Watching what I’m reading . . .

I didn’t post yesterday as I was struggling with a migraine all day. We were meant to be going out for lunch with friends, but that never happened. Feeling better today, but sluggish.

My posts over the next few weeks will be sporadic. I have my grandson arriving this afternoon for the first week of the NZ school holidays. There are a few activities at our local library that he will enjoy, so I will take him to those. Whatever else we decide to do will be dependent on the weather.

After he goes home, I have my replacement starting at work so that will be pretty intensive for the first couple of weeks. After that I will gradually withdraw and hopefully my time will be my own again. 🤞 this one works out.

Currently I am reading Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths

The Party Guest by Amanda Robson

And listening to On a Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass

Who wouldn’t want to live in Brighton Hills? This exclusive community on the Oregon coast is the perfect mix of luxury and natural beauty. Stunning houses nestle beneath mighty Douglas firs, and lush backyards roll down to the lakefront. It’s the kind of place where neighbors look out for one another. Sometimes a little too closely…

Cora thinks her husband, Finn, is cheating—she just needs to catch him in the act. That’s where Paige comes in. Paige lost her son to a hit-and-run last year, and she’s drowning in the kind of grief that makes people do reckless things. Like spying on the locals, searching for proof that her son’s death was no accident. And agreeing to Cora’s plan to reveal what kind of man Finn really is. All the while, their reclusive new neighbor, Georgia, is acting more strangely every day. But what could such a lovely young mother possibly be hiding?

When you really start to look beyond the airy open floor plans and marble counters, Brighton Hills is filled with secrets. Some big, some little, some deadly. And one by one, they’re about to be revealed…

This week I have the following books to read for review:

Bernice Runs Away by Talya Tate Boerner

Life hasn’t always been easy for Bernice, but she is reasonably content at the ripe age of eighty-one. She has raised two children, buried both her husband and son, and is doing okay despite a few minor health issues. When Bernice’s daughter, Sarah, insists the time has come for Bernice to forfeit her independence and move into her backyard carriage house, Bernice refuses.

“I have a perfectly good house in Arkansas. Why on earth would I move to Atlanta?”

Despite Bernice’s protestations, Sarah moves forward with death cleaning and estate sale planning as though Bernice has no say in the matter.

Bernice has plenty to say about a variety of things.

With Miss Fiona packed stem to stern with only those things that spark joy (thank you, Marie Kondo) and inspired by an old black-and-white photograph of her first true love, Bernice leaves her cozy home in Savage Crossing without a glance in the rearview mirror. And without a word to her family.

Once Bernice decides to run away, there is no telling what might happen next.

The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict

Twelve clues. Twelve keys. Twelve days of Christmas. But how many will die before Twelfth Night?

The annual Christmas Game is afoot at Endgame House, the Armitages’ grand family home. This year’s prize is to die for–deeds to the house itself–but Lily Armitage has no intention of returning. She hasn’t been back to Endgame since her mother died, twenty-one years ago, and she has no intention of claiming the house that haunts her dreams.

Until, that is, she receives a letter from her aunt promising that the game’s riddles will give her the keys not only to Endgame, but to its darkest secrets, including the identity of her mother’s murderer.

Now, Lily must compete with her estranged cousins for the twelve days of Christmas. The snow is thick, the phone lines are down, and no one is getting in or out. Lily will have to keep her wits about her, because not everyone is playing fair, and there’s no telling how many will die before the winner is declared.

The Stranger Vanishes by Wendy Corsi Staub

In the quirky, picturesque lakeside community of Lily Dale, where the residents can talk to the dead, young widow Bella Jordan is the lone skeptic among believers. She doesn’t believe in ghosts . . . but after a year in the village, she would admit that her new friends do sometimes seem to know impossible things.

Still, when a Black stranger dressed in old-fashioned clothing arrives unexpectedly at Bella’s guesthouse at midnight on Juneteenth, only to vanish the next day as if he’d never existed, Bella’s sure there has to be a logical explanation. One that has nothing to do with the strange warning Odelia, the medium next door, delivers from the Spirits: Beware of . . . Barry?!

Bella doesn’t know a Barry, and she has enough people in her life already, what with her young son Max and their two kitties, handsome vet Drew, a plethora of kind but nosy neighbors and a full house of summer guests. But as the mystery of the missing stranger deepens, she starts to wonder: did the Spirits really mean Barry? Or did they mean bury . . .

Keeping Up Appearances by Tricia Stringer

Privacy is hard to maintain in Badara, the kind of small Australian country town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. So discovers single mum Paige when she and her three children arrive from the city seeking refuge. Paige’s only respite from child care and loneliness is the Tuesday gym club, where she had feared the judgement of the town matriarchs, but she is met only with generosity and a plethora of baked goods. Besides, both the brusque Marion and her polished sister-in-law Briony are too busy dealing with their own dramas to examine hers.

Well-to-do farmer’s wife and proud mother Briony is in full denial of her family’s troubles. Even with her eldest daughter’s marriage in ruins and her son Blake’s recent bombshell. Suddenly Briony and husband Vince have a full house again – and the piles of laundry aren’t the only dirty linen that’s about to be aired.

