The Parents by Claire Seeber

EXCERPT: ALEX: Mist had begun to gather all along the edge of the woods – the Whispering Woods – as day slipped into night. When I’d arrived, I’d parked the Land Rover beside other cars, but now it stood alone near the looming trees, which looked like they were floating behind the carpark as tendrils of mist crept through them like smoky fingers.

There was something nameless but intensely intimidating in the air; something about the height and thickness of the trees, the twisted trunks just visible as I hurried to the car; something ancient and mythical and utterly uninviting. The surface of the dark pool by the gates was also seething with mist now, and the strange bottles stacked along the wall no longer glinted, the weak autumn sun having given up for the day.

ABOUT ‘THE PARENTS’: Moving to this village was supposed to be a fresh start for me and my thirteen-year-old son Harry. After the tragic death of my husband, it was a chance to leave everything bad behind and make better memories at Primrose Cottage, the postcard-perfect house with honeysuckle around the door.

However, things haven’t exactly been easy since we arrived, and after what we’ve been though, I’m scared of letting anyone new into our lives.

But when one of the local dads asks Harry to join the weekend sports club, I find myself saying yes. The smile on my son’s face gives me hope that I might have made the right decision in uprooting our lives.

All the other parents seem so kind in welcoming me into the fold. At least, they are to begin with… Until someone begins anonymously exposing secrets about everyone in the group.

As betrayals surface and the claws come out, I see how imperfect these people really are; and how far they’ll go to hide the truth. Then when one of the parents ends up dead at the end of a party, I realise that it’s not just lies and scandal they’re covering up.

Too late, I realise that I should have stayed away…

MY THOUGHTS: I should have stayed away too.

At 47%, when I found myself thinking that I would rather go get a tooth pulled, I closed the covers for the final time.

This author can write; there’s no disputing that, and had she continued in the vein of the extract above, I would still be avidly flipping pages. Instead we get cardboard cutout characters with absolutely no depth, who fancy themselves as WAGS, and a bunch of wannabe footballers pushing their failed aspirations down the throats of the under 14 team.

Mystery? Who’s behind the ‘revealing’ video clips that are tearing apart the lives of the footballers enclave? Don’t care. Mysterious death? Hasn’t happened yet, and I am not interested enough to wait around for it.

And I never want to hear the term ‘babs’ again – unless it’s an abbreviation of Barbara. What is it, anyway? ‘Babe’ I can understand, but ‘babs’?

Sorry, but The Parents gets a resounding thumbs down from me.

The Parents by Claire Seeber may well be a book that you enjoy, so please check out a selection of the more positive reviews if you are considering reading it.

⭐.5

#TheParents #NetGalley

I: @claireseeberauthor @bookouture

T: @claireseeber @Bookouture

#contemporaryfiction #domesticdrama #mystery

THE AUTHOR: After a stab at being a (bad) actress, best-selling author Claire directed factual TV for years, before writing the first of eight psychological thrillers, including the chart-topping Never Tell and The Stepmother. In 2012, she was nominated for a CWA Dagger for He Does Not Always See Her. She also writes for stage and screen, features for newspapers such as The Guardian & The Independent and is a qualified Gestalt therapist, when she’s not writing or herding feral kids (hers) or animals.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Parents by Claire Seeber 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

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

EXCERPT: His funeral was sparsely attended. Wallace wasn’t pleased. He couldn’t even be quite sure how he’d gotten here. One moment, he’d been staring down at his body, and then he’d blinked, and somehow, found himself in front of a church, the doors open, bells ringing. It certainly hadn’t helped when he saw the prominent sign sitting out front. A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF WALLACE PRICE it read. He didn’t like that sign, if he was being honest with himself. No, he didn’t like it one bit. Perhaps someone inside could tell him what the hell was going on.

ABOUT ‘UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR’: When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

MY THOUGHTS: Under the Whispering Door is an utterly amazing, beautiful and inspiring story. I finished with a great sense of peace and awe.

Wallace was not a nice person. This is evident at his funeral. He lacked empathy, had no friends. There is a woman at his funeral he doesn’t recognize, not difficult since there are only six people there. She is different from the others – she can see him. Here starts Wallace’s journey.

