Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Murder on the Downs by Julie Wassmer

Murder on the Downs CoverA controversial new property development in planned in Whitstable which will encroach upon the green open space of the downs, to the dismay of Whitstable residents.

A campaign springs into life, spearheaded by a friend of Pearl’s family, Martha Laker. A committed environmentalist, Martha is no stranger to controversy herself. She has also managed to divide opinion across town, with the locals viewing her as their fearless champion while establishment figures see only an interfering agitator.

Tensions escalate between the developers and Whitstable residents, straining Pearl’s close relationship with London-born police officer DCI Mike McGuire, who harbours concerns that the local campaign will spiral out of control.

Pearl’s loyalties are torn, but a protest duly goes ahead – and newspaper headlines claim a moral victory for the residents in this David and Goliath battle. But the victory is short-lived when Pearl discovers a dead body on the downs…

There are some days – particularly at the moment – when all you want to do is curl up with the book equivalent of your favourite comfy jumper. As a crime fiction fan, a good cosy mystery is definitely one of my ‘comfy jumper’ genres and Julie Wassmer’s latest Whitstable Pearl Mystery, Murder on the Downs, ticked the box perfectly!

Although this is the seventh in the Whitstable Pearl Mysteries series, I found it relatively easy to jump into Murder on the Downs despite having no prior knowledge of the previous books. Although there are established characters and personal relationships, the mystery itself is entirely self-contained and characters are introduced in such a way as to make it clear how they relate to each other.

Pearl Nolan has taken a step back from the day-to-day running of her restaurant in order to set up her own private detective agency, although she has some reservations about whether her new line of work will add conflict to the tentative relationship she has begun with DCI Mike McGuire. When tensions over a new property development erupt, it isn’t long before a body is found and Pearl and Mike’s skills – and their relationship – are put to the test.

As with many ‘cosy’ mysteries, there are plenty of contemporary issues bubbling away under the surface of Murder on the Downs. Corruption, bribery, prejudice, the housing crisis, and economic inequality are all touched upon as Pearl begins her investigation into the death of a local property developer. So whilst there isn’t any gore on the page, this certainly doesn’t lead to any reduction in tension, with Murder on the Downs placing Pearl and her friends into a number of potentially dangerous situations. Wassmer has a background in writing for television and this shows in the expert way that she maintains tension – creating ‘scenes’ within each chapter, sowing in red herrings, and providing plenty of cliffhangers that kept me turning the pages!

As someone new to the series, it was a little harder for me to immediately engage with the characters. As I said earlier, Murder on the Downs is the seventh in a series and, whilst the plot and mystery is very easy to jump into, it does spend quite a bit of time examining the burgeoning relationship between Pearl and DCI Mike McGuire. As I had no prior knowledge of these characters, I was probably less engaged with this plot strand than I would of been as a long-time reader of the series. That said, by the end of the book, I had come to really like Pearl, Mike and their community of friends and relations – and I was keen to go back and read earlier books in the series to see how their relationships had developed up until this point.

I also really enjoyed Wassmer’s evocative depictions of Whitstable and the Kentish countryside. Sadly I am not familiar with the area in real life but I could imagine the beautiful sweep of the downs and the bustle of the seaside – as well as all the delicious locally grown/caught food that Pearl serves in her restaurant!

Murder on the Downs provides exactly what you want from a cosy summer read – an eclectic mix of characters in a contained (and, for some readers, familiar) setting, an engaging plot, and plenty of twists and turns along. Fans of the series are sure to enjoy this latest addition whilst cosy mystery fans like myself may well discover another series to enjoy!

Murder on the Downs by Julie Wassmer is published by Constable and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

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

My thanks go to the publisher 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 onto and organising this blog tour. The continue continues until 10 July so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content. 

Murder on the Downs BT Poster

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

Sea Wife CoverWhen Michael informs his wife Juliet that he is leaving his job and buying a sailboat, she is taken aback. And when he proposes they and their two young children take a year-long voyage, she is deeply apprehensive.

But Michael is persuasive, and eventually she agrees to his plan. The family set off for Panama, where their sailboat awaits them – a boat that Michael has named the ‘Juliet’.

Initially, the experience is transformative: their marriage is given a gust of energy, and each of them is affected by the beauty and wilderness of the sea.

But slowly, the voyage begins to unravel. 

I first heard about Sea Wife because it was a Modern Mrs Darcy Summer Reading Guide pick for 2020. Sea Wife – described by Anne as being ‘a harrowing portrait of a boat in peril and a marriage in crisis’ – sounded deeply intriguing so I jumped at the chance to be part of the Blog Tour for the book.

