Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Review: Where Earth Meets Water by Pia Padukone

Title and Author: Where Earth Meets Water by Pia Padukone
No. of Pages: 269
Publication Date: April 29th 2014 by Harlequin MIRA
Genre: Cultural Fiction, Indian Writing, Indian Author, Debut

Book Review:
Where Earth Meets Water by Pia Padukone first attracted me because of the intriguing title and the gorgeous but enigmatic cover. The blurb again is very interesting and had me picking up the book to read.

This is Pia Padukone's debut novel and I enjoyed her writing style which is fluid, expressive and very crisp.
The story is very thought provoking and through a POV style tells the thoughts of each character. 

Karom Seth has defied death many times while his loved ones die. Now depressed and feeling like he is cursed with invincibility, he travels to India and soon begins his journey of enlightenment, discovery and peace with his circumstances.

I enjoyed the whole mysterious environment woven by the author with hints to omens and water wrath and so on but still missed a closure on these suspenseful hints. 

The best thing about the book is the way in which I could relate my day to day problems with the story and the thought provoking solutions that had me re-evaluating my life too.

There is no right and wrong character in this book. Each has their own secrets and their own journey of discovery which leaves the reader spell bound and engrossed.

I finished the book in several sittings because I needed time to process everything that was happening and do justice to all the emotions I was feeling.

All in all, Where Earth Meets Water is a different kind of book that is teaches as well as forces the reader to engage with everything happening in the story. A must read for all readers looking for a refreshing and a different kind of a story, I give it 4 out of 5 and look forward to reading more from the author in the future.



I received the book from the publishers via Netgalley and I am very thankful to them. The above review is my honest and unbiased opinion and in no way influenced.

Buy From:
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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Book Review: Bella and the Beast (Cinderella Sisterhood #4) by Olivia Drake

Title and Author: Bella and the Beast by Olivia Drake
No. of Pages: 352
Series: Cinderella Sisterhood #4
Publication Date: November 3rd 2015 by St. Martin's Paperbacks
Genre: Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Suspense

Book Review:
I picked up Bella and the Beast by Olivia Drake only because of the author, the blurb that promised a suspenseful story and the fact that it boasted of being a fairy tale retelling. The cover didn't appeal to me right from the start. It doesn't do justice to the story and makes it appear like an erotic read at first glance which isn't true. This is a misleading cover and could have been better.

I enjoyed the suspense part of the story and while the romance is sensuous, I didnt like the hero who appeared as a brute and insensitive man at first and only in the later part that he redeems himself a bit.

The heroine is feisty and determined to solve the mystery of the map to the Pharaoh's treasure, half of which had been promised to her father by the Duke of Alywin. Posing as a curator in the Duke's home, her work is cut out for her. She is intelligent, resourceful and willing to work hard to uncover the map so her brother and sister come out of poverty. Her interactions with the Duke were supposed to be passionate and sensuous but in the first part they had me feeling angry because the hero looked like he thought he could get away with anything because he was rich and seemed to be taking advantage of the heroine's plight. Only in the second half does the emotional angle come into play and the hero starts to look more human and not the unscrupulous and spoiled rich man he comes across at first.

The Cinderella fairy tale angle isnt done justice here and I think the whole fairy tale romance angle could have been handled better.

I have read Olivia's books in the past and loved her writing. This book isnt one of her better works.

All in all, Bella and the Beast is an okay read that can be read once and has a good suspense and mystery angle. 3 out of 5 to it.



I received the book from the publishers via Netgalley and I am very thankful to them. The above review is my honest and unbiased opinion and in no way influenced.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book Blitz: His Christmas Delight by Summerita Rhayne


 Book Blitz: His Christmas Delight by Summerita Rhayne

Title and Author: His Christmas Delight by Summerita Rhayne
Publication Date: 27th March 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Christmas Romance, Indie Author, Indian Writing

Blurb:
Caught by Santa!
For Myra, Christmas means supporting her friends. They rallied round getting her back on her feet after she lost Pete, her husband, so she's always ready to help any of them. No matter to what lengths the challenge makes her go. Only she didn't expect to find Santa almost catching her in her wrongdoings. Then she finds that the handsome Santa is Jay, her old high school friend. Now he's changed from a gangly geek to an attractive stranger. After missing out on the dating scene for a long time after losing Pete, she feels the first stirring of desire. But Jay is playing hot and cold, refusing to admit the attraction sizzling between them.

