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Blog Tour | Ravens in the Rain: A Noir Love Story

Blog Tour | “What truth she sees, so she flees. Unseen. Insane. Like a raven in the rain.” – Ravens in the Rain: A Noir Love Story by Christie Santo and Jeff Santo

**Many thanks to BookBaby Books and the authors for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Christie Santo and Jeff Santo

(4.38 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Noir / Hard-Boiled Mystery

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: September 22, 2021, by BookBaby Books

Pages: 248 (Paperback)

#RavensintheRain


Lately, it seems like love is a game where everyone plays dirty.

-Ravens in the Rain

Black and white TV. OK, I may have just lost all the millennials, but I do remember a time when there were still black and white movies on TV. Sure, they weren’t first releases when I was watching, but there was a certain magic to them. They were from a different era and I was in the future, peeking in on them with all my omniscient knowledge of color and remote controls and cable boxes. So when you mention “noir” to me, yes, I picture the stylized and cynical characters of classic Hollywood embroiled in some shady mystery – everyone smoking cigarettes in well-cut trench coats and accented English. And I also relate those TV shows and movies to all that black and white magic of a time long past that can still pull you in to those stories no matter which era you claim.
Ravens in the Rain has that kind of magic. Set in modern times, it’s a story that nevertheless gives you all kinds of black and white vibes in both character and setting. Let’s check out the blurb…

Ravens In The Rain is an unconventional noir love story between a woman with a past and a man with no future where love is no fairy tale, fantasy is foreplay, and sex is had on second dates. Carney and Pru, down on luck and down on love, meet over a game of chance, and the mystery of the other’s intentions, compounded by their overwhelming attraction toward each other, compels them into a game of cat and mouse. They ante up and play this game of love or survival that has you wondering who’s the villain and who’s the hero and how it will all play out. When murder is brought to their doorstep the game gets serious. A psychological tale between a poet and a filmmaker that has even the cat wondering if it’s really the mouse, what is real, and who is telling the truth. Is love on the table? Or is it life?


I suggest you get to know each other fast. Love’s the ticket for the next ride.

-Ravens in the Rain

As the book opens, we’re immediately dropped into the middle of a story that has already started. We don’t know who we’re meeting or why, but we know that if we don’t pay attention, we’ll miss something vitally important. We meet the main characters, Carney and Pru, and almost immediately we get the feeling that both everything and nothing is right about them getting together. Fate is almost certainly at work here, and all we can do is watch as her little game is played out.

At this point, I have to interject. I know the authors have called this a love story, but I have to give die-hard romance readers a little heads-up here. This is not your typical enemies-to-friends, fake-couple-falls-in-love, blind-date-setup (or whatever common romance trope you’re used to seeing in novels these days) type of book. Sure, there is a theme: Mistrustful man meets woman with secrets and, despite all of his brain’s deep-seated warnings, well… the heart wants what the heart wants. But that theme is wrapped up in the dark, sketchy settings of casinos and nighttime LA streets where anything can and does happen. All it takes is one bad decision – or a string of them – and some pretty bad luck.

He’s always had a little bit of bad luck and bad timing, a shadow away from shining.

-Ravens in the Rain

Reading Ravens in the Rain will put you in a different mindset. It reads like a movie script, especially in the first few chapters. You can practically sense the soundstage with all of its looming cameramen and lighting crew just waiting for the director to yell “Cut!” so they can reset. As the story advances, all of that falls into the background as you are engulfed in this couple’s story of troubled togetherness.

As far as characters go, we start out not knowing much about either of them. They are as intentionally mysterious as the events in their past. Chapter after chapter, we are given just a few more morsels here and there that eventually flesh out Carney and Pru, while still leaving them feeling almost as mysterious as when we first meet them. And that feeling only adds to the mystery of the story which is only better because of it.

One thing though, do not read this book thinking that you’re immediately going to be inundated with crazy action and/or an overarching mystery right off the bat. It really is a slow burn, but rightfully so. Pru and Carney are the real story, while the rest of everyone and everything just circulates around them. Now, don’t take that to mean it’s a snooze-fest – there is definitely action and a mystery to be solved as well, but those act as sub-plots to the main characters finding themselves in each other.

See, you’re the creator of your dreams, so rewrite them with better endings.

-Ravens in the Rain

Ravens in the Rain will appeal to a reader who is looking for an unconventional love story with characters who harbor a lot of secrets and certainly aren’t your cookie-cutter romantic types. It is a little laggy in the middle, but picks up a lot toward the end. There were definitely some points where I questioned motives and saw easy outs for their predicaments; but, honestly, this couple was born for the drama and because of that, there was no way they would have avoided any of it. The style of the book almost acts as a third main character – moody and just a little bit wild and unpredictable. All the things noir mystery readers really appreciate.

I am grateful to the authors for reaching out to me to be a part of their blog tour, and be sure to pick up a copy of Ravens in the Rain: A Noir Love Story in stores beginning September 22nd, 2021 (and check out the book trailer below)!


