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Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Girl In The Maze by Cathy Hayward


The Girl in the Maze by Cathy Hayward.

Published in ebook 28th October and paperback 25th November 2021 by Agora Books.

From the cover of the book:

Traversing three generations of women torn apart by family trauma, The Girl in the Maze explores the complex relationships and challenges involved in both mothering and being mothered.

‘I would caution you against delving into the past. The past is often best left exactly where it is.’

Emma Bowen has never had a close relationship with her mother, barely speaking with her in the last years of her life. But after her mother’s death, Emma finds something that might just explain the distance between them.

Discovering letters between her mother and grandmother, it seems to Emma that her mother has always been difficult.

As she searches for answers about her own childhood, Emma is drawn into the mystery of her mother’s enigmatic life. The more she finds, the more lost she feels, but Emma is determined to uncover her mother's past, and the secrets held within it, whatever the cost.

An enthralling story of three women, generations apart, linked by one terrible tragedy.


Emma Bowen has always had a complicated relationship with her mother Margaret: one that fell all too easily into estrangement in the latter years of Margaret's life. Now called upon to sort through the things Margaret has left behind after her death, Emma finds something shocking that gives her a clue about why her mother may have been so distant all these years. When Emma tries to discuss what she has found with her mother's solicitor, a man who has been close to Margaret for much of her life, he is unwilling to divulge what he knows about her past - cautioning her to let sleeping dogs lie.

However, Emma cannot let the matter rest. As she puts together the fragments of Margaret's mysterious past through the letters between her mother and grandmother, she uncovers secrets that have shaped the lives of three generations of her dysfunctional family - secrets that might just hold the key to the meaning behind her mother's enigmatic painting The Girl in the Maze.

"We are shaped by our mothers, and if we lack them we are shaped by that loss."

Told in three narratives from Emma, her grandmother Betty, and her step-grandfather Jack, this is a book that will tear you to emotional shreds. It starts as it means to go on, with a disturbing scene in the tiny bathroom of a cramped London flat in 1937, and follows the history of Margaret's life through the 1950s when the legacy of her mother's shame at being a single mother has terrible consequences for her own future; and then beyond into her own experience as a mother and grandmother to Emma and her children. Cathy Hayward is unflinching in her portrayal of Margaret's life, and much of what is written in these pages is deeply distressing, as the truth is gradually unveiled over the course of the book.

I was unprepared for quite how shocking this book would turn out to be, but am impressed at the way Hayward explores how dysfunctional relationships have a habit of perpetuating themselves through the generations that follow, particularly between mothers and daughters. Themes of shame, guilt, and the thin veneer of respectability run right through the piece, deftly threaded through the lives of the female characters and motivating them to act in ways that are damaging for themselves and others.

This book is beautifully written, displays sharp insight into how and why families become stuck in blighted patterns of behaviour, and touches on a myriad of subjects, many of which I cannot go into for fear of spoilers, including aspects of single-motherhood and adoption from the 1930s onwards. Although there is one voice missing that I really would have liked to hear - that of Margaret herself. Everything we know about Margaret is told to us by others with their own agenda (except in one particularly heartrending scene, where Margaret's words are recorded on paper), and we hear such varied accounts of her depending on who is speaking that she remains an enigma right to the end of the story. I found this rather sad, but it does add to the idea Hayward fosters in this tale that the real lives of our parents remain a mystery to us all, especially once they are gone - something you will be all too aware of if your parents have passed away.

"I read an article once about family dysfunction. It described it as rolling down from generation to generation like a fire in the woods, taking down everything in its path. It said that you need one person in one generation to have the courage to turn and face the flames."

This is the kind of thought provoking book that is absolute gold for a book club or reading group, because there is so much to delve into about the rights and wrongs here. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about whether or not Emma was right to try to uncover Margaret's secrets. I think the answer is yes, because although this leaves her with her own burden to carry, she also comes to realise that patterns of behaviour can be changed once you become aware of them, which gives this powerful book a positive message to end on - but I will leave you to read this impressive debut and make up your own minds. 

The Girl in the Maze is available to buy now in ebook, and in paperback from 25th November, from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Agora Books for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Cathy Hayward trained as a journalist and edited a variety of trade publications, several of which were so niche they were featured on Have I Got News for You. She then moved into the world of PR and set up an award-winning communications agency. Devastated and inspired in equal measure by the death of her parents in quick succession, Cathy completed The Creative Writing Programme with New Writing South out of which emerged her debut novel, The Girl in the Maze, about the experience of mothering and being mothered. It won Agora Books’ Lost the Plot Work in Progress Prize 2020 and was longlisted for the Grindstone Literary Prize 2020. 

When she’s not writing (or reading) in her local library, Cathy loves pottering in second-hand bookshops, hiking and wild camping. She lives in Brighton – sandwiched between the Downs and the sea – with her husband, three children, and two rescue cats – one of whom thinks he’s a dog.

The Midwife's Secret by Emily Gunnis


The Midwife's Secret by Emily Gunnis.

Published 28th October 2021 by Headline Review.

