Spirited Blog Tour

As someone who is a real fan of books set in the Victorian period and all things slightly supernatural, you can see why I would be so excited to get the opportunity to review Julie Cohen’s latest book – Spirited – as part of the blog tour. Spirited is one of the Lockdown reads that I’ve most enjoyed and it’s set me off down a rabbit hole of re-reading Sarah Waters’ Affinity and looking up some stories about real life Victorian mediums as I got so caught up in this beautifully rendered slice of Victoriana.

Viola Worth, our main character, has been brought up as a respectable and diligent young Victorian gentlewoman alongside her religious father’s ward, Jonah. Jonah and Viola are inseparable as children and so we are unsurprised to discover that they decide to marry once they are grown up. Their happiness over their engagement is blighted by the loss of Viola’s father who had been a hugely positive influence on her life. Unlike many Victorian fathers he encouraged her to develop her skills as a photographer and was delighted to witness her emerging talents in this field.

The fact that Viola and Jonah have spent some time apart, with Jonah going off to India like so many young men of his situation and era has subtly altered their relationship. They have not so much grown apart as people, it’s more like their different experiences have started to affect the way they see the world through their altering perspectives and they fee very much alone in their differing experiences of grief.

Their newly married life carries expectations that they both conform to, with varying senses of happiness and fulfilment. Viola certainly seems to find her bereavement and the feeling of being somewhat limited and trapped through circumstances very challenging . It is at this point that our medium enters the story and starts to change the dynamics in ways that neither of them could have anticipated and this is when I really got totally drawn into this beautifully written and captivating period piece.

Spirited Julie Cohen

Henriette is a fascinating character and very much plays the part of a catalyst in this story – adding to the lives of the other characters in this story and allowing us to see them afresh and uncover aspects of their personalities and former experiences that were previously hidden from us. Although I started this story feeling more sympathy towards Viola, as the novel unfurled and we started to get more insight into Jonah’s heroism during his time in India, including his heroism at the Siege of Delhi, I started to feel much more respect for him and see his buttoned-up ness in a new light. The way that we get insights into elements of the past through snippets of news reports and archive materials really added to the feeling of this being a ‘real’ story and brought these characters to life through its pages.

Spirited Julie Cohen

Spirited is a beautiful story with characters that sing and stay vividly with you even when you aren’t reading it. I absolutely love Sarah Waters and normally find that all other writers pale into comparison alongside er, but Spirited definitely gives her writing a very real run for its money. It is both a wonderfully rendered story that draws you in as well as asking the reader ti think about important issues like female agency, love and grief from some very interesting and original perspectives.

Henriette cast as much of a spell on me as she managed to within the story and I would absolutely love to see this novel brought to life on the screen as I think it would translate absolutely beautifully. There is so much more to say about this book, but I’m truly loath to spoil any of its beauty and subtle power by telling too much; this is a novel that unfolds in such a wonderfully understated way that I really want you to experience it wholly for yourself and feel its power in the same way that I was able to.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater & Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part on the Spirited blogtour and I definitely recommend that you buy your own copy and experience the haunting beauty of Spirited for yourself.

Kirsty Logan Gracekeepers

‘Brilliant . . . I enjoyed it hugely’ Marian Keyes

‘Hugely original and heartbreakingly real’ Rosie Walsh

‘Not often does a story remind us of what beautifully complex creatures we are. Julie Cohen has given us that rare gift’ Christina Dalcher

‘Elegant, thoughtful and powerful’ Daisy Buchanan

‘So cleverly done and authentic’ A J Pearce

‘Beautifully written and thought-provoking’ Kate Eberlen

‘A timely read that will stay with you long after you put it down’ Libby Page

‘A cobweb of a book: beautifully intricate and delicate’ Veronica Henry

‘Engaging, moving, arresting’ Sunday Times

‘A powerful and memorable story’ Sunday Express

‘A modern tale told with heart’ Grazia

Writer On The Shelf

Julie Cohen grew up in the western mountains of Maine. Her house was just up the hill from the library and she spent many hours walking back and forth, her nose in a book. She studied English Literature at Brown University and Cambridge University and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, including classes for the Guardian and Literature Wales.

Her books have been translated into fifteen languages and have sold over a million copies; DEAR THING and TOGETHER were Richard and Judy Book Club picks. Her most recent novel is the critically acclaimed LOUIS & LOUISE. Julie lives in Berkshire with her husband, son and a terrier of dubious origin.

You can find out more about Julie on her website: http://www.julie-cohen.com and definitely follow her on Twitter @julie_cohen

Rodham

‘Awfully opinionated for a girl’ is what they call Hillary as she grows up in her Chicago suburb. Smart, diligent, and a bit plain, that’s the general consensus. Then Hillary goes to college, and her star rises. At Yale Law School, she continues to be a leader— and catches the eye of driven, handsome and charismatic Bill. But when he asks her to marry him, Hillary gives him a firm ‘No’.

The rest, as they say, isn’t history. How might things have turned out for them, for America, for the world itself, if Hillary Rodham had really turned down Bill Clinton?

With her sharp but always compassionate eye, Sittenfeld explores the loneliness, moral ambivalence and iron determination that characterise the quest for high office, as well as the painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world ruled by men. Uncannily astute and witty in the telling, RODHAM is a brilliant re-imagining – an unmissable literary landmark and truly a novel of our times.

Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton

Having absolutely adored ‘American Wife’ I was dying to read Rodham and get as obsessed with Hillary’s early life and evolution as I was with the fictional representations of the Bush marriage and I am absolutely delighted to report that Rodham is even better than her previous offerings and I was totally blow away by this read. I love books that look at ‘alternate realities’ and this was one of the ultimate ‘what ifs’ for any contemporary feminist – Hillary Clinton if she hadn’t become First Lady is a fascinating concept and this conceit allows Sittenfeld to look at this Rodham-shaped universe in living colour – bringing Hillary to life on the page warts and all and taking us with her on a journey into this intriguing parallel universe

Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld, Kate Atkinson,

It doesn’t really matter if you love or hate Hillary in real life. This is no hagiography but instead asks us to consider big questions about female ambition and what exactly is worth giving up for any man in the universe. It covers huge questions such as when ‘enough is enough’ for any woman who wants to consider herself strong, independent or a feminist in a world where the playing field is definitely not as level as it would like to think it is. ‘Having it all’ is still very much an unattainable dream for most women and it is interesting to examine exactly how little has changed in terms of how judged women are for the choices they make across the last thirty years – sometimes dispiritingly little, it seems upon reflection…

The New Yorker, Curtis Sittenfeld, Rodham

This book is determined to show us a Hillary in all her forms, not just as a strong, empowered and ambitious role model but sometimes as petty, emotional and relentlessly driven to the point of unpleasantness. I think we are all familiar with the idea that it’s hard to be a woman in a man’s world and Rodham does not just tell us, it shows us this repeatedly across the novel. It is sometimes quite difficult to read as we see her repeatedly getting thwarted because of her gender and it increased my admiration for her character as she picked herself up, dusted herself down and gritted her teeth in order to walk forward stronger for the second time, even after her many defeats.

Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld, Wall Street Journal

What I loved about this book was, just like American Wife, that it took real historical events and allows us to ‘peek’ behind the headlines and witness them from the insider perspective. Seeing their formative years as a young couple was made even more fascinating due to the fact that in this book, Hillary’s head overrules her heart and she chooses ambition over romance. Many real White House players step onto the stage as cameos in this book and it allows you to suspend disbelief and imagine yourself being there and eavesdropping on all these conversations for yourself. As a huge fan of the West Wing, I love these insights and the twist of this being ‘altered reality’ definitely added an extra level of fascination for me as I went along with the conceit and allowed myself to imagine exactly what this America might have looked like.

Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld

Although this is a fiction representation of Hillary’s character, it certainly read like truth. I loved its immersive quality and spent an afternoon by the river in a lounge chair, totally lost in its altered world. As a feminist, it was fascinating and sobering to see exactly how difficult it is to be a female with political ambitions and even though I have never been a huge fan of Hillary’s it would be difficult for anyone to finish this book without a huge amount of respect for any woman who enters this gladiatorial arena and is able to come out with their head held high. Even though President Clinton, in her pants suit, never did make it to the White House in her own right, I loved reading about her journey and think I will definitely follow up this fictional insight into Hillary’s life with an actual biography, to find out even more about this fascinating and divisive woman who cannot be said to lack ambition, even if – like Macbeth – at times it has been her undoing…

Thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and I heartily recommend that you buy yourself a copy as soon as possible so that you can enjoy this wonderfully written and thought provoking read for yourself.

Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld, Hillary Clinton

‘A lot of fun. A wonderful sad dream of what might have happened’ GUARDIAN

‘Startlingly good. One of my favourite writers.’ KATE ATKINSON

Writer On The Shelf

In addition to Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller American Wife, in which she painted a picture of an ordinary American girl – a thinly-disguised Laura Bush – who found herself married to a President. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize, as was her debut novel Prep.

Her other books are Man of My Dreams, Sisterland (a Richard & Judy Book Club pick), Eligible, and the acclaimed short story collection You Think It, I’ll Say It.

Her books are translated into 30 languages.

She lives with her family in the American Mid-West.

Fleishman Is In Trouble

Finally free from his nightmare of a marriage, Toby Fleishman is ready for a life of online dating and weekend-only parental duties. But as he optimistically looks to a future that is wildly different from the one he imagined, his life turns upside-down as his ex-wife, Rachel, suddenly disappears.

While Toby tries to find out what happened – juggling work, kids and his new, app-assisted sexual popularity – his tidy narrative of a spurned husband is his sole consolation. But if he ever wants to really understand where Rachel went and what really happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen it all that clearly in the first place.

You literally have to have been living underneath a stone if you haven’t heard the buzz surrounding Fleishman is in Trouble  from debut author,Taffy Brodesser-Akner – I mean honestly, this book has been shortlisted for nearly every book award you can imagine. That’s why I was so delighted to be invited onto the blogtour to see if this word-of-mouth sensation was every bit as captivating as the online chat suggested. As you will discover, I was definitely not disappointed and It certainly have me a lot to think about during my lockdown afternoon walks as I thought over some of the situations we are presented with in the novel – it was almost as if these were real people whose lives I’d got caught up in and they have certainly lived on with me after I finished the book …

Three Women, Anna Hope, Dolly Alderton, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sally Rooney, Booker, literary fiction

The Fleischman in question is Toby Fleishman, who is in his forties, divorced and going through somewhat of a ‘Tinderella’ moment on social media dating apps when we meet him. His new found dating nirvana draws to a shuddering stop when his ex wife drops his children off at his flat and promptly vanishes into thin air with no warning whatsoever – leaving him metaphorically ‘holding the baby’ with his offspring whilst being presented with the reality of his married life, rather than the altered and edited version which he allowed himself to remember.

This novel was quite a different one for me as I am much more used to considering middle age and the breakdown of a marriage in novels from the wife’s perspective, so this was an interesting departure for me and an opportunity to think about gender roles, sexuality and ageing from a wholly different point of view. That’s not to say that I often sympathised much with Toby – but it was a read that really made me think about his voice and that’s one of the things I love about blogging, that you encounter people and situations through your reading that challenge your own world-view and make you think about your stances on matters and come to a clearer understanding of why you think like you do.

Three Women, Anna Hope, Dolly Alderton, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sally Rooney, Booker, literary fiction

I loved the fact that this is Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel and it makes me very excited for what she goes on to write next. It was a brave decision to create a character in Toby Fleischman who is so radically different to this young female writer and I think that this is one of the things which impressed me the most – that she could ‘walk in his shoes’ so successfully. Taffy Brodesser-Akner allows Toby to get past his obsession with his newest online fling and stat to think about what he really had in his marriage to Rachel and where things started to unravel in their fairly unorthodox relationship Toby begins to think about the things that money can’t buy, instead of expensive homes and all the trappings of their successful lifestyle that had really begun to lose all real meaning for him.

