Book Review: My Very Best Friend

C.H. Armstrong Books & Blog

Photo-of-Cathy-Lamb-092I’ve said many times that Cathy Lamb is my favorite author, and there’s a reason.  It’s because she seems to get people.  She gets women and their relationships with each other and with the men in their lives.  Her novels always include strong women and quirky friendships; and even stronger men who aren’t afraid to let the women in their lives exert their independence and be strong, understanding that strong doesn’t diminish femininity. Simply stated, Cathy Lamb is a master of the Women’s Fiction genre.

Cathy’s newest novel, My Very Best Friend is no exception.  It’s a beautiful story of first friendships and first loves.  Sometimes, as well as you think you know someone, you don’t know their story at all.

My-Very-Best-Friend-e1434131314735-2My Very Best Friend tells the story of four childhood best friends, separated for twenty years when one of them (Charlotte) is moved across the ocean from Scotland to America.  Though…

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Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

C.H. Armstrong Books & Blog

WATCHMAN

Anyone who knows even the tiniest thing about me knows that Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is, in my opinion, the best book ever written.  In too many ways to even try counting, the themes contained within its pages have shaped me into the person I am today.  The idea of “walking around in someone else’s skin” before passing judgement, as advised by the character Atticus Finch, is perhaps the most important theme of the book and is one that I carry with me every single day.  It’ll come as no surprise, then, that I was beyond excited to hear that Lee would be releasing a second book, this one not so much a sequel to the original; but, rather, her original intent for the manuscript.  I was giddy with excitement.

And then the early reviews came in, many calling the “New Atticus” a racist and a bigot.  Before…

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Another summer cozy

Title: Rhyme of the Magpie by Marty Wingate.  3.5 stars

Publisher: Alibi (Random House) 261pp

Genre: cozy, english mystery, birding, series

Author:

Marty Wingate is an American writer and speaker of gardening and travel. She has an MS in Urban Horticulture, and knows her plants. She contributes to Country Gardens and other magazines. This year her garden tour went to the Lake District and York, England. Her book research took her to the Suffolk village of Long Meadow. She resides in Seattle and has a weekly local NPR slot. Wingate has several cozy series, the first concentrate on English gardening: The Potting Shed Mysteries. (The third installment Between a Rock and a Hard Place will be published next month and reviewed here soon). Rhyme of the Magpie will begin The Birds of A Feather series.

Story line:

Julia Lancaster was a personal assistant and associate producer for her father’s award winning BBC birding programme. But with his quick remarriage following the unexpected death of her mother, Julia quits her job to make a fresh start as a tourist manager for a local estate in the quaint village of Smeaton-under-Lyme. Her job is to build the estate and town into a destination spot. As a thirty something, divorcee (her ex is the birdman of St Kilda), she acts rather childish, immature and scattered, although we all deal with family death differently. But she is loyal and when her father goes missing (a not uncommon practice) she attempts to find him, stumbling upon a body instead. Unfortunately the body is near her father’s birding cottage, he is nowhere to be found and the body is someone he has been known to have clashed with publicly. She investigates his disappearance with the help of his new assistant (her replacement) Martin Sedgewick, who provides a steady hand and romantic interest. He is of course handsome, charming, intelligent, but too smooth (with secrets). Julia (aka Jools) learns to be more accepting, make fewer rash, impulsive decisions and become less egocentric. I like that her sister Bianca had a completely different take /view of their childhood. I like the normal village politics too. There are timely themes of tourism and estates, environmentalism and habitat destruction, family bonds.

This is an entertaining mystery, with plot twists, lovely characters, well placed clues and a satisfying, dramatic ending. And lots of tea. You will be reaching for tea and biscuits as you read this, so be prepared. Empty Nest is due in December and I shall look forward to continuing this engaging series.

Read on:

To Laura Childs, Ellery Adams, Jen McKinlay

Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed mysteries

Quotes:

Opening line: Four magpies in their black and white jester outfits strutted about on the pavement when I stepped out of my cottage. ….. I had told my sister that magpies were an early warning system, and she had told me to shut it.

The cottage was small, but I had distilled my life into its essence and needed little.

