Blog Tours · Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr is published by Penguin on 13 May 2021. It is available to pre-order now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 16 May 2021 so do follow the hashtags to check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint is published by Wildfire and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 12 May 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy is published by Tramp Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Helen Richardson for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 29 April 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

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

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

I can trust nothing that came out of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone is published by Borough Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 01 May 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Plague Letters by V. L. Valentine

WHO WOULD MURDER THE DYING…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Coming Home to Brightwater Bay by Holly Hepburn

Merina Wilde has it all: a successful career writing the kind of romantic novels that make even the hardest hearts swoon, a perfect carousel of book launches and parties to keep her social life buzzing, and a childhood sweetheart who thinks she’s a goddess. But Merry has a secret: the magic has stopped flowing from her fingers. Try as she might, she can’t summon up the sparkle that makes her stories shine. And as her deadline whooshes by, her personal life falls apart too. Alex tells her he wants something other than the future she’d always imagined for them and Merry finds herself single for the first time since – well, ever.

Desperate to get her life back on track, Merry leaves London and escapes to the windswept Orkney Islands, locking herself away in a secluded clifftop cottage to try to heal her heart and rediscover her passion for writing.

But can the beauty of the islands and the kindness of strangers help Merry to fool herself into believing in love again, if only long enough to finish her book? Or is it time for her to give up the career she’s always adored and find something new to set her soul alight?

I will be the first to admit that Coming Home to Brightwater Bay, the latest of Holly Hepburn’s contemporary romance novels, would not ordinarily be my go-to in terms of genre. Although I binge-read Katie Fforde and Sophie Kinsella in my undergraduate days, I haven’t read much of the genre since.

But 2020 was a long old year so a book described as ‘utterly joyous’ on the cover sounded like the perfect balm with which to begin 2021. Plus Coming Home to Brightwater Bay is set on the Orkney Islands, one of my very favourite places, and the perfect backdrop for adventures of a romantic nature! And I am so glad that I did decide to join this blog tour because Coming Home to Brightwater Bay is an utter delight!

Following an unexpected breakup and a period of tortuous writers block, heartbroken novelist Merry Wilde applies to become the Writer in Residence for the Orkney Literary Society in the hope that the windswept scenery and isolation will, at the very least, inspire her to write again. Leaving London far behind her, Merry is soon ensconced in a secluded clifftop cottage and is swiftly embraced by the local community. But as the scenery and history of the Orkneys inspires her writing, is Merry also prepared for some of the island’s residents to begin to heal her broken heart?

It is worth pointing out that Coming Home to Brightwater Bay was previously published as four ebook parts – Broken Hearts at Brightwater Bay, Sea Breezes at Brightwater Bay, Dangerous Tides at Brightwater Bay, and Sunset Over Brightwater Bay. This paperback edition collects the four parts of the series into one novel but won’t be a ‘new’ book for readers who have already read the eBook series.

Merry is such an endearing protagonist and I came to really empathise with her over the course of the book – especially the knack she has of getting herself into scrapes! I also found the focus on her writing career to be a nice balance to the romance element of the novel. One of the things I sometimes dislike about the genre is when a romantic relationship is portrayed as fixing all the problems in a protagonist’s life. So I really liked that the focus of Brightwater Bay was on Merry and her realisation that, in order to get out of her writing rut, she needs to develop the confidence to try new things and have new experiences.

There is, of course, a romance or two in this romance novel. Merry soon finds herself torn between sexy modern day ‘Viking’ Magnús and handsome librarian Niall. And that’s before her ex Alex starts unexpectedly messaging her again. That said, this is not a ‘love triangle’ novel and I really liked the way in which Merry’d developing affections for both Magnús and Niall are portrayed. This is very much a novel that promotes respectful, healthy and adult relationships – not always a given in the genre and something for I was really thankful.