He’s back in Goa just for Christmas
Jay knew Myra as his best friend's girl. Now Pete is gone, but Jay is finding difficult to let go of the scars he picked up in Coast Guard service. He’s home only to help revive his brother’s toy shop. When he finds himself making excuses to stay, he knows he’s crossing the limits he’d set himself. What’s the purpose in taking this further when he knows he cannot be the one to give her the happiness she deserves?  But no matter how hard he tries, the scorching flames of wanting only seem to get stronger. How can he keep on denying the attraction between them when she insists on coming close?

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Monday, March 28, 2016

#ProductReview: Maybelline Baby Lips, Berry Crush Lip Balm

Who doesn't love well moisturized, soft and supple lips?
And if we can get a slight shine and colour to them then it's an added bonus. A good lip balm is a must have for everyone and today, I will share my review of Maybelline Baby Lips, Berry Crush Lip Balm.

About the Product:
Name: Maybelline Baby Lips
Flavour: Berry Crush
Price: 175 INR
Shelf  Life: 30 months from the date of manufacture.

Baby Lips from Maybelline is a fruit-flavoured lip balm that is designed to revitalise and moisturise dry lips.

 Review: Maybelline Baby Lips, Berry Crush Lip Balm

What I liked about this product:

1) This lip balm comes in a fruity Berry Crush flavour that is pleasant smelling with a subtle berry flavour.

2) It gives a translucent pinkish colour and shine to the lips.

3) Having Vitamin E and coconut oil, it removes dryness and makes the lips soft and supple.

4) Has SPF 20 and so protects the lips from harmful UV rays and prevents darkening of the lips from excess sunshine.

5) The lips stay moisturized for long hours because of ingredients like coconut oil and Vitamin E.

6) Maybelline is a trusted and branded company which again gives this product a trust factor.

7) It is dermatologist and allergy tested.

8) Has an impressive shelf life of 30 months from the date of mfg.

9) Suited for all skin types and especially effective for dry lips.

10) Due to its not too glossy pinkish shine, it can be used by boys too.

11) The packaging is travel friendly and the lip balm easy to use due to its lipstick type roll up design.

12) Easily available across all chemist and cosmetic stores.



What I didn't like about this product:

1) It makes the lips feel sticky that can be irritating.

2) The gloss and shine wears off after sometime after application and had me wishing for a more permanent effect.

3) I wished for a more glossy effect from this product but alas, the gloss and shine is too subtle to be noticeable. 

4) I got better results from lower priced products like Nivea Fruity Shine Strawberry Lip Balm that gives a lovely red gloss which is both non-sticky and has longer lasting effects.


 Review: Maybelline Baby Lips, Berry Crush Lip Balm

Conclusion:
Maybelline Baby Lips, Berry Crush Lip Balm is a decent lip balm that is suited for every day usage but cannot substitute the glossy party look we may desire from lip balms. Keeps the lips moisturized but could have been better and I recommend this lip balm to all lovers of fruit based products who are looking for a negligible gloss but moisturizing everyday lip balm. 3.5 stars to it from me. I tried this product after using Nivea Fruity Shine Strawberry Lip Balm and wasn't very impressed. So, don't think I will be using it again.




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What do you think of Maybelline Baby Lips, Berry Crush Lip Balm? Have you used it before? Will you be using it? Do share your thoughts with me in the comments below. I love hearing from you.

-Njkinny
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Sunday, March 27, 2016

#BookReview: Soul Warrior (The Age of Kali #1) by Falguni Kothari

Title and Author: Soul Warrior by Falguni Kothari
Series: The Age of Kali #1
No. of Pages: 404
Publication Date: November 2015
Genre: Indian Mythological Fiction, Indian Writing
Language: English

Book Review:


Soul Warrior by Falguni Kothari narrates the story of the legendary Mahabharat character Karna but in a fictional setting. Although the backdrop is still Mahabharat and its myths but the story is essentially fiction and bears little resemblance to real facts. So when I read the blurb where the author starts with the warning "Twisted myths. Discretion advised. " I thought I was ready to see Karna in a new light but boy! Was I surprised! Falguni takes a beloved hero who through circumstances and some unfortunate decisions landed on the wrong side of the war and gives him the chance at a better life I always thought he missed in his real one.

