Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Not A Happy Family by Shari Lapena

In this family, everyone is keeping secrets – even the dead.

In the quiet, wealthy enclave of Brecken Hill, an older couple is brutally murdered hours after a tense Easter dinner with their three adult children.

Who, of course, are devastated.

Or are they? They each stand to inherit millions. They were never a happy family, thanks to their vindictive father and neglectful mother, but perhaps one of them is more disturbed than anyone knew.

Did someone snap after that dreadful evening? Or did another person appear later that night with the worst of intentions?

That must be what happened. After all, if one of the family were capable of something as gruesome as this, you’d know.

Wouldn’t you?

I’ve mentioned previously on the blog that, after reading a small glut of them, I was suffering from a severe case of thriller fatigue. As a result, I’ve not read any of Shari Lapena’s books despite having had them recommended to me by several of my favourite BookTubers, bloggers, and friends. So when the opportunity arose to be part of the blog tour for Shari’s latest novel, Not a Happy Family, I was instantly interested. And when the plot sounded like a combination of two of my favourite thriller tropes (Family Secrets meets Rich People Problems anyone?), I was even more eager to jump right in and get reading!

With an opening that features the world’s most horrendous family dinner, Not a Happily Family makes swift work of introducing us to the victims – vindictive patriarch Fred Merton and his ineffectual wife Sheila – and our primary suspects, comprising of the Merton’s three adult children Catherine, Dan, and Jenna, their respective partners Ted, Lisa, and Jake, and the family’s former nanny-cum-cleaner Irena.

A few short hours after the ending of that tense and unpleasant dinner, Fred and Sheila Merton are dead in an apparent robbery – but why would a robber slit Fred’s throat and then stab him multiple times in a vicious and seemingly uncontrollable rage? When detectives Reyes and Barr arrive on the scene, they immediately think that something feels wrong about this crime scene. And when it turns out that Fred Merton intended to change his will, it become apparent that someone much closer to the victims may have had a very good reason for wanting them dead.

There are shades of Knives Out in Shari Lapena’s portrayal of the deliciously dysfunctional Merton family, none of whom make for especially sympathetic protagonists – but all of whom held me in grim fascination as I read. Fred Merton is selfish, vindictive, and controlling, ably assisted by his ineffectual and neglectful wife Sheila. Their children, despite being grown up, remain trapped in long-established patterns: Catherine, the ‘favourite’ is a successful doctor, middle child Dan remains the family failure, and wild child Jenna is living it up off her parents’ allowance. And that’s before adding in Fred’s rapacious sister Audrey and the other skeletons in the family closet!

As with Knives Out, it turns out that all of the Merton children had good reason to want their parents dead – and as the story progresses, all of them will tie themselves – and those around them – up in a tangled web of secrets, lies, allegiances, and betrayals. All of which makes for a fast-paced and suspenseful read!

With perfect pacing, Shari Lapena gradually peels back the layers of this maladjusted family setup whilst simultaneously ratcheting up the domestic tension and suburban paranoia. With all the secrets and lies involved, I genuinely had no idea which of the Merton siblings might have committed the crime and the final reveal, when it came, was brilliant – as was the final, unexpected, twist in the tale!

I often struggle to enjoy novels with unsympathetic narrators but, despite non of the characters being especially worthy of sympathy in Not a Happy Family, I was drawn towards finding out what happened and found myself compulsively turning the pages to the end long after what should have been my bedtime! Lapena certainly knows how to control the pace – and how to close her chapters on a cliff-hanger!

Whilst this was my first Shari Lapena thriller, it certainly won’t be my last. Although not the most demanding of mysteries, Not a Happy Family held 100% of my interest while I was reading it and made for a compulsive read. With a compelling narrative, some delightfully awful characters, and a page-turning pace, this is the perfect read for whiling away a day at the beach or a weekend in a sunny garden. Existing fans of Lapena’s work will undoubtedly find much to enjoy here – and any thriller fans who have not yet discovered her work should seek to speedily rectify that with this book!

Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena is published by Bantam Press and is available 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 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 11 August 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!!! The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson

After a fierce storm hits Scotland, a mysterious cargo ship is swept ashore in the Orkney Isles. Boarding the vessel uncovers three bodies, recently deceased and in violent circumstances. Forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod’s study of the crime scene suggests that a sinister game was being played on board, but who were the hunters? And who the hunted?

Meanwhile in Glasgow DS Michael McNab is called to a horrific incident where a young woman has been set on fire. Or did she spark the flames herself?

As evidence arises that connects the two cases, the team grow increasingly concerned that the truth of what happened on the ship and in Glasgow hints at a wider conspiracy that stretches down to London and beyond to a global stage. Orcadian Ava Clouston, renowned investigative journalist believes so, and sets out to prove it, putting herself in grave danger.

When the Met Police challenge Police Scotland’s jurisdiction, it becomes obvious that there are ruthless individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to protect government interests. Which could lead to even more deaths on Scottish soil . . .

Long-time followers of The Shelf will know that I enjoy a good police procedural, especially if there’s an element of forensic mystery. So quite how I’ve managed to miss Lin Anderson’s Rhona MacLeod series is beyond me!