Having visited Orkney myself, I was also really impressed with the way in which the gorgeous scenery, incredible history, and welcoming community of the islands was portrayed. Whilst Brightwater Bay is utterly charming, there is nothing whimsical about the portrait of the islands and their community. Instead, there is a lovely depiction of a close knit connections and neighbourly concern found in small communities, as well as some evocative visits to some of the most glorious of the Mainland’s scenery, and some lovely nods to the history of Orkney.

Coming Home to Brightwater Bay is a novel packed to brimming with warmth and heart. Offering a captivating combination of feel-good self-discovery, sweet and affectionate romance, and gorgeous scenery, it is a warm blanket of a book that is sure to help any reader who dives into its pages banish those January blues!

Coming Home to Brightwater Bay by Holly Hepburn is published by Simon & Schuster and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

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 31 January 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!!! Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.

With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Having really enjoyed my recent foray into middle grade fiction with the deliciously devilish The Beast and the Bethany, it didn’t take much for @The_WriteReads to persuade me to get involved with the blog tour for B. B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers, a magical middle grade debut set in a world where the supernatural lives alongside – yet hidden – from the everyday.

The novel centres on Amari Peters, a black girl living in a deprived neighbourhood who is whisked into the magical world of the Bureau for Supernatural Affairs following her beloved older brother Quinton’s sudden disappearance. Determined to investigate Quinton’s disappearance, Amari sets her sights on passing the Bureau’s strenuous and challenging series of tryouts in order to become a Junior Agent within the Department of Supernatural Investigations. But not everyone wants Amari to succeed. With illegal magical blood running through her veins, there are those within the Bureau who think Amari might be a threat to their safety – and those who will do nothing to stop her from finding out what happened to her brother…

Amari really is the beating heart of this novel. Whilst the world that B. B. Alston has created is a fascinating one, replete with scores of supernatural creatures and magical abilities, is was the strength of Amari’s character that really shined through for me. Forced to confront prejudice because of her skin colour and background in the everyday world, Amari is confronted with the same prejudices in the supernatural world because of her natural magical ability. As a black girl from a deprived background, she’s never fitted in at her elite school. As a magician in the Bureau, she’s the victim of sneering attitudes and cruel jibes. Despite this, Amari never lets herself be defeated. Whilst she harbours the same private doubts that we all get, her determination, selflessness and love for her brother are admirable – as is her decision to keep going in spite of the setbacks, and to change people’s minds without hurting others.

This attitude brings Amari into conflict both with those within the Bureau who would like to see her fail in her mission, and with the dangerous illegal magicians know as The Night Brothers. Hellbent on ensuring domination of the supernatural world at any cost, Raoul Moreau and his brother Vladimir brought fear and destruction wherever they went. But with Vladimir long dead and Raoul locked away in the Bureau’s prison, who is it that is releasing dangerous magical hybrids and threatening to being back their reign of terror?

Without giving away any spoilers, the ‘villains’ of the novel are a surprising bunch. There are some who are classically ‘evil’ – all dark robes and villainous schemes – but the ones that intrigued me the most were those who let their own prejudices and hatred twist the way they viewed the world around them. From the Bureau Director who can’t see beyond the legacy of his family history, to the kids in Amari’s class who won’t accept her because of her magical abilities, this is a novel that keeps prejudice – and the effects of prejudice upon both individuals and society as a whole – firmly at the heart of its story whilst also sparking that sense of wonder and transportation that a good fantasy novel gives you.

Because this really is a fantasy setting that has it all – unique personalities and technologies, a variety of supernatural beings, and a well-realised magic system. Despite the richness of the world building in Amari and the Night Brothers, there was definitely more I wanted to know about so I’m glad to hear there will be a sequel that will allow Amari’s world to expand and develop even further – I can’t wait to see more of the supernatural world beyond the Bureau, and to spend time with some of the characters who only get a brief introduction here (Agents Magnus and Fiona were particular favourites of mine, as was Amari’s weredragon best friend Elsie).

With its non-stop plot, Amari and the Night Brothers is a fast-paced and exhilarating read packed to the brim with likeable and engaging characters and magical shenanigans. Whilst there were one or two elements that I would have loved to see developed a little further, this is only the first of Amari’s adventures – so here’s hoping we get to step outside of the Bureau’s doors and delve a little more into the lives of some of the side characters as the series progresses.

