Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Monday, November 29, 2021

World of Plants: Stories of Survival by Alexandra Davey


World of Plants: Stories of Survival by Alexandra Davey.

Published 15th November 2021 by Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.

From the cover of the book:

World of Plants: Stories of Survival tells the story of 100 plants which are part of the Living Collection at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and are endangered or threatened in the wild. This beautiful and fascinating book introduces readers to a host of charismatic plants that contribute to the rich biodiversity of our world. It features images and descriptions of each plant, identifying its origins, highlighting the nature of threats it faces and what is being done to save it.

The book is your chance to explore the stories of some of the world’s rarest and most threatened species through the Living Collections of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

These are stories of loss, resilience and restoration. Stories of what can be achieved when individuals, communities, organisations, governments and international bodies pull together. Stories of survival, in which we can all play a part.


My interest in the history of botany was piqued earlier this year when I read the incredible The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan (see my review here), which is centred around the newly established Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1822. It is no surprise then that this book, World of Plants: Stories of Survival, which delves into the current work going on at the various sites now occupied by the RBGE, captured my attention.

Within the pages of this beautiful book, Dr Alexandra Davey, Science Policy & Impact Officer at the RBGE, takes us on a journey through one hundred species in their Living Collection that are under threat, but have bounced back to some degree through the important conservation work that they undertake.

Each plant highlighted includes a full colour photograph accompanied by details about the history and origin of the plants; which of the Edinburgh sites houses it (and if it is on display to the public); its conservation status (ranging from Vulnerable to Extinct in the Wild); and information about why each species is under threat.

While this may not be the kind of book you will read cover to cover, it is one which you find yourself picking up time and time again to browse the contents of, and it is full to the brim with fascinating information about the incredible range of biodiversity that the vital work of the RBGE encompasses. I think one of the things that makes this book so interesting is that although it necessarily brings home the shocking plight of the huge number of species that face extinction in the wild through pests, pathogens, invasive weeds, wildfires, habitat destruction, and climate change, it also shows that timely intervention can go some way to bringing these threatened plants back from the brink.

This book is both educational and entertaining, and leaves you with a positive message that we can contribute to the survival of plants such as these, especially by supporting the work of the brilliant organisations like the RBGE. 

World of Plants: Stories of Survival is available to to buy now in hardback from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to RBGE for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review and to Love Books Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

The Bone Shard Emperor (The Drowning Empire Book Two) by Andrea Stewart


The Bone Shard Emperor (The Drowning Empire Book Two) by Andrea Stewart.

Published 25th November 2021 by Orbit.

From the cover of the book:

Magic. Revolution. Identity.

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.

Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don't trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in a far corner of the Empire a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.

Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga - the powerful magicians of legend - have returned to the Empire. Lin may need their help to defeat the rebels and restore order.

But can she trust them?

The Bone Shard Emperor is the unmissable sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter, one of the biggest fantasy debuts of recent years - a captivating tale of magic, revolution and mystery, where a young woman's sense of identity will make or break an empire.


Welcome back to the Phoenix Empire, a land of floating islands ruled over by new Emperor Lin Sukai, after defeating her father in a battle of wills and bone shard magic. Lin intends to become a very different kind of ruler than her secretive father, and her first move in showing her hand as a benevolent and caring emperor has been to cease the Tithing ceremonies, outlaw the constructs created by her father to run his empire, and start to return bone shards to the people from which they were taken. She is determined to change the nature of the empire, transforming it into one which no longer relies on constructs powered by cruel bone shard magic.

Despite Lin's good intentions, her position is weak. Brought up in seclusion, her subjects are wary of her, her political alliances are shaky, and rebellion is now in the air in more than one part of her empire. The Shardless Few are demanding she abdicate in favour of a new council controlled by the islands themselves, and in the distant north an army of constructs is rising unwilling to be dismissed as easily as their new emperor demands.

With former smuggler Jovis, as Captain of the Imperial Guard, drawing magic from his companion Mephi, Lin sets off to gather support from the governors of the islands - taking with her Thrana, her own bonded magical creature, as she starts to learn how to master the powers she now finds she can also control. The people are scared, worried by talk of islands sinking into the waters, rumours of rebel armies on the march, and the belief that the Alanga, an enemy of old, has returned to threaten their existence. What does all this mean for Lin's hopes to keep the empire intact, and be the kind of emperor she wants to be?

The Bone Shard Emperor picks up almost seamlessly from where the first book in this brand new series, The Bone Shard Daughter, ends. As in the first book, there are four strands to the story - Lin, Jovis, Phalue Governor of Nephilanu Island and her wife Ranami, and Sand/Nisong who we now know to be a construct of Lin's own mother. 

After defeating her father, Lin is determined to reshape the empire into one which no longer relies on bone shard magic, but she has some hard challenges ahead on a number of fronts: gaining support; quelling unrest; mastering diplomacy and the weight of responsibility that comes with ruling an empire; learning how to use the magic that Thrana has brought her; and finding out all she can about the secrets her father kept from her - all while making sure her own secrets stay hidden. Since Jovis is now Captain of the Imperial Guard his story mostly follows that of Lin's in this book, although he has plenty of diversions of his own, caught as he is between divided loyalties to her and the Shardless Few, and debts owed to his former masters the Ioph Carn - he is also struggling with the feelings that he finds himself developing for Lin. 

