Random Bookish Things

The Stay-at-Home! Literary Festival

Hello, fellow book-lovers. I hope you’re all keeping well and staying safe in these strange and unusual times – and that you’re able to get some reading done.

Just a very quick post today to tell you all about a FANTASTIC online literary festival that is currently being hosted online.

The Stay-at-Home! festival has a packed programme of events going on from now right through until 11 April 2020. There are writing workshops, author Q&As, readings, family sessions, publishing panels and more! The whole programme is FREE and can be joined from the comfort of your living room.

I spent this part of this afternoon listening to the lovely Louise Welsh (whose novella Tamburlaine Must Die I RAVED about when I read it – you can read the review here) talk about her Plague Times trilogy in a live reading and Q&A session. It was fantastic to listen to Louise talk about her work, and a brilliant way of feeling connected in these isolating times.

In anticipation of Louise’s talk, I picked up the Plague Times trilogy on ebook (the books are an absolute steal on Kindle at the moment) so very look forward to reading and reporting back on them soon!

I am also hyped that Maggie O’Farrell will be taking part in a virtual launch party for her much-anticipated new novel Hamnet later in the week – and I’ll also be tuning in for the panel featuring Sarah Stovell, the author of The Home, which I read and reviewed (and loved) earlier this year.

The full programme for the Stay-at-Home! festival can be found HERE so do check it out and share it with anyone you think might be interested!



Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Containment by Vanda Symon

Containment CoverChaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and looting begins.

Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead.

What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the body of a diver is pulled from the sea . . . a diver who didn’t die of drowning.

As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still have more victims…

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know from my reviews of Overkill and The Ringmaster that I’ve been a fan of Vanda Symon’s Sam Shephard series since the start. Set in New Zealand and with the gloriously unconventional Sam at its heart, the series to date has produced two solidly-crafted and immensely enjoyable police procedurals.

Containment, the latest book in the series to hit UK shores, provides more of the tightly-plotted action that fans of the series have come to enjoy. Opening with a bang when a container ship washes up on the shores of Aramoana, Sam is thrown into the action when she’s assaulted, seemingly at random, by a scavenger. The discovery of a human skull at the same site, followed shortly afterwards by the finding of the body of a diver, adds more and more layers to an increasingly complex case for Sam.

As with previous books in the series, Containment balances the slower-paced procedural sections with moments of heightened tension and action to keep the momentum going and the pages turning. Vanda Symons really is a master of intelligent twists and watertight plotting and, without giving any of the plot away, Containment has a satisfyingly tense conclusion that may make it the best one of the series yet!

The other major delight of this series for me is Sam Shepard herself. Sarcastic and stubborn, Sam is whip-smart and deadpan funny. I adore her banter with her fellow cops and her late-night chats with her long-suffering roommate Maggie. This isn’t to say that Sam doesn’t have her issues, however! In a new and somewhat tentative relationship with a fellow police officer, Sam’s emotional intelligence is sometimes a little…lacking in tact shall we say! And although hostilities with her sour-faced bully of a boss have descended from all-out war, there’s no sign of a truce being brokered anytime soon.

But Sam is such a well-rounded and endearingly human character that I’d defy anyone not to be charmed by her – I love her spiky wit and her dogged determination, even if I sometimes cringed at her actions or choice of words. And, whilst knowledge of the first two books in the series certainly isn’t a requirement to enjoy Conviction, I love how Sam as a character is maturing and developing as the series progresses – and how the relationships she has with those around her alter too.

Fans of a well-crafted police procedural will enjoy wrestling with the tightly-plotted mystery, whilst mystery-thriller fans will get a kick out of the tension, action, and unfolding drama as the case progresses. Plus you get the benefit of some armchair travel to a beach in New Zealand – albeit one that is littered with cargo containers (and possibly a dead body)!

Highly recommended, Conviction is an accomplished addition to an already impressive series and I look forward to reading about whatever Sam Shepard gets up to next.

Conviction by Vanda Symon is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including the Orenda ebook store, Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon – as well as from your local independent bookstore! 

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 inviting me to take part in this blog tour. The tour continues until the end of the month so do check out other stops for more reviews and content!

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Author Q&A

AUTHOR Q&A with Lynn Johnson, author of The Girl from the Workhouse!!

