The Best of Friends by Alex Day

EXCERPT: ‘There were things that you had hidden from even your closest friends, weren’t there?’

Silence.

‘One thing in particular, wouldn’t you agree?’

He’s going to reveal it and very soon everyone will know her history. She wills it over and done with. The jackals wait with bated breath, eager for the next titbit to feast upon. The QC inhales deeply before continuing, as if believing that oxygen will be in short supply once he has made the revelation.

The collective gasp that follows seems to prove him right. It emits forth with such force it might have come from the walls themselves. The woman’s blonde hair falls across her face as she drops her head in despair.

The case that has hitherto slithered back and forth has turned on a sixpence. The entire courtroom can see that the defendant has no way back from this.

The QC turns back to the judge. ‘No more, m’lord.’

He sits, and his black gown balloons around him like the darkening sky before a thunderstorm.

ABOUT ‘THE BEST OF FRIENDS’: Susannah is rebuilding her life…
Susannah has had a tough year. After a sticky divorce and losing the life she had grown accustomed to, moving to a small town in the south of England with her two sons is exactly the fresh start she needs.

Charlotte seems to have it all…
Charlotte is delighted when Susannah moves in. Charlotte may appear to have the perfect husband, the perfect family, the perfect house, but deep down she’s lonely, and she needs someone to confide in.

But one of them is not who they pretend to be…
The two women instantly become best friends. But underneath the surface, secrets, lies and betrayals are all hiding. And when the truth comes out, not everyone will live to tell the tale…

MY THOUGHTS: I thought that I would like The Best of Friends by Alex Day more than I did. There’s a poor little rich girl, Charlotte, and a poor little poor girl, Susannah, who become best friends. Both are needy. Both have secrets. Both lie. But Charlotte has something Susannah wants – a wealthy, handsome husband – and it would seem that Dan is ripe for the picking.

So, you know where this is going, right? And you would be mostly right. There are few surprises and even less tension and suspense in this read. There is a twist at the end that didn’t quite work for me. It left me with more questions than answers. And a vital piece of information is given away in the prologue, which spoiled things for me. The best part is around the middle of the book where the two women are circling each other like a pair of male lions spoiling for a fight.

Other than an overabundance of cliches and similies, there is not much wrong with the author’s writing that a good edit couldn’t fix. But overall, it is decidedly average. Not bad. Not
good. Just average. Next week I won’t even remember the plot.

⭐⭐.5

#NetGalley #HarperCollinsUK #onemorechapterhc

@HarperCollinsUK @OneMoreChapter_

#contemporaryfiction #domesticdrama #psychologicalthriller

THE AUTHOR: Alex Day is a writer, teacher, parent and dreamer who has been putting pen to paper to weave stories for as long as she can remember. The Missing Twin is her first psychological thriller but she is a bestselling author of fiction under the name Rose Alexander.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Harper Collins UK, One More Chapter for providing a digital ARC of The Best of Friends by Alex Day for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

Syrian Brides by Anna Halabi

EXCERPT: ‘How much do I owe you for the ma’amoul?’ she asked.

‘No, nothing at all. The first order is on the house for new customers. It is tradition in my shop. So that we can have the pleasure of welcoming you here again. Ahlan wa Scanlan,’ he said and smiled at her like a teenager with a crush.

The boy at the oven snorted loudly and smirked. His boss shot him a warning glare that sent him back to the counter in the back, where he slouched over the balls of dough and started kneading briskly.

‘No, I can’t possibly accept your generous offer, Abu Issam,’ the young woman protested. ‘Please let me pay for the ma’amoul. After all, we’re neighbours, not strangers.’

ABOUT ‘SYRIAN BRIDES’: This collection of short stories offers insight into the lives of Syrian women, both the married and the brides-to-be. It reveals the warmth and humor as well as the oppression in the Syrian society. The stories make the reader laugh while addressing serious issues such as domestic violence.
Um Hussam can’t find a suitable bride for her son, testing each candidate’s sight, hearing and reading skills, occasionally cobbing a feel. Jamila’s husband Hassan can’t forget his deceased wife, until she makes sure he never mentions her again. Rami can’t help but wonder whether his new bride is a natural beauty or a talented surgeon’s masterpiece. Khadija’s maid stabs her in the back while Rana’s husband Muafak can’t find the right excuse to avoid a fight.

