Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Image Description: The book cover of Lies Like Wildfire shows the silhouettes of 5 teenagers and some trees within a flame, set against a black backdrop.

The monsters have known each other their whole lives. This is their final summer before college – time to hang out, fall in love and dream about the future.

Until they accidentally start a forest fire which destroys their hometown and leaves death in its wake.

Desperate for the truth to remain hidden, the group make a pact of silence.

But the twisted secret begins to spin out of control and when one of the friends disappears they all become suspects.

We know how it starts but where does it end?

The proof of Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s first YA novel, Lies Like Wildfire, landed just after I’d finished reading the excellent Wicked Little Deeds and, eager for some more YA crime/thriller goodness and intrigued by the premise, I dived straight in!

Set amidst the blazing hear of Northern California’s fire season, Lies Like Wildfire is the story of Hannah, daughter of the local sheriff in the small forest town of Gap Mountain, and her four friends: Mo, Luke, Violet, and Drummer. Known locally as ‘the Monsters’, the five have known one another their whole lives – and are looking forward to one final summer of hanging out together before college.

But when the simmering tensions within the group reach boiling point, the Monsters find themselves accidentally starting a deadly forest fire that destroys their town and leaves death in its wake. Afraid for their futures, the group make a pact of silence. When one of the group goes missing after threatening to break their pact and tell everything to the police, it isn’t long before the lies – like the uncontrollable wildfire that sparked them – spread dangerously out of control.

With a fantastic premise, I had very high hopes for Lies Like Wildfire. And there was a lot that I enjoyed about this novel. In a note at the end of the book, Jennifer Lynn Alvarez explains that its genesis was her own experience of the Tubbs Fire, an uncontrollable wildfire that roared through her small community, burning for 23 days, causing $1.2 billion in damage and taking 22 lives. This personal knowledge of wildfire – of the sudden evacuation procedures, the fear, the anger, and the emotional toll of the aftermath – really comes across in the novel and, for me, the chapters where the fire was raging were the most compelling in the book.

Unfortunately I failed to find the same emotional connection to Hannah and her fellow Monsters. It’s hard to say too much without giving away elements of the story but, to be honest, I found Hannah to be a distant and difficult protagonist. Infatuated with her childhood friend Drummer and easily manipulated as a result, Hannah seemed to veer between resolute and chaotic, periodically stomping off into a mood whenever her police officer father or one of his colleagues asked her a question (and then wondering why she and her friends have become suspects in the investigation). I also felt as if her character changed completely over the course of the book and, whilst that can partly be explained by the emotional stress she undergoes, some elements of that change felt a little forced.

Meanwhile I found Drummer – the object of Hannah’s affections – to be emotionally manipulative, selfish and even a bit creepy at times. I get the feeling that Alvarez doesn’t actually want her readers to like Drummer – which is fair enough as characters definitely don’t have to be likeable to be compelling – but I’d have liked to get a sense of why Hannah likes him. From what I could tell, he treats her terribly for most of the time! The other ‘Monsters’ – Violet, Luke, and Mo – were more likeable but, alas, I didn’t feel like we got to spend as much time with them and, whilst the ever-shifting dynamics of a teenage friendship group are really well portrayed, I felt some of the subplots were wrapped up a little too quickly for them to real make an impact.

The story itself is fast-paced and compelling with lots of action and plenty of twists – although a mid-book twist involving a bear attack and a bout of amnesia really pushed the boundaries of plausibility for me and, I felt, provided a convenient way of extending a mystery that was otherwise wearing a little thin.

As you can probably tell, Lies Like Wildfire was a very mixed bag for me. I loved the original concept and the way that the author managed to really convey every stage of the wildfire on the page. And I felt that the emotionally charged dynamics of a teenage friendship group were really well portrayed – as was the tension of constant lying to friends, family, and the authorities. Unfortunately I just didn’t care enough about any of the characters to get really invested in the book and a couple of the plot points and twists fell somewhat flat for me.

Other readers probably won’t be anywhere near as picky as this. If you don’t mind an unlikeable narrator or five, Lies Like Wildfire is a compelling and twisty YA read and its tangled web of toxic friendships, love triangles, and lies is sure to appeal!

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez is published by Penguin on 09 September 2021 and is available to pre-order 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 The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 15 September 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content by following #UltimateBlogTour and #TheWriteReads on Twitter and Instagram.

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!!! Wicked Little Deeds by Kat Ellis

Image Description: The cover for Wicked Little Deeds shows a young woman in silhouette running away from the camera down a corridor.

The rumours don’t add up, but the bodies are starting to…

From its creepy town mascot to the story of its cursed waterfall, Burden Falls is a small town dripping with superstition. Ava Thorn knows this well – since the horrific accident she witnessed a year ago, she’s been plagued by nightmares.