On Nephilanu, Phalue and Ranami have problems too. The Shardless Few are making threats that force Phalue into a corner, and when Lin comes to try to persuade Nephilanu to join her cause there are some difficult decisions to be made. And if all this wasn't enough to be going on with, Sand has now recovered the memories of Nisong, including how to wield bone shard magic herself, and is building an army of constructs to challenge Lin for the imperial throne. Oh, and more islands are starting to disappear into the briny sea for reasons unknown...

Andrea Stewart really comes into her own in this book, weaving the threads together to create a story that holds you spellbound for every second of its 549 pages, which is no mean feat. This is a masterclass in plotting, and the way the threads all come together in an explosive climax that blows everything apart going into book three is incredible - and oh my, does she know how to write a gripping battle scene or two. Building on what we know of the players in this tale from the first book, the characters develop beautifully, filling out in a way that delves deep into their separate agendas, beliefs, motivations... and their secrets. Some of them firmly cement their place in your heart this time around, and some transform into terrible monsters that I cannot wait to see defeated in the next book. There is also a sprinkling of new characters thrown into the mix who serve to keep things fresh, with a cracking little surprise at the end to draw you into book three - one which made my hair stand on end...

This series has everything you want in a fantasy saga - great characters, thrilling backdrops, intricate world building, and immersive storylines. This is one of the best series I have had the pleasure to read in recent years and I cannot wait for the next book, The Bone Shard War.

The Bone Shard Emperor is available to buy now in hardcover, ebook and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Orbit for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers Tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Andrea Stewart is the Chinese American daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number ofplaces across the United States. When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon
slayer didn't pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (Audio Book) by Taylor Jenkins Reid


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (Audio Book) by Taaylor Jenkins Reid.

Narrated by Alma Cuervo, Julia Whelan, and Robin Miles. 

Released 2ist September 2021 by Simon and Schuster Audio UK.

From the cover:

From the author of Daisy Jones & The Six in which a legendary film actress reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a mesmerizing journey through the splendour of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means and what it costs to face the truth.


Having had the pleasure to read Taylor Jenkins Reid's previous book Daisy Jones and the Six in 2019, and been blown away by the incredibly realistic characters and story she created in that book, I was really looking forward to immersing myself in this one - and it certainly fulfilled all my expectations... and so much more.

This is the fictional story of the aging Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo. Famous for her glittering career and her seven husbands, Evelyn has decided to finally tell all about her life and loves. The person she has chosen to write her memoir is Monique Grant an unknown magazine reporter, and this decision has proven to be something of a shock to Monique, and others in the world of journalism - but this is an offer too good to refuse.

As Evelyn tells her tale, covering her arrival in Hollywood in the 1950s; her rise to fame; the ruthless decisions she has taken along the way; her unexpected friendships; the truth behind her marriages; and the heartbreak behind her one true love affair, Monique begins to feel a connection with her. Something in Evelyn's unapologetic philosophy on life brings her own existence into sharp focus, allowing her to make some tough decisions about the direction of her career and the recent breakdown of her marriage - but she is also plagued by the suspicion that Evelyn has another agenda beyond wanting her to simply be the one to tell her story to the world... and she is not wrong. The truth behind their connection is one that Evelyn saves until the very last, and it is something that turns Monique's life upside-down...

As with Daisy Jones, Jenkins Reid creates characters in this book that are so convincingly authentic you are sure you must be reading about real people. This time around, instead of the rise and fall of a rock group, we are treated to a portrayal of an icon of the silver screen, Evelyn Hugo, getting into the nitty gritty of her life and loves - both under the spotlight, and behind the scenes of Tinsel Town. At so many points I found myself itching to Google pictures of Evelyn, her love interests, and the details of her movies!

The narratives swap between Monique, and the voices of Evelyn as a young woman and the older one recounting her life in the present day - each voiced by a different person, which serves to separate the two versions of Evelyn we come to know. Intriguingly, we are also treated to snippets of reports from the gossip mags in vogue from the 1950s onwards, which confirm bits and pieces about the way her life looked to those outside her private circle, and the effectiveness of the things she has had to do to advance her career and protect her image - and also to explore the relationship between a star and the media.

Jenkins Reid has clearly done her homework here, because she creates the world of 1950s Hollywood to perfection, describing the way movie studios operated and the incredible influence they had on the lives of their stars, and then takes us through the changing times with some fascinating insight into how fashion and attitudes change in Tinsel Town and the world at large - or more interestingly, stay the same. There are echoes of many different icons of stage and screen within these pages, including Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, and it's a lot of fun picking out the bits and pieces that reflect the real lives of some of these very famous women.

This is beautifully written and narrated, full of character driven storylines about a woman who has had to keep the heart-breaking truth about the real her hidden behind a glossy image for most of her life, and I absolutely loved every single spellbinding minute of it. Tara Jenkins Reid is such a talent and has now confirmed her place as one of my must-buy authors!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is available to buy now in print, ebook and audio formats.

About the author:

Taylor Jenkins Reid lives in Los Angeles and is the acclaimed author of Malibu Rising, Daisy Jones & the Six, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, One True Loves, Maybe in Another Life, After I Do, and Forever, Interrupted.

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Retreat by Alison Moore


The Retreat by Alison Moore.

Published 15th November 2021 by Salt.

