Smoke and Mirrors (The Brighton Mysteries #2) by Elly Griffiths

This was a catch up on my backlist read as Smoke and Mirrors was the only book in the Brighton Mysteries series that I hadn’t read.

EXCERPT: Stan entered stage left. Of course he did; he was the villain. Villains always enter from the left, the good fairy from the right. It’s the first law of pantomime. But, in this case, Stan Parks (the Wicked Baron) came running onto the stage in answer to a scream from Alice Dean (Robin Hood). He came quickly because Alice was not normally given to screaming. Even when Stan had tried to kiss her behind the flat depicting Sherwood Forest she hadn’t screamed; instead she had simply delivered an efficient uppercut that had left him winded for hours. So he responded to the sound, in his haste falling over two giant toadstools and a stuffed fox.

The stage was in semi-darkness, some of the scenery still covered in dustsheets. At first Stan could only make out shapes, bulky and somehow ominous, and then he saw Alice, kneeling centre stage, wearing a dressing gown over her Principal Boy tights. She was still screaming, a sound that seemed to get louder and louder until it reached right up to the gods and the empty boxes. Opposite her something swung to and fro, casting a monstrous shadow on the painted forest.

Stan stopped, suddenly afraid to go any further. Alice stopped screaming and Stan heard her say something that sounded like ‘please’ and ‘no’. He stepped forward. The swinging object was a bower, a kind of basket chair, where the Babes in the Wood were meant to shelter before being covered with leaves by mechanical robins (a striking theatrical effect). The bower should have been empty because the Babes didn’t rehearse in the afternoon. But, as Stan got closer, he saw that it was full of something heavy, something that tilted it over to one side. Stan touched the basket, suddenly afraid of it’s awful, sagging weight. But he saw Betsy Bunning, the fifteen-year-old girl who was playing the female Babe. She lay half in, half out of the swinging chair. Her throat had been cut and the blood had soaked through her white dress and was dripping heavily onto the boards.

It was odd. Later, Stan would go through two world wars, see sights guaranteed to turn any man’s blood to ice, but nothing ever disturbed him quite as much as the child in the wicker bower, the blood on the stage and the screams of the Principal Boy.

ABOUT ‘SMOKE AND MIRRORS’: Brighton, winter 1951.

Pantomime season is in full swing on the pier with Max Mephisto starring in Aladdin, but Max’s headlines have been stolen by the disappearance of two local children. When they are found dead in the snow, surrounded by sweets, it’s not long before the press nickname them ‘Hansel and Gretel’.

DI Edgar Stephens has plenty of leads to investigate. The girl, Annie, used to write gruesome plays based on the Grimms’ fairy tales. Does the clue lie in Annie’s unfinished – and rather disturbing – last script? Or might it lie with the eccentric theatricals who have assembled for the pantomime?

For Stan (aka the Great Diablo), who’s also appearing in Aladdin, the case raises more personal memories. Back before the Great War, he witnessed the murder of a young girl while he was starring in another show, an event which has eerie parallels to the current case.

Once again Edgar enlists Max’s help in penetrating the shadowy theatrical world that seems to hold the key. But with both distracted by their own personal problems, neither can afford to miss a trick. For Annie and her friend, time is running out…

MY THOUGHTS: This is the only book in the Brighton Mysteries series that I hadn’t read, so I was excited to stumble upon it on my Kindle when I was searching for something else, and started it immediately. I don’t know how I missed it originally, but apologies to both author and publisher for the tardiness of my review.

I have loved this entire series and Smoke and Mirrors, #2 in the series, is no exception. Set in Brighton, 1951 in the pantomime season in the lead up to Christmas, there is a definite similarity between the current murder and one which occurred of a pantomime cast member in Hastings in 1912. Some of the same pantomime cast members are even on hand.

Smoke and Mirrors is a deliciously twisty mystery with a tremendous range of red herrings and some sharp detective work from DI Edgar Stephens and Sergeant Emma Holmes. As always Elly Griffiths has created a charming but sinister atmosphere in which she sets her story. Two children have literally vanished into thin air, one of whom writes macabre and violent tales, and several characters associated with the children who are perhaps more than they seem combine to produce a clever, engaging and gripping story of magic and muder that had me reading through the night. My suspicions swung wildly from one character to another but never actually alit on the actual murderer.

The children, both the missing and the present, are the stars of this tale. The precocious and imaginative Annie, her friend and acolyte Mark, her younger sister Betty, apparently even more intelligent and imaginative than her older sister, and Richard who loves and admires his sisters provide much entertainment and speculation.

A ripping good murder mystery.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#SmokeandMirrors #NetGalley

: @ellygriffiths17 @quercusbooks

T: @ellygriffiths @QuercusBooks

#fivestarread #crime #historicalfiction #murdermystery #policeprocedural #detectivefiction

THE AUTHOR: Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels take for their inspiration Elly’s husband, who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist, and her aunt who lives on the Norfolk coast and who filled her niece’s head with the myths and legends of that area. Elly has two children and lives near Brighton.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Quercus Books via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths 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

One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

EXCERPT: I peeped through the small window in the Rose Room door, and saw Pippa holding a piece of paper up to an elderly audience of three. She pointed her finger to the edge of the canvas and swooped her hand down in a sweeping motion. When she had finished talking, she put down the paper, and it was then she waved and beckoned for me to go in.