In this book, he gets his chance at the 'more' from his life that  he deserved and can also be seen using the modern gadgets, wearing jeans and speaking the modern word. As if this is not enough, the smooth shifts in time are a pleasure to read about and I loved how the author effortlessly brought the whole historical eras and then the present alive in her book.


Falguni's writing style is her usual expressive, vivid and engaging self. I have read and enjoyed her contemporary romances in the past and she shines even when she has jumped genres to write a mythological fiction. Her world building is grand and her descriptions are detailed that had me visualizing everything as if they were happening right in front of me.




The story is medium paced and held me interest throughout. The only issue I had was with the names that sometimes confused me and since their descriptions are so different from their real personas, I had a hard time retaining who was who.


Apart from this, I enjoyed reading Soul Warrior and give it 4 stars out of 5. Recommended to everyone but beware that this is a fictional story so don't go expecting a Mahabharat story when you pick up this book. A promising start to a new series, I look forward to the next book.




I received the book from the author and I am very thankful to her. The above review is my honest and unbiased opinion and in no way influenced.

Buy From:

Amazon


Also Read:

Book Blitz, Excerpt and Giveaway: Soul Warrior (The Age of Kali #1) by Falguni Kothari

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Stacking the Shelves #19

Hi Friends,
The below are the books I shelved in the past week. Have a look and share your own with me in the comments section. Now about this meme. Read the below introduction to know more about it. :)

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It's all about sharing books you've added to your shelves be it physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in a physical store, or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books got from author or publishers, gifts, and of course eBooks.


~Books received for review~

 
What happens when "happily ever after" has come and gone? 

On the eve of her only daughter, Princess Raven's wedding, an aging Snow White finds it impossible to share in the joyous spirit of the occasion. The ceremony itself promises to be the most glamorous social event of the decade. Snow White’s castle has been meticulously scrubbed, polished and opulently decorated for the celebration. It is already nearly bursting with jubilant guests and merry well-wishers. Prince Edel, Raven's fiancĂ©, is a fine man from a neighboring kingdom and Snow White's own domain is prosperous and at peace. Things could not be better, in fact, except for one thing: 

The king is dead. 

The queen has been in a moribund state of hopeless depression for over a year with no end in sight. It is only when, in a fit of bitter despair, she seeks solitude in the vastness of her own sprawling castle and climbs a long disused and forgotten tower stair that she comes face to face with herself in the very same magic mirror used by her stepmother of old. 

It promises her respite in its shimmering depths, but can Snow White trust a device that was so precious to a woman who sought to cause her such irreparable harm? Can she confront the demons of her own difficult past to discover a better future for herself and her family? And finally, can she release her soul-crushing grief and suffocating loneliness to once again discover what "happily ever after" really means? 

Only time will tell as she wrestles with her past and is forced to confront The Reflections of Queen Snow White.


Buy from: Amazon IN 

~Books Won~




Jewels of the Sun
The Gallaghers—Aidan, Shawn, and Darcy—run the local pub in the pretty seaside village of Ardmore. Not far from the village is a cottage, a place of magic where a lonely American woman comes to explore her roots and her heart…

Tears of the Moon
Dreamer Shawn Gallagher and the clear-minded Brenna O’Toole have known each other all their lives. But now they’ll have to look at each other with different eyes and accept each other with selfless hearts to earn the gift of love…

Heart of the Sea
All of her life, Darcy Gallagher has wanted more, and made no secret of her hope to find a rich man. But now that she’s met him, it’s a matter of hearts that must be won—his as well as hers…

Buy from: Amazon IN
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What books did you add to your shelf?

Share in the comments section below.
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Have a great Sunday!


-Njkinny
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Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Feature and Follow #70


Feature & Follow is a blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read. The purpose is to meet new people and gain more followers in the book blogging community. 
If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers. But you have to know, the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.

Prompt of the Week: Short Stories (as companions to a series): What do you love about them and hate about them?

I enjoy reading short stories that act as companions to a series because they give a deeper insight into the lives of my favourite characters like what they were doing after the previous book ended and the next one? What else happened in their world? etc.

