To Love and Be Loved by Amanda Prowse

EXCERPT: Breathing long and slow, Merrin closed her eyes briefly, feeling instantly better, calmed. This was the perfect spot with the widest view and she could spend hours here, staring at the waves. Her dad once told her that they were the heads of white, foaming horses, cantering up to the break and crashing, before making a sharp turn and petering to nothing on their return. It was now impossible for her to see them in any other way. Looking out over the purple bruise of sky where clouds hung low over the ocean, she offered up a silent prayer.

Please don’t rain! Not on my wedding day . . .

ABOUT ‘TO LOVE AND BE LOVED’: Young and desperately in love, Merrin had the whole world ahead of her. But just as her new life was about to start, the ground beneath her feet was cruelly swept away. Devastated by the humiliation, she ran far away from the beloved fishing village she had always called home to lick her wounds and escape her gossiping friends and neighbours.

It hasn’t been easy, but six years later Merrin has forged a new life for herself far from the sea, burying the impulsive girl she once was. But when tragedy strikes, she has no choice but to return to the village she swore she’d never set foot in again.

Reluctantly back in the arms of her community, Merrin begins to realise what she’s been missing out on all these years. As she begins to remember the person she used to be, she is forced to make choices about her future, and to question the past. What does she want from her life? Who is important to her? Who is to blame for everything that went wrong? And can she forgive them, let old wounds heal and finally be her true self again?

MY THOUGHTS: As with all of Amanda Prowse’s books, To Love and Be Loved is a very emotional read. I had shredded a great number of tissues before I was a quarter of the way through! If only the worst Merrin had to worry about on her wedding day was the weather . . .

We follow Merrin’s life journey as her future is ripped apart and she flees her home to try and make a life elsewhere. But, as we all know, the problem with running away is that we take along the problems that are in our hearts and our heads. And at some point, we just have to turn around and deal with them.

Don’t expect a fast paced book, you won’t get it. To Love and Be Loved is a meandering and often sad read as Merrin spends a lot of time treading water, surviving rather than living.

The sadness and grief is, at times, overwhelming. But it is also punctuated with some beautiful moments in Prowse’s trademark style.

Prowse has created a very close knit family in the Kellows. Ben and Heather are still very much in love after their many years of marriage and I enjoyed the easiness of their relationship. Merrin is the younger of their two daughters and a very different personality than her older sister Ruby, who is more prickly and brash, Merrin more dreamy and soft. And I loved their friend Bella, whose role in life seems to be a buffer between the sisters.

Initially, I loved this book, and I still do, but with some reservations. It is intense, emotionally. But, in places it is just too much. Was there ever a family as perfect as the Kellows? I would like to hope so, but probably not. (view spoiler) And the ending is very sudden, and for me was, considering Merrin’s past, far too fast and unlikely.

Yet, despite all this, I finished with a smile on my face and am eagerly awaiting Prowse’s next.

⭐⭐⭐.8

#ToLoveandBeLoved #NetGalley

I: @mrsamandaprowse @amazonpublishing

T: @MrsAmandaProwse @AmazonPub

#contemporaryfiction #familydrama #romance

THE AUTHOR: Amanda Prowse was a management consultant for ten years before realising that she was born to write. Amanda lives in the West Country with her husband and their two teenage sons.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Amazon Publishing UK, Lake Union Publishing, via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of To Love and Be Loved by Amanda Prowse 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 Betrayal (Olivia Sinclair #1) by Terry Lynn Thomas

EXCERPT: Sunday October 5th

When the alarm blared the Sunday financial recap, the woman woke with a start. She didn’t care about the Dow Jones Industrial Average, nor did she care about market volatility. Fumbling, she unplugged the old-fashioned clock radio and tossed it under the bed. Her thoughts, as they often did, went to her lover. She rolled over and pressed her face into his pillow, taking in the scent of him, that strange concoction of vanilla and citrus that made her senses reel.

Rolling over on her back, she took a deep breath and cradled her belly, thinking of the baby that grew inside her. The positive pregnancy test lay on the table next to her, its vertical pink line a source of unimaginable joy. She snuggled under the duvet as the automatic coffee maker kicked into gear, filling her apartment with the aroma of the dark roast coffee her lover preferred.

She saw the card on the doormat just as she poured her first cup of coffee.

I’ve rented a beach house for us tonight. I’ll send a key and the address by messenger. Meet you there around ten?

