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 · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! Fireborn: Twelve and the Frozen Forest by Aisling Fowler

Image Description: Fireborn book cover depicting a young girl (Twelve) astride a large dog. The girl appears to be using magic and there is backdrop of magical ice and fire swirls.

Ember is full of monsters.

Twelve gave up her name and identity to train in the art of hunting them–so she says. The truth is much more deadly: she trains to take revenge on those who took her family from her.

But when Twelve’s new home is attacked, she’ll find herself on an unexpected journey, where her hidden past is inescapably intertwined with her destiny–and the very fate of her world.

One of the nicest things about being part of the gang over at The Write Reads has been rediscovering my love of Middle Grade and YA fiction – and of Middle Grade fantasy in particular. Having read and loved Amari and the Night Brothers earlier this year, I was eager for more epic Middle Grade fantasy in my reading life – and Aisling Fowler’s Fireborn: Twelve and the Frozen Forest definitely scratched that itch!!

Twelve is one of the best huntlings at the Lodge. But her refusal to get close to her fellow Hunters means that her mentors despair of ever passing her Blooding. Because the job of a Hunter isn’t just to fight the dark things of the world but to broker peace and negotiate treaties between the clans of Ember – and to stop the Dark War from ever happening again.

But the Hunter’s Lodge is only a means to an end for Twelve. She doesn’t want to be a Hunter – and she has no time for making friends or finding a replacement for the family she has so tragically lost. When the Lodge is attacked by a dark magician and his followers however, Twelve is swept up into a quest to rescue a fellow huntling and prevent the darkness returning to Ember. With the aid of the Lodge’s guardian Dog and two of her fellow huntlings, Twelve will soon have to make a choice between isolation and friendship – and learn to contend with her own hidden and wildly dangerous powers.

Any Middle Grade fantasy always has to contend with comparisons to Harry Potter and, although very different stories (and with very different protagonists), Fireborn does have that compulsive ‘one more page, one more chapter, one more book’ quality that held me in its grip and had me fully immersed in the adventures of Twelve and her friends – and in the world of Ember more widely.

Twelve is a fantastic protagonist. I really empathised with both her stubbornness and determination, and her desire to avoid further hurt by cutting herself off from those around her. Aisling Fowler has said that Twelve was partly inspired by her love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I can certainly see elements of Buffy’s courage and determination, as well as her anger and protectiveness in Twelve. I also really enjoyed seeing Twelve grow and develop as a character throughout the book, shedding her hard edges and learning – little by little – to trust and love others again.

The other characters in the book are equally well drawn. From brash, confident Five to shy, dreamy Seven, cantankerous Elder Hoarfrost, and even Twelve’s pet squirrel Widge, I came to feel like I knew – and cared about – all of them, and I loved watching their relationships with both Twelve and with each other develop.

Aisling Fowler has also created a truly magical world in Ember. There’s such a huge amount of lore that goes with the world but she’s managed to weave this in and give a real sense of the place and the society without resorting to large infodumps or long, complex exposition. Instead the world is built alongside the story and we’re gradually introduced to the clans and their history, the role of the Hunters, witches, magic, Ygrex, Cliffcrawlers, Deathspinners, and the threat of the Dark Wars.

Fireborn is such a compelling and compulsive read – a real page-turner! With plenty of adventure and a good dose of magic, intrigue, and friendship to boot, it really is perfect for anyone looking to fill a gap in their fantasy reading life! Fans of the boy wizard are sure to enjoy Fireborn – as is anyone who enjoyed BB Alston’s more recent Amari and the Night Brothers with its similarly determined female protagonist, and the epic adventures of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. I can’t wait to see what Twelve and her fellow Hunters get up to next!

Fireborn by Aisling Fowler is published by Harper Collins Childrens and is available now from all good booksellers 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 to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 28 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 · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore.

Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love.

In the end, is love worth the risk?

My love for YA seems to be growing. Having dipped my toe in the water with The Inheritance Games and The Cousins – both mystery-thrillers (a genre that is very much my comfort zone), I decided to venture beyond comfort into the heady world of YA contemporary romance and give Nicola Yoon’s latest novel Instructions for Dancing a go. And I am so glad I did because I LOVED this book!

Instructions for Dancing tells the story of Evie – former avid romance reader and believer in true love. I say former because when the book opens, Evie is in the process of donating all her romance novels to the local Little Free Library. Ever since she walked in on her Dad kissing a woman who wasn’t her Mom, Evie’s stopped believing in love. Because what good is love if it ends up in heartbreak?

When her visit to the Little Free Library results in a mysterious meeting that ends up with Evie being able to see the outcome of various relationships, she becomes even more convinced of her theory. Love might be magnificent whilst lasts but no matter how bright it burns, it only ends in heartbreak – bitter break-ups, ruined friendships, and loneliness. However, when Evie pursues the other ‘gift’ that her mysterious benefactor has given her – a battered book called ‘Instructions for Dancing’ – she is forced to re-consider. The book leads her to the La Brea Dance Studio – and to her new dance partner X. Determined to live in the moment, and with a ‘say yes’ philosophy, could X be the antidote to Evie’s cynicism? Or is theirs also a love story that is doomed to have an unhappy ending?

I absolutely loved both Evie and X. As well as being perfect for each other, their chemistry is brilliantly conveyed on the page. Smart and snarky, Evie is a brilliant narrator – and her anger and bitterness is completely understandable given what has happened to her and the huge changes that have been wrought in her life as a result. X (short for Xavier) is also carrying hidden baggage – dealing with the loss of someone close to him and trying to figure out how to live his life and fulfil his dreams. They felt like real, fully rounded characters, and their romance felt natural and progressive rather than insta-love.

