Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Demon by Matt Wesolowski (Six Stories #6)

Scott King’s podcast investigates the 1995 cold case of a demon possession in a rural Yorkshire village, where a 12-year-old boy was murdered in cold blood by two children. Book six in the chilling, award-winning Six Stories series.

In 1995, the picture-perfect village of Ussalthwaite was the site of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable, in a case that shocked the world. Twelve-year-old Sidney Parsons was savagely murdered by two boys his own age. No reason was ever given for this terrible crime, and the ‘Demonic Duo’ who killed him were imprisoned until their release in 2002, when they were given new identities and lifetime anonymity.

Elusive online journalist Scott King investigates the lead-up and aftermath of the killing, uncovering dark and fanciful stories of demonic possession, and encountering a village torn apart by this unspeakable act.

And, as episodes of his Six Stories podcast begin to air, King himself becomes a target, with dreadful secrets from his own past dredged up and threats escalating to a terrifying level. It becomes clear that whatever drove those two boys to kill is still there, lurking, and the campaign of horror has just begun…

It’s no secret that I have long been a fan of Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series. Every single book in the series to date has been a 5-star read for me, with their page-turning combination of true crime podcast and supernatural folkloric chills.

Demon, the latest outing for podcaster Scott King, was, for me, a slightly different reading experience to previous entries in the series. I usually race through a Six Stories book over the course of a day or a weekend. Demon took me longer to read – not because it was any less brilliant (because let me tell you know, it is a FANTASTIC read) but because the tone and subject required, for me anyway, a more meditative pace of consumption. Instead of tearing breathlessly through the pages, I read the book almost like I would listen to a podcast: consuming an episode at a time, waiting a few days to digest that, and then consuming the next one. As a means of reading, it worked very well – especially for this particular topic.

For Scott King’s sixth outing, he’s investigating the brutal killing of twelve-year-old Sidney Parsons, brutally murdered by two boys his own age. No reason was ever given for their terrible crime but, in the small village of Ussalthwaite, dark rumours of an ancient evil circle around the tragedy. Could demonic possession account for this horrific crime? Familial and societal neglect? Or are some people just born evil?

Make no mistake, Demon is dark read in parts. The book comes prefaced with a trigger warning for fictional violence against children and animals and, in parts, the scenes and scenarios described are upsetting. There’s also discussion of suicide and attempted suicide. That said, I didn’t feel that these elements were used in any way that was gratuitous. Instead it is used to ask quite serious – and at times difficult – questions about personal choice, societal behaviour, and social responsibility in the social media age.

As with previous Six Stories novels, Demon combines a slightly supernatural element with the true crime podcast format and, as in previous novels, this adds a level of spooky tension to the story without ever becoming cliched or overblown. The balance between the folklore and the ‘true’ crime elements is particularly well done here, demonstrating the way in which deviations from societal norms remain insidious even in supposedly ‘modern’ times.

With its ambiguous conclusion, Demon isn’t a book that provides easy answers but it is one that provides a captivating and compulsive reading experience. For fans of the Six Stories series, it is a worthy – and much awaited – addition to the series whilst newcomers will get a darkly compulsive introduction to Six Stories’ fantastically readable blend of crime thriller and supernatural horror.

Demon (Six Stories #6) by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including the Orenda Books store, 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 31 January 2022 so 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!!! Wahala by Nikki May

Ronke, Simi, Boo are three mixed-race friends living in London. They have the gift of two cultures, Nigerian and English. Not all of them choose to see it that way.

Everyday racism has never held them back, but now in their thirties, they question their future. Ronke wants a husband (he must be Nigerian); Boo enjoys (correction: endures) stay-at-home motherhood; while Simi, full of fashion career dreams, rolls her eyes as her boss refers to her urban vibe yet again.

When Isobel, a lethally glamorous friend from their past arrives in town, she is determined to fix their futures for them.

Cracks in their friendship begin to appear, and it is soon obvious Isobel is not sorting but wrecking. When she is driven to a terrible act, the women are forced to reckon with a crime in their past that may just have repeated itself.

Billed as Sex and the City meets My Sister, the Serial Killer, Nikki May’s debut novel Wahala is certainly bursting onto 2022’s bookish scene with a bang – I mean, just look at that striking cover for starters!!

Fortunately the contents more than live up to the hype – although I’d agree with a number of other reviewers in saying that Wahala‘s vibe is more Big Little Lies than Sex in the City. The book focuses upon the friendship between three Anglo-Nigerian women in their thirties: Simi, Ronke, and Boo, and examines what happens when a fourth woman, Isobel, upsets the balance of their carefully curated lives and seemingly solid friendship group.

From the moment she steps onto the page, it is clear that Isobel is wahala (which means ‘trouble’ in Nigerian) and that her ‘friendship’ can bring nothing but chaos into Simi, Ronke, and Boo’s lives. But do their lives need a little chaos? After all, Simi is concealing the fact she’s not sure about having children from husband Martin, Boo feels overlooked and unappreciated by her husband Didier and their daughter Sophia, and Ronke can’t get boyfriend Kayode to keep his commitments. Maybe they need a bit of wahala in their lives? But who is Isobel really? And what are her motives for trying to fix their futures?

