Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart

The cover of The Butcher and the Wren is black with a design of pale blue feathers superimposed on the backdrop. The title and tag line are in a vivid yellow.
Image Description: The cover of The Butcher and the Wren is black with a design of pale blue feathers superimposed on the backdrop. The title and tag line are in a vivid yellow.

Something dark is lurking in the Louisiana bayou. A methodical killer with a taste for medical experimentation is hard at work completing his most harrowing crime yet, while the authorities desperately try to catch up.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller is the best there is. Armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of historical crimes, and years of experience working in the Medical Examiner’s office, she’s never encountered a case she couldn’t solve.

Until now.

As case after case is piles up on Wren’s examination table, she is sucked into an all-consuming cat-and-mouse chase – led by a brutal murderer, who is getting more brazen by the day…

Whilst I’ve never listened to Morbid, the true crime podcast co-hosted by Alaina Urquhart, I was intrigued by the concept of her debut novel, The Butcher and the Wren, featuring forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller.

When not hosting Morbid, Urquhart’s day job is as an autopsy technician so, at the very least, I figured there would be a high degree of technical accuracy in her descriptions of Wren’s day job. And indeed, The Butcher and the Wren shines brightest when it is drawing upon Urquhart’s extensive experience in the autopsy suite.

This isn’t to say that the rest of the novel isn’t convincing, however. The plot – which revolves around an increasingly sinister cat-and-mouse game between New Orleans medical examiner Wren and the macabre serial killer christened the Bayou Butcher – is tightly constructed and genuinely twisty, with a particularly startling revelation emerging from left-field about two-thirds of the way in that wholly changed my perspective on the narrative.

Wren’s chapters are, undoubtedly, the novel’s high point however, as she brings empathy, compassion, and a fierce intelligence to her attempts to discover any clues left by the Butcher whist restoring humanity to his victims. Alternate chapters, narrated by the Bayou Butcher himself, were, for me, less successful. Although Urquhart does an impressive job of getting into the head of a serial killer, they were just a little too creepy and sadistic for me and, at times, I found myself flicking over some of the more gruesome descriptions.

Despite giving an insight into the mindset and actions of the killer, The Butcher and the Wren does an excellent job of keeping the suspense high, the twists coming, and the pace page-turning. That said, I did find one of the final revelations stretching my suspension of disbelief somewhat and, without giving any spoilers, I will say that this is not going to provide those who like a neat and tidy resolution with a satisfying conclusion to the tale. Here’s hoping there’s more to come for Dr Wren Muller so that the loose ends can be tidied up.

Urquhart also does an excellent job of describing setting in this novel. From the grim confines of the Butcher’s basement to the swamps of the bayou and the clinical harshness of Wren’s autopsy suite, I was wholly transported to New Orleans and its surroundings whilst I was reading. I also really enjoyed the largely supportive relationships between Wren, her family, and her colleagues in the New Orleans PD and hope that, in future novels, we might get to find out more about some of these characters.

Overall, The Butcher and the Wren is the perfect read for fans of Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritson and shows such as CSI and Silent Witness. If you don’t mind your crime fiction with a side order of gruesome, the realistic details and page-turning plot is sure to draw you in, whilst Urquhart’s work on Morbid has allowed her to realise a terrifying sinister serial killer who will leave you with a serious case of the chills.

The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart is published by Michael Joseph and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, 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 Sriya Varadharajan from Penguin Random House UK for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 31 October 2022 so please 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!

Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things

6 More Books That Were Not For Me…BUT Could Be For You!

Seeing how my last ‘books that weren’t for me but could be for you’ post went down really well, I thought it was about time for another one.

As I said before, it’s one of the utter joys of book blogging to be sent books for review but it wouldn’t do if we all liked the same thing and, unsurprisingly, not every book that I receive ends up floating my boat. That said, I can often see the appeal of these books for others and this post is, in essence, a chance to shout about some very deserving books that, although not quite right for me, could well be the perfect next pick for you!

As with my last post, I’ve given Goodreads links to all of the books, along with the blurb and publisher information as well as a link to a full review from another lovely blogger!

Seven Steeples by Sara Baume

Publisher: Tramp Press, 256 pages

Blurb: It is the winter following the summer they met. A couple, Bell and Sigh, move into a remote house in the Irish countryside with their dogs. Both solitary with misanthropic tendencies, they leave the conventional lives stretched out before them to build another—one embedded in ritual, and away from the friends and family from whom they’ve drifted.

They arrive at their new home on a clear January day and look up to appraise the view. A mountain gently and unspectacularly ascends from the Atlantic, “as if it had accumulated stature over centuries. As if, over centuries, it had steadily flattened itself upwards.” They make a promise to climb the mountain, but—over the course of the next seven years—it remains unclimbed. We move through the seasons with Bell and Sigh as they come to understand more about the small world around them, and as their interest in the wider world recedes.

Review: Susan over at A Life in Books provided a full review of Seven Steeples and thought the novel was ‘a quietly brilliant novel’ with ‘richly imaginative’ descriptive writing and ‘vividly summoned’ depictions of the natural world.

