#BookReview: Tall Bones by Anna Bailey

I always try to stop myself mentally compiling my ‘Books of the Year List’ long before the year is out. But sometimes you come across a book that is special. A book that you know it is going to be pretty hard to top. And when the book in question is a debut, with all the promise of more great things to come, then you know you are on to a winner.

Let me introduce you to Tall Bones by Anna Bailey. Set in a small Colorado town, this is, on the face of it, the story of a teenage girl gone missing. But it is the story of so much more…

When 17 year old Abi Blake vanishes in the woods after a teenage party, Emma her closest friend is filled with remorse. Blaming herself for the disappearance of her only friend, Emma’s life in Whispering Ridge, shifts from difficult to unbearable.

Being of mixed race and growing up without her father, Emma has always been an outsider, on the edges of this strange and insular community. Now, alone and grieving for her only friend, she seeks refuge in alcohol and the company of Rat, a Romanian immigrant, recently arrived and equally remote.

But as the investigation into Abi’s disappearance progresses, more than just the secrets of that one night rise to the surface. For Whispering Ridge is a very murky pool indeed. Families, like the Blake’s, are held together by bonds of fear and twisted religion and no one is willing to challenge long held stereotypes and distorted views.

In a community where the local pastor reigns supreme, where domestic violence is an open secret and everyone is busy turning the other cheek; will what happened to Abi every be known? Or will it be another dark secret buried under an avalanche of bigotry, hatred and fear?

This novel is an incredible debut. It is raw, dark and beautifully powerful. The plot races ahead, but never feels anything other than considered and authentic. Characters are painted in detail. They are alive, complex, bursting from the page and provoking strong emotions within the reader. These are characters that span generations and are woven together in a web of small deceits and complex connections, each keeping the secrets of the next. Many are accepting and complicit in maintaining and masking the darkness of the community they are a part of.

And yet, despite all of this, there is a pervading and tangible feeling of change, a feeling of hope and of challenge. It is the outsiders who facilitate this feeling, who bring the possibility to the community. But only those within can take the steps that are needed to save themselves.

It was fitting that I read this a buddy read alongside Jules, Rebecca, Emma and Siobhain. Because this feels like a book that encourages connection, that shows us the power of community both for good and for ill. Ultimately, it is the choice of the human spirit how we choose to take that forward.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. Tall Bones is going to be huge; everyone is going to be talking about this one. So clear some space in your reading schedule and settle in!

Rachel x

A review : The Drowned City By K.J. Maitland

Published this week by The Drowned City By K.J. Maitland is a historical mystery, full of intrigue. If you are looking for a page turner with a difference this Easter weekend then look no further! Huge thanks to Caitlin Raynor for my gifted copy.

The story begins in the depth of Newgate Jail. It is the strange and dangerous year 1606 the Gunpowder Plot still dominates the political and religious temperature of the time. Suspicion permeates every quarter and the hunt for sorcery, witchcraft and other unholy arts is at it’s peak.

Daniel Pursglove, as we come to know him, is being held, awaiting sentence for suspected sorcery. But when, a year to the day from the Gunpowder plot, a strange tidal surge floods the city of Bristol many miles away, Daniel unexpectedly earns a reprieve. Sent by the shadowy and powerful Charles FitzAlan to investigate, Daniel’s continued freedom relies entirely on what he discovers.

King James, paranoid and in fear of losing his power, requires absolute proof of a Jesuit plot. A plot he believes to have been aided by the power of witchcraft. And there is one particular conspirator that is wanted above all others; Spero Pettingar. If Daniel can deliver news of this man, his freedom is certain. If he can’t, then an uncertain fate awaits him.

But the town of Bristol is in turmoil. At the best of times this port is a shadowy place, full of outcasts and spies, hidey holes and a ruled by a violent gang living with the castle walls. And this isn’t the best of times. The flood and it’s aftermath have reeked havoc on the place and everyone is intend on surviving in anyway they can.

