Blog Tours · Spotlight

BLOG TOUR SPOTLIGHT!!! The Other Side of the Whale Road by K. A. Hayton

Image Description: The cover of The Other Side of the Whale Road by K. A Hayton depicts a young man in a red shirt and khaki trousers looking at two Anglo-Saxon thatched houses. A sword is upright in the ground to the left hand side of him.

Today I’m helping to kick off The Write Reads blog tour for K. A Hayton’s exciting historical YA adventure, The Other Side of the Whale Road.

About the Book

YOU KNOW HISTORY IS REAL WHEN IT’S RAZOR-SHARP AND AIMED AT YOUR NECK

‘The Vikings are better armed than we are. They have long, heavy axes that can take a man’s head from his shoulder. I know this because I see it happen’.

When his mum burns down their house on the Whitehorse estate, sixteen-year-old Joss is sent to live in a sleepy Suffolk village. The place is steeped in history, as Joss learns when a bike accident pitches him back more than 1,000 years to an Anglo-Saxon village.

That history also tells him his new friends are in mortal peril from bloodthirsty invaders. Can he warn their ruler, King Edmund, in time?

And will he ever get home?

THE STORY OF KING EDMUND’S LAST BATTLE WITH THE GREAT HEATHEN ARMY BROUGHT TO LIFE FOR YOUNG ADULTS

Inspired by both her study of old English poetry at university and the wealth of Anglo-Saxon history in the landscape around her home, K. A Hayton’s The Other Side of the Whale Road offers to take young adult readers onto a journey into the far-off past.

After his troubled alcoholic mother burns down their home, sixteen-year-old Joss is placed into care in the sleepy Suffolk village of Hoxne. As he settles into his new home, Joss is introduced to the fascinating history of the local area by his foster family Cressida and Tim – a history that becomes all too real when a freak bike accident sends him hurtling back 1,000 years.

Stuck in an unfamiliar time, Joss rapidly realises that his new friends in ancient Hoxne are in danger from a deadly Viking invasion. Setting off on a dangerous mission to warn the Anglo-Saxon ruler, King Edmund, of the approaching peril, will Joss be able to save the village in time? And will he ever make it back to the present day?

About the Author

As an RAF child, K.A. Hayton grew up in various parts of Europe, arriving in England just in time for the winter of discontent.

She spent her first year of an English degree at Sheffield University studying Anglo-Saxon poetry, which sparked an enduring interest in the Dark Ages. She trained as a nurse, now works as a health visitor and is also a magistrate. She has two grown-up daughters and lives in rural Suffolk, very close to Sutton Hoo, with her husband and a Hungarian rescue dog.

She is a keen runner, sea-swimmer and supporter of Ipswich Town FC. The Other Side of the Whale Road is her first novel and has already been shortlisted for the Chicken House competition.

Find Out More!

Promising history, adventure, and a coming-of-age story with a twist, The Other Side of the Whale Road is garnering some fantastic early ratings on Goodreads. The book is on tour with The Write Reads from today until 25 August 2021 so follow the hashtags #TheWriteReads #BlogTour and #TheOtherSideOfTheWhaleRoad to follow along for more reviews and features!

The book is published in paperback and ebook on 02 September 2021 and is available to pre-order now – and ideal early Christmas present or autumnal read for the 12-15 year olds in your life (or any older history lovers who love a bit of YA adventure in their reading life!).

You can also find out more about K A Hayton’s work by following her on Twitter.

The Other Side of the Whale Road by K A Hayton is published by Lightning Books on 02 September 2021 and is available to pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, and Waterstones, as well as from the Lightning Books store.

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 Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other reviews and spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtags #TheOtherSideOfTheWhaleRoad #TheWriteReads and #BlogTour for more reviews and content!

Reviews and 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 · Spotlight

BLOG TOUR SPOTLIGHT!!! The Meeting Point by Olivia Lara

Image Description: Cover of The Meeting Point showing a woman and a man against a pink background with the outline of a street map. Both are holding phones showing the symbols for map pinpoints.

Today I’m delighted to be spotlighting a sparkling contemporary romance from Olivia Lara, author of Someday in Paris.

About the Book

What if the Lift driver who finds your cheating boyfriend’s phone holds the directions to true love?

‘Who are you and why do you have my boyfriend’s phone?’
‘He left it in my car. You must be the blonde in the red dress? I’m the Lift driver who dropped you two off earlier.’