The Girl from the Workhouse CoverEven in the darkest of times, she never gave up hope

Staffordshire, 1911. Ginnie Jones’s childhood is spent in the shadow of the famous Potteries, living with her mother, father and older sister Mabel. But with Father’s eyesight failing, money is in short supply, and too often the family find their bellies aching with hunger. With no hope in sight, Ginnie is sent to Haddon Workhouse.

Separated from everything she has known, Ginnie has to grow up fast, earning her keep by looking after the other children with no families of their own. When she meets Clara and Sam, she hopes that she has made friends for life… until tragedy strikes, snatching away her newfound happiness.

Leaving Haddon three years later, Ginnie finds work as a mouldrunner at the Potteries, but never stops thinking about her friends in the workhouse – especially Sam, now a caring, handsome young man. When Sam and Ginnie are reunited, their bond is as strong as ever – until Sam is sent to fight in WW1. Faced with uncertainty, can Ginnie find the joy that she’s never had? Or will her heart be broken once again?

Lynn Author PhotoI am delighted to welcome Lynn Johnson to The Shelf of Unread Books today to talk about her debut novel, The Girl from the Workhouse. Lynn is a good friend of mine (and all-round lovely person) so I am absolutely delighted to see her hard work researching and writing The Girl from the Workhouse paying off! The novel, described as ‘heart-breaking, emotional family saga’, has been getting rave reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, as well as on the recent blog tour. So, without further ado, over to Lynn to tell us more about The Girl from the Workhouse!

Hi Lynn! Thank you for taking the time to chat to The Shelf of Unread Books and answer some questions for me! First things first, could you please tell us a little bit about The Girl From The Workhouse and what it’s about?

Thank you for inviting me to join you, Amy. The Girl from the Workhouse tells the story of Ginnie, an illiterate young girl who is parted from her family when they have to go into the local workhouse after her father loses his job. She has to grow up fast and learns that good things are often followed by bad. Even her new friends, Clara and Sam, are snatched from her. She gets a job that nobody wants in a pottery and is reunited with Sam who becomes more important in her life than anyone else. In Ginnie’s world, poverty and loneliness are never far away, but there is love too. So, when the Great War intervenes, will her heart broken once again?

The novel begins in 1911. Did you always want to write a historical novel set in that period, or did Ginnie’s story just demand to be told then? The Girl From The Workhouse is set in your (and my) native county of Staffordshire. Was it important to you to set the novel in the Potteries, or did Ginnie emerge as a Staffordshire lass? How did you capture the sense of the place when writing the novel?

I have always enjoyed historical fiction, so it was natural for me to head in that direction. However, the novel came about after I researched my family tree. Ginnie, my protagonist was inspired by my grandma and some of what happens to Ginnie happened to my grandma during that second decade of the twentieth century. I was born and bred in Stoke-on-Trent and it is very important to me. To me, the place is a character in itself and I couldn’t think of setting it anywhere else. I have lived in Orkney for nearly fifteen years but it is The Potteries that I have the urge to write about.

The early portion of the novel sees Ginnie sent to the Haddon Workhouse. What research did you have to do to capture this experience? Did you find out anything that you weren’t expecting in the course of your research into workhouse life?

I think that research is one of the most important aspects to writing about a world you haven’t experienced for yourself. It’s the little snippets of information you discover that really brings your writing to life. Burslem and Wolstanton Workhouse was not open to visitors when I started to write the novel. I visited Southwell Workhouse, near Nottingham which was built along similar lines. It’s a National Trust property and the staff were extremely helpful. I also visited Gladstone Pottery Museum to immerse myself in the workings of an early twentieth century pottery. A great experience too. In fact, when it comes to research, I have found most people to be extremely helpful.

Ginnie is, of course, the main protagonist of the book however her friends Clara and Sam, as well as her family, also feature prominently. Do you have a favourite character from amongst your cast and, if so, why? And was anyone particularly easy or difficult to write?

That’s a difficult question. When you build characters, you start to fall in love with them. I loved Ginnie because she was so close to me for so long. Her friend Sam is very caring and loves Ginnie to bits. He’s kind and gentle and someone you can’t help rooting for. I think they have to come as a package!

The Girl From The Workhouse is your first novel. Can you tell us a little bit about how the novel came into being and your journey to publication? Do you have any tips for would-be historical novelists?

