REVIEW: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

35993602Minette Walters is a name I associate with crime fiction so it was primarily intrigue that prompted me to request a copy of ‘The Last Hours‘ from NetGalley.

Set in June 1348, the Dorsetshire port of Melcombe is about to become infamous as the place where The Black Death enters England. Whilst the Church proclaims the sickness as a punishment from God, Lady Anne of Develish – a small demesne just outside Melcombe – has other other ideas. Determined to protect her household from the devastating plague, Anne gathers her serfs within the gates of Develish and refuses entry to outsiders, even extending her quarantine to her own husband. Thus begins a historical novel that has shades of dystopian fiction as Lady Anne and the denizens of Develish endure against the pandemic whilst the world around them – and the order that it sustains – is dying.

The premise is certainly interesting and I was immediately drawn into the world that Walters creates. Develish is a world in microcosm – a perfect miniature of the social hierarchy that propped up the feudal system with God and the Church at the top, Norman nobles on the next rung down and the Saxon serfs towards the bottom of the pack – sworn to service their whole lives long. At first Develish seems to obey this hierarchy – Sir Richard of Develish is boorish, ignorant and cruel-hearted, kind only to his spoilt and petty daughter Eleanor. With the arrival of the Black Death however, the normal social order is plunged into disarray. With Sir Richard away paying court to a neighbouring noble, his long-suffering wife Lady Anne swiftly takes action, using her reputation for compassion and intelligence to encourage her bondsmen and their families to isolate themselves from the sickness before it can enter Develish’s walls. Thus begins a narrative that sees serfs working alongside stewards in a desperate attempt to survive the plague that has fallen upon the land – a plague that has the potential to forever alter the dynamic between bondman and master.

Walters has clearly put a lot of research into this novel. For the majority of the time, it is worn lightly although there is the occasional info dump or character playing exposition monkey. For the most part however, I felt that the world was well-realised and well-drawn and that the book was at its best when it was looking at the changes wrought on the established social order by the drastic situation – each of the characters reacts differently with some (such as the feisty Lady Anne) rising to the challenge whilst others (the deluded Eleanor) refuse to accept that their place in the world has changed.

This strength does highlight the novel’s weakness however. The characters, for me anyway, felt thinly drawn – almost caricatures at times. Sir Richard, for example, is a pantomime villain – boorish, fat, lazy and stupid – and its therefore no surprise when his various wicked actions come to light throughout the course of the book.  On the other side of the coin, Lady Anne and her ‘steward’, the bondsmen Thaddeus, are intelligent, courageous and compassionate in their pursuit of the wider interests of the people of Develish and their decisions and actions are always vindicated. Whilst this didn’t prevent me finishing the book – I raced through it in a couple of days – the one-dimensional caricatures and lack of character development did grate.

My other niggle was with the ending – or should I say, the lack of an ending. It became apparent that the book was drawing to a close with an increasingly small number of pages in which to wrap up the various plot strands introduced. This, I eventually realised, is because there will be a sequel (due Autumn 2018). Now I have nothing against sequels but I do think that each book in a series should stand on its own. Reading Hilary Mantel’s ‘Bring Up The Bodies’, for example, is infinitely enhanced by having read ‘Wolf Hall’ but it can be read as an independent book in its own right. ‘The Last Hours’ however felt, to me at least, like reading half a book – a great premise is established, characters are introduced, relationships are established and all is going well. And then it ends. Just. Like. That. Plot threads are left hanging, relationships unresolved and there are hints towards the end of the novel of many events still to come. Which would have been fine if this had been marketed as Part One of a series or duology but, as far as I can tell, this isn’t made clear in the blurb or marketing so it came as a disappointment.

This makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy ‘The Last Hours’ – which is a shame because there’s a lot to recommend it. Walters can clearly turn her hand to historical fiction and has created a page-turning novel set during a fascinating period of English history that saw huge societal change. I’ll probably even read the next book in the series because I do want to know what happens to the people of Develish – it’s just more likely to be a library loan than a purchase if I’m being completely honest. If you like your historical fiction, this is definitely worth giving a read – and the page-turning nature of the story makes it a good introduction to the genre for fans of Walter’s fast-paced crime and thriller titles as well. Overall this was a solid 2.5/5 read for me – I enjoyed it while it lasted but I don’t think I’ll be reading it again.

The Last Hours‘ by Minette Walters, published by Allen & Unwin, is available now as a hardback and ebook from all good booksellers. My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley for providing an e-proof in return for an honest and unbiased review. 


