BBNYA · Blog Tours · Spotlight

BLOG SPOTLIGHT!!! Silenced by Jennie Ensor

This year, the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA) is celebrating the 55 books that made it into Round Two with a mini spotlight for each title. For those of you who don’t know, BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 15 finalists and one overall winner.

It’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of the BBNTA team again in 2022 and I’m thrilled to be part of the spotlight tours to celebrate our fantastic semi-finalists! Today I’m starting things off by spotlighting Silenced by Jennie Ensor.

The cover of Silenced has a hooded figure against a background of a building which appears to be on fire.
The cover of Silenced has a hooded figure against a background of a building which appears to be on fire.

About the Book

A teenage girl was murdered on her way home from school, stabbed through the heart. Her North London community is shocked, but no one has the courage to help the police, not even her mother.

It’s DI Callum Waverley’s first major case as a senior investigating officer – can he break the code of silence that shrouds the case?

This is a world where the notorious Skull Crew rules through fear. Everyone knows you keep your mouth shut or you’ll be silenced – permanently.

This is Luke’s world. Reeling from the loss of his mother to cancer, his step-father distant at best, violent at worst, he slides into the Skull Crew’s grip.

This is Jez’s world too. Her alcoholic mother neither knows nor cares that her 16-year-old daughter is being exploited by V, the all-powerful leader of the gang.

Luke and Jez form a bond. Is it friendship, love or fear that brings them together? Can Callum win their trust, or will his own demons sabotage his investigation? And can anyone stop the Skull Crew from ensuring all witnesses are silenced?

About the Author

A Londoner with Irish heritage, Jennie Ensor writes emotionally-charged psychological suspense and thrillers, and darkly comic fiction.

She began her writing career as a journalist and loves to tackle controversial issues in her novels: Islamic terrorism, Russian gangsters and war crimes in Blind Side (a thriller set in the year of London’s 2005 terror attacks), abuse and sexual exploitation in The Girl in His Eyes. Not Having It All is a darkly humourous novel about love and relationships, not having children and the perils of family life.

Jennie’s fourth book Silenced published December 2021 with Hobeck Books – a crime thriller with a strong psychological element that ventures into the shadowy world of teen-exploiting gangs and police corruption.

Ms Ensor lives with her husband and an Airedale terrier. She writes short stories and poetry as well as novels, her poem Lost Connection placed second in its category in the 2020 Fish Lockdown Prize. In her spare time (?) Jennie reads widely, sings choral music, practices yoga and cycles the punishing local hills. Evenings, she’s often collapsed in front of a TV crime drama with a bar of chocolate/glass of strong alcohol.

Find Out More!

You can find out more about Jennie and her books on her website or follow her Twitter (@Jennie_Ensor), Facebook, and Instagram (@jennieensor).

If you want some more information about BBNYA, check out the BBNYA Website https://www.bbnya.com/ or take a peek over on Twitter @BBNYA_Official.

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website!) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.

Silenced by Jennie Ensor is published by Hobeck Books and is available from Amazon from their UK, US, and Canadian storefronts.

My thanks go to The Write Reads and BBNYA for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtag #BBNYA2022.

Reviews and features 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!!! Murder Most Royal by S J Bennett

The cover of Murder Most Royal features a Christmas turkey and trimmings with a knife stuck into the turkey!
Image Description: The cover of Murder Most Royal features a Christmas turkey and trimmings with a knife stuck into the turkey!

Christmas at Sandringham is going to be murder . . .

A human hand and a bag of drugs are found washed up on a beach next to the Queen’s estate at Sandringham

The Queen identifies the 70-year-old victim, Edward St Cyr, from his signet ring. But the search for his killer is not so straightforward. Suspects include the Queen’s horse groom, a shady land agent, an aristocrat neighbour, as well as the victim’s many cousins and relations.

The investigation leads the Queen – and her trusted assistant, Rozie – to a local pigeon racing club, back to London, and to the ancient, moated Godwick Hall. But how do the seemingly disparate pieces of the puzzle fit together? And who is the next victim?

I’m going to level with you and confess that, when I first heard that there was a series in which Queen Elizabeth II turned criminal investigator, I thought it sounded a bit…twee. I love a cosy crime novel but the idea of HRH wandering around Sherlock Holmes fashion seemed faintly ridiculous.

Well, more fool me because when I finally picked up The Windsor Knot, the first in the series, I absolutely loved it, have since devoured A Three-Dog Problem, and eagerly signed up to review the latest in the series, Murder Most Royal. Many thanks to my mum – an early adopter and huge fan of S J Bennett’s Her Majesty The Queen Investigates series – for showing me the error of my ways!