The Killing Tide is the sixteenth outing for Glasgow-based forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod and sees her called to a possible incident of self-immolation in a Glasgow tenement, followed swiftly by a trip to Orkney to identify three bodies washed up on a seemingly deserted former cargo ship. At first glance the two cases could not be more different but, as Rhona and her colleague DS Michael McNab investigate, it becomes apparent that a shadowy company, operating on the Dark Web and providing a deadly playground for the rich and powerful, may connect the deaths.

As Orcadian investigative journalist Ava Clouston begins investigating the shadowy organisation, and evidence in the police investigation grows, it becomes clear that these four deaths may hint at a wider conspiracy – one that spreads to London, and the global stage beyond. And when the Met Police send up a detective to challenge Police Scotland’s jurisdiction on the case, Rhona, DS McNab and Ava begin to question if the conspiracy could lead into the corridors of power justice itself. One thing is certain – there are ruthless individuals who will stop at nothing to conceal their secrets. And that will lead Rhona and her colleagues into terrible danger – and to even more deaths on Scottish soil.

Jumping into an established series at the sixteenth book is always a slightly nerve-wracking experience but The Killing Tide works perfectly well as a standalone. Whilst there are plenty of references to the established relationships between characters who are clearly series regulars – and to some of the previous cases they’ve worked on together – these are made clear for new readers in a way that neither spoils previous books nor bores existing fans with unnecessary exposition.

The plot rattles along – aided by short, sharp chapters that switch between multiple perspectives and often end on tantalising cliff-hangers that leave you racing to find out what happens next! Combined with the multi-stranded investigations across Orkney, Glasgow and London, this made The Killing Tide a compelling and compulsive read that takes in illegal fight clubs, people trafficking, undercover police operations, and corruption before its end – and that will put more than one of our protagonists in life-threatening circumstances.

As such, trigger warnings for several graphic scenes of physical violence, plenty of choice language, detailed descriptions of crime scenes, references to sexual violence, and drug abuse. Although never gratuitous, Lin Anderson does not shy away from depicting the darker and more dangerous side of police investigations – and DS McNab is a detective who doesn’t always play entirely by the rules!

That said, I really did like the main characters in The Killing Tide. DS McNab might be no angel but despite making some questionable choices (primarily in his personal life), he is definitely one of the good guys – and puts his heart and soul into getting the job done and bringing the perpetrators of these dreadful crimes to justice. Rhona MacLeod is smart and intelligent – both academically and emotionally – and her chatty and flamboyant assistant Chrissy makes for a perfect pairing! Investigative journalist Ava also makes for an interesting viewpoint character, being torn between her undoubtedly dangerous – but rewarding – career and her young brother’s wish for her to come home to Orkney and help him keep control over the family farm following the tragic deaths of their parents. Lin Anderson does a fantastic job of balancing such personal struggles with the investigation of the ongoing cases and, by the end of the book, I was keen to spend more time with these characters – and to go back and discover what I’d missed in earlier books!

Fans of the Rhona MacLeod series will probably be well aware of Anderson’s ability to combine a gripping narrative with some wonderfully evocative and atmospheric writing – and are unlikely to be disappointed by The Killing Tide. For readers new to the series, The Killing Tide offers a perfect place to jump into a satisfying slice of some of the best modern ‘tartan noir’ that I’ve read. The Killing Tide may be the first Rhona MacLeod thriller I’ve had the pleasure of reading – but it certainly won’t be my last!

The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson is published by Macmillan 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 18 August 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!!! The Master of Measham Hall by Anna Abney

1665. It is five years since King Charles II returned from exile, the scars of the English Civil Wars are yet to heal and now the Great Plague engulfs the land.

Alethea Hawthorne is safe inside the walls of the Calverton household as a companion to their daughter. She waits in anticipation of her brother William’s pardon for killing a man in a duel before they can both return to their ancestral home in Measham Hall.

But when Alethea suddenly finds herself cast out on the streets of London, a long road to Derbyshire lies ahead of her. Militias have closed their boroughs off to outsiders for fear of contamination.

Fortune smiles on her when Jack appears, an unlikely travelling companion who helps this determined country girl to navigate a perilous new world of religious dissenters, charlatans and a pestilence that afflicts peasants and lords alike.

Providing a fictional imagining of the author’s own family history during the 1660s and set around a manor house (now sadly lost) in nearby Derbyshire (although, thanks to some tidying up of county boundaries in 1889, Measham would now be part of Leicestershire), The Master of Measham Hall was an intriguing prospect for a historical fiction fan – and did not disappoint in its evocation of the era.

Beginning in 1665 and with plague taking its toll on London, the novel follows Alethea Hawthorne, a young gentlewoman whose family seat is the titular Measham Hall but who, at the ‘suggestion’ of her stepmother, has been sent to act as companion to another young lady, Jane Calverton, in London. Alethea and her family are Catholics – a faith that sets them apart despite King Charles II’s claims of toleration – and her beloved brother William has been exiled overseas in mysterious circumstances.

Despite this, Alethea is happy in London – until she is suddenly cast out by the Calverton’s and forced to fend for herself on the streets of plague-ridden London. Determining to make it home to Measham Hall by any means possible, Alethea finds herself accompanied by the charming – and streetwise – Jack Fleet, before falling in with a group of non-conformists, headed up by their charismatic leader Samuel. By the time she eventually reaches her family home, Alethea will be a changed woman – and will have learnt to navigate a world filled with peril, pestilence, and deceit.