But when her school nemesis is brutally murdered and Ava is the primary suspect, she starts to wonder if the legends surrounding the town are more fact than fiction.

Whatever secrets Burden Falls is hiding, there’s a killer on the loose, and they have a vendetta against the Thorns…

Regular readers of The Shelf may know that I’ve been enjoying the occasional YA thriller recently. I read and LOVED both The Cousins and The Inheritance Games last year and, since then, have added considerably to my TBR by seeking our more writers in the YA mystery/thriller genre.

What I hadn’t considered was that I could also add another of my favourite genres into that already delightful mix – the ghost story. So imagine my delight when Kat Ellis’s Wicked Little Deeds landed on my doormat described as (to quote Mina and the Undead author Amy McCaw) “Riverdale meets The Haunting of Hill House“. Sold already? Because I certainly was! But before you race off to the nearest book shop or your favoured web retailer of choice, let me tell you a little more about Wicked Little Deeds and why it’s so good (because yes, I loved it – it contains all the ingredients that make for Shelf of Unread catnip so what did you expect?!).

Ava Thorn’s family have lived in the small town of Burden Falls for generations. The Bloody Thorns of Thorn Manor are as well known as the legend of Dead-Eyed Sadie, the town’s most famous ghostly legend – as is the fact that a sighting of Sadie is supposed to portend tragedy for any Thorn unlucky enough to catch a glimpse of her. Following a horrific accident that killed her parents, Ava is reluctantly leaving Thorn Manor – and its ghosts – behind her.

But when pretty and popular Freya Miller – Ava’s school nemesis and the daughter of the man who ruined her life – is found brutally murdered, Ava begins to wonder if the creepy stories that surround her family might be true after all. Reluctantly teaming up with Freya’s brother Dominic, Ava begins investigating the truth behind Dead-Eyed Sadie. Who was she – and why does every tragedy in town seem to lead back to a Thorn? As secrets are uncovered and old truths are laid bare, Ava and Dominic must confront both the past, and the killer who is waiting for them in the present.

Combining the compulsive suspense of a thriller with the sinister chills of a ghost story, Wicked Little Deeds (published as Burden Falls in the US) is the perfect page-turner to pick up as the nights begin to draw in! I was rapidly drawn into the story and, with the cliff-hanger chapter endings and constant stream of mysteries and revelations, I read the book in just a couple of sittings.

Ava is, if not always a likeable character, a very sympathetic one. Grieving for her parents and the loss of her family home, she’s angry and resentful but also determined, driven, and brave. I liked her very much – even when she was being horrid to her friends or lashing out at easy targets like the Miller family – and I really liked how resilient and resourceful she was. Kat Ellis has done a fantastic job of capturing what its like to be a teenager – all high drama and shifting emotions that, sometimes, you barely understand yourself. And that applies equally well to the other characters too – from queen bee Freya and Ava’s preppy best friend Ford to Freya’s quieter, more reflective (and unbearably handsome) brother Dominic, all of the characters came across as real people with real, messed-up emotions and shifting, complex motivations.

The novel blends the mystery/thriller and horror/supernatural elements of the story together really well, although I’d say the focus does stay on the mystery throughout as Ava and Dominic work to stop the spate of murders and uncover the truth behind the old Thorn family legends. That said, things do go towards the horrific in places – there are some fairly gory moments when the bodies are discovered, and some of the descriptions tend towards the gruesome so readers of a sensitive disposition should be forewarned. Trigger warnings also for bereavement, a road traffic collision, mentions of alcohol abuse/alcoholism, mentions of depression, psychological abuse, and drug abuse. Taking the edge off all those dark themes, there are also some fantastic friendships, cutting humour, and a gentle, nicely interwoven romance.

Saying any more about the plot would be to risk spoilers but I will say that this was definitely an edge-of-your-seat, can’t-turn-the-pages-fast-enough read for me! Once the story got going, I was so eager to get back to my book and get to the next chapter – definitely one of those reads where I wanted to put life on hold for a bit! Perfect for anyone looking who loves dark and creepy mysteries or YA thrillers with a horror twist, Wicked Little Deeds might have been my first novel by Kat Ellis, but it certainly won’t be my last!

Wicked Little Deeds by Kat Ellis (published as Burden Falls in the US) is published by Penguin 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 The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 20 August 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content by following #UltimateBlogTour and #TheWriteReads on Twitter and Instagram.

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 · Spotlight

BLOG TOUR SPOTLIGHT!!! The Other Side of the Whale Road by K. A. Hayton

Image Description: The cover of The Other Side of the Whale Road by K. A Hayton depicts a young man in a red shirt and khaki trousers looking at two Anglo-Saxon thatched houses. A sword is upright in the ground to the left hand side of him.