For Marion, the unearthing of a time capsule – its contents to be read at the Celebrate Badara weekend – is a disaster. She was only a teenager when she wrote down those poisonous words, but that doesn’t mean she won’t lose friends and family if they hear what she really thinks of them – especially as the letter reveals their darkest secrets to the world.

When the truth comes out for Badara, keeping up appearances may no longer be an option for anyone … 

Wolf Pack by Will Dean

A closed community

Rose Farm is home to a group of survivalists, completely cut off from the outside world. Until now.

A missing person

A young woman goes missing within the perimeter of the farm compound. Can Tuva talk her way inside the tight-knit group to find her story?

A frantic search

As Tuva attempts to unmask the culprit, she gains unique access to the residents. But soon she finds herself in danger of the pack turning against her – will she make her way back to safety so she can expose the truth?

Will Dean’s most heart-pounding Tuva Moodyson thriller yet takes Tuva to her absolute limits in exposing a heinous crime, and in her own personal life. Can she, and will she, do the right thing? 

We Spread Iain Reid

Penny, an artist, has lived in the same apartment for decades, surrounded by the artifacts and keepsakes of her long life. She is resigned to the mundane rituals of old age, until things start to slip. Before her longtime partner passed away years earlier, provisions were made, unbeknownst to her, for a room in a unique long-term care residence, where Penny finds herself after one too many “incidents.”

Initially, surrounded by peers, conversing, eating, sleeping, looking out at the beautiful woods that surround the house, all is well. She even begins to paint again. But as the days start to blur together, Penny—with a growing sense of unrest and distrust—starts to lose her grip on the passage of time and on her place in the world. Is she succumbing to the subtly destructive effects of aging, or is she an unknowing participant in something more unsettling?

Winter People by Gráinne Murphy

Sis Cotter has lived her whole life in a small house by her beloved beach. Here, she grew up, reared her family, and buried her husband. Now her children are far away and, in three days, her house will be taken from her.

Next door, Lydia has withdrawn from her husband, her friends, her life. She watches the sea as her own private penance for a wrong she can never put right.

Peter’s best friend is dying, and his long-time foster mother is slowly forgetting who he is. Adrift without his two anchors, and struggling with the ethics of displacing people for a living, he looks for something to remind him of who he is and who he wants to be.

I received twelve (yes 12 – stop laughing Susan and Carla!) new ARCs for review. They are:

The Locked Attic by B.P. Walter

The Hemsworth Effect by James Weir

Where They Lie by Joe Hart

The Devil Stone by Caro Ramsay

A Song of Comfortable Chairs by Alexander McCall Smith

When We Were Friends by Nancy Yeager

Hidden Scars (DI Kim Stone #17) by Angela Marsons

Death at an Auction by E.C. Bateman

A Body at Lavender Cottage by Dee MacDonald

A Cast of Falcons by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett

And the audiobook Dead Man’s Grave, written by Neil Lancaster and narrated by Angus King. This is the only book in the series that I haven’t yet read.

I went to an annual charity book sale earlier this afternoon – encouraged by my lovely husband because he thought it might make me feel better. He even drove me there as I didn’t feel up to driving – and came home with fourteen new books for me and one for him. I will write a post about them at a later date. But you can tell that I still wasn’t feeling great – last year I came home with 30!

Have a wonderful week’s reading!

Murder Through the English Post by Jessica Ellicott

EXCERPT: The envelope seemed to be a perfectly ordinary sort. In fact, there was nothing about it that called any notice. It certainly did not seem the sort of thing to provoke offense. In fact, the hand writing was extremely tidy and legible. It was addressed to Michael Blackburn at the garage and had been neatly slit open with a letter opener. There was no return address and it had been postmarked for the previous week. Edwina slipped her hand inside and extracted a sheet of paper. She unfolded it and, to her surprise, saw before her a document comprised of letters and words cut from newspapers and magazines. She quickly read through the information it contained then looked back at Michael.

‘I can see why you would be infuriated by receiving this.’ She turned towards Norman. ‘Norman, did you tell customers at Mr Scott’s shop that Michael had not in fact received his injury by fighting the enemy but rather had been shot while trying to desert his unit?’ Edwina asked, tapping her finger against the offensive document.

She kept her eyes trained carefully on Norman Davies face. She considered herself to be quite a good judge of dishonesty and all she saw flickering across his face was complete and total bafflement. He shook his head slowly as if stunned by what he was hearing.

‘I would never say a thing like that. I would never even think of things like that. Michael and I have been friends since we were boys and I know exactly what kind of man he is. Who would say such a hateful thing about him, or about me?’ Norman said turning back towards the assembled crowd in the gallery.

Who indeed? Edwina wondered.

ABOUT ‘MURDER THROUGH THE ENGLISH POST’: A rash of poison pen letters has enveloped the sleepy English village of Walmsley Parva in cloud of suspicion and paranoia. But when rampant aspersions culminate in murder, enquiry agents Beryl Helliwell and Edwina Davenport must stamp out the evil-minded epistles . . .

What began for two dear if very different friends–an American adventuress and a prim and proper Brit–as a creative response to the lean times following the Great War has evolved into a respectable private enquiry business. So much so that Constable Gibbs calls upon Beryl and Edwina to solve a curious campaign of character assassination.