Ravens in the Rain is available September 22nd at any of the following retailers:

  • Amazon *Books-A-Million *Barnes and Noble * Book Depository *Target *IndieBound


Christie and Jeff Santo

Married over 10-years, Christie & Jeff Santo, lucky in love, never would’ve met if Christie didn’t miss her airplane. Luckier still, when a motorcycle accident almost took their lives, it became the driving force toward their writing career together. Coming from the independent film industry, Jeff has over 25-years of filmmaking experience, directing and writing, with memberships in both the WGA and DGA. And Christie has years of experience in editing, producing, acting, and writing. Christie has her Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing from California State University Long Beach and has freelanced as a ghostwriter for novels. Jeff and Christie are owners of www.SantoFilms.com. They live in Burbank, California with their two Boston Terrier dogs. –Ravensintherain.com


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The Night She Disappeared – Pub Day Review: Sept. 7, 2021

“I just want it to be us, the three of us, always. That’s all.” – The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

**Many thanks to Atria Books, NetGalley, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Lisa Jewell

(4.37 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: September 7, 2021, by Atria Books

Pages: 416 (Hardcover)

#TheNightSheDisappeared #LisaJewell #AtriaBooks #NetGalley

**Trigger warnings:


How can two people go to the pub on a Friday night and never come back and nobody know what happened to them?

The Night She Disappeared – Lisa Jewell

In school, I was not one of the popular girls. I wasn’t outgoing, or extroverted, or confident. I had friends, but they were all pretty much like me. We knew the popular kids though – the ones that seemed to have the sun on their shoulders every time they walked into the room. We knew how they dressed, how they wore their hair, the music they listened to. It seemed important to know, even if it wasn’t part of my own identity. Cool kids are hypnotizing. Apparently, Tallulah Murray thought so too – and her interest in one particular girl completely changed her life. Let’s check out the blurb…

2017: 19 year old Tallulah is going out on a date, leaving her baby with her mother, Kim.
Kim watches her daughter leave and, as late evening turns into night, which turns into early morning, she waits for her return. And waits.
The next morning, Kim phones Tallulah’s friends who tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a party at a house in the nearby woods called Dark Place. She never returns.
2019: Sophie is walking in the woods near the boarding school where her boyfriend has just started work as a head-teacher when she sees a note fixed to a tree.
‘DIG HERE’ . . .
A cold case, an abandoned mansion, family trauma and dark secrets lie at the heart of Lisa Jewell’s remarkable new novel.


She wants to tell her mum that sometimes she feels like she can’t breathe, she simply cannot breathe.

The Night She Disappeared – Lisa Jewell

Not sure if this is a theme for this month or not, but this is my second book (in as many days) that is based in the UK and has to do with missing people – and not on purpose!

I’ve learned a lot by reading so many crime novels and listening to so many true crime podcasts. Don’t get into cars with strangers. Never walk home alone. And always, always make sure you tell someone exactly where you are going to be when you go out. But if there is one thing that I would add after reading this book – and it’s not a spoiler – always be honest with at least one person about things that are going on in your life, even if they are a bit embarrassing. It never helps to keep big feelings bottled up, and sometimes the right person can surprise you with how helpful they can be. What does any of that have to do with this book? Ahhh, there’s so much to unpack with Jewell’s latest release. I promise that little nugget will make sense after you read it.

And there are no answers to anything, anywhere, no clear paths through.

The Night She Disappeared – Lisa Jewell

I guess, by now, that any time a Lisa Jewell new release hits the shelves there are thousands (hundreds of thousands) of readers just clamoring to be the first to read it. We want the thrills, the mystery, the question marks that lead to dead ends, clouded speculations, and twisty conclusions. Is a Lisa Jewell book a sure thing? Not always. But this one should definitely do well among her dedicated fans.

It’s a taut mystery with sympathetic characters and secretive villains that may or may not be innocent in all this. One thing I wish Jewell would have done was to make the Dark Place house into more of a character on its own. There was so much more this amazing house could have given us, I believe, in tone and atmosphere. It wasn’t wasted, I just wanted more!

So, back to the popular people… Tallulah has a lot going on. She’s a young mother, trying to finish school, and she’s trying to make her life work with her son’s father, Zach. Maybe she sees in the popular kids what her life could be like. Or maybe there’s something else that she sees. An escape? I can’t tell you everything. But I can tell you that decision-making is key in this book. And at every turn, choices are made that are hard to come back from. The kind of choices that make for a great crime novel!

Being with me shouldn’t stop you being free. Nothing should stop you being free.

The Night She Disappeared – Lisa Jewell

The Night She Disappeared is a solid 3.5-star read. Told across multiple timelines and narrators, the storyline proceeds at a nice pace and kept me interested throughout. The main characters are developed well in the beginning and then even more as we travel back and forth along the timeline of events. At each point, the reader will feel exactly how Jewell wants you to feel about each character, and when it’s time for that assumption to change, you’ll immediately feel the shift. And those changes are key to the movement and emotions of the story going along exactly the way that they should. I don’t think there was one time when I felt that the book was dragging. And the shorter final chapters really let the reader race through the denouement in a way that perfectly matches the action!

Pick up a copy of this Brit-based crime thriller if you love stories with multiple timelines, stories where a writer is the MC, handsome detectives, love triangles, someone-knows-something plots, and you-have-got-to-be-kidding endings!


The Night She Disappeared is available September 7th at any of the following retailers:


Check out this excerpt from The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

Lisa Jewell

Lisa Jewell is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of nineteen novels, including The Family Upstairs and Then She Was Gone, as well as Invisible Girl and Watching You. Her novels have sold over 5 million copies internationally, and her work has also been translated into twenty-eight languages. –contact@cjmerritt.co.uk


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The New Home

“You never know what’s happening behind closed doors.” – The New Home by Chris Merritt

**Many thanks to Bookouture, NetGalley, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Chris Merritt

(3.64 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Psychological Thriller

Format: Kindle

Expected Publication Date: September 7, 2021, by Bookouture

Pages: 332 (Kindle)

#TheNewHome #ChrisMerritt #Bookouture #NetGalley

**Trigger warnings: domestic violence references, miscarriage, rape references, violence


A vivid imagination can be scary at times, but I wouldn’t want to live without it.