And with these words, the life of the brunette and t-shirt wearing Maya Maas is turned upside down. Having planned to surprise her boyfriend, she finds herself single and stranded in an unknown city on her birthday.

So when the mystery driver rescues Maya with the suggestion that she cheers herself up at a nearby beach town, she jumps at the chance to get things back on track. She wasn’t expecting a personalised itinerary or the easy companionship that comes from opening up to a stranger via text, let alone the possibility it might grow into something more…

Olivia’s latest novel, The Meeting Point has been hailed by Goodreads reviewers as ‘a cute and romantic story’ with a page-turning quality and fluid writing style.

Protagonist Maya Maas is having the WORST day. A narcissistic author has refused her interview meaning she’s been unceremoniously fired from job. Deciding to surprise her boyfriend David, she flies to San Francisco only to call him and have David’s Lyft driver – Max – pick up the phone. David has left his phone in Max’s car – shortly after vacating it accompanied by a hot blonde that was a) definitely not Maya and b) definitely not ‘just a friend’.

Heartbroken and jobless, Maya is in need of help – and fortunately for her Max is happy to oblige. Using his knowledge of the area, Max and Maya begin a text conversation that leads to a personal itinerary and a growing friendship. But is Max everything he seems to be? Or is the possibility of love at first text too good to be true?

About the Author

Born and raised in Romania, in a family of book lovers and storytellers, Olivia studied marketing, communications, photography, and worked as a journalist for a newspaper and news television network.

An unapologetic citizen of the world, she spent a few years in Greece, Sweden, France, before settling in sunny California with her photographer husband and daughter, where she works in marketing and writes. Oh, and let’s not forget the ever-growing menagerie that completes the family: Pumpkin—a Maine Coon mix, three black cats and a siamese kitten.

When she’s not writing or thinking about writing, she reads (across all genres), watches old movies and collects vintage books, vinyl records, and eerie paintings.

SOMEDAY IN PARIS, her debut, published by Aria Fiction/Head of Zeus in May 2020 became a B&N, Apple, Kobo and Amazon Top 100 Bestseller and was shortlisted for the Romantic Novel Awards in 2021. Her second novel, THE MEETING POINT, is set to be published as an e-book on September 2, 2021, in paperback on December 2, 2021 in the UK and on March 2, 2022 in the US.

Find Out More!

The Meeting Point sounds like a really fun read for lovers of contemporary romance and will be on tour with The Write Reads until 05 September – so be sure to check out the hashtags #TheMeetingPoint, #TheWriteReads and #UltimateBlogTour to find reviews, content, and more!

The book is published as an e-book on 02 September 2021 and in paperback on 02 December 2021 (in the UK – the US paperback is coming on 02 March 2022) – just in time to make it onto your holiday or autumnal reading lists!

You can also find out more about Olivia’s books – and her upcoming work – on her website, or by following her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Meeting Point by Olivia Lara is published by Aria Fiction/Head of Zeus and is available to pre-order now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, and Waterstones.

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 Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other reviews and spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtags #TheMeetingPoint, #TheWriteReads and #UltimateBlogTour for more reviews and content!

Reviews and 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!

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!

Random Bookish Things

Bookswap: A Book Swapping Site for Book Lovers!

My post today is something a little different as I wanted to share a new book swapping site with you.

Full disclosure – the good folks at Bookswap contacted me to tell me about the site and give me a couple of free points so that I could order some books and try out the system.

The site is really easy to navigate with a clean, stylish layout. Once you’ve created an account, you can begin to add books to your wishlist. If those books are not currently available, you can ask to be notified should they get listed. You can also use the search function to search for titles that you’re interested in, or you can have a browse through recently listed titles. Once you find an available book that you want, you can use one of your points to order it.

If you have points on your account, each book you order will cost you one point, plus a swapping fee (£1.19 at the time of writing this post) and the postage cost (currently £2.39 via MyHermes) for each swap. So, at present, each swap costs £3.58 if you’re using one of your points.

If you don’t have any points on your Bookswap account, you can still order books however you’ll also need to pay to add a point to your cart. At the time of writing, a point costs £3.00 plus you still pay the swapping fee and postage, making a swap without points £6.58.