Embarking on all of these Tinder experiences is an opportunity to free himself up and just be in a relationship that’s not bogged down with domestic minutiae, responsibilities and feelings of emasculation or warped gender roles. Toby initially seems to feel that in being free to date all of these available girls, he can feel like he’s free to be a man. It’s interesting to see that what he begins to long for however, rater than an endless conveyor belt of unfettered ‘hook-ups’ is actually a relationship that will make him feel valued and ‘seen’ – across the whole novel, my feelings towards Toby ebbed and flowed, from sympathising with some of his feelings and reflections, to finding him entitled and selfish at other times and I think that this is what made the novel very real for me. In real life we meet people who we can be draw towards as well as irritating us at ties and I think this novel managed to render this in a very convincing way.

Three Women, Anna Hope, Dolly Alderton, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sally Rooney, Booker, literary fiction

Elizabeth the narrator, is a friend of Toby’s and provides an interesting counterbalance to his experiences. Elizabeth feels that her life is just as difficult as anything that Toby is having to deal with – if not even more challenging, coping with being a journalist for a men’s magazine and feeling like she had to work twice as hard as any of her male compadres. Her marriage is almost a mirror image of Toby’s, but their common experience is that they feel buried in their marriage and that they have lost aspects of themselves in their relationship. Again, it was interesting to see this situation from both sides of the gender debate and think about the different elements that cause them grief within their very different situations.

Three Women, Anna Hope, Dolly Alderton, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sally Rooney, Booker, literary fiction

Taffy Brodesser-Akner is an original and thought provoking writer that definitely did not disappoint me and I think that this book really has a lot of insight into present day relationships and the gender debate – as well as giving us much to smile about in its rendering of contemporary parenting and online dating too; it’s far from a po-faced read and will have many readers nodding their heads or grimacing in recognition at both the neck of today’s smart arse teenagers and the dreadful shallowness of the 21st century dating world.

After finishing it, I really appreciated why it has generated so much discussion online and been nominated for so many awards, I definitely think that it will be a fabulous read for my next real life book group meeting as it will definitely divide sympathies and give us so much to talk about in terms of modern life in all its weird and wonderful permutations. I’d like to thank Anne Cater for inviting me onto the tour and urge you to buy a copy for yourself as soon as possible so that you can join in with the debate and see what you think of Toby’s life choices for yourself.

Fleishman is in Trouble cover

Writer On The Shelf

Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine . She has also written for GQ, ESPN the Magazine , and many other publications.

FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE is her first novel.

Twitter: @taffyakner

Website: taffyakner.com

The Girl from Widow Hills

The aftermath of the media frenzy that surrounded Arden’s traumatic experience, 
and the book that her mother wrote about the incident, brought her celebrity and made her public property in the eyes of many.  Although her mother seemed to enjoy the fame, and the money that came with it,  Arden could not wait to escape all the attention and live an ordinary life.

When Arden Maynor was six years old, she was swept away in a terrifying storm 
and went missing for days. Against all odds, she was found alive, clinging to a storm drain. 
Fame followed, and so did fans, creeps and stalkers.  As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and left Widow Hills behind.

Twenty years later, Olivia, as she is now known, is plagued by night terrors. She often finds herself out of bed in the middle of the night, sometimes streets away from her home. Then one evening she jolts awake in her yard, with the corpse of a man at her feet.

The girl from Widow Hills is about to become the centre of the story, once again…

The Girl from Widow Hills

As a real fan of a unique and intriguing mystery,  I was definitely seduced by the premise of this book featuring the disappearance of Arden and its aftermath – when it arrived and I saw the gorgeous cover design, that really sealed the deal for me and it quickly zoomed to the top of my TBR pile. I was delighted to be invited on the tour and couldn’t wait to see if it was as gripping as I was anticipating it to be…

This book definitely did not disappoint, it grabbed me and pulled me right into the story. I was really intrigued by the premise of the book: that we will puzzle our way through the many clues and trails about what actually happened to Arden and this really added to the story for me. The many secrets  that begin to emerge once we begin to see the past start to bleed into the present really kept me turning the pages as the novel unfolds. The fact that this felt like one of the true crime disappearances that I adore really added to my enjoyment and I got really caught up in Arden’s mysterious vanishing and what that might mean now that she’s grown up and trying to carve out a new life for herself as Olivia.

Olivia Meyer is an administrator in North Carolina and on the surface appears to be just another young woman starting to make her way in the world – however, two decades ago ‘Olivia’ was Arden Maynor – survivor of a three day dramatic search and rescue effort in Widow Hills after having been swept into the drainage system during a flood when she was sleepwalking. Arden’s amazing rescue brought her publicity and hordes of adoring fans, but it’s pretty difficult to live your life in the public eye so…

The Girl from Widow Hills

Ten years on, Arden has transformed herself into Olivia and all seems to be going well until the advent of the twenty year anniversary of her disappearance means that her nocturnal sleepwalking is back. Sleepwalking was the factor that underpinned her childhood disappearance, so this does not bode well. Things begin to truly unravel when Arden discovers a body right beside her house and all the past starts to rush back, even though she thought that she’d managed to detach herself from it once and for all. When the body is discovered to be someone from Olivia’s past she becomes caught up in their murder investigation and her past and future collide in a way that she’ has been trying to evade her whole life. She is now left with no choice but to confront the past and face up to what really did happen during those three ‘lost’ days back in Widow Hills..

I absolutely loved the way that we get Arden’s past and Olivia’s present day mingling together and this really worked as a dual timeline mystery– I really enjoyed trying to navigate my way through the tiny clues that are scattered throughout the story. It was intriguing to see which trail of breadcrumbs would prove to be the right one and Megan Miranda kept me changing my mind from one moment to the next .I enjoyed the way that the snippets of the past were presented in snapshots of phone-calls, writing and transcripts from the past and is added an additional element of trying to ‘solve’ the mystery through these snippets that I really enjoyed.

The Girl from Widow Hills

Even though there have been lots of novels this year where girls go missing, Megan Miranda ensures that the characters we meet in this story allow the plot to unfold in an original way which makes the story linger at the edges of our mind even when we aren’t reading it. The sleepwalking element blends the dream and reality together and reminds us of the way that we can sometimes mingle elements of our dreams and reality and this puts a darkly disturbing spin on that feeling.