Leaning back against the counter, the woman closed her eyes, anticipating their rendezvous. Dear God, she craved him.

She did not know that she had less than fifteen hours to live.

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

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

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

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

MY THOUGHTS: Delicious! Tightly plotted. Fast-paced. Gripping. I didn’t want to put this down. And even though I suspected who the murderer was quite early on, and for once I was right, I enjoyed the journey. Immensely.

The Betrayal has all the ingredients of a great domestic drama – the cheating husband, the big reveal at the worst possible moment, a dead body, the finger – and a great deal of evidence – pointing to the wronged wife, revenge, and duplicity. And the author whips all these into a delicious, captivating and entertaining read.

Of course, Olivia – a very strong woman – doesn’t just have a cheating husband and a murder charge to deal with. She is also having issues with her daughter, who seems determined to cut her mother out of her life.

The characters are well portrayed, realistic and believable, the tension palpable.

I believe that this is the first in a series featuring Olivia. I will definitely be lining up to read the next.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.4

#TheBetrayal #NetGalley

I: @ terrylynnthomasbooks @terrylynnthomas @hqstories

T: @TLThomasBooks @HQStories

#contemporaryfiction #familydrama #murdermystery #psychologicaldrama

THE AUTHOR: The Betrayal and The Witness are Terry’s first foray into the world of domestic suspense, and introduce attorney Olivia Sinclair. When she’s not writing, Terry likes to spend time outdoors gardening and walking in the woods with her husband and her dogs.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to HQ, HQ Digital via Netgalley, for providing a digital ARC of The Betrayal by Terry Lynn Thomas 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 . . .

Oh my goodness, have seen what is happening in Tonga? My thoughts and prayers are with you all, and all those in low lying areas that may be impacted by tsunamis caused by the volcanic eruptions. The far north of the North Island has suffered some damage in marinas but thankfully no loss of life.

Currently I am reading The Night of the Party by Anna-Lou Weatherley. If I hadn’t had to go to work today I would have finished this. All I can say is that if you don’t have this on your radar, add it!

I am also reading Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, purely for pleasure, and loving it!

I am currently listening to Fallen (Kate Burkholder #13) by Linda Castillo.

This week I plan on reading The Girl She Was by Alafair Burke

HOPE CAN BE A DANGEROUS THING…

She calls herself Hope Miller, but she has no idea who she really is.

Fourteen years ago, she was found thrown from an overturned vehicle, with no clue to her identity. Hope started a new life, but never recovered her memory.

Now she’s missing. With nowhere else to turn, Hope’s best friend, Lindsay Kelly, calls NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher.

In pursuit of answers, three women search for the truth beneath long-buried secrets. And when their searches converge, what they find will upend everything they’ve ever known.

And Where There’s A Will by Sulari Gentill. I absolutely loved the last book I read by this author and am really looking forward to reading this.

Hell hath no fury like a family disinherited…

American millionaire Daniel Cartwright has been shot dead: three times in the chest, and once in the head. His body is found in Harvard Yard, dressed in evening attire. No one knows who he planned to meet there, or why the staunch Oxford man would be caught dead at Harvard–literally.

Australian Rowland Sinclair, his mate from Oxford and longtime friend, is named executor of the will, to his great surprise–and that of Danny’s family. Events turn downright ugly when the will all but disinherits Danny’s siblings in favor of one Otis Norcross, whom no one knows or is able to locate. Amidst assault, kidnapping, and threats of slander, Rowly struggles to understand Danny’s motives, find the missing heir, and identify his friend’s killer before the clock–and his luck–run out.

A deft blend of history and mystery, WHERE THERE’S A WILL offers an alternately charming and chilling snapshot of Boston and New York in the 1930s, with cameo appearances by luminaries of the day including Marion Davies, Randolph Hearst, Errol Flynn, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and an arrogantly ardent Joe Kennedy, who proves no match for Rowly’s sculptress friend Edna.

I have read and enjoyed few books lately about families and inheritances, and loved this author’s previous book so I am looking forward to this.

I have another three books scheduled for this week, but as I am starting to train my replacement at work it’s unlikely that I will get to them on time. So apologies to authors and publishers.

Six new ARCs were approved this week; so much for keeping my TBR mountain under control!

This week I have been approved for: Local Gone Missing by Fiona Barton. I have absolutely loved everything I have read by this author so am looking forward to reading this.

The Baby Shower by S.E. Lynes, an author I follow avidly.

