Today I’m delighted to share and extract from this creepy psychological thriller. Thank you to Becky at Midas PR for the invitation to take part and HQ for the eBook ARC.
Transcript of interview with Mr Rohan Allerton, husband of Abigail Allerton: 20 December 2019
‘So, let’s rewind right to the beginning. When was it that you first suspected that something might be wrong?’ ‘It’s really hard to say. Abi’s always been a bit of an oddball. It’s what I love about her. She has what I call… “quirks”, but I put that down to her being so talented. You know she’s an artist? Her work is sublime, and I always think that, with such talent, comes a degree of… [cough] “individuality”? “Uniqueness”? [pause] I guess what I’m saying is that it’s hard to tell where that ended and… Look: I thought things were pretty normal, given that one of us was an artist. I wasn’t looking for signs. I wasn’t on high alert.’ ‘But if you had to pin it down? How long ago are we talking?’ ‘I guess last summer. Do you remember how hot it was? God. Our house is old. It traps the heat. It rises, right up to the attic where she works. Maybe that had something to do with it. Stuck up there all day, stewing in the heat. I don’t know. Even my mum said she wasn’t herself.’ ‘And did she have any ideas on what might be the root of the problem?’ [Laughs] ‘Let’s not go there! But, yeah, I suppose it was the summer when I knew something was up with Abi. I felt she might be hiding something from me… To be honest, I thought she might be pregnant.’ ‘And would that be a problem? Something you would describe as “wrong”?’ ‘Oh God, no. Not at all. It would be right. All right. We’ve been trying for over a year.’ ‘I see. But she wasn’t pregnant?’ ‘No. She wasn’t pregnant.’
I didn’t tell Rohan straight away that Grace was coming back. The morning that I got her email, I started to tell him, but then I held the thought inside me, like a breath. Inviting her to stay with us was a huge decision. I knew it would change everything. It was 7.30 a.m. and already the air in the kitchen was stifling; residual heat from the long days of the heatwave was an unwelcome guest trapped in the ceilings and walls of the house, like a ghost. London was suffocating. ‘Darling,’ I’d begun, thinking at that point that I would tell him – not just about Grace, but everything – the whole story. Ridiculous, really, but it was honestly what I was thinking that sweltering morning. We were sitting at the small table in the kitchen, and the back door was propped open to suck in what reluctant breeze there might be. I was nursing a coffee and my husband, ready in his work shirt, his silk tie slung over his shoulder, was eating scrambled eggs on toast. Already I could see the fabric of his shirt darkening under his arms. But he hadn’t heard me. Maybe I hadn’t said it loud enough; maybe I hadn’t said it out loud at all – I don’t like to think he ignored me. The unresolved issue of what we were going to do about New York hung in the air between us, crackling like an electrical charge. I was still upset with him and he knew it. The fine hairs on my forearms tickled under a sheen of sweat. A fly, gleaming metallic blue, circled lazily over the fruit bowl. The coffee made me sweat more; I pushed it away. ‘So, what are you up to today?’ Rohan said. ‘More pets?’ He shook his head and tutted, but he was smiling. ‘I don’t know why you do it. You should be focusing on your real work: going to galleries, looking at books – I don’t know. Nobody ever got inspired painting dogs. And no gallery ever bought Rufus – the Series.’ He laughed. I closed my eyes as I let out an imperceptible sigh. We’d been here before. ‘As Picasso said,’ I told him, ‘“inspiration exists – but it has to find us working.”’ Rohan moved his head in time with the words; he’d heard that before, too. ‘I’m doing a home visit today,’ I said. His eyebrows shot up. ‘A home visit?’ ‘Yep.’ Rohan looked at me then, his head tilted; the ghost of a frown lining his forehead. ‘I thought they were supposed to upload photos. Wasn’t that the whole point of the website?’ He shook his head and smiled indulgently. ‘You’re too soft.’ I went over to him and put my hands on his shoulders, feeling the heat of his skin under his shirt as I gave him a little massage. ‘It’s a one-off.’ Rohan leaned back into my hands. ‘Yeah, that’s good. Right there.’ He groaned as my fingers released the tension in his muscles and I realized that, with one thing or another, we hadn’t touched properly for a day or two. That was unusual for us; New York really was taking a toll. ‘Look,’ Rohan said, ‘you’re the best judge, of course, but I really think you need to focus on your next collection and stop messing about. You’ve exhibited in London, hon. It was a sell-out! You can do it again!’ His voice softened. ‘You’re good.’ He reached up and squeezed my hands. ‘I hate it when you sell yourself short.’ He stood up and touched his lips to mine. The tension went out of me as I relaxed into the kiss and, for a few moments, there was no New York, no Grace, no house, no masterpiece waiting to be painted – just the feel of my husband’s mouth on mine and the familiar smell of his skin. But then he pulled away reluctantly, stroking a finger across my cheek as he did so. ‘Hold that feeling, gorgeous. Save it for tonight.’ His hand slid down my body, round my waist and across my bum. ‘I’ve got to run.’ He winked as he looked around for his keys and his briefcase, and that was it: the moment to bring up the topic of Grace was lost. But what I didn’t realize then was that the longer I held the information inside me, secret and burning, the harder it would be to tell him. Rohan didn’t know Grace, or the effect she had on me, but I did. I’d lived with her before.
Once you let her in, she’ll never leave…
‘A nail-biting read that absolutely gripped me’ Susan Lewis ‘Haunting, dark and wonderfully atmospheric’ B A Paris ‘Utterly compelling’ Lesley Kara
Some secrets aren’t meant to be kept…
When Grace returns to Abi’s life, years after they fell out at university, Abi can’t help but feel uneasy. Years ago, Grace’s friendship was all-consuming and exhausting.
Now happily married, Abi’s built a new life for herself and put those days behind her. And yet as Grace slips back into her life with all the lethal charm she had before, Abi finds herself falling back under her spell…
Abi’s husband, Rohan, can’t help but be concerned as his wife’s behaviour changes. As their happy home threatens to fall apart, he realises that there’s something deeply unnerving about Grace. Just what influence does this woman have over his wife, and why has she come back now?
A chilling story of guilt and obsession from Anna Kent
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Anna Kent has worked as a journalist, magazine editor and book editor as well as enjoying a stint as a radio producer. She’s written for numerous publications at home and abroad, including the Daily Telegraph, where she was a contributor for six years. Brought up in the South East, she loves to travel while maintaining a base in Gloucestershire. She’s married with two children.
Published: July 8th, 2021 Publisher: Bloomsbury UK Genre: Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction, Book Series Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
I’m thrilled to be sharing my review for this magnificent novel on its publication day. Thank you to Midas PR for the invitation to take part and to them and Bloomsbury UK for the gifted copy and champagne.
When they took everything from her, they didn’t count on her fighting to get it back… Born into the House of Romanov to the all-powerful Peter the Great and Catherine I, beautiful Tsarevna Elizabeth is the world’s loveliest Princess and the envy of the Russian empire. Insulated by luxury and as a woman free from the burden of statecraft, Elizabeth is seemingly born to pursue her passions.
However, a dark prophecy predicts her fate as inexorably twined with Russia. When her mother dies, Russia is torn, masks fall, and friends become foes. Elizabeth’s idyllic world is upended. By her twenties she is penniless and powerless, living under constant threat. As times change like quicksand, an all-consuming passion emboldens Elizabeth: she must decide whether to take up her role as Russia’s ruler, and what she’s willing to do for her country – and for love.
