Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris

One morning in November 1856 George Little, the chief cashier of the Broadstone railway terminus in Dublin, was found dead, lying in a pool of blood beneath his desk. His head had been almost severed; a knife lay nearby, but strangely the office door was locked, apparently from the inside. This was a deed of almost unheard-of brutality for the peaceful Irish capital: while violent crime was commonplace in Victorian London, the courts of Dublin had not convicted a single murderer in more than thirty years.

From the first day of the police investigation it was apparent that this was no ordinary case. Detectives struggled to understand how the killer could have entered and then escaped from a locked room, and why thousands of pounds in gold and silver had been left untouched at the scene of the crime.

Three of Scotland Yard’s most celebrated sleuths were summoned to assist the enquiry, but all returned to London baffled. It was left to Superintendent Augustus Guy, the head of Ireland’s first detective force, to unravel the mystery.

Five suspects were arrested and released, with every step of the salacious case followed by the press, clamouring for answers. Under intense public scrutiny, Superintendent Guy found himself blocked at almost every turn. But then a local woman came forward, claiming to know the murderer….

Writer and historian Thomas Morris’ latest book, The Dublin Railway Murder, takes the reader back to Victorian Dublin, and into the offices of the West Midland Railway Company. The year is 1856 and, on a cold November morning, Chief Cashier George Little has been round brutally murdered within an apparently sealed room at the company’s Broadstone terminus.

The investigation into the mild-mannered and diligent cashier’s death will take several months, involve five arrests, baffle detectives from two police forces, and grip both the city’s populace and its press. When a local woman comes forward with crucial evidence, the case takes a sharp and unexpected turn – but her own relationship to the murderer may prove to be the investigation’s undoing.

The Dublin Railway Murder is a fascinating account of a perplexing police investigation that has been meticulously researched by Thomas Morris. Told in a narrative style that will be familiar to fans of Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher and Kate Colquhoun’s Mr Briggs’ Hat, Morris’ account contains all of the detail one might expect from a history but with the pace and drive of fiction. The extraordinarily detailed archive of governmental documents that Morris has worked from has allowed him to recreate conversations, court appearances, interviews, and witness statements, and to paint a detailed picture of the Broadstone terminus – and of Dublin society – as it appeared in 1856.

Such attention to detail may frustrate some readers – especially as the narrative follows the police investigation down various dead-ends before really gearing up with the discovery of a revelatory witness and the discovery of items taken from the crime scene – but, personally, I loved the way that the small details of the investigation provided a picture of the imperfect art of detection. Various flaws in the investigation combine with legal complications to show the evolution of policing methodology, whilst the relationship between the police, the press, and the public immediately invites comparisons with the modern reportage of crime today; opening up questions about how both victims and suspects are represented, as well as about the role of the press both in garnering information and spreading unsubstantiated yet salacious rumour.

The investigation also touches, albeit quiet briefly, upon the epidemic of corporate fraud and embezzlement that seemed to be taking place in the 1850s – and how new technologies and vast, networked companies such as the railway firms were at particular risk of this. Morris also examines the tensions between the Dublin police force, seen by many Irish people as representatives of – and spies for – a repressive British state, and the working populace of the city, tying the investigation into many of the wider political and social contexts of the period.

In a final twist, the aftermath of the investigation and subsequent trial also sees the involvement of a popular branch of Victorian ‘science’, with the arrival of phrenologist Frederick Bridges – a man who theorised that murderers could be identified by the shape of their skull. This final section, although quite distinct from the relatively procedural narrative of murder/investigation/trial that comes before it, makes for a strange yet fascinating conclusion to an already perplexing narrative – and demonstrates the extent to which new ‘science’ was beginning, for both better and worse, to influence both policing, legal methodology, and political thought during this period.

Meticulously researched whilst remaining eminently readable, The Dublin Railway Murder is a must read for all fans of historical true crime – fans of Summerscale and Colquhoun’s books should definitely get this one on their Christmas lists, whilst fans of fictional police procedurals looking to make the leap into true crime are also sure to find that the detail of this fascinating yet flawed historical investigation makes for a compelling and thrilling read.