As fans of the series will know, whilst The Queen does use her unique insight and her knack for solving crimes to great effect in Bennett’s series, she is ably assisted by her Assistant Private Secretary, Rozie Oshodi. With Rozie taking care of the arrangements and doing much of the day-to-day legwork, Her Majesty takes on a ‘Miss Marple’-like role: using her unique position, her experience, and her decades of insight into the human condition to connect the seemingly disparate dots that lead to a solution. It’s a relationship that works well and one that, to my great surprise, allow The Queen to continue to feel, sound, and act like The Queen even though she’s embroiled in the middle of a murder mystery!

Rozie is a fantastic character and it’s been a joy to see her relationship with Her Majesty develop over the course of the series, as well as to learn more about Rozie and her family. I also really love the inclusion in each book of Prince Phillip, The Duke of Edinburgh and the inevitably amusing conversations that occur between husband and wife.

For Murder Most Royal, Her Majesty is faced with what might be her toughest case yet: the discovery of a severed hand found washed up on a beach next to her estate at Sandringham. When it transpires that the hand belonged to Edward St Cyr – an unconventional and controversial local landowner – The Queen and Rozie are soon embroiled in the secrets that lie behind the seemingly quiet facade of rural North Norfolk.

Set over the Christmas festivities at Sandringham, Murder Most Royal combines the clever plotting and gentle humour of the first two books in the series with an insight into the festive traditions of the Royal Family. In a series already well-known for portraying the very ‘human’ aspects of The Queen’s character, this book really stands out: transforming the late monarch into a lady who, whilst very much The Queen of England, was happiest when walking her dogs out in the fresh air or engaging in traditional games and entertainments with her family. Reading the book in the wake of the Queen’s passing was an emotive experience at times but, if anything, the anecdotes and stories about Queen Elizabeth that have emerged since have only served to demonstrate the capacity for warmth and quick wit that S J Bennett portrays.

Fans of previous books in the series will find this latest outing, complete with festive trimmings, as gentle, warm, and intricately plotted as they will have come to expect from Bennett’s work. With plenty of returning characters, the book is definitely geared towards existing fans but, as the plot is completely standalone, it can also be read and enjoyed by new readers looking for a Christmas mystery with a twist!

Murder Most Royal by S J Bennett is published by Zaffre Books on 10 November 2022 and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, 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 Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The tour continues on Twitter and Instagram until 18 November 2022 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!!! 50 Books to Read If You’re an Armchair Detective by Eric Karl Anderson

Image Description: The cover of 50 Books to Read If You’re an Armchair Detective is a dark blue with an illustration of a moustache and monocle picked out in light blue

The perfect gift for book-loving friends and family, 50 Books to Read If You’re an Armchair Detective will provide lots of inspiration for fans of cosy crime to discover lesser-known books and revisit forgotten classics.

Whether you’re a Richard Osman fan or a Sherlock Holmes devotee, bibliophile and book blogger Eric Karl Anderson will introduce you to some new and unexpected novels.

The book includes an interactive element with space for star ratings, lists of favourite reads, thoughts and dates for beginning and finishing books. The 50 recommendations encompass a range of authors and books, from classic to contemporary and from across the globe so as to offer the lucky reader plenty of scope.

This is the start of a new series of gift books celebrating books and reading, so if cosy crime isn’t your thing, don’t worry!

Some books do exactly what they say on the tin and are all the better for it. 50 Books to Read If You’re an Armchair Detective, the first in a new series of gift books that celebrate reading, is one such book.

Edited by avid reader and book blogger Eric Karl Anderson, aka Lonesome Reader, 50 Books to Read If You’re an Armchair Detective is a pocket-sized guide to the world of crime fiction, and features a wide range of both classic and contemporary titles.

As an aficionado of crime novels, I expected to be familiar with many of the titles featured so was pleasantly surprised to encounter a number of entirely unfamiliar works. Whilst the foundational classics of the genre are well represented – Christie, Sayers & Co are all present and correct – Anderson has included several lesser-known titles. His selection encompasses settings from across the globe, presenting a wide diversity of characters and sub-genres. So whether you like your crime to come in classic format, with a side of wry humour, with a literary bent, or with a shiver of the supernatural, you’ll be well served here!

Smartly presented in a cute pocket-size, 50 Books to Read If You’re an Armchair Detective also has an interactive element. Each selection features a succinct summary of the novel in question – and Anderson’s thoughts on why it is deserving of inclusion – alongside space for readers to add the date read and a star rating. There’s also a few pages towards the end of the book for noting favourite reads, your TBR, and further thoughts. Accompanying illustrations and graphics give each page a clean but lively design, making this the perfect stocking filler for crime fans this Christmas season.