Sea Wife tells the story of Michael and Juliet, their two children George and Sybil, and their journey into the unknown as they set sail about the sailboat ‘Juliet’ for a life of freedom, adventure and renewal. Alternating between Juliet’s present-day perspective – in which it is clear that something has gone horribly wrong on the voyage – and Michael’s log of their time afloat, the novel is slow but exquisitely written account of their journey and its consequences.

Sea Wife is a meditative novel. The book moves gracefully and often focuses on the minutiae of Michael and Juliet’s lives. Small details are bought into glaring focus and, especially in Juliet’s sections, turned over and examined with care and attention. Despite this (or maybe because of it), the story has a gripping quality.

From the opening pages, it is clear that something has gone wrong with their adventure. Sitting on the floor in the safety of her tiny closet, Juliet is clearly alone and struggling. Her This contrasts sharply with Michael’s exuberant log entries – his joy at finding the boat, his hopes that this journey into the unknown might rescue his ailing marriage and help his depressed wife rediscover her joy. This disparity gives the novel the tautness of a thriller, a quality that belies the stately flow of Gaige’s lyrical prose.

Sea Wife also offers an intimate portrait of a marriage in crisis. As one character tells Juliet early on in the novel, ‘ Marriages have failure points, just like boats […] if you would rather not know the failure points, […] do not go sailing’. Sailing into the unknown brings Michael, Juliet and their children closer together but it also reveals the tiny splinters in their family unit and, as their journey progresses, these splinters become fractures that threaten to tear the family apart.

What was interesting about reading Sea Wife is that whilst I didn’t especially like either Michael or Juliet, I was compelled to read about them nonetheless. Unlikable characters are usually a hard pass for me but Michael and Juliet, for all their flaws (and they do, both of them, have many) were relatable. Their very ordinariness – the mundane nature of their flaws – makes them compelling, and allowed me to develop sympathy for them both in spite of their mistakes. Juliet, in particular, really grew on me as the novel developed – by the end, I was desperate for her to forgive herself for past errors and head into the future with the confidence that she deserved.

Sea Wife was not quite the fast-paced slice of domestic noir that I was expecting when I picked it up however it is stronger for it. The lyricism and attention to detail make the novel stand out amidst the veritable sea of domestic thrillers, whilst the setting provides a unique way of examining both personal isolation and marital/familial tension. Sea Wife may be slightly too sedate for some readers but for those who are prepared to wallow in the detail, this is a smart and sophisticated summer read.

Sea Wife by Amity Gaige is published by Fleet and is available now from all good bookseller and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository

f 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 Grace Vincent from Little Brown for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. 

SeaWife BT Poster

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith

The Waiting Rooms JacketDecades of spiralling drug resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable: a scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice is required to keep the majority safe: no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics. The elderly are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’… Hospitals where no one ever gets well.

Twenty years after the crisis takes hold, Kate begins a search for her birth mother, armed only with her name and her age. As Kate unearths disturbing facts about her mother’s past, she puts her family in danger and risks losing everything.

Because Kate is not the only secret that her birth mother is hiding. Someone else is looking for her, too.

Reading The Waiting Rooms during the Coronavirus lockdown was, at times, a rather tense experience.

Eve Smith’s debut, set in a near future when increased human resistance to antibiotics has led to widespread death from common infectious diseases, seems disturbingly prescient in the current climate and the tiny details of her imagined near future rang  scarily true in an era when a trip to the shops involves digging our your face mask and a simple handshake has become a gesture imbued with danger.

These unsettling parallels are a testament to how much thought and research has gone into Smith’s ‘what if’ scenario. Antibiotic resistance – as the books epigraphs make clear – is a real and growing threat and Smith’s imagining of the consequences of this on a political, societal and everyday scale is vividly and precisely drawn. From the decrease in pet ownership due to fears of scratches to the health passport flashed by a visitor at the door, Smith brilliantly imagines the tiny ways in which everyday life has been forced to adapt to a newly contagious climate.

On a wider scale, the society of Smith’s world has decreed that the over 70s are no longer eligible for antibiotics. Society avoids them – ‘shielding’ has become a byword for ageism and isolation. If they fall ill, they are taken to ‘The Waiting Rooms’ – hospitals where no one is expected to get well. For many, Peace Rooms have become the preferable option – assisted dying being preferable to an ignoble and sudden end.