Today I’m helping to kick off The Write Reads blog tour for K. A Hayton’s exciting historical YA adventure, The Other Side of the Whale Road.

About the Book

YOU KNOW HISTORY IS REAL WHEN IT’S RAZOR-SHARP AND AIMED AT YOUR NECK

‘The Vikings are better armed than we are. They have long, heavy axes that can take a man’s head from his shoulder. I know this because I see it happen’.

When his mum burns down their house on the Whitehorse estate, sixteen-year-old Joss is sent to live in a sleepy Suffolk village. The place is steeped in history, as Joss learns when a bike accident pitches him back more than 1,000 years to an Anglo-Saxon village.

That history also tells him his new friends are in mortal peril from bloodthirsty invaders. Can he warn their ruler, King Edmund, in time?

And will he ever get home?

THE STORY OF KING EDMUND’S LAST BATTLE WITH THE GREAT HEATHEN ARMY BROUGHT TO LIFE FOR YOUNG ADULTS

Inspired by both her study of old English poetry at university and the wealth of Anglo-Saxon history in the landscape around her home, K. A Hayton’s The Other Side of the Whale Road offers to take young adult readers onto a journey into the far-off past.

After his troubled alcoholic mother burns down their home, sixteen-year-old Joss is placed into care in the sleepy Suffolk village of Hoxne. As he settles into his new home, Joss is introduced to the fascinating history of the local area by his foster family Cressida and Tim – a history that becomes all too real when a freak bike accident sends him hurtling back 1,000 years.

Stuck in an unfamiliar time, Joss rapidly realises that his new friends in ancient Hoxne are in danger from a deadly Viking invasion. Setting off on a dangerous mission to warn the Anglo-Saxon ruler, King Edmund, of the approaching peril, will Joss be able to save the village in time? And will he ever make it back to the present day?

About the Author

As an RAF child, K.A. Hayton grew up in various parts of Europe, arriving in England just in time for the winter of discontent.

She spent her first year of an English degree at Sheffield University studying Anglo-Saxon poetry, which sparked an enduring interest in the Dark Ages. She trained as a nurse, now works as a health visitor and is also a magistrate. She has two grown-up daughters and lives in rural Suffolk, very close to Sutton Hoo, with her husband and a Hungarian rescue dog.

She is a keen runner, sea-swimmer and supporter of Ipswich Town FC. The Other Side of the Whale Road is her first novel and has already been shortlisted for the Chicken House competition.

Find Out More!

Promising history, adventure, and a coming-of-age story with a twist, The Other Side of the Whale Road is garnering some fantastic early ratings on Goodreads. The book is on tour with The Write Reads from today until 25 August 2021 so follow the hashtags #TheWriteReads #BlogTour and #TheOtherSideOfTheWhaleRoad to follow along for more reviews and features!

The book is published in paperback and ebook on 02 September 2021 and is available to pre-order now – and ideal early Christmas present or autumnal read for the 12-15 year olds in your life (or any older history lovers who love a bit of YA adventure in their reading life!).

You can also find out more about K A Hayton’s work by following her on Twitter.

The Other Side of the Whale Road by K A Hayton is published by Lightning Books on 02 September 2021 and is available to pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, and Waterstones, as well as from the Lightning Books store.

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 Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other reviews and spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtags #TheOtherSideOfTheWhaleRoad #TheWriteReads and #BlogTour for more reviews and content!

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

Blog Tours · Spotlight

BLOG TOUR SPOTLIGHT!!! The Meeting Point by Olivia Lara

Image Description: Cover of The Meeting Point showing a woman and a man against a pink background with the outline of a street map. Both are holding phones showing the symbols for map pinpoints.

Today I’m delighted to be spotlighting a sparkling contemporary romance from Olivia Lara, author of Someday in Paris.

About the Book

What if the Lift driver who finds your cheating boyfriend’s phone holds the directions to true love?

‘Who are you and why do you have my boyfriend’s phone?’
‘He left it in my car. You must be the blonde in the red dress? I’m the Lift driver who dropped you two off earlier.’

And with these words, the life of the brunette and t-shirt wearing Maya Maas is turned upside down. Having planned to surprise her boyfriend, she finds herself single and stranded in an unknown city on her birthday.

So when the mystery driver rescues Maya with the suggestion that she cheers herself up at a nearby beach town, she jumps at the chance to get things back on track. She wasn’t expecting a personalised itinerary or the easy companionship that comes from opening up to a stranger via text, let alone the possibility it might grow into something more…

Olivia’s latest novel, The Meeting Point has been hailed by Goodreads reviewers as ‘a cute and romantic story’ with a page-turning quality and fluid writing style.