MY THOUGHTS: I think that I am quite alone in my opinion of Syrian Brides. I struggled. I found this collection of short stories to be neither delightful, nor humorous. I wanted to give up, close the cover and move onto something else. But I persevered, hoping to find what so many other readers found to enjoy. I failed.

The ideas for the stories were mostly good, some very clever. But I struggled with the repetitive speech of the characters. I admire the intent of the author, and I can think of several of my friends who would enjoy this, but I am sorry, it’s just not for me.

⭐⭐

#Syrian Brides

THE AUTHOR: Anna Halabi was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. She emigrated to Europe in 1999 for her university studies. She currently lives with her family in Germany.
Syrian Brides is her debut as an author. The stories and characters in this collection were inspired by her personal experiences as well as her relatives, friends and TV shows.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to author Anna Halabi for providing me with a digital copy of Syrian Brides for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

Hummingbird Lane by Carolyn Brown

EXCERPT:Emma wondered if it could have been the chocolate cake that kept her from having the recurring nightmares the night before? Or was it the fact that she was so far away from that big mansion of a house and her overbearing mother, or even the many centres she’d been sent to for more than two decades? Whatever happened, it sure was nice to sleep all night without drugs and horrible dreams. If it was because she’d arrived at Hummingbird Lane, then Emma didn’t ever want to leave the place.

ABOUT ‘HUMMINGBIRD LANE’: Ever since childhood, Emma Merrill and Sophia Mason were bound by a passion for painting. Like all young best friends, they promised to never lose touch. But the girls came from different worlds, and their paths diverged when Emma went to an elite college and Sophie worked her way through state school.

After a decade they’ve reconnected, both in a time of need. Emma has been struggling with depression since her college years, and she’s lost herself under the suffocating influence of her controlling and manipulative mother. Sophie, under pressure to prepare for an upcoming gallery show, whisks the fragile Emma away to a small artist’s colony in south Texas. It’s a raw and beautiful landscape where wildflowers bloom—and perhaps Emma can bloom there, too. In the company of such nurturing and creative strangers—especially Josh Corlen, the openhearted manager of the commune—Emma allows herself to breathe again.

For Sophie and Emma, it’s the perfect place for reflection and to finally share the secret burdens each has carried. Most of all it’s a chance to rediscover their true selves and to make good on the old promise that their friendship would last forever.

MY THOUGHTS: This is a story about the power of friendship and how sometimes, friendship can endure and transcend both distance and years of separation.

Emma and Sophie are such wonderful characters. I laughed and cried with them and got angry with them at times. They support each other and recognize each other’s strengths, but fail to see their own.

Art and Filly, the elderly permanent residents of Hummingbird Lane, are the sort of people everyone needs in their lives. Wise and humourous, kind and generous.

My only criticism is the brief, one month, period of time that it takes for Emma to turn her life around. And the author makes quite a big thing about the small time frame, frequently. Perhaps if she hadn’t have mentioned the time frame at all, this would have been a five star read. Her recovery was far too fast, and far too easy. It annoyed me enough to knock a star off, but not enough to put me off reading more from this wonderful author.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

#HummingbirdLane #NetGalley #carolynbrownbooks #montlakeromance @thecarolynbrown

#contemporaryfiction #domesticdrama #romance

THE AUTHOR: Hi! I’m twenty five years old and movie star gorgeous. The camera added thirty plus years and a few wrinkles. Can’t trust those cameras or mirrors either. Along with bathroom scales they are notorious liars! Honestly, I am the mother of three fantastic grown children who’ve made me laugh and given me more story ideas than I could ever write. My husband, Charles, is my strongest supporter and my best friend. He’s even willing to eat fast food and help with the laundry while I finish one more chapter! Life is good and I am blessed!