To acquire Bookswap points, you list your own books for swap onto Bookswap. When someone orders a book from you and you send it to them, you receive a point to your account. As with ordering a book, listing a book for swapping is pretty simple. If the book is already on Bookswap’s database, you just find it and click the listing button to show you have a copy of that title available. If the book isn’t already on the database, you can add it by completing a simple form and (optionally) uploading a jpg image of the book/cover, and adding notes to advise potential swappers about the book’s condition.

When a book you list is ordered, you can choose between printing the postage label yourself or using the QR code to print out the label in your local parcel shop. You then just take your packaged book to your nearest Hermes ParcelShop.

As you can see, it’s a fairly simple system – and from what I can tell so far, it works really well. I’ve ordered two books via Bookswap so far – a hardback copy of Louise Doughty’s thriller Platform Seven and a paperback of Roger Clarke’s non-fiction book A Natural History of Ghosts. Both books arrived within the about a week of ordering and both were in the condition described by the swapper. I received updates via email when the seller dispatched the book via the courier.

I was also relieved to find that there are procedures in place for when things go wrong. For example, if you feel that you have been waiting for your order too long and the person sending it to you is not replying to your messages then you can always cancel your order – all costs are automatically refunded after cancellation, and your ordering point is returned to your account. Similarly, as a ‘swapper’ you can take a holiday and put your account into vacation mode to ensure that you won’t have to dispatch books whilst you’re away/busy – you just need to set the start and end dates of your ‘vacation’ on your account and book offers will be inactive for that period.

The catalogue and functionality of Bookswap is a tad limited at the moment – unsurprising for a website that is relatively new and still growing its userbase. At present, the site is only operating within the UK – so no international swapping – and the majority of the books being listed seem to be contemporary fiction titles. From my explorations of the site, it’s also much easier to find recent releases than backlisted books – although that’s not to say it isn’t worth searching for an older title on the off-chance that someone has it available. And, as you’d expect with a site reliant on users to list titles, available titles do tend to be skewed towards more popular choices from the bigger names.

I would also liked a slightly better search function – at the time of writing this post, there are over 6,000 titles listed on Bookswap but, unless you know the title you want or it’s a recent listing, finding what’s out there involves scrolling through the listings – a time consuming exercise and one that I imagine many people won’t have the patience for. I’d have like a way of searching by genre or age group as a means of narrowing this down.

Overall though, I was pretty impressed with Bookswap. It’s certainly not the cheapest way of sourcing used books – you could undoubtedly pay less by using secondhand sellers on a more established online retailer (who shall remain nameless) in many cases – but it’s a chance to swap books you no longer want whilst gaining credit to obtain books you’re interested in reading.

So if you’re looking for a way to turn your old books into new books – especially during a time when many traditional secondhand bookshops and charity shops are being forced to temporarily close their doors – you might want to give Bookswap a try.

You can visit Bookswap at https://bookswap.co.uk. My thanks go to Katherine at Busby & Bear for getting in touch to invite me to test out Bookswap and providing two points in return for an honest and unbiased feature on the site.

Blog Tours · Random Bookish Things

BLOG TOUR!!! Foul Play: A Murder Mystery Card Game by After Dark

Murder if on the cards!

The Lord of the Manor is dead!

The servants are our lead suspects and it’s up to you as detectives to prove which one committed the dastardly deed.

So what’s it gonna be, good cop or bad cop?

Picking from these two game versions will determine the type of investigators you’ll be whilst you try to solve the crime, but which detective will crack the case first?

When I’m not reading books or working on the PhD, I can often be found enjoying games of one variety or another. Console gaming tends to be my preferred go-to but, during lockdown, I’ve rediscovered my love of board games, card games, and tabletop games so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to try out Foul Play: The Manor House Murder, the new card game from After Dark Murder Mystery Events.

Although I enjoy the strategy and depth of intricate board games such as Pandemic and Elder Sign, it is rare that my husband and I get the time to sit down to play such lengthy campaigns and scenarios so we’re big fans of quick-play games such as Exploding Kittens, Sushi Go, and Fungi. Foul Play fits perfectly into this latter category – it’s quick to set up, easy to learn, and takes about 30 – 40 minutes to play.

There are two game modes on offer – Good Cop and Bad Cop. Good Cops need to find three pieces of evidence to uncover the killer AND they need to hold the suspect card in their hand before they can solve the case. Bad Cops simply need three pieces of evidence that can frame a suspect – if they can then make a case to implicate a suspect whose card they hold in their hand, they can solve the case! In both scenarios other players can attempt to block you from presenting your solution. They can also peek at your evidence (cards), steal or swap evidence, or re-visit the crime scene to acquire more information. And all players need to be on the lookout for those pesky red herrings!