REVIEW: Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

32721820My first thought on being asked whether I would like a review copy of ‘Nine Lessons‘ – Nicola Upson’s latest historical crime series featuring writer Josephine Tey – was how did I not know there was a crime fiction series featuring Josephine Tey?!?! Tey’s Inspector Alan Grant mysteries are amongst some of my favourite ‘classic’ crime and ‘The Daughter of Time‘ is one of the few books that I regularly re-read. My second thought was, of course, heck yes – send it over!!

I was, I’ll admit, a teeny bit nervous as to what the book might be like. Blending reality and fiction isn’t the easiest so it’s a brave decision to make your protagonist not only a real person but a relatively famous one amongst crime fiction aficionados. Given that Tey was also a notoriously private person, who disclosed very little about her personal life even to those closest to her, I also wondered how much fact Upson would have to rely upon and how this might impact her portrayal of Josephine.

My fears were however, unfounded. Even without knowledge of the first six books in the series, it is clear that Upson has taken the air of mystery that surrounds Tey’s private life and blended it smoothly with the few facts available to create a plausible and complex heroine. The blanks of Tey’s life – friends, lovers etc- are filled in with fiction but it’s plausible fiction and I felt like the woman coming across in ‘Nine Lessons’ really could be the woman who wrote the golden age classics that I’ve so enjoyed. Upson’s Tey comes across as clever, passionate and sensitive with strongly held opinions, many of which seem very forward-thinking for the time. As such she’s a brilliant foil to the slightly more dour Chief Inspector Archie Penrose with whom she shares the investigation. Which is not to say that Archie is a difficult character to follow – he’s just a still waters run deep type and reminded me a little of P D James’ Adam Dalgliesh with his quiet competency and methodical approach.

The mystery itself is complex, with two distinct threads to the plot and a little knot of personal problems thrown in on the side, yet it never gets so tangled that you lose the thread of what’s going on. Archie’s investigation into the ritualistic murder of a church organist soon leads him to Cambridge and a link to a group of scholars who once shared ghost stories around the fire with M R James – links that might now see them being killed one by one. As a fan of James’ ghost stories I really enjoyed this link and felt the atmosphere of Cambridge academia at this period really came across.

Also in Cambridge, Josephine finds herself becoming entangled in an investigation into a serial rapist who has been terrorising single women. This latter element, based upon a series of real life crimes, provides an opportunity for Upson to examine the expectations placed upon women at this period as well as the way that attitudes towards a crime such as rape have altered – or, arguably, haven’t in some respects.

Overall this was a cleverly plotted, compelling mystery novel. I didn’t feel as if I missed too much by not having read the first six books in the series – although I admit that the personal plots held less interest for me probably because I hadn’t read the books in which the various relationships were established and developed. The actual crimes investigated are completely standalone however and very engaging without any prior knowledge of the series. Having read ‘Nine Lessons’ I am keen to go back and discover the earlier books in the series and I’d certainly recommend ‘Nine Lessons’ to anyone who’s a fan of classic crime or of the style found in P D James’ books or Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series.

Nine Lessons‘ by Nicola Upson, published by Faber & Faber, is available now as a hardback and ebook from all good book retailers. My thanks go to Sophie Portas at Faber & Faber for providing an advance copy in return for an honest and unbiased review. 


Autumn Readathon TBR

As you may have already realised from recent posts, I love Autumn. As the nights draw in, the thought of curling up next to the fire in a cosy jumper with a good book and a large mug of tea is a welcome solace after a long day at work. So when Mercedes over at Mercy’s Bookish Musings announced she was going to run an Autumn Readathon, my immediate reaction was ‘where do I sign’?!

The readathon runs from 22 – 28 October and is fairly chilled by way of challenges to allow for readers of all speeds and intentions (which I love – not all of us have the ability to read 7 books in a week!) with 4 prompts and 2 optional prompts to attempt. You can watch Mercedes’ announcement video here as well as her TBR and recommendations here but I thought it might be fun to do a post about my own TBR and reading goals for the week as well.

Prompt One: Read a Gothic/Spooky Book

I started on Laura Purcell’s ‘The Silent Companions‘ during Lauren’s Autumn Cosy Reading Night on Friday and, fortunately for me, it doubles up nicely for this prompt. Set in a crumbling country mansion, this gothic ghost story that promises unsettling psychological horror in the vein of Susan Hill, Shirley Jackson and Henry James. I’m less than 50 pages in at the moment but I’m already loving the setting and the brooding sense of malice and unease that has been infused into the most innocuous of interactions and settings.

Prompt Two: Read an Autumnal Non-Fiction Book

Mercedes has classed this as nature writing or autumnal travel-writing but I’ve just gone with something a bit gothic again because I’m currently reading ‘Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England‘ by Sarah Wise which is a fascinating insight into the history of insanity in the nineteenth-century. Looking at both the rise of the ‘mad-doctor’ profession and public fears about sane individuals being locked away in private asylums, Sarah Wise examines twelve real-life cases that could have come straight from the pages of Wilkie Collins or Dickens.

Prompt Three: Read a Novel Set in a Cold Location
Prompt Four: Read a Historical Fiction Novel

Eowyn Ivey’s ‘To The Bright Edge of the World‘ gets to do double duty for this one. I already mentioned in my 5 Star TBR Predictions post that I wanted to get to this novel soon and, with it being both set in a cold location (Alaska) and in the past (1885), it fits the bill perfectly for this prompt. At over 400 pages, it’s unlikely I’ll finish this during the readathon week but, if I can get started, I’ll be happy.

Bonus Prompt Five: Read a Short Story Collection

I recently collected ‘Eight Ghosts: The English Heritage Book of New Ghost Stories‘ from the library and am intending to dip in and out of it through the week. Featuring spooky stories inspired by English Heritage sites across the UK, the collection features stories by some of my favourite writers including Sarah Perry and Mark Haddon. It’ll also be ideal reading for the run up to All Hallows Eve.

Bonus Prompt Six: Read an Adult Novel with a Young Female Protagonist

I get that you could argue that Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials‘ could reasonably classed as Young Adult but I’m counting ‘The Amber Spyglass’, which I want to finally get around to reading so that I can start the recently released ‘The Book of Dust’, as my choice for this one. Again, I’m not sure I’ll get around to finishing this during the week but I am keen to get it started if I can.

So that is my Autumn Readathon TBR. Are any of you participating in the readathon? If so, what are you reading for it? Have you read any of my choices and what did you think? Let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter. You can also follow Mercedes at @mercysmusings and join in with the readathon chat using the hashtag #autumnreadathon. So here’s to a successful readathon week and, until next time…

Happy Reading! x

Random Bookish Things

Love Your Library #LibrariesWeek

This week, 9 – 14 October, sees the return of Libraries Week, a nationwide celebration of libraries and their place in our community.

As both a reader and a book blogger, I’m a huge fan of my local library. As someone with a finite supply of disposable income, they’re a fantastic way of feeding my page habit without earning the disapproval of my bank manager, plus they offer a way of trialing books and authors that I’m interested in but not sure I’ll enjoy without investing my hard-earned funds.

And it seems I’m not alone in my admiration. According to statistics collected for Libraries Week, in 2016 the great British public made 250 million visits to public libraries across Great Britain. That’s more people in and out of the door of libraries nationwide than visited the cinema, the theatre, live music gigs and visited the UKs top ten tourist attractions COMBINED.

Surprisingly, young people are the group most likely to use public libraries with 15 – 25 year olds more likely to use their local library than over 55s. And 3 out of 4 people across the UK say that public libraries are essential or very important to their communities.

Despite this, libraries continue to be under threat from cuts in public spending, making national initiatives like Libraries Week – and support from all of us readers – increasingly important for their continued existence.

I’m aware that services vary across the country but I have to say that my local library service is fantastic. They’re continually investing in stock to ensure that new titles are available for loan soon after release, have an extensive audiobook and ebook selection and offer both print and digital issues of a range of magazines. All this in addition to offering a range of clubs and activities, computer access and a host of community services and information. For FREE.

But what, I hear you cry, if my local library doesn’t have a copy of the book I want? Well, for the princely sum of fifty pennies (25p for concessions and free for children), I can order a book in to my local branch from anywhere in the county. Out of county requests are more expensive but if that rare book that I just have to read can only be obtained from a library in Cornwall, then it’ll cost me £7.00 (or £3.50 for concessions and, yet again, free for the kiddos). All of which is pretty darn good I think.

It’s not a service immune from the cuts by any means. Our mobile library service has been drastically reduced and a number of smaller branch libraries are now run by the local community. Regular book sales to top up library funds mean that an author’s latest title will be readily available but try to find their debut and you might be struggling (which is especially frustrating when you want to read a crime series from the beginning). But, overall, it’s a fabulous service and one I know that I’m lucky to have access to.

The photo at the top of this post is my current library haul. As you can see, there’s everything in there from new releases to award winners. Some of the books I’ve borrowed because I want to read them ASAP but can’t really afford to invest in a hardback (Reservoir 13, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Stay With Me), some of them because I think they sound interesting but I’m not sure they’ll be my cup of tea (The Best Kind of People, Home Fire), some because I think I’ll only read them the once (The Marriage Pact) and some because they’re non-fiction that I want to dip into for specific research (A History of Ancient Britain, Inconvenient People).

If I’d had to buy all of these books, I wouldn’t have picked up half of these titles – and would probably have waited for the paperback edition on another quarter of them. Which makes the library a huge part of the way in which I discover and enjoy new authors and new titles.

All of which boils down to me saying that I love my local library. It’s a fantastic service and a really important way for many people to access books, media and computers. So please, if you don’t already, go and show your local library some love. I’d love to hear from readers about if you do use your library (and, if not, why not), whether your library reading differs from the books you would purchase and what your current library read is. So please, drop me a comment down below or over on Twitter and, until the next time…

Happy Reading! x

Author Q&A · Blog Tours

BLOG TOUR Q&A! The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler

Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you’re dead.

Thus begins Christopher Fowler’s foray into lesser known literary history as he identifies 99 authors who were once hugely popular but have now all but disappeared from the shelves. From the lost rivals of Dickens and Holmes to the woman who pioneered psychological suspense, it seems no author is immune from the fate of being forgotten.

It’s an entertaining, eclectic and enlightening collection written with a book lover’s enthusiasm so I was delighted when Christopher agreed to answer some questions for The Shelf as part of his blog tour.


View More: to The Shelf of Unread Books Christopher! The Book of Forgotten Authors is a fascinating premise. What made you decide to write about authors that have been largely forgotten by modern readers?

I spent a lot of time going through my parents’ bookcases, and later my own, wondering why so many of the books I saw there seemed not to be available anymore. Perhaps, I thought, they’re not any good, so I bought a few online and found that many were superb, and there was no clear reason to explain why they had been lost. A little digging started to reveal the reasons why.

How did you research such a large topic and choose which authors to write about? I imagine there must have been a few who didn’t make the cut?

I would have liked to include more dramatists, SF writers and non-fiction books but was forced to limit myself. I started out with around 450 authors and submitted them to group-testing by asking 20 well-read friends if they’d heard of them. If I got a lot of blank looks I covered them. I was looking for people who’d led interesting lives and were interesting – not always perfect – writers. Most were worthy of inclusion, but I’d have swamped the poor reader with too much information! Perhaps there will be another volume…

You’re well known for your crime novels, especially your Bryant & May series. How did researching and writing The Book of Forgotten Authors differ from writing your fiction books?

It was a labour of love, so often I was already familiar with the books themselves. Where it got tricky was in tracking the personal lives of writers who did not always wish to be rediscovered, or who died after covering their tracks. These were writers with no Facebook profiles, so I often simply had to ask around. Sometimes, after a lot of pestering, their relatives got in touch with me.

Did you find any common reasons as to why once popular authors are no longer read? Is it to do with publishers not re-printing blacklists, rights issues, or just because reading tastes change?

All of the above, and more. The saddest lost books were those from writers whose publishers decided they were no longer fashionable. Some lacked confidence to begin with, and lost heart when their latest works were rejected. Certain other problems repeated themselves; addiction, madness, poverty – and sudden wealth – all played their part.

Thinking of reading tastes, did you discover any trends in writing, publishing & reading habits whilst researching the book? I’m thinking about the surge in erotica sales after the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy came out and wondered if there were similar phases in the 19th & early 20th centuries?

Interesting question. The erotica reboot was marketing-driven, but there were definite trends in the past. The boom in detective fiction was simply phenomenal thanks to Conan Doyle and Christie. Many women wrote about psychological states after the war because, having been required to play a part in the conflict, they were then pushed back into kitchens and felt frustrated. Men had often fought – it’s surprising how many novelists were pilots – and wrote themselves into fresh adventures once they were grounded. I think that’s why we had so many action-adventures and spy novels in the 50s and 60s. There were an awful lot of books about rugged chaps who were good with a spanner.

In recent years dedicated imprints (such as Persephone) and podcasts (such as Backlisted) have started to reignite readers’ interest in lesser known authors from the 19th and early 20th centuries. There have also been a number of rediscovered classic bestsellers, such as John Williams’ ‘Stoner’. Do you think publishers and readers have become more open to discovering modern classics & forgotten authors?

Absolutely. One of the most pleasurable parts of writing the book was finding authors coming back into print whom I’d assumed were lost forever. I cut many from the final edition simply because they had become popular once more. There remain some truly mystifying gaps in reprints though, partly to do with missing copyright, partly because not all publishers are so forward thinking.

Do you think modern readers would be surprised by the scope of some of the books you came across? Were there any that you felt were particularly before their time or really resonated with you?

Definitely. One of the book’s centerpiece authors wrote a novel I discovered when I was seventeen. It was so casually shocking that it stayed very modern. This was Maryann Forrest’s ‘Here (Away From It All)’. Another was Richard Hughes’ ‘A High Wind In Jamaica’. I think the key to longevity was a clear eye and a lack of sentiment. Both books feature children and families but are certainly not family reading. I feel we’ve become more timid about big themes in the last few years. There are too many small, personal stories.

Out of your 100 forgotten authors, were there any that became particular favourites and that you think modern readers need to re-discover?

Three of the most surprising to me were JB Priestley, Margaret Millar and Norman Collins. They were all superb writers with terrific stories to tell, whose work simply vapourised. Happily they’re fast coming back into print. Some authors were among the most popular in the English-speaking world before they disappeared!

And finally, can you tell us a little about what you’re currently working on? Will you be sticking with more non-fiction or are you returning to a life of crime?!

Both, I suspect. There’s a new Bryant & May novel called ‘Hall of Mirrors‘ coming up, set in the swinging sixties, my thriller ‘Little Boy Found‘ (written as L K Fox) is due out in paperback soon, then there’s a fantasy epic and a thriller. But I’d love to do more non-fiction, a second volume of ‘Forgotten Authors’, perhaps!


The Book of Forgotten Authors is out now and is the ideal present for the bibliophile in your life this festive season – or a treat for yourself to curl up with as these winter nights draw in! It’s the perfect dipping in and out book – great for those of us who sometimes need to snatch five minutes of reading in between hectic bouts of work and family life – and is sure to send you on the hunt for some forgotten gems to add to your TBR.

For anyone interested in checking out Christopher’s recommended reads, he has written a fascinating blog post about Maryann Forest’s ‘Here (Away From It All)‘ which you can read here. Print copies seem hard to come by but the book is available on Kindle – although it’s listed under the author’s real name, Polly Hope. Richard Hughes’ ‘A High Wind in Jamaica‘ has been re-published as a Vintage Classic so is more readily available from all good booksellers.

A big thank you to Christopher for answering my questions – it’s been a pleasure to have you visit The Shelf. The blog tour continues until 15 October so do check out some of the other stops along the way.

Forgotten Authors

The Book of Forgotten Authors is published by riverrun and is available in hardback now from all good booksellers. My thanks go to the publisher for providing an advance copy in return for an honest and unbiased review. My thanks also go to Christopher Fowler for answering my questions and to fellow blogger Anne Cater (check out her blog at Random Things Through My Letterbox) for arranging the tour. 


Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR! Sleep No More by P D James

P D James has long been acknowledged as a Queen of Crime. In the course of her long career, which only ended with her death in 2014, she successfully blended psychological insight with twisting plots and a literary turn of phrase in her much admired Adam Dalgleigh series (check them out on audio CD if you can – they’re fantastically narrated by Michael Jayston), injected a bit of death and deceit into a a beloved classic in ‘Death Comes to Pemberley‘ and also turned her hand to true crime with ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree‘ about the infamous Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

What many readers (myself included) may not have realised until recently however is that James was also a past master of the short story. ‘The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories‘, published last year, was a popular stocking filler for crime aficionados so publisher Faber & Faber are following up this year with a companion volume, ‘Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘, that collects a further six stories together for the first time.

Less overtly festive, ‘Sleep No More’ is loosely themed around revenge and, as with much of James’ work, the stories blend the classic tropes and motifs of Golden Age crime-writing with her trademark psychological insight to create six morally complex stories, all with a twist in their tale.

My favourite story in the collection, ‘The Murder of Santa Claus’, is, unsurprisingly, set at Christmas and sees a workmanlike writer of detective fiction recall dark going on during Christmas Eve 1939. Taking place in a Cotswald manor house and replete with a wicked uncle, an ill-matched group of assembled guess and a shifty servant, the Golden Age motifs are all present and correct and it isn’t long before there’s a side of murder to accompany the mince pies. The wartime Christmas setting is wonderfully evoked and James clearly enjoys playing with reader expectations to create a satisfying ending that neatly re-directed my sympathies.

In ‘A Very Desirable Residence’ and ‘The Victim’, James uses her acute insight into the dark hearts of her protagonists to create two twisting tales of unhappy marriages, vengeance and greed. ‘The Girl Who Loved Graveyards’ is a tightly controlled piece with an ending that is at once poignant and deeply disturbing. And no prizes for guessing the key item in ‘The Yo-Yo’, in which a bullying schoolmaster gets his comeuppance on a snowy winter’s night.

James also has a ready wit and the final piece in the collection, ‘Mr Millcroft’s Birthday’, is both playful and sardonic. Featuring an octogenarian exerting the only retribution he can on his greedy children from the safety of his nursing home, it is a very funny story with a pleasing twist and proves yet again that James’ ability to skewer the absurd and ludicrous can be as on point as Austen’s.

35079533Pleasantly produced in a £10.00 hardback, Sleep No More is a fantastic addition to any crime fan’s bookshelf. James’ many fans will, doubtless, be delighted to have more of her short fiction readily available but, for anyone yet to discover her work, this is an accessible showcase of her mastery of the craft. With it’s pretty cover design, it would also make an excellent gift for a crime lover this festive season.

Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘ by P D James is published by Faber & Faber and is available from today in hardback and ebook from all good booksellers. My thanks go to the publisher for providing an advance copy in return for an honest and unbiased review. 


5 Star TBR Predictions

I’ve recently watched a few videos on Booktube that use this tag and I thought it was a really fun idea for a blog post.

Basically the idea is to look at your shelves (because, let’s face it, who has just one shelf) of unread books and select some books that you think will be 5 star reads and that you intend to tackle and report back on in the coming months. I think the tag originated with Mercedes over at MercysBookishMusings and you can watch her original video here.

This seems like a great idea to me, not only as a way of busting through reading slumps but also as a way of thinning a large pile of unread books into a more manageable TBR. So, without further ado, here are my 5 star book predictions!

The Good People by Hannah Kent

I adored Kent’s first novel, ‘Burial Rites’, and had the pleasure of meeting her at an author event over at Booka Bookshop in Oswestry earlier this year. She was a fascinating speaker and it’s clear that she puts a great deal of time and energy into researching her books. That said, ‘Burial Rites’ always put the story first and never allowed the history to get in the way of a good tale.

Her second novel, ‘The Good People’, is set in rural Ireland, 1825, and looks at three women who are forced together to try and save a child that they believe has been made a changeling by the faerie folk. Kent is brilliant at portraying the everyday struggles of people’s lives and so I’m looking forward to seeing how she tackles this tale of folklore and ritual.

I’m about 50 pages into this at the moment and it’s building up to be a fabulous read so I have high hopes and will report back when I’m done!

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

I mentioned this in my Autumn Reading post but ended up putting the book down as my chunky hardback copy was just too big to pack in the suitcase for my recent holidays.

I do really want to get back to this novel, set in Alaska in 1885, which follows Lieutenant Colonel Allan Forrester as he attempts to navigate Alaska’s Wolverine River with a small band of men. Alternating between Allan’s diaries and that of his young wife Sophie, left behind as her husband goes exploring, it promises to be a fascinating tale of discovery and adventure as well as a portrait of a marriage placed under unexpected strain.

Ivey’s ‘The Snow Child’ was one of my favourite winter reads a couple of years ago and she has such a talent for realising place so I’m just waiting for a chilly weekend to dive back in to this.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas 

I’ve recently added this to my stack after hearing about it on the All The Books podcast. I don’t know much about it other than the blurb which is as follows:

‘Aged 13, Joan Ashby drew up a list ‘How to Become a Successful Writer’. With tenets such as ‘write every day’, ‘do not entertain any offer of marriage’ and ‘do not allow anyone to get in my way’, it is no surprise that, less than a decade later, her short stories took the literary world by story. But, with her failure to abide by her own rules followed by a marriage and two children, Joan finds herself living a life very different from the one she had envisioned. Now she wants to get back on track and complete her much-anticipated first novel but a betrayal of Shakesperian proportions is lurking around the corner.’

This debut sounded fantastic to me when I first heard about it and it ticks a lot of my reading joy boxes – female protagonist, book about books and authors, Shakespearean style drama and betrayal. I’m hoping for something along the lines of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ or Diane Settenfield’s ‘The Thirteenth Tale’, both past favourites.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig 

Another book that’s had loads of love on Twitter and Booktube (and has also been optioned by Benedict Cumberbatch for TV), this novel sounds like it’s going to scratch my ‘Time Traveller’s Wife’ itch. From the blurb:

‘Tom Hazard looks like an ordinary 41 year old. But a rare genetic condition means he’s been alive for centuries. Always changing his identity and staying on the move, Tom’s seen a lot but he craves an ordinary life. Now, working as a history teacher in London, he can teach kids about wars and witch hunts as if he never saw them first-hand – and he can try to come to terms with a past that is fast catching up with him. What he cannot do – what he must never do – is fall in love.’

I adored Matt’s non-fiction book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ but I’ve never read any of his novels so I’m really hoping that this one lives up the hype.

If We Were Villains by M L Rio

Again, I haven’t started this one and I don’t know that much about it so I’m going to let the blurb do the talking regarding the plot:

‘Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. Years earlier, as a young actor at an elite conservatory, he noticed that his talented classmates seemed to play the same characters onstage and off. But when the teachers change the casting, good-natured rivalry turns ugly and the plays spill dangerously over into real life. When one of the seven friends is found dead, the rest face their greatest acting challenge yet – convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.’

Doesn’t that just sound like Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’?!?! That is one of my favourite books so I’m really hoping that this debut will have similarly gothic, Shakespearean tragedy vibes whilst adding something new and original.

So those are my 5 star book predictions! I’m really looking forward to starting each of these books and hope to report back with my verdict on each when I’ve finished them. Have you read any? If so, do let me know in the comments or over on Twitter. And, until the next time, Happy Reading! x

Upcoming Books

Coming Soon!

Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts in the last week or so. I’ve been on hollibobs in the beautiful islands of Orkney so have spent the last week exploring the islands’ fascinating history, eating my own body weight in ice-cream sundaes and fully-loaded hot chocolates and, of course, chilling out with a good book or three. For this, I make no excuses. It was wonderful.

But all good things must come to an end and, several pounds heavier and a good deal more relaxed, I wanted to quickly mention some of the things you can look forward to on The Shelf over the next few months.

I read a couple of really good books on holidays once of which – Amy Liptrot’s ‘The Outrun‘ – felt extra special because of reading it in the place where it is set. It’s got me thinking about the relationship between a piece of writing and its location – and whether this has any impact on the way we read and respond to it. At the moment I’m still grappling with my thoughts but I hope to turn these into a coherent blog post and review very soon.

I have a blog tour coming up on 05 October for P D James’ short story collection ‘Sleep No More‘.

Sleep No More

This will be followed by a visit to The Shelf from Christopher Fowler to chat about his non-fiction collection ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors‘ on 07 October.

Forgotten Authors

Also scheduled for later in the autumn are features on the upcoming CWA Short Story Anthology and some classic Christmas crime from Cyril Hare. I’m also discovering the latest in an ongoing crime series that features crime writer Josephine Tey as its detective.

There’s also another Cosy Reading Night from @laurenthebooks to look forward to on 20 October that I’m hoping to take part in. And, of course, with the festive season looming ever closer, I dare say that a bookish gift guide and some Christmas reading suggestions might appear – I do love an excuse to buy books, especially for other people!

I’m really looking forward to the next few months on the blog. Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to The Shelf since it moved across to WordPress – the migration has gone even better than I’d hoped and I’m really enjoying the process of developing The Shelf in its new home. I hope you’re enjoying the posts – if you have any suggestions for content you’d like to see, or comments about any of the posts, please do drop me a line or say come say hi over on Twitter. I’ll be back with a full post soon but, in the meantime, happy reading! x

Blog Tours

BLOG TOUR! A Patient Fury by Sarah Ward

DC Connie Childs is back! Long time readers of The Shelf will know that I’m a big fan of Sarah Ward’s Derbyshire based crime series that began with In Bitter Chill and continued last year with A Deadly Thaw. Set in and around the fictional market town of Bampton, the series focuses on DC Connie Childs and her boss DI Francis Sadler as they investigate present day crimes that often have a link to past misdeeds and cold cases.

33876124A Patient Fury, the third book in the series, sees Connie and Sadler investigating their darkest case yet – a devastating fire that leaves three dead and a mother suspected of murdering her family. Despite the evidence all pointing in one direction, Connie can’t buy into the matricide theory and, with the aid of the family’s surviving daughter Julia, sets out to investigate the past and a link to another missing woman. As the investigation deepens, Connie’s determination to uncover the truth behind the tragedy leads her to put everything on the line – and this time it could even cost her her career.

Once again Sarah has given her readers a relentless narrative that grips from the start and doesn’t let up. Her focus on the intricacies of familial relationships and the tangled webs that humans weave makes for a suspenseful read. She is particularly good at getting the minor details – the little oddities of character or phrase that set you on edge and make you aware something isn’t quite right – down onto the page and at making even the innocuous seem eerie. It really keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.

Connie and Sadler also become a real focus in this book. Connie feels refreshingly well-rounded; brilliant at her job but also obsessive, non-conformist and stubborn. Unlike traditional loose cannons in detective fiction however, she operates within a world of police procedures and, without giving away spoilers, it was refreshing to see her having to balance her determination with reality and find evidence to back up her intuition. Sadler, more mature and level-headed but headstrong in his own way, provides an excellent counterpoint to the impetuous Connie and their relationship – veering between admiration and antagonism – is one of the highlights of the book.

Previous knowledge of In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw aren’t necessary to enjoy A Patient Fury (although I would highly recommend checking both books out as they’re page-turning reads) but long time fans of the series will notice a slight shift in tone and focus. A Patient Fury definitely feels a lot more like Connie’s story. Whilst chapters continue to alternate as in previous books (some are told from Sadler’s perspective andsome from outside of the police investigation), the reader spends the majority of time in A Patient Fury inside Connie’s head.

This, I feel, is no bad thing. Whilst it narrows the viewpoint slightly, I felt it gave greater momentum to the narrative. As a reader, you’re along for the ride with Connie – you share her curiosity, her triumphs, her frustrations and her disappointment. For me, multiple narrators can feel like head-hopping, with too many voices preventing identification with any one narrative strand. Connie, more than ever before, provides the central thread in the book and binds the various threads of the narrative together.