Reading has been a passion since I was five years old and figured out those were words on book pages. As soon as my chubby little fingers found they could put words on a Big Chief tablet with a fat pencil, I was on my way. Writing joined reading in my list of passions. I will read anything from the back of the Cheerio’s box to Faulkner and love every bit of it. In addition to reading I enjoy cooking, my family and the ocean. I love the Florida beaches. Listening to the ocean waves puts my writing brain into high gear.

I love writing romance because it’s about emotions and relationships. Human nature hasn’t changed a bit since Eve coveted the fruit in the Garden of Eden. Settings change. Plots change. Names change. Times change. But love is love and men and women have been falling in and out of it forever. Romance is about emotions: love, hate, anger, laughter… all of it. If I can make you laugh until your sides ache or grab a tissue then I’ve touched your emotions and accomplished what every writer sets out to do.

I got serious about writing when my third child was born and had her days and nights mixed up. I had to stay up all night anyway and it was very quiet so I invested in a spiral back notebook and sharpened a few pencils. The story that emerged has never sold but it’s brought in enough rejection slips to put the Redwood Forest on the endangered list.

Folks ask me where I get my ideas. Three kids, fifteen grandchildren, two great grandchildren. Note: I was a very young grandmother! Life is a zoo around here when they all come home. In one Sunday afternoon there’s enough ideas to keep me writing for years and years. Seriously, ideas pop up at the craziest times. When one sinks its roots into my mind, I have no choice but to write the story. And while I’m writing the characters peek over my shoulder and make sure I’m telling it right and not exaggerating too much. Pesky little devils, they are!

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Montlake for providing me with a digital ARC of Hummingbird Lane by Carolyn Brown for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

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

I pick up my violin and begin to play.

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

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

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

Then I start screaming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#PlayingWithFire #NetGalley #tess.gerritsen #bantampress

@tessgerritsen @BantamPress

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

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

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

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld Publishing, Bantam Press via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen for review. I unreservedly apologise for taking so long to read this. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

Whoever Fights Monsters by Angelo Marcos

EXCERPT: He placed the phone back in it’s cradle – noting what a struggle it was with his hand trembling – and stared at the door. William was due any moment now, he had to be ready.

Aurora sat patiently in the corner of the room. Nathaniel caught her gaze and she smiled, her face telling him everything he needed to know. He could do this. He needed to.

It was the only way to save his daughter.

ABOUT ‘WHOEVER FIGHTS MONSTERS’: You’d kill to protect your family. The question is… how many times?

Three men are about to begin the worst bombing campaign in history, targeting schools in order to kill as many innocent children as they can.

One night, the mysterious Aurora appears and tells family man Nathaniel Bennett three things.

Firstly, that his daughter will be one of the victims.

Secondly, that he is the only one who can stop these atrocities from happening.

Thirdly, to stop them he’ll have to kill all three of the men. If even one is left alive, the bombings will still happen and hundreds of children – including his daughter – will die.

We follow Nathaniel as he wrestles with his mission – and himself. Is he a soldier following orders and saving children, or is he the monster, stalking and killing three men who – so far – have done nothing wrong?

And, to the rest of the world – and the police – does it even make a difference?

MY THOUGHTS: I think that this is the first of the many books that I have read by this author that I haven’t absolutely loved. I liked Whoever Fights Monsters. I didn’t love it.

The premise is interesting, and Angelo Marcos jumps straight into the action. There’s no mucking about here and I was eagerly turning the pages, the burning question for me being was Aurora real, or was Nathaniel gripped by a delusional psychosis? I’m not going to tell you.

The problem for me was Nathaniel’s endless angst and introspection. I guess I have to qualify that statement. Aurora is telling Nathaniel that he has to kill three people that he knows otherwise many hundreds of children will die and he is able to ‘see’ what will happen if he doesn’t. But in between the killings he is beset by doubt. Yes, natural. But the angst and self-recrimination got a tad too repetitive, and wearing.

Despite this, I still enjoyed this read.

⭐⭐⭐.6

#WhoeverFightsMonsters #angelomarcos @theangelomarcos

#contemporaryfiction #crime #paranormal #scifi #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Angelo Marcos is a writer, actor and stand-up comedian, who for some reason refers to himself in the third person.