Megan Miranda is an intriguing new writer for me – it’s hard to talk about this novel without spoilers, so I’ll just need to tell you that you must read it for yourself. You will be intrigued by the way that we gradually begin to uncover what exactly happened back then in Widow Hills and want to read on and find out exactly how Arden’s past and Olivia’s future are inextricably intertwined – as it’s far from an open and shut case. Things start to appear through the murk and you’ll not be able to believe you never noticed them before – in a satisfyingly well-constructed way. I cannot wait to go back and read Megan Miranda’s other novels and this will be a real treat for me this summer

The Girl from Widow Hills

Anyone who loves trying to work out a mystery and love novels that keep you guessing will love this novel. I had really high hopes for The Girl from Widow Hills and I’m delighted to say that I was definitely not disappointed. It was definitely a book that  I’ll be recommending to lots of people across the rest of the summer. I think that this would make an excellent Book Group read as it would be sure to provoke lots and lots of discussion and ensure that your readers are kept on their toes.

Buy yourself a copy of the book here

Sometimes you come across a thriller which stands out. This is one. This intelligent pacy read is a different take on the “missing girl scenario” with characters who aren’t always what they seem. You might not get a good night’s sleep again – especially if you’re prone to go walkabout in the night., Jane Corry, author of My Husband’s Wife

With Hitchcockian flair, Megan Miranda shrewdly examines what becomes of the people at the center of those rare, sensational news stories that capture the nation’s attention. The Girl from Widow Hills gave me the creeps in the best way possible., Chandler Baker, author of Whisper Network

hauntingly atmospheric and gorgeously written page-turner, The Girl from Widow Hills is a deeply thought-provoking, riveting mystery about the complex weight of history and the dangerous power of the lies we tell ourselves., Kimberly McCreight, author of Reconstructing Amelia

Writer On The Shelf

Megan Miranda is the author of All The Missing GirlsThe Perfect Stranger, and The Last
House Guest, which was the August 2019 Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine pick. 

Follow her on  TwitterInstagram and Facebook.


She grew up in New Jersey, graduated from MIT, and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children.

The Colours – Blog Tour

Ellen sees the world differently from everyone else, but living in a tiny town in the north east of England, in a world on the cusp of war, no one has time for an orphaned girl who seems a little strange.

When she is taken in to look after an rich, elderly widow all seems to be going better, despite the musty curtains and her aging employer completely out of
touch with the world. But pregnancy out of wedlock spoils all this, and Ellen is unable to cope. How will Jack, her son, survive – alone in the world as his mother was?


Can they eventually find their way back to each other?

The Colours is a sweeping novel of how we can lose ourselves, and our loved ones, for fans of Kate Atkinson and Virginia Baily.

The Colours Cover

One of the very best things about the book blogging community and getting to participate in blog tours is that no two books that you are ever asked to review are the same. When I was invited onto the tour for The Colours I was really excited as I always like reading books that are set in two different time periods – and who wouldn’t be drawn in by this stunning cover and the promise of a story that is every bit as expansive, sweeping and Technicolor.

assorted-color paint strokes artwork

Discovering new favourite writers can be one of the best things about being a book blogger – as well as hearing what other bloggers I admire thought of a book I’ve loved, It’s like a virtual book group where you are able to consider and connect with what other people enjoyed about a book that’s really caught your imagination. I enjoyed The Colours so much that I’m desperate to launch it at the real book group I run at The Wine Library once things get back to normal and we are allowed to meet up again for books, wine and great chat…

wine bottles on rack

I was really intrigued to read The Colours as  I love novels that deal with the way that different generations connect and the complexities that lurk beneath the surfaces of other families’ lives.  As soon as this book arrived,  I wanted to open that stunning watercolored cover up and find out how Ellen and Jack’s lives would unfold and I loved the fact that it featured the idea of synaesthesia as it’s an idea that has always intrigued me and I thought The Colours brought these feelings beautifully to life.

I found this book totally engrossing once I’d started: I really enjoyed seeing the way that Ellen and Jack had an inter-related, yet totally unique relationship with the beauty of colour and loved the way that the writing brings the way that they both see the world vividly to life and allows us to immerse ourselves in their lives and see the world through their discerning and eclectic perspectives.

photo of assorted-color thread spool lot

I enjoyed the way that Juliet Bates’ novel allows us to see the complexity of human relationships, from both ends of the narrative ‘kaleidoscope’ rather than just the ‘happy ever after’ that we are so often presented with in fiction and I think that this is one of the things that draws us into their unique and beautifully rendered story.

The way that you can feel so distant from your own roots is exceptionally well-drawn and a testament to her skill as a writer that we really believe in the relationships and interactions with one another – I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Jack and his Uncle Henry and liked the fact that this unorthodox upbringing is so empathetically drawn –   I’m sure that there are many people reading this novel who will feel the same and the abstract beauty of the front cover is beautifully counterbalanced with the precise character observations found inside.

The way that Julie Bates slowly but certainly develops our understanding of what is going on in the heads of these characters is convincingly done and leads to you feeling like you can really start to understand the way they see the world and even though you might not always understand all of the choices they make, you feel like you are able to inhabit their world view and try to empathise with the challenging situations they finds themselves in

I found myself turning back to particular passages so that I could enjoy the writing all over again, even though I’d finished the novel – a sure sign of a book that I won’t be able to forget. It looks at the impact of religion on our lives and asks us to think about the ways that women’s lives have altered in terms of freedom and agency across the last century and I’m certainly glad that things are much different for single mothers as we move into the 21st century…

white and black smugs painting

The Colours is a truly immersive read as it takes a genuine look at what we really mean by ‘family’ It allows us a glance into relationships where peoples’ needs are complex and real and dares us to ask ourselves questions about the way we ourselves experience the world and the way that our past can shape and form us into the people that we are – for good and for bad.