A series of anonymous accusations sent via post have set friend against friend and neighbor against neighbor. In her new position as magistrate, Edwina has already had to settle one dispute that led to fisticuffs. Even Beryl has received a poison pen letter, and while she finds its message preposterous and laughable, others are taking the missives to heart. Their headstrong housekeeper Beddoes is ready to resign and one villager has attempted to take her own life.

The disruption of the peace goes far beyond malicious mischief when another villager is murdered. Now it’s up to the intrepid sleuths to read between the lines and narrow down the suspects to identify the lethal letter writer and ensure that justice is delivered . . .

MY THOUGHTS: Delightfully entertaining.

Although this is #6 in a series, and I haven’t read any of the previous books – something I intend remedying – I had no problems with either the storyline or the characters. The author kindly provides just enough background on the characters so that the reader knows a little about them and how they came to their present positions, and each book is a ‘self-contained’ mystery.

This series is set after the war in the English village of Walmsley Parva, where life proceeds at a slow pace and, if you want to know the current gossip you pay the local postmistress a visit. There’s a village pub, a village doctor, a store, a church or two, and the gardening circle.

Edwina has been in some financial difficulties, making it necessary for her to take in lodgers, resulting in somewhat unusual living arrangements, themselves the cause of some village gossip. Beryl, an American, has been slow to have been accepted by the locals, her different background and lack of knowledge of etiquette causing a few problems. Simpkins, the second lodger, was the gardener and husband of the Edwina’s recently deceased housekeeper.

Edwina and Beryl have started a Private Investigators Agency, something totally unheard of for two women to undertake in this era! It is to them that the local constable turns when a rash of poison pen letters start being received in the village. Through their investigation we meet many of the villagers, and I had to wonder, as the contents of the various letters were revealed, if there couldn’t be a grain of truth in at least some of the accusations.

The author kept me interested throughout this book. She gave nothing away and there were no obvious suspects. I was kept guessing right up to the very satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed the main characters’ quirks and the easy relationship between the three housemates. The dialogue is well written and flows easily, as does the plot.

Altogether a fun and satisfying read. I was lucky enough to be provided with both a digital and audio copy of Murder Through the English Post, and enjoyed both equally.

⭐⭐⭐.6

#MurderThroughtheEnglishPost #NetGalley

I: @jessicaellicottauthor @kensingtonbooks @recordedbooks

T: #JessicaEllicott @KensingtonBooks

#cosymystery #historicalfiction @recordedbooks

THE AUTHOR: Jessica Ellicott loves fountain pens, Mini Coopers, and throwing parties. She lives in northern New England where she obsessively knits wool socks and enthusiastically speaks Portuguese with a shocking disregard for the rules of grammar.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Kensington Books for providing the digital ARC and RB Media for providing the audio ARC of Murder Through the English Post by Jessica Ellicott 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

Dead End Street (Jimmy Mullen #3) by Trevor Wood

EXCERPT: He liked sleeping with the dead.

Some people might think it weird but sod them and the horse they rode in on. There was a reason they talked about laying people to rest. Graveyards were an oasis of calm, a place to think about where it all went wrong – or, as in his case, how others had screwed it up for you and how you were going to make them pay.

ABOUT ‘DEAD END STREET’: A group of vigilantes are carrying out a campaign of harassment against the homeless, hounding them both verbally and physically to get them off the streets. Jimmy Mullen is approached by his friend Gadge, who wants to confront the people behind it but Jimmy has finally got his life back on track. He’s working at a hostel for 18 to 25-year-olds and he’s reluctant to get involved in anything dodgy.

Gadge decides to go it alone but is attacked by two of the vigilantes. The police find him unconscious in an alley, covered in blood. Problem is, there’s a dead body in the alley too and it’s his blood that Gadge is covered in. He’s also got the murder weapon in his hand.

Convinced that Gadge has been set up, and feeling guilty that he didn’t back him up in the first place, Jimmy returns to the streets to try and find out who’s behind his friend’s difficulties. Unfortunately, he’s about to discover that Gadge has a lot of enemies to choose from.

MY THOUGHTS: I have really enjoyed this series and am a little sad that it has come to an end.

Sherlock Homless – this is the tag that young Deano has coined for Jimmy Mullen, a homeless man who can’t turn his back on a friend or walk away from a mystery.

If you need reminding that everyone has a story, then this is the series for you. The first in the series, The Man on the Street is Jimmy’s story. The second, One Way Street, is Deano’s story, and this, the third book in the trilogy is Gadge’s story. And what stories they are! All are compelling and engaging.

Trevor Wood provides a realistic look at the life of the homeless and provides the backstories to show just how they got to where they are. It’s not pretty reading. Wood writes with a grim reality, a rare empathy, a warm wit and a sense of hope.

The plots are well crafted as are the various characters. The relationship between these three characters is based on trust and loyalty. I love their banter, constantly putting one another down, but always ready to protect the others back.