Protagonist Maya Maas is having the WORST day. A narcissistic author has refused her interview meaning she’s been unceremoniously fired from job. Deciding to surprise her boyfriend David, she flies to San Francisco only to call him and have David’s Lyft driver – Max – pick up the phone. David has left his phone in Max’s car – shortly after vacating it accompanied by a hot blonde that was a) definitely not Maya and b) definitely not ‘just a friend’.

Heartbroken and jobless, Maya is in need of help – and fortunately for her Max is happy to oblige. Using his knowledge of the area, Max and Maya begin a text conversation that leads to a personal itinerary and a growing friendship. But is Max everything he seems to be? Or is the possibility of love at first text too good to be true?

About the Author

Born and raised in Romania, in a family of book lovers and storytellers, Olivia studied marketing, communications, photography, and worked as a journalist for a newspaper and news television network.

An unapologetic citizen of the world, she spent a few years in Greece, Sweden, France, before settling in sunny California with her photographer husband and daughter, where she works in marketing and writes. Oh, and let’s not forget the ever-growing menagerie that completes the family: Pumpkin—a Maine Coon mix, three black cats and a siamese kitten.

When she’s not writing or thinking about writing, she reads (across all genres), watches old movies and collects vintage books, vinyl records, and eerie paintings.

SOMEDAY IN PARIS, her debut, published by Aria Fiction/Head of Zeus in May 2020 became a B&N, Apple, Kobo and Amazon Top 100 Bestseller and was shortlisted for the Romantic Novel Awards in 2021. Her second novel, THE MEETING POINT, is set to be published as an e-book on September 2, 2021, in paperback on December 2, 2021 in the UK and on March 2, 2022 in the US.

Find Out More!

The Meeting Point sounds like a really fun read for lovers of contemporary romance and will be on tour with The Write Reads until 05 September – so be sure to check out the hashtags #TheMeetingPoint, #TheWriteReads and #UltimateBlogTour to find reviews, content, and more!

The book is published as an e-book on 02 September 2021 and in paperback on 02 December 2021 (in the UK – the US paperback is coming on 02 March 2022) – just in time to make it onto your holiday or autumnal reading lists!

You can also find out more about Olivia’s books – and her upcoming work – on her website, or by following her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Meeting Point by Olivia Lara is published by Aria Fiction/Head of Zeus and is available to pre-order now from all good booksellers 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 Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other reviews and spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtags #TheMeetingPoint, #TheWriteReads and #UltimateBlogTour for more reviews and content!

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Things to Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr

One minute you’re walking in the park, hiding from a party. Then you discover that the next nine months will probably be your last. Everyone’s last. You realise that you happen to be alive at the time when your species becomes extinct.

You have to decide whether to go with it meekly like you usually do, or to do something brave, to live your last months with all the energy and bravery you can muster, to rage against the dying of the light.

Olivia struggles to live her real life as fully as she wants to. She plans out conversations and events in her head but actually doing them and interacting with other people is hard. When the news breaks that humans have done such damage to the earth that there’s only nine months of safe air left everybody makes bucket lists and starts living their best lives – everyone, that is, but Olivia who is still struggling to figure out who she wants to be.

Then out of the blue comes contact from a long-lost cousin Olivia didn’t even know existed. Natasha is everything Olivia wants to be and more. And as the girls meet up for their last summer on earth Olivia finds Natasha’s ease and self-confidence having a effect on her. But what if Natasha isn’t everything she first appears to be . . . ?

Part eco-thriller, part mystery and part coming-of-age tale, Emily Barr’s Things to Do Before the End of the World is an odd book to categorise but, in spite of that, a compelling one to read.

As the title suggests, Things to Do Before the End of the World takes place in a near future setting where humanity’s negligence has resulted in potentially irreversible environmental catastrophe. Melting polar ice caps and the subsequent rise in carbon dioxide levels is going to wipe out the majority of life on earth and, as the novel opens, its main character Olivia is having to come to terms with the fact that not only will the world most likely end but, more specifically, it is going to do so in precisely nine month’s time. Which rather puts her inability to socialise with her classmates at the school dance and her worries about her exams into perspective.

Olivia – or Libby as she tends to be called – is shy, awkward and suffers from almost crippling social anxiety. Adept at planning out conversations and dreams in her head, she struggles to enact these in real life. Hence why despite her eloquently composed emails to the girl of her dreams, they’re going to sit unread in her drafts for what will quite possibly be the rest of Libby’s life.

Until, that is, Natasha turns up. Confident, easy-going, and extroverted, Libby’s long-lost cousin is everything that Libby isn’t – and everything she wants to be. So when Natasha proposes an all-out ‘end of the world’ road trip, Libby decides to throw caution to the wind and go out to explore the world she feels like she’s been hiding from her whole life. But is Natasha everything she claims to be? Or are there secrets to be discovered before the end of the world?

