Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

Image Description: The cover of For Your Own Good shows a woman’s face, partially obscured behind the cross-hatched glass of a doorframe

Teddy Crutcher won Teacher of the Year at the prestigious Belmont Academy. Everyone thinks he’s brilliant.

Only you know the truth.

They all smile when he tells us his wife couldn’t be more proud

But no-one has seen her in a while

They’re impressed when he doesn’t let anything distract him – even the tragic death of a school parent.

Even when the whispers start, saying it was murder.

You’re sure Teddy is hiding something about what happened that day.

You’re sure you can prove it.

But you didn’t stop to think that when it comes to catching a killer, there’s no place more dangerous than just one step behind . . .

For the students and teachers at Belmont Academy, life should be good. The elite private school has a track record for producing illustrious alumni and excellent GPA students. Parents can be assured their children will be granted a wealth of opportunities and the staff – and can suitably influence decisions, either directly or indirectly, should that not be the case. The staff are exemplary; none more so that Teddy Crutcher, Teacher of the Year.

Scratch below the surface of Belmont Academy, however, and you’ll find a simmering hotbed of professional rivalries, student resentments, briber, corruption, secrets and lies – all of it ready to go up in flames with one strike of the match. When a prominent member of the school community collapses during a retirement party, apparently poisoned, it isn’t long before the carefully constructed facades of Belmont Academy – and those who work and study within its walls – begins to go up in flames.

For Your Own Good, Samantha Downing’s latest psychological thriller, is a page-turningly compulsive examination of several characters who I suspect many readers will love to hate. Told from several different perspectives, we get to see Belmont from the perspective of a wealthy student, a long-serving teacher, a bitter ex-alumni and, of course, Teacher of the Year himself, Teddy Crutcher.

Teddy was, for me, a deeply unpleasant character to be inside the head of. It is clear from the outset of the book that he has several axes to grind at Belmont and a chip on his shoulder so sharp it could cut people (and frequently does). Underneath it all, Teddy just wants what is best for people, but how he judges what is ‘best’ – and the actions he takes to ensure the ‘best’ outcome for his students and co-workers – is deeply disturbing.

To be honest, I didn’t really like any of the characters at Belmont Academy. Samantha Downing has created a really toxic environment in Belmont Academy – and has clearly had a great deal of fun filling it with equally toxic personalities to create a really tangled web of motives and opportunities. Unusually for me however, the inherent unlikability of the characters didn’t stop me from wanting to know what happened to them. For Your Own Good is the true definition of a page-turning read and Samantha Downing really keeps the tension high with plenty of twists and unexpected revelations right up until the final pages. I definitely see what was coming and was often left reeling from a character death, shocking reveal, or sudden turn of events.

And whilst all of the characters were, in their own ways, quite unpleasant and difficult people to be around, I found their perspectives unique and interesting. Teddy, for example, operates using a weirdly twisted logic and seems to genuinely believe that his extreme methods and personal vendettas are in the best interests of those he targets. Another character is wholly motivated by revenge – and whilst her investigation of Teddy is undoubtedly uncovering the truth about him, you’re left wondering whether she’s doing the right thing for entirely the wrong reasons. Similar uncertainties can be found within all of the characters and, for me, it definitely elevated the novel above the realm of the run-of-the-mill psychological thriller.

For Your Own Good won’t be for everyone – if you need a sympathetic viewpoint character, you might want to steer clear – but for fans of psychological thrillers there is much to enjoy here and readers already familiar with the work of Sarah Pinborough, Louise Candlish, and J P Delaney would do well to check out Samantha Downing’s latest!

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing is published by Penguin Michael Joseph 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 for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 20 September 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir

Image description: the cover of Girls Who Lie has title, author and pull quote text in black and purple on a white background. Below the text is a grayscale image of a female figure standing on a bridge over a desolate river. In the distance is what appears to be a volcanic mountain.

When single mother Marianna disappears from her home, leaving an apologetic note on the kitchen table, everyone assumes that she’s taken her own life … until her body is found on the Grabrok lava fields seven months later, clearly the victim of murder. Her neglected fifteen-year-old daughter Hekla has been placed in foster care, but is her perfect new life hiding something sinister?

Fifteen years earlier, a desperate new mother lies in a maternity ward, unable to look at her own child, the start of an odd and broken relationship that leads to a shocking tragedy.

Police officer Elma and her colleagues take on the case, which becomes increasingly complex, as the number of suspects grows and new light is shed on Marianna’s past – and the childhood of a girl who never was like the others…

Having read and reviewed Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s confident and compelling debut The Creak on the Stairs last year, I was keen to read the next instalment in the Forbidden Iceland saga and discover what small town secrets Chief Investigating Officer Elma and her colleagues in Akranes found themselves investigating next. As it turns out, the dust has barely settled on Elma’s first case when the body of a missing woman is found.

