Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Things to Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr

One minute you’re walking in the park, hiding from a party. Then you discover that the next nine months will probably be your last. Everyone’s last. You realise that you happen to be alive at the time when your species becomes extinct.

You have to decide whether to go with it meekly like you usually do, or to do something brave, to live your last months with all the energy and bravery you can muster, to rage against the dying of the light.

Olivia struggles to live her real life as fully as she wants to. She plans out conversations and events in her head but actually doing them and interacting with other people is hard. When the news breaks that humans have done such damage to the earth that there’s only nine months of safe air left everybody makes bucket lists and starts living their best lives – everyone, that is, but Olivia who is still struggling to figure out who she wants to be.

Then out of the blue comes contact from a long-lost cousin Olivia didn’t even know existed. Natasha is everything Olivia wants to be and more. And as the girls meet up for their last summer on earth Olivia finds Natasha’s ease and self-confidence having a effect on her. But what if Natasha isn’t everything she first appears to be . . . ?

Part eco-thriller, part mystery and part coming-of-age tale, Emily Barr’s Things to Do Before the End of the World is an odd book to categorise but, in spite of that, a compelling one to read.

As the title suggests, Things to Do Before the End of the World takes place in a near future setting where humanity’s negligence has resulted in potentially irreversible environmental catastrophe. Melting polar ice caps and the subsequent rise in carbon dioxide levels is going to wipe out the majority of life on earth and, as the novel opens, its main character Olivia is having to come to terms with the fact that not only will the world most likely end but, more specifically, it is going to do so in precisely nine month’s time. Which rather puts her inability to socialise with her classmates at the school dance and her worries about her exams into perspective.

Olivia – or Libby as she tends to be called – is shy, awkward and suffers from almost crippling social anxiety. Adept at planning out conversations and dreams in her head, she struggles to enact these in real life. Hence why despite her eloquently composed emails to the girl of her dreams, they’re going to sit unread in her drafts for what will quite possibly be the rest of Libby’s life.

Until, that is, Natasha turns up. Confident, easy-going, and extroverted, Libby’s long-lost cousin is everything that Libby isn’t – and everything she wants to be. So when Natasha proposes an all-out ‘end of the world’ road trip, Libby decides to throw caution to the wind and go out to explore the world she feels like she’s been hiding from her whole life. But is Natasha everything she claims to be? Or are there secrets to be discovered before the end of the world?

There is quite a lot going on in Things to Do Before the End of the World – possibly a little too much at times if I’m honest. Starting out with the imminent threat of ‘The Creep’ (as the rising levels of carbon dioxide come to be called), the book takes a turn into more comfortably YA ‘coming-of-age’ territory with an increasing focus on Libby’s insecurities and her budding romance, then switches modes into a Pretty Little Liars-style thriller/mystery as Libby’s doubts about Natasha develop, before ending back as a ‘coming-of-age’ story as Libby discovers the truth behind all the mysteries.

Whilst all of these strands are interesting in and of themselves, the sudden lurches in tone were occasionally jarring and I did feel that some of the most interesting elements of the premise – most notably the threat of the ‘The Creep’ – were side-lined as the story continued in favour of more well-worn tropes such as the thriller and romance elements.

That isn’t to say that Things to Do Before the End of the World isn’t an enjoyable read however. I rattled through it over the course of a couple of evenings and very much enjoyed my time with it. Libby makes for a likeable and interesting protagonist and the development of her unease about Natasha and her motives adds a creeping sense of unease to the proceedings that ensured the pages kept turning. But the ending did feel a tad rushed – with such a lot going on, there was a lot to wrap up – and whilst the ‘end of the world’ premise added a unique and interesting backdrop, I felt that element – emphasised quite heavily in the blurb and at the beginning of the novel – was underutilised in the rest of the story.

That said, the ending does manage to be both heart-warming and poignant – no mean feat given the many layers and complexities of the plot – and I did really enjoy seeing the way in which Libby develops as a character over the course of the book.

Offering plenty of drama and suspense and with a premise that, whilst not wholly realised for me, added an additional layer of complication to the well-trodden YA ‘coming-of-age’ narrative, Things to Do Before the End of the World makes for an interesting and unique addition to the YA thriller genre – and a fantastic way to while away some summer evenings or a sunny weekend!

Things to Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr is published by Penguin on 13 May 2021. It 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 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 16 May 2021 so do follow the hashtags to 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!!! Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

I have to admit to being a little nervous when I picked up Ariadne. Jennifer Saint’s much vaunted debut has been spoken about with ALL OF THE PRAISE by book bloggers, booktubers, and booksellers and has been compared to Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls. High praise indeed but, for me, I always get nervous that maybe I just won’t ‘get’ the book that everyone is talking about, or that the hype will mean I enter a book with unrealistic expectations.

Fortunately, I need not have been concerned about Ariadne. It is as compulsively readable and compellingly affective as everyone has been saying and I now find myself in the position of adding yet another voice to the vase torrent of bookish love for this Jennifer Saint’s brilliant debut.