From the cover of the book:

She shone the torch around and spotted some names written on the wall: Clara, Sara, Megan. Who were these girls and what had they been doing in there? She clicked open the old trunk and pulled out a leather-bound book, opening it on the first page: 'Tessa James, Patient Notes'. She began to read...

1969: On New Year's Eve, while the Hiltons of Yew Tree Manor prepare to host the party of the season, their little girl disappears. Suspicion falls on Bobby James, a young farmhand and the last person to see Alice before she vanished. Bobby protests his innocence, but he is sent away. Alice is never found.

Present day Architect Willow James is working on a development at Yew Tree when she discovers the land holds a secret. As she begins to dig deep into the past, she uncovers a web of injustice. And when another child goes missing, Willow knows the only way to stop history repeating itself is to right a terrible wrong.

For decades the fates of the Hilton and James families have been entwined in the grounds of Yew Tree Manor. It all began with a midwife's secret, long buried but if uncovered could save them from the bitter tragedy that binds them. And prove the key that will free them all...

Are you ready to discover the midwife's secret?


1969: On a snowy New Year's Eve tragedy strikes the Hilton family of Yew Tree Manor as they prepare for a glamorous house party, when their six-year-old daughter Alice runs off to look for her missing puppy, and vanishes without a trace. The last person to see her was local boy Bobby James, who is blamed for her disappearance based almost solely on the fact that his family and the Hiltons are in dispute, despite his claims that he had nothing to do with it.

2017: Willow James is a promising architect looking for her first major project. When the Yew Tree development is offered to her by her boss she jumps at the chance to find out more about a place closely linked to her own family history - a past that her father is reluctant to talk about. As the plans near completion, Willow discovers that Yew Tree hides a secret, but it is not until another Hilton girl goes missing that she finds she might be the one who holds the key to saving her, and putting right the wrongs of the past.

Willow must delve back into history to the beginning of the bad blood that grew between the Hilton and James families - all the way to 1945 when a midwife was falsely accused of a terrible crime that happened at Yew Tree Manor...

The Midwife's Secret is a sweeping tale about two families bound together by secrets and lies that have fateful consequences for them all. The story plays out in three timelines: 1945, when the terrible injustice of a midwife accused of a tragedy she is not responsible for tears her family apart; 1969, when Alice Hilton mysteriously goes missing; and 2017, when Willow James is determined to uncover the truth about the past.

At its heart, this a mystery story, and a compelling one at that, as it holds the captivating stuff of a saga about a family feud birthed by secrets and cruel lies. Right from page one, I was caught up in the threads of this tale, held spellbound by the way Emily Gunnis weaves the three timelines together and slowly reveals the secrets that practically everyone here is trying to keep hidden - secrets that all hinge on the heart-rending tragedy of a falsely accused midwife. 

There are some lovely circular themes that infuse this book, echoing down the generations in a way that displays an absolute masterclass in plotting. Gunnis keeps a tight rein on the way events play out in all three timelines, building tension in each as the shocking toll of dysfunctional families, jealously, revenge, and heart-breaking injustice ripples though time. 

Injustice is the central theme, and Gunnis uses this rather cleverly to bring in many aspects of historical and contemporary discrimination and inequality - the influence of wealth and class, abuse of power in its many forms, and the rights of women are subjects that run through the piece beautifully. I was impressed by the way Gunnis explores the conflict between the age-old craft of midwifery, the Church, and the growing power of regulated medical practitioners, working this into a modern 'witch hunt' - although actually reading these parts of the story made my blood boil!

However, there are many touching moments in this story too. The love of family, where genuine love exists, really stands out for me, especially the close bond between mother and child. In many ways this drives the story just as much as the darker emotions do, and ultimately it is love that wins out in the end.

This is the perfect kind of read for cosying up in the sofa with now the nights are closing in, with the kind of characters that will pull you in until their triumphs and tragedies have all played out. Highly recommended!

The Midwife's Secret is available to buy now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Headline Books for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Emily Gunnis previously worked in TV drama and lives in Brighton with her young family. She is one of the four daughters of Sunday Times bestselling author Penny Vincenzi.

A Ghost In The Throat (new cover) by Doireann Ni Ghriófa

A Ghost In The Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriófa.

Published with a new paperback cover 28th October 2021 by Tramp Press. Originally published 27th August 2020.

From the cover of the book:

'When we first met, I was a child, and she had been dead for centuries.

I am eleven, a dark-haired child given to staring out window...  Her voice makes it 1773, a fine day in May, and puts English soldiers crouching in ambush; I add ditch-water to drench their knees. Their muskets point towards a young man who is falling from his saddle in slow, slow motion. A woman hurries in and kneels over him, her voice rising in an antique formula of breath and syllable the teacher calls a caoineadh, a keen to lament the dead.'

A true original, this stunning prose debut by Doireann Ní Ghríofa weaves two stories together. In the 1700s, an Irish noblewoman, on discovering her husband has been murdered, drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary poem that reaches across the centuries to another poet. In the present day, a young mother narrowly avoids tragedy in her own life. On encountering the poem, she becomes obsessed with finding out the rest of the story.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa has sculpted a fluid hybrid of essay and autofiction to explore the ways in which a life can be changed in response to the discovery of another's -- in this case, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill's Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, famously referred to by Peter Levi as 'the greatest poem written in either Ireland or Britain during the eighteenth century.'

