Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Shadow in the Glass by J J A Harwood

Once upon a time Ella had wished for more than her life as a lowly maid.

Now forced to work hard under the unforgiving, lecherous gaze of the man she once called stepfather, Ella’s only refuge is in the books she reads by candlelight, secreted away in the library she isn’t permitted to enter.

One night, among her beloved books of far-off lands, Ella’s wishes are answered. At the stroke of midnight, a fairy godmother makes her an offer that will change her life: seven wishes, hers to make as she pleases. But each wish comes at a price and Ella must to decide whether it’s one she’s willing to pay it.

Offering a dark take on Cinderella, J J A Harwood’s debut novel The Shadow in the Glass provides a compulsive and twisted fable that underlines the message ‘be careful what you wish for’.

Seventeen-year-old Ella used to be ‘Miss Eleanor’, adopted daughter of the beloved Mrs Pembroke. With her benefactor’s death however, she is forced below stairs – reduced to being the lowly ‘Ella’ and at risk from both the lecherous attentions of her former stepfather and the cruel bitterness of Head Housemaid Lizzie.

Ella’s escape from her new life of drudgery and servitude is the library. In stolen moments late at night, she locks herself away and disappears into books. But when she picks up The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, a visitor appears. A black-eyed woman who promises that she patch together Ella’ tattered dreams and grant her seven wishes – for a price. Entering into a Faustian pact, Ella soon discovers that the power of the black-eyed woman is all too real – and that there are consequences to making your wishes come true.

Combining elements of Marlowe’s Faustus with the folk tale of Cinderella and then setting them against the backdrop of Victorian London, The Shadow in the Glass is a darkly sinister tale with a complex protagonist. Whilst I sympathised with Ella and her situation, I struggled to warm to her – although I found her story no less compelling because of this. That J J A Harwood has managed to retain this interest in the fate of a character who is, in many ways, unlikeable (and, for me, became more so as the novel progressed) is a testament to the pull of the plot, which sees Ella being increasingly forced to enact her Faustian bargain – and increasingly tormented by the consequences of having made it.

The novel is a little slow to start – Harwood takes time establishing Ella’s situation and introducing the household she is living within, as well as her background and her former life above stairs. But once the pact has been made and the black-eyed woman introduced, the pace picks up rapidly as Ella finds herself making a wish, only to suffer the unintended consequences and be forced into calling on her black-eyed ‘fairy godmother’ to try and overcome these. By the end of the novel, the action is relentless, with Ella increasingly finding the events she has wrought spiralling away from her – and the reader left wondering if she will ever be able to regain control over her own narrative. There’s also a punchy and sinister twist to the tale that reminded me of Laura Purcell’s Bone China, and made me really question the story that had preceded it.

I did find a few elements of The Shadow in the Glass slightly predictable. The romance – and its consequences – were of little surprise, and some of the moments where Ella’s situation goes from bad to worse did feel like they’d come straight out of a Dickens novel. This is, however, unsurprising given the way in which the novel pays homage to so many genres and, to be fair, the twists that Harwood provides give a unique spin to the more cliché elements of Ella’s story. I particularly enjoyed the way in which each incident is used to examine the overarching theme of power – who holds it, what they do with it, and the consequences of using it maliciously or unthinkingly.

The Shadow in the Glass is a compelling take on an old tale and brilliantly combines elements of fairy tale and folk narrative with the atmosphere of the Victorian Gothic to provide a contemporary twist on a classic story. Although I had one or two minor niggles, the ending provided a brilliantly biting sting and the narrative became more compelling as the novel progressed. Fans of Laura Purcell’s modern gothic novels are sure to find much to enjoy and The Shadow in the Glass marks J J A Harwood out as an author to watch for.

The Shadow in the Glass by J J A Harwood is published by Harper Voyager UK and is available now from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, and Waterstones.

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 March 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Reviews

REVIEW!!! The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

They say we’ll never know what happened to those men.

They say the sea keeps its secrets…

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .

Inspired by true events, Emma Stonex’s The Lamplighters is a mystery, a ghost story, a folk tale, and a lusciously written literary love story all rolled into one compulsively readable package.