It started as a short story umpteen years ago. Someone told me it was like a Catherine Cookson novel and I was gob-smacked. I enrolled on Arvon writing courses, read various writing magazines and basically learned the craft of writing fiction. I wrote, and re-wrote, tried different tenses, first/third person, dual time and all sorts until I was satisfied with it. Then I made a resolution to try to get it published. I set myself milestones, with deadlines – and kept to them. I joined the Romantic Novelists Association and took advantage of their New Writer’s Scheme which provides its members with an opportunity for a whole manuscript to be critiqued by an experienced romantic novelist. At the RNA Conference last year I had a 1-2-1 with Hera Books and bagged myself a publisher! If you are writing a novel with a romantic element I would certainly recommend joining. The Scheme opens at the beginning of January each year and is filled within a day or so – you have to be quick off the mark!

Moving away from writing for a moment, I know you are a keen reader. Can you tell us about any books that have inspired you to write The Girl From The Workhouse? Or that helped you with the research for it?

It is well known that to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader and I when I’m not writing, I am usually reading. I read quite widely and have to feel in the right mood to enjoy a book. The books that inspired me to write The Girl from the Workhouse couldn’t have been more different. A cross between Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery, All Quiet on the Western Front by Enrich Maria Remarque and a variety of family sagas.

Now that Ginnie’s story is out in the world, what’s next for you? Are you writing a second novel? And, if so, can you tell us anything about it?

Constance Copeland entered the novel as a minor character near the beginning of The Girl from the Workhouse but she insisted she had a lot more to say. She became more and more important to me during the course of writing the novel so I asked her to write a monologue to tell me her story – and she was right! So, she will play a large part in the next book, which comes out in 2021.

Many thanks Lynn for taking the time to talk to me! The Girl from the Workhouse by Lynn Johnson is published by Hera and is available as an ebook from Amazon

Back from the Backlist · Reviews

Back From The Backlist: The Reading Party by Fenella Gentleman

The Reading PartyIt is the 1970s and Oxford’s male institutions are finally opening their doors to women…

Sarah Addleshaw – young, spirited and keen to prove her worth – begins term as the first female academic at her college. She is, in fact, its only female ‘Fellow’.

Impulsive love affairs – with people, places and the ideas in her head – beset Sarah throughout her first exhilarating year as a don, but it is the Reading Party that has the most dramatic impact.

Asked to accompany the first mixed group of students on the annual college trip to Cornwall, Sarah finds herself illicitly drawn to the suave American Tyler. Torn between professional integrity and personal feelings, she faces her biggest challenge yet.

Technically Fenella Gentleman’s The Reading Party doesn’t count as a backlisted title. Published in 2018, it is both the author’s debut and also her most recent book. But Back from the Backlist is named after MY personal backlist and, sadly, The Reading Party has languished on my shelves for far too long.

Set in the Oxford of 1976, The Reading Party charts a year in the life of historian Sarah Addleshaw. Young and spirited, Sarah has risen through the academic hierarchy to become the first female ‘Fellow’ of her Oxford college, and is keen to prove that she is up to the title in a world still suffused with the stuffy atmosphere and patriarchal structure that comes with centuries of tradition.

Following Sarah from the Michaelmas term through to Trinity, the novel centres itself around The Reading Party, a week-long retreat for an eclectic mix of gifted and noteworthy students that Sarah finds herself drafted to accompany. Organised for many years by the forbidding Dr Loxton, the Reading Party is, for the first time, welcoming a mixed group of students – and the faculty are watching eagerly to see if the event will continue to be a success.

Split between the dreaming spires of Oxford’s colleges and the solitude of the Cornish coast, The Reading Party is a novel that oozes atmosphere, and has a real grasp of its sense of both time and place. I really empathised with Sarah’s struggles to navigate a path between her own knowledge of her self-worth and the imposter syndrome that she feels when confronted with age-old traditions and coded rules that are implied as opposed to explained.

As an academic myself, I loved reading about the politics of life in an Oxford college but it is with the beginning of the Reading Party, and the movement of the action to Cornwall, that the novel really takes flight. Placing a group of people in a contained space for an extended period of time is always going to result in drama. What I really enjoyed about The Reading Party, however, is that this doesn’t take any of the traditional or predicatable forms.

There’s no massive bust-up or illicit love affair. Instead there’s a group of people forming connections, testing boundaries, and shifting their understanding of themselves and of each other. This makes The Reading Party a rather quiet novel but it’s certainly no less interesting for it – I found it compelling to watch as the characters navigated their sense of themselves, their world and each other.