I always enjoy a book much more if I’m not hyping myself up before I read it and The Colours was exactly that. It was definitely a grower and I found myself thinking about the repercussions of their choices whilst gardening and painting this week and wondering about their lives as if these were real people that I’d crossed paths with and missed now that they wee gone. I will definitely seek out more books by Julie Bates and am keen to keep pushing myself to choose more novels by writers that are new to me in the second half of 2020

Treat yourself to a copy of The Colours here

Writer On The Shelf

Juliet Bates

Juliet Bates was born in the north-east of England. After studying art and art history, she has worked as a lecturer in art schools in the UK and now in France. 

The Colours is Juliet’s second novel; her debut, The Missing, was published by Linen Press in 2009, and her short stories have appeared in British and Canadian journals and magazines.

Blood Red City

Blood Red City

A witness but no victim. A crime but no crime scene…

When crusading journalist Lydia Wright is sent a video of an apparent murder on a London train, she thinks she’s found the story to revive her career. But she can’t find a victim, much less the killers, and the only witness has disappeared.

Wary she’s fallen for fake news, she begins to doubt her instincts – until a sinister call suggests that she’s not the only one interested in the crime.Michael Stringer deals in information – and doesn’t care which side of the law he finds himself on.

But the murder on the train has left him exposed, and now he’ll stop at nothing to discover what Lydia knows.When their paths collide, Lydia finds the story leads through a nightmare world, where money, power and politics intersect … and information is the only thing more dangerous than a bullet.

A nerve-shattering and brutally realistic thriller, Blood Red City bursts with energy and grit from the opening page, twisting and feinting to a superb, unexpected ending that will leave you breathless.

A big thank you to Anne Cater & Random Things Tours for inviting me on the blog tour for Blood Red City. I love true crime and absolutely adored Rod’s previous book, The Dark Inside, which vividly depicts the Texarkana murders and I absolutely could not wait to get stuck into Blood Red City after reading the blurb– and let me tell you, I got so engrossed that I’ve lost a fair bit of sleep myself across lockdown as I could not stop reading til I found out the truth…

Blood Red City introduces us to Lydia who is presented with video footage of a brutal crime and feels determined that this might pave her way back into the crime writing career she craves in this compelling and gripping read. Lydia is tired of reporting on entertainment and is desperate to reenter a more challenging form of journalism, only to find herself caught up in events that are far far worse than she could ever have imagined.

grayscale photo of woman doing silent hand sign

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I absolutely love books that pacey and full of twists and turns and seek them out whenever I can. That’s why I loved Blood Red City so much. It’s the sensation of being totally caught up in the story and suspending disbelief as you get caught up in Lydia’s situation and not being able to rest until you know what happens and you reach the resolution. I was so drawn in that Mr Ontheshelf went without his promised steak dinner last Thursday as I just HAD to know what happened…

grayscale photo of train with no smoking sticker

When Lydia decides that the assault on the Underground spells a fresh start for her career, she hasn’t taken into account the impact of ‘fake news’ on crime stories as the questions are raised about the veracity of the footage and she cannot find any witnesses for love nor money. Little could she ever have anticipated encountering someone like Michael Stringer and being caught up in such a web of hostility and danger as he attempts to put a stop to her concerted investigation and determination to uncover the truth.

vehicles on roadway at nighttime

If you are a fan of Orenda Books, you will know that Karen often seems to select books for publication where the characters often believe that they know what’s best for them, only to discover to their peril that the truth is very far from their initial estimation, and Lydia indeed runs true to form. As her initial investigative plans begin to unavel and she begins to see the inherent danger of tangling with someone with Stringer’s background, it becomes apparent that the truth behind this ‘Underground’ crime might be very different that she first presumed, and it seems to Lydia that in her pursuit of a more exciting career she might just have stirred up a hornet’s nest of nefarious activities and dark deeds that lurk beneath the surface of this Blood Red city itself

high rise buildings

I loved the way that the character of Lydia springs to life off the page and how her gutsy determination to ‘follow the story’ takes her in a totally different direction than she’d first anticipated. I get totally drawn in my novels that are full of twists and turns so it added a dimension of intrigue that Lydia and Stringer have a unique sparring sense of chemistry that definitely adds a frisson to the investigation and I navigated myself through the dark side streets of this story, picking my way forward carefully just like Lydia does as it is increasingly hard for her to know exactly whose truth to believe and how to keep herself on track in an investigation that she definitely no longer feels totally in control of.

Lydia’s spirit and drive and the way we are constantly kept on our toes means that you’ll race through Blood Red City at a breakneck pace.  I hate spoilers, so all I’ll say is that you won’t be disappointed. This is a sure-fire summer pageturner and deserves to win Rod Reynolds an army of new fans and people who – like me – are longing to find out ‘What Lydia Did Next’

Get yourself a copy here and enjoy a roaring good crime read with a gritty and believable atmosphere that would spring to life on the screen and is crying out for an adaptation…

Writer on The Shelf

Rod Reynolds is the author of four novels, including the Charlie Yates series. His 2015 debut, The Dark Inside, was longlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger, and was followed by Black Night Falling and Cold Desert Sky; the Guardian has called the books “Pitch-perfect American noir.”

A lifelong Londoner, Blood Red City is his first novel set in his hometown. Rod previously worked in advertising as a media buyer, and holds an MA in novel writing from City University London.
Rod lives with his wife and spends most of his time trying to keep up with his two young daughters. 

What Doesn’t Kill You

An explorer spends a decade preparing for an expedition to the South Pole; what happens when you live for a goal, but once it’s been accomplished, you discover it’s not enough? 

A successful broadcast journalist ends up broke, drunk and sleeping rough; what makes alcohol so hard to resist despite its ruinous consequences? 

A teenage girl tries to disappear by starving herself; what is this force that compels so many women to reduce their size so drastically?

In this essay collection, writers share the struggles that have shaped their lives loss, depression, addiction, anxiety, trauma, identity and others. 

But as they take you on a journey to the darkest recesses of their mind, the authors grapple with challenges that haunt us all.

Today is my stop on the What Doesn’t Kill You blog tour. Many thanks to Anne Cater for the chance to read and review.

