Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Deity (Six Stories #5) by Matt Wesolowski

Online investigative journalist Scott King investigates the death of a pop megastar, the subject of multiple accusations of sexual abuse and murder before his untimely demise in a fire … another episode of the startlingly original, award-winning Six Stories series.

When pop megastar Zach Crystal dies in a fire at his remote mansion, his mysterious demise rips open the bitter divide between those who adored his music and his endless charity work, and those who viewed him as a despicable predator, who manipulated and abused young and vulnerable girls.

Online journalist Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the accusations of sexual abuse and murder that were levelled at Crystal before he died.

But as Scott begins to ask questions and rakes over old graves, some startling inconsistencies emerge: Was the fire at Crystal’s remote home really an accident? Whose remains – still unidentified – were found in the ashes? Why was he never officially charged?

Anyone who has followed The Shelf for a while will know that I am a HUGE fan of Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series. The previous novels – Six Stories, Hydra, Changeling and Beast – have all been five-star reads for me and have consistently appeared on my Best Books of the Year lists. I love the podcast format in which the books are written as well as Matt’s subtle inclusion of supernatural and horror elements into the central mystery – so of course I jumped at the opportunity to be part of the tour for Matt’s latest in the series, Deity.

As with previous titles in the series, Deity sees online journalist Scott King investigating a specific case over the course of six episodes, speaking with six different people to gain six alternative perspectives on a series of events. In this instance, Scott is looking into the life of recently deceased pop megastar Zach Crystal. Wildly popular and with a devoted, almost cult-like fandom around him, Zach Crystal seemed untouchable. But dark rumours about Zach’s private life – and about the visits he hosted for teenage fans at his remote mansion in the Cairngorms – have begun to swirl around his legacy. As Scott delves into Zach Crystal’s life – and his death – questions arise about the nature of fame, the cult of celebrity, and the dark blurring between fantasy and reality.

Like all of Matt’s previous Six Stories novels, Deity combines the page-turning pace of a thriller with though-provoking and topical content. The series has never shied away from covering controversial or topical subjects but Deity is probably the darkest yet. Even a passing knowledge of recent pop culture will suffice to see that there are some chilling similarities between the behaviour of the fictional Zach Crystal and some of the events that have been bought to life in the wake of the #MeToo movement, as well as following the deaths of some of pop and rock’s biggest stars. As such, the novel provides thought provoking content on the nature of hero worship and celebrity culture, examining the extent to which the pedestals we place people on protect their behaviour from prying eyes.

Each ‘episode’ of Deity provides another perspective on the life of Zach Crystal, slowly peeling back the layers to reveal the truth of the man that lies behind the manufactured pop star myth. Complicating this are rumours of a supernatural entity that lurks in the forest surrounding Zach’s Scottish mansion. Could it be that this dark creature is responsible for the tragic deaths of two young fans? Or even for the death of Zach Crystal himself, killed at his home in a devastating fire? And what exactly has happened to Zach’s sister and niece, fellow residents of Crystal Forest and apparently his closest allies? Finding the truth will take Scott King on one of his darkest journeys yet.

Matt Wesolowski has done another fantastic job of really ramping up the atmosphere in this novel. There’s some fantastically oppressive and brooding passages and you get a real sense of the fear and uncertainty that some of the characters face, as well as the resignation, anger and frustration felt by others. The use of multiple perspectives means that long shadows – some supernatural and some all too real – are cast over other narratives and there are several moments when you think you might have arrived at the truth before being whisked down an alternative path or made to see testimony in a new light. It makes for a spectacularly wild ride and a page turning read – I devoured the book in the course of a weekend before turning right back to the start for a more measured re-read to take it all in.

Another fantastic addition to the Six Stories series, Deity is a fantastically dark and atmospheric novel that will chill and delight in equal measure. For those new to the series, it makes a brilliant jumping off point (although I’d urge you to go back and start from the beginning – all the books are fantastic) whilst fans will be delighted to have another story from this master storyteller.

Deity by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books and is available now in ebook and will be published in paperback on 18 February 2021 with pre-orders available from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 28 February 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!

Books of the Year · Reviews

My Books of the Year 2020

Yes, it is that time of year again. As I prepare to kick 2020 firmly out of the door (and good riddance to it indeed), the time has come to look back on my reading year and think about the books that really stood out as highlights for me.

And, on the reading front at least, 2020 really has been an excellent year! Being stuck at home has at least given me more time to read. And, for me anyway, books have provided a solace and support in this otherwise trying and difficult year – you are, after all, never alone with a good book. In a year that has required staying local (and often staying indoors), books have also allowed me to travel vicariously through their pages.

As a result, I’ve had my best reading year for a while – a total of 104 books read! I’ve also found myself much less slumpy this year – possibly as a result of giving myself more freedom to read by whim and allowing more time to savour and enjoy my reading, and almost certainly because of all the lovely book chats that I’ve got involved with on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook! Lockdown might be rubbish but it’s been so nice to be part of the book community during it and to get involved in online book clubs and reading challenges with fellow book lovers.

