing a teenage assistant at the beginning of only her second day on the job; on the pavement, a man in his thirties hurrying to the beat from his iPod suddenly collapsed, his leg severed at the knee.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, silence hung in the smoke, then the full horror hit, people with blood on their faces screamed and ran and burst into tears. Sam lay in the gutter, undamaged apart from a patch of singed fur. The device had been hidden under the driver’s seat so the new guy didn’t exist any more.

Cheryl and Rebecca Glass died without knowing it.

ABOUT ‘FAMILY’: Family – might be the death of you…
The Glass family business is crime, and they’re good at what they do. Vengeance took Luke Glass behind bars – but now he’s free and he’s never going back. Luke wants out of the gangster life – all he has to do is convince his family to let him go.

His brother holds the reins of the South London underworld in his brutal hands – nobody tells Danny Glass no and expects to live – not even DCI Oliver Stanford, bent copper and one of the Met’s rising stars. The way Danny sees it, his younger brother and sister Nina owe him everything. The price he demands is loyalty, and a war with their arch enemy gives him the leverage he needs to tie Luke to the family once more.

Luke can’t see a way out, until Danny commits a crime so terrible it can’t be forgiven. Love turns to hate when secrets are unearthed which pit brother against brother. Left with no choice but to choose a side, Nina holds the fate of the family in her hands.

MY THOUGHTS: I have read everything that Owen Mullen has written to date and have loved every word of every book. Family is no exception.

I approached Family with trepidation. Organised crime and gang warfare are not my thing. But once started, I couldn’t put this down, and read it overnight. My day didn’t start until I had turned the last page, sighing with regret that it was finished. I hadn’t expected to get so immersed in the lives of this family.

Mullen has created a superb cast of characters, from the cruel and manipulative Danny, scion of the Glass family, to Luke the younger brother who has spent nearly a decade in jail for a revenge killing, to Nina, their sister who, although she never wanted it, is part of their organisation. There are bent cops, a greedy accountant, a reluctant prostitute, and a rival gang who cause more than a few problems for Danny, who becomes an unwitting and unwilling YouTube star.

This is a gritty, gripping gangland crime thriller and, honestly?, I hope there’s more to come.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#Family #crimethriller #gangland

THE AUTHOR: Owen Mullen graduated from Strathclyde University, moved to London and worked as a rock musician, session singer and songwriter, and had a hit record in Japan with a band he refuses to name; Owen still loves to perform on occasion. His great love for travel has taken him on many adventures from the Amazon and Africa to the colourful continent of India and Nepal. A gregarious recluse, he and his wife, Christine, split their time between Glasgow, and their home away from home in the Greek Islands where all of his crime thrillers were created.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to author Owen Mullen for providing a digital ARC of Family, published by Boldwood Books 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and my Goodreads.com

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

EXCERPT: The track eventually led to the town of Balamara – a single street, really – which catered loosely for a scattered population that could almost fit into one large room when gathered together. Fifteen hundred kilometres further east lay Brisbane and the coast.

At scheduled times during the year, the sky above the stockman’s grave would vibrate with the roar of a helicopter. The pilots worked the land from the air, using noise and movement to herd cattle over distances the size of small European countries. For now, though, the sky loomed empty and large.

Later – too late – a helicopter would fly over, deliberately low and slow. The pilot would spot the car first, with its hot metal winking. The grave, some distance away, would draw his attention only by chance as he circled around and back in search of a suitable landing site.

The pilot would not see the dust circle. It was the flash of blue material against the red ground that would catch his eye. A work shirt, unbuttoned and partially removed. The temperature the past few days had hit forty-five degrees at the afternoon peak. The exposed skin was sun-cracked.

Later, those on the ground would see the thick and thin marks in the dust and would fix their eyes on the distant horizon, trying not to think about how they had been made.

The headstone threw a small shadow. It was the only shade in sight and its blackness was slippery, swelling and shrinking as it ticked around like a sundial. The man had crawled, then dragged himself as it moved. He had squeezed into that shade, contorting his body into desperate shapes, kicking and scuffing the ground as fear and thirst took hold.

He had a brief respite as night fell, before the sun rose and the terrible rotation started again. It didn’t last as long on the second day, as the sun moved higher in the sky. The man had tried though. He had chased the shade until he couldn’t any more.

The circle in the dust fell just short of one full revolution. Just short of twenty-four hours. And then, at last, the stockman finally had company, as the earth turned and the shadow moved on alone, and the man lay still in the centre of a dusty grave under a monstrous sky.

ABOUT ‘THE LOST MAN’: Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland. They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

MY THOUGHTS: I cried several times during this read, tears slipping silently down my face as my heart broke with grief for this fractured family. Liz, family matriarch, lost her husband, Carl, some years ago. A hard, unforgiving man, he was not greatly missed by his family.

Nathan, eldest son, lost his wife Jacqui. She took off to Brisbane with their son Xander, blithely ignoring the custody agreement and almost breaking Nathan both emotionally and financially as he fights for access to his son. He has also lost the support of the locals, effectively isolating him. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to leave for both financial and practical reasons, and although at times he hates the place, sometimes, quite a lot of the time, he feels connected to the outback in a way he loves.

Then golden boy Cameron is found dead miles from where he ought to be. What was he doing there and why is his car, full of life-saving water and supplies, almost ten kilometres away? He leaves behind a wife, Isle, and two daughters.

Bub is the youngest son, the one who has never really fitted in, never been thought of as up to much, never given any say or real responsibility.

Harry Bledsloe, ‘Uncle Harry’, though not actually any blood relation, has worked on the three and a half thousand square kilometre Burley Downs since before any of the boys were born.

Simon and Katy are the latest in a string of backpackers employed at the station to help out – Katy around the house and with the girls schooling, and Simon wherever he’s needed. But Sophie, the elder of Cam and Isle’s two girls doesn’t believe they are who they say they are. And why was Jenna Moore, from Cameron’s distant past, suddenly trying to contact him?

The Lost Man, in my opinion, is the best book that Jane Harper has written to date, and I have now read them all. She has captured the isolation, not only the physical but the mental, of living in the outback where your closest neighbour may be three hours away. Not only has she captured the landscape, but the people who inhabit it, their secrets, their grudges, and their loyalty. She slowly reveals family tensions and secrets that turn what we think we know about these people on its head, culminating in a heartwrenching denouement.

This was a library book, but I am going to buy my own copy. This is a book that I will want to read again and that has earned a place on my ‘forever’ shelf.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

THE AUTHOR: Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK, and now lives in Melbourne. This is her third novel.

DISCLOSURE: I borrowed my copy of The Lost Man by Jane Harper and published by Pan Macmillan Australia from the Waitomo District Library. 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 and others are also published on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.com