Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge

Image Description: The cover of The Carnival of Ash features the spires and towers of a Renaissance city set against a night sky. Flecks of ash and flame are in the air and the city is surrounded by coloured banners on which the title is written.

Cadenza is the City of Words, a city run by poets, its skyline dominated by the steepled towers of its libraries, its heart beating to the stamp and thrum of the printing presses in the Printing Quarter.

Carlo Mazzoni, a young wordsmith arrives at the city gates intent on making his name as the bells ring out with the news of the death of the city’s poet-leader. Instead, he finds himself embroiled with the intrigues of a city in turmoil, the looming prospect of war with their rival Venice ever-present.

A war that threatens not only to destroy Cadenza but remove it from history altogether…

Cadenza is the City of Words. Its Renaissance splendour comes from the spiralling towers of its many libraries whilst its taverns and streets sing with the lyrical offering of poets and thrum to the beat of the Printing Quarter’s presses. Even its shadows are filled with the scandalous offerings of the Ink Maids. revered and reviled in equal measure. Picking up Tom Beckerlegge’s adult debut, The Carnival of Ash, is to be drawn into this enthralling world, although I have to admit that, what I found when I arrived there wasn’t quite what I expected going in!

From the blurb, I was expecting a historical fantasy novel that followed young wordsmith Carlo Mazzoni as he becomes embroiled in the intrigues of Cadenza. The Carnival of Ash is, however, a more layered affair than the blurb would suggest. Divided into twelve cantos, each of which is told from the perspective of a different character, the world of Cadenza is instead gradually unveiled to the reader and, in the second half of the novel, the stories and characters begin to weave together to reveal a wider portrait of a city which threatens to destroy itself from within.

To be honest, this style threw me when I first began reading. The first half of the novel does, at times, feel like reading connected short stories more than a single coherent narrative and I did spend some time wondering when the wider plot would begin to emerge. And whilst I really liked the way in which the novel developed as an alternative history, filled with political intrigue, social nuance, and some light fantastical elements, I think anyone going into this book and expecting a fantasy along the lines of Caraval will be disappointed. Instead, The Carnival of Ash is more akin to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell or The Night Circus, with its blend of history and magical realism, and its focus upon layered storytelling rather than pacy plot.

The Carnival of Ash is also a much darker book than I expected. The opening canto features a character who expresses suicide ideation at times whilst another early section contained some dubious sexual consent and emotional manipulation that left me feeling a little uncomfortable. Readers should also be aware that the book does feature some scenes of sexual and physical violence, references to torture, rape, blood, and murder, and some medical content. There are also several abusive families in the book and some of the characters express or demonstrate ableism, sexism, misogyny, and fatphobia. This really is a late medieval/Renaissance world portrayed in all its messy and problematic glory.

Personally, I didn’t mind the dark tone but I did have some issues with the way in which the female characters were described and treated at times. As a scholar of the Early Modern period, I am all too aware of the patriarchal structures of many Western medieval and Renaissance societies however, as an alternative history, it would have been nice to see revisions to this view. Whilst I loved the concept of the Ink Maids – literary courtesans who, for a fee, will write letters that fulfil a client’s wildest desires – I found the section told from the perspective of one of them, Hypatia, quite uncomfortable. Despite holding a position of prominence and power, Hypatia is portrayed as frail and delicate and she continues to be objectified by those around her. A woman being the target of both desire and violence is, unfortunately, far from unusual – and is a theme often explored in fiction – but I felt that the ‘short story’ aspect of the narrative worked against a full and nuanced exploration of these themes. As a reader, I didn’t get to stay with Hypatia long enough to feel that she became anything more than a symbolic object.

All of that said, I am glad I stuck with The Carnival of Ash. The writing, although dense, is undoubtedly beautiful and the way in which the city is portrayed really is enthralling. Tom Beckerlegge has created a marvellous alterative world and has peopled it with interesting characters who, as the book goes on, are revealed to have complex motivations and emotions. It also has some whip-smart dialogue and a fine line in gallows humour, especially from the character of the gravedigger, Ercole. Many of the uncomfortable elements are also revealed to be part of wider corruption within the city, and I do feel the author is deliberately exploring themes of power and depravity by highlighting these.

Ultimately, The Carnival of Ash was a bit of a marmite book for me. The premise, world-building, and writing is fantastic but the narrative structure of the ‘cantos’ made the first half of the novel feel disjointed and it did take some perseverance to make it through to the second half which, for me, was when the story really began to take flight. Whilst characters do gain dimensions as the book progresses, I also felt that in the early cantos some characters featured more as cyphers than as rounded and relatable people.