Continuing in this spirit of freedom – and in an effort to continue spreading the book love far and wide – I’ve therefore decided not to limit my Books of the Year to an arbitrary number. So instead of my usual ’round up’ post of my top 5/6 books, I wanted to share with you ALL of my favourite and recommended reads of 2020, along with a few words about why they’re brilliant and a link to my full review.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, let’s go!!

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

A magical historical romp featuring a child returned from the dead, a photographer, a pub, and – of course – a river. With the story beginning at New Year, this was one of my first books of 2020 – and definitely one of the highlights of the year for me! Full review available here.

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle by Neil Blackmore

A devastating novel of forbidden love and social hierarchy, the world of the eighteenth-century is bought vividly to life in this sexy, dangerous romp of a novel. With one of the most memorable ending paragraphs I think I’ve ever read, there was no way that Mr Lavelle wasn’t making it onto this list! Full review available here.

Dead Famous by Greg Jenner

A book that combines fascinating figures and scholarly rigour with Greg Jenner’s trademark humour, this is the perfect read for anyone interested in celebrity, fandom, and the eighteenth-century. Shelf of Unread catnip essentially! Full review available here.

A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister

Another fascinating non-fiction read, this time looking at the history of sex and sexuality. Kate Lister brings scholarly rigour and deft social commentary to bear on her topic, whilst retaining the wry humour that has made her @WhoresOfYore Twitter account such a joy.

The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward

Crime writer Sarah Ward’s first foray into historical fiction provided a page-tuning country house mystery with a pinch of the gothic and supernatural. More Shelf of Unread catnip and a joy to read from first page to last. Full review available here.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

A historical detective novel with a difference, Things in Jars features a mysterious – and possibly magical – child, a pipe-smoking female detective, and the ghost of a dead boxer. Defying genre expectations and revelling in the playfulness of its prose, this was an absolute treat of a novel and perfect for devouring over a long weekend. Full review available here.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

A powerfully imagined exploration of family, love, motherhood and grief, Hamnet is one of the few novels to have made me both laugh and cry in 2020. Just as magnificent as everyone says it is. Full review available here.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Honestly the only reason I haven’t reviewed this yet is because I am still trying to find the words for it. A magnificent intergenerational story told from twelve perspectives. Fully deserving of every one of the accolades given to it.

A Tomb with a View by Peter Ross

A surprise hit on audio, this book about graves and graveyards manages to talk about very sad things without ever feeling sad. Instead the book is poignant, touching, and deeply hopeful. Perfect 2020 reading.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

A slice of everyday life encapsulated within pitch-perfect and elegant prose, Sarah Moss’s masterful novella – set in a series of isolated cabins on the edge of a Scottish loch – provided the perfect allegory for lockdown life whilst exploring the tensions and fractures that lie underneath society’s surface. Full review available here.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Smart, witty, and immensely pleasurable, Richard Osman’s first foray into fiction provided the perfect mix of mystery, comedy, poignancy, and compassion. Full review available here.

The Booksellers Tale by Martin Latham

Written by a bookseller, Martin Latham’s exploration of our love affair with books covers an eclectic list of topics. From marginalia to comfort reading, street bookstalls to fantastical collectors, if you love books and bookshops then you’re sure to find this a fascinating and comforting read.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Another genre-bending romp from the author of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Mixing history, mystery, supernatural horror, and suspense, Stuart Turton once again keeps the pages turning as a mysterious voyage goes badly wrong. Full review appearing on The Shelf shortly!

Deity by Matt Wesolowski

The latest in Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series isn’t out in paperback until 2021 (although it’s out now as an ebook) but I managed to get hold of a copy in preparation for the blog tour and let me tell you that it does not disappoint! I devoured this one in about 24 hours – a page-turning mixture of top-notch plotting, compelling mystery, and chilling events. Full review appearing on The Shelf soon!

Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink

By turns poignant and passionate, joyful and comforting, Dear Reader is an ode to books and book lovers. Combining memoir with reading recommendations, this was the perfect book about books for 2020. Full review available here.

Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

A pair of riveting mysteries with twists to rival Agatha Christie and a unique ‘novel in a novel’ structure, both of these were diverting and engaging reads. Full reviews available here and here.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The book that got me back into YA! With a gripping plot, a clever mystery, a little light romance, and some fabulous characters, this was a page-turning and entertaining read. I can’t wait for the sequel in 2021! Full review available here.

The Cousins by Karen M McManus

More YA, this time involving a hideously wealthy family, a small airport’s worth of emotional baggage, and an exclusive island home hiding a multitude of dark secrets. Fun, entertaining, and suspenseful, this has made me want to read more of McManus’ work. Full review available here.