The thing I hate is that not many series have short stories like I wish the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series had more short stories so I could know more about the happenings while I waited for the next installment and got to know more about things that didnt get much notice in the novels.

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Take a look around the blog, enter some cool giveaways and do leave your valuable comments. I love hearing from you. :)

Until later!
-Njkinny

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Cover Reveal and Giveaway: Meddling With Murder by Ellie Campbell

Meddling With Murder by Ellie Campbell
Pages: 350
Series: Crouch End Confidential
Publisher: Across the Pond
Release Date: 9th April 2016
Genre: Cozy Mystery

Blurb:


Crouch End Confidential, the agency started by housewife, Cathy O’Farrell, with ex-cleaner Pimple, is failing badly. Hardly surprising when their only clients are little old ladies seeking lost pets. Until the strange case of the missing dog…



Soon Cathy’s multiple problems include stolen bikes, a possible murder weapon, the sabotage of her friends’ new shop, drug-dealing yobbos targeting her children’s primary school and being forced to pose as the world’s most inept maths tutor. Worse, best friend Rosa hires her to investigate fiancĂ© Alec and – horrors – Cathy’s husband Declan is intent on moving himself, Cathy and kids to the safer climes of rural Norfolk. Suddenly Cathy is endangering her marriage, friendships and her life to untangle these messes. But that’s what you get for meddling with murder…


 Add-To-Goodreads: Meddling With Murder by Ellie Campbell

Preorder:

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

What the fudge?
The branch creaks alarmingly as I test my weight against it. For a second I think it might snap but then my foot slips and we part company anyway. Bark scrapes another layer off my grazed skin and to my horror I find myself tipping backwards, falling, falling…
Far beneath me my daughter Sophie gives an unwitting squeal, Henrietta’s twins shriek in unison and I hear son Josh call out ‘Mummeeee!’ when as much by luck as design my left arm catches a forked limb long enough for me to grasp it and come to a bone-jolting, shoulder-wrenching stop. Sweat drips down my body, my knees shake uncontrollably and something’s poking between my ribs like a sharpened spear, causing an actual hole through clothes into flesh.
Dangling, I somehow hook one leg round the main trunk and cling there like my life depends on it. Which, for the record, it does.
‘Hang on, Mum!’ Sophie yells for perhaps the fifteenth time. She’d wanted to climb up here but I’d told her it was too dangerous. When will I listen to my own advice?
I stop panting long enough to call down. ‘I’m OK, sweetheart. Perfectly safe.’ How long since I last clambered up a tree? Me, an overweight, unfit middle-aged, mother-of-two in not so skinny jeans. And what did I promise my family – that I’d avoid potentially risky situations? That any cases I took on would absolutely not involve capturing murderers or exposing criminals? Not that our patch of North London known as Crouch End is inundated with killings, just that I’ve somehow succeeded in entangling myself with two in the last eighteen months. And now the simplest of mundane jobs has turned an everyday school drop-off into what could possibly be my final farewell.
A terrified glance below shows Sophie clutching on to her younger brother’s arm, their long-standing feud forgotten as they contemplate their mother’s plight. Lauren, Henrietta’s eldest by two seconds, is hopping from foot to foot, pale with anxiety while her sister’s nervously studying her watch. I wonder what’s upsetting them most – the thought of Aunty Cathy’s untimely demise or being late for class. Yet again.
