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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Maid by Nita Prose

 

The Maid by Nita Prose.

Published 20th January 2022 by Harper Fiction.

From the cover of the book:

I am your maid.
I know about your secrets. Your dirty laundry.
But what do you know about me?


Molly the maid is all alone in the world. A nobody. She’s used to being invisible in her job at the Regency Grand Hotel, plumping pillows and wiping away the grime, dust and secrets of the guests passing through. She’s just a maid – why should anyone take notice?

But Molly is thrown into the spotlight when she discovers an infamous guest, Mr Black, very dead in his bed. This isn’t a mess that can be easily cleaned up. And as Molly becomes embroiled in the hunt for the truth, following the clues whispering in the hallways of the Regency Grand, she discovers a power she never knew was there. She’s just a maid – but what can she see that others overlook?

Escapist, charming and introducing a truly original heroine, The Maid is a story about how the truth isn’t always black and white – it’s found in the dirtier, grey areas in between . . .

***********

Molly is a maid at the 5-star Regency Grand Hotel. She is used to being invisible to the wealthy guests that stay in the hotel's luxurious rooms, but she takes pride in her work and knows how to perform her role to perfection. 

She gets by following the sayings of her dearly departed Gran, the woman who was both mother and father to her, using them as tenets to live by as she tries to negotiate a world she doesn't really understand, but she is finding this increasingly difficult now her Gran is no longer here and her loneliness often overwhelms her. At least the routine of her work stays the same and she can take comfort from the way her efforts bring order to the chaos around her. 

"Treat others as you wish to be treated, Gran used to say, and that's a tenet I live by."

But Molly is suddenly forced to confront the harshness of the real world when she finds one of the hotel's most prestigious guests, Mr Black, dead in his bed. This leads her into a mess that she cannot clean up quite as easily with her vacuum and duster as she is used to, embroiling her in a murder investigation that distressingly starts to paint her as the guilty party. 

How can Molly prove her innocence when everyone around her is making assumptions about her guilt? It's time to channel her detective hero Columbo and use her incredible observational skills to solve the crime herself. Molly may seem invisible, but she sees far more than she lets on...

The Maid is a charming tale about a young woman at odds with the modern world who is forced to confront the fact that not everyone she thinks is her friend has her best interests at heart. Molly appears to see things very much in black and white, sticking rigidly to the wisdom of her late Gran through the myriad sayings ingrained in her from her childhood. Sometimes these these sayings are a great help in aiding her to understand the nuances of human behaviour, and sometimes not, but the way she repeats them through the story is endearing - and I promise you will be repeating them frequently after you have finished reading this delightful story.

This is a gripping mystery that you find yourself solving at the side of Molly, as she drops details about the things she has observed. There are many upsetting moments along the way as you, as the reader, can see other characters taking advantage of her for their own ends, but in true Columbo style there is a process to be gone through here before the real culprit can be brought to justice, with some delectable surprises that Nita Prose drops in before all the answers can be discovered - some of which will have you pumping the air with glee and others which you will need "a tissue for your issue" for to wipe away the tears. The characters are vivid, and it's not always easy to tell the good-guys from the bad-guys, which adds to the suspense nicely.

And this is where the magic lies, making this a tale that really tugs at your heartstrings, as well as giving you a darned good mystery to puzzle over. Prose touches on some very poignant themes in the telling of Molly's story - loneliness; control; abusive relationships; and the pitfalls that come with making assumptions about what's "normal" or beneath your notice; but she balances them beautifully against the way love and friendship can bring light to a very dark situation. She also deftly threads a suspicion that whispers quietly at the back of your mind about how much Molly understands about the shades of grey that blur the edges of right and wrong  - but I will leave you to find out the answer to this question yourselves...

I could easily have read this book from cover to cover in one sitting if I had not been reading it as part of a read-along. It's the kind of story that works itself under your skin, until you become completely invested in Molly's fate, desperately hoping she will find a way out of her predicament, and it is filled with golden moments to treasure. I would love to see more of crime-solving Molly and her friends in the future... perhaps a little murder during a holiday in the Cayman Islands? I live in hope!

In any case, this story has been optioned for a film adaptation starring Florence Pugh as Molly, and I cannot wait for it to hit the big screen. Get in now and read the book first, because there is a reason why it is already on the best-seller lists!

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

Thank you to Harper Fiction and Tandem Collective for sending me a hardcover version of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Nita Prose is a longtime editor, serving many bestselling authors and their books. She lives in Toronto, Canada, in a house that is only moderately clean.


Monday, January 24, 2022

The Shadows We Cast by Sarah Tinsley

 

The Shadows We Cast by Sarah Tinsley.

Published 25th January 2021 by SRL Publishing.

From the cover of the book:

What if you couldn't recognise the violence in others? Or in yourself?