Following in the footsteps of Miller, Barker, and, perhaps most relevantly, Natalie Haynes, Ariadne is a feminist literary retelling of Greek mythology that places Ariadne, Princess of Crete, firmly back into the centre of her story. Beginning with her childhood on Crete, we feel her pain and anger as the whims of gods and men result in her beloved mother’s shame and madness, and follow her as she encounters the Athenian hero Theseus and helps him escape his fate – or possibly, to fulfil his destiny – within the depths of her father’s labyrinth.

Ariadne is a smart, intelligent narrator of her story, combining a naiveté that wishes to see the good in everyone with an awareness that she inhabits a world where women – even strong, courageous, intelligent women – suffer because of the capriciousness of both men and gods. Bought to life in lyrical prose, Ariadne’s world is enthralling combination of the mythological and the human and her life – and that of her beloved sister Phaedra – is equally affected by both the divine games being played upon Olympus and the more petty machinations of kings and city-states.

Although Ariadne is probably best known for her role in Theseus’s story, the novel whips through this part of her life with relative speed, moving to focus upon the woman Ariadne becomes as a result of her encounter with Theseus. I won’t spoil the story for anyone unfamiliar with the myth but it’s definitely fair to say that Ariadne’s tale only BEGINS with Theseus – and that her famous encounter with him is far from the most interesting part of her story.

Whilst I enjoyed re-treading the more famous aspects of the myth, for me Ariadne really came alive once the novel entered the less familiar territory of her marriage. As the book developed, I really enjoyed seeing the different threads of Ariadne’s life being woven together into a compelling – and emotionally affecting – ending that places Ariadne firmly back at the centre of her own story, even when the control of her fate is being wrested from her by petulant gods and treacherous men alike.

Beautifully written whilst remaining accessible for those less familiar with classical mythology, Ariadne continues a fine recent tradition of recent myth re-tellings that consider the supressed and forgotten voices that lie behind many of the ‘great’ deeds of bravery and heroics that form the heart of such stories.

As a lover of all things myth and legend, Ariadne was always going to be right up my street. But with its accessible style and focus upon the all-too-familiar challenges that a young women encounters when forging her own path in life, I think it’s an immensely relatable novel that speaks to problems we still face today. In Ariadne, Jennifer Saint has created a heroine with a humanity that provides an emotional compulsion to her tale despite its temperamental gods and mystical monsters – and that makes this a novel that is sure to appeal to any lover of a good story and not just to myth aficionados.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint is published by Wildfire 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 and Netgalley UK for providing an e-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 12 May 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Reviews

REVIEW!! Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews

Celebrated, bestselling, elusive…who is Maud Dixon?

Florence Darrow wants to be a writer. Correction: Florence Darrow IS going to be a writer. Fired from her first job in publishing, she jumps at the chance to be assistant to the celebrated Maud Dixon, the anonymous bestselling novelist. The arrangement comes with conditions – high secrecy, living in an isolated house in the countryside . Before long, the two of them are on a research trip to Morocco, to inspire the much-promised second novel. Beach walks, red sunsets and long, whisky-filled evening discussions…win-win, surely? Until Florence wakes up in a hospital, having narrowly survived a car crash.

How did it happen – and where is Maud Dixon, who was in the car with her? Florence feels she may have been played, but wait, if Maud is no longer around, maybe Florence can make her mark as a writer after all… 

One of the best things about book blogging is discovering books that you might otherwise have missed through other lovely bloggers. If it hadn’t been for the lovely Clare over at Years of Reading, I might have missed out on Who is Maud Dixon? and, let me tell you, that would have been my loss because this book is an absolute corker!

Who is Maud Dixon?, the debut novel from Alexandra Andrews, is a literary mystery reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith at her most chilling but with a pinch of Elena Ferrante’s carefully observed female relationships and Harriet Lane’s unreliable narrators thrown in for good measure.

The novel follows Florence, a young and somewhat awkward young woman living in New York and dreaming of literary success. Unfortunately Florence lacks the experience to put her dreams into words. Surrounded by the glamour of New York’s literary intelligentsia, her writing has dried up and, as she watches her colleagues achieve successes that she can only dream of, Florence begins to lose herself amidst a dangerous mixture of ennui and bitterness.

After a series of poor decisions result in her losing her publishing job, Florence is overjoyed to be approached by elusive novelist Maud Dixon. Maud Dixon or, as it turns out, Helen Wilcox’s wildly successful debut novel, Mississippi Foxtrot, set the literary world on fire and now she needs an assistant to help her whilst she concentrates on her second book. Cue Florence’s entry into the world of Maud Dixon/Helen Wilcox. But is there more to Maud/Helen than meets the eye? Florence may wish to emulate Helen’s success but who really IS Maud Dixon?

Saying anything more about the plot of Who Is Maud Dixon? would spoil the book. In fact I’d actually argue that this is one instance in which the blurb potentially gives a little too much away – the less you know about this book going in, the more satisfying I think you’ll find the experience of reading it. Suffice to say that there really is more to Maud/Helen than there first appears – and more to Florence too – and the novel unfolds into an intimate portrayal of these two women and the lengths that they will go to in order to both forge and protect their literary identities.