I always try to avoid spoilers in my reviews but its impossible to fully review The Master of Measham Hall without giving a couple of plot beats away, the most significant of which is that, through a series of misunderstandings, Alethea ends up arriving at Measham Hall as the titular ‘master’ of it, assuming the disguise of her brother William for much of the book’s final third.

I mention this ‘spoiler’ because the journey that Alethea goes on in the novel is more than just a physical one from London to Derbyshire. It is also a sort of seventeenth-century ‘coming of age’ tale in which Alethea learns to think and act independently, makes good and bad choices, dissemble, reason, argue, and love – and during which she begins to make her own way in the world around her. This personal journey was one of the central draws of the novel for me, although I’ll admit to being occasionally frustrated by some of Alethea’s choices!

Alethea’s assumption of the role of ‘William’ also allows the novel to explore the different societal expectations of men and women in the period, and I found it interesting how Alethea came to embrace the freedoms she had as a man whilst also missing some of the pastimes she could enjoy as a woman.

Whether a young woman such as Alethea would have been able to pass for her brother during this period has been debated by some readers on Goodreads but, as a student of the period, I’ve read of several instances of women disguising themselves as men in order for various pragmatic reasons – the most famous being Spanish nun Catalina de Erauso, who fled her convent disguised as a man in order to fight in the Spanish army and later travelled around Spanish America under a number of predominantly male identities. It is also thought that some women may have fought in the English Civil War disguised as men (Charles I certainly thought they did – he issued an order banning women dressing as men in order to fight), and there’s evidence of a number of women from the period managing estates in their husband’s absence. Whilst keeping up the pretence after periods of conflict was unusual, I can forgive Anna Abney some poetic license to allow her to explore the fascinating difference between the lived experiences of men and women during this period!

Indeed, the evocation of seventeenth-century England is one of the delights of The Master of Measham Hall. From the tense atmosphere of plague-ridden London to the incendiary religious debates going on at the time, Anna Abney’s writing brilliantly evokes the Restoration era. I did occasionally feel that some characters were serving to provide historical exposition for modern readers – the odd conversation felt a bit stilted and provided information that Alethea, being a woman of that period, would likely know already – but, for the most part, the writing is fluid and evocative.

From its pacy opening on the streets of London, the novel did also lull a bit for me in the middle section – which sees Alethea and Jack living amongst a group of non-conformists in Epping Forest – and I found the plot moving along more predictable lines for a while. Once the action moved on to Measham Hall, however, I was soon re-engaged in Alethea’s struggles – although I found myself becoming more and more conflicted about her as a character as her dual identities – and dual responsibilities – lead to her taking ever more ruthless decisions. I was also a little disappointed that the likeable and charming Jack Fleet didn’t feature a little more prominently in the novel – although fingers crossed that he may appear in Book Two of the series, due out in 2022.

For fans of historical fiction, The Master of Measham Hall has much to enjoy – a convincing and evocative depiction of the Restoration era that delves into the social and religious divides of the period, with a side of intrigue, a hint of a love story, and an interesting coming-of-age tale all thrown into the mix! If you read and enjoyed Frances Quinn’s The Smallest Man or Lucy Jago’s A Net for Small Fishes, and are looking for another historical read to dive into, The Master of Measham Hall should be heading for your TBR!

The Master of Measham Hall by Anna Abney is published by Duckworth and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 28 July 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!!! Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir

Image description: the cover of Girls Who Lie has title, author and pull quote text in black and purple on a white background. Below the text is a grayscale image of a female figure standing on a bridge over a desolate river. In the distance is what appears to be a volcanic mountain.

When single mother Marianna disappears from her home, leaving an apologetic note on the kitchen table, everyone assumes that she’s taken her own life … until her body is found on the Grabrok lava fields seven months later, clearly the victim of murder. Her neglected fifteen-year-old daughter Hekla has been placed in foster care, but is her perfect new life hiding something sinister?

Fifteen years earlier, a desperate new mother lies in a maternity ward, unable to look at her own child, the start of an odd and broken relationship that leads to a shocking tragedy.

Police officer Elma and her colleagues take on the case, which becomes increasingly complex, as the number of suspects grows and new light is shed on Marianna’s past – and the childhood of a girl who never was like the others…

Having read and reviewed Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s confident and compelling debut The Creak on the Stairs last year, I was keen to read the next instalment in the Forbidden Iceland saga and discover what small town secrets Chief Investigating Officer Elma and her colleagues in Akranes found themselves investigating next. As it turns out, the dust has barely settled on Elma’s first case when the body of a missing woman is found.

Everyone has assumed troubled single mother Marianna had taken her own life but it soon becomes clear from the body that Marianna was the victim of a brutal crime. As Elma and her colleagues Sævar and Hörður investigate, they quickly find themselves embroiled in a dark and twisted saga of abuse and scandal, rooted several decades before.