“Everything comes at a price.”
Take a bow, Ellen Alpsten, for you have created another absolute masterpiece.
The Tsarina’s Daughter follows the journey of Tsarevna Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. When the story begins she is a teenager, known for being the world’s most beautiful Princess and awaiting her expected engagement to the King of France. But after her mother’s death her fortunes quickly change and a dark prophecy predicting a turbulent future inexorably linked with her beloved Russia seems to be coming to pass. As Russia is torn apart, so is Elizabeth’s life, and we follow her one a journey of highs and lows, of rags and riches and of life and death.
Tsarina was one of my favourite books of 2020 and put Ellen Alpsten on my list of aut-buy authors. I was elated to learn that it was the first in a series and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the follow up. Expectations were high, and she exceeded them all. The Tsarina’s Daughter is a spectacular novel. Exquisitely written, beautifully crafted and addictive, I luxuriated in every word. Once again the author’s meticulous research leaps from the pages and transports you back in time to the opulence of Imperial Palace and the rule of the Tsars. One of the things I love about historical fiction is when a book educates and entertains you, and this certainly does both of those things flawlessly.
“I had not yet turned twenty but felt weighed down by all I had lived through.”
Elizabeth is a fascinating historical figure. The daughter of not only one of Russia’s greatest Tsars, but its first Tsarina, she is understandably a force to be reckoned with. She lives in an era where everything is a matter of life or death. You have to watch your every word and play the game carefully in order to survive, and I loved watching her grow and learn to master the rules of the game. But Elizabeth was also born during a time of great change, where women took power and had their voices heard for the first time in Russia’s history. At the beginning of her journey, the best she hopes for is to be the wife of a great King, and by the end she is fighting to take her place as Tsarina of All of Russias.
The Tsarina’s Daughter is a dazzling, magnificent and captivating novel that I couldn’t put down. And after that ending I can not wait for book three to see what is next for Elizabeth and the Romanov dynasty. This outstanding series is a must for any history lover.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands, where she dressed up her many pets and forced them to listen to her stories.
Upon graduating from the ‘Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris’, she worked as a news-anchor for Bloomberg TV London. While working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work, a nap and a run. So much for burning midnight oil!
Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint, and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons, and a moody fox red Labrador.
‘Tsarina’ is her debut novel in the ‘Tsarina’ series, followed by ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter’.
Published: June 24th, 2021 Publisher: Michael Joseph Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Saga, Thriller, Mystery, Domestic Fiction, Romance Novel, Historical Romance Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for this entertaining whodunnit. Thank you to Megan at Midas PR for the invitation to take part and to Michael Joseph for the gifted ARC.
What do you do when your dream home becomes your worst nightmare? _______
Welcome to Willow Close, where everyone is a suspect . . .
On the day Nina and Conrad Best move into their new home in picture-perfect Willow Close, a body is discovered.
Hurrying inside with their belongings, they see horrified neighbours gather around the police cordon – one of the residents has been attacked and brutally killed in the woods.
When police start to interview the residents of the Close, they soon discover each neighbour harbours their own secrets. Because everyone on the Close is far from what they seem.
Nina and Conrad thought they’d found their dream home.
But have they moved into a nightmare . . . ?
Welcome to Willow Close, where everyone is a suspect…
Willow Close is a picture-perfect neighbourhood so idyllic that houses rarely come up for sale. Nina and Conrad feel lucky to have bought their new home on the close that backs onto a lush wooded area. But on the day they move in, the body of a young girl is discovered in the woods.
Thirteen-year-old Chloe Church had lived on Willow Close all her life and the residents are shocked to hear about her brutal murder in the woods that surround their homes. Suspicions quickly flare as neighbour suspects neighbour. And as the police investigate it soon becomes clear that Willow Close is a place full of secrets where many of the residents aren’t what they appear to be and anyone could be the killer…
Suspects is a steadily paced whodunnit with an atmosphere full of suspicion. An ensemble piece told in the third person, it reads like a darker version of Neighbours. The author introduces us to the residents of Willow Close, slowly unveiling the secrets they are hiding behind their picture-perfect facades: dodgy dealings, unhappy lives and crumbling marriages. I genuinely couldn’t pinpoint a suspect, instead being suspicious of everyone.
I admit that I struggled to get into the book at first. Focusing on everyone in the Close felt like it took away the tension and made it hard to connect with any of the characters. But about half way through the tension rises and I felt like I’d got to know the characters enough to care about them. It was at this point I felt like the murder became the focus of the story, rather than the drama of the lives of the residents, which also made it more gripping.
The residents of Willow Close are a varied cast of characters. We get to know the life and backstory of each one in depth over the course of the book; some of which are wildly entertaining, while others are more mundane and ‘normal’. I loved Conrad and Nina and could have happily read more of the story from their perspective. I also had a soft spot for Janice, who was a warm and genuine character. The author wrote some fantastic villains and I often wanted to slap Trudy, Rose and Dee, with Dee being particularly callous, calculating and vile.
This was my first foray into this author’s books and I would definitely read more. An entertaining story that explores what makes people tick and what is really going on behind our neighbours’ doors, I would recommend this for those who like their mysteries without the gore.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
International bestselling author Lesley Pearse has lived a life as rich with incidents, setbacks and joys as any found in her novels. After her mother died, Lesley spent three years in an orphanage before she was taken home when her father remarried. Resourceful, determined and willing to have a go at almost anything Lesley left home at sixteen. By the mid Sixties she was living in London, sharing flats, partying hard and married a trumpet player in a Jazz rock band. She has also worked as a nanny, a Playboy bunny and designed and made clothes to sell to boutiques. It was only after having three daughters that Lesley began to write. The hardships, traumas, close friends and lovers from those early years were inspiration for her beloved novels. She published her first book at 49 and has not looked back since. Lesley is still a party girl.
I can’t quite believe that we’re so far into the year that I’m writing July’s anticipated treasures. And it was a tough one to do. July is so packed with fantastic releases that I had about 15 more books I could have added to this list. There were six more on it but I made myself cut it down to ‘just’ twenty-one titles.
So here is what made my list of most anticipated books in July:
The Rule by David Jackson
Published: July 1st, 2021 Publisher: Viper
SYNOPSIS: MY DAD SAYS BAD THINGS HAPPEN WHEN I BREAK IT…
Daniel is looking forward to his birthday. He wants fish and chips, a big chocolate cake, and a comic book starring his favourite superhero. And as long as he follows The Rule, nothing bad will happen. But Daniel has no idea that he’s about to kill a stranger.
Daniel’s parents know that their beloved and vulnerable son will be taken away. They know that Daniel didn’t mean to hurt anyone, he just doesn’t know his own strength. They dispose of the body. Isn’t that what any loving parent would do? But as forces on both sides of the law begin to close in on them, they realise they have no option but to finish what they started. Even if it means that others will have to die…
Because they’ll do anything to protect Daniel. Even murder.
SYNOPSIS: For Rich, life is golden. He fizzes with happiness and love. But Rich has an incurable brain tumour.
When Rich dies, he leaves behind a family without a father, a husband, a son and a best friend. His wife, Ruth, can’t imagine living without him and finds herself faced with a grief she’s not sure she can find her way through. At the same time, their young son Ollie becomes intent on working out the meaning of life. Because everything happens for a reason. Doesn’t it?
But when they discover a mismatched collection of presents left by Rich for his loved ones, it provides a puzzle for them to solve, one that will help Ruth navigate her sorrow and help Ollie come to terms with what’s happened. Together, they will learn to lay the ghosts of the past to rest, and treasure the true gift that Rich has left them: the ability to embrace life and love every moment.
