Reviews

REVIEW!!! The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett

The cover of The Deception of Harriet Fleet features a woman in Victorian dress walking towards a desolate house across misty fields.
Image Description: The cover of The Deception of Harriet Fleet features a woman in Victorian dress walking towards a desolate house across misty fields.

1871. An age of discovery and progress. But for the Wainwright family, residents of the gloomy Teesbank Hall in County Durham the secrets of the past continue to overshadow their lives.

Harriet would not have taken the job of governess in such a remote place unless she wanted to hide from something or someone. Her charge is Eleanor, the daughter of the house, a fiercely bright eighteen-year-old, tortured by demons and feared by relations and staff alike. But it soon becomes apparent that Harriet is not there to teach Eleanor, but rather to monitor her erratic and dangerous behaviour – to spy on her.

Worn down by Eleanor’s unpredictable hostility, Harriet soon finds herself embroiled in Eleanor’s obsession – the Wainwright’s dark, tragic history. As family secrets are unearthed, Harriet’s own begin to haunt her and she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past are determined to reveal her shameful story.

For Harriet, like Eleanor, is plagued by deception and untruths.

As the nights draw in and autumn turns to winter, my reading life tends to head for the cosy comfort blanket that is historical fiction. I love curling up with something historical and gothic during the winter months, especially if it has a crime, mystery and/or supernatural element. With its isolated setting and Jane Eyre vibes, Helen Scarlett’s The Deception of Harriet Fleet, thus had ‘winter reading vibes’ written all over it.

Billed as an ‘atmospheric Victorian chiller’, The Deception of Harriet Fleet follows the eponymous Harriet as she takes up the post of governess at the brooding and isolated Teesbank Hall, home of the prominent Wainright family. Entrusted with the charge of Eleanor, the daughter of the house and of a similar age to Harriet, it is soon apparent to the new governess that all is not well with her charge. Prone to outbursts of sudden violence and watched night and day, Eleanor is feared by the staff and despised by almost all her relations. But is there some method behind the young woman’s apparent madness? As Harriet learns more about her charge – and about the tragic history of the Wainwright family – she begins to think that not only might Eleanor have unearthed a dangerous family secret, but to fear that the ghosts from her own past will be revealed.

With a dark and brooding house, an isolated and chilly family, and a protagonist with secrets of her own to hide, The Deception of Harriet Fleet certainly ticks all of the ‘Victorian Gothic’ boxes! Helen Scarlett does an excellent job of conveying the sinister atmosphere of Teesbank Hall and the intimidating authority that the various members of the Wainwright family hold over Harriet and her future. Teasing the reader with the promise of secrets both within Teesbank Hall and within Harriet’s own past, Scarlett also does an excellent job of introducing and maintaining an uneasy tension right up until the novel’s dramatic final act.

Key to this tension is the combative relationship between Harriet and her charge. By turns manipulative, cruel, deceitful, frustrated, maligned, neglected, and brilliant, Eleanor is a complicated figure, whose intellectual curiosity and fierce ambition are being repressed by old-fashioned notions of female duty and societal position. Harriet, meanwhile, tells us from the outset that she has committed a great deceit herself: running away from home and assuming a new identity to escape unspeakable horrors. As the two women realise that they are both victims of society’s lack of respect for women, an uneasy accord grows between them that is both fascinating and nerve-wracking to witness.

This unlikely alliance – and the tension that arises as a result – was the driving force of the novel for me, with Eleanor and Harriet both unwittingly (and often unwillingly) assisting each other in uncovering the secrets of Teesbank Hall. I also enjoyed the way in which their discoveries tied into the ‘age of discovery and progress’, with forays into the dark fringes of the scientific world. It should be noted, however, that some of Eleanor and Harriet’s investigations lead to traumatic discoveries so trigger warnings for mentions of or discussion of child death, mental illness, confinement, forced institutionalisation, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, infidelity, and pregnancy.

