BBNYA · Blog Tours · Spotlight

BBNYA SPOTLIGHT!!! Wonder Rush by Dan McKeon

This year, the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA) is celebrating the 55 books that made it into Round Two with a mini spotlight for each title. For those of you who don’t know, BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 15 finalists and one overall winner.

It’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of the BBNTA team again in 2022 and I’m thrilled to be part of the spotlight tours to celebrate our fantastic semi-finalists! Today I’m starting things off by spotlighting Wonder Rush by Dan McKeon.

The cover of Wonder Rush features an emoji blowing bubble gum and giving a thumbs up. A bloody handprint is visible at the bottom of the image.
Image Description: The cover of Wonder Rush features an emoji blowing bubble gum and giving a thumbs up. A bloody handprint is visible at the bottom of the image.

About the Book

Wendy Lockheart has been known by many names—none of them her own.

With each new school, she is assigned a new identity and a new foster family, but the same mission—kill whoever she is told to kill.

Most agents in her network of female teen assassins begin training at age ten, but for Wendy it has encompassed her entire life. Abducted at birth, she was engulfed in a world of psychological manipulation, brainwashing, and physical training. At seventeen years old, Wendy is the most highly trained assassin in the agency.

“Wendy Lockheart” is her twenty-fourth identity and one that won’t be hers much longer, which is unfortunate. She finally found a place to call home. She has an inexplicable connection to her friend, Amaya. Her foster family is caring, and she loves her foster brother, Corey, who has cerebral palsy. Nonetheless, her days as “Wendy” are limited. They always are.

After carrying out a hit on an alleged drunk driver, conflicting information leads Wendy to suspect corruption within the ranks of the agency. Intent on discovering the truth, Wendy intentionally botches an operation, making her the agency’s next mark. As their dark intentions come to light, Wendy realizes she must destroy the organization that shaped her in order to discover the person she truly wants to be—that is, if they don’t kill her first. Wonder Rush is a thrill ride through the dangerous world of a teen assassin, but it is also a journey of self-discovery—a coming-of-age tale under the most extreme circumstances. How can a girl develop her own personal identity when she never had one to begin with?

About the Author

I am the author of four feature-length screenplays as well as several short stories. Wonder Rush is my first novel, and it was recently named a Silver Falchion Award finalist.

My interest in writing blossomed during a film analysis class I took while studying psychology at Villanova University. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts from Villanova, I also hold a Master of Science in Computer Information Systems from Boston University and a Professional Certification in Screenwriting from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

When I am not writing, I work as a software developer and enjoy spending time with my wife, Rosa, and my two sons, Justin and Brandon.

Find Out More!

You can find out more about Dan and his work by visiting his website, or by following him on Twitter (@DanMcKeon01).

If you want some more information about BBNYA, check out the BBNYA Website https://www.bbnya.com/ or take a peek over on Twitter @BBNYA_Official.

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website!) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.

Wonder Rush by Dan McKeon is published by Hush Moss Press and is available from Amazon via their UK, US, and Canadian storefronts.

My thanks go to The Write Reads and BBNYA for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtag #BBNYA2022.

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!

BBNYA · Blog Tours · Spotlight

BBNYA SPOTLIGHT!!! You Need Me by Sharon Bairden

This year, the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA) is celebrating the 55 books that made it into Round Two with a mini spotlight for each title. For those of you who don’t know, BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 15 finalists and one overall winner.

It’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of the BBNTA team again in 2022 and I’m thrilled to be part of the spotlight tours to celebrate our fantastic semi-finalists! Today I’m starting things off by spotlighting You Need Me by Sharon Bairden.

The cover of You Need Me features a broken heart with blood dripping from it.
Image Description: The cover of You Need Me features a broken heart with blood dripping from it.

About the Book

‘Your secret didn’t die with me.’

The mysterious note tucked inside the pages of a recently returned book leaves librarian, Morag McLaughlin, chilled to the bone. She knows it was meant for her.

Someone out there knows her darkest secrets and they could destroy everything.

Torn apart from her own family, she will stop at nothing to create a perfect new one.

Why are they all so ungrateful? She’s only looking after them…

Isn’t she?