Nina refuses to accept the role of passive victim after being sexually assaulted. She becomes obsessed with an online vendetta that risks her job, her friendships, and her sanity.

Eric thinks, if anything, he's too nice. But when he takes advantage of a stranger he is forced to confront the kind of man he really is.

The Shadows We Cast is a dark novel about consent and control that unsettles ideas about victims and villains.




******************

Nina is sexually assaulted at a party - something she only gradually comes to realise in the days that follow. Her memory of that night is somewhat hazy, but she believes it was a guy called Will that she has been having an on-off relationship with. As Nina tries to come to terms with what has happened to her, she becomes consumed with the need to get even with Will through an on-line vendetta that risks her losing everything.

Will's friend Eric is also at the party and is actually the one who has raped Nina. He considers himself a nice guy, and manoeuvres himself into her life as a shoulder for her to cry upon with the intention of having a relationship with her, but he is eventually forced to confront the truth about himself - that he took advantage of a stranger.

As the narratives of Nina and Eric swap back and forth this dark story explores the nature of consent, intent, and the relationship between victim and perpetrator.

The Shadows We Cast is a cross-over between a psychological thriller and literary fiction tale, published as part of the SRL Publishing Breaking the Silence collection, featuring books that speak out about important issues and amplifying underrepresented voices. It is designed to open up the conversation around rape and sexual assault, delving into themes around control and consent, and from the very beginning it asks some uncomfortable questions - especially through the way it gives equal voice to victim and perpetrator. This makes it a challenging read, and I will admit that there were times when the nature of the material had me putting it to one side and reading something a little less unsettling for a while.

There are swathes of black and white in this story, that allow Tinsley to bring clarity to the rights and wrongs of the incident itself, and what follows in the aftermath, in a way I have not seen before. However, for me, it is the way she blurs the lines between the moral issues that is most intriguing - it is the parts of the story that sit in the morass of shades of grey that make this novel so compelling. There is lot to unpick here, going beyond the gut-wrenching scene at the beginning of the book and taking in wider aspects of attitudes to sexual behaviour (especially through the character of Will, and the friends and family of Nina and Eric), and every issue is a thought provoking one.

This is a powerful and discomfiting read, but the threads are handled in such a way that this really does fulfil its ambition to open up an unflinching dialogue about some very knotty issues, and I have to take my hat off to Sarah Tinsley for the way in which she manages this so well. This would make a perfect book club read for groups not afraid to push their boundaries a little - I promise you will find plenty to talk about!

The Shadows We Cast is available to buy now in paperback and ebook formats.

Thank you to Sarah Tinsley for sending me an ecopy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Sarah is a British writer living in France. She explores gender issues in her writing and helps others explore their creative selves through workshops and courses. Her first novel, The Shadows We Cast won the Spread the Word/Bookouture competition in 2020 and is published by SRL Publishing in January 2022. 

Her short fiction has been published widely, including in Mslexia and Litro, and she came third in the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2021. She also coordinates Write By You, a writing project for underrepresented young female writers in the UK. 

For more visit https://sarahtinsley.com and follow @sarahtinsleyuk on Twitter.




Thursday, January 20, 2022

Foolish Heroines by June Wentland

 

Foolish Heroines by June Wentland.

Published 31st October 2021 by Valley Press.

From the cover of the book:

Janina Reston is a language expert, translating fiendishly tricky Arabic and Asian mathematical and scientific texts. Words are her world. But she can’t find any to share with her husband Owen. Instead, she confides in a spider named Gladys (who may or may not be her deceased grandmother).

She lives in an ordinary city suburb where extraordinary things happen. Lily’s husband dies in a strange accident with a milk bottle, while Fatima writes biographies of unknown people living seemingly inconsequential lives, and Zosia – whose most daring adventure thus far has been replacing jelly and ice cream with lemon meringue pie – runs off to Delhi with an Asian Women’s Sewing Group.

Written with zest, zeal and humour, June Wentland’s debut novel is a surreal journey through the avenues and alleyways of everyday life. But forget dull domesticity. This is a suburb where dense jungle leaves creep through the patio door when you’re putting the kettle on, where porcelain shepherdesses have evil intent, and where a seven-legged arachnid can be a wise companion for a woman at the end of her tether.

*************

Strange things are about to happen in this quiet little suburb. It all starts with Janina, whose relationship with her husband has reached a state of such disconnect that she no longer thinks he's actually real. Between caring for her children and cats, worrying about her parents, and delving into tricky translation work, she has little time to ponder why this might be - and in any case, she is more than happy with her new confidante Gladys the seven-legged spider, who lives behind the toilet cistern, and appears to be possessed of the soul and wisdom of her late grandmother. Janina needs some new challenges and they are going to take her to interesting places in the company of an intriguing collection of people.