Florence makes for an interesting – if not always likeable – protagonist. By turns naïve and scheming, she is a young women entirely unsure of who she really is. Dominated by an overbearing mother throughout her childhood, Florence has escaped to New York in the expectation that simply by moving she will become everything she is meant to be. Her failure to recognise that some effort on her part may be required in order to achieve her literary dreams did frustrate me at times but, as events unfolded and Florence becomes more entangled with Helen/Maud’s life, I began to be more sympathetic towards someone who is clearly out of their depth and wildly unprepared for the challenges she faces.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, there are strong Highsmith vibes in Who is Maud Dixon and the plot turns on issues of identity. How do we know who we truly are? What processes do we go through to become that person? And what lengths will we go to in order to protect that? Finding the answers to these questions will, for Florence, entrap her in a haze almost as suffocating as that created by the Moroccan heat she finds herself living in.

Who is Maud Dixon? has that enviable page-turning quality that makes it a perfect holiday read. With its glamorous depiction of the literary scene and its heady descriptions of the Moroccan heat, I was transported by its pages and ended staying up well past my bedtime to finish it! Packed with well crafted twists, hazardous situations, complex characters, and a series of poor life choices (ingredients that make for the BEST revelations!), it would make for the perfect summer read for anyone who loves a good literary mystery.

Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews is published by Tinder Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy

A bold and uncompromising feminist manifesto that shows women and girls how to defy, disrupt, and destroy the patriarchy by embracing the qualities they’ve been trained to avoid.

Seizing upon the energy of the #MeToo movement, feminist activist Mona Eltahawy advocates a muscular, out-loud approach to teaching women and girls to harness their power through what she calls the “seven necessary sins” that women and girls are not supposed to commit: to be angry, ambitious, profane, violent, attention-seeking, lustful, and powerful. All the necessary “sins” that women and girls require to erupt.

Eltahawy knows that the patriarchy is alive and well, and she is fed up: Sexually assaulted during hajj at the age of fifteen. Groped on the dance floor of a night club in Montreal at fifty. Countless other injustices in the years between. Illuminating her call to action are stories of activists and ordinary women around the world—from South Africa to China, Nigeria to India, Bosnia to Egypt—who are tapping into their inner fury and crossing the lines of race, class, faith, and gender that make it so hard for marginalized women to be heard. Rather than teaching women and girls to survive the poisonous system they have found themselves in, Eltahawy arms them to dismantle it.

Brilliant, bold, and energetic, The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls is a manifesto for all feminists in the fight against patriarchy.

From the very first page, Mona Eltahawy demostrates that she is pulling no punches. The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls was written ‘with enough rage to fuel a rocket’ and calls for a feminism that is not only universal but that ‘should terrify the patriarchy’ and ‘put patriarchy on notice that we demand nothing short of its destruction’.

Moving between memoir and manifesto, Eltahawy has written a rally cry for feminism centred around what she terms her seven ‘sins’. Anger. Attention. Profanity. Ambition. Power. Violence. Lust. Traits that women and girls are taught to actively avoid but that, Eltahawy argues, should be embraced and utilised to their fullest. Only by doing so, can feminism respond to the global challenges posed by the #MeToo movement, by Black Lives Matter, by the growing chorus of long-unheard LGBTQI+ voices, and by the fallout from the Arab Spring.

Although I had not heard of Mona Eltahawy before, The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls appealed because it draws not only on her only experiences as an LGBTQI+ woman of Egyptian descent with dual American-Egyptian citizenship, but because it draws on the work and experiences of intersectional activists from around the world, including those within some of the larger global movements such as #MeToo. With issues as interconnected as those faced by the global feminist movement – often divided within itself about the best forms of representation, or who it is really designed to represent – it can be hard to know where to begin when it comes to getting more involved. And whilst I’ve read a number of feminist essays and memoirs, many of those have been written by straight cisgender white women based in the UK or the US – useful and important, of course, but only part of a much larger picture, especially in the wake of some of the global movements mentioned above.

Eltahawy’s ‘manifesto’ offers to unpick this, recognising the complexity of global intersectional movements – and the individuality of women’s experiences – whilst arguing that feminism, in all its forms, must recollect its goal of disrupting – nay, of destroying – the patriarchy. And what the patriarchy wants is compliance. Not anger, or attention. Or profanity or ambition. Or power or violence or lust. But these ‘undesirable’ traits are exactly what are needed and, Eltahawy argues, must be embraced in order to dismantle and reclaim the societal structures that impose them.

It’s a powerful argument and – at times – a shocking one. Eltahawy is unafraid of making bold statements and of offering challenges as much to herself and her readers as to the patriarchy she opposes. She is unapologetic in her rage and her engagingly persuasive in her argument. Reading The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls there were times when I was uncomfortable because I realised just how much I had internalised – how complicit I can be in systems designed to oppress, if not me, then women like me and, especially, women without the opportunities from which I benefit.