Smith is excellent at confronting these emotionally charged subjects – death, euthanasia, ageism, societal segregation, bio-terrorism, the policing of medicine, social inequality – and does so with both sensitivity and tact. One of her characters, Kate, works as a nurse in a Peace Hospital, helping those who choose to end their lives. Having nursed through the antibiotic crisis, Kate is all to aware of the difficult choices that have had to be made in the post-crisis world – she’s having to make one of her own as she contemplates searching for her birth mother.

Another character, Lily, is approaching her 70th birthday. As one of the ‘lucky ones’, Lily has access to carers, medical checks, and a carefully sanitised environment while she waits for the inevitable. But Lily’s luck appears to have run out. Someone is targeting her. Someone who knows all about Lily’s past – and that the events of the antibiotic crisis might not be as they first appear.

The third strand of the novel, told from the perspective of botanist Mary and set in South Africa in the years and months before the antibiotic crisis, connects Kate and Lily’s stories together, bringing the personal lives of these two women into the wider narrative of infection, control, bio-terrorism, and government secrets. Whilst I guessed the connection between the women fairly quickly, the journey they undergo remains a tense and emotional one, leading to shocking revelations for all of them as the secrets of the past are uncovered.

I can’t really say that I ‘enjoyed’ The Waiting Rooms – this is a novel that, particularly at the moment, feels scarily real and worryingly prescient – but I would say that this is a compelling and emotional thriller that forces the reader to consider the realities of an urgent health emergency. Although speculative in nature, The Waiting Rooms is a vividly realised and timely reminder of the need to tackle the wider inequalities surrounding access to healthcare, and to address the crises that may be lurking around the corner before they become a daily reality for millions.

It’s a book that scared me. One that made me think. One that made me appreciate all the small things I have and can do. And although it’s not for the faint-hearted, I would urge anyone to go out and read it.

The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith is published by Orenda Books and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including the Orenda ebookstore, Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ish, Scarthin 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 inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The continue continues until 12 July so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content. 

The Waiting Rooms BT Poster

 

Back from the Backlist · Reviews

Back From The Backlist: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie MurdersCrime writer Alan Conway has been a bestselling author for years. Readers live his detective, Atticus Pünd, a celebrated solver of crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s.

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder. 

The worst thing about my latest Back from the Backlist is that I always knew that Magpie Murders would be a book that I would really enjoy. A literary mystery that centres around the world of writing and publishing, features an author who has created a pastiche of the Golden Age, and contains a novel-within-a-novel – clearly this was always going to tick all my boxes.

I can only assume it has taken me this long to read it (my paperback edition tells me I picked the book up in 2017. Yes, really) because I was worried that the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations. As is usually the case, this fear was unfounded and Magpie Murders proved to be as delightful a read as I had hoped when I bought it.

Describing Magpie Murders is a bit of a challenge because this is one of those novels that has a novel-within-a-novel. For much of the book you will be reading Magpie Murders: An Atticus Pünd Mystery by Alan Conway, which sees consulting detective Atticus Pünd travelling to the sleepy English village of Saxby-on-Avon following the death of, firstly, the housekeeper at Pye Hall and, shortly thereafter, the lord of the manor himself. Book-ending Conway’s novel is the story of Susan Ryland, Conway’s editor at Cloverleaf Books. Susan has been looking forward to reading Magpie Murders and opens it with relish, little realising that the book – and its author – are going to drag her into a mystery that will change her life forever.

Saying any more about the plot would be to spoil Magpie Murders. In order to maximise your enjoyment of the ingenious twists and turns, I’d strongly urge you to go in knowing as little as possible if you’re thinking of picking this one up (do read to the end of this post though – no spoilers, I promise!). Amidst a wry pastiche of the classic English mystery novel are some brilliant cliffhangers and head-scratching puzzles that cleverly subvert your expectations, and the way in which the two plots eventually combine makes for a highly enjoyable twist ending.

I had one or two small reservations about the book in terms of characterisation. Given that there are essentially two plots in Magpie Murders it’s probably not surprising that some of the minor characters end up being little more than pen portraits, especially in Susan’s narrative. There were, however, some characters that I felt could have doubled up – or been dropped altogether – so slight was their part. And, whilst it’s vitally important to have diversity in books – certainly not something that is easy when you’re attempting to pay homage to ‘classic’ crime – Horowitz’s depiction of diverse characters felt more like tokenism than representation to me.

I hasten to add, however, that these are relatively minor niggles. The characters who are fleshed out are a delicious blend of the pleasant, the quirky, the underhand, and the utterly horrid (what’s a good crime novel if there isn’t at least one person who’s deplorable), and the setting – both in sleepy Saxby-on-Avon and in Susan’s literary London – is wonderfully evocative. I raced through the book despite it’s length (a fairly chunky 464 pages) and am now eagerly anticipating the sequel, Moonflower Murders, released later this year.