The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson

Publisher: Mantle Books, 336 pages

Blurb: The longer the marriage, the harder truth becomes . . .

Meet the Hanrahan family, gathering for a momentous weekend as famous artist and notorious egoist Ray Hanrahan prepares for a new exhibition of his art – the first in many decades – and one he is sure will burnish his reputation for good.

His three children will be there: beautiful Leah, always her father’s biggest champion; sensitive Patrick, who has finally decided to strike out on his own; and insecure Jess, the youngest, who has her own momentous decision to make . . .

And what of Lucia, Ray’s steadfast and selfless wife? She is an artist, too, but has always had to put her roles as wife and mother first. What will happen if she decides to change? For Lucia is hiding secrets of her own, and as the weekend unfolds and the exhibition approaches, she must finally make a choice.

Review: Claire over at Years of Reading Selfishly thought that The Exhibitionist was ‘an incisive and funny novel, filled with moments that make your toes curl, and nod your head in recognition’ featuring a protagonist who ‘will make your jaw drop and your skin crawl’. Claire ‘absolutely loved it’ and you can read full her review here.

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson

Publisher: Faber & Faber, 291 pages

Blurb: If you’re on the list you’re marked for death.

The envelope is unremarkable. There is no return address. It contains a single, folded, sheet of white paper.

The envelope drops through the mail slot like any other piece of post. But for the nine complete strangers who receive it – each of them recognising just one name, their own, on the enclosed list – it will be the most life altering letter they ever receive. It could also be the last, as one by one, they start to meet their end.

But why?

Review: Emma over at Damppebbles thought that Nine Lives was ‘flipping marvellous’, saying that the novels’ Agatha Christie elements ‘effortlessly hooked me and kept me rapt until the very last word’. High praise indeed! You can read Emma’s full review here.

A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery (translated by Alison Anderson)

Publisher: Europa Editions, 160 pages

Blurb: Rose has turned forty, but has barely begun to live. When her Japanese father dies and she finds herself an orphan, she leaves France for Kyoto to hear the reading of his will. Paul, her father’s assistant, takes Rose on a mysterious pilgrimage designed by her deceased father. Her bitterness is soothed by the temples, Zen gardens and teahouses, and by her encounters with her father’s friends. As she recognises what she has lost, and as secrets are divulged, Rose learns to accept a part of herself that she has never before acknowledged.

Through her father’s itinerary, he opens his heart posthumously to his daughter, and Rose finds love where she least expects it. This stunning fifth novel from international bestseller Muriel Barbery is a mesmerising story of second chances, of beauty born out of grief.

Review: Franco Files UK has a thorough and detailed review of The Single Rose in which they praise the novel’s ‘delicious detail’ and say that it makes a compelling read for ‘those looking to rediscover or reassess the joy of life’ as well as anyone who loves French and/or Japanese culture.

Common Ground by Naomi Ishiguro

Publisher: Tinder Press, 432 pages

Blurb: It’s a lonely life for Stan, at a new school that feels more ordeal than fresh start, and at home where he and his mother struggle to break the silence after his father’s death. When he encounters fearless, clever Charlie on the local common, all of that begins to change. Charlie’s curiosity is infectious, and it is Charlie who teaches Stan, for the first time, to stand on his own two feet. But will their unit of two be strong enough to endure in a world that offers these boys such different prospects?

The pair part ways, until their paths cross once again, as adults at a London party. Now Stan is revelling in all that the city has to offer, while Charlie seems to have hit a brick wall. He needs Stan’s help, and above all his friendship, but is Stan really there for the man who once showed him the meaning of loyalty?

Review: Rosie at the Little Bird Book Blog praised Common Ground for its ‘beautiful depiction of an unlikely friendship of two boys, turned young men, learning who they are and their places in the world’, saying it was ‘ a touching and beautiful read’. You can read her full review here.

My Policeman by Bethan Roberts

Publisher: Vintage, 352 pages

Blurb: It is in 1950s’ Brighton that Marion first catches sight of the handsome and enigmatic Tom. He teaches her to swim in the shadow of the pier and Marion is smitten – determined her love will be enough for them both.

A few years later in Brighton Museum Patrick meets Tom. Patrick is besotted with Tom and opens his eyes to a glamorous, sophisticated new world.

Tom is their policeman, and in this age it is safer for him to marry Marion. The two lovers must share him, until one of them breaks and three lives are destroyed.

Review: Simon Savidge over at Savidge Reads has talked about his love for My Policeman a few times over on his YouTube channel but also provided a full review on his blog in which he said that the novel ‘highlights a bit of our history that we often brush under the carpet’ and praised the perspective of the novel, as well as its emotional highs and lows.

My thanks go to all of the publishers who sent me copies of these books. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite my cup of tea but, as the reviews I have chosen shown, these might just be the perfect books for a different reader!

Are there are books here that you’ve taken a fancy to? Please do let me know if you pick up any of the books mentioned in today’s post!

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 & features 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!!! Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time.