The Dublin Railway Murder by Thomas Morris is published by Vintage 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 24 November 2021 so check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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

Reviews

REVIEW!!! The Diabolical Bones (The Brontë Mysteries #2) by Bella Ellis

Image Description: The cover of The Diabolical Bones has the silhouette of a woman in white against an etched drawing of a house. Below her is an open book, the pages swirling around her. The background is deep red. Golden tree branches surround the central image and, above it, there is a small image of a skull.

It’s Christmas 1845 and Haworth is in the grip of a freezing winter.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë are rather losing interest in detecting until they hear of a shocking discovery: the bones of a child have been found interred within the walls of a local house, Top Withens Hall, home to the scandalous and brutish Bradshaw family.

When the sisters set off to find out more, they are confronted with an increasingly complex and sinister case, which leads them into the dark world of orphanages, and onto the trail of other lost, and likely murdered children. After another local boy goes missing, Charlotte, Emily and Anne vow to find him before it’s too late.

But in order to do so, they must face their most despicable and wicked adversary yet – one that would not hesitate to cause them the gravest of harm..

Set a few months after the events of The Vanished Bride, this second novel in the Brontë Mysteries series finds Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell embroiled in a Christmas mystery the offers plenty of literary inspiration – but that, if not solved swiftly, could spell tragedy and danger for their community.

When the bones of a young boy are discovered hidden within a chimney at isolated Top Withens Hall, the Brontë siblings are soon drawn into complex tale of child labour, occultism, and missing children. Brutish Clifton Bradshaw, the master of Top Withens, is their most likely suspect – but rough as his manners might be, he swears he has no knowledge of how the bones came to lie within his house. As the sisters investigate, an old evil appears to be stirring around Haworth: one that puts the whole community – and the Brontë family – in danger.

Anyone familiar with the Brontë’s literary works will immediately recognise Top Withens Hall – supposedly the inspiration for Emily’s masterpiece, Wuthering Heights – and will delight in spotting the abundant references to other Brontë works woven throughout The Diabolical Bones. Indeed, the whole novel is infused with much of the wild, Gothic energy of Emily’s work – although, as with its predecessor, each of the Brontë sisters gets equal billing within the narrative.

Alternating between the perspectives of Anne, Emily, and Charlotte, one of the most wonderful – and poignant – aspects of this novel is the sense of character that Bella Ellis has been able to convey. Reading these novels, you get a real sense of the strength of each sister’s personality, and of their determination to succeed despite the limitations placed on them by their circumstances and by societal expectation. Anne, in particular, really lives on the page; her courage and kindness both coming across in equal measure. Reading these novels feels like being part of their circle – a true delight for anyone who has ever wanted to be friends with these extraordinary women – but also comes with a sense of poignancy when you remember that all that spark and brilliance was contained within such tragically short lives.

As for the mystery itself, The Diabolical Bones has a similarly taut and well woven narrative to its predecessor, often laying bare the grim realities of life behind the façade of respectable existence. The Gothic sensibilities infuse this second novel with a hint of the supernatural – and with a chilled and dark atmosphere that flits around the edge of the narrative and provides an ever-present sense of danger. This contrasts delightfully with moments of humour and warmth, such as Emily’s resignation when forced to cross the border into Lancashire, or the small yet meaningful interactions between Charlotte and her father’s curate, Arthur Nicholls.

There is also a wonderful sense of place within the book. Reading it transported me to the snowy moors – striding across them with Emily and Keeper, or brushing the snow off my hem and fussing over my hair alongside Charlotte. Having immersed myself once again in the world of the Brontë’s, I very much want to make visiting the landscape that so inspired them – and the parsonage that was their home – a reality in the not-too-distant future.

Fans of the Brontë’s work will, undoubtedly, love The Diabolical Bones – and should definitely seek out The Vanished Bride if they have not already done so – whilst fans of historical mysteries will find a darkly brooding yet rewarding tale that’s perfect for the Christmas season. That Bella Ellis (the Brontë-inspired pen name for bestselling author Rowan Coleman) adores their work is clear from the depth of research she has clearly conducted – and from the spirit and energy she has captured on the page. Novels featuring famous novelists of yesteryear can be a daunting read for fans – having a beloved author misrepresented on the page is a frustrating experience – but reading The Diabolical Bones bought me closer to the Brontë siblings – and made me return, yet again, to their marvellous works.