A devastating and timeless tale about finding your voice by freeing another's.

WINNER Book of the Year, the Irish Book Awards

WINNER Foyles Non-Fiction Book of the Year

SHORTLISTED Rathbones Folio Prize

SHORTLISTED Desmond Elliot Prize

LONGLISTED Republic of Consciousness Prize

WINNER James Tait Black Prize for Biography


A Ghost in the Throat was my favourite book of 2020 by far, and it is one which has stayed with me ever since, tucked away in my heart. Since it was first published, it has gone on to be nominated for, and win, many literary prizes and Tramp Press are now reissuing the book with a cover that reflects the well deserved praise that has been heaped up it. I am also overjoyed that this book is now available in an audio format too, because it is magical! 

To mark the publication of the new paperback cover, I am sharing my review with you again, and make no apology for doing so. This a rare and beautiful book... 


What an absolute stunner of a novel this is - and one that try as I might, I cannot hope to do justice to in this review.

This book is a complex mix of auto-fiction (part fiction/part autobiographical) straight from our female narrator's soul, and historical essay charting the research she passionately undertakes about female poet Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill's famous 17th century Irish poem Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire (The Keen for Art O Laoghaire) which was written to mourn her murdered husband. It's enchanting, magical and completely captivating.

The unnamed female narrator takes you on a journey through her reality of love, marriage and motherhood - the joy, the fear, the exhaustion, the exhilaration, and the comfort she derives from the routine of her life, in a way that links her experiences to the generations of wives and mothers that have come before, in both a physical and spiritual sense.

What keeps her going is her rediscovery of Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill's poem to her lost lover, taken in bites as she sits nursing her babes. Over the years, after tragedy comes close to her own family, she feels the connection with the poet grow stronger, and she is compelled to find out all she can about the woman who was fondly called Nelly by her nearest and dearest. This becomes an obsession that drives, sustains and inspires her, whilst allowing her to also dissect her own past and come to terms with where life has brought her.

"When we first met, I was a child, and she had been dead for centuries..."

This is a novel that deftly examines the reality of being a woman, wife and mother. All through the book you are reminded that "this is a female text" and this extends beyond the life of this young mother to all the women who have gone before, as the trail of clues she unearths lets her piece together as much as she can about Nelly and her family. This is a trail that is very hard to follow, as the history of the women our narrator is so desperate to learn has been all but erased over the years, and the clues have to be sought between the lines of the recorded deeds of their menfolk.

There are some beautiful and poignant themes explored here that are more than a little thought provoking. This book shines a light on the mystical power of shared experience, and the fact that women so often pass on the details of their lives through the spoken word, so that the traces of their existence are easily lost in the mists of time. It is a tragedy that the way history is recorded and preserved is so biased towards the truth and deeds of men, and yet, the echoes of our own mothers and the generations of women before them persist in the wisdom and tales that are passed down to us, their essence remains as we then pass them onto our own children. There is something rather lovely about the way we hold their lives inside us - even if the history books deny their contribution for the greater part.

I was really struck by the notion expressed in this book that one's age and stage of life has so much influence on how we experience, and process, what we read (how very true this is), and impressed by the way Doireann Ni Ghriófa uses "female text" to honour womanhood: my favourite example being her use of this term to reference the care and love that went into a cardigan made by her own mother for her youngest child - the "text" being written into the very texture of the garment, if you will. Glorious!

Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonaill's keen to her lost love is thoughtfully included as an appendix for those of us who are unfamiliar with it, in both the original Irish (which was fittingly only recorded after being passed down through the tongues of women), and as a translation by Doireann Ni Ghriófa for those of us who sadly cannot read the original (how I wish I could). I recommend a reading of this poem both before you start and when you have finished this book - trust me, it will be worth it.

"This is a female text, which is also a caoineadh: a dirge and a drudge song, an anthem of praise, a chant and a keen, a lament and an echo, a chorus and a hymn. Join in."

This book is completely gorgeous and it will stay with me for a long, long time. Do yourself a huge favour and get yourself a copy from your favourite book retailer now.

About the author:

Doireann Ní Ghríófa is a bilingual writer whose books explore birth, death, desire, and domesticity. Her latest poetry collection was chosen as a Book of the Year in both The Irish Times and The Irish Independent. Doireann's awards include a Lannan Literary Fellowship (USA, 2018), a Seamus Heaney Fellowship (Queen s University, 2018), the Ostana Prize (Italy, 2018), and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature (2016), among others. A Ghost in the Throat is her prose debut.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun


Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun.

Translated by Janet Hong.

Published 14th October 2201 by Head of Zeus.

From the cover of the book:

Parasite meets The Good Son in this piercing psychological portrait of three women haunted by a brutal, unsolved crime.

In the summer of 2002, nineteen-year-old Kim Hae-on was murdered in what became known as the High School Beauty Murder. There were two suspects: Shin Jeongjun, who had a rock-solid alibi, and Han Manu, to whom no evidence could be pinned. The case went cold.