Nearby, other local women are on the cusp of new adventures too. There's Lily, whose husband has died after an unusual incident with a milk bottle, leading to some weird goings on in her dining room; Fatima whose writing about her ordinary neighbours seems to have unexpected consequences; Janina's mother Zosia off for adventures that do not include her gardening obsessed husband; a seaside palm reader who doesn't know what to make of what the tea-leaves are showing her; and a campaigning belly-dancer who appears to have lost her house in an ill-timed gale - and a few more rag-tag characters who pop in to join the fun.

All these women are linked by their need to make space for themselves in the world and pursue their own intellectual and creative freedom, and as their stories touch, they find a way to bolster and support each other in their endeavours.

It has to be said that this a story that is definitely on the weird and wonderful side. If you like your books to proceed logically with a well-defined plot then this is probably not going to be for you, but if you are up for a winding literary adventure, filled with whimsey, humour, colourful imagery, metaphor, glorious characters, and cats... lots of cats... then this warm and touching novel deserves a place on your reading pile.

There's rather a lot of the fairy-tale about this book, and Wentland uses this story device to explore some very deep themes about connection, love, attraction, equality and freedom, in a very similar way to Jeanette Winterson - and like her, there is a particular kind of humour and poignancy that drives the tale along, with a bizarre hint of Terry Pratchett in the mix that works beautifully. I very much enjoyed the quirkiness of the threads of each of the characters, as they go on their separate, but interlinked journeys, and come to rest in a better place at the end.

Take a ride on the wild side and immerse yourself in a yarn that will warm your heart, bring a tear to your eye, and give you a good old chuckle - and has an important message too.

Foolish Heroines is available to buy now in paperback and ebook from your favourite book retailer. 

If you buy Foolish Heroines direct from Valley Press before the end of January 2022 you can take advantage of their January Sale off of 22% off their titles by using the discount code JAN22 via the link HERE.

About the author:

June Wentland was born in Hull and currently lives in Corsham, Wiltshire.

June has an M.A. in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and has a day job being the Reader Development Officer for Bath and N.E Somerset Council Library Service.

Her fiction has been televised and published by BBC Television. She's also written freelance for Endemol U.K. and has been an occasional guest lecturer for the Creative Industries degree at Southampton Solent University.




The Actuality by Paul Braddon (Paperback Release)

 

The Actuality by Paul Braddon.

Published in paperback 20th January 2022 by Sandstone. Originally published in hardcover 18th February 2021.

From the cover of the book:

She belongs to me – property rights will prevail...

Evie is a near-perfect bioengineered human. In a broken-down future England where her kind has been outlawed, her 'husband' Matthew keeps her hidden. 

When her existence is revealed, she must take her chances on the dark and hostile streets, where more than one predator is on the hunt.

Fear makes her human... humans make her fear.

The Actuality is a gripping, atmospheric speculative thriller from a powerful new voice.


***************

Evie is a bio-engineered android, designed to appear and behave as human-like as possible. She hasn't always been aware of the reality of her beginnings, but during the 40 years of her 'marriage' to her 'husband' Matthew she has come to understand that the memories she has been implanted with are not her own, and even though she may look like the woman Matthew lost so many years ago - Evelyn, his one true love - she is not, and can never be, her.

The ownership of such a marvel of science has been outlawed since the love affair with AI brought unexpected chaos years ago, and Evie's existence must be kept a closely guarded secret. A fact that has kept her confined to an 'ivory tower' apartment for her whole life. She longs to know what lies beyond this luxury prison, but must content herself with what she can hear from the walled garden high above London, and what she has read about the world in the books from Matthew's library.

When tragedy strikes and Evie's presence is discovered, she has to to leave the safety of her enforced sanctuary. The streets in the broken down society that she has never been allowed to be a part of are a shocking and dangerous place, and she must learn how to survive on her own, while keeping one step ahead of those who would dearly love to possess her.

It's time for Evie to learn some harsh lessons, and through them to finally understand who she really is and what she is capable of...

Actuality (noun): The state of existing in reality.

The Actuality is a cracking speculative thriller from debut author Paul Braddon. There are two, closely woven themes to this tale that feed into each other to make it a fast-paced, visceral thrill ride, with lashings of emotional and philosophical depth, that holds your full attention from the very first page to the last!

The first is the setting in a dystopian world that, while reminiscent of a Philip K. Dick scenario, at no time feels like a near future that is beyond the realms of possibility if we continue down the paths we are travelling. Society has broken down as the result of climate change and pollution, and an ill-judged pursuit of AI as a solution to all our ills has brought consequences that have had ramifications for everyone. While the infrastructure crumbles, a gulf has opened up between the rich and the poor, breeding discontent and violence on the streets, and a deep suspicion of technology. Peril abounds where Evie must now venture, and for someone like her it is almost impossible to know who she can trust - something she learns to her cost. 

"And is she... like you too?"
"If you cannot tell," Evie replies slowly, "then does it really matter?"