Wahala is a brilliant portrayal of the complexity of female relationships and female friendship. Ronke, Boo, and Simi come alive on the page and I felt drawn into the evocative details of their lives – from catching up over jollof rice and pounded yam at Buka, to clicking ‘buy’ on a Net-a-Porter order that really shouldn’t be added to the credit card, each of them is relatably fallible and sympathetic, even if they’re not always wholly likeable.

Despite being long-time friends, each of the women has very different personalities and I suspect different readers will warm to different members of the group. I really like honest and reliable homebody Ronke, with her passion for food, and her penchant for unreliable men. Others may prefer career-girl Simi, who suffers with a severe case of imposter syndrome beneath her picture-perfect lifestyle, or put-upon mum Boo, struggling to find herself underneath the labels of ‘wife’ and ‘mother’.

Indeed, the only person it was hard to warm to in any way was Isobel – glamorously lethal and oozing toxicity from the moment she appears on the page. At times, I did wonder why Simi, Boo, and Ronke – all seemingly intelligent and independent women – ‘buy into’ Isobel despite the (many) warning signs. Then I realised that they’re all seeking something in their lives – something that Isobel, however dangerous, seems to be able to provide. As a study in womanhood, Wahala doesn’t always do its characters any favours but, as a study in fractured psychologies and the reasons why competent women make poor life choices, it’s a work of genius.

Without giving away any of the plot, I did find the ‘twist’ at the end to be a bit of a disappointment – a sudden veer into thriller territory in a novel that, up to that point, had relied on psychological nuance and human relationships as its primary appeal. It was also a very sharp turn into tragedy in a novel that, for the most part, never took itself too seriously and sprinkled plenty of humour (albeit quite dark humour) amidst the angst.

The ending is, however, a very minor quibble amidst an otherwise brilliantly evocative and engaging read. Wahala had me hooked from the off! I particularly loved the way that Anglo-Nigerian culture is depicted in the novel (which frequently makes use of Nigerian words and phrases as well as centring many conversations around delicious and evocative depictions of food) and the way that the three women’s identities are informed – but never defined – by their mixed heritage. Having finished the book, I’ll definitely be giving the included recipes for Ronke’s jollof rice and chicken stew a go – as well as Aunty K’s moin-moin. Nikki May has also curated a Spotify playlist so you can listen to songs that inspired the book whilst you read!

Overall Wahala is an unputdownable tale of female life and friendship, told with verve and humour. More of a contemporary drama than a thriller, it’s sure to appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty and gave me similar vibes to Anna Hope’s Expectation. With it’s sharply observed humour and evocative depiction of contemporary life, friendships, and relationships, its the perfect riveting read for blowing away the January blues – or for picking up and making a start on your summer reading pile for 2022!

Wahala by Nikki May is published by Penguin Doubleday 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 19 January 2022 so 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

ULTIMATE BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! You’ll Be The Death of Me by Karen M. McManus

Image Description: The cover of You’ll Be The Death of Me has the title in bold purple font with the silhouettes of three teenagers above. The tagline is ‘Three friends with secrets to hide; One shocking murder; Will the truth come out?’

Ivy, Mateo and Cal used to be close – best friends back in middle school.

Now all they have in common is a bad day. So for old time’s sake they skip school together – one last time.

But when the trio spot Brian ‘Boney’ Mahoney ditching class too, they follow him – right into a murder scene.

They all have a connection to the victim. And they’re ALL hiding something.

When their day of freedom turns deadly, it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out . . .

If you’ve followed The Shelf for a while, you’ll know I became a convert of YA mystery/thrillers last year thanks, in no small part, to Karen M. McManus’ The Cousins. I therefore jumped at the chance to be part of the Blog Tour for her latest standalone novel, You’ll Be The Death of Me.

As in The Cousins, You’ll Be The Death of Me features three protagonists: A-grade student Ivy has just lost the student council election to the class clown despite years of organising school initiatives; girl-crazy Cal has just been stood up by his latest crush; and hard-working Mateo just needs a break – he’s been burned out working two jobs ever since his Mom got sick and the family business went under.

So when the three former best friends bump into each other, they decide to stage a repeat of their Middle School escapade – the ‘Best Day Ever’ – and skip school together for one last time. When a fellow student is murdered, however, the ‘Best Day Ever’ soon turns into a nightmare. Ivy, Cal, and Mateo all have their reasons for disliking Brian ‘Boney’ Mahoney – and, as they day turns ever more deadly – all three have secrets to hide that might just be the death of them.

Whilst You’ll Be The Death of Me doesn’t deviate too far from McManus’s trademark formula: teen angst, deadly secrets, and a dash of budding romance; there is a strong element of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ here. McManus does what she does SO well that fans of her previous books are sure to adore You’ll be The Death of Me with the same fervour.

