Murder in Easy (Inspector Battle #4) by Agatha Christie

EXCERPT: Luke’s eyebrows rose. ‘Murder?’

The old lady nodded vigorously.

‘Yes, murder. You’re surprised, I can see. I was myself at first . . . I really couldn’t believe it. I thought I must be imagining things.’

‘Are you quite sure you weren’t?’ Luke asked gently.

‘Oh, no.’ She shook her head positively. ‘I might have been the first time, but not the second, or the third or the fourth. After that one knows.’

Luke said: ‘Do you mean there have been – er – several murders?’

ABOUT ‘MURDER IS EASY’: In a quiet English village, a killer is about to strike. Again and again.

Officer Luke Fitzwilliam is on a train to London when he meets a strange woman. She claims there is a serial killer in the quiet village of Wychwood. He has already taken the lives of three people and is about claim his fourth victim.

Fitzwilliam dismisses this as the ramblings of an old woman. But within hours she is found dead. Crushed by a passing car.

And then the fourth victim is found.

Each death looks like an accident. But in Wychwood nothing is as it appears….

MY THOUGHTS: I enjoyed this romp in a series by Agatha Christie that I hadn’t come across previously. Although quite why this is included in the Inspector Battle series I am unsure, as Battle makes only a brief appearance at the end.

The mystery is an excellent one; one that had me quite sure that I had the murderer in my sight until I found that I didn’t. There is a little romantic interest and an interesting cast of characters from which to select the murderer. Luke doesn’t seem to be the brightest lightbulb in the pack, but then his mind was not entirely focused on the murders.

I listened to the audiobook of Murder is Easy, written by Agatha Christie and narrated by Hugh Fraser, published by Harper Collins Audio.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.1

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

Watching what I’m reading . . .

The first week of 2022 is done and dusted and now most of us are, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, facing going back to work. We’ve had a lovely break, mixing getting a few of those niggly little jobs around the house and yard done with catching up with friends whom we don’t get to see very often. We’ve eaten out a lot, which has been a real treat, been to the beach, and had lot of fun. The weather has been absolutely magnificent. Now, it’s back to reality and work tomorrow and there is, apparently, rain on the horizon for which my garden will be grateful. I have been watering the fruit trees and vegetable garden, but everything else is having to fend for itself.

While I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions this year, I have decided to try and take control of my reading life. Instead of reading 3 books at a time, I am just going to read one and listen to one at any one time. I have been doing this for the past week and, so far, it’s working well. I am enjoying my reading more and feeling less pressured. I also intend reading more titles for pleasure and made a good start over the Christmas break while also reducing the number of titles on my backlist. I hope I can keep this up. I tried last year with variable results, although I did get my Netgalley ratio up to 68% from 64%.

Currently I am reading To Love and Be Loved by Amanda Prowse which is due for publication 11 January. One third through and I have already shredded innumerable tissues.

I am listening to The Lost Days of Agatha Christie by Carole Owens and, although I am halfway through, I’m still not sure what to make of it.

This week I am planning on reading A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Laguna Beach, California, 1968. The Age of Aquarius is in full swing. Timothy Leary is a rock star. LSD is God. Folks from all over are flocking to Laguna, seeking peace, love, and enlightenment.

Matt Antony is just trying get by.

Matt is sixteen, broke, and never sure where his next meal is coming from. Mom’s a stoner, his deadbeat dad is a no-show, his brother’s fighting in Nam . . . and his big sister Jazz has just gone missing. The cops figure she’s just another runaway hippie chick, enjoying a summer of love, but Matt doesn’t believe it. Not after another missing girl turns up dead on the beach.

All Matt really wants to do is get his driver’s license and ask out the girl he’s been crushing on since fourth grade, yet it’s up to him to find his sister. But in a town where the cops don’t trust the hippies and the hippies don’t trust the cops, uncovering what’s really happened to Jazz is going to force him to grow up fast.

If it’s not already too late.

And, The Night of the Party by Anna-Lou Weatherley

Two Couples. Three Secrets. One Murder.

In a beautiful house surrounded by woodland, the Drayton family and their dearest friends are enjoying dinner together. The wine is flowing, the meal has been lovingly prepared, and it’s going to be an evening none of them will ever forget…

A doting mother
with a manipulative daughter.

A loving husband
lying to his family.

A close friend
keeping a shocking secret.

A beautiful girl
who will be dead by the end of the night.