Three feet above me, inches from reach, a tortoiseshell cat stares down with baleful yellow eyes. I hold out a coaxing hand. ‘Here, Fluffy. C’mon, kitty. Pishhh whishh.’
Disregarding me entirely, he licks his paw before stalking further out, balancing on a twig, with the arrogant grace of a tightrope walker. Oh how I wish I’d ignored him when I saw that distinctive white-tipped tail swagger across the zebra crossing. But I’d spent weeks scouring backyards, crawling on hands and knees, peeking under parked cars, over hedges, listening to sweet old Mrs Thompson choke back sobs as I admitted failure.
I’m gathering my courage and strength to scale higher when my mobile rings. I wedge my bum into a crevice between branch and tree, tighten my hold and, with a few contortions worthy of the great Houdini, extract my phone from my pocket to peer at the screen.
Caller’s number withheld. Should I answer it?
Am I in any position to answer it?
Could be urgent.
‘Hello?’ I venture.
‘Is this…?’ A woman. Middle-aged at a guess, posh sounding. She drops to a muted whisper so low I have to crane to hear. ‘The HP…um…WS…um…thingy?’
Several months back I’d been donated this money, you see, ten thousand pounds, which was kind of hot, but gone cold. Semi-illegal – not to be returned. Brilliant timing as my husband, Declan, had recently re-evaluated what he wanted from life: Rhode Island Reds and a less pressurised career, I’d been suspended from work and my house cleaner, Pimple, was tired of domestic duties. I was thinking maybe it’s time I should do some soul-searching. So we, as in Pimple and myself, decided to start up a business.
‘That’s right,’ I say briskly, with enough softness to encourage conversation. ‘The H.P.W.W.O.C.S. Helping People Who Would Otherwise Commit Suicide. Or even H.P.W.M.O.C.S. – People Who Might Otherwise…but we’re called Crouch End Confidential now.’ Impromptu market research among friends had ended up with tongue-tied repetitions and lots of ‘You whats?’
We’d originally substituted the would for might, because after all, how can one predict who’ll kill themselves? Some people threaten it with no intention of going through with it and others, not a word and then boom – lives are devastated. Then there’s those who talk about it all the time and no one gives a hoot because they’re labelled attention-seekers and before you can say boom again – they carry out what they’d always said they’d carry out.
‘But you are that organisation? The ones who help with, uh difficult problems, like er…’
‘Lost pets?’ I finish for her, looking up again at Fluffy. ‘Yes, we do a fair amount of those.’ Far more than intended. ‘What kind do you have?’
‘Well, I-I…’ She seems at a loss. ‘Only—’
A strange wailing fills the morning air. At first I think it’s the cat, but it’s clearly a siren, volume increasing as it draws closer. Exceptionally loud now. Anyone would think it—
‘Is that the police?’ There’s a fearful edge to the woman’s voice. Or perhaps she’s merely anxious to be heard over the noise.
I glimpse through the branches, hearing cotton rip as I lean forward. A huge red vehicle’s speeding this way, lights blazing.
‘Fire engine,’ I report back. ‘Can’t see smoke but it must be nearby. They’re slowing down. They’re—’
Stopping right beside the kids…
What the blazes?
Sophie’s small face gazes up at me, expression distraught in the strobe lighting, finger pointing in my direction.
‘PERHAPS I’D…’ I find I’m screaming into the phone as the siren abruptly cuts out. I turn away from the cluster of grinning helmeted and booted firemen assembling at the foot of the tree as someone cranks up the ladder. Fluffy takes one look, turns tail and bolts down the other side. I modulate my voice to more professional tones. Perhaps I’d better ring you back I’m about to suggest politely, but too late. She’s gone.