There are some glimmers of hope for Harriet amidst all the gloom. A burgeoning friendship with Eleanor’s brother Henry provides some moments of levity, although I have to say that personally I found the relationship that eventually develops between them to be somewhat lacking in meat on the bones and, as a result, one of the weaker elements of the novel. Another friendship with a fellow servant was more successful, and featured a twist that had me reeling at the novel’s end!

With its absorbing story of family secrets, revenge, jealousy, betrayal, and forbidden love, The Deception of Harriet Fleet definitely meets the criteria for a haunting gothic read. Fans of historical mysteries are sure to enjoy discovering the many macabre secrets of Teesbank Hall, as will anyone who is looking to fill a Bronte-shaped hole in their reading lives!

The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett is published by Quercus 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!

BBNYA · Blog Tours · Spotlight

BBNYA SPOTLIGHT!!! Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olsen

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 Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson.

The cover of Miss Percy's Pocket Guide features a dragon emerging from an egg.
Image Description: The cover of Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide features a dragon emerging from an egg.

About the Book

Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.

Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…

Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.

The egg – as eggs are wont to do – decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.” But England has not seen a dragon since… well, ever. And now Mildred must contend with raising a dragon (that should not exist), kindling a romance (with a humble vicar), and embarking on an adventure she never thought could be hers for the taking.

About the Author

Quenby Olson lives in Central Pennsylvania where she spends most of her time writing, glaring at baskets of unfolded laundry, and chasing the cat off the kitchen counters. She lives with her husband and children, who do nothing to dampen her love of classical ballet, geeky crochet, and staying up late to watch old episodes of Doctor Who.

Find Out More!

You can find out more about Quenby and her work by visiting her website and by following her on Twitter (@QEisenacher)

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.

Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson is available now from Amazon via 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!

Giveaway

GIVEAWAY!!! The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw

Photograph of the giveaway prize as detailed to the left
Image Description: Photograph of the giveaway prize as detailed to the left

With my balloon day on the horizon AND as a celebration of reaching 2,000 (eek!) followers over on Twitter, I am hosting another GIVEAWAY!!

My HUGE thanks go to author Jennifer Renshaw for allowing me to offer a copy of her debut novel The Parlour Game, along withand a Gothically-themed ‘Haunted House’ wax melt!

Details of how to enter can be found at the bottom of this post but, before you do that, let me tell you a little bit about the book in question!

About the Book

The cover of The Parlour Game features an image of a corvid, wings outstretched next to a black inkpot and pen. Dark blue leaves surround the image.
Image Description: The cover of The Parlour Game features an image of a corvid, wings outstretched next to a black inkpot and pen. Dark blue leaves surround the image.

London, 1873.

Ivy Granger, an amateur botanist, is plagued by disturbing dreams and faceless whispers. Misunderstood by her father, she fears for her sanity – threatened with the asylum or worse, the hands of the man she loathes.

But a stranger at her mother’s funeral reveals Ivy’s world has been a lie, and she could have a different life, for she is capable of so much more…

Miss Earnshaw, London’s most renowned spiritualist, is Ivy’s only hope of revealing what secrets her mother took to the grave and discovering her true purpose.

Ivy’s journey for knowledge takes her to Blackham House, a building haunted by a terrible past – full of macabre artefacts and ancient studies of the supernatural. But behind closed doors, the Blackhams collect more than relics alone, and Ivy will soon find herself at the centre of a conspiracy spanning generations, and a hidden evil waiting to be unleashed.

Can Ivy survive in a world where women must play their part or risk being silenced?

I was thrilled to be part of the blog tour for The Parlour Game so you can read my full review of the book here. Although the tour has now finished can also find more reviews by following #TheParlourGame or by checking out the other bloggers who took part in the tour (details on the poster below)!

About the Author

Jennifer Renshaw grew up in Sussex, England, and is a former analyst. She has always been fascinated by history and enjoys a gothic mystery. She now lives in Denmark with her family and two portly cats.

You can find out more about Jennifer and her work on her website and by following her on Instagram.

GIVEAWAY!!!