Alternating between 1972 and 1992, the novel tells the story of three lighthouse keepers and their families. Principal Keeper Arthur has spent most of his life on the lights, although his warmth and efficiency hide a personal tragedy that is threatening his seemingly idyllic marriage to Helen. Assistant Keeper Bill has never felt settled either at home or at sea – although his wife Jenny adores their coastal lifestyle and busy family home. Vince headed to the lights to escape from his dark past – although he worries that despite his fresh start and his new girlfriend Michelle, it may still catch up with him.

All three men are stationed on The Maiden – an isolated rock lighthouse surrounded by nothing but the sea, the wind, and the things that whisper in the night – and all three go missing one seemingly ordinary day in 1972. The women in their lives – Helen, Jenny, and Michelle – are left with no explanation for their vanishing. Was it an accident? A murder? Or something more sinister and beyond the realms of the ordinary? When a writer approaches them to seek their stories, they are forced to confront the secrets of their own lives – as well as the darkness that may have lain within the hearts of the men they loved.

Emma Stonex has deftly weaved several voices, timelines, and interconnecting plot strands together in The Lamplighters, skilfully controlling each one to maintain tension whilst never leaving the reader feeling lost or disconnected. Instead, the novel is compulsively readable – grabbing hold on the first page and pulling you in like the sea pulls on the rocks around The Maiden itself.

Each characters is written with depth and realism, their voices jumping from the page. I adored gentle, erudite Arthur – a man lost in his past and unsure of his future in a world where lighthouse keepers are a dying breed – and empathised with his brisk and practical wife Helen, unsure of how to connect to a man who seems to love the sea more than he loves her. Jenny and Bill were more difficult characters – both prickly in their way – but Stonex allowed me to empathise with them for all their sharp edges and to share in their hopes, dreams, and frustrations. And I really felt for Vince and Michelle – two young people just trying to leave the mistakes of the past behind and begin anew. By the end of the novel, I felt like I had got to know all of them – and the ending, when it came, felt like saying goodbye to old friends.

I also felt as if I got to know The Maiden. Lonely and forbidding, the rock lighthouse on which Arthur, Bill and Vinnie are stationed is a much a character as the men and women whose lives revolve around it. Stonex perfectly captures the pull and allure of lighthouses, as well as the dark compulsion of the wild seascape that surrounds them. Alternating between wonder and dread, the novel is thick with atmosphere throughout, and interspersed with lush, vivid descriptions of the sea in all of its wild and terrible beauty.

As you can probably tell, I ADORED The Lamplighters – it’s definitely an early contender for my Books of the Year list and is a definite 5-star read for me. Although based on the story of Eilean Mor on the Flannen Isles – from which three keepers vanished in 1900 – Emma Stonex has crafted a novel that is uniquely her own and that resonates with a powerful sense of love, loss, and humanity. Her deft handling of the supernatural elements of her tale mean that the human stories resonate without being undermined, creating a story that is both compellingly suspenseful but also heart-breakingly moving. A must read and a 5-star recommendation from me.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is published by Picador and is available now from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for an advanced e-copy 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 · Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 28 February 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Reviews

REVIEW!! The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he is facing trial and execution for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent, while also on board are Sara Wessel, a noble woman with a secret, and her husband, the governor general of Batavia.

But no sooner is their ship out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A strange symbol appears on the sail. A dead leper stalks the decks. Livestock are slaughtered in the night. And then the passengers hear a terrible voice whispering to them in the darkness, promising them three unholy miracles. First: an impossible pursuit. Second: an impossible theft. Third: an impossible murder. Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent and Sara can solve a mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board…

Having read and ADORED Stuart Turton’s debut novel The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I added The Devil and the Dark Water to my Most Anticipated Reads list as soon as it was announced. Owing to the joys of Pandemic PhD life, it has taken me a few more months than I expected to set aside the time to really sink in and devour this one (Seven Deaths was definitely a book you just wanted to sit and gobble up over the course of a long weekend) but, thanks again to the lovely book club crew at The Write Reads, I was finally got chance to cosy with this 548 page chunkster and can confirm that it did not disappoint!

