Monday, December 5, 2022

THE CIRCUS TRAIN by Amita Parikh

 

MY THOUGHTS

What a beautifully told story. This is a must read. Add it to your list. It covers quite a bit of history that you may not have known about. I didn't. It's so worth reading. 

This story starts out with you meeting Theo Papadopoulos. Horace is a circus train owner and when he meets Theo he wants him to come work for his circus. Theo is an illusionist. He and his wife agree to join the train after she gives birth to their child. Things don't work out to great though. Theo's wife dies soon after she gives birth to Lena, their baby girl. 

Months later Theo and Lena become part of World of Wonders circus train with certain understandings. Lena contracted Polio as a baby and will need full care. A doctor and a governess. Horace had a great doctor on board and agreed to pay for a governess and full time care for Lena. Lena was in a wheelchair. She could not walk or run. Could not do any of the things the other children could. But she was smart. She was very smart. She loved learning and spent a lot of time with the doctor. She loved watching him work and seemed to absorb the things she saw. The mixing of ingredients for sick people. The books the doctor had. She spent time in the library also. 

You'll meet Alexandre also. He was found by Lena and they became fast friends. The story takes off about them and you'll fall in love with their characters. Then WW2 breaks out and some things change. Alexandre is terrified of being found out. He has secrets that he won't share with anyone. Yes he is Jewish but he has an even deeper secret. Theo befriends him too and they are like a family. Theo has a few secrets of his own and thus the story goes. When Theo decides to take his family away where they will be safe Horace finds out and things take a bad turn. Alexandre and Horace are separated from Lena. Theo tells her that he will find her no matter where she is.

Many years go by and lots of changes are made. Both from the war and from the circus train. You'll learn a bit about Horace and how he came to make this circus. What made him the way he is. I felt so sorry for him while reading his story. I felt a lot of feelings while reading this book. It's a very touching and honestly a beautifully written book. This author did a magnificent job of pulling me in and the descriptions she uses are perfection. The way things play out is truly great. You will get answers to all your questions. Why did Horace do things he did. What secrets do Theo and Alexandre have. Will Lena ever find peace and happiness. Will she find the love she most desperately deserves. And the all important question: Will Lena ever walk? 

There are lots of ups and downs in this book. A lot going one. Told in three parts and over several decades you will hear what happened to each of the main characters. Where they went and what they did. How they survived if they did. This book will keep you turning the pages until the very ending and you'll feel happy that you read it. And do not skip past the Author's note. It contains a lot of information that you should enjoy. The research that was put into this book is great. Though this is a fiction book it's steeped in a lot of history. Actual history. 

This was a hard review to write because you can't give anything away or you ruin it for others. I am telling you that it's so worth reading and it is. It's one that you certainly do not want to miss. Have tissues handy though as you will need them.

Thank you #NetGalley, #AmitaParikh and #PenguinGroupPutnam for this ARC. This is my own true thoughts about this book. I just hope I did it justice.

5 huge stars and a very high recommendation. Read it. Savor it. Enjoy it.

SYNOPSIS 

International Bestseller and #1 LibraryReads Pick for December 2022

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in this World War II debut about a magnificent travelling circus, a star-crossed romance, and one girl’s coming-of-age during the darkest of times.

“A powerful reminder that to live is not just to survive, but to be seen and known for ourselves.” —Pam Jenoff, author of 
The Orphan’s Tale

When all is lost, how do you find the courage to keep moving forward?

1938. Lena Papadopoulos has never quite found her place within the circus, even as the daughter of the extraordinary headlining illusionist, Theo. Brilliant and curious, Lena—who uses a wheelchair after a childhood bout with polio—yearns for the real-world magic of science and medicine, her mind stronger than the limitations placed on her by society. Then her unconventional life takes an exciting turn when she rescues Alexandre, an orphan with his own secrets and a mysterious past.

As World War II escalates around them, their friendship blossoms into something deeper while Alexandre trains as the illusionist’s apprentice. But when Theo and Alexandre are arrested and made to perform in a town for Jews set up by the Nazis, Lena is separated from everything she knows. Forced to make her own way, Lena must confront her doubts and dare to believe in the impossible—herself.



Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week.

Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles, and humongous wish lists!!
Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia @ A Girl and Her Books, has a permanent home now at Mailbox Monday.
 ************
Here’s a shout out to the administrators:
Emma @ Words And peace
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                THANKS to everyone for keeping Mailbox Monday alive.

1: WHEN THE JASMINE BLOOMS by Tif Marcelo
courtesy of Publisher via NetGalley
2: SOMEONE HAD TO DO IT by Danielle Brown
courtesy of Publisher via NetGalley
3: A SMALL AFFAIR by Flora Collins
courtesy of Publisher via NetGalley


Saturday, December 3, 2022

ANGELS OF THE RESISTANCE by Noelle Salazar

 




The second WWII novel by Noelle Salazar, bestselling author of the THE FLIGHT GIRLS, follows two teenage sisters in the Netherlands who are recruited as part of the Dutch Resistance effort against the Nazis. Inspired by true events, this moving story about ordinary young women who become extraordinary heroes will appeal to fans of Pam Jenoff and Kate Quinn.

Netherlands, 1940. In the small town of Haarlem, fourteen-year-old Lien lives a simple life with her mother and sister in a farmhouse on the outskirts of the city. Elsewhere in Europe bombs are falling, but the pall on their house is more from the recent loss of their baby sister as a result of an accident Lien believes she could have prevented than from the oncoming war. Until the Nazis invade the Netherlands and their lives are overturned once more.