Thanks to author Jennifer Renshaw, I have ONE PRINT COPY of The Parlour Game to giveaway to a lucky UK reader, complete with a ‘Haunted House’ hand poured wax melt from Whitcliffe Aromas.

All you need to do to win is to follow me (@shelfofunread) on Twitter and retweet the pinned tweet that links to this post! The giveaway is open from 9.00am on 06 November 2022 and closes at midnight on 13 November 2022. There is one winner. Terms & conditions apply (see below).

TERMS & CONDITIONS: UK only. The winner will be selected at random via Tweetdraw from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days, then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties. The prize is one paperback copy of the UK edition of The Parlour Game and will be posted by Royal Mail Tracked Delivery 2nd Class. I am not responsible for any delay or damage during postage.

The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw is available now from Amazon in both eBook and paperback formats.

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 author for providing the opportunity to run a giveaway for the book.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Poison Machine by Robert J Lloyd

The cover of The Poison Machine depicts a historic city map in a pale green with a royal seal across the front of it.
The cover of The Poison Machine depicts a historic city map in a pale green with a royal seal across the front of it.

1679. A year has passed since the sensational attempt to murder King Charles II. London is still inflamed by fears of Catholic plots. Harry Hunt—estranged from his mentor Robert Hooke and no longer employed by the Royal Society—meets Sir Jonas Moore, the King’s Surveyor-General of the Board of Ordnance, in the remote and windswept marshes of Norfolk. There, workers draining the fenland have uncovered a skeleton.

Accompanied by his friend Colonel Fields, an old soldier for Parliament, and Hooke’s niece, Grace, Harry confirms Sir Jonas’s suspicion: the body is that of a dwarf, Captain Jeffrey Hudson, once famously given to Queen Henrietta Maria in a pie. During the Civil Wars, Hudson accompanied the Queen to France to sell the Royal Jewels to fund her husband’s army. He was sent home in disgrace after shooting a man in a duel.

But nobody knew Hudson was dead. Another man, working as a spy, has lived as him since his murder. Now, this impostor has disappeared, taking vital information with him. Sir Jonas orders Harry to find him.

With the help of clues left in a book, a flying man, and a crossdressing swordswoman, Harry’s search takes him to Paris, another city bedeviled by conspiracies and intrigues. He navigates its salons and libraries, and learns of a terrible plot against the current Queen of England, Catherine of Bragança, and her gathering of Catholics in London. Assassins plan to poison them all.

Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke are back in The Poison Machine, Robert J Lloyd’s sequel to last year’s The Bloodless Boy.

Although a year has passed since the sensational events of The Bloodless Boy, Londoners still live in fear of Catholic plots. For Harry Hunt, no longer in the employ of the Royal Society and estranged from his friend and mentor Robert Hooke, the chance to investigate a skeleton found in Norfolk’s windswept fenland offers the opportunity to leave the events of the previous year behind him – and to get himself into the good graces of Sir Jonas Moore, the King’s Surveyor-General of the Board of Ordnance.

However confirmation that the body is that of the famous Captain Jeffrey Hudson – who accompanied Queen Henrietta Maria to France in order to help her fund her husband’s army – serves only to inflame tensions. Hudson, after all, isn’t supposed to be dead. Another man has lived as him since his murder, spying on the court. When the imposter vanishes, taking vital information with him, Hunt and his friends are tasked with tracking him down.

Their search will soon lead them to a Paris beset by conspiracy and intrigue. And, in the salons and libraries of the great and the good, Hunt will soon be chasing a terrible plot being planned against the Queen of England herself.

As with last year’s The Bloodless Boy, The Poison Machine brings the political and religious tensions of the late seventeenth century vividly to life on the page. Whether walking the darkened streets of London’s old city, or strolling into a fashionable Parisian salon, Robert J Lloyd has impressively captured the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of the seventeenth-century world.

