The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths

The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths
The Vanishing Box (Stephens & Mephisto Mystery, #4) 
by Elly Griffiths (Goodreads Author)  ☆☆☆☆

Reviewed by


EXCERPT: Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens was looking at a dead body. He had seen death before, of course, in the war as well as in his police work but there was something about this corpse that made it especially disturbing. It wasn’t just the stench that sent his Sargeant, Bob Willis, retching to the window. It wasn’t just that the deceased was young, blonde and – even in the late stages of rigor mortis – beautiful. It was the way the body had been found. Lily Burtenshaw was kneeling on a towel beside her bed, a strip from a white sheet tied around her eyes and one hand stretched out towards a box in front of her. In order to keep the body in this unnatural position, the stretching hand had been tied onto a towel rail and the body roped to the back of a chair. Lily’s blindfolded head dropped forward and her golden hair fell across one shoulder. She was wearing a white nightdress and her skin was also deadly white, except for the dark bruising around her neck.

THE BLURB: What do a murdered Brighton flowerseller, the death of Cleopatra and a nude tableau show have in common? One thing’s for sure – it could be the most dangerous case yet for Stephens and Mephisto

Christmas 1953. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are headlining Brighton Hippodrome, an achievement only slightly marred by the less-than-savoury support act: a tableau show of naked ‘living statues’. This might appear to have nothing in common with DI Edgar Stephens’ current case of the death of a quiet flowerseller, but if there’s one thing the old comrades have learned it’s that, in Brighton, the line between art and life – and death – is all too easily blurred…

MY THOUGHTS: I really liked The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths. I have not previously read any of this series, only her Ruth Galloway series, which I also really liked. The fact that I had not read any of the other Stephens and Mephisto books did not in any way detract from my enjoyment of this one.

This series has been compared to the Bryant and May series, which I have also read a number of, but so far I greatly prefer Griffiths writing.

This is both a comfortable and engaging read, reminiscent of Agatha Christie. The setting is atmospheric, the characters engaging. There is enough romantic intrigue to make it interesting, but not enough to overwhelm the main storyline. A perfect balance.

I look forward to more of this series.

Thank you to Quercus via Netgalley for providing a digital copy of The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the ‘about’ page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2175934477?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
In the Midst of Winter 
by Isabel Allende (Goodreads Author)

Reviewed by


EXCERPT: Richard Bowmaster was Lucia’s boss at New York University where she had a one year contract as a visiting professor. Once the semester was over, her life was a blank slate: she would need another job and somewhere else to live while she decided on her long term future. Sooner or later she would return to end her days in Chile, but that was still quite a way off. And since her daughter, Daniela, had moved to Miami to study marine biology, and was possibly in love and planning to stay, there was nothing to draw Lucia back to her home country. She intended to enjoy her remaining years of good health before she was defeated by decreptitude. She wanted to live abroad, where the daily challenges kept her mind occupied and her heart in relative calm, because in Chile she was crushed by the weight of the familiar, its routines and limitations. Back there she felt she was condemned to be a lonely old woman besieged by pointless memories; in another country, there could be surprises and opportunities.

THE BLURB: In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.

MY THOUGHTS: What happened to Allende’s beautiful lyrical writing? It is MIA in In the Midst of Winter. I think I only stopped twice to roll a passage of the text around my mind and my mouth. The writing felt flat, unlike the previous books by this author which I really enjoyed.

I found this story quite depressing, both in its characters and the plot, both of which frequently left me feeling annoyed.

The story is mainly told about the three central characters, Lucia, Evelyn and Richard and over several different timelines, past and present. This doesn’t flow seamlessly and I found myself getting irritated by the constant tooing and froing. It was like a film that has been badly spliced. Disjointed.

I was disappointed. But perhaps she was just having a bad year. I may just reread The Japanese Lover to banish this from my mind. Definitely not what I have come to love and expect from this usually brilliant author.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster via Netgalley for providing a digital copy of In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the ‘about’ page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2172368567

Friday Favorite – The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Looking for something to read over the weekend?