Whilst 50 Books to Read If You’re an Armchair Detective isn’t going to take more than a couple of hours to read in and of itself, it offers the potential to introduce armchair detectives young and old to many hours of pleasurable reading. Whether you’re a veteran of many cases or have only just dipped your toe into the genre’s vast waters, 50 Books to Read If You’re an Armchair Detective is sure to provide you with some new investigations to keep you on your toes!

50 Books to Read If You’re an Armchair Detective by Eric Karl Anderson is published by Murdoch Books 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 to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 26 October 2022 so please 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!

Reviews

REVIEW!!! Marple: Twelve New Stories

Image Description: The cover of Marple is cream with the title, in a tartan pattern, spelt vertically down the centre of the page.

Miss Marple was first introduced to readers in a story Christie wrote for The Royal Magazine in 1927 and made her first appearance in a full-length novel in 1930’s The Murder at the Vicarage.

It has been 45 years since Agatha Christie’s last Marple novel, Sleeping Murder, was published posthumously in 1976, and this collection of ingenious new stories by twelve Christie devotees will be a timely reminder why Jane Marple remains the most famous fictional female detective of all time.

Whilst I very much enjoy stories featuring Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, I have to admit that my personal favourites of her books are those in which English spinster Miss Jane Marple tales the starring role.

White-haired and usually to be found in the vicinity of a ball of wool and a pair of knitting needles, Miss Marple is, on the surface, the quintessential English grandmother. Yet as Mrs Dane Calthrop says in The Moving Finger, Miss Marple “knows more about the different kinds of human wickedness than anyone I’ve ever known”.

As a Miss Marple fan, it’s been an absolute delight to read twelve new stories featuring Christie’s much-loved detective, all of which breathe new life into an old favourite. From Lucy Foley’s ‘Evil in Small Places’, which sees Miss Marple in classic English country village territory to solve the murder of a choir mistress, to Alyssa Cole’s ‘Miss Marple Takes Manhattan’, which involves a theatrical murder during her nephew Raymond West’s first US theatre production, the twelve contemporary writers who have contributed to Marple: Twelve New Stories have done a fantastic job of paying homage to their source material without falling into pastiche or attempting emulation.

Joining Foley and Cole in paying tribute to Miss Marple are Val McDermid, Natalie Haynes, Ruth Ware, Naomi Alderman, Jean Kwok, Dreda Say Mitchell, Elly Griffiths, Karen M McManus, Kate Moss and Leigh Bardugo. Each brings their own unique style to Miss Marple’s adventures, with Karen M McManus using her YA background to excellent effect when she introduces us to Raymond’s granddaughter, Nicola West, and Elly Griffiths offering a spirited riff on the problem of crime-writers block in her tale, ‘Murder at the Villa Rosa’.

Fans of Miss Marple’s previous adventures will also be delighted to find returning other returning characters. In addition to Miss Marple’s nephew and his wife Jean, Miss Bella from A Caribbean Mystery acts as co-detective in Dreda Say Mitchell’s ‘A Deadly Wedding Day’, whilst Dolly Bantry makes an appearance in both Ruth Ware’s ‘Miss Marple’s Christmas’ and Leigh Bardugo’s ‘The Disappearance’. Miss Marple’s live-in companion Cherry also features in several of the stories, as does retired Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Henry Clithering.

Several of the stories see Miss Marple confronting the changing post-war world, with Kate Mosse’s ‘The Mystery of the Acid Soil’ one of several stories that gently confront the challenges of aging and find our heroine and her friend reflecting on earlier times. Contemporary concerns are also addressed, with Naomi Alderman’s ‘The Open Mind’ featuring a #MeToo-style scenario in an Oxford college (and doing a wonderful job of sending up academic pomposity in the process) and Jean Kwok’s ‘The Jade Empress’ confronting racial prejudice on board a luxury cruise liner bound for Hong Kong. Natalie Haynes’s ‘The Unravelling’, meanwhile, is one of several stories to gently examine the after-effects of war upon the Home Front.

As with most short story collections, I felt some stories were more successful than others, both in terms of capturing Miss Marple’s unique character and in providing a satisfyingly realised mystery within a relatively short space. Val McDermid’s ‘The Second Murder at the Vicarage’ is, as the title might suggest, probably the most classically Marple of the stories featured but I admired the way that writers utilising very different settings and styles managed to convey Christie’s spark – and Miss Marple’s unique appeal – whilst retaining their own unique voices.

Fans of Miss Marple are sure to be delighted to have twelve new stories featuring the sharp-eyed spinster to enjoy whilst, for those new to the character, it is to be hoped that this might act as an introduction to Christie’s lesser-known – but no less ingenious – sleuth.