The New House – Chris Merritt

You may know what it feels like – to move to a new place and feel like you’re starting all over. You have to figure out a new route to work, school, the grocery store. And if you bought a fixer-upper, there are countless renovations, repairs, and replacements before you can even get settled. And then there are the neighbors to consider. Will they be friendly, helpful, quiet? Or will they be… something other than that? The main characters in this new release by Chris Merritt had high hopes for their new home, but will it live up to their dreams? Let’s check out the blurb…

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…


…if they could just disappear, the same thing might happen to me. That one day I could simply vanish, too.

The New House – Chris Merritt

OK, yes, this is yet another book about a woman gone missing. BUT before you flip to the next blog, understand that, surprisingly, the missing persons in this story kinda take a backseat to everything else that’s going on with the main character, Freya. Sure, Emily and her daughter, Thea, are important, but there’s so much more involved with their disappearance and the investigation that, often, they are the motivation but not the focus. It gives this story a fresh spin that separates it from so many of the police procedurals I often read.

The London setting doesn’t truly come into play until much later in the book, but when it does, the setting and atmosphere are vividly captured and weirdly perfect for the ensuing action. And this book is all about action. Freya isn’t one to sit around and contemplate long about what should happen. She’s a doer, and doers make for great book action. Granted, it was often cringey action. Like, what-no-stop-seriously kind of action, but action nonetheless. Spontaneity may not always make for the best decisions, but it’s excellent for creating movement in a story!

People do strange things when they think they’re in love. Or perhaps when they feel they have no other choice.

The New House – Chris Merritt

OK, let’s be honest, there are two words that can easily pull a reader like me into a book: twisty thriller. The “sales pitch” for this book had that phrase attached to it, so I was sold. Is it thrilling? Sure. Is it twisty? Definitely. The characters play well with each other, in that they are all totally at odds with one another! It’s the perfect mish-mosh of neighborly dysfunction that only adds to the reader’s inability to trust anyone at all. If you enjoy being totally lopsided in all of your assumptions about who the “bad guy” is while still being 100% sure that you’re accurate, then this is the book for you.

I had to be with you. But I knew even that wouldn’t be enough.

The New House – Chris Merritt

The New Home is a solid 3.5-star read. You can get through it in one sitting, if you’re so inclined. Readers should be aware of certain triggers including references to domestic violence, involuntary commitment to a mental facility, and rape. Also, direct depiction of a miscarriage were pretty difficult to read. And this is, of course, a crime novel, so there are several violent acts featured as well. Sensitive readers should govern accordingly.

Pick up a copy of this quick standalone psych thriller if you enjoy mysteries with satisfying endings, unreliable narrators, creepy neighbors, London settings, and steadily-building, twisty, whodunnit drama!


The New House is available September 7th at any of the following retailers:


Chris Merritt

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. –contact@cjmerritt.co.uk


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August Audiobooks – The Guest List by Lucy Foley

⇒ “If I can’t move heaven, then I shall raise hell.” The Guest List by Lucy Foley⇐

Author: Lucy Foley Narrators: Jot Davies, Chloe Massey, Olivia Dowd, Aoife McMahon, Sarah Ovens, Rich Keeble

(3.86 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Audiobook

Publication Date: May 5, 2020 by HarperAudio

Pages: 330 (Hardcover) Audio Length: 10h 22m

#TheGuestList #LucyFoley #Audiobook


I’m not worried about it being haunted. I have my own ghosts. I carry them with me wherever I go.

The Guest List

Many, many years ago, I used to be a wedding planner. It wasn’t something I got paid for; I did it for my church, but I put just as much energy into it as if there was a paycheck on the other end of all that planning and coordination. I really did love it. Yes, it was stressful. Yes, there were times when things didn’t go perfectly as planned. And, yet, things always seemed to come together as they should. At the end of the night, there was always a happy couple and, best of all, leftover cake!

Reading a book where two of the main characters are coordinating a wedding fit perfectly in my wheelhouse. Throw in a previously deserted (and possibly haunted) Irish island, and top it all off with an engaged couple who are wealthy minor celebrities with skeletons in their closets and this story has all the ingredients for a disastrous recipe! Let’s check out the blurb…

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner – The bridesmaid – The body. On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding fit for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed. But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast. And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

But no matter what happens, life is only a series of days. You can’t control more than a single day.

The Guest List

So this book progresses about the way that you’d expect it to – especially when there’s a lot of money and alcohol flowing and there’s also an exacting bride with expensive taste. As you see the many threads begin to pull apart (and I’m not just talking about in the maid of honor’s silk dress either), you also see the talented and patient wedding planner stitching everything back together again. Aoife is a force to be reckoned with, and the rowdy wedding party and guests need someone with her strength to wrangle them all away from the deadly bog… and each other.

I love how the suspense builds steadily throughout the book. And the audiobook only intensifies the feeling of impending disaster with multiple POVs voiced by multiple narrators as well. That combination sets the perfect ominous tone over what is supposed to be the happiest day of Jules and Will’s lives. It may be just me, but I was waiting with bated breath to see all the things that could possibly go wrong with this wedding! I mean, let’s be real – neither Will or Julia are particularly likable, and we already know that someone on this island is not going to have their best day, so it was a pretty satisfying read to see how badly things began to thoroughly fall apart page after page.

