BBNYA · Blog Tours · Spotlight

BBNYA SPOTLIGHT!!! Wonder Rush by Dan McKeon

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

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

The cover of Wonder Rush features an emoji blowing bubble gum and giving a thumbs up. A bloody handprint is visible at the bottom of the image.
Image Description: The cover of Wonder Rush features an emoji blowing bubble gum and giving a thumbs up. A bloody handprint is visible at the bottom of the image.

About the Book

Wendy Lockheart has been known by many names—none of them her own.

With each new school, she is assigned a new identity and a new foster family, but the same mission—kill whoever she is told to kill.

Most agents in her network of female teen assassins begin training at age ten, but for Wendy it has encompassed her entire life. Abducted at birth, she was engulfed in a world of psychological manipulation, brainwashing, and physical training. At seventeen years old, Wendy is the most highly trained assassin in the agency.

“Wendy Lockheart” is her twenty-fourth identity and one that won’t be hers much longer, which is unfortunate. She finally found a place to call home. She has an inexplicable connection to her friend, Amaya. Her foster family is caring, and she loves her foster brother, Corey, who has cerebral palsy. Nonetheless, her days as “Wendy” are limited. They always are.

After carrying out a hit on an alleged drunk driver, conflicting information leads Wendy to suspect corruption within the ranks of the agency. Intent on discovering the truth, Wendy intentionally botches an operation, making her the agency’s next mark. As their dark intentions come to light, Wendy realizes she must destroy the organization that shaped her in order to discover the person she truly wants to be—that is, if they don’t kill her first. Wonder Rush is a thrill ride through the dangerous world of a teen assassin, but it is also a journey of self-discovery—a coming-of-age tale under the most extreme circumstances. How can a girl develop her own personal identity when she never had one to begin with?

About the Author

I am the author of four feature-length screenplays as well as several short stories. Wonder Rush is my first novel, and it was recently named a Silver Falchion Award finalist.

My interest in writing blossomed during a film analysis class I took while studying psychology at Villanova University. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts from Villanova, I also hold a Master of Science in Computer Information Systems from Boston University and a Professional Certification in Screenwriting from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

When I am not writing, I work as a software developer and enjoy spending time with my wife, Rosa, and my two sons, Justin and Brandon.

Find Out More!

You can find out more about Dan and his work by visiting his website, or by following him on Twitter (@DanMcKeon01).

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

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

Wonder Rush by Dan McKeon is published by Hush Moss Press and is available from Amazon via their UK, US, and Canadian storefronts.

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

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Vicious Circle by Katherine St. John

The cover of The Vicious Circle features a luxury villa amidst dense tropical forest.
Image Description: The cover of The Vicious Circle features a luxury villa amidst dense tropical forest.

A perfect paradise? Or a perfect nightmare?

On a river deep in the Mexican jungle stands the colossal villa Xanadu, a wellness center that’s home to The Mandala, an ardent spiritual group devoted to self-help guru Paul Bentzen and his enigmatic wife Kali. But when, mysteriously, Paul suddenly dies, his entire estate–including Xanadu–is left to his estranged niece Sveta, a former model living in New York City.

Shocked and confused, Sveta travels to Mexico to pay her respects. At first, Xanadu seems like a secluded paradise with its tumbling gardens, beautiful people, transcendent vibe, and mesmerizing de-facto leader Kali. But soon the mystical façade wears thin, revealing a group of brainwashed members drunk on false promises of an impossible utopia and a disturbing, dangerous belief system–and leader–guiding them.

As the sinister forces surrounding Sveta become apparent, she realizes, too late, she can’t escape. Frantic and terrified, she discovers her only hope for survival is to put her confidence in the very person she trusts the least.

Young, beautiful, and engaged to a handsome and wealthy fiancé, Sveta – the protagonist of Katherine St. John’s latest novel The Vicious Circle – should be on top of the world and living her best life. But with her prospective in-laws trying to end her marriage before it’s even started, and her modelling career on hold, Sveta can’t help feeling that something is missing from her apparently gilded life.

When Sveta receives that her estranged uncle, the wellness guru Paul Bentzen, has passed away – and that he has left her his entire fortune – she decides that attending his funeral might provide the space and perspective she needs on her life, and help explain the estrangement between Paul and the rest of his family. But when Sveta arrives at Xanadu – the wellness retreat and commune deep in the Mexican jungle that Paul ran with his wife Kali – she begins to suspect that she’s inherited a poisoned chalice. For all Kali’s effusive gestures, something isn’t right about Xanadu or its inhabitants. There’s trouble in paradise…and Sveta has found herself right in the middle of it.

Katherine St. John certainly knows how to keep the pages turning, with a combination of short chapters and plenty of cliff-hangers keeping the plot moving and the narrative tension high. Despite not being the brightest of sparks, Sveta makes for an engaging and relatable narrator, and I enjoyed the tension between her Lucas, her old flame and her uncle’s lawyer.

