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Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: March 19th, 2020
Publisher: Bantam Press
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Humorous Fiction, Domestic Fiction, New Adult Fiction

I am thrilled to be opening the blog tour for this delightful novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Bantam Press for my gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Veronica McCreedy is about to have the journey of a lifetime . . .

Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick.

Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone.

She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting
instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’).

Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies.

But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this.

Away With The Penguins Cover

MY REVIEW:

Oh how I loved this absolute gem of a book. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, it had me transfixed. I got lost in the pages and totally immersed in Veronica’s story. 

Veronica McCreedy is an eccentric, feisty, cantankerous, witty and unstoppable old lady. I just couldn’t help but love her and she quickly found a place in my heart. Her bad-tempered idiosyncrasies became endearing and I was sure she had a heart of gold hidden behind it all. When a locked wooden box containing her teenage diaries is found, Veronica’s poignant story is slowly unveiled and we finally learn what lies underneath those brusque layers she uses to protect herself. 

Running parallel to Veronica’s story is her daring adventure to Antarctica to see the  Adélie penguins. She became obsessed with them after watching a nature programme and decided she wanted to leave her vast wealth to the research programme. But she needs to make sure they are worthy of it, so she books a trip to see the penguins for herself; refusing to heed to frantic warnings of her assistant Eileen and the trio of scientists that it is too dangerous. I adored this part of the story – the different sides we see to Veronica’s personality, her blossoming friendship with young scientist Terry, and the adorable rescued chick, Pip. I found myself in awe of Eileen’s spriteliness and determination, overcoming her age and the bracing conditions to have the adventure of a lifetime. 

But behind the cuteness of this storyline is a serious commentary on climate change and our responsibility to save the environment and a number of earth’s most beloved species that are facing extinction in the near future.  It is peppered with blog posts by Terry which are informative as well as entertaining. The author has clearly done her research and I know a lot more about climate change and penguins after reading this book. 

The story is narrated by two very distinct voices and is filled with a rich, colourful and fascinating cast of characters. The cutest of these is without a doubt little Pip, and I now blame the author for the fact I really want a pet penguin! The investment, hard work and love that the author has put into this book is evident in the exquisite writing and attention to detail. I savoured every word, devouring this book while also trying to make it last as I dreaded parting with Veronica and the penguins.

Away with the Penguins is without a doubt the most delightful, joyous and uplifting book I’ve read so far this year, if not in a long time, and I have no doubt it will have a place in my top reads of the year. A lush blend of characters and storylines that is immersive and reaches into your soul and serves as a great reminder that it is never too late to have an adventure, try new things or make changes in your life. Whatever your reading preferences, I highly recommend this book. Just make sure to have lots of tissues and be prepared to fall in love.

Hazel Prior Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Hazel Prior lives on Exmoor. . As well as writing, she works as a freelance harpist.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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Tales of Mystery Unexplained by Steph Young ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tales of Unexplained Mystery Front Cover

Published: December 2nd, 2019
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: True Crime

Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in this blog tour.

SYNOPSIS:

Tales of Mystery Unexplained….What happened to Elisa Lam, found dead in a water tower atop a hotel roof? Who were the two men who came to see her & what was in the mystery box they gave her? Why did the location of her gravestone match the zip code of a Bookstore, miles away?

Why was a man found in the same spot he disappeared, but 4 years later, with a hole in his head that no surgeons could explain? And what did this have to do with a séance, doppelgangers & the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? Why did a man write the Fibonacci sequence as a clue & tell a stranger he was “Looking for the Beast,” before he disappeared in the barren plains of a desert? Plus many more Tales of Mystery Unexplained.

Steph Young has appeared on national radio shows & podcasts including the UK’s The Unexplained, and Coast to Coast Am, talking about many of these mysteries.

You can also hear some of these Unexplained Mysteries on her podcast on iTunes ‘Tales of Mystery Unexplained.’

MY REVIEW:

“Who doesn’t love an unexplained, cryptic and beguiling mystery?“

Aren’t we all fascinated by the things that can’t be explained? Think of some of the most infamous and intriguing murder cases and they’ll probably never have been solved – Jon Benet Ramsey, the Zodiac killings, the Black Dahlia.

