Reviews · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!! The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward

Image Description: The cover of The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward has golden ivy leaves against a grey backdrop of faded brickwork

When well-to-do Hester learns of her sister Mercy’s death at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, she travels to Southwell to find out how her sister ended up at such a place.

Haunted by her sister’s ghost, Hester sets out to uncover the truth, when the official story reported by the workhouse master proves to be untrue. Mercy was pregnant – both her and the baby are said to be dead of cholera, but the workhouse hasn’t had an outbreak for years.


Hester discovers a strange trend in the workhouse of children going missing. One woman tells her about the Pale Lady, a ghostly figure that steals babies in the night. Is this lady a myth or is something more sinister afoot at the Southwell poorhouse?


As Hester investigates, she uncovers a conspiracy, one that someone is determined to keep a secret, no matter the cost…

With the onset of Autumn and the turning of the leaves, my reading taste has once more turned to all things historical and spooky. Yes, I’m back in my Gothic reading comfort zone – and Rhiannon Ward’s second dose of historical spookiness, The Shadowing, proved to be the perfect fit for my autumnal reading mood!

The Shadowing follows Hester, the youngest daughter of a well-to-do family of Bristol Quakers. When the family learn that Hester’s elder sister Mercy has died at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, Hester is sent north to Southwell to find out exactly how her sister ended up in such a place, why she had not felt she could draw on the support of her fellow Friends in the area, and whether she has received the burial rites due to her as a Quaker.

As Hester journeys north, she is aware of a presence travelling with her. Beset by traumatic dreams and ghostly visions – ‘shadowings’ – since childhood, Hester knows it is Mercy who travels alongside her. And when she reaches Southwell Workhouse, she soon discovers why. Mercy was pregnant when she died – and although the Master and Mistress of the Workhouse claim both she and the child were taken by cholera, Hester soon discovers that there hasn’t been an outbreak for years.

With the reluctant aid of local innkeeper Matthew and his serving maid Joan, Hester sets about investigating what is really going on at Southwell Workhouse. Why are her new Friends – fellow Quakers Dorothea and Caroline – so reluctant for her to visit the place? Why does the young town doctor take such an interest in her visits there? And who exactly is the ghostly Pale Lady who terrifies the women and apparently steals babies in the depths of night?

As with her previous historical novel, The Quickening, Rhiannon Ward has provided a compelling and atmospheric blend of historical mystery and ghost story in The Shadowing. I was fascinated by the historical detail – from Hester’s Quaker background to the realities of life in the Workhouse, there’s a real sense of both time and place in the novel, and you can tell that the author has done her research – although it is lightly worn and woven expertly into the story.

The novel doesn’t shy away from portraying the grim realities of Workhouse life – especially for those deemed the ‘undeserving’ poor. I felt great compassion for the women (and, sadly, they were primarily women) forced to rely on the ‘charity’ of the parish due to abandonment or widowhood – and the novel does a great job of showing just how easy it would be for a young woman deemed ‘respectable’ and well-to-do like Hester to end up in a situation where her life – and her fate – is taken wholly out of her control.

Hester herself is a spirited main character. Although somewhat naïve – a result of her sheltered and strict upbringing – she is determined to get to the bottom of the unexplained deaths and disappearance at the Workhouse. I really liked the way in which Hester’s Quaker beliefs were woven into the plot, and the way in which they often ran counter to the more common ethos about who was ‘deserving’ of charity and the chance of redemption. Hester’s relationship with Matthew – the somewhat gruff and forthright publican at Southwell’s coaching in – is also really well done, moving from antagonistic to grudgingly respectful as the story progresses despite their very different upbringings and outlooks.

Although the supernatural element is stronger in The Shadowing than in The Quickening, Hester’s supernatural visitations and psychic senses are woven into the plot in a way that is wholly believable, and that adds an ever present sense of unease to the novel. Although Hester’s ‘shadowings’ are ghostly apparitions, the whole novel is imbued with an atmosphere of shadowiness (and some brilliant moments of foreshadowing), with Southwell itself quickly becoming a place of secrets and shadows, ready to leap at Hester from every corner.

Anyone who enjoyed The Quickening is sure to find The Shadowing a worthy follow-up, packed with the same level of historical detail and a brilliantly eerie atmosphere, and headed up by another strong and determined female lead. With its blend of historical mystery and supernatural happenings, The Shadowing is also the perfect fit for fans of Laura Purcell and Anita Frank, and an excellent addition to the popular genre of Modern Gothic.

The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward is published by Trapeze (Orion) 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 to Netgalley UK for providing an ecopy 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!

Reviews · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!! The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

Image Description: The cover of The Lost Ones shows the figure of a woman atop a grand staircase silhouetted against a blue background. Bronze and white leaves surround the image.

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

Some books definitely need to be read in certain seasons and, with its promise of ghostly goings on and creepy country houses, Anita Frank’s The Lost Ones practically screamed ‘autumn’ to me. So despite having this on my Netgalley TBR for FAR too long, I waited until a time that could reasonably be classed as spooky season (yes, I know it’s only September but as far as I’m concerned that counts) to dive in.