I felt a dull ache start up in my chest as I sensed my old life as a foxhound and me up a tree.

Lord Fotheringill wore impeccable tweeds and had a neatly trimmed mustache and black hair with a touch of grey at the temples, although some weeks that grey was more noticeable than others.

Some things are best left to fester in the dark.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

  

A clever page-turner!

Title: Murder in Court Three by Ian Simpson 4 stars

Publisher: Matador,  179 pp

Genre: cozy, scottish, murder mystery, 

Author:

Since retiring from a law career in Scotland, Ian Simpson has been writing traditional police procedurals. As a judge in Scotland’s High Court on murder trials, he is well qualified to write crime fiction, and obviously enjoys doing so. His descriptive writing style is entertaining and laced with humor. His characters are well drawn and distinctive, so don’t be worried when you see the daunting three page list. I reviewed the previous book Murder on the Second Tee and also recommended his first, Murder on Page One. His work was shortlisted for Debut Dagger. The intersecting lives of DI (ex) Osborne, DI Flick Fortune and Constable Bagawath (Baggo) Chandavarkar continue with interesting character development over these novels. Read in order if you can, and note that Kindle has the first two on sale $1.49!

Story Line:

As usual, the story is told from several points of view as we progress with the various leads and intersecting cases. A high profile real estate fraud trial, with 4.5 million pound sterling missing and a non existent golf course, now in its fourth week, should be wrapping up. DI Fortune is the senior investigating officer, and has only two weeks left before maternity leave will change her life. But the body of one Farquhar Knox QC complicates the proceedings. 

Baggo remains ambitious, DI(ex) No remains politically incorrect, although improving slightly, realistically, and Flick and her husband DI Fergus Maxwell, shine. And the dialogue and locale gave me a quick trip to Edinburgh. Simpson writes a clever page-turner on legal matters in Scotland. This was a fast, delightful read, perfect for summer days and armchair travel. I shall look forward to more (this series or new) by this author.

Read On:

If you like Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, John Buchan

For Scottish mysteries, AD Scott, Alexander McCall Smith (he recommends these mysteries, as do the local Scottish papers and law society) or Chris Brookmyre 

Quotes:

his own day of judgement has arrived.

It’s the talk of the steamie, as we say.

(Flick as)… a rugby fan, this conversation made her feel like a full-back waiting to catch a high ball with the opposing scrum thundering towards her.

He had discovered that a shoulder of lamb, slowly roasted at a low heat, required the same cooking time as he took for a round of golf and a pint, so was perfect for a Sunday morning.

There were more than 400 people who, in theory, might have killed Knox.

I expected some cracking stories, true-life Rebus stuff you know…

You are in a very deep hole yet you continue to dig.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Ghostly Summer Read!

Title: The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths. 4stars****Publisher: Houghton Mifflin. 385pp. 

Genre: mystery, English mystery, murder mystery, historical, mystery, series

Author:

Elly Griffiths is a British novelist of the Ruth Galloway English crime series. The Galloway books need to be read in order for character development and overarching story. Her first book was The Crossing Places, with The Ghost Fields being the seventh. This book takes place two years after the last (The Outcast Dead), but there is not a lot of personal development. These novels were inspired by her husband who became an anthropologist and her summer holidays in Norfolk; they now live in Brighton. She read English at King’s College and worked in publishing. Her writing is often poignant, atmospheric and compelling. Griffiths recently wrote a stand alone new 1950s crime novel The Zig Zag Girl that I also recommend. 

Story Line:

The title comes from the deserted Air Force bases from WWII, as well as ancient burial sites from the Bronze Age (Galloway’s specialty) to the English Civil War. There were 37 airfields In Norfolk alone, with several shadow fields too. This particular ghost field is near the isolated Blackstone Manor where a WWII airplane, with body onboard, is discovered during an excavation. However, the pilot has a bullethole in his forehead and DNA that matches the local aristocracy. This is a cold case investigation with complications and present danger, of course building to an action packed ending with Ruth being in immediate danger in the terrible St Jude storm. There wasn’t much mystery for me as simple arithmetic would have narrowed the suspects. I think they should have provided the genealogy at the end of the book, not at the beginning. 