There are 8 suspects to choose from and, owing to the design of the game, the solution will change each time you play. Between this and the different game modes, there is a ton of replay value in Foul Play and, with each round being nice and quick, it would make a fantastic game to introduce at parties or family gatherings (once we are allowed to have them again!). The game can be played with up to 5 players although, with two packs of cards, you can easily extend this to 8 for larger groups. It also works really well played as a couple. You really don’t feel as if you’re losing out by having fewer players and, if anything, it makes each round that bit quicker and more competitive – especially if you are playing as Bad Cop!

In terms of production value, the cards are nicely produced and feel fairly sturdy, with some fun character art and design on the suspect cards and nice clear images on evidence cards. Instructions for setting up and playing both game types are included in the box (although there are more detailed instructions and a picture of the setup online if you need them) and, as the box is the size of the average pack of playing cards, it isn’t a big game to have to store in the house. This makes Foul Play the perfect game for taking away on your travels – or entertaining yourself during a long journey. I can definitely see me taking it away to play with friends or on holiday.

Although Foul Play comes with a suggested age limit of 14+ owing to the murderous theme, younger children should be fine to play alongside adults – the card art isn’t gory and the game isn’t really any more sinister than Cluedo (although the mechanics are maybe a tad more complex given that it’s a card game).

As a card game take on the Murder Mystery party, Foul Play fulfils its brief perfectly. Quick to pick up and play, great for both couples and larger groups, and nicely portable, its made for a fun addition to our household’s growing game collection. At £8.95 a pack it also makes for a relatively inexpensive addition to your Christmas entertainments – or the perfect stocking filler for a game-loving friend or relative!

Foul Play is produced by After Dark Murder Mystery and is available to purchase on their website. My thanks go to After Dark for providing a copy of the game in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Emma at Damppebbles Blog Tours for organising and inviting me on to this tour. The tour continues until 11 December 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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

Random Bookish Things

The Stay-at-Home! Literary Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stay-at-home-festival-twitter-banner-size-pn-logo

 

Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things · Reviews

Graphic Novel Recommendations

Graphic NovelsEvery so often I like to take a break from novels and hefty non-fiction tomes and settle down with something a bit different. Short stories aren’t generally my bag but I LOVE a good graphic novel.

Graphic novels provide a completely different reading experience. The best graphic novels, for me anyway, use a combination of text and art to lead the reader through the pages.

They’re a reading experience that is both fast and slow. Quite often, they can be read relatively speedily if you just read through the text start to finish. But often I find I’m drawn to savour them, the lavish art inviting me to return to examine each frame and search for additional details that provide texture to the narrative.

In today’s post, I wanted to share a few of my favourite graphic novels with you. I’m by no means a graphic novel expert – I wasn’t one of those kids who devoured Marvel and DC throughout my childhood- but these titles have all earned a place on my shelves and I’ve re-read the majority of them more than once. Many of them are also standalone titles, making them great for anyone who is new to the genre.

NimonaNimona, Noelle Stevenson

Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is, technically, a YA graphic novel but don’t let that put you off because it’s a fabulously funny romp featuring an impulsive young shapeshifter with anger management issues, a dastardly supervillain who definitely doesn’t have a heart of gold, and a set of good guys with more than a few dark secrets up their sleeves.

Stephenson’s art is simple and colourful but wonderfully effective, and the narrative combines some laugh out loud humour with a touching story about friendship, love, and finding your place in the world.

Bloodlust&BonnetsBloodlust & Bonnets, Emily McGovern

Emily McGovern’s webcomic My Life as a Background Slytherin has been making me laugh for quite some time now so I was delighted when she released her first full-length graphic novel earlier this year.

In a hilarious pastiche of Romantic literature, Bloodlust & Bonnets sees bored debutante Lucy team up with exuberant poet Lord Byron and dashing ‘definitelystayinginthefriendzone’ bounty hunter Shem in pursuit of notorious vampire Lady Violet Travesty.

Poking fun at the tropes of the gothic novel, vampire literature, and romance, Emily’s clean and simple art style perfectly complements the joyous, action-packed romp. The novel has also been beautifully coloured by Rebekah Rarely.

A Study in EmeraldA Study in Emerald, Neil Gaiman

Sherlock Holmes meets Cthulu. Where do I sign?