Dead End Street by Trevor Wood

A Village Secret by Julie Houston

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

And the audiobook The Captain’s Wife by Norma Curtis and narrated by Josh Wichard.

I am honestly going to try and avoid Netgalley for the coming week. 🤣😂🤣😂 Well, you just know how successful that’s going to be!

Anyway, I’m off to bed. It’s been a long day at work and Pete has a 4am start tomorrow. I seldom go back to sleep after he goes to work so I need to cram as much sleep in before as I can.

Stay safe and keep reading. We’ve had our first community case of Omicron announced today so I guess we will soon be following in everyone else’s footsteps. We’ve had our boosters, and I interact with the public as little as possible, so I hope that will be enough to protect us.

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

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

The old lady nodded vigorously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the fourth victim is found.

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

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

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

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

⭐⭐⭐⭐.1

The House Fire by Rosie Walker

EXCERPT: I haven’t been able to access reports from the post-mortem, so I don’t know if the flames touched her. What I do know is smoke is hot. And when it’s inhaled, it sears the respiratory tract.

She burned from the inside out, because of me. Because of what I did.

I have to live with that. What surprises me most is that I can.

ABOUT ‘THE HOUSE FIRE’: A tired old seaside town hiding a series of unsolved arson attacks.

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

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

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

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

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

MY THOUGHTS: This was a surprising read. I did not enjoy the first 25% at all. It was boring, repetitive and I skimmed pages and pages. I was seriously considering abandoning this read, but then . . . it took off like a rocket and all my reservations were forgotten. I read the remainder of The House Fire in two sittings and had to pick my jaw up from the floor when I finished.

There are a number of issues addressed in this novel, but the author makes it clear at the end that she was showcasing that of coercive abuse. Unfortunately I think that it got tather overshadowed by the arson and the spectacularly bad behaviour of teenager, Cleo, who is at that stage where she is sure that she knows everything and will go to extraordinary lengths to prove herself right. While the motivation behind her actions may have been commendable, her methods of gaining attention left much to be desired.

The characters are mainly quite unlikable, with the exception of Jamie, Chloe’s older sister, and Lucasz, Chloe’s friend. They are complex and unreliable, all with their own agendas.

The story is told from three points of view, Chloe, Jamie and the arsonist. I am not convinced that the arsonist’s point of view added a lot to the story.

While I can’t say that I enjoyed The House Fire, it did, in the later parts, become compelling.

⭐⭐⭐.1

#NetGalley

I: @rosiejanewalker @onemorechapterhc

T: @ciderwithrosie @Onemorechapter @HarperCollinsUK

#contemporaryfiction #familydrama #mentalhealth #murdermystery #psychologicaldrama

THE AUTHOR: Rosie Walker is a novelist who lives in Edinburgh with her husband Kevin and their dog Bella. Rosie has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh and an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Lancaster University.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Harper Collins UK, One More Chapter, via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The House Fire by Rosie Walker 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 Woman Who Came Back to Life by Beth Miller

EXCERPT: Unexpectedly my eyes filled with tears. Dad loved and encouraged my early interest in words. He conversed in French with me, discussed the fundamental principles of Esperanto, showed me how to interpret cryptic crosswords and, when I was pretty young, no more than seven, he taught me shorthand. Not the old fashioned Pitman kind he’d learned as a young clerk, which required fountain pens to make the all-important thick and thin line distinctions, but a more modern type called Teeline. He’d picked this up during the early 1970s at journalism evening classes. I had a vague idea that he’d planned to retrain as a journalist. But other than writing articles for the parish magazine, I don’t think this ever came to fruition. At some point in the late 1970s he became a headteacher, which I suppose made teaching seem interesting again.

For a while he and I would communicate in Teeline’s secret code. I remember the thrill of it, of reading something neither of my brothers could understand. As late as my fifteenth birthday, the year he gave me the field glasses – a few weeks before he left us – Dad put a shorthand message in my card. I didn’t remember, now, what it said, but I remembered reading it. The card that came for my sixteenth birthday, the first to come through the post rather than waiting for me on the kitchen table, didn’t contain any secret message.

‘What does it say?’ Jeanie said, craning over to try to look at the page.

‘I’m not sure,’ I lied. ‘I’d have to refresh my memory about how to read it, it’s been such a long time.’

‘This is ridiculous,’ she snapped. ‘She can’t even read them. There’s no reason for Pearl to have these. I can easily get someone to translate them.’