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

There’s nothing like a good sensation novel to curl up with as the nights draw in and Lady Audley’s Secret has it all – secrets, danger, illicit romance, possible murder, madness, arson! An absolute romp of a book, this classic is perfect for fans of Wilkie Collins.

On The Red Hill by Mike Parker

A beautiful combination of social history and personal memoir, Mike Parker’s On The Red Hill tells the tale of Rhiw Goch (‘the Red Hill’) and its inhabitants: Mike and his partner Preds and, before them, George and Reg. It’s also the tale of a remarkable rural community, and the lush prose and vivid descriptions took me straight back to the Welsh mountains and reminded me of the importance of home.

And we’re done!! Do let me know if you’ve read any of these – or if you have them on your TBR! Here’s to having another excellent reading year in 2021 – and to leaving some of the less pleasant aspects of 2020 far behind us. Thank you for sticking with me and with The Shelf through 2020. Wishing all of you a safe, peaceful and happy new year – see you on the other side!

If you’re tempted to treat yourself after reading this post, please consider supporting a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!! Beast by Matt Wesolowski

BeastElusive online journalist Scott King examines the chilling case of a young vlogger found frozen to death in the legendary local ‘vampire tower’, in another explosive episode of Six Stories…

In the wake of the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap that ravaged the UK in 2018, a grisly discovery was made in a ruin on the Northumbrian coast. Twenty-four-year-old Vlogger, Elizabeth Barton, had been barricaded inside what locals refer to as ‘The Vampire Tower’, where she was later found frozen to death.

Three young men, part of an alleged ‘cult’, were convicted of this terrible crime, which they described as a ‘prank gone wrong.’ However, in the small town of Ergarth, questions have been raised about the nature of Elizabeth Barton’s death and whether the three convicted youths were even responsible.

Elusive online journalist Scott King speaks to six witnesses people who knew both the victim and the three killers to peer beneath the surface of the case. He uncovers whispers of a shocking online craze that held the young of Ergarth in its thrall and drove them to escalate a series of pranks in the name of internet fame. He hears of an abattoir on the edge of town, which held more than simple slaughter behind its walls, the tragic and chilling legend of the ‘Ergarth Vampire’…

SIX STORIES IS BACK!!!! Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while or follows me over in Twitter-land will know that I LOVE Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series. His previous novels Six Stories, Hydra, and Changeling were all must-reads for me and, as my Best Books of 2019 list makes clear, Matt’s latest installment of the Six Stories series, Beast, is another absolute corker!

Combining the compulsiveness of the podcast-style format that makes the Six Stories series unique (think Serial but in book form) with a dash of the supernatural and a long, unsettling look at the modern phenomena of YouTube stardom and ‘Like’ culture, Beast has all the elements that made previous installments in the series such page-turning and suspenseful reads.

The plot this time centres on the brutal murder of young vlogger Elizabeth Barton. A bright light amidst the post-industrial poverty that blights the town of Ergarth, Elizabeth’s killing, seemingly at the hands of three local young men, appears to be the result of simple jealousy combined with madness and obsession. But, as always in Six Stories, once investigative journalist Scott King begins to dig a little deeper there is more to Elizabeth’s death than first meets the eye.

Why did someone cut off Elizabeth’s head post-mortem? Why does her death have shades of the legend of the Ergarth Vampire? What connection is there between this and Lizzie’s own ‘Dead in Six Days’ challenge? Who really locked Lizzie in the Tower?

So many questions but, as always, it will take six interviews and six different perspectives on events for the truth to become clear.

I am IN AWE of the way in which Matt Wesolowski controls the pace and tension in these books. Beast is so carefully plotted, with each strand of the mystery being gradually teased apart and placed into the light as the ‘episodes’ of the story progress. My theories about what really happened to Elizabeth Barton emerged, crystallised and were then shattered apart as new information came to light – a real edge-of-your-seat reading experience that had me racing through the book in less than 24 hours!

I am also consistently blown away by how Matt manages to make each of the voices in his Six Stories sound unique. From Elizabeth’s vapid babble on her vlog to the more sober voice of an elderly villager, the grief of Elizabeth’s parents, and the nervous chatter of one of her old school friends, each character really lives and breathes on the page. It was like I could hear them talking in my head!

I’m also a big fan of the way that Matt infuses each of his stories with just a dash of the supernatural. This is present in Beast through the story of the Ergarth Vampire, a seemingly impossible tale that has unexpected resonances in the present day. Without providing any spoilers, I really enjoyed the way in which vampire mythology was bought up to date and the way it causes the reader to reflect on the modern-day implications of ‘vampires’ walking amongst us.

The novel also tackles the contemporary issues of online friendships and influence head-on, examining the role of ‘influencers’ in a society increasingly dominated by online communication. What is uncovered is unsettling to say the least and may make you just a tad more aware of how the online personas we present to the world can be vastly different from the lives we actually live.