I shuffled in, feeling the eyes of the room on me and my pink pyjamas. I should have gone for my Sunday best slippers.

‘Lenni, hi!’

‘Hi, Pippa.’

‘What brings you here?’

I struggled to think how to phrase exactly what had brought me here. A long dead man and his unequally loved sons. A fish. A priest. An itching to do anything other than mind white water rafting. . . None of those made enough sense to verbalize in front of a geriatric audience.

‘Fancy doing some painting?’ she asked.

I nodded.

‘Pull up a seat and I’ll bring you some paper. The theme this week is stars.’

I turned to find somewhere to sit and there she was. Sitting all alone on the table at the back. Her hair catching the sunlight and shining like a ten pence piece, her cardigan a deep shade of purple and her eyes set on the paper in front of her, on which she was sketching with a nubbin of charcoal. The mauve miscreant, the periwinkle perpetrator. The old lady who stole something from the bin.

‘It’s you!’ I said.

She looked up from her drawing and stared at me for the briefest of moments, letting me come into focus. Then, with recognition and delight, said, ‘It’s you!’

ABOUT ‘THE ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF LENNI AND MARGOT’: Life is short. No-one knows that better than seventeen year old Lenni living on the terminal ward. But as she is about to learn, it’s not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with.

Dodging doctor’s orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eighty three year old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realize that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years.

To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything.

As their extraordinary friendship deepens, it becomes vividly clear that life is not done with Lenni and Margot yet.

MY THOUGHTS: “Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” – Sarah Williams, The Old Astronomer to his Pupil.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot melted my heart. For a book about death and dying, it is full of love, life and joy. I cried buckets. I laughed – snorting coffee laughter.

The paintings of Lenni and Margot are accompanied by stories that provide snapshots of their lives. From Lenni we learn of her first and only kiss, her alcoholic mother, and the father she sends away. We learn of Margot’s marriage, and her husband’s abandonment of her following the death of their infant son; of Meena, the woman who saved her; of Humphrey who fostered Margot’s love of the stars and which she passes on to Lenni. One of the most beautiful moments in this book for me was when Margot takes Lenni outside the hospital to look at the stars:
‘I find it so peaceful,’ Margot told me after a while.
‘Me too.’
‘Do you know,’ she said slowly, ‘that the stars that we see the clearest are already dead?’
‘Well, that’s depressing.’ I took my hand from hers.
‘No,’ she said gently, linking her arm through mine, ‘it’s not depressing, it’s beautiful. They’ve been gone for who knows how long, but we can still see them. They live on.’
They live on.

I am not going to say anything else about this wonderful book other than it you haven’t yet read it, then please do. It is funny, and sad, and tragically beautiful. A book that is going on my ‘forever’ shelf. A book that contains lessons for us all, ones that most of us never knew we needed.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#TheOneHundredYearsofLenniandMargot

I: @itsmariannecronin @randomhouseuk

T: @itsmcronin @RandomHouseUK

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #deathanddying #sliceoflife

THE AUTHOR: Marianne was born in 1990 in Warwickshire, England. She studied English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Birmingham. She now spends most of her time writing with her rescue cat, Puffin, sleeping under her desk.

Her debut novel ‘The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot’ took seven years to write. It is to be published in over twenty languages and is being adapted into a feature film by a major Hollywood studio.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Doubleday, via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot 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 Road Leads Back (Stonehill #1) by Marci Bolden

EXCERPT: She stared at him as realization started to weave its way through her oncoming buzz. He hadn’t responded to her letters because he hadn’t received her letters. And if he hadn’t received the letters, he hadn’t sent her money. And if he hadn’t sent her money, he hadn’t known that she needed it. Sighing, she let some of her decades old anger slip. Her head spun, either from the alcohol or the blurry dots she was trying to mentally connect. Leaning into the bar, she exhaled slowly. ‘They never told you, did they?’

‘Who? Told me what? What are you talking about?’

Kara couldn’t speak. Her words wouldn’t form.

Someone wrapped an arm around Kara’s shoulder, startling her and making her gasp quietly. She turned and blinked several times at the man who had just slid next to her.

‘Sorry to interrupt,’ he said, ‘but I need to get home.’ Leaning in, he kissed her head. ‘Congratulations on the opening, Mom. It was great.’

‘Ummm . . .’ She swallowed, desperate to find her voice. ‘Thank you, sweetheart.’ She flicked her gaze at the man sitting next to her. The longer Harry looked at her son, the wider Harry’s eyes became.

Phil cast a disapproving glance at Harry, the way he always did when assessing a man who might distract her from her responsibilities, and then focused on her again. ‘Don’t forget that Jess is expecting you to make pancakes in the morning. You promised.’