In this compelling read author Steph Young has compiled twelve mysterious and strange true stories that all have one thing in common – they’ve never been solved. Each chapter follows a different case, some are well known while others are more obscure.

The stories range from curious to terrifying, and involve things such as rumours of the supernatural, aliens and secret government experiments. The ones that stood out to me were the stories of Elisa Lam, Netta Fornario and the Swedish twin sisters. Though I’d not heard of most of the cases, the author leaves you wanting more and I’ll definitely be listening to her podcast and delving deeper into the cases in this book.

I devoured this quick read in just a few hours but it would also be great to pop in and out of as you wish. If you love true stories and things that are cryptic, eerie and mystifying, then this is the book for you.

Steph Young Author Picture

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Steph Young is an author addicted to researching all Supernatural, Paranormal, Esoteric and Enigmatic mysteries of the unexplained. Each book she writes seems to lead her to further questions & searches for answers, as the mysteries inevitably deepen into ever more complex riddles in the spectrum of the Unknown. 

She covers True Stories of the strange, mysterious, and frightening, and the monstrous creatures who feature in them. Our darkest history mythology and Lore. True life stories which expose our darkest, deepest fears… and tragic ends. 

Steph has been a guest on National Radio shows including ‘Coast to Coast AM,’ as well as being a regular guest on podcasts. 

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

Website
Twitter

BUY THE BOOK:

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The Dark Side of the Mind by Kerry Daynes ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: February 20th, 2020
Publisher: Endeavour
Format: Paperback
Genre: True Crime, Autobiography
Trigger Warnings: suicide, self-harm, sexual and domestic abuse, trauma. 

SYNOPSIS:

Welcome to the world of the forensic psychologist, where the people you meet are wildly unpredictable and often frightening.

The job: to delve into the psyche of convicted men and women to try to understand what lies behind their often brutal actions.

Follow in the footsteps of Kerry Daynes, one of the most sought-after forensic psychologists in the business and consultant on major police investigations.

Kerry’s job has taken her to the cells of maximum-security prisons, police interview rooms, the wards of secure hospitals and the witness box of the court room.

Her work has helped solve a cold case, convict the guilty and prevent a vicious attack.

Spending every moment of your life staring into the darker side of life comes with a price. Kerry’s frank memoir gives an unforgettable insight into the personal and professional dangers in store for a female psychologist working with some of the most disturbing men and women.

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MY REVIEW:

“The stories I’ve chosen to tell here are the ones you probably won’t read about in the papers. They focus on the everyday work of being a forensic psychologist, in all its frustrating, conflicting and just occasionally life-affirming reality.”

Kerry Daynes has been a forensic psychologist for over twenty years. In this enthralling memoir she talks about a few of the many extraordinary experiences she’s had while working alongside men and women in the criminal justice and mental health fields. She pulls back the curtain to reveal what happens when the crime, the criminal, and the consequences of their actions, disappear from the headlines and are forgotten by all but those directly involved. 

Like many people, I’ve been fascinated by true crime for as long as I can remember. So when the invitation to read and review a memoir by a renowned forensic psychologist came through it wasn’t a chance I was going to miss. The synopsis ticked all the boxes for me and I expected to enjoy this book. What I wasn’t expecting was that this would be one of the best non-fiction novels I have ever read and as unputdownable as any great crime fiction novel. 

Exquisitely written and peppered with dark humour, Ms Daynes provides a glimpse into the minds of those we usually try to avoid – the delinquents, villains and so-called crazy people. It is compelling, chilling and enlightening insight into what makes them tick, how they can be misunderstood, and attempts to address the eternally unanswerable question of how to effectively treat them. 

Each chapter tells a different story and facet of mental health. We don’t just learn about the individuals involved but also the inner workings of the criminal justice and mental health systems. We see how things have changed, and stagnated, in the years since she started working in the field. The element I liked most was how in each chapter she also talks about how that person and experience has impacted her both personally and professionally, and offers small flashes of the fascinating and varied life she’s lived. 