***

‘Calling Cathy O’Farrell. Hello? Can you read me?’
‘Yes, I’m here.’ I swiftly hide the nail polish, climb into my swivel chair and wire myself up to the Skype headset.
‘Where exactly, lovey?’ Pimple’s bespectacled eyes scan the computer screen. They travel left and right, until they finally focus on where I’m now perched facing the webcam, sporting a big beaming smile. ‘Found you. Hang on a jiffy.’
She ducks down, sits back seconds later clutching a wide-toothed comb and starts tugging vigorously at her tight curls, turning them into a helmet of grey frizz.
‘That’s better.’ She drops out of sight again, emerging with pencil in hand. ‘Now update on yesterday?’ She licks the lead tip.
My business partner, former cleaning lady and long-time friend. I both love and hate her enthusiasm for news. Love that she’s still interested in our work even though she’s travelling the globe on that luxurious cruise ship. Hate that I’ve nothing of interest to convey and am very likely letting her down, business-wise.
‘Shouldn’t you be in bed?’ I say, having lost track of the various time zones she’s travelled through.
‘Gosh, no. It’s only just gone midnight,’ she says cheerfully. ‘I’ve a card game booked in an hour and then I’m off to the casino. Thought we might have a catch-up in between.’
‘OK,’ I say, reluctantly clicking onto my spreadsheet. ‘You remember that petrol station cashier with the lost tomcat?’
‘Sure do. How’s that going?’
‘Good. We fitted him with a tracking collar. Discovered he not only had two homes but three. All the owners met for coffee. Arranged a feeding rota. She was very grateful.’
‘How grateful?’
I scroll through the columns – last on the right – Income. ‘Oh Pimple, I just couldn’t ask her to cough up.’ I drop my head in shame and twist the headphone wire round and round my finger until it turns bright pink at the tip. ‘She was skint, stony broke. Only got the cashier’s job recently. Five kids to feed as well as the cat and still claiming benefits. And that’s what the fund’s about isn’t it, helping those in trouble?’
‘But Cathy, we’re meant to be running a viable concern here,’ she says. ‘Fair do’s, we agreed to support a few charity cases, but we need paying ourselves at some stage.’
‘I know.’ I’m totally feeble at fee chasing. ‘Oh but I did find Fluffy this morning. Owned by Mrs Thompson.’
‘Pensioner. Harringay Ladder.’
‘That’s right.’ I’m always amazed by her memory for detail.
‘Marvellous. We got paid for that then, yes?’
I groan. ‘I was going to charge her, I swear. But then she pulled out this ancient threadbare purse—’
‘Phooey!’ she scoffs. ‘Oldest trick in the book, that one. Bringing out the ancient threadbare purse. You’ll need to wise up, Cath. Those houses on the Ladder are worth a bomb. What else?’ Her pencil’s poised above her pad.
I run through our list of jobs, which takes precisely three minutes as apart from our two ex-clients, there’s only the newsagent who contacted me yesterday to ask if we’d investigate who’d been stealing his papers and a schoolkid called Ben who’d rung Monday to say his new mountain bike had been nicked and the police weren’t doing anything about it.
I’d asked him to wait a few days and if no joy to call back.
‘That’s it?’ She wrinkles her brow.
‘For now.’
‘Looks like I’ll need a new mop when I get home, after all.’ She lets out a sigh that sounds like a steamship in heavy fog.
Worse thing is she probably will. Money’s haemorrhaging faster than I can spell the word. We had to invest in the computer because mine was horrendously slow. Then there was the cost of stationery, surveillance equipment, etc. – all the paraphernalia needed in setting up. At least office space is free. We’re based in Pimple’s Edwardian semi-detached home, couple of miles down the road from Crouch End. Seemed daft forking out when she had a spare room – perfect to shove two desks in. It’s where I am now.
‘Oh I’m sure that won’t—’ I stop. Because there’s a ploppy sound and she disappears into the ether, like Endora from Bewitched.
I wait a few seconds, see if she’ll reconnect, but nothing. No need to call back. We’ve both said what we had to. The phone, the one all prospective clients are meant to call, is staring at me accusingly.
I pick it up. Check it’s still working. Could be a fault and hundreds of sad souls have been trying to connect. Crying out for help.
I listen a second. Strong, healthy brrr.
Damn.