Opening in 1917, and with the First World War drawing to a close, The Lost Ones follows Stella Marcham, a young woman left reeling by the death of her fiancé Gerald in the trenches. Consumed by grief, forced to leave her role as a nurse with the VAD, and now left listless and forlorn at her childhood home, Stella has tried to take her own life – an act that, whilst unsuccessful, has left her at risk of an enforced ‘rest’ in a sanitorium. Given the opportunity to stay with her beloved younger sister whilst she awaits the birth of her first child, Stella sets out for the imposing country manor of Greyswick – only to find a house beset with more unease and suspicion than the one she left behind.

Aided by Madeline, whose own fears about Greyswick Stella is determined to allay, and by her unusual ladies maid Annie, a young woman with very particular hidden gifts, Stella sets out to discover just what – or who – is disturbing the peace and tranquillity of Greywick. The women’s investigations will bring them into conflict with Greywick’s inhabitants, especially the imposing housekeeper Mrs Henge, but will also bring them an unusual ally in the form of wounded war veteran and psychic investigator Tristan Sheers. But as Stella and her companions attempt to lay the ghosts of Greywick to rest, dark forces are moving amongst the living – and they have Stella in their sights.

Packed with unsettling noises and things that go bump in the night, The Lost Ones is the perfect blend of light horror, spooky goings on and sinister family secrets, but also provides a moving and reflective exploration of grief and mental trauma. It packs a lot into its 450 pages and, whilst I don’t want to give any spoilers, touches on a number of issues including a suicide attempt and suicidal thoughts, depression, grief, child death, fire/fire injury, physical trauma, the loss of a limb, infidelity, rape/sexual assault, miscarriage and forced institutionalisation. Whilst all of these issues are handled very sensitively, they are integral to the plot and this makes the novel a reflective – and at times quite tragic – read in spite of the page-turning quality of its mystery plot.

Stella makes for an emotionally engaging and complex protagonist. Capable and strong-willed, her experiences at The Front have made her fiercely independent but her all consuming grief means that, at times, she makes for an unreliable narrator. Whilst I desperately wanted to believe Stella, there were times when I had to question whether her pursuit of a supernatural explanation was a result of her own desperation to be reunited with her beloved Gerald again. The novel does a fantastic job of keeping this balance between the ‘real’ and the supernatural and the inclusion of a sceptical researcher – Tristram Sheers – provided an engaging counterpoint to Stella, especially once the reasons behind his scepticism become clear.

I also really liked Annie, Stella’s maid, who is gifted with the ability to communicate with the dead – although it is not always a ‘gift’ she enjoys possessing. Initially dismissive of Annie, seeing the relationship between the two young women develop over the course of the novel was one of the highlights of the book for me. The sinister housekeeper Mrs Henge, meanwhile, can give Mrs Danvers a run for her money in the ‘creepy family retainer’ department – always popping up from the shadows when least expected and clearly hiding a multitude of secrets!

With atmosphere and intrigue packed into every page, The Lost Ones was the perfect read to kick off my autumnal reading season. With some genuinely frightening moments, its an eerie historical ghost story that is sure to appeal to fans of Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, whilst the focus upon female friendships and the traumas suffered by women reminded me of Stacey Halls’ The Familiars. Gripping in its pace and plotting, The Lost Ones is also a sensitive portrayal of grief, loss, and the trauma of war and is an impressive debut that kept me enthralled from first page to last. I look forward to reading whatever Anita Frank writes next!

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank is published by HQ (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 to Netgalley UK for providing 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!!! The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

Image Description: The cover of The Beloved Girls has the title of the book surrounded by an oval of nature images including bees, flowers, beehives, an owl and a dog against a blue backdrop. The silhouettes of two girls holding hands can be seen at the bottom of the image.

“It’s a funny old house. They have this ceremony every summer . . . There’s an old chapel, in the grounds of the house. Half-derelict. The Hunters keep bees in there. Every year, on the same day, the family processes to the chapel. They open the combs, taste the honey. Take it back to the house. Half for them -‘ my father winced, as though he had bitten down on a sore tooth. ‘And half for us.”

Catherine, a successful barrister, vanishes from a train station on the eve of her anniversary. Is it because she saw a figure – someone she believed long dead? Or was it a shadow cast by her troubled, fractured mind?

The answer lies buried in the past. It lies in the events of the hot, seismic summer of 1989, at Vanes – a mysterious West Country manor house – where a young girl, Jane Lestrange, arrives to stay with the gilded, grand Hunter family, and where a devastating tragedy will unfold. Over the summer, as an ancient family ritual looms closer, Janey falls for each member of the family in turn. She and Kitty, the eldest daughter of the house, will forge a bond that decades later, is still shaping the present . . .

“We need the bees to survive, and they need us to survive. Once you understand that, you understand the history of Vanes, you understand our family.”

Unreliable narrators? Grand country manor house? Tragic family secret? Mysterious rituals? Yes, The Beloved Girls has all the makings of Shelf of Unread catnip and, sure enough, I couldn’t get enough of this engrossing tale of family, friendship, and identity.