The Dark Side of the Mind is a compelling, entertaining, intelligent and thought-provoking novel. The spectacular writing and fresh mix of memoir, true crime and psychology make it a book that stands out from the crowd. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in psychology or true crime. Don’t miss the new interview with the author that is at the end of the new paperback version – it’s a must read. 

Kerry Daynes Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kerry Daynes is a Consultant and Forensic Psychologist, speaker and media commentator. For over twenty years her average week has involved working with everything from stressed-out parents to serial killers and she is a sought-after court-appointed expert witness. Kerry regularly appears on international television networks and in the media; she was ‘The Profiler’ over three series of Discovery’s top-rated ‘Faking It’ documentaries. Kerry is Patron of the National Centre for Domestic Violence and Talking2Minds. She is an advocate for better conversations about mental distress and alternatives to the culture of psychological ‘disorder’. Kerry lives in Cheshire with two huge dogs and yes, she is a proud natural ginger.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: February 20th, 2020
Publisher: Bantam Press
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Thriller, Suspense

Today is my spot on the blog tour for this sensational debut. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Bantam Press for the gifted copy of this book.

SYNOPSIS:

Elijah has lived in the Memory Wood for as long as he can remember. It’s the only home he’s ever known.

Elissa has only just arrived. And she’ll do everything she can to escape.

When Elijah stumbles across thirteen-year-old Elissa, in the woods where her abductor is hiding her, he refuses to alert the police. Because in his twelve years, Elijah has never had a proper friend. And he doesn’t want Elissa to leave.

Not only that, Elijah knows how this can end. After all, Elissa isn’t the first girl he’s found inside the Memory Wood.

As her abductor’s behaviour grows more erratic, Elissa realises that outwitting strange, lonely Elijah is her only hope of survival. Their cat-and-mouse game of deception and betrayal will determine both their fates, and whether either of them will ever leave the Memory Wood . . .

MY REVIEW:

This exciting, compelling, daring and clever debut is without a doubt my book of the month. Atmospheric and creepy, it reads like a modern-day Grimm’s fairytale; full of jaw-dropping twists and keeping you on tenterhooks from start to finish.

13-year-old chess prodigy Elissa is abducted from a tournament in Bournemouth, waking to find herself imprisoned in a cellar in the “Memory Wood.”  She is soon visited by Elijah, a strange 12-year-old boy who claims to want to help but won’t go to the police or help her escape. He just wants a friend, and though he unnerves her, Elissa recognises that he could be her only means of escape. Will she be able to convince Elijah to help her return to her family? Or will she suffer the fate of his other friends that once lived below the Memory Wood?

Utterly mind-blowing and brilliant, it seems impossible that this is the author’s first novel. The exquisite, immersive prose and tangled web of intricate twists and turns had me transfixed. Not a single word was wasted and I devoured this book, desperate for answers and to learn the fate of our young narrators. 

Elissa and Elijah couldn’t be more different: Elissa is a warrior; the young prodigy uses her high intelligence, knowledge of the game, love of puzzles and trivia and tremendous courage to try and escape her captors. Though he says he is on her side, she realises she must tread carefully with Elijah and use his innocence and isolated upbringing against him, while also appearing to trust him as her friend. Elijah is a tragic but menacing soul. There’s something off about him from the start, and it’s not just that he doesn’t want to help an abducted girl escape. It’s the little clues he gives to his past, how he hides in the shadows, and how he can change from one moment to the next. I had my suspicions about him that were ultimately proven right, but with an almighty twist that shook me to the core. Running throughout the book is a captivating power struggle between the pair, where each is playing their own game in a bid to win and survive. 

The Memory Wood is an astonishing debut that crackles with tension from start to finish. Addictive, eerie and jaw-dropping, you won’t be able to put this book down. If you pick up just one book I’ve read this month then make sure it’s this one. 