Harriet Kline weaves together the voices of a grieving family and paints an achingly beautiful picture of love in all its forms: absent, lost and, ultimately, regained.
SYNOPSIS: When they took everything from her, they didn’t count on her fighting to get it back… Born into the House of Romanov to the all-powerful Peter the Great and Catherine I, beautiful Tsarevna Elizabeth is the world’s loveliest Princess and the envy of the Russian empire. Insulated by luxury and as a woman free from the burden of statecraft, Elizabeth is seemingly born to pursue her passions. However, a dark prophecy predicts her fate as inexorably twined with Russia. When her mother dies, Russia is torn, masks fall, and friends become foes. Elizabeth’s idyllic world is upended. By her twenties she is penniless and powerless, living under constant threat. As times change like quicksand, an all-consuming passion emboldens Elizabeth: she must decide whether to take up her role as Russia’s ruler, and what she’s willing to do for her country – and for love.
Published: July 8th, 2021 Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
SYNOPSIS: From the bestselling author of The House Guest comes a chilling story set deep in the woods…
With his marriage over and his career in freefall, journalist Tom decides to reconnect with his fourteen-year-old daughter, Frankie. Desperate to spend precious time together now that they live an ocean apart, he brings her to Hollow Falls, a cabin resort deep in the woods of Maine.
From the outset there’s something a little eerie about the place―strange whispers in the trees, windchimes echoing through the forest―but when Tom meets true-crime podcasters David and Connie, he receives a chilling warning. Hollow Falls has a gruesome history: twenty years ago this week, a double slaying shut down the resort. The crime was never solved, and now the woods are overrun with murder-obsessed tourists looking to mark the grim anniversary.
It’s clear that there’s something deeply disturbing going on at Hollow Falls. And as Tom’s dream trip turns into a nightmare, he and Frankie are faced with a choice: uncover the truth, or get out while they still can.
Published: July 8th, 2021 Publisher: Michael Joseph
SYNOPSIS: Sometimes, the true story is the hardest to believe.
TONY has always looked out for his younger brother, Nick. So when Nick is badly hurt and it looks like he was the victim of sexual assault, Tony’s anger flares.
JULIA is alarmed by her husband Tony’s obsession with Nick’s case. She’s always known Tony has a temper. But does she really know what he’s capable of? NICK went out for a drink. After that, everything’s a blank. When he woke up he found himself in a world of confusion and pain, and the man who hurt him doesn’t deny doing it. But he says the whole thing was consensual.
Three ordinary people; one life-shattering event. When the police get involved with this family in crisis, all the cracks will start to show . . . Set to ignite debate and as gripping as your favourite box-set, Damage is a compulsive drama from an extraordinary new writer.
Published: July 8th, 2021 Publisher: Manilla Press
SYNOPSIS: She walks unseen through our world. Cares for our children, cleans our homes. She has a story to tell. Will you listen?
Nisha has crossed oceans to give her child a future. By day she cares for Petra’s daughter; at night she mothers her own little girl by the light of a phone.
Nisha’s lover, Yiannis, is a poacher, hunting the tiny songbirds on their way to Africa each winter. His dreams of a new life, and of marrying Nisha, are shattered when she vanishes.
No one cares about the disappearance of a domestic worker, except Petra and Yiannis. As they set out to search for her, they realise how little they know about Nisha. What they uncover will change them all.
Published: July 8th, 2021 Publisher: Harper Voyager
SYNOPSIS: Joyful, devastating, and profound, Meet Me in Another Life is a story of love and connection in every possible form that will captivate fans of Stuart Turton, Claire North, and Audrey Niffenegger.
Thora and Santi have met before…
Under the clocktower in central Cologne, with nothing but the stars above and their futures ahead.
They will meet again…
They don’t know it yet, but they’ll meet again: in numerous lives they will become friends, colleagues, lovers, enemies – meeting over and over for the first time, every time; each coming to know every version of the other.
Only they can make sure it’s not for the last time.
But as they’re endlessly drawn together and the lines between their different lives begin to blur, they are faced with one question: why?
They must discover the truth of their strange attachment before this, and all their lives, are lost forever.
SYNOPSIS: When March Briscoe returns to East Texas two years after he was caught having an affair with his brother’s wife, the Briscoe family becomes once again the talk of the small town of Olympus. His mother, June, hardly welcomes him back with open arms. Her husband’s own past affairs have made her tired of being the long-suffering spouse. Is it, perhaps, time for a change? But within days of March’s arrival, someone is dead, marriages are upended, and even the strongest of alliances are shattered. In the end, the ties that hold them together might be exactly what drag them all down.
An expansive tour de force, Olympus, Texas combines the archetypes of Greek and Roman mythology with the psychological complexity of a messy family. After all, at some point, we all wonder: what good is this destructive force we call love?
SYNOPSIS: A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.
In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?
Lynnette Tarkington survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized―someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.
But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.
SYNOPSIS: This is not just another novel about a dead girl.
When she arrived in New York on her 18th birthday carrying nothing but $600 cash and a stolen camera, Alice was looking for a fresh start. Now, just one month later, she is the city’s latest Jane Doe, an unidentified murder victim.
Ruby Jones is also trying to start over; she travelled halfway around the world only to find herself lonelier than ever. Until she finds Alice Lee’s body by the Hudson River.
From this first, devastating encounter, the two women form an unbreakable bond. Alice is sure that Ruby is the key to solving the mystery of her life – and death. And Ruby – struggling to forget what she saw that morning – finds herself unable to let Alice go. Not until she is given the ending she deserves.
Before You Knew My Name doesn’t ask whodunnit. Instead, this powerful, hopeful novel asks: Who was she? And what did she leave behind? The answers might surprise you.
SYNOPSIS: Everything stays the same for the tenants of The Beresford, a grand old apartment building just outside the city … until the doorbell rings… Will Carver returns with an eerie, deliciously and uncomfortably dark standalone thriller.
Just outside the city – any city, every city – is a grand, spacious but affordable apartment building called The Beresford.
There’s a routine at The Beresford.
For Mrs May, every day’s the same: a cup of cold, black coffee in the morning, pruning roses, checking on her tenants, wine, prayer and an afternoon nap. She never leaves the building.
Abe Schwartz also lives at The Beresford. His housemate, Sythe, no longer does. Because Abe just killed him.
In exactly sixty seconds, Blair Conroy will ring the doorbell to her new home and Abe will answer the door. They will become friends. Perhaps lovers.
And, when the time comes for one of them to die, as is always the case at The Beresford, there will be sixty seconds to move the body before the next unknowing soul arrives at the door.
Because nothing changes at The Beresford, until the doorbell rings…
Eerie, dark, superbly twisted and majestically plotted, The Beresford is the stunning standalone thriller from one of crime fiction’s most exciting names.
Published: July 22nd, 2021 Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
SYNOPSIS: Two sisters parted. Two women blamed. Two stories reclaimed.
For millennia, two women have been blamed for the fall of a mighty civilisation – but now it’s time to hear their side of the story . . .
As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.
Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.
But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years.
Perfect for readers of Circe and Ariadne, Daughters of Sparta is a vivid and illuminating retelling of the Siege of Troy that tells the story of mythology’s most vilified women from their own mouths at long last.
