Back from the Backlist · Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things · Spotlight

6 Books That Were Not For Me…BUT They Could Be For You!

Although my blog is very much my hobby – and I have absolutely no expectation of it being anything more than that – I have to admit that, aside from being able to share the book love with lots of lovely like-minded folk, one of the very nice things about being a book blogger is being sent the occasional book by publishers or authors for review.

In my case, most of these books come because I’m on Blog Tours but, every so often, I request a book because I like the sound of it from the blurb and the buzz surrounding it. 90% of the time these books then go on to be read and reviewed on this blog (although let’s not talk about my NetGalley backlog – that’s a whole different post) but, every so often, the book isn’t quite what I was expecting and doesn’t quite float my bookish boat in the way I hoped it would.

Because I don’t review books that I don’t finish on the blog, that left me in a bit of a quandary about what to do with these ‘not for me’ books. Part of what I love about book blogging is being able to help authors and publishers spread the book love, and to share books with potential readers. And I’m especially keen to acknowledge anyone kind enough to send a proof or finished copy my way.

So rather than have the ‘not for me’ books sitting on my shelf accusingly, I decided to put together this post to spotlight them and share them with you. Because just because a book wasn’t for me doesn’t mean that it won’t be for you! I’ve given Goodreads links to all of the books, along with the blurb and publisher information as well as a link to a full review from another lovely blogger!

The Canary Keeper by Clare Carson

Publisher: Head of Zeus, 398 pages

Blurb: Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn had no good reason to be by the river that morning, but she did not kill the man. She’d seen him first the day before, desperate to give her a message she refused to hear. And now the Filth will see her hang for his murder, just like her father.

To save her life, Birdie must trace the dead man’s footsteps. Back onto the ship that carried him to his death, back to cold isles of Orkney that sheltered him, and up to the far north, a harsh and lawless land which holds more answers than she looks to find…

Review: Check out this full review from Nicola over at Short Books and Scribes – she found it “intriguing, so full of depth and the writing is beautifully descriptive” and perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries!

Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipeiger

Publisher: Doubleday, 308 pages

Blurb: Three extraordinary lives intertwine across oceans and centuries.

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a heartbroken young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toymaker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada, where a journalist battling a terrible disease, drowning in her own lungs, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Moving effortlessly across time and space and taking inspiration from an incredible true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about love, loss, and the immeasurable impact of every human life.

Review: Amanda over at Bookish Chat loved this one – her review said that “Sarah Leipciger’s writing is captivating and sharp and all historical and medical elements were very well researched and portrayed” and felt that “Coming Up For For Air is one of those books which stays with you long after you’ve finished it”. High praise indeed!

From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

Publisher: Picador, 272 pages

Blurb: When George Hills was pulled from the wreck of the steamship Admella, he carried with him memories of a disaster that claimed the lives of almost every other soul on board. Almost every other soul. Because as he clung onto the wreck, George wasn’t alone: someone else—or something else—kept George warm and bound him to life. Why didn’t he die, as so many others did, half-submerged in the freezing Southern Ocean? And what happened to his fellow survivor, the woman who seemed to vanish into thin air?

George will live out the rest of his life obsessed with finding the answers to these questions. He will marry, father children, but never quite let go of the feeling that something else came out of the ocean that day, something that has been watching him ever since. The question of what this creature might want from him—his life? His first-born? To simply return home?—will pursue him, and call him back to the ocean again.

Review: Simon Savidge absolutely ADORED this book – it was one of his books of 2018, before it had even been published in the UK! His blog review said that the book has “originality, wonderful writing, a brilliant twisting plot, fantastic characters and some themes within it that you can really get your teeth into, should you want to” and he’s also featured the book on Youtube.

Theft by Luke Brown

Publisher: And Other Stories

Blurb: What I did to them was terrible, but you have to understand the context. This was London, 2016 . . .