I have three new ARCs this week: Secrets to the Grave by Steve Frechs

One For Sorrow by Helen Fields

and One of Us is Dead by Jeneva Rose which I requested after reading Michael David’s review on https://bonkersforthebooks.wordpress.com/

In the past week my reading travels have taken me to the Yorke Peninsula and Adelaide in South Australia; Louisiana in the USA; Hastings in the UK; Sèvèrac Le Chateau, France; Langdale, North Yorkshire; and Marin County, San Francisco. Have we crossed paths this week?

To all my friends in the Fraser Coast area of Queensland, Australia please stay safe. Although Tropical Cyclone Seth has been downgraded to a tropical storm, it still has sting in its tail with heavy rain and severe flooding.

Everyone, no matter where you are, take care. Stay safe and read on.

A Place Like Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

EXCERPT: Anyway, there we were, on an early April afternoon riding along the sands when the mist came in. Or ‘fret’ as they call it in Northumberland. Daisy, being Northumbrian born and bred, was no more spooked by the fret than I was, but continued placidly on her way until we came to the rocks that mark the end of the bay.

We could not see these rocks, but there was the tang of seaweed, and the hiss and rumble of the flood tide moving in beneath the cliff. Fulmars nested on these shallow cliffs and the clammy air was rent with their strange cries. Daisy splashed through a deep sand pool and up on to the hard sand on the other side. The cliffs reared up before us, sinister in the fog, and I said to Daisy, ‘This is as far as we come,’ and started to turn her when we heard the cry. It could have been a Fulmar. I stopped and listened, and it came again.

‘Hello-o-o…?’

Daisy’s ears pricked. We stared into the fog, saw nothing.

‘Where are you-ou-ou?’

‘Here,’ I called back, and my voice sounded unfamiliar and puny and was lost in the echoes of the cliff face.

There came a scramble of falling stones. Daisy, uneasy of the unknown, whickered anxiously. I laid a hand on her neck, and her shaggy coat, beneath my palm, was beaded with damp. We waited, both straining our eyes and ears.

A movement through the fog; another stone rattled over rock, and the next moment, as though from nowhere, a figure appeared, took shape, not ten feet from where we stood. A small boy wearing jeans and a blue sweater, apparently soaking wet and all alone. – taken from the short story ‘Skelmerton’.

ABOUT ‘A PLACE LIKE HOME’: A heartwarming, escapist collection of fifteen stories from bestselling author Rosamunde Pilcher, published two years after her death, with an introduction by the now also deceased author Lucinda Riley.

In ‘Our Holiday’, a wife surprises her husband of twenty-five years with a trip full of Mediterranean sunshine, red rocks and blue seas, in an effort to rekindle the romance they had before children.

‘Skelmerton’ takes the reader to the bright spring sunshine and sparkling waves of a Northumbrian village, where old flames meet again.

In ‘A Place Like Home’, a young woman goes to recuperate in the Scottish countryside after a brief illness. The fruit orchards and fresh sea air offer refreshment and renewal – but not as much as the handsome, mysterious farmer.

Each of the stories is a perfect slice of romance written with warmth and passion, featuring some wonderfully memorable, smart and fiery female characters that will transport the reader to another time and place.

MY THOUGHTS: I am, and always have been, an ardent Rosamunde Pilcher fan and this delightful collection of fifteen short stories has only increased my admiration for this author. It has also made me realise that I am going to have to trawl the shelves of all the second hand bookstores and charity shops in order to fill in the gaps in my collection of her books.

Pilcher writes of a gentler time: a time of rambling old houses set in beautifully maintained gardens; of scones with clotted cream and jam for tea; and drinks parties where sherry is the tipple of choice.

Her characters are simple but endearing and each of these short stories is a story in its own right. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. And always, a happy ever after.

This is a collection I shall treasure and I am so grateful that it arrived just in time for Christmas.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.4

#APlaceLikeHome #RosamundePilcher @HodderBooks

#historicalfiction #romance #shortstories #womensfiction

THE AUTHOR: Rosamunde Scott was born on 22 September 1924 in Lelant, Cornwall, England, UK, daughter of Helen and Charles Scott, a British commander. Just before her birth her father was posted in Burma, her mother remained in England. She attended St. Clare’s Polwithen and Howell’s School Llandaff before going on to Miss Kerr-Sanders’ Secretarial College. She began writing when she was seven and published her first short story when she was 18. From 1943 through 1946, Pilcher served with the Women’s Naval Service. On 7 December 1946, she married Graham Hope Pilcher, a war hero and jute industry executive who died in March 2009. They moved to Dundee, Scotland, where she remained until her death in 2019. They had two daughters and two sons, and fourteen grandchildren. Her son, Robin Pilcher, is also a novelist.