I also adored some of the supporting characters. The plotline with Evie and her relationship to her Mom and her Dad is really sensitively handled – redemptive without being twee is probably how I’d put it. And the dance school sections are an absolute scream – Evie and X’s instructor Fifi is definitely my favourite character and every scene with her in it had me laughing out loud at her dialogue (“No rocking side to side. You are not little teapot.”). I also really like Evie’s friends Martin, Cassidy, and Sophie.

Instructions for Dancing wholly captures what it is to be in your late teens – that feeling of being full of potential and ready to explore the world. But also of being scared of letting go the cherished things of your childhood, and the realisation that adult life – and adult emotions – may be much more complex than romance novels sometimes make out.

I laughed a lot reading it – and I also cried a bit too. No spoilers, but there are moments in this novel that will rip your heart out and stomp on it a bit so it might be a good idea to have some tissues handy, especially as you get towards the end. That said, the slight shift in tone didn’t feel out of place with the more light-hearted parts of the book. This is a novel that wears its comedy and its heartbreak side-by-side and, as such, celebrates life in all its wonderful, tragic, messy glory. I absolutely adored it – and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an uplifting book about the importance of living life to its fullest.

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon 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! There are lots of other reviews and spotlights on the tour so follow the hashtags #InstructionsForDancing, #TheWriteReads and #UltimateBlog Tour 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!!! Things to Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 16 May 2021 so do follow the hashtags to check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Bad Habits by Flynn Meaney

Alex is a rebel from the tip of her purple fauxhawk to the toes of her biker boots. She’s tried everything she can think of to get expelled from her strict Catholic boarding school. Nothing has worked so far – but now, Alex has a new plan.

Tired of the sexism she sees in every corner of St Mary’s, Alex decides to stage the school’s first ever production of The Vagina Monologues.

Which is going to be a challenge, as no one else at St Mary’s can even bear to say the word ‘vagina’ out loud . . .

Full disclosure: I signed up for this blog tour because the blurb and PR release made me snort the cup of tea I was I drinking at the time. And, further full disclosure: that has not been the only laugher based accident that has occurred during the course of reading Flynn Meaney’s hilarious YA contemporary novel Bad Habits.

Bad Habits follows Alex, a junior year student at St Marys Catholic Boarding School. St Marys is a place of tradition. They love peace and quiet, wholesome extra-curricular activities, and hockey. Alex is the opposite of this. With her brightly coloured hair and biker boots, she’s never more than a day away from a new uniform violation and the opening page of the novel sees her hanging off the side of the male-only dorm long after curfew.

Safe to say Alex and St Marys aren’t exactly a match made in heaven. And Alex would love nothing more than to kiss the place goodbye once and for all. But despite her very best efforts (and boy, has this girl tried!), she just can’t seem to expelled. But when a tampon-buying trip results in an (unsuccessful) attempt at ritual humiliation, Alex sees an opportunity. If TAMPONS cause the girls of St Marys to blush and the boys to jeer, what would happen if VAGINAS were placed front and centre of the St Marys Feminist Club’s first ever stage production. One battered copy of The Vagina Monologues later and Alex has a plan…

As you can hopefully tell from that description, Bad Habits is a fresh and fun take on contemporary YA. The contrast between the free-spirited and sparky heroine Alex and the constraining tradition of the environment in which she finds herself provides endless sources for humour throughout the book. What I really liked though was how this humour does not come at the expense of anyone else’s beliefs. Alex is determined, forthright, sassy and fiercely feminist – but her feminism isn’t the only kind depicted here and, as she learns along the way, there are other ways and other methods that are equally useful in furthering the cause and smashing the patriarchy.

In fact, Alex has as much to learn about St Marys as St Marys has to learn about Alex and, whilst this is very firmly Alex’s story, I really enjoyed seeing her development as she begins to interact with other students (and even some of the staff) and learn more about their own beliefs and perspectives. In particular, I really liked Alex’s roommate Mary Kate. Quiet and studious, Mary Kate seems to be everything Alex is not (and reminded me a lot of myself at that age – I wish I was an Alex but I was definitely more of a Mary Kate!) but she has her own deeply rooted determination and it was wonderful seeing the way in which her character comes to compliment Alex’s over the course of the novel.

The writing is fast and fluid, with plenty of action and humour to keep the pages flying – I tore through the book in less than a day and I was laughing out loud regularly throughout. The humour of Bad Habits might not be for everyone – Alex is loud, occasionally crude, and certainly extremely opinionated – but I really enjoyed it and it was refreshing to read about a young women prepared not only to speak her mind but also to reflect on and change her opinions when she feels she’s been correctly challenged – and to stand by them and back them up with evidence when she knows she is right.

I’m so glad that being part of The Write Reads gang has re-introduced me to contemporary YA. Although Bad Habits is somewhat out of my usual comfort zone of YA mystery/thrillers (and has a high school/college setting that I am usually very wary of), I really enjoyed this fun and fast-paced novel, which has plenty of humour alongside some extremely important messaging about equality, sexuality, and the importance of being true to yourself.

Bad Habits by Flynn Meaney is published by Penguin on 11 February 2021 and is available to preorder 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 a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to The Write Reads for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The tour continues until 20 February 2021 so do check out the other stops along the way for more reviews and content!

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

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

You know what you did.

They never hear from her again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cousins by Karen M McManus is published by Penguin on 03 December 2020 and is available for pre-order from all good booksellers and online retailers including Bookshop.org, Hive, Waterstones, and Wordery.

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

My thanks go to publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to The Write Reads for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 16 December so follow @WriteReadsTours or the hashtag #UltimateBlogTour for more reviews and content!

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! Catalyst by Tracy Richardson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catalyst BT Poster