This isn’t to say that I agreed with every one of Eltahawy’s arguments but I felt that everything raised and discussed in this book merited attention, recognition, and debate – and I admired not only the breadth of the experiences that Eltahawy uses to illustrate her points, but her careful consideration of intersectionality and her recognition that some women face double – or even triple – oppression simply because of where they were born, or what they look like, how they identify themselves, or who they choose to love. Many of the experiences she recounts – backed always by data and ‘hard’ evidence in addition to anecdotal experiences – added to my own understanding of this intersectionality, as well as to my own anger towards the oppression women face simply because they are women trapped within male-dominated societies and systems.

Each of the essays within The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls is quite lengthy and, although there was the occasional moment when I felt that Eltahawy was repeating herself, for the most part, each one provokes, engages and offers plenty of food for thought. I found myself needing to take some time after each chapter/essay to mull over the issues Eltahawy raises, and the solutions she proposes.

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls is a powerful and timely book that poses a fierce yet eloquent argument. For anyone already engaged with feminist discourse and activism, it is surely a must read – and it deserves to be read much more widely as a manifesto for meaningful structural change.

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy is published by Tramp 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 Helen Richardson for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 29 April 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! In the Company of Men by Véronique Tadjo

Two boys venture from their village to hunt in a nearby forest, where they shoot down bats with glee, and cook their prey over an open fire.

Within a month, they are dead, bodies ravaged by an insidious disease that neither the local healer’s potions nor the medical team’s treatments could cure.

Compounding the family’s grief, experts warn against touching the sick.

But this caution comes too late: the virus spreads rapidly, and the boys’ father is barely able to send his eldest daughter away for a chance at survival.

Made up of a series of linked vignettes, this meditative novel charts the course of the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Beginning with two boys whose hunt for bushmeat results in the sickness arriving their village, this short but powerful novella follows healthcare workers, grave diggers, foreign NGO volunteers, grieving families and Ebola survivors to tell a story of human hubris, weaving the story of the virus’s decimation of humanity into a profound fable about the devastation caused to the natural world by human endeavours.

Given the subject matter, this isn’t exactly a book that I ‘enjoyed’ per se. Beneath the lyrical prose, there are some incredibly difficult scenes and the author does not shy away from portraying the terror and heartbreak of the crisis, and the humanitarian issues that followed in its wakes. The sparse but evocative language adds to the depth of the writing, resulting in a powerfully moving tale that packs a punch that belies the novella’s slender length.

I found the way in which Véronique Tadjo wove in chapters told from the perspective of the baobab tree, the bat, and even ebola itself fascinating although I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely convinced that the connection between the environmental destruction caused by humans and the spreading of the virus always came across clearly.

Whilst I found these chapters beautifully written and interesting, I felt the book was at its strongest when showing the range of human responses to the virus, from the compassion of the healthcare workers and the practical concerns of the gravediggers to the fear, pain, anger, and denial faced by the population affected by the virus.

Written with wisdom and compassion, In the Company of Men is a powerfully affecting book that, whilst it won’t be for everyone, offers a beautifully written and evocative tale about humanity’s capacity for destruction, hope, renewal, and resilience.

In the Company of Men by Véronique Tadjo is published by Hope Road 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 26 April 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!! Together by Luke Adam Hawker

‘Dark clouds were looming in the distance. We watched them gather, and we wondered… When will it come? How long will it last?’

A monumental storm brings huge and sudden change. We follow a man and his dog through the uncertainty that it brings to their lives.

Through their eyes, we see the difficulties of being apart, the rollercoaster of emotions that we can all relate to, and the realisation that by pulling together we can move through difficult times with new perspective, hope and an appreciation of what matters most in life.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Together when I signed up to this blog tour. Whilst I enjoy reading the occasional graphic novel (I wrote a post about some of my favourites that you can find here), this sounded more like an illustrated fable akin to Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse. And whilst those sort of books are undoubtedly beautiful, they can sometimes risk being a little twee.

Like The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse however, Hawker’s Together avoids being either twee or moralistic despite the importance and scope of its subject matter. Instead, as we follow one man and his dog through the uncertainty bought into their lives by a sudden and monumental storm, the book provides a thoughtful and meditative reflection upon the changes that the Covid-19 bought into our lives during 2020.

Marianne Laidlaw has provided sparse yet philosophical words to accompany Hawker’s rich and detailed black and white drawings, and the two combine together to provide a beautiful and meaningful reflection on the ways we find togetherness, even if we’re forced to be physically apart.

As you can see from the above page example, this isn’t a lengthy book or one filled with dense prose – you can read the whole thing in about 10 minutes. But reading the book from cover to cover once isn’t, I think, really the point of Together.

Sure you can do that and you’ll probably think it’s a sweet story with some lovely art. But it’s a book that invites you to return to certain lines or certain illustrations and to reflect. On what life was like ‘before’, how it has been ‘during’, and what it might be like ‘after’. On what things you want to let go of and what you want to keep. Of connections made – and those that need to be given more attention.

