A Sad Time

Owen and the lamp

It is with great sadness that I write this post – my darling son Owen died on 28 July 2015 aged 21, after a four week stay in hospital. Owen was diagnosed with melanoma in April 2014 and was determined to continue to live life to the full but became too ill to continue with his final year studying illustration at university in January of this year.

I feared the worst from the beginning whilst desperately hoping that a miracle would occur and we were lucky, for a while the treatment seemed to be working and Owen continued to draw, compose music, play his guitar and generally be creative right up until he became suddenly, and quite desperately ill.

My sleepless nights have been filled with the books I have read and reviewed while I sought a distraction from the scary thoughts. I deliberately chose to leave the personal out of my blogging, and when I manage to order my thoughts enough to enjoy books again, this will return to being a blog about books. It has been of enormous comfort to have one place to be myself, without talking about the things that scared me which unfortunately came to fruition, so thank you book blogging community.

Owen would always ask about the books I was reading, both children have teased me about the harrowing books I read, and he would criticise my star ratings which in his opinion were far too generous!! Never having been a voracious reader Owen actually started reading the more modern classics when he completed his A Levels and he had claimed my library card having lost his and decided that the bother of asking for a new one was too much – his excellent qualities didn’t extend to being organised – and so when we made the trips to Southampton to see the specialist, he would always make sure he had a good book to read and discuss with me to fill up the hours of travelling and waiting around. The one silver lining to this desperately dark cloud was that I got to spend a lot of time with my son this year, time that I wouldn’t have been granted had he not fallen ill, and although we’d always been very close, our relationship inevitably deepened even further as we supported each other. I miss him so very much already.

Thank you to all of you have asked me where I’ve been, something I really didn’t expect. I do hope to return to blogging but I’m sure any of you who have been through a bereavement understand that at the moment will understand that stringing a sentence together is almost beyond me at the moment.

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Pretty Baby – Mary Kubica

Psychological Thriller 5*s

Psychological Thriller
5*s

When the lovely Cara from Harlequin offered me a proof copy of this book many months ago I nearly bit her hand off as I loved this author’s debut novel The Good Girl. Determined to save it until nearer to the publication date I duly added it to the spreadsheet and hid it at the back of the TBR cupboard so I wouldn’t be tempted… then the doubt set in, could it possibly live up to that first novel? Rest assured if anything I enjoyed it even more! The author has produced a book that is totally different but in many ways even more engaging. The writing style is more straightforward, we have chapters and the characters actions, if extreme at times, have a clear link to the people they are which are based upon the effects of the life they have led. This clear character progression means that this book feels like it has more depth but loses none of the tension that made The Good Girl such an enjoyable read.

Heidi is a mother to pre-teen Zoe, wife to hot-shot financier Chris and fervent defender of those marginalised by society. She works with refugees and at times Chris feels she puts her client’s needs above those of her family while at the same time not losing sight of the fact that this was what attracted him to her in the first place. When she spots a young girl with a baby one April morning she is moved to help but I’m sure many readers will share Chris’s reticence that moving the girl into their apartment is really a good idea! She knows nothing about Willow and the girl doesn’t appear to want to share anything with Heidi although she allows her to help with baby Ruby who has suffered from life on the streets of Fullerton in the state of Illinois.

Heidi and Chris both narrate their version of events in the present tense however this is actually in the past in relation to Willow’s tale as told to Louise Flores. The direction her story takes quickly casts a dark shadow on the everyday happenings, well as everyday as things can be with a homeless girl and baby, in the Wood household. The three characters narrate the whole tale, each one heading up a new chapter.

This was one of those books that I knew more or less instantly that I would enjoy despite finding Heidi a little bit too sanctimonious for my tastes. As well having three-dimensional characters the storyline moves at a brisk pace with the tension ever-present in my mind from the first time we hear from Willow as I desperately tried to predict what events had caused her to be being questioned by Louise Flores. In another much-loved device, Willow is a fan of books so we have glimpses of her reading Anne of Green Gables to baby Lily, a quote from Peter Pan and some fun facts about all sorts of things which have been gleaned from non-fiction books. These touches whilst never truly relieving the tension, did temper my distrust of Willow, after all someone who loves Anne of Green Gables can’t possibly be all bad!