As you can probably tell, I LOVED Beast – this really is a series that just goes from strength to strength with each installment and fans of Matt’s work are sure to be delighted with this addition to the Six Stories series.

For anyone picking up the series for the first time, there’s definitely no reason not to start with Beast – there are a couple of minor nods (and slight spoilers) to the events of Changeling but the book works perfectly well as a standalone and is an absolutely cracking read. But why deprive yourself of the joy of the previous installments? Start with Six Stories and work your way forwards and you will not be disappointed!!

Pacy, suspenseful and with just enough menace to put shivers up your spine, Beast is a fantastic addition to an already exemplary series. So stop reading this review and go on out and read it!!

Beast by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers including the Orenda website, Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.

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

final-beast-bt-poster-

 

 

 

 

Books of the Year

Best Books of 2019

Wow. 2019, huh? Certainly quite the year – and definitely one that I would rather celebrate through books.

Because, despite everything, 2019 has been a pretty good year for me reading-wise. Overall, I read 79 books in 2019 – beating my Goodreads Challenge goal of 52 by some way, although not quite making last year’s total of 84 books read.

There were definitely slumpy moments – I hit my traditional summer reading slump right on cue and the commencement of my PhD has definitely impacted on the amount of personal reading time I get to enjoy but, as I prepare to ring in 2020 and look back over my year in books, I got to read some fantastic titles this year.

As always, this round-up is of the books I read in 2019 – so there will be a mix of older and new titles in there. There’s no doubt 2019 has seen some fabulous new books released but you gotta give that backlist some love too, you know?

So, without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you my Best Books of 2019!

The FiveThe Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Strangely I never got around to writing a full review of this one. This is probably because Hallie Rubenhold’s exceptionally researched and devastatingly heart-breaking biography of Mary Anne Nichols, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, Annie Chapman, Mary Jane Kelly punched me in the gut when I read it back in April.

Hallie keeps her focus entirely on these women, moving the spotlight away from the violence that marked their ends and shining it instead on the tragedy, loss, perseverance, and determination that marked their lives. She gives these five women back their stories and, in doing so, presents a raw and insightful glimpse into the inequality and prejudice at the heart of the traditional Ripper narrative.

A masterful book, powerfully told, this one made me feel sorrow and anger in equal measure – and stayed with me long after I turned the final page.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John CarreyrouBad Blood

Another non-fiction read (or rather listen, as I read this one on audio) that I didn’t get around to writing up a full review for! Which is somewhat unbelievable as this is definitely a contender for most gripping book of the year!

Carryrou’s investigation of Theranos, the multbillion-dollar Silicon Valley biotech startup founded by brilliant young entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes is a compelling and comprehensive account of corporate fraud and accountability.

Combining the thorough research of investigative journalism with the twists of a crime thriller – and with shades of a dystopian novel thrown in at times – this one had me hooked from the moment I began listening. A re-read of the paperback is on my ‘To Do’ list for 2020.

The Lost Man CoverThe Lost Man by Jane Harper

I’ve enjoyed all of Jane Harper’s crime novels to date but, in my humble opinion, The Lost Man is her best yet.

A standalone story that centres of the secrets and lies within a family of remote outback ranchers, The Lost Man is a powerful tale of brotherhood, revenge, recrimination and redemption.

You can read my full review here but, needless to say, this is one crime novel that you should definitely make it a mission to pick up in 2020 if you haven’t already done so!

The Library Book by Susan Orlean43217645

I read a fair bit of non-fiction at the start of the year and The Library Book, Susan Orlean’s account of the 1985 fire that all but destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library, was definitely one of the highlights.

Ranging between providing an account of the fire and its aftermath, complete with some devastating interviews with library workers who were present on the day, Orlean also recounts the history of the library service in Los Angeles in a meditative and powerful reflection upon the power of literature.

In a time when library services continue to be under threat both here in the UK and elsewhere in the world, The Library Book is a reminder of the importance of these well-loved but underappreciated public spaces.

You can read my full review here.

Way of All Flesh CoverThe Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

Anyone who has followed the blog for a while will probably know that I love both historical fiction and crime fiction. Combining the two together, therefore, is a surefire way to get my interest.

Ambrose Parry (the pen name for writer Christopher Brookmyre and his wife Marisa Haetzman) hasn’t necessarily done anything new in The Way of All Flesh, the first in a potential series set in Victorian Edinburgh and centring on medical student Will Raven, housemaid Sarah Fisher, and their employer, the brilliant and pioneering Dr Simpson. But everything that is done is done exceptionally well. The plot is intriguing and well-crafted, the historical setting lives and breathes, and the characters come complete with both flaws and foibles. It all makes for an incredibly deep and satisfying read, which has more than earned its place on this list.

You can read my full review here.

The Red Word by Sarah HenstraThe Red Word Cover

I had never heard of this book until I agreed to take part in the blog tour for it but my gosh was it a revelation when I read it!