Set across several timelines, Harriet Evans’s latest novel follows Catherine, a successful barrister who has just completed a high-profile and extremely harrowing case, and is due to head off for a much-needed break with her beloved husband. When Catherine suddenly leaves, vanishing from the station and leaving her husband with only a photo of ‘The Beloved Girls’, she sparks a frantic missing persons investigation – and a journey into a past that she has long been trying to hide.

Because back during one long hot summer in 1989, there were two beloved girls – Catherine ‘Kitty’ Hunter and Jane ‘Janey’ Lestrange. Kitty and Janey spend the summer at Vanes, the grand and imposing West Country home of the Hunter family – and home also to ‘The Collecting’, a strange family ritual involving the historic beehives that are kept in the nearby chapel. Recently bereaved and cast adrift in the world, Janey is captivated by each member of the Hunter family in turn – patriarch Charles, effervescent Sylvia, handsome Joss, precocious Merry, and pretty, popular Kitty. But all is not well at Vanes and the Hunters are hiding secrets. Secrets that bound Sylvia to Janey’s father Simon in devastating ways – and that will bind Kitty and Janey together in ways that will shape both their lives well into the future.

I do love a ‘mysterious country house’ story and The Beloved Girls certainly provided! I was immediately drawn into the lives of the enigmatic Hunter family and could completely see the allure they held for plain, shy Janey, grieving the loss of her beloved father and desperately trying to avoid the secretarial fate decreed for her by her resentful absent mother.

Weaving between the 1950s, 1980s and the present day, and following the interwoven lives of several characters, The Beloved Girls is a deep and, at times, complex read. I never lost the thread of any of the stories, but given some of the deliberate blurring of identities and relationships, there were the odd moments where I had to flick back a few pages to double check a connection or re-read a paragraph to figure out exactly what was going on.

Partly this is because one of the narratives – that of Catherine – is deliberately disjointed. Suffering from immense mental pressure after the outcome of her last case, Catherine is a portrait of a woman on the verge of (and tipping into) a complete breakdown. I have to admit that, at first, I found Catherine and her “I’m fine, really” attitude rather annoying but, as the story progressed, I began to empathise with her fractured sense of self and to understand the history that lay behind her carefully constructed façade of coolness and competence. As Catherine’s connection to the Hunter family – and to the tragic events of the summer of 1989 – became apparent, I found myself admiring Harriet Evans’s complex and layered portrayal of Catherine. I’m still not wholly sure I ‘like’ her as a character, but I definitely feel as if the author made me understand her.

The strange and unusual nature of the Hunter family also takes a bit of getting used to. Their ritual – ‘The Collecting’ – is like something out of The Wicker Man and, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that there is a much darker side to this seemingly ancient family tradition. Indeed, The Beloved Girls is, in places, a much darker novel than its cover (which is absolutely stunning) might lead you to think, with discussion or mention of sexual and psychological violence, grooming, coercive control, gaslighting, suicide and mental breakdown all featuring as part of the main story threads. These dark themes are handled sensitively however, with Evans weaving together an intelligent and atmospheric modern saga of family secrets, loss, guilt, and resilience.

With its rich intertwining narratives and grand scale, The Beloved Girls is an immersive, layered novel about family and identity that is sure to appeal to fans of Kate Morton, Kristin Hannah, and Barbara Erskine. It’s not exactly a quick read, being one of those books best savoured slowly, but if you’re looking for a narrative to sink into and whisk you away as the nights begin to draw in and the last of the year’s bees wander lazily around your garden, you could do far worse than this captivating and compelling novel.

The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans is published by Headline 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 31 August 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 · Spotlight

BLOG TOUR SPOTLIGHT!!! The Other Side of the Whale Road by K. A. Hayton

Image Description: The cover of The Other Side of the Whale Road by K. A Hayton depicts a young man in a red shirt and khaki trousers looking at two Anglo-Saxon thatched houses. A sword is upright in the ground to the left hand side of him.

Today I’m helping to kick off The Write Reads blog tour for K. A Hayton’s exciting historical YA adventure, The Other Side of the Whale Road.

About the Book

YOU KNOW HISTORY IS REAL WHEN IT’S RAZOR-SHARP AND AIMED AT YOUR NECK

‘The Vikings are better armed than we are. They have long, heavy axes that can take a man’s head from his shoulder. I know this because I see it happen’.

When his mum burns down their house on the Whitehorse estate, sixteen-year-old Joss is sent to live in a sleepy Suffolk village. The place is steeped in history, as Joss learns when a bike accident pitches him back more than 1,000 years to an Anglo-Saxon village.

That history also tells him his new friends are in mortal peril from bloodthirsty invaders. Can he warn their ruler, King Edmund, in time?

And will he ever get home?

THE STORY OF KING EDMUND’S LAST BATTLE WITH THE GREAT HEATHEN ARMY BROUGHT TO LIFE FOR YOUNG ADULTS

Inspired by both her study of old English poetry at university and the wealth of Anglo-Saxon history in the landscape around her home, K. A Hayton’s The Other Side of the Whale Road offers to take young adult readers onto a journey into the far-off past.