I am so glad I got to go on that journey with him. It was a wondrous experience. This is a magical and emotionally powerful read. I cried for Wallace, for Cameron, for Nancy. I laughed at Mei’s ascerbic tongue, at Nelson’s antics.

Under the Whispering Door is a book that will stay with me a long time, and one that I am going to purchase a hard copy of.

If you haven’t read this yet, please do. It’s a beautiful experience.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#UndertheWhisperingDoor #NetGalley

#fivestarread #fantasy #humour #paranormal #romance

I: @tjklunebooks @macmillanusa

T: @ tjklune @MacmillanUSA

THE AUTHOR: TJ KLUNE is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, TJ believes it’s important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you, thank you, thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing a digital ARC of Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune. 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 Couple Upstairs by Shalini Boland

EXCERPT: ‘Nina? Are you coming in, then? ‘ Zac’s warm brown eyes beckon.

I realise I’m standing on the doorstep in a dream while Zac has stepped into the hallway. Suddenly, I’m giddy with nerves and excitement. I can’t wait to get inside, but I’m also a little anxious. The one and only time we saw the inside of the flat was three months ago before we put in the offer. I knew we had to move fast to secure it. Property gets snapped up so quickly in this area. I hope it lives up to my memory.

ABOUT ‘THE COUPLE UPSTAIRS’: I should never have become friends with the couple upstairs…

The first time I step inside this cosy apartment with its sash windows, just minutes from the sea, I think it would be the perfect place for me and my partner Zac to start again. A chance to leave our troubled past behind.

Chris and Vanessa, the couple upstairs, are so welcoming: smiles, flowers, a home-baked cake. It’s strange how he does all the talking, and she seems so shy, but I’m just thrilled to have new friends nearby.

But everything starts to go wrong… my business begins to crumble, I can’t ignore the whispers at our housewarming party and loud arguments from upstairs keep me awake at night. I can’t sleep, I can’t think straight and I feel like someone is watching me in my own home.

And then Zac comes home one afternoon, his face clenched with fury, and says he knows what’s going on. He knows about my secret…

He won’t listen to me. He storms out and I’m left in tears, completely devastated.

Why has my life fallen apart since we moved here? Am I going mad? Or is someone trying to destroy us?

If only I’d known what I know now.
If only I hadn’t trusted the couple upstairs.

MY THOUGHTS: I have read, loved and rated books by this author at five stars in the past but, to be honest, The Couple Upstairs was a very average read. As I got to the 50% mark, I realised I was bored. I seriously debated not finishing, and couldn’t quite believe I was considering doing this to a book by Shalini Boland! I had decided to read one more chapter – they are very short – when Boland threw me a curveball, and I kept reading.

Even though I kept reading, The Couple Upstairs was ultimately a disappointment for me. ‘Average’, and ‘obvious’ are the words that come to mind, and there’s no way that I consider this to be a psychological thriller. No thrills, no suspense, and the psychological motivation is very weak.

Even though this is written in the first person, I didn’t feel that I was there, living Nina’s experiences. I didn’t like Nina, or Zac, their families, or their neighbours. I didn’t relate to any of them.

There were a number of things that seemed totally unrealistic to me, from buying a flat after only one viewing, to the end where (view spoiler)

Not a read that I will be recommending. This author can do, and has done, much better. Had this been the gripping psychological thriller it’s promoted as, I would have read the 260 odd pages in one sitting rather than taking 3 days, as I did.

⭐⭐.6

#contemporaryfiction #domesticdrama

I: @shaboland @bookouture

T: @ShaliniBoland @Bookouture

THE AUTHOR: Hello 🙂 I write suspense thrillers and dark adventures, and I live in Dorset, England with my husband, two children and our dog. I only write reviews for books I enjoy!

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Couple Upstairs by Shalini Boland via Netgalley for review.

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

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman (The Thursday Murder Club #2)

EXCERPT: The nights are beginning to draw in a little, and the sun is sinking behind the trees on top of the hill as Elizabeth reaches Ruskin Court and rings the bell for number 14. Here goes nothing. There is a brief wait and she is buzzed up.