The notorious queen of this glittering world is Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven, whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within.

For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost.

I’ve adored Kate Atkinson’s writing ever since I first read Case Histories for an undergraduate crime fiction module at university, so I absolutely leapt at the chance to be part of the blog tour for her latest novel, Shrines of Gaiety. And let me tell you right now that it did not disappoint!

Set in 1926, Shrines of Gaiety, follows Nellie, ambitious matriarch of the notorious Coker family, ruthless owner of several of London’s hottest clubs, and perpetual fly in the ointment for Detective Chief Inspector Frobisher. Nellie might have done her time for one criminal enterprise, but Frobisher suspects she has fingers in many more pies – and that at least one of his colleagues on the force is helping her to avoid further prosecution.

Nellie, meanwhile, has problems of her own. During her time in prison, her six children have got far too used to enjoying the glitz and glamour of the Coker’s club empire without her at the helm. And that’s before she has to think about the spy in her midst, the crooked cop with sights on her fortune, two missing teenage girls, a ghost from her past, and the persistent dogged presence of Detective Chief Inspector Frobisher.

Shrines of Gaiety is a layered narrative, alternating between several perspectives and storylines to immerse the reader in the vibrant world of 1920s London. At first, the frequent changes in perspective and the large cast of characters felt somewhat overwhelming but Atkinson’s command over her narrative, and her ability to create distinct voices for each character, meant that I never lost track of who was who. And whilst it did take quite a while for the various plot strands to weave together, I was enjoying each piece of the jigsaw so much that I didn’t mind not being able to see the full picture from the outset!

I also really loved the way in which Atkinson has portrayed 1920s London. On one hand, there is the glitz of the resurgent post-war nightlife scene. Beneath that, however, there is the seedy underbelly: the dance hostesses who accidentally overdose, the gangsters trying to muscle in on each other’s turf, the bodies being quietly (and not-so-quietly) rolled into the Thames, and the teenage runaways seeking stardom but at risk of getting sucked into less salubrious line of work. As Atkinson makes clear, there’s a lot of grime beneath all that glamour. And whilst it is clear that Atkinson has done her usual meticulous level of historical research, the novel wears its learning lightly and never becomes over-burdened as a result.

Despite this, I found myself rooting for Nellie and her clan whilst, at the same time, also rooting for Frobisher in his quest to bring her empire to an end! Even though the moral compass of many of the characters is heavily skewed, they remain relatable products of both their lives and of the times in which they live. The sharp and witty dialogue, peppered liberally with dashes of dark humour, meant that each character really came to life, and it was impossible not to be drawn into their world and their stories. With murder, mystery, and romance all on menu, there really is something for everyone in this richly textured read!

Alternating between the lighter and darker sides of 1920s London, Shrines of Gaiety is a wonderfully evocative novel that, given a little time and patience, will utterly immerse you into its world. Combining a dash of The Great Gatsby with a good dose of Peaky Blinders and a side of Boardwalk Empire, this beautifully written and richly detailed read is perfect for historical fiction fans to curl up on the sofa and while away a weekend with this autumn.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson is published by Doubleday UK/Transworld on 27 September 2022 and is available to order now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Bookshop.org.

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 18 October 2022 so please 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 Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

The cover of The Woman in the Library features an illustration of a hand removing a book from a shelf against a bright green backdrop. On the cover of the book being removed is an illustration of a woman clearly in shock, or possibly showing fear.
Image Description: The cover of The Woman in the Library features an illustration of a hand removing a book from a shelf against a bright green backdrop. On the cover of the book being removed is an illustration of a woman clearly in shock, or possibly showing fear.

In every person’s story, there is something to hide…

The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained.

While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.

Award-winning author Sulari Gentill’s latest novel, The Woman in the Library, offers readers at least two novels for the price of one, combining a vibrant and witty mystery about four strangers who meet in Boston Public Library with a taut cat-and-mouse exchange between Hannah Tigone – bestselling author of said mystery – and her biggest fan, aspirational novelist Leo.

In the first narrative Australian writer Freddie, the recipient of a prestigious literary scholarship, seeks solace in Boston Public Library in an effort to write her next book. She finds herself sat next to Freud Girl (Marigold), Heroic Chin (Whit), and Handsome Man (Cain) and is busy transmuting them into characters when the silence of the reading room is broken by an ear-splitting scream. Although quickly dismissed as a prank, the scream enables the four to get chatting and, before long, they’re having coffee together at the Map Room Cafe and well on the way to becoming firm friends. And then, a body is found in the library…

Australian author Hannah Tigone, meanwhile, is eagerly sharing each chapter of her latest novel with fan and aspirational novelist Leo Johnson. Based in Boston, Leo is an invaluable resource for Hannah, giving her tips and hints to help make her depiction of the city come alive on the page. But Leo knows about more than just Boston’s hottest diners and the correct American slang. In fact, he seems to know a worrying amount about criminal methodology and, as the story progresses, he starts to become a little too invested in Hannah’s new novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and intriguing murder mystery (or should that be murder mysteries?), which combines some thoroughly devious plotting with clever and unpredictable twists to make a page-turning and pleasurable reading experience.