Nothing on your book radar that is screaming “read me!”?

Check out my Friday Favorite  – it may not be new, it may not even be by an author you have ever heard of, but it will be a book that has captured both my imagination and my heart.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak certainly captured both my imagination and my heart. It would have to be my top rated read for 2017. It is an unusual book, and won’t be for everyone. But I ❤💙💚💛💜💓💕💖💗💞 love it, even though it 💔 in places.

It was a book that I didn’t want to let go of. I held it, and stroked it, even slept with it. I still can’t peruse my bookshelves without tenderly running my fingers down its spine…

If you haven’t already read this, I urge you to do so. If you have read it, I would like to hear your thoughts.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

EXCERPT: Yes, an illustrious career.

I should hasten to admit, however, that there was a considerable hiatus between the first stolen book and the second. Another noteworthy point is that the first was stolen from snow and the second from fire. Not to omit that others were also given to her. All told, she owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon.

When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything. Was it when she first set eyes on the room with shelves and shelves of them? Or when Max Vandenburg arrived on Himmel Street carrying handfuls of suffering and Hitler’s Mein Kampf ? Was it reading in the shelters? The last parade to Dachau? Was it The Word Shaker? Perhaps there would never be a precise answer as to when and where it occurred. In any case, that’s getting ahead of myself. Before we make it to any of that, we first need to tour Liesel Meminger’s beginnings on Himmel Street and the art of saumensching:

Upon her arrival, you could still see the bite marks of snow on her hands and the frosty blood on her fingers. Everything about her was undernourished. Wirelike shins. Coat hanger arms. She did not produce it easily, but when it came, she had a starving smile.

Her hair was a close enough brand of German blond, but she had dangerous eyes. Dark brown. You didn’t really want brown eyes in Germany around that time. Perhaps she received them from her father, but she had no way of knowing, as she couldn’t remember him. There was really only one thing she knew about her father. It was a label she did not understand.

A STRANGE WORD

Kommunist

She’d heard it several times in the past few years.

“Communist.”

There were boardinghouses crammed with people, rooms filled with questions. And that word. That strange word was always there somewhere, standing in the corner, watching from the dark. It wore suits, uniforms. No matter where they went, there it was, each time her father was mentioned. She could smell it and taste it. She just couldn’t spell or understand it. When she asked her mother what it meant, she was told that it wasn’t important, that she shouldn’t worry about such things. At one boardinghouse, there was a healthier woman who tried to teach the children to write, using charcoal on the wall. Liesel was tempted to ask her the meaning, but it never eventuated. One day, that woman was taken away for questioning. She didn’t come back.

THE BLURB: A story about, among other things: A girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Winner of the 2007 BookBrowse Ruby Award.

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

MY THOUGHTS: The Book Thief is brutal and beautiful. It is sad and inspiring. It is unforgettable and haunting. It is a book that should be read by everyone.

The Book Thief is narrated by Death himself. There are some things you probably need to know about Death. He does not carry a sickle or a scythe. He only wears a hooded black robe when it is cold. He doesn’t have those skull- like facial features so often ascribed to him. Do you want to know what he truly looks like? Take a look in the mirror. And, believe it or not, he has a heart.

We meet Leisel for the first time in January 1939. She is nine years old. Death also meets her for the first time when he stops to collect the soul of her six year old brother. He will meet her again. And Leisel is about to steal her first book.

The book is written in parts, each titled and with a brief description, eg Part Three, Mein Kampf, featuring: the way home – a broken woman – a struggler – a juggler – the attributes of summer – an Aryan shopkeeper – a snorer – two tricksters – and revenge in the shape of mixed lollies.

Scattered throughout the chapters are little notes from Death – ‘A Nice Thought – one was a book thief. The other stole the sky.’

