Book Tags

BOOK TAG!! The Spooky Scary Skeletons Tag – Movie Edition!

It is October! The month of spooky happenings is upon us and it will soon be time to crack out the Halloween reads and curl up by the fireside as the nights darken around us. So many thanks to Danni at For Books Sake for tagging me in this seasonally appropriate book tag, as created by Leafing Through Time!

Friday the Thirteenth: What is a superstition you believe in?

I’m a fairly rational person but there are certain superstitions I just follow because they were such a big part of my childhood, such as ‘see a penny, pick it up, and all day long, you’ll have good luck’. I also call black cats ‘lucky’ and avoid walking under ladders.

IT: What scares you the most?

I tend to be more scared of things happening to people I love than to me. In terms of personal fears, I’m really not fond of spiders. They’re fascinating creatures – and amazing for keeping the nasty bugs away from the garden – but the way they move just gives me the shivers! My compromise with spiders is that they get left alone if they stay outside – if they’re in my house I’m afraid they get served with an eviction notice sharpish!

Scary Movie: What’s a book or movie that made you laugh?

Anything by Bill Bryson tends to make me laugh – he has such a wry sense of humour and a great eye for the absurd. His two books about Britain – Notes from a Small Island and The Road to Little Dribbling – always make me howl, although his book about houses, At Home: An Informal History of Private Life is probably my favourite book by him as it is packed with interesting bits of social history.

Frankenstein: Who is your favourite monster?

I’m not sure that ‘monster’ is the right word but I think the story of Medusa is really interesting. For a long time she’s been known as the woman with the snakes for hair who can turn people to stone, but – as with many female figures in antiquity – her story is much more complicted than that. According to Ovid, Medusa was seduced (read: sexually assaulted) by the god Poseidon in the Temple of Athena. This act of sacrilige angered Athena who, for some inexplicable reason, decided to punish Medusa by turning her hair into snakes (instead of, I don’t know, taking the matter up with Poseidon maybe?). The Medusa myth is long overdue a re-write and I’d love to see an author such as Natalie Haynes or Madeline Miller provide Medusa’s own persepctive on her experiences, in the manner of A Thousand Ships or Circe.

Paranormal Activity: You’ve turned into a ghost! What ghostly thing are you going to do?

Haunt people I don’t like. There’s a few world leaders in need of a good old-fashioned haunting right now!

Scream: What is the scariest book/movie you’ve ever read/seen?

Definitely Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black! I read the book on one dark and stormy October evening when I was curled up in a caravan with the wind howling around the van and rain lashing on the roof – it made for a very atmospheric read and I didn’t sleep a wink! It’s an exemplary ghost story, filled with atmosphere and with one of the most malevolent ghosts to grace the pages of a book. The film, whilst not an exact adaptation, does an excellent job of rendering the atmosphere and the scares, whilst the stage play adaptation is suitably terrifying!

Zombieland: The zombie apocalypse has begun! What will be your weapon and hideout of choice?

I’m going to follow the guidance given in Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide – a long-handled melee weapon and a remote location (because everyone knows that, in the zombie apocalypse, human survivors are going to be the real enemy). So its a nice weighty golf club and a remote house (preferably moated) for me. Although no hiding for too long – the secret to survival in the zombie apocalypse is to keep moving!

Dark Shadows: What is your favourite book or movie featuring vampires?

You can’t beat a classic so I’m going to go with Dracula by Bram Stoker. Whilst Stoker wasn’t the first writer to turn to vampires, he did create a lot of the traits we associate with them today and the book remains a riveting read today.

Hocus Pocus: You are now a witch. What would be your first wicked act?

As with the haunting, I think there’s a few world leaders, global businesses, and lukers in dark corners of the internet who are in need of a good hexing in the world right now!

The Nightmare Before Christmas: You get to plan Halloween this year! What will you do to make it an unforgettable day?

I’m not a big celebrator of Halloween – as a Brit, I find the decorations and the trick and treating to be overly commercialised. I prefer to think more in terms of the Gaelic tradition of Samhain, which marks the end of Harvest and the coming of Winter – so this time of year is all about bonfires, ghost stories, and cosy winter food and drink!

Thank you again to For Books Sake for tagging me! I’m going to tag Drew at The Tattooed Book Geek, Stephen at Stephen Writes – and you! If you decide to give this tag a go, please link back to this post as well as to the tag’s original creator!

Reviews and content on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Shades of Deception by Jaqueline Jacques

Walthamstow, 1902: Archie and his police sergeant pal Frank Tyrell investigate the disappearance of teenager Lilian and the discovery of a corpse in the River Lea – Eleanor ‘Nell’ Redfern.

Did her father’s ambitious plans to marry her to a rail magnate cause her to run away to her watery doom?

And what about Lilian Steggles, a star swimmer with her eye on the 1908 Olympics – what prompted her to disappear from home and where is she now?

Archie uses his artistic skills to identify Nell and thence to track down her story and that of the other victims of a dastardly scheme to exploit young girls for the benefit of lascivious older men.