The characters felt immediately alive and engaging and, unlike some ‘books within books’, I didn’t find myself preferring one plotline over another. Indeed, whilst I was constantly intrigued by what Freddie and ‘the gang’ were up to, I also found myself wondering how Hannah and Leo would discuss this chapter in the narrative when it came to their turn. The novel also contains lots of fun in-jokes that both book lovers and writers are sure to appreciate, as well as some knowing nods to writers and their habits and fixations. For those who like to indulge in a little literary analysis as they read (I can’t help it, it’s the PhD student in me), there’s also some nice meta-fictional discussions about the nature of literature, the meaning of character, and the craft of fiction.

Readers expecting a cosy ‘murder-in-the-library’ may find themselves side-swiped by The Woman in the Library‘s more metafictional and literary elements, as well as by some of its knowing wit and humour. That’s no to say that there isn’t a good old-fashioned murder mystery in here. There is. And it does, indeed, take place in a library. But what Sulari Gentill has crafted is wry, tricksy tale that plays with the duplicity inherent within fiction itself. Who is telling the story – and whose story it is – matters, and the novel delights in embroiling the reader within it cunningly folded layers of narrative.

I had a huge amount of fun reading The Woman in the Library. Although it does have some literary elements, there’s still a page-turning mystery at the heart of the novel and, with its vibrant characters and lively sense of humour, it made for a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read. I was delighted to learn that Sulari has authored several other novels – including a well-reviewed historical series – and I look forward to working my way through her back catalogue and discovering more of this author’s work.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill is published by Ultimo Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, 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 28 September 2022 so please 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!!! Folly Ditch (A Helen Oddfellow Mystery) by Anna Sayburn Lane

The cover of Folly Ditch features a woman in a red winter coat walking away from the camera across marshy and remote farmland. A forlorn tree, bereft of leaves, stands in the foreground.
Image Description: The cover of Folly Ditch features a woman in a red winter coat walking away from the camera across marshy and remote farmland. A forlorn tree, bereft of leaves, stands in the foreground.

A Dickensian murder mystery. A brutal modern-day gang. Can Helen Oddfellow outwit an old enemy – or will she be his next victim?

When literary researcher Helen Oddfellow finds an old newspaper clipping in an antiquarian bookshop in Rochester, she uncovers a Dickensian murder mystery. The 200-year-old report of a woman’s murder on the steps of London Bridge provides clues to the real-life inspiration for Nancy, one of Charles Dickens best-loved characters.

As Helen investigates, she discovers the woman died because she knew a secret that the British establishment was intent on covering up. Now Helen knows… On the bleak shore of the Thames estuary, she comes face to face with an old enemy. Can she keep Nancy’s secret from him, without sharing her fate?

I’ve been a fan of Anna Sayburn Lane’s Helen Oddfellow mystery series since reading the first book, Unlawful Things, back in 2019. Two sequels – 2020’s The Peacock Room and 2021’s The Crimson Thread – saw Helen embroiled in more adventures, all combining a literary mystery with contemporary political concerns to provide page-turning thrills.

Sayburn Lane’s latest book, Folly Ditch, finds Helen in new academic territory. Persuaded by her new Head of Department to schmooze potential donors at a new exhibition about Dickens’ connections to Rochester, Helen stumbles across an old book, London and Londoners, containing a faded newspaper clipping. When it transpires that the book might have been owned by Dickens himself, and that the clipping offers clues as to the real murder mystery that inspired one of Dickens’s best-loved characters, Helen is excited to have another literary revelation to research.

When her hotel room is ransacked, and the book stolen, Helen reassures herself that it’s just an unfortunate break-in. But when the bookseller who sold her the book mysteriously vanishes – and an unwelcome face from her past is seen in Rochester – she begins to suspect that there are sinister forces at work. Calling on the aid of investigative journalist Nick Wilson, Helen sets out to uncover the truth once again. But what – or who – links Helen’s Dickensian murder mystery with Nick’s investigation into the links between modern-day slavery, human trafficking, and a dangerous new far-right political movement?

As with previous books in the series, Folly Ditch, offers a standalone mystery but with character call-backs to previous novels in the series. Although there aren’t spoilers for the mysteries of previous books, the fates of some characters and major incidents from prior instalments are made explicit in Folly Ditch so, whilst it is possible to dive in with this fourth book, I’d urge new readers to begin with Unlawful Things and work their way through the series for maximum enjoyment. All four books are excellent page-turners!

Returning characters – both friend and foe – make an appearance in Folly Ditch, although there is one notable omission whose absence allows for a poignant reflection upon the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, both upon individuals and upon wider society. References to the recent pandemic also ensure that the novel feels wholly contemporary, as do somewhat chilling allusions to recent political debates, and Sayburn Lane does an excellent job of integrating these elements with Helen’s historical research and of drawing out the parallels between past and present eras.