There are lifts in all the buildings, but Elizabeth will use the stairs while she still can. Stairs are good for hip and knee flexibility. Also it is very easy to kill someone in a lift when the doors open. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and a ping to announce that you’re about to appear. Not that she’s worried about being killed, it doesn’t feel to her like that’s what’s happening here, but it’s always important to remember best practice. Elizabeth has never killed anyone in a lift. She once saw someone pushed down an empty lift shaft in Essen, but that was different.

She turns left at the top of the stairs, transfers the flowers to her left hand and knocks on the door of number 14. Who will answer the door? What is the story here? Should she be worried?

The door opens, and she sees a very familiar face.

It’s not Marcus Carmichael, how could it have been? But it is certainly someone who knew the name Marcus Carmichael. And who knew it would get her attention.

And it turns out that, yes, she should be worried.

ABOUT ‘THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE’: It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

MY THOUGHTS: I just loved The Thursday Murder Club, but approached The Man Who Died Twice (don’t you just love that title!) with just a modicum of apprehension. Would the author fall victim to the second book syndrome? He didn’t. Osman hasn’t put one word wrong.

I love these characters, and the fact that we learn a lot more about them in the course of the book. Am I allowed to admit that as I was reading I was hearing Penelope Keith’s voice as Elizabeth?

This disparate club of characters will delight, charm and amuse. There were times I felt afraid for them, times when they amazed me. Never are they predictable.

I am not going to waste any more time talking about this book, other than to say ‘Read it!’ This is the book we all need.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#TheManWhoDiedTwice #NetGalley

I: @misterosman @penguinrandomhouse

T: @richardosman @PenguinUKBooks

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #crime #detectivefiction #humour #murdermystery #mystery #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Richard Thomas Osman is an English comedian, producer, television presenter, writer, and the creator and co-presenter of the BBC One television quiz show Pointless.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Penguin General UK via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman 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

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

EXCERPT: The waitress approached the table . . . noting how they each sat in the same distinctive way, with their ankles locked around the front legs of their chairs, as if to prevent them from sliding away.

‘Excuse me?’

They didn’t hear her. They were all talking at once, their voices overlapping. They were definitely related. They even sounded similar: low,deep, husky-edged voices. People with sore throats and secrets.

‘She’s not technically missing. She sent us that text.’

‘I just can’t believe she’s not answering her phone. She always answers.’

‘Dad mentioned her new bike is gone.’

‘What? That’s bizarre.’

‘So . . . she just cycled off down the street and into the sunset?’

‘But she didn’t take her helmet. Which I find very weird.’

‘I think it’s time we reported her missing.’

‘It’s over a week now. That’s too long.’

‘Like I said, she’s not technically -‘

‘She is the very definition of missing because we don’t know where she is.’

The waitress raised her voice to the point where it was perilously close to rude. ‘Are you ready to order yet?’

They didn’t hear her.

‘Has anyone been over to the house yet?’

‘Dad told me please don’t come over. He’s “very busy”.’

‘Very busy? What’s he so busy doing?’

The waitress shuffled alongside them, in between the chairs and the wall, so that one of them might see her.

‘You know what could happen if we reported her missing?’ The better looking of the two men spoke. He wore a long sleeved linen shirt rolled up to the elbows; shorts and shoes without socks. He was in his early thirties, the waitress guessed, with a goatee and the low-level charismatic charm of a reality star or a real estate agent. ‘They’d suspect Dad.’

‘Suspect Dad of what?’ asked the other man, a shabbier, chunkier, cheaper version of the first. Instead of a goatee, he just needed a shave.

‘That he . . . you know.’ The expensive version brother drew his finger across his neck.

The waitress went very still. This was the best conversation she’d overheard since she’d started waitressing.

‘Jesus, Troy.’ The cheaper version brother exhaled. ‘That’s not funny.’

The other man shrugged. ‘The police will ask if they argued. Dad said they did argue.’