‘I haven’t forgotten.’ Kara returned her attention to Harry. His jaw was slack and his cheeks had grown pale.

Phil nodded at Harry, as if he were satisfied that he’d made his point that his mother didn’t need to stay out all night, and walked away. Harry watched him leave while Kara waved down the bartender and pointed at her glass. The tattooed kid hesitated, likely debating the ethics of giving her another shot. She pointed again, cocking a brow for emphasis, and he finally filled her glass.

‘Kara … ‘ Harry’s voice was breathless, like he’d been kicked in the gut. ‘Was … was that my … son?’

No. His mother definitely hadn’t given him the letters Kara had written. She lifted her shot, toasting him. ‘Congratulations, Harry. It’s a boy.’

ABOUT ‘THE ROAD LEADS HOME’: Kara Martinson and Harry Canton weren’t exactly high school sweethearts, but they did share one night neither will ever forget. Twenty-seven years later, Harry surprises Kara at an art gallery opening and discovers he left her with more than just memories when he went away to college. Desperate to connect with the family he never knew existed, Harry convinces his son to move to Stonehill—and pleads with Kara to come, too.

Kara hasn’t stepped foot in their hometown since the day she was sent away to a home for unwed mothers. Now Harry’s back in her life and as they put together the pieces of his parents’ betrayal, old heartaches start to feel anew. She wants to be near her family, but returning to Iowa means facing some things…and some people…she isn’t quite ready to.

Can Harry convince her to forgive those who betrayed her so they can embrace the future they were robbed of so long ago? Or will the pain of the past be too much for Kara to overcome?

MY THOUGHTS: The Road Leads Back by Marci Bolden is the first ever romance book I have given 5 stars. I picked it up, started reading and by the end of the first chapter I was absolutely smitten. This is not just a romance – it is so much more – family dynamics, second chances, love, and living with disability.

I have read and loved Marci Bolden’s books previously, but The Road Leads Back has blown everything else she has ever written way out of the water. The story is one we have all heard before, but Bolden’s writing takes it to a new level. Her characters are very real as are their reactions to situations and their emotions. I felt Kara’s and Harry’s pain. I admired Kara’s resourcefulness. I fell in love with Jess, who has Down’s syndrome. I understood Phil’s resentment at his childhood, but wanted to tell him to wake up to what a wonderful mother he has. And I wanted to strangle both Kara’s and Harry’s parents.

Speaking of parents, every parent tempted to meddle in their child’s life needs to read this. No, we don’t always know what is best for them. What we want for our children is not necessarily what they want or need.

I loved this unique, believable and unpredictable book to the point where I ignored all my other reads to focus on this. Marci Bolden, you hit the ball out of the park. And now I can’t wait to read the next in this series!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#TheRoadLeadsBack #NetGalley

I: #marciboldenauthor #pinksandpress

T: @BoldenMarci #PinkSandPress

#contemporaryfiction #familydrama #romance #sliceoflife #womensfiction

THE AUTHOR: As a teen, Marci Bolden skipped over young adult books and jumped right into reading women’s fiction and romance novels.

Marci lives in the Midwest with her husband, two teenaged kiddos, and numerous rescue pets. If she had an ounce of will power, Marci would embrace healthy living but until cupcakes and wine are no longer available at the local grocery store, she’ll put that ambition on hold and appease her guilt by reading self-help books and promising to join a gym “soon.”

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Pink Sand Press via Netgalley for providing a digital copy of The Road Leads Home by Marci Bolden 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

Past Life by David Mark

EXCERPT: He picks up a crystal from the circle surrounding the stones. It’s heavy and sharp: sparkling and brittle.

‘Liar,’ he says again, and hits her in the side of the head with such force that the jagged edges of the twinkling rock embed themselves in bone. There is a grotesque slurping sound as he pulls the gory crystal from the wound. She slumps forward. He hits her again. Harder, right at the back of the neck. Takes a fistful of her rosaries, and pulls.

The chain snaps.

Beads fall like hail.

He lets go before she dies. Pushes her onto her back. She’s heavy, and there’s a thud as she topples back onto the floor. One of the cats, nosing near her feet, gives a hiss before it darts away.

He crouches over her. Opens her eyes and peers in.

There’s life in there, he tells himself. A consciousness. Something that can still feel.

‘Charlatan,’ he says, leaning down so his lips are by her ear. ‘Deceiver.’

He considers the pupils in her dulling eyes. Changes his angle until he sees his own barely-there reflection in the glassy surface of the eyeball. Peers in as if searching for something. For someone.

Smiles as he finds it.

‘My love,’ he whispers, and puts one hand to his heart.

He pulls the blade from his pocket.

Reaches into her mouth and seizes her wet, dead tongue.

Begins to carve.

ABOUT ‘PAST LIFE’: The clairvoyant is found with her tongue crudely carved out, a shard of blue crystal buried deep within her mangled ribcage.
The crime scene plunges DS Aector McAvoy back twelve years, to a case from when he was starting out. An investigation that proved a turning point in his life – but one he’s tried desperately to forget.
To catch the killer, he must face his past. Face the terrible thing he did. But doing so also means facing the truth about his beloved wife Roisin, and the dark secrets she’s keeping have the power to destroy them both completely.