Sam Lloyd Author Pic 2

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sam Lloyd grew up in Hampshire, making up stories and building secret hideaways in his local woods.
These days he lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and a dog that likes to howl. He enjoys craft
beer, strong coffee and (rarely) a little silence. The Memory Wood is his debut thriller.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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The Snakes by Sadie Jones ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: February 20th, 2020
Publisher: Vintage
Format: Paperback
Genre: Thrillers, Suspense, Literary Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Snakes. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Vintage for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Family secrets can be deadly…

Newly-weds Dan and Bea decide to escape London. Driving through France in their beaten-up car they anticipate a long lazy summer, worlds away from their ordinary lives.

But their idyll cannot last. Stopping off to see Bea’s brother at his crumbling hotel, the trio are joined unexpectedly by Bea’s ultra-wealthy parents. Dan has never understood Bea’s deep discomfort around them but living together in such close proximity he begins to sense something is very wrong.

Just as tensions reach breaking point, brutal tragedy strikes, exposing decades of secrets and silence that threaten to destroy them all.

‘A twisty delight of a novel, a cracking page-turner that has much to say about modern life and our attempts to find a way to navigate it, no matter where we come from’ Cathy Rentzenbrink

MY REVIEW:

“You’d swear you could see it, in the cracks in the pavements and the bricks in the walls; violence and grief.”

Bea and her husband Dan have decided to take a three month break from their lives in London to go travelling. Beginning in France, they stop at the hotel owned by Bea’s older brother, Alex. When they arrive they find the hotel is rundown and unfit for business, but Bea insists they stay. When Bea’s parents join them unexpectedly a few days later, the visit isn’t welcome. Bea has an animosity towards them that Dan doesn’t understand, insisting she doesn’t want them in their lives, but saying she can’t leave Alex alone to deal with them. Over the coming days, the couple’s dream of an idyllic break away from everything crumbles as old secrets and resentments resurface and tragedy strikes.

Narrated by newlyweds Bea and Dan, she has never told him the full story about her parents. He doesn’t know why she wants nothing  to do with them or that they aren’t just well off and are part of the elite 1%. Bea is a paragon of morality and virtue – she works with vulnerable people, volunteers with charities, wants to save the planet and is a big believer in justice. She sees things in black or white and refuses to compromise on her morals – something Dan admires but her father mocks her for. Being around her family again means Bea must face that she harbours a deep rage and wrath towards them for their transgressions, things she can’t forgive but also refuses to share with Dan, leaving him confused and driving a wedge between them as he sees two very different people to those his wife sees, not understanding her deep resentments and inability to forgive.  

The Snakes is a story about temptation, power, morality and forgiveness. It is a story about a toxic family and dark secrets that explores moral dilemmas and the consequences of the characters’ actions on those around them. It was dark, intriguing and unexpected, keeping me guessing right until the final page. While it didn’t have the heart-pounding tension you find in some thrillers, it was full of a subdued suspicion that was compulsive. The tragedy that strikes the family and search for truth and justice that unfolds is secondary to the story about the family itself. 

I hadn’t seen a lot of reviews for this book before reading but I had heard that it was a marmite book, with some people not taking to the format and others loving it. Well, I’m one of the strange ones who has mixed feelings about marmite, and that’s kind of how I felt about this book, which was a very different novel from the one I was expecting. The Snakes is a compelling, well-written and readable novel with a shocking and abrupt conclusion that lingers.

Sadie Jones Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sadie Jones is a screenwriter and a #1 Sunday Times bestselling author. Her first novel, The Outcast won the Costa First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. It was also a Richard and Judy Summer Reads number one bestseller and adapted for BBC Television. Sadie also wrote: Small Wars (2009), The Uninvited Guests (2012) and Fallout (2014). Her fifth novel, The Snakes, was listed as ‘March book of the month’ in The Bookseller.

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The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: January 16th, 2020
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Mystery, Psychological Thriller

Today is my stop on the blog tour for this fresh and enticing novel. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to Bitter Lemon Press for the gifted copy of this book.

SYNOPSIS:

On a stormy summer day the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party. The occasion turns into tragedy when 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks. The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer’s, and the physician’s bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only person spared injury. But the youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery.