Bohemia is history. Paul has awoken to the fact that he will always be better known for reviewing haircuts than for his literary journalism. He is about to be kicked out of his cheap flat in east London and his sister has gone missing after an argument about what to do with the house where they grew up. Now that their mother is dead this is the last link they have to the declining town on the north-west coast where they grew up.

Enter Emily Nardini, a cult author, who – after granting Paul a rare interview – receives him into her surprisingly grand home. Paul is immediately intrigued: by Emily and her fictions, by her vexingly famous and successful partner Andrew (too old for her by half), and later by Andrew’s daughter Sophie, a journalist whose sexed-up vision of the revolution has gone viral. Increasingly obsessed, relationships under strain, Paul travels up and down, north and south, torn between the town he thought he had escaped and the city that threatens to chew him up.

Review: Lucy over at What Lucy Wrote thought that Theft was “a compelling and colourful reflection on division and truth – both within individuals and a country” with some brilliant characterisation. You can read her review here.

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor

Publisher: The Cameo Press, 483 pages

Blurb: A strange twist of fate connects a British soldier fighting in the First World War in 1916 with a young woman living in modern-day England a century later, in this haunting literary time travel novel.

Two people, two battles: one against the invading Germans on the battlefields of 1916 France, the other against a substandard, uncaring mental health facility in modern-day England. Part war story, part timeslip, part love story – and at the same time a meditation on the themes of war, mental illness, identity and art, Beyond The Moon is an intelligent, captivating debut novel, perfect for book clubs.

In 1916 1st Lieutenant Robert Lovett is a patient at Coldbrook Hall military hospital in Sussex, England. A gifted artist, he’s been wounded fighting in the Great War. Shell shocked and suffering from hysterical blindness he can no longer see his own face, let alone paint, and life seems increasingly hopeless.

A century later in 2017, medical student Louisa Casson has just lost her beloved grandmother – her only family. Heartbroken, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol on the South Downs cliffs – only to fall accidentally part-way down. Doctors fear she may have attempted suicide, and Louisa finds herself involuntarily admitted to Coldbrook Hall – now a psychiatric hospital, an unfriendly and chaotic place.

Then one day, while secretly exploring the old Victorian hospital’s ruined, abandoned wing, Louisa hears a voice calling for help, and stumbles across a dark, old-fashioned hospital room. Inside, lying on the floor, is a mysterious, sightless young man, who tells her he was hurt at the Battle of the Somme, a WW1 battle a century ago. And that his name is Lieutenant Robert Lovett…

Review: Writing for NB Magazine, Nicola from Short Books and Scribes said that Beyond the Moon “is a fascinating read, both in terms of the detail and the well-plotted storyline” and that she “closed the book with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure that I had read it”. You can read her full review here.

When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

Publisher: Hutchinson, 326 pages

Blurb: Emma is beginning to wonder whether relationships, like mortgages, should be conducted in five-year increments. She might laugh if Chris had bought a motorbike or started dyeing his hair. Instead he’s buying off-label medicines and stockpiling food.

Chris finds Emma’s relentless optimism exasperating. A tot of dread, a nip of horror, a shot of anger – he isn’t asking much. If she would only join him in a measure of something.

The family’s precarious eco-system is further disrupted by torrential rains, power cuts and the unexpected arrival of Chris’s mother. Emma longs to lower a rope and winch Chris from the pit of his worries. But he doesn’t want to be rescued or reassured – he wants to pull her in after him.

Review: Another review from Amanda over at Bookish Chat! She thought that ” the gentle humour and real moments of tender interplay between family members is so heartwarming” and that Carys Bray has an “innate ability to write about the ordinary family dynamic against the backdrop of extraordinary circumstances”.

My thanks go to all of the authors and publishers who sent me copies of these books. Unfortunately they weren’t quite my cup of tea but, as the reviews I have chosen shown, these might just be the perfect books for a different reader!

Are there are books here that you’ve taken a fancy to? Please do let me know if you pick up any of the books mentioned in today’s post!