MY THOUGHTS: It is easy to tell when an author is passionate about his craft. The passion shines through the writing, enthusiasm and love rippling and tumbling through the words and the plot. David Mark is extremely passionate about his writing and I am equally passionate about reading it. But never has this passion shone through so brightly as it does in Past Life.

Aector MacAvoy is not at ease with the world or his place within it. He feels permanently displaced, dislocated, endlessly cast as an outsider. He’s a lumbering, red-haired Scotsman with a strange name. He became a policeman to do some good; to help people, to try and stop bad people from getting worse. But he just seems to bumble through, ridiculed by most of his fellow officers who understand neither the man nor his strange relationship with his boss, Trish Pharaoh. While he has a passionate relationship with his wife Roisin, and that is a whole wonderful story on its own, his relationship with Trish is more symbiotic. Where once they were master and apprentice, the balance of power has shifted. He needs her protection, her approval. She feels rudderless, adrift without his comforting presence. But he is a good man, something even his father-in-law has to admit, and he is a man who never thought he would countenance a policeman in his traveller family.

I think, like Pharaoh, that I have fallen a little in love with Aector. And greatly in love with this series. Past Life is definitely one of my top ten reads of the year. Dark, gripping, gritty and twisting, it has everything I want in a crime thriller, and then manages to deliver more.

Although Past Life is #9 in the Aector McAvoy series, it is able to be read as a stand-alone. It is written over two timelines, now and in the past, which provides most, if not all, the background information on the characters and relationships needed.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#PastLife #NetGalley

I: @davidmarkwriter @severnhouseimprint

T: @DavidMarkWriter @severnhouse

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

THE AUTHOR: David spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post – walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the internationally bestselling Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy novels.

His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the defeatist and jaded police officers; the inertia of the justice system and the sheer raw grief of those touched by savagery and tragedy.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Severn House via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Past Life by David Mark 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 Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths

While this isn’t the most appealing cover, the content makes up for it.

EXCERPT: Meg’s forehead bumped against the glass. She thought of the funeral that morning, of Leonard Holt saying, ‘Lots of showbusiness folks buried in this graveyard.’ She thought of Barbara Dodson dying alone in Hastings and of Aleister Crowley who had cursed the town. She thought of the Gillespies and the picture over their TV, the smiling blonde woman and her angelic baby. She thought of Whitby and the ruined abbey and the cloaked figure staring up at her. There was something about this case, she thought, that went beyond the usual domestic tragedy, wives killing husbands, husbands killing wives. This was about retribution, she was sure of it. She thought of the DI’s strange quotation. Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth. The words of a song came into her head, a song that had been in the charts that summer. She couldn’t remember much of it, just the chorus about waiting until the midnight hour. The lyrics were meant to be somewhat risque- some radio stations had refused to play the track – but now the phrase came back to Meg with another meaning. Bert could escape his crimes for years but there would come an hour, the midnight hour, when he would have to pay.

ABOUT ‘THE MIDNIGHT HOUR’: Brighton, 1965

When theatrical impresario Bert Billington is found dead in his retirement home, no one suspects foul play. But when the postmortem reveals that he was poisoned, suspicion falls on his wife, eccentric ex-Music Hall star Verity Malone.

Frustrated by the police response to Bert’s death and determined to prove her innocence, Verity calls in private detective duo Emma Holmes and Sam Collins. This is their first real case, but as luck would have it they have a friend on the inside: Max Mephisto is filming a remake of Dracula, starring Seth Bellington, Bert’s son. But when they question Max, they feel he isn’t telling them the whole story.

Emma and Sam must vie with the police to untangle the case and bring the killer to justice. They’re sure the answers must lie in Bert’s dark past and in the glamorous, occasionally deadly, days of Music Hall. But the closer they get to the truth, the more danger they find themselves in…

MY THOUGHTS: #6 in the Brighton Mysteries, and I still can’t get enough! Once I began The Midnight Hour, I ignored everything else and immersed myself totally in Brighton, 1965 and an intriguing murder mystery.

There shouldn’t be anything suspicious about a 90 year old man dying in his chair after his Sunday lunch, but in this case there is, and accusations and allegations are soon flying about. It would seem that our Bert, beloved pantomime star, has not had a blameless past. There are plenty of skeletons emerging from closets . . . and leaving the closet doors open for more skeletons to follow. It seems that no one can escape unscathed from their pasts. Not even Max.

We have moved on in time just a year from where the previous book, Now You See Them, concluded. Max is now established as a movie star, is father to two small children, and has inherited his father’s title of Lord Massingham and the family estate, which still doesn’t sit easily on his shoulders. Emma, once the pioneering DS Holmes, is married – compulsory retirement from the police force – to Edgar, her old boss and police Superintendent, and they have three small children. But missing her work, Emma has started a PI firm with friend and freelance reporter, Sam Collins, and it is this duo that the murdered man’s wife, Verity, a one time lover of Max’s, calls on to investigate when she is accused of orchestrating her husband’s death. Assisting in the police investigation is WDC Meg Connolly, because Verity won’t talk to the men. Meg is determined to make the most of her opportunity, and the line between the police and private Investigators investigations becomes blurred as the women collaborate.