The police are convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident, who was herself a childhood friend of Hisako and witness to the discovery of the murders. The truth is revealed through a skillful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members, witnesses and neighbours, police investigators and of course the mesmerising Hisako herself.

The Aosawa Murders takes the classic elements of the mystery genre but steers away from putting them together in the usual way, instead providing a multi-voiced insight into the psychology of contemporary Japan, with its rituals, pervasive envy and ever so polite hypocrisy. But it’s also about the nature of evil and the resonance and unreliability of memory.

Part Kurasawa’s Rashomon, part Capote’s In Cold Blood.

MY REVIEW:

On a stormy summer’s day in 1973 the house of the prominent Aosawa family is buzzing with auspicious birthday celebrations of three generations. Friends and family fill the rooms and local residents are coming and going throughout the day. But before the day is over the house becomes a grotesque crime scene – bodies contorted into strange positions and the stench of vomit and excrement permeating the air after seventeen people are poisoned by suicide. But the police have no real clues and the two survivors aren’t of much help: the housekeeper is unconscious and Hisako, the only surviving member of the Aosawa family, is blind. 

The Aosawa Murders is an exploration of the seemingly motiveless crime, the impact it had on those who survived and the local community. It also delves into the impact of a bestselling book that was written by one of the witnesses a decade later, and tries to finally get to the truth of what happened that dreadful day. 

The complex story is told over three decades using various styles and literary devices, each chapter told by a different witness in a very different and distinctive voice. The interviews in particular add to the mysterious atmosphere as we only ever read the responses. This singular novel is written like a work of non-fiction and reads so authentically that I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading fiction rather than a true crime novel.  

Though there are an array of characters in the book the primary focus is on two female characters: Hisako Aosawa, the twelve year old who was the only surviving family member, and Makiko Saiga, her friend and later the author of the book about the murders. Rumours have always swirled around Hisako as she was the only person in the house that didn’t take a sip of poison, even after a mentally ill young man committed suicide and left behind a confession and evidence that he committed the crime. Both women are enigmatic characters that stay away from the limelight and have left lasting impressions as a result of the crime that are examined throughout the book. 

The Aosawa Murders is a unique, fascinating and riveting novel. The author’s hypnotic imagery and prose made it impossible to put down, even managing to add an element of beauty in the grim, heart-rending torture of the victim’s final moments. Nothing is black and white, but full of shades of grey, the author keeping things ambiguous and cryptic so the reader is always questioning the truth and unsure what to think. Part of the brilliance of this book was that I never managed to quite make up my mind about what had really happened and am still questioning the truth about that fateful day. 

I would highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy true crime novels such as In Cold Blood. It is the author’s first book to be translated into English and I’m hoping her others are translated soon so I can see if they’re as addictive as this one. 

Riku Onda Author Pic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Riku Onda, born in 1964, is the professional name of Nanae Kumagai. She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel for The Aosawa Murders, the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize, and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television. This is her first crime novel and the first time she is translated into English.

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Saturdays at Noon by Rachel Marks ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Published: February 6th, 2020
Publisher: Penguin UK
Format: Paperback, Kindle
Genre: Romance, Contemporary Romance, Domestic Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this lovely debut. Thank you to Michael Joseph Books for the invitation to take part and the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

Emily just wants to keep the world away.

After getting into trouble yet again, she’s agreed to attend anger management classes. But she refuses to share her deepest secrets with a room full of strangers.

Jake just wants to keep his family together.

He’ll do anything to save his marriage and bond with his six-year-old son, Alfie. But when he’s paired with spiky Emily, he wonders whether opening up will do more harm than good.

The two of them couldn’t be more different. Yet when Alfie, who never likes strangers, meets Emily, something extraordinary happens.

Could one small boy change everything?

MY REVIEW:

In this wonderful debut, the author draws on personal experiences with her own son to shine a light on one of the lesser-known conditions on the autistic spectrum. It is a story about love in its many forms, about self-discovery, and how sometimes it takes an outsider to make you see what’s right in front of you. 