Recruited by their late father’s friend, Lien’s older sister Elif reluctantly joins the Dutch resistance movement. Spurred by the injustice of the Nazis’ treatment of Dutch citizens as well as a terrifying bombing of their small town, and forever seeking atonement for her baby sister’s death, Lien begs to join as well. The sisters’ youthful, innocent looks and ability to disappear into a crowd make them the perfect resistance soldiers. Together with a handful of like-minded youth, including the gallant Charlie with whom Lien forms an instant connection, the sisters are trained and begin to carry out missions, from distributing and collecting information to moving Jewish families from hiding places to luring and killing influential Nazis. The toll of the war and their work is evident in their collective psyches, and Lien starts to make mistakes that could cost her and her newfound friends their lives. Until one very personal mission shows her that the atonement she desperately seeks for her sister’s death cannot be found at the end of the barrel of a pistol, but must be found from within her heart.



MY THOUGHTS:

This is my first book by Noelle Salazar. I expect it won't be my last. 

This book starts out with a teen watching a couple two small children. They are in the park and come across some boys who hurt a bird. Lien doesn't like to see anything hurt or mistreated. She tells the children to build a nest for the bird in the bushes. They then place the hurt bird in very carefully. She's a very tender hearted young lady. Just a child herself. 

This book is about two young girls, teens, who join the Dutch resistance. They are taught how to do things that you would hope your child would never have to learn. How to protect. How to kill. How to take care of the ones that came to hurt them and their friends. These to girls are sisters, Lien and Elif, who are living with their widowed mother. The Nazi's land in their country and soon take over. They lose friends and see things that no child should ever have to see. But it happens. In wars things are different. You do what you must to be safe and to keep your loved ones safe. 

I have read quite a few WW2 books but this is my first set in this area. As with most that I have read I did learn a few things. I do know that we should never forget that things have happened. There was a world war and many people died. People were killed because they are considered less than human. Because they were Jews. Because a little man named Hitler decided they were an inferior race and should be done away with. I hope this never happens again but if you forget then it very well could.

This book is very well written and researched. It pulls at your heartstrings many times and has very vivid descriptions of what these girls had to do. What they went through to help. To protect. It is a big gruesome in places but not to the point you can't keep reading. It was war after all. Nothing about war is pretty. This book is inspired by two girls who did this very thing. They fought to protect and to do away with horrible people. While this is a fiction story, a historical fiction/women's fiction, it is based on two actual sisters. Based on actual events. Things that did happen. 

Thank you #NetGalley, #NoelleSalazar, #HarlequinTradePublishing for this ARC. This is my own true thoughts about this book.

5 stars and I do highly recommend this. If you like reading historical's set in WW2 you will like this.



Noelle Salazar is the USA Today and Publisher's Weekly Bestselling Author of THE FLIGHT GIRLS, a novel that shines a light on the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) a little-known piece of American history. She is a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest and a lifelong storyteller. In 2011, Noelle discovered a book about the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II, which set off six years of research into the program, the women who were part of it, and what their service meant to their country. She has met and interviewed some of the last living WASPs as well as their family members, and visited the training facility—now a museum dedicated to the WASP—in Sweetwater, Texas.

EXCERPT

Haarlem, Netherlands

April 1940

Sunlight dappled through the green leaves, scattering golden light across the blanket where I sat, my back against the trunk of a tall birch tree, while I kept watch over the Aberman children.

The rain that had kept me up the night before, pummeling the roof above the third floor bedroom I shared with my older sister, scented the air with the smell of damp grass, stone, and bark. I breathed in, soothed by its familiarity, and yawned, my eyes blurring with exhaustion as I tried to stay present. Too many late nights and early mornings were beginning to take their toll, and the clatter of dice being shaken and rolled by tiny hands before me, accompanied by laughter, shouts of outrage, and harrumphs of frustration, were almost soothing, lulling me into a false sense of security.

I glanced down at the book in my hand and the paragraph I’d read at least a dozen times without retaining one word. Unfortunately, sometimes running from my own thoughts by feeding my brain new information didn’t work. Guilt and fear, it turned out, loved a quiet moment, whispering in my ears at night as I tried to sleep, and nudging at me while I sat at my desk in class, trying to focus on what the teacher said. Which was why I’d decided two months ago that I needed noise. Noise would distract me and help me escape the thoughts running through my mind.

Going, doing, and helping was what led me to taking the Saturday afternoon childcare job. It was why I’d suddenly began offering to run errands or clean for my mother, rather than complaining when she asked. It was why I’d begun staying after school, poring over books I knew I’d be assigned to read the following year in an attempt to get a head start. I’d been determined to become a barrister like my father had been since I was a little girl, and the extra studying filled my head with new and complicated words, lofty ideas, and imaginings of grandeur—which were a much-needed diversion from my otherwise too quiet world. And Haarlem, our sweet little city by the sea, was more than just quiet. It was practically silent, as if all sound emitted was whisked from our homes and carried by the near-constant wind out across the water where it dissipated into the gray clouds above.

“You cheated!”

“I did not!”

I blinked, startled out of my thoughts, and turned my attention to Isaak and Lara, whose earlier mirth had become something less friendly. At six and eight years old, I knew their moments of getting along would become less and less frequent as their interests changed and their peers’ desires began pressuring them in other directions. But for now, they still got along for the most part. Until someone inevitably cheated at a game.

“Lien,” Lara, the younger of the two whined, her wide brown eyes staring up at me, “Isaak cheated.”

“I didn’t!” the older boy protested, his mop of brown curls vibrating with his insistence.

I crossed my arms over my chest, becoming a miniature version of my father when he’d been alive as he’d solved similar skirmishes between me and my elder sister, Elif.

“Well,” I said. “I wasn’t watching to say either way so what shall we do? Quit? It would be a shame. You were both having such a good time. Perhaps have the roll in question rolled again? What would be fair to the two of you?”

Like my father had always done, I gave both participants a choice, rather than accusing or taking sides. If they were having fun, the one at fault would usually feel bad and acquiesce, so as not to ruin the day.

Isaak huffed. “I’ll roll again,” he said.

I hid my smile. Isaak nearly always cheated; Lara was just finally catching on. Keeping my expression thoughtful, I nodded.

“Sounds like a sensible plan,” I said, and then shot to my feet as a sudden shriek split the air in two.