Dr Galloway is forensic anthropologist and professor which lives in a Norfolk salt marsh.

Ruth is accomplished, intelligent, a dedicated professional and a single mother. But she is still insecure and less self aware/too critical. She’s 45 with a five year old daughter just starting school. I usually enjoy catching up with these characters, but Ruth has not moved on from DI Nelson, although he remains married. I no longer care about their relationship. And then there seem to be numerous affairs. As always Cathbad has his moments, now a family man living with Judy and their son and new daughter. The Blackstock’s are a positively quirky, eccentric English manor family (I liked that one branch of the Blackstock family had emigrated to Vermont, and should have stayed!)

The bleak, lovely Norfolk landscape still plays a central role in these novels and l love the wildness, beauty, history and nature. The British weather (unrelenting heat to wind, rain and flood) is so much more enjoyable from my sunny summer lounge chair. It’s an easy summer read. Enjoy!

Read On: (mysteries in Norfolk)

Elly Griffiths The Crossing Places  in order

Simon Beckett Dr David Hunter, forensic scientist in The Chemistry of Death

PD James Devices and Desires Adam Dagliesh series

American mysteries: Kathy Reichs Tempe Brennan series, an forensic anthropologist

Quotes:

Opening line: It is the hottest summer for years. A proper heatwave, the papers say.

She thinks of sea sprites …and the ghosts of dead children singing under the sea.

Mrs Galloway was her mother. A formidable born-again Christian living in South London, within sight of the promised land.

The women in that family are worth ten of the men.

I’m sorry Frank, but there’s someone else. I think there always will be. 

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Purchased as an ebook for a reread. First edition in the Stowe Free Library summer book sale!

Why Amazon May Decide Not to Post Your Book Review

C.H. Armstrong Books & Blog

So…here’s my tangent today and I’d like to share it with all of you.

Yesterday I noticed a post on my Facebook feed about a petition to prevent Amazon from arbitrarily deciding not to post book reviews based upon their belief that the reviewer might know the author.  What this means is that if you post a book review and  Amazon thinks you know the author personally, they may refuse to publish your book review.

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I find this really disturbing, and here’s why:  what criteria is Amazon using to determine whether I know the author?  Is it because I’m giving a really great review?  Is it because I follow their Facebook Author Page?  Maybe I’ve interacted with the author a few times through that page.  Or maybe, just maybe, I’m Facebook “friends” with an author.  The problem is that none of those contacts mean that I actually know an author.  It…

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Murder takes a  Summer Vacation 

Note:The British Library is republishing many of their Classic Crime and Spy novels, with the Poisoned Pen Press responsible for the U.S. editions. There will be twelve published this year and 2016. They will be available in trade paperback and Ebook. Many of these books have been out of print or difficult to find. Some of these Golden Age Crime writers are perhaps unknown to the American audience. Each book features stunning cover art pertinent to the era (20/30s Britain). Of note, Martin Edwards provided guidance for this project as the archivist for CWA (and for Detection Club). Two books feature short fiction edited by Edwards. I have always valued the Poisoned Pen’s collection of mysteries for providing excellent reading experiences; there are over 700 titles. I am looking forward to the reissue of all the British Library Crime Classic novels. I read the following as ARCs from Netgalley, and wish to thank both publishers for bringing these works to light.

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 3 to 3.5 stars***

Genre: English mystery, cozy, mystery, British Library crime classics,

1) Title: Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston (1936, 2015) 314pp

Author: Charles Kingston (O’Mahoney) wrote 25 mystery novels between 1921 and 1945: Stolen Virtue (1921), many London settings (Poison in Kensington [read Dorothy Sayers review!] and The Highgate Mystery) to his last book Fear Followed On (1945). His prose is sparse with quite dry (black) humour, which might not translate well to the American audience, or this era. But they are quite atmospheric and generally easy reads.