***

By the time I turn into our drive around five thirty, I’m bushed. Rest of the afternoon had been spent clearing up the newsagent’s problem. I’d arrived at his shop, introduced myself, politely listened to his plans for an elaborate stake-out and then suggested we first have a good delve around the shop floor, back room and the flat above. Bingo. Turned out, his elderly widowed mum was nicking the papers and hiding them under her bed. Early signs of dementia at a guess but at least that’s that one solved. For us anyway. Frankly it was too bloody efficient. Less than an hour’s work but the poor guy’s got a long hard journey ahead. How could I possibly charge him?
On the other hand, I scold my ineffectual self, I need to toughen up. Do I really want to start again on a job-search?
I hang up my jacket by the porch and trudge through to the kitchen.
Declan’s standing over a saucepan which is bubbling away on the six-ringed range cooker which dominates our good-sized, somewhat country-style, kitchen. A heavenly tomato-ey aroma permeates the air. Everything’s worked out great for him. He’s ridiculously happy with his new postman’s job. Has to leave home at five a.m., but he’s always been an early riser so never minds. Gets bags of exercise on his assigned pushbike, and he finishes mid-afternoon, in time for the school run. Never mind that it pays half what he earned before. It’s the quality of life that counts, right?
Plus, best part, I have dinner waiting for me every weekday evening. All those years of wedded bliss with me muddling along, running out of recipes and not really being faffed and now he’s completely taken charge of the cooking. Wondrous.
I put my nose in the air and sniff. ‘Mmm. Smells delicious. You do know I’m out later?’
‘Wednesday Once Weekly girls’ night. How could I forget?’ He turns to peck my cheek. ‘Thought I’d make a big stew anyhow. We can eat some over the next few days and freeze the rest. Much more economical. Talking of which…’ He opens the fridge, pulls out a used cardboard carton and lifts the lid with a cheesy grin. Five brown eggs, still with a few feathers attached, smaller than shop-bought but hey. ‘Ta-dah. Even Pocahontas delivered. Fresh, free range, and best of all free.’
He always says this and I always tut and do an exaggerated who-gives-a-monkey’s shrug. Not that I’m averse to owning chickens. Can be rather relaxing squatting outside their coop, watching them scratch the earth and vie for pecking order. And Josh and Sophie wake themselves up early each morning to see which hen’s laid what, which is a heck of a lot better than me screeching at them to get out of bed. Plus free anything’s great with my almost non-existent wages, but I don’t like admitting it, because he bought them without consulting me – his wife. Then again, at that time, he was acting weird and buying other things without consulting me too. Like our super-expensive oven, which we’re still paying off. Male menopause, my insurance broker reckoned. But we’re over that. Back on an even keel. Perhaps not financially but definitely hormonally speaking.
‘Where’s the kids?’ I slump onto a chair and watch him stirring, tasting, stirring again.
‘Upstairs. Sophie’s watching TV. Josh is on the Xbox, where else. He’s done his spelling homework, though he needs help with reading later.’
‘OK, I’ll cover that.’
I watch him as he adds a spoonful of paprika, dash of Worcestershire sauce then a variety of fresh and dried herbs. He’s tall, few inches over six foot, gingery-brown hair, blue eyes. Irish born and bred, although you’d never believe it from his London accent. His body’s still good for his forty-three years. Actually, tell a lie, his body’s fabulous, but that’s only because he gets to spend afternoons in the gym while I’m slogging away in my office.
We’ve been married a little over eleven years. Not saying there’s been no ups and downs in that time, but the ups far exceed the downs. My friends all consider him Mr Wonderful and sometimes I do too, even though I maybe don’t say it often enough.