It is essential to read this series in order. I doubt that any but the first book would work as a stand-alone. I have loved this series and admit to shedding a few tears towards the end of this one. Highly recommended.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.4

#DeadEndStreet #NetGalley

I: @trevorwood5822 @quercusbooks

T: @TrevorWoodWrite @QuercusBooks

#contemporaryfiction #crime #murdermystery #privateinvestigator #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Trevor Wood has lived in Newcastle for twenty-five years and considers himself an adopted Geordie. He’s a successful playwright who has also worked as a journalist and spin-doctor for the City Council. Prior to that he served in the Royal Navy for sixteen years.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Quercus Books via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Dead End Street by Trevor 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 Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021 edited by Steph Cha and Alafair Burke

EXCERPT: Taken from Let Her Be by Lisa Unger – We move away, the bell ringing as we exit. Emily is far ahead of me, out in the night. She doesn’t hear him say before the door closes: “They say the brother did it. There was always something off about that boy.”

I pretend I didn’t hear it, don’t let it upset me the way it used to. There were endless rumours then – a beautiful young girl dies by accident, and no one wants to accept that. No one wants to accept the randomness of it all.

Believe me, I get it.

ABOUT ‘THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE 2021’: Steph Cha, a rising star who brings a fresh perspective as series editor, takes the helm of the new TheBest American Mystery and Suspense, with best-selling crime novelist Alafair Burke joining her as the first guest editor.

Beginning with the 2021 volume, the annual short story anthology The Best American Mystery Stories will become The Best American Mystery and Suspense. New series editor Steph Cha and best-selling guest editor Alafair Burke select the best short mystery and suspense fiction of the year.

“Crime writers, forgive the pun, are killing it right now creatively,” writes guest editor Alafair Burke in her introduction. “It was difficult—painful even—to narrow this year’s Best American Mystery and Suspense to only twenty stories.” Spanning from a mediocre spa in Florida, to New York’s gritty East Village, to death row in Alabama, this collection reveals boundless suspense in small, quiet moments, offering startling twists in the least likely of places. From a powerful response to hateful bullying, to a fight for health care, to a gripping desperation to vote, these stories are equal parts shocking, devastating, and enthralling, revealing the tension pulsing through our everyday lives and affirming that mystery and suspense writing is better than ever before.

MY THOUGHTS: There’s a very mixed bag of stories in this year’s collection. There is a small handful of excellent stories: Neighbours by Nikki Dolsan; Green Eyed Monster by Charis Jones; Slow Burner by Laura Lippman; and Let Her Be by Lisa Unger. But the majority of the stories sat in the 2.5 – 3.5 range for me.

My biggest gripe about most of the stories were that they weren’t suspenseful, nor were they a mystery. The ones I have rated highly were either intriguing, or had my heart pounding as I frantically flipped virtual pages.

There were a couple of stories that I thought were totally pointless, and one that seemed to me like a chapter extracted from a book. It seemed that there ought to have been something before it, and definitely something after it. But most were simply average.

Here’s a list of the contents and my ratings:
1. Return to India by Jenny Bhatt ⭐⭐
2. Swaj by Christopher Bolton ⭐⭐⭐.5
3. Neighbours by Nikki Dolson ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
4. Mala Suerte by E. Gabriel Flores ⭐⭐⭐
5. Where I Belong by Alison Gaylin ⭐⭐⭐.5
6. With Footnotes and References by Gar Anthony Haywood ⭐⭐⭐.5
7. The Good Thief by Ravi Howard ⭐⭐⭐
8. Everything is Going to be Okay by Gabino Iglesias ⭐⭐⭐
9. Green Eyed Monster by Charis Jones ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
10. Potato Sandwich Days by Preston Lang ⭐⭐
11. Frederick Douglass Elementary by Aya de León ⭐⭐.5
12. Infinity Sky by Kristen Lepionka ⭐⭐.5
13. Slow Burner Laura Lippman ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
14. Mr Forble by Joanna Pearson ⭐⭐
15. The Killer by Delia Pitts ⭐⭐.5
16. Wings Beating by Eliot Schrefer ⭐⭐⭐⭐
17. 90 Miles by Alex Segura ⭐⭐
18. Land of Promise by Brian Silverman ⭐⭐.5
19. One Bullet, One Vote by Faye Snowden ⭐⭐⭐.5
20. Let Her Be by Lisa Unger ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Overall rating – ⭐⭐⭐.25

#TheBestAmericanMysteryandSuspense2021 #NetGalley

#contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #domesticdrama #familydrama #mystery #historicalfiction #murdermystery #privateinvestigator #shortstories #psychologicalthriller #romanticsuspense

THE AUTHORS: STEPH CHA is the author of the Juniper Song mystery series and Your House Will Pay, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller and has been nominated for a Young Lions Fiction Award, a Macavity Award, a Lefty Award, a Barry Award, and a Dagger Award, as well as long-listed for the Aspen Prize. She’s an editor and critic whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, where she edited the noir section for almost five years. A native of the San Fernando Valley, she lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Alafair Burke is the New York Times, Edgar-nominated author of fourteen crime novels, including The Ex, The Wife, The Better Sister, and the forthcoming Find Me. She is also the co-author of several novels with Mary Higgins Clark. A graduate of Stanford Law School and a former Deputy District Attorney in Portland, Oregon, Alafair is now a Professor of Law at Hofstra Law School, where she teaches criminal law and procedure.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021 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

Down the Hatch by M.C. Beaton

EXCERPT: The scream came again.