The second is the beautifully judged way Braddon threads the exploration of what it means to be human throughout the story, comparing and contrasting Evie and the fellow cybernetic characters she meets, with each other and the mortal players that they encounter. Evie is sure she knows who and what she is at the beginning of this tale, but she undergoes an intriguing transformation, going beyond what she has been programmed to think and feel into the realms of genuine self-awareness, encompassing all that it means to become authentically human, as she is forced to confront the light and dark of humankind. The story also delves into the nature of consciousness, class, and ethics in an intriguing way through the bio-engineered characters, which I found fascinating to ponder upon too.

Braddon reveals snippets of the truth of this world with perfectly paced precision, deftly spinning the threads of a tale that brings in the best of sci-fi, with brilliant touches of horror and literary fiction in a way that is most impressive for a debut. All the separate elements combine perfectly to produce a story that keeps you teetering on the edge of your seat, rips out your heart, and sets you thinking at the same time.  I absolutely fell in love with Evie and found myself profoundly moved by this story in a way that really surprised me. I can understand why this has been snapped up by BBC Studios and will be interested to see how they develop Evie's tale for TV or film. I highly recommend reading the book first though, because it's a corker!

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

About the author:


Paul grew up in Surrey and lives in London with his wife Mary and son Thomas. He has a degree in English Literature and Language from Reading University. The Actuality is his debut novel.






Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Opal Country by Chris Hammer

 

Opal Country by Chris Hammer.

Published in hard cover 6th January 2022 by Wildfire.

From the cover of the book:

Opals...

In the desolate outback town of Finnigans Gap, police struggle to maintain law and order. Thieves pillage opal mines, religious fanatics recruit vulnerable youngsters and billionaires do as they please.

Bodies...

Then an opal miner is found crucified and left to rot down his mine. Nothing about the miner's death is straight-forward, not even who found the body. Homicide detective Ivan Lucic is sent to investigate, assisted by inexperienced young investigator Nell Buchanan.

But Finnigans Gap has already ended one police career and damaged others, and soon both officers face damning allegations and internal investigations. Have Ivan and Nell been set up, and if so, by whom?

Secrets...

As time runs out, their only chance at redemption is to find the killer. But the more they uncover, the more harrowing the mystery becomes, and a past long forgotten is thrown into scorching sunlight.

Because in Finnigans Gap, nothing stays buried for ever.

****************

When Homicide detective Ivan Lucic is sent to an outback mining town to investigate the peculiar death of an opal miner, he finds himself out of step from the very first moment he arrives. Baking hot, desolate, and clearly on its downers, Finnigans Gap is going to be a very different arena to investigate a possible murder than the cosmopolitan streets of Sydney.

Fortunately for Lucic, he finds himself paired with rookie investigator Nell Buchanan who, despite her inexperience, knows the lay of the land in Finnigans Gap, and the two of them set to work trying to discover just how and why anyone would want to nail a local man to a cross underground in his mine.

As the case proceeds, leads that have them delving deep into the mechanics of the mining industries that dominate this town, and into the history of the menacing religious sect that has been established on its outskirts, and it becomes clear that there is more at play here than a grudge against a miner who seems to have struck it lucky. 

Both Lucic and Buchanan come under close scrutiny in the face of allegations and internal investigations designed to deter them from finding out the truth, and they begin to suspect they may have been lured here to be the fall guys for someone else's crimes. The only way to get themselves out of this sticky situation with their careers in tact is to get to the bottom of this mystery and bring the guilty to justice.

I absolutely love an outback noir tale and this is one is an absolute corker. It has everything I love about the genre - the tense, small town atmosphere, ramped up to the max by oppressive heat, hostile locals with secrets to hide, and the undeniable feeling that violence lies just under the surface. But Opal Country also has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it very interesting reading indeed. 

The way Hammer uses the mining industry as the background to this story is genius, weaving in elements of miners working small-scale claims through the opal mining thread of the story, the reality of massive corporate operations like Cattamulla Coal, and how the business of mining is heading into the search for rare earth metals. This beautifully mixes up past, present and future, almost like you are walking through time, but my favourite thing about this is the way Hammer shows that whatever the scale or nature of the operation, everyone involved is hoping to strike it lucky - whether through legal means, or otherwise.

But that's not all, because in addition we have two very different cops with their own ghosts to lay to rest, making them both ideal candidates for manipulation, but also allowing them to forge a strong bond; families and partners with scores to settle; the kind of poverty that drives ordinary people to resort to desperate measures; and the frisson of excitement created by a religious fanatic who may well be tied up with the mystery to boot. 

All these elements serve to offer a rich seam to plunder, if you will pardon the pun - one that feeds twisty storylines of corruption, greed, revenge and redemption - and Hammer knows how to use them all to perfection. 