The Midnight Hour is a riveting and compelling murder mystery involving more than one death, in which we see the new guard begin to take over. The world is changing, although policewomen are still not allowed to drive panda cars, and are largely employed to make tea and do the filing.

To me, it really doesn’t seem like the 1960’s were that long ago; to others they will be ancient history. I had a lovely walk down memory lane, enjoying references to both the music and the fashions. At one point a receptionist is wearing ‘an orange minidress held together by large gold hoops,’ which was extremely fashionable at the time and which I would have loved to have owned.

This is a series that needs to be read in order from the beginning to fully appreciate character development and the complicated maze of relationships that exist. But believe me, it’s worth every moment.

There is one particular paragraph that struck a chord with me and that I would like to share: When she’d looked at those old photographs of herself today it had been like looking at a deceased friend. Who was this radiant creature? Well, she didn’t exist now.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.7

#TheMidnightHour #NetGalley

I: @ellygriffiths17 @marinerbooks

T: @ellygriffiths @MarinerBooks

#fivestarread #cozymystery #domesticdrama #historicalfiction #murdermystery

THE AUTHOR: Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels take for their inspiration Elly’s husband, who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist, and her aunt who lives on the Norfolk coast and who filled her niece’s head with the myths and legends of that area. Elly has two children and lives near Brighton.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Mariner Books via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths 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

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

EXCERPT: On the edge of oblivion, images drift through the fog of my mind and hold, refusing to let go. Last night. The very dreamy Jonathan Davies of the chiselled features, stunning baby blues and long, dark lashes. A tall, muscular powerhouse, precision toned and sculpted to be appreciated. So commanding, so sure of himself. The images form into a memory and I groan in resignation.

‘Shit’. I have to get up. His body is still in the boot.

ABOUT ‘UNFORGIVEN’: Lexi Winter is tough, street-smart and has stood on her own two feet since childhood, when she was a victim of notorious paedophile the Spider. All she cares about now is a roof over her head and her long-term relationship with Johnny Walker. She isn’t particular about who she sleeps with … as long as they pay before leaving.

Lexi is also an ace hacker, tracking and entrapping local paedophiles and reporting them to the cops. When she finds a particularly dangerous paedophile who the police can’t touch, she decides to gather enough evidence to put him away. Instead, she’s a witness to his death …

Detective Inspector Rachael Langley is the cop who cracked the Spider case, 18 years earlier – but failed to protect Lexi. Now a man claiming to be the real Spider is emulating his murderous acts, and Rachael is under pressure from government, media and her police colleagues. Did she get it wrong all those years ago, or is this killer is a copycat?

Lexi and Rachael cross paths at last, the Spider in their sights … but they may be too late …

MY THOUGHTS: Absolutely brilliant! Unforgiven was an overnight read for me. I just didn’t want to put it down.

Unforgiven is a fast-paced thriller detailing the devious workings of a group of paedophiles (Please note: there are no graphic details) and how difficult the police find it to catch up with those involved when their hands are tied by legal restrictions.

Lexi is a wonderful character. She is a survivor in more ways than one. She is determined that no other child should be subjected to the abuse she suffered as a child. She uses her earnings as an escort to subsidise her under the radar infiltrations into paedophile rings, providing the information to have participants arrested and the rings closed down. But then a man who abused her as a child manages to have his conviction overturned and is freed and her fragile existence is about to be shattered. She also has a talent for sarcastic wit that I envy, and the ability to think on her feet.

There are some wonderful characters in this novel. As well as Lexi, there’s Bailee, Lexi’s sister; Rachel, DI now but also involved in the original Spider case; Finn, and his daughter Ava; ‘Neutron’, police computer whizz; and let’s not forget Lexi’s wonderful and hilarious neighbour Dawny. She was a ray of sunshine in the darkness and provided me with more than a few belly-laughs. There are also a number of absolutely despicable characters who will turn your stomach and have you calling for a mandatory death penalty for these crimes.

Unforgiven is not an easy read, dealing as it does with child abuse and murder. But there is a lot more to this book than just that. As well as the underbelly of human nature, we get to see the inherent goodness of the people who fight for these children, and learn of the extraordinary lengths they will go to in order to catch their prey.

I became very attached to a number of these characters, and I sincerely hope that Sarah Barrie is not yet finished with them.

A ‘must read’.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#Unforgiven #NetGalley

I: @authorsarahbarrie @harlequinaus

T: #AuthorSarahBarrie @HarlequinAUS

#australiancrimefiction #contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #murdermystery #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Sarah Barrie is a bestselling Australian author writing suspense in rural settings, with a generous splash of romance. Her debut bestselling print novel, Secrets of Whitewater Creek, earned her a spot as one of the Top 10 breakthrough authors of 2014, and her next three books, the Hunters Ridge series, also reached best seller status. She has finaled in several major awards, twice in the RUBY, the Romance Writers of Australia’s premier award, and three times in The Australian Romance Readers Award for favourite Romantic Suspense.