From the cover of the book:

Since childhood, Sandra Peters has been fascinated by the small, private island of Lieloh, home to the reclusive silent-film star Valerie Swanson.

Having dreamed of going to art college, Sandra is now in her forties and working as a receptionist, but she still harbours artistic ambitions. When she sees an advert for a two-week artists' retreat on Lieloh, Sandra sets out on what might be a life-changing journey.

The Retreat is a story about pursuing dreams and suffering artists, which unfolds with Moore’s trademark compelling unease.


Sandra has always been fascinated by the small private island of Lieloh, and the stories of the enigmatic, reclusive silent film star Valerie Swanson who made her home there. Now in her forties, she has drifted into marriage, motherhood and an undemanding job as a receptionist, but longs to revisit the dream of her youth to go to art college and become an artist. When she spots an advert for a two-week artists' retreat on Lieloh, she see it as a great opportunity to explore her life-long fascination with the island and its former resident, and to pursue her artistic ambitions at the same time, so she books herself a place.

However, when Sandra arrives on the remote island with a rag-tag selection of artists of all persuasions, neither the location nor her fellow community members are quite what she was hoping for. Out of step from the first, Sandra struggles with her rising frustration at her inability to reconcile her ability with her expectation, and to fit in with her fellow artists who seem to view her with derision. Was this really a good idea?

Carol is a budding writer. Determined to finally expand her short format work into a fantasy novel, she takes up the offer from a friend to spend some time away from it all on a tiny remote island to immerse herself in her writing. Slow to settle into a solitary existence, she eventually finds a routine that allows her writing to flourish, but there is something about the house that bothers her. It often feels like there is another presence here, and odd bumps in the night have her convinced that it is haunted by the ghost of its former resident, Valerie Swanson. Is this the idyllic haven she thought it would be?

The Retreat is a beautifully written, and incredibly creepy, novel that explores a host of complex themes around alienation and ghosts from the past. Told in two alternating story lines from the points of view of Sandra in the uncomfortable few days she spends at her artists' retreat, and Carol in the months she is writing her book in her refuge from the world, it's not easy to see quite how their tales relate to each other in terms of time and place, beyond the connection to Valerie Swanson, and there is a wonderful build up of tension as you wait for their separate accounts to touch - and touch they finally do, in the most deliciously conceived way.

There is such an unsettling feel about this book, which Moore embroiders through remote settings; inclement weather, characterised with an underlying chill; and oblique references to the history of the island locations, especially about the mysterious Valerie Swanson and the apparently conflicting parts of her personality. If this wasn't enough to set you on edge, the relationships between Sandra and her fellow artists is filled with excruciating moments as she hovers around the edge of the cosy set-up they establish in the rambling house on Lieloh, always the outsider - but it's not easy to tell whether this distance between them is a deliberate act on their part, or simply something about Sandra herself, as her narrative is so unreliable. At the same time, Carol's part of the story sees her becoming divorced from reality as the isolation she has immersed herself in begins to take a toll on her mental health, and it is never clear quite how much she recounts is real or imaginary. Each cleverly contrived part of the atmospheric whole combines to build a complex picture, with layer upon layer of themes to delve into - much like the Russian Doll metaphor used so well in these pages.

This is such an impressive and immersive book that draws you in in a way belied by the fact that it is only 160 pages long. It is one to read on a single, viscerally affecting sitting and it will leave you with many things to turn over in your mind once you are done. This is my first book by Alison Moore, but will definitely not be my last. I am well and truly in love with her writing, and will be exploring her entire adult fiction back catalogue in very short order.

The Retreat is available to buy now in paperback from your favourite book retailer, direct from Salt HERE.

Thank you to Helen Richardson PR for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Alison Moore's first novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Awards (New Writer of the Year), winning the McKitterick Prize. Both The Lighthouse and her second novel, He Wants, were Observer Books of the Year. Her short fiction has been included in Best British Short Stories and Best British Horror anthologies, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra and collected in The Pre-War House and Other Stories

Born in Manchester in 1971, she lives near Nottingham with her husband and son, and is an honorary lecturer in the School of English at the University of Nottingham.

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Bloodless Boy (Harry Hunt Adventures Book One) by Robert J. LLoyd


The Bloodless Boy (Harry Hunt Adventures Book One) by Robert J. LLoyd.

Published 4th November 2021 by Melville House.

From the cover of the book:

The City of London, 1678. New Year’s Day. Twelve years have passed since the Great Fire ripped through the City. Eighteen since the fall of Oliver Cromwell and the restoration of a King. London is gripped by hysteria, and rumours of Catholic plots and foreign assassins abound.

When the body of a young boy drained of his blood is discovered on the snowy bank of the Fleet River, Robert Hooke, the Curator of Experiments at the just-formed Royal Society for Improving Natural Knowledge, and his assistant Harry Hunt, are called in to explain such a ghastly finding—and whether it’s part of a plot against the king. They soon learn it is not the first bloodless boy to have been discovered.

Wary of the political hornet’s nest they are walking into - and using scientific evidence rather than paranoia in their pursuit of truth - Hooke and Hunt must discover why the boy was murdered, and why his blood was taken.

The Bloodless Boy is an absorbing literary thriller that introduces two new indelible heroes to historical crime fiction. It is also a powerfully atmospheric recreation of the darkest corners of Restoration London, where the Court and the underworld seem to merge, even as the light of scientific inquiry is starting to emerge...