While A Creak on the Stairs was most definitely Nordic noir, Girls Who Lie adds an additional layer of psychological tension to the gloomy atmosphere of Akranes. Whilst not overtly violent or gory in its tone, it therefore pays to mention trigger warnings for sexual abuse, rape, discussion of false allegations, psychological trauma, child neglect, psychological manipulation, post-natal depression, and suicide. As with its predecessor though, these harrowing topics are handled with sensitivity however and the novel ably interrogates the relationship between personal trauma and wider societal issues.

Getting back into the shoes of Chief Investigating Officer Elma was a delight. Sharp, perceptive, and hard-working, Elma retains all the dogged commitment from The Creak on the Stairs but has, finally, begun to recover from the personal trauma that led to her returning to Akranes. As such, she is a slightly softer character in Girls Who Lie and whilst this doesn’t exactly remove all of her sharp edges, it does allow us to see her work on her relationships with her sister Dagny and colleague Sævar, both subplots that I enjoyed immensely.

As with her previous novel, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir has also brilliantly captured the rhythms and patterns of small town life, from the respectability and comfort of the suburbs, to the grim reality of life on the poverty line. She’s also brilliantly evoked Iceland in all its harsh and wintery glory.

Written with subtly and nuance, Girls Who Lie also provides a compelling psychological portrait of a desperate new mother. In intermittent first-person chapters, we are transported into the mind of a troubled young woman and her daughter. These chapters make for some of the most harrowing in the novel as their unknown narrator grapples with her own complex, conflicting – and occasionally very dark – feelings towards her little girl. Working out who this unknown mother is – and what relationship she and her daughter might have to Marianna’s murder – makes for a compelling addition and, running alongside chapters focusing on the police investigation, makes for plenty of twists and turns before the novel’s end!

As with its predecessor, Girls Who Lie is a chilling, absorbing slow-burn of a book that combines a sophisticated police procedural with a subtle and emotive psychological portrait into a compelling and atmospheric package. Skilfully translated by Victoria Cribb, this is a complex, twisty novel with a compelling central protagonist and it cements the Forbidden Iceland series as amongst the finest of Nordic and Scandinavian noir.

Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir (translated by Victoria Cribb) is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 July 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!

Image description: blog tour banner for the Girls Who Lie blog tour showing the book cover (described above), tour dates/stops, and publisher information. Tour dates run from 1-30 July with 2-3 bloggers posting per day. Tour posts can be found and followed using the #GirlsWhoLie, or by following @RandomTTours and @OrendaBooks.

Reviews

REVIEW!!! The Crimson Tide by Anna Sayburn Lane

When Helen Oddfellow goes to Canterbury for the opening of an Elizabethan play unseen for 400 years, she is expecting an exciting night. But the performance is disrupted by protests, then a gruesome discovery in the cathedral crypt draws her into a desperate hunt for a murderer.

Is the play cursed? The actors think so, but Helen doesn’t believe in curses. As friends go missing and Helen herself is threatened, she pursues the clues through the ornate tombs of the cathedral and the alleyways of the ancient city.

Mysteries from the distant and not-so-distant past are exposed.

Can Helen find the killer – before he kills again?

Having thoroughly enjoyed Anna Sayburn Lane’s previous two Helen Oddfellow mysteries, Unlawful Things and The Peacock Room, I was delighted to receive a copy of the third book in the series, The Crimson Thread, and to find out what literary mystery Helen has found herself embroiled in this time.

The time has finally come for the lost Elizabethan play that Helen and her investigative partner Richard found in Unlawful Things to be performed. The play is not without controversy – depicting Sir Thomas Becket (also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury) as an anti-hero, its discovery has rocked some of the more extreme parts of the religious and literary worlds, and the play’s performance has attracted protests.

Going to the opening night performance in Canterbury – the site of Becket’s murder – Helen is expecting to have to defend the play but she is wholly unprepared to stumble upon a corpse in the cathedral crypt, and even less prepared when the body turns out to be connected to an old ally of Helen and Richard’s. Someone, it seems, is determined to stop the performance of the lost play – and to continue to hide Thomas Becket’s last secret. And it soon becomes apparent that they will stop at nothing in pursuit of their aims.

As with Anna Sayburn Lane’s previous Helen Oddfellow mysteries, The Crimson Thread provides a page-turning literary mystery complete with a satisfying and intriguing intellectual puzzle and a trail of literary breadcrumbs for readers to follow as the mystery is revealed.

There are probably more thriller elements in this book than the previous titles – Helen finds herself up against a truly vicious villain who is capable of both psychological and physical violence – meaning that, with The Crimson Thread being a tad shorter than its predecessors (a slender 211 pages), the pace really rattles along, making for a page-turning and compulsive read. I finished it over the course of an afternoon because once I was absorbed in the mystery, I just didn’t want to stop reading!

Helen continues to mature as a character – she’s more sure of herself in this book, and more aware of the risks that she is taking. Whilst it was lovely to see some returning characters, it was also great to be introduced to some new faces – a determined and organised police detective, and a handsome actor (and possible love interest for Helen) being two of my favourites. I wasn’t quite as taken with the subplot of this book – the young choir boy who occasionally acts as a viewpoint character didn’t quite make up for the absence of newspaper reporter Nick Wilson for me – but I appreciated the change of location and the opportunity for Helen to meet new people, revisit old connections, and tie up loose ends from Unlawful Things.