As with previous novels in the series, there are some scenes of both psychological and physical abuse in Folly Ditch which, although not explicit, are distressing to read. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, however, Sayburn Lane always ensures that her antagonists are brilliantly realised and that their actions, however gruesome or sinister, feel in-keeping with their characterisation.

Combining a page-turning literary mystery with a contemporary thriller and plenty of intellectual puzzles, Folly Ditch is another successful outing for Helen Oddfellow. Fans of the series will be delighted by her return, as will anyone who enjoys a literary mystery-thriller in the vein of Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel or Charlie Lovett’s First Impressions.

Folly Ditch 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 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 23 September 2022 so please 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!

Giveaway

GIVEAWAY!! Ithaca by Claire North

I have something a little different on the blog today because I am hosting a GIVEAWAY!! Details of how to enter can be found at the bottom of this post but, before you do that, let me tell you a little bit about the book in question!

The cover of Ithaca shows a classical style frieze of a woman dressed in Grecian robes seated partially reclined on a couch. She is holding golden threads in her hand. The backdrop is a vivid orange with a gold circle around the title.
Image Desscription: The cover of Ithaca shows a classical style frieze of a woman dressed in Grecian robes seated partially reclined on a couch. She is holding golden threads in her hand. The backdrop is a vivid orange with a gold circle around the title.

About the Book

‘The greatest power we woman can own, is that we take in secret . . . ‘

Seventeen years ago, king Odysseus sailed to war with Troy, taking with him every man of fighting age from the island of Ithaca. None of them have returned, and the women have been left behind to run the kingdom.

Penelope was barely into womanhood when she wed Odysseus. Whilst he lived, her position was secure. But now, years on, speculation is mounting that husband is dead, and suitors are starting to knock at her door . . .

But no one man is strong enough to claim Odysseus’ empty throne – not yet. Between Penelope’s many suitors, a cold war of dubious alliances and hidden knives reigns, as everyone waits for the balance of power to tip one way or another. If Penelope chooses one from amongst them, it will plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war. Only through cunning and her spy network of maids can she maintain the delicate balance of power needed for the kingdom to survive.

On Ithaca, everyone watches everyone else, and there is no corner of the palace where intrigue does not reign . . .

About the Author

Image Description: of Claire North
Image Description: author photograph of Claire North

Claire North is the pen name for the Carnegie-nominated Catherine Webb, who also writes under the name Kate Griffin.

Catherine’s first novel, Mirror Dreams, was completed when she was 14 years old. The book was published in 2002 and garnered comparisons with Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman. She went on to publish a further seven young adult novels under her own name, earning her extensive critical acclaim and two Carnegie nominations for her novels Timekeepers and The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle.

While studying International History at the London School of Economics, she wrote an urban fantasy series for adults, writing as Kate Griffin. On graduating LSE she went to the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts to study Technical Theatre and Stage Management.

Throughout her training she continued to write, and while working as a lighting technician at the Royal National Theatre wrote her first Claire North novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which became a word-of-mouth bestseller and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

She has since published several hugely popular and critically acclaimed novels, won the World Fantasy Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and been shortlisted for the Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, a Locus Award and the Philip K. Dick Award.

Catherine currently works as a live music lighting designer, teaches women’s self-defence, and is a fan of big cities, long walks, Thai food and graffiti-spotting. She lives in London.

You can find out more about Claire and her work on her website and by following her on Twitter.

GIVEAWAY!!!

Thanks to Claire North and publisher Orbit Books, I have ONE PRINT COPY of Ithaca to giveaway to a lucky UK reader!

All you need to do to win is to follow me (@shelfofunread) on Twitter and retweet the pinned tweet that links to this post! The giveaway is open from 9.00am on 11 September 2022 and closes at midnight on 18 September 2022. There is one winner. Terms & conditions apply (see below).

TERMS & CONDITIONS: UK only. The winner will be selected at random via Tweetdraw from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days, then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties. The prize is one hardback copy of the UK edition of Ithaca and will be posted by Royal Mail Tracked Delivery 2nd Class. I am not responsible for any delay or damage during postage.

Ithaca by Claire North is published by Orbit (Hachette UK) and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, 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 the opportunity to run a giveaway for the book.

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 Girls Who Disappeared by Claire Douglas

The cover of The Girls Who Disappeared features a small two-storey cabin against a night-time backdrop of thick woodland. The windows are lit and smoke rises from the chimney.
Image Description: The cover of The Girls Who Disappeared features a small two-storey cabin against a night-time backdrop of thick woodland. The windows are lit and smoke rises from the chimney.

Three missing girls. A twenty year mystery. A woman who may be able to crack this cold case.

In a rural Wilshire town lies The Devil’s Corridor. A road which has witnessed eerie happenings from unexplained deaths to the sounds of a child crying at night.

But nothing more puzzling than the Olivia Rutherford case. Four girls drove home but after their car crashed only Olivia was found.

Twenty years later, journalist Jenna Halliday is covering the case. But the locals aren’t happy with this stranger’s arrival. Least of all Olivia.