After his troubled alcoholic mother burns down their home, sixteen-year-old Joss is placed into care in the sleepy Suffolk village of Hoxne. As he settles into his new home, Joss is introduced to the fascinating history of the local area by his foster family Cressida and Tim – a history that becomes all too real when a freak bike accident sends him hurtling back 1,000 years.

Stuck in an unfamiliar time, Joss rapidly realises that his new friends in ancient Hoxne are in danger from a deadly Viking invasion. Setting off on a dangerous mission to warn the Anglo-Saxon ruler, King Edmund, of the approaching peril, will Joss be able to save the village in time? And will he ever make it back to the present day?

About the Author

As an RAF child, K.A. Hayton grew up in various parts of Europe, arriving in England just in time for the winter of discontent.

She spent her first year of an English degree at Sheffield University studying Anglo-Saxon poetry, which sparked an enduring interest in the Dark Ages. She trained as a nurse, now works as a health visitor and is also a magistrate. She has two grown-up daughters and lives in rural Suffolk, very close to Sutton Hoo, with her husband and a Hungarian rescue dog.

She is a keen runner, sea-swimmer and supporter of Ipswich Town FC. The Other Side of the Whale Road is her first novel and has already been shortlisted for the Chicken House competition.

Find Out More!

Promising history, adventure, and a coming-of-age story with a twist, The Other Side of the Whale Road is garnering some fantastic early ratings on Goodreads. The book is on tour with The Write Reads from today until 25 August 2021 so follow the hashtags #TheWriteReads #BlogTour and #TheOtherSideOfTheWhaleRoad to follow along for more reviews and features!

The book is published in paperback and ebook on 02 September 2021 and is available to pre-order now – and ideal early Christmas present or autumnal read for the 12-15 year olds in your life (or any older history lovers who love a bit of YA adventure in their reading life!).

You can also find out more about K A Hayton’s work by following her on Twitter.

The Other Side of the Whale Road by K A Hayton is published by Lightning Books on 02 September 2021 and is available to pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, and Waterstones, as well as from the Lightning Books store.

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 Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other reviews and spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtags #TheOtherSideOfTheWhaleRoad #TheWriteReads and #BlogTour for more reviews and content!

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!!! The Master of Measham Hall by Anna Abney

1665. It is five years since King Charles II returned from exile, the scars of the English Civil Wars are yet to heal and now the Great Plague engulfs the land.

Alethea Hawthorne is safe inside the walls of the Calverton household as a companion to their daughter. She waits in anticipation of her brother William’s pardon for killing a man in a duel before they can both return to their ancestral home in Measham Hall.

But when Alethea suddenly finds herself cast out on the streets of London, a long road to Derbyshire lies ahead of her. Militias have closed their boroughs off to outsiders for fear of contamination.

Fortune smiles on her when Jack appears, an unlikely travelling companion who helps this determined country girl to navigate a perilous new world of religious dissenters, charlatans and a pestilence that afflicts peasants and lords alike.

Providing a fictional imagining of the author’s own family history during the 1660s and set around a manor house (now sadly lost) in nearby Derbyshire (although, thanks to some tidying up of county boundaries in 1889, Measham would now be part of Leicestershire), The Master of Measham Hall was an intriguing prospect for a historical fiction fan – and did not disappoint in its evocation of the era.

Beginning in 1665 and with plague taking its toll on London, the novel follows Alethea Hawthorne, a young gentlewoman whose family seat is the titular Measham Hall but who, at the ‘suggestion’ of her stepmother, has been sent to act as companion to another young lady, Jane Calverton, in London. Alethea and her family are Catholics – a faith that sets them apart despite King Charles II’s claims of toleration – and her beloved brother William has been exiled overseas in mysterious circumstances.

Despite this, Alethea is happy in London – until she is suddenly cast out by the Calverton’s and forced to fend for herself on the streets of plague-ridden London. Determining to make it home to Measham Hall by any means possible, Alethea finds herself accompanied by the charming – and streetwise – Jack Fleet, before falling in with a group of non-conformists, headed up by their charismatic leader Samuel. By the time she eventually reaches her family home, Alethea will be a changed woman – and will have learnt to navigate a world filled with peril, pestilence, and deceit.

I always try to avoid spoilers in my reviews but its impossible to fully review The Master of Measham Hall without giving a couple of plot beats away, the most significant of which is that, through a series of misunderstandings, Alethea ends up arriving at Measham Hall as the titular ‘master’ of it, assuming the disguise of her brother William for much of the book’s final third.

I mention this ‘spoiler’ because the journey that Alethea goes on in the novel is more than just a physical one from London to Derbyshire. It is also a sort of seventeenth-century ‘coming of age’ tale in which Alethea learns to think and act independently, makes good and bad choices, dissemble, reason, argue, and love – and during which she begins to make her own way in the world around her. This personal journey was one of the central draws of the novel for me, although I’ll admit to being occasionally frustrated by some of Alethea’s choices!

Alethea’s assumption of the role of ‘William’ also allows the novel to explore the different societal expectations of men and women in the period, and I found it interesting how Alethea came to embrace the freedoms she had as a man whilst also missing some of the pastimes she could enjoy as a woman.