‘But surely – ‘

‘Maybe Dad did have something to do with it,’ said the youngest of the four, a woman wearing a short orange dress dotted with white daisies over a swimsuit knotted at the neck. Her hair was dyed blue (the waitress coveted that exact shade), and it was tied back in a sticky, wet, tangled knot at her neck. There was a fine sheen of sandy sunscreen on her arms as if she’d just that moment walked off the beach, even though they were at least a forty minute drive from the coast. ‘Maybe he snapped. Maybe he finally snapped.’

ABOUT ‘APPLES NEVER FALL’: The Delaney family love one another dearly—it’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaneys are fixtures in their community. The parents, Stan and Joy, are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are Stan and Joy so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups and there is the wonderful possibility of grandchildren on the horizon.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. The Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, when Joy goes missing, and Savannah is nowhere to be found, the police question the one person who remains: Stan. But for someone who claims to be innocent, he, like many spouses, seems to have a lot to hide. Two of the Delaney children think their father is innocent, two are not so sure—but as the two sides square off against each other in perhaps their biggest match ever, all of the Delaneys will start to reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.

MY THOUGHTS: Apples Never Fall is an excellent family drama/mystery that delves into family dynamics with disarming honesty and more than a little humour. I laughed as I recognized shades of myself and my three brothers in these conversations. Even Savannah was startlingly familiar. Though the cuckoo in our nest was called Sharilyn, and she was far more benign than Savannah.

Moriarty has a definite talent for characterisation. Her characters are vibrant and alive, and tend to leap off the page and move into your life for the duration of the book. This, combined with her devious mind which conjures up intriguing mysteries, guarantees a read that just can’t be put down.

Like an onion, the layers of the Delaney family are peeled back one by one, revealing their insecurities, their resentments, their petty jealousies, their disappointments, their fears. Like most families, they have wallpapered over the cracks in their lives, given up on their dreams, settled for second best, all the time telling themselves that it’s just life, that this is the reality of adulthood. But when Savannah intrudes and Joy goes missing, the plasters are ripped off, the wounds and battle scars exposed for all to see. There are some shocking revelations and surprises!

Although the mystery of Joy’s disappearance is always there, it is not the main focus of the story. It is merely a vehicle for the dissection of a family unit under pressure; an examination of their values, their loyalties, their coping strategies. I would be interested to learn if Brooke ever has another migraine.

Apples Never Fall had me laughing and, at one point, snivelling into a fistful of tissues. Moriarty put my emotions through the wringer. Apples Never Fall is an irresistible read. It’s charming, and surprising, just what I have come to expect from one of my favourite authors.

What I wasn’t expecting was that final chapter. Stunning!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#ApplesNeverFall #NetGalley

I: #lianemoriarty @macmillanaus

T: #LianeMoriarty @MacmillanAus

#fivestarread #contemporaryfiction #familydrama #mystery

THE AUTHOR: She lives in Sydney with her husband, son and daughter. When she’s not writing she can be found reading, demanding coffee, being taken for a brisk walk by her Labrador, skiing like she’s thirty years younger than she is, recovering from skiing injuries, talking to old friends about getting old, and begging her children for help with technology.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty 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

Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillipi Ryan

EXCERPT: She felt tears begin, felt their dampness on her face, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand, furious, and terrified. She wanted her mother, she wanted her father, she wanted someone, anyone, to come help her and fix this, and take care of her and tell her what to do. She pressed her palms to her face, trying to hold it all in and make it go away and when she opened her eyes, Jem would be laughing at her. And she’d be so mad. Then she’d storm out of here and never see this idiot again.

She stared at him, ignoring her own tears now, willing him to be joking with her, some stupid insane boy joke, and she’d laugh, she promised she would. But Jem’s face, serene and still, and blood on his cheek, seemed to taunt her.

There could be no more wishful thinking. She had to do something.

She took a deep shuddering breath.

Okay. She knew what to do. First, stop being hysterical. Then call 911. She reached for the receiver of the black phone on the end table, the one that Jem had probably used to call his friend. She stopped, hand in midair, halfway to the phone.