For the first in a series however, Amari and the Night Brothers has everything a fantasy fan could want. An engagingly smart protagonist, a rich and unique fantasy setting, a rip-roaring romp of a plot, and some tantalising glimpses of more adventures to come! If you’ve been looking to fill the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson shaped whole in your life with a fun, diverse, and intelligent middle grade fantasy series, then Amari Peters may well be the protagonist you’re looking for!

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston is published by Egmont Books on 21 January 2021 and is available to pre-order 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 me with a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Dave from @The_WriteReads for organising and inviting me on to this tour. Use #UltimateBlogTour and #AmariPeters to check out more reviews and contents!

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 Chalet by Catherine Cooper

Four friends. One luxury getaway. The perfect murder.

French Alps, 1998

Two young men ski into a blizzard… but only one returns.

20 years later

Four people connected to the missing man find themselves in that same resort. Each has a secret. Two may have blood on their hands. One is a killer-in-waiting.

Someone knows what really happened that day.

And somebody will pay.

Having recently read and LOVED Ruth Ware’s One by One I was eager to return to the Alps for more mystery so jumped at the opportunity to dive into Catherine Cooper’s The Chalet.

Set in the atmospheric resort of La Madiere in the French Alps, the novel alternates between 1998, when two brothers go missing whilst on a guided off-piste run, and 2018, when two couples arrive at a luxurious ski chalet for a few days of soft powder and après-ski networking. Wealthy businessman Hugo desperately needs to get boorish Simon to invest in his travel company – even if that means a week of schmoozing on the slopes. Hugo’s wife Ria, meanwhile, is questioning the wisdom of her marriage – and of choosing La Madiere, a place with too many echoes of a past she’d rather forget.

Along with Simon’s wife Cass, chalet girl Milly and manager Matt, and chalet owner Cameron, Hugo, Simon and Ria’s plans are thrown into disarray when a body is pulled from the snow – a body that may well be connected to the high-profile tragedy of the Cassiobury brothers twenty years before. It swiftly becomes apparent that there may be those amongst Hugo & Ria’s group who know more about the Cassiobury disappearance than they are letting on – and it isn’t long before further bodies start piling up.

As with One by One, the claustrophobic atmosphere of isolated mountains is used to great effect in The Chalet as the isolation of luxury ski lodge becomes a threat to the characters seeking shelter within it. Catherine Cooper has perfectly captured both the beauty and the danger of the mountains, and of the way that softly powdered snowfall can rapidly develop into a whirling blizzard. It’s wonderfully ominous and really helps set the tone for the action that follows.

I did struggle to associate with the characters in The Chalet. With the exception of baby Inigo, they’re a fairly horrible bunch with few redeeming features. Hugo, whilst shy and reserved, was unpleasantly misogynistic at some points whilst his wife Ria came across as shallow and self-absorbed – spending time in their heads was quite tough at times. Personally I do tend to prefer a novel where at least one of the characters is, if not nice, at least easier to empathise with – and I did find that almost impossible here. However, the blistering pace of events and the grim satisfaction that came with seeing some of these unpleasant people get their much-needed comeuppance did help to offset this disconnect!

And the pace really is blistering once the main premise and characters have been established. Cooper utilises the dual timeline to great effect to keep the plot moving forwards and the pages turning and, after a slightly slow start, the tension just keeps building until the explosive conclusions when all the secrets are revealed and the connections between the two groups of skiers becomes apparent.

Overall The Chalet is a fast-paced page-turner ideal for fans of Ruth Ware, B. Louise Candlish, and J P Delaney. It’s a pacy, atmospheric and thrilling read that, if you’re okay with unlikeable characters, makes for a great book to curl up with during these cold, dark nights!

The Chalet by Catherine Cooper is published by Harper Collins and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 27 November so do take a look at 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 Cousins by Karen M. McManus

The Storys are the envy of their neighbours: owners of the largest property on their East Coast island, they are rich, beautiful, and close. Until it all falls apart. The four children are suddenly dropped by their mother with a single sentence:

You know what you did.