I leaped over their game and stood at the edge of the blanket, a human barrier between whatever trouble was brewing and the children I was responsible for.

“What was that?” Lara asked beside me.

Without looking, I corralled her behind me, my eyes scanning the park around us.

Haarlemmerhout Park covered sixty hectares of land in the southern part of the city. Beech, horse chestnut, linden, and silver maple trees towered above lush green blankets of grass and mossy winding paths where lovers were often caught stealing a kiss by young families out for leisurely bicycle rides. In a park so big, on any given day, one could find a spot to spend several hours in and not be bothered by others. It was strange enough to hear sounds besides ours, but sounds of distress were especially surprising.

Movement on the other side of some nearby shrubbery caught my eye, and I glanced over my shoulder.

“Isaak,” I said. “Watch your sister for a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Heart thudding in my chest, I marched across the soft, damp grass, intent to stop whatever danger was in motion. But as I rounded the tangle of budding green plants, all I saw were two boys in the middle of the walking path bent and staring at a small lump on the ground between them.

One of the boys prodded the lump with a stick and the lump shifted and lifted its small head, hollering again at his aggressor. I sucked in a breath, pinpricks of anger and sorrow mixing behind my eyes, making them burn.

“Stop that!” I yelled, trying to make all 162 centimeters of me look taller than they did. “Get away from that bird!”

Two pairs of wide eyes met mine, and then the stick was dropped as the two boys ran off and out of sight.

I hurried to the bird, tears clouding my eyes.

“Hello, little love,” I whispered, looking for an obvious injury. “Did those mean boys hurt you?”

He eyed me from where he lay, and I chewed my lip as I looked him over best I could without touching him. The wing I could see seemed intact, his spindly legs curled into little enraged fists.

“Is he okay?”

I wiped my eyes and glanced up at Lara, who was standing with her brother beside me, their small faces pinched with worry, dark eyes full of concern.

“I’m not sure,” I said, and pointed. “This wing looks okay, but I can’t see the other one without moving him.”

“Should we take it somewhere?” Isaak asked.

I sniffled and leaned back, getting hold of myself before my emotions erupted from the place I kept them shoved inside. It was only a bird after all. Not worth the tremors of despair threatening to burst.

“No,” I said. “But maybe we could move him out of the way.” I pointed to the shrubbery beside us. “Why don’t the two of you build him a little nest over there?”

As they ran off to gather leaves and small branches, I stared down at the creature.

“I’m sorry you’re hurt,” I whispered, my eyes once more filling with tears.

There was something so awful about seeing a creature, fragile and vulnerable, unable to help itself, left to the devices—or torture—of others. To feel and be so powerless…

“We’re done,” Isaak said, kneeling beside me, his cheeks pink from the effort. “Are you crying?”

I shrugged.

“It’s just a bird, Lien.”

I pursed my lips. “It’s a living creature, Isaak,” I said, my voice soft. “We should always do everything we can to help others. Even if they’re just birds.”

I pulled the scarf from my neck and stared down at the gull. “You ready?” I asked him, and then swooped the fabric over it and wrapped my hands gently around its body.

“Do you think it will live?” Isaak asked as I set the bird in the nest.

A glimmer of sadness pressed at my heart. I knew that sometimes even when the best efforts were made and all the prayers were whispered, they were still not enough.

“I hope so,” I said, setting the grumbling fowl on the nest the kids had made. “The two of you did a great job. It’s a handsome nest. He should be very grateful.”

“He doesn’t sound it,” Lara said, and I managed a laugh.

We watched the gull for a while longer as he warily eyed us back and shifted his small body on the pile of foliage and sticks, and then I shepherded the children back to the blanket and their games.

“Play with us,” Isaak said, holding up a well-loved deck of cards.

I nodded and took a seat, happy for the distraction.

As the afternoon passed, the children, easily bored, moved on from card games to running through the grass, twirling until they were dizzy, and a game of tag until, tired out, they lay side by side, Isaak reading and Lara drawing, while I opened my math book and studied for an exam the following Monday.

A breeze kicked up and I shivered, noticing the light around us had changed from golden hued to dismal. I glanced at the sky to find the sun, tired from her brief exertion, had pulled up her blanket of clouds and disappeared beneath a dark gray cover, giving the cold wind permission to sweep in and scatter the papers Lara was busy drawing on.

“Hurry,” I said, and the three of us took off in different directions, chasing down pictures of dogs, horses, and trees, all the while laughing as papers somersaulted and cartwheeled across the vast lawn.

As I pulled a gangly giraffe drawing from the branches of a budding shrub, and a rotund elephant from a springy bed of moss, I heard the telltale buzz of a plane in the distance. I searched around me for more drawings and then lifted my eyes to the clouds again, listening as the sound amplified, the airplane coming into view, heading in our direction.

“Kids,” I said, my voice a warning. I gestured for them to come closer and then took hold of their arms and pulled them beneath the cover of a tall birch tree.

“It’s just a plane,” Lara said.

But no plane was just a plane when a war was going on.

Lara pulled on my arm and I gave her what I hoped was a smile as a light rain began to fall, tapping on the leaves above us before sliding off and peppering us with drops.

The planes had come more and more often in the past several weeks, but I’d never given them much thought before today. Had never felt even a glimmer of fear, assuming they were headed to France or England where the war was actively happening. But for some reason today, the sight and sound of this one put me on edge and the closer it got, the harder my heart beat.

The drops of rain grew in size with every second I stood with my eyes glued to the plane, watching and waiting, but for what I didn’t know. And then I saw a door open.

“Isaak,” I said. “Lara.” I pushed them behind me, causing Isaak to trip over a large root. He recovered and grasped my hand, his eyes wide with fear as I placed my body in front of theirs, the rumble of the engine above like thunder, shaking the air around us.

But no guns discharged as it flew by. No bombs were dropped. No damage was done at all, save for the fraying of my nerves and a cascade of fluttering white.

“What is it?” Lara asked.