Published: July 22nd, 2021 Publisher: The Borough Press
SYNOPSIS: · Kill my family · Make a claim on their fortune · Get away with the above · Adopt a dog
Meet Grace Bernard. Daughter, sister, colleague, friend, serial killer… Grace has lost everything. And now she wants revenge. How to Kill Your Family is a fierce and addictive novel about class, family, love… and murder.
SYNOPSIS: A mother’s secret past collides with her daughter’s present in this intoxicating novel from Jane Healey, the author of The Animals at Lockwood Manor.
In the summer of 1973, teenage Ruth and her four friends are obsessed with pre-Raphaelite paintings, and a little bit obsessed with each other. They spend the scorching summer days in the river by Ruth’s grand family home, pretending to be the drowning Ophelia and recreating tableaus of other tragic mythical heroines. But by the end of the summer, real tragedy has found them.
Twenty-four years later, Ruth is a wife and mother of three children, and moves her family into her still-grand, but now somewhat dilapidated, childhood home following the death of her father. Her seventeen-year-old daughter, Maeve, is officially in remission and having been discharged from hospital can finally start acting like a ‘normal’ teenager with the whole summer ahead of her. It’s just the five of them until Stuart, a handsome photographer and old friend of her parents, comes to stay. And there’s something about Stuart that makes Maeve feel more alive than all of her life-saving treatments put together . . .
As the heat of the summer burns, how long can the family go before long-held secrets threaten to burst their banks and drown them all?
Set between two fateful summers, The Ophelia Girls is a visceral, heady exploration of illicit desire, infatuation and the perils and power of being a young woman.
SYNOPSIS: I don’t have any friends, only dog ones, because they don’t make you do bad things. I don’t want any human friends, actually. It’s for the best.’
Hope Nicely hasn’t had an easy life.
But she’s happy enough living at 23 Station Close with her mum, Jenny Nicely, and she loves her job, walking other people’s dogs. She’s a bit different, but as Jenny always tells her, she’s a rainbow person, a special drop of light.
It’s just . . . there’s something she needs to know. Why did her birth mother abandon her in a cardboard box on a church step twenty-five years ago? And did she know that drinking while pregnant could lead to Hope being born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?
In a bid to find her birth mother and the answers to these questions, Hope decides to write her autobiography. Despite having been bullied throughout school, Hope bravely joins an evening class where Hope will not only learn the lessons of writing, but will also begin to discover more about the world around her, about herself and even make some (human) friends.
But when Jenny suddenly falls ill, Hope realises there are many more lessons to come . . .
Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life is a heartwarming, coming-of-age novel about loneliness, friendship, acceptance and, above all, hope.
Published: July 22nd, 2021 Publisher: Harper Collins UK
SYNOPSIS: A new chapter is just beginning…
When Aleisha discovers a crumpled reading list tucked into a tattered library book, it sparks an extraordinary journey.
From timeless stories of love and friendship to an epic journey across the Pacific Ocean with a boy and a tiger in a boat, the list opens a gateway to new and wonderful worlds – just when Aleisha needs an escape from her troubles at home.
And when widower Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to connect with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha introduces him to the magic of the reading list. An anxious teenager and a lonely grandfather forming an unlikely book club of two.
Inspiring and heartwarming, The Reading List is a love letter to storytelling – its power to transport us, connect us, and remind us that a new beginning is only a page away…
SYNOPSIS: ‘Rebellion?’ The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips. She chooses to start a fire.
You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.
You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.
You are Cecily.
But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?
Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.
Told through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the closed bedchambers and bloody battlefields of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.
Published: July 29th, 2021 Publisher: Hodder Books
SYNOPSIS: What was it like? Living in that house.
Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into a rambling Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a memoir called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon.
Now, Maggie has inherited Baneberry Hall after her father’s death. She was too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist.
But when she returns to Baneberry Hall to prepare it for sale, her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the pages of her father’s book lurk in the shadows, and locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself – a place that hints of dark deeds and unexplained happenings.
As the days pass, Maggie begins to believe that what her father wrote was more fact than fiction. That, either way, someone – or something – doesn’t want her here. And that she might be in danger all over again . . .
One in six adults in the UK – approximately 9 million people – have difficulty reading, and one in three people do not read regularly for pleasure. Quick Reads was created by The Reading Agency to help address those statistics. They are a collection of books released each year by well known authors designed to be a short and entertaining read. The hope is that they will help those who find they’ve little time to read, struggle with a longer book or have just simply fallen out of the habit of reading, to get back into a love of books by indulging in a Quick Read.
This year Quick Reads is celebrating their 15th Anniversary. Over five million copies of their titles have been distributed since the programme began in 2006. To celebrate, for every book bought until July 31st 2021, another copy will be gifted to someone to help them discover the joy of reading.
I was contacted by Midas PR offering me a choice of one of this years Quick Reads to read and review. This years titles are:
The Baby Is Mine by Oyinkan Braithwaite When his girlfriend throws him out during the pandemic, Bambi has to go to his Uncle’s house in lock-down Lagos. He arrives during a blackout and is surprised to find his Aunty Bidemi sitting in a candlelit room with another woman. They are fighting because both claim to be the mother of the baby boy, fast asleep in his crib. At night Bambi is kept awake by the baby’s cries, and during the days he is disturbed by a cockerel that stalks the garden. There is sand in the rice. A blood stain appears on the wall. Someone scores tribal markings into the baby’s cheeks. Who is lying and who is telling the truth?
Oyinkan Braithwaite gained a degree in Creative Writing and Law at Kingston University. Her first book, My Sister, the Serial Killer, was a number one bestseller. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize and was on the long list for the 2019 Booker Prize.
Oyinkan Braithwaite, author of The Baby is Mine (Atlantic) said: “When I am writing, I don’t know what my readers will look like or what challenges they may be facing. So it was an interesting experience creating work with the understanding that the reader might need a story that was easy to digest, and who might not have more than a few hours in a week to commit to reading. It was daunting – simpler does not necessarily mean easier – I may have pulled out a couple of my hairs; but I would do it again in a heartbeat. Quick Reads tapped into my desire to create fiction that would be an avenue for relief and escape for all who came across it.”
The Skylight by Louise Candlish They can’t see her, but she can see them… Simone has a secret. She likes to stand at her bathroom window and spy on the couple downstairs through their kitchen skylight. She knows what they eat for breakfast and who they’ve got over for dinner. She knows what mood they’re in before they even step out the door. There’s nothing wrong with looking, is there? Until one day Simone sees something through the skylight she is not expecting. Something that upsets her so much she begins to plot a terrible crime…
Louise Candlish is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Other Passenger and thirteen other novels. Our House won the Crime & Thriller Book of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards. It is now in development for a major TV series. Louise lives in London with her husband and daughter.
Louise Candlish, author of The Skylight (Simon & Schuster) said: It’s an honour to be involved in this [next] year’s Quick Reads. Reading set me on the right path when I was young and adrift and it means such a lot to me to be a part of literacy campaign that really does change lives.”
Saving the Day by Katie Ffjord Allie is bored with her job and starting to wonder whether she even likes her boyfriend, Ryan. The high point in her day is passing a café on her walk home from work. It is the sort of place where she’d really like to work. Then one day she sees as advert on the door: assistant wanted. But before she can land her dream job, Allie knows she must achieve two things: 1. Learn to cook; 2. End her relationship with Ryan, especially as through the window of the café, she spies a waiter who looks much more like her type of man. And when she learns that the café is in danger of closing, Allie knows she must do her very best to save the day …
Katie Fforde lives in the beautiful Cotswold countryside with her family and is a true country girl at heart. Each of her books explores a differentjoband her research has helped her bring these to life. To find out more about Katie Fforde step into her world at www.katiefforde.com, visit her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @KatieFforde.