Readers who head into this book expecting a traditional SFF are likely to be disappointed as that isn’t what The Carnival of Ash offers. Fans of alternative historical fiction and literary magical realism, however, will find much to enjoy in this lush literary tale about a city of poets that never was.

The Carnival of Ash by Tom Beckerlegge is published by Solaris/Rebellion Publishing and is available now from all good bookseller 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! There are lots of other reviews and spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtags #TheCarnivalOfAsh #TheWriteReads and #BlogTour.

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!!! May Day by Josie Jaffrey

Today I’m on The Write Reads Blog Tour for Josie Jaffrey’s May Day, the first in her ‘Seekers’ series of urban fantasy novels set in Oxford and the WINNER of the Book Bloggers Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA) 2021!!

Image Description: The cover of May Day depicts a young woman looking at a castellated tower. The cover is an eerie red.

About the Book

If the murderer you’re tracking is a vampire, then you want a vampire detective.

Just maybe not this one.

It’s not that Jack Valentine is bad at her job. The youngest member of Oxford’s Seekers has an impressive track record, but she also has an impressive grudge against the local baron, Killian Drake.

When a human turns up dead on May Morning, she’s determined to pin the murder on Drake. The problem is that none of the evidence points to him. Instead, it leads Jack into a web of conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the country, people to whom Jack has no access. But she knows someone who does.

To get to the truth, Jack will have to partner up with her worst enemy. As long as she can keep her cool, Drake will point her to the ringleaders, she’ll find the murderer and no one else will have to die.

Body bags on standby.

About the Author

Josie is a fantasy and historical fiction author who writes about lost worlds, dystopian societies and paranormal monsters (vampires are her favourite). She has published multiple novels and short stories. Most of those are set in the Silverse, an apocalyptic world filled with vampires and zombies.

She’s currently working on vampire murder mysteries (the Seekers series) and a YA series centred around Atlantis and the lost civilisations of the Mediterranean (the Deluge series). Researching the latter is the first time she’s used her Classics degree since university.

​Josie lives in Oxford with her husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for Josie to wear black, which is largely why she gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, she still misses her old wardrobe.

To learn more about Josie and her work you can visit her website at https://www.josiejaffrey.com. In addition to information about both backlist and forthcoming books, you can read a FREE story, become a member of Josie’s readers club, and sign up to join Josie’s reviewers list!

Find Out More!

May Day won the Book Bloggers Novel of the Year Award 2021, an indie book award that is solely judged by a diverse panel of book bloggers. BBNYA aims is to give under appreciated authors a chance to get the recognition they deserve without being overshadowed by the big names – and May Day proved to be a big hit with 2021’s panel!

Over on Goodreads, blogger and book reviewer V L Book Reviews praised it as ‘a highly recommendable read’ that offers ‘an intriguing slew of characters, compelling groundwork, incriminating intrigue with an operative fit to smite the status quo’ (see the full review), whilst Ellie from Read to Ramble said she was ‘hooked’ as soon as she started (see the full review)!

I was lucky enough to read an extract of May Day during BBNYA and, although fantasy isn’t my usual go-to genre, I loved the premise of a vampire murder mystery series. With so many excellent reviews from readers – and the second book in the Seekers series, Judgement Day also now available – I’m seriously contemplating get this on my TBR!

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

May Day by Josie Jaffrey is published by Silver Sun Books and is available both as an ebook and a paperback from Amazon. Signed copies can also be purchased direct from Josie via her website.

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 #MayDay #TheWriteReads and #BlogTour.

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!!! Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick

Image Description: The cover of Dread Wood has four young people silhouetted against a backdrop of a school and its playing fields. The school is surrounded by woodland. In the foreground, some rather large spiders are creeping closer…

Turn the lights out. Lock the door. Things are about to get SERIOUSLY SCARY!

It’s basically the worst school detention ever. When classmates (but not mate-mates) Hallie, Angelo, Gustav and Naira are forced to come to school on a SATURDAY, they think things can’t get much worse. But they’re wrong. Things are about to get seriously scary.

What has dragged their teacher underground? Why do the creepy caretakers keeping humming the tune to Itsy Bitsy Spider? And what horrors lurk in the shadows, getting stronger and meaner every minute . . .? Cut off from help and in danger each time they touch the ground, the gang’s only hope is to work together. But it’s no coincidence that they’re all there on detention. Someone has been watching and plotting and is out for revenge . . .