Marple: Twelve New Stories is published by HarperCollins 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 me with an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart

The cover of The Butcher and the Wren is black with a design of pale blue feathers superimposed on the backdrop. The title and tag line are in a vivid yellow.
Image Description: The cover of The Butcher and the Wren is black with a design of pale blue feathers superimposed on the backdrop. The title and tag line are in a vivid yellow.

Something dark is lurking in the Louisiana bayou. A methodical killer with a taste for medical experimentation is hard at work completing his most harrowing crime yet, while the authorities desperately try to catch up.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller is the best there is. Armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of historical crimes, and years of experience working in the Medical Examiner’s office, she’s never encountered a case she couldn’t solve.

Until now.

As case after case is piles up on Wren’s examination table, she is sucked into an all-consuming cat-and-mouse chase – led by a brutal murderer, who is getting more brazen by the day…

Whilst I’ve never listened to Morbid, the true crime podcast co-hosted by Alaina Urquhart, I was intrigued by the concept of her debut novel, The Butcher and the Wren, featuring forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller.

When not hosting Morbid, Urquhart’s day job is as an autopsy technician so, at the very least, I figured there would be a high degree of technical accuracy in her descriptions of Wren’s day job. And indeed, The Butcher and the Wren shines brightest when it is drawing upon Urquhart’s extensive experience in the autopsy suite.

This isn’t to say that the rest of the novel isn’t convincing, however. The plot – which revolves around an increasingly sinister cat-and-mouse game between New Orleans medical examiner Wren and the macabre serial killer christened the Bayou Butcher – is tightly constructed and genuinely twisty, with a particularly startling revelation emerging from left-field about two-thirds of the way in that wholly changed my perspective on the narrative.

Wren’s chapters are, undoubtedly, the novel’s high point however, as she brings empathy, compassion, and a fierce intelligence to her attempts to discover any clues left by the Butcher whist restoring humanity to his victims. Alternate chapters, narrated by the Bayou Butcher himself, were, for me, less successful. Although Urquhart does an impressive job of getting into the head of a serial killer, they were just a little too creepy and sadistic for me and, at times, I found myself flicking over some of the more gruesome descriptions.

Despite giving an insight into the mindset and actions of the killer, The Butcher and the Wren does an excellent job of keeping the suspense high, the twists coming, and the pace page-turning. That said, I did find one of the final revelations stretching my suspension of disbelief somewhat and, without giving any spoilers, I will say that this is not going to provide those who like a neat and tidy resolution with a satisfying conclusion to the tale. Here’s hoping there’s more to come for Dr Wren Muller so that the loose ends can be tidied up.

Urquhart also does an excellent job of describing setting in this novel. From the grim confines of the Butcher’s basement to the swamps of the bayou and the clinical harshness of Wren’s autopsy suite, I was wholly transported to New Orleans and its surroundings whilst I was reading. I also really enjoyed the largely supportive relationships between Wren, her family, and her colleagues in the New Orleans PD and hope that, in future novels, we might get to find out more about some of these characters.

Overall, The Butcher and the Wren is the perfect read for fans of Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritson and shows such as CSI and Silent Witness. If you don’t mind your crime fiction with a side order of gruesome, the realistic details and page-turning plot is sure to draw you in, whilst Urquhart’s work on Morbid has allowed her to realise a terrifying sinister serial killer who will leave you with a serious case of the chills.

The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart is published by Michael Joseph 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 Sriya Varadharajan from Penguin Random House UK for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 31 October 2022 so please 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 Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

The cover of The Woman in the Library features an illustration of a hand removing a book from a shelf against a bright green backdrop. On the cover of the book being removed is an illustration of a woman clearly in shock, or possibly showing fear.
Image Description: The cover of The Woman in the Library features an illustration of a hand removing a book from a shelf against a bright green backdrop. On the cover of the book being removed is an illustration of a woman clearly in shock, or possibly showing fear.

In every person’s story, there is something to hide…

The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained.

While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.

Award-winning author Sulari Gentill’s latest novel, The Woman in the Library, offers readers at least two novels for the price of one, combining a vibrant and witty mystery about four strangers who meet in Boston Public Library with a taut cat-and-mouse exchange between Hannah Tigone – bestselling author of said mystery – and her biggest fan, aspirational novelist Leo.