This was one of those books where I simply had to keep turning the pages, I needed to know what had happened and why and I’m pleased to say as the pace quickened towards the denouement it didn’t end up feeling rushed, and in my opinion the ending was a fitting one.

I highly recommend this book for lovers of crime fiction with a strong leaning towards the psychological, particularly those who enjoy complex characters and narration from different perspectives. Another definite winner from Mary Kubica; I can’t give more than the five stars I awarded to The Good Girl, but if I could, I would!

You can read my review of The Good Girl here

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This Week In Books (July 22)

This Week In Books Hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

I am currently reading In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark Dark Wood

Blurb

Someone’s getting married. Someone’s getting murdered.
In a dark, dark wood
Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.
There was a dark, dark house
Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?
And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room
But something goes wrong. Very wrong.
And in the dark, dark room….
Some things can’t stay secret for ever. NetGalley

I have recently finished Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

Pretty Baby

See yesterday’s post for the synopsis and a taster from this book
My review will follow shortly

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Next I am going to read Under World by Reginald Hill, the 10th in the Daziel and Pascoe series and one of my 20 Books of Summer! Challenge

Under World

Blurb

Years ago, young Tracey Pedley disappeared in the woods around Burrthorpe. The close-knit mining village had its own ideas about what happened, but the police pinned it on a known child-killer who subsequently committed suicide.
Now Burrthorpe comes to police attention again. A man’s body is discovered down a mine shaft and it’s clear he has been murdered. Dalziel and Pascoe’s investigation takes them to the heart of a frightened and hostile community. But could the key to the present-day investigation lie in the past when little Tracey vanished into thin air…? Amazon

What have you found to read this week?

See what I’ve been reading in 2015 here

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First Chapter ~ First Paragraph (July 21)

First Chapter

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

My opening comes from Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica which is due to be published by Harlequin on 28 July 2015.

Pretty Baby

Blurb

A chance encounter
She sees the teenage girl on the train platform, standing in the pouring rain, clutching an infant in her arms. She boards a train and is whisked away. But she can’t get the girl out of her head…
An act of kindness
Heidi has always been charitable but her family are horrified when she returns home with a young woman named Willow and her baby in tow. Dishevelled and homeless, this girl could be a criminal – or worse. But despite the family’s objections, Heidi offers them refuge.
A tangled web of lies
As Willow begins to get back on her feet, disturbing clues into her past starts to emerge. Now Heidi must question if her motives for helping the stranger are unselfish or rooted in her own failures. Amazon

~ ~ ~

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph ~ Intro

HEIDI
The first time I see her, she is standing at the Fullerton Station, on the train platform, clutching an infant in her arms. She braces herself and the baby as the purple line express soars past and out to Linden. It’s the 8th of April, forty-eight degrees and raining. The rain lurches down from the sky, here, there and everywhere, the wind untamed and angry. A bad day for hair.

Please note that this was taken from a proof copy

Do you want to know more? Please leave your thoughts and links in the comments box below

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The Anatomy of Death – Felicity Young

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Historical Crime Fiction 4*s

Historical Crime Fiction
4*s

Dody McCleland young woman doctor returns home from her studies in Edinburgh where she had come to terms with the fact that in 1910 no surgical posts were open to women. Instead she has trained to become an autopsy surgeon and eager to work with Mr Spilsbury following his triumph in the court-room during the trial of Dr Crippen.

On her return she is met with the news that a close friend of her younger sister Florence has been killed during a suffragette march on Whitehall for Votes for Women. Dody refuses to carry out the autopsy on Lady Catherine Cartwright and the case is handed to another surgeon but questions over who killed her remain and Dody is determined to find the answers.