In 1949, her first book, a romance novel, was published by Mills & Boon, under the pseudonym Jane Fraser. She published a further ten novels under that name. In 1955, she also began writing under her married name Rosamunde Pilcher, by 1965 she her own name to all of her novels. In 1996, her novel Coming Home won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award by Romantic Novelists’ Association. She retired from writing in 2000 following publication of Winter Solstice. Two years later, she was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

DISCLOSURE: I own my copy of A Place Like Home by Rosamunde Pilcher and published by Hodder &Stoughton. 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, Instagram, and my Goodreads.com

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

EXCERPT: She thought she’d eventually become a professor at a school similar to Olyphant, teaching film studies to the next generation of cinephiles.

What she hadn’t planned on was Madeleine Forrester swanning into their dorm room that first day of college on a gust of cigarette smoke and Chanel No. 5. She was beautiful. That was the first thing Charlie noticed. Pale and blonde and voluptuous, with a heart-shaped face that reminded her of Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind. Yet she seemed slightly worn around the edges. An intriguing exhaustion. Like a hungover debutante dragging herself home the morning after a cotillion.

Framed in the doorway, teetering on three inch heels, she surveyed their room and declared, ‘What a dump!’

Charlie got the reference – Maddy was impersonating Liz Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? impersonating Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest – and her whole body fizzed like a jostled bottle of champagne. She’d just met a kindred spirit.

‘I think I adore you,’ she blurted.

ABOUT ‘SURVIVE THE NIGHT’: Charlie Jordan is being driven across the country by a serial killer. Maybe.

Behind the wheel is Josh Baxter, a stranger Charlie met by the college ride share board, who also has a good reason for leaving university in the middle of term. On the road they share their stories, carefully avoiding the subject dominating the news – the Campus Killer, who’s tied up and stabbed three students in the span of a year, has just struck again.

Travelling the lengthy journey between university and their final destination, Charlie begins to notice discrepancies in Josh’s story.

As she begins to plan her escape from the man she is becoming certain is the killer, she starts to suspect that Josh knows exactly what she’s thinking.

Meaning that she could very well end up as his next victim.

MY THOUGHTS: I had heard so many great things about author Riley Sager, and started Survive the Night in great anticipation, which soon waned. This book is just NUTS! And sorry, but I don’t mean that in a good way. I struggled to survive this.

I love an unreliable narrator, but Sager has taken this trope a step or two too far. At first I was intrigued, then I became disgruntled, and finally bored by the whole ‘is this real?/is this a hallucination/dream?’ minefield.

The story has oodles of potential, and there was one twist that I didn’t see coming that earned this read an extra half star. Sager’s description of Charlie and Maddy’s first meeting is absolutely superb, but honestly? I could have done without the endless movie references. And yes, I have watched and enjoyed the majority of the movies referred to but, as I am fond of saying, sometimes less is more, and these were overdone.

Will I read more from Riley Sager? Yes. But I won’t be recommending Survive the Night to anyone.

⭐⭐.2

#SurvivetheNight #NetGalley

I: @riley.sager @hodderbooks

T: @Riley_Sager @HodderBooks

#historicalfiction #mentalhealth #murdermystery #psychologicaldrama

THE AUTHOR: Riley Sager is the award-winning pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer who previously published mysteries under his real name.

A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When he’s not writing, he enjoys reading, cooking and going to the movies as much as possible. His favorite film is “Rear Window.” Or maybe “Jaws.” But probably, if he’s being honest, “Mary Poppins.”

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Survive the Night by Riley Sager for review. I’m just sorry I didn’t like this more. 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

Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea

EXCERPT: Two months before 9/11

Death was in the air.

He smelled it as soon as he ducked under the crime scene tape and stepped onto the front lawn of the palatial estate. The Catskill mountains rose above the roofline as the early morning sun stretched shadows of the trees across the yard. The breeze rolled down from the foothills and carried the smell of decay, causing his upper lip to twitch when it reached his nostrils. The smell of death filled him with excitement. He hoped this was because this was his first case as a newly minted homicide detective, and not from some perverse fetish he had never known he possessed.

A uniformed police officer led him across the lawn and around to the back of the property. There he found the source of the foul odour. The victim was hanging naked from a second story balcony, his feet suspended at eye level, and the white rope around his neck angling his head like a broken-stemmed lollipop. The detective looked up to the terrace. The rope stretched over the railing, tight and challenged by the weight of the body. The twine disappeared through french doors that led, he presumed, into the bedroom.

The victim had likely twirled for most of the night, the detective imagined, and had now unfortunately come to rest facing the house. Unfortunate because, as the detective walked across the back lawn, the first thing he saw was the man’s naked buttocks. When he reached the body he noticed welt marks covering the man’s right burr cheek and upper thigh. The contusions flared a faint lilac against the liver mortis blue of the dead man’s skin.