In the first narrative Australian writer Freddie, the recipient of a prestigious literary scholarship, seeks solace in Boston Public Library in an effort to write her next book. She finds herself sat next to Freud Girl (Marigold), Heroic Chin (Whit), and Handsome Man (Cain) and is busy transmuting them into characters when the silence of the reading room is broken by an ear-splitting scream. Although quickly dismissed as a prank, the scream enables the four to get chatting and, before long, they’re having coffee together at the Map Room Cafe and well on the way to becoming firm friends. And then, a body is found in the library…

Australian author Hannah Tigone, meanwhile, is eagerly sharing each chapter of her latest novel with fan and aspirational novelist Leo Johnson. Based in Boston, Leo is an invaluable resource for Hannah, giving her tips and hints to help make her depiction of the city come alive on the page. But Leo knows about more than just Boston’s hottest diners and the correct American slang. In fact, he seems to know a worrying amount about criminal methodology and, as the story progresses, he starts to become a little too invested in Hannah’s new novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and intriguing murder mystery (or should that be murder mysteries?), which combines some thoroughly devious plotting with clever and unpredictable twists to make a page-turning and pleasurable reading experience.

The characters felt immediately alive and engaging and, unlike some ‘books within books’, I didn’t find myself preferring one plotline over another. Indeed, whilst I was constantly intrigued by what Freddie and ‘the gang’ were up to, I also found myself wondering how Hannah and Leo would discuss this chapter in the narrative when it came to their turn. The novel also contains lots of fun in-jokes that both book lovers and writers are sure to appreciate, as well as some knowing nods to writers and their habits and fixations. For those who like to indulge in a little literary analysis as they read (I can’t help it, it’s the PhD student in me), there’s also some nice meta-fictional discussions about the nature of literature, the meaning of character, and the craft of fiction.

Readers expecting a cosy ‘murder-in-the-library’ may find themselves side-swiped by The Woman in the Library‘s more metafictional and literary elements, as well as by some of its knowing wit and humour. That’s no to say that there isn’t a good old-fashioned murder mystery in here. There is. And it does, indeed, take place in a library. But what Sulari Gentill has crafted is wry, tricksy tale that plays with the duplicity inherent within fiction itself. Who is telling the story – and whose story it is – matters, and the novel delights in embroiling the reader within it cunningly folded layers of narrative.

I had a huge amount of fun reading The Woman in the Library. Although it does have some literary elements, there’s still a page-turning mystery at the heart of the novel and, with its vibrant characters and lively sense of humour, it made for a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read. I was delighted to learn that Sulari has authored several other novels – including a well-reviewed historical series – and I look forward to working my way through her back catalogue and discovering more of this author’s work.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill is published by Ultimo 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 28 September 2022 so please 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 Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson

The cover of The Bleeding features gold illustrations of hands, a knife, a pipette, a cup, the Eiffel Tower, and a skull interwoven with a red floral motif and set against a black background.
Image Description: The cover of The Bleeding features gold illustrations of hands, a knife, a pipette, a cup, the Eiffel Tower, and a skull interwoven with a red floral motif and set against a black background.

1899, Belle Époque Paris. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.

1949, Post-War Québec. Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.

2002, Québec. A former schoolteacher is accused of brutally stabbing her husband – a famous university professor – to death. Detective Maxine Grant, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation.

Under enormous personal pressure, Maxine makes a series of macabre discoveries that link directly to historical cases involving black magic and murder, secret societies and spiritism … and women at breaking point, who will stop at nothing to protect the ones they love…

Having thoroughly enjoyed Johana Gustawsson’s Roy and Castells series, I was delighted to learn that she was venturing into Gothic territory. Her latest novel, The Bleeding, weaves together the stories of three women who, although, separated by both time and distance, all share a link to a series of macabre murders.

Québec, 2002, and Lieutenant Maxine Grant has only just returned from maternity leave when she’s thrust straight into the brutal murder of renowned university professor Philippe Caron . Reeling from the loss of her own husband, raising a baby single-handedly, and struggling to bridge the gap that has opened up with her teenage daughter, the last thing Maxine wants or needs is a complex and high-profile murder investigation.

But when seven dismembered hands are found hidden within Caron’s respectable home, it soon becomes apparent that there is more to this murder than meets the eye. As Maxine investigates further, a dark trail of black magic, ritual, and death will take her further into the past: into the life of a bullied schoolgirl in post-war Québec and, eventually, back to a grieving and desperate mother in Belle Époque France.

In this grim but spell-binding tale, Johana Gustawsson has once again worked her magic to create a page-turning and compulsive story of three women who, in different ways and at different times, will stop at nothing to protect the people and things they hold dear.

Although I can’t say that I necessarily liked the three central characters – Maxine, Lina, and Lucienne – I did find them fascinating and, whilst I didn’t always agree with their actions, I could understand their frustrations with societal structures that were determined to diminish and demean them. As a result, all three women – and Maxine especially – become relatable, even whilst their actions and moral choice are, on occasion, deeply disturbing.