The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis is published by Hodder & Stoughton 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 REVIEW!!! A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 22 October 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

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 REVIEW!!! A Statue for Jacob by Peter Murphy

“This debt was not contracted as the price of bread or wine or arms. It was the price of liberty.” -Alexander Hamilton

Kiah Harmon, a young Virginia lawyer, is just emerging from the most traumatic time of her life when actress Samantha (“Sam”) van Eyck walks into her office, unannounced, with the case of a lifetime. She asks Kiah to recover a 200-year-old debt from the U.S. Government – a debt that Alexander Hamilton may have acknowledged.

The selfless generosity of Sam’s ancestor, Jacob Van Eyck, in making a massive loan of gold and supplies at Valley Forge, during the freezing winter of 1777-1778, may well have saved George Washington’s army, and the War of Independence, from disaster. But it reduced Jacob to ruin. Despite the government’s promises, the debt was never repaid, and this hero of the American Revolution died in poverty, unknown and unrecognized.

Two hundred years later, Sam and Kiah embark on a quest to change that. But first, they will have to find the evidence, and overcome a stubborn Government determined to frustrate their every move. Will there ever be a statue for Jacob?

Peter Murphy’s latest novel, A Statue for Jacob, is an intelligent and compelling blend of contemporary legal thriller and historical mystery that sees young lawyer Kiah Harmon face off against the US government in pursuit of a centuries old debt.

When Samantha van Eyck walks into Kiah’s office to ask if she does debt collection work, the last thing Kiah expects is to be pursuing a loan that dates back to the War of Independence. But, according to Sam, Eyck family legend has it that their ancestor Jacob van Eyck loaned substantial sums of gold and supplies to Washington’s army during the freezing winter of 1777-1778, bankrupting himself in the process. Jacob made the loans in good faith – and in pursuit of liberty – but according to his descendants, the US government never repaid his patriotism and Jacob died in penuary. Now Sam wants justice for Jacob – and official recognition of his contribution towards the nation’s founding.

So begins Kiah and Sam’s investigation into the van Eyck family archives – and a court case that soon sees US government lawyers Dave and Ellen working alongside Kiah to outwit a sinister and shadowy foe that doesn’t want the truth about Jacob’s loans to come to light.

In addition to a suspenseful legal thriller, Peter Murphy has created a twisty historical mystery in A Statue for Jacob. I was fascinated to learn that the book is based on the true story of Jacob de Haven, with which the author – a former judge and lawyer himself – was involved. This lends the courtroom proceedings an authentic air, although Murphy has done an excellent job of explaining the sometimes complex procedures of the US claims court and wider justice system in an easily digestable and understandable way.

Indeed, A Statue for Jacob is a very easily digestable book overall. The story rattles along from the very first page, and the characters are wonderfully relatable. Kiah makes for an extremely likeable central protagonist – a young lawyer just emerging from some traumatic personal events and trying to rebuild her practice from the ground up. Her courtroom opponent Dave Petrosian is similarly pleasant – dedicated, hard-working, and genuinely interested in discovering the truth, even if that isn’t wouldn’t be the best outcome for the government. And some of the supporting cast are brilliant, with Kiah’s outspoken but dedicated secretary Arlene raising a laugh more than once!

As a Brit whose knowledge of the American War of Independance is primarily based on having seen the musical Hamilton, I also found the insights into American history – and the winter spent by Washington at Valley Forge – to be fascinating, and the legal argument around the US Constitution a fascinating and compelling one.

As I mentioned above, I rattled through A Statue for Jacob in a matter of days. With a compulsive mix of courtroom drama and archival discoveries, it has the page-turning quality found in the novels of Blake Crouch, Dan Brown, and John Grisham. I’d love to read more about Kiah and Dave in the future so fingers crossed that Peter Murphy considers starting a new series featuring his latest legal protagonists – because on the basis of A Statue for Jacob, I’d be eager to read about what comes next!

A Statue for Jacob by Peter Murphy is published by Oldcastle Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 16 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

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Lost Girls by Heather Young

In the summer of 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys her mother, who spends the rest of her life at the lake house, hoping in vain that her favourite daughter will walk out of the woods. Emily’s two older sisters stay, too, each keeping her own private, decades-long vigil for the lost child.