Seventeen years pass without justice, and the grief and uncertainty take a cruel toll on her younger sister, Da-on, in particular. Unable to move on with her life, Da-on tries in her own twisted way to recover some of what she's lost, ultimately setting out to find the truth of what happened.

Shifting between the perspectives of Da-on and two of Hae-on's classmates struck in different ways by her otherworldly beauty, Lemon ostensibly takes the shape of a crime novel. But identifying the perpetrator is not the main objective here: Kwon Yeo-sun uses this well-worn form to craft a searing, timely exploration of privilege, jealousy, trauma, and how we live with the wrongs we have endured and inflicted in turn.


In the summer of 2002, the brutal murder of a nineteen-year-old high school student Kim Hae-on pushes all news of the FIFA World Cup off the front pages. What was to become known in South Korea as the High School Beauty Murder was never solved, although two suspects from the victim's high school caught the attention of the police - Shin Jeongjun the son of wealthy, influential parents, who saw her last, but appeared to have an incontrovertible alibi; and Han Manu the son of a poor single mother whose account of what he saw that day was full of contradictions, though his involvement in the murder could never be proven.

Time passes and the focus of the public moves on to other attention grabbing headlines, but for the people who knew Hae-on it is not so easy to pick up the threads of their lives. In particular, Hae-on's sister Da-on finds it impossible to get over the loss of her beautiful older sister. Her coping strategies are psychologically and even physically damaging, and she cannot rest until she knows the truth, leading her to undertake her own unorthodox investigation into what really happened that day.

As time jumps forward, and Da-on's off-beat search for justice plays out in fits and starts, we come to fully understand the impact that the loss of her sister has had not only on her and her mother, but two of Hae-on's female classmates who have also been profoundly affected by her death, though not necessarily in the way that you might imagine - and even the suspects themselves.

Lemon is the most unconventional of crime novels, because it is less about the search for a murderer and much more about the fall-out of the event on the people left behind, whether they be family, friends, foes, or suspects in the case. As Kwon Yeo-sun takes us inside the heads of Da-on and Hae-on's classmates, through their reflections upon the way their lives have been shaped by her death, and intriguingly what they know about the events of that day and what followed, she serves to lead us on an insightful journey into what makes up the fabric of Korean society - especially how status and wealth influence the perception of guilt. Throw in the scattered pieces of the puzzle that Da-on uncovers through the friendship she develops with one of the suspects and his family, and you end up with a searing look at grief, jealousy, the search for connection and self-validation, and what motivates people to undertake ill-judged deeds.

If you prefer your stories to flow in a logical way and for all the threads to be tied up nicely at the end then this book is not for you, but if you are willing to immerse yourself completely in a shifting text with narratives that burst with emotion, and flow in a rambling stream of consciousness way, so it is not always obvious from first glance who is speaking, then this book is absolute gold.

As murder-mysteries go this is not the easiest one to solve, especially since the intentions of the author lie in other directions, and the victim herself remains an enigma throughout the whole book, but for me the clues you need are all there, sprinkled among the orgy of information presented to you as a reader. I think this is one of the most rewarding books I have read in that regard, because you are required to look between the lines of the multiple points of view to find what you need - and interestingly, even though there is no gratifying moment where the perpetrator of the crime is locked-away behind bars, there is still a reckoning of sorts that is darkly satisfying in an old testament eye-for-an-eye sort of way.

At only 148 pages, this book packs a mighty literary punch, and the translation by Janet Hong is certainly impressive in the way it preserves a haunting quality to the piece. This is the kind of book that you will find yourself reading more than once, and will gain something new each time you do, even if you find the truth of the case unfathomable. It is undeniably a sad tale about injustice and overpowering loss, but it will give you a lot to think about in the way that novels filled with veiled meaning and deep symbolism from the Orient often do. I loved it and cannot wait to read more contemporary work from South Korea.

Lemon is available to buy now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Head of Zeus for sending me a proof of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author and translator:

Kwon Yeo-sun is an award-winning Korean writer. She has won the Sangsang Literary Award, Oh Yeongsu Literature Award, Yi Sang Literary Prize, Hankook Ilbo Literary Award, Tong-ni Literature Prize and Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award. Lemon is her first novel to be published in the English language.

Janet Hong is a writer and translator based in Vancouver, Canada. She received the TA First Translation Prize and the LTI Korea Translation Award for her translation of Han Yujoo's The Impossible Fairy Tale, which was also a finalist for both the 2018 PEN Translation Prize and the National Translation Award. Her recent translations include Ha Seong-nan's Bluebeard's First Wife, Ancco's Nineteen, and Keum Suk Gendry-Kim's Grass.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Wonderland: An Anthology of Works Inspired By Alice's Adventures in Wonderland edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane


Wonderland: An Anthology of Works Inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane.

Published 17th September 2019 by Titan Books.

From the cover of the book:

From the greatest names in fantasy and horror comes an anthology of stories inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Join Alice as she is thrown into the whirlwind of Wonderland

Within these pages you'll find myriad approaches to Alice, from horror to historical, taking us from the nightmarish reaches of the imagination to tales that will shock, surprise and tug on the heart-strings. 

So, it's time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or… But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you're already there, can't you see?