Jem had called his friend. Who was on his way here. She felt her heart racing, constricting, making it difficult to breathe. Whoever showed up here – Jem’s friend or the ambulance people, or whoever – would find her here in this apartment.

What if he even died?

ABOUT ‘HER PERFECT LIFE’: Everyone knows Lily Atwood—and that may be her biggest problem. The beloved television reporter has it all—fame, fortune, Emmys, an adorable seven-year-old daughter, and the hashtag her loving fans created: #PerfectLily. To keep it, all she has to do is protect one life-changing secret.

Her own.

Lily has an anonymous source who feeds her story tips—but suddenly, the source begins telling Lily inside information about her own life. How does he—or she—know the truth?

Lily understands that no one reveals a secret unless they have a reason. Now she’s terrified someone is determined to destroy her world—and with it, everyone and everything she holds dear.

How much will she risk to keep her perfect life?

MY THOUGHTS: There is no such thing as a perfect life, no matter what we see on social media. But, to all her followers and fans, that is what TV star Lily Atwood has, a myth perpetuated by her sycophantic producer, Greer. As long as Lily is adored and successful, Greer has job security. But there are things about Lily that not even Greer knows. In fact, there’s a lot about Lily that Greer doesn’t know. Only Greer doesn’t know that she doesn’t know. At least not until the mysterious ‘Mr Smith’, source of some of their most successful stories, puts her in the picture. But ‘Mr Smith’ has his own agenda. He is a master manipulator.

Lily
has skeletons in her closet. Things she is torn about. Does she want her sister back in her life if she can find her, or would finding Cassie put everything she holds dear in danger?

Lily spends her life exposing other people’s secrets and misdemeanors. She is focused; on her career, her daughter. In order to protect her secrets, she never lets anyone get close to her. So how is she going to feel, and what is she going to do when her past, her secrets, are in danger of being exposed?

I was very ambivalent about Lily’s character. She comes across as hard boiled, but daughter Lily is her Achilles heel.

One thing struck me as very odd – she doesn’t actually do any work whatsoever at any point in this novel! And come to think of it, Greer doesn’t do that much either.

Despite several stupid decisions on both their parts, Her Perfect Life is a twisty mystery. What happened to Cassie? Is she alive somewhere? If she is, why hasn’t she contacted her baby sister? After all, Lily’s not exactly hard to find. Or is she dead, her body hidden by her killers? And does Lily really want to know? After all, once you know something, it’s difficult to unknow.

The chapters are short and sharp, and are told from the points of view of Lily, Greer, and Cassie (retrospective). There are a lot of surprises, one of which is absolutely jaw-dropping. I felt sucker-punched!

This is a mostly tense, and definitely twisty thriller. The characters decisions aren’t always rational, but whose are when under pressure, and there are perceived threats to a loved one?

As I said, mostly tense. There were a few places I found repetitive. But only a few. I liked Her Perfect Life, a lot. But I didn’t love it like The First to Lie.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.1

#HerPerfectLife #NetGalley

I: @hankpryan @macmillanusa

T: @MacmillanUSA

#contemporaryfiction #crime #familydrama #mystery #suspense #thriller

THE AUTHOR: Hank Phillippi Ryan is an American investigative reporter for Channel 7 News on WHDH-TV, a local television station in Boston, Massachusetts. She is also an author of mystery novels.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillipi Ryan 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 New Home by Chris Merritt

EXCERPT: The key slides smoothly into the padlock, and it clicks open. I remove it from the hasp and pull the door open. It sticks, the wood groaning as the door separates from the lintel, while the hinges screech as if in pain. I’m sure someone must have heard me. With a final look over my shoulder, I hang the open padlock back on the hasp and step inside, pulling the door closed behind me to avoid being seen.

The interior is almost pitch black. Whatever light there is has been filtered through the cobwebs and mold coating the inside of the tiny, smeary window. I take out my phone and switch on its torch.

The first thing I see is more cobwebs, and I’m temporarily paralyzed with fear as I clock the number of them, lying as thick as wads of cotton wool in the corners. My torch beam picks out a cluster of huge, fat spiders, motionless, as if they’re waiting to attack me. I know it’s ridiculous to be frightened of them, that they won’t hurt me. I tell myself that out loud and remind myself why I’m here: to find out what happened to Emily and Thea.