Shortly after his arrival Daniel finds himself caught up in a series of grisly murders, each connected by something only he connects with. But the link between the victims is unclear and at times strays too close to home.

Do these murders hold the key to wider intrigues and plots? Or are they leading Daniel down a false and dangerous path, one that leads even further from his potential freedom?

This is novel to lose yourself in. With a plot that twists and turns, but never disappoints, it is a story that never stands still but rather claims and reclaims your attention again and again.

The foulness of the age, both in sounds, sights and beliefs resonances throughout. This is an underworld of filth, of crime but also of hard won survival. Everyone is trying to stay one step ahead and no one is quite what they seem.

The sense of tension, the feeling of the world being unstable, uncertain and not to be trusted is present and tangible throughout. The text is alive with possibilities and the reader is never quite sure where you are going to end up next.

This is the first in a new series of historical mysteries and the scene is most definitely set for more intrigue and excitement to come.

I can’t wait!

Rachel

The Drowned City by K.J.Maitland is released by Headline on 1st April 2021

#BlogTourReview : The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood

Welcome to my turn on the blog tour for The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood published by Harper Voyager. If you like your novel’s Victorian, gothic, with more than a hint of the unexplained then this novel is for you.

Eleanor lives in a grand London house, slowly sinking into decay and despair as it’s master,Mr Pembroke, drinks away his fortune. And the house is not the only thing brought low by his behaviour.

Eleanor, once the much loved ward of the late Mrs Pembroke, has been put to work as a maid since her death. Iron beds and kitchen suppers have taken the place of silk sheets and fine dining. Even Eleanor’s name has been reduced to Ella. Her days are spent cooking, cleaning and along with the other maids evading the sinister and unwelcome attentions of Mr Pembroke.

Her only comfort is found after dark, in her late night and clandestine trips to the house’s great library. Here, after hours, Eleanor loses herself in works of fiction, is transported to times and places far away. But one night the books open up a world that Eleanor could never have dreamed existed.

When Eleanor’s reading summons a strange dark eyed woman, her world changes and forces she never imagined begin to weave their way through her destiny. The woman offers her the chance to make seven wishes; wishes that could take her away from her life and give her everything she has ever dreamed of.

But there is a price to pay. With the granting of the seventh wish this strange Fairy Godnother will take her fee. She will claim Eleanor’s soul.

And so begins our tale. A tale of poverty and desperation, of the terrible price that must be paid by someone, somewhere when ever a wish is made and granted. Of what it will cost Eleanor to live the life she feels is her due.

This is prose dripping with the gothic, it’s Victorian setting providing the perfect backdrop to this dark version of the Cinderella story.

Through the choices of Eleanor and the consequences these choices bring we see the subtle changes of circumstances and character. How what was unthinkable at the beginning of Eleanor’s story slowly becomes necessary and commonplace.

This is tale of creeping horror, tantalising, drawing you into it’s web of the fantastic and macabre. With Eleanor’s twists and turns of fortunes, there is a sense of time ticking by, in which the race to escape your fate is futile.

This is book is perfect for fans of gothic literature with just a hint of magic and madness!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to The Shadow in the Glass check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#BlogTourReview : DangerousWomen by Hope Adams

Today I am taking my turn on the blog tour for Dangerous Women by Hope Adams published earlier this month by Michael Joseph Books. This is historical fiction at it’s finest and all the more compelling for the fact it has it’s roots in fact.

Dangerous Women is the story of The Rajah and the women who sailed on her. The Rajah was a convict ship, leaving Britain for Van Diemen’s Land in April 1941. On board were 180 women, all convicted of crimes deemed serious enough to warrant transportation. In addition to the crew and the ship’s Captain, Charles Ferguson, they were accompanied by a clergyman, Reverend Davies and the ship’s surgeon James Donovan MD. A handful of the women were also accompanied by their children.