He writes psychological thrillers and crime fiction, often with a dash of humour thrown in for good measure.

Drawing on his background in law and psychology, he crafts memorable characters and suspenseful mysteries which shine a light on human behaviour and why people do what they do.

See? I told you he refers to himself in the third person…

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to author Angelo Marcos for providing a digital ARC of Whoever Fights Monsters for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

Small Town Secrets by Alys Murray

EXCERPT: On the outskirts of Fortune Springs, the houses lined the streets with modern, rustic elegance, but the closer I got to the heart of town, the older those buildings grew. Sure, it had two whole traffic lights and wired electricity and everything else you’d expect from a modern town, but the buildings were constructed in that classic, Western settlement style. Some dark, timber structures soaked up all the light of the street, while some of the brightly coloured shops and hotspots reflected it, nearly blinding in the afternoon sunshine.

It was all so beautiful. So simple. So painfully quaint and so obvious that the entire town had been built by love and determination. It was part real-life fairytale and part Hollywood Old West backlot. The muscle buried in the left side of my cheek tweaked painfully as I tried to school my enthusiasm back into cool indifference.

This place was a means to an end. It couldn’t be anything more. I couldn’t let it be.

ABOUT ‘SMALL TOWN SECRETS’: “Young women needed for the Fortune Springs Town Improvement Initiative. One year’s room and board provided.”

I should have known it was too good to be true when I first saw the ad. It turns out that Fortune Springs, Colorado isn’t just a one-horse town, it’s a two-woman one, and this is their attempt to keep the community alive. I want to say the scheme is ridiculous, totally outdated, but I’m carrying everything I own in my canvas backpack and the greyhound I stepped off this morning is long gone. If this is my chance at a fresh start, I’d better grab it with both hands.

I know I should feel guilty about pretending to be a lonely heart willing to help repopulate this rural logging town, but all I feel is relief at having escaped the apartment in Savannah. And after all, what’s one more secret to add to the pile? I only hope I’ve hidden my tracks well enough, and that the kind Fortune Springs locals who’ve opened their doors to me will never find out what made me run away in the first place…

MY THOUGHTS: Although it was obvious from the outset where Alys Murray was taking us in Small Town Secrets, it was an enjoyable journey that left me with a big smile on my face.

I picked up this book for two reasons. I adored the cover. It is simple, eye catching and enigmatic. And I thought of Middlemarch, a small town in the South Island of New Zealand that, pre-Covid, biennially hosted a singles ball which, inspired by the matchmaking dances of the 1950s, has been bringing together thousands of young, mostly unattached, people every two years since 2001. There is a well known man drought in New Zealand, so ‘the event has become especially appealing to single women. That in turn has attracted rural men – shepherds, stock agents and farmers in the high country of the underpopulated South Island. Isolated and time-poor, they are often ignored on dating apps such as Tinder because the GPS pinpoints their location as hundreds of kilometres from the nearest cocktail bar. So for many the singles ball at Middlemarch (normal population 186) is a significant calendar event, a genuine opportunity to meet a partner, a companion, a husband or wife.’ (The Guardian)

I guess I was expecting Small Town Secrets to be a little like this. It was, and it wasn’t.

While Virginia is looking for sanctuary, she definitely is not looking for love. She just needs somewhere to hide out for a while, to get her life back together, and then she plans to high tail it out of this one horse town the moment her year is up and head for sunny California.

Only she hadn’t reckoned on Calla, Willa, Owen and a bunch of Dalmatian puppies.

There are very few characters in this book. Virginia, her ex Porter, and those mentioned above is just about it…..there are, of course, a few on the periphery, but really, that is it.

I loved Calla from the outset, and I would love to know what her story is. She has obviously been through some tough times, but she is warm and generous and big-hearted. Calla’s granddaughter Willa, Virginia, and Owen have also been through some bad times. They have all suffered trauma, physical and emotional, and find it difficult to open up and trust people. Although there are very few characters, they are well developed, and their stories captured my heart.

Small Town Secrets is a lovely, if predictable, read. I will be reading more from this author.