They never hear from her again.

Years later, when 18-year-old cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah Story receive a mysterious invitation to spend the summer at their grandmother’s resort, they have no choice but to follow their curiosity and meet the woman who’s been such an enigma their entire lives.

This entire family is built on secrets, right? It’s the Story legacy.

This summer, the teenagers are determined to discover the truth at the heart of their family. But some secrets are better left alone.

Having really enjoyed the fast-paced page-turning action of YA mystery-thriller The Inheritance Games a couple of months ago, I leapt at the opportunity to be part of The Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour for Karen M McManus’s The Cousins.

I’ve heard excellent things about McManus’s previous books and, since rediscovering my love for YA thrillers, have had my eye on One of Us is Lying for a while, although the high school setting does make me slightly wary – I wasn’t especially fond of secondary school and have little desire to relive those agonies through fiction in my adult years! The Cousins, with its more contained family-drama vibes, appealed more – although on the basis of reading this, I’ll be throwing caution to the wind and catching up with McManus’s other series very soon!

The Cousins centres, unsurprisingly, on three cousins – Milly, Aubrey and Jonah. They’ve never met but all of them are well aware of the glamour and mystery surrounding their family. Their respective parents were the Story siblings – rich, beautiful, and privileged. Until, one day, they weren’t. Cut off without any explanation by family matriarch Mildred Story, the four Story siblings have spent their adult lives resentful, confused, or absent. So when letters arrive out of the blue inviting Milly, Aubrey and Jonah to meet their reclusive grandmother, their parents make sure that they accept – whether the teenagers themselves like it or not.

Alternating between the perspectives of the three cousins – all of whom come with an appropriate amount of teenage baggage – The Cousins is a page-turning family mystery, with plenty of dark revelations and emotional highs and lows. Because, of course, there is a reason behind the Story siblings banishment from their beautiful childhood home – one founded in the secrets and lies of a summer spent there many years ago. More than that however, it appears Mildred Story herself may have more secrets to hide.

Despite occasional frustrations with the sheer teenagery-ness of the protagonists (Milly in particular knows how to throw an A-grade teen girl strop), I really enjoyed spending time in the company of Milly, Aubrey and Jonah. Each of the protagonists is sufficiently different to offer a unique perspective on both the events of the present, and the secrets and revelations coming out about their family’s past. They’re also lively, funny, and smart – quite a surprise given that, for the most part, they have at least one truly awful parent a piece (no spoilers but the elder Storys are, on the whole, not the nicest bunch of people around).

The plot itself canters along from the off. The alternating perspectives – plus the occasional switch back into the past, and the fateful summer when the Story dream came to a close – keep the tension high and the cliffhangers coming. The contained resort setting also helps to control the cast – there’s always a risk with family dramas that the cast list will begin to run away and become confusing, especially when everyone has the same name and is related to each other – and the book had, for me, the feel of one of Agatha Christie’s enclosed Country House mysteries. McManus is also perfectly capable of a Christie-worthy twist – more than one revelation in The Cousins saw my jaw drop and my eyebrows reach for my hairline!

All in all The Cousins made for a fantastic pacy read – despite its length (just over 300 pages), I devoured it over the course of an evening – that combines an edge-of-your-seat mystery with oodles of family drama, a dollop of teen romance, and some smart, sassy protagonists. Fans of McManus’s previous books are sure to flock to this one whilst anyone looking to introduce themselves to her work has a fantastic place to start!

The Cousins by Karen M McManus is published by Penguin on 03 December 2020 and is available for pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Bookshop.org, Hive, 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 publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 16 December so follow @WriteReadsTours or the hashtag #UltimateBlogTour 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 Innocents by Michael Crummey

A brother and sister are orphaned in an isolated cove on Newfoundland’s northern coastline. Their home is a stretch of rocky shore governed by the feral ocean, by a relentless pendulum of abundance and murderous scarcity. Still children with only the barest notion of the outside world, they have nothing but the family’s boat and the little knowledge passed on haphazardly by their mother and father to keep them.