Whilst I initially didn’t like Ivy, Cal, and Mateo all that much, I gradually warmed to the three teens as the book went on. Yes, each of them is a bundle of teenage angst but, to be fair, each of them has challenges to deal with. Ivy is trying to find her place amidst her high-achieving family, Mateo wants to help his Mom, and Cal just wants to fit in. Their vulnerabilities and anxieties are woven throughout the story and provide a strong emotional pull to the narrative.

The ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with murders’ premise is utterly genius and McManus makes the most of its potential here, offering up plenty of suspects and a wider, all-encompassing plot that kept me guessing until the final pages. The ending also has a real sting in the tail – and possibly sets up events for a continuation – and, whilst not exactly ‘happily every after’ had a realistic feel that suited the story well. There’s also some poignant reflections on growing up and moving on that will resonate with readers of any age.

Whilst I didn’t love the characters or the high school setting quite as much as the atmospheric island of The Cousins, You’ll Be The Death of Me soon drew me in with its brilliant premise, page-turning plot, and regular twists and turns. Fans of McManus will find her latest novel just as compelling as her last, whilst those new to her work could do far worse than starting with this solid YA thriller.

You’ll Be The Death of Me by Karen M. McManus is published by Penguin 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 The Write Reads for organising an inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 12 December so follow #TheWriteReads and #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 REVIEW!!! The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable

Image Description: The cover of The Bookseller’s Secret features a woman in a 1940s-style blue dress at the door of a bookshop.

In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.

Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.

Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…

Alternating between present-day London and the Blitz-ravaged city in 1942, The Bookseller’s Secret draws parallels between the lives of two women: newly-single Katie Cabot is the author of a romantic New York Times bestseller – and two failed historical follow-ups – whilst once sparkling ‘Bright Young Thing’ Nancy Mitford is the author of three failed novels, estranged from her husband, and utterly broke. For both women, the eccentric Haywood Hill bookshop seems an unlikely saviour – but when Nancy takes up the offer of a job at the shop, it leads her on a journey that, eighty years later, send Katie off on a hunt for a missing Mitford manuscript.

Michelle Gable’s latest novel has the perfect premise for book-loving romantics and deftly combines a lesser-known period in the famous novelist’s life with breezy romance, period high-jinks, and a dash of literary mystery. Although I did find both Katie and Nancy quite annoying as protagonists at times, I was fascinated to learn about Nancy’s time at Heywood Hill, and about the wartime experiences of the famous (and infamous) Mitford siblings.

Both wartime and contemporary London have been vividly recreated on the page – albeit with a slightly unbelievable rosiness at times. There were also one or two points where the world of the book pushed the boundaries of believability and, temporarily, threw me out of the otherwise immersive story – as a Brit, I found it hard to believe Katie’s novelist friend and her husband, however successful in their respective industries, could afford an enormous townhouse in London’s Mayfair with a concierge service, live-in staff, and a chauffeur, for example. But, for the most part, it was clear that Michelle Gable had done her research – especially on the Mitford family and on Nancy Mitford’s life in wartime London.

Combining bright and breezy romance with a wartime setting, writer’s block, and a literary treasure hunt could easily have led to a somewhat contrasting tone but, in Gable’s hands, the novel’s different modes merge easily into a compelling read that, whilst remaining light and easy to read, never sacrifices depth or historical reality. The bookshop setting suits the action of the novel perfectly, with the magic of a really good bookshop being bought across perfectly on the page.

Although I found it challenging to connect with the characters at times, the premise and the lightness of the author’s touch – kept me reading and I finished The Bookseller’s Secret in just a couple of days despite it’s 350+ page length. The book has also encouraged me to find out more about Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love is now very much on my TBR and I’m keen to read more about the Mitford siblings – and, for anyone looking for a charming yet immersive read, The Bookseller’s Secret has a perfect combination of romance, mystery, and charm to while away a weekend or winter’s evening with.

The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable is published by HarperCollins/Harlequin and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, 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 03 December 2021 so 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 Retreat by Alison Moore

Image Description: The cover of Alison Moore’s The Retreat shows the faint outline of an island against a dark sea and sky

Since childhood, Sandra Peters has been fascinated by the small, private island of Lieloh, home to the reclusive silent-film star Valerie Swanson.

Having dreamed of going to art college, Sandra is now in her forties and working as a receptionist, but she still harbours artistic ambitions.

When she sees an advert for a two-week artists’ retreat on Lieloh, Sandra sets out on what might be a life-changing journey.

She anticipates a friendly and supportive little community but does not get quite what she was hoping for.

Alison Moore’s Booker Prize shortlisted debut novel, The Lighthouse, is one of those books that I’ve heard great things about, has been on my TBR forever but that I’ve never quite got around to reading. Having now sampled The Retreat, Moore’s fifth – and latest – novel, I know I definitely want to read more of her work.