Part of creating a well-realised historical mystery is really immersing your reader into the world. Jacqueline Jacques does this to great effect in Shades of Deception, the latest in her Archie Price mystery series. Archie’s Edwardian world is bought vividly to life in all of it’s occasionally grimy glory.

When a body is pulled out of the River Lea, many assume it might be that of missing local teenager Lilian Steggles. To discover the identity of the corpse, police sergeant Frank Tyrell asks Archie Price if he can use the skull to reconstruct the facial features of the dead woman. Encouraged by his daughter Clara and best friend Polly, Archie agrees to attempt a reconstruction. When the finished result is ready to view, it becomes clear that the mystery woman isn’t Lillian Steggles but Eleanor Redfern, the daughter of a local businessman who went missing several years earlier. But how did Eleanor end up in the river? And if the body in the water is Eleanor, then where is Lillian Steggles?

Shades of Deception is the third in the Archie Price mystery series and, if I’m honest, I did find it quite difficult to get to grips with all of the returning characters and their relationships to each other. Archie has a close-knit circle of friends and relations, many of whom are clearly returning characters from earlier books and have quite involved backstories as to how they became involved in Archie’s life.

As a result I found myself less connected to the characters as I didn’t quite understand their clearly rich and involved pasts, and felt as if I was missing out by not having knowledge of the events of previous books. Background is provided to introduce you to important people and relevant story beats – so this may not bother other readers as much as did me – however new readers may wish to start with the first book, The Colours of Corruption, and move through the series if you really want to become fully immersed in Archie and his world.

That world, as I said at the beginning, is richly detailed and vividly bought to life. Unlike many historical novels, this is not a novel of country manors and fine townhouses. Archie inhabits the world of the respectable working classes, and his life is filled with the pleasures and worries of day-to-day Edwardian life: earning a living, bringing up his daughter as a widower, and whether he will ever be able to persuade best friend Polly to marry him. Archie’s world is, at times, busy and chaotic but I got a real sense of life for a man of his status and position.

There is also plenty going on in terms of the plot, with Archie’s investigations and personal relationships taking him into the depths of a music hall, across various areas of London, and back to his hometown of Llantwit Major in Wales. Although I found it quite hard to follow the plot strand featuring the disappearance of Lillian Steggles (a returning character from an earlier book), the way in which this does eventually tie into the wider mystery of what happened to Eleanor Redfern is quite ingenious, and Jacqueline Jacques has done an excellent job of bringing together various strands of what are clearly long-standing plot hooks from earlier books and the threads of the mystery that lies at the heart of this novel.

On a personal level I didn’t engage with Shades of Deception as much as I would have liked too – I felt that my lack of previous knowledge of the characters prevented me from fully gelling with the plot. That said, I was engaged enough by the settings and characters to look at the first novel in the series and I’m that sure returning readers will find much to enjoy here (as evidenced by some excellent reviews for the novel from said readers on Goodreads) – this is an imaginative mystery set with a well-realised historical setting and rich characterisation.

Shades of Deception by Jacqueline Jacques is published by Honno and is available now from the Honno website, Hive, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 14 October 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Peacock Room by Anna Sayburn Lane

A literary obsession. An angry young man with a gun. And one woman trying to foil his deadly plan.

When Helen Oddfellow starts work as a lecturer in English literature, she’s hoping for a quiet life after the trauma and loss of her recent past. But trouble knows where to find her.

There’s something wrong with her new students. Their unhappiness seems to be linked to their flamboyant former tutor, Professor Petrarch Greenwood, who holds decadent parties in his beautiful Bloomsbury apartment.

When Helen is asked to take over his course on the Romantic poet William Blake, life and art start to show uncomfortable parallels. Disturbing poison pen letters lead down dark paths, until Helen is the only person standing between a lone gunman and a massacre.

As Helen knows only too well, even dead poets can be dangerous.

I was very excited to be invited to be part of the blog tour for The Peacock Room, Anna Sayburn Lane’s follow up to 2018’s Unlawful Things. The first Helen Oddfellow mystery was a surprising hit for me – one of those books that you know you’ll enjoy but don’t expect to like quite as much as you do!

The combination of taut literary mystery and edge-of-your-seat thriller gave me all the thrills of The Da Vinci Code but with the pleasure of more rounded characterisation and a considerably better prose style. Unlawful Things ended up being one of my honorable mentions in my Best Books of 2019 and I have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up ever since.

There’s always a worry when you’ve been anticipating a book that the reality won’t live up to the expectation. Fortunately The Peacock Room is a more than worthy successor to Unlawful Things, offering the same combination of intriguing literary mystery and contemporary conspiracy whilst developing the returning characters nicely.

The mystery this time centres around the philosophical poet William Blake. Returning heroine Helen Oddfellow, still raw from the events of Unlawful Things, is wrenched out of her sixteenth-century comfort zone when she’s asked to take over a first-year class on the Romantic poets at short notice. Turning to an old tour-guiding friend, Barbara Jackson, Helen is soon drawn into the close-knit artistic circles of Blake’s world – and into Barbara’s search for proof that Catherine Blake may have helped in the writing of her husband’s famous poems. But someone else is interested in William Blake – and is using his poetic imagery to justify a violent online misogyny that is threatening to spill over into the real world.