As in Unlawful Things, the antagonists of the novel are brilliantly realised – one of them really made my skin crawl, being a blend of manipulative, deceitful, and outright violent. As I mentioned above, there are some scenes of both psychological and physical abuse in the novel – Sayburn Lane doesn’t shy away from depicting violence on the page when necessary – but, as in her previous books, this felt in-keeping with the characterisation of her villains.

Unlike its predecessor The Peacock Room, The Crimson Thread is a more direct sequel to Unlawful Things, picking up on a number of strands from the first book in the series and with the return of a number of characters from that novel. Whilst the mystery itself is, as with the others in the series, a standalone, I do feel that you’d get more enjoyment out of The Crimson Thread if you read Unlawful Things first – the central mystery of that novel is fairly key to this one, and a number of events and characters are referenced.

Fans of The Da Vinci Code and The Shakespeare Secret who have not yet discovered Helen Oddfellow should definitely be jumping on this series, as should any thriller fan seeking a change of pace from domestic noir. Lovers of literature will also find much to enjoy here – Anna Sayburn Lane has clearly done her research and her clear yet crafted writing really brings her characters and settings to life. Packed with twists, turns, action, and adventure, The Crimson Thread is another thrilling outing for Helen Oddfellow and I can’t wait to see what she might get up to next!

The Crimson Thread by Anna Sayburn Lane is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive 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 author for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

REVIEW!! Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce

Image description: the cover of Yours Cheerfully has a pastel blue title text and an illustration of a typewriter on a pastel pink background

London, November 1941.

Following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles (now stationed back in the UK) is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, is bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty and standing by her friends.

As I said when I first read A J Pearce’s first novel – the delightful Dear Mrs Bird – some books really do come along at just the right time. And after the rough ride that was 2020, it feels like we could all do with some cheerfulness and support in our lives. So it really is the perfect time for the irrepressible Emmeline ‘Emmy’ Lake and her colleagues at Women’s Friend to make their return in Yours Cheerfully!

It’s all change at Women’s Friend following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird. The good-natured Mr Collins has assumed the role of editor and Emmy is now free to assist the understanding and practical Mrs Mahoney on the problem page. More importantly, however, Women’s Friend has been given An Important Task.

Called for a high-level meeting at the Ministry of Information, Emmy and the rest of the Women’s Friend team are tasked with helping to recruit female war workers. Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help but, when she and her best friend Bunty meet a young widowed mother on the train, she begins to realise the challenges faced by some of the women trying their best to do their duty to the country. Before long, Emmy is back on the campaign trail and getting involved in helping her new friends as only Emmy can – but what is she prepared to risk to stand up for her friends?

A J Pearce has done a fantastic job developing her returning characters – and bringing in some interesting new faces. Emmy grew so much during the course of Dear Mrs Bird and, in Yours Cheerfully, we see her develop further as both a young woman and a young journalist. I really empathise with Emmy because she does make mistakes and she sometimes gets herself into a right tangle – but her heart is always in the right place and, whilst she’s becoming increasingly aware that sometimes you can’t just push away your worries, she’s determined to Make a Go of It and do her best to support her friends, her family, and her beloved boyfriend Charles.

I also really loved the focus of Yours Cheerfully, with its depiction of women’s war work and the challenges faced by working mothers – challenges that still haven’t been adequately solved to this day. As with its predecessor, there’s a real sense of the challenges of wartime life beneath Emmy’s cheer and spirit, and the novel doesn’t shy away from depicting the tragedy and often grim realities of the war years.

This is also bought across in the other strand of the novel – Emmy’s relationship with her boyfriend, Captain Charles Mayhew. Although now stationed back in England, the demands of the war place constant constraints on Emmy and Charles’s relationship – and there’s the ever present possibility of redeployment to contend with. I loved how Pearce balanced Emmy’s pride in Charles with her worries about him being sent back into the front lines of the fighting.

As with Dear Mrs Bird, there is an accomplished lightness of touch in Yours Cheerfully. A J Pearce has, yet again, walked the line between the realities of life on the UK’s Home Front in World War II and the uplifting, hopeful story of Emmy and her friends with great skill. As I said in my Dear Mrs Bird review, the deft lightness of touch that allows such a story to work on so many levels is a real testament to the skill of the author.

The story does work perfectly well as a standalone so readers unfamiliar with Emmy could certainly dive straight in here – although I’d recommend picking up the first book anyway because you’d be missing a treat otherwise! Fans of Dear Mrs Bird are, however, sure to adore Yours Cheerfully – it really is the perfect sequel, and an ideal novel for picking up and diving into to take your mind away from the challenging times we find ourselves in.

Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce is published by Picador 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 Camilla Elworthy at Pan Macmillan and to Picador for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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

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Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector by Nicholas Royle

Image description: the cover of Nicholas Royle’s White Spines showing blurred white-spined Picador classics on a bookshelf shelf, covered by orange, black and white title text and blurb

A mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction, White Spines is a book about Nicholas Royle’s passion for Picador’s fiction and non-fiction publishing from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s.

It explores the bookshops and charity shops, the books themselves, and the way a unique collection grew and became a literary obsession.