Story Line:

This story introduced Chief Insp Wake, a rather grizzled, methodical, dour individual. There are seven in this series. The unsavory cast of English eccentrics made this difficult for me to appreciate as well as dated prose and London accents. This is a drawing room mystery exposing the seedy side of London (Soho nightclubs) with a jaundiced, cynical police force, “minor Bohemian” characters and an aristocratic bourgeois without principles. In the end I didn’t have much sympathy for either the idle rich or the murdered miser. It was hard to like characters that Kingston describes in such unflattering terms, with vices/ human traits. The first half sets the stage/scene with character descriptions/details which provide motive. There are fantastic details of the era, with a nice twist in the mystery solution. This is an interesting, realistic/historical look at London of the 1930s.

Read on:

 A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon (also recently republished) or 

The Piccadilly Murder by Anthony Berkeley (1929)

Quotes:

…falling is love is like falling downstairs- you don’t mean to do either.

It was the crime of the year, something peculiar to London.

How often had Bobbie grumblingly adverted to the fact that everyday his uncle lived he, the misunderstood heir, lost a day’s income.

What’s the use mother, when I’ll have ten thousand a year when Massey dies of overeating?

…ears that resembled cauliflowers waiting their turn to be washed…

“…polygamy on the installment plan…” (Married four times)

2) Title: Capitol Crimes edited by Martin Edwards 343 pp.

Martin Edwards has published 16 crime novels and 50 short stories. He is also the archivist for the Crime Writers’ Association as well as the Detection Club. He is a consultant to the British library in their reissuing of the crime writers of the golden era and as such, selected 17 short stories, set in London. They have been arranged in chronological order from 1893 Case of the Lady Sannox (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) to 1946 You Can’t Hang Twice (Anthony Gilbert). This also illustrates the gradual transition from amateur detective to police procedural. You will find some interesting reads: Campion by Margery Allingham in the Unseen Door, Stealer of Marble by Edgar Wallace, or The Hands of Mr Ottermole by Thomas Burke. I found this edition to be more of a hodgepodge of less readable work, certainly not their best work. Some haven’t stood the hands of time, feeling very dated (manners, class), ‘vintage prose’ even! But as an introduction to their body of work, you might discover a new author. 

3) Title: Resorting to Murder: Holiday Murders edited by Martin Edwards 286 pp

This collection of 14 short stories is again presented in chronological published order (1910-1953). These are not action dramas but puzzles and will provide lovely armchair travel to Europe (UK, Switzerland, France). As a themed anthology it is more diverse than expected, given the authors and time period. Several feature well known detectives/sleuths: Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is present in The Adventure of Devil’s Foot, and his brother in law E.W. Hornung’s Dr John Dollar in A Schoolmaster Abroad, and H.C. Bailey’s The Hazel Ice has Mr Fortune, surely the precursor to Lord Peter Wimsey. I simply loved Helen Simpson’s humorous A Posteriori and Basil Thompson’s The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser. I wrote notes about twelve of the stories!

I enjoyed this entertaining series far more than the previous short story anthology, although once again there are vastly different writing styles. Both may lead you to a new author, and both make wonderful summer reads. Short stories are perfect for the beach, the hammock, the commute to work, the plane trip, or by the pool. Don’t forget the Pimms to set the stage. It might just be your cup of tea. It is great to have a chance to read these stories. There is much to chose from and I think you will find many enjoyable reads. 

“Although sleuths go on vacation, murder never does.”

The Rochester Public Library does not have the last books of short stories; it it does have several similar books that Edwards has edited for the CWA, including Deadly Pleasures 2013, Guilty Parties 2014, and Golden Age of Murder 2015.

Classic Crime to beat the Summer Heat!

Title: The Sussex Down Murder by John Bude (1936, 2015) 4stars****Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press. 288 pp

Genre: English mysteries, cozy, British mystery, Poisoned Pen Press, traditional mystery, British Library, historical, John Bude

 

 Note:

The British Library is republishing many of their Classic Crime and Spy novels, with the Poisoned Pen Press responsible for the U.S. editions. There will be twelve published this year (two per month, with one per month slated for 2016.) Many of these books have been out of print or difficult to find. Some of these Golden Age Crime writers are perhaps unknown to the American audience. Each book features stunning cover art pertinent to the era (20/30s Britain). They will be available in paperback and Ebook. Of note, Martin Edwards provided guidance for this project as the archivist for CWA (and for Detection Club). Two books will feature short fiction edited by Edwards. I have always valued the Poisoned Pen’s collection of mysteries for providing excellent reading experiences (there are over 700 titles).