Brand-new works from the best in fantastical fiction:



Welcome to a fresh and exciting look at the world of Alice, with an anthology of short stories inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, with an introduction by the editors Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane.

I think the first thing to say about this wonderful collection, which holds true for every anthology have read from Titan Books, is that it amazes me how much variety in style and content there is incorporated in these stories coming as they do from the same source material - the imagination of a talented author truly holds no bounds and many of the writers who have contributed to this collection are huge literary names.

Here there are stories of Dystopian nightmares full of death; macabre horror tales dripping with blood; fantastical fables with an ironic twist; historical themed magical realism with a quirky look at famous murderers; alien invasions that slice through the notion of the civilised human mind; and even rootin' tootin' westerns that will make you think very differently about the white rabbit - and everything in between - exploring a myriad of aspects based on Alice's adventures and the characters she meets. Some are metaphorical looks at coming of age, some are thought-provoking examinations of the human psyche, and some are profoundly shocking, but each and every one is superb in its own way and will hold you spell-bound.

I should add that these tales are not for children, despite their references to Alice's Wonderland, and are firmly in the grown-up zone. Most of them are littered with references to violent acts, sex and terror, and there are some very deep themes explored which although they might not always be overtly mentioned are profoundly disturbing - particularly Six Impossible Things by Mark Chadbourn with its veiled allusions to sexual abuse. Definitely not for those of tender years, or delicate sensibilities, but hugely entertaining nonetheless.

This book is absolutely brilliant and the perfect mind-bending, spine chiller for spooky season, so if you are after a sideways look at a world you thought you knew well then head down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass, and prepare to be gripped! Incidentally, the audio version of this book is astoundingly good too, and is beautifully narrated by a cast of voices who vividly bring these tales alive. Daytime reading/listening recommended!

Wonderland is available to buy now in ebook, paperback and audio formats from your favourite book retailer,

Thank you to Titan Books for sending me a paperback copy of this book in return for an honest review. I have purchased the audio version myself.

About the editors:

Marie O'Regan is a British Fantasy Award-nominated writer and editor of horror and dark fantasy fiction. She is the author of four collections, Mirror Mere, Bury Them Deep, In Times of Want and Other Stories and The Last Ghost and Other Stories, and her anthologies include Hellbound Hearts, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror, Carnivale: Dark Tales From the Fairground, The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women, Phantoms, Exit Wounds and Wonderland. She is Co-Chair of the UK chapter of the Horror Writers' Association and lives in Derbyshire, UK. She tweets @Marie_O_Regan

Paul Kane is the award-winning and bestselling author/editor of over 90 books, including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, Before, Arcana and Pain Cages (an Amazon #1 bestseller). He is a respected anthologist, editing books such as Beyond Rue Morgue, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror, Hellbound Hearts and Exit Wounds. His website can be found at and he tweets @PaulKaneShadow

Shiver by Allie Reynolds (Paperback Release)


Shiver by Allie Reynolds.

Published in paperback 28th October 2021 by Headline.

From the cover of the book:

They don't know what I did. And I intend to keep it that way.

How far would you go to win? Hyper-competitive people, mind games and a dangerous natural environment combine to make the must-read thriller of the year. Fans of Lucy Foley and Lisa Jewell will be gripped by spectacular debut novel Shiver.

When Milla is invited to a reunion in the French Alps resort that saw the peak of her snowboarding career, she drops everything to go. While she would rather forget the events of that winter, the invitation comes from Curtis, the one person she can't seem to let go.

The five friends haven't seen each other for ten years, since the disappearance of the beautiful and enigmatic Saskia. But when an icebreaker game turns menacing, they realise they don't know who has really gathered them there and how far they will go to find the truth.

In a deserted lodge high up a mountain, the secrets of the past are about to come to light.


Five friends meet for a reunion at a small winter sports resort in the French Alps - each of them thinking that a different member of the group has invited them for a little holiday. However, it soon becomes clear that this is not going to be quite the relaxing break they were expecting, when the ski lodge turns out to be deserted, and they are cut off from the outside world by some weird goings on. Someone has brought them back together after ten years in an attempt to get to the truth about what happened to their friend Saskia, who mysteriously went missing all those years ago, but who is it and what do they want?

Shiver is told from the point of view of snowboarder Milla, who tells the tale of this ultra-competitive group of friends in two alternating time lines that swap back and forth between the winter that saw them training and competing against each other for glory in the world of professional snowboarding, and ten years later when they have been tricked into their bewildering reunion. Bit by bit we learn the story of the friction and flirtation that went on that fateful winter season, when they were all trying to get the edge over the competition both on and off the slopes, while we simultaneously experience the darkly delicious legacy of the breakdown of their relationships in the present.

I absolutely adore a snowy thriller, especially one that brings in a locked-room mystery, and this book fulfilled all my ice-capped desires. The suspense is palpable from the moment the starting signal beeps, as the sexual frisson and rivalries within the group both now and in the past spill over into mind games, manipulations and dark deeds, and it snowballs as chaos reigns. There is no let up in the tension as events in both timelines spiral out of control, and result in dire consequences, and Allie Reynolds manages to rather cleverly bring the puzzle pieces together to form the shocking picture of what happened between the group members all those years ago at exactly the same time as we discover who is behind this ghastly get-together - leading to the most fabulous snowy climax!