Finally travelling with the women was 23 year old Kezia Hayter. This young, well connected and educated woman was employed as matron and was to attend to the care and spiritual improvement of the convicted women. As a member of The Ladies Society Kezia had worked in prisons prior to her voyage,and it was she who designed and engineered the project that kept at least some of the women occupied on the long voyage.

For despite the inhospitable living conditions below deck, with nearly two hundred women living cheek by jowl, many of whom were sea sick and generally unwell, a chosen group of women created a masterpiece. Under Kezia Hayter’s tutelage they created the beautiful Rajah Quilt, presented to Van Diemen’s Ladies Society upon their arrival.

All of the above is documented fact, retold in vivid strokes through the words of Hope Adams. But it is the imaginings of the voyage and the twist that the author adds that really fires this story along.

When young Hattie Matthews, a young mother, is stabbed on deck the routine of life that has quickly established is disrupted. Suspicion and fear stalks the ship and an investigation into the crime is hastily begun. The only women on deck at the time were the 18 needle women working on the quilt. But which one wanted Hattie dead? And was willing to jeopardise their own life and future? And will Hattie be the only victim?

As the story unfolds, so do the stories of the women on the ship; each one tied to her own past, each with her own reasons for being there. Some like the infamous Newgate Nannies are repeat offenders, hardened by a life of crime and poverty, some innocent victims of circumstance. And some, like the mysterious Sarah Goodbourne, shouldn’t be there at all…

This is a story told with empathy and skill. It is rich in period detail, the closed atmosphere of the ship’s community is both alive and claustrophobic. Each of these women are given a voice and through their perspectives we see the effects of poverty, lack of opportunity and crucially lack of power. From the well educated Kezia Haynes to every women living below the decks, we see the fight for survival, the fight to have a women’s voice heard and the fight to be valued in their own right.

Alive with strong women characters and a vibrant, well plotted story this is a story to get lost in. It is also a story that will lead you to others. One for the forever shelf.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews to Dangerous Women check out the rest of the blog tour below…

#BookReview: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Oh Viper Books , what have you done??? You have sent me a book that I think has actually, really truly, blown my mind!!! Read in one big gulp last weekend, when it was all I could do to remind myself to breathe, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it all week.

I have been recommending this book all week to anyone who stood still long enough to be cornered. The conversation went something like this:

“You have to read this amazing book, The Last House on Needless Street!”

“Really? What’s it about?”

“I can’t tell you! Just read it!”

And there in lies the problem! This book is practically impossible to review without giving huge spoilers and that isn’t going to happen!!

So what can I tell you? Well this is a story that twists and turns continually. Just when you think you have a handle on what might be happening the world flips upside down and your nerves are jangling once more.

I can tell you that it is in part the story of Ted. Ted lives on Needless Street. He lives a strange and secluded life, leaving mainly to visit the forest or the mysterious ‘Bug Man’. But he doesn’t live alone. Keeping him company in the old, rather ramshackle house is his beloved cat, Olivia and his daughter Lauren. They make a curious trio, where the boundaries of their interactions keep shifting.

When Dee moves in next door, life starts to change. Dee’s sister , the Little Girl With Popsicle, disappeared eleven years ago and Dee has been haunted by the event ever since.

But what does Ted have to do with this dark time and what ghosts is Dee about to reawaken?

Catriona Ward’s writing is simply stunning. With shifting perspectives and a nail biting level of detail, her prose literally gets under your skin. I can’t imagine anyone being able to put this book down; once you’re pulled in you won’t be able to climb out! And you won’t want to either!!

Be prepared for that fact that emotion is provoked by this story, and these emotions will change at a seconds notice; in fact scrap the idea of notice!!!

This book is quite simply a stunner. It is mesmerising, elegant and heartbreaking by turns. You won’t have read anything like this, it will stay in your head and you won’t want it to leave. This book needs to read, discussed and shared. It is a book that defies definition, defies any attempt to push it into one genre or another. It is book that stands, quite brilliantly, alone.