This time, there was no mistaking the direction. It had come from behind the tall hedge bordering the path along which Agatha was walking. She ran towards a black wrought iron gate set in the hedge, thankful that she had changed her fragile office high heels for more robust low wedges before taking her walk. Bursting through the gate, she found herself in an area of flat open lawn. There were three people there dressed in white. One was a grey-bearded man lying on the grass, one was an elderly lady collapsed in some distress and the third was an old man, tending to the woman. Agatha rushed over to the woman, who was breathing heavily, clearly distressed, her eyelids fluttering.

‘What happened?’ asked Agatha, kneeling to talk to the man, who was cradling the woman in his arms.

‘My wife collapsed,’ he explained, then nodded towards the figure lying on the grass, ‘when she saw him.’

‘I’ll be fine….’ the woman gasped, looking up at her husband, ‘a little thirsty…’

Agatha reached into her handbag and handed the woman a small plastic bottle of mineral water that was to have been part of her calorie controlled lunch. She also grabbed her phone, calling for an ambulance while heading towards the man spread-eagled on the grass.

‘Yes, an ambulance, please. Mircester Park at the…’ she glanced up at a sign above the door of a neat pavilion that overlooked the lawn, ‘Mircester Crown Green Bowling Club. One woman collapsed and one man…’ she looked down at the grey-bearded man on the ground, ‘looks dead.’

ABOUT ‘DOWN THE HATCH’: Private detective Agatha Raisin, having recently taken up power-walking, is striding along a path in Mircester Park during her lunch break when she hears a cry for help. Rushing over, she finds an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Swinburn, in the middle of the green–with the body of an old man lying at their feet.

The man, who the coroner determines died by poisoning, was known as the Admiral, a gardener notorious for his heavy drinking, and Chief Inspector Wilkes writes the death off as an accident caused by the consumption of weedkiller stored in a rum bottle. Agatha is not convinced that anyone would mistake weedkiller for rum but carries on with her work at Raisin Investigations, until she receives an anonymous tip that the Admiral’s death was no accident.

Local gossip points to the Swinburns themselves as the killers, spurred by a feud at the club where they, as well as the Admiral, were members. Distraught at this accusation, they turn to Agatha to clear their name, and she takes the case–despite the warnings of Chief Inspector Wilkes.

Agatha encounters one suspicious character after another, becoming further enmeshed in the Admiral’s own dark and shady past. And when she’s run off the road, narrowly escaping with her life, and then another attack occurs, it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want the case closed–and will stop at nothing to prevent Agatha from solving it.

MY THOUGHTS: This is the 32nd book in the Agatha Raisin series and it’s a lot of fun. If the fact that it is the 32nd book is a little daunting, let me reassure you that there is absolutely no need to have read the previous books to enjoy this. Each book works perfectly well on its own.

I read the very first in this series, The Quiche of Death, many years ago and didn’t like it at all. Then a few years ago I came across another Agatha Raisin, I can’t remember what it was called, but I quite enjoyed it and have been dipping in and out of this series ever since.

Down the Hatch is a classic English mystery set in a village in the Cotswolds, and the first death occurs at the local bowling club. Who knew bowlers were such a feisty lot?

There is plenty of misdirection in the form of red herrings and plenty of suspects at whom to point fingers. Not only does Agatha have a murder or two to solve, but also exotic animal smugglers to catch, which almost proves to be her undoing.

The majority of characters might best be described as bucolic, with the exception of Agatha and her sidekick Toni. Agatha upholds her standards with her high heels and handbags, the latter of which came in jolly handy in this story.

I thought the action leading up to the resolution was rather clever, and I enjoyed it. I will certainly be picking up more in this series to read.

Dame Penelope Keith narrated the audiobook of Down the Hatch. I could listen to her all day. She narrates Agatha beautifully, although she did slip back into her own voice occasionally when narrating long passages of other characters. It really didn’t seem to matter, though.

There was a rather interesting foreword by R.W. Green, who has taken over the writing of the series since M.C. Beaton’s death in 2019. There is also an introduction by M.C. Beaton in which she explains how the Agatha Raisin series came about.

This was a fun mystery, which I almost got right.

⭐⭐⭐.6

#DowntheHatch #NetGalley

I: @mcbeaton12345 @blackstonepublishing

T: @mc_beaton @BlackstonePublishing

#audiobook #contemporaryfiction #crime #murdermystery #privateinvestigator

THE AUTHOR: Marion Chesney was born on 1936 in Glasgow, Scotland, UK, and started her first job as a bookseller in charge of the fiction department in John Smith & Sons Ltd. While bookselling, by chance, she got an offer from the Scottish Daily Mail to review variety shows and quickly rose to be their theatre critic. She left Smith’s to join Scottish Field magazine as a secretary in the advertising department, without any shorthand or typing, but quickly got the job of fashion editor instead. She then moved to the Scottish Daily Express where she reported mostly on crime. This was followed by a move to Fleet Street to the Daily Express where she became chief woman reporter. After marrying Harry Scott Gibbons and having a son, Charles, Marion went to the United States where Harry had been offered the job of editor of the Oyster Bay Guardian. When that didn’t work out, they went to Virginia and Marion worked as a waitress in a greasy spoon on the Jefferson Davies in Alexandria while Harry washed the dishes. Both then got jobs on Rupert Murdoch’s new tabloid, The Star, and moved to New York.