Everyone has assumed troubled single mother Marianna had taken her own life but it soon becomes clear from the body that Marianna was the victim of a brutal crime. As Elma and her colleagues Sævar and Hörður investigate, they quickly find themselves embroiled in a dark and twisted saga of abuse and scandal, rooted several decades before.

While A Creak on the Stairs was most definitely Nordic noir, Girls Who Lie adds an additional layer of psychological tension to the gloomy atmosphere of Akranes. Whilst not overtly violent or gory in its tone, it therefore pays to mention trigger warnings for sexual abuse, rape, discussion of false allegations, psychological trauma, child neglect, psychological manipulation, post-natal depression, and suicide. As with its predecessor though, these harrowing topics are handled with sensitivity however and the novel ably interrogates the relationship between personal trauma and wider societal issues.

Getting back into the shoes of Chief Investigating Officer Elma was a delight. Sharp, perceptive, and hard-working, Elma retains all the dogged commitment from The Creak on the Stairs but has, finally, begun to recover from the personal trauma that led to her returning to Akranes. As such, she is a slightly softer character in Girls Who Lie and whilst this doesn’t exactly remove all of her sharp edges, it does allow us to see her work on her relationships with her sister Dagny and colleague Sævar, both subplots that I enjoyed immensely.

As with her previous novel, Eva Björg Ægisdóttir has also brilliantly captured the rhythms and patterns of small town life, from the respectability and comfort of the suburbs, to the grim reality of life on the poverty line. She’s also brilliantly evoked Iceland in all its harsh and wintery glory.

Written with subtly and nuance, Girls Who Lie also provides a compelling psychological portrait of a desperate new mother. In intermittent first-person chapters, we are transported into the mind of a troubled young woman and her daughter. These chapters make for some of the most harrowing in the novel as their unknown narrator grapples with her own complex, conflicting – and occasionally very dark – feelings towards her little girl. Working out who this unknown mother is – and what relationship she and her daughter might have to Marianna’s murder – makes for a compelling addition and, running alongside chapters focusing on the police investigation, makes for plenty of twists and turns before the novel’s end!

As with its predecessor, Girls Who Lie is a chilling, absorbing slow-burn of a book that combines a sophisticated police procedural with a subtle and emotive psychological portrait into a compelling and atmospheric package. Skilfully translated by Victoria Cribb, this is a complex, twisty novel with a compelling central protagonist and it cements the Forbidden Iceland series as amongst the finest of Nordic and Scandinavian noir.

Girls Who Lie by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir (translated by Victoria Cribb) is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 July 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Image description: blog tour banner for the Girls Who Lie blog tour showing the book cover (described above), tour dates/stops, and publisher information. Tour dates run from 1-30 July with 2-3 bloggers posting per day. Tour posts can be found and followed using the #GirlsWhoLie, or by following @RandomTTours and @OrendaBooks.

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

Perhaps everyone’s childhood memories are the same: part truth, part fantasy.

But this house turned our imagination into a melting pot, a forge. A cauldron.

I can trust nothing that came out of it.

No. 36 Westeryk Road, an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A house of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?

Now in her thirties, Cat receives the shocking news that her sister has disappeared. Forced to return to Edinburgh, Cat finds herself irresistibly drawn back into Mirrorland. Because El has a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets…

I used to read and review a lot of thrillers but, if I’m honest, it’s been a while since a ‘thriller’ really thrilled me in any way. Until, that is, Mirrorland came along and kept me on the edge of my seat and up turning the pages long after I should probably have turned out the light.

Mirrorland is the story of mirror twins Cat and El, and of the imposing Edinburgh townhouse they grow up in at 36 Westeryk Road. Behind it’s seemingly ordinary façade, 36 Westeryk Road is home to Mirrorland, a vivid make-believe world of populated by pirates, cowboys, and jailbirds- Bluebeard and Blackbeard, the brave and handsome Captain Henry, and the aptly named Mouse. It is also an occasional home to Ross, Cat and El’s next-door neighbour, honorary crewmate, first crush, and secret friend. Mirrorland is a place of magic – and a place of escape. But escape from what? Or from who?

When El goes missing, Cat is forced to return to Westeryk Road, to Ross, and to Mirrorland. Because while everyone else might think El is dead, Cat knows she’s alive – and that she has a plan. Someone is emailing Cat with clues: a treasure hunt that will lead her straight back to Mirrorland – and back into childhood memories that she has buried deep within herself.

Mirrorland is a novel suffused with unease and tension. From the very beginning, the reader is thrown into a confusing world of Clown Cafes and Princess Towers, and it is unclear which characters are real and who has been plucked from the fragments of Cat’s childhood imagination. And it is clear from the first page that beneath the imaginative magic of Mirrorland, something very dark is hiding.