The Retreat is what many people would probably call a ‘quiet’ novel but it packs a powerful punch within its slender 156 pages. Aspiring artist Sandra has always been fascinated by Lieloh, the small, private island that was once the home of a reclusive silent-film star. When the opportunity arises to go to Lieloh for a two-week artists’ retreat, Sandra sets out to try and realise her artistic ambitions. But the supportive artistic community she envisages is not quite the reality she encounters when she arrives at Lieloh. Aspiring author Carol, meanwhile, just needs peace and quiet to write her book. When a friend offers her use of a private, island retreat, she heads off into isolation to dig out the words out of her. But when she arrives in her idyll, Carol begins to feel she may not be as alone as she appears.

To say any more about the plot of The Retreat would be to spoil both the story and the atmosphere of this quietly devastating study of modern alienation and artistic temperament. Not that the novel is particularly plot-heavy, as such – in fact, The Retreat is definitely a book powered by character, and by the tiny interactions of the everyday that become layered with meaning and interwoven into a wider pattern.

Small incidents – the eating of eggs, a refusal to play a game or partake in a picnic, the choice of an evening meal – become weighted with significance as Sandra attempts, unsuccessfully, to navigate group dynamics on Lieloh. Her fellow retreat residents, whilst never outright vicious, are frequently petty, selfish, and domineering whilst Sandra herself is similarly self-absorbed and narrow-minded. They make for a thoroughly unlikeable bunch – a possible issue if you don’t enjoy reading books with few, if any, sympathetic characters – but a fascinating one all the same.

Whilst most of The Retreat is given over to Sandra, personally I found Carol’s narrative to be the most compelling. Alison Moore has perfectly captured the unsettling feeling of isolation, combining this with a delightful sense of the weird to create a not-quite ghost story that revels in its atmosphere. As the novel progresses, Carol’s narrative also begins to shed new light upon Sandra’s predicament, creating a compelling yet uneasy narrative that left me feeling somewhat unsettled by the time I turned the final page.

The Retreat is not going to be a book for everyone. Those looking for continual action or sympathetic characters will not find either here. But if you’re the sort of reader who revels in atmosphere, language, and the minutiae of human interaction, The Retreat will provide a short, sharp treat to curl up with on a winter’s evening.

The Retreat by Alison Moore is published by Salt 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 23 November 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 Bloodless Boy by Robert J Lloyd

Image Description: The cover of The Bloodless Boy features a section from a map of seventeenth-century London, with a seal in the centre.

The City of London, 1678. New Year’s Day. Twelve years have passed since the Great Fire ripped through the City. Eighteen since the fall of Oliver Cromwell’s Republic and the restoration of a King. London is gripped by hysteria, where rumors of Catholic plots and sinister foreign assassins abound.

The body of a young boy, drained of his blood and with a sequence of numbers inscribed on his skin, is discovered on the snowy bank of the Fleet River.

Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, the powerful Justice of Peace for Westminster, is certain of Catholic guilt in the crime. He enlists Robert Hooke, the Curator of Experiments of the Royal Society, and his assistant, Harry Hunt, to help his enquiry. Demanding discretion from them, he also entrusts to them to preserve the body, which they store inside Hooke’s Air-pump. Sir Edmund confides to Hooke that the bloodless boy is not the first to have been discovered. He also presents Hooke with a cipher that was left on the body.

That same morning Henry Oldenburg, the Secretary of the Royal Society, blows his brains out. A disgraced Earl is released from the Tower of London, bent on revenge against the King, Charles II.

Wary of the political hornet’s nest they are walking into – and using evidence rather than paranoia in their pursuit of truth – Hooke and Hunt must discover why the boy was murdered, and why his blood was taken. Moreover, what does the cipher mean?

Harry, wanting to prove himself as a natural philosopher and to break free from the shadow of Hooke’s brilliance, takes the lead in investigating the death of the boy. He is pulled into the darkest corners of Restoration London, where the Court and the underworld seem to merge.

Harry has to face the terrible consequences of experiments done in the name of Science, but also reckon with a sinister tale with its roots in the traumas of the Civil Wars.

Set in seventeenth-century London, The Bloodless Boy introduces readers to Harry Hunt, Observator of the Royal Society and protégé of Robert Hooke, the society’s renowned Curator of Experiments. Called to the banks of the Fleet on a snowy winter’s morning, Hunt and Hooke are charged with the investigation and preservation of the body of a young boy, drained of blood and, apparently, transported to the river’s bank without the perpetrator leaving a trace of their passing.

The discovery of the bloodless boy provides Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, Justice of the Peace, with a puzzle – and Hunt with an opportunity to step out from his master’s shadow and prove his mettle as a natural philosopher in his own right. Solving the mystery of the bloodless bodies being left over London will take Hunt into some of the darkest – and most dangerous – corners of Restoration London, where the pursuit of knowledge rubs shoulders with criminality, and where a political hornet’s nest is waiting to be stirred up.

Seventeenth-century London comes vividly to life on the page in The Bloodless Boy, from the intrigues of the Court to the grimy streets of London’s shadowy back alleys. The early proceedings of the Royal Society – and the tensions created as the secular rationalism of the ‘new’ philosophy came into increasing conflict with established, often deeply-held, religious belief – are richly portrayed, and a real sense of the world that the characters occupy comes across on the page.