We watched as the wind caught and scattered the overturning debris, sending it floating through the air across what looked like the whole of the city.

“I don’t know,” I said, letting go of their hands and taking a step forward, watching as one of the items landed softly on top of a shrub near where our blanket was laid out.

Isaak reached it first, snatching it from where it lay and turning it over, a frown on his handsome face.

“What’s it mean?” he asked, handing the paper over to me.

I took it and frowned. Vibrant blues, reds, and whites glared back at me as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. A white bird on a flag. A drawing of a young, blond man in uniform with a large drum strapped over his shoulder, and words. Dutch words with a German message that sent a shiver down my spine.

I swallowed, my fingers trembling as I held the paper. Because they weren’t just a German message. They were a Nazi message.

A Nazi invitation.

“For the good of your conscience,” it read. “The Waffen SS is calling you.”

My fingers tightened, crumpling the paper. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen one of these garish signs. I’d spotted them a couple of times over the past several months, adhered to light posts and once, shockingly, in the window of a small shop. Was this where they had come from? Or was this a new tactic? Were we to be inundated regularly with this raining down of terrible requests for our men to join the German forces?

Of course, I knew all about the war Germany had started. It was all anyone talked about since the news the year before that Hitler had invaded Poland had come not so much as a shock as it had with a sigh of acceptance. And when England and France quickly declared war on Germany in retaliation, no one was surprised. Scores of Jews had been entering the Netherlands for the past two years in hopes that our neutrality during the Great War would extend to whatever this war turned out to be. But the poster in my hands made me worry that perhaps they were wrong. Perhaps this time we wouldn’t be so lucky.

Because if we were to stay neutral, what was that plane doing here?

“What’s it say?” Lara repeated her brother’s question, reaching for the poster.

“Nothing.” I folded it and shoved it in my coat pocket. “It’s trash.” I checked my watch, noticing a thread had come loose on the worn, too-big brown band, making it sag on my wrist. I tucked it inside the cuff of my sweater. “We should get you two home. Your parents will worry if we’re late.”

The three of us packed away the items we’d brought in a cloth bag, and then I stood by trying to quell my impatience as I watched the two of them take the corners of the blanket and try to fold it into a neat square.

“Here,” Isaak said, handing me the lumpy heap with a proud smile.

I grinned as I tucked it under my arm and took a last look around for stray toys, papers, and drawing implements.

“Ready?” I asked, and the two nodded. “Shall we check on our bird friend before we go?”

“Yes,” they said in delighted unison.

The gull was just as we’d left it, and in fact looked to have made himself more at home, burrowing deeper into his new nest of leaves and twigs, his narrow beak nestled down into his puffed white chest.

“See?” I whispered, glancing at the children crouched beside me. “I told you you made him a handsome home. Look how happy he is.”

Convinced the bird would live, we walked across the grass to the sidewalk. I glanced at the sky and then moved in closer, making sure I was at most an arm’s length away from both kids should I need to protect either of them from an oncoming bicyclist or any other dangers that might befall them.

I knew how fast the unthinkable could transpire. I’d seen it happen before.

“That was a bad one,” Lara said as we walked.

“What was a bad one?” I asked, looking around to see what she was talking about.

“The plane,” she said. “It was a bad one. I saw the spiders.”

Spiders. It was what she called the Nazi insignia.

I nodded. They were the bad ones indeed. I’d never felt that more than I did now, a seed of doom planting itself in the pit of my stomach as I wondered if that plane, its engine noise still reverberating through my body, was just the beginning of something more. The warning crack of thunder before a storm.

 

Excerpted from Angels of the Resistance by Noelle Salazar. Copyright © 2022 by Noelle Salazar. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.


ANGELS OF THE RESISTANCE: A WWII NOVEL

Author: Noelle Salazar

ISBN: 9780778386797

Publication Date: November 29, 2022

Publisher: MIRA

 

Buy Links:

BookShop: https://bookshop.org/p/books/angels-of-the-resistance-a-wwii-novel-noelle-salazar/17845985?ean=9780778386797 

Harlequin: https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9780778386797_angels-of-the-resistance.html 

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Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Angels-Resistance-Novel-Noelle-Salazar/dp/0778386791/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=angels+of+the+resistance+noelle+salazar&qid=1668110740&sprefix=angels+of+the+%2Caps%2C216&sr=8-1 

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Angels-Resistance/Noelle-Salazar/9780778386797?id=8292090795540  

 

Author Website: https://www.noellesalazar.com/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/noellesalazar

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/noelle__salazar/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noelle_salazar 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18424925.Noelle_Salazar 



Thursday, December 1, 2022

SHOWCASE & GIVEAWAY OF "HER SISTER'S DEATH" by K. L. Murphy

Her Sister’s Death by K. L. Murphy Banner

Her Sister's Death

by K. L. Murphy

November 28 - December 23, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Her Sister's Death by K. L. Murphy

She wanted the truth. She should have known better.

When her sister is found dead in a Baltimore hotel room, reporter Val Ritter’s world is turned upside down. An empty pill bottle at the scene leads the police to believe the cause of death is suicide. With little more than her own conviction, Val teams up with Terry Martin, a retired detective who has his own personal interest in the case, to prove that something more sinister is possible.

In 1921, Bridget Wallace, a guest on the brink of womanhood, is getting ready to marry an eligible older man. But what seems like a comfortable match soon takes a dark turn. Does the illustrious history of the stately Franklin hotel hide another, lesser known history of death?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: December 2022
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 9780744307399 (ISBN10: 0744307392)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | CamCat Books

Read an excerpt:

PRESENT DAY

CHAPTER 1

VAL
Monday, 9:17 a.m.

Once, when I was nine or maybe ten, I spent weeks researching a three-paragraph paper on polar bears. I don’t remember much about the report or polar bears, but that assignment marked the beginning of my lifelong love affair with research. As I got older, I came to believe that if I did the research, I could solve any problem. It didn’t matter what it was. School. Work. Relationships. In college, when I suspected a boyfriend was about to give me the brush-off, I researched what to say before he could break up with me. Surprisingly, there are dozens of pages about this stuff. Even more surprising, some of it actually works. We stayed together another couple of months, until I realized I was better off without him. He never saw it coming.