It's New Year's Day 1678 and the City of London is in the midst of reinventing itself in the wake of the Great Fire twelve years ago, with an ambitious rebuilding project at the hands of eminent guiding lights like Sir Christopher Wren. But this is not just a time of change in the fabric of London, for this is also a new era for science and learning, fostered by the great minds at the Royal Society, which received its royal charter from the newly restored King Charles II.

Many minds however, are still focussed on the past, and the political and religious conflict that led to civil war is still very much in evidence, despite the fall of Oliver Cromwell eighteen years ago. Feelings run deep in the land and rumours abound of Catholic plots and foreign interference, fuelled by old divisions.

When the body of a young boy, drained of his blood, is discovered on the banks of the River Fleet it stokes the fires of talk of dark deeds, fears of religious dissent, and plots to assassinate the king. It falls to Robert Hooke, the Curator of Experiments at the just-formed Royal Society for Improving Natural Knowledge, and his assistant Harry Hunt to try to get to the bottom of the meaning of this gruesome discovery, and what they uncover has them mortally afraid.

Welcome to Restoration London and an intricate literary thriller that draws nicely on a setting filled with intrigue and distrust, as the battle lines based on religious and political ideology cast a long shadow in the wake of civil war. At its heart, this is a mystery about the unusual murder of a small boy, but it is like no other I have read in the way Robert J. Lloyd uses an unsolved historical crime, and some real life famous figures of the time, to inspire a tale that has two of the most unconventional detectives - Royal Society members Robert Hooke and his assistant Harry Hunt. We often read about troubled episodes in history, but by using Hooke and Hunt to drive this investigation Lloyd delves deep into a world where the uneasy bedfellows of science and religion vie, to create a novel full of anachronistic elements of empirical advancement vs deep-rooted superstition that characterise this period of history beautifully - underpinning a cracking whodunnit at the same time.

Lloyd takes you from the lofty echelons of the court of Charles II all the way down the social scale to the poorest neighbourhoods of London, incorporating characters from every social class, and spreading tendrils of twisty and menacing storylines that keep you guessing throughout. There are so many delicious plot devices that keep the murder mystery interesting - secret ciphers, old alliances, simmering resentments, and schemes for revenge. Allegiances are murky, and no one escapes suspicion here, which makes it so entertaining.

My absolute favourite thing abut this book is how Lloyd infuses the story with so much about the burgeoning world of science through the work of the Royal Society, showing how the experiments, achievements and new thinking of its members have significance for what we know today - and he doesn't shy away from confronting the hard truth that much of the knowledge gained was done through suspect means, sometimes crossing the lines of civil and religious law into the realms of the taboo.

There is so much to admire about this book, from the rich literary text full of evocative vocabulary, to the kind of mystery that holds you spellbound, with authentic locations and characters that come alive and thrum with emotion. This is one of my favourite historical reads of the year, and I am delighted to find that this is the first part in a trilogy following the adventures of Harry Hunt, because I really need to know what happens next!

The Bloodless Boy is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Melville House 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:

Robert Lloyd, the son of parents who worked in the British Foreign Office, grew up in South London, Innsbruck, and Kinshasa. He studied for a Fine Art degree, starting as a landscape painter, but it was while studying for his MA degree in The History of Ideas that he first read Robert Hooke's diary, detailing the life and experiments of this extraordinary man. After a 20-year career as a secondary school teacher, he has now returned to painting and writing. The Bloodless Boy is his debut novel.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Call of the Penguins (Veronica McCreedy Book Two)by Hazel Prior


Call of the Penguins (Veronica McCreedy Book Two) by Hazel Prior.

Published 11th November 2021 by Black Swan.

From the cover of the book:

Meet the heroine everyone's talking about . . .

Fiercely resilient and impeccably dressed, Veronica McCreedy has lived an incredible 87 years. Most of them alone, in her huge house by the sea.

But Veronica has recently discovered a late-life love for family and friendship, adventure and wildlife.

More specifically, a love for penguins!

And so when she's invited to co-present a wildlife documentary, far away in the southern hemisphere, she jumps at the chance.

Even though it will put her in the spotlight, just when she thought she would soon fade into the wings.

Perhaps it's never too late to shine?


Veronica McCreedy is a very particular eighty-seven-year-old woman - fierce, neatly attired and never seen without her bright red lipstick, she has discovered later in life that opening yourself up to friends, long-lost family and new experiences can actually be quite enriching. After her recent adventures in Antarctica, meeting and falling in love with the Adelie penguins in Away with the Penguins, Veronica is given an unexpected chance for further excitement - this time among the penguins of Australia and the Falkland Islands, in the company of eminent wildlife documentary maker Sir Robert Saddlebow.

Veronica sets of in the company of her young companion, nine-year-old Daisy, but her new found role in front of the TV cameras as Penguin Ambassador is not the only thing on her mind. Her grandson Patrick has been working with the Adelie penguins on Locket Island, Antarctica, with his girlfriend, project leader Terry, but the course of young love is not running smooth. At a loose end, Patrick needs something to occupy his mind and keep him on the straight and narrow, so Veronica sets him a task to find out all he can about the father he never knew- the man that was taken from Veronica as a baby and adopted by a family in Canada. It is a quest that uncovers family secrets and has great emotional impact on both Patrick and Veronica, allowing each of them to come to terms with their past.