The author’s language is almost poetic – ‘ As she crossed the river, a rumour of sunshine stood behind the clouds. ‘, ‘the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Leisel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out, like the rain. ‘ – in places, and in others it is clipped and brutal.

This is not an easy book to read at first, but increasingly as I read I could feel the author’s words embracing me, challenging me. It is a worthy read and has earned itsplace as my favorite book of the year to date.

All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the ‘about’ page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on my

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
A God in Ruins (Todd Family, #2) 
by Kate Atkinson

Reviewed by
EXCERPT: What had gone into the making of Teddy? Not slugs and snails, it was true, but generation upon generation of Beresfords and Todds, all coming to one singular point in a cold bed in the chill of an autumn night when his father had caught hold of the golden rope of his mother’s hair and hadn’t let go until he had hauled them both to the far shore (they had many euphemisms for the act). As they lay amongst the shipwreck of the marital bed they each felt slightly befuddled by the unexpected ardor of the other. Hugh cleared his throat and murmured, ‘A voyage into the deep, eh?’ Sylvie said nothing as she felt the seafaring metaphor had been stretched far enough.

But the grain had entered the shell (Sylvie’s own metaphoric stance) and the pearl that would be Edward Beresford Todd began to grow until he was revealed into the sunshine that came before the Great War and lay happily for hours on end in his pram with nothing but a silver hare dangling from the pram hood for company.

THE BLURB: In Life After Life Ursula Todd lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. In A God in Ruins, Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy – would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father – as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.

MY THOUGHTS: This is a complex book. There seems to be no order to it. It randomly jumps from Teddy’s childhood, to his old age, to his war years and back, interspersed with the lives of his one daughter, Viola, and her two children, Sunny and Bertie, and back again.

And yet, with her own inimitable style, Kate Atkinson pulls it off and rather splendidly at that. It is like sitting with a loved elderly relative, listening to them reminisce, where one memory leads to another, the tenuous thread that connects them known only to the narrator. And yet Atkinson draws you into this family. I laughed, I cried. I seethed at Viola’s indifference to her children, her father. I flew with Teddy on his sorties over Germany, crossing my fingers to keep him safe. I applauded his rescue of Sunny (aka Philip Villiers) from the Villiers enclave, and his careful nurturing of Bertie. And I wept at his gentle decline in residential care.

This is both a heart-wrenching and heartwarming read.

All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the ‘about’ page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2133985806?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

The Coven by Graham Masterton

The Coven by Graham Masterton
The Coven
by Graham Masterton

Reviewed by


EXCERPT: ‘Some of these girls are veritable savages when we first take them in. They are used to drinking gin and smoking and their everyday language would make Satan shrivel. They have been used by men ever since they can remember, sometimes by their own fathers and brothers, so they think nothing of virtue or virginity. In some cases, their own mothers have sold their maidenheads to the highest bidder to make ends meet…..A fair number learn to be thankful, I’ll grant you. But some regard us as pious busy bodies and cannot wait to return to their life on the streets. They relish the flattery they are given by licentious men, and the money. They enjoy the orgies, and the drink. They have never been used to discipline or decorum, and they cannot understand that they are not only destroying themselves here on earth but abnegating any chance they might have had of going to heaven. ‘

THE BLURB: London, 1758. Beatrice Scarlet has returned to London and found work at St. Mary Magdalene’s Refuse for fallen women. Beatrice enjoys the work and her apothecary skills are much needed. The home cooperates with a network of wealthy factory owners across London, finding their charges steady work and hopes of rehabilitation. But when 12 girls sent to a factory in Clerkenwell disappear, Beatrice is uneasy. Their would-be benefactor claims they were witches, sacrificed by Satan for his demonic misdeeds. But Beatrice is sure something much darker than witchcraft is at play.

MY THOUGHTS: I have to admit that I almost dnf’d this a couple of times in the earlier part of the book. I really only kept reading because I wanted to know if Noah was ever going to be found. I got the answer to my question, but if you want to know you can read the book for yourself.