Whether a young woman such as Alethea would have been able to pass for her brother during this period has been debated by some readers on Goodreads but, as a student of the period, I’ve read of several instances of women disguising themselves as men in order for various pragmatic reasons – the most famous being Spanish nun Catalina de Erauso, who fled her convent disguised as a man in order to fight in the Spanish army and later travelled around Spanish America under a number of predominantly male identities. It is also thought that some women may have fought in the English Civil War disguised as men (Charles I certainly thought they did – he issued an order banning women dressing as men in order to fight), and there’s evidence of a number of women from the period managing estates in their husband’s absence. Whilst keeping up the pretence after periods of conflict was unusual, I can forgive Anna Abney some poetic license to allow her to explore the fascinating difference between the lived experiences of men and women during this period!

Indeed, the evocation of seventeenth-century England is one of the delights of The Master of Measham Hall. From the tense atmosphere of plague-ridden London to the incendiary religious debates going on at the time, Anna Abney’s writing brilliantly evokes the Restoration era. I did occasionally feel that some characters were serving to provide historical exposition for modern readers – the odd conversation felt a bit stilted and provided information that Alethea, being a woman of that period, would likely know already – but, for the most part, the writing is fluid and evocative.

From its pacy opening on the streets of London, the novel did also lull a bit for me in the middle section – which sees Alethea and Jack living amongst a group of non-conformists in Epping Forest – and I found the plot moving along more predictable lines for a while. Once the action moved on to Measham Hall, however, I was soon re-engaged in Alethea’s struggles – although I found myself becoming more and more conflicted about her as a character as her dual identities – and dual responsibilities – lead to her taking ever more ruthless decisions. I was also a little disappointed that the likeable and charming Jack Fleet didn’t feature a little more prominently in the novel – although fingers crossed that he may appear in Book Two of the series, due out in 2022.

For fans of historical fiction, The Master of Measham Hall has much to enjoy – a convincing and evocative depiction of the Restoration era that delves into the social and religious divides of the period, with a side of intrigue, a hint of a love story, and an interesting coming-of-age tale all thrown into the mix! If you read and enjoyed Frances Quinn’s The Smallest Man or Lucy Jago’s A Net for Small Fishes, and are looking for another historical read to dive into, The Master of Measham Hall should be heading for your TBR!

The Master of Measham Hall by Anna Abney is published by Duckworth 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 July 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

REVIEW!! Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce

Image description: the cover of Yours Cheerfully has a pastel blue title text and an illustration of a typewriter on a pastel pink background

London, November 1941.

Following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles (now stationed back in the UK) is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, is bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty and standing by her friends.

As I said when I first read A J Pearce’s first novel – the delightful Dear Mrs Bird – some books really do come along at just the right time. And after the rough ride that was 2020, it feels like we could all do with some cheerfulness and support in our lives. So it really is the perfect time for the irrepressible Emmeline ‘Emmy’ Lake and her colleagues at Women’s Friend to make their return in Yours Cheerfully!

It’s all change at Women’s Friend following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird. The good-natured Mr Collins has assumed the role of editor and Emmy is now free to assist the understanding and practical Mrs Mahoney on the problem page. More importantly, however, Women’s Friend has been given An Important Task.

Called for a high-level meeting at the Ministry of Information, Emmy and the rest of the Women’s Friend team are tasked with helping to recruit female war workers. Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help but, when she and her best friend Bunty meet a young widowed mother on the train, she begins to realise the challenges faced by some of the women trying their best to do their duty to the country. Before long, Emmy is back on the campaign trail and getting involved in helping her new friends as only Emmy can – but what is she prepared to risk to stand up for her friends?

A J Pearce has done a fantastic job developing her returning characters – and bringing in some interesting new faces. Emmy grew so much during the course of Dear Mrs Bird and, in Yours Cheerfully, we see her develop further as both a young woman and a young journalist. I really empathise with Emmy because she does make mistakes and she sometimes gets herself into a right tangle – but her heart is always in the right place and, whilst she’s becoming increasingly aware that sometimes you can’t just push away your worries, she’s determined to Make a Go of It and do her best to support her friends, her family, and her beloved boyfriend Charles.

I also really loved the focus of Yours Cheerfully, with its depiction of women’s war work and the challenges faced by working mothers – challenges that still haven’t been adequately solved to this day. As with its predecessor, there’s a real sense of the challenges of wartime life beneath Emmy’s cheer and spirit, and the novel doesn’t shy away from depicting the tragedy and often grim realities of the war years.

This is also bought across in the other strand of the novel – Emmy’s relationship with her boyfriend, Captain Charles Mayhew. Although now stationed back in England, the demands of the war place constant constraints on Emmy and Charles’s relationship – and there’s the ever present possibility of redeployment to contend with. I loved how Pearce balanced Emmy’s pride in Charles with her worries about him being sent back into the front lines of the fighting.

As with Dear Mrs Bird, there is an accomplished lightness of touch in Yours Cheerfully. A J Pearce has, yet again, walked the line between the realities of life on the UK’s Home Front in World War II and the uplifting, hopeful story of Emmy and her friends with great skill. As I said in my Dear Mrs Bird review, the deft lightness of touch that allows such a story to work on so many levels is a real testament to the skill of the author.