It’s been a funny old time and lots of people have had real difficulties keeping a hold of their ‘reading mojo’ and their usual books haven’t really been hitting the spot. If that sounds a bit like you then look no further because this book will be a real palate cleanser for you as it’s so refreshingly different it’ll get you back reading again in absolutely no time.

I’m not normally a huge lover of essay collectionss, I can find them bitty and find that collections of them vary so much that it can prove hard for them to hold my interest. I was intrigued to read this collection once I heard about it because of the thematic link that joins them together and instead of dipping into them as I imagined I would, I ended up totally immersed and actually read it from cover to cover once I’d started.

Although the subject matter can be dark, instead of feeling gloomy, I felt that the writers’ strength and resilience described in these stories gave me a real lift in these last few difficult weeks and reminded me that when it rains we should think about the rainbows that follow and when it is dark, we can see the stars shining brightly overhead too!

As a mental health first aider I will be recommending this book to lots of people who might find many things to relate to in its pages. The diversity of experiences and the variation in the tone of these essays makes the breadth of appeal huge and the fact that the writers all have something completely different to reflect on means that everyone will find something that they can find a connection to and feel moved and inspired by reflecting on the way we can all move towards moments of grace and acceptance

As an English Teacher, the poem I’d match with it is Mean Time by Carol Ann Duffy and I’m including it here in my review to provide a moment of grace for anyone who needs it. I absolutely recommend this book and feel that Elitsa Dermendzhiyska has done an amazing job in collecting and editing this array of first class writing. Even if you think this might not be your thing, you should definitely give it a go as it’s one of those books that your thoughts keep returning to. My favourite piece was Last Fragments of Love by the wonderful Cathy Rentzenbrink – and it’s almost worth buying it for her piece alone – but you will honestly be spoiled for choice here if you love beautifully written pieces where you feel the writer speaking to you and close its covers feeling moved, inspired and overawed in equal measure. This has been my ‘sleeper hit’ of lockdown and I recommend it wholeheartedly

Buy yourself a copy here

‘Mean Time’ by Carol Ann Duffy

The clocks slid back an hour
and stole light from my life
as I walked through the wrong part of town,
mourning our love.

And, of course, unmendable rain
fell to the bleak streets
where I felt my heart gnaw
at all our mistakes.

If the darkening sky could lift
more than one hour from this day
there are words I would never have said
nor have heard you say.

But we will be dead, as we know,
beyond all light.
These are the shortened days
and the endless nights.

Writer On The Shelf

litsa Dermendzhiyska went from stock investing in Washington DC to a technology incubator in south-east Asia, then joined the rat race in London and promptly burned out while building a tax software business. To avoid actually getting therapy, she spent the next two years interviewing therapists, psychiatrists, NHS clinicians, authors, artists and entrepreneurs from South London to Silicon Valley – this book is the result.

Follow @elliethinksnot on Twitter

on Goodreads

on Amazon,

Visit elliethinks.com

Out of Love

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As a young woman boxes up her ex-boyfriend’s belongings and prepares to see him one last time, she wonders where it all went wrong, and whether it was ever right to begin with. Burdened with a broken heart, she asks herself the age-old question . . . is love really worth it?

Out of Love is a bittersweet romance told in reverse. Beginning at the end of a relationship, each chapter takes us further back in time, weaving together an already unravelled tapestry, from tragic break-up to magical first kiss. In this dazzling debut Hazel Hayes performs a post-mortem on love, tenderly but unapologetically exploring every angle, from the heights of joy to the depths of grief, and all the madness and mundanity in between.

This is a modern story with the heart of a classic: truthful, tragic and ultimately full of hope.

‘I fell in love with this book. The writing was good enough to make me forget I had a phone, put it that way’ Aisling Bea

Sometimes a book appears at just the right time in your life – and this was one of those times when I really needed to find a book to lose myself in. I have recommended it to so many people as ‘the perfect book for you’ , talked about it people at my Zoom Book Group and will definitely be buying it as gifts for quite a few of my friends too. I was SO excited to be invited on the tour for this book and can’t wait to read about what my fellow bloggers thought too…

I don’t think you have had to experience a break up like this to bond with this book, but by god – if you have there will be moments in this novel that you’ll read and read again saying ‘HOW DID SHE KNOWWW?’  and I think that there will definitely be so many people all over the UK who will be wondering whether Hazel Hayes was sitting behind them in a bar eavesdropping on their conversations as so much of this book feels so utterly REAL that at times you forget that this is an actual novel

I’d like to thank Anne Cater  for inviting me on the tour and recommend that you follow it and see what all the other fab bloggers had to say about this unforgettable book. It’s so good to back in the blogging world after my time of planning our return to school after the pandemic and this was such a great read to remind me of why I love bookblogging so much – when I get to read fantastic novels like this and tell other people how much they’ll love it too!

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Books about dating and love and friendships and breakups can feel like they are ten a penny – but this one really is different. It’s dark and light in exactly the right ratio to be truly satisfying and there will be moments where you’ll literally be devastated – but by the end the holistic effect is both cathartic and gratifying and I’m so jealous of everyone who hasn’t read it yet…

As you will have surmised by now, I literally could not put this book down, I was so caught up in this poignant breakup journey and I’m sure you will be too. It really felt like we’d been through this together. Hazel Hayes’ combination of  devastating brutality and moments of absolute normality mean that everyone can identify with some part of this backwards-lived story– it’s a representation of all the things that we all struggle with in modern life and you’ll be reminded of your own journeys from bliss to breakup in the reading of it

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I loved the idea behind this book: that in the middle of loss and devastation it’s important to remember sometimes that our future might not always be written the way that we think it is and that we can see relationships differently if we view them from the other end of the kaleidoskope. Seeing the relationship from end to beginning was a reminder that we can forget the positives while living through a breakupnand a vivid reminder that good times will come again – if we only have the patience to wait…

broken heart hanging on wire

This is the kind of book you’ll be buying for your friends and begging them to read as you will want to spend hours thinking of all the ways you’ve lived through moments like these or met someone who’s been through exactly the same set of emotions even if the root causes were slightly different…

I hope that you find some time to check out some of the other fantastic bloggers on the tour – I am really looking forward to hearing what they thought and I’m hoping that they reveal their own breakup moments in their reviews. Mine was breaking up with an ex boyfriend and leaving a uni folder at his flat – then having to go back after my grand exit and squirmingly retrieve my folder of notes on Byron whilst totally avoiding the hoots and derision of his flatmates…

Hazel Hayes is definitely a writer to watch for me – and if you have a look at these stunning reviews from a whole host of amazing bloggers, you can see that I’m not alone in my opinion!