⭐⭐⭐.9

#SmallTownSecrets #NetGalley #writeralys #bookouture

@writeralys @bookouture

#contemporaryfiction #domesticdrama #romance

THE AUTHOR: Alys Murray is an author who writes for the romantic in all of us. Though she graduated with a degree in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and a Master’s in Film Studies from King’s College London, her irrepressible love of romance led her to a career as an author, and she couldn’t be happier to write these stories!

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Small Town Secrets by Alys Murray for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

This review and others are also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and my webpage

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

EXCERPT: It was the colours that caught her attention. Often the colours on the Island were subtle, olive green, mud brown, sea grey and all softened by mist. In the full sunlight of early morning, this picture was stark and vibrant. The harsh white of the snow. Three shapes, silhouetted. Ravens. In her painting they would be angular shapes, cubist almost. Birds roughly carved from hard black wood. And then that splash of colour. Red, reflecting the scarlet ball of the sun.

She left the sledge at the side of the track and crossed the field to see the scene more closely. There was a gate from the road. The snow stopped her pushing it open so she climbed it. A stone wall split the field in two, but in places it had collapsed and there was a gap big enough for a tractor to get through. As she grew nearer the perspective shifted, but that didn’t bother her. She had the paintings fixed firmly in her mind. She expected the ravens to fly off, had even been hoping to see them in flight. The sight of them aloft, the wedge shaped tail tilted to hold each steady, would inform her image of them on the ground.

Her concentration was so fierce, and everything seemed unreal here, surrounded by the reflected light which made her head swim, that she walked right up to the sight before realizing exactly what she was seeing. Until then everything was just form and colour. Then the vivid red turned into a scarf. The grey coat and the white flesh merged into the background of the snow which wasn’t so clean here. The ravens were pecking at a girl’s face. One of the eyes had disappeared.

Fran recognized the young woman, even in this altered, degraded state. The birds had fluttered away briefly as she had approached but now, as she stood motionless, watching, they returned. Suddenly she screamed, so loudly that she could feel the strain in the back of her throat and clapped her hands to send the birds circling into the sky. But she couldn’t move from the spot.

It was Catherine Ross. There was a red scarf tight around her neck, the fringe spread like blood in the snow.

ABOUT ‘RAVEN BLACK’: Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.

MY THOUGHTS: I love Ann Cleeves writing. She certainly knows how to set an atmosphere. Set in the Shetland Islands, she has recreated the claustrophobic atmosphere of the islands and the people who live there.

Raven Black is the first book in Cleeves’ Shetland series featuring Detective Jimmy Perez who, despite his name, was born in the islands.

Cleeves characters are very real. Perez has some personal decisions to make, as does Fran,who discovered the bodies. Yes, there is more than one. Everyone from Magnus, the reclusive old man accused of murdering a girl who disappeared some years earlier, to Catherine Ross, the girl found murdered on the hillside near Magnus’s home, are depicted so well that I could visualise them, and hear them speak.

Raven Black is an excellent murder mystery, one that kept me guessing to the end. There are several twists and surprises along the way that enhanced the plot.

I had, some years ago, watched the TV series both of Shetland and Vera and I can heartily recommend both, along with the books.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.3

#RavenBlack #anncleeves #panmacmillan

@AnnCleeves @panmacmillan

#contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #murdermystery #scottishnoir #suspense

THE AUTHOR: Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs – child care officer, women’s refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard – before going back to college and training to be a probation officer.

While she was cooking in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle, she met her husband Tim, a visiting ornithologist. She was attracted less by the ornithology than the bottle of malt whisky she saw in his rucksack when she showed him his room. Soon after they married, Tim was appointed as warden of Hilbre, a tiny tidal island nature reserve in the Dee Estuary. They were the only residents, there was no mains electricity or water and access to the mainland was at low tide across the shore. If a person’s not heavily into birds – and Ann isn’t – there’s not much to do on Hilbre and that was when she started writing. Her first series of crime novels features the elderly naturalist, George Palmer-Jones. A couple of these books are seriously dreadful.