Author:

The May selection for the Poisoned Pen Press was The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude who was the cofounder of the Crime Writers’ Association. Ernest Elmore wrote 30 mysteries between 1935-1957 under the pseudonym of Bude, most featuring Inspector William Meredith (Sussex is the second in his respected series; the first was The Lake District Murder). Meredith is modeled after Freeman Wills Croft’s Inspector French (fortunately his books are also due to be reprinted!) Bude’s accomplished writing style is detailed, informative and engaging. Locations are well researched and locals are accurately portrayed. This is classic England. Bude/Elmore was also a producer, director in theatre. His early death cut short a promising writing career (routine operation).

Story Line:
Trouble is brewing between the two Rother brothers, farmers and lime kiln burners of Chalkland Farm. Foul play begins with a missing body, murder, and mysterious figures in the village of Washington, Sussex. Superintendent Meredith (just promoted after his last case) struggles with the myriad clues, making painstakingly, painfully slow progress. His in-depth discussions with his superior are engaging and provide the reader with both thought process and witness to events.

The Sussex Down landscape is a central character in this book and Bude provides glorious descriptions and minute detail in this readable, intricate puzzle. Much will be discussed and discarded as clues are found, deadends are sidestepped, red herrings are finally ignored, a mysterious man is uncloaked, timetables are created and the relevant clues reveal the killer. 

I can remember reading his books and enjoyed reacquainted with the characters. It felt quaint and old fashioned (very little in the way of female input); I recognized the outcome and still enjoyed the read. These are early police procedurals, no DNA, but fingerprints and hard work over the two month investigation. This had a satisfying real life feel complete with humour and local insights which will have you looking for more of his stories as the characters develop.  

This is a perfect beach read, rainy day read or anytime for PBS fans. I purchased my own copy, partly because I just loved the cover. Isn’t it East Sussex?

Read On:
If you are a fan of Downtown Abbey, these between the war novels will be especially enjoyed.

If you are a fan of the classical whodunnit, read on! As well as anyone interested in English history/ local culture.

If you like Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon(Insp Maigret) or WJ Burley(Wycliffe).

Don’t forget to follow the rest of these reprints as they are released.

Quotes:
Opening scene: Dominating that part of the Sussex Downs with which this story is concerned is Chanctonbury Ring. This oval cap of gigantic beeches may be seen, on fine days, from almost any point in the little parish of Washington. It is a typical village of two streets, two pubs, a couple of chandlers, a forge, an Olde Tea Shoppe, and a bus service.

Don’t do a beggar no ‘arm in ‘ere to do a bit o’ skypiloting on ‘is own account (reading the Bible in jail).

There’s nothing queerer than reality. Your one trouble will be to make your readers believe in your yarn.

Witnesses are an unreliable race. They’re like some cricket teams- all right on paper!
Read as an ARC from Netgalley

The Rochester Public Library has a copy.

Enchanting Summer Read

Take advantage of extra daylight hours to read longer
Title: Uprooted by Naomi Novik 4.5 stars****

Publisher: Del Rey. 449 pp

Genre: YA, Science fantasy, fantasy

  Author:
Naomi Novik is an award winning author of the acclaimed series His Majesty’s Dragons (think Napoleonic wars with an air force of dragons). She has an English Literature degree from Brown University as well as a Computer Science degree from Columbia. I find her to be a master storyteller, creating original tales with beautiful, atmospheric, evocative writing. I have read all her books, awaiting them eagerly. (I’m still waiting for Peter Jackson to film Temeraire!) I loved that Rachel Hartman (Shadow Scale) rated it 5 stars in her ARC.