For Sarah, this navigation involves re-assessing her own assumptions about her colleague Loxton, accepting the realities of academic life, and negotiating her illicit feelings for charismatic American student Tyler. Being present in her head as she does this allowed me to really relate to Sarah as a character, even when I didn’t agree with her choices and decisions. Her complexity and depth is refreshing, and she certainly felt like a real person to me, as did her fellow Reading Party attendees.

As I said above, The Reading Party is a quiet novel in many respects. Gentle in its pacing, and beautifully written, this is an immersive and satisfying tale that deserves wider recognition. Whilst it’s certainly not the page-turner that some readers will be looking for, anyone seeking a pensive yet engaging read that reflects on issues of gender equality, history, prejudice, and perception will be richly rewarded.

The Reading Party by Fenella Gentleman is published by Muswell Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the author and the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review. 


Blog Tours · Extracts

BLOG TOUR!!! An EXTRACT from Avenge The Dead by Jackie Baldwin

Avenge-the-DeadSometimes murder is the only way to get even…

Four friends with dark secrets. One killer out for revenge.

DI Frank Farrell and DS McLeod are tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a defence solicitor’s wife in Dumfries.

It’s been over a year since they left the town after an investigation robbed them of a dear friend. But now they’re back and must find a way to move on.

When the son of another defence solicitor is murdered, a strange tattoo etched on his body, the case takes them into darker, more disturbing territory.

It leads them back into the past – to a horrific fire in a cottage that took a woman’s life, to four friends harbouring dark secrets – and finally to a killer waiting patiently for revenge.

I am delighted to be able to help kick off the blog tour for Avenge the Dead, the latest in Jackie Baldwin’s DI Frank Farrell series of police procedurals.

In this extract, taken from the start of the book, you’ll get just a hint of the thrillingly dark events to come…


15th May 2005

Colette flopped back on the pillows, the enormity of what she had just done creeping in around the edges of her intoxication. She could hear them laughing and joking, stumbling around the tiny cottage on drunken legs, as they gathered up their stuff before making their way back to the guest house. There was a light tap on the door.

‘Come in!’ she yelled, pulling up a sheet to cover herself.

He stood framed in the doorway, looking at her with a concerned and slightly worried expression.

‘Are you sure you’re OK? I can stay if you want, keep you company?’

Her expression softened. As the effects of the alcohol started to wear off she suddenly felt a rush of blood to her head. What on earth had she been thinking? How would she face them all in court tomorrow? Her breath caught in her throat. She needed to be on her own. She heard his name being called. If she didn’t get rid of him the others would come clattering in and that was the last thing she wanted.

‘Honestly, I’m fine. Best if you head back with the others. I need to get some sleep. We’ve got court in the morning.’

‘If you’re sure?’

He crossed the room on unsteady legs and leaned over to peck her cheek, swaying from side to side.

‘You’d better hurry,’ she said with a weak smile. ‘They’ll not wait for long.’

The sound of slurred voices gradually receded down the country lane leaving her alone with her thoughts. Trying to pre-empt her inevitable hangover she padded down to the kitchen, knocked back some paracetamol and filled a pint glass with water. Now that the effects of the alcohol and ecstasy were wearing off her teeth began to chatter. Fortunately, the log fire lit without protest. She went back up for the duvet from her bed and dragged it down to the couch, huddling beneath it for warmth.

It had been a long boring two weeks in Jedburgh with each of them acting for one accused from a drunken brawl that had resulted in multiple charges. The evidence had been so convoluted that the sheriff had decided to rule on it the next morning.

Denied the freedom they had hoped for and with the trial effectively finished they had all decided to blow off steam. She had joined in with gusto taking them all by surprise, but already the night’s events were starting to disperse from her memory like wisps of smoke. She had been quite the free spirit before she moved to Dumfries and took up with Peter Swift, the fiscal depute. Realizing how conventional he was she had succeeded in subduing her wilder impulses. Until now. What if they talked and word got back to him? She shuddered. Too late for regrets. It was done. She’d been feeling more and more stifled by the relationship anyway. Maybe it was time to draw a line under it.

The doorbell rang. She rolled her eyes. What now? Making her way to the door she flung it wide expecting to see her friends.

Her eyes widened in horror as she was grabbed by the throat and pushed back into the house by the masked intruder. Terrified, she realized that he was holding a hunting knife. The tip pressed into her neck and she could feel the heat of it as it pierced her skin. Still, he said nothing.