When I got married, I researched everything from whether or not we were compatible (we were) to our average life expectancy based on our medical histories (only two years different). Some couples swear they’re soul mates or some other crap, but I considered myself a little more practical than that. I wanted the facts before I walked down the aisle. The thing is, research doesn’t tell you that your perfect-on-paper husband is going to

prefer the ditzy receptionist on the third floor before you’ve hit your five-year anniversary. It also doesn’t tell you that your initial anger will turn into something close to relief, or that all that perfection was too much work and maybe the whole soul-mate thing isn’t as crazy as it sounds. If you doubt me, look it up.

My love of research isn’t as odd as one might think. My father is a retired history professor, and my mother is a bibliophile. It doesn’t matter the genre. She usually has three or more books going at once. She also gets two major newspapers every day and a half dozen magazines each month. Some people collect cute little china creatures or rare coins or something. My mother collects words. When I decided to become a journalist, both my parents were overjoyed.

“It’s perfect,” my father said. “We need more people to record what’s going on in the world. How can we expect to learn if we don’t recognize that everything that happens impacts our future?” I fought the urge to roll my eyes. I knew what was coming, but how many times can a person hear about the rise and fall of Caesar? The man was stabbed to death, and it isn’t as though anyone learned their lesson. Ask Napoleon. Or Hitler. My dad was right about one thing though. History can’t help but repeat itself.

“Honey,” my mother interrupted. “Val will only write about important topics. You know very well she is a young lady of principle.” Again, I wanted to roll my eyes.

Of course, for all their worldliness, neither of my parents understands how the world of journalism works. You don’t walk into a newsroom as an inexperienced reporter and declare you will be writing about the environment, or the European financial market, or the latest domestic policy. The newspaper business is not so different from any other—even right down to the way technology is forcing it to go digital. Either way, the newbies are given the jobs no one else wants.

Naturally, I was assigned to obituaries.

After a year, I got moved to covering the local city council meetings, but the truth was, I missed the death notices. I couldn’t stop myself from wondering how each of the people died. Some were obvious. When the obituary asks you to donate to the cancer society or the heart association, you don’t have to think too hard to figure it out. Also, people like to add that the deceased “fought a brave battle with (fill in the blank).” I’ve no doubt those people were brave, but they weren’t the ones that interested me. It was the ones that seemed to die unexpectedly and under unusual circumstances. I started looking them up for more information. The murder victims held particular fascination for me. From there, it was only a short hop to my true interest: crime reporting.

The job isn’t for everyone. Crime scenes are not pretty. Have you ever rushed out at three in the morning to a nightclub shooting? Or sat through a murder trial, forced to view photo after photo of a brutally beaten young mother plastered across a giant screen?

My sister once told me I must have a twisted soul to do what I do. Maybe. I find myself wondering about the killer, curious about what makes them do it. That sniper—the one that picked off the poor folks as they came out of the state fair—that was my story. Even now, I still can’t get my head around that guy’s motives.

So, I research and research, trying to get things right as well as find some measure of understanding. It doesn’t always work, but knowing as much as I can is its own kind of answer.

Asking questions has always worked for me. It’s the way I do my job. It’s the way I’ve solved every problem in my life. Until now. Not that I’m not trying. I’m at the library. I’m in my favorite corner in the cushy chair with the view of the pond. I don’t know how long I’ve been here.

How many hours.

My laptop is on, the screen filled with text and pictures. Flicking through the tabs, I swallow the bile that reminds me I have no answer. I’ve asked the question in every way I can think of, but for the first time in my life, Google is no help.

Why did my sister—my gorgeous sister with her two beautiful children and everything to live for—kill herself? Why?

***

Sylvia has been dead for four days now. Actually, I don’t know how long she’s been dead. I’ve been told there’s a backlog at the ME’s office. Apparently, suicides are not high priority when you live in a city with one of the country’s highest murder rates. I don’t care what the cause of death is. I want the truth. While we wait for the official autopsy, I find myself reevaluating what I do know.

Her body was discovered on Thursday at the Franklin, a Do not Disturb sign hanging from the door of her room. The hotel claims my sister called the front desk after only one day and asked not to be disturbed unless the sign was removed. This little detail could not have been more surprising. My sister doesn’t have trouble sleeping. Sylvia went to bed at ten every night and was up like clockwork by six sharp. I have hundreds of texts to prove it. Even when her children were babies with sleep schedules that would kill most people, she somehow managed to stick to her routine. Vacations with her were pure torture.

“Val, get up. The sun is shining. Let’s go for a walk on the beach.”

I’d open one eye to find her standing in the doorway. She’d be dressed in black nylon shorts and neon sneakers, bouncing up and down on her toes.

“We can walk. I promise I won’t run.”

Tossing my pillow at her, I’d groan and pull the covers over my head. “You can’t sleep the day away, Val.”

She’d cross the room in two strides and rip back the sheets. “Get up.”

In spite of my night-owl tendencies, I’d crawl out of bed. Sylvia had a way of making me feel like if I didn’t join her, I’d be missing out on something extraordinary. The thing is, she was usually right. Sure, a sunrise is a sunrise, but a sunrise with Sylvia was color and laughter and tenderness and love. She had that way about her. She loved mornings.

I tried to explain Sylvia to the police officer, to tell him that hanging a sleeping sign past six in the morning, much less all day, was not only odd behavior but also downright suspicious. He did his best not to dismiss me outright, but I knew he didn’t get it.

“Sleeping too much can be a sign of depression,” he said. “She wasn’t depressed.”

“She hung a sign, ma’am. It’s been verified by the manager.” He stopped short of telling me that putting out that stupid sign wasn’t atypical of someone planning to do what she did.

Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

The screen in front of me blurs, and I rub my burning eyes. There are suicide statistics for women of a certain age, women with children, women in general. My fingers slap the keys. I change the question, desperate for an answer, any answer.

A shadow falls across the screen when a man takes the chair across from me, a newspaper under his arm. My throat tightens, and I press my lips together. He settles in, stretching his legs. The paper crackles as he opens it and snaps when he straightens the pages.

“Do you mind?”

He lowers the paper, his brows drawn together. “Mind what?” “This is a library. It’s supposed to be quiet in here.”

He angles his head. “Are you always this touchy or is it just me?”

“It’s you.” I don’t know why I say that. I don’t even know why I’m acting like a brat, but I can’t help myself.

Silence fills the space between us as he appears to digest what I’ve said. “Perhaps you’d like me to leave?”

“That would be nice.”

He blinks, the paper falling from his hand. I’m not sure which of us is more surprised by my answer. I seem to have no control over my thoughts or my mouth. The man has done nothing but crinkle a newspaper, but I have an overwhelming need to lash out. He looks around, and for a moment, I feel bad.

The man gets to his feet, the paper jammed under his arm. “Look, lady, I’ll move to another spot, but that’s because I don’t want to sit here and have my morning ruined by some kook who thinks the public library is her own personal living room.” He points a finger at me. “You’ve got a problem.”

I feel the sting, the well of tears before he’s even turned his back. They flood my eyes and pour down over my cheeks. Worse, my mouth opens, and I sob, great, loud, obnoxious sobs.

I cover my face with my hands and sink lower into the chair, my body folding in on itself.

My laptop slips to the floor, and I somehow cry harder. “Is she all right?” a woman asks, her voice high and tight. The annoying man answers. “She’ll be fine in a minute.”

“Are you sure?” Her gaze darts between us, and her hands flutter over me like wings, nearing but never touching. I recognize her from the reference desk. “People are staring. This is a library, you know.”

I want to laugh, but it gets caught in my throat, and comes out like a bark. Her little kitten heels skitter back. I don’t blame her.

Who wouldn’t want to get away from the woman making strange animal noises?

“Do you have a private conference room?” the man asks. The woman points the way, and large hands lift me to my feet. “Can you get her laptop and her bag, please?”

The hands turn into an arm around my shoulders. He steers me toward a small room at the rear of the library. My sobs morph into hiccups.

The woman places my bag and computer on a small round table. “I’ll make sure no one bothers you here.” She slinks out, pulling the door shut.

The man sets his paper down and pulls out a chair for me. I don’t know how many minutes pass before I’m able to stop crying, before I’m able to speak.

“Are you okay now?” I can’t look at him. His voice is kind, far kinder than I deserve. He pushes something across the table. “Here’s my handkerchief.” He gets to his feet. “I’m going to see if I can find you some water.”

The door clicks behind him, and I’m alone. My sister, my best friend, is gone, and I’m alone.

***

“Do you want to talk about it?” the man asks, setting a bottle of water and a package of crackers on the table.

Sniffling, I twist the damp, wadded up handkerchief into a ball. I want to tell him that no, I don’t want to talk about it, that I don’t even know him, but the words slip out anyway. “My sister died,” I say.

“Oh.” He folds his hands together. “I’m sorry. Recently?” “Four days.”

He pushes the crackers he’s brought across the table. “You should try to eat something.”

I try to remember when I last ate. Yesterday? The day before? One of my neighbors did bring me a casserole with some kind of brown meat and orangey red sauce. It may have had noodles, but I can’t be sure. I do remember watching the glob of whatever it was slide out of the aluminum pan and down the disposal. I think I ate half a bagel at some point. My stomach churns, then rumbles. The man doesn’t wait for me to decide. He opens the packet and pushes it closer. For some reason I can’t explain, I want to prove I’m more polite that I seemed earlier. I take the crackers and eat.

He gestures at the bottle. “Drink.”

I do. The truth is, I’m too numb to do anything else. It’s been four days since my parents phoned me. Up to now, I’ve taken the news like any other story I’ve been assigned. I’ve filed it away, stored it at the back of my mind as something I need to analyze and figure out before it can be processed. I’ve buried myself in articles and anecdotes and medical pages, reading anything and everything to try and understand. On some level, I recognize my behavior isn’t entirely normal. My parents broke down, huddled together on the sofa, as though conjoined in their grief. I couldn’t have slipped between them even if I wanted to. Sylvia’s husband—I guess that’s what we’re still calling him—appeared equally stricken. Not even the sight of her children, their faces pale and blank, cracked the shell I erected, the wall I built to deny the reality of her death.

“Aunt Val,” Merry asked. “Mommy’s coming back, right? She’s just passed, right? That’s what Daddy said.” She paused, a single tear trailing over her pink cheek. “What’s ‘passed’?”

Merry is the youngest, only five. Miles is ten—going on twenty if you ask me—which turned out to be a good thing in that moment. Miles took his sister by the hand. “Come on, Merry. Dad wants us in the back.” I let out a breath. Crisis averted.

My sister has been gone four days, and I haven’t shed a tear. Until today. The man across the table clears his throat. “Are you feeling any better?” “No, I’m not feeling better. My sister is still dead.” God, I’m a bitch. I expect him to stand up and leave or at least point out what an ass I’m being when he’s gone out of his way to be nice, but he does neither. “Yes, I suppose she is. Death is kind of permanent.”

I jerk back in my chair. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

Unlike me, he does apologize. “I’m sorry. That didn’t come out right. I never did have the best bedside manner for the job.”

I take a closer look at the man. “Are you a doctor?”

He half laughs. “Hardly. Detective. Former, I mean. I never quite got the hang of talking to the victims’ families without putting my foot in my mouth. Seems I’ve done it again.”

My curiosity gets the best of me. He’s not much older than I am. Mid-forties. Maybe younger. Definitely too young for retirement. “Former detective? What do you do now?”