As with the first book in the series, The Poison Machine effortlessly blends together fact and fiction, combining real events and real people with fictionalised and imagined scenarios, with Lloyd using his knowledge of Robert Hooke’s diary, the paper of the Royal Society, and his knowledge of the period (gained whilst studying for an MA in the History of Ideas) to create a detailed, complex, and evolving world that draws the reader in to the period and its many tensions. Those with knowledge of the period will be delighted by cameos from some illustrious figures, including Sir Issac Newton and Denis Papin, as well as references to the key scientific and philosophical debates of the period.

This does mean that the novel features a lot of characters – and some fairly complex political and religious plotting – however, having read The Bloodless Boy, I found distinguishing who’s who to be much easier, as there are a number of returning characters from that novel. Whilst The Poison Machine is a standalone story, the continuance of plot strands introduced in the first novel – and the development of characters first met in The Bloodless Boy – mean that I would recommend reading the series in order. The Bloodless Boy is a similarly involved read, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you like the sound of this novel (you can read my full review of it here)!

On the subject of evolution, The Poison Machine also evidences Lloyd’s own evolution as a writer. Whilst The Bloodless Boy was an impressively detailed debut, the characterisation and plotting of its sequel show a greater confidence and familiarity with the world and its characters. Moving swiftly from London’s bustling streets to the Norfolk fens and the libraries of Paris, the novel tells its tale with verve and pace, keeping the pages turning whilst also relishing in the particularised detail of character and setting.

With its detailed historical setting, intricate plotting, and developing characters, The Poison Machine is a worthy successor that is sure to delight fans of The Bloodless Boy, and establishes Lloyd’s Hunt & Hooke series as a must-read for all historical fiction aficionados. Anyone who enjoyed Frances Quinn’s The Smallest Man will also find The Poison Machine‘s take on the life and times of Jeffrey Hudson extremely interesting.

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

My thanks go to Nikki Griffiths at Melville House Press for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The tour continues until 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!!! The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw

The cover of The Parlour Game features an image of a  corvid, wings outstretched next to a black inkpot and pen. Dark blue leaves surround the image.
Image Description: The cover of The Parlour Game features an image of a corvid, wings outstretched next to a black inkpot and pen. Dark blue leaves surround the image.

London, 1873.

Ivy Granger, an amateur botanist, is plagued by disturbing dreams and faceless whispers. Misunderstood by her father, she fears for her sanity – threatened with the asylum or worse, the hands of the man she loathes.

But a stranger at her mother’s funeral reveals Ivy’s world has been a lie, and she could have a different life, for she is capable of so much more…

Miss Earnshaw, London’s most renowned spiritualist, is Ivy’s only hope of revealing what secrets her mother took to the grave and discovering her true purpose.

Ivy’s journey for knowledge takes her to Blackham House, a building haunted by a terrible past – full of macabre artefacts and ancient studies of the supernatural. But behind closed doors, the Blackhams collect more than relics alone, and Ivy will soon find herself at the centre of a conspiracy spanning generations, and a hidden evil waiting to be unleashed.

Can Ivy survive in a world where women must play their part or risk being silenced?

When Ivy Granger meets an enigmatic stranger at her mother’s funeral, she is drawn into a dangerous world of secrets, lies, and the supernatural. Working undercover at the gothic and isolated Blackham House, Ivy soon learns that there was far more to her mother – and her own talents – than meets the eye. But Blackham House is home to far more than macabre artifacts. Sinister secrets and hidden evils lie at the centre of the Blackham family and Ivy may be the key to unlocking them.

The Parlour Game, the debut novel from independent author Jennifer Renshaw, is the first in what promises to be a series of ‘Corvidae Hauntings’: supernatural gothic horrors with Corvidae (the family of birds that features crows, blackbirds, ravens, rooks, and jackdaws) at their heart. Quite how each novel will connect together I’m not sure but, on the basis of The Parlour Game, there are plenty of mysteries left to be uncovered!

Indeed, this is not a novel to read if you like your endings neat and tidy. Whilst the ending has plenty of suspense – and some fantastically unexpected twists – it leaves several questions unanswered and, arguably, felt somewhat rushed in comparison to the considerably more sedate pace of the novel’s opening act.