I adore Neil Gaiman’s writing and this short story, which follows a famous consulting detective and his partner as they attempt to solve a horrific murder within the murky darkness of Lovecraftian London, has that perfect Gaiman blend of the fantastical and the dangerous.

Brilliantly adapted into a graphic novel format with stunning art by Rafael Alburquerque, script by Rafael Scavone and colours by Dave Stewart, A Study in Emerald is a dark, creepy tale that has a fantastic twist in its tale.

Shoutout also to Gaiman’s gloriously feminist take on the Sleeping Beauty myth, The Sleeper and the Spindle, which is accompanied by stunning black and white art by Chris Riddell.

GiganticBeardThe Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, Stephen Collins

Collins’ wonderfully shaded monochrome art sets off a poignant story of belonging and acceptance in this quirky tale which sees Dave, one of the many residents on the buttoned-down island of Here, suddenly assailed by a terrifying monster: a giant, unstoppable beard.

As Dave gradually begins to embrace his new facial fur, he also starts to relish difference, stepping outside of the familiarities of Here. But what will the other residents do when Dave risks bringing the unknown terrors of There into their safe and closeted world?

Seemingly simple, there is surprising depth in this fantastical tale that has all too many parallels to the world we live in today.

QuietGirlQuiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story, Debbie Tung

I genuinely think Debbie Tung might have rooted around in my head to write this.

Sweet, funny, and poignant, the comic sequences collected here reveal the many ups and downs of introvert life.

From the emotional drain that accompanies even the best of social events, to the sheer joy that can be found in curling up with a book, a cat, and a cup of tea, Tung’s sharp observations and delicate sketches capture the enchantment and awkwardness of introversion.

Honorable Mentions

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, Isabel Greenberg: A fascinating alternative history of the world that embraces a number of creation myths and weaves them into a magical story of enlightenment and true love.

Mooncop, Tom Gauld: A short, stark and wonderfully droll tale of everyday life on a lunar colony. Gauld’s brilliantly simple art style is an absolute joy.

Rat QueensKurtis J Wiebe: The first couple of volumes of this series are a raucous delight of booze, death, and sex that follow an all-female team of death-dealers for hire. Sadly the series has, in my opinion, tailed off in terms of quality as it’s developed, but the first couple of volumes are well worth checking out if you don’t mind reading a graphic series that’s most definitely NSFW.

Bitch Planet, Kelly Sue Deconnick & Valentine De Landro: Another NSFW series focusing on kick-ass ladies. Based on the titular Bitch Planet, a prison planet for non-conforming women, this comic unapologetically embraces the feminist agenda in a raw, captivating, and brutal exploration of exploitation and resistance.

So, those were some of my favourite graphic novels! I hope this post will encourage you to pick up a few of my recommended titles – if you do, then please do let me know what you think in the comments.

I’m also open to suggestions for some more graphic novels to read so please do let me know your own favourites.

And, until next time, Happy Reading!

Book Prizes · Reading Horizons

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2019

Womens PrizeGiven how busy I’ve been with university work recently, I’ve tried not to set myself too many reading goals. I get my MA reading done and I keep on top of my blog tour reading but, after that, I read according to whim. As a result, a lot of the book prizes of the past year have passed me by.

That might have to change however with the announcement of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. Because this list looks absolutely AMAZING!! There are so many titles on here that have been lingering on my TBR, calling out for their turn to be read. So, whilst I don’t think I’ll read the whole longlist, I did want to discuss the longlisted titles and the ones that I’m hoping to read.

I already own, or have borrowed, ten of the sixteen shortlisted titles but have only read two of them – Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, a strange but haunting novella that I’ll be reviewing in the next couple of weeks, and My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, which I enjoyed but didn’t love. The characters were fantastic and it’s definitely a quick read with a great narrative voice, but I found the ending a little lacklustre and I was left with a sense that nothing had really changed for the characters, despite the events of the book.

The other books that I own are:

Circe by Madeline Miller

I absolutely loved Miller’s debut, The Song of Achilles, which gave an evocative voice to an over-looked character from Greek myth. I’ve heard only excellent things about Circe so I can’t wait to see what she has done with this complex mythological woman.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Myth re-tellings are having a bit of a moment at the moment. This re-telling of the Trojan War promises to give voice to the women of Troy. Euripides’ tragedy The Trojan Women was the high point of my undergraduate classics module so I am looking forward to seeing what Barker, author of the evocative Regeneration trilogy, does with the story.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney seems to be the author of the moment – is there a shortlist that Normal People hasn’t been on this year? I have to admit to being a little worried that this won’t live up to the hype but I’m reassured by her short story, Mr Salary, which I read and very much enjoyed earlier this year. If Mr Salary is anything to go by, Rooney has a real eye for detail and for capturing the idiosyncrasies of human interaction.