There is quite a lot going on in Things to Do Before the End of the World – possibly a little too much at times if I’m honest. Starting out with the imminent threat of ‘The Creep’ (as the rising levels of carbon dioxide come to be called), the book takes a turn into more comfortably YA ‘coming-of-age’ territory with an increasing focus on Libby’s insecurities and her budding romance, then switches modes into a Pretty Little Liars-style thriller/mystery as Libby’s doubts about Natasha develop, before ending back as a ‘coming-of-age’ story as Libby discovers the truth behind all the mysteries.

Whilst all of these strands are interesting in and of themselves, the sudden lurches in tone were occasionally jarring and I did feel that some of the most interesting elements of the premise – most notably the threat of the ‘The Creep’ – were side-lined as the story continued in favour of more well-worn tropes such as the thriller and romance elements.

That isn’t to say that Things to Do Before the End of the World isn’t an enjoyable read however. I rattled through it over the course of a couple of evenings and very much enjoyed my time with it. Libby makes for a likeable and interesting protagonist and the development of her unease about Natasha and her motives adds a creeping sense of unease to the proceedings that ensured the pages kept turning. But the ending did feel a tad rushed – with such a lot going on, there was a lot to wrap up – and whilst the ‘end of the world’ premise added a unique and interesting backdrop, I felt that element – emphasised quite heavily in the blurb and at the beginning of the novel – was underutilised in the rest of the story.

That said, the ending does manage to be both heart-warming and poignant – no mean feat given the many layers and complexities of the plot – and I did really enjoy seeing the way in which Libby develops as a character over the course of the book.

Offering plenty of drama and suspense and with a premise that, whilst not wholly realised for me, added an additional layer of complication to the well-trodden YA ‘coming-of-age’ narrative, Things to Do Before the End of the World makes for an interesting and unique addition to the YA thriller genre – and a fantastic way to while away some summer evenings or a sunny weekend!

Things to Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr is published by Penguin on 13 May 2021. It is available to pre-order now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK 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 16 May 2021 so do follow the hashtags to 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!!! Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Quinton Peters was the golden boy of the Rosewood low-income housing projects, receiving full scholarship offers to two different Ivy League schools. When he mysteriously goes missing, his little sister, 13-year-old Amari Peters, can’t understand why it’s not a bigger deal. Why isn’t his story all over the news? And why do the police automatically assume he was into something illegal?

Then Amari discovers a ticking briefcase in her brother’s old closet. A briefcase meant for her eyes only. There was far more to Quinton, it seems, than she ever knew. He’s left her a nomination for a summer tryout at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain the answer to finding out what happened to him lies somewhere inside, if only she can get her head around the idea of mermaids, dwarves, yetis and magicians all being real things, something she has to instantly confront when she is given a weredragon as a roommate.

Amari must compete against some of the nation’s wealthiest kids—who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives and are able to easily answer questions like which two Great Beasts reside in the Atlantic Ocean and how old is Merlin? Just getting around the Bureau is a lesson alone for Amari with signs like ‘Department of Hidden Places this way, or is it?’ If that all wasn’t enough, every Bureau trainee has a talent enhanced to supernatural levels to help them do their jobs – but Amari is given an illegal ability. As if she needed something else to make her stand out.

With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Having really enjoyed my recent foray into middle grade fiction with the deliciously devilish The Beast and the Bethany, it didn’t take much for @The_WriteReads to persuade me to get involved with the blog tour for B. B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers, a magical middle grade debut set in a world where the supernatural lives alongside – yet hidden – from the everyday.

The novel centres on Amari Peters, a black girl living in a deprived neighbourhood who is whisked into the magical world of the Bureau for Supernatural Affairs following her beloved older brother Quinton’s sudden disappearance. Determined to investigate Quinton’s disappearance, Amari sets her sights on passing the Bureau’s strenuous and challenging series of tryouts in order to become a Junior Agent within the Department of Supernatural Investigations. But not everyone wants Amari to succeed. With illegal magical blood running through her veins, there are those within the Bureau who think Amari might be a threat to their safety – and those who will do nothing to stop her from finding out what happened to her brother…

Amari really is the beating heart of this novel. Whilst the world that B. B. Alston has created is a fascinating one, replete with scores of supernatural creatures and magical abilities, is was the strength of Amari’s character that really shined through for me. Forced to confront prejudice because of her skin colour and background in the everyday world, Amari is confronted with the same prejudices in the supernatural world because of her natural magical ability. As a black girl from a deprived background, she’s never fitted in at her elite school. As a magician in the Bureau, she’s the victim of sneering attitudes and cruel jibes. Despite this, Amari never lets herself be defeated. Whilst she harbours the same private doubts that we all get, her determination, selflessness and love for her brother are admirable – as is her decision to keep going in spite of the setbacks, and to change people’s minds without hurting others.

This attitude brings Amari into conflict both with those within the Bureau who would like to see her fail in her mission, and with the dangerous illegal magicians know as The Night Brothers. Hellbent on ensuring domination of the supernatural world at any cost, Raoul Moreau and his brother Vladimir brought fear and destruction wherever they went. But with Vladimir long dead and Raoul locked away in the Bureau’s prison, who is it that is releasing dangerous magical hybrids and threatening to being back their reign of terror?

Without giving away any spoilers, the ‘villains’ of the novel are a surprising bunch. There are some who are classically ‘evil’ – all dark robes and villainous schemes – but the ones that intrigued me the most were those who let their own prejudices and hatred twist the way they viewed the world around them. From the Bureau Director who can’t see beyond the legacy of his family history, to the kids in Amari’s class who won’t accept her because of her magical abilities, this is a novel that keeps prejudice – and the effects of prejudice upon both individuals and society as a whole – firmly at the heart of its story whilst also sparking that sense of wonder and transportation that a good fantasy novel gives you.

Because this really is a fantasy setting that has it all – unique personalities and technologies, a variety of supernatural beings, and a well-realised magic system. Despite the richness of the world building in Amari and the Night Brothers, there was definitely more I wanted to know about so I’m glad to hear there will be a sequel that will allow Amari’s world to expand and develop even further – I can’t wait to see more of the supernatural world beyond the Bureau, and to spend time with some of the characters who only get a brief introduction here (Agents Magnus and Fiona were particular favourites of mine, as was Amari’s weredragon best friend Elsie).

With its non-stop plot, Amari and the Night Brothers is a fast-paced and exhilarating read packed to the brim with likeable and engaging characters and magical shenanigans. Whilst there were one or two elements that I would have loved to see developed a little further, this is only the first of Amari’s adventures – so here’s hoping we get to step outside of the Bureau’s doors and delve a little more into the lives of some of the side characters as the series progresses.

For the first in a series however, Amari and the Night Brothers has everything a fantasy fan could want. An engagingly smart protagonist, a rich and unique fantasy setting, a rip-roaring romp of a plot, and some tantalising glimpses of more adventures to come! If you’ve been looking to fill the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson shaped whole in your life with a fun, diverse, and intelligent middle grade fantasy series, then Amari Peters may well be the protagonist you’re looking for!

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston is published by Egmont Books on 21 January 2021 and is available to pre-order 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 me with a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Dave from @The_WriteReads for organising and inviting me on to this tour. Use #UltimateBlogTour and #AmariPeters to check out more reviews and contents!

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!!! The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

The Storys are the envy of their neighbours: owners of the largest property on their East Coast island, they are rich, beautiful, and close. Until it all falls apart. The four children are suddenly dropped by their mother with a single sentence:

You know what you did.

They never hear from her again.

Years later, when 18-year-old cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah Story receive a mysterious invitation to spend the summer at their grandmother’s resort, they have no choice but to follow their curiosity and meet the woman who’s been such an enigma their entire lives.

This entire family is built on secrets, right? It’s the Story legacy.

This summer, the teenagers are determined to discover the truth at the heart of their family. But some secrets are better left alone.

Having really enjoyed the fast-paced page-turning action of YA mystery-thriller The Inheritance Games a couple of months ago, I leapt at the opportunity to be part of The Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour for Karen M McManus’s The Cousins.

I’ve heard excellent things about McManus’s previous books and, since rediscovering my love for YA thrillers, have had my eye on One of Us is Lying for a while, although the high school setting does make me slightly wary – I wasn’t especially fond of secondary school and have little desire to relive those agonies through fiction in my adult years! The Cousins, with its more contained family-drama vibes, appealed more – although on the basis of reading this, I’ll be throwing caution to the wind and catching up with McManus’s other series very soon!

The Cousins centres, unsurprisingly, on three cousins – Milly, Aubrey and Jonah. They’ve never met but all of them are well aware of the glamour and mystery surrounding their family. Their respective parents were the Story siblings – rich, beautiful, and privileged. Until, one day, they weren’t. Cut off without any explanation by family matriarch Mildred Story, the four Story siblings have spent their adult lives resentful, confused, or absent. So when letters arrive out of the blue inviting Milly, Aubrey and Jonah to meet their reclusive grandmother, their parents make sure that they accept – whether the teenagers themselves like it or not.

Alternating between the perspectives of the three cousins – all of whom come with an appropriate amount of teenage baggage – The Cousins is a page-turning family mystery, with plenty of dark revelations and emotional highs and lows. Because, of course, there is a reason behind the Story siblings banishment from their beautiful childhood home – one founded in the secrets and lies of a summer spent there many years ago. More than that however, it appears Mildred Story herself may have more secrets to hide.