Story Line:

The heroine/ narrator is Agniezska, a peasant girl from the small Eastern European village of Dvernik. This town is at the edge of the Woods, where evil lurks, and is only kept at bay by a Wizard. Her best friend was always the expected sacrifice: every ten years he selects a girl of 17 who will stay with him for 10 years. But this time, it is obvious to the Dragon (as the Wiz is known, also Sarkan) that Agnes (as I thought her, Nieshka is also used) has magic and must be trained. Only it’s magic he doesn’t understand. I loved that her magic was so different from his, and not learned in a book. That while she is young (he’s a youthful 150), she is capable and adaptable. Agniezska struggles to learn and can’t find her answers in his masculine magic. But she understands friendship and loyalty and right/good and finds answers within herself. 

She may become the most powerful witch in history. And that promise requires another book!

This is an intricate, layered story of friendship, politics, romance and magic. It is much more like the original Grimm’s fairy tales and less like the sanitized Disney versions. It has a strong female lead and original storyline suitable for older teens. I enjoyed the story where the right thing was done, for the right reasons. It also has quite a strong environmental message. I thought it ironic that Agnes’s father was a woodcutter especially as we untangle the Woods’ story. She saves the people by saving the Wood, which provides life/fruit/biodiversity. Novik based some of the story on Polish fairytale of the witch Baba Yaga, itself worth a read.

While this is a stand alone novel, complete in itself, the ending felt rushed and left me hopeful that she would revisit these characters. The epilogue isn’t enough. The world building and character development begs another tale. 

This fascinating story is part fantasy, part fairytale and all magic.

Uprooted has been already film optioned by Warner Bros.

Read On:

Appropriate for older teens, with complex plot, characters and evil.

For YA tales: Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore, Diana Wynne Jones,

For adult fairytale twists: Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman

For Wood tales: Mythago Wood series by Robert Holdstock

Quotes:

Opening line: Our dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes…

No one went into the Wood and came out again, at least not whole and themselves.

Don’t waste my time you outrageous idiot.

You’re proving to be a remarkable paragon of incompetence.

He looked grander than the King’s ballroom, and perfectly improbable.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

The Rochester Library has both hardcover and Ebook copies.
 

Warm Summer Reading

  Title: Forests in Our Changing World by Joseph J Landsberg, Richard H Waring(New Principles for Conservation and Management)

Publisher: Island Press (2014). 304 pp

Genre: climate change, global warming, forests, trees, ecology, forest ecology, biodiversity, non fiction

4.5stars*****

Authors: Landsberg and Waring are eminently respected forest scientists who have worked in the field for decades. Between them, they have a vast understanding and experience in of global forests.

Richard Waring is a Distinguished Prof of Forest Science (Emeritus) at OSU (Corvallis)[studied at UMinn, Phd UC Berkley] forest monitoring, modeling with NASA

Joe Landsberg (PhD U Bristol, UK) past Chief of Div Forest Research of Australia (CSIRO) and Terrestrial Ecology Program NASA 

Story Line:

Climate change is upon us with serious implications for global biodiversity. This book provides a clear overview of forests around the world, describing basic concepts of forest ecology and tree physiology. This is not a textbook but a highly readable text. Seven chapters outline 1) Forests in human history 2) World forests, 3) Weather and climate 4) Causes and consequences 5) Value and use of forests 6) Economics, management and money and 7) future possibilities. The last is perhaps the most important chapter. They combine history, science, management and constructive thought to illustrate the importance of forests and their management. Clear diagrams illustrate general principles. The protection and management of our forest resources, global habitats, has never been more important. There is an excellent glossary of terms, with accurate definitions.

Read On:
Limited bibliography, surprisingly (perhaps to save paper).  This will be useful primer for undergraduates, managers, governmental policy makers and environmental organizations. This publication should reach a wider audience which should improve public knowledge and gain support for policy makers and managers. I remain a fan of Island Press publications for their commitment to accessible information.

Peter Spathelf (Ed.) Sustainable Forest Management in a Changing World: A European Perspective (2009, Springer Verlag)

Mark Ashton, M.L. Tyrell, D Spaulding, B Gentry. 2012. Managing Forest Carbon in a Changing Environment.

Quotes:

Closing line: Humans can no longer afford to treat the world’s forests as expendable.

A footnote was most informative: People everywhere expect that their standard of living will increase continuously.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley