Books of the Year

Books of the Year 2018

Gosh, is it that time of year already? With the last few pages of 2018’s books being feverishly read and the first titles of 2019 knocking at the door, it is indeed time for The Shelf’s annual Books of the Year post.

And whilst it might not have been the best year out in the big wide world (in fact, the less said about 2018 the better really), 2018 really has been an excellent year for books. I’ve read some fantastic titles – the ones selected here really had to work hard for their place on the list – and have many more 2018 publications still waiting in the TBR pile.

The books selected here then are, in my humble opinion, the best books that I read this year. They might not have necessarily been published in 2018 but I read them this year and they’ve stayed in my mind, haunting me in the way that only the very best books can do. Clicking on the title link will take you to a full review of the book in question (if available) for more information and thoughts. So, without further ado, I present to you (in no particular order), my Best Books of 2018!

ChangelingChangeling by Matt Wesolowski

As mentioned in my review, I have genuinely enjoyed every single one of Matt’s Six Stories series. Combining an addictive podcast style format with a dash of the supernatural and a drop of danger, all three books are page-turning and compelling crime thrillers. Changeling is Matt’s best work yet, combining all of the usual Six Stories elements with a profoundly relatable and relevant tale of domestic noir as podcaster Scott King struggles to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of little Alfie Marsden. To say any more would be to spoil the book but I’d urge any crime fan to read this book – in fact, go and treat yourself to all three!

28501495Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan

I do love a good book memoir and this is one of the best I’ve read. Filled with all the warmth and nostalgia that you could want from a book about childhood reading, Lucy’s story is also laugh out loud funny and incredibly relatable. I think most bookworms can relate to arguing over whether they can read at the dinner table, or wondering why reading a book in a corner is deemed unsociable at family gatherings. Lucy’s memoir covers all of the childhood favourites – Narnia, The Famous Five, Milly-Molly-Mandy – and she successfully balances a personal memoir with a nostalgic romp through childhood literature. Perfect for any reader who spent their childhood with their nose stuck in a book!

34536956Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story by Debbie Tung

A brilliant graphic novel that perfectly captures the experience of being an introvert in a world that won’t stop talking. Tung’s simple and effective illustrations capture everything from FOGO (Fear of Going Out) to the terror of unexpected visitors and the nervous anticipation of being made to meet new people. The black and white panels also capture the joys of simple pleasures – finding someone who understands your fears and your need for alone time, the joy of curling up with a book on a rainy day, the pleasure of coming into a quiet house when you’ve had a busy day at work. Utterly wonderful – if you’re an introvert, you need this in your life!

35103171The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower

Definitely the most sumptuous book that I read this year, The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock was a joyful romp from first page to last. Fabulously realised, the book brings Georgian London to life with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the city practically bursting off the page. Filled with colourful characters and larger-than-life events, get beneath the surface of Mermaid and you’ll find one of the most touchingly sweet love stories I think I’ve read as merchant Jonah Hancock and courtesan Angelica Neal discover their mutual appreciation. Bold, witty, funny and sweet, this is a brilliant historical novel.

SevenDeathsThe Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

This mind-bending novel has a brilliant concept pulled off with panache: what if Quantum Leap met Agatha Christie and then experienced Groundhog Day? Sounds mad? Well, it is a bit mad – how Stuart Turton ever kept hold of the plot I’ll never know – but it’s also utterly brilliant and fiendishly clever. I raced through the pages as body-hopping protagonist Aiden relieves the same day from different perspectives, all the time trying to find the killer of beautiful, tragic Evelyn Hardcastle. A country house murder with a unique twist, this is perfect for crime fans and science fiction aficionados alike.

37780792Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain by James Bloodworth

An eye-opening piece of investigative journalism by Guardian journalist James Bloodworth, this book examines the truth of life in low-wage employment. From the Amazon warehouse that borders my hometown of Rugeley, Staffordshire to providing home care in Brighton and Uber services in London, this is a thought-provoking look at life within the workforce that supplies our cheap goods and instant services. Going undercover to live and work within these firms, Bloodworth exposes an employment system with few opportunities for progression or self-improvement, encountering employees from all walks of life including ex-miners, school leavers, students, and migrant workers. A startling examination of the labour system that props up the British economy, this book takes a long hard look at the ethics of low-wage employment and is unflinching in what it reports. A must read.

36991831The Shrouded Path by Sarah Ward

Another series that just goes from strength to strength is that of Sarah Ward’s DC Connie Child. Whilst I’ve been a fan of the series ever since the publication of In Bitter Chill, which introduces intrepid Connie and her insightful, long-suffering boss Francis Sadler, The Shrouded Path is definitely the best book in the series yet. Featuring a mystery from 1957 that might be getting too close to home for one of the team, it’s a brilliantly crafted police procedural with a page-turning quality. Sarah’s writing always reminds me of P D James, with meticulous attention to detail and some wonderful psychological insights. Definitely a series to track down if you’re looking for fantastic British crime fiction in your life.

So that wraps up my Best Books of the Year! Yes I know seven is an odd number to go for but, hey, my bubble, my rules and all that! In all seriousness though, these are the seven books are the ones that really stuck with me in 2018. I read plenty of books this year that were very good – take a look over my blog tour posts and reviews, or go take a gander at my Goodreads, and you’ll find a ton of fantastic reads in there – but these were the ones that had that something special. That kept me thinking after I had turned the final page and that earned a coveted place on my ‘For Keeps’ shelf. I’d heartily recommend every single one of them.

So with that over and done with for another year, here is to 2019!! Thank you so much for sticking with The Shelf over 2018. I really appreciate every single like, comment and RT and I love my little online bookish community – Book People really are the best – so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year. I shall see you on the other side in 2019 to do this all over again! And, as always, until the next time…







Festive · Seasonal Reads

All I Want for Christmas is Books!

A festive welcome to The Shelf today! Yes, it’s that time of the year again – the season of goodwill and books to all men. As Mariah Carey should have sung, All I Want for Christmas is Books so, in the spirit of the season, I thought this week I’d share a few of my festive favourites, as well as some details about what I’ll be reading this Christmas.

18048390The Christmas Tradition Read

Whether that’s mince pies by the fire, singing carols around the crib, or getting grandma tiddled on sherry by 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we all have our favourite Christmas traditions. One of mine is starting my regular re-read of my favourite book, J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There’s something about the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring that I find really festive – the party, the lights, the copious amounts of food and merriment. It gives me all the festive feels. I’m lucky enough to have some gorgeous softcover editions to curl up with and, this year, I’m hoping I might persuade my husband to start reading and finally attend Bilbo’s long-expected party with me.

The Classic Christmas Crime Novel

31900372It seems so odd to choose to read crime at Christmastime but it has become something of a thing for me. That said, I’m not a fan of the dark and gritty at this time of year. As the nights go crisper and the sound of jingle bells fills the air, I turn instead to classic crime. The British Library Crime Classics have been producing some brilliant re-issues of neglected crime classics for some years now, including several festive titles. This year I’m planning to finally pick up their Christmas bestseller, Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon, a classic country house murder mystery featuring a trainload full of strangers, a deserted country manor and, you guessed it, a murderer amongst them.

I’ll also be dipping into P D James’ short story collection The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories. I love James’ writing – she balances the ingenious plotting and classic scenarios of the golden age with a keenly observed psychological drama – and she is a real master of the short story form, so I’ve been saving this festive collection of four of her stories to read at the most appropriate time of year.

The Festive Ghost Story

39098246A Christmas Carol is, of course, the grandfather of festive ghost stories and is, I feel, what probably puts us in mind of spooky happenings at this time of year. I’m not a huge fan of Dickens’ writing but I make an exception for the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit (although I’ll admit to still preferring the Muppet version every time).

This year however I’m hoping to get to some more modern ghost stories. Laura Purcell’s The Corset has been on my TBR for far too long now. Having read and loved her debut, The Silent Companions, I’m hoping that this second novel, which focuses on a young seamstress who believes she can kill with a supernatural power imbued within in her needle and thread, demonstrates the same ability to send shivers creeping gradually up your spine.

And although not strictly a ghost story, Sarah Perry’s Melmoth, a tale of a mysterious dark-robed figure that haunts the complicit and the cowardly, promises gothic vibes in abundance. I adored Perry’s The Essex Serpent and have almost been avoiding this follow-up in case it don’t love it quite as much. Now however might be time to face my fears and dive in.

The Book I’m Giving. And the One I Want to Receive!

SevenDeathsI’m urging everyone I know to read Stuart Turton’s fantastic genre-bending crime novel The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – it’s a brilliant blend of Agatha Christie and Quantum Leap with a dash of Groundhog Day thrown in. Quite how he managed to plot the whole thing I have no idea but it’s an absolute marvel and will definitely be making my Books of 2018 list. So that might be appearing in a few stockings with my name on the tag!

As for what I’d like to receive, I do like a humour book at Christmas. They’re the sort of books I’d never buy myself but that I enjoy chuckling over whilst I polish off the last of the cheese board on Christmas Day. As I’m currently up to my eyeballs in work for my MA, the thought of reading Academia Obscura: The Hidden Silly Side of Higher Education appeals, so that’s gone on my list to Santa. And although it might raise a few eyebrows on Christmas morning, I love the idea of New Erotica for Feminists: Get What You Deserve, Again and Again and Again, which features the brilliant line ‘He calls me into his office and closes the door . . . to promote me. He promotes me again and again. I am wild with ecstasy.’ I need no other reason for wishing to read it.

I also want to take this opportunity to mention the annual Booktrust Christmas Appeal. For a donation of £10.00, Booktrust will send out book parcels to children who are vulnerable or in care this Christmas. The parcels include an age-appropriate book, a letter (this year it’s been written by Jacqueline Wilson) and a festive postcard. Many of the children get no other post or may have no books of their own so the campaign is an opportunity to spread the joy of reading this festive season. Please do consider making a donation if you can.

So that is it for my Christmas reading this year. What will you be hoping to get to? And what books will you be giving this year, or asking Santa to bring? Do let me know in the comments, or come and say hi on Twitter (@shelfofunread).

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas – do eat, drink and be merry and I’ll be back again after the festivities for my Best Books of 2018 list. And until then…

Happy Reading! x


NB: I’ve previously done quite a few other festive posts, including Bookish Christmas Gift Guides and reviews of seasonal crime classics. I’ve linked the blog posts down below for anyone who wants more festive reading picks, so please do check them out!

Bookish Christmas Gift Guide 2017

Bookish Christmas Gift Guide 2016

Christmas Reads 2016

Feeling Festive Tag

Review: The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin (Faber Christmas Crime 2018)

Review: A Very English Murder by Cyril Hare (Faber Christmas Crime 2017)



Reviews · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!! Help the Witch by Tom Cox

40799510As night draws through country lanes, and darkness sweeps across the hills and hedgerows, shadows appear where figures are not; things do not remain in their places; a new home is punctured by abandoned objects; a watering hole conceals depths greater than its swimmers can fathom.

Inspired by our native landscapes and traversing boundaries of the past and the future, this collection is Tom Cox’s first foray into fiction.

I’m not a huge reader of short stories as a general rule but I do make an exception for ghost stories. There’s something sublime in reading a snippet of the strange and uncanny, like getting a little shot of the shivers straight into your spine. So I was thrilled when I discovered that Tom Cox was planning his first foray into fiction with Help the Witch, a collection of ghost stories, inspired in part by a very cold, dark winter spent living in a possibly haunted house in a remote part of the Peak District.

I’ve been a fan of Cox’s writing for a while, having been introduced to it through the medium of Twitter and the account of the much-missed @mysadcat, otherwise known as The Bear. Cox has written four humorous, wry and observant books about The Bear, his other feline companions Shipley, Roscoe, and Ralph, and the indefinable way that cats have of upending your life whilst still managing to make themselves one of the most adorable things in it. Those books, in turn, led me to Cox’s website/blog, with its fantastic posts about everything from walks in the countryside to conversations with his (VERY LOUD AND EXCITABLE) Dad, via cat anecdotes, 1970s folk music, love letters to the beach and, of course, the occasional ghost story.

Cox’s writing has a fantastic richness of language, something he showcased to great effect in his non-fiction nature/memoir/essay collection, 21st Century Yokel, and which is on display in Help The Witch. In just a few words, he conjures spirits out of hill fogs, and talismans from tree branches. The collection is filled with the shadows that lurk behind doors and live forever at the corners of your vision. It’s fabulously atmospheric writing, couched in a real sense of landscape and place.

As with all short story collections, I had my favourites. The title story, Help the Witch, is the probably the most traditional ‘ghost story’ in the collection, featuring an isolated house, a long, dark winter, and more than a few bumps in the night. I particularly enjoyed the subtle observations within the story, told in diary form, of everyday encounters, twisted here into loaded encounters imbued with possibly sinister meanings. As with many of the best ghost stories, Help the Witch finds madness lurking just beneath the realm of the everyday.

As a former estate agent, the story Listings provided some amusement, being made up of a number of advertisements for a property with a very unique selling point. And Just Good Friends provided a fantastic slice of sinister, showing how the supernatural can creep into our everyday existence through memory, wish-fulfilment and longing.

This is a collection influenced by folk tales, with their strange, twisting narratives and sharp, sinister finality. This is most evident in Folk Tales of the Twenty-Third Century, a brilliant collection of shorts that encompasses a fabulously dark Rumplestiltskin re-telling and a cautionary tale about a banjo player and the perils of fame. However, it’s also imbued with Cox’s warmth and his wryly observant humour. Seance, for example, features a medium channelling an embittered cyclist who doesn’t realise he’s dead, a life coach called Adrianne (“Adrianne is actually quite boring”), and a fox, much to the disappointment of a client expecting a rather more personalised encounter with the spirit realm.

By turns spookily sinister and wryly amusing, this is an eclectic and quirky collection written with a light but controlled touch. Beautifully evocative of the eerieness inherent in nature, Cox has an eye for the unusual and a real skill for conveying this. Gorgeously produced, with artwork by Tom’s talented artist mum Jo throughout, and a stunning front cover by Joe McLaren, Help the Witch would make a fantastic gift for yourself or a loved one this festive season – it’s the perfect collection for curling up by the fire with on a dark winter’s night!

Help the Witch by Tom Cox is published by Unbound and is available now in hardback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including Unbound, Waterstones, and Amazon


Reviews · Upcoming Books

REVIEW!! Changeling by Matt Wesolowski

ChangelingOn Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.

Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…

If you’ve followed The Shelf for a while or seen my ravings on Twitter (@shelfofunread) you’ll know I’m a big fan of Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series featuring online investigative journalist Scott King. Matt’s debut, Six Stories, was a deliciously dark thriller that justly deserved its place on my Best Books of 2017 list. It’s sequel, Hydra, built on those foundations with a sinister story for the internet age. And, with his latest book Changeling, Weslowski is, if possible, moving it up another notch with an unsettling tale about a missing boy, a grieving father, and long-buried secrets kept within the depths of an ancient forest.

As with Hydra, Changeling is a completely standalone ‘series’ of Six Stories, Scott King’s online podcast. So whilst I would highly recommend both Six Stories and Hydra to first-time readers (I mentioned they’re both utterly brilliant, right?), there’s no need to have read either book in order to enjoy the story on offer here. Once again we have a complete podcast series comprising of six episodes, each featuring the point of view of someone connected to the disappearance of little Alfie Marsden back in 1988. This time the episodes are interspersed with Scott King’s own narrative, one that often raises more questions than it answers. Who is the mysterious Anne who claims she knows more about the case than she is telling? Why is she speaking out after all this time? And why is Scott trying to solve the disappearance of Alfie Marsden instead of just reporting it? Getting answers is a rollercoaster of a ride and Weslowski keeps the reader guessing right up until the very last page!

As with the previous Six Stories books, Changeling absolutely oozes atmosphere. The eerie silence of Wentshire Forest, with its dark, foreboding paths and sinister, oppressive glades is brilliantly portrayed on the page. Woven into this creepy setting are tales of the supernatural and uncanny, from disembodied knocking to vengeful witches and mischievous fairy folk. There’s a palpable sense of tension, inching up slowly as Scott uncovers each narrative and adds each new perspective to Alfie’s story.