Minor quibbles with pacing aside, however, Jennifer Renshaw does a brilliant job of developing a sense of foreboding. From the stifling and oppressive confines of Ivy’s family home to the fading gothic grandeur of Blackham House, the novel oozes atmosphere from every page. There’s also plenty of intrigue, with several plot strands that don’t come together until novel’s denouement and keep the pages turning.

Ivy makes for an interesting and empathetic protagonist. Intelligent and determined but shy and retiring, she’s underappreciated by her family and often underestimated by those around her. Given its prominence in the opening act, I was a little disappointed that Ivy’s interest in botany wasn’t fully utilised later in the novel, but I enjoyed seeing her grow and develop as a character, nonetheless. I’m also enjoyed learning about the novel’s antagonists and the generational conspiracy that lies at the heart of their sinister machinations.

On the basis of The Parlour Game, it’s clear that Jennifer Renshaw knows her gothic horror and can spin an enjoyable yarn. Whilst there is a lot going on – not all of which ends up being immediately relevant to Ivy’s story or fully resolved by the end of the novel – it’s important to remember that this is the first novel in a series. As such, it’s an intriguing foundation to what promises to be a spooky supernatural journey into the dark heart of nineteenth century London.

The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw is available now from Amazon in both eBook and paperback formats.

My thanks go to the author 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!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time.

The notorious queen of this glittering world is Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven, whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within.

For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost.

I’ve adored Kate Atkinson’s writing ever since I first read Case Histories for an undergraduate crime fiction module at university, so I absolutely leapt at the chance to be part of the blog tour for her latest novel, Shrines of Gaiety. And let me tell you right now that it did not disappoint!

Set in 1926, Shrines of Gaiety, follows Nellie, ambitious matriarch of the notorious Coker family, ruthless owner of several of London’s hottest clubs, and perpetual fly in the ointment for Detective Chief Inspector Frobisher. Nellie might have done her time for one criminal enterprise, but Frobisher suspects she has fingers in many more pies – and that at least one of his colleagues on the force is helping her to avoid further prosecution.

Nellie, meanwhile, has problems of her own. During her time in prison, her six children have got far too used to enjoying the glitz and glamour of the Coker’s club empire without her at the helm. And that’s before she has to think about the spy in her midst, the crooked cop with sights on her fortune, two missing teenage girls, a ghost from her past, and the persistent dogged presence of Detective Chief Inspector Frobisher.

Shrines of Gaiety is a layered narrative, alternating between several perspectives and storylines to immerse the reader in the vibrant world of 1920s London. At first, the frequent changes in perspective and the large cast of characters felt somewhat overwhelming but Atkinson’s command over her narrative, and her ability to create distinct voices for each character, meant that I never lost track of who was who. And whilst it did take quite a while for the various plot strands to weave together, I was enjoying each piece of the jigsaw so much that I didn’t mind not being able to see the full picture from the outset!

I also really loved the way in which Atkinson has portrayed 1920s London. On one hand, there is the glitz of the resurgent post-war nightlife scene. Beneath that, however, there is the seedy underbelly: the dance hostesses who accidentally overdose, the gangsters trying to muscle in on each other’s turf, the bodies being quietly (and not-so-quietly) rolled into the Thames, and the teenage runaways seeking stardom but at risk of getting sucked into less salubrious line of work. As Atkinson makes clear, there’s a lot of grime beneath all that glamour. And whilst it is clear that Atkinson has done her usual meticulous level of historical research, the novel wears its learning lightly and never becomes over-burdened as a result.

Despite this, I found myself rooting for Nellie and her clan whilst, at the same time, also rooting for Frobisher in his quest to bring her empire to an end! Even though the moral compass of many of the characters is heavily skewed, they remain relatable products of both their lives and of the times in which they live. The sharp and witty dialogue, peppered liberally with dashes of dark humour, meant that each character really came to life, and it was impossible not to be drawn into their world and their stories. With murder, mystery, and romance all on menu, there really is something for everyone in this richly textured read!