Milkman by Anna Burns

I’ve had this one on my shelf since it won the Man Booker Prize last year. If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ll like it – I’ve heard that the style can be rather inaccessible and it seems to be quite the Marmite book. I’m hoping that the Women’s Prize will give me a push to try it so that I can decide for myself one way or the other.

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenburg-Jephcott

Okay, so this one was a random NetGalley download that has lingered on my Kindle for far too long. I downloaded it after my book group read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which I found fascinating as much for its author’s compelling voice as anything else. So when I heard about a book centred on Capote, and the literary grenade he detonated amidst an elite circle of Manhattan socialites, I put in a request. I freely admit that I’d almost forgotten that I’d downloaded this but it’s definitely one I want to get around too.

Since the longlist was announced, I’ve also bought An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Ordinary People by Diana Evans, as well as Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton (which is currently one of the featured reads for NB Magazine so available for an absolute steal on their website), all of which sound right up my reading street.

Out of the remaining titles on the longlist, I am hoping to borrow Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive & Bernice L. McFadden’s Praise Song for the Butterflies from the library. Both sound like they could be enjoyable but I’m not 100% sure whether the style is going to be for me – they seem like more literary titles and, whilst I do enjoy literary fiction, I do find some books can be a little too ‘high’ in their style.

I have heard amazing things about the remaining longlist titles – Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, The Pisces by Melissa Broder, Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, and Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn – but they don’t immediately grab me and, with eight books to read already, I think I’ve got my work cut out for me as it is!

I would love to hear from any of you who have read any of these books though, as I am open to being persuaded which I should read first. At the moment, I’m inclined to start with either Swan Song or Circe – both have been languishing in my TBR for far too long. So please do drop me a comment down below, or come say hi over on Twitter and, until next time…

Happy Reading!

 

 

Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things

DISCUSSION TIME! The ‘Value’ of Blogging

There’s been quite a bit of collective ire on social media this week after a independent publisher (who shall remain nameless!) called into question the ‘reach’ and ‘influence’ of book bloggers, especially in relation to blog tours and whether they result in better sales and exposure for the book/author/publisher in question.

Many people felt that it was implied in the publisher’s comments that book blogs and blog tours don’t offer good ‘value’ for authors and publishers. As you can probably predict, many bloggers and tour organisers felt that this belittled their role in the book world and took the publisher in question to task over their comments. Other publishers and authors also raced to the defence of bloggers with positive examples of how the work of bloggers had helped promote their titles.

As someone who writes a relatively small blog – and could therefore be accused of having limited ‘reach’ and ‘influence’ as a blogger – I thought the furore raised some interesting questions about the role of blogging. This post is, I suppose, my reflections on this and an attempt to counter some common misconceptions about the life of a book blogger as I see it.

Firstly, and probably most importantly, I can categorically say that there are far easier ways to get free books than by becoming a blogger!

Bloggers have to work for their freebies. If we’re lucky enough to receive a requested book or be invited onto a tour, we have to read said book, actively engage with what we’ve read (often by making notes as we read), and then compose and edit a (hopefully) entertaining and informative post about it. If this is for a blog tour, we’ll have to do this for a specific date. If not, having the post ready for around a book’s publication date is considered polite so a loose deadline remains in place. And the work isn’t over yet folks! Once a post is live, a blogger will probably want to promote it on social media channels, and ensure their review is also up on Goodreads, Amazon, Netgalley etc. And they may well be engaging with and promoting other posts from the same blog tour, or for the same author/book. They may also choose to re-post when the book subsequently comes out in paperback or if it wins an award.

And, for the most part, they will be doing this whilst holding down a day job, getting the kids to school, doing the laundry and all the other sundry activities that make up everyday life. In short, this is all being done on a blogger’s free time.

So whilst there may be the odd ‘blagger’ out there who thinks a book blog is a great way to bag a ton of hot pre-release titles, I think they’d soon find there’s a bit more to it than that.