The story does work perfectly well as a standalone so readers unfamiliar with Emmy could certainly dive straight in here – although I’d recommend picking up the first book anyway because you’d be missing a treat otherwise! Fans of Dear Mrs Bird are, however, sure to adore Yours Cheerfully – it really is the perfect sequel, and an ideal novel for picking up and diving into to take your mind away from the challenging times we find ourselves in.

Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce is published by Picador 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 Camilla Elworthy at Pan Macmillan and to Picador for providing a 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!

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Reviews

REVIEW!! Mrs England by Stacey Halls

West Yorkshire, 1904.

When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs.

But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.

Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby is forced to confront her own demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Stacey Hall’s debut, The Familiars, I was thrilled to win a proof copy of her third novel, Mrs England, which offers a portrait of an Edwardian marriage from the unusual perspective of the family nursemaid.

Ruby May is a newly qualified Norland nursemaid and, as the book opens, is happily settled in her first placement. When her placement family decide to emigrate to America however, Ruby is forced to return to The Norland Institute to seek another position – she is unable to leave England for personal reasons of her own. Desperate to prove herself, Ruby accepts a position as nursemaid to the four children of Charles and Lillian England, wealthy mill owners.

Transported to the mill towns and moors of rural Yorkshire, and thrown into a busy but neglected nursery, Ruby is soon a world away from her comfort zone. Mrs England seems to take little interest in her children and, ostracised by the other servants in the household, Ruby is soon acting as surrogate mother, teacher, maid, and nurse all rolled into one. Yet beneath the cold exterior of the Mistress, Ruby cannot help but feel that there is something more to Mrs England. And that beneath the charming exterior of the Master and the cheery façade of the England family, there is something terribly wrong.

As with The Familiars, Stacey Hall’s has created a fantastic female protagonist in Ruby May. Smart, caring, practical, and yet with a hint of naivety, Ruby is an immensely likeable and relatable narrator. A scholarship girl at the prestigious Norland Institute, she is determined to prove herself as a capable professional nursemaid – and to escape the dark shadows of her own family’s past.

I really empathised with Ruby’s desire to prove herself professionally, as well as to protect and care for the children in her charge. Although incredibly naïve at times, Ruby’s determination to focus upon her role as nursemaid and to not go prying into Mr & Mrs England’s secrets felt believable given her tentative position within the household and what we come to learn about her own family and background. I also found the contrast between Ruby’s Norland-educated sense of propriety and the more relaxed attitudes of the inhabitants of Yorkshire to be quite amusing at times!

Although a bit of a slow-burn, Mrs England is packed to brimming with an underlying sense of menace. Like Ruby, the reader is aware from the off that something is not quite right at Hardcastle House. But, like Ruby, working out exactly what – and who – is wrong, proves tricky – and there are a good few unexpected turns along the way before the truth is revealed. There were a couple of plot strands that I wish had been developed further – some of the ‘romantic’ elements felt a little forced, and Ruby’s own background and its relationship to the main plot doesn’t really begin to develop until the last third of the novel, but the characters and the atmosphere kept me engaged even at moments where I felt the plot was a little thin.

As a portrait of Edwardian society, Mrs England is wonderfully evocative of the era. You get a real sense of a society in flux – caught between the constraints of the Victorian era and the possibilities of a new century. The novel is also a portrait of an Edwardian marriage – and a fascinating insight into the role of the nursemaid. I found the sections in the book that provided some of the history and rationale of the Norland Institute really compelling, and the novel made me realise just how Norland nursemaids were changing the expectations of what it was to be a ‘nanny’ within upper class Edwardian society.

Told in a lively, engaging style and with a well-realised sense of time and place, Mrs England is sure to delight fans of Stacey Hall’s previous novels – and deserves to bring her in a whole host of new readers! Anyone who loves a good historical novel is sure to find much to enjoy in this pacy, engaging read that has an intriguing marital mystery at its core.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls is published by Manilla Press (Zaffre Books) and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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

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!! Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?

When I finally got around to reading Elizabeth Macneal’s debut The Doll Factory at the tail end of last year, I found it a compelling and evocative read. Whilst elements of The Doll Factory didn’t fully land with me, it was a well written and compulsively readable book and I was eager to read whatever Elizabeth Macneal wrote next. So I was absolutely delighted to receive a gorgeous proof copy of her follow-up, Circus of Wonders and am even more delighted to say that, for me, Circus of Wonders surpasses the delights of its predecessor.

The novel follow Nell, a young woman whose birthmarks have always marked her as different within her small coastal community. When her father sells her to the charismatic showman Jasper Jupiter, Nell is thrown into the limelight and reinvented as Nellie Moon, the Queen of Moon and Stars. Suddenly the birthmarks she has spent her whole life hiding are capturing the attention of London audiences – and of Jasper’s quiet and gentle photographer brother Toby. But as Nell’s new found fame threatens to eclipse that of the man who ‘invented’ her, she is forced to decide what she is prepared to sacrifice for the chance to tell her own story.