Reynolds' own background in snowboarding gives the reader an intriguing glimpse into the world at the top of this ultra-competitive winter sport, and I learned so much about the technical moves and lifestyle of the competitors while reading this excellent thriller - although I sincerely hope events were a bit tamer for Allie when she was living the life on the edge in the half-pipe!

Shiver is a cracking debut, and you can now experience the thrill-ride of this pitch perfect nail-biter with the gorgeous new paperback edition. Start the season of snowy thrillers off the right way and get yourself a copy now!

Shiver is available to buy now in hardback, ebook, audio and paperback formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Alara Delfosse at Headline Books for sending me a paperback copy of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to part of this blog tour.

About the author:

British-born Allie Reynolds is a former freestyle snowboarder who spent five winters in the mountains of France, Switzerland, Austria, and Canada. For those five years, snowboarding was Allie's life. She competed in the British Championships and was once in the UK top ten.

Her short fiction has been published in women's magazines in the UK, Australia, Sweden, and South Africa. She lives by the beach in Queensland, Australia. Shiver is her debut novel.

Follow Allie on Twitter at @AuthorAllieR

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Last Line by Robert Dugoni (excerpt)


The Last Line by Robert Dugoni.

Published 21st October 2021 by Amazon Original Stories.

From the cover of the book:

A newbie Seattle detective gets an education in corruption in a short story by Robert Dugoni, the Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite series.

His old life in the rearview, Del Castigliano has left Wisconsin to work homicide for the Seattle PD. Breaking him in is veteran detective Moss Gunderson, and he’s handing Del a big catch: the bodies of two unidentified men fished from Lake Union. 

It’s a major opportunity for the new detective, and Del runs with it, chasing every lead—to every dead end. Despite the help of another section rookie, Vic Fazzio, Del is going nowhere fast. 

Until one shotgun theory looks to be dead right: the victims are casualties of a drug smuggling operation. But critical information is missing—or purposely hidden. It’s forcing Del into a crisis of character and duty that not even the people he trusts can help him resolve.


As part of the blog tour for The Last Line from Robert Dugoni, it is my pleasure to bring you an extract from this exciting new standalone short story, featuring two beloved secondary characters from the Tracy Crosswhite universe, Seattle PD detectives Delmo 'Del' Castigliano and Voc 'Faz' Fazzio.

The Last Line Excerpt:

Del drove from the parking garage into a blustery and cold November morning—cold being relative. In Madison, anything above freezing was balmy for November, though Del was starting to understand what Seattleites meant when they said it wasn’t the temperature that chills you; it’s the dampness. He could feel the cold in his bones. A stiff wind rocked his metallic-blue Oldsmobile Cutlass.The wind had started blowing late the prior evening; branches of a tree scraping against Del’s bedroom window had kept him awake half the night.

He drove from Capitol Hill with the defroster on high and worked his way around the southern edge of Lake Union, noting marinas and water-based businesses. He pulled into a parking lot where Moss stood beside a black Buick LeSabre, sipping coffee and towering over a patrol officer. Moss was almost as big as Del, who stood six foot five and weighed 250 pounds.

Del pulled up the collar of his coat against the howling wind as he approached the two men. He recognized the green logo on Moss’s Starbucks coffee cup, the company name taken from Captain Ahab’s first mate on the Pequod, the whaling ship Moby Dick sent to the bottom of the ocean. The logo, a green siren, tempted sailors to jump overboard and drown. Neither was a good omen.

“Look what the cat dragged out. Did we wake you, Elmo?”

“Funny.” Del had heard iterations of Elmo since his teens, when the beloved puppet first appeared on Sesame Street. Moss introduced Del to Mike Nuccitelli, the patrol sergeant. “How’d you get here so quick?” Del asked Moss. He understood Moss lived in West Seattle, twenty minutes farther from the marina than Del’s apartment.

“I didn’t take time to do my hair.” Moss rubbed the bristles of a crew cut. “I’m like my name. You know. A rolling stone.”

Del knew. More than once, Moss had told him his parents bequeathed him the moniker because as a child he never remained still. Vic Fazzio had said it was more likely Moss gave himself the nickname. His Norwegian first name was Asbjorn.

“Halloway here?” Del asked.

“At this hour of the morning?” Moss scoffed. “Stayaway doesn’t come out this early on a cold morning unless he thinks the brass might show up and he can shine their badges with his nose.”

“What do we got?” Del asked.

“Two grown men. Looks like they drowned,” Nuccitelli said. “We’re waiting for the ME.”

“What more do we know about the victims; anything?” Del asked.

Nuccitelli raised the fur collar of his duty jacket against the wind. “Hispanic is my guess, though the bodies are pretty bloated and their skin the color of soot. I’m guessing roughly late twenties to early thirties, but again . . .”

“They didn’t have any ID?” Del asked.

“Not on them,” Nuccitelli said.

“That strike you as odd—they didn’t have ID?”

Nuccitelli smiled.“Not my job.That’s your job.”

“How far out is the ME?” Moss looked and sounded disinterested.