I mean, the above is just what you do once you have established yourself as a blogger. Setting up and starting out is a whole different type of work. It can take months – or even years – to establish your blog, develop your online presence, and make connections with authors, publishers and tour organisers. Very few publishers or tour organisers worth their salt will take on an untested blogger – they want to see you have a track record of regular posts and can provide a certain quality and consistency of content before they add you to their tour or mailing lists, especially for popular or high-profile titles.

Which brings us onto this idea of ‘value’. What can your blogger do for you?

Simply put, I think it’s hard to qualify a blog’s ‘reach’ and ‘influence’, especially over the course of what may be just a one or two week blog tour. ‘Reach’ and ‘influence’ are subjective and I suppose that, from my point of view, an author or publisher has to recognise that a blog post or blog tour may not necessarily equate to hordes of readers racing to their nearest bookshop waving armfuls of cash. But does any advertising campaign really do that?

Personally I feel that what we as bloggers offer is less immediately measurable but equally important – genuine enthusiasm for your book, a wish to shout about it to our online (and real life) communities, and an opportunity to increase presence. A presence that, crucially, sticks around long after the tour is over and continues bubbling away as we write more posts and gain more followers.

When I look at my stats page for The Shelf, I’m often surprised (and extremely pleased!) by how many people are still reading posts that I wrote months ago. As I was writing up this post, I had a hit on my review of Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions – a post that I wrote back on 08 January 2018. If that reader goes and buys Laura’s book as a result of my post (and I sincerely hope they do – it’s a brilliant book), it could be argued that I had an influence on them. However that influence could not have been measured at the time of the post going live – or even in the immediate weeks afterwards.

I suppose ultimately what I’m trying to get at is the idea of assessing a blog’s ‘value’ is, to my mind, looking at it all wrong. Blogs and bloggers are, for the most part, lovers of books who wish to communicate that love to the world. The infectious enthusiasm that we have for sharing books may not be immediately measurable in terms of pounds and pence. But in terms of helping to build a buzz or develop a profile – less quantifiable goals but increasingly important to publisher and authors in our digital age – blogs and their associated social media presences are vital ways of getting the word out. And I’m sure there are blog tour organisers and publishers out there who can provide evidence of when this has then translated into sales.

By necessity, this post is a very brief overview of some very complex debates. I haven’t, for example, really touched on the role of blog tour organisers because I feel there are others working in that role who can outline that far better than I can – the wonderful Anne Cater, for example, put up a fantastic Twitter thread that persuasively (and passionately) argued in favour of bloggers, blog tours and tour organisers. Nor have I looked at the need for publisher support and promotion in relation to blog posts and tours, or the fact that many bloggers are avid readers and purchasers of books before they even start writing about them.  And I’ve stayed well clear of the thorny issue of  receiving ‘free’ books and ‘professional integrity’ which is a whole different ball game and one that has been ably discussed by Drew over at The Tattooed Book Geek here.

I do hope however that this post has provided some food for thought. I can only speak for myself but I don’t run The Shelf as anything other than a passion project. I aim to be professional but, ultimately, The Shelf isn’t my business – it’s my downtime. If I have ‘influence’ and can get the word out there about books I love then that’s great but I didn’t start doing this to be influential. I’m doing it because I love books and I love writing about books and having conversations about books and authors that I love with like-minded bookish folk like you.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts so please do drop me a comment down below or come say hi over on Twitter. And, until next time…

Happy Reading! x

Random Bookish Things · Reading Horizons · Reviews

What I Read On My Holidays

Given that I’m currently drowning in a sea of MA reading, and laid low with a nasty bout of Fresher’s Flu (which is an absolute joy at the age of 32 I can tell you), my holiday seems but a distant memory. A mere month ago however and I was enjoying a wonderful, book-filled week on the Welsh coast with the long-suffering husband. I normally do a short post about what I’m intending to read on my hols before I go but, as September was quite busy on The Shelf with blog tours, I thought it might be nice to do a wrap-up and some mini-reviews of what I actually read instead.