Whilst I don’t want to give any spoilers, I do want to provide some trigger warnings because the novel confronts issues of child abuse, rape and sexual abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse, mental trauma, coercive control, gaslighting, alcohol abuse, and mental illness. Although never gratuitous or overly graphic, the truth behind Mirrorland is very dark indeed and the novel is a testament to the power of the imagination and the many and varied ways that the body – and the mind – will try to protect itself from trauma.

Although a somewhat unreliable protagonist, I became utterly drawn into Cat’s world – and into the world of Mirrorland – very quickly. Although occasionally difficult to sympathise with, I could understand Cat’s resentment of El, her fascination with Ross, and her wish to leave the past firmly in the past. The relationship between sisters Cat and El is definitely at the heart of Mirrorland. As an only child, I find novels about the intricate mix of love and jealousy that occurs between siblings fascinating – and Carole Johnstone coveys the tangled web of affection. loyalty, and resentment between Cat and El fabulously.

I was slightly less taken by the relationship between the two sisters and Ross which did, sadly, conform to a lot of the tropes of the genre. Unfortunately this meant that, for me, some aspects of the ending descended into cliché, which was a huge shame given how fresh and original the rest of the plot felt. This is not to say that I did not enjoy the ending of Mirrorland – it packs a real punch and there are some very dark revelations that I didn’t see coming – but, for me, the final third of the book was less compelling.

For me, Mirrorland is at its best when it is operating as a mystery. I was compelled by Cat’s struggle to mine the fragments of her memories, and by the contrasting landscape of Cat and El’s make-believe world with the gradually revealed realities of their childhood. The magical yet oppressive neo-Gothic atmosphere of Mirrorland is vividly conveyed on the page and, for me, the writing was definitely at its best when exploring this brilliantly realised world of imagination.

As I said at the start of this review, it is a long time since a thriller thrilled me. But whilst some aspects of the ending didn’t quite land with me, Mirrorland definitely succeeded in keeping me reading – and in making for a thrilling read. Combining a well-crafted mystery, a unique premise, and the compulsive readability of a thriller, Mirrorland is an impressive debut that is sure to appeal to fans of Tana French, Ruth Ware, Erin Kelly and Sarah Pinborough.

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone is published by Borough 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 01 May 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Keeper by Jessica Moor

He’s been looking in the windows again. Messing with cameras. Leaving notes.
Supposed to be a refuge. But death got inside.

When Katie Straw’s body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police decide it’s an open-and-shut case. A standard-issue female suicide.

But the residents of Widringham women’s refuge where Katie worked don’t agree. They say it’s murder.

Will you listen to them?

There were so many moments reading Jessica Moor’s Keeper when I had to remind myself that this is a debut novel. Compelling and powerful, this is a novel that reads like the work of an assured novelist, effortlessly combining the page-turning quality of a thriller with stylistic literary touches and a spare yet layered tone.

Before I go any further with my review of Keeper, a word on trigger warnings. The novel does not shy away from the grim realities of domestic abuse and systematic misogyny. Whilst never voyeuristic or unnecessary, the novel contains scenes that recount incidents of domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, gas-lighting, and coercive control. There are also mentions of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, drug addiction, prostitution, internet abuse/trolling, and systematic misogyny. In telling its powerful and sadly all too relevant story, Keeper puts on the page what many novels only imply. This makes for an intensely vivid and compelling story but also a disturbing and deeply chilling one.

Alternating between two timelines, the novel opens with the body of Katie Straw being pulled from a known suicide spot. Katie worked at the local women’s refuge, a controversial space within the small town of Widringham. According to Katie’s boss Val, the refuge has been receiving abuse on Twitter. The women who reside there speak of a man hanging around, a car idling nearby, and a locked gate left open. Coincidence? The police would like to think so. DS Daniel Whitworth is on the cusp of retirement. Whilst he knows he has a job to do, Katie’s history of depression and the manner of her death point to suicide. But the more he digs into Katie Straw’s life, the more there seems to be that would suggest her death is anything but straightforward.

Intervening into the details of the investigation into Katie’s death are sections entitled ‘Then’. Told from Katie’s perspective, these look back on her relationship with Jamie who effortlessly inserts himself into her life before slowly isolating her from her friends and family and even from her own self. These chapters were, for me, the most unsettling within the novel as they show how easy it is for an accomplished manipulator such as Jamie to take control of Katie’s thought patterns and for their relationship to shift into firstly emotional and then, later, physical and sexual, abuse.