About the Author

By day Sharon Bairden manages in a small local independent advocacy service and has a passion for human rights; by night she has a passion for all things criminal. She blogs over at Chapterinmylife and is delighted to be crossing over to the other side of the fence to become a writer.

Sharon’s debut novel, Sins of the Father, was published in November 2020 and is published by Red Dog Press

You Need Me, was released on October 2021, also published by Red Dog Press

Find Out More!

You can find out more about Sharon and her work by following her blog, and by following her on Twitter (@sbairden), Facebook, and Instagram (@sharon_baiden_author).

If you want some more information about BBNYA, check out the BBNYA Website https://www.bbnya.com/ or take a peek over on Twitter @BBNYA_Official.

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website!) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.

You Need Me by Sharon Bairden is published by Red Dog Press and is available from Amazon via their UK, US, and Canadian storefronts.

My thanks go to The Write Reads and BBNYA for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtag #BBNYA2022.

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 REVIEW!!! The Vicious Circle by Katherine St. John

The cover of The Vicious Circle features a luxury villa amidst dense tropical forest.
Image Description: The cover of The Vicious Circle features a luxury villa amidst dense tropical forest.

A perfect paradise? Or a perfect nightmare?

On a river deep in the Mexican jungle stands the colossal villa Xanadu, a wellness center that’s home to The Mandala, an ardent spiritual group devoted to self-help guru Paul Bentzen and his enigmatic wife Kali. But when, mysteriously, Paul suddenly dies, his entire estate–including Xanadu–is left to his estranged niece Sveta, a former model living in New York City.

Shocked and confused, Sveta travels to Mexico to pay her respects. At first, Xanadu seems like a secluded paradise with its tumbling gardens, beautiful people, transcendent vibe, and mesmerizing de-facto leader Kali. But soon the mystical façade wears thin, revealing a group of brainwashed members drunk on false promises of an impossible utopia and a disturbing, dangerous belief system–and leader–guiding them.

As the sinister forces surrounding Sveta become apparent, she realizes, too late, she can’t escape. Frantic and terrified, she discovers her only hope for survival is to put her confidence in the very person she trusts the least.

Young, beautiful, and engaged to a handsome and wealthy fiancé, Sveta – the protagonist of Katherine St. John’s latest novel The Vicious Circle – should be on top of the world and living her best life. But with her prospective in-laws trying to end her marriage before it’s even started, and her modelling career on hold, Sveta can’t help feeling that something is missing from her apparently gilded life.

When Sveta receives that her estranged uncle, the wellness guru Paul Bentzen, has passed away – and that he has left her his entire fortune – she decides that attending his funeral might provide the space and perspective she needs on her life, and help explain the estrangement between Paul and the rest of his family. But when Sveta arrives at Xanadu – the wellness retreat and commune deep in the Mexican jungle that Paul ran with his wife Kali – she begins to suspect that she’s inherited a poisoned chalice. For all Kali’s effusive gestures, something isn’t right about Xanadu or its inhabitants. There’s trouble in paradise…and Sveta has found herself right in the middle of it.

Katherine St. John certainly knows how to keep the pages turning, with a combination of short chapters and plenty of cliff-hangers keeping the plot moving and the narrative tension high. Despite not being the brightest of sparks, Sveta makes for an engaging and relatable narrator, and I enjoyed the tension between her Lucas, her old flame and her uncle’s lawyer.

The remaining characters are an interesting bunch, albeit somewhat lightly sketched out in terms of their individual personalities and character development. Kali makes for an excellent over-the-top antagonist and, whilst the plot primarily focuses upon Sveta’s inheritance and the reasoning behind it, there’s plenty of sinister rituals, mysterious ceremonies, and general ‘this wellness retreat is actually a cult, right’ weirdness going on to make for a highly entertaining read.

Whilst all the thriller tropes are present and correct in The Vicious Circle, Katherine St. John’s writing – and in particular her sharp observations of her various characters – and her tight control of the plot makes this a gripping read that manages to be escapist without becoming overly soapy. Whilst Sveta’s wide-eyed naivete and Kali’s over-the-top dramatics did have me rolling my eyes at times, it’s a testament to the power of the plotting that the mystery kept me engaged and interested to the very end, even when some of the plot twists became apparent.

With an exotic and isolated setting, some disturbing cult shenanigans, and some page-turning plot twists, The Vicious Circle is the perfect read for thriller fans looking to escape this winter.