As with Seven Deaths, The Devil and the Dark Water is a novel that defies genre expectations. It’s set in 1634 so technically it’s a historical novel. As Stuart Turton points out in his afterward though, the history cedes to the story so those coming to the novel expecting a wholly accurate depiction of historical life a la Hilary Mantel or Patrick O’Brien will be disappointed.

There is more than one murder (plus at least one theft) and there’s a detective so is it a crime novel then?

Again…sort of? But the detective is locked up on charges unknown for most of the book, and the murders might be the work of a demonic supernatural entity.

So…horror novel?

Not quite. Whilst there are horrific acts a plenty, this isn’t simply a tale of things that go bump in the night . The devil might be on board the Saardam but it takes human agency to commit the acts of violence being inflicted upon the increasingly terrified passengers and crew.

The best I can come up with is that The Devil and the Dark Water is a cross between Assassins Creed: Black Flag (age of sail shipboard shenanigans), Murder on the Orient Express (enclosed murder mystery with limited suspects and a brilliant, eccentric detective) and Jaws (terrifying horror stalks everyone on board and you are DEFINITELY going to need a bigger boat). See what I mean about genre-defying?

The end result is, however, utterly brilliant. Turton once again weaves seemingly disparate plot strands and characters into an intricate and tightly bound web to create an elaborate and mind-bending puzzle that kept me guessing right up until the final pages.

In the characters of Arent Hayes and Sara Wessel, Turton has created two fantastic and likeable protagonists who, by the time the novel was over, felt like old friends and comrades. Sara is strong, compassionate, determined, inquisitive, and intelligent – everything a nobleman’s wife shouldn’t be. She quickly became one of my favourite characters – as did Arent, whose imposing frame and bloody history belies a fiercely loyal and gentle heart. The supporting cast are equally well-realised – from the cocksure genius Samuel Pipps to lively, flirtatious Creesjie Jens and silent, watchful Cornelius Vos, I could envisage them all in my head and frequently felt as if I had been picked up and placed next to them when reading.

The vivid characterisation really helps during the (infrequent) moments when the plot starts to lag a little, and also allowed me to forgive the (in my opinion) slightly rushed ending. Saying to much about either of those points would be to spoil the novel but, for me, the chapters following a major late-book dramatic incident aboard the Saardam felt didn’t have quite the same energy, and I felt as if some of the decisions taken at the end of the novel didn’t fit with the established morality of the characters involved. This certainly didn’t diminish my overall enjoyment of the book however and many other readers may feel very differently about the ending!

Although there were the occasional moments where the pace dropped, The Devil and the Dark Water was – for me at least – a page-turning read. There were definitely times when I had to use all my willpower to stay in-line with our Write Reads book club schedule – it was so tempting to read ahead! Because of the contained setting and the number of characters, this is a novel that you have to settle in to a bit – I’d definitely urge anyone struggling with the pace at the beginning to stick with the book for about 70-100 pages, when the action really begins to surge ahead at speed!

I also really loved the way that the supernatural was used in this novel. Again, I don’t want to say too much because of the risk of spoilers but the novel does a great job at examining the way in which fear and superstition can be utilised to justify prejudice, greed and other uniquely human follies. The Saardam is a ship full of sinners – everyone has a secret, everyone is out to get something, and nearly everyone will betray the man, woman, or child next to them to do it – and Turton has done a fabulous job of making this largely dishonest, cutthroat, and untrustworthy collection of characters both intriguing and, in many cases, relatable. As such, The Devil and the Dark Water works well as both a damning morality tale and an observant commentary on societal hierarchies – in addition to being a highly entertaining novel, of course!

Superbly written and with an intricate yet tightly controlled plot, The Devil and the Dark Water is a worthy successor to Seven Deaths and marks Stuart Turton out as a writer unafraid to blur the lines between genres and defy the expectations of what a particular type of novel should be. Packed full of relatable and vivid characters – in all their messy and selfish glory – and with a richly imagined setting, this is sure to delight fans of Turton’s previous novel – and will hopefully entice many new readers to discover his work.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton is published by Bloomsbury Raven and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. 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.