ABOUT ‘TWENTY YEARS LATER’: Avery Mason, host of American Events, knows the subjects that grab a TV audience’s attention. Her latest story–a murder mystery laced with kinky sex, tragedy, and betrayal–is guaranteed to be ratings gold. New DNA technology has allowed the New York medical examiner’s office to make its first successful identification of a 9/11 victim in years. The twist: the victim, Victoria Ford, had been accused of the gruesome murder of her married lover. In a chilling last phone call to her sister, Victoria begged her to prove her innocence.

Emma Ford has waited twenty years to put her sister to rest, but closure won’t be complete until she can clear Victoria’s name. Alone she’s had no luck, but she’s convinced that Avery’s connections and fame will help. Avery, hoping to negotiate a more lucrative network contract, goes into investigative overdrive. Victoria had been having an affair with a successful novelist, found hanging from the balcony of his Catskills mansion. The rope, the bedroom, and the entire crime scene was covered in Victoria’s DNA.

But the twisted puzzle of Victoria’s private life belies a much darker mystery. And what Avery doesn’t realize is that there are other players in the game who are interested in Avery’s own secret past–one she has kept hidden from both the network executives and her television audience. A secret she thought was dead and buried . . .

MY THOUGHTS: I liked Twenty Years Later a lot, but I didn’t love it. I failed to become totally immersed in the story and am not really sure if it was because the narrator didn’t narrate with much emotion, or because the reader is being told much of the story rather than experiencing it.

There are several different storylines going on, narrated in the present and in flashbacks, primarily by Avery, secondly by Walt, and thirdly by various other minor characters. It was the murder that opens the book that I was mainly interested in, but that is very much a secondary thread though, to me, it was definitely the more interesting. I really had no interest in Avery’s salary negotiations which went on, and on, and had no real relevance that I could fathom.

I found Avery’s character difficult to relate to and I never really warmed to her, although I did admire her cleverness in resolving her family problem.

I really liked the way Donlea tied everything up at the end, even if it was a little tedious in parts getting there.

But the absolute ending, where the solution to the murder is revealed, that is absolutely delicious and made wading through all the other stuff worthwhile.

⭐⭐⭐.8

#TwentyYearsLater #NetGalley

I: @charliedonlea @recordedbooks

T: @CharlieDonlea @recordedbooks

#contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #familydrama #murdermystery

THE AUTHOR: Charlie Donlea resides in Chicago with his wife and two young children.

He spends a part of each year fishing with his father in the far reaches of Canada, where the roads end and lakes are accessible only by floatplane.

DISCLOSURE: Thanks to RB Media, Recorded Books, via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of Twenty Years Later written by Charlie Donlea and narrated by Vivienne Leheney for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

Watching what I’m reading . . .

Well here we are, the first Sunday of 2022. I am still very much in holiday mode and not looking forward to going back to work tomorrow, although it is only for the one day and then I have the remainder of the week off. I’m not sure that I can drag myself out of bed in time!

Currently I am reading The Woman Who Came Back to Life by Beth Miller. What characters!

And The Family Inheritance by Tricia Stringer, a library book. This is my first book by this Australian author and I am loving it.

I am also listening to an audiobook from the library, Murder is Easy (Superintendent Battle #4) by Agatha Christie. I haven’t previously read any of this series, but am enjoying this immensely. I have a firm suspect in mind for the murderer, but am I right?

This week I am planning to read The House Fire by Rosie Walker

Play with fire and you’ll get burned . . .

Who can you trust in this brand new edge-of-your-seat thriller.

A tired old seaside town hiding a series of unsolved arson attacks.

A derelict mansion in the woods with a long-buried secret.

A bundle of old love letters that mask a dark story.

When Jamie’s documentary investigation gets too close to uncovering the truth behind a series of deadly arson attacks that tormented Abbeywick in the 1980s, her family might be the ones who pay the price.

But for her younger sister Cleo, the secrets Jamie uncovers have the potential to get exactly what Cleo wants: to remove her mum’s toxic new husband from their lives, forever.

All it takes is one spark to send everything up in smoke . . .

And The Betrayal by Terry Lynn Thomas

Attorney Olivia Sinclair is shocked when she receives an anonymous video showing her husband Richard sleeping with someone else. After years of handling other people’s divorces, she thought she could recognise a marriage in trouble.

She angrily throws Richard out of the home they share. But days later she’s arrested—for the murder of his mistress.