For me, the characters themselves didn’t come to life quite as vividly as the setting – probably because there were a lot of them. Fictional creations mix with real historical figures and, whilst I admire the dedication Robert J Lloyd has put into creating his rich and detailed world, there were times when I wondered whether the roles of some characters could have been combined to make it easier for readers to distinguish. A character list is provided at the beginning of the novel – which does help – but reading on my e-reader made flicking back and forth to refer to this every time that I’d forgotten who someone was something of a chore.

The mystery of the bloodless boy is, however, certainly intriguing – and considerably more complex than it first appears, and utilises this history of this tumultuous period to add additional depth. With as much a focus upon the ‘why’ as well as the ‘who’-dunnit, you also get a fantastic history lesson alongside your crime-solving, with a Hunt and Hooke’s inquiries taking them back to the dark days of the English Civil War, as well as the very edges of the moral boundaries of philosophical enquiry at the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment.

With its blend of political intrigue, underworld vice, and scientific enquiry, The Bloodless Boy reminded me of Ambrose Parry’s Will Raven and Sarah Fisher series of medical crime-thrillers, as well as Andrew Taylor’s Ashes of London series. With a strong narrative drive and an intriguing mystery, the pace rarely drops off. Whilst this may leave readers who like to spend a little longer getting to know their characters wanting more, those seeking a plot-driven crime thriller within a well-realised historical setting will find much to enjoy here.

The Bloodless Boy by Robert J Lloyd is published by Melville House and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

My thanks go to Nikki Griffiths at Melville House Press for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The tour continues until 25 November 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Image Description: The cover of A Ghost in the Throat has a striking pattern of red and yellow flowers, with green leaves, against a black background.

‘When we first met, I was a child, and she had been dead for centuries.

I am eleven, a dark-haired child given to staring out window … Her voice makes it 1773, a fine day in May, and puts English soldiers crouching in ambush; I add ditch-water to drench their knees. Their muskets point towards a young man who is falling from his saddle in slow, slow motion. A woman hurries in and kneels over him, her voice rising in an antique formula of breath and syllable the teacher calls a caoineadh, a keen to lament the dead.’

A true original, this stunning prose debut by Doireann Ní Ghríofa weaves two stories together. In the 1700s, an Irish noblewoman, on discovering her husband has been murdered, drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary poem that reaches across the centuries to another poet. In the present day, a young mother narrowly avoids tragedy in her own life. On encountering the poem, she becomes obsessed with finding out the rest of the story.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa has sculpted a fluid hybrid of essay and autofiction to explore the ways in which a life can be changed in response to the discovery of another’s – in this case, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, famously referred to by Peter Levi as ‘the greatest poem written in either Ireland or Britain during the eighteenth century.’

A devastating and timeless tale about finding your voice by freeing another’s.

How to review a book that is part essay, part memoir, part literary investigation, part history, part ghost story, and part translation? That is the challenge that lies before me for A Ghost in the Throat, poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s award-winning auto-fiction/memoir about her efforts to translate – and understand – Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s eighteenth-century lament, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire (The Keen for Art Ó Laoghaire).

As you can probably imagine, A Ghost in the Throat is a book that defies easy categorisation. Regardless of whether Doireann Ní Ghríofa is writing about her own experiences of motherhood – and the inevitable sacrifices of selfhood that this requires – or conjuring the grief of Eibhlín Dubh, keening over her husband’s murdered corpse, it is, however, a compelling and powerful read.

A Ghost in the Throat opens with the words, ‘THIS IS A FEMALE TEXT’, a refrain repeated throughout the text that serves both to highlight the erasure of lives such as Eibhlín Dubh’s from history, and to underscore the power of shared female experiences. For what begins as a teenage fascination with the romantic figure of a woman grieving for a lost lover becomes, for Doireann Ní Ghríofa, a means of exploring her own lived experience, and of uniting the fractured pieces of her identity: mother, wife, poet, scholar.

It’s hard to explain exactly how this fragmented, often ephemeral narrative can possess such narrative pull but, once I’d settled into the rhythm of Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s words, I frequently found myself reading for hours; devouring the book in chunks and emerging dazed back into the world when I put it down. For me, reading A Ghost in the Throat was to be transported, however briefly, into other lives: both that of Doireann Ní Ghríofa and of Eibhlín Dubh. On the face of it, I have little in common with either woman – not Irish, not a mother, not a poet – and yet the pattern of their lives still resonated with me through the pages and from across the years.

f the eighteenth-century myself, I can understand the fascination that Doireann Ní Ghríofa develops with the fragments of Eibhlín Dubh’s life that remain in official records – and with the tantalising gaps through which Eibhlín, her sister, her mother, and her other female friends and relations seem to have slipped. Literary investigation can sometimes feel like obsession – the pursuit of knowledge through the fissures of history – and Doireann Ní Ghríofa has perfectly captured both the thrill and the despair that often comes with such a pursuit.