Pointing at the page, Benjy said, ‘Doesn’t this line say, “Wow, my second wife is such a cow”?’ And with that the gloves were finally off.

‘Mr Claymore, do you see what we are up against?’ Jeanie’s face was red with fury. ‘I demand you intervene. These notebooks may contain material that my husband’s former children will exploit.’

‘Former children?’ Benjy said, laughing.

I glanced down at the page again, and read: It would be necessary to keep this . . . then there were several symbols I couldn’t read, followed by I have hidden so much. What the heck was in these diaries?

ABOUT ‘THE WOMAN WHO CAME BACK TO LIFE’: Pearl Flowers lives in a fairytale cottage in the woods in France. Her life is small, strict and safe. Every day is planned: Mondays she takes the middle path through the trees, on Wednesday the right and on Fridays, her special day, she takes the long way into the village. If she makes sure to follow her routine, she can avoid thinking about the past.

But then an unexpected phone call throws everything into chaos: Francis, Pearl’s estranged father, has died and left her a bequest. One she can only claim if she agrees to come to his funeral and see the family she’s been hiding from for so long. But when Pearl begins to read Francis’s diaries, his last gift, she realizes that the truth about her father couldn’t be further from what she expected. That each page is addressed to her, the daughter he loved, causes her to question everything she thought she knew about her past.

Now Pearl must face the world for the first time in many years. Her father was the only person who knew her deepest secret. Is she ready to finally confront the truth of what happened, and take a second chance at happiness now that it is finally within reach?

MY THOUGHTS: You have to love families. They must be the most complex social and interpersonal structure ever. We take umbrage at things said and done by family that we would brush off coming from anyone else. We keep secrets from family, either under the guise of ‘protecting’ them, or because it might change the way they see us. We are probably less truthful with family than with anyone. Well, that’s how this family works.

Pearl’s family is a family shattered by abandonment and secret relationships. After one heartbreak too many, Pearl and husband Denny have taken refuge in their remote holiday home in France, shutting themselves off from the world in general and her family in particular. But her attendance at her father’s funeral in order to collect a mystery bequest opens a whole new can of worms . . . one that is either going to make or break Pearl.

This is a complex but entertaining story. My heart broke for Pearl with each new revelation. But Pearl also has a wicked sense of humor, as does brother Benjy, which shines through occasionally causing me to burst into laughter. There’s a lot of loss and grief in The Woman Who Came Back to Life, but there are also funny moments, and scenes of redemption and hope. My favourite character was Ellie, Pearl’s once best friend who is married to her oldest brother Greg.

The characters, like the relationships between them, are complex. All have baggage, all are aggrieved, hurting in one way or another, and some are angry. The story is told from the points of view of Pearl, and another initially unknown character named Carrie. It takes some time for the connection between these two characters to be revealed, but it’s worth the wait. We also get to read extracts from Francis’ diaries, which puts a whole new slant on things. The story covers the period from 1981 to 2018, but not chronologically. Despite this it is easy to follow, and entertaining, but have a box of tissues handy – it’s heartbreaking in parts.

I love the way that Beth Miller takes situations that any one of us may face at any time and gives them an empathetic and realistic airing.

⭐⭐⭐.7

#TheWomanWhoCameBacktoLife #NetGalley

I: @beth_miller_author @bookouture

T: @drbethmiller @Bookouture

#contemporaryfiction #familydrama #mentalhealth #sliceoflife

THE AUTHOR: Beth Miller has been a sex educator, alcohol counsellor, university lecturer and inept audio-typist. She has a PhD in Psychology, which is yet to come in handy.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Woman Who Came Back to Life by Beth Miller 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 Family Inheritance by Tricia Stringer

EXCERPT: ‘Hello, Hazel.’

The gentle voice startled her. She spun and the room seemed to spin with her as if everything was suddenly slightly off kilter. She stuck out a hand and gripped the back of a chair. The woman before her had been the one she’d noticed talking to Father Donnelly earlier. Hazel hadn’t recognized her from the distance but now, here, right in front of her . . . those eyes . . .

‘Are you all right?’ The woman gripped her arm and edged her to the chair.

‘What are you doing here?’ Hazel’s words came out in a croak.

‘I’ve come to see you and . . .’ The woman stood back a little and glanced around. ‘Your family.’

Hazel looked around too but everyone was busy packing up and taking no notice. She got back to her feet, pushed away the hand that still rested on her arm. She had to end this before her daughters came back.

‘You keep away from my family. They’ve had enough for one day.’