Other chapters are told from the perspective of the women within the refuge where Katie worked, as well as from the point of view of DS Whitworth. Whitworth is an interesting character because, although he is old-fashioned and jaded in his attitudes, he does seem to be in some way aware of his own failings. On some level, he knows that he doesn’t really understand Katie or the women in the refuge who knew her and so he’s content to leave much of the talking to his trainee, DS Brookes, whose easy charm and placating manner eases nerves and opens doors. This makes for an interesting dynamic that plays with the reader’s perceptions, expectations and sympathies – and makes for a truly fantastic twist in the tale!

The voices of the women within the refuge, as well as that of Katie herself, are really well captured and their respective circumstances show that, despite what the media might have us believe, there is no such thing as an ‘average’ domestic violence victim. From the motherly Angie, who has spent over 40 years married to her abusive husband, to formerly well-off housewife Lynne, struggling to adjust to the life she has apparently chosen for her and her daughter, each of the women has a distinct yet realistic story – and each is wrestling with the reality of what has happened to them, and what they are going to do next. The sheer complexity and variety of their stories – and the way in which their narratives are interwoven with wider issues of societal and systematic misogynies – is heartbreakingly realistic and made me both extremely sad and extremely angry.

Keeper is not for the faint-hearted then. Brutally immersive and unflinching in its depictions of the issues it touches upon, it is a hard-hitting and insightful debut that offers pace and page-turning compulsion with some clever and stylistic literary twists. Emotionally devastating and viscerally told, this incisive debut is not exactly a pleasant read but it is a deeply important one and I look forward to seeing what Jessica Moor writes next.

Keeper by Jessica Moor is published by Penguin Viking and is available now in ebook and paperback from all good bookshops 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 Georgia Taylor from Penguin for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 01 February 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Reviews

REVIEW!! The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother’s recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it’s beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous – as does her brother, Isaac.

And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancée Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin’s unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

But no-one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they’re all in . . .

Having heard so much buzz about The Sanatorium on Book Twitter, I was absolutely thrilled to be approved to read this debut by Netgalley UK – with it’s isolated setting, cold winter vibes, and chilling location, it sounded right up my street!

As the novel opens, police detective Elin Warner is reluctantly making her way to Le Sommet, a recently opened and exclusive luxury hotel high in the Swiss Alps that has been controversially converted from an abandoned sanatorium. With her architect boyfriend Will in tow, Elin is hoping to reconnect with her estranged brother Issac and his fiancée, her childhood friend Laure.

Suffering from PTSD as a result of her last case, Elin is hoping that meeting Issac again will allow her to put the ghosts of the past – and of some long-held childhood trauma – to rest. Will, meanwhile, is hoping the break will allow Elin to focus on her future, rather than being stuck in her past. But when the hotel is cut off by a snowstorm and Laure goes missing, it isn’t long before Elin and Will find themselves embroiled in the many mysteries that surround Le Sommet‘s past. And then the first body is found…

Intriguing isn’t it? As you can probably tell, there’s quite a bit going on in The Sanatorium, with the novel mixing together elements of the traditional ‘country house’ mystery – isolated location, limited number of suspects, EVERYONE has something to hide – with those of a psychological thriller.

Elin makes for a fantastic narrator in this respect as, owing to her PTSD and the emotional toll that repressing her childhood trauma is taking on her, she makes for an unreliable and deeply fallible main character. Admittedly there were times when I did get somewhat frustrated by Elin – she has a tendency to switch from coolly efficient to emotionally incapable rather rapidly at times – but, for the most part, I found her to be a sympathetic character with understandable motivations and fears.

The Sanitorium also drips atmosphere. There are some fantastic descriptions that really allowed me to imagine the cold minimalism of Le Sommet‘s interiors and the glacial isolation of the snowy surroundings. Sarah Pearse is also excellent at building dramatic tension and, whilst the book doesn’t quite manage to avoid some of the clichés of the thriller genre, all of the set pieces are pulled off with great aplomb and the novel definitely has that page-turning, can’t-stop-reading quality!

Whilst Elin makes for an excellent narrator, I did have issues with the way some of the other characters and relationships are portrayed in The Sanatorium. Will in particular is clearly meant to be the ‘nice guy’ but I found his behaviour – and his lack of patience and respect for Elin’s trauma – to be really problematic. He has his redeeming moments but, on the whole, I didn’t feel that the subplot involving the state of Elin and Will’s relationship worked alongside the rest of the novel and I was disappointed that one of the key events later in the story seemed designed to guilt Elin into appreciating Will’s role in her life.

I also found the character of Issac – Elin’s estranged brother – to be very difficult. Aggressive, demanding and manipulative, Issac spends much of the novel high on the suspect list and I found it difficult to believe in the redemption he is given at the novel’s conclusions. Whilst the subplot involving Elin, Issac and their shared childhood trauma was interesting, the conclusion to it felt somewhat tacked on and, again, like an excuse for Elin to revaluate Issac and excuse his poor behaviour.