The remaining characters are an interesting bunch, albeit somewhat lightly sketched out in terms of their individual personalities and character development. Kali makes for an excellent over-the-top antagonist and, whilst the plot primarily focuses upon Sveta’s inheritance and the reasoning behind it, there’s plenty of sinister rituals, mysterious ceremonies, and general ‘this wellness retreat is actually a cult, right’ weirdness going on to make for a highly entertaining read.

Whilst all the thriller tropes are present and correct in The Vicious Circle, Katherine St. John’s writing – and in particular her sharp observations of her various characters – and her tight control of the plot makes this a gripping read that manages to be escapist without becoming overly soapy. Whilst Sveta’s wide-eyed naivete and Kali’s over-the-top dramatics did have me rolling my eyes at times, it’s a testament to the power of the plotting that the mystery kept me engaged and interested to the very end, even when some of the plot twists became apparent.

With an exotic and isolated setting, some disturbing cult shenanigans, and some page-turning plot twists, The Vicious Circle is the perfect read for thriller fans looking to escape this winter.

The Vicious Circle by Katherine St. John is published by Harper360 UK and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 25 November 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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

Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett is published by Quercus and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher and to NetGalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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

BBNYA · Blog Tours · Spotlight

BBNYA SPOTLIGHT!!! Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire by G.M. Nair

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

It’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of the BBNTA team again in 2022 and I’m thrilled to be part of the spotlight tours to celebrate our fantastic semi-finalists! Today I’m starting things off by spotlighting Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G M Nair.

The cover of Duckett & Dyer features illustrations of the two main characters and various creatures and incidents from their investigations
Image Description: The cover of Duckett & Dyer features illustrations of the two main characters and various creatures and incidents from their investigations

About the Book

Michael Duckett is fed up with his life. His job is a drag, and his roommate and best friend of fifteen years, Stephanie Dyer, is only making him more anxious with her lazy irresponsibility. Things continue to escalate when they face the threat of imminent eviction from their palatial 5th floor walk-up and find that someone has been plastering ads all over the city for their Detective Agency.

The only problem is: Michael and Stephanie don’t have one of those. Despite their baffling levels of incompetence, Stephanie eagerly pursues this crazy scheme and drags Michael, kicking and screaming, into the fray. Stumbling upon a web of missing people curiously linked by a sexually audacious theoretical physicist and his experiments with the fabric of space-time, the two of them find that they are way out of their depth. But unless Michael and Stephanie can put their personal issues aside and patch up the hole they tore in the multi-verse, the concept of existence itself may, ironically, cease to exist.

About the Author

G.M. Nair is a crazy person who should never be taken seriously. Despite possessing both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering, he has written comedy for the stage and screen, and is the author of the highly unlucrative Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire, which has received the 2022 Indie Fantasy Fund Award and is a Finalist in the 1st ever Self-Published Science-Fiction Competition.

The third book in the series – The Mystery of the Murdered Guy – was released this year and continues to lose money.

G.M. Nair lives in New York City, if you can call it living. Am I right?

Find Out More!

You can find out more about G M Nair and his work by following him on Twitter (@GaneshNair) and Instagram (@NairForceOne).

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

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

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G M Nair is published by dSdF and is available from Amazon via their UK, US, and Canadian storefronts.

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

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The People Before by Charlotte Northedge

The cover of The People Before features a remote cottage set against a backdrop of gloomy pines. A light is on in an upstairs window.
Image Description: The cover of The People Before features a remote cottage set against a backdrop of gloomy pines. A light is on in an upstairs window.

What if your dream house became your worst nightmare?

Jess and her husband need a new start. So when the chance to buy a rambling old house in the Suffolk countryside comes up, they leap at it.

But not everyone in Suffolk is welcoming. The locals know a secret about the Maple House, and soon, Jess realises they’ve made a huge mistake.

Something bad happened in that house. Something nobody wants to talk about.

Desperate to make a new start and leave London behind them, Jess and Pete are inexorably drawn to Maple House despite its isolated location, dire state of repair, and knotweed-infested garden. Sure, the renovation work seems daunting now but, once the work is done, it will be the perfect family home: a rural idyll in which Archie and Rose can grow up and Jess and Pete can leave behind the shadows and secrets of their past.

But Maple House, it turns out, has its own shadows and its own secrets. Stuck in her tumbledown new home with the children, Jess soon realises that the locals don’t like to talk about Maple House. There’s something they know. Something about The People Before…

The People Before, the second psychological thriller from Charlotte Northedge, has page-turning compulsion in abundance. Set back into the trees, Maple House is the perfect location for this creepy tale of sinister secrets and shocking twists, and Charlotte Northedge does a fantastic job of developing a brooding atmosphere of fear, suffocation, and foreboding right from the very first page.