Hawker dedicates the book to his grandfather, who he credits with being the inspiration for his main character, and Together reminded me of my own much-missed grandfather, and all the ways in which I am thankful for his influence in my life – as well as for the family, friends, neighbours, tutors and colleagues who have been there to support me throughout this last year. That might seem a little glib – it’s difficult to translate a feeling into words – but it’s what I ended up reflecting on after putting down Hawker’s book.

Together won’t be for everyone – I suspect that many bookshops will place it firmly in the ‘gift book’ category and indeed the stunningly produced hardback would make a beautiful gift for a loved on in your life. Like The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse however, this is a quiet but powerful book that provides a way of reflecting on both the strange and unusual times we have recently found ourselves in, and of provoking conversations about both the losses and gains we may have seen during that time.

Together by Luke Adam Hawker (words by Marianne Laidlaw) is published by Kyle Books and is available now from all good bookstores 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 24 April 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

Perhaps everyone’s childhood memories are the same: part truth, part fantasy.

But this house turned our imagination into a melting pot, a forge. A cauldron.

I can trust nothing that came out of it.

No. 36 Westeryk Road, an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A house of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?

Now in her thirties, Cat receives the shocking news that her sister has disappeared. Forced to return to Edinburgh, Cat finds herself irresistibly drawn back into Mirrorland. Because El has a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets…

I used to read and review a lot of thrillers but, if I’m honest, it’s been a while since a ‘thriller’ really thrilled me in any way. Until, that is, Mirrorland came along and kept me on the edge of my seat and up turning the pages long after I should probably have turned out the light.

Mirrorland is the story of mirror twins Cat and El, and of the imposing Edinburgh townhouse they grow up in at 36 Westeryk Road. Behind it’s seemingly ordinary façade, 36 Westeryk Road is home to Mirrorland, a vivid make-believe world of populated by pirates, cowboys, and jailbirds- Bluebeard and Blackbeard, the brave and handsome Captain Henry, and the aptly named Mouse. It is also an occasional home to Ross, Cat and El’s next-door neighbour, honorary crewmate, first crush, and secret friend. Mirrorland is a place of magic – and a place of escape. But escape from what? Or from who?

When El goes missing, Cat is forced to return to Westeryk Road, to Ross, and to Mirrorland. Because while everyone else might think El is dead, Cat knows she’s alive – and that she has a plan. Someone is emailing Cat with clues: a treasure hunt that will lead her straight back to Mirrorland – and back into childhood memories that she has buried deep within herself.

Mirrorland is a novel suffused with unease and tension. From the very beginning, the reader is thrown into a confusing world of Clown Cafes and Princess Towers, and it is unclear which characters are real and who has been plucked from the fragments of Cat’s childhood imagination. And it is clear from the first page that beneath the imaginative magic of Mirrorland, something very dark is hiding.

Whilst I don’t want to give any spoilers, I do want to provide some trigger warnings because the novel confronts issues of child abuse, rape and sexual abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse, mental trauma, coercive control, gaslighting, alcohol abuse, and mental illness. Although never gratuitous or overly graphic, the truth behind Mirrorland is very dark indeed and the novel is a testament to the power of the imagination and the many and varied ways that the body – and the mind – will try to protect itself from trauma.

Although a somewhat unreliable protagonist, I became utterly drawn into Cat’s world – and into the world of Mirrorland – very quickly. Although occasionally difficult to sympathise with, I could understand Cat’s resentment of El, her fascination with Ross, and her wish to leave the past firmly in the past. The relationship between sisters Cat and El is definitely at the heart of Mirrorland. As an only child, I find novels about the intricate mix of love and jealousy that occurs between siblings fascinating – and Carole Johnstone coveys the tangled web of affection. loyalty, and resentment between Cat and El fabulously.

I was slightly less taken by the relationship between the two sisters and Ross which did, sadly, conform to a lot of the tropes of the genre. Unfortunately this meant that, for me, some aspects of the ending descended into cliché, which was a huge shame given how fresh and original the rest of the plot felt. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the ending of Mirrorland – it packs a real punch and there are some very dark revelations that I didn’t see coming – but, for me, the final third of the book was less compelling.

For me, Mirrorland is at its best when it is operating as a mystery. I was compelled by Cat’s struggle to mine the fragments of her memories, and by the contrasting landscape of Cat and El’s make-believe world with the gradually revealed realities of their childhood. The magical yet oppressive neo-Gothic atmosphere of Mirrorland is vividly conveyed on the page and, for me, the writing was definitely at its best when exploring this brilliantly realised world of imagination.

As I said at the start of this review, it is a long time since a thriller thrilled me. But whilst some aspects of the ending didn’t quite land with me, Mirrorland definitely succeeded in keeping me reading – and in making for a thrilling read. Combining a well-crafted mystery, a unique premise, and the compulsive readability of a thriller, Mirrorland is an impressive debut that is sure to appeal to fans of Tana French, Ruth Ware, Erin Kelly and Sarah Pinborough.