Not being a speaker of Gaelic, I cannot testify to the fidelity of Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s translation of the Caoineadh, but I am glad to have been introduced to this deeply moving and powerful poem: a keen for a beloved husband, brutally murdered, and a lament for a wife unable to seek legal recourse for his death. Hopefully this new translation – the success of Doireann’s exploration of her own relationship with the text – will serve to make this particular piece of Irish literature much better known amongst the English-speaking literary world.

A Ghost in the Throat will not, I imagine, be for everyone. Its ephemeral and fragmentary nature can, at times, leave the reader jolted suddenly from one life and forcibly inserted into another, whilst Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s attempts to understand Eibhlín Dubh and to reconstruct her life are, like so much academic enquiry, ultimately frustrated. In addition, it is powerful and, at times, deeply emotional read that explores motherhood, loss, love, marriage, and the weight of expectation, often accompanied by a howl of female anger, despair, and frustration. It is, as Doireann Ní Ghríofa frequently says, a female text.

Ultimately, you’ll know within a few pages whether A Ghost in the Throat is for you. If it is, you’ll be pulled into this book and swept through, captivated by the power of an eighteenth-century Irish woman and the story of the twenty-first-century poet who fell in love with her words. It’s a book that I would love the opportunity to teach one day – unpicking this alongside students and other scholars would be fascinating, and I definitely think this a book that bears repeat, close reading. As a ‘pleasure’ reading experience, A Ghost in the Throat wasn’t the easiest – or the most comforting – of reads, but it was a deeply rewarding and thought-provoking one that I feel will stay with me long after I turned the final page.

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa 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 7 November 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford

Image Description: The cover of A Woman Made of Snow has a sailing ship against the backdrop of Arctic mountains and a sunset.

Scotland, 1949: Caroline Gillan and her new husband Alasdair have moved back to Kelly Castle, his dilapidated family estate in the middle of nowhere. Stuck caring for their tiny baby, and trying to find her way with an opinionated mother-in-law, Caroline feels adrift, alone and unwelcome.

But when she is tasked with sorting out the family archives, Caroline discovers a century-old mystery that sparks her back to life. There is one Gillan bride who is completely unknown – no photos exist, no records have been kept – the only thing that is certain is that she had a legitimate child. Alasdair’s grandmother.

As Caroline uncovers a strange story that stretches as far as the Arctic circle, her desire to find the truth turns obsessive. And when a body is found in the grounds of the castle, her hunt becomes more than just a case of curiosity. What happened all those years ago? Who was the bride? And who is the body…?

Part love story, part mystery, and part historical drama, Elisabeth Gifford’s latest novel, A Woman Made of Snow, is certainly endeavouring to tick a lot of boxes – many of them pure Shelf of Unread catnip! And with a side order of Victorian arctic exploration thrown into that heady mix, I was delighted to have the opportunity to be on the blog tour for this captivating novel.

Switching between two timelines, A Woman Made of Snow is the story of several generations of Gillan women. The latest Gillan wife, Caro, is struggling to find her place amidst new husband Alasdair’s ancestral home, Kelly Castle. As one of the first women to graduate from her college at Cambridge, Caro had expected to spend her life researching and lecturing. Instead she finds herself struggling with new motherhood under the watchful eye of her mother-in-law, Martha.

When Martha unexpectedly offers Caro the opportunity to research the history of Kelly Castle, she jumps at the opportunity to claw back a few hours of her old life. Her investigations turn up a curious gap in the archives: a previous Gillan bride – Alasdair’s great-grandmother – who appears to have been erased from the family history. When building work uncovers a woman’s body in the grounds of the castle, Caro cannot help but wonder whether there is any connection with her missing Gillan wife. And when she uncovers the long-lost diary of Oliver Gillan’s voyage to the Arctic in 1882, it soon becomes clear that the Gillan’s family history – and Kelly Castle – may be hiding a murderous secret.

There were so many points when A Woman Made of Snow reminded me of To the Bright Edge of the World, Eowyn Ivey’s captivating novel about the exploration of Alaska that I read and reviewed earlier this year. Elisabeth Gifford has the same ability as Ivey to perfectly capture a sense of wonder involved in exploration and the sense of grandeur within the Arctic landscape – and has also written a poignant and touching love story at the beating heart of her book.

Some elements of this novel were, for me, less successful however. For a relatively slender novel (287 pages), A Woman Made of Snow packs in a LOT of plot. Whilst this is definitely not a bad thing per se – it definitely kept the pages turning! – there are several key characters within both the timelines, as well as several subplots that I felt some were in need of more room to breath. One subplot, which revolves around a potential rival for Alasdair’s affections, seemed full of dramatic potential but, sadly, seemed to have dwindled out to serve very little purpose by the end of the novel.

I also felt that the tension between Caro and Martha – and the attempts made to liken this to events within the past timeline – was a little forced at times. Both Caro and Martha are very likeable characters and, to me at least, seemed to act in a perfectly friendly and respectful manner to each other throughout. Whilst I understand that Elisabeth Gifford was trying to convey the uneasy but barely perceptible tensions that can sometimes arise between new wife and mother-in-law, I felt that this was sometimes made into a bigger plot element than their relatively minor disagreements really warranted.