For a book that is a smidge short of 500 pages, this was a fast-paced and thrilling read that flew by. It is linked to Hammer's previous Martin Scarsden series, which I have not read, but can easily be read as a standalone and has certainly inspired me to add them to my tbr pile, because this is just about as good as it gets on the outback noir front. I loved it!

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

Thank you to Wildfire for sending me a hardcover copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs. For many years he was a roving foreign correspondent for SBS TV's flagship current affairs program Dateline. He has reported from more than thirty countries on six continents. 

Chris's non-fiction book, The River, published in 2010 to critical acclaim, was the recipient of the ACT Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Walkley Book Award. Scrublands, his first novel, was published in 2018 and was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Debut Dagger Award, Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards, and Best General Fiction at the ABIA Awards. It has also been longlisted for the Ned Kelly Best Crime Novel of the Year. Scrublands was optioned for television by Easy Tiger (a FremantleMedia company). 

Chris has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master's degree in international relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra with his wife, Dr Tomoko Akami. The couple have two children.


Saturday, January 8, 2022

Journey To Paradise by Paula Greenlees

 

Journey to Paradise by Paula Greenlees.

Published 30th December 2021 by Century Publishing. 

From the cover of the book:

Singapore, 1949. 

When Miranda steps onto the pier with her husband Gerry she hopes that their move will bring the fresh start she needs and a chance to heal the scars from her past.

Gerry's role at the British foreign office affords them a beautiful house and invites the best parties in town. But their life feels worlds apart from England and true friends are hard to find.

When doctor Nick Wythenshaw encourages Miranda to work within the local community, she finds new purpose that opens her eyes to a new way of life.

But as riots erupt across the region and danger draws close to home, Miranda must make an impossible choice. Will she sacrifice everything she holds dear to find happiness?

****************

1949: Miranda is about to take a step into the unknown. Her husband Gerry has been assigned to undertake the role of Colonial Officer in Her Majesty's Foreign Office in the exotic environs of Singapore, and as a dutiful wife, Miranda must accompany and support him in his career move. 

Although sad to leave her home, parents and friends behind, Miranda is rather excited about the prospect of a new start on the other side of the world, hoping it will help her to recover from the tragic death of their young son - and bring her and Gerry back together again. However, the cultural melting pot of post-war Singapore is hard to navigate: Miranda struggles to adjust to suddenly having staff to look after her, and walking the fine line of expected etiquette among the ex-pat community is like stumbling through a minefield - especially among the wives of Gerry's colleagues.

Miranda is bored and lonely, finding the role of domestic goddess and hostess unfulfilling, especially since Gerry is working long hours and the hoped for reconciliation between them seems further away than ever. She seems to have little in common with the women she hoped would become her friends and misunderstandings between them soon have her wishing she had never come to Singapore. But then she finds new purpose through volunteering at the local clinic and becomes friends with the young doctor who works there, Nick Wythenshaw, despite Gerry's disapproval. 

As a closeness between her and Nick develops, blossoming into something more, Miranda also begins to understand something of the difficult political situation and the plight of the native peoples in Singapore, and realises that her sympathies lie in a different quarter to those of her husband. When rioting and civil disorder break out, the danger that comes close to Miranda forces her to confront her unhappiness. It's time to make some difficult decisions...

Journey to Paradise is an immersive story that drops you right into the midst of post-war Singapore, just as the sun is starting to set on the British Empire. 

At its heart, this is a love story, but in the telling Greenlees weaves in some fascinating social, political and military history about the lie of the land in 1949, and this brings real depth to the tale. As soon as Miranda sets foot in Singapore, you experience the new sights, sounds and smells that overwhelm her creating an intensely evocative feeling of time and place. This contrasts beautifully with the grey scene Miranda and Gerry leave behind at the quay-side in Southampton, emphasising that this is going to be a whole new life for them both. But of course, some things stay the same no matter where you are, and before long it becomes clear that there is trouble, quite literally, in paradise...

One of my favourite things about this story is the way Greenlees shines a light on the lives of the women of the ex-pat community in Singapore in 1949. Despite moving half-way across the World, Miranda is still very much tied to the expected role of wife and mother, here to support the endeavours of her husband and sacrifice her own desires in the process. If things go wrong, she is the one left without any sort of support, or easy way to escape her marriage. 

Almost from the start Miranda chafes against the tight strictures placed on her as the wife of a member of the colonial administration, becoming the face of how times are changing. Through her we get to see the truth about the life of women in the late 1940s, and the double standards that lie behind the rarefied existence of the Raffles set - and the rot that has set in. She is not afraid to get to know the real Singapore, and so we also learn about the social and political troubles for the local population, and most intriguingly, the resentment they feel about being abandoned by the British and left to suffer under Japanese occupation - foreshadowing the eventual end of British rule. 

This book absolutely engrossed me from start to finish, tying me up in an exotic location and indulging my partiality for an engaging story and stirring history. This is an impressive debut, and I look forward to more from the pen of Paula Greenlees.