Meanwhile Police Inspector Pike, who worked on the periphery of the investigation into whether Crippen had killed his wife, is under pressure from above to prove that Lady Catherine didn’t die at the hands of a brutal policeman. Whilst wary of the more militant of the suffragettes he firmly believes that the police should have behaved better at the march and is asking difficult questions. Between them can they solve the murder?

This book transported me back in time to the turn of the twentieth century, the descriptions of the march are vivid as are Florence’s recollection of being force-fed while on hunger strike in prison. The author walks a fine line in expressing the various views held in the population at the time including the fact that most of the militant suffragettes had the money and home comforts that enabled them to spend time plotting their next actions whilst the poorer women in England were already working outside the home just to keep a roof over the heads of their families. I like this style very much as I prefer it when authors allow me to read the book in context of the time it is depicted and make up my own mind. I imagine weaving true facts with fiction is actually very hard and the author admits that the first known female attendant to Spilsbury actually occurred a full decade later in 1920 but Felicity Young has created an immensely readable and authentic feeling novel. The mystery isn’t terribly complex, my main enjoyment was derived from the links to events that I already knew so that I was able to read this book in context.

Dody comes across as a very level-headed young woman although not immune to the lure of romance she isn’t one of the men-hating varieties of women, she clearly worships Bernard Spilsbury and is intensely loyal to her sister Florence despite not agreeing with the latter’s more militant stance. With a desire to do good without being preachy about it, the character is well-developed as is that of Pike’s. Coupled with a well-paced thought out plot, this book has clearly been well-researched, an absolute essential for a historical novel.

I have a copy of The Insanity of Murder which is the fourth book in this series due out later this month which is a bit of a shame as I’m sure I’ll now end up reading the other two books out of sequence.

I’d like to say a special thanks (again) to Margot Kinburg from Confessions of a Mystery Novelist who recommended this book to me after I had read The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath. So glad she did and that I chose this as one of my 20 Books of Summer 2015, highly recommended for lovers of historical crime fiction.

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The Disappearance of Emily Marr – Louise Candlish

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Contemporary Fiction 5*s

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Having thoroughly enjoyed The Sudden Departure of the Frasers which was published by this author earlier this year, I was thrilled to find that there was a back-catalogue to explore with high-praise being bestowed on this book. Like Lisa Jewell’s books, it is easy to be thrown by the pretty, girly cover and assume this is a light and fluffy story, it isn’t, there are disturbing and dark issues but it does share that readable quality which easily has you rooting for a character.

In a small French town Tabby has become desperate, she has a broken heart and is pondering on some home truths and now she’s travelled from Paris to this unknown, quiet town with no money on a whim. She needs to go home, but is reluctant, she needs to earn money but her French is weak at best, but most of all she needs somewhere to sleep.

Emmie is virtually a hermit venturing out only to work so was it fate that bought Tabby to her door. Although Emmie is reluctant to speak of her own troubles, she is inquisitive about Tabby’s life. She listens to her woes and even fixes her up with a temporary job. Emmie’s spare time is spent working on her story, and what a story it is.

So far so chick-lit? We need the inclusion of a hunky man and we’re set to go. Well there are some men, one falls into the hunky category and is unavailable but that isn’t the point of the story. The story is about Emily Marr a woman who was in every paper, on every internet site, a woman hounded for her actions! Her picture was on the top-ten lists of worst women and the news articles always garnered plenty of spiteful comments. This is the age we live in, no longer do we put people in the stocks to humiliate them, instead campaigns are run to pressurise their employers to sack them for their perceived or real transgressions. If the object of our fury is a woman it is likely that their bodies are discussed in horrifying detail while we call up the sound-bites, attention-seeking, narcissistic, bullying, selfish…. And once it has started there doesn’t seem much that the object of our disgust can do except lay low and wait for the public to move onto a new target. I am as guilty as the next person as I read (although never add my voice to the throng) the latest ‘news’ which is often pulled from social networking sites as a warning that should you warrant it, the past will come back to haunt you!! Anyway I digress… I do like books that reflect the changes in our lives and technology is a big part of those changes, whereas in years gone past only those closest to someone vilified in the press were likely to add their voices to the tidal wave of condemnation, now people can comment from the other side of the word all day long. How does Emily Marr cope? What should she do?