Since entering the sunny uplands of (ostensible) adulthood, I haven’t read either a ton of Middle Grade fiction or a great deal of horror. Which is somewhat surprising because, when I was kid, I loved scaring myself witless with a good Goosebumps book and, as a teenager, Point Horror books were my jam. Reading Dread Wood, Jennifer Killick’s latest Middle Grade horror novel, brought these tween and teenage scares crashing straight through my pretence at adulthood and reminded me that, no matter how old you are, there’s nothing like things that go bump in the night (or, in this case, go skittering around in the dark) for keeping the pages turning!

The last thing Angelo, Naira, Gus, and Hallie want to be doing on a Saturday morning is spending time with their oh-so-cheery teacher Mr Canton at a ‘back on track’ detention. But given that they all played a part in the great Dread Wood cafeteria riot, they don’t have much of a choice. When their teacher is apparently ‘eaten’ by a hole in the ground, however, it soon becomes apparent that this detention just might turn out to be deadly. Before long, the quartet are forced to become unlikely allies as they confront creepy caretakers, secret passageways, and subterranean horrors.

I was drawn into Dread Wood within just a few pages thanks to Jennifer Killick’s perfect balance between sinister foreboding, creepy mystery, and genuinely witty humour. The sparky dialogue and verbal quips exchanged between Angelo, Naira, Gus, and Hallie had me laughing out loud at many points, as did the attempts of their hapless teacher, Mr Canton, to be ‘down with the kids’. Combined with the development of a genuine friendship between the unlikely quartet, the jokes helped to take the edge off what is otherwise a genuinely creepy story of ‘monster’ proportions.

Without giving too much away (and nothing that can’t be inferred from a close examination of the cover), Dread Wood offers plentiful scares of the eight-legged variety. However, as a self-confessed arachnophobe, I can testify to Dread Wood‘s horror elements providing a healthy dose of scares without too much accompanying trauma. In fact, I learnt a number of very interesting facts about my eight-legged nemeses and came out of the book with a newfound and healthy respect for such remarkable creatures (albeit not a respect that extends to allowing them to live in my house).

Erring on the side of gripping and creepy rather than outright horror, Dread Wood has plenty of twists and turns – as well as lots of cliff-hanger chapter endings – to keep up the pace whilst the ending, although both reassuring and rewarding, hints at further adventures to come for Angelo and Co.

Offsetting the scares with a good dose of humour, this lively story of one very deadly detention is packed full of unlikely friendship and formidable foes. Offering a page-turning plot that doesn’t shy away from the scares, Dread Wood is a perfect read for 9-12 year olds looking for a fun but creepy mystery – or big kids looking to re-live those Goosebumps vibes!

Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick is published by HarperCollins Farshore 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 20th April 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

ULTIMATE BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! You’ll Be The Death of Me by Karen M. McManus

Image Description: The cover of You’ll Be The Death of Me has the title in bold purple font with the silhouettes of three teenagers above. The tagline is ‘Three friends with secrets to hide; One shocking murder; Will the truth come out?’

Ivy, Mateo and Cal used to be close – best friends back in middle school.

Now all they have in common is a bad day. So for old time’s sake they skip school together – one last time.

But when the trio spot Brian ‘Boney’ Mahoney ditching class too, they follow him – right into a murder scene.

They all have a connection to the victim. And they’re ALL hiding something.

When their day of freedom turns deadly, it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out . . .

If you’ve followed The Shelf for a while, you’ll know I became a convert of YA mystery/thrillers last year thanks, in no small part, to Karen M. McManus’ The Cousins. I therefore jumped at the chance to be part of the Blog Tour for her latest standalone novel, You’ll Be The Death of Me.

As in The Cousins, You’ll Be The Death of Me features three protagonists: A-grade student Ivy has just lost the student council election to the class clown despite years of organising school initiatives; girl-crazy Cal has just been stood up by his latest crush; and hard-working Mateo just needs a break – he’s been burned out working two jobs ever since his Mom got sick and the family business went under.

So when the three former best friends bump into each other, they decide to stage a repeat of their Middle School escapade – the ‘Best Day Ever’ – and skip school together for one last time. When a fellow student is murdered, however, the ‘Best Day Ever’ soon turns into a nightmare. Ivy, Cal, and Mateo all have their reasons for disliking Brian ‘Boney’ Mahoney – and, as they day turns ever more deadly – all three have secrets to hide that might just be the death of them.

Whilst You’ll Be The Death of Me doesn’t deviate too far from McManus’s trademark formula: teen angst, deadly secrets, and a dash of budding romance; there is a strong element of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ here. McManus does what she does SO well that fans of her previous books are sure to adore You’ll be The Death of Me with the same fervour.