And those narratives are brilliantly conceived, transporting you straight into Scott’s investigation as you learn about Alfie, his family, and his disappearance. What would cause an ordinary little boy to become a difficult, angry child? Why has his mother never involved herself with the search to find him? What caused all of the electrics to fail during the search? As a reader, you find yourself probing, questioning, guessing, and reading between the lines and into the answers of every person involved in the search for the truth. The sense of disquiet ramps up with each turn of the page, taking the reader along on Scott’s journey, investigating alongside him every step of the way.

But what really knocked me for six was the way in which Wesolowski shows how, for all our tales of the sinister and the supernatural, the true monsters in life are much more mundane but equally terrifying. Changeling has a powerful ending, one that I won’t spoil here by saying anything other than it’s definitely one of the best twists I’ve read and that it packs an emotional punch that stays with you long after you’ve turned the final page.

As a fan of the Six Stories series, I knew I was going to enjoy Changeling. What I hadn’t anticipated was how much I would enjoy it. Changeling has jumped straight into my Best Books of 2018 with its brilliant pacing, creeping sense of unease and powerful, chilling story. Matt Wesolowski is a name that deserves to be better known amongst readers so I’d urge any mystery, crime and thriller fans – as well as anyone who loves a great read with a side order of sinister – to check out the Six Stories series and Changeling in particular – this is definitely Matt’s best book yet.

Changeling by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books and is available now as an ebook. The paperback and audiobook will be released on 15 January 2019, available from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon


Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Lingering by S J I Holliday

The Lingering front FINALJack and Ali are looking for a fresh start and a new home at Rosalind House, a self-sufficient commune established in a former psychiatric hospital.

But the couple are clearly not all they seem, and their arrival sparks a chain of unexpected and unexplained incidents.

As the disturbing history of Rosalind House and the nearby village comes to light, events from the past return to haunt the residents, and someone is seeking retribution…

The best ghost stories, for me anyway, balance a thin tightrope between reality and the supernatural. Veer too far into the realm of ghouls and ghosts, and the book teeters into a horror. Not enough chill, however, and you’re left with a psycho-drama. Whilst The Lingering is definitely at the drama end of this spectrum, it walks this tightrope expertly; providing just enough by way of ghostly goings-on to keep the shivers running down the spine whilst maintaining the tension required for a compelling domestic thriller.

Told from multiple perspectives the novel primarily focuses on married couple Ali and Jack, whose entry into the self-sufficient community of Rosalind House sets off a chain of events that quickly spiral out of control. From the off, it is clear that all is not well with Ali and Jack. From Jack’s rapidly shifting moods to Ali’s watchful demeanour, this is a couple with secrets and it is the gradual revealing of these that drives the plot forwards. It’s a stately start, which could be off-putting to some readers; especially those used to page-turning domestic thrillers. Stick with it though because Ali and Jack’s journey is going to some very dark places indeed and, once the pace picks up, you’re on a non-stop ride of chills and revelations right up until the very last page.

The supernatural elements are handled really well, with the focus very much on the psychological elements of the supernatural. You’re never really sure exactly what is real and what is imagined in The Lingering, a trait that fits very well with the crime/thriller elements of the plot and leads to a hybrid novel that perfectly captures the essence of a good ghost story whilst remaining true to its crime thriller roots. Holliday has a masterful control of narrative tension, gradually building up a creeping sense of claustrophobia and unease before drawing it all together into a chilling conclusion that is sure to leave you double-checking the shadows of a night time!

I was also impressed with Holliday’s handling of character. Jack and Ali aren’t the most likeable of people – Ali, in particular, is a difficult customer with plenty of sharp edges and disturbing thoughts – but Holliday does a great job of keeping the reader by their side. By alternating between their perspectives and those of existing commune members, such as naive Angela and commune leader Smeaton, you get a real sense of each person and begin to genuinely worry for the safety of the commune and the family that has been created within it. And the interspersed diary entries (from Dr Henry Baldock’s 1955 journal) do a fantastic job of foreshadowing the dark events to come.