With Emmie’s narration being told in her own words in the past and Tabby’s the story is also one of a different kind of friendship than normally portrayed in women’s fiction, here Emmie is far more secretive about her past, only giving Tabby the barest of details about her life before France despite Tabby wanting to support her friend but Tabby has a secret too and it may just cause both their lives to unravel.

An entertaining book with some really well-drawn characters from the major to the minor, recognisable, three-dimensional personalities are a must in a book where the root of the book is in their actions and Louise Candlish has proved herself extremely accomplished in creating them for our enjoyment.

I chose this out of all Louise Candlish’s previous books on the authors own kind advice following my review of The Sudden Departure of the Frasers. She was right, I loved it so I’m delighted that I chose it as one of my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge.

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Stacking the Shelves (July 18)

Stacking the shelves

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you’re adding to your shelves, be it buying or borrowing. From ‘real’ books you’ve purchased, a book you’ve borrowed, a book you’ve been given or an e-book they can all be shared!

Not many additions but as some of them go back a couple of weeks I thought I’d update you all on those I have acquired.

First up from good old NetGalley is No One Needs to Know by Kevin O’Brien

No One Needs to Know

Blurb

A SECRET WORTH KILLING FOR…
In July 1970, actress Elaina Styles was slain in her rented Seattle mansion along with her husband and their son’s nanny. When the baby’s remains were found buried in a shallow grave close to a hippie commune, police moved in—only to find all its members already dead in a grisly mass suicide.
AGAIN…
Now, decades later, a film about the murders is shooting at the mansion. On-set caterer Laurie Trotter ignores gossip that the production is cursed. But then people start dying…
AND AGAIN…
As Laurie digs deep into what happened all those years ago, the truth emerges more twisted than any whispered rumor, as a legacy of brutal vengeance reaches its terrifying climax… NetGalley

No One Needs to Know is due to be published by Kensington Books on 7 August 2015

I am also delighted to have a copy of The Silent Dead by Claire McGowan, an author whose previous books featuring Paula McGuire have been a big hit with me. The latest in the series will be published by Headline on 19 November 2015.

The Silent Dead

Blurb

Victim: Male. Mid-thirties. 5’7″.
Cause of death: Hanging. Initial impression – murder.
ID: Mickey Doyle. Suspected terrorist and member of the Mayday Five.
The officers at the crime scene know exactly who the victim is.
Doyle was one of five suspected bombers who caused the deaths of sixteen people.
The remaining four are also missing and when a second body is found, decapitated, it’s clear they are being killed by the same methods their victims suffered.
Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is assigned the case but she is up against the clock – both personally and professionally.
With moral boundaries blurred between victim and perpetrator, will be Paula be able to find those responsible? After all, even killers deserve justice, don’t they? NetGalley

I also have a copy courtesy of the author,Jack Jordan of Anything For Her . I rarely accept books for review via the author but Jack sent me a lovely, and personalised email which showed that he’d visited this blog and noted the types of books I like to read – his seems to fit the bill!

Anything for Her

Blurb

Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you.
Louise Leighton’s life has fallen apart, all because of one fateful night. Her husband is an adulterer, her sister is his mistress, and soon, Louise will lose everything she owns. But she never imagined she would lose her daughter.
Eighteen-year-old Brooke Leighton is missing. It’s up to Louise and the Metropolitan Police to find her. Has Brooke run away? Or has she been taken against her will? And can Louise aid the investigation without mentioning the night where all of her troubles began?
If she mentions that night, she will incriminate her daughter for heinous crimes. But if she doesn’t, she may never find Brooke; and if she has been abducted, the person who took her may come for Louise, too.
Sometimes the past comes back to kill you. Amazon