Call of the Penguins is an enchanting, character driven story that, although filled with heart-warming moments and gentle humour, does not shy away from addressing some hard truths about life, death and the human condition. At the centre of the story is the marvellous Veronica McCreedy as the feisty stalwart of good manners and impeccable outfitting, surrounded by a great supporting cast. I loved her from the first, admiring her outlook and determination, chuckling at her rather old-fashioned view of the world, and delighting in the warm heart underneath the slightly crusty exterior - and it is a heart that is exactly in the right place.

Throughout this book Hazel Prior weaves some wonderful threads about making peace with the past, and the importance of sharing your feelings, crafting them into a coming of age tale for more than one character here - no matter what their age. At the same time, the story is infused with detail about the natural world, especially penguins, and you find yourself absorbing so much fascinating information even without realising it. Prior's ability to entertain and inform shines out from these pages, and embedded in a story that touches your heart is a very important message about caring for the environment and the creatures that share our little planet - I guarantee that reading this book will make you think hard about the difference you can make as an individual, especially in terms of plastic use.

This is such a beautifully written book, winning you over with its charm and poignancy, while highlighting some very real world issues in a way that makes them not only engaging, but also inspires you to help out those lovely little penguins in any way you can. I regret that I have not read the first Veronica McCreedy book Away with the Penguins yet, but will putting this omission right very soon - and I really hope Prior has more adventures in store for Veronica, because she is a delight!

The Call of the Penguins is available to buy now in paperback. ebook and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

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

About the author:

HAZEL PRIOR lives on Exmoor with her husband and a huge ginger cat. As well as writing, she works as a freelance harpist. Hazel is the author of Ellie and the Harp-Maker and Away with the Penguins, which was a #1 bestseller in ebook and audiobook. Call of the Penguins is her third novel.

Monday, November 15, 2021

All or Nothing (Alex Abbott Book Two) by Ollie Ollerton


All or Nothing (Alex Abbott Book Two) by Ollie Ollerton.

Published 11th November 2021 by Zaffre.

From the cover of the book:

He turns the groaning Abbott over, puts the barrel of the gun to the back of his head.
'We're doing him a favour,' he says. 'I know a guy with a death-wish when I see one.'
He pulls the trigger.

They say blood is thicker than water. They never mention alcohol. Ex special-forces soldier Alex Abbott has a lead on the killer of his dead brother. If only he can stay off the booze long enough to hunt it down. But the skeletons in Abbott's closet are mounting up faster than the bodies in their bags, and Abbott needs to get his focus back if he's going to get his revenge.

His pursuit takes him to the North of England, where Abbott infiltrates a local gang; forced to carry out jobs to maintain his cover. As he gains their trust he ventures deeper into the organisation uncovering a long-established, international network of rich, depraved thrill-seekers, with a sadistic side-hustle in child trafficking.

Can Abbott stay ahead of his quarry and keep those who matter to him safe? The answer will take Abbott into Eastern Europe, and a deadly game of cat and mouse where he will face a terrible choice between his past and his future; it's winner takes all and Abbott has everything to lose.


Ex-Special Forces soldier, Alex Abbott is a man in a bad place. Reeling from the death of his son Nathan in Iraq, Alex spends his time in a pit of despair, seeking solace in booze and petty fights down the local, but then he receives some information about the childhood death of his brother Chris that brings him a new sense of purpose.

Off on the trail of the people he now knows are responsible for the loss of his brother, Abbott finds himself embroiled in the murky gangland scene in the North of England, and then widens the scope of his quest for revenge to include finally bringing down a crime family with its fingers in some very unsavoury pies - including child trafficking and the very worst kinds of abuse.

This is a reckoning that will bring some hard choices, and Abbott must call on all his skills, and some old friends, to achieve his goal. 

All or Nothing is the second book in the Alex Abbott series by former Special Forces soldier Ollie Ollerton, and he has called on all his experience in the field to create a thriller heavy with action and excitement. Being at a disadvantage by not having read the first book in the series, Scar Tissue, there was a bit of catching up to be done at the beginning of this adventure, but by the time I reached the part where the threads pick up from the intriguing cliff-hanger prologue I was hooked.

Ollerton takes you on a relentless journey through the life of an ex-special forces soldier who has seen just about everything in his time, but has been brought low by personal losses from which he seems unable to recover. A nicely conceived chance discovery by an old flame sets Abbott on a path that gives him hope for redemption, and allows Ollerton to throw almost everything at you in terms of military style revenge plots, filled with fascinating planning and operational detail, deep in a gritty gangland setting - and then, if that wasn't enough, to carry you off into a delicious Bond-esque scenario in Eastern Europe that the fear of spoilers prevents me from going into here.

This book was so much fun, full of twists turns and emotive themes - be prepared from some gut-wrenching scenarios to play out on the abuse side of things, which are integral to the plot on more than one front, even if they make for disturbing reading. The baddies are ones you can really get your teeth into, and you are firmly behind broken-hero Abbott throughout, despite his many faults, which always makes for a very engaging yarn. This book kept me turning the pages well into the night, until all the threads had reached their highly entertaining conclusions... and there is a lovely hook into the next book, which means it will definitely be on my reading pile too! 