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone is published by Borough 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 01 May 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Back from the Backlist · Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things · Spotlight

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

Although my blog is very much my hobby – and I have absolutely no expectation of it being anything more than that – I have to admit that, aside from being able to share the book love with lots of lovely like-minded folk, one of the very nice things about being a book blogger is being sent the occasional book by publishers or authors for review.

In my case, most of these books come because I’m on Blog Tours but, every so often, I request a book because I like the sound of it from the blurb and the buzz surrounding it. 90% of the time these books then go on to be read and reviewed on this blog (although let’s not talk about my NetGalley backlog – that’s a whole different post) but, every so often, the book isn’t quite what I was expecting and doesn’t quite float my bookish boat in the way I hoped it would.

Because I don’t review books that I don’t finish on the blog, that left me in a bit of a quandary about what to do with these ‘not for me’ books. Part of what I love about book blogging is being able to help authors and publishers spread the book love, and to share books with potential readers. And I’m especially keen to acknowledge anyone kind enough to send a proof or finished copy my way.

So rather than have the ‘not for me’ books sitting on my shelf accusingly, I decided to put together this post to spotlight them and share them with you. Because just because a book wasn’t for me doesn’t mean that it won’t be for you! 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!

The Canary Keeper by Clare Carson

Publisher: Head of Zeus, 398 pages

Blurb: Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn had no good reason to be by the river that morning, but she did not kill the man. She’d seen him first the day before, desperate to give her a message she refused to hear. And now the Filth will see her hang for his murder, just like her father.

To save her life, Birdie must trace the dead man’s footsteps. Back onto the ship that carried him to his death, back to cold isles of Orkney that sheltered him, and up to the far north, a harsh and lawless land which holds more answers than she looks to find…

Review: Check out this full review from Nicola over at Short Books and Scribes – she found it “intriguing, so full of depth and the writing is beautifully descriptive” and perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries!

Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipeiger

Publisher: Doubleday, 308 pages

Blurb: Three extraordinary lives intertwine across oceans and centuries.

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a heartbroken young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toymaker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada, where a journalist battling a terrible disease, drowning in her own lungs, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Moving effortlessly across time and space and taking inspiration from an incredible true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about love, loss, and the immeasurable impact of every human life.

Review: Amanda over at Bookish Chat loved this one – her review said that “Sarah Leipciger’s writing is captivating and sharp and all historical and medical elements were very well researched and portrayed” and felt that “Coming Up For For Air is one of those books which stays with you long after you’ve finished it”. High praise indeed!

From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

Publisher: Picador, 272 pages

Blurb: When George Hills was pulled from the wreck of the steamship Admella, he carried with him memories of a disaster that claimed the lives of almost every other soul on board. Almost every other soul. Because as he clung onto the wreck, George wasn’t alone: someone else—or something else—kept George warm and bound him to life. Why didn’t he die, as so many others did, half-submerged in the freezing Southern Ocean? And what happened to his fellow survivor, the woman who seemed to vanish into thin air?

George will live out the rest of his life obsessed with finding the answers to these questions. He will marry, father children, but never quite let go of the feeling that something else came out of the ocean that day, something that has been watching him ever since. The question of what this creature might want from him—his life? His first-born? To simply return home?—will pursue him, and call him back to the ocean again.

Review: Simon Savidge absolutely ADORED this book – it was one of his books of 2018, before it had even been published in the UK! His blog review said that the book has “originality, wonderful writing, a brilliant twisting plot, fantastic characters and some themes within it that you can really get your teeth into, should you want to” and he’s also featured the book on Youtube.

Theft by Luke Brown

Publisher: And Other Stories

Blurb: What I did to them was terrible, but you have to understand the context. This was London, 2016 . . .

Bohemia is history. Paul has awoken to the fact that he will always be better known for reviewing haircuts than for his literary journalism. He is about to be kicked out of his cheap flat in east London and his sister has gone missing after an argument about what to do with the house where they grew up. Now that their mother is dead this is the last link they have to the declining town on the north-west coast where they grew up.

Enter Emily Nardini, a cult author, who – after granting Paul a rare interview – receives him into her surprisingly grand home. Paul is immediately intrigued: by Emily and her fictions, by her vexingly famous and successful partner Andrew (too old for her by half), and later by Andrew’s daughter Sophie, a journalist whose sexed-up vision of the revolution has gone viral. Increasingly obsessed, relationships under strain, Paul travels up and down, north and south, torn between the town he thought he had escaped and the city that threatens to chew him up.

Review: Lucy over at What Lucy Wrote thought that Theft was “a compelling and colourful reflection on division and truth – both within individuals and a country” with some brilliant characterisation. You can read her review here.

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor

Publisher: The Cameo Press, 483 pages

Blurb: A strange twist of fate connects a British soldier fighting in the First World War in 1916 with a young woman living in modern-day England a century later, in this haunting literary time travel novel.