Nuccitelli checked his watch.“Should be here in ten.”

“We’ll take it from here.”


The Last Line is available to buy now using the link HERE.

Thank you to Morgan Doremus of Pitch Lit for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Amazon Charts bestselling author of the Tracy Crosswhite series, which has sold more than seven million books worldwide. He is also the author of the bestselling Charles Jenkins series; the bestselling David Sloane series; the stand-alone novels The 7th Canon, Damage Control, The World Played Chess, and The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, Suspense Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year, for which Dugoni won an AudioFile Earphones Award for narration; and the nonfiction exposé The Cyanide Canary, a Washington Post best book of the year. He is the recipient of the Nancy Pearl Book Award for fiction and a three-time winner of the Friends of Mystery Spotted Owl Award for best novel set in the Pacific Northwest. He is a two-time finalist for the Thriller Awards and the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, as well as a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for mystery and the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards. His books are sold in more than twenty-five countries and have been translated into more than two dozen languages.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Hollywood Bilker (Alex Cohen Book Six) by Leopold Borstinski


Hollywood Bilker (Alex Cohen Book Six) by Leopold Borstinski.

Published 8th October 2021 by Sobriety Press.

From the cover of the book:

Is building another casino worth dying for?

Jewish gangster, Alex Cohen returns to America and settles in 1960s California to build a drug and prostitution empire in LA. When he gets a call from the mob to help the CIA invade Cuba, Alex must decide between family and his business associates.

If he helps Uncle Sam and the Mafia then he puts his life on the line fighting for freedom and the chance to rebuild his Havana casinos. If he refuses the favour then death will call on him, his ex-wife and their sons. 

Once he agrees to one accommodation then others are sure to follow, in a decade where even presidents, assassins and presidential candidates were whacked at a terrifying rate.

The sixth book in the Alex Cohen series is an historical thriller novel, which rips open Jewish organized crime involvement in Lee Harvey Oswald's death and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Leopold Borstinski's searing crime fiction lays bare the making of today’s USA.


Welcome to book six in the Alex Cohen series, which explores the world of Jewish organised crime in 20th century USA. 

Alex and his ex-wife Sarah, now firmly back together as a couple, have been pondering their future after their flight from the turmoil of revolutionary Cuba. The safety offered to them in Florida by friends high up in the Italian mob is all very well, but it offers little in the way of opportunities for their own family business without stepping on some very unforgiving toes. Having acquired a taste for the high living that the world of entertainment can offer, but not keen to return to the casino life in Vegas where Alex's businesses are prospering under the competent hands of his lieutenants Ezra and Massimo, they decide to relocate to LA instead. Using the contacts Alex has built up during his years in the casino business, the money soon begins to roll in from their newly established drug and prostitution operations, and they begin to settle into the California lifestyle with thoughts of retirement in the not too distant future.

Brushing shoulders with Hollywood royalty brings Alex into the sphere of some very famous names in the film and music industries of the 1960s, and through them into the society of shady politicians - especially the Kennedy family, whose political fortunes are on the rise. It is an association that will bring him untold riches, get him into some very sticky situations, and ultimately decide his own future. 

Hollywood Bilker follows on quite naturally from the direction Alex and his family's lives have taken in the previous two books of this series - Casino Chisler and Cuban Heel. Building on his casino and entertainment contacts, Alex is drawn towards the magic of Tinsel Town, where Hollywood stars can provide a willing market for his own offerings - drugs and women. Cue some big names of the stage and screen in these pages - some well known for their association with organised crime, such as Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies, and some not. It was lots of fun celebrity spotting, and Leopold Borstinski is certainly very bold about some of the real life characters Alex associates with!

This book starts out with a much mellowed Alex, happy to be back on good terms with his ex-wife Sarah and reconciled with at least some of his sons. His time in Hollywood is a winding down of sorts, as he managed to get away with a nice nest egg from his otherwise disastrous flirtation with casinos in Cuba, but he is still keen to build up his fortunes before converting his assets to legitimate holdings - and retirement is beckoning.

As usual, Alex's less accommodating business partners throw in a curve ball here and there, and intriguingly this means that he is called upon to get involved in events he would rather avoid by putting to use some of the skills he has not personally had to call on for some time, harkening all the way back to his strike busting days in New York and his assassination years with Murder Inc. However, rather than the gangster scene he is used to operating in, this time his efforts are directed towards the political arena, which brings him into contact with a very famous family in the world of 1960s politics - the Kennedys. I really enjoyed the way Borstinski ties Alex's fortunes to that of the Kennedy family here and echoing some of Alex's own life experiences - with a meteoric rise backed by less than squeaky clean money; salacious secrets that need to be kept from prying eyes; and attempts to distance oneself from a dodgy past. Alex becomes embroiled in events taken straight out of the history books, and it was fascinating to see how Borstinski inserted his fictional creation into the fates of Bobby and John (Jack) Kennedy, cleverly linking him with their assassinations too. There is also a fabulous episode where Alex finds himself involved in the botched invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961, which was great fun.