Katie Fforde, author of Saving the Day (Arrow, Penguin Random House) said: “As a dyslexic person who even now can remember the struggle to read, I was delighted to be asked to take part in the scheme. Anything that might help someone who doesn’t find reading easy is such a worthwhile thing to do.”
Wish You Were Dead by Peter James Roy Grace and his family have left Sussex behind for a week’s holiday in France. The website promised a grand house, but when they arrive the place is very different from the pictures. And it soon becomes clear that their holiday nightmare is only just beginning. An old enemy of Roy, a lowlife criminal he had put behind bars, is now out of jail – and out for revenge. He knows where Roy and his family have gone on holiday. Of course he does. He’s been hacking their emails – and they are in the perfect spot for him to pay Roy back…
Peter James is a UK number one bestselling author, best known for his crime and thriller novels. He is the creator of the much-loved detective Roy Grace. His books have been translated into thirty-seven languages. He has won over forty awards for his work, including the WHSmith Best Crime Author of All Time Award. Many of his books have been adapted for film, TV and stage.
Peter James, author of Wish You Were Dead (Macmillan) said: “The most treasured moments of my career have been when someone tells me they hadn’t read anything for years, often since their school days, but are back into reading via my books. What more could an author hope for? Reading helps us tackle big challenges, transports us into new worlds, takes us on adventures, allows us to experience many different lives and open us up to aspects of our world we never knew existed. So I’m delighted to be supporting Quick Reads again – I hope it will help more people get started on their reading journeys and be the beginning of a life-long love of books.”
How To Be A Woman (abridged) by Caitlin Moran It’s a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. But a few nagging questions remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby? Part memoir, part protest, Caitlin answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.
Caitlin Moran became a columnist at The Times at eighteen and has gone on to be named Columnist of the Year six times. She is the author of many award-winning books and her bestseller How to Be a Woman has been published in 28 countries and won the British Book Awards’ Book of the Year 2011. Her first novel, How to Build a Girl, is now a major feature film. Find out more at her website www.caitlinmoran.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @caitlinmoran
Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman (abridged) (Ebury) said: “I wrote How To Be A Woman because I felt that feminism is such a beautiful, brilliant, urgent and necessary invention that it should not be hidden away in academic debates, or in books which most women and men found dull, and unreadable. Having a Quick Reads edition of it, therefore, makes me happier than I can begin to describe – everyone deserves to have the concept of female equality in a book they can turn to as a chatty friend, on hand to help them through the often bewildering ass-hattery of Being A Woman. There’s no such thing as a book being too quick, too easy, or too fun. A book is a treat – a delicious pudding for your brain. I’m so happy Quick Reads have allowed me to pour extra cream and cherries on How To Be A Woman.”
The Motive by Khurrum Rahman Business has been slow for Hounslow’s small time dope-dealer, Jay Qasim. A student house party means quick easy cash, but it also means breaking his own rules. But desperate times lead him there – and Jay finds himself in the middle of a crime scene. Idris Zaidi, a police constable and Jay’s best friend, is having a quiet night when he gets a call out following a noise complaint at a house party. Fed up with the lack of excitement in his job, he visits the scene and quickly realises that people are in danger after a stabbing. Someone will stop at nothing to get revenge…
Born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1975, Khurrum moved to England when he was one. He is a west London boy and now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two sons. Khurrum is currently working as a Senior IT Officer but his real love is writing. His first two books in the Jay Qasim series, East of Hounslow and Homegrown Hero, have been shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and CWA John Creasey Debut Dagger.
Khurrum Rahman, author of The Motive (HQ) said: “I started reading late in life, as the idea of reading a book always seemed overwhelming. I hesitantly began a book a friend had recommended and quickly became totally immersed in the story. I found joy and comfort and most importantly, an escape. It’s for this very reason that I am so proud to be involved with Quick Reads. This initiative is so important for people, like I once was, to engage in stories that may mirror their own lives or to read experiences far beyond their imagination. Just like a friend once did for me, I hope I am able to play a small part in encouraging somebody to pick up a book.”
Released May 27th, each book is just £1, or 88p on Amazon. An absolute bargain for a great read by a contemporary author. As I had already pre-ordered one of the books, I requested a copy of The Baby Is Mine. Keep an eye out for my review on publication day.
Are you planning to buy an of this years Quick Reads? Let me know in the comments.
Welcome to First Lines Friday where I share the first lines from one of the books on my shelves to try and tempt you to add it to yours.
“My little nephew, Ivan is innocent — he’s a baby, and as pure as only a one-year-old can be. But tonight, at my order, the infant Tsar will be declared guilty as charged.”
Today’s first lines come from one of my most anticipated books this year, The Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten.
Recently I was fortunate to win an amazing giveaway of a proof copy of the book and a bottle of champagne. Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing & Midas PR for my giveaway prize. I was so excited when it arrived yesterday and am eager to dive into the book.
When they took everything from her, they didn’t count on her fighting to get it back…
Born into the House of Romanov to the all-powerful Peter the Great and Catherine I, beautiful Tsarevna Elizabeth is the world’s loveliest Princess and the envy of the Russian empire.
Insulated by luxury and as a woman free from the burden of statecraft, Elizabeth is seemingly born to pursue her passions. However, a dark prophecy predicts her fate as inexorably twined with Russia. When her mother dies, Russia is torn, masks fall, and friends become foes. Elizabeth’s idyllic world is upended. By her twenties she is penniless and powerless, living under constant threat.
As times change like quicksand, an all-consuming passion emboldens Elizabeth: she must decide whether to take up her role as Russia’s ruler, and what she’s willing to do for her country – and for love.
Doesn’t that sound amazing?! The Tsarina’s Daughter is the follow up to Tsarina, which was one of my favourite books of 2020. You can read my review here.
Published July 8th, you can order a copy of the book here* (this is an affiliate link)
Thanks for reading Bibliophiles. See you next week for more first lines xxx
I’m delighted to be sharing an extract for the latest book in the Black Winter Series today, which is out next month. Thank you to Amber at Midas PR for the invitation to take in the tour and for the extract.
“CLARE? IF YOU’RE THERE, please answer. It’s me. Beth.”
Clare stood at Winterbourne Hall’s kitchen sink as she stared, shocked, at the crackling radio. Gusts of freezing wind howled through gaps in the old mansion’s stone walls. Even wrapped in the cotton dress she’d inherited from one of the manor’s former maids and a fur jacket borrowed from Dorran, the kitchen would have been too cold for her without the fire. The blaze both warmed and illuminated the room, bathing Clare and Dorran in its orange glow.
Dorran stood close enough to touch. He still wore bruises and scratches from the monsters that inhabited Winterbourne, but his dark eyes shone in the candlelight as he looked toward the radio.
“Beth…” Clare’s heart missed a beat, then returned with a vengeance, thumping furiously until her pulse was all she could hear. The last time she’d spoken to Beth, she’d been driving to her sister’s house in an attempt to escape the spreading stillness. That had only been seventeen days before. It felt like half a lifetime. She had kept the radio running constantly since she’d retrieved it from her car, but her hope of hearing from Beth had been whittled down to almost nothing.
Dorran moved first. He strode around the wide wooden table filling the kitchen’s center and snatched the two- way radio off the shelf, then returned and placed it on the table in front of Clare. He didn’t try to speak but bent forward to listen, watching expectantly.