The Vicious Circle by Katherine St. John is published by Harper360 UK and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 25 November 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!

BBNYA · Blog Tours · Spotlight

BLOG SPOTLIGHT!!! Silenced by Jennie Ensor

This year, the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA) is celebrating the 55 books that made it into Round Two with a mini spotlight for each title. For those of you who don’t know, BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 15 finalists and one overall winner.

It’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of the BBNTA team again in 2022 and I’m thrilled to be part of the spotlight tours to celebrate our fantastic semi-finalists! Today I’m starting things off by spotlighting Silenced by Jennie Ensor.

The cover of Silenced has a hooded figure against a background of a building which appears to be on fire.
The cover of Silenced has a hooded figure against a background of a building which appears to be on fire.

About the Book

A teenage girl was murdered on her way home from school, stabbed through the heart. Her North London community is shocked, but no one has the courage to help the police, not even her mother.

It’s DI Callum Waverley’s first major case as a senior investigating officer – can he break the code of silence that shrouds the case?

This is a world where the notorious Skull Crew rules through fear. Everyone knows you keep your mouth shut or you’ll be silenced – permanently.

This is Luke’s world. Reeling from the loss of his mother to cancer, his step-father distant at best, violent at worst, he slides into the Skull Crew’s grip.

This is Jez’s world too. Her alcoholic mother neither knows nor cares that her 16-year-old daughter is being exploited by V, the all-powerful leader of the gang.

Luke and Jez form a bond. Is it friendship, love or fear that brings them together? Can Callum win their trust, or will his own demons sabotage his investigation? And can anyone stop the Skull Crew from ensuring all witnesses are silenced?

About the Author

A Londoner with Irish heritage, Jennie Ensor writes emotionally-charged psychological suspense and thrillers, and darkly comic fiction.

She began her writing career as a journalist and loves to tackle controversial issues in her novels: Islamic terrorism, Russian gangsters and war crimes in Blind Side (a thriller set in the year of London’s 2005 terror attacks), abuse and sexual exploitation in The Girl in His Eyes. Not Having It All is a darkly humourous novel about love and relationships, not having children and the perils of family life.

Jennie’s fourth book Silenced published December 2021 with Hobeck Books – a crime thriller with a strong psychological element that ventures into the shadowy world of teen-exploiting gangs and police corruption.

Ms Ensor lives with her husband and an Airedale terrier. She writes short stories and poetry as well as novels, her poem Lost Connection placed second in its category in the 2020 Fish Lockdown Prize. In her spare time (?) Jennie reads widely, sings choral music, practices yoga and cycles the punishing local hills. Evenings, she’s often collapsed in front of a TV crime drama with a bar of chocolate/glass of strong alcohol.

Find Out More!

You can find out more about Jennie and her books on her website or follow her Twitter (@Jennie_Ensor), Facebook, and Instagram (@jennieensor).

If you want some more information about BBNYA, check out the BBNYA Website https://www.bbnya.com/ or take a peek over on Twitter @BBNYA_Official.

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website!) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.

Silenced by Jennie Ensor is published by Hobeck Books and is available from Amazon from their UK, US, and Canadian storefronts.

My thanks go to The Write Reads and BBNYA for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtag #BBNYA2022.

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 REVIEW!!! The People Before by Charlotte Northedge

The cover of The People Before features a remote cottage set against a backdrop of gloomy pines. A light is on in an upstairs window.
Image Description: The cover of The People Before features a remote cottage set against a backdrop of gloomy pines. A light is on in an upstairs window.

What if your dream house became your worst nightmare?

Jess and her husband need a new start. So when the chance to buy a rambling old house in the Suffolk countryside comes up, they leap at it.

But not everyone in Suffolk is welcoming. The locals know a secret about the Maple House, and soon, Jess realises they’ve made a huge mistake.

Something bad happened in that house. Something nobody wants to talk about.

Desperate to make a new start and leave London behind them, Jess and Pete are inexorably drawn to Maple House despite its isolated location, dire state of repair, and knotweed-infested garden. Sure, the renovation work seems daunting now but, once the work is done, it will be the perfect family home: a rural idyll in which Archie and Rose can grow up and Jess and Pete can leave behind the shadows and secrets of their past.