As with The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal has created a compelling heroine in Nell. Her natural reserve combines with a fiery inner life to create a character who is captivates even when she isn’t performing to the crowds. Chapters told from the perspectives of Jasper and Toby are equally fascinating, and help to provide a complex history for the novel’s antagonist that, whilst it doesn’t make him entirely sympathetic, did help me to understand how he became the man he is – and how the terrible secret that the brothers share feeds into that.

I also found the rest of Nell, Jasper and Toby’s world vivid and vibrant. Secondary characters such as Stella, Pearl, Peggy and the sinister Jackal came alive on the page, as did the sights and sounds of Victorian London and the battlefields of the Crimea. As I was reading, I was transported to Jasper Jupiter’s circus, surrounded by the glittering lights and the cacophony of noise from the menagerie that supports the show. Yet despite capturing the glamour – and the opportunities – of such lives, Circus of Wonders does not shy away from examining the subtle difference between the idealisation of performance (and, in particular, of female performance) and its rather darker reality. The public love Nellie Moon and Stella the Songbird but do they love Nell and Stella – or do they fear their difference?

Capturing this tension between idealisation and reality is one of Elizabeth Macneal’s strengths. It was apparent in The Doll Factory‘s examination of Irene as both the idealised model and the real woman that lay behind her, and is examined in more depth here both in the novel’s consideration of the performers who made up shows such as Jaspers, and in the way it treats the characters of Jasper and Toby. Both men are caught between their expectation of what their life should be and its reality – between the ideal and the real.

The circus backdrop has, of course, been done before but I felt that Circus of Wonders provided a fresh perspective through its strong focus on this particular set of characters and their individual hopes, dreams, and expectations. Such strong narrative voices carry the novel through its quieter moments. It also meant that the ending – which did feel a tad rushed compared to the slower pace of the rest of the book – felt, if not wholly satisfying, as if it was the ending that these characters would have chosen, even if it isn’t the one the reader might have hoped they would get.

Full of colour and life, Circus of Wonders is an engrossing historical novel that vividly captures the colour and atmosphere of the era that it depicts and brings to life a fascinating and complex set of characters with great skill. Fans of Macneal’s debut are sure to be delighted by its successor as, I hope, will many who have not yet discovered this author’s work.

Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal is published by Picador and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

f 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 Camilla Elworthy at Picador for providing a 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!!! Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back from the Backlist · Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things · Spotlight

6 Books That Were Not For Me…BUT They Could Be For You!

Although my blog is very much my hobby – and I have absolutely no expectation of it being anything more than that – I have to admit that, aside from being able to share the book love with lots of lovely like-minded folk, one of the very nice things about being a book blogger is being sent the occasional book by publishers or authors for review.

In my case, most of these books come because I’m on Blog Tours but, every so often, I request a book because I like the sound of it from the blurb and the buzz surrounding it. 90% of the time these books then go on to be read and reviewed on this blog (although let’s not talk about my NetGalley backlog – that’s a whole different post) but, every so often, the book isn’t quite what I was expecting and doesn’t quite float my bookish boat in the way I hoped it would.

Because I don’t review books that I don’t finish on the blog, that left me in a bit of a quandary about what to do with these ‘not for me’ books. Part of what I love about book blogging is being able to help authors and publishers spread the book love, and to share books with potential readers. And I’m especially keen to acknowledge anyone kind enough to send a proof or finished copy my way.

So rather than have the ‘not for me’ books sitting on my shelf accusingly, I decided to put together this post to spotlight them and share them with you. Because just because a book wasn’t for me doesn’t mean that it won’t be for you! I’ve given Goodreads links to all of the books, along with the blurb and publisher information as well as a link to a full review from another lovely blogger!

The Canary Keeper by Clare Carson

Publisher: Head of Zeus, 398 pages

Blurb: Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn had no good reason to be by the river that morning, but she did not kill the man. She’d seen him first the day before, desperate to give her a message she refused to hear. And now the Filth will see her hang for his murder, just like her father.

To save her life, Birdie must trace the dead man’s footsteps. Back onto the ship that carried him to his death, back to cold isles of Orkney that sheltered him, and up to the far north, a harsh and lawless land which holds more answers than she looks to find…

Review: Check out this full review from Nicola over at Short Books and Scribes – she found it “intriguing, so full of depth and the writing is beautifully descriptive” and perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries!

Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipeiger

Publisher: Doubleday, 308 pages

Blurb: Three extraordinary lives intertwine across oceans and centuries.

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a heartbroken young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toymaker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada, where a journalist battling a terrible disease, drowning in her own lungs, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Moving effortlessly across time and space and taking inspiration from an incredible true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about love, loss, and the immeasurable impact of every human life.

Review: Amanda over at Bookish Chat loved this one – her review said that “Sarah Leipciger’s writing is captivating and sharp and all historical and medical elements were very well researched and portrayed” and felt that “Coming Up For For Air is one of those books which stays with you long after you’ve finished it”. High praise indeed!