I sweep the beam around the edges of the space. It’s full of junk. I see big sacks of compost, plant pots, folded garden chairs and tools. None of it looks as though it’s been used in years, and part of me wonders if this is a wild goose chase, and whether Michael and Emily haven’t even set foot in this place the whole time they’ve lived here.

But I remember the shoe and the ring I discovered outside. And the brand new padlock that must have been put on the door for a reason. As I shine the beam down to the floor, I freeze. I think I’ve found that reason.

Blood.

ABOUT ‘THE NEW HOME’: Freya loves her new home on a quiet suburban street. And her beautiful neighbour Emily is everything she’s ever wanted in a best friend. Finally, she has somebody to share her secrets with over a glass of wine. But as Freya watches her new friend setting the table for dinner one evening, she sees something shocking that makes her think that Emily’s life might not be as perfect as it seems. Days later, Emily and her daughter vanish…

When you meet Emily’s husband, you will think you know what he’s hiding.

You will ask yourself whether Emily and Freya really did meet by chance.

You will think you know what happened to Emily and her little girl the night they went missing.

But when you discover the truth, it will shake you to your core and you will lie awake at night wondering if you can ever really trust the people in the house next door…

MY THOUGHTS: The New Home is a suspenseful, slightly creepy mystery that had me flipping the pages. My suspicions flitted from one character to another to yet another. I just didn’t know who, if anyone, I could trust, including the narrator, Freya.

None of the characters are particularly likeable, except Cathy, Freya’s elderly next door neighbour who appears to be in the early stages of dementia. But in amongst her ramblings, there may just be a few grains of truth.

Freya herself tends to be obsessive, which is fine in her career as a documentary maker, but it can lead to problems in her day to day life. She’s a complex character. One moment my heart would be breaking for her, the next I would be wanting to tell her to get a grip. By the way, did you know that 62% of violence against women is committed by family members or partners. If you didn’t, you certainly will by the time you get to the end of this read. Freya produces this statistic regularly, almost like a mantra.

Freya’s partner, Jack, is an overworked cardiologist, but the clinical approach he uses in his work probably isn’t the best approach to take with his fiance at home. He loves Freya, and thinks he’s doing his best for her, even after he discovers the secret she’s been hiding from him.

Michael is the missing Emily’s husband, he’s not particularly sociable, and borders on rude a lot of the time. He comes across as aggressive and uncaring. He doesn’t seem particularly concerned about her whereabouts, and neither do the police.

Although I enjoyed this book, there were a couple of things I thought could have been done better. The author hasn’t spent much time or effort establishing the friendship between Freya and Emily. We are told by Emily that they were great friends, but I didn’t feel it. At one point I wondered if this friendship was a delusion on Freya’s part, which could be a deliberate ploy by the author. I certainly didn’t feel that the friendship was close enough to account for Freya’s reaction and subsequent actions after Emily and Thea going missing.

I also found the short chapters told from the point of view of an unknown person annoying. I don’t feel that they added any value to the reading experience. Each one was essentially the same, and eventually I began skipping them. I know that this is currently a popular trope, but I have found very few novels where it has actually worked as intended. It doesn’t work here, even after the final revelation.

Chris Merritt has written a good, suspenseful mystery; one that I enjoyed.

⭐⭐⭐.8

#TheNewHome #NetGalley

I: @cjmerritt81 #chrismerritt @bookouture

T: @DrCJMerritt @Bookouture

#contemporaryfiction #domesticdram #mentalhealth #mystery #suspense

THE AUTHOR: Hello! I’m a British author whose crime thrillers combine psychology, suspense, and characters you care about.

All my novels are set in London, where I live. My first trilogy starred Zac Boateng and Kat Jones, two detectives motivated by family, who tackle organised crime and police corruption. LAST WITNESS, the second Boateng and Jones book, reached #13 in the UK Kindle chart in 2019.

My second series features detective Dan Lockhart – an ex-soldier with a missing wife – and psychologist Dr Lexi Green, an American living in London. These novels are darker, more psychological serial-killer cases, with romantic relationships as a central theme.