In my experience those who have the greatest respect for the rules also take the most enjoyment in breaking them.

The Guest List

Since this is my last review of Audiobook August, it seems only fitting that this book takes the cake (get it?) with not one, not two, but SIX narrators! Sometimes having so many can become cumbersome and confusing, but the varied accents and inflections in The Guest List kept each of these characters fresh and unique. From the ne’er-do-well best man, Jonno, to the best friend of the bride’s plus one, Hannah, these are all the people you come to love, hate, or suspect as the wedding night approaches.

It’s difficult to review the book without wanting to give everything away. And it’s so much better if readers just allow the story to unfold for them. Since this is a review blog, however, I will say that I was very disappointed to not give this book 4 stars at least. Nothing other than a rather patchy ending caused the deficit. Even with the addition of an epilogue, this story ended with me checking the recording to see if it had stopped prematurely or if I had accidentally skipped ahead and missed some paragraphs. Outside of that, I did enjoy my virtual trip to the Irish island, but I hope that no one invites me to a wedding there any time soon.

Now, here are your narrators…



And check out an excerpt of the audiobook on SoundCloud reading The Guest List:


Lucy Foley

Lucy Foley studied English Literature at Durham and UCL universities. She then worked for several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry – during which time she wrote her debut novel, The Book of Lost and Found. Lucy now writes full-time. During the year she divides her time between the UK and the Middle East – much of this novel was written in a garden in Tehran! – as well as travelling around the world for research and inspiration . She is currently working on her next book. -harpercollins.ca


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August Audiobooks: Before the Coffee Gets Cold

⇒ “We must become friends before this coffee cools.” Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi⇐

Author: Toshikazu Kawaguchi Narrator: Arina Ii

(3.72 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Fantasy

Format: Audiobook

Publication Date: November 17, 2020 by Harlequin Audio

Pages: 272 (Hardcover) Audio Length: 6h 52m

#BeforeTheCoffeeGetsCold #ToshikazuKawaguchi #Audiobook


At the end of the day, whether one returns to the past or travels to the future, the present doesn’t change.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

Pour a warm cup of your favorite coffee blend, take a deep whiff of it, and feel the warmth of it in your hands. Feel relaxed now? Good. Now, let’s share our thoughts about this book while our cups are steaming hot. It’s the best way to drink coffee after all.

I knew that I was going to include this book in my Audiobook August reading list ever since I picked up a paperback copy of it in a bookstore on one random weekday. It has an instantly intriguing cover that invites you into a story that I immediately felt drawn into as well. Let’s check out the blurb…

What would you change if you could go back in time? In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time. In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know. But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold…

Water flows from high places to low places. That is the nature of gravity. Emotions also seem to act according to gravity.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

There was a point at the beginning – in the first few chapters – when I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this book. I wasn’t ready for the relaxed pace of it; I wanted to jump directly into the drama of time-traveling. I’m such an American! However, chapter by chapter, the story grew on me and I fell under it’s comfortably steady spell. I quickly learned that what I was anticipating the most was only a backdrop for really meaningful emotional experiences of some very touching characters.

This book feels different from many other novels in unexpected ways. It is soft and unrushed. Each story unfolds without pretense or pressure, even when the individual characters are under very stressful situations. Each character is meaningfully introduced and will occupy a place in your heart. You will feel their emotions and relate to each of their reasons for visiting the Funiculi Funicula café. Kawaguchi’s writing is a balm to my senses, especially in the midst of reading dark crime thrillers and naughty faerie fiction.

If this continues, I won’t find myself in the present or past; I’ll simply vanish in a wisp of smoke.

We all know that an audiobook can be made or destroyed by it’s narrator. Imagine Fran Drescher narrating War and Peace. Wait… that might actually make it better! Arina Ii narrates Before the Coffee Gets Cold and it is a perfect marriage of a calm, soothing presence leading you into a fantastic journey with the coffee café patrons and owners.

I would love to see this book brought to life on stage. That’s almost how it reads, like a stage play. I would definitely recommend it for a quiet, meaningful change of pace and for the opportunity to read a book with a subtle greater meaning: Don’t let the coffee get cold.

Now, let’s meet the narrator , Arina Ii…


Arina Ii
Arina Ii is an actress, known for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (2017), Cyberpunk 2077 (2020) and Jack and the Beanstalk (2020).

Bio from IMDb


Check out an excerpt of Ii reading Before the Coffee Gets Cold below:


And check her out on SoundCloud reading Before the Coffee Gets Cold:


Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Toshikazu Kawaguchi (in Japanese: 川口 俊 和) was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1971. He formerly produced, directed and wrote for the theatrical group Sonic Snail. As a playwright, his works include COUPLESunset Song, and Family Time. The novel Before the Coffee Gets Cold is adapted from a 1110 Productions play by Kawaguchi, which won the 10th Suginami Drama Festival grand prize.


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August Audiobooks – The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth / Narrated by Barrie Kreinik

⇒ “I worked hard for everything I ever cared about, & nothing I ever cared about cost a single cent.” The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth⇐

Author: Sally Hepworth Narrator: Barrie Kreinik

(3.99 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Mystery

Format: Audiobook

Publication Date: April 23rd 2019 by Macmillan Audio (first published January 29th 2019)

Pages: 356 (Hardcover) Audio Length: 9h 12m

#TheMotherInLaw #SallyHepworth #Audiobook


I… have always wanted hardship for my kids. Real, honest hardship. Challenges big enough to make them empathetic and wise.