All in all, Magpie Murders does require a bit of patience to stick with the two plots and glue the whole thing together – I imagine some readers might find the central premise to be a bit too clever for its own good – but for anyone looking for a modern novel that can rival Agatha Christie in terms of fiendish plotting, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Fans of classic crime fiction would be missing out on a treat if they failed to pick this one up!

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is published by Orion and is available now from all good booksellers. 

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 Booksellers, Book-ish, and Berts Books

The book is also available from online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Book Depository

Reviews

REVIEW!! Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

Things in Jars CoverLondon, 1863. Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age, is taking on her toughest case yet.

Reeling from her last job and with her reputation in tatters, a remarkable puzzle has come her way. Christabel Berwick has been kidnapped. But Christabel is no ordinary child. She is not supposed to exist.

As Bridie fights to recover the stolen child she enters a world of fantastical anatomists, crooked surgeons and mercenary showman. Anomalies are in fashion, curiosities are the thing, and fortunes are won and lost in the name of entertainment.

The public love a spectacle and Christabel may well prove the most remarkable spectacle London has ever seen.

You know those books that you love so much that you just can’t find the right words to tell anyone about them? The books that you just want to go and press into the hands of friends, family – strangers even – and say “read it, just read it”. Yeah, Things in Jars is one of those books.

But, hey, I’m a book blogger and finding words to talk about books is one of the things I’m supposed to do apparently. So I shall do my level best to tell you why I loved Things in Jars and why I think you should go and read it too!

At its heart, Things in Jars is a novel about Bridie Divine. Female detective, surgeon’s apprentice, and resurrectionist’s ward, Bridie is a fascinatingly complex character who moves between the respectable country houses of London’s elite and the sinister underbelly of the city with apparent ease. Quick-witted and determined, Bridie has made it her mission to protect the city from the anatomists, surgeons and showman who seek to make spectacles out of the unusual – or simply to prey upon the poor and innocent.

Assisting her in this task are Cora Butter, her seven-foot-tall housemaid whose first instinct is to give guests – troublesome or otherwise – a ‘good clattering’, and Ruby Doyle, a tattooed prizefighter with handsome brown eyes and a debonair disposition who just so happens to be recently deceased. Her mysterious undead partner is, however, the least of Bridie’s worries when she is summoned to investigate the apparent kidnapping of Christabel Berwick. For at Maris House, she finds a room dripping in water. Servants whisper of a girl with the teeth of a pike, who can delve into the minds of men and kill with a single bite. There are stories of a woman who drowned on dry land and an apparition that haunts the gardens at night.

Thus begins one of the strangest but most compelling novels that I have read. Jess Kidd moves seamlessly between the real, the unreal and the surreal in Things in Jars, weaving apparently magical and mystical elements into her otherwise straightforward detective tale. The novel defies genre and resists easy categorization as either ‘historical fiction’, ‘detective story’ or ‘magical realism’. Instead, it manages to be all of these things and, in some ways, none of them. The result should be a hot mess but is, in Kidd’s hands, a thrilling and mysterious story that was by turns hilarious and heart-breaking and was, at all times, compulsively readable.

Bridie Devine is an absolute treat of a protagonist. Fiercely intelligent, she is full of spark whilst also having a softer side that leaves her, on occasion, heartbreakingly vulnerable. Kidd’s other characters are similarly layered. Beneath a charismatic swagger, there is melancholy, whilst a tough exterior can hide a heart of gold. Respectable appearances can be deceptive, and even the canniest of operators might fall foul of some of the slipperier characters in this novel!

By the end of the book, all of the characters felt familiar but my personal favourite was Bridies mentor, Prudhoe – a genius eccentric who lives in a windmill, analyses stomach contents for a living, invents new forms of narcotic,  and dotes on his collection of pet ravens. Kidd’s description of Prudhoe had me laughing out loud and I could immediately picture him – wiry frame flitting around the inside of his windmill and talking to his corvids amidst a haze of smoke.

The world Kidd has created – and the characters she places within it – are exceptionally vivid. I could envisage each chapter as if the scene were playing out in front of me – the novel would make for a fantastic drama series – and really felt as if I lived the novel alongside the characters. Her characters speak with ‘real’ voices without ever resorting to stereotype, whether these are the voices of the streets or the polished tones of an expensive education. And whilst the story is often dark, there’s humour shot all the way through – whether in a witty turn of phrase, a moment of banter, or a description of a place or person.