Despite occasional frustrations with the sheer teenagery-ness of the protagonists (Milly in particular knows how to throw an A-grade teen girl strop), I really enjoyed spending time in the company of Milly, Aubrey and Jonah. Each of the protagonists is sufficiently different to offer a unique perspective on both the events of the present, and the secrets and revelations coming out about their family’s past. They’re also lively, funny, and smart – quite a surprise given that, for the most part, they have at least one truly awful parent a piece (no spoilers but the elder Storys are, on the whole, not the nicest bunch of people around).

The plot itself canters along from the off. The alternating perspectives – plus the occasional switch back into the past, and the fateful summer when the Story dream came to a close – keep the tension high and the cliffhangers coming. The contained resort setting also helps to control the cast – there’s always a risk with family dramas that the cast list will begin to run away and become confusing, especially when everyone has the same name and is related to each other – and the book had, for me, the feel of one of Agatha Christie’s enclosed Country House mysteries. McManus is also perfectly capable of a Christie-worthy twist – more than one revelation in The Cousins saw my jaw drop and my eyebrows reach for my hairline!

All in all The Cousins made for a fantastic pacy read – despite its length (just over 300 pages), I devoured it over the course of an evening – that combines an edge-of-your-seat mystery with oodles of family drama, a dollop of teen romance, and some smart, sassy protagonists. Fans of McManus’s previous books are sure to flock to this one whilst anyone looking to introduce themselves to her work has a fantastic place to start!

The Cousins by Karen M McManus is published by Penguin on 03 December 2020 and is available for pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Bookshop.org, Hive, 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 publisher and Netgalley UK 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 16 December so follow @WriteReadsTours or the hashtag #UltimateBlogTour 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!!! The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

She came from nothing.
Avery has a plan: keep her head down, work hard for a better future.
Then an eccentric billionaire dies, leaving her almost his entire fortune. And no one, least of all Avery, knows why.

They had everything.
Now she must move into the mansion she’s inherited.
It’s filled with secrets and codes, and the old man’s surviving relatives –
a family hell-bent on discovering why Avery got ‘their’ money.

Now there’s only one rule: winner takes all.
Soon she is caught in a deadly game that everyone in this strange family is playing.
But just how far will they go to keep their fortune?

As I mentioned when I reviewed Catalyst some months back, I don’t tend to read a huge amount of YA. As a woman in my mid-thirties, I’m acutely aware that I am not the target audience and, whilst I know readers of all ages read (and love!) YA fiction, it’s just not been my go-to area of the bookshop – navigating my teen years in one piece was hellish enough in real life! But when a book comes along that is billed as Cinderella meets Knives Out (one of my favourite films of 2020), you’d better believe it piques my interest and, sure enough, Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Inheritance Games does not disappoint!

Seventeen-year-old Avery Grambs keeps her head down. Sure, she runs the odd side-hustle after school but she studies hard, works every shift she can get, and is determined to save enough to fulfil her college dreams, get out of her half-sister Libby’s tiny rented apartment, and build a better life for both of them.

After she’s accused of cheating on a test at school and yet another argument with Libby’s deadbeat on-off boyfriend Drake leaves her sleeping in her car, it looks as if Avery’s hard work and careful planning might be derailed. But then an extremely handsome young man in a well-tailored suit arrives at Avery’s door with an invitation to the reading of the will of billionaire philanthropist Tobias Hawthorne, a man Avery has never heard of, let alone met.

That young man is Grayson, Tobias’ grandson, and, along with his half-brothers Nate, Xander, and Jameson, he’s expecting to inherit some, if not all, of his grandfather’s vast fortune. But the Hawthorne family – and Avery herself – are in for a shock when Tobias’ vast mansion, along with the majority of his fortune, business assets, and charitable foundation are left to Avery Grambs. Suddenly everyone wants a piece of Avery – and all Avery wants is out. But there’s a catch. In order to inherit, she has to live in Hawthorne House for a year. Filled with hidden passages, mysterious codes, and long-buried mysteries, solving the secrets might be Avery’s trickiest problem yet. And that’s before she discovers a girl has already died there…

The Inheritance Games starts strong and just keeps getting better! I was immediately sucked in to Avery’s situation and, once the will has been read and the Hawthorne family introduced, the plot really picks up the pace. I got so sucked into the story that I finished the book in an evening, staying up well past my bedtime to unravel the mysteries and get to the bottom of why Tobias Hawthorne made Avery Grambs his heir!