Alternating between the lighter and darker sides of 1920s London, Shrines of Gaiety is a wonderfully evocative novel that, given a little time and patience, will utterly immerse you into its world. Combining a dash of The Great Gatsby with a good dose of Peaky Blinders and a side of Boardwalk Empire, this beautifully written and richly detailed read is perfect for historical fiction fans to curl up on the sofa and while away a weekend with this autumn.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson is published by Doubleday UK/Transworld on 27 September 2022 and is available to order now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Bookshop.org.

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 18 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!

Giveaway

GIVEAWAY!! Ithaca by Claire North

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

The cover of Ithaca shows a classical style frieze of a woman dressed in Grecian robes seated partially reclined on a couch. She is holding golden threads in her hand. The backdrop is a vivid orange with a gold circle around the title.
Image Desscription: The cover of Ithaca shows a classical style frieze of a woman dressed in Grecian robes seated partially reclined on a couch. She is holding golden threads in her hand. The backdrop is a vivid orange with a gold circle around the title.

About the Book

‘The greatest power we woman can own, is that we take in secret . . . ‘

Seventeen years ago, king Odysseus sailed to war with Troy, taking with him every man of fighting age from the island of Ithaca. None of them have returned, and the women have been left behind to run the kingdom.

Penelope was barely into womanhood when she wed Odysseus. Whilst he lived, her position was secure. But now, years on, speculation is mounting that husband is dead, and suitors are starting to knock at her door . . .

But no one man is strong enough to claim Odysseus’ empty throne – not yet. Between Penelope’s many suitors, a cold war of dubious alliances and hidden knives reigns, as everyone waits for the balance of power to tip one way or another. If Penelope chooses one from amongst them, it will plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war. Only through cunning and her spy network of maids can she maintain the delicate balance of power needed for the kingdom to survive.

On Ithaca, everyone watches everyone else, and there is no corner of the palace where intrigue does not reign . . .

About the Author

Image Description: of Claire North
Image Description: author photograph of Claire North

Claire North is the pen name for the Carnegie-nominated Catherine Webb, who also writes under the name Kate Griffin.

Catherine’s first novel, Mirror Dreams, was completed when she was 14 years old. The book was published in 2002 and garnered comparisons with Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman. She went on to publish a further seven young adult novels under her own name, earning her extensive critical acclaim and two Carnegie nominations for her novels Timekeepers and The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle.

While studying International History at the London School of Economics, she wrote an urban fantasy series for adults, writing as Kate Griffin. On graduating LSE she went to the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts to study Technical Theatre and Stage Management.

Throughout her training she continued to write, and while working as a lighting technician at the Royal National Theatre wrote her first Claire North novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which became a word-of-mouth bestseller and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

She has since published several hugely popular and critically acclaimed novels, won the World Fantasy Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and been shortlisted for the Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, a Locus Award and the Philip K. Dick Award.

Catherine currently works as a live music lighting designer, teaches women’s self-defence, and is a fan of big cities, long walks, Thai food and graffiti-spotting. She lives in London.

You can find out more about Claire and her work on her website and by following her on Twitter.

GIVEAWAY!!!

Thanks to Claire North and publisher Orbit Books, I have ONE PRINT COPY of Ithaca to giveaway to a lucky UK reader!

All you need to do to win is to follow me (@shelfofunread) on Twitter and retweet the pinned tweet that links to this post! The giveaway is open from 9.00am on 11 September 2022 and closes at midnight on 18 September 2022. There is one winner. Terms & conditions apply (see below).

TERMS & CONDITIONS: UK only. The winner will be selected at random via Tweetdraw from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days, then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties. The prize is one hardback copy of the UK edition of Ithaca and will be posted by Royal Mail Tracked Delivery 2nd Class. I am not responsible for any delay or damage during postage.

Ithaca by Claire North is published by Orbit (Hachette UK) 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 the opportunity to run a giveaway for the book.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR 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!!! 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!