As you can probably tell, I adored this book. It has so many of the elements that I look for in a book – a strong and compelling narrative, a vivid recreation of a historical moment, complex characters with rich histories, and a central mystery with some supernatural elements.

It’s hard to find anything to compare it to – the closest I can think of is Imogen Hermes Gower’s wonderful The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock which offers a similarly madcap blend of the historical and the fantastical alongside a vivid recreation of a moment in time – and Things in Jars is so wonderfully unique that it defies easy categorisation. What I would say is that if you love compelling stories with vivid characters – and you don’t mind an element of the fantastical – then you need to pick Things in Jars up!

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd is published by Canongate and is available now in ebook and paperback from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

Don’t forget that although your local bookshop might be closed at the moment, you can also support your local indie bookshops by ordering from them online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read Booksellers, and Berts Books

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

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! Catalyst by Tracy Richardson

Catalyst CoverMarcie Horton has a sixth sense. Not in the “I see dead people” way, but . . . well, maybe a little. She feels a sort of knowing about certain things that can’t be explained-an intuition that goes beyond the normal. Then there was that one summer four years ago, when she connected with a long-departed spirit . . . But nothing that incredible has happened to Marcie since.

This summer, Marcie is spending time working at Angel Mounds, the archaeological dig her mother heads, along with her brother, Eric, and his girlfriend, Renee. The dig is the site of an ancient indigenous civilization, and things immediately shift into the paranormal when Marcie and her teammates meet Lorraine and Zeke.

The two mysterious dig assistants reveal their abilities to access the Universal Energy Field with their minds-something Marcie knows only vaguely that her brother has also had experience with. Marcie learns how our planet will disintegrate if action is not taken, and she and her team must decide if they are brave enough to help Lorraine and Zeke in their plan to save Mother Earth, her resources, and her history.

It looks like the summer just got a lot more interesting…

YA supernatural suspense is not, admittedly, my usual wheelhouse. And sci-fi isn’t always my cup of tea either. But when @The_WriteReads contacted me about Tracy Richardson’s Catalyst, I was intrigued by the premise – a blend of supernatural suspense, YA, and science-fiction – and by the unusual setting – an archaeological dig site. So I thought what the heck – let’s get out of my comfort zone and give it a go!

Catalyst follows the adventures of seventeen-year-old Marcie, her brother Eric, and Eric’s girlfriend Renee, as they spend the summer working on their mother’s archaeological dig. The dig is centred around an ancient indigenous civilization whose people, it turns out, had learnt to connect with the Universal Energy Field – allowing them great insight into the natural world, and the dangers that the world might face in the future.

Marcie, Eric and Renee have experienced the Universal Energy Field before – Catalyst is actually the second book in a series but reads perfectly well as a standalone as the relevant events of the previous novel are neatly summarised when necessary – however, their previous experiences pale in comparison with the situation in which they now find themselves, which could have dire consequences for the planet.

Catalyst is a fast-paced read that hits the ground running. At times, the pace was possibly a little too fast – personally, I could have done with a little more time to develop a connection with the main characters and to establish Lorraine and Zeke and their connection to the Universal Energy Field, although possibly this may be due to the fact that I lacked familiarity with these people and concepts from book one. As it was, I found myself getting a little confused at times as various supernatural and spiritual concepts were introduced in quick-fire succession.

Once I had settled into who was who and what exactly was going on, however, I did enjoy the book. Marcie, Eric, and Renee are lively and engaging characters, the archaeological dig setting was interesting, and the plot rattles along quickly with some suitably mysterious and climactic moments along the way. There’s also a pleasingly optimistic outlook to the book that made a nice change from some of the more angst-filled books I’ve read recently!

I was, however, disappointed that the important environmental messaging highlighted at the beginning of the novel gets lost in the science-fiction/spiritual elements. The two elements didn’t cohere for me – often to the detriment of the environmental plot strand. That said, I recognise that Catalyst is trying to convey contemporary environmental and scientific concerns – not exactly the most immediately accessible topics – in a unique and engaging way and I admire what the author is attempting, even if it didn’t fully work for me.

So, all in all, what was life outside my comfort zone like? Well, whilst I can’t say that I’m a total convert, I had an enjoyable enough time with Catalyst. If – like me – sci-fi and YA aren’t your immediate go-to for reading, Catalyst probably isn’t going to convert you to the cause but it’s a quick and easy read and, if you’re a fan of YA sci-fi, I think it’d be right up your street!