Whilst I initially didn’t like Ivy, Cal, and Mateo all that much, I gradually warmed to the three teens as the book went on. Yes, each of them is a bundle of teenage angst but, to be fair, each of them has challenges to deal with. Ivy is trying to find her place amidst her high-achieving family, Mateo wants to help his Mom, and Cal just wants to fit in. Their vulnerabilities and anxieties are woven throughout the story and provide a strong emotional pull to the narrative.

The ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with murders’ premise is utterly genius and McManus makes the most of its potential here, offering up plenty of suspects and a wider, all-encompassing plot that kept me guessing until the final pages. The ending also has a real sting in the tail – and possibly sets up events for a continuation – and, whilst not exactly ‘happily every after’ had a realistic feel that suited the story well. There’s also some poignant reflections on growing up and moving on that will resonate with readers of any age.

Whilst I didn’t love the characters or the high school setting quite as much as the atmospheric island of The Cousins, You’ll Be The Death of Me soon drew me in with its brilliant premise, page-turning plot, and regular twists and turns. Fans of McManus will find her latest novel just as compelling as her last, whilst those new to her work could do far worse than starting with this solid YA thriller.

You’ll Be The Death of Me by Karen M. McManus 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 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 an inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 12 December so follow #TheWriteReads and #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

BLOG TOUR SPOTLIGHT!!! The Chronicles of Iona: Exile by Paula De Fougerolles

Image Description: The cover of The Chronicles of Iona: Exile has an excerpt from a map showing Iona and the surrounding area

Today I’m on The Write Reads blog tour for Paula de Fougerolles’s historical novel, The Chronicles of Iona: Exile; the first in her award-winning Chronicles of Iona series.

About the Book

The Chronicles of Iona: Exile tells the story of the Irish monk and Scottish warrior, Saint Columba and Aedan mac Gabran, who would band together to lay the foundation of the nation of Scotland.  They were a real-life 6th-century Merlin and King Arthur and their story has never been told.

The book begins in 563 A.D.  The Roman Empire is long gone, freeing the region of Scotland from the threat of imperial rule but opening it to chaos from warring tribes vying for control. Columba, a powerful abbot-prince, is exiled from Ireland to the pagan colony of Dal Riata on Scotland’s west coast for an act of violence. There he encounters Aedan, the down-and-out second son of the colony’s former king, slain by the Picts.

Together, this unlikely pair travels the breadth of a divided realm, each in search of his own kind of unity.  Their path is fraught with blood feuds, lost love, treachery, dark gods and monsters, but also with miracles and valour.  Beset on all sides, their only hope is to become allies—and to forge a daring alliance with the pagan Picts.

How Columba overcame exile and a crisis of faith to found the famous monastery of Iona (one of the greatest centres of learning in Dark Age Europe) and, from it, the Celtic Church in the British Isles; and how Aedan avenged his father’s death and became, against all odds, the progenitor of Scottish kings and the greatest warlord of his age, begins here.

For both, what begins as a personal imperative becomes a series of events that lead to the foundation of Iona and the kingdom of Scotland—events that literally change the world.

About the Author

Paula de Fougerolles has a doctorate from the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, and has taught and published in the field. She has lived and travelled extensively throughout Scotland and Ireland, including a prestigious year-long Thomas J. Watson Fellowship in which she criss-crossed Europe in search of the physical remains of the so-called Dark Age – research which ultimately led to this award-winning historical fiction series.

To learn more, visit www.pauladefougerolles.com.

Find Out More!

The Chronicles of Iona: Exile was named to “Kirkus Reviews'” Best of 2012 and a Silver Prize Winner in the 2012 “ForeWord Clarion” Book of the Year Awards, Historical Fiction. Readers on Goodreads have praised it as ‘a book that has everything you could want’ and ‘a MUST-READ for every history-loving reader’. Although I’m spotlighting the book today, this is a series that is definitely going on my To Be Read list – it sounds right up my historical-fiction-loving street and is set during a fascinating period of history.

The book is on tour with The Write Reads from today until 06 October 2021 so follow the hashtags #TheWriteReads #BlogTour and #TheChroniclesOfIona to follow along for more reviews and features!

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

The Chronicles of Iona: Exile by Paula de Fougerelles is available to purchase in paperback and Kindle edition from Amazon. You can also read an extract from the book on Paula’s website, as well as find out more about the series and the inspiration, history, and research behind it.

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 #TheChroniclesOfIona #TheWriteReads and #BlogTour.

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!!! 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!