The knife pressed deeper. She felt an itch as the warm blood trickled down her neck. Adrenalin flooded her system as she weighed her options. He’d backed her into the lounge, still at knifepoint. His silence was, if anything, more unnerving than the knife pressed to her throat. He backed her up to the couch which was piled high with blankets and throws.

Suddenly, the mound shifted.

‘Colette?’ a voice slurred. ‘What’s going on?’ The blankets slid off to reveal one of her friends, still drunk and with an expression of confusion and burgeoning fear on his face. He lurched to his feet.

Colette sagged in relief. Thank God, everything would be all right now. There were two of them.

‘Phone!’ hissed the man. ‘Or I’ll slit her throat and then yours. Leave now and keep your mouth shut or die here.’

Colette saw her friend frown, swaying from side to side.

She held her breath. All he had to do was lunge at her attacker, dial 999, anything! What was he waiting for? No! What was he doing?

Hot tears wet her cheeks as she watched him throw down his phone.

‘Tell anyone and I’ll hunt you down and kill you,’ her attacker snarled.

Unable to look her in the eye, the man she had called a friend ran past her. She heard the door slam.

Maybe he’s gone to get help? she thought, her mind reeling at his betrayal. But Jedburgh was two miles away.

It was down to her now. With a surge of rage she twisted and kneed her attacker in the groin. His grip loosened for a second, but then he roughly threw her on to the couch, pinning her down. All she could see were his pitiless blue eyes boring into her. Screaming obscenities, she clawed at the rough wool balaclava, determined to see his face. His fist connected with the side of her head, but she managed to pull the balaclava half off. She froze in shock.

‘You stupid bitch,’ he snarled. ‘Now, you have to die.’ The next punch he landed knocked her unconscious.


She awoke confused and disoriented. All around her flames leapt and the acrid smell of smoke burned her lungs. The house was on fire! She had to get out! Throwing off the already smouldering duvet she crawled to the front door. The way to the kitchen was blocked by the advancing flames. As she stood up and fumbled with the handle she realized to her horror it was locked and there was no sign of the keys. She ran to the window and swung a nearby vase at it. The vase broke but the window didn’t.

She knew then that she was doomed to die here in this fiery coffin. She remained at the window, her hands outstretched, peering into the night, not wanting to observe the march of the fire as it started to crawl up her body. Hope flared. There was someone out there. She could see a shadowy form silhouetted against the moonlight. She thumped her fist against the glass and screamed for help. Her friend must have come back. He could save her! He could break down the door, get her out. She beat harder, her hand aching, the heat almost unbearable now. What was wrong with him? Why wasn’t he moving? Could it be her attacker? She banged furiously, screaming in agony and terror as the flames curled up her body, releasing the meaty aroma of charred flesh.

The shadowy shape melted silently back into the trees.

The cottage continued to burn.

Avenge the Dead by Jackie Baldwin is published by One More Chapter and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers, including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

My thanks go to the publisher for providing this extract, as well as to Emma Welton from Damppebbles Blog Tours for organising and inviting me onto this tour. The tour continues until 12 March 2020 so do check out the other stops for more content and reviews!

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Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda

The Aosawa Murders CoverOn a stormy summer day in the 1970s, the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party in their villa on the Sea of Japan. The occasion turns to tragedy when 17 people die – poisoned by cyanide placed in their drinks. 

The only clues to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer’s, and the fact that the Aosawa’s blind daughter, Hisako, was the only family member spared death.

When the prime suspect commits suicide soon after his actions seem to seal his guilt – but also ensure his motives will remain forever a mystery. Inspector Teru, an origami obsessed ex-chain smoker, is convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written ten years after the incident.

Several decades later, the truth is revealed through a skilful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members, witnesses and neighbours, police inspectors and of course, the mesmerizing Hisako herself.

Billed as Kurosawa’s Rashomon meets Capote’s In Cold Blood, this unconventional Japanese mystery novel sounded right up my street. Riku Onda is an established novelist in Japan, and the winner of the Mystery Writer’s of Japan Award for Fiction, but The Aosawa Murders (first published in Japanese in 2005 under the title Eugenia) is her first novel to be translated into English – although hopefully it won’t be her last!