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

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

Author Q&A · Blog Tours

BLOG TOUR Q&A!!! Inceptio by Alison Morton

Inceptio CoverNew York – present day, alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – elimination by government enforcer Jeffrey Renschman or flight to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.

Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen a lover, safety – at a price – and a ready-made family. But Renschman reaches into her new home, intent on destroying her.

To survive, she has no alternative but to toughen up, to learn to fight her fear and her enemy. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a heart-wrenching trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it…

Inceptio is the first book in Alison Morton’s Carina Mitela Roma Nova series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. I’m delighted to welcome Alison to The Shelf today to tell us more about the book, and about the unique alternate reality that she has created in the Roma Nova universe.

Alison Morton Author PicWelcome to The Shelf of Unread Books Alison! Inceptio is part of the Roma Nova series. Can you tell us a little about the book and how it fits within the wider Roma Nova universe?

First of all, thank you for inviting me to your blog, Amy. Inceptio is the beginning of Karen/Carina’s story and the first book in the ‘Carina Mitela’ strand inside the Roma Nova series – Inceptio, Carina, Perfiditas. The other strand – Aurelia, Insurrectio and Retalio – features Aurelia Mitela, Carina’s grandmother, as a younger woman in the late 1960s/early 1980s.

The Roma Nova universe is an incredible alternate history that incorporates elements of the Roman Empire into the 21st century. How did you identify the point of divergence from our known history, and decide how the consequences of that would impact upon your world and the characters within it?

History is full of ‘what ifs’ and the dusk of the Roman Empire is very fertile territory. By the end of the fourth century, the empire was changing internally, retreating and disintegrating. Christianisation was almost complete, but a group of Romans held out and continued to worship the old goddesses and gods.

We hear a lot about Romans persecuting Christians, but by AD 395 Theodosius completed the switch and made practising traditional religion a capital offence. This was a perfect conflict point when the choice was conversion or death. Subsequently, twelve traditional families gathered up their families and goods and escaped north into the mountains to found a new, safer home – Roma Nova.

The world of Roma Nova is incredibly detailed. How on earth did you keep track of all the lore and history required for your world-building?! And how did you ensure that the world felt like a living and breathing one?  

The idea has been bubbling away in my head for a long time, decades even, so most of the world was formed by the time I was writing the series. To me, the Roman world is alive; when I walk on the slabs of a forum, I feel the Romans striding, jostling, dawdling on those same slabs. I close my eyes and hear the conversations, the huckstering, the arguing and intimate whispers of people there.

Good world building is crucial and once developed, a writer can concentrate on the characters and the story. It’s crucial with alternative history to study the point of divergence as that’s the last solid basis before jumping off into the void! More practically, I keep a tracking grid of chapters in each book as I go along, plus a spreadsheet of characters’ ages. As well as printed references, I’ve built up a virtual library so I can instantly check if I’m not sure of something. And being a bit of a nerd, if in doubt, I check!

When I’m writing, I tend to think in pictures, so I play out the scenes in my mind first and work out if the characters would do or say a particular thing. Above all, they must act like normal people in their (to them) normal environment.

Inceptio follows Karen Brown as she flees New York to Roma Nova and adopts a new identity to become an undercover investigator. How did you decide on Karen as your protagonist and in what ways did she develop in your mind as the story progressed?

I truly don’t know how Karen came to mind! Carina was more real to me. Karen’s life had to be a contrast to Carina’s, so I had to take her from ordinariness to extraordinariness. Yet her basic character, moral strength and resilience had to be present from her youngest days. I gave her a mixed childhood with loving then indifferent carers, and a determination to make her own way. She built a defensive shell around herself which augmented her natural tendency to challenge. But she still retains the self-doubt of that mixed childhood. When she is in her right place in her life, then those innate characteristics come to the fore.

Roma Nova is a society ruled by women. Was this something that you did intentionally and, if so, what did you hope to explore by creating a matriarchy?