Buy yourself a copy here:

Writer on the Shelf

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Hazel Hayes is an Irish-born, London-based writer and director who has, until now, been writing primarily for the screen.

Having graduated from Dublin City University with a degree in journalism, she went on to study creative writing at The Irish Writers’ Centre, before finally finding her feet on YouTube and honing her craft as a screenwriter through numerous short films and sketches.

Her eight-part thriller, PrankMe, won Series of the Year at SITC, as well as the award for Excellence in Storytelling at Buffer Festival in Toronto.

http://www.youtube.com/user/ChewingSand @TheHazelHayes

Island Of Secrets – Blog Tour

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1957: Iris Bailey is bored to death of working in the typing pool and living with her parents in Hemel Hempstead. A gifted portraitist with a talent for sketching party guests, she dreams of becoming an artist. So she can’t believe her luck when socialite Nell Hardman invites her to Havana to draw at the wedding of her Hollywood director father.

Far from home, she quickly realizes the cocktails, tropical scents and azure skies mask a darker reality. As Cuba teeters on the edge of revolution and Iris’s heart melts for troubled photographer Joe, she discovers someone in the charismatic Hardman family is hiding a terrible secret. Can she uncover the ugly truth behind the glamour and the dazzle before all their lives are torn apart?

This was such a treat to read. I absolutely lost myself aboard Rachel Rhys’ previous novel, Dangerous Crossing and I absolutely could not wait to travel to Cuba and lose myself in the sun-drenched atmosphere of her latest read, Island of Secrets. I was utterly delighted when Anne Cater invited me onto the blog tour for Island of Secrets and could not wait to escape and see what awaited me there…

Iris Bailey is another narrator that we absolutely identify with as we are plunged into a whole new world right alongside her. Travelling to exotic Cuba was nothing that she had ever imagined in her humdrum Hemel-Hempstead life in the typing pool.  Her life is turned absolutely upside down when glamorous Nell invites her to Havana to deploy her artistic skills among the rich and famous at her movie-director father’s wedding. At first Iris seems entranced by the heady glamour that surrounds her in this very different world – but Iris soon finds the sheen of novelty wearing off as she begins to sense the seamier underbelly of this dream destination…

The people Iris is exposed to in Cuba are very different to her previous experiences and her shyness and introverted nature threaten to overwhelm her until she discovers that it is perhaps her very shyness that creates a space for her subjects to open up and begin to tell her truths about their inner selves. Iris is then led down a dangerous pathway where the normal boundaries become blurred in the glamorous and heady atmosphere she now finds herself in. Journalist Eugene and photographer Joe are more worldly than Iris and begin to see that they have uncovered some things that many of the more powerful characters that surround them would prefer to stay hidden. Iris begins to see that the political undercurrents and fragile allegiances that surround her mean that every step is fraught with danger and it is difficult to know exactly who to trust as she tries to navigate this disorientating and wholly unfamiliar situation.

Iris makes for such a memorable narrator: because she is so naive and sheltered that we often sense dangers around her that she is at first less aware of – which creates a satisfying tension as we try to anticipate when things will begin to come clear to her. At first, we too fall in love with Cuba, seeing it through her eyes and finding it as heady, magical  and steamily glamorous as she does. Her growing friendship with Joe and Eugene and her dawning awareness of what they see lurking beneath the surface provides an interesting counterpoint to her experiences with the rich socialites like Barbara Bonini and Lana the blushing bride and keeps you turning the pages as more and more secrets begin to come to light. The reader develops a dawning sense that most people assembled for these nuptials are very different than they at first might have appeared and she will need to keep her wits about her as she gets drawn deeper into situations where she feels more and more out of her depth.

Rachel Rhys’ reputation as a first-class purveyor of classy historical mysteries is wonderfully apparent as the plot skilfully seduces us with the balmy Havana breezes and lulls us into a false sense of security right alongside Iris. Once the glamour starts to tarnish for her, we are right there alongside her as she tries to get to the bottom of the nest of vipers that she has found herself caught up in.

Once again, Rhys proves herself a worthy successor of Dame Agatha Christie in terms of keeping the reader on their toes and providing us with a lot of misdirections and sleight-of-hand that kept me feverishly turning the pages long after my bedtime -and on a school night too! I was totally invested in the mystery as Iris got more and more out of her depth in understanding anyone’s true motives or who she could truly trust. I hate giving spoilers, so I’m definitely avoiding too much detail about exactly what secrets and lies they manage to uncover behind the gorgeously painted facades of Havana– but I can promise you that you’ll not be able to stop reading, once you’ve started.

The period is evocatively recreated for us and the glamorous and decadent atmosphere is skilfully realised by Rachel Rhys. I love this post-war period, its glamorous clothing, the dances and drinks in the louche and wealthy circles that Iris becomes exposed to, the sense that the world is changing around them as the political climate in Cuba starts to build momentum around them.  

I’ve never been to Cuba but it’s most definitely on my bucket list and I loved the way that Island of Secrets allowed me to vicariously experience the vintage glamour and excitement from lockdown in Bonnie Scotland. I read this in a single day, I was so fascinated by Iris and her story and I desperately wanted to know what was lurking beneath the surface of the Hardman family’s seemingly gilded life. The plotting is as skilful as ever, the characters are wonderfully captured and the lush setting seductively whisked me off to a gorgeous destination from the comfort of my own garden.

This is a wholly satisfying read and I absolutely loved it. If you like your thrillers brutal and depraved, then this might not appeal to you – but if you enjoy a wonderful period read with an evocative atmosphere that will stay with you then you’ll definitely love it too.