But Maple House, it turns out, has its own shadows and its own secrets. Stuck in her tumbledown new home with the children, Jess soon realises that the locals don’t like to talk about Maple House. There’s something they know. Something about The People Before…

The People Before, the second psychological thriller from Charlotte Northedge, has page-turning compulsion in abundance. Set back into the trees, Maple House is the perfect location for this creepy tale of sinister secrets and shocking twists, and Charlotte Northedge does a fantastic job of developing a brooding atmosphere of fear, suffocation, and foreboding right from the very first page.

The first third of the novel makes the most of this to develop a slow-burning tension, as it becomes apparent that Jess and Pete’s dream move to the country is anything but. Far from the rural idyll depicted on her Instagram feed, Jess’s life has become a stifling round of school runs, temper tantrums, marital discord, and thwarted ambition. When, in the second third, the novel shifts POV to Eve – a local woman who has befriended Jess and is helping her with her plans to restore Maple House – and we suddenly realise why Jess has been having such a hard time settling into her new home, the tension – and the pace – really ramp up a notch. And, in the final third of the book, it’s a page-turning race to the final page as all the lies and secrets upon which Jess and Pete’s carefully constructed new life is built come tumbling down around their ears!

Whilst I can’t say I warmed to any of the characters, North also does a reasonable job of making their (often very poor) life choices understandable. That said, the characters were – for me – the element of the book that I struggled most with. Although clearly traumatised and isolated, I found Jess to be a rather neurotic and self-absorbed narrator and, as such, couldn’t really bring myself to care about her difficulties fitting into her new home. Whilst I totally understand that good domestic suspense relies upon certain tropes, I also felt that the characters occasionally devolved into clichés: the neurotic suburban mother, the secretive husband, the creepy neighbour, the ‘so-nice-she’s-suspicious’ friend, the ‘unfriendly-villagers-who-hate-outsiders’ etc. As the novel progressed, I did find myself wanting Jess to act on her misgivings about her new life and make a better one for herself and her children but, without giving away any major spoilers for the ending, this never really comes to fruition which I found a little disappointing.

That said, I absolutely cannot fault the way in which the reader is drawn into the perspective of Jess and Eve, and the way that Charlotte Northedge controls the viewpoints to layer the interweaving strands of the story and build up the suspense whilst also leaving the major revelations for the very final chapters. Whilst the characters didn’t invite my empathy, I was still drawn into their respective stories and stayed with them to the end, which is testament to a tale well told!

Whilst there weren’t really any surprises in The People Before, therefore, it is a well-constructed thriller, especially in terms of pace and atmosphere. Charlotte Northedge has done an excellent job of developing tension in the novel’s opening act, ratcheting that up in the mid-section as we realise the extent of the danger that Jess and her family are in, and then releasing it all in an explosive final act. Whilst I personally felt that there were a few too many skeletons in Jess and Pete’s family closet – and that this sometimes detracted from the mystery about ‘the people before’ – North also does an excellent job of tying up the various interwoven strands of the plot by the novel’s end.

The People Before by Charlotte Northedge is published by HarperCollins and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 18 November 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!

BBNYA · Blog Tours · Spotlight

BBNYA SPOTLIGHT!!! Ascension of the Phoenix by Jessica Piro

This year, the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA) is celebrating the 55 books that made it into Round Two with a mini spotlight for each title. For those of you who don’t know, BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 15 finalists and one overall winner.

It’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of the BBNTA team again in 2022 and I’m thrilled to be part of the spotlight tours to celebrate our fantastic semi-finalists! Today I’m starting things off by spotlighting Ascension of the Phoenix by Jessica Piro.

The cover of Ascension of the Phoenix has the image of a phoenix against a red backdrop.
Image Description: The cover of Ascension of the Phoenix has the image of a phoenix against a red backdrop.

About the Book

To rise from ashes, one must be a phoenix.

With her skills in martial arts, detective Leila Wells is considered one of the best cops in New York City because she has apprehended every criminal to cross her path, except for one. And when the serial killer, Bryan Foster, returns, he devastates her world by killing her partner, but oddly leaves her alive.