Above all a love song to books, writers and writing.

Like most book bloggers, I love a book about books – and I’ve reviewed a few on this blog since its inception, with Cathy Rentzenbrink’s Dear Reader being a recent favourite. So when a bookish memoir blurbed by Cathy (she “didn’t want it to end and would like a gargantuan infinite edition”) crossed my blogging doorstep, I wasn’t going to say no to giving it a read!

White Spines is, as its subtitle suggests, about books and book collecting. A mix of part-memoir and part narrative non-fiction – with occasional detours into bookshop conversations and various surreal dreamscapes – the book details Nicholas Royle’s love of (obsession with?) his collection of white-spined Picador fiction and non-fiction. Like all good books about books, however, White Spines is more than the sum of its apparent parts. Whilst Royle’s passion for Picadors and love of book collecting provides the backbone of the book, White Spines is also a love letter to literature more widely, and to the power of books to captivate, enthrall, and transform.

Royle talks with wit, charm and intelligence about the joy of discovering a good secondhand bookshop, or the exhilaration that the bookworm feels at discovering a pristine edition on a charity shop shelf. He also captures perfectly that bookish obsession with presentation – the frustration of a publisher changing cover design mid-series, the horror of the TV tie-in cover, and the desire to curate shelves of matching, beautiful spines. In his conversations with author and publishing friends, he brings across the inherent exuberance of conversations about books, from the discovery of new authors to the joyful dissection of a shared read.

Anyone who has ever lost themselves having a rummage through a second hand bookshop, accidentally fallen into a charity shop for a ‘quick look’, or contemplated how to fit several new purchases onto already bulging shelves, will find themselves in White Spines. Although my own reading taste is quite different to Royle’s, I found myself nodding along or smiling in agreement with so many of the incidents and experiences that he recounts.

White Spines also provides some insight into the business of publishing. Royle talks to a number of former and current Picador authors, illustrators, and staff to consider how the ‘white spine’ paperback list was built, how the covers were chosen, and why the list (which includes an impressive collection of both authors and titles) became the cultural force that it did during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

That said, the book is not a ‘publishing memoir’, nor is it a documented history of Picador or an account of all of their titles. It is, as I said at the start, a love letter to books and, more specifically, to book collecting. To the physicality of books – to the desire to hold a physical object in your hand before putting it on your carefully curated shelf with its fellows, or the intrigue that comes with finding a letter or note left in a book by a previous reader.

White Spines is a book that spoke to the part of me that loves seeing the stripy spines of my Penguin English Library editions next to each other on the shelf, as well as the part that’s a sucker for a beautiful cover or stunning endpapers. It made me think about the times I’ve found receipts or train tickets in books and wondered about the people who put them there – and about the times I’ve given books with my name or ephemera in away and wondered what will become of them. It is, in short, an ode to the book and a journey of delight through the pleasures of being a bookworm.

White Spines by Nicholas Royle is published by Salt and is available from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. You can also support the publisher by buying from them directly on their website.

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 20 July 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!

Image description: blog tour banner for the White Spines blog tour showing the book cover (described above), tour dates/stops, and publisher information. Tour dates run from 15-20 July with one blogger posting per day. Tour posts can be found and followed using the #WhiteSpines.

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Beresford by Will Carver

Everything stays the same for the tenants of The Beresford, a grand old apartment building just outside the city…until the doorbell rings…

Just outside the city—any city, every city—is a grand, spacious, but affordable apartment building called The Beresford. There’s a routine at The Beresford. For Mrs. May, every day’s the same: a cup of cold, black coffee in the morning, pruning roses, checking on her tenants, wine, prayer, and an afternoon nap. She never leaves the building.

Abe Schwartz also lives at The Beresford. His housemate, Sythe, no longer does. Because Abe just killed him. In exactly sixty seconds, Blair Conroy will ring the doorbell to her new home and Abe will answer the door. They will become friends. Perhaps lovers.

And, when the time comes for one of them to die, as is always the case at The Beresford, there will be sixty seconds to move the body before the next unknowing soul arrives at the door.

Because nothing changes at The Beresford, until the doorbell rings…

Having read Will Carver’s Nothing Important Happened Today and Hinton Hollow Death Trip, I thought I was well prepared for a trip to the dark side of life when picking up The Beresford. Then I opened up his latest novel, The Beresford, and immediately met and unassuming young man considering how best to dispose of the corpse of his neighbour. Yes, Will Carver is back in all his unconventional and chilling glory. Welcome to The Beresford, leave your soul at the door…

As usual with one of Will Carver’s books, it seems prudent to talk triggers before we head any further into this review. If you’ve read my reviews of Nothing Important and Hinton Hollow, you’ll know Carver writes deliciously dark books – and doesn’t pull punches when it comes to describing the darker sides of human existence. The Beresford is no exception – it might, in fact, be his creepiest and darkest novel yet – so consider yourself duly warned if you’re of a squeamish disposition. Triggers here for death, murder, corpse disposal, drug use, alcohol abuse, some gore/graphic descriptions, and domestic violence – as well as plenty of strong language and a pervading sense of what one critic has called Carver’s ‘bedsit nihilism’.