All or Nothing is available to buy now in hardback, ebook and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Zaffre for sending me a hardback edition of this book in return for an honest review and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers tours for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Matthew 'Ollie' Ollerton is a Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling author and former Special Forces soldier, who was once the founding Directing Staff on Channel 4's hit show SAS: Who Dares Wins and SAS Australia.

Ollie's military career began at the age of 18 when he joined the Royal Marine Commandos and toured operationally in Northern Ireland and in Iraq for Operation Desert Storm. He subsequently spent six years in the Special Boat Service rising to team leader, before working in Iraq as a private security contractor and carrying our anti-child-trafficking charity work in Southeast Asia. These experiences helped shape his life as well as his books.

Ollie is the founder of Breakpoint, the business he runs as part of his mission to help others create more productive, healthier and happier lives. He furthers this passion through his writing and his online, virtual and public appearances.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Gods of Rome (Rise of Emperors Book Three) by Graham Doherty and Simon Turney


Gods of Rome (Rise Of Emperors Book Three) by Graham Doherty and Simon Turney.

Published in hardback 11th November 2021 by Aries/Head of Zeus.

From the cover of the book:

For one to rule, the other must die.

312 AD is a year of horrific and brutal warfare. Constantine’s northern army is a small force, plagued by religious rivalries, but seemingly unstoppable as they invade Maxentius’ Italian heartlands. These relentless clashes, incidents of treachery and twists of fortune see Maxentius’ armies driven back to Rome. 

Constantine has his prize in sight, yet his army is diminished and on the verge of revolt. Maxentius meanwhile works to calm a restive and dissenting Roman populace. When the two forces clash in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, there are factors at work beyond their control and soon they are left with carnage. 

There is only one way Constantine and Maxentius’ rivalry will end. With one on a bloodied sword and the other the sole ruler of Rome...


We have now reached the concluding part of the Rise of Emperors series, and the fractured relationship between former friends Constantine and Maxentius has finally come to open war - even if it takes a little while for Maxentius to realise it.

The book begins with Constantine crossing the border into northwestern Italy with his small, but battle hardened, force intent on fighting his way to Rome to right some of the wrongs his old friend Maxentius has done him. Constantine will not be happy until he is wearing the Imperial purple, which he believes is his by right. 

Meanwhile, Maxentius chafes against the counsel of his closest advisors to strengthen the northwestern borders in preparation for an invasion from Constantine - one that he is sure will never come. He is convinced it is his divine right to be the saviour of Rome, and all he has done to cement his place as Emperor has been justified. Unfortunately for Maxentius, Constantine has already set foot in Italy, and he finds himself on the back foot almost from the first. His delayed attempts to bolster the defences in the northern regions find his armies driven back to Rome to await a final reckoning.

And so the glorious back and forth account between Constantine and Maxentius begins, as one works his way south to Rome, and the other is harried into waiting behind his newly fortified walls - and it is far from smooth going for either of them. Constantine struggles with the heavy losses a war of attrition such as this brings, and the constant fear that the infighting in his own army will cause it to implode before he even gets near to his goal, while Maxentius is plagued with dissent in his subjects - and both are fighting a battle against treachery within their own ranks.

The action in this final instalment is relentless. taking place over a few chaotic months between January 312 AD when Constantine crosses the border into Italy, and October 312 AD when his army clashes with Maxentius' in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge to decide who will be Emperor - and it is a battle that only one will survive.

Although the course of Constantine's campaign and the outcome of his fierce rivalry with Maxentius is recorded in history, at no time does this story play out like a foregone conclusion. The detailed descriptions evoke such a wonderful feel of time and place, the battle scenes are brutal, but gripping, and neither Doherty nor Turney, in their parts as Constantine and Maxentius, flinch from depicting the harsh reality of war, or the conflicted feelings that come with it. Time and time again, you feel yourself right there in the heat of battle, with blood flying, and are aware of the importance of military decisions that may win or lose the day. The tension mounts as our two foes pitch their wits and experience against one another, and as the final fateful clash approaches it is so exciting!

I love the way our authors swing back and forth between the two men, and curiously for a book that is focussed so much on the battlefield, there is a kind of intimacy in the way we get right inside the heads of both Constantine and Maxentius. This cleverly allows you to compare and contrast the characters and behaviours of the two men. There are many similarities between them and the positions they find themselves in, especially in the relationships with their own families and how they rue the past that has brought them to this juncture, and of course, they both feel themselves justified in their actions - but it is their differences that dictate the outcome of their fierce rivalry. For me, this boils down eventually to their disparate ideas of 'Empire' - with Maxentius fixed on the romantic notion of an aspirational eternal Rome at the heart of all things, and Constantine understanding that an empire is made up of its people, whatever their pedigree or where they hail from.

This has been a fabulously immersive trilogy, full of historical detail and compelling characters, and Doherty and Turney have done a stellar job of weaving everything together into three books that keep you glued to the page. I find myself more than a little bereft to have reached the final volume, as I would love to journey on with Constantine as he founds his capital city Constantinople, but I do not regret a moment spent absorbing these stonking books. I cannot recommend this series highly enough to all lovers of cracking historical fiction.

Gods of Rome is available to buy now in hardback, ebook and audio book from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Aries/Head of Zeus for sending me a gorgeous hardback edition of this book in return for and honest review and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the authors:

Simon Turney is the author of the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as The Damned Emperor series for Orion and Tales of the Empire series for Canelo. He is based in Yorkshire.