Anxious to spend more time at home with her small son, Marion, urged by her husband, started to write historical romances in 1977. After she had written over 100 of them under her maiden name, Marion Chesney, and under the pseudonyms: Ann Fairfax, Jennie Tremaine, Helen Crampton, Charlotte Ward, and Sarah Chester, she getting fed up with 1714 to 1910, she began to write detectives stories in 1985 under the pseudonym of M. C. Beaton. On a trip from the States to Sutherland on holiday, a course at a fishing school inspired the first Constable Hamish Macbeth story. They returned to Britain and bought a croft house and croft in Sutherland where Harry reared a flock of black sheep. But Charles was at school, in London so when he finished and both tired of the long commute to the north of Scotland, they moved to the Cotswolds where Agatha Raisin was created.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Blackstone Publishing via Netgalley for providing an audio ARC of Down the Hatch by M.C. Beaton and R.W. Green and narrated by Dame Penelope Keith 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

Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger

EXCERPT: You shift, close your arms around me, and whisper, ‘Tell me something you’ve never told anyone else.’

Up to this moment, I’ve measured everything I’ve shared with you. I’ve given myself over in pieces, slivers of truth, layers of self, curated memories, only the most banal likes and dislikes. But there are things I’ve hidden. It hasn’t been necessary to bare all; relationships these days rarely last. I can’t afford to give all of myself away to someone who may ghost me without a moment’s notice.

Does he know? Jax asked when I confessed how much I liked you.

No, I told her.

When will you tell him?

Now, I think. This is the moment. Tell now or it becomes a lie, something I’ve hidden. So, in the warmth of your embrace, in the dark of the hours after midnight, I tell you something I’ve never told anyone else.

ABOUT ‘LAST GIRL GHOSTED’: Think twice before you swipe.

She met him through a dating app. An intriguing picture on a screen, a date at a downtown bar. What she thought might be just a quick hookup quickly became much more. She fell for him—hard. It happens sometimes, a powerful connection with a perfect stranger takes you by surprise. Could it be love?

But then, just as things were getting real, he stood her up. Then he disappeared—profiles deleted, phone disconnected. She was ghosted.

Maybe it was her fault. She shared too much, too fast. But isn’t that always what women think—that they’re the ones to blame? Soon she learns there were others. Girls who thought they were in love. Girls who later went missing. She had been looking for a connection, but now she’s looking for answers. Chasing a digital trail into his dark past—and hers—she finds herself on a dangerous hunt. And she’s not sure whether she’s the predator—or the prey.

MY THOUGHTS: Last Girl Ghosted is disturbing on many levels. It is dark and gritty and so very plausible. Set in the world of online dating and at the time where there are media rumblings of a pandemic virus emerging in China, Unger takes the reader on a journey involving PTSD, familial abuse, missing women, and so much more.

I am usually the first person to criticise an author for trying to cram multiple ‘themes’ into one novel, but Unger makes it work and work brilliantly. The threads are tightly woven together to form a richly coloured tapestry, a compelling read that kept me enthralled from beginning to end.

I loved Wren’s character – strong yet vulnerable. She wasn’t always Wren. She was once Robin, a child who suffered an unimaginable trauma, who has emerged intent on helping others, albeit anonymously through her advice column Dear Birdie. She worries about these people and their problems. Sometimes she dreams about them. But ultimately she believes that by helping them, she is helping herself to become stronger.

And Adam. Hell, I fell for Adam. He’s very good at what he does. And I loved that he’s not smooth and handsome.

Bailey Kirk is a PI, hired by one of the missing women’s fathers to find his daughter. But it has become something of a personal crusade for him. It’s a case that has gotten under his skin. All the missing women have a similar background: they have suffered a great tragedy and are wealthy. All have dated Adam through dating apps. Wren is the latest. But Wren is still here. She is not missing, but Adam is. Bailey believes that Wren is his best chance of catching Adam. He doesn’t believe that Adam will walk away from Wren. But if Adam contacts her again, will Wren tell him? It’s a cat and mouse situation.

The story is told mainly from Wren’s perspective over two timelines; the current day and her traumatic childhood. We occasionally get the story told from Bailey’s perspective.

There is nothing banal or mundane in Last Girl Ghosted. I loved it from beginning to end. I was rooting for Wren the whole way through. And yes, for Adam too. I wanted him to be redeemed. Was he? Not telling. You’ll have to read Last Girl Ghosted to find out.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

#LastGirlGhosted #NetGalley

I: @launger @hqstories

T: @lisaunger @HQstories

#contemporaryfiction #crime #mystery #privateinvestigator #psychologicalthriller #suspense

THE AUTHOR: Lisa Unger is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author. With books published in thirty languages and millions of copies sold worldwide, she is widely regarded as a master of suspense. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her family.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to HQ Digital for providing a digital ARC of Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

Watching What I’m Reading . . .

I hope to get my home office finished this week so that the carpet can be laid. The new double glazed joinery arrives tomorrow and will begin to be installed. Yes, we are under lockdown but things like this can still go ahead. Which is good. But there are other things that cannot be done, which I simply don’t understand. Why can’t those of us who are double vaccinated move about freely? Instead a large number of unvaccinated met publicly in Auckland yesterday to protest . . . I guess it is what it is and in the meantime I am just going to enjoy my time off. I do miss being able to see my son and grandson though. I have been trying to do some Christmas shopping for Luke online. It’s difficult, especially when it comes to books, so as a result it hasn’t got past Lego and a couple of small toys. There’s nothing quite like being able to riffle through a child’s book.