Olivia knows she’s innocent but, with all the evidence pointing at her and an obvious motive, she must find the real killer to clear her name.

She may be used to dealing with messy divorces, but this one will be her most difficult case yet. Olivia’s husband has already betrayed her—but would he set her up for murder?

I received three new ARCs in the past week: The Bluebonnet Battle by Carolyn Brown

Shadow in the Glass by M.E. Hilliard

And, better late than never, The Bells of Christmas II: Eight stories of Christmas hope

What are you reading this New Year?

Happy reading my friends. It’s too hot to be out in the garden so I am going to stretch out on the daybed out on my deck where there is a little breeze and read some more. Enjoy your New Year reads my friends.

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

Winter Honeymoon by Jacob M. Appel


Photo by mahdi chaghari on Pexels.com

EXCERPT: Both Minton plots were now occupied – Jinelle’s for three decades, Arnold’s for three days – and Sandy had been office manager at the cemetery for so long that she could locate individual graves for visitors without consulting the logbook. Temporary workers enjoyed quizzing her, flipping open the registry and asking, for example, where Maryann Lewis was interred, but Sandy would shoot back: ‘Do you mean Maryann Lewis died 1977 or Maryann Lewis died 1984?’ When the temps enquired why she had mastered what seemed to them like a morbid parlour trick, or when a feature writer for the local paper delved into Sandy’s motives, she always replied, ‘Busy hands are happy hands and an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop,’ which seemed satisfactory to everyone, although it wasn’t quite clear how memorizing maps of the dead kept one’s hands occupied. It was the sort of response people expected from a homely, church-going spinster. If she had explained her desire to preserve a living memory of the deceased – the way the Jews consecrate the legacy of the holocaust – her inquisitors might think her cuckoo. Instead they thought her upright, straight-shooting, knowledgeable, generous, witty, a lady of considerable spirit, but leading a life as lacklustre as cold porridge. Which it often was.

And now father was dead and Victoria was coming home. Victoria who had done nothing and gotten everything, while Sandy did everything and got nothing. Though you wouldn’t put it to folks that way. – Excerpt taken from The Other Sister

ABOUT ‘WINTER HONEYMOON’: From a widow pursuing an old flame to an architect caught in a collapsing relationship, WINTER HONEYMOON reminds us that life is fleeting but love, in all its forms, is a survivor. These are stories of sometimes quiet, sometimes incredible, and always complex lives that shout at us in their telling. With Jacob Appel’s devilish eye for detail, the stakes grow, the plots turn, and the reader is hit in the head as much as the heart. These are as much affirmations as they are stories, and this is an adventurous and accomplished collection by any measure

MY THOUGHTS: A collection of nine short stories from master storyteller Jacob M. Appel.

While Appel portrays the lives of ordinary people from extraordinary viewpoints, I missed the sense of ridiculousness that he normally infuses his stories with. This collection left me feeling sad, rather than with a smile on my face.

I rated the individual stories as follows:
Winter Honeymoon ⭐⭐⭐.5
The Apprenticeship ⭐⭐.5
The Other Sister ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Before the Storm ⭐⭐⭐
Iceberg Potential ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pay as You Go ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5
After Valentino ⭐⭐
Fallout ⭐⭐.5

⭐⭐⭐.2

#JacobMAppel #NetGalley

#contemporaryfiction #deathanddying #historicalfiction #shortstories #sliceoflife

THE AUTHOR: Jacob holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Brown University, an M.A. and an M.Phil. from Columbia University, an M.S. in bioethics from the Alden March Bioethics Institute of Albany Medical College, an M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, an M.F.A. in playwriting from Queens College, an M.P.H. from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He currently practices psychiatry in New York City.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Black Lawrence Press via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Winter Honeymoon by Jacob M. Appel 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 my webpage

Watching what I’m reading . . .

It’s a beautiful, fine,hot Boxing Day here in New Zealand. Dustin and Luke left for Lake Taupo late this afternoon, and I have been pottering around the house, pausing every now and then to read a story from A Place Like Home, a wonderful collection of short stories by Rosamunde Pilcher published posthumously.

I am almost finished Survive the Night by Riley Sager

An also almost finished listening to Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea

I haven’t got anything scheduled for read for review this week other than Twenty Years Later, so I am going to read books picked totally at random from my backlist.

I received three new ARCs this week: The Child I Never Had by Kate Hewitt

Into the Dark by Fiona Cummins ( a widget from the publisher)

And Ocean State by Stewart O’Nan

A short post today as I am in holiday mode, and I am guessing that you all will be too. Happy holidays and enjoy your families and friends. And please, be kind.