Mother-In-Law. When you read that just now, did you hear horror movie music in the background? Maybe those spine-tingling Psycho violins? It’s really a knee-jerk reaction to immediately want to run and hide whenever the MIL is mentioned. I have been there and come out on the other side, but I commiserate with all of you who are still in that peculiar hell that only a certain type of mother-in-law can create.

Now, do I really need to say that not all mothers-in-law are bad? Obviously not. The character of the evil, conniving, selfish mother of a mama’s boy is not the only thing that a husband’s mom can be. Or maybe they’re just terribly misunderstood? I’m laughing behind my hand right now. Maybe that’s true, but let’s check out the blurb to see what Lucy’s mother-in-law is like…

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, Diana, she was kept at arm’s length. Diana was exquisitely polite, and properly friendly, but Lucy knew that she was not what Diana envisioned. But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice who helped female refugees assimilate to their new country. Diana was happily married to Tom, and lived in wedded bliss for decades. Lucy wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.
That was five years ago.
Now, Diana has been found dead, a suicide note near her body. Diana claims that she no longer wanted to live b
ecause of a battle with cancer. But the autopsy finds no cancer. The autopsy does find traces of poison and suffocation. Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her adult children and their spouses?
With Lucy’s secrets getting deeper and her relationship with her mother-in-law growing more complex as the pages turn, this new novel from Sally Hepworth is sure to add to her growing legion of fans.

… you don’t choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.

So, Lucy went into the relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana, all bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked; but, as with any grand plan, things just didn’t seem to work out the way that she planned. Sometimes strong and distant women can have that power – the ability to break you down and crush your high-hopes with nothing more than one withering look.

However, Hepworth gives you both sides of the story. Written from multiple POVs, there’s the opportunity to see the same situations with more than one lens. That technique gives this family drama more depth and just may make you want to give your own mother-in-law the benefit of the doubt the next time she royally ticks you off! Maybe.

It occurs to me that only a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law can have an all-out war without anyone so much as raising their voice..

So, I do have a little confession concerning this book. I have had the hardcover copy on my shelf since October 2019. (Sheesh, my TBR is outta control!) I would look at it and think, ‘Wow, I really want to read that book.’ And then I would be in the middle of March Movie Madness, or July-brary (which I actually skipped this year), or whatever other challenge I’m currently in the middle of. So, when I saw that Hoopla was offering this title as an audiobook, I jumped right on it. I call it a confession, because I feel like I betrayed my hardcover by listening to the audio version of this story. Insert sad puppy eyes here, lol.

But I will go easy on myself and just give myself kudos for reading it regardless of the format. And, yes, audiobooks count as reading too! One thing about audiobooks is that even an excellent story can suffer if the narrator isn’t up to snuff. But this story didn’t have that problem at all. Let’s meet the narrator of this book, Barrie Kreinik…


Barrie Kreinik
Barrie Kreinik is an award-winning audiobook narrator with titles produced by Macmillan, Hachette, Penguin Random House, Harper, Podium, Tantor, Audible, and AudioGO. She specializes in accents and dialects, particularly those of the British Isles.

https://barriekreinik.com


If you listen to audiobooks, don’t be surprised if you’re already familiar with Kreinik’s voice. She’s done narration for several books that you’ve probably read before. Check out some of them below:


And check her out on SoundCloud reading The Mother-In-Law:


Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, most recently The Good Sister, which was an instant bestseller. Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 20 languages. Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.


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August Audiobooks!

For this blogger, August is Audiobook Month! I’ll share a few here in this post that I will be enjoying this month, but – as I am a pretty moody reader – be prepared for some surprises as well!


Whoever invented audiobooks, God bless you ma’am or sir! Hang on, we live in the age of instant information – I can find out in two clicks…

Audiobooks first emerged in 1932 with the establishment of a recording studio by The American Foundation for the Blind, which created recordings of books on vinyl records. Each side held about 15 minutes of speech. -PBS.org

From vinyl in 1932 to my increasingly mis-placeable earbuds in 2021, millions of people have been able to read on the go and enjoy hearing authors’ words come to life in a different way. Over the years, I have used audiobooks to get me through excruciating work commutes, a couple of bouts with the flu, a depressed day or two, and plenty of boring days at the office when coffee wasn’t enough to keep me from nodding at my desk.

This month my reading list includes audiobooks from both Hoopla and Audible that have been burning a hole a in my virtual TBR. As I said earlier, I’m a moody reader, so I may just deviate from this plan and click on something entirely at random. We’ll see where August and the audiogods lead me.

  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. “Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases–a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.” Voice narration by Carly Robins.
  • Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. “In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.” Voice narration by Arina Ii
  • Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. “…it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.” Voice narration by Adjoa Andoh.
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. “Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected…” Voice narration by Stephen Fry.
  • The President’s Daughter by James Patterson & Bill Clinton. “There’s a new administration in the White House. But it’s the previous First Family who tops an international assassin’s hit list.” Voice narration by Tony Goldwyn and Fajer Al-Kaisi.

Quality narration is what elevates and distinguishes the audiobook listening experience from the print reading experience, in often extraordinary ways.

Ian Small

What’s the best audiobook you’ve ever read?