Catalyst by Tracy Richardson is published by Brown Books Publishing Group and is available now in paperback and ebook from Book Depository and Amazon

My thanks go to the publisher for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 06 June 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Catalyst BT Poster

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

Secrets of Strangers CoverWhen a gunshot rings out during morning rush-hour at a busy London cafe, the lives of a group of strangers will never be the same again. 

But there is more to the situation than first meets the eye. And as the captives grapple with their own inner demons, the line between right and wrong starts to blur. 

Will the secrets they keep stop them escaping with their lives?

The Tuckbox cafe is a bustle of activity and, with garrulous owner Robert at its heart, a hub of the local community. For Neil, the cafe is a safe refugee from a life on the streets. For busy lawyer Abi, it’s somewhere she can grab a quick coffee before she boards the train to work. And for grandmother Mutesi, it’s where she meets her beloved grandson each morning to take him to school. These disparate lives collide one Monday morning when a young man walks into Tuckbox with a shotgun, shooting Robert and drawing Neil, Abi, Mutesi and Met hostage negotiator Eliza into a tense and desperate standoff.

To say any more about the plot of The Secrets of Strangers, Charity Norman’s sixth novel, would be to spoil this compelling and elegantly told tale – this is definitely one of those novels that it is better to go into fairly blind in order to fully appreciate it. In bringing together five seemingly ordinary and dissimilar lives, Charity Norman has created a canvas that reflects everyday humanity – from the compulsions that drive us to distraction (or even destruction), to the compassion that shines through in even the most desperate of situations.

I’m often wary of novels with multiple perspectives but Norman manages to alternate and differentiate between her five differing perspectives with ease. Each of the characters feels like an individual, starting the novel wrapped up in the daily worries of their own existences that, gradually, emerge and coalesce as they discover unexpected parallels between their lives.

Norman uses her alternating perspectives to play with her reader’s sympathies, perceptions and expectations. Characters that initially seem unsympathetic are gradually revealed to be more complex than their cold exterior suggests, those who appear to be saints have darker elements in their lives, whilst those with a sunny disposition are shown to have hidden traumas behind their positive outlooks. As a result all of the characters – from the wonderfully warm Mutesi (everyone needs a grandmother like Mutesi) to the seemingly crazed gunman Sam – come across as living and breathing people, capable of both terrible violence and heart-breaking acts of compassion and humanity.

As you have probably realised, The Secrets of Strangers is an emotional – and at times emotionally heavy – read so some reader caution is advised when picking it up. In addition to the act of violence that opens the book, the novel touches on themes of emotional manipulation, gaslighting, marital violence, miscarriage, addiction, and genocide. Whilst all of these issues are handled with great sensitivity – and without any needlessly explicit scenes – Norman does not shy away from reality and there are some heart-breaking moments in the novel.

Compelling and emotional, The Secrets of Strangers is a moving novel that examines multiple facets of humanity and is sure to appeal to readers and book clubs seeking a tense, moving, and multi-dimensional drama.

The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman is published by Allen and Unwin and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository and Amazon

Don’t forget that although your local bookshop might be closed at the moment, you can also support your local indie bookshops by ordering from them online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read Booksellers, 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 May 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content! 

The Secrets of Strangers BT Poster

 

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Glass House by Eve Chase

9781405946179Outside a remote manor house in an idyllic wood, a baby girl is found.

The Harrington family takes her in and disbelief quickly turns to joy. They’re grieving a terrible tragedy of their own and the beautiful baby fills them with hope, lighting up the house’s dark, dusty corners.

Desperate not to lose her to the authorities, they keep her secret, suspended in a blissful summer world where normal rules of behaviour – and the law – don’t seem to apply.

But within days a body will lie dead in the grounds.

And their dreams of a perfect family will shatter like glass.

Years later, the truth will need to be put back together again, piece by piece . . .

The Glass House, Eve Chase’s follow-up to the successful Black Rabbit Hall, sees her create another domestic mystery with an apparently golden family at its centre.

It’s 1971 and young nanny Rita can’t believe her luck when she gets a job working for the glamourous Harrington family. With their stylish townhouse and fashionable manners, Walter and Jeannie Harrington appear to be the perfect couple. Immediately charmed by the couple’s two children, Hera and Teddy, Rita is soon embroiled in the family’s life – and their secrets.