Emily and Jake clash from the moment they meet at anger management. Jake is a stay-at-home dad who’s overwhelmed by his son’s behavioural problems and is attending the course to try and save his rocky marriage. Emily is a spiky young girl who says only that she doesn’t belong there. Unlike his father, Emily finds herself drawn to six-year-old Alfie; there’s something about him that cries out to her. And to Jake’s dismay, Alfie feels the same way. When his wife leaves Jake gives in to Alfie’s demands that Emily be his nanny, the pair forming a reluctant acquaintance to keep him happy and find that they start to see the world, and each other, differently; slowly peeling away the layers to reveal their true selves and accepting parts of themselves they’ve been ashamed of for so long.

This warm, tender and nuanced story started slowly but soon took up residence in my heart, just as Alfie does with Emily. I was fully immersed and invested in their world thanks to the author’s deft, witty and truthful prose. And while the story did follow a somewhat prescribed and predictable track in places, it also felt organic and real, coming second to the more gritty storylines that dominate the book and make it stand out from your stereotypical love story. 

While Emily and Jake are great characters that are richly developed, Alfie is undeniably the star of the show. He’s not an easy kid to take care of, and my heart went out to Jake as he battled with his son every single day over the smallest thing. As outsiders it can be so easy to judge, but living in a situation is very different and wears a person down, no matter how much you love your child. The author ensures that the reader never doubts Jake’s fierce love for his son, even in the darkest moments, and expertly portrays the anguish and pain that they both feel. No parent is perfect but it can be hard to see the wood for the trees and accept what they think is right isn’t always best for their child (goodness knows I’m terrible at this), but it takes Emily’s fresh observations and ideas for Jake to really see his son for the first time. It’s like she breaks away the clouds that were hiding him from view. Alfie’s chapters were heartbreaking to read but they finally give him the voice he feels unable to use. Reading the torment and confusion he’s going through made me want to wrap my arms around him and tell him it will all be ok. For me these were the most poignant parts of the book.

I’m a sucker for a happy ending so I really wanted Jake, Emily and Alfie to overcome their obstacles and live happily ever after. Did they? I’m not telling. You’ll have to read the book to find out. And I highly recommend that you do. Saturdays at Noon is a beautiful and thought-provoking story, and you’ll find Alfie and the lessons we learn from him stay with you even after you close the book. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rachel Marks studied English at Exeter University before becoming a primary school teacher. After having her first son, she decided to focus mainly on being a mum, teaching one day a week and nurturing her creative side by starting a small photography business.

Despite always loving to write, it wasn’t until she gained a place on the 2016 Curtis Brown Creative online novel writing course that she started to believe it could be anything more than just a much-loved hobby. Her inspiration for her first novel came from the challenges she faced with her eldest son, testing and fascinating in equal measure. When she discovered Pathological Demand Avoidance, a poorly understood Autism Spectrum Disorder, she could finally make sense of her son’s behavior, and the idea for the first novel fell into place.

When not writing, she loves dragging her husband and two boys around Europe to off-the-beaten track and sometimes sub zero destinations, snowboarding and sightseeing, the kind of trips that would undeniably be easier without children but only half the adventure…

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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The Guest List by Lucy Foley ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Publisher: HarperCollins UK
Published: February 20th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Crime Fiction

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this magnificent thriller. Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part and to HarperCollins UK for the gifted copy of the book.

SYNOPSIS:

A gripping, twisty murder mystery thriller from the No. 1 bestselling author of The Hunting Party.

On an island off the windswept Irish coast, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.

Old friends.
Past grudges.

Happy families.
Past jealousies.

Thirteen guests.
One body.

The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of  the guests is found dead. As a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.

All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave the wedding alive…

MY REVIEW:

“It feels personal this storm. It feels as though it has saved all its fury for them.”