Sixty years later Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before she dies, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person to whom it might matter: her grandniece, Justine.

For Justine, the lake house offers a chance to escape her manipulative boyfriend and give her daughters the stable home she never had. But it’s not the sanctuary she hoped for. The long Minnesota winter has begun. The house is cold and dilapidated, the frozen lake is silent and forbidding, and her only neighbour is a strange old man who seems to know more than he’s telling about the summer of 1935.

Soon Justine’s troubled oldest daughter becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance, her mother arrives with designs on her inheritance, and the man she left behind launches a dangerous plan to get her back. In a house steeped in the sorrows of the women who came before her, Justine must overcome their tragic legacy if she hopes to save herself and her children.

As soon as I heard about The Lost Girls, I jumped at the chance to request it from NetGalley. Dual timeline? Historical mystery? Woman discovering herself whilst finding out long-buried family secrets? It all sounded like Unread Books catnip!

In the summer of 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s remote lake house. Her distraught mother refuses to leave, staying at the family’s summer home in the hope that, one day, her lost daughter will return. Emily’s two older sisters, eleven-year-old Lucy and thirteen-year-old Lilith, also stay behind. Years later, Lilith’s granddaughter Justine receives word that her great-aunt Lucy has died – and left her the Lake House and all of its contents.

Stuck in a stifling relationship and with two small daughters to provide for, Justine jumps at the chance for a fresh start. But the Lake House is far from welcoming. The long Minnesota winter is just beginning and the house is more dilapidated than Justine remembers. Her only neighbours – a pair of quiet and reclusive elderly men – are cautiously friendly, but seem to know more about Justine’s family than they are letting on. With the arrival of her erratic and unreliable mother and controlling ex-boyfriend, Justine’s new start is soon in danger of repeating old history. And then her troubled eldest daughter starts asking questions about a long ago summer in 1935…

As you can hopefully tell from that brief synopsis, The Lost Girls is a page-turning and compelling mystery set over dual timelines. Alternating between Justine herself in the present day, an elderly Lucy writing down her recollections of that long ago summer, the mystery of what happened to Emily gradually unravels alongside Justine’s present day woes and conflicts to create a complete picture of a family haunted by long-buried secrets and betrayals.

Although compelling, the plot is relatively sedate for the first half of the book. There’s quite a lot of setup to establish the characters and the setting, which really helps to build the tension for what ended up being a pacy and explosive second act! I really loved the sense of place that Heather Young manages to convey. She captures both the nostalgia of Lucy’s childhood summers by the lake – all sunlit evenings and rising emotions stifled by the heat – and the cold isolation of the modern day Lake House, frozen in time just as much as it is frozen within the wintery Minnesota landscape.

The characters were, for me, a little harder to like. Although I could sympathise with Justine, I sometimes struggled to empathise with her inability to cut her ties and make a new life for herself and her girls. Although I don’t want to give any spoilers, there are a couple of characters in her life that I would have given the heave-ho much sooner – and before events turned dramatic!

Lucy was, for me, the more compelling voice in the narrative. Although often irrational and petulant, she comes across as a typical eleven-year-old girl, caught somewhere between childhood and her teenage years – and aware that her older sister Lilith is growing up and leaving her behind. The revelations about Lucy’s life and family are also utterly devastating – and really put into perspective some of the events that have come beforehand in the book, as well as some of the ripples that feed through to the present day narrative.

Although primarily a mystery, The Lost Girls does also deal with family dynamics and family secrets. Although it tackles the subjects with sensitivity, trigger warnings should be noted for sexual abuse, child abuse, gaslighting, and coercive control.

Overall, The Lost Girls is a captivating story of loss, guilt, hope, redemption, and escape. Its dual narratives are handled with great skill to make for an enthralling mystery of one family’s secrets and lies over the space of 64 years. Haunting and intriguing, The Lost Girls is sure to appeal to fans of Rachel Hore and Kate Morton, as well as to anyone seeking a compulsive and compelling read.

The Lost Girls by Heather Young is published by Verve Books and is available now as an ebook and to pre-order in paperback from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

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

My thanks go to the publisher and NetGalley UK 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 09 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!

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!