Reviews

REVIEW!!! Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

The cover of Great Circle features a biplane flying over a snowy mountainous landscape against a purple and pink sky
Image Description: The cover of Great Circle features a biplane flying over a snowy mountainous landscape against a purple and pink sky

I WAS BORN TO BE A WANDERER

From the night she is rescued as a baby out of the flames of a sinking ship; to the day she joins a pair of daredevil pilots looping and diving over the rugged forests of her childhood, to the thrill of flying Spitfires during the war, the life of Marian Graves has always been marked by a lust for freedom and danger.

In 1950, she embarks on the great circle flight, circumnavigating the globe. It is Marian’s life dream and her final journey, before she disappears without a trace.

Half a century later, Hadley Baxter, a scandal-ridden Hollywood actress whose own parents perished in a plane crash is irresistibly drawn to play Marian Graves, a role that will lead her to probe the true mystery behind the vanished pilot.

It’s not often that I’m prepared to identify a novel as being a personal ‘Book of the Year’ contender in July but I think I might make an exception for Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead’s epic novel.

For the last four weeks I have been utterly immersed in the life and times of pioneering aviatrix Marian Graves, following her from the fateful night in which her father – ship’s captain Addison Graves – opts to rescue Marian and her brother Jamie from the chilly waters of the Atlantic (and becomes a pariah in the process) to the equally fateful moment when a ‘sharp gannet plunge’ deep into the sea appears to mark the end of her effort to circumnavigate the globe from pole to pole.

Describing a book as dense and layered as Great Circle – which clocks in at 673 pages in its UK paperback form – is challenging, especially without giving spoilers. On the surface, this is a novel about a woman who wants to circumnavigate the globe and is presumed to have died trying. Marian’s fateful flight, however, doesn’t even begin until page 577. So, if this isn’t actually a novel about a woman flying a ‘great circle’, what is it?

The answer to that question is that Great Circle was, for me at least, many things.

In one sense, it really is a novel about a woman who wants to complete a ‘great circle’ around the globe. Marian’s fateful flight is the link holding the dual timelines of the novel together: the one thing that connects Marian to Hadley Baxter, the scandal-ridden starlet whose path to Hollywood redemption might be through playing Marian in a new biopic. In another sense, however, the novel is about circles more generally: specifically, the interconnecting circles of family, friends, lovers, histories, dreams, and possibilities that make up and intersect with a single life.

In an effort to understand Marian’s ‘great circle’, the reader must first meet her father and mother, and must understand their relationship to her father’s employer. We follow her brother Jamie, her childhood friend Caleb, and her uncle, Wallace. We see how Marian’s involvement with a bootlegger, Barclay Macqueen, has far-reaching consequences and how, like the planes she obsesses over, Marian’s life both soars and dives: into (and out of) marriage, into war, and, finally, into the unknown.

If all of that sounds baggy and voluminous, that’s because it is. But, for all its diversions and digressions, I don’t think one page of Great Circle is wasted. Indeed, as the novel progressed, I became wholly invested in the various layers and strands of the novel, and increasingly in awe of Shipstead’s ability to casually drop minor plot point or character from several hundred pages earlier back into the plot and blithely continue with the novel. By the time I reached the end of the book – and all the various dots had been connected – I felt as if I’d watched a quilt being made, each tiny scrap being gradually joined together until a finished object of immense beauty and togetherness emerged.

I’m aware that I’m gushing but I really did adore this novel. That said, I’m not saying it’s for everyone: some readers probably will find it too baggy or overly melodramatic. Others, I imagine, will find the frequent skipping of time, place, and narrator to be incoherent and disjointed. Still more might wonder what the point of Hadley’s narrative is. Certainly in the hands of a less competent writer, the sheer scope and scale of the novel has the potential to get dangerously out of hand.

For me, however, Shipstead has successfully combined a complex and ambitious narrative with vivid storytelling, memorable characters, and electric prose that leaps off the page. An epic in every sense of the word, I think I can say with confidence that Great Circle will be making an appearance on my Best Books of the Year list at the end of 2022.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead is published by Penguin and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher and NetGalley UK for providing 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!