The Lingering is a brilliantly creepy tale that blends the gothic and the contemporary to deliver a sharp, spooky shot of unease. A fantastic blend of Susan Hill and Stephen King, this haunting book is a must for fans of the supernatural story as well as for those seeking a psychological thriller that’s prepared to offer something a little bit different. Original, dark, thrilling and atmospheric, read it with the lights on and – just a tip – maybe avoid reading this one in the bath!

The Lingering by SJI Holliday and published by Orenda Books is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book as part of an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me onto this blog tour and organising it. The blog tour continues until 30 November 2018 so do check out the other stops along the way!

Lingering blog poster 2018 (1) (1)



Blog Tours · Reviews · Seasonal Reads

BLOG TOUR!! The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin

Long ShadowJolted from sleep by the ringing of the telephone, Imogen stumbles through the dark, empty house to answer it. At first, she can’t quite understand the man on the other end of the line. Surely he can’t honestly be accusing her of killing her husband, Ivor, who died in a car crash barely two months ago.

As the nights draw in, Imogen finds her home filling up with unexpected Christmas guests, who may be looking for more than simple festive cheer. Has someone been rifling through Ivor’s papers? Who left the half-drunk whiskey bottle beside his favourite chair? And why won’t that man stop phoning, insisting he can prove Imogen’s guilt?

As the nights draw in and cosying up in front of the fire with a book and a blanket once again becomes a socially acceptable way to spend an entire evening, I do love reading a good mystery. There’s something about settling down with a puzzle that fits with the season so I’ve been a big fan of recent efforts by a number of publishers to track down and reissue seasonally appropriate titles.

Celia Fremlin’s The Long Shadow is the latest in Faber & Faber’s re-discovery of the Edgar Award-winning novelist, following on from their 2017 edition of her debut, The Hours Before Dawn. Fremlin, heralded as a talented writer of domestic suspense in her day, seems to have been largely forgotten following her death in 2009 and, on the evidence of The Long Shadow, certainly deserves a larger readership upon the reissuing of her works.

Although there is nothing particularly innovative about the mystery element of The Long Shadow, the tone is something quite unique. Fremlin has given her main character, the newly widowed Imogen, a sharp, wry tone completely at odds with her role of the grieving widow. It’s the source of a great deal of dark humour within the book, as in this scene, where Imogen and her widowed neighbour, Edith, discuss the new year:

“‘Not a happy New Year, Imogen, because we both know hat cannot be,’ Edith was saying, her lined, indoor face haggard and hungry-looking in the silvery winter sunshine. ‘Not a happy, but a peaceful year, that’s what I shall wish for you, my dear: I pray that you may discover what I discovered: that even though happiness is at an end, you may still win through to a kind of peace….’

I won’t. If they try to palm me off with peace, I’ll throw it at them. Happiness is where I’m going and I shan’t stop till I get there. If Peace comes and gets in the way, I shall kick it.

‘Thank you, Edith, and the same to you,’ was what she said aloud: and five minutes later, found herself wondering whether Peace hadn’t, after all, something to be said for it.”

Brilliant isn’t it?! So sharp yet without acid. To me, Fremlin perfectly captures the exact thoughts that often go through our heads during a polite conversation, but which we would never dare to say out loud! It makes Imogen a very different kind of narrator and gives the tone of the book a feel of Patricia Highsmith, filled with sharp observations on human nature and character.

This isn’t to say that the plot is in any way lacking, however. There is a well-crafted mystery here, with plenty of subtle clues that require astute reading to unravel. I feel though that Fremlin is more interested in the psychological aspects of crime that the method and means. Her focus in The Long Shadow is what makes her characters tick – the nuances of human behaviour and personal circumstance that might lead someone to do something desperate. In pursuit of this, she succeeds in crafting a tense and suspenseful domestic setting, filled with acutely observed characters with plenty of secrets to hide.

The Christmas link is, if I’m honest, a little tenuous. Although Christmas is the occasion that results in the deceased Ivor’s eclectic friends and family descending on Imogen, only part of the action takes place over the festive season and I think if you were seeking a specifically festive flavour complete with oodles of mince pies and snow at every corner, you might be a tad disappointed here. That said, I can’t blame Faber for seeing the marketing opportunity and if it brings more readers to this excellent writer, then I think we should forgive the slight over-emphasis on the holiday that the cover suggests.