An intelligent, open-eyed and disturbing look at rape culture and the extremes of ideology, The Red Word is a campus novel that takes no prisoners in its depiction of sorority and fraternity life, radical feminism, and the terrible price that comes from being made to choose between two competing ideologies.

This is definitely no a novel for the faint-hearted but, in the wake of the Me Too movement, it’s a timely and powerful reminder of the ongoing debates that surround consent in modern-day culture.

You can read my full review here.

TamburlaineTamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh

A masterful historical novella that recounts the fictional last days of the life of Elizabethan playwright and all-round bad boy Christopher Marlowe.

It’s the voice that really got me in this one. Louise Welsh brings Marlowe and his world vividly to life on the page, capturing the sights, sounds, and smells of Elizabethan London with brilliant precision. And, at the heart of it all, is Marlowe. Angry, dissolute, cunning, and brilliant, Marlowe lives within these pages.

You can read my full review here.

Fuck Yeah, Video Games: The Life and Extra Lives of a Professional Nerd by Daniel Fuck Yeah CoverHardcastle

So, this one is pretty niche. I freely admit that if you’re not a fan of video games, you’re unlikely to see the appeal of Daniel Hardman’s love letter to the medium.

But if, like me, you love to curl up and travel through Skyrim’s frozen wastes, relished the day you could beat your cousin’s Pokemon into dust, or spent hours attempting that bloody Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, then let me assure you that you’ll love this book.

Dan speaks the language of nerd with ease and his account of his favourite games and the way in which they have shaped his life are both hilariously funny and extremely relatable. Plus the book contains some brilliant illustrations by Rebecca Maughan – the one for the Animal Crossing entry has me chuckling just thinking about it.

You can read my full review here.

ErebusErebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin

I must be really bad at reviewing non-fiction because this is yet another one that I read, loved, and failed to write up.

Michael Palin has that brilliant way of making anything seem interesting. So the fact that I already find historic polar exploration fascinating made this one an easy sell for me.

Erebus tells the story of the ship Erebus, from its construction to its fatal final voyage as part of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition. Along the way, Palin writes about the men and women whose lives were marked in some way by the ship, telling the tale of great voyages of discovery, scientific innovations, and crushed dreams. It’s a fascinating tale, engagingly told.

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective: Secrets and Lies in the Golden Age of Maud West CoverCrime by Susannah Stapleton

If you want non-fiction that reads like a novel then look no further than Susannah Stapleton’s The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective.

Maud West, a real-life Lady Detective, ran her agency in London for more than thirty years, have begun her sleuthing in 1905. But the real mystery soon becomes Maud’s own life. Because who really was Maud West? And were any of the tall tales she told about her exploits even remotely true?

As always, the truth turns out to be stranger than fiction in this compelling account of a unique life.

You can read my full review here.

BeastBeast by Matt Wesolowski

This one is a late entry as I finished it yesterday – but its no less brilliant for being a recent read!

I’ve read and adored every single one of Matt’s Six Stories novels and the latest, Beast, is no exception. Combining a compulsive podcast-style narrative with a tale of poverty, social media, desperation and modern-day vampires, Beast has the page-turning, edge-of-your-seat quality that made the previous Six Stories books so gripping.

I’ll be writing up a full review of this one shortly but, in the meantime, if you’ve not read any of Matt’s other Six Stories books, you can find me raving about them here, here and here!

Looking back, I have definitely read some fabulous books in 2019. Reviewing the year to write this post, it’s actually been a better one that I remembered. Getting this list down to a reasonable length was really difficult and I definitely want to leave a bit of room for the following honourable mentions (with links to full reviews/features where available):

A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman (author), Rafael Albuquerque (author, illustrator), Rafael Scavone, and Dave Stewart (illustrator)

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Unlawful Things by Anna Sayburn Lane

Many thanks to everyone who has read, liked, shared and supported the blog this year – every single retweet, share, like and comment has been much appreciated and I do love interacting with fellow bookish types on Twitter and here on WordPress.

Thanks also to all of the publicists and tour organisers who have invited me to take part in some fantastic blog tours this year – I really wouldn’t have discovered some of these reads if it weren’t for you.

And finally to the authors, thank you for writing such brilliant books. The pleasure of a good book never grows old but I’m sure that easy reading makes for hard writing. So thank you for your efforts.

Wishing you all a very happy and bookish New Year. I shall leave you with a toast from one of my favourite writers, Neil Gaiman:

OldGods

See you in 2020 and, until the next time, happy reading! x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews · Upcoming Books

REVIEW!! Changeling by Matt Wesolowski

ChangelingOn Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.

Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…

If you’ve followed The Shelf for a while or seen my ravings on Twitter (@shelfofunread) you’ll know I’m a big fan of Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series featuring online investigative journalist Scott King. Matt’s debut, Six Stories, was a deliciously dark thriller that justly deserved its place on my Best Books of 2017 list. It’s sequel, Hydra, built on those foundations with a sinister story for the internet age. And, with his latest book Changeling, Weslowski is, if possible, moving it up another notch with an unsettling tale about a missing boy, a grieving father, and long-buried secrets kept within the depths of an ancient forest.