Two people, two battles: one against the invading Germans on the battlefields of 1916 France, the other against a substandard, uncaring mental health facility in modern-day England. Part war story, part timeslip, part love story – and at the same time a meditation on the themes of war, mental illness, identity and art, Beyond The Moon is an intelligent, captivating debut novel, perfect for book clubs.

In 1916 1st Lieutenant Robert Lovett is a patient at Coldbrook Hall military hospital in Sussex, England. A gifted artist, he’s been wounded fighting in the Great War. Shell shocked and suffering from hysterical blindness he can no longer see his own face, let alone paint, and life seems increasingly hopeless.

A century later in 2017, medical student Louisa Casson has just lost her beloved grandmother – her only family. Heartbroken, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol on the South Downs cliffs – only to fall accidentally part-way down. Doctors fear she may have attempted suicide, and Louisa finds herself involuntarily admitted to Coldbrook Hall – now a psychiatric hospital, an unfriendly and chaotic place.

Then one day, while secretly exploring the old Victorian hospital’s ruined, abandoned wing, Louisa hears a voice calling for help, and stumbles across a dark, old-fashioned hospital room. Inside, lying on the floor, is a mysterious, sightless young man, who tells her he was hurt at the Battle of the Somme, a WW1 battle a century ago. And that his name is Lieutenant Robert Lovett…

Review: Writing for NB Magazine, Nicola from Short Books and Scribes said that Beyond the Moon “is a fascinating read, both in terms of the detail and the well-plotted storyline” and that she “closed the book with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure that I had read it”. You can read her full review here.

When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

Publisher: Hutchinson, 326 pages

Blurb: Emma is beginning to wonder whether relationships, like mortgages, should be conducted in five-year increments. She might laugh if Chris had bought a motorbike or started dyeing his hair. Instead he’s buying off-label medicines and stockpiling food.

Chris finds Emma’s relentless optimism exasperating. A tot of dread, a nip of horror, a shot of anger – he isn’t asking much. If she would only join him in a measure of something.

The family’s precarious eco-system is further disrupted by torrential rains, power cuts and the unexpected arrival of Chris’s mother. Emma longs to lower a rope and winch Chris from the pit of his worries. But he doesn’t want to be rescued or reassured – he wants to pull her in after him.

Review: Another review from Amanda over at Bookish Chat! She thought that ” the gentle humour and real moments of tender interplay between family members is so heartwarming” and that Carys Bray has an “innate ability to write about the ordinary family dynamic against the backdrop of extraordinary circumstances”.

My thanks go to all of the authors and 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!!! The Plague Letters by V. L. Valentine

WHO WOULD MURDER THE DYING…

London, 1665. Hidden within the growing pile of corpses in his churchyard, Rector Symon Patrick discovers a victim of the pestilence unlike any he has seen before: a young woman with a shorn head, covered in burns, and with pieces of twine delicately tied around each wrist and ankle.

Desperate to discover the culprit, Symon joins a society of eccentric medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague. Someone is performing terrible experiments upon the dying, hiding their bodies amongst the hundreds that fill the death carts.

Only Penelope – a new and mysterious addition to Symon’s household – may have the skill to find the killer. Far more than what she appears, she is already on the hunt. But the dark presence that enters the houses of the sick will not stop, and has no mercy…

V. L Valentine’s The Plague Letters opens with the Reverend Symon Patrick, newly returned to London by order of his patron and regretting both his enforced return and his separation from the vivacious Elizabeth. Symon returns to a city filled with fear and a household in uproar – during his absence, bubonic plague has arrived and Londoners are fleeing to the country if they can. And in the midst of the chaos, one of Symon’s maids has gone missing.

When the missing maid turns up dead, no one – least of all Symon – is surprised. The body shows unusual signs – a shaved head, strange inked markings, signs of restraint – but London is full of superstition, quacks, and dubious medicines. But when another young woman arrives in the same condition, Penelope – a new and quick-witted addition to Symons household – forces the reluctant reverend to take notice of the possibility of a killer in their midst. Someone, it seems, is attempting a series of misguided experiments in an attempt to rid London of the plague – and they’re more than happy to trial their ‘medicine’ on human subjects.

Desperate for answers, Symon is forced into an unlikely alliance. A group of medical ‘professionals’ – an eminent physician, a well-known surgeon, a charismatic ‘healer’, and a pioneering apothacary – have formed The Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague. Despite their differences – and their personal eccentricities – these men seek to end London’s suffering. But is a killer hiding in their midst?

There were times, especially early on, when I wasn’t quite sure what sort of book I was reading with The Plague Letters. By turns gorily vivid in its descriptions of the deprivations bought about by the London plague, the next page might see a farcical comedy play out as the filthy surgeon Mincey starts a fistfight with drunken apothecary Boghurst, or court favourite Valentine Greatrakes flounces into the room with a knowing smile and a witty retort. Turn the page again and you’re in the midde of a romantic drama, as Symon continues his illicit correspondance with the flirtateous – and very much married – Elizabeth. It’s as if V. L. Valentine has reached into 1665 and pulled out a slice of London life, upending it onto the page in all of its chaotic, messy, and gruesome glory.