Lastly I have a copy of The Closet of Savage Mementos by Nuala Ní Chonchúir which comes highly recommended by a number of blogger friends following my recent post on Women’s Lives
The Closet of Savage Memories

Blurb

Lillis takes a summer job working at a lodge in a small lochside village in the Scottish Highlands. Leaving home is a way to escape her sorrow and despair following the death of her boyfriend and a testy relationship with her mother, Verity.
In Scotland she encounters love and excitement but when a series of unexpected events turn her new found life on its head, she is forced to make a life-changing decision, one that will stay with her for her whole life.
The Closet of Savage Mementos is drawn directly from the author’s own experiences and explores heartbreak, loss, motherhood and adoption in a gripping narrative and the same expressive, emotive and exciting prose we have come to expect of Nuala Ní Chonchúir. Goodreads

Any of these take your fancy or perhaps you’ve already read them?
What have you found to read this week? Please do share in the comments below

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The Maul and the Pear Tree – P.D. James and T.A. Critchley

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True Crime  3*s

Non-Fiction Historical Crime
3*s

Why are murders committed in the East End of London in 1811 still of interest over 200 years later? Well the brutal murders of two entire households are in part, at least, responsible for the birth of the Police Service that we have today.

One December night in 1811 an intruder entered the Marrs Draper store and murdered all the occupants including Timothy Marr the owner’s baby son. The only member of the household to survive was the servant Margaret Jewell who had been running an errand for oysters at just before midnight. Ratcliffe Highway was in the East End which led to the intersection between two other main roads. The area was watched by the night watchmen but he missed the entry of the intruder and help was only called when Margaret, having returned empty-handed, was locked out of her home.

This murder alone caused enough consternation between the locals, particularly as anyone with stained or torn clothes were arrested and seemingly just as quickly released by the complicated separate three police forces that had responsibility for the area. When another household were slain action and more importantly reform was called for.

The authors wrote this book in 1971 when interestingly T.A. Critchley, a Police Historian, name preceded that of the now much loved writer P.D. James. This book isn’t of the ilk of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, the writing coming across as much more scholarly in the more traditional format of the known facts being presented with the alternative solution to the murderer being presented in the latter part of the book. Despite extensive research it appears that not a lot of the facts survive although there are plenty of contemporary accounts as the murders fed the imagination of the population well outside the East End of London. In addition there were no detectives and those charged with enforcing the police were by all accounts open to bribes or pressure from those far more powerful than them. In order to proceed to the conclusion the reader needs to wade through quite a dense prose which isn’t written with the lightest of touches. There was a feeling that some points were overly emphasised in order to persuade the reader of their truth and to be honest I don’t believe there are enough facts to accurately surmise what happened that night.

What makes this book worthwhile is the social history that accompanies the dreadful facts. The authors do a fantastic job of describing this area of Wapping with its shipyards and shadowy streets where the shops and public houses opened well into the night. The boarding houses that were temporary homes for the sailors when they were on shore and the petty rivalries and jealousies that breed in such situations. The women who when making statements were perhaps carrying out their husband’s bidding were carrying out their pre-ordained roles, the fact that those who should have been depended upon in such an event were perhaps sleeping (or worse) while earning their pittance of a wage all played a part on those December nights.

So what did I make of the author’s conclusion? It seemed plausible based on the little known facts and I concur that the murderer probably wasn’t the man who was blamed for the crimes. But of course the lasting legacy was the recognition that England needed something a bit more substantial and accountable than those currently policing the country.

I’m glad I know more about this oft referenced crime, I now understand why it is still mentioned so frequently and as a bonus I finally have an idea where The Ratcliffe Highway is, why the maul was important, and what a maul is!!

This was read as part of my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge.

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Redemption Road – Lisa Ballantyne

Psychological Thriller 5*s

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Redemption Road psychological novel told at a steady pace, one where the past meets the present in a book that provides much food for thought as well as a cracking good story.