The scene is set for the perfect wedding for the perfect couple. It is the first wedding to be hosted on the remote island and the wedding planner hopes it will help silence the whispers about ghosts and launch it instead as sought-after wedding venue. But things don’t go to plan. As a storm rages on the evening of the wedding, a waitress runs into the marquee screaming that there’s a body outside. The story then gradually unfolds in dual timelines over the course of two days, as secrets are revealed, relationships unravel and someone takes their revenge…

This book was SPECTACULAR. I was transfixed from start to finish, and by the end I was completely shook. I am in awe of the author’s talent and her ability to weave such a tangled web of inextricably linked characters and plot lines in this enthralling mystery. You are left wondering which of the rich and distinct characters could be victim or killer and why it has happened. I had so many questions and theories swimming in my head that shifted as things slowly coalesced

The setting of the book is vital to its whole tone. The remote island, the whispered tales of ghosts and the bleak weather all come together to create a sense of isolation and hopelessness. The guests are unable to escape each other or the island, and find themselves at the mercy of the increasingly toxic atmosphere and the storm brewing both inside and outside the folly. 

The Guest List is a sinister, suspicious, captivating and unexpected page-turner. A wonderfully twisty whodunit that reels you in and spits you out when it’s finished with you, this is the perfect read for anyone who enjoys mysteries and thrillers. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lucy Foley studied English Literature at Durham and UCL universities and worked for several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry, before leaving to write full-time. The Hunting Party, an instant Sunday Times and Irish Times no. 1 bestseller, was Lucy’s debut crime novel, inspired by a particular remote spot in Scotland that fired her imagination. Lucy is also the author of three historical novels which have been translated into sixteen languages. Her journalism has appeared in ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style, Grazia and more.

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FINAL Guest List Blog Tour Poster (1)

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Blog Tours book reviews

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Published: February 20th, 2020
Format: Paperback
Genre: Literary Fiction

I am thrilled to be one of the people opening the blog tour for this breathtaking novel. Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers and to Bonnier Zaffre Books.

SYNOPSIS:

In the midst of war, he found love.
In the midst of darkness, he found courage.
In the midst of tragedy, he found hope.
What will you find from his story?

Nuri is a beekeeper, his wife, Afra, an artist. They live happily in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens and they are forced to flee. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world,  they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but the dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all – and perhaps the hardest thing they face – they must journey to find each other again.

Moving, compassionate and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a powerful testament to the triumph of the human spirit.

MY REVIEW:

“If I could give her a key that opened a door into another world, then I would wish for her to see again. But it would have to be a world very different from this one.”

I inhaled this mesmerising, poignant and illuminating novel in under a day. It is honestly one of the most beautiful books I’ve read and I was captivated by the exquisite, lyrical prose and stunning imagery that made every word one to savour.

This timely story shines a light on the struggle of those who are forced to flee because of war, from a perspective we rarely hear: the voice of a refugee. At a time where there is so much vitriol against them, where so many people see as the enemy, as someone who shouldn’t be in our country, it is refreshing to read a book that tells their story is such a beautiful and heartbreaking way; helping those of us who’ve never experienced such horror to have a small amount of understanding. 

It is told by Syrian refugee, Nuri, who made the perilous journey from Syria to the UK with his wife Afra, who was blinded by a bomb. In the present day we follow their battle to claim asylum while trying to adjust to the strangeness of the new country they hope to call home. In flashbacks we see their life in Aleppo before the war, how it was torn apart, their heartbreak as they lost their only child, and then follow them as they make the dangerous journey to England. We see the impact of all they’ve gone through on themselves and their marriage, threatening to tear them apart at their core as well as breaking apart the only thing they have left to hold on to – each other.  

“Where was home now? And what was it? I’m my mind it had become like a picture infused with golden light, a paradise never to be reached.”

This was the first time I’ve read a book by this author and I will definitely be reading more. Her writing enveloped me in their world, making me feel like I was right beside Nuri every step of the way both physically and emotionally. The characterisation was spectacular, with the author providing an eclectic mix of people who had very different stories from war-torn places around the world, and different reactions to what they’d gone through. There were wonderful examples of the best of humanity in the darkest of times, but also of the depth of evil that exists in our world and the damage that is done by such people.  The raw devastation and grief that each character exuded was hard, but necessary, to read, and was a humbling reminder of how our problems pale in comparison to being forced from your home and fighting each day to survive and find safety. 