Why then, does one read such a grim novel? Simply put, Will Carver’s books are always exciting and original and, like his previous work, The Beresford takes the reader on a fantastical, all-too-plausible, journey into the dark heart of the human experience.

The Beresford is an elegant – and surprisingly reasonable – apartment building in a perfectly ordinary city. Its tenants, with the exception of owner and building stalwart Mrs May, are restless and transient; either running to or away from something in their lives. Quiet and unassuming Abe just wants to be left alone with his books. New girl Blair is escaping the confines of small town life. And, until recently, artist Sythe was alternating between creating and burning his work. I say until recently because, as the book opens, the artist formerly known as Sythe is now a cooling corpse on the floor of Abe’s apartment. As one tenant ‘exits’ The Beresford, another arrives. Always exactly 60 seconds later. And as the novel goes on, we’re going to get through quite a few changes of tenancy…

Without saying any more and ruining the many twists and turns of the plot, The Beresford is Will Carver on top form. Grimly dark and with a pervading sense of existentialist dread throughout, this a propulsive and thought-provoking ride into the darker facets of everyday life. As with Carver’s previous books, there is also a deliciously macabre humour running throughout – some of the situations that characters find themselves in border on the ridiculous, whilst some of the questions they have to ponder (such as exactly how much drain cleaner one needs to dissolve a human body) are posed in a darkly comic way.

The characters themselves are also compelling – although you might not want to get too attached to any of them! From the shadowy presence of the mysterious Mrs May through to the dark undertones of Abe’s seemingly quiet and bookish countenance, each of them has their own motivations, desires, and fears – and Carver is brilliant at unpicking and dissecting these to propel the plot forwards, as well as at taking some sharply observed stabs at various facets of modern life – social media, organised religion, and millennials to name but a few.

Chapters are short, sharp, and shocking – making for an utterly compelling and page-turning read that will leave you desperate to know what happens next! Consider this your warning that you may not want to start this book late at night if you’ve got anything on the next day – it’s such a compulsive read, you’ll be staying up well into the wee small hours to finish it!

As I’ve said before, Will Carver’s books won’t be for everyone. They’re sinister and quirky and a bit gruesome – and he’s a writer who delights in taking readers for a walk on the dark side. But his novels are, consistently, some of the most original that I’ve read, and never fail to hook me in and leave me reeling. As a standalone, The Beresford makes the perfect jumping off point for entry into the Carver-verse – so if you’re not read any of his previous work, consider this your invitation into his addictive yet terrifying world! And for existing fans of Carver, The Beresford is, for my money, his best book yet!

The Beresford by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books and is available now in ebook and from 22 July 2020 in paperback from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Orenda Books.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 July 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!!! A Statue for Jacob by Peter Murphy

“This debt was not contracted as the price of bread or wine or arms. It was the price of liberty.” -Alexander Hamilton

Kiah Harmon, a young Virginia lawyer, is just emerging from the most traumatic time of her life when actress Samantha (“Sam”) van Eyck walks into her office, unannounced, with the case of a lifetime. She asks Kiah to recover a 200-year-old debt from the U.S. Government – a debt that Alexander Hamilton may have acknowledged.

The selfless generosity of Sam’s ancestor, Jacob Van Eyck, in making a massive loan of gold and supplies at Valley Forge, during the freezing winter of 1777-1778, may well have saved George Washington’s army, and the War of Independence, from disaster. But it reduced Jacob to ruin. Despite the government’s promises, the debt was never repaid, and this hero of the American Revolution died in poverty, unknown and unrecognized.

Two hundred years later, Sam and Kiah embark on a quest to change that. But first, they will have to find the evidence, and overcome a stubborn Government determined to frustrate their every move. Will there ever be a statue for Jacob?

Peter Murphy’s latest novel, A Statue for Jacob, is an intelligent and compelling blend of contemporary legal thriller and historical mystery that sees young lawyer Kiah Harmon face off against the US government in pursuit of a centuries old debt.

When Samantha van Eyck walks into Kiah’s office to ask if she does debt collection work, the last thing Kiah expects is to be pursuing a loan that dates back to the War of Independence. But, according to Sam, Eyck family legend has it that their ancestor Jacob van Eyck loaned substantial sums of gold and supplies to Washington’s army during the freezing winter of 1777-1778, bankrupting himself in the process. Jacob made the loans in good faith – and in pursuit of liberty – but according to his descendants, the US government never repaid his patriotism and Jacob died in penuary. Now Sam wants justice for Jacob – and official recognition of his contribution towards the nation’s founding.

So begins Kiah and Sam’s investigation into the van Eyck family archives – and a court case that soon sees US government lawyers Dave and Ellen working alongside Kiah to outwit a sinister and shadowy foe that doesn’t want the truth about Jacob’s loans to come to light.

In addition to a suspenseful legal thriller, Peter Murphy has created a twisty historical mystery in A Statue for Jacob. I was fascinated to learn that the book is based on the true story of Jacob de Haven, with which the author – a former judge and lawyer himself – was involved. This lends the courtroom proceedings an authentic air, although Murphy has done an excellent job of explaining the sometimes complex procedures of the US claims court and wider justice system in an easily digestable and understandable way.