In other incarnations, Sarah has worked as a teacher, a vet nurse, a horse trainer and a magazine editor. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her ferrying children to soccer or gymnastics, or trudging through paddocks chasing cattle, sheep, chickens or the Houdini pig that never stays put very long. Occasionally, she’ll attempt to ride her favourite horse who’s quite a bit smarter than she is, and not always cooperative.

Her favourite place in the world is the family property, where she writes her stories overlooking mountains crisscrossed with farmland, bordered by the beauty of the Australian bush, and where, at the end of the day, she can spend time with family, friends, a good Irish whiskey and a copy of her next favourite book. (Australianfictionauthors.com)

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Harlequin Australia, HQ, for providing a digital ARC of Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie 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

A Little Bird by Wendy James

EXCERPT: She hadn’t thought, hadn’t worried. That had always been her major failing, this failure to see into the future, this ability to shrug off the consequences, to wait until it was too late to remedy. That was how she’d ended up pregnant and married in the first place. It was how she’d ended up pregnant to a man she’d known for only a few days.

It was how she ended up dead.

ABOUT ‘A LITTLE BIRD’: Running from a bad relationship, journalist Jo Sharpe heads home to Arthurville, the drought-stricken town she turned her back on years earlier. While some things have changed—her relationship with her ailing, crotchety father, her new job at the community newspaper—Jo finds that her return has rekindled the grief and uncertainty she experienced during her childhood following the inexplicable disappearance of her mother and baby sister.

Returning to Arthurville has its unexpected pleasures, though, as Jo happily reconnects with old friends and makes a few new ones. But she can’t let go of her search for answers to that long-ago mystery. And as she keeps investigating, the splash she’s making begins to ripple outward—far beyond the disappearance of her mother and sister.

Jo is determined to dig as deep as it takes to get answers. But it’s not long before she realises that someone among the familiar faces doesn’t want her picking through the debris of the past. And they’ll go to any lengths to silence the little bird before she sings the truth.

MY THOUGHTS: Wendy James has been called ‘Queen of Australia’s domestic thriller’ and ‘master of suburban suspense’. I would have to agree. I read A Little Bird in one sitting, it’s characters and setting enchanting me, the plot captivating me.

Set in a small town on the Western Plains of NSW, Australia, Arthurville was a once thriving community. Now, in the grip of a relentless drought and as a result of young people moving to the cities for work, it’s once bustling main street is mostly boarded up, and the young who have remained in town are mostly unemployed and addicted to drink and or drugs. But it is also a town stuck in some kind of time warp. One where relationships and family breeding are still important; where old social traditions still matter; where a hierarchy is still in place and where some people will kill rather than have their secrets revealed.

A Little Bird is quietly brilliant, very much a character based mystery set over two timelines: the 1990’s through Miranda’s (Merry’s) eyes; and 2018 when Jo, Merry’s daughter, having lost both her relationship and her job in Sydney, returns home to be with her father while he receives treatment for cancer – not that he’s grateful – and as the only paid employee of the local paper, where she is only allowed to write ‘good news’.

The characterisation is strong with much of the story resting firmly on Jo’s shoulders. It’s a story that examines the bonds of family and friendship and long term relationships; the fact that they are not always as they seem; that our memories can deceive us.

These are characters that I could see and hear; I could feel that infernal red dust that leaves a fine layer over everything; and enjoyed the atmosphere of the pub where the locals go to escape the relentless heat.

James writing is vivid, the plot compelling, the outcome shocking.

She has previously written a novel called Where Have You Been, which is a good question. Where have I been that I have never before read this author?

⭐⭐⭐⭐.6

#ALittleBird #NetGalley

I: @wendyjamesbooks @amazonpublishing

T: #wendyjamesbooks @AmazonPub

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #mystery #suspense

THE AUTHOR: Wendy James is the celebrated author of eight novels, including the bestselling The Mistake and the compelling The Golden Child, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Ned Kelly Award for crime. Her debut novel, Out of the Silence, won the 2006 Ned Kelly Award for first crime novel, and was shortlisted for the Nita May Dobbie award for women’s writing. Wendy works as an editor at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation and writes some of the sharpest and most topical domestic noir novels in the country.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of A Little Bird by Wendy James 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

Survivor’s Guilt by Michael Wood

EXCERPT: It was a chilly morning. The clocks were put back at the weekend. Winter was on its way. She hated the dark mornings and the early dark evenings, and she didn’t relish coming to the woods alone to exercise Buttons. He wasn’t even a year old yet, so he wouldn’t be able to tackle someone if she was attacked.

‘Buttons?’ she called again. ‘You want your ball?’

She heard a yap and followed the noise. There was no denying having a dog was good exercise for her, too, but right now, all she wanted was to go to bed and wrap that big duvet around her.