After a tragedy that threatens to tear the Harrington family apart, it’s only natural that Rita accompanies Jeannie, Hera, and Teddy to Foxcote Manor, the family’s dilapidated country house hidden amidst thick woodland. Walter hopes Jeannie will heal at Foxcote – and he’s conscripted Rita into helping him ensure it. But within days a baby will be discovered abandoned in the woods. And days after that, a body will be found in the grounds of Foxcote Manor…

In the present day, newly separated Sylvie is struggling to get her life back on track. When she learns that her beloved mother is in a coma following a nasty fall, and that teenage daughter Annie’s summer romance has ended in an unexpected pregnancy, it feels as if Sylvie’s carefully curated life is coming apart at the seams. And when Annie discovers a folder at her grandmother’s cottage filled with clippings about a long-forgotten crime, it begins a journey that will cast light on Sylvie’s shadowy past- and alter the course of Annie’s future.

The Glass House captured me within its spell from the very first page, which sees Rita, Jeannie, Hera and Teddy apparently exiled to Foxcote Manor. Clearly something very bad has happed within this family. But what? And the mystery only deepens with the change of time and perspective to Sylvie. What does this newly-separated 40-something have to do with the Harringtons and their summer at Foxcote Manor?

Answering those questions makes for an extremely enjoyable journey, with a slow drip-feed of revelations in both timelines and an ever more tanged web of connections being formed as the book develops.

Rita and Sylvie both make for sympathetic narrators. Rita, affectionately called ‘Big Rita’ by the Harrington family on account of her height, is warm-hearted, generous, and loyal almost to a fault. Her blossoming relationship with Foxcote’s gardener is a joy to read about, as is her tender-hearted affection for troubled 12-year-old Hera and 5-year-old Teddy. By the end of the novel, I had really warmed to her and wanted everything to work out for the best.

Sylvie, meanwhile, is a woman trying to do her best whilst staying true to herself. Having finally screwed up the courage to leave her unsatisfactory marriage, she’s desperate to re-build her relationship with teenage daughter Annie. As with Rita, Sylvie works hard to make the best of a bad situation so I could forgive her her slightly neurotic tendancies and the lack of curiosity she has about her shadowed past.

The plot also whips along, alternating between Sylvie and Rita to keep the tension flowing and the pages turning. Admittedly some of the plot elements stretch the bounds of plausability a bit – I don’t want to give away anything that would spoil the ending but let’s just say that, by the finale, connections have been made between the two timelines that, at times, felt just a tad convenient. However, for me, the strength of the characters and the vividly realised world of Foxcote more than made up for the more incredulous moments.

With its dual timelines, multi-latered mysteries and relatively large cast of characters, The Glass House could easily become unwieldly in lesser hands. Fortunately Eve Chase keeps tight hold of the reins, ensuring a slow drip-feed of information that allows the reader to slowly connect the dots but keeps the narrative tension at a constant high.

With it’s dual-timeline narrative and clever weaving of family drama across multiple generations, The Glass House is an intriguing, emotional and thrilling novel  that will delight fans of Rachel Hore and Kate Morton.

The Glass House by Eve Chase is published by Michael Joseph and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers, including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

Don’t forget that although your local bookshop might be closed at the moment, you can also support your local indie bookshops by ordering from them online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read Booksellers, and Berts Books

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 Gaby Young from Penguin Michael Joseph for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 31 May so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

The Glass House blog tour

 

 

 

Reviews

REVIEW!! The Familiars by Stacey Halls

The FamiliarsIn a time of suspicion and accusation, to be a woman is the greatest risk of all…

Lancashire 1612. Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married and pregnant for the fourth time. But as mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. Then she crosses path by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife, who promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby.

When Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the north-west, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. As the legendary Pendle witch trials approach and Fleetwood’s stomach continues to grow, time is running out and both their lives are at stake…

Strong female characters? Check. Spell-binding setting? Check? A new perspective on an infamous historical event? Check. It’s safe to say that Stacey Halls’ debut novel, The Familiars, has, for me, all the characteristics of a captivating and engaging read. And, sure enough, it didn’t disappoint.

Set in Lancashire on the eve of the infamous Pendle witch trials of 1612, The Familiars is the story of two women. Fleetwood Shuttleworth is the new mistress of Gawthorpe Hall and pregant with a potential heir to the estate. Her husband, Richard, is an up and coming young nobleman, widely respected in the area and increasingly coming to the notice of the King and his court. But beneath this life of privilege, Fleetwood is becoming increasingly desperate. Having suffered the loss of three children in miscarriage and increasingly worried that Richard is keeping secrets from her, Fleetwood fears for the safety of both herself and her unborn child.

Alice Gray is also desperate. Poor and alone, the chance to work as a midwife for Fleetwood offers Alice an opportunity to use her knowledge of the natural world to escape the mistakes of her past. But a chance act of kindness sees Alice become embroiled with the infamous Device family. With accusations of witchcraft spreading like wildfire – and a Justice of the Peace determined to fan the flames to aid his own advancement – it isn’t long before both Alice and Fleetwood are caught up in the storm that follows.