Given that Elin is such an interesting character, I would have liked to have seen her work through her PTSD and trauma on her own – and for her own reasons – rather than doing so through these relationships with the male figures in her life. This was particularly disappointing to me because the main mystery of the novel centres around male degradation and abuse of women, with an interesting (and sadly all too believable) examination of the way in which ‘troublesome’ women were confined to sanatoria for often made-up reasons. Given this element of the novel, there are trigger warnings for some graphic depictions of violence/bodily mutilation, mentions of sexual violence/rape, and discussions of psychosis/delusional psychosis, as well as significant representation of PTSD.

This maybe makes it sound as if I didn’t enjoy The Sanatorium but that’s definitely not the case. I enjoyed it for what it was – a pacy, atmospheric thriller that I raced through in a couple of evenings and had a good time with. But as with many thrillers, you do have to suspend your disbelief a little to really immerse yourself in the story. There’s definitely the occasional ‘that wouldn’t really happen’ moment, plus some slightly dodgy light-touch characterisation in places but if you just go along with the ride then this is an enjoyably atmospheric debut that takes place in a fantastic setting, poses an interesting mystery, and has that all important page-turning quality.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse is published by Transworld and is available to pre-order now (pub date 18 February 2020) from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. My thanks go the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing an ecopy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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

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

Blog Tours

BLOG TOUR!! The Wrong Move by Jennifer Savin

The Wrong Move CoverIT WAS THE PERFECT FLAT

After a seemingly endless search, Jessie thinks she’s finally found a decent place to live in the four-bedroom flat at Maver Place.

THE FLATMATES SEEMED NICE

And when she’s befriended by fellow tenants Lauren and Sofie, Jessie thinks she’s got great flatmates to share it with.

BUT WHAT SECRETS ARE THEY KEEPING?

Then disturbing things start happening – weird noises in the middle of the night and things going missing. But when Jessie learns a previous flatmate has disappeared, she starts to doubt if she can really trust these strangers after all . . .

When you flatshare, how well do you really know the people you’re living with?

Moving in with strangers is always a stressful and nerve-wracking affair. Wondering about whether you’ll fit into the established group. Whether new housemates will be clean, tidy, noisy, or just downright weird. Whether the landlord bothers with maintenance or is content to leave the place with no hot water for weeks on end.

Add in the fact that this move is a chance to move on from a controlling and abusive relationship and it’s no wonder that Jessie Campbell, the protagonist of Jennifer Savin’s debut novel The Wrong Move, has been careful in her search for the perfect flat.

When she enters 4 Maven Place, it appears as if Jessie might finally get the fresh start she’s looking for – the place is mould-free, the bedroom is bigger than a shoe-box and, most importantly, the housemates seem nice. Sure, the guy on the ground floor – Marcus – is a bit of a loner, but the two girls – Lauren and Sofie – seem welcoming and Lauren, in particular, is keen to make friends.

But, as Jessie starts to settle into Maven Place, disturbing events keep interrupting her new life. Why are there always strange dragging sounds coming from Marcus’ room in the middle of the night? Why do things keep disappearing from her room even when it’s locked? And what exactly happened to the previous women who lived in Jessie’s room?

The Wrong Move is a psychological thriller that hits the ground running from the very first page. Jennifer Savin has cleverly used new-housemate nerves to pile on the tension, sowing seeds of doubt in the reader’s mind about not only what lies behind Marcus, Sofie and Lauren’s seemingly pleasant exteriors but also Jessie’s own reliability as a narrator. So many of the disturbing events that begin to occur – a moving laptop, a lost bracelet, a broken door lock – are so incidental and rationally explained that I began to wonder whether Jessie’s unease about Maven Place was simply the result of her understandably paranoid mind. By the end of the book, it’s apparent that something considerably more sinister is taking place. I won’t spoil the plot but there’s certainly some shocking twists and revelations in there, making The Wrong Move quite the page-turner!

I wasn’t quite so keen on the head-hopping narrative. Whilst most of the book is told from Jessie’s point of view, there are some rather sudden hops into the heads of Sofie, Lauren, Marcus and other, more incidental, characters (Sofie’s jockish boyfriend Henry and the overly-friendly letting agent Ian, for example) that are not always especially well sign-posted. As a result, there was the odd occasion where I had to re-read a paragraph to check the perspective I was reading or found the jarring switch from one character to another jolting me out of my immersion in the book.

The Wrong Move also makes liberal use of some of the staples of the genre. Whilst Jessie, Sofie, and Lauren all felt well-rounded, some of the more incidental characters – especially the men – felt a little generic (there’s the jock, the creep, the loner, the nice guy etc). And whilst a lot of issues touched on in the book – coercive control, domestic abuse, drug abuse, mental illness – are covered with sensitivity, it did sometimes feel as if there wasn’t enough room in the plot to give all of these aspects sufficient space to breath.