That said, Caro’s frustration at her own loss of identity is brilliantly conveyed and I really empathised with the way she is torn between her love for her new family – and her new role as wife and mother – and her frustration at the postponement of her academic career, and the abandonment of her independent life with Alasdair in London.

Saying to much about Oliver’s plotline would be to risk spoilers – and given that there is a really compelling mystery plot running throughout the book, that would be a great shame – however I will say that I found the sections set aboard the whaling ship Narwhal to be amongst the most compelling sections of the novel. Elisabeth Gifford has clearly done her research into both the place and the period and I felt that the Narwhal and her crew really came alive on the page – as did the lives and customs of the Inuit people they encounter on their journey.

I also found Oliver’s mother, Sylvia, to be a really arresting character – albeit a truly awful one. Again, I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers but I can safely say that I think Sylvia is one of the most reprehensible characters I’ve met on the page in recent years! Despite this, Gifford has made her a woman I almost loved to hate, fleshing out her background and mental state so that I could understand some of the reasoning behind her abhorrent behaviour – even if I didn’t empathise with that reasoning in any way.

Overall, A Woman Made of Snow made for a dynamic, emotive, and propulsive read that was packed full of family drama. With a touching love story and some well-drawn characters, it was a quick and compelling novel that, despite some minor niggles, kept me reading right through to the end! With its immersive period detail, dual timeline mystery, and heartfelt, poignant storyline, A Woman Made of Snow is sure to appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah, Hazel Gaynor, Kate Morton, and Rachel Hore.

A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford is published by Corvus/Atlantic Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 22 October 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 · Giveaway

BLOG TOUR GIVEAWAY!!! The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen

Image Description: The cover of The Rabbit Factor is bright yellow-orange and has the image of a man standing in front of a large-eyed, cartoon-style, one-eared rabbit

I have something a little different on the blog today because I am hosting my very first GIVEAWAY!! Details of how to enter can be found at the bottom of this post but, before you do that, let me tell you a little bit about the book in question!

About the Book

Award-winning author Antti Tuomainen launches his first series with The Rabbit Factor, an energetic black comedy, currently being adapted for the screen by Amazon/Mandeville Films with Steve Carell to star, and Antti executive producing.

What makes life perfect? Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen knows the answer because he calculates everything down to the very last decimal.

And then, for the first time, Henri is faced with the incalculable. After suddenly losing his job, Henri inherits an adventure park from his brother – its peculiar employees and troubling financial problems included. The worst of the financial issues appear to originate from big loans taken from criminal quarters … and some dangerous men are very keen to get their money back.

But what Henri really can’t compute is love. In the adventure park, Henri crosses paths with Laura, an artist with a chequered past, and a joie de vivre and erratic lifestyle that bewilders him. As the criminals go to extreme lengths to collect their debts and as Henri’s relationship with Laura deepens, he finds himself faced with situations and emotions that simply cannot be pinned down on his spreadsheets…

About the Author

Image Description: Author Antti Tuomainen

Antti Tuomainen was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author in 2013, the Finnish press crowned Tuomainen the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published.

With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen was one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and his poignant, dark and hilarious The Man Who Died became an international bestseller, shortlisting for the Petrona and Last Laugh Awards. A TV adaptation is in the works, and Jussi Vatanen (Man In Room 301) has just been announced as a leading role. Palm Beach Finland was an immense success, with Marcel Berlins (The Times) calling Tuomainen ‘the funniest writer in Europe’.

His latest thriller, Little Siberia, was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger, the Amazon Publishing/Capital Crime Awards and the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award, and won the Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year.

In total, Antti Tuomainen has been short- and longlisted for 12 UK awards.

You can follow Antti on Twitter at @antti_tuomainen.

About the Translator

David Hackston is a British translator of Finnish and Swedish literature and drama. He graduated from University College London in 1999 with a degree in Scandinavian Studies and now lives in Helsinki where he works as a freelance translator.

Notable recent publications include the Anna Fekete trilogy by Kati Hiekkapelto, Katja Kettu’s wartime epic The Midwife, Pajtim Statovci’s enigmatic debut My Cat Yugoslavia, two novels by Helsinki noir author Antti Tuomainen, and Maria Peura’s coming-of-age novel At the Edge of Light. His drama translations include three plays by Heini Junkkaala, most recently Play it, Billy! (2012) about the life and times of jazz pianist Billy Tipton. David is also a regular contributor to Books from Finland. In 2007 he was awarded the Finnish State Prize for Translation.

David is also a professional countertenor and has studied early music and performance practice in Helsinki and Portugal. He is a founding member of the English Vocal Consort of Helsinki.

You can follow David on Twitter @countertenorist.