And before you get snippy, yes, I wrote “read”. I consider listening to audiobooks as reading too. So there. Moving on, I’ve read some very good audiobooks, some books that were saved because of the narrator, and some that were pretty awful coming and going. The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one that I always recommend for those that are new to audiobooks. It is an excellent book full-stop, but on top of that, the multi-POV voice acting by Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell, Bahni Turpin, and Jenna Lamia is superb. If you ever want to hear a narrator who is top-of-class, listen to any of the Stephanie Plum novels written by Janet Evanovich and narrated by Lorelei King. She will make you forget that she is just one person voicing an entire cast of characters. And if Dick Hill narrates anything it will be perfect.

And if you don’t trust me to give a good audiobook recommendation, no worries there. Trust Oprah. Here is a link to her list of the 35 Best Audiobooks to Listen to Now.

And another excellent list by Anne Bogel, The Modern Mrs. Darcy (What Should I Read Next), of 12 Highly Recommended Audiobooks.


So right after I press the publish button on this blog post, I will go back to folding clothes, vacuuming, and standing in front of the refrigerator trying to magic up something interesting for dinner, all while listening to my current audiobook – multitasking at its absolute best. Happy listening!


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New or Old – That Smell is Incredible

Welcome to my book review blog. Thanks for dropping in!

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.

–W. Somerset Maugham

Whenever I get a new book, or mooch an old book, or borrow a book from the library, for that matter, I bring it close to my nose… and inhale.

Sometimes the smell is crisp and warm, almost woodsy. Other times it’s ancient and musky, like well-worn furniture. Either way, it’s a great smell. Remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory is showing Anna (future Yale student) around the library and she picks up a book and smells it? Yes, just like that: #bibliosmia.

So now you know I read old books and new – and I love them both equally. So if you’re here to just see reviews on all the hot new releases that everyone else is reading and blogging about, then you’re not in the right place. Sorry.

I do read selective New Releases, but I also have a lot of “Dusty Bookshelf” reads that I am committed to getting through in this upcoming year (I said that last year too), and a lot of books that people have recommended to me that I will finally get around to. The books I read/review won’t always be current, but they’ll always be interesting.

I prefer reading hardcovers or trade-sized paperbacks (there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands), but I also read several e-books and listen to a few audiobooks each month, so you’ll likely see reviews for publications in those formats as well.

Occasionally, when she lets me, my daughter and I will read her books together. She’s in 5th grade and has a bookcase full of chapter books that we work our way through whenever she’s not bogged down with school-assigned stories. When our read-along books are especially good, I’ll review those too.

I’ll also occasionally be featuring my favorite authors, book events in Georgia, upcoming new releases, links to free e-book deals, and throwback looks at my favorite childhood reads.

I’m a Goodreads member and belong to several groups there. The book cover pics I post will most often come from Goodreads along with mentions of their overall rating of each book. However, I do not – I repeat, NOT – allow the rating from “the masses” influence my personal opinion of any book I read. Reviews are my own individual thoughts and I am absolutely not receiving any compensation for anything I post here.

As you may have guessed, this is my first foray into blogging so I’m sure I have some kinks to work out. If something isn’t working or posting correctly, just bear with me and I’ll get it worked out. Eventually. ♥

Enjoy!

booksniffing

Sweetbitter

⇒ “I wanted to say, My life is full. I chose this life because it’s a constant assault of color and taste and light and it’s raw and ugly and fast and it’s mine. And you’ll never understand. Until you live it, you don’t know.” Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler⇐

Author: Stephanie Danler

(3.30 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary

Format: Hardcover

Re-Publication Date: March 24, 2016, by Knopf

Pages: 356 (Hardcover)

#Sweetbitter #StephanieDanler


I thought that once I got to this city nothing could ever catch up with me because I could remake my life daily… Being remade was the same thing as being constantly undone.

How often do we even pay attention to restaurant waitstaff? Maybe not often, unless they are rude or they get something wrong. This book turns the spotlight on them and their carefully choreographed dance that delivers food to tables every night, whether it’s at Le Bernardin or Applebee’s.

I read a lot of reviews of Sweetbitter even before I read the book, so I was expecting to be underwhelmed. However, my experience has been quite the opposite. I recognize this book as a snapshot into one chapter of Tess’s life. Her biggest decision, her make-it-or-break-it, all-or-nothing, YOLO moment. This was a peek behind the curtain. It was fascinating in a train-wreck kind of way. Even reading it as a 40-something (ahem, 28 at heart), I remember my 22-year-old self. I only had the barest minimum of a life goal and was still very much planted in the individual moments of my existence. My farthest reaching goal was planning to save enough money by working as a hostess at Ryan’s to afford my rent AND books for the next school quarter. I was mainlining Coke Classic and basically surviving off of McDonald’s and cardboard pizza (props to Pizza K for keeping us alive!). But enough about me, let’s check out the book blurb…

Newly arrived in New York City, twenty-two-year-old Tess lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. What follows is the story of her education: in champagne and cocaine, love and lust, dive bars and fine dining rooms, as she learns to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing life she has chosen. As her appetites awaken—for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging—Tess finds herself helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. In Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler deftly conjures with heart-stopping accuracy the nonstop and high-adrenaline world of the restaurant industry and evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, and the fragility and brutality of being young in New York.

It is ludicrous for anyone to live here and I can never leave.