Up ahead, she found the spaniel lying down in a clearing. He never did that. It was almost as if he’d had enough running around and playing and wanted to rest. She hoped he wasn’t injured or had eaten something he shouldn’t have. It was only a few years ago she read about some sick bastard putting meat laced with broken glass in Meersbrook Park to injure cats and dogs.

‘Buttons, are you all right?’ She ran towards him and stopped before she reached him.

He wasn’t injured at all. He was lying at the side of a woman who, judging by her appearance, was dead, and had clearly been dead for some time.

ABOUT ‘SURVIVOR’S GUILT’: A TEAM TORN APART

Nine months ago DCI Matilda Darke survived a bullet to the head. The brutal attack claimed dozens of lives, including those she loved most, and the nightmares still plague her every waking thought.

A MEMORY SHE’D RATHER FORGET

Now, she’s ready to get back on the job. But a new terror awaits. A woman is found murdered and her wounds look eerily similar to several cold cases. Desperate to find a lead, DCI Darke and her team must face a terrifying truth: a serial killer is on the loose in Sheffield.

A THREAT CLOSE TO HOME

Matilda has led countless murder investigations before but the lingering emotional scars from her ordeal and the uneasiness within her once-tight team have left tensions high. As the body count rises, Matilda realises that this might just be where it all ends.

MY THOUGHTS: Michael Wood knows how to write a book that has your heart almost constantly pounding while it is leaping into your mouth. Survivor’s Guilt is the best book yet in this series.

Before we go any further, this is a series that needs to be read as a series as past events and relationships are often referred to. It would be possible to read Survivor’s Guilt as a stand-alone, but for the full impact I recommend that you begin at the beginning.

Matilda (Mat) has been off work on extended rehabilitation leave after having been shot in the head in book #7. Seven police were killed in the mass shooting that left Mat fighting for her life, some of them members of her team, hence the very apt title ‘Survivor’s Guilt’. Now Mat is back but, of course, nothing is the same. Not only is the old camaraderie affected, but Mat’s behaviour is somewhat erratic. She doesn’t seem to trust her remaining team members like she used to and consequently isn’t sharing information with everyone. This leads to a lot of tension within the team.

There is also a new team member, Zofia Nowak, who has wanted to be a detective from a very young age. Zofia is dedicated, ambitious and eager to impress; so eager that she puts herself in danger to do so.

Mat and Adele, friends and confidants for many years, are still estranged following the mass shooting in which Adele’s son was also killed. This is another loss that Mat feels keenly.

A case from four years previously, one that has haunted Mat, is finally resolved, but continues to have ripple effects. And the new case, that of a murdered prostitute, escalates quickly as more bodies are found. I loved Wood’s sensitive and compassionate take on the prostitutes, while still providing an honest look at their lives. It’s a good reminder that none of us know what’s ahead of us, and that everyone has a story to tell. Bev and Sarah are just two of the wonderful characters that abound in this book. The much maligned Dermot is another.

The earth tilted for me when the case was solved. I never saw that coming; never entertained the idea . . . I was gob-smacked!

Even though that case is solved, Michael Wood doesn’t like to leave things nicely tidied up. He drops another couple of depth charges into the plot that left me wanting #9 in this series RIGHT NOW!

Survivor’s Guilt is dark, gritty and full of unexpected twists and turns, none of which I saw coming. Totally deserving of the full five stars.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#SurvivorsGuilt #NetGalley

I: @michaelwoodbooks @onemorechapter

T: @MichaelHWood @OneMoreChapter

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

THE AUTHOR: Michael Wood is a freelance journalist and proofreader living in Sheffield. As a journalist he has covered many crime stories throughout Sheffield, gaining first-hand knowledge of police procedure. He also reviews books for CrimeSquad, a website dedicated to crime fiction.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Harper Collins UK, One More Chapter, via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Survivor’s Guilt by Michael Wood 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 Last Time She Died by Zoë Sharp

EXCERPT: Prologue – ten years ago

Three go into the forest.

Two squint against the lash of rain, grunt with the effort it takes to half carry, half drag the third through the claw of branches and brambles. Mud already slick beneath their boots. Feet already sodden.

One of them wishing to be anywhere but here.

The other just wishing it done.

Their burden is not yet sixteen. Easier to haul than a full-grown adult, but . . .

Dead weight.

Dead.

ABOUT ‘THE LAST TIME SHE DIED’: She came back on the day of her father’s funeral, ten years after she vanished. But she can’t be who she says she is…

When Blake disappeared as a teenager, on a cold dark night, her father never reported her missing. She is presumed dead.

Now, ten years later, a young woman with white-blonde hair sits comfortably in the family living room and smiles at the shocked faces around her.

“Don’t you recognise me?” she says. “I’m Blake.”

Detective John Byron isn’t sure whether she’s telling the truth. But as he investigates, he soon realises no one is happy to see her.

And the people who should be welcoming her back with open arms know she can’t be Blake. Because they killed her the night she vanished…

Didn’t they?

MY THOUGHTS: It is not often that I agree with the statement, bandied about so often on book covers, mostly undeserved, that the book contained within is “A totally unputdownable crime thriller with a mind-blowing twist.”, but in this case I do. Wholeheartedly.