To cope with this extreme loss, she finds release in street fighting. Successes with her fighting partner grant them an invitation to participate in the Rulers of the Realms Fighting Tag Tournament. As Leila fights, she begins to heal, to accept how things have changed, and to possibly love again, but suspicions mount that the competition isn’t as innocent as it appears while a power rises within her—a dark and angry blaze urging her toward revenge.

About the Author

Jessica Piro is the author of The Phoenix Trilogy, writes in multiple genres, and is in a wheelchair with Type 1 Diabetes. Her works cater to young adults, new adults, and adults.

She graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She lives in Northeast Louisiana with her parents and two brothers.

Find Out More!

You can find out more about Jessica and her work via her website, and by following her on Facebook and Twitter (@xDRAG0N0VAx).

If you want some more information about BBNYA, check out the BBNYA Website https://www.bbnya.com/ or take a peek over on Twitter @BBNYA_Official.

BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website!) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.

Ascension of the Phoenix by Jessica Piro is available from Amazon via their UK, US, and Canadian storefronts.

My thanks go to The Write Reads and BBNYA for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour! There are lots of other spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtag #BBNYA2022.

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 REVIEW!!! The Poison Machine by Robert J Lloyd

The cover of The Poison Machine depicts a historic city map in a pale green with a royal seal across the front of it.
The cover of The Poison Machine depicts a historic city map in a pale green with a royal seal across the front of it.

1679. A year has passed since the sensational attempt to murder King Charles II. London is still inflamed by fears of Catholic plots. Harry Hunt—estranged from his mentor Robert Hooke and no longer employed by the Royal Society—meets Sir Jonas Moore, the King’s Surveyor-General of the Board of Ordnance, in the remote and windswept marshes of Norfolk. There, workers draining the fenland have uncovered a skeleton.

Accompanied by his friend Colonel Fields, an old soldier for Parliament, and Hooke’s niece, Grace, Harry confirms Sir Jonas’s suspicion: the body is that of a dwarf, Captain Jeffrey Hudson, once famously given to Queen Henrietta Maria in a pie. During the Civil Wars, Hudson accompanied the Queen to France to sell the Royal Jewels to fund her husband’s army. He was sent home in disgrace after shooting a man in a duel.

But nobody knew Hudson was dead. Another man, working as a spy, has lived as him since his murder. Now, this impostor has disappeared, taking vital information with him. Sir Jonas orders Harry to find him.

With the help of clues left in a book, a flying man, and a crossdressing swordswoman, Harry’s search takes him to Paris, another city bedeviled by conspiracies and intrigues. He navigates its salons and libraries, and learns of a terrible plot against the current Queen of England, Catherine of Bragança, and her gathering of Catholics in London. Assassins plan to poison them all.

Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke are back in The Poison Machine, Robert J Lloyd’s sequel to last year’s The Bloodless Boy.

Although a year has passed since the sensational events of The Bloodless Boy, Londoners still live in fear of Catholic plots. For Harry Hunt, no longer in the employ of the Royal Society and estranged from his friend and mentor Robert Hooke, the chance to investigate a skeleton found in Norfolk’s windswept fenland offers the opportunity to leave the events of the previous year behind him – and to get himself into the good graces of Sir Jonas Moore, the King’s Surveyor-General of the Board of Ordnance.

However confirmation that the body is that of the famous Captain Jeffrey Hudson – who accompanied Queen Henrietta Maria to France in order to help her fund her husband’s army – serves only to inflame tensions. Hudson, after all, isn’t supposed to be dead. Another man has lived as him since his murder, spying on the court. When the imposter vanishes, taking vital information with him, Hunt and his friends are tasked with tracking him down.

Their search will soon lead them to a Paris beset by conspiracy and intrigue. And, in the salons and libraries of the great and the good, Hunt will soon be chasing a terrible plot being planned against the Queen of England herself.

As with last year’s The Bloodless Boy, The Poison Machine brings the political and religious tensions of the late seventeenth century vividly to life on the page. Whether walking the darkened streets of London’s old city, or strolling into a fashionable Parisian salon, Robert J Lloyd has impressively captured the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of the seventeenth-century world.