Praise for The Rabbit Factor

Novelist Martyn Waites has said that, ‘Antti Tuomainen turns the clichéd idea of dour, humourless Scandi noir upside down with The Rabbit Factor. Dark, gripping and hilarious […] Tuomainen is the Carl Hiaasen of the fjords’, whilst early readers on Goodreads have called the book ‘fun’ and ‘quirky’, and have praised Antti’s deft handling of both the farcical elements and the darker, drier humour within the novel.

You can also read more reviews as part of the Blog Tour for the novel, which is running until 20 October 2021! Just follow the hashtag #TheRabbitFactor, as well as publisher @OrendaBooks and @RandomTTours!

GIVEAWAY!!!

Thanks to Antti Tuomainen, publisher Orenda Books, and Anne at Random Things Tours I have ONE PRINT COPY of The Rabbit Factor to giveaway to a lucky UK reader!

All you need to do to win is to follow me (@shelfofunread) on Twitter and retweet the pinne tweet that links to this post! The giveaway is open from 9.00am on 04 October 2021 and closes at midnight on 11 October 2021. There is one winner. Terms & conditions apply (see below).

TERMS & CONDITIONS: UK only. The winner will be selected at random via Tweetdraw from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Good Luck!!

The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen (translated by David Hackston) is published by Orenda Books on 28 October 2021 (ebook/hardback) and is available to pre-order now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, Wordery, and direct from publisher Orenda.

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 to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me onto this blog tour and providing the opportunity to run a giveaway for the book.

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!!! For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

Image Description: The cover of For Your Own Good shows a woman’s face, partially obscured behind the cross-hatched glass of a doorframe

Teddy Crutcher won Teacher of the Year at the prestigious Belmont Academy. Everyone thinks he’s brilliant.

Only you know the truth.

They all smile when he tells us his wife couldn’t be more proud

But no-one has seen her in a while

They’re impressed when he doesn’t let anything distract him – even the tragic death of a school parent.

Even when the whispers start, saying it was murder.

You’re sure Teddy is hiding something about what happened that day.

You’re sure you can prove it.

But you didn’t stop to think that when it comes to catching a killer, there’s no place more dangerous than just one step behind . . .

For the students and teachers at Belmont Academy, life should be good. The elite private school has a track record for producing illustrious alumni and excellent GPA students. Parents can be assured their children will be granted a wealth of opportunities and the staff – and can suitably influence decisions, either directly or indirectly, should that not be the case. The staff are exemplary; none more so that Teddy Crutcher, Teacher of the Year.

Scratch below the surface of Belmont Academy, however, and you’ll find a simmering hotbed of professional rivalries, student resentments, briber, corruption, secrets and lies – all of it ready to go up in flames with one strike of the match. When a prominent member of the school community collapses during a retirement party, apparently poisoned, it isn’t long before the carefully constructed facades of Belmont Academy – and those who work and study within its walls – begins to go up in flames.

For Your Own Good, Samantha Downing’s latest psychological thriller, is a page-turningly compulsive examination of several characters who I suspect many readers will love to hate. Told from several different perspectives, we get to see Belmont from the perspective of a wealthy student, a long-serving teacher, a bitter ex-alumni and, of course, Teacher of the Year himself, Teddy Crutcher.

Teddy was, for me, a deeply unpleasant character to be inside the head of. It is clear from the outset of the book that he has several axes to grind at Belmont and a chip on his shoulder so sharp it could cut people (and frequently does). Underneath it all, Teddy just wants what is best for people, but how he judges what is ‘best’ – and the actions he takes to ensure the ‘best’ outcome for his students and co-workers – is deeply disturbing.

To be honest, I didn’t really like any of the characters at Belmont Academy. Samantha Downing has created a really toxic environment in Belmont Academy – and has clearly had a great deal of fun filling it with equally toxic personalities to create a really tangled web of motives and opportunities. Unusually for me however, the inherent unlikability of the characters didn’t stop me from wanting to know what happened to them. For Your Own Good is the true definition of a page-turning read and Samantha Downing really keeps the tension high with plenty of twists and unexpected revelations right up until the final pages. I definitely see what was coming and was often left reeling from a character death, shocking reveal, or sudden turn of events.

And whilst all of the characters were, in their own ways, quite unpleasant and difficult people to be around, I found their perspectives unique and interesting. Teddy, for example, operates using a weirdly twisted logic and seems to genuinely believe that his extreme methods and personal vendettas are in the best interests of those he targets. Another character is wholly motivated by revenge – and whilst her investigation of Teddy is undoubtedly uncovering the truth about him, you’re left wondering whether she’s doing the right thing for entirely the wrong reasons. Similar uncertainties can be found within all of the characters and, for me, it definitely elevated the novel above the realm of the run-of-the-mill psychological thriller.

For Your Own Good won’t be for everyone – if you need a sympathetic viewpoint character, you might want to steer clear – but for fans of psychological thrillers there is much to enjoy here and readers already familiar with the work of Sarah Pinborough, Louise Candlish, and J P Delaney would do well to check out Samantha Downing’s latest!

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing is published by Penguin Michael Joseph and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, 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 for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 20 September 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!