As Helen and Barbara’s investigations progress, the mysteries keep on piling up. What do some missing manuscript pages have to do with an online comic featuring one of Blake’s monstrous creations? How is a centuries old academic puzzle connected to the investigation of online hatred being conducted by Helen’s journalist friend Nick? And what does any of it have to do with Helen’s uhappy poetry students and the flamboyent Professor Greenwood?

Whilst it takes a little while to draw together and develop the various strands of the plot, Anna Sayburn Lane manages to keep the pace high and the twists and revelations coming throughout The Peacock Room. After some scene-setting and introductions at the beginning (ideal for introducing new readers – meaning The Peacock Room can be read perfectly well as a standalone mystery), the slow build of the first third of the book rapidly increases and I rattled through the final 200 pages or so in the space of a few hours!

As with Unlawful Things, some of the plot elements do push the boundaries of plausability – I can attest to the fact that academic life isn’t nearly as thrilling (or, thankfully, as sordid) as this book makes out – there is little that is impossible here (although several that are improbable – if only hidden manuscripts and undiscovered MSS were as easy to find in real life!) and, if realism is sacrificed at times, it is done so in the name of an engaging and enjoyable story.

The Peacock Room does engage with some difficult topics – trigger warnings here for discussions of gaslighting, rape, sexual coersion, sexual violence, grooming, and misogyny – but they are handled sensitively and are always kept relevant to the plot. That there are dark corners of the internet hiding such violent and unsettling interpretations of literature is, sadly, all too true. There were once or two plot strands that I felt wandered a little too close to cliche – guessing Professor Greenwood’s secret wasn’t especially difficult and, whilst I’m sure such things do occur, any modern university would crack down on such behaviour with considerably more force than depicted here however illustrious the academic in question.

These minor niggles aside however, The Peacock Room is a fascinating literary thrill that successfully combines contemporary debates with the thrill of a centuries old mystery to produce an engaging, enjoyable, and edge-of-your-seat read. Deserving of a much wider readership, The Peacock Room is a worthy successor to Unlawful Things – existing fans are sure to enjoy it and I hope it brings many new readers to Anna Sayburn Lane’s action-packed series.

The Peacock Room by Anna Sayburn Lane is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the author, Anna Sayburn Lane, for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The blog tour continues until 17 October so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Reviews · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!! The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale

London, 1938.

In the suburbs of the city, an ordinary young housewife has become the eye in a storm of chaos. In Alma Fielding’s modest home, china flies off the shelves, eggs fly through the air; stolen jewellery appears on her fingers, white mice crawl out of her handbag, beetles appear from under her gloves; in the middle of a car journey, a terrapin materialises on her lap.

Nandor Fodor – a Jewish-Hungarian refugee and chief ghost hunter for the International Institute for Psychical Research – reads of the case, and hastens to the scene of the haunting. But when Fodor starts his scrupulous investigation, he discovers that the case is even stranger than it seems.

By unravelling Alma’s peculiar history, he finds a different and darker type of haunting: trauma, alienation, loss – and the foreshadowing of a nation’s worst fears. As the spectre of Fascism lengthens over Europe, and as Fodor’s obsession with the case deepens, Alma becomes ever more disturbed.

With rigour, daring and insight, the award-winning pioneer of non-fiction writing Kate Summerscale shadows Fodor’s enquiry, delving into long-hidden archives to find the human story behind a very modern haunting.

In The Haunting of Alma Fielding, Kate Summerscale moves away from the hidden secrets of Victorian drawing rooms and into the middle-class suburbs of 1930s London.

The peace of a quiet family home has been shattered – crockery has started flying off the shelves, objects throw themselves at the husband of the house, and wardrobes appear to move on their own. At the centre of it all is suburban housewife Alma Fielding, an apparently quiet and unassuming woman who is both confused and terrified by the strange goings on in her home. Desperate to find some rationale behind the apparent hauntings, she calls on the local press and they, in turn, attract the attention of Nandor Fodor, chief ghost hunter for the International Institute for Psychical Research.

Starting with a bang (quite literally given the amount of broken china that Fodor finds in the Fielding’s home), Summerscale’s latest work of narrative non-fiction follows Fodor’s investigation of Alma as he moves from observing incidences in her home to asking her to sit for seances at the Institute. As the investigation continues, Alma’s powers seem to increase – she manifests live animals, speaks in strange voices, and begins to develop physical scratches on her body. But is Alma really being haunted? And if so, is it by a ghost or by something much darker, hidden deep within her past?

As you would expect with Kate Summerscale, this is a thoroughly researched and comprehensive account of an unusual and little-known tale. Despite having read a number of books about the research activities of twentieth-century ‘ghost hunters’ such as Harry Price, I’d never heard of Nandor Fodor or of the International Institute, and I was fascinated by the fine balance they had to maintain between being open-minded towards their subjects and scientific in their pursuit of proof of the supernatural.