Set these niggles aside, however, and there is a lot to like about The Wrong Move. It’s a quick page-turning read and has some fantastic dramatic set-pieces and twisty turning-points. I also really liked the way that the whole narrative is infused with a sense of unease. And whilst the ending didn’t have that jaw-dropping twist moment, the ambiguity of it flowed naturally from the preceding events and made for a satisfyingly creepy conclusion.

Whilst it doesn’t move away from the staples of the genre, The Wrong Move is an accomplished debut. The old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ applies well here – Savin’s debut effectively uses tropes and conventions to create a story brimming with tension, suspicion, and unease and fans of psychological thrillers will find a great deal to enjoy here.

The Wrong Move by Jennifer Savin is published by Ebury and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

Don’t forget that although your local bookshop might be closed at the moment, you can also support your local indie bookshops by ordering from them online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher and to NetGalley UK for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 03 May 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content! 

The Wrong Move BT Poster

 

 

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! I Am Dust by Louise Beech

I Am Dust JacketThe Dean Wilson Theatre is believed to be haunted by a long-dead actress, singing her last song, waiting for her final cue, looking for her killer…

Now Dust, the iconic musical, is returning after twenty years. But who will be brave enough to take on the role of ghostly goddess Esme Black, last played by Morgan Miller, who was murdered in her dressing room?

Theatre usher Chloe Dee is caught up in the spectacle. As the new actors arrive, including an unexpected face from her past, everything changes. Are the eerie sounds and sightings backstage real or just her imagination? Is someone playing games?

Is the role of Esme Black cursed? Could witchcraft be at the heart of the tragedy? And are dark deeds from Chloe’s past about to catch up with her?

Not all the drama takes place onstage. Sometimes murder, magic, obsession and the biggest of betrayals are real life. When you’re in the theatre shadows, you see everything.

And Chloe has been watching… 

Louise Beech is fast developing a reputation as a purveyor of finely crafted and emotionally taut psychological thrillers. Her last novel, Call Me Star Girl, was acclaimed by readers for its dark atmosphere and her latest, I Am Dust, is a more than worthy follow up.

Part mystery, part psychological thriller, and part ghost story, I Am Dust follows theatre usher Chloe as she gets caught up in the return of the infamous musical Dust. Famed, or maybe cursed, following to the murder of its lead actress Morgan Miller during its original run, the revival of Dust brings ghosts of a different kind back to the Dean Wilson Theatre. The new lead is Ginger Swanson, an old friend of Chloe’s, and her return brings with it old memories of teenage misadventures, lost love, and a deadly curse. As preparations for the show begin, Chloe is caught between the past and the present, and the worlds of the living and the dead.

I Am Dust is absolutely dripping with atmosphere. From the eerie emptiness of a nighttime theatre to the glitz and glamour of curtain up, I was utterly absorbed into Chloe’s hauntingly evocative world.

Chloe herself is a complicated character. Emotionally scarred, she’s an unreliable narrator by circumstance rather than by choice. Teenage trauma has shuttered off her memories, which are gradually drip-fed to the reader in the form of flashback chapters to Chloe’s youth when she, Ginger, and a boy called Ryan played games with the occult that have dangerous consequences for the trio.

I really felt for Chloe as the book progressed. Traumatised and uncertain, her chronic lack of self-belief prevents her from seeing her own talent and charm. The supporting cast are also well-defined and believable. From the enigmatic Ginger, on the verge of stardom and with her own haunted past, to cheeky co-worker Chester, desperate to avail himself into the latest Dust gossip no matter the consequences, each of them like rounded human beings, each with their own foibles.

Without giving away any of the plot, I will say that readers are in for an atmospheric and haunting experience filled with twists, turns and unexpected reveals. I was absolutely hooked from page one and raced through the book over the course of a couple of days. Beech really knows how to keep the pace up, alternating deftly between the past and the present and weaving the tragic tale of Morgan Miller and Chloe’s tattered memories into the present-day story of Dust’s revival.

I Am Dust is a brilliantly executed tale of love, jealousy, and self-belief wrapped up in a satisfying mystery. Add in a dash of the supernatural and you’ve got yourself a precisely crafted, poignant, and emotionally layered tale that is sure to leave you with shivers up the spine.

I Am Dust by Louise Beech is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers (while physical bookshops may be closed, don’t forget that many indies are still selling online and via phone/email!) and online retailers including the Orenda store, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 April so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content! 

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Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Home by Sarah Stovell

The Home CoverWhen the body of pregnant, fifteen-year-old Hope Lacey is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised.

For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

There are some books that you just don’t know quite how to review and, for me, Sarah Stovell’s The Home is definitely one of them.