Please everyone JUST READ THIS BOOK!!! Thank you!!

Rachel x

Book review : The LampLighters by Emma Stonex

If you like a locked door mystery, and a locked door mystery with a very unusual setting then this week sees the perfect book for you published. Welcome to The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex. And yet while this might appear to be a locked door mystery it is so much more!

Although this book is set across two time periods, 1972 and 1992, the inspiration for this story comes from a real life event which took place in December 1900. It was then that three lighthouse keepers disappeared from an isolated rock lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides.

Within the novel the three keepers in question are Arthur Black, Bill Walker and Vincent Bourne. All different in character, all with their own stories and secrets, all missing in the strangest of circumstances.

Fast forward 20 years and the women left behind are still no nearer to understanding what happened to the men they loved. When author Dan Sharp approaches them regarding the incident, old memories resurface and Helen, Jenny and Michelle are all forced to relive the past.

Through immaculate retelling and beautifully paced prose the story of the three keepers and their families begins to unfurl. Against the rugged background of the winter sea the voices of the missing men are finally heard and they have surprising things to say.

This is a novel told by a chorus of voices, each story layered upon the other, providing clarity and then taking it away, moving slowly towards it’s conclusion. This is story telling at it’s absolute best, building tension and empathy as it’s story moves beautifully to it’s conclusion.

It is a story with a vivid setting, where the sea is a force in it’s own right, and it’s presence is continual, relentless and essential to put understanding of what really happened to those men. Although this is a novel with a mystery at it’s heart, it is a story alive with characters, emotion, love and grief.

The Lamplighters hits the shelves this week and, believe me, it is one not to be missed.

Rachel x

February wrap up and it feels like Spring is on the way!

Finally, finally it feels like the world is getting a little bit lighter and brighter. Signs of spring are peeping through in greater numbers everyday and it feels like everyone is daring to hope again.

After a long, cold January, February seems to have rushed past me. There have been so many interesting and amazing books published this month and March looks like a pretty bumper month too. As well as reading as much as I can, when home school, online and in school teaching has allowed(!), I have been trying to write; working on my never ending WIP!

As far as new releases go this month I have had the pleasure to read some absolute crackers. I started the month pleasantly lost in both the possibilities of time travel and 70’s childhood nostalgia with the quirky Space Hopper by Helen Fisher. And ended it immersed in the mind blowing book that is The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward . Published next month my review is in the pipeline, but there is so much to assimilate first!

Back to this month’s releases and I was thrilled to be reading Patricia Lockwood’s first novel No one is talking about this. I found her memoir Priestdaddy a truly unforgettable book and as you will see from my review her first novel was equally as impressive and challenging.

Continuing the theme of challenge and rawness and we come to Daisy Buchanan’s Insatiable. An exploration of sexuality, lust and pushing all boundaries this book is not easily forgotten!

While we find ourselves still in lockdown, travelling through my reading has become even more important to me. This month I have found myself ‘back’ in places familiar; the streets of Paris in Jane Smiley’s gorgeous The Strays of Paris and in places totally foreign and waiting to be explored. From 1970’s Uganda in the wonderful debut novel Kololo Hill by Neema Shah to the battlefields of France, and the streets of New Orleans in Michael Farris Smiths Gatsby inspired Nick.

Next month is filled with absolute treats of new releases and I am working my way through some of them. I have just finished the wonderful mystery that is The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex and my review is out this week.

And looking ahead to April I loved my buddy read with four fab book friends, Emma (@corkyorky), Jules (@julesbuddle), Rebecca (@_forewoodbooks) and Siobhain (@thelitaddict_). Tall Bones by Anna Bailey kept us all on the edge of our seats, full review on it’s way very soon!! As is our next buddy read!

And in amongst all these varied novels, I have been dipping in to the oasis of poetry that is Empty Nest: Poems for families edited by Carol Ann Duffy. This is the perfect collection for these times when family can seem both really close and yet so, so far away. Beautifully put together, diverse and insightful. Just lovely in every way.