Get used to the sudden lurches in tone however, and The Plague Letters offers a rich and rewarding mystery enveloped alongside deeply evocative depiction of plague-ridden London. The characters, whilst not always especially likeable, leap off the page, pulling the reader into their messy lives – and into their hunt for an increasingly unhinged killer. V. L. Valentine has a real eye – and ear – for the strange and the absurd, brilliantly capturing both the dark humour and the grit of the bodily experiences evoked on the page.

Symon makes for an interesting – and occasionally infuriating – main narrator. Suffering from melancholy and increasingly embroiled in relationships he neither fully understands nor fully appreciates, he is a man whose inner demons constantly wrestle with his better angels. Once paired with clever, mysterious Penelope however, Symon soon begins to untangle his knotty mess of life choices and I enjoyed seeing the pair’s relationship develop from antagonistic tolerance to trust over the course of the novel. Although the ending leaves many of the personal mysteries within the characters lives opaque or unresolved, I still felt as if I had got to know – and even to like – these flawed and changeable people by the of the book.

The eccentricity of style – that alignment of the grim and the grimly funny – may put some people off The Plague Letters but settle into this novel and you’ll find a cleverly-plotted mystery, some fantastially realised characters, and a deeply evocative depiction of seventeenth-century London. It’s as if Imogen Hermes Gowar’s sublimely eccentric The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock had been combined with the tension of Andrew Taylor’s Ashes of London and the mystery of Antonia Hodgson’s A Devil in the Marshalsea. Fans of historical crime will find much to delight in – as will anyone who enjoys being dragged in to a book and taken along for a wild and unpredictable ride!

The Plague Letters by V. L. Valentine is published by Viper Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to the publisher for inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 12 April so check out the other stops on Twitter and Instagram for more reviews and content!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Drowned City by K. J. Maitland

1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

Fans of historical fiction may recognise the name Karen Maitland from her standalone titles such as Company of Liars and The Owl Killers. The Drowned City, written under the name K. J. Maitland, is the first of a promised series to feature secretary-turned-conjurer-turned-agent Daniel Pursglove and sees a slight shift in both era and tone from Maitland’s previous work.

Set in 1606, with England and Scotland both still reeling from the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot and James I’s promises of religious toleration looking increasingly untenable in the wake of renewed Catholic conspiracies, The Drowned City opens with Daniel languishing in the rat-infested depths of Newgate on trumped-up charges of witchcraft. As a man with powerful and well-connected enemies, it will take the favour of the King himself to grant Daniel his freedom – which is precisely what he is offered when the mysterious Charles FitzAlan tasks him with uncovering a network of Jesuit spies – and of investigating allegations that they may have recruited witches to their cause.

On his arrival in Bristol, Daniel finds a city in ruins. A devastating wave has left the city shattered – and its remaining people suspicious of both outsiders and those who survived unscathed. Restless mobs roam the streets and gangs of vicious looters operate under the shadowy protection of the castle. Finding refuge at the Salt Cat Inn, it isn’t long before Daniel realises his task may be impossible. Bristol is a hotbed of conspiracy – and then amidst the whispers, bodies start to be unearthed.

As you can hopefully tell from that brief description, The Drowned City is a fast-paced and thrilling adventure that quickly sees Daniel become embroiled in a series of local murders that may have much wider implications for both court and country.

Whilst more action-orientated that Maitland’s previous novels, The Drowned City is no less impressive in its historical research or realism – one of the things that I enjoyed most about the novel was how vividly Maitland depicts the world in which Daniel lives. From the crowded and horrific squalor of Newgate’s dark depths to the mud-encrusted remnants of wave-damaged Bristol’s streets, I felt as if I was walking alongside Daniel every step of the way. I also enjoyed the occasional snapshots that are given of court life, and the way in which Daniel’s investigations are shown to relate to national concerns that have implications for the court – and for the life of King James himself.

Daniel himself is an interesting protagonist – although I suspect there are secrets hidden in his background that have been left for readers to discover in later books! Having been raised alongside – and worked for – gentlemen, he is well placed to understand the intricacies and dangers of the court – and to appreciate the dangers that lie in continuing to follow the old faith. However his more recent career as a conjurer – as well as his mysterious past – gives Daniel a street-sense and a roguishness that serves him well in his adventure – and allows the reader to ponder where his loyalties and morals may truly lie.

It is difficult to say much more about The Drowned City without spoiling the enjoyment of reading it. Packed full of intrigue and set within a dark and dangerous world, it is an enthralling novel that is sure to appeal to fans of C. J. Sansom and Andrew Taylor, as well as to anyone who has previously enjoyed Maitland’s work. Jacobean England is brought vividly to life and the plot whips along with the crackle and spark of the magic that Pursglove is sent to investigate. A thoroughly enjoyable and diverting read – I am already looking forward to seeing where Daniel Pursglove ends up next!

The Drowned City by K. J. Maitland is published by Headline and is available now from all good bookshops 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 12 April 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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