Indeed, A Statue for Jacob is a very easily digestable book overall. The story rattles along from the very first page, and the characters are wonderfully relatable. Kiah makes for an extremely likeable central protagonist – a young lawyer just emerging from some traumatic personal events and trying to rebuild her practice from the ground up. Her courtroom opponent Dave Petrosian is similarly pleasant – dedicated, hard-working, and genuinely interested in discovering the truth, even if that isn’t wouldn’t be the best outcome for the government. And some of the supporting cast are brilliant, with Kiah’s outspoken but dedicated secretary Arlene raising a laugh more than once!

As a Brit whose knowledge of the American War of Independance is primarily based on having seen the musical Hamilton, I also found the insights into American history – and the winter spent by Washington at Valley Forge – to be fascinating, and the legal argument around the US Constitution a fascinating and compelling one.

As I mentioned above, I rattled through A Statue for Jacob in a matter of days. With a compulsive mix of courtroom drama and archival discoveries, it has the page-turning quality found in the novels of Blake Crouch, Dan Brown, and John Grisham. I’d love to read more about Kiah and Dave in the future so fingers crossed that Peter Murphy considers starting a new series featuring his latest legal protagonists – because on the basis of A Statue for Jacob, I’d be eager to read about what comes next!

A Statue for Jacob by Peter Murphy is published by Oldcastle Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 16 July 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!!! We Need to Talk by Jonathan Crane

It’s 2019 in Sudleigh, a market town not far from the south coast.

It’s not a bad place to live, provided the new housing development doesn’t ruin it, but most residents are too caught up in their own disappointments, grudges, and sores to notice.

Former lounge musician Frank wants to pass his carpet business to his nephew Joe, killing the boy’s dream to become a chef. Sharp-elbowed phone-sex operator Heather will stop at nothing to become the manager of the golf club. Gap-year Tom is cleaning toilets but finding unexpected solace in his Chinese house-share. Miss Bennett keeps putting her house on the market when she doesn’t want to move.

Do they all know how their lives are linked? Meticulously observed, We Need to Talk offers a jigsaw puzzle of unwitting connections for the reader to assemble. The finished picture is a hyper-real, unflinchingly honest portrait of multi-jobbing, gig-economy Middle England on the eve of Covid, confirming some preconceptions while gently upsetting others.

I usually read books to escape from the often grim day to day realities of the news cycle – especially in the last couple of years. But every so often, a book catches my eye that promises an unique assessment of the ‘state of the nation’, and a glimpse into the hidden depths of our everyday existence – and We Need to Talk is definitely one such book.

Set in 2019, We Need to Talk provides a perfectly poised and intricately observed snapshot of a small English market town post-Brexit and pre-pandemic. Not far from the south coast, Sudleigh is an encapsulation of Middle England – and its residents have all the petty gripes and first-world problems that you’d expect (as well as some actual problems, which you possibly wouldn’t).

Martin has been reluctantly pressed into service to oppose the proposed housing development – much to the dissatisfaction of his wife, district councillor Bridget. Eighteen-year-old Tom has been forced to leave home by his mother’s malicious new boyfriend – and is making ends meet through cleaning jobs whilst he saves for university. Former lounge musician Frank wants to retire – and is disappointed that his nephew Josh seems less than keen to talk on the family carpet business. Newly widowed George is throwing himself into the garden that his beloved wife never got to create – much to the concern of his daughter Emma. Sheila is under pressure to put her house on the market – even though she doesn’t want to move. And Tony, creative writer and pressured academic, is finding it tough to get anyone to appreciate his latest avant-garde work, The Jazz Cats – least of all his girlfriend Lydia.

Chapter by chapter and person by person, We Need to Talk provides a meticulously observed and wickedly funny depiction of small town life in Middle England today. From the perils of the gig-economy, to the small nuances of neighbourhood life, and the deeper interpersonal connections that we make – or fail to make – with those around us. From nuisance neighbours and terrible parents, to worried daughters and spiteful colleagues, We Need to Talk has it all – and treats it all with the same wry and unflinching gaze.

Although We Need to Talk is a novel, its a novel as jigsaw puzzle and, for me, each chapter felt like a little short story all on its own. Characters do flit between chapters – it’s quite fun seeing them flitting in and out of each others lives as the book progresses – and there are some characters that we return to more than once as the book progresses, but this is really a multi-layered portrait of a community and the people within it than a novel with a singular narrative drive or character.

As such, it won’t be for everyone – the pull comes from being interested in the community, and in musing over the various ways the characters drift together and apart and what this might say about modern life in the UK today. At times, I have to admit, I did find some elements of it quite distressing – and depressing – because Jonathan Crane has done such an excellent job of capturing the petty squabbles and gossipy grudges that so often distract from the real issues that many people face. What kept me reading was the meticulous observation, the focus on individuals as part of a wider picture – and the regular moments of wicked and wry humour which punctuates the book.

Gossipy, perceptive, and darkly funny, We Need to Talk is a picture of small town life in an increasingly divided nation. Readers of Jonathan Coe’s Middle England and John Lanchester’s Capital will surely enjoy the book, as will those seeking a short, sharp ‘state of the nation’ read.

We Need to Talk by Jonathan Crane is published by Lightning Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Emma Welton from DampPebbles Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 14 July 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!