So there we so. A whistle stop tour of February’s reading. Hold on to your hats for March!!

Rachel x

#BlogTourReview: Nick by Michael Farris Smith

It is my absolute pleasure to be taking my turn on the blog tour for Nick by Michael Farris Smith, published on 25th February by No Exit Press. The book will be launched online, and Michael will be joined to discuss his book by The Guardian’s Alison Flood. A link to this live event can be found here.

It is quite feat to take up a character from any classic novel and weave a story around them. To do so is to take on the expectations of generations of readers, each with their own thoughts, feelings and perceptions. And when that novel is one of the most iconic stories of the Twentieth Century, the task seems a mammoth one.

And yet that is exactly what Michael Farris Smith has set out to do. Plucking Nick Carraway from his role in F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the author takes us back in time, back to the years before the wild hedonistic days of the West Egg mansions, and back to an even bleaker darker time.

When we first meet Nick he is caught up in the First World War, having joined up to serve his country. With a few days leave in Paris he meets a mysterious, evocative young women Ella. Scratching a living selling homemade goods and living illegally in a theatre garret, Ella is unlike any woman Nick has ever met before; he is entranced.

Forced back to the battle field, back an existence of daily horror, Ella both haunts his thoughts and sustains him.

By the end of the war, when it is time to return to the US, Nick like many of those around is scarred by experiences both on and off the battlefield. Finding it impossible to return to his family in the MidWest, he is drawn to the chaotic and semi lawless street of Frenchtown, New Orleans.

Here, with the country on the brink of prohibition, in a society of gangsters and Madams, he tries to both lose and find himself. To make sense of what he has seen and work out how to reconcile his experiences and build some kind of future.

Nick becomes embroiled in the messy, feuding relationship between Colette and Judah, another relationship ravaged by war. In fellow veteran Judah Nick recognises his own hopelessness and is drawn towards it, like a moth to the flame.

This is a story of the time in between. Of that brutal and dark period when the horror of war stops for the wider world but it’s after effects are felt by veterans everywhere. It is an examination of how lives and minds were changed, and how returning to normal life was an impossibility.

Through intense and unsettling prose Farris Smith creates a period in time that brings to life the horror of war. It lays bare it’s lingering effects; the desire to forget, whilst at the same time feeling an overwhelming need to remember, the sense of everything lost and the relentless search to find it all again.

Compelling and dark, this is a clear eyed story of men who have lost everything and are trying to claw it back in whatever way they can.

I thought this book was darkly evocative of a period in time that fascinates me. And it is my pleasure to be able to share with you a clip of Michael himself reading from his work.

This book will linger with you long after the last page. There will be times you want to turn away and times that events will threaten to overwhelm. This is the power of what is written here, and I guarantee you will be with Nick to the very end.

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reactions and reviews to Nick, then check out the rest of the blog tour below…

And check out the books trailer too…

#BlogTourReview : The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

It feels like it’s been a long time coming but I am finally able to to share my blog tour review for the wonderful The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot, the debut novel (Yes!!! Debut!!!) by Marianne Cronin. Huge thanks to Alison Barrow for my gifted copy and Anne Cater for my blog tour invite.

Lenni Pettersson is 17 years old. Margot Macrae is 83. Put them together and they have lived for a hundred years. Both are reaching the end of their lives, but neither of them are done with living quite yet.

In the newly built hospital Art Room the two meet, kindred souls, both looking at life in a different and uplifting way, both ready to face what ever remains to them head on. And so begins as beautiful friendship as they set out together to tell the story of their hundred years, a project painted in words and pictures and wrapped up with enduring love.

I read Lenni and Margot’s story many months ago. I read it a time, a time that seems to be persisting still, when the world needed hope, light and understanding. I found all of these rare and elusive qualities in the pages of this book.