As with the first book in the series, The Poison Machine effortlessly blends together fact and fiction, combining real events and real people with fictionalised and imagined scenarios, with Lloyd using his knowledge of Robert Hooke’s diary, the paper of the Royal Society, and his knowledge of the period (gained whilst studying for an MA in the History of Ideas) to create a detailed, complex, and evolving world that draws the reader in to the period and its many tensions. Those with knowledge of the period will be delighted by cameos from some illustrious figures, including Sir Issac Newton and Denis Papin, as well as references to the key scientific and philosophical debates of the period.

This does mean that the novel features a lot of characters – and some fairly complex political and religious plotting – however, having read The Bloodless Boy, I found distinguishing who’s who to be much easier, as there are a number of returning characters from that novel. Whilst The Poison Machine is a standalone story, the continuance of plot strands introduced in the first novel – and the development of characters first met in The Bloodless Boy – mean that I would recommend reading the series in order. The Bloodless Boy is a similarly involved read, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you like the sound of this novel (you can read my full review of it here)!

On the subject of evolution, The Poison Machine also evidences Lloyd’s own evolution as a writer. Whilst The Bloodless Boy was an impressively detailed debut, the characterisation and plotting of its sequel show a greater confidence and familiarity with the world and its characters. Moving swiftly from London’s bustling streets to the Norfolk fens and the libraries of Paris, the novel tells its tale with verve and pace, keeping the pages turning whilst also relishing in the particularised detail of character and setting.

With its detailed historical setting, intricate plotting, and developing characters, The Poison Machine is a worthy successor that is sure to delight fans of The Bloodless Boy, and establishes Lloyd’s Hunt & Hooke series as a must-read for all historical fiction aficionados. Anyone who enjoyed Frances Quinn’s The Smallest Man will also find The Poison Machine‘s take on the life and times of Jeffrey Hudson extremely interesting.

The Poison Machine by Robert J Lloyd is published by Melville House Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

My thanks go to Nikki Griffiths at Melville House Press for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The tour continues until 18 November 2022 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart

The cover of The Butcher and the Wren is black with a design of pale blue feathers superimposed on the backdrop. The title and tag line are in a vivid yellow.
Image Description: The cover of The Butcher and the Wren is black with a design of pale blue feathers superimposed on the backdrop. The title and tag line are in a vivid yellow.

Something dark is lurking in the Louisiana bayou. A methodical killer with a taste for medical experimentation is hard at work completing his most harrowing crime yet, while the authorities desperately try to catch up.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller is the best there is. Armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of historical crimes, and years of experience working in the Medical Examiner’s office, she’s never encountered a case she couldn’t solve.

Until now.

As case after case is piles up on Wren’s examination table, she is sucked into an all-consuming cat-and-mouse chase – led by a brutal murderer, who is getting more brazen by the day…

Whilst I’ve never listened to Morbid, the true crime podcast co-hosted by Alaina Urquhart, I was intrigued by the concept of her debut novel, The Butcher and the Wren, featuring forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller.

When not hosting Morbid, Urquhart’s day job is as an autopsy technician so, at the very least, I figured there would be a high degree of technical accuracy in her descriptions of Wren’s day job. And indeed, The Butcher and the Wren shines brightest when it is drawing upon Urquhart’s extensive experience in the autopsy suite.

This isn’t to say that the rest of the novel isn’t convincing, however. The plot – which revolves around an increasingly sinister cat-and-mouse game between New Orleans medical examiner Wren and the macabre serial killer christened the Bayou Butcher – is tightly constructed and genuinely twisty, with a particularly startling revelation emerging from left-field about two-thirds of the way in that wholly changed my perspective on the narrative.

Wren’s chapters are, undoubtedly, the novel’s high point however, as she brings empathy, compassion, and a fierce intelligence to her attempts to discover any clues left by the Butcher whist restoring humanity to his victims. Alternate chapters, narrated by the Bayou Butcher himself, were, for me, less successful. Although Urquhart does an impressive job of getting into the head of a serial killer, they were just a little too creepy and sadistic for me and, at times, I found myself flicking over some of the more gruesome descriptions.

Despite giving an insight into the mindset and actions of the killer, The Butcher and the Wren does an excellent job of keeping the suspense high, the twists coming, and the pace page-turning. That said, I did find one of the final revelations stretching my suspension of disbelief somewhat and, without giving any spoilers, I will say that this is not going to provide those who like a neat and tidy resolution with a satisfying conclusion to the tale. Here’s hoping there’s more to come for Dr Wren Muller so that the loose ends can be tidied up.