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a story about the horrors of war, trauma, grief and survival. But most of all for me it is a multifaceted love story.  It is an astonishing book that went straight to my soul. I can’t recommend you read this highly enough. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University. The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a UNICEF-supported refugee center in Athens. She is the author of the novel A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible.

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Beekeeper

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The Foundling by Stacey Halls ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Published: February 6th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, Kindle
Genre: Gothic Fiction, Historical Fiction 

Today I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for this phenomenal novel. Thank you to Tracy at Compulsive Readers Tours for the invitation to take part and to Bonnier Zaffre for my gifted copy of this book.

SYNOPSIS:

Two women, bound by a child, and a secret that will change everything….

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst, that Clara has died in care, she is astonished when she is told she has already claimed her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.

Less than a mile from Bess’s lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart. 

From the bestselling author of The Familiars comes this captivating story of mothers and daughters, class and power, and love against the greatest of odds…

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MY REVIEW:

Ms. Halls has once again created a masterpiece. The Foundling is a lush, enthralling and lingering read that left me speechless. It is very different from her debut novel, The Familiars, but again Halls has infused this story with her exquisite, pitch-perfect prose, luring me in slowly until the world outside this novel no longer existed.

The story is narrated by Bess and Alexandra, two very different women from two very different walks of life, and begins on a cold night in November 1747 when Bess, an impoverished shrimp hawker, arrives at the London Foundling Hospital with her newborn daughter, Clara. Unable to raise her she has come for the monthly raffle to try and give her child a chance of survival. When Clara is accepted, Bess vows to one day return and claim back her little girl, leaving behind a token of half a heart made out of whalebone and carved with their initials so she can be identified. Six years later she finally has enough money saved to return but is told that Clara was claimed the day after being left.  And that she was the one who claimed her… 

I don’t want to say much more about the plot as part of the beauty of this book is discovering it as you go along. We know that Clara/Charlotte was taken, so the mystery is why. When the story shifts to Alexandra’s dark, gloomy townhouse that is more like a prison full of fear than a home, we slowly begin unravelling the complex motivations that led to her being taken and discovering if Bess will be reunited with her daughter. 

The two narrators are very different women at opposite ends of the social spectrum.  Both were richly drawn and felt sympathetic and relatable. It was fascinating to read their diverse views on life and motherhood and how differently they dealt with the problems life has thrown their way. Though I wanted Bess to be reunited with her daughter properly, I also could never fully get behind either woman in their battle for the child as they both loved her, wanted what they thought was best and there would be no winners, only losers in this battle. With Clara/Charlotte facing heartache and loss whatever the outcome was. Ultimately the story became more of an exploration of what it really means to be a mother, to want what’s best for your child and what matters most when raising them. 

Halls is a true storyteller who makes reading this book an immersive experience. Her imagery made me feel like I was in The Foundling Hospital with Bess and the other women, in Alexandra’s gloomy townhouse, that I walked the dank, dirty and filthy streets of Georgian London and could smell the decay. I could feel Bess’s anguish as she’s forced to hand over her child, her determination to get her back, Alexandra’s anxieties and fear and was waiting with bated breath as the tension mounted.  She illuminates the huge inequalities between the have and have nots and examines mental health problems at a time they aren’t recognised or understood. 

Utterly magnificent, heart-rending, compelling and cleverly executed, The Foundling is a superior work of gothic fiction. She has created a tender, restrained masterpiece that I have no doubt will have a place in my top 10 books of 2020. This is one you don’t want to miss. READ IT NOW!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Stacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire, as the daughter of market traders. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and moved to London aged 21. She was media editor at The Bookseller and books editor at Stylist.co.uk, and has also worked as a journalist for Psychologies, the Independent and Fabulous magazine. TV rights of The Familiars shave been sold to The Bureau production company.

Bought in a nine-way auction, The Familiars was received with much praise and is nominated for an HWA award.

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Stacey Halls 5.12 (1)