The radio crackled. Clare struggled to breathe. In a flurry of urgent panic, she dropped the dish towel and darted forward, then pressed the button to transmit her voice.
“Beth? Beth, I’m here. It’s me. I’m here.”
She released the button and bent close to the speakers. Her hands were shaking. Her throat was tight, and every nerve in her body felt on fire with a desperate need to hear her sister’s voice again.
Beth, who was the closest thing Clare had to a mother. Beth, who at the vulnerable age of twenty had taken Clare to dental checkups, to netball practice, to school recitals. Beth, who had never stopped worrying about her when she’d moved into her own home.
The transmission was faint and distorted by a weak signal, but the voice was unmistakable. Beth took a gasping, hiccupping breath. “Clare? Is that you? Is it really you?”
She’s still alive. She’s okay. “Yes! I’m here!”
Beth was crying, and Clare couldn’t stop herself from following. She wiped her sleeves over her face as tears ran. At the same time, a grin stretched her cheeks until they ached.
Dorran moved silently. He nudged a chair in behind Clare so she could sit, then a moment later placed a glass of water and a clean cloth beside her. She gratefully used the cloth to wipe some of the wetness off her face. Dorran took a seat on the opposite side of the table. He was tall, towering over Clare, but he moved smoothly and carefully, even his breathing nearly silent. He folded his arms on the table, his dark eyes attentive, his black hair falling around his strong jaw, as he listened to the conversation.
“Sweetheart, are you okay? Are you hurt?”
Beth never called her sweetheart unless she was frightened. Clare guessed, after more than two weeks of no contact, Beth was about as frightened as she’d ever been. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
That was a half- truth at best. She still had red lines running across her arm and abdomen from where the hollow ones had attacked her. She grew tired too quickly. Her muscles ached. A bite on her wrist and thigh still needed dressing every day.
But she was alive. And, if the hollows were as prevalent as they seemed, that was better than what could be said for a lot of the world.
“What about you?” She pulled the radio closer, struggling to make out Beth’s voice under the distortion. “Are you in your bunker? Are you okay?”
“Yes, don’t worry about me. I’m in my bunker and getting thoroughly sick of staring at these four walls.” Beth laughed. “I paid for every add-on I could for this place…air filtration, water filtration, generator, aquaponics system. The only professional I didn’t think to hire was an interior decorator.”
Hearing Beth’s laughter made Clare feel lighter. She couldn’t stop her own grin. “I guess people don’t really think about throw rugs and wall hangings when they imagine the end of the world, do they?”
Beth chuckled, but the noise didn’t sound quite natural. Clare’s own smile faded. For a moment, the only noise in the kitchen was the soft static and a distant drip.
“It’s all gone to hell, sweetheart.” Beth’s voice had lost its color. “Everything. It’s all gone.”
“Yeah.” Clare swallowed. “But you’re okay. And that’s what matters.”
“Are you at Marnie’s? Is she there? Can I talk to her?”
The questions were like being dunked in a freezing bath. Clare closed her eyes. She took a slow breath and tried to keep her voice steady. “I never reached Marnie.” “Oh.”
Clare’s aunt, Marnie, was the third piece of their tiny family. She lived on a farm two hours’ drive from Clare’s own home. On that last morning, Clare had been trying to pick Marnie up on her way to Beth’s. She’d never made it out of Banksy Forest.
“Well.” Beth sounded like she was choking. “At least you’re okay. At least…at least…”
“I’m so sorry.” Clare stared down at the chipped wooden counter and shivered. The kitchen no longer felt as warm as it had a moment before.
There had been very little chance to think about the world outside the forest during the previous few days. But whenever she had, her mind had turned to her family and what might have happened to them. She’d felt sick every time she imagined it.
She felt sick again, knowing that Marnie must have been waiting for her. Beth would have called her to say Clare was on the way. She’d probably been standing by her front door, a suitcase on one side and a cat carrier on the other. Clare could picture her easily. Brown hair that had started to develop streaks of gray. A body that had been made strong by a lifetime of working in the garden but was always a little on the plump side. She would have been wearing floral clothes and a knit cardigan, like she always did. She was a short woman but had a huge smile and an even bigger heart.
Did the hollow ones get her? Was it fast, or painful and slow?
A warm hand moved over hers. She met Dorran’s dark eyes as he squeezed her fingers.
“But you’re okay.” Beth’s voice crackled through the radio again. She seemed to have rallied. “After your phone went out, I tried reaching you through the radio almost constantly. For days. You didn’t answer, and I thought…I thought…”
“I’m so sorry. I left the radio in the car. It took me a while to get it back.”
“That’s fine. You’re alive. I can forgive everything else as long as you just stay alive. Where are you? If you didn’t get to Marnie’s, does that mean you’re in your cottage? It’s not going to be safe— ”
“No, no, I found a new house. It’s in Banksy Forest.”
She could hear the frown in Beth’s voice. “There aren’t any houses inside the forest.”
“That’s what I thought too. But it was well hidden. The owner,
Dorran, is letting me stay with him.”
Again, Beth hesitated. “Is he a good sort of person?”
“Yes, don’t worry. He’s nice. And we have plenty of food— and a garden. Winterbourne was designed to be self- sufficient and it’s hard to break into. I was lucky. Really lucky.”
“Be careful, Clare. Don’t trust him just because he’s friendly.”
Clare looked down at her hand, which was still enveloped in Dorran’s. She followed it along his arm, covered by the green knit sweater, and up to his face. Thick black hair, grown a little too long, framed a strong, reserved face. His dark eyes, shadowed under a heavy brow, smiled at her. She thought there was no one she trusted more.
“He’s good, I promise. You don’t need to worry about me. How are you doing there?”
“Holding up at least.” There was a speck of hesitation in Beth’s voice.
Clare frowned. “Are you sure? Do you have enough food and water?”
“Yes, that’s all fine. But the generator’s out. I’ve been trying to fix it, but it’s been a challenge without the lights.”
A chill ran through Clare. She pictured Beth, sitting in a dark box, having to feel her way through the space every time she needed food or the bathroom or water. There would be nothing to see. Nothing to do. Just her, alone, listening to the seconds tick by.
“I’m doing fine, sweetheart.” Her voice took on the familiar hint of warning she used whenever Clare was doing something she didn’t approve of. “I have a flashlight. I’m using it judiciously— apparently an excess of batteries still isn’t enough— but I’m hardly suffering down here.”
Clare wasn’t sure if she could believe that. But she tried to keep her voice bright for Beth’s sake. “We can talk on the radio as much as you want. I can carry you around with me and keep you company.”
Beth laughed. “Oh, that would be fun. But I think it’s better if we keep our chats short.”
That was unexpected. “Why?”
“Tell me, Beth.”
“Too much noise attracts them.”
Dorran’s fingers laced through Clare’s, trying to reassure her. She barely felt it. Her hands were turning numb. “The hollow?”
“Yeah.” Beth’s voice cracked. “I was the only person on my street who had a bunker.”
Clare understood. Without shelter, all of Beth’s neighbors would have been affected by the stillness.
Under the static’s crackles and her own too- fast breathing,
Clare thought she heard another sound. The noise had dogged her for weeks, following her even into her sleep, and every fiber of her being revolted against it. Fingernails, digging. Clawing.
Scratching. They were at Beth’s bunker door.