Urquhart also does an excellent job of describing setting in this novel. From the grim confines of the Butcher’s basement to the swamps of the bayou and the clinical harshness of Wren’s autopsy suite, I was wholly transported to New Orleans and its surroundings whilst I was reading. I also really enjoyed the largely supportive relationships between Wren, her family, and her colleagues in the New Orleans PD and hope that, in future novels, we might get to find out more about some of these characters.

Overall, The Butcher and the Wren is the perfect read for fans of Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritson and shows such as CSI and Silent Witness. If you don’t mind your crime fiction with a side order of gruesome, the realistic details and page-turning plot is sure to draw you in, whilst Urquhart’s work on Morbid has allowed her to realise a terrifying sinister serial killer who will leave you with a serious case of the chills.

The Butcher and the Wren by Alaina Urquhart is published by Michael Joseph 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 Sriya Varadharajan from Penguin Random House UK for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 31 October 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

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

The cover of The Woman in the Library features an illustration of a hand removing a book from a shelf against a bright green backdrop. On the cover of the book being removed is an illustration of a woman clearly in shock, or possibly showing fear.
Image Description: The cover of The Woman in the Library features an illustration of a hand removing a book from a shelf against a bright green backdrop. On the cover of the book being removed is an illustration of a woman clearly in shock, or possibly showing fear.

In every person’s story, there is something to hide…

The ornate reading room at the Boston Public Library is quiet, until the tranquility is shattered by a woman’s terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained.

While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who’d happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer.

Award-winning author Sulari Gentill’s latest novel, The Woman in the Library, offers readers at least two novels for the price of one, combining a vibrant and witty mystery about four strangers who meet in Boston Public Library with a taut cat-and-mouse exchange between Hannah Tigone – bestselling author of said mystery – and her biggest fan, aspirational novelist Leo.

In the first narrative Australian writer Freddie, the recipient of a prestigious literary scholarship, seeks solace in Boston Public Library in an effort to write her next book. She finds herself sat next to Freud Girl (Marigold), Heroic Chin (Whit), and Handsome Man (Cain) and is busy transmuting them into characters when the silence of the reading room is broken by an ear-splitting scream. Although quickly dismissed as a prank, the scream enables the four to get chatting and, before long, they’re having coffee together at the Map Room Cafe and well on the way to becoming firm friends. And then, a body is found in the library…

Australian author Hannah Tigone, meanwhile, is eagerly sharing each chapter of her latest novel with fan and aspirational novelist Leo Johnson. Based in Boston, Leo is an invaluable resource for Hannah, giving her tips and hints to help make her depiction of the city come alive on the page. But Leo knows about more than just Boston’s hottest diners and the correct American slang. In fact, he seems to know a worrying amount about criminal methodology and, as the story progresses, he starts to become a little too invested in Hannah’s new novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and intriguing murder mystery (or should that be murder mysteries?), which combines some thoroughly devious plotting with clever and unpredictable twists to make a page-turning and pleasurable reading experience.

The characters felt immediately alive and engaging and, unlike some ‘books within books’, I didn’t find myself preferring one plotline over another. Indeed, whilst I was constantly intrigued by what Freddie and ‘the gang’ were up to, I also found myself wondering how Hannah and Leo would discuss this chapter in the narrative when it came to their turn. The novel also contains lots of fun in-jokes that both book lovers and writers are sure to appreciate, as well as some knowing nods to writers and their habits and fixations. For those who like to indulge in a little literary analysis as they read (I can’t help it, it’s the PhD student in me), there’s also some nice meta-fictional discussions about the nature of literature, the meaning of character, and the craft of fiction.

Readers expecting a cosy ‘murder-in-the-library’ may find themselves side-swiped by The Woman in the Library‘s more metafictional and literary elements, as well as by some of its knowing wit and humour. That’s no to say that there isn’t a good old-fashioned murder mystery in here. There is. And it does, indeed, take place in a library. But what Sulari Gentill has crafted is wry, tricksy tale that plays with the duplicity inherent within fiction itself. Who is telling the story – and whose story it is – matters, and the novel delights in embroiling the reader within it cunningly folded layers of narrative.