Jenna soon starts receiving threatening notes and it is clear someone wants her out of this town before she suffers a dark fate . . .

Sometimes you really need a good page-turner in your life and that is precisely what Claire Douglas’s latest thriller The Girls Who Disappeared provided. Brilliantly twisty and with a delightfully eerie setting, I gobbled it up over the course of a weekend!

The Devil’s Corridor is a dark, forbidding, tree-lined road that leads to a rural Wiltshire town. Olivia Rutherford doesn’t believe the rumours about it being haunted but, as a new driver, she’s planning to take it careful when she drives her three best friends home from their night out. When a sudden shock leads to Olivia crashing the car, however, The Devil’s Corridor begins to live up to its sinister reputation. Because, when she wakes from the crash, Olivia’s friends are nowhere to be found…

Twenty years later, journalist Jenna Halliday is re-examining the Olivia Rutherford case for a new podcast. Renting a cabin just off the Devil’s Corridor, Jenna hopes to bring fresh eyes to what happened. But as the anniversary of the disappearances approaches, it becomes clear that the locals aren’t happy about the past being raked up; least of all Oliva herself. Soon Jenna is getting glimpses of shadowy figures in the woods around her cabin and, when threatening notes start to show up, it becomes clear that someone in this sleepy part of Wiltshire wants Jenna to leave Olivia’s case – and the Devil’s Corridor – well alone.

Well-written and gripping, The Girls Who Disappeared starts with such an interesting premise: how do three teenage girls just vanish into the night? Whilst I didn’t find the answer to that question to be completely satisfying – the ending of the book stretched the bounds of plausibility just a tad far at times for me – the journey to get there was full of sinister goings-on and some pleasingly unexpected twists and turns.

Jenna and Oliva alternate as viewpoint characters, although the majority of the narrative follows Jenna’s investigation, and her partnership with a police officer investigating the cold case. Both women make for engaging – if not entirely reliable – narrators and, whilst they don’t always make the wisest of decisions, it was easy to empathise with their respective situations. As is often the case with thrillers, the supporting cast are a little less rounded but, for the most part, they fulfil their roles adeptly.

I also really enjoyed the slight supernatural elements and the way in which Claire Douglas used these to distract the reader from what it really going on around the Devil’s Corridor. That said, there is some repetition of both information and tropes that, whilst it didn’t stop me enjoying the books, did slow the pace somewhat at times.

Overall, The Girls Who Disappeared made for a fun, engaging read to while away a weekend with. With an intriguing premise, a delightfully creepy atmosphere, and some page-turning twists, thriller fans are sure to find much to enjoy here.

The Girls Who Disappeared by Claire Douglas is published by Penguin Michael Joseph on 15 September 2022 and is available to pre-order now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, 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 NetGalley UK for providing me with 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!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Japanese Home Cooking by Maori Murota

The cover of Japanese Home Cooking has an illustration of a ramen noodle bowl against a pale blue background. A pair of chopsticks are taking half an egg from the bowl.
Image Description: The cover of Japanese Home Cooking has an illustration of a ramen noodle bowl against a pale blue background. A pair of chopsticks are taking half an egg from the bowl.

Learn to cook authentic Japanese food from scratch at home, with step by step recipes for the traditional classics like ramen noodles, broth, sushi rice or homemade tofu as well as recipes for more contemporary fusion dishes.

Maori Murota takes you to the heart of today’s Japanese family home cooking, sharing the recipes she learned while she watched her own mother and grandmother cook.

Here are 100 recipes – eggplant spaghetti, pepper and miso sauce, donburi, baked sweet potato, soba salad, roast chicken with lemongrass, onigiri, hot dog, Japanese curry, steamed nut cake – many of which are vegan friendly and plant-based, to take you to the heart of Japanese home cooking.

As someone who is an eager consumer of a variety of world cuisines but a somewhat cautious cook, I’ve been looking for ways to gradually expand my culinary repertoire outside of my kitchen comfort zone.

Maori Murota’s Japanese Home Cooking (published in the US as Simply Japanese) promises to ‘demystify Japanese food, to make it accessible and understood by anyone and everyone’. With 100 step-by-step recipes, many of which are plant-based and vegan friendly, Murota’s latest book offers to teach readers how to cook authentic Japanese food from scratch at home. From classics such as donburi and miso soup, to more unfamiliar and elaborate dishes such as oyaki (grilled vegetable dumplings) and dorayaki (red bean pancakes), Murota shares the recipes she learned while watching her own mother and grandmother cook.

Ganmondoki (fried tofu dumplings) from Japanese Home Cooking
Image Description: Ganmondoki (fried tofu dumplings) from Japanese Home Cooking

My husband and I decided to have a go at ganmodoki (fried tofu dumplings). Like many people who live outside of a city, we don’t have a handy Asian supermarket just down the road, which can make following some recipes a bit of a challenge. If the local Tesco doesn’t have it, we struggle to get it! So, when I read that the ganmodoki required both dried seaweed and mirin, I was a little worried. Fortunately, Tesco came up trumps on both, although some tips on alternatives for these more unusual or hard-to-find ingredients would have been helpful.