In 1987 Tim, Ann and their two daughters moved to Northumberland and the north east provides the inspiration for many of her subsequent titles. The girls have both taken up with Geordie lads. In the autumn of 2006, Ann and Tim finally achieved their ambition of moving back to the North East.

DISCLOSURE: I own my copy of Raven Black written by Ann Cleeves and published by Pan Macmillan. I read Raven Black for the Goodreads.com Crime, Mysteries and Thrillers March 2021 Mysteries for a cold winter’s night group read. 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

Dear Neighbour by Anna Willett

EXCERPT: it started with her phone buzzing at 3:04 am that morning. Only nine months ago and as fresh in her mind as an unhealed wound. Foggy from sleep, she’d mistaken its sound for her alarm.

‘Amy?’ There was fear in Zane’s voice, something she’d never heard before. ‘Somethings happened. Can you come to my place?’

He was breathing hard. Even half-asleep, she heard the panic in his voice and it acted on her like a cold shock, pulling her into a hyper-alert state.

Her heart stuttered. ‘What is it? Are you okay?’

She remembered jumping out of bed, the phone clamped to her ear. They’d only been together for three months but already everything else, family, friends and work were falling away until Zane was her life.

‘I need help,’ he said.

ABOUT ‘DEAR NEIGHBOUR’: When Amy and her boyfriend Zane move into a house together, she hopes they can put their rocky past behind them.

She gets a job and befriends the older couple who live in the house next door. Amy is impressed by their sophistication, wealth, and love for one another and in turn they somewhat adopt her when Amy’s relationship with her boyfriend deteriorates rapidly.

Jobless, often absent and clearly up to no good, Zane is jealous and increasingly abusive. His hold over the shy Amy has been strong, yet cracks are beginning to show.

When a policeman knocks on her door one innocuous day, it is the start of series of events that will make the two households clash together in a fatal entanglement.

Zane will see an opportunity and greed will get the better of him, but are their new neighbours quite the easy targets they appear to be?

Amy is in the middle of it all and someone is going to get killed.

MY THOUGHTS: ‘Seedy’ is the word I would use to sum up the atmosphere of Dear Neighbour.

Zane has dragged Amy, not exactly unwillingly, into his world of drugs and violence and now she feels trapped in a sick and destructive relationship.

I didn’t like Amy at all, not even at the end. I kept wanting
to yell at her to wake up and get out. She is weak and needy and willing to do anything to keep Zane by her side. Zane is also weak, but exceedingly manipulative, and he has Amy right where he wants her, supporting him both financially and emotionally. Actually, the only characters I liked were Frank and Greta, a devoted elderly couple who are hiding a surprising secret.

It is no secret that I don’t like books with a central theme of drugs and violence. I don’t like weak and stupid female characters. I don’t like weak and stupid characters full stop. I like clever mysteries and psychological thrillers with plenty of surprises and twists. Dear Neighbour didn’t give me that, and yet I kept reading. Right to the end. And while I can’t say that I enjoyed the read, I can see its appeal to others.

Dear Neighbour is a quick, fast-paced read at 184 pages, and certainly packed with action. It reminds me of the pulp fiction published in the 1950s, but lacking the lurid cover and ‘racy’ scenes.

⭐⭐.6

#Dear Neighbour #annawillettauthor #the_book_folks

@AnnaWillett9 @thebookfolks @HenryRoiPR

#australiancrimefiction #contemporaryfiction #domesticdrama #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Raised in Western Australia Anna developed a love for fiction at an early age and began writing short stories in high school. Drawn to dark tales, Anna enjoys writing thrillers with strong female characters. When she’s not writing, Anna enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her husband and two children.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Henry Roi PR for providing a digital ARC of Dear Neighbour by Anna Willett for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

EXCERPT: October 20

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

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

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

‘Missing? What happened to her?’

‘Not her. Him.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

⭐⭐⭐⭐.8

#GoodnightBeautiful #NetGalley #aimeemolloy718 #hodderstoughton

@aimeenmolloy @hodderbooks

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #crime #psychologicalthriller #suspense

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

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

The Good Neighbour by R.J. Parker

EXCERPT: ‘Come and have a seat. I hope you don’t mind me saying but you’re looking a bit pale.’