I had a huge amount of fun reading The Woman in the Library. Although it does have some literary elements, there’s still a page-turning mystery at the heart of the novel and, with its vibrant characters and lively sense of humour, it made for a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read. I was delighted to learn that Sulari has authored several other novels – including a well-reviewed historical series – and I look forward to working my way through her back catalogue and discovering more of this author’s work.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill is published by Ultimo Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 28 September 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

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! Folly Ditch (A Helen Oddfellow Mystery) by Anna Sayburn Lane

The cover of Folly Ditch features a woman in a red winter coat walking away from the camera across marshy and remote farmland. A forlorn tree, bereft of leaves, stands in the foreground.
Image Description: The cover of Folly Ditch features a woman in a red winter coat walking away from the camera across marshy and remote farmland. A forlorn tree, bereft of leaves, stands in the foreground.

A Dickensian murder mystery. A brutal modern-day gang. Can Helen Oddfellow outwit an old enemy – or will she be his next victim?

When literary researcher Helen Oddfellow finds an old newspaper clipping in an antiquarian bookshop in Rochester, she uncovers a Dickensian murder mystery. The 200-year-old report of a woman’s murder on the steps of London Bridge provides clues to the real-life inspiration for Nancy, one of Charles Dickens best-loved characters.

As Helen investigates, she discovers the woman died because she knew a secret that the British establishment was intent on covering up. Now Helen knows… On the bleak shore of the Thames estuary, she comes face to face with an old enemy. Can she keep Nancy’s secret from him, without sharing her fate?

I’ve been a fan of Anna Sayburn Lane’s Helen Oddfellow mystery series since reading the first book, Unlawful Things, back in 2019. Two sequels – 2020’s The Peacock Room and 2021’s The Crimson Thread – saw Helen embroiled in more adventures, all combining a literary mystery with contemporary political concerns to provide page-turning thrills.

Sayburn Lane’s latest book, Folly Ditch, finds Helen in new academic territory. Persuaded by her new Head of Department to schmooze potential donors at a new exhibition about Dickens’ connections to Rochester, Helen stumbles across an old book, London and Londoners, containing a faded newspaper clipping. When it transpires that the book might have been owned by Dickens himself, and that the clipping offers clues as to the real murder mystery that inspired one of Dickens’s best-loved characters, Helen is excited to have another literary revelation to research.

When her hotel room is ransacked, and the book stolen, Helen reassures herself that it’s just an unfortunate break-in. But when the bookseller who sold her the book mysteriously vanishes – and an unwelcome face from her past is seen in Rochester – she begins to suspect that there are sinister forces at work. Calling on the aid of investigative journalist Nick Wilson, Helen sets out to uncover the truth once again. But what – or who – links Helen’s Dickensian murder mystery with Nick’s investigation into the links between modern-day slavery, human trafficking, and a dangerous new far-right political movement?

As with previous books in the series, Folly Ditch, offers a standalone mystery but with character call-backs to previous novels in the series. Although there aren’t spoilers for the mysteries of previous books, the fates of some characters and major incidents from prior instalments are made explicit in Folly Ditch so, whilst it is possible to dive in with this fourth book, I’d urge new readers to begin with Unlawful Things and work their way through the series for maximum enjoyment. All four books are excellent page-turners!

Returning characters – both friend and foe – make an appearance in Folly Ditch, although there is one notable omission whose absence allows for a poignant reflection upon the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, both upon individuals and upon wider society. References to the recent pandemic also ensure that the novel feels wholly contemporary, as do somewhat chilling allusions to recent political debates, and Sayburn Lane does an excellent job of integrating these elements with Helen’s historical research and of drawing out the parallels between past and present eras.

As with previous novels in the series, there are some scenes of both psychological and physical abuse in Folly Ditch which, although not explicit, are distressing to read. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, however, Sayburn Lane always ensures that her antagonists are brilliantly realised and that their actions, however gruesome or sinister, feel in-keeping with their characterisation.

Combining a page-turning literary mystery with a contemporary thriller and plenty of intellectual puzzles, Folly Ditch is another successful outing for Helen Oddfellow. Fans of the series will be delighted by her return, as will anyone who enjoys a literary mystery-thriller in the vein of Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel or Charlie Lovett’s First Impressions.

Folly Ditch by Anna Sayburn Lane is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including 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 the author for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 23 September 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!