Gordon Doherty is the author of the Legionary and Strategos series, and wrote the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. He is based in Scotland.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Lost by Simon Beckett


The Lost by Simon Beckett.

Published 25th November 2021 by Orion.

From the cover of the book:


Ten years ago, the disappearance of firearms police officer Jonah Colley's young son almost destroyed him.


A plea for help from an old friend leads Jonah to Slaughter Quay, and the discovery of four bodies. Brutally attacked and left for dead, he is the only survivor.


Under suspicion himself, he uncovers a network of secrets and lies about the people he thought he knew - forcing him to question what really happened all those years ago...


The Lost is the first book in a brand new series by Simon Beckett, featuring firearms police officer Jonah Colley.

When Jonah receives a mysterious call from the man who used to be his best friend, asking him to meet him in abandoned warehouse at the ominously titled Slaughter Quay on the banks of the Thames, he reluctantly agrees to comply, even though they have been estranged for years. When Jonah gets there he is shocked to discover four bodies - one of them apparently his old friend Gavin that he was there to meet. In the midst of calling in the crime scene an unknown assailant attacks Jonah and leaves him for dead.

Jonah awakes in hospital, with a very sore head and a knee injury that will see him on crutches for some while, finding himself a suspect in a murder investigation. It seems Gavin, a fellow police officer, was on suspension so whatever he was doing at the warehouse that night was not related to a case, and the police believe that Jonah knows a lot more about the situation than he is letting on.

The only way for Jonah to clear his name is to look into what Gavin was up to himself, and what he uncovers has him convinced that this all somehow relates to the unsolved disappearance of his own four-year-old son Theo ten years ago. Did Gavin find out the truth behind Theo's disappearance, and will Jonah finally be able to lay his own ghosts to rest?

The Lost is a cracking thriller that starts with a bloody bang and carries you along on a tense and suspenseful tide until the awful truth is laid bare. There are wonderful elements of domestic noir, gritty gangland shenanigans, police procedural and mystery story that all combine in a delectable crime yarn that keeps you guessing. No spoilers in this review, but Beckett is certainly a master of misdirection, because I did not see where this story was heading - trust me it will give you a great big sucker punch when you get there.

Simon Beckett cleverly leads you up the garden path and down some intriguing blind alleys in this book, before all the threads finally untwist themselves, and not a single character escapes his attention in drawing out the darkness that lies within - whether this be fed by loss, guilt, greed or cold ambition. I found myself totally immersed in the story all the way from beginning to end, right at Jonah's side as he desperately tries to not only prove his innocence, but finally get to truth about the nightmare loss of his child all those years ago, and it's a journey that has you running the emotional gamut along the way.

This is a book that begs to be consumed in one sitting, which is exactly what I did. It's my first Simon Beckett, but will definitely not be my last, as it's one of the best crime novels to cross my path all year. I cannot wait for the next instalment of this series to see what Jonah gets up to next.

The Lost is available to buy now in hardcover, ebook and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Orion for sending me a Netgalley copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:


Simon Beckett is the No.1 International Bestselling author of the David Hunter series. His books have been translated into 29 languages, appeared in the Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller lists and sold over 10 million copies worldwide. A former freelance journalist who has written for The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent on Sunday and The Observer, the inspiration for the first David Hunter novel came after a visit to the world-renowned Body Farm in Tennessee introduced him to the work of forensic anthropologists.

As well as co-winning the Ripper Award in 2018/19, the largest European crime prize, Simon has won the Raymond Chandler Society’s ‘Marlowe’ Award and been short-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger, CWA Dagger in the Library and Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year.

In addition to the six David Hunter titles, the most recent of which is The Scent of Death, he has written five standalone novels, one of which, Where There’s Smoke, was adapted into a major ITV two-part drama.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout


Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout.

Published 21st October 2021 by Viking.

From the cover of the book:

The Pulitzer Prize-winning, Booker-longlisted, bestselling author returns to her beloved heroine Lucy Barton in a luminous novel about love, loss, and the family secrets that can erupt and bewilder us at any point in life.

Lucy Barton is a successful writer living in New York, navigating the second half of her life as a recent widow and parent to two adult daughters. A surprise encounter leads her to reconnect with William, her first husband - and long time, on-again-off-again friend and confidante. Recalling their college years, the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people, Strout weaves a portrait, stunning in its subtlety, of a tender, complex, decades-long partnership.

Oh William! captures the joy and sorrow of watching children grow up and start families of their own; of discovering family secrets, late in life, that alter everything we think we know about those closest to us; and the way people live and love, against all odds. At the heart of this story is the unforgettable, indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who once again offers a profound, lasting reflection on the mystery of existence. 'This is the way of life,' Lucy says. 'The many things we do not know until it is too late.'


Time to reconnect with the incredible Lucy Barton in Oh, William! the highly anticipated sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton. Lucy is now some years older than the young woman looking back on her dysfunctional childhood and reflecting on the direction life has taken her in the first book. She currently finds herself at another turning point in her life, facing widowhood after the death of her beloved second husband, David. Her daughters are grown, and she is on friendly terms with their father, her first husband William, who is now on his third marriage to a much younger woman.

When William discovers something shocking about his own family history, it is Lucy he turns to as friend and confidante, and they become closer as he enters a rough patch in his latest marriage. Their new intimacy has them re-examining their own troubled marriage, reaching an understanding about many of the things that came between them, and finding a way to move on from the hurt of the past.