The relationship between Margot and Lenni is the best that people can be. An acceptance that age, experience and circumstances don’t need to be the boundaries we all perceive them to be. That true wisdom and kindness can be found at any age and is always best when it is shared around. It is a celebration of both age and youth, a symbiotic relationship of support and love.

Through the stories these characters share with the reader and each other, a bond of understanding and knowledge. This book is a celebration of life long learning and of squeezing every last drop out of what has gone before and what is yet to come.

Most of the story takes place physically with the hospital, and the sense of place the author has created here is spot on. For anyone who has ever spend a few days or longer in a hospital will instantly recognise the vibe! The descriptions of the unique hospital community, the way time moves in it’s own strange and inexplicable way, the rules and hierarchies and all the stories found within it.

Through Lenni and Margot’s creations they escape the confines of the ward. Because when when you can’t step outside, you travel within stories, within pictures and memories. At a time of lockdown this book brings alive the power of imagination and artistic communication.

This is the story of not one but two special lives, sympathetic and beautifully told.A story alive with it’s share of sorrow and joy, where strong emotions are continually welcomed and embraced

Lenni and Margot will make you roar with laughter and make you weep with empathy, but never will they let you feel regret. In the darkest of times this story is a light shining gently on the world.

Simply unforgettable!

Rachel x

And there is more…

For more reviews and reactions to this beautiful book, check out the rest of the blog tour below…

Book review: No One is Talking About This – Patricia Lockwood

I have put off this review until today. I can’t put it off any longer. But from the outset I accept there is just no way I can do this incredible book justice but equally no way I am not going to review it.

When I read Priestdaddy two years ago, I knew I had found a writer who I would read for the rest of my life. As a it was memoir was biting, edgy funny and raw. The talent of Lockwood to pull you into this family and push at all your boundaries was just extraordinary and I instantly wanted more. So when I knew this novel was on the horizon I was delighted to managed to obtain a proof. And it was perfection all over again.

This is a story told in bites; delicious, sharp, salty bites by an unnamed but vivid narrator. It is a tale of two halves, two perspectives and from two very different places and spaces.

Our narrator lives her life on and through the ‘portal’, a social media platform which seems to be a thinly disguised Twitter. She is an internet sensation, regularly travelling the globe to talk about the internet and her life within it. Set in the age of Trump, we see how life online is all consuming, all pervading and impossible to both quantify and escape. There is a air of unreality to the first half, which shocks even more when we start to recognise that it is all based on and in crazy truth.

Like all great writing with a nod to the dystopian, there nothing that Lockwood explores that isn’t already happening. From cancel culture, to online shaming, to the every changing goal posts of judgement and perceived morality, Lockwood lays it all bare. And makes us all complicit.

And then life gets real. Away from the portal the narrator’s sister is pregnant. Her unborn child has a rare genetic defect and life is scary, uncertain and totally consuming. Real life has broken in and suddenly the heated and theoretical discussion of women’s reproductive rights in right wing America isn’t a hashtag, or a thread to hang your buzz words on. It’s real. And so is life, and love and grief.


Throughout this novel the prose is like poetry , challenging, biting and evocative. It is one of those rare and beautiful books where each line is perfectly constructed . Where each sentence, each phrases seem to be competing with the next, whilst at the same time complimenting it and holding it up.

This is a novel you could read a thousand times and find something different each time. In fact, scrap that, you could probably read just a single page, a paragraph, even a line a thousand times and find something new each time. You will read this book with your eyes wide open and your brain screaming, “Pay Attention!”


This is a novel both alive with disconnect and stark, alarming reality; both present at the same time and both demanding your attention. It explores how true connection if found, made and sustained in this age where we believe we more connected than ever before. It is about what matters and what doesn’t, and how the two seem to have merged, how the digital and actual seem to have meshed into one, each feeding the other. And it’s about the extremes that are needed to break this spell

Words can’t express this importance of this book. It needs to absorbed, mere reading won’t do.

Rachel x