To say that I ‘enjoyed’ The Home seems…wrong somehow. Don’t get me wrong, the book had me absolutely gripped from page one and I was invested in the characters the whole way through, desperate to reach the final pages and find out the truth about what had happened to Hope, Annie and Lara.

But ‘enjoy’ isn’t quite the right word for a book that deals with such incredibly harrowing topics. Drug abuse, self-harm, child neglect, grooming, prostitution, sexual abuse – Stovell does not shy away from confronting these issues head-on. The result is a devastating portrayal of a teenage emotional drama and a heartbreaking look at the potential consequences for children forced to grow up in the underbelly of society.

The Home opens with the body of a fifteen-year-old being found on a cold Christmas morning. Another girl, still alive but half-mad with grief and despair, sits beside her. Thus we are introduced to Hope and Annie, two teenagers with disturbing shadows in their pasts who, despite everything, find love – and a kind of reconciliation – through and with each other. But now Hope is dead and Annie is in trouble. Who killed Hope? Who was the father of her unborn baby? And what does any of this have to do with Lara, a selective mute who makes up the third in the trio of damaged and difficult girls who live at The Home?

Answering these questions will take the reader on a shocking and emotive journey into the past and present of these three young women. From their childhoods, each fraught with violence in their own way, to their move into care and their relationships with each other, Stovell has crafted a complex and multi-layered narrative that wraps you up in the lives of Hope, Annie, Lara and the staff who have come, in their own ways, to care for the girls.

Told from multiple perspectives, Stovell has done an excellent job of giving each of the girls a voice – from Hope’s angry howl to Annie’s grief-stricken despair and Lara’s quietly devastating resilience, I felt like I knew these girls and could hear them in my head as I read.

Needless to say, given the subject matter, this does not always make for a very comfortable place to be. Indeed, at times The Home made my stomach churn and my skin crawl. Although the narrative is never graphic, Stovell’s writing fully conveys the horror of what these girls have faced and she confronts her emotive subject matter with devastating clarity.

And the emotional turmoil is heartbreaking – I could practically feel the potential stored in Hope, Lara and Annie but could sense how, because of their backgrounds, they were stuck; poised forever between hope and fear, love and despair. The interspersed chapters from Helen, the manager at The Home, provided the perfect counterpoint to this and illustrate the challenges faced by child protective services in a world dominated by ever-increasing challenges and ever-decreasing budgets.

Be under no illusions – The Home is a disturbing and, at times, difficult read so be prepared. But if you can handle the subject matter, you’ll find a gritty, gripping and exquisitely written novel that handles its emotive subject matter with both sensitivity and skill.

As I said at the start of this review, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ it – much like Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, the subject matter makes The Home a book that the word just doesn’t fully encompass. I would say, however, that The Home is a brilliant, complex and emotionally invested read and that I would urge anyone who can handle the triggering subject matter to pick this one up.

The Home by Sarah Stovell is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers including the Orenda ebookstore, Hive, Book Depository, Waterstones, and Amazon.

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 the end of the month so do check out some of the other stops for more reviews and content! 

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Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver

Nothing Important CoverNine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But, at the same time, they leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today.

That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of The People of Choice: a mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another.

Thirty-two people on a train witness the event.  Two of them will be next. By the morning, People of Choice are appearing around the globe. It becomes a movement. A social-media page that has lain dormant for four years suddenly has thousands of followers.

The police are under pressure to find a link between the cult members, to locate a leader who does not seem to exist.

How do you stop a cult when nobody knows they’re a member?

Nothing Important Happened Today is, in all honesty, like nothing else I have ever read. From it’s dark and disturbing opening, to the very last twist, this is a pitch-black thriller that will shock and astound in equal measure.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the review, I should say that this novel comes with a number of trigger warnings. The books deals head-on with issues of suicide, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health – and it doesn’t shy away from the details. So if you’re likely to be triggered by those topics, or are of a more sensitive disposition, this is not going to be the read for you.

Because Nothing Important Happened Today is as dark as they come, pushing the reader into ever more uncomfortable territory as the plot progresses. Told in a detached, almost aggressive style, it relates the stories behind the individuals who become the People of Choice.

These characters are not named. They are given numbers, personality traits. The Lovers. Ungrateful. Nobody. 225 – 233. But this doesn’t mean we don’t get to know them during the course of the book. The narrative flits back and forwards, giving glimpses into the lives of these characters. You’d think this would also give some insight into why they chose to become People of Choice. But there’s the rub – it doesn’t. These things, after all, sometimes cannot be explained. And that, in itself, is disturbing and frightening.

Or maybe there is an explanation, but only if you find the link. The invisible leader, hiding in the shadows. The spider in the centre of the web. Throughout the book, you get occasional glimpses into the head of this sinister individual and it is not a pleasant place to be. But Carver has done an excellent job of making his cult leader believable. You can hear the charm in their voice, see that charismatic countenance and unassuming persona.