Astute, well-observed, and cleverly crafted, The Long Shadow is a clever and compelling mystery with a side order of domestic noir. It’s clearly the product of a writer with a talent for observation and a wry, dark sense of humour. I can certainly recommend it to fans of Patricia Highsmith, as well as those who enjoyed more recent domestic chillers such as Kate Muray Browne’s The Upstairs Room. Well done to Faber for reissuing Fremlin’s work and helping her work enjoy the readership that it surely deserves.

The Long Shadow by Celia Fremlin and published by Faber & Faber is available now as a paperback and ebook in all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher, Faber & Faber, for providing me with a copy of the book and inviting me to take part in this tour in return for an honest and unbiased review. The blog tour continues until 24 November 2018 so please do go and check out the other stops for more reviews and content!




REVIEW! A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

39080732The Center for women’s reproductive health offers a last chance at hope – but nobody ends up there by choice.

It’s very existence is controversial, and to the demonstrators who barricade the building every day, the service it offers is no different from legalised murder.

Now life and death decisions are being made horrifyingly real: a lone protester with a gun has taken the staff, patients and visitors hostage.

Certainties unwind as truths and secrets are peeled away, revealing the complexity of balancing the right to life with the right to choose.

Jodi Picoult has developed a reputation as a writer unafraid to confront certainties. Over the course of her many novels, she has challenge perceptions in a number of complex contemporary debates including gun control, assisted dying, and the Black Lives Matter movement. In her latest novel, A Spark of Light, she turns her pen to abortion laws; an especially controversial topic in Picoult’s native US where an increasingly conservative Supreme Court may reverse Roe vs Wade, but also a topic of fierce and deeply-held beliefs the world over.

It’s a debate that requires careful representation on the page and, to her credit, Picoult balances her novel extremely well, giving voice to both sides of the argument, from the doctor who performs abortions because of his faith and not in spite of it, to the pro-life protestor disguised as a patient, Picoult provides the reader with a set of rounded and developed individuals, each with their own beliefs and motivations. Depending on your viewpoint, some of them may be deeply unlikeable but, thanks to the strength of Picoult’s writing, they are all human.

Unravelling backwards through the hours of the standoff, the narrative plays with time to both increase the tension and unpack the debate. As Picoult herself writes in her author’s note, ‘Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of grey’. In constructing her novel backwards, Picoult casts light on these myriad shades of grey, revealing motivations after actions, thereby encouraging the reader into judgement before leading them to understanding. It’s extremely cleverly done and led to me questioning my view of more than one character or event in the book.

Having had the pleasure of hearing Picoult speak during an event held at Booka Bookshop, I’m aware of how much research went into A Spark of Light. Picoult visited abortion clinics and witnessed abortions, spoke with pro-life protesters, and interviewed women who have had abortions. Her research certainly shows in the book, however, it isn’t worn heavily. It is clear that Picoult, who speaks with passion and eloquence when discussing this debate in person, wanted to do justice to the complexities but still write an engaging and readable novel. By ensuring her novel is driven by characters and their situations, she succeeds in this and, as a result, A Spark of Light never feels dry or preachy – although I think it’s fairly clear which side of the debate Picoult herself sits on.

I feel that, as a writer, Picoult is often dismissed as writing ‘women’s fiction with issues’. As with many of these labels, this in no way does justice to her books. Yes, A Spark of Light does deal with a controversial issue. And yes, many of the characters featured are women. However, with strong, controlled prose, a deep and meaningful narrative, and developed, complex characters, A Spark of Light offers a powerful and thought-provoking read that deserves to be widely read. Picoult’s many fans will doubtless find much to praise in her latest work but, for those readers who have not yet picked up one of her novels, A Spark of Light offers a compelling narrative that is sure to spark conversation and engage debate.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. I was able to sign up and read A Spark of Light as a serialisation on The Pigeonhole, the book club in your pocket, and also won tickets to the Booka Bookshop event through then. My review is, as always, however, unbiased and all opinions are my own.