I do relate to Tess – although she was much braver than I can say I have ever been. When I look back on the days when I was her age, there were a lot of moments that feel like hers: Times that come back to me like train of thought, or only smells, or sounds. I didn’t live in New York, but I can just imagine how the sights and sounds in a city like that would only amplify her experiences. Instead of commuting to work on 285 everyday, like I do now, I might have instead taken the train. So that experience would smell like mechanical exhaust, 5pm sweat, and someone else’s fried rice takeout. Or my morning might start out hot, so I open my window to an annoyed driver, a neighbor’s cast yowling for breakfast, and the tumbling screech of the downstairs shops lifting their security doors to begin their day. There’s more to “what did this character do in this book” than just the things they say or the actions they take. It’s their full experience that motivates them. Tess is immersed in everything that is new and different for her. No wonder she is absorbing it all in the only ways she knows how – through her senses.

I read Sweetbitter as a sensory trip, not just a story. There is more that the author was trying to convey other than “this is what happened.” The characters who were only vaguely developed, such as Jake, were intentionally so. He was a mystery to Tess, so he is a mystery to us as well. Simone stands apart as omniscient and worldly because that’s how Tess perceives her. There were people who probably should have mattered more (Tess’s roommate, her dad, etc.), but who were hardly mentioned at all. That’s just another demonstration that it’s not an all-inclusive story of a life, but a telescopic view of what matters to Tess right now.

Tess is an unreliable narrator not because she has anything to hide or that she is being deceptive. She’s unreliable primarily because she, herself doesn’t know what the heck is going on. She is a novice in her own life, so her perception and perspective are all a little skewed from what a casual observer would see. However, as the story progresses and she becomes more comfortable in her environment, just as she learns to balance the plates she carries to and from the kitchen, she also learns to balance the new relationships and responsibilities of her new life.

You’re all terrified of young people. We remind you of what it was like to have ideals, faith, freedom. We remind you of the losses you’ve taken as you’ve grown cynical, numb, disenchanted, compromising the life you imagined.

For the young, memory and self-awareness come in spurts. The book feels like an impromptu reunion of long-separated classmates at a noisy bar. Everything is remember when…? and did you know…? and that was when we all…  It’s a quick visit to a specific Polaroid point in time that you have to revisit in the short amount of time it takes to rehash all the memories before last call.

I don’t know how you feel about reading reviews of books you are currently reading. Usually, I find them to be a pretty good gauge of what I can expect from a book, at least on a very high level. However, on this occasion, I find that I disagree with the majority on this one. I found this story to be relatable and the book to be well-written. We may ultimately not like Tess or the choices she makes, but she is the poster child for the young, seeker-of-self in the New York food industry and I loved reading about her atmospheric daily adventures.


Stephanie Danler
Stephanie Danler is a novelist, memoirist, and screenwriter. She is the author of Stray and the international bestseller Sweetbitter, and is also the creator and executive producer of the Sweetbitter series on Starz. Her work has appeared in the Sewanee Review, Vogue, The New York Times Book Review, and The Paris Review Daily. Her nonfiction received an Honorable Mention in Best American Essays 2018, and her criticism won the 2019 Robert B. Heilman award from the Sewanee Review. She is based in Los Angeles, California.

https://stephaniedanler.com


Blog Tour | The Final Girl Support Group

Blog Tour | None of us have to be defined by the worst thing that ever happened to her. Unfortunately, those things have a bad habit of coming back and trying to kill us again. – The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

**Many thanks to Berkley Books (Danielle), NetGalley, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Grady Hendrix

(3.97 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Suspense / Thriller

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: July 13, 2021, by Berkley Publishing

Pages: 352 (Hardcover)

#TheFinalGirlSupportGroup #GradyHendrix #BerkleyBooks #NetGalley

**Trigger warnings: (Seriously, just about everything you can imagine) Murder, suicide, cancer, drug use, gun violence, alcoholism, kidnapping, etc. etc. etc.


Sometimes we have to follow our guts. That’s why we survive.

“Hello, my name is Tiffany and I am a sweetaholic, and a listoholic, and a bit of a book hoarder too.” That’s how any of my support group monologues might begin for my most prevalent therapy-worthy issues. Granted, my unbridled adoration of desserts may be the only one of those things that challenges my physical well-being, but it’s still small potatoes compared to what the women in the Final Girl Support Group discuss. Let’s check out the blurb…

In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?
Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.
But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.


After a while, you start to realize that your life isn’t the thing that happens between the monsters your life is the monsters.

Lynnette is a Final Girl – the sole survivor of a madman’s killing spree. And she’s not alone. In her support group are five other women just like herself; each the survivor of their own personal nightmare. But the worst days of their lives aren’t content to fade to past memories. Everything is about to come full circle and these women will have to prove themselves all over again.

As this novel opens, I immediately got fan cult remake vibes. You know what I mean, when fans of a certain film or series campaign for a next chapter, a reunion, closure. Some of those revivals are amazing, blending nostalgia and beloved characters into a winning combination that satisfies actors and viewers alike. But don’t you always wonder about about the Dark Ages of those people? What were they doing while they were waiting for thousands of folks to slide their eager fingers over the “donate” button? Well, this might be what they were doing. Sitting with a group of like-minded people – all damaged in some way – talking about their problems. It’s kinda sad.

I didn’t ‘ask for it,’ this was done to me.

Once you get over how depressing this situation is for all of these Final Girls, that’s immediately when the action begins and truly, honestly does not let up. This is not a book about damaged girls sitting in a circle and complaining about their interrupted lives. This is a fast-paced thriller about women with scars just trying their best to get on with it! There’s obviously some bad guys sprinkled in generously throughout making things more difficult for them, but even we don’t know who they are until the very end.