The Coven is definitely not my favourite Masterton book. It is the second book in a series of, so far, two. I had not read the first, but The Coven can stand on its own. There is enough background information given so that the relevant events of the first in the series are explained.

My first quibble is with the title, The Coven. If you read this book you will see the relevance, which I still feel is rather tenuous anyway. The Coven gives the impression that the book is about witchcraft. It isn’t. Not even remotely. Which is not why I chose to read it anyway, but people with reading interests which lie in that field would be disappointed. This book could definitely have been better titled.

Masterton’s writing does get, somewhat uncharacteristically, laborious in parts. Although just occasionally his quirky sense of humour shines through, and again,occasionally, there are passages of his trademark beautiful prose.

Overall, I am glad I read The Coven. I liked it more than not, but only just. But probably not enough to bother with reading any more of the series, although Beatrice’s future does look rather more interesting. I will leave the jury out on that decision.

WARNING: The Coven contains graphic violence and sexual content.

Thank you to Head of Zeus via Netgalley for providing a digital copy of The Coven for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the ‘about’ page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on my https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2143005304?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber
This Side of Murder (Verity Kent, #1)
by Anna Lee Huber (Goodreads Author)

Reviewed by


AN EXCERPT: ‘You might question whether this is all a ruse, whether I truly have anything to reveal. But I know what kind of work you really did during the war. I know the secrets you hide. Why shouldn’t I also know your husband’s?’

THE BLURB: The Great War is over, but in this captivating new series from award-winning author Anna Lee Huber, one young widow discovers the real intrigue has only just begun . . .

An Unpardonable Sin?

England, 1919. Verity Kent’s grief over the loss of her husband pierces anew when she receives a cryptic letter, suggesting her beloved Sidney may have committed treason before his untimely death. Determined to dull her pain with revelry, Verity’s first impulse is to dismiss the derogatory claim. But the mystery sender knows too much—including the fact that during the war, Verity worked for the Secret Service, something not even Sidney knew.

Lured to Umbersea Island to attend the engagement party of one of Sidney’s fellow officers, Verity mingles among the men her husband once fought beside, and discovers dark secrets—along with a murder clearly meant to conceal them. Relying on little more than a coded letter, the help of a dashing stranger, and her own sharp instincts, Verity is forced down a path she never imagined—and comes face to face with the shattering possibility that her husband may not have been the man she thought he was. It’s a truth that could set her free—or draw her ever deeper into his deception . . .

MY THOUGHTS: ‘Who of us really knows what’s coming? Or what secrets will come back to haunt us in the end? The war might be over, but it still echoed through our lives like an endless roll of thunder. ‘
This Side of Murder is an excellent beginning to a new series, Verity Kent, by Daphne Award winning author Anna Lee Huber. I must rather shamefully admit that I had never heard of her prior to reading this book. I intend to remedy that, and sooner rather than later. She has two other series available, The Lady Darby Mysteries and Gothic Myths. Both sound equally appealing.

Huber had me hooked from the beginning. Set in post WWI England, Huber has written an absorbing and thrilling tale of spies, murder, treason and a little romance with a strong young female lead. The plot is complex, but not confusing, and the characters are magnificently portrayed. Like Verity, I never even came close to suspecting who was pulling the strings until all was finally revealed.

Full of action and suspense, This Side of Murder is an excellent read on many levels. It is both humorous and poignantly sad in places. It reveals the toll of the war from both sides; those left at home – ‘..how I had dreaded those letters. Each one seemed to relay news of another death, another tragedy. ‘; and those away fighting for their country – ‘they’d had no clue how dreadful the conditions were at the front, or the horrors their men had faced almost daily. The press never told the truth; propaganda at its finest. And the men didn’t want their loved ones back home to know it anyway, even though it caused countless divides and misunderstandings. They didn’t want the terrors they’d confronted to touch those they’d loved and gone to war to protect and preserve. ‘

This Side of Murder is both a touching and thrilling read.