Told as a series of monologues, The Aosawa Murders provides very different story beats and formulas to the traditional Western crime novel. With many of the chapters being recounted to the unidentified interviewer some years after the mysterious murders took place in the Aosawa’s rural villa, and often by people only tenuously connected to the tragedy or those involved, it can initially feel as if the crime itself is being kept tantilisingly out of reach. As the novel progresses, however, each narrative voice adds another layer, gradually revealing the truth – or possibly just ‘a’ truth – behind the tragic events of that long-ago summer.

There are certainly times that the manner of The Aosawa Murders‘ telling can feel somewhat disorientating. The narrative structure is certainly not a common one in Western crime fiction (although the use of the monologues from different perspectives, each of which adds to an understanding of the central mystery, did remind me of Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series) however I found that, once I got used to it, the style really pulled me into the events of the novel.

Although each characters voice is unique, you do have to pay attention to orientate each of the characters in relation to each other and to the crime itself. If you’re prepared to exercise a bit of brain power however, making the connections is a rewarding experience – Onda deserves praise for the precision with which she has handled these links and woven together her seemingly disparate cast.

Whilst The Aosawa Murders won’t be for everyone as it’s not a straightforward crime mystery that wraps up with a neat and tidy bow. For those prepared to invest a little time and energy into un-knotting the various strands and peeling back the layers of Ondu’s plot however, there is a rewardingly twisty and beautifully written murder mystery here that deserves to be widely read and enjoyed.

The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda, translated by Alison Watts, is published by Bitter Lemon Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher 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 tour continues until 03 March 2020 so do check out the other stops along the way for more reviews and content!

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Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List CoverThe bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

Following on from the success of The Hunting Party – a book that I greatly enjoyed when I read it back in January 2019 – Lucy Foley has returned with The Guest List, another sharp and atmospheric take on an Agatha Christie style mystery.

Multiple suspects are gathered together in a remote location, all with secrets to hide and resentments bubbling away under the surface. The wine is flowing, the music is playing and then…the body is found.

The setting this time is Inis Amploir, an island off the Irish coast that is home only to The Folly, a recently refurbished luxury wedding venue into which wedding planner Aoife and her chef husband have poured their savings. Hosting the wedding of successful lifestyle magazine owner Julia Keegan and adventurous TV celebrity Will Slater is, therefore, a bit of a coup and Aoife is determined to make sure that the lavish event goes off without a hitch. Her task is complicated by the rest of the wedding party, including the bride’s sullen half-sister Olivia, Will’s hapless best man Johnno, and Hannah, the plus-one to MC Charlie. And then there’s the body that turns up shortly after the wedding cake has been cut.

Alternating between the perspectives of Julia, Aoife, Olivia, Johnno and Hannah, as well as between the events before and after the wedding ceremony, The Guest List has a compulsive pull. As with The Hunting Party, each of the characters brings a unique perspective to events – as well as their own bundle of secrets, resentments and carefully crafted lies. The cast are a slightly warmer bunch this time out – even bridezilla Julia is reasonably sympathetic – and I found myself really warming to both Hannah and Aoife, both of whom provide a more ‘normal’ perspective on the glamour, glitz and slight level of ludicrousness that comes with a ‘celebrity’ wedding.

The events of The Guest List are also slightly slower in place than in Foley’s debut. Not all of the characters have a shared history and the whole set-up definitely felt more in tune with the classic ‘country house’ mystery of the golden age, with a disparate group bought together by circumstance. This is by no means a bad thing however as Foley controls the pace with consummate skill, dropping in little flashes forwards to the aftermath of the wedding to entice the reader and keep you turning those pages! Given that the identity of the body doesn’t become apparent until a good way into the book, there are certainly plenty of mysteries to keep you guessing. Plus, who doesn’t love a good wedding and all the drama that goes along with it?!?!

Anyone who enjoyed The Hunting Party is going to love The Guest List. All of the ingredients that made Foley’s debut so successful are present and correct here – a group of mismatched individuals, a remote location, and a dash of glamour. But The Guest List also feel like an evolution of the formula. The characters are more rounded and less stereotypical, the threads of the plot woven are just that bit tighter, and the ending a tad more satisfying. The book very much feels like the work of  a writer who has considered her success and, rather than sitting back and resting on those well-deserved laurels, has sought to improve upon it. As such, The Guest List may well bring in new fans to Foley’s work – it certainly deserves to as it’s a corker of a book with a wicked twist in the tale. Perfect for curling up with one blustery weekend!

The Guest List by Lucy Foley is published by HarperCollins and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK 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 the blog tour. The tour continues until the end of the month so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

FINAL Guest List Blog Tour Poster