This is a tribute to the slasher film. A front-porch flag waved to the jump scares and dark-theater-hand-gripping that made movies like Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street great. It is the story of what comes next, once the monster is stilled, the blood has congealed, and the final girl limps away into imagined safety. This is what comes next.

One thing I can say about Grady Hendrix is that he is good at making friends of enemies and vice versa. That is not a spoiler! It just means that, like all Final Girls, you have to be very wary about who you can trust – even when it comes to well-known authors. I mean, I dunno, at the end I thought even I might be out to get everyone. Did I do it? Did you? No YOU did it. You? Ummm… maybe no one did it and everyone is still alive. ???

No one is left except the monster and the final girl.

The Final Girl Support Group is a solid 3.75-star read. It is a bit clunky at the beginning because the setup and introductions are a bit slow, but necessary. There are a LOT of names, events, and bad guy aliases to keep track of (good luck with that) and that slowed down me down a bit (now who was the Dream King again? What godforsaken atrocity did he commit and to whom?) But once you get past that and just immerse yourself in the activity, the details stop mattering so much. It all becomes a big web of crazy!

This book is not only a good summer read – especially if you’re a final girls super fan, but it’s also one of the best arguments for increasing the nation’s mental health resources that I’ve ever seen. Not even kidding!


The Final Girl Support Group is available July 13th at any of the following retailers:


Grady Hendrix

Grady Hendrix is an American author, journalist, public speaker, and screenwriter known for his best-selling 2014 novel Horrorstör. Hendrix lives in Manhattan and was one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival. –Wikipedia


The Stranger Diaries (Harbinder Kaur #1)

⇒ “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths⇐

Author: Elly Griffiths

(3.92 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Gothic Mystery / Crime Thriller

Format: E-Book

Re-Publication Date: March 5, 2019, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Hardcover)

Pages: 338 (Hardcover)

#TheStrangerDiaries #EllyGriffiths


If you’ll permit me, said the stranger, I’d like to tell you a story.

I hate going to the mechanic’s shop. I know that is a very weird way to begin a book review, but just let me get there. All I needed was one tire. I called ahead. I got there early. My time at the mechanic’s should have been uneventful, and most of all, short. But it wasn’t. Two hours later, my car was still on the lift, my nerves were frazzled, and my only solace was that there was a Barnes and Noble directly across the street. Sweet salvation here I come!

Sometimes even the best plans fall apart in surprisingly dramatic ways. As I ran-walked to the bookstore, I was not only escaping the stink of the oil-infused car shop and it’s non-apologetic, misogynistic, sole front-of-house employee, I was running toward what I have always used as an escape when things are happening that I can’t control; like flat tires, the opinions of dumb people, and time.

Of course, I immediately found several books while I sipped on a deliciously sweet caramel Americano, and one of those books happened to be The Stranger Diaries. On a whim, I decided to see if Hoopla offers this book for free, and they do! So I settled back into my B&N Starbucks bench, broke off a piece of my croissant, and dove into the eBook. Here’s the blurb…

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school English teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R. M. Holland, she teaches a course on it every year. But when one of Clare’s colleagues and closest friends is found dead, with a line from R. M. Holland’s most famous story, “The Stranger,” left by her body, Clare is horrified to see her life collide with the storylines of her favourite literature.
To make matters worse, the police suspect the killer is someone Clare knows. Unsure whom to trust, she turns to her closest confidant, her diary, the only outlet she has for her darkest suspicions and fears about the case. Then one day she notices something odd. Writing that isn’t hers, left on the page of an old diary: “Hallo, Clare. You don’t know me.”
Clare becomes more certain than ever: “The Stranger” has come to terrifying life. But can the ending be rewritten in time? 

Nothing’s as bad if you put it in writing. It helps you to take control, order things.

Told from multiple POVs, The Stranger Diaries is a mystery within a mystery involving a possible serial killer, a ghostly diary, and a gothic backdrop that sets a perfect mood for some spooky goings on. I mean, how can you get any better? Suspense, literature, and the possibility of the paranormal all wrapped up into a spooky setting and a haunted backstory. That has all the ingredients for a near-perfect book, and Griffiths, indeed, did not screw up the recipe.

The thing about secrets is that they usually come out eventually. And that’s one of the aspects of this mystery that make is so deliciously juicy! As more people die, more secrets emerge; and none of them are pretty. It won’t be impossible to guess the guilty party/parties before the end of the book; however, the way the author gets you there is worth every suspenseful page.

One way I rate books is by how I feel about it as I turn the last page. At its end, The Stranger Diaries left me feeling like I had read something that was entirely worth my time. I felt like I had met real people that I wanted to know even more about and that the events in their lives were bone-chilling and expertly relayed.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely have faith in the quality of books that I just pick up at random. I have been let down so many times in the past. But this day, when all the odds were stacked against me, I found a little gem in the overcrowded tables of a mostly-empty bookstore, and it turned out that even though my car wasn’t ready until 4 hours past the promised time, my day wasn’t so bad after all.


Elly Griffiths
My name’s Elly Griffiths, except it’s not really.

My real name is Domenica de Rosa and I’ve written four books under that name. I was born in London in 1963 and my family moved to Brighton when I was five. I loved Brighton and still do – the town, the surrounding countryside and, most of all, the sea. I went to local state schools and wrote my first book when I was a 11, a murder mystery set in Rottingdean, near the village where I still live. 

At secondary school I used to write episodes of Starsky and Hutch (early fan fiction) and very much enjoyed making my readers cry. – https://ellygriffiths.co.uk/