“I run a security firm.” He lifts his shoulders. “It’s different, has its advantages.”

The way he says it, I know he misses the job. I understand. “I write for the Baltimorean. Mostly homicides,” I say. “That’s a good paper. I’ve probably read your work then.”

Crumpling the empty cracker wrapper, I say, “I’m sorry I dumped on you out there.”

He shrugs again. “It’s okay. You had a good reason.” I can’t think of anything to say to that.

“How did she die, if you don’t mind my asking?”

The question hits me hard. What I mind is that my sister is gone. My hands ball into fists. The heater in the room hums, but otherwise, it’s quiet. “They say she died by suicide.”

The man doesn’t miss a beat. “But you don’t believe it.” He watches me, his body still.

My heart pounds in my chest and I reach into my mind, searching for any information I’ve found that contradicts what I’ve been told. I’ve learned that almost fifty thousand people a year die by suicide in the United States. Strangely, a number of those people choose to do it in hotels. Maybe it’s the anonymity. Maybe it’s to spare the families. There are plenty of theories, but unfortunately, one can’t really ask the departed about that. Still, the reasoning is sound enough. For four days, I’ve read until I can’t see, and my head has dropped from exhaustion. I know that suicide can be triggered by traumatic events or chronic depression. It can be triggered by life upheaval or can be drug induced, or it can happen for any number of reasons that even close family and friends don’t know about until after—if ever. I know all this, and yet, I can’t accept it.

Sylvia was found in a hotel room she had no reason to be in. An empty pill bottle was found on the nightstand next to her. She checked in alone. Nothing in the room had been disturbed. Nothing appeared to have been taken. For all these reasons, the police made a preliminary determination that the cause of death was suicide, the final ruling to be made after the ME’s report. I know all this. My parents and Sylvia’s husband took every word of this at face value. But I can’t. Sylvia is not a statistic, and I know something they don’t.

“No. I don’t believe it.” I say, meeting his steady gaze with my own.

He doesn’t react. He doesn’t tell me I’m crazy. He doesn’t say “I’m sorry” again. Nothing. I’m disappointed, though I can’t imagine why. He’s a stranger to me. Still, I press my shoulder blades against the back of the chair, waiting. I figure it out then. Former detective. I’ve been around enough cops to know how it works. It’s like a tribe with them. You don’t criticize another officer. You don’t question anyone’s toughness or loyalty to the job. You don’t question a ruling that a case doesn’t warrant an investigation, much less that it isn’t even a case. So, I sit and wait. I will not be the first to argue. It doesn’t matter that he’s retired and left the job. He’s still one of them. In fact, the more I think about it, I can’t understand why he’s still sitting there. I’ve been rude to the man. I’ve completely broken down in front of him like some helpless idiot. And now, I’ve suggested the cause of death that everyone—and I mean everyone—says is true is not the truth at all.

He gets up, shoves his hands in his pockets.

This is it. He’s done with me now. In less than one minute he’ll be gone and, suddenly, I don’t want him to leave. I break the silence.

“I’m Val Ritter.” “Terry Martin.”

I turn the name over in my brain. It’s familiar in a vague way. “Terry the former detective.”

“Uh-huh.” He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “Look, I’m sorry about your sister. You’ve lost someone you love, and the idea that she might have taken her own life is doubly distressing.”

“I’m way past distressed. I’m angry.”

“Is it possible that you’re directing that anger toward the ones that ruled her death a suicide instead of at your . . .” His words fall away.

“My sister?” “Yes.”

“I might be if I thought she did this.” I cross my arms over my chest. “But I don’t. This idea, this thing they’re saying makes no sense at all.”

Terry the former detective’s voice is low, soothing. “Why?”

My arms drop again. I’m tempted to tell him everything I know, which admittedly isn’t much, but I hold back. This man is a stranger. Sure, he’s been nice, and every time I’ve expected him to walk out the door, he’s done the opposite. But that doesn’t mean I can trust him.

“I’m sorry if my question seems insensitive,” he says. His voice is soft, comforting in a neutral way, and I can picture him in an interrogation. He would be the good cop. “No matter how shocking the, uh, idea might be, I have a feeling you have your reasons. You were close—you and your sister?” “We were.” I sit there, twisting the handkerchief in my fingers. The heat-

er makes a revving noise, drops back to a steady hum. “We talked all the time, and I can tell you she wasn’t depressed. That’s what they kept saying. ‘She must have been depressed.’ I know people hide things, but she was never good at hiding her emotions from me. If anything, she’d been happier than ever.” I give a slow shake of my head. “They tried to tell me about the other suicide and about the pills and the sign on the door and—” I stop. I hear myself rambling and force myself to take a breath. “If something had been wrong, I would have known.”

Terry the former detective doesn’t react, doesn’t move. He keeps his mouth shut, but I know. He doesn’t believe me, same as all the others. I can tell. There is no head bob or leading question. He thinks I’m in denial and that I will eventually accept the truth. He doesn’t know me at all.

The minutes pass, and I drink the water. I realize I feel better. It’s time to leave. “I should be going.” I hold up the crumpled rag in my hand. “Sorry I did such a number on your handkerchief. I can clean it, send it to you later.”

He waves off the suggestion. “Keep it.”

I gather my items and apologize again. “Sorry you had to witness my meltdown out there.”

“It happens.”

I’m headed out the door, my hand on the knob, when he breaks protocol.

“What did you mean by ‘the other suicide’?”

CHAPTER 2

TERRY
Monday, 10:02 a.m.

The woman—Val, I remind myself—hesitates. I can see she’s wary, worried I don’t believe her. I don’t know that I do, but I am curious. “What

did you mean? There was another suicide?”

“A month ago, maybe a little longer, a woman killed herself in the same hotel. She jumped off the roof, which apparently was no easy task since there were all kinds of doors to go through to get up there. Of course, what happened to her was horrible, but it has nothing to do with my sister. I don’t know why they’re acting like it does.”

My jaw tightens. “Which hotel?”