I don’t want to say too much about the story but, whilst not overtly graphic in its descriptions, Gustawsson’s gaze is unflinching in its depiction of the ritualistic murder previously mentioned, and there are some autopsy scenes that readers of a squeamish disposition might find challenging. There are also some horror elements to the narrative, with the story delving into black magic and gruesome ritual on more than one occasion, plus content warnings for story elements involving child death, fire, adult/minor relationships, abortion, and pregnancy.

Weaving together an intricate web of connections over two continents and three time periods is no mean feat but, in The Bleeding, Gustawsson manages it with both ease and style. As you might expect from a novel that spans several different lives, there is a bit of groundwork to establish the three narratives – and quite a lot of names to take in over the first 50 pages or so! As a result, the narrative might seem slower and denser at first than the ‘thriller’ label suggests but, stick with it, and you’ll soon find the pages flying. I finished the book over a weekend, unable to put it down as more and more dark connections became apparent.

Combining Gustawsson’s trademark plotting with a new cast of compelling characters and a sinister Gothic vibe that will send shivers down the spine, The Bleeding is sure to delight fans of Gustawsson’s previous work and will, hopefully, introduce many new readers to the dark delights of the Queen of French Noir!

The Bleeding by Johana Gustawsson is published by Orenda Books on 15 September 2022 and is available to pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery, as well as from the Orenda bookstore.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 September 2022 so please 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!!! Blackstone Fell by Martin Edwards

The cover of Blackstone Fell features an imposing house and gates against a black background. Surrounding the image are thorny vines with blood red leaves.
Image Description: The cover of Blackstone Fell features an imposing house and gates against a black background. Surrounding the image are thorny vines with blood red leaves.

Yorkshire, 1606. A man vanishes from a locked gatehouse in a remote village. 300 years later, it happens again.

Autumn 1930. Journalist Nell Fagan knows there’s only one person who can get to the bottom of this mystery: Rachael Savernake. But someone wants Nell dead, and soon, while investigating a series of recent deaths at Blackstone Sanatorium, she’s missing entirely.

Looking for answers, Rachel travels to lonely Blackstone Fell, with its eerie moor, deadly waters and sinister tower. With help from Jacob Flint – who’s determined to expose a fraudulent medium at a séance – Rachel will risk her life to bring an end to the disappearances…

There is absolutely no doubt that Martin Edwards knows his crime fiction. As editor and curator of the British Library Crime Classics series, and author of The Golden Age of Murder, Martin has been introducing new readers to the forgotten classics of the ‘Golden Age’ of British crime fiction between the wars. He’s also edited several Detection Club anthologies and is the author of the Harry Devlin series, set in Liverpool, and the contemporary Lake District series, featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and Oxford historian Daniel Kind.

Martin’s latest series, of which Blackstone Fell is the third, features enigmatic amateur detective Rachel Savernake. First introduced in Gallows Court, Rachel becomes embroiled in yet another bizarre when she is contacted by an old adversary. Having fallen foul of Rachel during a previous case, investigative journalist Nell Fagan is desperate for a way back into Fleet Street’s good books – and she thinks she’s found a scoop worth pursing in the remote Yorkshire village of Blackstone Fell. Two disappearances, 300 years apart, and from a seemingly locked room.

The mystery is enough to whet Rachel’s appetite, but she’s sharp enough to suspect that Nell is not being entirely frank about her reasons for investigating Blackstone Fell. Sure enough, it isn’t long before a body is found at the edge of the village. Teaming up with crime reporter Jacob Flint, himself on the tail of a scoop involving a fraudulent spiritual medium – and accompanied by her faithful friends Hetty, Martha, and Trueman, Rachel sets out for Blackstone Fell to get to the bottom of not one, but two, mysteries.

Although Blackstone Fell is the third Rachel Savernake mystery, it works well as a standalone story and an introduction for new readers. Hints of Rachel’s past – and past cases – are liberally sprinkled to entice new readers to pick up previous entries Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall but, as a new reader myself, these did not detract from the central story of Blackstone Fell or provide spoilers for previous books in the series,

Martin’s knowledge of – and love for – Golden Age crime really comes across in the novel, which features an ingenious Cluefinder: a selection of pointers to the various mysteries in the novel that readers can, if they choose, use to track the ‘clues’ dropped through the novel and see which ones they missed! The sense of time and place is really well conveyed, with Blackstone Fell touching on several period-relevant themes such as spiritualism, psychiatry, and the rise of dangerous thinking about the new ‘science’ of eugenics.

The novel also contains all the elements of a quintessential ‘classic’ crime novel: an enigmatic detective and her ‘sidekick’, a devilish locked-room mystery, red herrings galore, and a tense gathering of the suspects at the denouement of the mystery. Perfect fodder for anyone who loves the classics, although Blackstone Fell adds a good dose of psychological insight and plenty of character development as an accompaniment to its twisty mystery.