36203369I kicked off the week with a book about the Spanish Flu. Holiday reading! Yes, I know it might not seem like the most relaxing of topics but Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World by Laura Spinney had come highly recommended by a bookseller in my local Waterstones and is exactly the sort of narrative social history that I enjoy hoovering up every once in a while. Although slightly terrifying (it is amazing how much we still don’t understand about the flu virus and how incredibly vulnerable to new strains of flu we remain), Pale Rider was also a fascinating examination of human ingenuity and resilience in the face of a terrible threat. That such an incredibly destructive epidemic has become so little-known about in the modern world is something that Spinney attempts to unpick, as well as evaluating why certain countries and communities fared better than others during the outbreak. Whilst I’m sure anyone well versed on the Spanish Flu epidemic would probably struggle to find anything new here, for a lay reader like myself it was a fascinating introduction and a timely reminder of human vulnerability.

39712864Seeking something a little more light-hearted than viral epidemics, I then turned to my book club’s October choice, Heartburn by Nora Ephron. This darkly acerbic tale of a pregnant woman who discovers her beloved husband is in love with a woman who has “a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb” had me laughing out loud and regularly reading passages aloud to my (considerably less amused) husband. If I’m being completely honest, there is nothing essentially new in Ephron’s ‘comic’ tale of a marriage breakdown and the resulting mid-life crisis it brings about in her heroine. What sets the book apart however is Ephron’s strong voice, which grabs you on page one and doesn’t let up until it leaves you – red-cheeked and sides sore from laughing – on the final page. As a commentary on marriage and relationships, I have issues with Ephron’s conclusions but, as a short, sharp stab of wit and amusement, I think it’s a little slice of delight that would be perfect for fans of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette.

35720337Returning to more sombre territory (my aching sides needed a chance to recover), and inspired by the desolate beauty of the surrounding Welsh landscape, I finally picked up Jon McGregor’s Costa award winning novel Reservoir 13. Unfolding over the course of thirteen years, the novel examines the impact of a tragedy on a small village community, starting with a teenage girl going missing in the hills just before New Year. McGregor writes beautifully about the small, everyday rhythms of country life, alternating between the natural cycle of the years and the unfolding dramas of the village and its citizens. A lyrical, elegiac read, this was definitely a case of right place, right time, right book for me – sitting looking out on the sparse beauty of the Cambrian Mountains, I felt utterly absorbed in McGregor’s slow-moving but vividly painted world. Definitely a novel that rewards considered reading and will leave you reflecting long after you turn the final page.

40236461Throughout the holiday I was listening to The World of Lore: Wicked Mortals, written and read by Aaron Mahnke. If you’re into folklore, legends and superstition, Lore is a bi-weekly podcast that covers the strange and unexplained. Like a good fireside tale told on a dark night, it has an ability to send a shiver down your spine whilst keeping you listening. Wicked Mortals is the second in the World of Lore series; a compilation of some of the best tales from the podcast, this time focusing on some of the chilling individuals who have achieved enough notoriety to become part of folklore. Whilst I didn’t enjoy the tales in this as much as I did in the first volume (Monstrous Creatures), the production values remained high with some beautiful background music and Mahnke’s steady, eerily calm narrative perfectly capturing the chill in his sinister stories.

38355634I finished off by settling into Claire Fuller’s latest novel Bitter Orange, a sinister tale centred on a dilapidated mansion in the English countryside and the events that take place there one hot summer in 1969. Prim narrator Frances is immediately captivated by handsome architect Peter and his wild, vivacious girlfriend Cara. Over the course of the summer they become friends, whiling away their days exploring the lost grandeur of Lyntons. As the three become closer however, secrets and lies abound and the novel gradually unpicks the fault lines in our relationships and the stories we tell about our lives. The pace of Bitter Orange was sedate – nothing much actually happens for a great deal of the novel – but the tension is gradually coiled like a spring page by page and, when it does snap, the payback is ever the greater for it. Not a novel of grand gestures or dramatic moments, Fuller’s writing instead focuses on the small, seemingly insignificant moments that hold the key to our interactions – a gesture, a word unsaid, an over the shoulder glance that could mean one thing, could mean another. It’s a style that won’t be to everyone’s taste but it’s masterfully done here, as Fuller takes a thread and gradually pulls at it until the whole intricate web she has woven comes tumbling down around her characters. A measured, sinister read with shades of Patricia Highsmith and Daphne Du Maurier. If we can also take a moment to appreciate that cover which is absolutely stunning.

So there you go, five mini-reviews for the price of one blog post – I do spoil you all sometimes! Please do let me know if you’ve read any of these books – or are intending to read them – as I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can drop me a line in the comments, or say hi over on Twitter @amyinstaffs. I’ll be back soon with more book chat but, until next time….

Happy Reading! x