Margaret Holloway holds a managerial position in a secondary school, driven and committed when she leaves the school one December evening she is caught up in a horrific multi-vehicle pile-up on the motorway near her home in Loughton. Margaret is rescued by a mystery man but she soon becomes obsessed not with the accident but the man who saved her life and her childhood. Margaret’s childhood is a mystery, not least to herself as she is unable to remember a period of it culminating in a stay in hospital.

In the past we move to the highlands of Scotland where we meet journalist Angus who is desperate for his big scoop which he sees syndicated by the nationals across the land however he is reduced to writing about mundane local matters instead. Well that is until seven-year-old Moll is abducted on her way to school. Seizing his chance Angus visits her parents, Kathleen and John where he thinks he has found a detail that is worth closer investigation.

Big George starts his tale from Thurso near John O’Groats in 1985 and despite never having made it to that part of the world the descriptions made me feel that I had, a touch only emphasised by the authentic details of the time, excerpts of songs, the need to use coins to telephone anyone and cars in need of constant repair quickly transported me to that age.

With each chapter alternating between the three narrators their respective beliefs and characters are revealed in layers, a touch that I particularly like. With both men in need of redemption the ultimate question is will they find it? The downside of the alternate narratives is that as the story progresses it is easy to predict the next part, I didn’t mind being caught up in the drama but for those looking for a thrilling read with twists and turns, this isn’t the book for you. It is a much quieter type of read but for me it was utterly compelling as I needed to know exactly how all the strands were resolved. Having said that as Big George is part of the gangland scene in Glasgow and Angus is a misogynistic religious fanatic there are scenes which are violent; this may be a story about family secrets but some of them aren’t pretty!

I chose this book after having thoroughly enjoyed The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne for the perception of the underlying issues the story was about, this one was equally satisfying for the same reasons. I like books where the characters are multi-faceted and this one entirely fits that bill as the motivations in respect of the character’s actions are slowly revealed. This is a book which on reflection has far more going on than may first be apparent.

I’d like to thank the Little Brown Book Group for allowing me to read a copy ahead of the paperback publication date of 16 July 2015 in return for my honest opinion.

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This Week In Books (July 15)

This Week In Books Hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words I am currently reading Redemption Road by Lisa Ballantyne Redemption Road See yesterday’s post for the synopsis and a taster from this book 20 books of summer logo I have recently finished The Disappearance of Emily Marr by Louise Candlish, one of my 20 Books of 2015! Challenge The Disappearance of Emily Marr Blurb

Arriving on the windswept Ile de R� off the coast of France, Tabby Dewhurst is heartbroken and penniless, unable even to afford a room for the night. Then she overhears a villager repeating aloud the access code to her front door and, hardly believing her own actions, Tabby waits for the villager to leave and lets herself into the house . . . And so she enters the strange, hidden world of Emmie, whose sudden offer of friendship is at odds with her obsession with her own privacy. Soon Tabby begins to form suspicions about Emmie, suspicions that will lead her back to England – and to a scandal with shattering consequences. Amazon

20 books of summer logo Next up I am looking forward to reading The Anatomy of Death by Felicity Young An Anatomy of Death Blurb

At the turn of the twentieth century, London’s political climate is in turmoil, as women fight for the right to vote. Dody McCleland has her own battles to fight. As England’s first female autopsy surgeon, not only must she prove herself, she must prove that murder treats everyone equally… After a heated women’s rights rally turns violent, an innocent suffragette is found murdered. When she examines the body, Dody McCleland is shocked to realize that the victim was a friend of her sister—fueling her determination to uncover the cause of the protestor’s suspicious death. For Dody, gathering clues from a body is often easier than handling the living—especially Chief Detective Inspector Pike. Pike is looking to get to the bottom of this case but has a hard time trusting anyone—including Dody. Determined to earn Pike’s trust and to find the killer, Dody will have to sort through real and imagined secrets. But if she’s not careful, she may end up on her own examination table… Amazon

What are you reading this week? See what I’ve been reading in 2015 here

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