Summerscale does an excellent job of conveying both the popularity of spiritualism and psychical research at the time and the reasons behind this and, despite some of the Institute’s practices seeming far from ‘scientific’ by today’s standards, I was fascinated by how their thinking about psychic abilities and the supernatural paved the way for modern psychological thinking and techniques – especially in the field of parapsychology – today. Fodor certainly seemed to be a man ahead of him time in many ways, although his treatment of Alma is, at times, quite disturbing and the latter part of the book really does get you thinking about the ethics of treating a real person – and their past traumas – as a scientific subject.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding is also quite dense in places. For the most part Summerscale wears her research lightly but, in parts, she packs in huge amounts of detail – some of which felt extraneous, or seemed to relate to some side-character or event that wasn’t directly connected with Fodor, Alma or the investigation. Sometimes it felt as if this information was being repeated and, at times, the pace of the book seemed to slow to a crawl as a result. After a brisk and exciting start, I found myself really struggling to stay interested during the middle section before the book picked back up for the end.

If you’re expecting a true life ghost story similar to Harry Price’s account of the haunting at Borley Rectory, or the memoirs of various ‘ghost hunters’ then you’ll probably find The Haunting of Alma Fielding a little disappointing. For all the supernatural phenomena that is centred on Alma, there is very little that goes bump in the night here. However if you’re looking for a thorough and well-researched examination of the early days of para-psychological investigations, and of the fluid boundaries between science, the self, and the supernatural, Summerscale’s latest is sure to prove an enlightening read.

The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale is published by Bloomsbury and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for allowing me to read an ecopy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Reviews

REVIEW!! Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink

‘Reading has saved my life, again and again, and has held my hand through every difficult time’

For as long as she can remember, Cathy Rentzenbrink has lost and found herself in stories. Growing up she was rarely seen without her nose in a book and read in secret long after lights out.

When tragedy struck, books kept her afloat. Eventually they lit the way to a new path, first as a bookseller and then as a writer.

No matter what the future holds, reading will always help.

If you’re reading a book blog, it’s probably a safe bet for me to assume that you are a bit of a book lover or, at the very least, a fairly regular reader. If so then let me assure you that Dear Reader is most definitely a book for you.

Part memoir, part ode to the joy of books and reading, Cathy Rentzenbrink has written a book that will resonate, in some way, to all readers. Whether it’s the way in which early encounters with books enrapture us, to the power of stories to transport us away at the times when we need that break most, Dear Reader is a love letter to the power of the written word.

Rentzenbrick has previously written movingly about the death of her brother in her earlier memoir, The Last Act of Love. Here she turns her attention to the books that supported and comforted her in the aftermath of that tragedy, and examines the way in which the act of reading itself encouraged her to see a future for herself beyond the one that grief had sucked her into.

Coming in at just over 200 pages, Dear Reader is a slim volume but is packed to brimming with bookish reminiscences. From young Cathy being told off for reading books that were too advanced for her age (been there) to the sheer joy of losing yourself in a gloriously trashy novel and the delight in discovering a new favourite read, the pages are packed with anecdotes and readerly experiences.

I particularly enjoyed reading Rentzenbrink’s anecdotes about her life as a bookseller, first in the Waterstones outlet at Harrods then later in stores at Oxford Street and Piccadilly before moving to that most venerable of book-selling establishments, Hatchards. Whilst she’s careful to name very few names, her tales of demanding customers and spoilt celebrity authors make for darkly comic reading.

There was also great joy to be found in Cathy’s recollections of her father, a born storyteller whose early exit from education left him illiterate into adult life. His new-found joy at discovering books leaps off the page and Dear Reader is at its most passionate and heartfelt when describing the reading shared between father and daughter, as well as Cathy’s later work with the ‘Quick Reads’ initiative that supports adult literacy programmes.

Interspersed throughout the memoir are selections of themed reading recommendations. From Children’s Books that can be re-read throughout adulthood, to novels about Posh People Behaving Badly, there’s sure to be something to catch the eye of every reader – my own TBR certainly got a little longer as a result!

Beautifully written, Dear Reader is by turns poignant and passionate, joyful and comforting. As an ode to books and reading, it’s up there with Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm, Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris and Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living and would make the perfect present for the bookworm in your life – or the perfect treat for yourself!

Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink is published by Picador and is available now from all good booksellers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Reviews

REVIEW!! The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.

But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.

Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late?

I have to admit to being a little sceptical about The Thursday Murder Club. ‘Celebrity’ authors can often be a little hit and miss and I wasn’t sure if this mystery, written by Pointless creator and co-presenter Richard Osman, would be quirky for the right reasons. A few chapters in however and all such worries were dispelled. The Thursday Murder Club really is as charming, quintessentially British, and laugh out loud fully as all the pull quotes garnishing the cover promise it will be, and makes for a delightful read to curl up with as the autumn nights begin to draw in.

Set in the exclusive retirement village of Coopers Chase, The Thursday Murder Club comprises of Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron. This eclectic bunch of pensioners might be pushing eighty but beneath their harmless appearances, they each have hidden skills and fearless intellects.

Ringleader Elizabeth’s respectable appearance belies a colourful and mysterious past that has taken her to the far corners of the globe and left her with a curious range of contacts who owe her a favour or three. Former nurse Joyce uses her quiet, friendly demeanour – and her extensive baking skills – to encourage the sharing of long-held secrets. Union boss Ron has lost non of his explosive ire – and can put it to use on demand when the situation requires. And retired psychoanalyst Ibrahim has the methodical mind and attention to detail required to notice even the slightest of mistakes on the part of their quarry.