As in the first book, it is Lucy who is our narrator through the emotional events that play out in Oh, William!. Having previously left her at rather a sad time, unsure whether she would be alright after everything she had been through, it was a joy to know that she had actually met a man who could love her as she deserved in David - but it is not long before his loss brings her to a crossroads once more, unsure about what the future holds. 

William has remained a fixture in Lucy's life. mostly through their interactions as parents to their daughters, but in many ways the sporadic friendship they have fallen into often reminds Lucy of how emotionally immature William can be and why their marriage was unsuccessful. It is William's exploration of his own past that brings them back together, and sends them on a road trip that coincidentally allows them to work through many of the issues that broke them apart years ago. There are moments of anger, silent brooding, recrimination and deliberate hurtfulness thrown up in their conversations, particularly around David's inability to accept responsibility for his actions, but there are also flashes of great tenderness as they reminisce about the happy times they spent together as a family unit with their daughters, and instances when they acknowledge they once had a good thing going.

Through Lucy's eyes we see William struggling with his family history, and although it is this that drives the story for the most part, his emotional journey also allows Lucy to reconcile many of her own deep-seated anxieties as the balance of their relationship shifts. She comes to a realisation that she is not quite as invisible as she has always thought herself to be, that her actions do have an effect on others, that the fiction she has created about her relationship with her own mother is not based on reality, and most poignantly that she is worthy of the love she receives. In many ways, this is Lucy's coming of age story, as she finally finds the strength to take whatever the future holds on her own terms.

This book runs on seamlessly from My Name is Lucy Barton, despite the significant jump forward in time, as this is still the Lucy we know and love so well. You really do need to have read the first book before embarking on this one, as Lucy refers to what we learned in that book about her distressing upbringing, the significant time her mother appeared back in her life, and the course of her marriage to William in frequent asides throughout this text, with endearing conversational comments like "as I have told you before" - so you will be at a loss for much of this story if you don't know what happened to Lucy before the events of this sequel. 

I was a bit concerned that I would not love this book as much as the first one, but if anything, I found it much more rewarding. There is something more satisfyingly mature about this one in the way Lucy grows as a person, realising that she is more capable than she thought, and I really enjoyed how Strout cleverly uses Lucy's own writing as a story device to fill-in William's side of the tale too - no spoilers, you will know the golden moment when you read it. 

Heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal measure, this is a book that displays all Strout's formidable writing talents in one delicious literary morsel - an absolute must read if you are a fan of her wonderful books!

Oh, William! is available to buy now in hardcover, ebook and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

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

About the author:

Elizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout


My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.

Published in paperback 2nd March 2017 by Penguin.

From the cover of the book:

An exquisite story of mothers and daughters from the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge.

Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. They have not seen one another in years. 

As they talk Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually arrived in the big city, got married and had children. But this unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she's made: wondering what is lost and what has yet to be found.


Lucy Barton finds herself separated from her husband William, and her two small daughters, after an appendectomy leaves her confined to hospital with a mystery infection. Lonely and desperate to get back home to her family, Lucy looks forward to the daily visits her her kindly doctor, but her anxiety that her daughters are not being cared for properly means she is unable to rest.

Then one day she awakes to find her estranged mother sitting quietly at the foot of her bed. This is a woman who Lucy has not spoken to for years, and yet she is immediately comforted by her presence, finally able to sleep under her watchful gaze. In the days that follow, Lucy and her mother talk in a rambling, inconsequential way about family and acquaintances from the past, without ever addressing the deeply ingrained dysfunction in their family, or the reasons why they have not spoken for years - until her mother once again disappears from her life. These are conversations that cause Lucy to revisit pivotal moments from her childhood, and set her on a tangent of questioning quite how much of a success she has made of her life since leaving behind the poverty of home to go to college and reinvent herself.

My Name is Lucy Barton is one of those books that gets right under your skin. What begins as the story of a young mother confined to her hospital bed, worrying about her husband and children at home, becomes an exploration of the past - and a reflection on where life has brought her.

Lucy's conversations with her mother are strange for two women who have not seen each other for years - a subject that they never actually address. As Lucy begins to remember heartrending episodes from her past, we come to understand why she has become estranged from her own family, but is is not until she also starts to reflect on her life now that we can see how the themes of loneliness, alienation and the desperate need for connection have run through her whole life.

The text is curiously rambling, almost conversational, jumping back and forth in time, sometimes skirting deep issues and mentioning them obliquely, and other times delving into very upsetting moments from Lucy's childhood and teenage years. Although nothing is ever truly resolved between Lucy and her family, because the past is never addressed directly, it is easy to see that Lucy suffers with a crippling dose of PTSD from her experiences, and the impact of her mother's visit on what follows is significant indeed.

This is a book that flows beautifully, and carries mighty emotional heft, despite being under 200 pages. For me, the most poignant thing is Lucy's obvious capacity to love, which never truly seems to be rewarded, but there are so many lovely moments of the kindness of strangers that will warm your heart amongst the heartbreak too. It's touching, tender, heart-rending and wonderful.

Keep your eyes peeled for my review of the brand new sequel to this book, Oh William, coming tomorrow!

My Name is Lucy Barton is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer.

 About the author:

Elizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.