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 · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! Catalyst by Tracy Richardson

Catalyst CoverMarcie Horton has a sixth sense. Not in the “I see dead people” way, but . . . well, maybe a little. She feels a sort of knowing about certain things that can’t be explained-an intuition that goes beyond the normal. Then there was that one summer four years ago, when she connected with a long-departed spirit . . . But nothing that incredible has happened to Marcie since.

This summer, Marcie is spending time working at Angel Mounds, the archaeological dig her mother heads, along with her brother, Eric, and his girlfriend, Renee. The dig is the site of an ancient indigenous civilization, and things immediately shift into the paranormal when Marcie and her teammates meet Lorraine and Zeke.

The two mysterious dig assistants reveal their abilities to access the Universal Energy Field with their minds-something Marcie knows only vaguely that her brother has also had experience with. Marcie learns how our planet will disintegrate if action is not taken, and she and her team must decide if they are brave enough to help Lorraine and Zeke in their plan to save Mother Earth, her resources, and her history.

It looks like the summer just got a lot more interesting…

YA supernatural suspense is not, admittedly, my usual wheelhouse. And sci-fi isn’t always my cup of tea either. But when @The_WriteReads contacted me about Tracy Richardson’s Catalyst, I was intrigued by the premise – a blend of supernatural suspense, YA, and science-fiction – and by the unusual setting – an archaeological dig site. So I thought what the heck – let’s get out of my comfort zone and give it a go!

Catalyst follows the adventures of seventeen-year-old Marcie, her brother Eric, and Eric’s girlfriend Renee, as they spend the summer working on their mother’s archaeological dig. The dig is centred around an ancient indigenous civilization whose people, it turns out, had learnt to connect with the Universal Energy Field – allowing them great insight into the natural world, and the dangers that the world might face in the future.

Marcie, Eric and Renee have experienced the Universal Energy Field before – Catalyst is actually the second book in a series but reads perfectly well as a standalone as the relevant events of the previous novel are neatly summarised when necessary – however, their previous experiences pale in comparison with the situation in which they now find themselves, which could have dire consequences for the planet.

Catalyst is a fast-paced read that hits the ground running. At times, the pace was possibly a little too fast – personally, I could have done with a little more time to develop a connection with the main characters and to establish Lorraine and Zeke and their connection to the Universal Energy Field, although possibly this may be due to the fact that I lacked familiarity with these people and concepts from book one. As it was, I found myself getting a little confused at times as various supernatural and spiritual concepts were introduced in quick-fire succession.

Once I had settled into who was who and what exactly was going on, however, I did enjoy the book. Marcie, Eric, and Renee are lively and engaging characters, the archaeological dig setting was interesting, and the plot rattles along quickly with some suitably mysterious and climactic moments along the way. There’s also a pleasingly optimistic outlook to the book that made a nice change from some of the more angst-filled books I’ve read recently!

I was, however, disappointed that the important environmental messaging highlighted at the beginning of the novel gets lost in the science-fiction/spiritual elements. The two elements didn’t cohere for me – often to the detriment of the environmental plot strand. That said, I recognise that Catalyst is trying to convey contemporary environmental and scientific concerns – not exactly the most immediately accessible topics – in a unique and engaging way and I admire what the author is attempting, even if it didn’t fully work for me.

So, all in all, what was life outside my comfort zone like? Well, whilst I can’t say that I’m a total convert, I had an enjoyable enough time with Catalyst. If – like me – sci-fi and YA aren’t your immediate go-to for reading, Catalyst probably isn’t going to convert you to the cause but it’s a quick and easy read and, if you’re a fan of YA sci-fi, I think it’d be right up your street!

Catalyst by Tracy Richardson is published by Brown Books Publishing Group and is available now in paperback and ebook from Book Depository and Amazon

My thanks go to the publisher for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 06 June 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Catalyst BT Poster