With ingenious plotting and intriguing characters, Blackstone Fell is the perfect read for any fans of classic British crime fiction. Anyone familiar with the British Library Crime Classics series – or with the works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers et al – will find much to enjoy here, as will those who enjoy the psychological probing of Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters, and P D James. As for me, Gallows Court and Mortmain Hall are already on the TBR!

Blackstone Fell by Martin Edwards is published by Aries Fiction (Head of Zeus) 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 Sophie Ransom from Ransom PR for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 09 September 2022 so please 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 Last Party by Clare Mackintosh

The cover of The Last Party features the silhouette of a house on a lake, decorated with party lights. The house is set against a backdrop of hills and a pink-red sky. In the lighted window of the upper floor, here is the silhouette of a person.
Image Description: The cover of The Last Party features the silhouette of a house on a lake, decorated with party lights. The house is set against a backdrop of hills and a pink-red sky. In the lighted window of the upper floor, here is the silhouette of a person.

At midnight, one of them is dead.
By morning, all of them are suspects.

It’s a party to end all parties, but not everyone is here to celebrate.

On New Year’s Eve, Rhys Lloyd has a house full of guests. His vacation homes on Mirror Lake are a success, and he’s generously invited the village to drink champagne with their wealthy new neighbours.

But by midnight, Rhys will be floating dead in the freezing waters of the lake.

On New Year’s Day, Ffion Morgan has a village full of suspects. The tiny community is her home, so the suspects are her neighbors, friends and family—and Ffion has her own secrets to protect.

With a lie uncovered at every turn, soon the question isn’t who wanted Rhys dead…but who finally killed him.

In a village with this many secrets, murder is just the beginning.

Having written a number of successful thrillers (the most recent of which, Hostage was featured on the blog), former police officer turned multi-award-winning author Clare Mackintosh is moving more firmly into mystery territory with her latest novel, The Last Party, which introduces readers to DC Ffion Morgan of North Wales Police, her colleague from Cheshire constabulary DC Leo Brady, and the small Welsh border community of Cwm Coed.

Nestled in the shadow of Pen y Draig, right on the border between England and Wales is Llyn Drych: Mirror Lake. On the lake’s Welsh side sits the small village of Cwm Coed, home to newly separated Ffion, her mam Elen, her younger sister Seren, her ex Huw, and a host of neighbours who’ve known Ffion since she was knee-high to a a grasshopper. It’s a small, close-knit, and primarily Welsh-speaking community with deep roots, old traditions, and even older secrets.

Over on the English side of the lake lies The Shore: a new development of luxury lakeside lodges that’s the brainchild of Cwm Coed’s local-boy-made-good, Rhys Lloyd and his business partner Jonty Charlton. Marketed to wealthy out-of-towners, The Shore hasn’t exactly made Rhys the most popular man in Cwm Coed but surely nobody hates the development so much that they’d kill the man behind it?

But when Rhys is found floating on the Welsh side of Llyn Drych following a New Year’s Eve party at The Shore that near-enough everyone in Cwm Coed attended, it certainly looks that way. Drawn into a cross-border investigation and partnered with a man she soon discovers she knows just a little too well, it’s going to take all of Ffion’s professional skill and ingenuity to crack this case – especially given that she has her own secrets to keep.

Having lived for several years in and around Mid Wales and the border counties of England, I thought Clare Mackintosh really captured the feel of life in cross-border communities, complete with the inevitable tensions that sometimes arise from that! I loved that Cwm Coed, although proudly Welsh, isn’t portrayed as clichéd, and the ways in which that both Mackintosh and Ffion play with lazy stereotypes (often in a dryly humorous way) to counteract expectations.

Ffion is a great character, although it rapidly becomes apparent that she has some significant secrets to hide that have a major bearing upon her investigation. Her colleague Leo – separated from his wife, increasingly estranged from his young son, and bullied by his horrific boss – is equally complex, and the two of them have a great rapport on the page which keeps the story progressing when the plot slows in places.

Readers used to Mackintosh’s thrillers might find The Last Party a little on the slow side at first. Although the chapters are generally quite short, the narrative weaves about quite a bit, moving between the viewpoints of several characters as well as between the past and the present in order to build tension and gradually reveal the various reasons behind Rhys Lloyd’s death. That isn’t to say that The Last Party is a slow book by any means – there’s still plenty of red herrings, as well as twist after twist to be had here – but it is firmly in the territory of a police procedural/mystery.

Because this is the first in a new series, there’s also quite a bit of time spent away from the central storyline, developing the characters and the community that they live in, as well as their interpersonal relationships. I really loved this aspect – and I’m looking forward to seeing Ffion and Leo’s relationship develop in future books in the series, as well as to revisiting other denizens of Cwm Coed following the fallout from the events of this novel.