When loathsome property developer Tony Curran is found dead, The Thursday Murder Club spring in to action. Recruiting ambitious police police constable Donna to their cause, this unlikely group of detectives is soon hot on the trail of a killer whose motive seems to stretch long into the past. What does Tony’s death have to do with the old graveyard, resting place of generations of nuns whose abbey used to be at the heart of Coopers Chase? Is it connected to a long-ago drug deal gone wrong? One thing is clear – there are people at Coopers Chase who are not who they claim to be. And that’s all before the second body turns up.

The Thursday Murder Club provides the perfect mix of mystery, comedy, poignancy, and compassion. It made me laugh out loud and shed a tear, often within a few pages of each other. Laced with a wry humour, the book is also fully of heart and doesn’t shy away from the realities of ageing – whether that is regrets for the road not taken, or the inevitable decline of both mental and physical health.

I genuinely warmed to the members of The Thursday Murder Club and their assorted associates, all of whom are bought to life so vividly that picking the novel up after a break started to feel like making a welcome return visit to see much-loved older relatives! Unlike in some crime novels, side characters are given plenty of personality without becoming diverting – Osman has a remarkable ability to create intimate pen portraits of even relatively minor characters in just a few lines and puts this to great use throughout, creating both empathy and humour for many of the incidental players in the drama. There’s also a genuinely clever mystery at the heart of the story, with plenty of plausible red-herrings and tangents to leave even the sharpest of armchair detectives astray.

A smart, witty and immensely pleasurable read, The Thursday Murder Club is the perfect mystery to curl up with as the night begin to draw in. I was delighted to learn that Richard Osman intends to write a series and very much look forward to reading about Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron’s next adventure!

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is published by Penguin and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Book Tags

The Summer Bucket List Book Tag

Summer might be coming to an end (although you wouldn’t know if from the glorious sunshine we’ve had in the UK the last few days) but that doesn’t mean an end to summery thoughts!

I got tagged in the Summer Bucket List Book tag by the wonderful @_forbookssake some weeks ago but have only just got caught up enough on blog tours, overdue reviews, and PhD writing to be able to take part. The tag was created by @readbytiffany.

Hit the Beach: a book set by the sea

I’m going to go with Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier because (whisper it) I haven’t read it yet.

Terrible, I know and I really must rectify that. It’s one of my Mum’s favourite books and she bought me the GORGEOUS 80th anniversary edition so I have a copy sitting on my shelf. I’ve just never quite found the right time to read it although, with a new adaptation coming to Netflix this autumn, now might be the perfect opportunity!

Anyway, despite not having read Rebecca (yet), I do know that it’s the sea plays quite a crucial part in the plot. The novel opens in Monte Carlo, by the glistening waters of the Mediterranean, and the famous Manderley has lawns stretching down to the sea – and to a seaside hut that hides terrible secrets.

Watch Fireworks: a book that had a fiery romance

I don’t read a huge amount of romance but I do enjoy a good romance subplot in other genres of literature so for this one I’m going to pick Ambrose Parry’s The Way of All Flesh, the first in a series of historical mysteries that follow medical student Will Raven and housemaid Sarah Fisher.

Will and Sarah make for an unlikely couple – he thinks she’s too clever for her own good and her first impressions are that he’s an arrogant little upstart – but they soon realise that their combined intellects will make them formidable foes for Edinburgh’s criminal underworld.

Go For A Road Trip: a book that involves a journey

Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is one of my favourite novels (and one of the few books I’ve re-read more than once) and involves an epic journey that takes our protagonists from the dreaming spires of Oxford, through Eastern Europe and across to Istanbul.

It’s a glorious romp of a novel that combines a poignant coming-of-age tale with an elegant literary mystery. Throw in a series of adventures, a hidden family history, and a deadly, possibly immortal enemy, and you’ve got a page-turning novel that ticked all of my boxes.

Camp Under The Stars: a book that had you starstruck

The talent and craftsmanship of authors is a continual delight to me but the most recent read that utterly bowled me over was Bernardine Evaristo’s masterful Girl, Woman, Other.

A thoroughly deserving winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other captivated me with its exuberant portrayal of black lives in Britain today. Told from the perspectives of twelve very different characters, this novel teems with life.

As the characters grapple with the ever-present spectre of racism, interrogate their own sense of gendered and cultural identities, and develop connections that cross the boundaries of generations, class, culture, and race, Girl, Woman, Other masterfully interrogates and explores the multitudes of modern-day Britain.

Marathon Some Movies: a book you couldn’t put down

Again, there are many books that could have filled this category but, most recently, Jess Kidd’s Things in Jars had me utterly captivated for days.

You can read my full review here but, in brief, Things in Jars is an enthralling blend of detective story, personal journey, and magical realism and it’s heroine, the indomitable Bridie Divine, is one of the best literary creations I think I’ve ever read.