The woman hesitated, looked at her pityingly. ‘He’s gone now, Hazel.’

‘I know that,’ Hazel hissed, her heart beating faster. ‘But they don’t know about you.’ She could hear footsteps coming closer across the wooden floor. She didn’t dare look around. It was bound to be one of her daughters.

‘We can start afresh.’

‘We cannot.’

‘Hello?’ It was Felicity who’d stepped up beside her mother.

‘Who are you?’ June asked.

‘My name is Alice Pollard.’ The woman smiled at each of them.

Hazel’s heart beat so fast and her head pounded so hard she thought herself in danger of having a stroke like the one that had killed her husband.

‘I’ve just farewelled my husband . . . this is not the time.’

‘For what, Mum?’ It was June’s sharp voice again. ‘What’s going on?’

Alice fixed her gaze on Hazel. ‘I’m Alice Pollard nee Jones . . . your mother’s sister.’

ABOUT ‘THE FAMILY INHERITANCE’: Felicity Lewis’s fiftieth birthday party in her newly renovated home, loving husband and daughter Greta by her side, is going off with a bang when disaster strikes. Her father, Franklyn, with his usual impeccable timing, has keeled over and died.

For some members of the family, his wife Hazel for example, Franklyn’s death is not the great loss it first appears to be. But when his toxic and inexplicable will is read out, it becomes clear that long-buried secrets are about to surface, starting with the astonishing reappearance of Hazel’s long-lost sister.

Indeed, Franklyn’s death sets in motion a chain of events that will cause three generations of Gifford family women to question everything they hold dear – their relationships, their loyalties, even their identities. Until, that is, they choose to fight back against their dark inheritance …

MY THOUGHTS: An absolutely delicious family saga full of decades old secrets and the lies that are perpetuated to keep those secrets.

I loved this story of four women whose lives are turned upside down when the family patriarch dies and his will is read. Believe me, you will love to hate Franklyn Gifford, a miserable old git who has found a way to maintain control over his family even after his death.

His widow Hazel is secretly relieved by his death, believing herself to be free for the first time since she married him. But Franklyn has other plans for her, his will leaving Hazel almost destitute, and her family ripped apart.

The story is told from the points of view of four women: Hazel, the widow; her estranged sister Alice; Hazel’s younger daughter, Felicity; and Felicity’s daughter, Greta, all of whom are facing a watershed moment in their lives.

The characters are totally relatable with a good mix of traits. There are characters that you will root for, characters that you will worry about, and one or two that are eminently dislikeable. Stringer makes good use of the weapon of inherited money, the rifts it causes, and the greed that becomes evident at times like these.

I would have liked for the furore that I imagine would have occurred when Hazel contests the will to have been included as I can’t see June and her husband meekly accepting Hazel’s decision, but the whole situation is skipped, which is my only, and minor, criticism.

The Family Inheritance is a well written, moving family saga with a tightly woven plot that kept me absorbed from start to finish.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

#TheFamilyInheritance

I: @triciastringerauthor @hqstories

T: @tricia_stringer @HQstories

#australianfiction #contemporaryfiction #familydrama #sliceoflife #womensfiction

THE AUTHOR: Tricia lives in the beautiful Copper Coast region of South Australia, often exploring Australia’s diverse communities and landscapes, and shares this passion for the country and its people through her authentic stories and their vivid characters.

DISCLOSURE: I borrowed a copy of The Family Inheritance by Tricia Stringer published by HQ Fiction from the Waitomo District Library. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

Smoke and Mirrors (The Brighton Mysteries #2) by Elly Griffiths

This was a catch up on my backlist read as Smoke and Mirrors was the only book in the Brighton Mysteries series that I hadn’t read.

EXCERPT: Stan entered stage left. Of course he did; he was the villain. Villains always enter from the left, the good fairy from the right. It’s the first law of pantomime. But, in this case, Stan Parks (the Wicked Baron) came running onto the stage in answer to a scream from Alice Dean (Robin Hood). He came quickly because Alice was not normally given to screaming. Even when Stan had tried to kiss her behind the flat depicting Sherwood Forest she hadn’t screamed; instead she had simply delivered an efficient uppercut that had left him winded for hours. So he responded to the sound, in his haste falling over two giant toadstools and a stuffed fox.