Journey to Paradise is available to buy now in paperback and ebook.

Thank you to Penguin for sending me a paperback copy of this book in return for an honest review.

About the author:

Paula Greenlees has an undergraduate degree in English and European Thought and Literature, and a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. She spent three years living in Singapore surrounded by the history and culture that provided the inspiration for her first novel, Journey To Paradise.


Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby

 

The Unravelling by Polly Crosby.

Published 6th January 2021 by HQ.

From the cover of the book:

When Tartelin Brown accepts a job with the reclusive Marianne Stourbridge, she finds herself on a wild island with a mysterious history.

Tartelin is tasked with hunting butterflies for Marianne’s research. But she quickly uncovers something far more intriguing than the curious creatures that inhabit the landscape.

Because the island and Marianne share a remarkable history, and what happened all those years ago has left its scars, and some terrible secrets.

As Tartelin pieces together Marianne’s connection to the island, she must confront her own reasons for being there. Can the two women finally face up to the painful memories that bind them so tightly to the past?

Atmospheric and deeply emotional, The Unravelling is the captivating novel from the author of The Illustrated Child.

*********************

When Tartelin Brown accepts a job as an assistant to the eccentric and reclusive Marianne Stourbridge on the strange island of Dohhalund off the Suffolk coast, she has no concept of how this will change the direction of her life. Neither the island, nor her new employer, are quite what she expected, and she is unsure if she is up to the task of catching butterflies for the lepidopterist Miss Stourbridge to study - a task she can no longer perform herself now she spends her days confined to a wheelchair in the dusty rooms on the first floor of her crumbling, cliff-top Gothic home, Dogger Bank House.

As Tartelin immerses herself in the mysterious island that is now her home, she comes to realise that this is no ordinary place. There is something strange about Dohhalund, the wildlife that inhabits its landscape, and the enigmatic study that Marianne Stourbridge is undertaking. This is a place with many secrets, closely tied to the history of Marianne and her family - a history that Marianne is reluctant to share.

For Tartelin to get to the truth about Dohhalund, she must help Marianne to come to terms with her past... but first, she must look deep within herself and confront the grief that lies within her own heart...
"The sea is made up of unspeakable sadness..."
Crosby has an uncanny ability to merge reality and the other-worldly, immersing you in a story-scape that blends the lines between magical realism and the harsh truths of the human experience - almost lulling you into a false sense of security before you realise exactly what she is trying to tell you though her lyrical prose. 

This time around rather than exploring the apparently idyllic, fairy-tale world of a princess in a castle as in The Illustrated Child, she delves into the mythical realms of the deep to achieve her end - blurring the lines between the substantial and insubstantial in a whole new way. For it is to the eerie island of Dohhalund, off the Suffolk coast, that we must travel in The Unravelling. This is a place that sits uneasily between the land and the sea, not quite part of one or the other, but incorporating essential elements of both, and this makes it the perfect setting for a haunting tale, rich in underlying maritime folklore - here there be monsters, but it will take some time to discover who, or what, they are... or if they are really monsters at all.

Told in what is essentially two-and-a-half timelines, Crosby gradually unfolds the present and the past of Dohhalund through Marianne's painful family history in 1928; 2018 when Tartelin arrives on the island to work with her; and the pivotal events of 1955 that marked the fate of Marianne and this mysterious place. These timelines weave together beautifully, taking you on a emotional journey that incorporates so many themes around the power of nature; the beauty and cruelty of the natural and man-made worlds; and how tragedy can precipitate change through transformation... oh, and secrets... many secrets...

As Tartelin comes to understand what Marianne is searching for, the relationship blossoms between them beautifully, and they both find a way to deal with the legacy of their secret sorrows and move forward - Tartelin becoming able to open up her heart to love, and Marianne becoming able to forgive.

You will have to discover those secrets for yourself, and I promise that you really, really want to... but I can tell you that this is ultimately a tale about survival, and I love how Crosby works this theme through the story - whether that be in terms of the human and non-human characters, or Dohhalund itself. There is so much to delve into here in terms of fascinating social history around the fishing, pearl harvesting and silk industries of the early twentieth century; of complex family dynamics and the way they cut to the bone of heart-rending human frailty; of how the folly of man leads to tragedy; and of evolution through metamorphosis on a number of levels, which makes this story uniquely compelling - not to mention the way Crosby weaves in the whisper of folklore connected to the sea in the most captivating way imaginable throughout. You feel the insistent pull of the sea in so many facets of this story, which I adored, and the way she uses the motifs of butterflies, birds and spiders to enhance the tale is delicious.

This is a novel that gives you an emotional pummelling, as I knew it would at the hands of Crosby, but it also asks some intriguing questions that prickle the intellectual senses in a very thought provoking way, leaving you with a lot to think about in the way she examines evolution and the significance of mutation. Intriguing indeed.