Go Out For An Ice Cream: a book with a sweet romance

As I said earlier, I don’t read a huge amount of romance but there is the occasional sweet romance to be found in other genres.

My favourite is probably the one that develops between quiet, self-effacing merchant Jonah Hancock and vivacious, spoilt courtesan Angelica Neal in Imogen Hermes Gower’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, a joyful romp of a novel that delights in the eccentricities of eighteenth-century life.

I’ve reviewed this one in full on The Shelf so do check that out here for more details of this fabulous novel!

Picnic In The Park: a book that was a breath of fresh air

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Inheritance Games came along at just the right time for me. I’d been reading a lot of quite heavy eighteenth-century literature for my PhD and, as a result, was in a bit of a book slump when it came to my recreational reading.

I tend not to read a lot of YA but The Inheritance Games, with it’s combination of clever Knives Out style puzzling, sizzling teen romance, rich-people problems, and family intrigue had me feverishly turning the pages! It was the perfect refresher after long days at my desk.

Again, a full review is available here!

Go For A Hike: a character who conquered an obstacle

I’m choosing another book from my TBR here: Cash Carraway’s memoir Skint Estate.

Whilst I haven’t yet read Cash’s memoir, I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh last summer and was astounded by the obstacles that she had overcome.

Alone, pregnant, and living in a women’s refuse, Cash was unable to vote in the 2010 general election that ushered the age of austerity into Britain. Despite being one of the people most likely to be impacted by the proposed cuts, her voice had been silenced.

Living below the poverty line and trapped in a brutal cycle of universal credit, zero-hours contracts, rising rents, and public service cuts, Cash struggled to bring up her daughter in a society that seemed determined to reduce her – and those like her – to a working-class stereotype. Her memoir promises to be a raw and cutting recollection of these struggles, and of Cash’s refusal to be beaten down and her determination to stay afloat in a world designed for you to sink.

Grill Some BBQ: a book featuring delicious food

As if I could choose anything other than Joanne Harris’ Chocolat for this prompt!

This magical novel, the first in Harris’ series set in and around the small village of Lansquenet and featuring the mysterious Vianne Rocher, involves – as the name suggests – chocolate.

When newcomer Vianne opens a chocolate shop in the middle of Lent, she finds herself at odds with local priest Father Reynaud. But whilst her non-attendance at church and her ability to read tarot lead to her ostracisation by the more devout members of the village, Vianne’s vivacity and generosity soon begins to attract the more eclectic members of the community.

Chocolat is a joyously vivid novel that revels in the celebration of giving in to our desires, following our dreams and enjoying a little bit of what you fancy. Just don’t try to read it without your favourite sweet treat to hand!

Watch The Sunrise: a book that inspired you

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was both revelatory and inspirational.

As an introvert then working in an extroverted sales environment, it was sometimes difficult to get my opinions heard or my skillset valued. Quiet showed me that I didn’t need to be controlling a conversation in order to make observations within it, that listening can be as valuable as speaking, and that innovation can come from moments of solitude.

Drawing on a mixture of personal experience, scientific enquiry, and anecdotal evidence, Quiet showed how introverts like me are a valuable (although often under-valued) part of a workforce and allowed me to become at ease with my need for silence and space in a world that, sometimes, feels overwhelmingly loud.

I hope you enjoyed reading my entry into the Summer Bucket List Book Tag and thank you again to Danni at @_forbookssake for tagging me! As summer is coming to an end, I’m not going to tag anyone in this tag myself but, if you do want to have a go at the tag, please do so and please do tag back to this post and to the original creator!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips & Illustrated by Isabelle Follath

Ebenezer Tweezer is a youthful 511-year-old.

He keeps a beast in the attic of his mansion, who he feeds all manner of things (including performing monkeys, his pet cat and the occasional cactus) and in return the beast vomits out presents for Ebenezer, as well as potions which keep him young and beautiful.

But the beast grows ever greedier, and soon only a nice, juicy child will do.

So when Ebenezer encounters orphan Bethany, it seems like (everlasting) life will go on as normal. But Bethany is not your average orphan . . .

Ebenezer Tweezer is 511 years old and a horribly selfish person. He has a big house filled with a lot of things, and pots of money to buy anything he wants. He also has a Beast in his attic. Thus begins a deliciously dark middle grade tale that mixes the outlandish humour of Roald Dahl with the grim aesthetic of Lemony Snicket.

Ebenezer spends a lot of his time bringing the Beast all manner of exciting and interesting things to eat. Things like his pet cat, Lord Tibbles, and Patrick, one of only 20 Wintlorian Purple-Breasted Parrot’s left in the world (19, once the Beast is done with Patrick).

In return for his increasingly exotic morsels, the Beast vomits (yes, you read that right, The Beast and the Bethany is that kind of book) out anything that Ebenezer could wish for. Money, possessions and, most importantly, magical anti-ageing potions.

When The Beast and the Bethany opens, however, Ebenezer Tweezer has a problem. No longer content with consuming beloved housepets or rare species, the Beast has decided he would like a plump and juicy child to eat and that he won’t give Ebenezer the potion until he gets one. One trip to the orphanage later and Ebenezer returns with Bethany, a horrid little girl who enjoys stealing her fellow orphans’ comics, putting worms up people’s noses, and drawing all over Ebenezer’s favourite artwork.