They’d heard them. They were hungry.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Darcy is the USA Today Bestselling author of Hunted, The Haunting of Ashburn House, Craven Manor, and more than a dozen horror and suspense titles.She lives on the Central Coast of Australia with her family, cats, and a garden full of herbs and vegetables. Darcy loves forests, especially old-growth forests where the trees dwarf anyone who steps between them. Wherever she lives, she tries to have a mountain range close by.
Beth wrapped one arm around Clare’s shoulder as they moved back towards the minibus. Clare frowned, trying to understand what her sister had said. “The hollows?” “Yeah. I parked here because it’s the closest haven to the city. The light keeps the hollow ones at bay. But they’ll only stay on the outskirts for so long before the hunger gets the best of them.” Clare squinted at their surroundings and took them in properly for the first time. The parking lot stretched around them in all directions, empty except for a handful of overturned shopping trolleys. The lights above them flooded the area for a hundred feet in each direction. But, if she stared at the shadows on the edges of the asphalt, where the light was thinner, she thought she saw bulb-like eyes glowing in the bushes. The shopping centre stood not far behind them. Single-story, designed in a long boomerang shape, she guessed it would house at least eighty stores. She’d thought the windows and doors were dark, but as she looked again, she realised they’d been boarded up. Through the planks and sheet metal, she thought she saw spots of light. “Beth… are there people in there?” “Yeah.” “Should we—” “No.” They were at the bus’s door, and Beth pushed the handle to open it. With the windows covered, barely any light reached inside the vehicle, and Clare had to blink as her eyes adjusted. The minibus had probably been used for tours at one point. Six rows of seats, made of mottled blue and grey fabric, ran either side of the aisle. Metal baskets suspended above them were full of luggage. It wasn’t exactly luxurious, but it was modern and clean. Dorran still stood in the aisle, one hand braced on a chair for support, shivering as his clothes dripped onto the floor. His expression was unreadable, which Clare had learned was a defence mechanism when he felt uneasy. “Hey,” she called, injecting some brightness into her voice. “We’re all good. Beth, do you have towels by any chance?” “In the basket to your right.” Beth dropped into the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition. Lights flickered to life above them and the door slid closed, muffling the rain. Clare found a black plastic bag full of towels in the storage compartment Beth had indicated to. She pulled two out, checking they were clean, and passed one to Dorran. She couldn’t stop herself from glancing back at the door as she squeezed water out of her hair. “Uh, Beth was just saying that there’s someone in the shopping mall back there. And I’m really hoping she’ll tell me more about that.” Beth sat crossways in her seat, one arm leaned on the dash, facing Clare as she peeled off her gloves. More fresh, barely-sealed cuts marred her hands. “I stopped here before travelling into the city. They call it a safe haven. There are a few dozen havens just like it dotted around the country. Survivors who have found a place to hole up, somewhere with resources and adequate protection. Shopping malls are popular. Especially the more modern ones that have implemented anti-terrorist precautions. There are larger safe havens in the country. Some that boast actual democracies, though I’ll believe it when I see it.” “They live here?” Clare wiped water out of her eyes. “How many?” “About twenty in that centre. They advertise their presence; I heard about them from a traveller on the road. It’s the closest shelter you can get to the city centre. They run the lights constantly to keep hollows away and welcome travellers… as long as you have something to trade.” “What do they trade for?” “Things they have a finite supply of. Food, water, fuel. In return, they’ll let you spend the night there and you can take any non-necessities from the other stores. I traded four litres of fuel for as many clothes as I could carry.” She pulled a face. “Starting to regret it, to be honest. Fuel will be in short supply in the coming months.” Clare leaned close to the door, trying to glimpse the centre through the rain. She caught sight of movement near one of the loading docks. It was impossible to tell whether it was human or hollow. “And you don’t want to stay there again tonight?” “No. They’re a bit too zealous for my tastes. A lot of surviving bands are. They set up their own rules, their own hierarchy, their own little kingdoms. I know the cliché is survival in numbers, but in this kind of environment, I think we’ll be safer off just the two of us.” “Three of us,” Clare said. “Don’t forget Dorran.” “Hm.” Beth’s eyes narrowed as she glanced at their silent companion. He ran the towel through his hair, tousling it, but kept his eyes on the floor. She’s just wary because he’s a stranger. She was always over-protective like that. She needs some time to get used to him. But the cautious part of her mind warned that this new Beth was different. The days of fretting over curious boys was over. This Beth was focussed on survival. “What have you been doing since we last spoke?” she asked Beth. “I want to know everything. How did you get out of the bunker? Where have you been? And your scars—” “Later, maybe.” Beth rubbed her neck, shaking droplets of water off her chin, as she levelled a cold gaze at Dorran. “So, you’ve been keeping my sister company these last few weeks, huh?” He blinked, but didn’t meet her eyes. “Ah—yes.” “Well, I guess I owe you some thanks for that.” Good. Good. Clare glanced between then, hopeful. “And I want to give you something to show my gratitude,” Beth continued. “You’re probably ready to get some agency back, right? Name a location. I’ll drop you off there and set you up with good supplies.” “Hey,” Clare snapped. “We agreed he was staying.” “We agreed he could leave if he chose to.” Beth didn’t take her eyes off Dorran. “Look, you’ve travelled a long way, and you’re obviously tired. Clare and I might be on the road for a while before we settle down. Pick somewhere to stay and I’ll give you supplies to last. What do you say?” “Beth—” “Let him answer.” Dorran allowed the towel to fall around his shoulders. His dark, deep-set eyes barely flickered, and Clare wondered if Beth could pick up on the quiet panic that was setting into him. His voice remained steady, though, even as he struggled to phrase himself diplomatically. “That is a kind offer. But I would be grateful for the opportunity to accompany you further. I hope I can continue to assist yourself and Clare.” Beth’s lips twitched down. “I’ll let you take some of our fuel. It’s worth more than gold these days.” “Stop it.” Clare stepped forward, planting herself between Dorran and Beth. “He’s not going anywhere. We’re a team.” Beth huffed. She didn’t look happy, but she rolled her shoulders in something like a reluctant shrug. “All right. Fine. You said he’s tired, right? He can sleep in the back of the bus. There’s a bed set up there. But get some dry clothes on first. They’re stored in the racks above your heads.” Beth swivelled to face the dash and put the bus into gear. The engine rumbled as she eased them back towards the street. “We’re far enough from the city that we don’t have to rush, but we can’t afford to sit here all day, either. The hollows get antsy around nightfall and I want to be in the country by then. So you better figure out how to sleep while I drive.” “That’s fine,” Dorran said. “Clare, get changed, then sit up front with me. I’ll need you for navigation.” “Okay.” Clare, relieved that Beth had let the argument drop, turned towards the racks and began looking through them. They held not just clothes, but cartons of fuel, water, and cardboard boxes full of long-life food, as well as a rack of weapons suspended near the bus’s rear. She pulled stacks of clothes down as she found them. Most of the outfits were small sizes that would fit the sisters. She had to dig to find clothes large enough for Dorran. Beth had been sensible about the outfits she’d brought, though; there were extra-thick, insulated shirts and jackets, along with rain-proof overcoats and sturdy leather footwear. Most still had their pricetags attached, which identified them as coming from a high-end hiking store. “Try these,” Clare murmured, passing shirts and pants to Dorran. She snapped the tags off clothes for herself and sat in one of the seats to change. Her hair was still damp but there wasn’t much she could do for it, so she tied it into a messy bun as she approached Beth at the bus’s front. “You’re looking better.” Beth remained facing the road, but her eyes flicked up to the rear-view mirror to watch her two companions. “We can’t afford to waste fuel to heat the bus, but there are blankets in the basket under your seat.” Clare pulled the fleece bundle out, then settled into the chair beside the driver’s console. It had been set back a little to make room for the door, but kept her close to Beth and allowed an unobstructed view of the twisting road ahead. She glanced behind. The row of seats at the back had been converted to a bed, stacked high with pillows and blankets. Dorran sat on its edge, and gave her a small smile. He looked better wearing proper thermal clothes and with his hair brushed back, but the greyness hadn’t left his face. Clare motioned for him to relax. He settled back in his seat, legs crossed ahead of himself, but didn’t seem ready to sleep.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Darcy is the USA Today Bestselling author of Hunted, The Haunting of Ashburn House, Craven Manor, and more than a dozen horror and suspense titles.She lives on the Central Coast of Australia with her family, cats, and a garden full of herbs and vegetables. Darcy loves forests, especially old-growth forests where the trees dwarf anyone who steps between them. Wherever she lives, she tries to have a mountain range close by.