The stage was in semi-darkness, some of the scenery still covered in dustsheets. At first Stan could only make out shapes, bulky and somehow ominous, and then he saw Alice, kneeling centre stage, wearing a dressing gown over her Principal Boy tights. She was still screaming, a sound that seemed to get louder and louder until it reached right up to the gods and the empty boxes. Opposite her something swung to and fro, casting a monstrous shadow on the painted forest.

Stan stopped, suddenly afraid to go any further. Alice stopped screaming and Stan heard her say something that sounded like ‘please’ and ‘no’. He stepped forward. The swinging object was a bower, a kind of basket chair, where the Babes in the Wood were meant to shelter before being covered with leaves by mechanical robins (a striking theatrical effect). The bower should have been empty because the Babes didn’t rehearse in the afternoon. But, as Stan got closer, he saw that it was full of something heavy, something that tilted it over to one side. Stan touched the basket, suddenly afraid of it’s awful, sagging weight. But he saw Betsy Bunning, the fifteen-year-old girl who was playing the female Babe. She lay half in, half out of the swinging chair. Her throat had been cut and the blood had soaked through her white dress and was dripping heavily onto the boards.

It was odd. Later, Stan would go through two world wars, see sights guaranteed to turn any man’s blood to ice, but nothing ever disturbed him quite as much as the child in the wicker bower, the blood on the stage and the screams of the Principal Boy.

ABOUT ‘SMOKE AND MIRRORS’: Brighton, winter 1951.

Pantomime season is in full swing on the pier with Max Mephisto starring in Aladdin, but Max’s headlines have been stolen by the disappearance of two local children. When they are found dead in the snow, surrounded by sweets, it’s not long before the press nickname them ‘Hansel and Gretel’.

DI Edgar Stephens has plenty of leads to investigate. The girl, Annie, used to write gruesome plays based on the Grimms’ fairy tales. Does the clue lie in Annie’s unfinished – and rather disturbing – last script? Or might it lie with the eccentric theatricals who have assembled for the pantomime?

For Stan (aka the Great Diablo), who’s also appearing in Aladdin, the case raises more personal memories. Back before the Great War, he witnessed the murder of a young girl while he was starring in another show, an event which has eerie parallels to the current case.

Once again Edgar enlists Max’s help in penetrating the shadowy theatrical world that seems to hold the key. But with both distracted by their own personal problems, neither can afford to miss a trick. For Annie and her friend, time is running out…

MY THOUGHTS: This is the only book in the Brighton Mysteries series that I hadn’t read, so I was excited to stumble upon it on my Kindle when I was searching for something else, and started it immediately. I don’t know how I missed it originally, but apologies to both author and publisher for the tardiness of my review.

I have loved this entire series and Smoke and Mirrors, #2 in the series, is no exception. Set in Brighton, 1951 in the pantomime season in the lead up to Christmas, there is a definite similarity between the current murder and one which occurred of a pantomime cast member in Hastings in 1912. Some of the same pantomime cast members are even on hand.

Smoke and Mirrors is a deliciously twisty mystery with a tremendous range of red herrings and some sharp detective work from DI Edgar Stephens and Sergeant Emma Holmes. As always Elly Griffiths has created a charming but sinister atmosphere in which she sets her story. Two children have literally vanished into thin air, one of whom writes macabre and violent tales, and several characters associated with the children who are perhaps more than they seem combine to produce a clever, engaging and gripping story of magic and muder that had me reading through the night. My suspicions swung wildly from one character to another but never actually alit on the actual murderer.

The children, both the missing and the present, are the stars of this tale. The precocious and imaginative Annie, her friend and acolyte Mark, her younger sister Betty, apparently even more intelligent and imaginative than her older sister, and Richard who loves and admires his sisters provide much entertainment and speculation.

A ripping good murder mystery.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

#SmokeandMirrors #NetGalley

: @ellygriffiths17 @quercusbooks

T: @ellygriffiths @QuercusBooks

#fivestarread #crime #historicalfiction #murdermystery #policeprocedural #detectivefiction

THE AUTHOR: Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels take for their inspiration Elly’s husband, who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist, and her aunt who lives on the Norfolk coast and who filled her niece’s head with the myths and legends of that area. Elly has two children and lives near Brighton.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Quercus Books via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

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

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

Watching what I’m reading . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Antony is just trying get by.

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

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

If it’s not already too late.

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

Two Couples. Three Secrets. One Murder.

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

A doting mother
with a manipulative daughter.

A loving husband
lying to his family.

A close friend
keeping a shocking secret.

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

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

One For Sorrow by Helen Fields

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

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

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

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