‘That’s OK.’ She held up a hand. ‘I’ve disturbed your evening enough.’ Her gaze went to the lit kitchen beyond.

‘It’s no problem. Just me here.’ He’d read her mind.

‘You live here alone?’

‘Put it this way, you’re not disturbing a romantic dinner.’

That wasn’t an answer. Leah heard a small internal alarm bell. Her car was down the road and she hadn’t told Elliot in her message that she was inside a stranger’s house on Plough Lane.

‘Come and sit down while I call the AA.’

Despite feeling light-headed, Leah nodded but didn’t move.

He obviously sensed her unease. ‘Does my cooking smell that bad?’

Leah was about to smile but at that moment a dog came down the stairs. It was a white and brown basset hound and its ears flapped about its head as it descended awkwardly.

‘He doesn’t bite either.’

The animal slid down the last few green stairs on its stomach and made a beeline for Leah.

She bent to pet the dog. ‘What’s his name?’

‘Her. It’s Sheila.’

She tried to pat its head while it snuffled at her jeans. ‘Hi, Sheila.’ Leah held out her hand so Sheila could sniff it, but the dog ignored her. She stood up but felt giddy and staggered back.

‘Whoa.’ Tate caught her firmly by the arm.

He had a very tight grip but as soon as she’d regained her balance, he released her.

‘Sorry.’ He pulled both his arms in as if he shouldn’t have touched her.

‘That’s OK. I think I do need to sit down though, if you wouldn’t mind.’

‘Just in here.’ He immediately turned and led her towards the doorway of the kitchen.

Leah followed and found herself in a very impressive and modern space. More dark slate walls were broken up by bright white splash tiles behind the huge sink and cooking range. In the middle was a long breakfast bar and several stools. A half-eaten meal lay on it with a full bowl-glass of red wine beside it.

Leah’s scalp prickled cold. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve interrupted your dinner.’ Her mouth felt dry.

‘Not at all.’ He pulled out a stool. ‘Sit yourself down.’

But Leah stumbled, fell and blacked out before she reached it.

ABOUT ‘THE GOOD NEIGHBOUR’: He isn’t who you think he is…
When Leah Talbot hits a deer on a deserted road near her village she spots a light on in a nearby house and approaches, hoping that someone is home.

He is.

Charming, handsome, Martin Tate answers the door to the bedraggled and traumatised Leah, inviting her in. Though she’s not there for long, Leah feels an indescribable pull to the man who has helped in her hour of need.

But when she returns the next morning to say thank you, it isn’t Martin who answers the door this time. It’s the police.

There’s been a brutal murder and the sole female resident is dead.

There’s no sign of Martin…
Until he comes looking for Leah.

MY THOUGHTS: This was a fast-paced, fun read and I am glad I gave this author a second chance after really not liking the only other book I have read by him, While You Slept.

There were not so many characters as to be confusing, and they were each quite distinct from the others. The plot is one I have not come across before, and it is very clever and well thought out.

I became quite involved with the characters, mentally screaming at Leah at times because she made some really dumb decisions. But then, had I been in her place, I may well have made those same decisions, although I would like to think that I wouldn’t.

Yes, this was crazy, and in places improbable, but it was also enjoyable. I think that had it gone on any longer it would have been too over the top, but the author wisely knew when to call time.

Narrator Rose Robinson was excellent and used exactly the right tones and inflections in her voice to suit the circumstances. I would listen to more books narrated by her.

And I will definitely be looking for more to read from Mr Parker.

⭐⭐⭐.8

#TheGoodNeighbour #NetGalley #rjparkerauthor #harpercollinsuk

@netgalley @harpercollins

#contemporaryfiction #crime #domesticdrama #psychologicalthriller

THE AUTHOR: R J Parker’s creative career began as a TV script writer, script editor and producer. It was this background that fed into a series of cinematic, high-concept thrillers that grabs the reader from the very first page and doesn’t release them until the last. R J Parker now lives in Salisbury.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Harper Collins UK Audio for providing an audio ARC of The Good Neighbour by R.J. Parker for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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