Today I’m sharing an extract from the latest installment in the acclaimed DCI Frank Merlin series. Thank you to Amber at Midas PR for the invitation and extract.
1 CHAPTER 1 Friday December 5th 1941
It was an hour before dawn when the officers gathered at the street corner. Their target was ten doors down the terrace. Clouds of frozen breath trailed off into the darkness above them. Across the way a parked cart stank of the horse manure stored under its tarpaulin covers. A cat wailed in the distance.
They were seven. Merlin and his men, Johnson and Cole, and four uniformed constables from the local East End station. Merlin examined faces with his torch. Everyone was tensed for action. He raised his right hand. They all knew the drill and moved silently down the road towards the house.
The two stockiest constables carried a compact battering ram, a heavy iron tube with a large rounded end. They waited for a whispered ‘Yes’ from Merlin before smashing it into the front door. After four blows the policemen were able to clamber into the unlit hallway. There they were met by panicked screams, shouts, and the sound of frantic footsteps. In the midst of this came the unmistakeable noise of gunfire. One of the constables fell to the ground, and the other policemen took cover. More shots lit up the air but none hit home. When the firing stopped, Merlin’s torch picked out several shadowy figures racing up the stairs.
“Inspector Johnson, take Cole and one of the constables and follow. You two others search the ground floor. For Christ’s sake be careful. I’ll check on the lad here.” Merlin knelt down to the stricken constable who was conscious but clearly in pain.
“It’s my arm, sir.”
Merlin found the wound a couple of inches above the elbow. “It looks like it’s just a flesh wound, lad. I’ll tie something around it. We’ll call the medics as soon as we can.”
Merlin made a makeshift tourniquet with his handkerchief, squeezed the man’s hand then headed up the stairs. The first and second floors were clear. On the third and final floor the stairs opened onto a large space, unfurnished save for a heavy metal bedframe in the middle of the room. Two unhappy-looking men were standing handcuffed to the bed under the gaze of a constable.
“That was quick work, officer.”
“They tripped over each other, sir, and fell flat on their faces. We were right on them so it was easy, really. Two others got out onto the roof, though.” There was a noise from behind and Merlin turned to see Cole climbing out of a window with Johnson about to do the same.
Merlin followed his men out onto the roof and found them with his torch scrambling along the gables to his right. The street terrace was a long one with interconnected roofs. They were not steeply cambered but the surface was icy and treacherous. Gunshots suddenly rang out from somewhere and Merlin ducked and braced himself against the wall beneath the window. A bullet whizzed past his ear and thudded into the window
casement. He waited a moment then edged carefully along the brickwork. The moon came out from behind some clouds and he saw his men lying flat twenty yards ahead. There was another shot and, to his surprise, he saw one of his men rise and return fire. Someone screamed and a heavy clattering sound followed. Merlin’s heart was pounding as he skidded from his cover to a chimney pot ten yards further along. He shone his torch again and saw a man racing away in the distance with his officers in pursuit. A loud animal cry from below made Merlin jump; he went to the roof edge and pointed his torch down. A motionless body was spreadeagled in an alleyway and something was crawling over it. He had little religious belief these days but by reflex he made a sign of the cross. Then Johnson was shouting for him, and he turned and hurried on.
His men were on the roof of the furthest house, looking down. “It’s no good, sir” said Johnson. “He’s hopped it down the drainpipe. Cole here wanted to follow him down but I said it was too dangerous.”
“I’m sure I can manage it, sir. He looked like he was limping before he went down. If I go now, he won’t have got far.”
Merlin edged forward and saw the drainpipe. “Sorry, Constable. The Inspector is right. It’s not a risk worth taking. We’ve bagged two of them, at least. The other fellow you were chasing has had it. From your bullet or the fall I’m not sure. Where did you get the gun?”
“One of those two inside was carrying and I pocketed it” answered Johnson.
“Good thing you did, or one or both of you might have copped it. There’ll be some tedious questions to answer but you were clearly within your rights to fire.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mark Ellis is a thriller writer from Swansea and a former barrister and entrepreneur.
He is the creator of DCI Frank Merlin, an Anglo-Spanish police detective operating in World War 2 London. His books treat the reader to a vivid portrait of London during the war skilfully blended with gripping plots, political intrigue and a charismatic protagonist.
Mark grew up under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the Second World War. His father served in the wartime navy and died a young man. His mother told him stories of watching the heavy bombardment of Swansea from the safe vantage point of a hill in Llanelli, and of attending tea dances in wartime London under the bombs and doodlebugs.
In consequence Mark has always been fascinated by WW2 and in particular the Home Front and the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. Murder, robbery, theft and rape were rife and the Blitz provided scope for widespread looting.
This was an intriguing, harsh and cruel world. This is the world of DCI Frank Merlin.
Mark Ellis’ books regularly appear in the Kindle bestseller charts.
He is published by Headline Accent, an imprint of Headline.
He is a member of Crime Cymru, the Welsh crime writing collective, and of the Crime Writers Association (CWA).
His third book, Merlin at War, was on the CWA Historical Dagger Longlist in 2018.
The new Frank Merlin book, A Death In Mayfair, came out in November 2019.
I can’t believe we’re a third of the way through the year already. April has been a strange month for the world with us being in lockdown. For me, that’s meant mostly getting used to not having a quiet house during the day Monday to Friday, which is when I do a lot of my reading and blogging. I’ve also had to hand over my laptop to our eldest as his is broken so I’m restricted in my times I can write.
In terms of reading, April has been another strong month for me. I’ve read thirteen books, taken part in fifteen blog tours, two cover reveals, one readalong and one buddy read. So here is what I’ve read this month:
You can read the synopsis and reviews for what I’ve read this month by clicking on the links above except for The House Guest, which will be reviewed next month.
So many great books means it’s hard to choose a favourite. And this month it was almost impossible. I loved Hamnet and was sure nothing would top that; until I read the breathtaking debut novel, What’s Left Of Me Is Yours. I still think about that book many times each day and am constantly recommending everyone read it. So if you haven’t yet bought a copy you can use the links in my review to do it now! Other books I feel deserve a shout out are the fantastic thrillers Strangers and All In Her Head, the heartwarming and uplifting The Switch, and the brilliantly sinister I Am Dust. Each of these were also contenders for my book of the month.
Thank you to the publishers for my gifted copies of the books and the blog tour organisers for all their hard work.
What have you read this month and what was your favourite? Comment below.