Thank you to Kensington Books via Netgalley for providing a digital copy of This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. 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 my Goodreads.com page.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson

EXCERPT:”On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual.

For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways.”

THE BLURB: What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.

Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can – will she?

Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original – this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.


MY COMMENTS:  I love Kate Atkinson. But I had put off reading Life After Life as I really couldn’t get my head around the concept of reading about a person living their life over and over again. I thought, at best, it might be monotonous and repetitive. Kate Atkinson – forgive me! I was so, so wrong…..

Does anyone remember the George Michael song “Turn a Different Corner’?
“Take me back in time
Maybe I can forget
Turn a different corner
And we never would have met”

As a child Ursula lives with a constant sense of fear and deja vu. “I have been here before” she will say, and her mother will look at her and reply “You most certainly have not!” For Sylvie is upset by Ursula’s “feyness” and will take her to a psychologist in an effort to effect a cure for the “strangeness” of her second daughter; so unlike her elder sister, the steady and predictable Pamela.

Hilary Mantel calls Life After Life ‘a box of delights’. It certainly is that. It is also wildly inventive, quirky, absorbing and thought provoking.

I have already been out and bought “A God in Ruins”, Atkinson’s following book which is written from the point of View of Teddy, Ursula’s younger brother.

Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or to ‘about me’ here on my blog for an explanation of my ratings. This review is also published on my Goodreads.com page https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/953252217?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes

The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes
reviewed by


EXCERPT: ‘As she moved along, stately but sure, like the Lusitania departing from Liverpool, she thought she recognized a figure out of the corner of her eye. It gave Florence a start. Did he know she would be at Victoria? The man was slight, angular and frayed at the edges – a wooden life raft to her ocean liner. His back was half turned away and his hat was pulled down low so that she couldn’t be sure if he had seen her. Florence picked up the pace, her heart quickening. She spotted her Porter up ahead, waiting patiently by her bags, and she calmed herself. She had only to get on the train; in less than twenty minutes she’d be on her way. ….It was not long before the guard blew his final whistle. The train moved off, slowly at first, then gathered momentum steadily until, by the time it reached the first tunnel, it was rolling down the line at full speed. That was the last time anyone saw Florence Nightingale Shore alive. ..’

THE BLURB: It’s 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.

Louisa’s salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy – an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.

But then a nurse – Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake – is killed on a train in broad daylight, and Louisa and Nancy find themselves entangled in the crimes of a murderer who will do anything to hide their secret . . . ‘

MY VIEWS: I didn’t realize, when I began The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes, that it is based on a real murder. It was not until I reached the end of the book and read the author’s historical note, that I discovered Florence Nightingale Shore actually existed, that she was god-daughter of the famous woman herself, and that she was indeed attacked on the Brighton line Monday 12 January, 1920 and died a few days later of her injuries. Nobody was ever found guilty of her murder.

The Mitford Murders is a captivating blend of fact and fiction. Newspaper reports of the interviews conducted with the witnesses at the Inquest have been used to recreate the events. People, including Florence’s friend Mabel, the Mitford family and their servants, also have their roots in reality, although some things have been changed for the benefit of the novel.

Fellowes has captured the atmosphere of the early 1920s splendidly. The war is over, but nothing has quite returned to normal. There is a shortage of men; many physically and psychologically wounded soldiers have returned home to nothing, wondering what it was all for. Life is nothing like we know it. The British class system is still very evident. Poverty is a way of life for the lower classes where survival is all, violence and intimidation a way of life . But then again, perhaps nothing has really changed after all, only fashion and technology.

The Mitford Murders is a captivating read. Fellowes, perhaps best known for her Downtown Abbey books, is very good at what she does. This is, apparently, the first book of a new series,one I am looking forward to reading.

Thank you to Hachette Australia via Netgalley for providing a digital copy of The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page for an explanation of my ratings. This review and others can also be viewed at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2125151750