The ganmodoki recipe was easy to follow and we were aided by nice clear colour photography (there’s photographs accompanying all of the recipes) and step-by-step instructions. Although our ganmodoki didn’t come out quite as elegant as in the picture (tip: when it says you need ‘firm tofu’, it really does mean firm so make sure it’s thoroughly drained before using), they tasted great, and we got the satisfaction of making and eating something at home that we’d only previously encountered in a restaurant. And whilst they did take a little longer than the suggested 15 minutes prep time and 7 minutes cook time, this was mainly because we’d forgotten to drain our tofu before beginning.

Although we’ve not yet had the opportunity to try out any of the other recipes in Japanese Home Cooking, there are lots of dishes that I’m eager to have a go at. Nikuman and yasaiman (pork buns and vegetable buns) are amongst my favourite dishes but I’ve never had the courage to give them a go at home. With Murota’s clear instructions, however, I think they might make for some fun weekend cooking.

Murota also includes recipes that, although they might seem like a palaver to begin with, will save you time in the long run such as mentsuyu (homemade noodle sauce), as well as advice on choosing between different types of miso paste, filleting fish for some of the recipes, and preparing Japanese tea. There’s also a handy section at the back on utensils and ingredients.

As you might expect, some specialist equipment is required for some of the recipes (such as bamboo steamer for the nikuman and yasaiman, and a makisu for making maki) but you can get by with a few basics. We managed fine cooking the ganmondoki in a sauté pan. The same goes for ingredients. As with any new cuisine, there are some basic stocks, sauces, and herbs that are essential so there will be an initial cost to preparing your cupboard for Japanese Home Cooking. Cook Japanese cuisine often, however, and you’ll find many of the same ingredients listed again and again. Plus, as Murota notes, many of the same staple ingredients are used in Chinese and Korean food.

Overall Japanese Home Cooking does exactly what it says on the tin. If you’re already familiar with Japanese food – and cooking it regularly at home – then you might not find much here that you don’t already know about. For those who have previously only ever eaten Japanese cuisine as pre-prepared meals or at restaurants, however, this is a great introduction to Japanese home cooking, with a range of recipes to suit every taste. I’ll definitely be adding it to my cookbook shelf and slotting some of these recipes into my repertoire going forwards!

Japanese Home Cooking by Maori Murota is published by Murdoch Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, 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 17 September 2022 so please 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 Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson

The cover of The Bleeding features gold illustrations of hands, a knife, a pipette, a cup, the Eiffel Tower, and a skull interwoven with a red floral motif and set against a black background.
Image Description: The cover of The Bleeding features gold illustrations of hands, a knife, a pipette, a cup, the Eiffel Tower, and a skull interwoven with a red floral motif and set against a black background.

1899, Belle Époque Paris. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.

1949, Post-War Québec. Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.

2002, Québec. A former schoolteacher is accused of brutally stabbing her husband – a famous university professor – to death. Detective Maxine Grant, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation.

Under enormous personal pressure, Maxine makes a series of macabre discoveries that link directly to historical cases involving black magic and murder, secret societies and spiritism … and women at breaking point, who will stop at nothing to protect the ones they love…

Having thoroughly enjoyed Johana Gustawsson’s Roy and Castells series, I was delighted to learn that she was venturing into Gothic territory. Her latest novel, The Bleeding, weaves together the stories of three women who, although, separated by both time and distance, all share a link to a series of macabre murders.

Québec, 2002, and Lieutenant Maxine Grant has only just returned from maternity leave when she’s thrust straight into the brutal murder of renowned university professor Philippe Caron . Reeling from the loss of her own husband, raising a baby single-handedly, and struggling to bridge the gap that has opened up with her teenage daughter, the last thing Maxine wants or needs is a complex and high-profile murder investigation.

But when seven dismembered hands are found hidden within Caron’s respectable home, it soon becomes apparent that there is more to this murder than meets the eye. As Maxine investigates further, a dark trail of black magic, ritual, and death will take her further into the past: into the life of a bullied schoolgirl in post-war Québec and, eventually, back to a grieving and desperate mother in Belle Époque France.

In this grim but spell-binding tale, Johana Gustawsson has once again worked her magic to create a page-turning and compulsive story of three women who, in different ways and at different times, will stop at nothing to protect the people and things they hold dear.

Although I can’t say that I necessarily liked the three central characters – Maxine, Lina, and Lucienne – I did find them fascinating and, whilst I didn’t always agree with their actions, I could understand their frustrations with societal structures that were determined to diminish and demean them. As a result, all three women – and Maxine especially – become relatable, even whilst their actions and moral choice are, on occasion, deeply disturbing.

I don’t want to say too much about the story but, whilst not overtly graphic in its descriptions, Gustawsson’s gaze is unflinching in its depiction of the ritualistic murder previously mentioned, and there are some autopsy scenes that readers of a squeamish disposition might find challenging. There are also some horror elements to the narrative, with the story delving into black magic and gruesome ritual on more than one occasion, plus content warnings for story elements involving child death, fire, adult/minor relationships, abortion, and pregnancy.