And then there are the detectives. Because, alongside all the mind games, Nothing Important Happened Today is a first-rate thriller. There are a number of people hunting for the person behind the People of Choice. The police are desperate to find a link between the suicides. A retired officer with a link to one of the victims starts a desperate vigilante mission of his own. And a detective with secrets to hide is gradually being drawn to the case. It takes a while for the sinister cat-and-mouse game between the various authorities and the killer to really kick-off but, once it does, it’s as thrilling as they come.

Told in short, sharp chapters that propel the novel forward, this is a ‘sit-tight, hang-on, you’re in for a wild ride’ kind of book – if you’re anything like me, you’ll finish it in a weekend whilst simultaneously ignoring your nearest and dearest. Then you’ll turn the final page and be knocked for six when you realise how much the novel comments on precisely that kind of scenario. Because there are a number of social comments being made here. About connectedness – and the illusion of it – and about social cohesion and control. It’s definitely a book that made me think and challenged some assumptions.

Nothing Important Happened Today is a unique and mesmerising novel. With its dark and disturbing plot and whip-smart narrative, anyone daring to pick this up should be prepared for a compelling and page-turning read.

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers, including the Orenda Books online store, Hive, Book Depository, Waterstones, and Amazon.

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

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Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Violet by SJI Holliday

Violet JacketWhen two strangers end up sharing a cabin on the Trans-Siberian Express, an intense friendship develops, one that can only have one ending …

Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

Hold onto your hats folks because we are in for one wild ride with this week’s blog tour! Following on from the success of creepy supernatural suspense thriller The Lingering, SJI Holliday is back – and this time, she’s putting the psycho in psychological thriller with Violet, a tale of two women, one journey, and a dangerous obsession.

Violet was meant to be on the trip of a lifetime. But having been unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, she’s stuck in Beijing at a loose end. Carrie was supposed to be taking in the world with her best friend. But following an unfortunate accident that has left her travelling solo, she’s got a spare ticket and an itch to meet new people. When the two women strike up a conversation in a hotel bar, a firm friendship is soon established. But, as they journey further into the Trans-Siberian wilderness, it quickly becomes apparent that both of these ladies are hiding something. And one of them might have a secret so dangerous that it could be the death of them…

I am in absolute awe of SJI Holliday’s ability both to set pace and to keep a reader guessing! From the very first sentence until the final staying-up-past-my-bedtime-to-finish-this turn of the page, I was utterly drawn into this tale of female obsession and deadly manipulation. I finished it over the course of a weekend, desperate to know what was to become of Violet and Carrie. And I wasn’t disappointed when I turned the final page!

Told primarily from the perspective of Violet, with emails from Carrie to friends and family back home giving an alternative viewpoint every few chapters, Violet is a taut, tense psychological thriller with Patricia Highsmith stylings. To say too much about the plot and the characters is to veer into spoiler territory however I was extremely impressed by Holliday’s ability to drop unsettling hints that all is not as it seems with Violet and Carrie, whilst maintaining the suspense throughout. Even with the benefit of a first-person perspective, it becomes impossible for the reader to tell who is the hunter and who is the prey in this twisted tale of toxic friendship.

As with The Lingering, Holliday also excels at writing unreliable – and even unlikable – narrators. Her portrayal of Violet in particular is masterful, gradually unsettling the reader as we’re allowed greater access into her thoughts and her past. The interspersed emails from Carrie successfully give her a strong voice in the narrative whilst providing a layer of hidden motivation. Violet’s inner voice might be unreliable but Carrie is hidden from the reader, revealed only in the public narrative she chooses to tell her friends and family back home. It’s a brilliant way of creating suspense, whilst giving the reader just enough of a connection to the two women to care about what happens to them.

I also loved the travel narrative element to the tale. In contrast to The Lingering, which played with the claustrophobia that comes from a self-contained location (a location that gets a brief but smart nod in Violet that is sure to make returning reader smile), Violet builds its suspense from the vast freedom and limitless potential of spontaneous travel. Evoking the sights and sounds of the various destinations that Carrie and Violet travel through, Holliday captures the giddy exuberance that comes from being young and free and with the whole world to explore. The style and tone (as well as some of the experiences) reminded me a little of the trouble-in-paradise narrative in Alex Garland’s The Beach and if you liked that novel, I would certainly recommend getting Violet on your To Be Read list.

In fact, I would recommend you get Violet on your To Be Read list sharpish anyway! This is a smart, taut psychological thriller that really will keep the pages turning. Perfect for curling up with by the fire on a cold night, Violet will grip you from the first and keep you guessing until the very final page.

Violet by SJI Holliday is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers including Orenda’s own website, Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon

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

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