This is a truly beautiful book that will fill you up and make you ponder. This time Crosby broke me into little pieces, but also remade me in the process, which seems very fitting for a book about transformation, and I loved each and every second I spent on the mysterious isle of Dohhalund. I can already tell that this will be one of my books of 2022.

The Unravelling is available to buy no in hardback, ebook and audio formats now.

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

About the author:

Polly Crosby grew up on the Suffolk coast, and now lives with her husband and son in the heart of Norfolk.

Her debut novel, The Illustrated Child (The Book of Hidden Wonders in the US and Australia) is out now. Polly’s second novel, The Unravelling will be published in January ‘22.

In 2018, Polly won Curtis Brown Creative’s Yesterday Scholarship, which enabled her to finish her novel. Later the same year, The Illustrated Child was awarded runner-up in the Bridport Prize’s Peggy Chapman Andrews Award for a First Novel. Polly received the Annabel Abbs Creative Writing Scholarship at the University of East Anglia, and is currently working on her third novel.


Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Betrayal (The Englishman Book Two) by David Gilman

 

Betrayal (The Englishman Book 2) by David Gilman.

Published 6th January 2022 by Head of Zeus.

From the cover of the book:

Dan Raglan, former Foreign Legion fighter, alias The Englishman, returns. The new high-octane international thriller from David Gilman.

Someone's trying to start a war. And Raglan's just walked into the kill zone.

It has been many years since Dan Raglan served in the French Foreign Legion, but the bonds forged in adversity are unbreakable and when one of his comrades calls for help, Raglan is duty-bound to answer.

An ex-legionnaire, now an intelligence officer at the Pentagon, disappears. He leaves only this message: should he ever go missing, contact Raglan. But Raglan's not the only one looking for the missing man. From the backstreets of Marseilles, Raglan finds himself following a trail of death that will lead him to Florida, to the camaraderie of a Vietnam vet in Washington D.C., and into the heart of a bitter battle in the upper echelons of the US intelligence community.

Pursued by both the CIA and a rogue female FBI agent, Raglan's search will place him in the cross hairs of an altogether more lethal organisation. Tracking his old comrade, he finds himself in the midst of deadly conspiracy, and on a journey to a fatal confrontation deep in the Honduran rainforest.

*********

It may be more than a few years since Dan Raglan said goodbye to the French Foreign Legion, but the motto that binds those who have served, “Legio patria nostra” (“The Legion is our country”), takes precedence over all. So when Raglan is contacted through the network of Legionnaires to say that he is needed to locate a former colleague who has gone missing, he knows he must step away from his current role as an off-the-books intelligence asset to answer the call.

This is a mission that takes Raglan from the slums of Marseilles all the way to the jungle in Honduras, via Florida and Washington D.C., as he follows the clues to locate the old friend who was investigating corruption at The Pentagon. And what Raglan uncovers has far-reaching consequences that go right to the top of American politics and deep into the intelligence community.

Someone is trying to start a war and it is going to take all Raglan's considerable skills, and the help of a few friends, to save the day - if only he can shake the attentions of the CIA and a rogue FBI agent who is determined to save her career.

Betrayal is the second book in the thrilling series that began with The Englishman, featuring former Legionnaire Dan Raglan. I had not read the first book, but this one can easily be read as a stand-alone as the story is self-contained.

Raglan is a really interesting character: part Jack Reacher, more than a little Jason Bourne, and with a bit of Jack Ryan thrown in for good measure, he is a complex and compelling protagonist with depth. He is tough, smart and loyal, and the code of The Legion means he must stick to his mission to the bitter end, which brings in lashings of high-octane action and a bevy of intriguing players in the game - of the male and female variety - but he is also capable of a decency that makes you really warm to him.

There are multiple intricate threads to this story that twist delicious plot-lines covering corruption within the intelligence services and the corridors of political power, back-stabbing machinations on a worldwide stage, arms and drugs smuggling operations, and war-mongering on a staggering scale. I very much enjoyed how the complexity of the tale grows as Raglan follows the trail of breadcrumbs left behind, opening up engrossing avenues to explore, and there is an engaging 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' theme throughout.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this book. It has everything I look for in an international spy yarn - pace, shocks and intrigue, with a cracking story and captivating characters, but it also has plenty of heart too. I will most certainly be going back to read The Englishman very soon. I cannot wait for whatever Gilman has in store for Raglan next! 

Betrayal is available to buy now in hardback and ebook from your favourite book retailer. 

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

About the author:

David Gilman has had an impressive variety of jobs - from firefighter to professional photographer, from soldier in the Parachute Regiment's Reconnaissance Platoon to a Marketing Manager for an international publisher. He has countless radio, television and film credits before turning to novels. From 2000 until 2009 he was a principal writer on A Touch Of Frost and nominated for a BAFTA.

The Englishman is a new thriller series introducing Dan Raglan, a contemporary knight errant who served in French Foreign Legion. Betrayal is the second book in the series.