***

‘So how was the gossip at the school gates this afternoon?’ I ask.
Just after eight and I’m sitting back at the kitchen table, now set for one sole diner, after doing the bath-bed-book-lights-out routine. Declan’s preparing a salad and I’m enjoying a quick cuppa before heading off.
‘Drugs,’ he says, dicing a carrot.
‘Who’s on drugs?’
‘Feral youths supposedly.’
‘So what’s new?’
‘That.’ He nods at a letter on the sideboard behind him.
I pick it up and begin silently reading. Dear parent…
‘Says there,’ he starts chopping up tiny cherry tomatoes into even tinier quarters, ‘two teenagers were spotted hanging around Princes Road Primary. Offered a pupil some substance. Guess which one?’
I can’t imagine. Love my kids’ school but they’re famous for blowing the slightest unsettling ripple into a tsunami of alarm.
‘No, stop. Let me think.’ I hold my hand up and screw my forehead in concentration. ‘Heroin? Ketamine? Miu Miu?’
‘Meow meow, you mean. Miu Miu’s an Italian designer, but I wasn’t meaning which drug, I was meaning pupil.’
‘No idea.’
‘Pip Henfield.’
‘Sheryl’s Pip?’
‘Yep, and William was with him.’ He tosses the tomatoes into a bowl, adding a drizzle of olive oil.
That confirms it. ‘My oh my. Knowing that family, I’ll bet it was something hideously toxic – like a Diet Coke. Or a powdered doughnut.’ I’m not too familiar with Pip, but I’ve seen him around, being the elder brother of Josh’s ex best friend, William. Once inseparable they’ve recently gone their separate ways, or rather Josh dumped William for another classmate. Slightly mortifying because I often bump into William’s mum at morning drop-off. Truth be told, though, if someone’s heart had to break over an early bromance, then I’d rather it wasn’t my kid’s.
‘School’s taking it seriously. Pip ran back in and told his teacher.’
‘Of course they are.’ I scan greedily through the rest of the letter but the details are amazingly vague. ‘They’ve got to, don’t they, to protect themselves. Besides Sheryl’s running the PSA. And the way that woman overreacts, it ought to be the drama club. Remember when she saw Custard lick William’s mouth and went into hysterics about intestinal worms, giardia and rabies injections? And then when I’d finally calmed her down and convinced her the poor dog had barely made contact and not to call an ambulance, William piped up, “It’s OK, Mummy. He does it every time.” I’m sure Sheryl was gloating like a goat.’
‘Too right she was.’ He fetches a cucumber from the fridge and slices it into paper thin layers. ‘Holding court when I arrived. Gaggle of parents hanging on her every word.’
I tap the letter in my hand. ‘Says here that we should keep vigilant. Talk to our kids.’
‘And so we must. They’re guarding the gates at pick-up time. The teachers rushed out but the “yobbos”, as Sheryl called them, had disappeared by then and there was nothing on CCTV.’ He digs his fingers into an iceberg lettuce and expertly tears it apart. ‘Becoming worse round here for sure. Honestly, I feel sorry for Josh and Sophie. Probably have better survival chances with a pack of ravenous wolves than inner cities today. Drugs at primary school, vandalism everywhere, fourteen-year-old pregnancies. And that’s without random crazies, potential terrorism and the local crime…’
Is it my imagination or does a cold wind suddenly whistle through the kitchen?
‘They love it here. And they’re a darn sight better adjusted than William and Pip, with their allergen-free, sugar-free, gluten-free cotton wool existence.’
‘You might be right.’ He opens a bottle and pours himself a rare glass of wine. I mean rare for him, that is, rather than vintage. For an Irishman his alcohol intake is shockingly moderate. ‘So how was your day?’ He eyes me shrewdly. ‘Any more enquiries? Prospective clients?’
‘One, but the caller got cut off.’ I feel obliged to sound a bit more positive. ‘Terrible line but she was definitely interested. Sounded right up our alley.’
‘Uneventful otherwise?’
‘Pretty much. Managed to close a couple of cases.’ Hopefully he’ll assume that means money in the bank.
‘Good for you. Hang on a second, what’s that?’ He leans towards me and begins tugging at my hair, emerging with a tiny twig between his fingers.
‘Thanks.’ I take it from him. ‘Very blowy outside today. Oh what’s that?’ I pick up a magazine lying on the Welsh dresser and leaf through pages of bucolic landscapes, slightly uneasy at the way he’s watching me – kind of sideways, mouth quirking.
‘Got dropped through the letterbox.’ He brings the saucepan over to the table and ladles a portion onto his plate. ‘Advertising houseboats. Miles cheaper than conventional houses.’
I put the magazine down. ‘No wonder. Who’d want to live on a leaky old barge with no room to swing a cat?’
‘Speaking of cats,’ he’s still wearing that weird expression, ‘not seen any lurking around lately, have we?’
‘Well, there’s doubtless loads lurking around.’ I stand up so I can avoid his eyes, grab a dessert spoon from the drawer and dip it into the bubbling mixture. ‘They say you’re never more than six feet from one in London.’
‘Isn’t that rats?’ He laughs.
‘Rats too.’ I blow fast at my spoon, like a silent flautist. ‘Stands to reason, where’s there’s rats there’ll be cats. Supplement their Whiskas.’
‘Only…that was the other thing parents were chattering about. Fire brigade had to rescue a mum who’d chased some cat up a tree. All on YouTube. Children arrived at class forty-five minutes late.’
‘Talking about being late…’ I leap up, pointing at the oven clock. ‘Holy Christ, is it really quarter past? Meant to be meeting the girls at eight thirty. I’ll never be ready in time.’



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Meet the Author:

Ellie Campbell is a pseudonym for sisters, Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell, who write together from their respective homes in Surrey, England (Pam) and Colorado, USA (Lorraine). After years of selling short stories independently, they began their Ellie Campbell collaboration with a first novel, How To Survive Your Sisters, followed by When Good Friends Go Bad, Looking For La La, To Catch A Creeper and Million Dollar Question. They write contemporary women's fiction laced with humour, romance, and mystery. Meddling With Murder is their 6th novel and follows Looking For La La and To Catch A Creeper in the funny, cozy ‘Crouch End Confidential’ mystery series. 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/EllieCampbell

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