The first third of the novel makes the most of this to develop a slow-burning tension, as it becomes apparent that Jess and Pete’s dream move to the country is anything but. Far from the rural idyll depicted on her Instagram feed, Jess’s life has become a stifling round of school runs, temper tantrums, marital discord, and thwarted ambition. When, in the second third, the novel shifts POV to Eve – a local woman who has befriended Jess and is helping her with her plans to restore Maple House – and we suddenly realise why Jess has been having such a hard time settling into her new home, the tension – and the pace – really ramp up a notch. And, in the final third of the book, it’s a page-turning race to the final page as all the lies and secrets upon which Jess and Pete’s carefully constructed new life is built come tumbling down around their ears!

Whilst I can’t say I warmed to any of the characters, North also does a reasonable job of making their (often very poor) life choices understandable. That said, the characters were – for me – the element of the book that I struggled most with. Although clearly traumatised and isolated, I found Jess to be a rather neurotic and self-absorbed narrator and, as such, couldn’t really bring myself to care about her difficulties fitting into her new home. Whilst I totally understand that good domestic suspense relies upon certain tropes, I also felt that the characters occasionally devolved into clichés: the neurotic suburban mother, the secretive husband, the creepy neighbour, the ‘so-nice-she’s-suspicious’ friend, the ‘unfriendly-villagers-who-hate-outsiders’ etc. As the novel progressed, I did find myself wanting Jess to act on her misgivings about her new life and make a better one for herself and her children but, without giving away any major spoilers for the ending, this never really comes to fruition which I found a little disappointing.

That said, I absolutely cannot fault the way in which the reader is drawn into the perspective of Jess and Eve, and the way that Charlotte Northedge controls the viewpoints to layer the interweaving strands of the story and build up the suspense whilst also leaving the major revelations for the very final chapters. Whilst the characters didn’t invite my empathy, I was still drawn into their respective stories and stayed with them to the end, which is testament to a tale well told!

Whilst there weren’t really any surprises in The People Before, therefore, it is a well-constructed thriller, especially in terms of pace and atmosphere. Charlotte Northedge has done an excellent job of developing tension in the novel’s opening act, ratcheting that up in the mid-section as we realise the extent of the danger that Jess and her family are in, and then releasing it all in an explosive final act. Whilst I personally felt that there were a few too many skeletons in Jess and Pete’s family closet – and that this sometimes detracted from the mystery about ‘the people before’ – North also does an excellent job of tying up the various interwoven strands of the plot by the novel’s end.

The People Before by Charlotte Northedge is published by HarperCollins and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 18 November 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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

Giveaway

GIVEAWAY!!! The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw

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

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

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

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

About the Book

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

London, 1873.

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

GIVEAWAY!!!

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

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

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

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

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

My thanks go to the author for providing the opportunity to run a giveaway for the book.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thanks go to Nikki Griffiths at Melville House Press for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The tour continues until 18 November 2022 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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

BBNYA · Blog Tours · Spotlight

BBNYA SPOTLIGHT!!! All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise by Neve Maslakovic

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

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

The cover of All the Whys of Delilah's Demise features a pattern of yellow connected lines against a background of code.
Image Description: The cover of All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise features a pattern of yellow connected lines against a background of code.

About the Book

A future Seattle where popularity is everything. The mysterious death of the #1. And an elusive killer.

A rocky year into adulthood and lacking a personal brand, Scottie is skidding toward the bottom spot on the People List—which brings a short ride out of the Dome of New Seattle and into the deadly cold.

When a brand finally falls into her lap, it’s a disastrous one: Scottie is accused of causing the death of the longtime #1, a charismatic stage actress named Delilah.

Aided by her “Watson,” the companion her brain chip provides, Scottie scrambles to uncover the person who framed her—and who killed Delilah.

Motives in the circle Delilah frequented—a tight group of the town’s social stars—abound. What Scottie unearths will shake the very foundation of her world…and place her squarely in the crosshairs of a shadowy killer intent on clearing a path to #1.

ALL THE WHYS OF DELILAH’S DEMISE: a whodunit set in an all-too-possible future where brand is everything.

About the Author

Neve Maslakovic writes mysteries set in speculative worlds. In her books, no place is safe from the criminal element—including an academic time-travel lab, a parallel universe, and a Seattle of the future. Neve’s life journey has taken her from Belgrade, Serbia to a PhD at Stanford University’s STAR Lab to her dream job as a writer. She lives with her husband, son, and highly energetic goldendoodle in the Twin Cities, and is currently hard at work on a new series.

Find Out More!

You can find out more about Neve’s work by visiting her website, or by following her on Twitter @NeveMaslakovic.

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

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

All the Whys of Delilah’s Demise by Neve Maslakovic is published by Cosmic Tea Press and is available on Amazon via their UK, US, and Canadian storefronts.

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

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Parlour Game by Jennifer Renshaw

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

London, 1873.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thanks go to the author for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 26 October 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill is published by Ultimo Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 28 September 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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