Ebenezer is going to delight in feeding Bethany to the Beast. But first he needs to make her nice and plump and juicy. And that means getting her to eat. And that means talking to her. And THAT might just change Ebenezer and Bethany’s lives forever.

If The Beast and the Bethany sounds like a delightfully horrible book, that’s because it is. Brimming with fast-paced and chaotic action (captured perfectly by Isabelle Follath’s fantastically lively illustrations), this is a madcap adventure that explores greed, selfishness, friendship, and the possibility of redemption.

As the story progresses it becomes clear that neither Bethany not Ebenezer are quite as wicked as they first appear to be. Whilst both of them need to have their moral compasses firmly re-aligned, there might be hope for them yet – especially if they work together to confound the Beast’s dastardly plans.

I’m clearly not the target audience for The Beast and the Bethany but with it’s wicked humour, slapstick comedy, gross-out moments, and rip-roaring plot, I imagine the book will hook many a young reader seeking their next fix of the dark and delicious after tearing through the classics of Roald Dahl or the more recent Lemony Snicket series.

Parents might be less keen on Bethany’s antics (she’s no role model that’s for sure!) but beneath all the chocolate cake throwing and demands to “BOG OFF”, there is a lonely little girl in need of a friend and a home to call her own. As an adult reader, I really enjoyed seeing Bethany and Ebenezer’s relationship develop and how they each bought about a change in the other’s way of seeing the world around them.

And if you enjoy The Beast and the Bethany, there’s certainly the promise of more to come. Bethany and Ebenezer might have plans to subdue the Beast but it appears the Beast won’t be giving up that easily – so more adventures to come for eager readers who enjoy the raucous fun and zany capers that abound in this riot of a book.

The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips (illustrated by Isabelle Follath) is being released from the attic by Egmont Books on 01 October 2020 and is available from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher, Egmont Books, for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Dave from The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues throughout September so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

She came from nothing.
Avery has a plan: keep her head down, work hard for a better future.
Then an eccentric billionaire dies, leaving her almost his entire fortune. And no one, least of all Avery, knows why.

They had everything.
Now she must move into the mansion she’s inherited.
It’s filled with secrets and codes, and the old man’s surviving relatives –
a family hell-bent on discovering why Avery got ‘their’ money.

Now there’s only one rule: winner takes all.
Soon she is caught in a deadly game that everyone in this strange family is playing.
But just how far will they go to keep their fortune?

As I mentioned when I reviewed Catalyst some months back, I don’t tend to read a huge amount of YA. As a woman in my mid-thirties, I’m acutely aware that I am not the target audience and, whilst I know readers of all ages read (and love!) YA fiction, it’s just not been my go-to area of the bookshop – navigating my teen years in one piece was hellish enough in real life! But when a book comes along that is billed as Cinderella meets Knives Out (one of my favourite films of 2020), you’d better believe it piques my interest and, sure enough, Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Inheritance Games does not disappoint!

Seventeen-year-old Avery Grambs keeps her head down. Sure, she runs the odd side-hustle after school but she studies hard, works every shift she can get, and is determined to save enough to fulfil her college dreams, get out of her half-sister Libby’s tiny rented apartment, and build a better life for both of them.

After she’s accused of cheating on a test at school and yet another argument with Libby’s deadbeat on-off boyfriend Drake leaves her sleeping in her car, it looks as if Avery’s hard work and careful planning might be derailed. But then an extremely handsome young man in a well-tailored suit arrives at Avery’s door with an invitation to the reading of the will of billionaire philanthropist Tobias Hawthorne, a man Avery has never heard of, let alone met.

That young man is Grayson, Tobias’ grandson, and, along with his half-brothers Nate, Xander, and Jameson, he’s expecting to inherit some, if not all, of his grandfather’s vast fortune. But the Hawthorne family – and Avery herself – are in for a shock when Tobias’ vast mansion, along with the majority of his fortune, business assets, and charitable foundation are left to Avery Grambs. Suddenly everyone wants a piece of Avery – and all Avery wants is out. But there’s a catch. In order to inherit, she has to live in Hawthorne House for a year. Filled with hidden passages, mysterious codes, and long-buried mysteries, solving the secrets might be Avery’s trickiest problem yet. And that’s before she discovers a girl has already died there…

The Inheritance Games starts strong and just keeps getting better! I was immediately sucked in to Avery’s situation and, once the will has been read and the Hawthorne family introduced, the plot really picks up the pace. I got so sucked into the story that I finished the book in an evening, staying up well past my bedtime to unravel the mysteries and get to the bottom of why Tobias Hawthorne made Avery Grambs his heir!

The Knives Out comparisons are well-deserved. In addition to the fiendish riddles and hidden clues Tobias Hawthorne has left all over the mansion, Hawthorne House is filled to brimming with an eclectic mix of resentful relatives, faithful family retainers, and assorted associates – any of whom could be looking at Avery with murderous intent. In addition to navigating the mansion’s many twisting passageways and secret staircases, Avery must also learn to manoeuvre through the complex relationships and history of Grayson, Jackson, Xander, Nate and their extended family with her body – and her heart – still intact.