As with Hydra, Changeling is a completely standalone ‘series’ of Six Stories, Scott King’s online podcast. So whilst I would highly recommend both Six Stories and Hydra to first-time readers (I mentioned they’re both utterly brilliant, right?), there’s no need to have read either book in order to enjoy the story on offer here. Once again we have a complete podcast series comprising of six episodes, each featuring the point of view of someone connected to the disappearance of little Alfie Marsden back in 1988. This time the episodes are interspersed with Scott King’s own narrative, one that often raises more questions than it answers. Who is the mysterious Anne who claims she knows more about the case than she is telling? Why is she speaking out after all this time? And why is Scott trying to solve the disappearance of Alfie Marsden instead of just reporting it? Getting answers is a rollercoaster of a ride and Weslowski keeps the reader guessing right up until the very last page!

As with the previous Six Stories books, Changeling absolutely oozes atmosphere. The eerie silence of Wentshire Forest, with its dark, foreboding paths and sinister, oppressive glades is brilliantly portrayed on the page. Woven into this creepy setting are tales of the supernatural and uncanny, from disembodied knocking to vengeful witches and mischievous fairy folk. There’s a palpable sense of tension, inching up slowly as Scott uncovers each narrative and adds each new perspective to Alfie’s story.

And those narratives are brilliantly conceived, transporting you straight into Scott’s investigation as you learn about Alfie, his family, and his disappearance. What would cause an ordinary little boy to become a difficult, angry child? Why has his mother never involved herself with the search to find him? What caused all of the electrics to fail during the search? As a reader, you find yourself probing, questioning, guessing, and reading between the lines and into the answers of every person involved in the search for the truth. The sense of disquiet ramps up with each turn of the page, taking the reader along on Scott’s journey, investigating alongside him every step of the way.

But what really knocked me for six was the way in which Wesolowski shows how, for all our tales of the sinister and the supernatural, the true monsters in life are much more mundane but equally terrifying. Changeling has a powerful ending, one that I won’t spoil here by saying anything other than it’s definitely one of the best twists I’ve read and that it packs an emotional punch that stays with you long after you’ve turned the final page.

As a fan of the Six Stories series, I knew I was going to enjoy Changeling. What I hadn’t anticipated was how much I would enjoy it. Changeling has jumped straight into my Best Books of 2018 with its brilliant pacing, creeping sense of unease and powerful, chilling story. Matt Wesolowski is a name that deserves to be better known amongst readers so I’d urge any mystery, crime and thriller fans – as well as anyone who loves a great read with a side order of sinister – to check out the Six Stories series and Changeling in particular – this is definitely Matt’s best book yet.

Changeling by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books and is available now as an ebook. The paperback and audiobook will be released on 15 January 2019, available from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR! Hydra by Matt Wesolowski

Hydra final jacket imageI am so excited to be part of today’s blog tour! If you’ve read my Best Books of 2017 post you’ll know that I was a big fan of Matt Wesolowski’s debut thriller, Six Stories. So when I was asked to be part of the blog tour for Matt’s second Six Stories novel, Hydra, my reaction was very much ‘where do I sign?!’

Told using the same podcast/interview format as Six Stories, Hydra is actually a prequel of sorts, set before the events of Six Stories and, as such, the two books can be read entirely independently of each other.

This time elusive investigative journalist Scott King is examining the case of Arla Macleod, a young woman who bludgeoned her mother, stepfather and younger sister to death with a hammer one cold November night in 2014. The events would become known as the Macleod Massacre and would lead to Arla being incarcerated in a medium-security mental-health institution for the remainder of her life. As he interviews five key witnesses to Arla’s life, and Arla herself, King becomes embroiled in a complex question: what made Arla do it and was her responsibility really as diminished as her legal team made out? Unpicking the tangled web of narrative and speculation, King is thrust into a world of dangerous internet games, online trolls and the mysterious black-eyed kids – which brings him to the attention of someone very dangerous indeed.

There’s always a worry when reading a second book that’s part of series you love – the difficult second novel is only a cliche because it happens so often following promising debuts. There’s definitely no reason for Six Stories fans to be worried though, Hydra more than lives up to it’s predecessor and is packed with the same page-turning quality that had Six Stories readers gripped from beginning to end.

Expertly plotted, this is a taut and atmospheric thriller that has the narrative compulsion of podcasts such as Serial. Each ‘episode’ builds the tension, pulling the threads that bind tangled Arla’s story together that little bit tighter each time before lobbing a plot grenade in right at the end of each chapter for that ‘can’t stop reading’ momentum. I genuinely couldn’t put this book down so don’t make the mistake of starting it late at night or you’ll be bleary-eyed for work in the morning (which definitely didn’t happen if you’re reading this boss)!