Thanks so much for Anne Cater for inviting me aboard on the Blog Tour  –  It was definitely just the trip that I needed over lockdown I didn’t want to end. I’d love to see this on the screen and I can already envisage some of the locations and costumes in my mind’s eye

Buy yourself a copy here so that you can pack your own bags and head off to Havana and experience it for yourself

Writer on the Shelf

Rachel Rhys is the pen-name of a much-loved psychological suspense author. She is the author of the Richard and Judy bookclub pick, Dangerous Crossing and the bestselling A Fatal Inheritance. Her latest novel is the immersive Island of Secrets. 

Rachel Rhys lives in North London with her family.

Creak On The Stairs Blog Tour

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When a body of a woman is discovered at a lighthouse in the Icelandic town of Akranes, it soon becomes clear that she’s no stranger to the area.

Chief Investigating Officer Elma, who has returned to Akranes following a failed relationship, and her colleagues Sævar and Hörður, commence an uneasy investigation, which uncovers a shocking secret in the dead woman’s past that continues to reverberate in the present day …

But as Elma and her team make a series of discoveries, they bring to light a host of long-hidden crimes that shake the entire community. Sifting through the rubble of the townspeople’s shattered memories, they have to dodge increasingly serious threats, and find justice … before it’s too late.

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour to celebrate the publication of this novel from one of Icelandic fiction’s rising stars, Eva Aegisdottir and would like to thank Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater of Random Things for the tour invitation otherwise I might never have discovered this original, gripping and unforgettable read. It’s given me yet another reason to thank the good Lord that I discovered Orenda Books and that I’ve been able to sample such a wonderful range of translated fiction through their list!

mountain terrain near body of water

If Iceland is only in your mind because of hot springs and wonderful knitwear then you are in for an amazing surprise once you get hooked on its crime fiction. It really is unique in its flavour and once you’ve started, you’ll be totally hooked. Start looking through Orenda’s back catalogue to find other writers that you’ll be as captivated by as Eva. This novel has a very different feel than some of the other Scandinavian crime fiction I’ve read and  I loved the way that it mixed the elements of the crime novel with Elma’s domestic details and personal life so credibly which really appealed to me as a reader.

I love reading novels that confound my expectation – that turn out to be something totally different to the novel that I thought that I was going to be reading. The Creak on the Stairs is one of those novels. It transported me to Iceland right alongside Elma and her team and it just immersed me in the case. I don’t think I’ve read a novel recently that kept me on my toes as much in terms of ‘solvability’ – it seemed like each new piece of information pointed me at a new culprit and I was absolutely kept on the hook until the end. I really enjoyed this clever writing and rather than waiting for a ‘big twist’ it felt like I was unravelling clues with the team and trying to get to the bottom of this in tandem with them.

 

This is an absolutely immersive read, it’s as rich in setting as it is in  plot, allowing you to be swept off to the austere beauty of the Icelandic landscape and see it for yourself. It had never been somewhere that I’d have been desperate to see – but I found myself browsing online for holidays ‘once this lockdown is all over’ and trying to see some of these places for myself as they sounded so stunningly beautiful. I found myself re-reading certain parts of it – especially the parts featuring the Lighthouse itself–  just to experience them again as I was so caught up in the feeling that I wanted to see it for myself one day.

white lighthouse near calm body of water

 

The Creak on the Stairs blends together three very distinct narratives into a tale that is very much more than the sum of its parts.   Elma’s return to Akranes and her trying to move on after a failed relationship, which is incredibly astutely drawn, the development of her new team with colleagues Sævar and Hörður, as they try and solve this mystery together and the element if the long-hidden crimes that begin to be uncovered through their investigation. To me, these three elements come together to provide a highly satisfying read as they are woven together so seamlessly in exactly the right proportions that make for an absolutely engrossing read that holds you tight as you get drawn int the mystery for yourself.

Akranes is almost a character in its own right and I felt like Eva Aegisdottir really brought the stunning Icelandic landscape vividly to life – blending its remote beauty with the personality of its inhabitants and making us think about the fact that even in the most gorgeous areas, murders can happen and that sometimes there can be just as much violence, hatred and revenge bubbling beneath the surfaces of small-town life than any big city on the planet.

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Eva Aegisdottir is a talented and original writer whose characters spring off the page and come to life for you as you try and work for the answers alongside them. Elma’s character is unforgettable – she is a woman trying to start again and we absolutely empathise with her as she has her own life to navigate as well as the murder to solve during this investigation. I enjoyed the aspects of her life that we get to see and look forward to discovering more about her as the series evolves, particularly her emerging friendship with Sævar and wondering how that will unfold…

The Creak on The Stairs is a superb blend of skilful plotting with a character-driven novel that I’ll be recommending to everyone. It stands out to me due to its deft manipulation of the reader and the way it keeps us guessing as well as its strong sense of place. Iceland springs to life as a character in its own right and makes you long to see some of these locations for yourself as you are reading.  Eva Aegisdottir is an exciting voice in fiction that I’ll definitely be looking out for in future, I loved her voice and the characters that she brought so vividly to life in this book.

Buy yourself a copy of this fantastic and unique read here, you definitely won’t regret it.

The Creak on the Stairs by [Eva Björg Ægisdóttir, Victoria Cribb]

‘Fans of Nordic Noir will love this moving debut from Icelander Eva Bjork Aegisdottir. It’s subtle, nuanced, with a sympathetic central character and the possibilities of great stories to come’ Ann Cleeves

‘An exciting and harrowing tale from one of Iceland’s rising stars’ Ragnar Jonasson

 

Writer On The Shelf

Born in Akranes in 1988, Eva moved to Trondheim, Norway to study my MSc in Globalisation when she was 25.

After moving back home having completed her MSc, she knew it was time to start working on her novel.

Eva has wanted to write books since she was 15 years old, having won a short story contest in Iceland.
Eva worked as a stewardess to make ends meet while she wrote her first novel. The book went on to win the Blackbird Award and became an Icelandic bestseller.

Eva now lives with her husband and three children in Reykjavík, staying at home with her youngest until she begins Kindergarten.