I began writing fiction in 2014, after previous careers as a diplomat, based in Iraq and Jerusalem, and later as a psychologist working with victims and perpetrators of crime. I specialised in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which sparked my interest in telling stories about how people cope when faced with extreme adversity.

Now, I spend most of my time writing novels and drinking coffee while ‘thinking’ about writing novels. When I’m not writing, I love climbing and playing basketball.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The New Home by Chris Merritt 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

Now I Found You by Mila Oliver

EXCERPT: She stopped walking, her feet seemingly glued to the spot. Her heart was racing and chills were crawling all over her body, and she didn’t understand why. Slowly, she backed up a few steps, her feet trailing heavily. She looked over at the dock next door again, her eyes carefully scanning each person there. It was a group of young people, probably college aged by the look of the cheap beer cans scattered everywhere. Some were dancing, some were drunkenly swaying, all were laughing and having a good time. She scanned them faster until her eyes locked onto a girl with lush blonde hair standing to the side, her face half hidden from Kate’s view.

Kate took a step closer, wishing she could jump over the water to be on that same dock. The girl looked so familiar, even just from the side. Kate looked down at her hands, surprised to see pricks of blood on her palm from where her nails had been digging into them. She looked up again just in time to see the girl laugh, her face turning towards Kate briefly.

Kate was vaguely aware of the glass she was still holding in her hand fall to the ground next to her, its drop silenced by both the soft earth and by the shrill ringing in her ears. The iciness in her body had spread everywhere, gripping her heart and lungs and squeezing tight. Kate’s hands flew to her throat as she struggled to breathe. She felt a dark curtain start to fall before her eyes, and determinedly kept her gaze glued for as long as she could on the girl on the dock. On Emily.

ABOUT ‘NOW I FOUND YOU’: Seven years ago, Kate Hartfield’s little sister disappeared.

An ordinary summer day of fun at the lake turned into a nightmare when young Emily Hartfield suddenly could not be found. When badly battered body parts were discovered three days later, the investigation concluded that they were Emily’s and the case was closed as an accidental drowning.

Now Kate has returned to her hometown in the Catskills for the first time since her sister’s death, for a work retreat. While at her boss’s lake house, she briefly spies a familiar face.

It’s Emily.

She’s all grown up, but Kate knows her sister’s face better than anyone. The sighting reignites the doubts Kate has always had, and forces her to revisit all the mysterious circumstances that surrounded that day. As she desperately tries to track down the girl she saw at the lake house with the help of her hometown ex-boyfriend, Kate discovers shocking secrets from the past, confronts her own guilt from that day, and becomes obsessed with uncovering the answer to one question.

What really happened to Emily?

MY THOUGHTS: Now I Found You is a good debut novel. It’s a very quick and easy read, written, excepting occasional flashbacks which increase in frequency the closer we get to the end of the book, in a linear timeline. This is a family drama/mystery, with a touch of romance.

I liked this, but didn’t love it. The idea was good, but it could have used a little more development. There were a couple of loose ends and a few things that just didn’t ring true.

Loose ends: Kate was on a work retreat, from which she abruptly leaves and to which she doesn’t return. She ignores calls from her boss and workmates, and then we just don’t hear any more about them.

After reuniting with her grandmother in her quest to find Emily, nothing more is heard of her . . .

Things that didn’t ring true: The ease with which Kate just walks back into Luke’s life. Would anyone really just dump their current girlfriend to resume a relationship with someone who has previously walked out of their life with no explanation, and is currently behaving very erratically? And if I were Luke’s mother, I don’t know that I would have welcomed Kate back into my son’s life with open arms.

I find it difficult to believe Kate’s father’s actions concerning Emily. I would have found it more believable if he just hadn’t noticed the difference after eight months away. I just didn’t find the whole explanation concerning him convincing.

I finished this book with more questions than answers. But, having said that, I am interested to watch how this author develops.