Yes! I had a military father and a feminist mother, which is probably why I served six years in uniform. Since the first encounter with Romans at age eleven, I’d wondered what a Roman world run by women would be like. As I learnt more about Roman life and studied further, it became an increasingly burning question I longed to explore.  But in a way, Roma Novan society is ‘egalitarian-lite’ where contribution is by ability not gender and men are not disadvantaged.

The world of Roma Nova is heavily influenced by Roman history. What made you choose this particular period as a backdrop to your books and how did you incorporate Roman history into the 21st century?

I’ve been a ‘Roman nut’ since touching my first mosaic under a hot sun in north-east Spain. Since then I’ve clambered over a lot of Roman Europe. Rome lasted over 1229 years and went from a village in Latium to rulers of the known world. Not wishing to sound like the famous Monty Python film sketch, Rome underlies so much of our current life from arts, law, literature, practical engineering, industry, technology and systems. Despite the polarities in wealth, average citizen prosperity in the first century AD didn’t achieve the same level again until the Victorian age.

Roma Novans continue the core cultural and religious values as well as the robust attitudes and engineering and technology development ability of their ancestors; these helped them survive throughout the centuries. But, pragmatic like their ancestors, they had to evolve and adapt to the realities around them.

Today they are hi-tech innovators, they defend their corner strongly, speak Latin and used solidi as their currency, although with Internet banking and credit cards. Their main street is the Decumanus Maximus, but the traffic jams can be terrible!

The Praetorian Guard is an elite force guarding the imperatrix, or ruler, of Roma Nova but they are pretty much like any other NATO special forces military in their uniforms and weapons. Readers will find much that’s familiar, but with a Roman origin or at least flavour. Binding these together is half the fun of writing Roma Nova
Inceptio manages to combine the action and intrigue of a thriller with the alternate history often found in sci-fi, then laces it with romance and a coming of age tale. Do you feel the book fits within a particular genre or were you keen to use the unique premise to subvert reader expectations in this regard?

Haha! You’ve guessed. While I’m in favour of some subversion and wrote the stories as they came to me, I had to be realistic and market the series with a main category – thriller. However, I can dip into the sci-fi/alternative history, romance and historical fiction areas equally and readers come from each of these. People have often started reviews with ‘This is not my normal reading, but…’

As a reader, I enjoy cross-genre books most. A book without pace or progression, or without an emotional relationship or an intriguing hint of mystery doesn’t satisfy me. Most of all it’s the characters that drive the most interesting stories whatever their time or setting.
Inceptio is the first in a number of adventures for Karen. Could you tell us a little about where her journey takes her next? Will you be writing any more books set in Roma Nova?

Her next adventure, Carina, a novella, takes place a few years later when she goes to North America on what appears to be a straightforward mission. But, of course, it doesn’t turn out like that. Two-and-a-bit years further on, in Perfiditas, she faces betrayal on every level, personal, professional and political. And nine years later, in Successio, (‘the next generation’) she has to face the most serious enemy she’s ever encountered, one who threatens not only her family but Roma Nova itself.

The second strand of adventures feature her grandmother, Aurelia, firstly in Aurelia as a young Praetorian officer in the late 1960s, then later as a foreign minister in the early 1980s. We discover the real story behind the terror of the Great Rebellion in Insurrectio and the endgame of Aurelia’s bitter personal and national rivalry with Caius Tellus in Retalio.

Currently, I’m writing another novella, set between Aurelia and Insurrectio in the 1970s. Now that’s a really interesting research challenge!

Thank you so much, Alison, for answering my questions and sharing the fascinating world of Roma Nova with us!

To find out more about Alison and her books, you can visit her website, sign up to her newsletter, and follow her on Twitter @alison_morton. The series is available in both paperback and ebook from various online retailers and Alison has buying links on her website.

The blog tour for Inceptio continues until 4 March 2019 so please do check out the other stops for reviews, extracts and more! My thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this tour and arranging the interview with Alison.

Roma Novel Series Graphic

Inceptio Blog Tour Poster