Currently I am reading Many Deadly Returns, a short story collection by members and past members of the Murder Squad, a group of award-winning crime and mystery writers, compiled to celebrate their twenty-first birthday. There are some cracking good stories in here, and Vera Stanhope makes an appearance in the very first story in the book written, of course, by Ann Cleeves.

I am currently listening to Down the Hatch (Agatha Raisin #32) by M.C. Beaton. I have only read or listened to a handful of this series, and not in order, but it really doesn’t seem to matter. I am enjoying this, especially since it is narrated by Penelope Keith, whom I could listen to all day.

This week I am planning on reading The Way it is Now by Garry Disher, which I received during the week.

Set in a beach-shack town an hour from Melbourne, The Way It Is Now tells the story of a burnt-out cop named Charlie Deravin.

Charlie is living in his family’s holiday house, on forced leave since he made a mess of things at work.

Things have never been easy for Charlie. Twenty years earlier his mother went missing in the area, believed murdered. His father has always been the main suspect, though her body was never found.

Until now: the foundations are being dug for a new house on a vacant block. The skeletal remains of a child and an adult are found—and Charlie’s past comes crashing in on him.

And The Best American Mystery and Suspense, an annual short story anthology.

Crime writers, forgive the pun, are killing it right now creatively,” writes guest editor Alafair Burke in her introduction. “It was difficult—painful even—to narrow this year’s Best American Mystery and Suspense to only twenty stories.” Spanning from a mediocre spa in Florida, to New York’s gritty East Village, to death row in Alabama, this collection reveals boundless suspense in small, quiet moments, offering startling twists in the least likely of places. From a powerful response to hateful bullying, to a fight for health care, to a gripping desperation to vote, these stories are equal parts shocking, devastating, and enthralling, revealing the tension pulsing through our everyday lives and affirming that mystery and suspense writing is better than ever before.

I received 4 new ARCs this week, one of which was the M.C. Beaton audiobook, and another the Garry Disher Australian crime novel which is my next read. The other two I received are:

The Dinner Lady Detectives by Hannah Hendy

And A Thousand Steps by Jefferson T. Parker

I managed to read one back title this week on top of my planned reads, which was Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger. Watch for my review.

I still have twenty-seven requests pending.

In the past week I have been to Dune Island, Massachusetts; Netherton and Sheffield, both in Yorkshire, England; the Cotswolds, also in England; Kirkby Abbey, Cumbria; Ludlow, Shropshire; and London, England. Have we crossed paths anywhere? Where have you been?

The sun has gone behind the clouds now and the wind is picking up so I think that I will abandon my gardening plans and instead settle down with my book.

Have a wonderful week. ❤📚

Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

EXCERPT: This is how most cases start. With a bubble of desperate hope and tentative trust. Where things go from here, how Guerline and Emmanuel might view me months from now . . .

Emmanuel walks me back downstairs. He doesn’t speak a word, relying on the rigid set of his shoulders to radiate disapproval.

‘You love Angelique,’ I state softly when we reach the lobby. She’s a good older sister. She looks out for you.’

He glares at me, but I see a bright sheen in his eyes. The pain he’s trying hard not to show.

‘You really done this before?’ he asks roughly.

‘Many times.’

‘How many people have you actually found?’

‘Fourteen.’

He purses his lips, clearly taken aback by that number.

‘Goodnight Emmanuel. And if you think of anything I should know.’ I stick out my hand. This time he takes it.

Then I exit the triple, out into the crisp fall night, where the sun has set. Bright lights wink in the distance. But on this block no streetlights are working. Not the best idea for a lone woman to be walking around after dark, but I hardly have a choice.

I square my shoulders and head briskly back toward Stoney’s, grateful it hadn’t occurred to Emmanuel to ask the next logical question.

Not just how many people I’d found, but how many people I’d found alive.

None.

At least, not yet.

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

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

MY THOUGHTS: Can someone please explain to me how and why I have never previously read anything by this author of twenty books? Because I am sure I don’t know. What I do know is – that is about to change!

Before She Disappeared is the first of two books featuring Frankie Elkin, an alcoholic with enough baggage to make a porter shudder. She keeps her demons at bay by focusing her energies on investigating disappearances that are cold cases.
To fund her search, she tends bar, something she is very good at. She regularly attends AA meetings, and has nightmares that gave me the willies just reading about them, never mind having them invade my sleep night after night. And just in case that isn’t enough, she is sharing her accommodation with Piper, an attack cat, and just one more to add to the list resenting Frankie’s intrusion.

Frankie doesn’t endear herself to the police, who resent her involvement and accuse her of many things including trying to rip off the families of the missing. But what Frankie has on her side is a kind and caring heart and the ability to ask the right questions.

Before She Disappeared is a fast paced and gripping story that kept me immersed throughout as the search for one missing girl turns into a search for two missing girls; the second never reported missing by her family or her school. As Frankie slowly builds up a picture of Angelique’s life, little snippets of Frankie’s back story are revealed.