Set in a rundown northern town, there’s an ominous atmosphere that lends definite horror element to proceedings and will send a shiver up your spine at times. Yes, this is a thriller but, as with Six Stories, there’s a hint of something nasty in the woodshed hiding just around the corner. The sinister black-eyed kids and the dark world of supernatural internet games lends a spooky undertone to a twisted tale of real-world failings, a miserable home life, social disconnection, teenage rebellion,friendships gone wrong, internet trolls; all of which contribute to the tragic events of the Macleod Massacre.

And the ending? Oh the ending! As with all the best thrillers, you’ll need to wait until the very last page for the true story to unfold and, when it does, it’s a plot twist and a half!

Showing that there’s still plenty of life left in the mystery/thriller genre, Hydra is another slice of Matt Wesolowski’s page-turning, original and genre-blending style and it’s a treat for anyone who loved his first book. Definitely deserving of wider readership, this is a dark and mysterious treat for fans of page-turning literary thrillers. Prepare to be engrossed – and while you’re at it, pick up Six Stories too and see how Scott King’s story really ends!

Hydra by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good bookshops. My thanks go to the publisher for providing an advance copy in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater for arranging the blog tour. Check out the rest of the stops!

 

Hydra blog poster 2018 FINAL

 

 

 

 

Books of the Year · Reviews

My Best Books of 2017

2017 has been a very up and down year on the reading front. I started strong, slumped massively in the middle and then re-discovered my reading (and blogging) mojo towards the end of the year. Despite that, I have read some cracking books this year and, whilst it’s not been as challenging a task to narrow down my Best Books this year as in previous years, the quality of what is here is definitely not diminished in any way – in my opinion all of the following are brilliant, brilliant books and I would urge you to read them if you haven’t already.

The Essex SerpentEssex Serpent by Sarah Perry

A gorgeously written treat of a book, this historical novel contains multitudes within it’s pages. Sarah Perry has skillfully captured life with her pen, weaving a web of human interactions around the strange fable of a legendary serpent said to haunt the Essex coastline. Packed with characters you’ll feel like you’re friends with and luscious prose that brings Victorian England vividly to life, this is a vibrant riot of a book and perfect for anyone who has The Miniaturist cravings following the BBC adaptation! My full review of the book appeared earlier this year on the blog and can be found here.

Days Without EndDays Without End by Sebastian Barry

If you’d have told me that a literary novel about two gay men set during the American Civil War would be my bag, I’d have been a mite dubious. But Sebastian Barry has created a miniature epic in Days Without End. A beautiful love story, a sweeping historical saga, a tense description of war, a tender portrayal of family – it’s all in here and surrounded in some of the best prose I’ve read all year. The voice in this novel is so unique and so profound at times – it gave me all the feels and I’d urge anyone to go and read it so that they can have them too. Again, a full review appeared earlier this year here.

The Dark CircleThe Dark Circle by Linda Grant

Again, a novel about twins set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in post-war England didn’t, at first, sound my cup of tea but, thanks to the Women’s Prize for Fiction, I picked up and loved Linda Grant’s novel. As with the Essex Serpent, this is a novel about characters more than plot as twins Lenny and Millie meet a range of residents from across the social spectrum within the enclosed microcosm of the sanatorium walls. Combined with an interesting period of social change and some insight into the early years of the NHS, this is a meditative, layered novel that rewards patient reading.

Six StoriesSix Stories by Matt Wesolowski

I’m a huge fan of the podcast Serial so when I heard that there was a novel that purported to be Serial in book form, you’d better believe I was straight on it! Constructed around six podcasts in which an investigative journalist outlines the circumstances surrounding the death of a teenage boy at an outward-bound centre and interviews witnesses and suspects, this is a compelling page-turner with a chilling edge. With a twisty narrative and some dark psychological insights, this novel is what I’d like all thrillers to be – a page turning read with an ending that packs a punch!

Killers of the Flower MoonKillers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Narrative non-fiction is always a tricky thing to pull off – too much narrative and it feels like a story, too much fact and you’ve got yourself a history book. David Grann gets the balance just right in Killers of the Flower Moon, an investigation into the systematic murders of large numbers of Osage Indians in the 1920s and 30s. Subtitled Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI, the book is a fascinating account of an overlooked piece of recent American history that retains it’s relevance and still resonates today.

The White RoadThe White Road by Sarah Lotz

Another twisty psychological thriller that gave me the chills in 2017 – although this time the setting might have had something to do with it! Set largely on Everest, this part thriller, part ghost story is gripping from the off and features one of the best unlikeable narrators I’ve ever come across. Simon Newman is the worst kind of journalist – dishonest and self-serving, he and his friend Thierry are willing to go to extremes to get their click-bait website off the ground, even if that means filming the bodies of Everest’s long dead. Taut and chilling, this is a psychological thriller with a supernatural twist, made all the better for the amazing sense of place. I posted a full review of the book earlier this year here.