Muddling though the severe round of the seasons, through years of meagre catches and storms and ravaging illness, it is their fierce loyalty to each other that motivates and sustains them. But as seasons pass and they wade deeper into the mystery of their own natures, even that loyalty will be tested.

The Innocents is a haunting novel that is both deeply unsettling and, at the same time, lyrically vivid. The novel follows twelve-year-old Evered and his sister ten-year-old sister Ava. Orphaned after an unspecified illness carried away their mother, father, and their baby sister Martha, Evered and Ava must survive alone in the isolated outport cove that they call home with only scant knowledge of the ways of the world. As they muddle through the seasons, their isolation is punctured only by occasional supply drops from the nearby township of Mockbeggar, or by chance encounters with the crew of passing ships. As the siblings grow into adulthood, surviving through the years on meagre catches of fish and basic provisions, their increasing loyalty to each other will come into conflict with their own natures, and with urges that they neither understand nor have names for.

Inspired by a story that author Michael Crummey found in Newfoundland archives, The Innocents is, at times, a deeply disturbing and difficult book. It is no spoiler to say that the relationship that develops between Evered and Ava is an extremely complex one and that, as they move from childhood to adolescence, it becomes intimate in ways that I found unsurprising but unsettling. Trigger warnings then for incest, as well as for implied sexual assault, violence and some fairly grim depictions of death.

That said, the novel doesn’t depict any of these subjects gratuitously. The clue is really in the title – The Innocents – and Michael Crummey has done an excellent job of showing that this is exactly what Evered and Ava are. Orphaned, alone, and largely abandoned by the populace of the nearby town, Evered and Ava have little knowledge of either themselves or of the outside world. Their actions throughout the book are a combination of blind instinct and the scraps of information passed onto them by their parents or by the outsiders who occasionally intrude into their lives. As such, the novel makes you question to what extent you as the reader can judge their actions, given that neither of them is equipped to move fully beyond the state of childlike innocence that they begin the novel in.

Beginning as a survival tale, The Innocents contains some gloriously lyrical descriptions of the Newfoundland landscape. Reading it is like being immersed into the time and place and I felt the icy cold of every harsh winter and the relief of the spring thaw, with the first signs of life returning to the cove. As the novel progresses, it moves to explore the psychological complexity of the twins, with Crummey turning his poet’s eye to the subjects of intimacy, conflict, loneliness, togetherness, and trust. As an exploration of both the harsh realities of survival and the bond between siblings, The Innocents is both unflinching and raw. The lyricism, and the harsh depictions of the daily life on the edge of existence, reminded me very much of Ian McGuire’s The North Water, another novel that doesn’t shy away from the grim realities of life, or the darker facets of the human experience.

For me, however, The Innocents lacked the pace or plot of McGuire’s novel and, at times, the exploration of Everard, Ava, and their situation became bogged down in meditations on nature, the landscape, and the natural world at the expense of the exploration of the siblings characters, and the impact of their situation. The relentless bleakness of the landscape seemed to seep into the story, becoming elevated only during the brief moments of intrusion by outsiders, such as the visit by the HMS Medusa, when the strangeness of Everard and Ava’s existence becomes crystallised in the face of the outside world. Others may well disagree – the novel has received rave reviews from many readers on Goodreads, as well as from literary critics and authors – but, for me, I couldn’t help wanting just a little more by way of plot, and a wider exploration of these encounters with the world beyond the Everard and Ava’s isolated cove.

That said, if you don’t mind the slower pacing, The Innocents is an accomplished and insightful examination of the human spirit in extremes. Quietly meditative, and with descriptions of the natural world that are cinematic in quality, this is a provocative depiction of innocence, hardship, and the sibling bond that is sure to engage and engross many readers of historical and literary fiction.

The Innocents by Michael Cummey is published by No Exit Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers, including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

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, as well as to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. Please do check out the other tour stops for more reviews and content!