This is a book that has a much wider scope that any of the previous Alex Cohen books, and Borstinski handles all the twists and turns confidently and sometimes a little playfully, which makes the story very engaging indeed - especially if you have been with Alex from the start, as I have. Eventually, all of Alex's escapades in this instalment find him forced into taking his oft promised threats of retirement more seriously than ever before, but I suspect that there will still be plenty to tickle my gangster noir loving taste-buds in his final adventure The Mensch coming in 2022 - I can't wait!

Hollywood Bilker is available to buy now in ebook via the link HERE.

Thank you to ZooLoo's Book Tours for sending me an ecopy of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

If you are interested in catching up with my reviews of the previous five books in the Alex Cohen books, you can find the links below:

Book One -    The Bowery Slugger
Book Two -    East Side Hustler
Book Three-   Midtown Huckster
Book Four -    Casino Chisler
Book Five -    Cuban Heel

About the author:

Leopold Borstinski is an independent author whose past careers have included financial journalism, business management of financial software companies, consulting and product sales and marketing, as well as teaching.

There is nothing he likes better so he does as much nothing as he possibly can. He has travelled extensively in Europe and the US and has visited Asia on several occasions. Leopold holds a Philosophy degree and tries not to drop it too often.

He lives near London and is married with one wife, one child and no pets.

Could You Survive Midsomer? by Simon Brew


Could You Survive Midsomer?: An interactive novel by Simon Brew.

Published 30th September 2021 by Octopus Books.

From the cover of the book:

Can you avoid a bizarre death in England's most dangerous county?

All is not well in the beautiful county of Midsomer. On the eve of its first Villages In Bloom competition, a man lies dead, smelling of damson jam. Who could have done it?

Well, that's where you come in. Step into the shoes of Midsomer CID's newest recruit, choose your own path and decide which way the story goes.

Will you get to the bottom of the mystery? Will you bring the perpetrator to justice? And perhaps most importantly of all, could you avoid an untimely, and possibly bizarre, death... will YOU survive Midsomer? Your task is to make the right choices, solve the case and - most tricky of all - stay alive!... Good luck.

An official Midsomer Murders Interactive novel set in ITV's most celebrated and murderous county.


I love a bit of Midsomer Murders, although would definitely not want to live there, so was really keen to try out this all new interactive novel set in England's most dangerous county!

The story revolves around Midsomer's first Villages in Bloom competition, and begins on the eve before the event gets underway when Old Norton resident Peter James Maddock, one of the competitors, is found murdered in a most unusual way.

As the reader, you play the part of a new detective on the Midsomer police force and it's your job to direct the course of the investigation into Maddock's death. You do this by choosing different options at the end of each scene, depending on how you wish the case to proceed. The options include things like choosing to question a particular character, or examine a location linked to the crime, based on what you have discovered or your investigative hunches. Each decision you make takes you to a different numbered scene, sometimes forward in the book and sometimes back, until you have run out of available options and are directed to the relevant section at the end to find out how successful you have been in solving the case - there are various levels of success, and it is even possible to become a victim yourself, which is rather exciting.

Channelling my best John Nettles as Midsomer's DCI Tom Barnaby (my particular favourite), I took a stab as seeing if I had the detective skills to solve the murder of the mysterious Peter James Maddock in this rural hotbed of murderous mayhem myself, and I had a great time doing so. This book is such fun, and I found it really enjoyable deciding what sort of detective I wanted to be; who to question and when to question them; which locations to give the once over; and which leads to go with. It's very easy to follow the story through the book and highly entertaining choosing what to do next, even if you have never watched Midsomer Murders, but I think it helps if you have some sort of notion about how the Midsomer yarns typically play out. The characters are authentically Midsomer types too, with plenty of simmering spite, village gossip, and secrets to be discovered behind the twitching net curtains, which all adds to the charm.

So, how did I get on with the detecting lark? Am I destined for a career defending the thin blue line, a job confined to base making the tea, or did I end up six feet under? Drum roll, please... well I am happy to report that I did not do too badly at all. I did manage to find out the identity of the murderer, although was unable to charge them as they unfortunately died in the course of the investigation (oops), but I did close the case, with a few other lines of enquiry that needed following up. My recommended course of action was: 'Further training required, but a good candidate for future promotion', which I am pretty happy with for a first attempt, and I am looking forward to having another go to see if I can do better next time.

This is the kind of book that you can read lots of times - with 219 different scenes included and a myriad of paths to follow in undertaking your investigation. It's intriguing playing the investigating game on your own, and I think you could also play with a friend or two by discussing what you discover as you go along and hammering out theories about the whos, whys and wherefores of the case too.

If you are a fan of crime stories, especially cosy crime, you are bound to enjoy this book as much as I did - and should you have a loved one who is partial to these things then this would make an ideal gift for them. In any event, it is an absolute must for lovers of good old Midsomer Murders!

Could You Survive Midsomer? is available to buy now in hard cover and ebook from your favouirte book retailer.

Thank you to Cassell for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Simon Brew is the former editor and founder of Den of Geek - the popular culture news and reviews website. He is the author of three books including Movie Geek, TV Geek and The Secret Life of the Movies. Simon is also the founder of the magazine and podcast Film Stories. He lives in Birmingham, UK... not far from where Midsomer is filmed.