Full of tension and suspense, The Last Time She Died had me jamming my buds into my ears or picking up my book at every opportunity. After the enticing prologue, the book begins at a funeral. What’s not to love?

And it just keeps on getting better, and better – there’s a family fortune to be inherited, and a second wife. But is everything quite as straightforward as it seems? Especially if the stranger at the funeral does indeed prove to be Blake, the dead man’s daughter who disappeared ten years earlier and was presumed, if not actually declared dead; something the second wife Virginia was intent on taking care of the minute she had Gideon’s funeral out of the way.

Other than an old neighbour, no one is convinced Blake is who she says she is, including John Byron, a detective on recuperative medical leave who, strictly speaking, shouldn’t even be there.

There are many twists and turns in this book, but all work well and keep the reader guessing and off balance. And while there is plenty of action in The Last Time She Died, it is really the amazing cast of characters that Sharp has created that carry the plot.

Blake is a chameleon. She is Blake. She isn’t Blake. She may be Blake. Whoever she is, her presence is a danger, and there’s more than one person who wants her out of the picture, completely.

Byron is an astute and more than competent detective. But has he hooked his wagon to the wrong horse in believing in Blake?

Even Gideon’s death in a motor accident may not be quite as straightforward as it seemed. That’s what Byron is there to find out – unofficially. There is just a hint of scandal in his past and the possibility that someone may have killed him to prevent it coming to light. Or, the car accident could just be . . . a car accident.

Virginia and her children Lily and Tom (not Gideon’s children); Underhill- a bent cop; Roger Flint – Virginia’s brother, Gideon’s right hand man, and a compulsive gambler; the Hardings, with whom Blake often took refuge after the death of her mother; and a delightfully nosy pub landlady are some of the other characters who people this novel.

Tamsin Kennard, narrator of the audiobook, had me completely entranced and believing in her characters. I will be looking for more books using this narrator.

I was totally riveted by The Last Time She Died; from the title – that is definitely an attention grabbing title! – to the very last word. Sharp hasn’t put a word wrong.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#TheLastTimeSheDied #NetGalley

I: @authorzoesharp @bookouture

T: @authorzoesharp @Bookouture

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

THE AUTHOR: Zoë Sharp spent most of her formative years living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England. She opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel at fifteen. She became a freelance photojournalist in 1988 and started writing her Charlie Fox crime thriller series after receiving death-threats in the course of her work.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture and Bookouture Audio via Netgalley for providing both a digital and an audio ARC of The Last Time She Died by Zoë Sharp 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

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

EXCERPT: It would be the easiest thing in the world to lose everything, Furlong knew. Although he did not venture far, he got around – and many an unfortunate he’d seen around town and out on the country roads. The dole queues were getting longer and there were men out there who couldn’t pay their ESB bills, living in houses no warmer than bunkers, sleeping in their coats. Women, on the first Friday of every month, lined up at the post office wall with shopping bags, waiting to collect their children’s allowances. And farther out the country, he’d known cows to be left bawling to be milked because the man who had their care had upped, suddenly, and taken the boat to Fishguard. Once, a man from St Mullins got a lift into town to pay his bill, saying that they’d had to sell the car as they couldn’t get a wink of sleep knowing what was owing, that the bank was coming down on them. And early one morning, Furlong had seen a young schoolboy eating from a chip bag that had been thrown down on the street the night before.

ABOUT ‘SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE’: It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.

MY THOUGHTS: It is no small thing that coal and fuel merchant William (Bill) Furlong does. 1985 was a time of great hardship. Bill, although not wealthy, is doing all right for himself and is able to provide for his family – wife Eileen and his five daughters, through careful money management.

Bill Furlong has come from nothing, less than nothing really. But he and his mother were shown great kindness and that is something Billy is dwelling on this Christmas. When Billy discovers someone being treated cruelly and inhumanely, and discovers that his beloved Catholic church is covering it up, he faces a dilemma. Does he help, as his mother was helped? Or does he take heed of the warning and walk away?

For such a short book (128 pages), Small Things Like These packs a solid punch. While a work of fiction, the truth is that many thousands of girls and women were incarcerated and forced to work, hidden in disgrace behind church walls, never to be spoken of nor seen again. The children were adopted out, sold, or simply disappeared. Records were nonexistent or destroyed.

Small Things Like These is a powerful book about family, love, and trying to do the right thing. It is not a read that I am likely to forget in a hurry.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#SmallThingsLikeThese #NetGalley

I: #clairekeeganfiction @ faberbooks

T: @CKeeganFiction @FaberBooks

#fivestarread #christmasfiction #historicalfiction #irishfiction #novella

THE AUTHOR: Claire Keegan was born in County Wicklow, the youngest of a large family. She travelled to New Orleans, Louisiana when she was seventeen, and studied English and Political Science at Loyola University. She returned to Ireland in 1992 and lived for a year in Cardiff, Wales, where she undertook an MA in creative writing and taught undergraduates at the University of Wales.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Faber and Faber via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan 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