Weaving together an intricate web of connections over two continents and three time periods is no mean feat but, in The Bleeding, Gustawsson manages it with both ease and style. As you might expect from a novel that spans several different lives, there is a bit of groundwork to establish the three narratives – and quite a lot of names to take in over the first 50 pages or so! As a result, the narrative might seem slower and denser at first than the ‘thriller’ label suggests but, stick with it, and you’ll soon find the pages flying. I finished the book over a weekend, unable to put it down as more and more dark connections became apparent.

Combining Gustawsson’s trademark plotting with a new cast of compelling characters and a sinister Gothic vibe that will send shivers down the spine, The Bleeding is sure to delight fans of Gustawsson’s previous work and will, hopefully, introduce many new readers to the dark delights of the Queen of French Noir!

The Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson is published by Orenda Books on 15 September 2022 and is available to pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery, as well as from the Orenda bookstore.

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 30 September 2022 so please 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!!! Blackstone Fell by Martin Edwards

The cover of Blackstone Fell features an imposing house and gates against a black background. Surrounding the image are thorny vines with blood red leaves.
Image Description: The cover of Blackstone Fell features an imposing house and gates against a black background. Surrounding the image are thorny vines with blood red leaves.

Yorkshire, 1606. A man vanishes from a locked gatehouse in a remote village. 300 years later, it happens again.

Autumn 1930. Journalist Nell Fagan knows there’s only one person who can get to the bottom of this mystery: Rachael Savernake. But someone wants Nell dead, and soon, while investigating a series of recent deaths at Blackstone Sanatorium, she’s missing entirely.

Looking for answers, Rachel travels to lonely Blackstone Fell, with its eerie moor, deadly waters and sinister tower. With help from Jacob Flint – who’s determined to expose a fraudulent medium at a séance – Rachel will risk her life to bring an end to the disappearances…

There is absolutely no doubt that Martin Edwards knows his crime fiction. As editor and curator of the British Library Crime Classics series, and author of The Golden Age of Murder, Martin has been introducing new readers to the forgotten classics of the ‘Golden Age’ of British crime fiction between the wars. He’s also edited several Detection Club anthologies and is the author of the Harry Devlin series, set in Liverpool, and the contemporary Lake District series, featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and Oxford historian Daniel Kind.

Martin’s latest series, of which Blackstone Fell is the third, features enigmatic amateur detective Rachel Savernake. First introduced in Gallows Court, Rachel becomes embroiled in yet another bizarre when she is contacted by an old adversary. Having fallen foul of Rachel during a previous case, investigative journalist Nell Fagan is desperate for a way back into Fleet Street’s good books – and she thinks she’s found a scoop worth pursing in the remote Yorkshire village of Blackstone Fell. Two disappearances, 300 years apart, and from a seemingly locked room.

The mystery is enough to whet Rachel’s appetite, but she’s sharp enough to suspect that Nell is not being entirely frank about her reasons for investigating Blackstone Fell. Sure enough, it isn’t long before a body is found at the edge of the village. Teaming up with crime reporter Jacob Flint, himself on the tail of a scoop involving a fraudulent spiritual medium – and accompanied by her faithful friends Hetty, Martha, and Trueman, Rachel sets out for Blackstone Fell to get to the bottom of not one, but two, mysteries.

Although Blackstone Fell is the third Rachel Savernake mystery, it works well as a standalone story and an introduction for new readers. Hints of Rachel’s past – and past cases – are liberally sprinkled to entice new readers to pick up previous entries Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall but, as a new reader myself, these did not detract from the central story of Blackstone Fell or provide spoilers for previous books in the series,

Martin’s knowledge of – and love for – Golden Age crime really comes across in the novel, which features an ingenious Cluefinder: a selection of pointers to the various mysteries in the novel that readers can, if they choose, use to track the ‘clues’ dropped through the novel and see which ones they missed! The sense of time and place is really well conveyed, with Blackstone Fell touching on several period-relevant themes such as spiritualism, psychiatry, and the rise of dangerous thinking about the new ‘science’ of eugenics.

The novel also contains all the elements of a quintessential ‘classic’ crime novel: an enigmatic detective and her ‘sidekick’, a devilish locked-room mystery, red herrings galore, and a tense gathering of the suspects at the denouement of the mystery. Perfect fodder for anyone who loves the classics, although Blackstone Fell adds a good dose of psychological insight and plenty of character development as an accompaniment to its twisty mystery.

With ingenious plotting and intriguing characters, Blackstone Fell is the perfect read for any fans of classic British crime fiction. Anyone familiar with the British Library Crime Classics series – or with the works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers et al – will find much to enjoy here, as will those who enjoy the psychological probing of Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters, and P D James. As for me, Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall are already on the TBR!

Blackstone Fell by Martin Edwards is published by Aries Fiction (Head of Zeus) and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, 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 Sophie Ransom from Ransom PR for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 09 September 2022 so please 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!