Gilman is also the author of the Master of War series that follows the fortunes of Thomas Blackstone, a village stonemason in England sent to fight with King Edward’s army as an archer against the French in the Hundred Years War; two standalone novels for adults, The Last Horseman, shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Award set during the Boer War and Night Flight to Paris, a WW11 novel that pits a reluctant hero against the Nazi forces in Paris in 1943; and Monkey and Me which is written for younger children. In addition, he has penned the Danger Zone YA adventure series featuring plucky hero Max Gordon.

He has lived and travelled the world gathering inspiration for his exotic adventure series along the way. Now, David is based in Devonshire, where he lives with his wife, Suzy Chiazzari.




Monday, January 3, 2022

The Curious Dispatch Of Daniel Costello (The Stonebridge Mysteries Book One) by Chris McDonald (Audio Book)

 

The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello (The Stonebridge Mysteries Book One) by Chris McDonald

Narrated by Stephen Armstrong.

Released 1st January 2022 by Isis Publishing Ltd. Published by Red Dog Press.

From the cover:

Wedding bells are chiming in the idyllic, coastal town of Stonebridge. For Sam and Emily, it should be the happiest day of their lives. But, on the morning of the ceremony, the best man is found dead. The police quickly write his death off as a tragic accident, but something doesn’t seem right to wedding guest and groomsman, Adam Whyte.

Armed with an encyclopedic, but ultimately ridiculous knowledge of television detective shows and an unwarranted confidence in his own abilities, Adam and his best friend (and willing Watson) Colin, set out to uncover what actually happened to Daniel Costello.

****************

Welcome to Stonebridge, a small town on the north coast of Northern Ireland. For the most part, this is a quiet place, full of ordinary citizens going about their daily business, but things are about to take a turn...

The wedding of local couple Sam and Emily is due to take place this weekend, in the grounds of a swanky cliff-top hotel, and the guests are gathering to celebrate the nuptials. Before the ceremony gets underway a disturbing event almost brings the festivities to a halt, when the best man Daniel Costello is found dead in his room. The wedding hangs in the balance, but once the police pronounce that Daniel's death is simply the result of over-indulgence in the freely flowing alcoholic beverages available at the largess of the bride's father, Sam and Emily decide to carry on as if nothing has happened - substituting Daniel for Sam's twin brother, who everyone thought would be his choice as best man in the first place.

For groomsman Adam Whyte something is fishy about the whole affair, so he recruits his best friend and fellow wedding guest Colin McLaughlin to help him to look into Daniel's death. Armed with the knowledge they have accrued from watching hours of detective shows, the pair set about questioning the wedding guests, and sifting through the evidence. What they find has them convinced that there is more going on here than meets the eye, and they will not rest until justice has been done - even if they didn't like the victim all that much...

The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello is the first book in the Stonebridge Mysteries series, featuring amateur sleuths Adam Whyte and his bestie Colin McLaughlin, who consider themselves expert solvers of crime, having binge-watched hours of detective shows together. In true classic murder-mystery style everyone has something to confess, whether it's related to incident in hand or not, and it's great fun being along for the ride as they go about trying to discover the truth behind Daniel's death, uncovering the clues without the benefit of access to any kind of forensic evidence, or the authority to make the other guests answer their questions. This makes what follows highly entertaining as they work entirely on their gut instinct, employing the skills of observation and deduction they have learnt from their tv heroes. 

The story is narrated by Stephen Armstrong, who handles all the characters well and nicely plays up the interactions between Adam and Colin, particularly the bickering that comes with any long-standing friendship, so you warm to them very quickly and really want them to succeed. 

I don't think I have listened to anything quite like this before. Chris McDonald brings something fresh and charming to the mystery genre here, working in a gritty, contemporary angle to what is essentially nostalgic cosy crime with his grown-up version of The Hardy Boys (you can tell he was a big fan as a child!). The story is very relatable to the 'binge-watch' generation, moving along at a cracking pace, while still having everything traditional fans of the genre know and love, and although short-and-sweet, covers all the bases before it arriving at a very satisfying conclusion.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this crime caper and cannot wait to see what Adam and Colin get up to next!

The Curious Dispatch of Daniel Costello is available to buy now from your favourite book retailer in hardcover, paperback, ebook and audio formats from your favourite book retailer.

Thank you to Isis Audio for sending me an audio copy of this book in return for an honest review, and to Danielle Price of the Reading Closet for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

About the author:

Originally hailing from the north coast of Northern Ireland and now residing in South Manchester, Chris McDonald has always been a reader. At primary school, The Hardy Boys inspired his love of adventure, before his reading world was opened up by Chuck Palahniuk and the gritty world of crime. He's a fan of 5-a-side football, has an eclectic taste in music ranging from Damien Rice to Slayer and loves dogs.