This is a story that has something for everyone. There are two incredibly bright and talented young girls, living in poverty in a crime ridden Boston neighbourhood, determined to rise above their backgrounds and make something of themselves. So there is hope. There are thrills as Frankie is warned off her endeavours to find Angelique and Livia. There are chills and dread as it becomes apparent just how vulnerable these young girls are. There is sadness, and joy. Mystery, crime and suspense. The characters are realistic and beautifully crafted, their stories ones that happen every day. Gardner has taken these stories and written a moving and thrilling book that highlights the plight of the ‘forgotten’ missing – those who come from a background of poverty, from high crime areas where the police have more important issues to deal with than looking for some teenage girl who has probably run of with some boy.

This is no ordinary missing person story!

Gardner’s author notes at the end of the book are worth reading as she explains what inspired her to write Before She Disappeared.

I may be late discovering this author, but I now have a lot of backtitles to catch up on. And Frankie Elkin #2 to look forward to.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

#BeforeSheDisappeared #NetGalley

I: @lisagardnerbks @randomhouse

T: @LisaGardnerBks @RandomHouse

#contemporaryfiction #crime #mystery #suspense #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Lisa Gardner, a #1 New York Times bestselling thriller novelist, began her career in food service, but after catching her hair on fire numerous times, she took the hint and focused on writing instead. A self-described research junkie, she has transformed her interest in police procedure and criminal minds into a streak of internationally acclaimed novels, published across 30 countries.

Lisa lives in New Hampshire where she spends her time with an assortment of canine companions. When not writing, she loves to hike, garden, snowshoe and play cribbage.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone, Century via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner 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 Best Mystery Stories of the Year: 2021 edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler

EXCERPT: taken from 30 and Out by Doug Allyn

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

‘Can I help you?’

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

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

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

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

Includes stories by:

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

And many more!

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

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

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

⭐⭐⭐

#TheBestMysteryStoriesoftheYear2021 #NetGalley

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

Edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler

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

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

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

Murder in Paradise: Thirteen Mysteries from the Travels of Hercule Poirot by Agatha Christie

ABOUT ‘MURDER IN PARADISE’: Train journeys through rolling countryside and cruises across the open ocean might sound like paradise, but when murder strikes mid-journey, they’re anything but. Even on vacation, tensions can bubble beneath the surface, and when the end of the line leads to murder, everyone’s a suspect.

STORIES IN THIS COLLECTION: ·The Plymouth Express ·The Submarine Plans ·Problem at Sea ·How Does Your Garden Grow? ·The Market Basing Mystery ·The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan ·The Million Dollar Bond Robbery ·The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb ·The Affair at The Victory Ball ·The King of Clubs ·The Lemesurier Inheritance ·The Cornish Mystery ·The Adventure of the Clapham Cook

MY THOUGHTS: What a treat it was to have David Suchet narrate this collection! A few of these stories are also included in the Poirot Investigates collection, but they were just as interesting second time around.

This collection of short stories, also featuring Poirot’s sidekick Hastings and occasionally Inspector Japp, although lacking the depth of the Poirot novels, were still entertaining and stretched ‘the little grey cells!’ Oui!

⭐⭐⭐⭐

THE AUTHOR: Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born in Torquay, Devon, England, U.K., as the youngest of three. The Millers had two other children: Margaret Frary Miller (1879–1950), called Madge, who was eleven years Agatha’s senior, and Louis Montant Miller (1880–1929), called Monty, ten years older than Agatha.

Before marrying and starting a family in London, she had served in a Devon hospital during the First World War, tending to troops coming back from the trenches. During the First World War, she worked at a hospital as a nurse; later working at a hospital pharmacy, a job that influenced her work, as many of the murders in her books are carried out with poison. During the Second World War, she worked as a pharmacy assistant at University College Hospital, London, acquiring a good knowledge of poisons which feature in many of her novels.

Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, came out in 1920. During her first marriage, Agatha published six novels, a collection of short stories, and a number of short stories in magazines.

In late 1926, Agatha’s husband, Archie, revealed that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. On 8 December 1926 the couple quarreled, and Archie Christie left their house, Styles, in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress at Godalming, Surrey. That same evening Agatha disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public, many of whom were admirers of her novels. Despite a massive manhunt, she was not found for eleven days.

In 1930, Christie married archaeologist Max Mallowan (Sir Max from 1968) after joining him in an archaeological dig. Their marriage was especially happy in the early years and remained so until Christie’s death in 1976.

Christie frequently used familiar settings for her stories. Christie’s travels with Mallowan contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East. Other novels (such as And Then There Were None) were set in and around Torquay, where she was born. Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express was written in the Hotel Pera Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, the southern terminus of the railway. The hotel maintains Christie’s room as a memorial to the author. The Greenway Estate in Devon, acquired by the couple as a summer residence in 1938, is now in the care of the National Trust.

Christie often stayed at Abney Hall in Cheshire, which was owned by her brother-in-law, James Watts. She based at least two of her stories on the hall: the short story The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, and the novel After the Funeral. Abney Hall became Agatha’s greatest inspiration for country-house life, with all the servants and grandeur which have been woven into her plots.

To honour her many literary works, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1956 New Year Honours. The next year, she became the President of the Detection Club.

DISCLOSURE: I listened to the audiobook of Murder in Paradise, written by Agatha Christie, narrated by David Suchet, and published by Harper Collins during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, via Overdrive. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.com