The Good People by Hannah Kent / Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Get me being cheeky and sneaking in two recommendations for the price of one! In all seriousness though I couldn’t choose between Hannah Kent’s two novels, both of which I read in 2017. They’re both fantastic pieces of well-realised, cleverly crafted historical fiction. Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnusdóttir, the last women to be executed in Iceland- perfect for anyone who has read (or watched) and adored Alias Grace. It’s dark, compelling and richly told. The Good People is a very different novel, centered around three women in early nineteenth century Ireland and their struggle to come to terms with the care of an unusual child. As with Burial Rites, the novel is based on real events but is quite different in tone and takes in a larger examination of societal attitudes and the uneasy truce between religion and folklore, modernity and tradition. I reviewed The Good People in full here and, on the basis of these two novels, I can’t wait to see what Kent produces next.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mentions this year have to go to:

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, which came along at just the right time and made me snort my tea due to laughing so much. It also made me realise that maybe being a bookseller wouldn’t be the best career for someone who prefers books to people most of the time!

Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas, wonderfully narrated on audio by Stephen Fry, which is a perfect alternative to A Christmas Carol and deserves to be read by adults everywhere (especially if they happen to be reading it to children). Gave me the real festive feels and has a vital message about importance of being kind.

Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a stunning graphic novel about loneliness, ghosts and a mysterious girl next door. Visually captivating, it tells it’s tale in alternating sections of narrative and pictures.

Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living is an exploration of the way in which books shape and impact our lives and an insight into why and how we read. A must for any book lovers (as is his first book, The End of Your Life Book Club).

Sarah Ward’s A Patient Fury, the third in her series of ‘Derbyshire Noir’ police procedurals. I went on blog tour with this book earlier in the year and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the whole series to crime fiction lovers.

As always, I’d love to know if you’ve read any of my books of the year and what you thought of them – or if you have any of them on your TBR pile for 2018. Do leave me a comment down below or say hello over on Twitter – if you’ve done your own Books of the Year post I’d love to read it! In the meantime, I’d like to wish you all a very Happy New Year and here’s to a bookish 2018!

Happy Reading x

Festive · Readathons

Christmas #CosyReadingNight TBR

The lovely Lauren over at Lauren and the Books is hosting another Cosy Reading Night on Wednesday (20 December) – just in time for Christmas! You can watch Lauren’s announcement video over on her channel here. As with her previous Cosy Reading Nights, it kicks off at 7pm UK time and runs until 10pm and the aim is simply to enjoy an evening snuggled up in your PJs with some favourite snacks and a good book or two by your side.

So what are my plans for the evening? Well, I’ll be catering for one as the long-suffering husband is out at his work Christmas meal that evening. I’m going to keep it simple for dinner with a mushroom risotto – a meal that I love to cook (as well as to eat). Plus it requires white wine to make which, conveniently, leaves a glass or two left over for sipping with my book! Snacks are also sorted – my current reading snack of choice is a Thornton’s Caramel Cheesecake Block, one of which I just so happen to have in an unopened ready for a special occasion. I’m generally not too nibbly of an evening but, because it’s Christmas, I might treat myself to some dry roasted peanuts to graze on as well. Plus tea, of course. There will always be tea.

32861730And as for the books? I’m currently reading Another Little Christmas Murder by Lorna Nicholl Morgan, a reissue of a 1947 crime novel which takes place in the suitably festive-sounding manor house of Wintery Wold. At three chapters in I’ve been pleased to find all the festive golden age tropes present and correct: a snowbound manor house in a desolate location, a collection of mismatched guests with secrets to hide and, of course, a murderer in their midst. I’m not expecting the book to reinvent the wheel but, for what it is, I’m enjoying it and it has ‘cosy winter reading’ written all over it – perfect for Cosy Reading Night.

Hydra final jacket imageI’ve also received an exciting piece of book post today – an advance copy of Hydra by Matt Wesolowski, kindly sent by Orenda Books in advance of the blog tour I’m taking part in in January. I absolutely loved Matt’s first thriller, Six Stories, which I read earlier this year, so I’m itching to get started on Hydra straight away. Told in a Serial like format, the novel follows six episodes of a podcast looking into the Macleod Massacre, the horrific murder of her family that was apparently carried out by 21-year-old Arla Macleod. The book’s been calling to me since it arrived in the post this morning so I imagine I will be reading that too at some point during the evening!

I’m really looking forward to having a night snuggled up on the sofa amidst all the preparing for Christmas craziness going on at the moment. If you’re joining in with #cosyreadingnight, come say hi over on Twitter throughout the evening and let me know what you’re reading. All being well, I’ll be posting a short wrap up of the evening before Christmas. Keep an eye on Lauren’s channel for her Cosy Reading Night videos and, if you’re taking part, have a great night! x