A beguiling combination of naivity and tenacity, Fleetwood’s determination to prove Alice’s innocence – and secure a future for both herself and her unborn baby – makes for a captivating narrative. One of the joys of the novel is seeing Fleetwood come into her own. From overwhelmed new mistress, struggling to manage her home and her husband, to determined young woman, courageously fighting for both her life and her friend, Fleetwood is the beating heart of the novel and I was utterly absorbed into her world.

1612 Lancashire is vividly re-created. From Fleetwood’s life of hunting and hosting to Alice’s impoverished home, the world inhabited by these women comes vividly to life – along with all of its inequalities and superstitions.

Whilst there are plenty of novels that expose the truth behind the lives of the women accused of witchcraft, The Familiars provides an intricate and sensitive portrayal of women from opposite sides of the social spectrum, highlighting how fear of female knowledge, combined with desperate poverty and machivallean attempts to retain power, lead to a spread of false accusations that soon developed into a wildfire.

Whilst I found some of the story beats that follow to be somewhat predictable, Stacey Halls’ vivid portrayal of Fleetwood, Alice, and the world that they inhabit pulled me through the novel in a matter of days. I particularly enjoyed the complexity that Halls’ brings to her characters, illustrating their flaws and allowing for the hypocracies and prejudices of the era but without allowing them to fall into caricature.

Overall The Familiars is an assured and well-realised debut with a captivating first-person narrative at its heart. Dramatic and atmospheric, it’s a spell-binding and compulsive read which is sure to appeal to fans of Sarah Moss’ The Essex Serpent and Diane Settenfield’s Once Upon A River.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls is published by Zaffre and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

 

Reviews

REVIEW!! Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Perfect Murders CoverIf you want to get away with murder, play by the rules

A series of unsolved murders with one thing in common: each of the deaths bears an eerie resemblance to the crimes depicted in classic mystery novels.

The deaths lead FBI Agent Gwen Mulvey to mystery bookshop Old Devils. Owner Malcolm Kershaw had once posted online an article titled ‘My Eight Favourite Murders,’ and there seems to be a deadly link between the deaths and his list – which includes Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.

Can the killer be stopped before all eight of these perfect murders have been re-enacted?

A serial killer seems to be murdering their victims in-keeping with the ‘spirit’ of classic crime novels. Crime novels that all appear on a blog post written by the owner of a mystery bookshop. If you want to delight a mystery lover like myself, you really can’t go wrong with a plot like that!

Peter Swanson appears to have written Rules for Perfect Murders (published as Eight Perfect Murders in the USA) with tongue firmly in-cheek. Clearly at ease with the conventions of classic crime, he deftly utilises the tropes of the genre to subvert expectations and keep both his erstwhile detectives Gwen Mulvey and Malcolm Kershaw, and the reader, on their toes.

Whilst there’s no need to be familiar with the eight novels that make up the killer’s list – a selection that ranges from classics by Agatha Christie to lesser-known mysteries by A A Milne and the contemporary fiction of Donna Tartt – having a working knowledge of them certainly adds to the enjoyment of Rules for Perfect Murders, not least because the plots of all eight titles (plus a couple of other genre classics that get a nod in the book)  will be thoroughly spoilt otherwise.

Saying any more about the plot than is revealed in the blurb would utterly spoil the novel so I’ll just say that it’s a short, sharp delight that delights in moving the reader from one startling plot twist to the next. With a cliffhanger ending or a shocking revelation at the end of each chapter, Swanson certainly knows how to keep the tension high and the pages turning!

Swanson has also created an extremely interesting character in Malcolm ‘Mal’ Kershaw. On the surface an unassuming used bookstore owner, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to Mal than meets the eye. Whilst I can’t say that the revelation about Mal was entirely unexpected (Swanson’s hints are fairly liberal and I imagine readers well-schooled in crime novel conventions will guess the majority of the twists before the end), the process of getting there – and of watching the fallout – was so enjoyable that I didn’t mind the slight predicatability.

All in all, Rules for Perfect Murders is, as Anthony Horwitz says on the cover quote, ‘fiendish good fun’ – an absolute caper of a crime novel that deftly pays homage to (and, occassionally, sends up) both the classic and the contemporary conventions of the genre to create a fast-paced and compulsive bookish mystery that is sure to delight fans of the genre.

Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson is published by Faber & Faber and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

Don’t forget that although your local bookshop might be closed at the moment, you can also support your local indie bookshops by ordering from them online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read Booksellers, and Berts Books