⭐⭐.8

#NowIFoundYou #NetGalley

I:

T:

#familydrama #romance #mystery

THE AUTHOR: Sorry, I could find no information about this author.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Books Go Social via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Now I Found You by Mila Oliver 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

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks

EXCERPT: When Anton arrived the following day, he found that Delphine had set up a work table for him at the window overlooking the park.

Having never lived with a woman before, still less with one who fascinated him so much, he found it difficult to settle down to work. Panama seemed more than remote, it seemed unreal. Emerald and her devotions, Maxwell and his brandy bottle, the giant wheel that turned the lock gates lying flat in its braced iron bed . . . Perhaps he had in truth caught yellow fever and hallucinated all these things.

What was real was the smell of coffee from the kitchen next door, the sound of Delphine singing to herself as she tidied, her footsteps on the wooden floor. He went in, stood behind her and put his arms around her waist, then pressed himself against her.

ABOUT ‘SNOW COUNTRY’: 1914: Young Anton Heideck has arrived in Vienna, eager to make his name as a journalist. While working part-time as a private tutor, he encounters Delphine, a woman who mixes startling candour with deep reserve. Entranced by the light of first love, Anton feels himself blessed. Until his country declares war on hers.

1927: For Lena, life with a drunken mother in a small town has been impoverished and cold. She is convinced she can amount to nothing until a young lawyer, Rudolf Plischke, spirits her away to Vienna. But the capital proves unforgiving. Lena leaves her metropolitan dream behind to take a menial job at the snow-bound sanatorium, the Schloss Seeblick.

1933: Still struggling to come terms with the loss of so many friends on the Eastern Front, Anton, now an established writer, is commissioned by a magazine to visit the mysterious Schloss Seeblick. In this place of healing, on the banks of a silvery lake, where the depths of human suffering and the chances of redemption are explored, two people will see each other as if for the first time.

MY THOUGHTS: Snow Country is a book of dreams, yearning and hope balanced against the horrors of WWI and the approach of WWII, and the struggles, both political and personal, of the period in between. The scope of this novel is huge, almost too huge, and I sometimes felt swamped by it, rather than encompassed by it as I have with other works I have read by this author.

Lena is the common thread, the character who ties the other characters to the story. She is from a poor background, poor in both money and upbringing. She was also a poor student, leaving school with few academic skills, but natural abilities in other areas. All Lena really wants is to be loved, and a good part of this story is devoted to her journey towards finding that love. It is not a smooth, nor a predictable path.

My favourite characters were those of Delphine, a Frenchwoman with whom a young and inexperienced Anton falls in love; and Martha, a therapist at the psychiatric institute. My least favourite character was Rudolf, whose only great passion is politics, and who seems incapable of recognizing human emotions in others, or of responding to them.

This is a very slow moving read with a lot of dialogue. At times I found it hard to get to grips with the characters. Even after finishing it, I am still not sure if Lena’s, Rudolf’s and Anton’s stories were merely a vehicle for the political history of Austria between the wars, or vice versa. Looking back on this reading experience it was like stumbling down a long, unfamiliar path in the dead of night, with no light, and no idea of where you are going.

I did love the section devoted to the building of the Panama Canal. It was such a huge feat, built at the cost of so many lives, and I had never before considered the logistics of the task. Faulks made this very real for me.

There is some beautiful writing in Snow Country, but this is nowhere near the author’s best work, of which my personal favourite is Birdsong.

⭐⭐⭐.1

#SnowCountry #NetGalley

I: #sebastianfaulks @randomhouseuk @hutchheinemann

T: @ SebastianFaulks @RandomHouseUK @HutchHeinemann

#comingofage #historicalfiction #mystery #romance #sliceoflife

THE AUTHOR: Sebastian Faulks was born in 1953, and grew up in Newbury, the son of a judge and a repertory actress. He attended Wellington College and studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, although he didn’t enjoy attending either institution. Cambridge in the 70s was still quite male-dominated, and he says that you had to cycle about 5 miles to meet a girl. He was the first literary editor of “The Independent”, and then went on to become deputy editor of “The Sunday Independent”. Sebastian Faulks was awarded the CBE in 2002. He and his family live in London.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone, via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks 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