The Knives Out comparisons are well-deserved. In addition to the fiendish riddles and hidden clues Tobias Hawthorne has left all over the mansion, Hawthorne House is filled to brimming with an eclectic mix of resentful relatives, faithful family retainers, and assorted associates – any of whom could be looking at Avery with murderous intent. In addition to navigating the mansion’s many twisting passageways and secret staircases, Avery must also learn to manoeuvre through the complex relationships and history of Grayson, Jackson, Xander, Nate and their extended family with her body – and her heart – still intact.

There’s a tense romance subplot amidst all the puzzling that, despite being a love triangle (usually one of my pet hates), I got really engaged in, as well as some of the usual teen dramas involved in negotiating high school, family relationships, and friendships. For the most part however, The Inheritance Games keeps its focus on the mystery plot, with the various subplots tying in to the main story as it develops.

Avery herself is a smart and level-headed main character who is easy to empathise with (even if I did sigh at her propensity to get distracted during key moments by the proximity of one or other of the extremely attractive Hawthorne brothers) and, despite having a very large cast, I found it easy to distinguish between and remember the other key characters. Grayson, Jackson, Xander and Nate have unique personalities that elevate them beyond being the stereotypical ‘potential love interest’, whilst the side characters – ranging from Avery’s best friend Max to her new bodyguard – are pretty well-rounded given the minimal amount of time that can be dedicated to them. I was also impressed that the book managed to touch on so many issues in a pretty sensitive way – from mentions of domestic violence and mental illness, through to the emotional trauma that comes with unexpected death and regret.

By the time I got to the ending, I was absolutely hooked on The Inheritance Games and, given the cliffhanger, thrown in right at the end, I genuinely cannot wait to get my hands on the second part of this brilliant duology. Jennifer Lynn Barnes has written a twisty, well-plotted YA mystery with a page-turning pace, some intriguing puzzles, and an ending that will leave you gasping! Fans of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and One of Us is Lying are sure to love The Inheritance Games, as will anyone who enjoys getting swept up in a good story!

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is published by Penguin and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

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

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Dave from The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 September 2020 so do check out the other stops along the way for more reviews and content!

I don’t charge for reviews on The Shelf and non of the buying or bookshop links on my page are affiliated however if you enjoy the blog and want to support The Shelf, please do consider buying me a coffee on Ko-fi.

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! A Different Time by Michael K. Hill

Different Time Blog TourA lonely, young man risks all to uncover the mysteries of the woman talking to him from the past…

Keith Nolan falls in love with the remarkable young woman from the past, talking to him on a home video she recorded in 1989. But to keep their conversation going, he must find more of her tapes.

There are forces working against them both, and time is running out.

1989. Lindsey is young and alone. Living with her overbearing mother and indifferent stepfather, she yearns for the friends and family she left behind when her parents divorced. Desperate to be understood, she starts a video diary to try and understand the conflict between the artist she wants to be, and the ordered life her mother envisages for her.

2017. Keith is also young and alone. Having lost both his parents in a traffic accident, he spends his days trawling comic book stands and stores searching for the issues he needs to complete the collection left to him by his beloved father. One day, searching amongst the stacks, he comes across an unmarked tape. When he plays it, a young woman is talking to the camera about her life. And when he speaks to her, she speaks back…

The premise of Michael K. Hill’s A Different Time really is a doozy – it ticked all my Doctor Who/time travel/love-across-time-and-space checkboxes! And the book really is a sweet and affecting love story about two lonely young people who connect with each other – with the added complication that they exist in very different time zones.

Told from both Lindsey and Keith’s point of view, A Different Time is a light and engaging read. The plot rattles along, with Keith desperately trying to find more of Lindsey’s tapes so that he can continue their ‘conversation’ even as the impossibility of their situation – and the challenges presented by the gap between their presents – dawns on him.

Lindsey and Keith are both likeable characters and, for the most part, the book focuses upon them rather than dwelling too much on minor details, making it a quick and easy read. There is, admittedly, a bit of insta-love in their relationship but the resulting romance is both sweet and poignant, which made up for the lack of depth in some elements of their characterisation. And both characters are very relatable – young, lonely, and a little bit lost, I really did want them to find each other and to gain something through their surreal experiences.

A Different Time is definitely one of those books that you’re better just to roll with. If you stare too hard at the logistics of the plot, or you’re seeking intense depth, you’re just not going to have as much fun. Because, whilst there are definitely things you can be picky about here, if you accept the book for what it is then you’ll find a warm, heartfelt and poignant tale about love, destiny, and fate. Perfect for providing those easy-to-read, escapist feels! 

A Different Time by Michael K. Hill is available now from Amazon in both Kindle e-book and paperback editions. 

WriteReadsMy thanks go to The Write Reads for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. The tour continues until the end of the month so do follow @WriteReadsTours and @The_WriteReads, as well as the hashtag #UltimateBlogTour on social media for more reviews, content, and more!

Differnet Time Tour Poster