There’s a tense romance subplot amidst all the puzzling that, despite being a love triangle (usually one of my pet hates), I got really engaged in, as well as some of the usual teen dramas involved in negotiating high school, family relationships, and friendships. For the most part however, The Inheritance Games keeps its focus on the mystery plot, with the various subplots tying in to the main story as it develops.

Avery herself is a smart and level-headed main character who is easy to empathise with (even if I did sigh at her propensity to get distracted during key moments by the proximity of one or other of the extremely attractive Hawthorne brothers) and, despite having a very large cast, I found it easy to distinguish between and remember the other key characters. Grayson, Jackson, Xander and Nate have unique personalities that elevate them beyond being the stereotypical ‘potential love interest’, whilst the side characters – ranging from Avery’s best friend Max to her new bodyguard – are pretty well-rounded given the minimal amount of time that can be dedicated to them. I was also impressed that the book managed to touch on so many issues in a pretty sensitive way – from mentions of domestic violence and mental illness, through to the emotional trauma that comes with unexpected death and regret.

By the time I got to the ending, I was absolutely hooked on The Inheritance Games and, given the cliffhanger, thrown in right at the end, I genuinely cannot wait to get my hands on the second part of this brilliant duology. Jennifer Lynn Barnes has written a twisty, well-plotted YA mystery with a page-turning pace, some intriguing puzzles, and an ending that will leave you gasping! Fans of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and One of Us is Lying are sure to love The Inheritance Games, as will anyone who enjoys getting swept up in a good story!

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is published by Penguin and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Dave from The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 September 2020 so do check out the other stops along the way for more reviews and content!

I don’t charge for reviews on The Shelf and non of the buying or bookshop links on my page are affiliated however if you enjoy the blog and want to support The Shelf, please do consider buying me a coffee on Ko-fi.

Reviews

REVIEW!! Summerwater by Sarah Moss

On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.

A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others.

Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.

Whilst I had my reservations about Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall, it was a haunting novella and it’s lush prose lingered in my memory long enough to make me want to pick up her latest novella, Summerwater on release. Considered a spiritual successor to Ghost Wall, Summerwater shares both its dark lyricism and oppressive tone with its predecessor but, for me, conveys the airlessness and suffocation of its characters and location much more successfully.

Set over the course of a single day, Summerwater is set in an isolated holiday park in The Trossachs. With the rain lashing down and no sign of sun on the horizon, the inhabitants of the cabins are forced into contemplation, both of each other and of themselves.

In a series of finely crafted pen portraits, we enter each cabin in turn and peer into the heads of twelve very different narrators. From the unhappily married mother of two who runs without realising what she’s fleeing from, to the retired doctor refusing to recognise his wife’s increasing frailty, Sarah Moss has captured a cacophony of voices and situations, each layered upon each other to create a picture of a community thrown together in isolation.

Thrown into the middle of this ‘community’ is a household without a voice – an Eastern European woman and her child whose cabin transforms at night into a place of loud music and raucous voices. The voicelessness of this mother and daughter pairing – and the reflections of the other characters upon them – provide a subtle commentary upon our divided times, and on our capacity for both building and destroying the communities around us.

Moss’ writing is beautifully lyrical whether revelling in glorious descriptions of the Scottish landscape, or in exploring the interior landscapes of the human mind. This makes the rare moments of intense anger and cruelty felt by many of the characters even starker. There was one particular moment, during a seemingly harmless children’s game, that hit me like a punch in the gut and provided an unpleasant reminder of both how much children can absorb from the adults around them. These seemingly random explosions of feeling within each narrative made the devastating ending all the more poignant for me. It’s as if the all the tension in the book finally finds its release.

This makes Summerwater sound like an unremittingly bleak book but it really isn’t. The novella might be infused with the grey drizzle of one Scottish summer but it is also a testament to the human condition in all its forms. The characters are, above all else, human. Whether eating, drinking, walking, kayaking, washing the dishes, or having sex, they are almost mundane in their ordinariness. Any of these characters could be us and I’d be surprised if readers didn’t find themselves resonating with aspects of nearly all of them, whether it’s the tired mother who squanders her precious hour off by fretting about how to spend it, or the teenager who only realises the security offered by home once he’s floating in the middle of the lake with a fierce wind threatening to capsize him.

There are also regular flashes of a wry humour and some laugh out loud moments. Having been a teenage girl myself, I laughed at the hormonal rage of a daughter being made to do the washing up, distraught at being torn from her friends back home. And it was impossible not to chuckle at the interior monologue of a bride-to-be, thoughts spiralling around colonialism, the environmental crisis, and the best colour for the flagstones in her new house, whilst her partner attempts to pleasure her. From the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of a few sentences, the writing here is so thoroughly imagined and of the moment that it’s impossible not to be drawn along with it.

Summerwater is a brief fable but no less accomplished for its brevity. In the space of just a few pages, Moss has conjured a tale brimming with life that offers a delicate and dark reflection on our times.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss is published by Picador and is available now from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!