The Last Party is a fantastic addition to the police procedural/mystery genre, combining the unpredictable twists and emotional turns of Clare Mackintosh’s previous work with a brilliantly evocative new setting and strong characterisation. Fans of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series and Sarah Ward’s Connie Childs series will find much to enjoy here – and, like me, will turn the final page eager to see what happens next for Ffion and her colleagues.

The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh is published by Sphere 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 August 2022 so please 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 Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

The cover of A Corruption of Blood features the outline of a raven in emerald green and black against a white background
Image Description: The cover of A Corruption of Blood features the outline of a raven in emerald green and black against a white background

Edinburgh. This city will bleed you dry.

Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.

Back in the townhouse of Dr James Simpson, Sarah Fisher has set her sights on learning to practise medicine. Almost everyone seems intent on dissuading her from this ambition, but when word reaches her that a woman has recently obtained a medical degree despite her gender, Sarah decides to seek her out.

Raven’s efforts to prove his former adversary’s innocence are failing and he desperately needs Sarah’s help. Putting their feelings for one another aside, their investigations take them to both extremes of Edinburgh’s social divide, where they discover that wealth and status cannot alter a fate written in the blood.

A Corruption of Blood, the third instalment in Ambrose Parry’s Raven and Fisher series of historical mysteries, has all the period atmosphere and astute characterisation of its predecessors, The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying.

Set in 1850 – just under a year on from the events of The Art of DyingA Corruption of Blood sees young doctor Will Raven and his old flame Sarah Fisher sucked back into the darker side of Victorian Edinburgh. When a package containing the remains of a young child washes up on the shores of the Leith, Raven is shocked but not surprised. Edinburgh might be on the rise but the city remains home to intense poverty, and there are plenty of desperate people out there despite the moralising of rich ‘benefactors’ such as Sir Ainsley Douglas.

But when Sir Ainsley himself later dies in suspicious circumstances – and an old adversary of Raven’s is suspected of the crime – it soon becomes apparent that there is more to the body in the Leith than meets the eye. What could be the connection between the death of one of the richest men in Edinburgh and the package thrown into the Leith? Unravelling the mystery will take all of Raven and Sarah’s ingenuity – and will imperil the lives and futures of them both.

I’ve said it before but one of my favourite things about this series is the level of historical research that, although lightly worn, clearly underpins each book. In addition to bring the grime and the glamour of nineteenth-century Edinburgh to life, A Corruption of Blood continues to interweave the real and the fictitious, as Sarah and Will continue their association with Dr James Simpson, the medical pioneer who popularised the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic.

Simpson’s house at 52 Queen Street continues to be the beating heart of the book, even as Will and Sarah begin to spread their wings and develop their own lives away from their mentor. This means that, for returning readers, there will be plenty of familiar faces to enjoy catching up with, as well as new interpersonal intrigues to follow. Will and Sarah both continue to develop as characters, with Sarah now determined to use her newly won respectability and independence to forge her own career in medicine. Will, meanwhile, has met the woman he wants to marry – but things get complicated when Eugenie’s father, Dr Cameron Todd, turns out to be Sir Ainsley’s personal doctor.

Newcomers to the series need not be afraid of jumping into A Corruption of Blood however. Although it’s wonderful to see how Sarah and Will’s personal journeys progress in this novel, the central mystery is standalone and personal connections and past cases are briefly explained as necessary. That said, I’d urge anyone thinking of reading the series to go back to The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying because they’re fantastic novels in and of themselves, and you do get some important backstory that helps flesh out Will and Sarah’s relationship.

As with previous entries in the series, A Corruption of Blood doesn’t shy away from the less salubrious aspects of Victorian life. From the challenges that Sarah faces to get accepted as a medical practitioner in her own right, to the stigma surrounding unwed mothers and the devastating impact of poverty and precarity, the novel paints a picture of a complex world of social hierarchy, power, and corruption that both captivates and repels. In particular, I was fascinated to learn in this novel about Elizabeth Blackwell – the first woman to obtain a medical degree and be registered with the UK General Medical Council – and her struggles for both education and recognition.

In short, A Corruption of Blood is a brilliant addition to an already excellent historical crime series. With a twisting plot and compelling characters, it continues to evoke mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh in all its dark and gritty glory. Fans of the series will enjoy being reunited with Sarah and Raven, whilst newcomers should take this opportunity to dive into a thoroughly entertaining and vividly evoked historical mystery.

A Corruption of Blood (Raven and Fisher Mysteries #3) by Ambrose Parry is published by Canongate and is now available in paperback 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 to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 24 August 2022 so please 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!