Sarah’s writing has always been strong – one look at her blog, Crimepieces, and you’ll see she’s a lady who knows her crime fiction onions – but, in A Patient Fury, it’s stronger than ever, building on the first two books to forge a tighter, tauter narrative that’s sure to be a hit with fans and will hopefully lead to many more readers discovering her work. Providing a page-turning blend of police procedural and domestic thriller, A Patient Fury is an atmospheric, engrossing read that’s perfect for crime fans to snuggle up with as the nights draw in.

A Patient Fury, published by Faber & Faber, is available now in hardback and ebook from all good book retailers. My thanks go to Sarah Ward and to Faber & Faber for providing an advance copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review. 


Blog Tours · Upcoming Books

Autumn Reading

Ah September, the beginning of autumn. The leaves begin to turn, the nights start to darken and book lovers everywhere prepare to turn on the fire, find their cosiest PJs and hibernate with a pile of books and a supply of comforting hot drinks under their favourite blanket. As thoughts turn towards Christmas, the stars of the publishing world unveil their heavy hitters and there’s a veritable feast of literature to look forward to over the coming months so, in this post, I thought I’d talk about some of the books that I’m hoping to curl up with this autumn.

29758006First up, and the book I’ve just started reading, is Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World, now out in paperback. I adored Ivey’s debut, The Snow Child, and her second book returns to the wild beauty of Alaska in the Winter of 1885 as Lieutenant Colonel Allan Forrester attempts to navigate the Wolverine River and map the inner portions of the Alaskan frontier. Alternating between Allan’s journals and the diaries of his young, heavily pregnant wife Sophie left behind in the fort, I’m hoping for more of Ivey’s vivid descriptions of the natural world and her meticulous portraits of human relationships.

35508160Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017, has been garnering praise from across the literary world. Loosely based on Sophocles’ Antigone and set in contemporary London, Home Fire is the story of two British Muslim families and examines familial love, political ideology and what happens when the two collide. Isma is finally free, studying in the US after years spent raising her twin siblings. But she can’t stop worrying about headstrong, beautiful Aneeka, left back in London, and Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of their father’s dark jihadist legacy. When handsome, privileged Eamonn enters their lives, two families fates becomes inextricably intertwined in what promises to be a compelling story of family and loyalty that feels completely relevant to the world we live in today. I’ve got my reservation in at the library for this one and I’m looking forward to its arrival.

Arriving in October, Phillip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage is the first part 9307699of his much anticipated The Book of Dust and sequel to the acclaimed Northern Lights trilogy. I’ve stayed deliberately ignorant of any plot details for this because I want it to be a complete surprise on reading but I do know that it’s a prequel to the events of Northern Lights set when Lyra is just a baby. In preparation for its release, I intend to finally read the last part of the Northern Lights trilogy, The Amber Spyglass. Quite why I’ve never got around to reading the final part is a mystery even to me – I think maybe I just didn’t ever want the book to end so deliberately deferred reading the final portion. Now that I know more Pullman set in the same universe is on the way, I can read without fear!

34913762Joanne M Harris’ forthcoming A Pocketful of Crows, also due in October, promises to be a modern fairytale with a nameless wild girl at its heart. Again, I know very little about the premise but you only need to say Joanne Harris and fairytale to colour me interested. Plus I’m booked to an event with the author at the wonderful Booka Bookshop at which I look forward to hearing Joanne speak and debating whether my starstruck self is brave enough to ask a question at the end.

33876124Last, but by no means least, I’m taking part in three blog tours this autumn for upcoming titles that I’m happy to sing the praises of. The first, for Sarah Ward’s A Patient Fury, is taking place on Saturday 09 September to tie in with the launch of the third book in her extremely enjoyable DC Connie Childs series of Derbyshire-based crime novels. Combining police procedural with domestic thriller and with a dash of nordic noir, there’s still time to check out Sarah’s first two books – In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw – before picking up the third.

35079533Next up will be the second collection of the late, great P D James’ short fiction, Sleep No More. Published in early October as a companion volume to last year’s The Mistletoe Murder, the collection offers six more tales of murder from a master of the crime short story, all with the dark motive of revenge at their heart.

The Shelf will also be visited by Christopher Fowler, author of the popular Bryant & May series of crime novels, when he releases his intriguing non-fiction foray into the back catalogues and backstories of authors that were once hugely popular but have now disappeared from the shelves of most readers. The Book of Forgotten Authors promises to be an entertaining guide to 34100964some forgotten gems from an enthusiastic and enlightening guide and a real treat for any book lover who enjoys books about books!

Those are just a few of the titles that I hope will be gracing my shelves this autumn. What are you looking forward to in the upcoming months? Do let me know in the comments or by dropping me a line over on Twitter or Goodreads.