“The Franklin.”

I look past her and think maybe I should be surprised, but nothing about that hotel surprises me. “The Franklin,” I say, echoing her words.

The Franklin is one of Baltimore’s oldest hotels. Built in 1918, it’s fifteen stories high with marble columns and archways at the entrance. Along with the Belvedere, before it became condos, and the Lord Baltimore, the Franklin is a destination, a swanky place that’s attracted film stars and

politicians for decades. Somewhere along the line, it fell into disrepair and the famous guests went elsewhere. For a brief time, the management offered rooms for short-term rentals, desperate to keep the hotel from plunging further into the red. Twenty years ago, the hotel was sold to an investment group. They declared the hotel historic, sunk tens of millions of dollars into it, and reopened it in grand style. The governor and the mayor cut the big red ribbon. Baseball stars from the Orioles and a well-known director were photographed at the official gala. It was a big to-do for the city at the time. Since then, it’s remained popular—one of the five-star hotels downtown, which, of course, means that a night there doesn’t come cheap. That’s the press release version.

But there’s another one. Lesser known.

Val is calm now, watching me, and I catch a glimpse of the reporter. “Do you know it?” she asks.

“Yeah, I know it.” Stories have circulated about the hotel through the years. Some are decades old while others have been encouraged by the hotel itself. Ghost tours are popular these days, and the Franklin tour is no exception. “It has a history. For a while, it was called the Mad Motel.”

She flinches. “What?”

“According to my grandfather, people seemed to die there. Most deaths occurred right after the Depression, victims of the stock market crash, but not all. There was one guy that killed his whole family right before he killed himself. They said he lost his mind. That was the first time it was called the Mad Motel, though there were other stories.”

“What are you saying?”

I see the flush on her cheeks and know my words have upset her in a way I didn’t intend. I do my best to smooth it over. “Nothing. I didn’t mean anything. I’ve never been a fan of the name myself, but there were some guys around the department that used it.”

The anger that colored her cheeks a moment earlier fades, eclipsed by something else I recognize. Curiosity. “Why would they use such a terrible name?”

It’s a valid question, and I give the only explanation I can. “The first time I heard it on the job was about fifteen years ago. An assault at the Franklin. I didn’t catch the case, but I remember a man almost beat his wife to death. He would have, if someone in the next room hadn’t called the police.”

She doesn’t blink, doesn’t raise a hand to her mouth. Just waits. “Before that day, the guy was a typical accountant. Kind of nerdy.

Mild-mannered. Went to work. Went home to his family. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then they fly into Baltimore for their nephew’s wedding, stay at the Franklin. As they were dressing, he loses it. He hits her with the lamp, punches her, throws her up against the wall. When the police arrived, they had to pry him off of her. They rushed her to the hospital. She ended up with broken ribs, a concussion, a whole bunch of other stuff.”

“And the husband?”

“That’s what was so strange. According to the officers on the scene, as soon as they pulled him off, he stopped all of it. He cried, begged to be allowed to go with her to the hospital. When they took him downtown, he swore he didn’t know what had come over him. That he’d never hit anyone in his life, and he couldn’t even recall being angry with her. They kept him in jail until she woke up. Oddly, she corroborated his story. She said he didn’t have a violent bone in his body before that day.”

Val’s forehead wrinkles. “I don’t remember ever reading about that case.

What happened?”

“He was charged in spite of his wife’s insistence that she didn’t want that. When he went to trial, his lawyer put him on the stand. That’s when I heard his story.” I pause and run my hand over my face, scratching at my chin. “He told the jury that while he was putting on his tux jacket, a cold breeze blew in. He said he checked the room, but the windows were closed, and it was winter, so the heat was on. Then according to him, this cold air got into his body, in his hands and his feet and then his mind. He said when his wife came out of the bathroom, he didn’t recognize her, that she was someone else, something else.”

“Something else? What does that mean?”

“He described a monster with sharp teeth and claws. His attorney even had a drawing done by a sketch artist. She held it up for the jury, but the man wouldn’t look at it. Refused. He claimed he panicked, grabbed the lamp, and swung, but the monster kept coming. He said the monster howled—that was probably his wife screaming—and came at him again. That must have been when the guest in the other room called the police.” I pause again. Even as I say it, I know how it sounds. “So, he tells this story at trial, and everyone looks around at each other thinking this guy is crazy. But his wife is in the audience and nodding like it’s true. The prosecutor goes after him, but he doesn’t back down. He admits he attacked someone, but he swears he didn’t knowingly hurt his wife. He breaks down on the stand, and it’s basically bedlam in the courtroom.”

Memories of that day flood my mind. I sat in the back of the packed courtroom, watching the melee. It was hard to know what to think. Was the man delusional? A sociopath? Or was he telling the truth? Fortunately, Val doesn’t ask my opinion, and I tell her the rest.

“The prosecutor decided to cut his losses,” I say. “He let the man plead to a lesser charge and get some mental help.”

“That’s all?”

“Yep. The man did three months in a mental health facility, then went back to Omaha and his wife. End of story.”

“So that’s why the Franklin is called the Mad Motel?”

“It’s one of the reasons. But like I said, the place has a history.” Newspaper articles and pictures and evidence files flit through my mind. Many of the images are gruesome. Others just sad. Although the library is warm, I’m cold under my jacket. My voice drops to a whisper, the memories too close for comfort. “A history of death.”

***

Excerpt from Her Sister's Death by K. L. Murphy. Copyright 2022 by K. L. Murphy. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

K. L. Murphy

K. L. Murphy is the author of the Detective Cancini Mystery Series: A Guilty Mind, Stay of Execution, and The Last Sin. Her short stories are featured in the anthologies Deadly Southern Charm (“Burn”) and Murder by the Glass (“EverUs”). She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and Historical Writers of America. K. L. lives in Richmond, VA, with her husband, children, and amazing dogs. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, entertain friends, catch up on everything she ignored, and always—walk the amazing dogs.

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