From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

Publisher: Picador, 272 pages

Blurb: When George Hills was pulled from the wreck of the steamship Admella, he carried with him memories of a disaster that claimed the lives of almost every other soul on board. Almost every other soul. Because as he clung onto the wreck, George wasn’t alone: someone else—or something else—kept George warm and bound him to life. Why didn’t he die, as so many others did, half-submerged in the freezing Southern Ocean? And what happened to his fellow survivor, the woman who seemed to vanish into thin air?

George will live out the rest of his life obsessed with finding the answers to these questions. He will marry, father children, but never quite let go of the feeling that something else came out of the ocean that day, something that has been watching him ever since. The question of what this creature might want from him—his life? His first-born? To simply return home?—will pursue him, and call him back to the ocean again.

Review: Simon Savidge absolutely ADORED this book – it was one of his books of 2018, before it had even been published in the UK! His blog review said that the book has “originality, wonderful writing, a brilliant twisting plot, fantastic characters and some themes within it that you can really get your teeth into, should you want to” and he’s also featured the book on Youtube.

Theft by Luke Brown

Publisher: And Other Stories

Blurb: What I did to them was terrible, but you have to understand the context. This was London, 2016 . . .

Bohemia is history. Paul has awoken to the fact that he will always be better known for reviewing haircuts than for his literary journalism. He is about to be kicked out of his cheap flat in east London and his sister has gone missing after an argument about what to do with the house where they grew up. Now that their mother is dead this is the last link they have to the declining town on the north-west coast where they grew up.

Enter Emily Nardini, a cult author, who – after granting Paul a rare interview – receives him into her surprisingly grand home. Paul is immediately intrigued: by Emily and her fictions, by her vexingly famous and successful partner Andrew (too old for her by half), and later by Andrew’s daughter Sophie, a journalist whose sexed-up vision of the revolution has gone viral. Increasingly obsessed, relationships under strain, Paul travels up and down, north and south, torn between the town he thought he had escaped and the city that threatens to chew him up.

Review: Lucy over at What Lucy Wrote thought that Theft was “a compelling and colourful reflection on division and truth – both within individuals and a country” with some brilliant characterisation. You can read her review here.

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor

Publisher: The Cameo Press, 483 pages

Blurb: A strange twist of fate connects a British soldier fighting in the First World War in 1916 with a young woman living in modern-day England a century later, in this haunting literary time travel novel.

Two people, two battles: one against the invading Germans on the battlefields of 1916 France, the other against a substandard, uncaring mental health facility in modern-day England. Part war story, part timeslip, part love story – and at the same time a meditation on the themes of war, mental illness, identity and art, Beyond The Moon is an intelligent, captivating debut novel, perfect for book clubs.

In 1916 1st Lieutenant Robert Lovett is a patient at Coldbrook Hall military hospital in Sussex, England. A gifted artist, he’s been wounded fighting in the Great War. Shell shocked and suffering from hysterical blindness he can no longer see his own face, let alone paint, and life seems increasingly hopeless.

A century later in 2017, medical student Louisa Casson has just lost her beloved grandmother – her only family. Heartbroken, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol on the South Downs cliffs – only to fall accidentally part-way down. Doctors fear she may have attempted suicide, and Louisa finds herself involuntarily admitted to Coldbrook Hall – now a psychiatric hospital, an unfriendly and chaotic place.

Then one day, while secretly exploring the old Victorian hospital’s ruined, abandoned wing, Louisa hears a voice calling for help, and stumbles across a dark, old-fashioned hospital room. Inside, lying on the floor, is a mysterious, sightless young man, who tells her he was hurt at the Battle of the Somme, a WW1 battle a century ago. And that his name is Lieutenant Robert Lovett…

Review: Writing for NB Magazine, Nicola from Short Books and Scribes said that Beyond the Moon “is a fascinating read, both in terms of the detail and the well-plotted storyline” and that she “closed the book with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure that I had read it”. You can read her full review here.

When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

Publisher: Hutchinson, 326 pages

Blurb: Emma is beginning to wonder whether relationships, like mortgages, should be conducted in five-year increments. She might laugh if Chris had bought a motorbike or started dyeing his hair. Instead he’s buying off-label medicines and stockpiling food.

Chris finds Emma’s relentless optimism exasperating. A tot of dread, a nip of horror, a shot of anger – he isn’t asking much. If she would only join him in a measure of something.

The family’s precarious eco-system is further disrupted by torrential rains, power cuts and the unexpected arrival of Chris’s mother. Emma longs to lower a rope and winch Chris from the pit of his worries. But he doesn’t want to be rescued or reassured – he wants to pull her in after him.

Review: Another review from Amanda over at Bookish Chat! She thought that ” the gentle humour and real moments of tender interplay between family members is so heartwarming” and that Carys Bray has an “innate ability to write about the ordinary family dynamic against the backdrop of extraordinary circumstances”.

My thanks go to all of the authors and publishers who sent me copies of these books. Unfortunately they weren’t quite my cup of tea but, as the reviews I have chosen shown, these might just be the perfect books for a different reader!

Are there are books here that you’ve taken a fancy to? Please do let me know if you pick up any of the books mentioned in today’s post!

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

Reviews & 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!