This Week in Books (December 4)

Hosted by Lipsy Lost and Found, my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I’m reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

| LAST BOOK I FINISHED READING |

England, 1917 

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

The Victim: A sixteen-year-old girl with facial deformities, neglected by an alcoholic mother. Who accuses four boys of something unthinkable. 

The Defendants: Four handsome teenage boys from hardworking immigrant families. All with corroborating stories.

Someone is lying. 

Former barrister Zara Kaleel, one of London’s brightest young legal minds, takes up Jodie Wolfe’s case; she believes her, even if those closest to Jodie do not.

Jodie and Zara become the centre of the most explosive criminal trial of the year, in which ugly divisions within British society are exposed. As everything around Zara begins to unravel she becomes even more determined to get Jodie the justice she’s looking for. But at what price?

| WHAT I’M (PROBABLY) READING NEXT |

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. 

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

What are you reading this week? Do let me know! Happy reading! xx

**Cover reveal** Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth | @BarkworthHazel @headlinepg @JoLidds | #HeatstrokeBook

Welcome to this exciting cover reveal for Heatstroke by Hazel Barkworth. Heatstroke is an intoxicating story of obsession over one hot summer, which will be published on May 28th, 2020. Before I show you the cover, here is some more information about the book.

Author : Hazel Barkworth
Title : Heatstroke
Pages : 320
Publisher : Headline
Publication date : May 28, 2020

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

The summer burns with secrets…

It is too hot to sleep. To work. To be questioned time and again by the police. 

At the beginning of a stifling, sultry summer, everything shifts irrevocably when Lily doesn’t come home one afternoon.

Rachel is Lily’s teacher. Her daughter Mia is Lily’s best friend. The girls are fifteen – almost women, still children. 

As Rachel becomes increasingly fixated on Lily’s absence, she finds herself breaking fragile trusts and confronting impossible choices she never thought she’d face. 

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

Intrigued? I know I am!

Here’s what other people are saying about Heatstroke.

‘Pulls you into its sweaty interior and keeps you gripped’ 
RENEE KNIGHT

‘I couldn’t tear myself away’
ERIN KELLY

‘A scorching tale of obsession, betrayal and the wounds that mothers and daughters inflict on each other in the name of love’ 
TAMMY COHEN

Yep! That definitely sold it to me. Now, let’s take a look at that cover!

I don’t know about you but that definitely screams hot summers and sleepless nights to me.

Heatstroke will be published on May 28th, 2020 but you can already preorder it right now!

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery

| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |

Hazel grew up in Stirlingshire and North Yorkshire before studying English at Oxford. She then moved to London where she spent her days working as a cultural consultant, and her nights dancing in a pop band at glam rock clubs. Hazel is a graduate of both the Oxford University MSt in Creative Writing and the Curtis Brown Creative Novel-Writing course. She now works in Oxford, where she lives with her partner. Heatstroke is her first novel.

The Home by Sarah Stovell | @sarahlovescrime @OrendaBooks | #recommended

Author : Sarah Stovell
Title : The Home
Pages : 303
Publisher : Orenda Books
Publication date : November 28, 2019 (ebook)

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

When the body of pregnant, 15-year-old Hope Lacey is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away. 

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking revelations and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

| MY THOUGHTS |

Oh …. goodness gracious me. Devastating doesn’t even begin to cover it. Wow!

It’s been a while since Sarah Stovell’s last offering, Exquisite, and while I thoroughly enjoyed that one when I read it, I’m just going to go right ahead and say that The Home is on a completely different level and most definitely worth the wait!

On Christmas morning, the body of a fifteen year old girl is discovered in a churchyard. Hope was a resident at The Home, a place where three young girls lived. Three girls who have been severely affected by violent and disturbing pasts. But what happened to Hope?

I wasn’t at all able to figure out what happened to Hope and to be honest, I wasn’t even really trying. I became so utterly absorbed by these girls’ lives that solving that particular mystery almost became secondary. Despite knowing what happened to Hope, I oddly found myself wishing for a happy ending throughout, which is a credit to Sarah Stovell’s amazing writing.

This incredibly powerful story about the lives of Hope, Annie and Lara will get under your skin and will be impossible to forget. These three girls are so realistic and believable, they almost jump from the pages and you want to reach in and help them in any way you can. It was abundantly clear to me from the very first pages that this book would leave me completely and utterly broken and it did. It is so extremely dark, brutal and raw that I often couldn’t decide if I should keep reading or maybe take a break, have a breather and trawl YouTube for some funny clips.

It should almost go without saying that this is one incredibly uncomfortable book to read. It’s harrowing, it is insanely disturbing, it is shocking. It’s positively heartbreaking but also immensely gripping and compelling. It hurts, people. It’s really, really painful in that way where it feels someone has reached into the very core of you, pulled out your heart and stomped all over it. And yet there is also a sliver of hope and love throughout, amidst all this darkness.

The Home will draw you in from the start and not let go. It will haunt you and linger in your mind for eternity. It will leave you with a lump in your throat and it will make you admire Sarah Stovell for tackling such hard topics in the most exquisite (see what I did there?) way possible.

I have no more words left. Completely and utterly broken. 😭

Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my review copy!

The Home will be available to buy in ebook format next week. The UK paperback will be published in January.

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery

The Other Daughter by Shalini Boland

Author : Shalini Boland
Title : The Other Daughter
Pages : 270
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : November 5, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Two-and-a-half-year-old Holly is playing happily in a pink plastic playhouse, while her mother Rachel sips coffee and chats with a friend nearby. It should be an ordinary day for all of them. But, in the blink of an eye, it turns into every family’s worst nightmare. 

Holly is taken by a stranger and never found.

Nine years later, Rachel is living a quiet life in Dorset. She’s tried to keep things together since the traumatic day when she lost her eldest daughter. She has a new family, a loving partner and her secrets are locked away in her painful past. 

Until one afternoon when Rachel meets a new school parent Kate and her teenage daughter Bella. Rachel’s world is instantly turned upside down – she’s seen Bella before. She’d recognise that face anywhere – it’s her missing child. 

And she will stop at nothing to get her back…

| MY THOUGHTS |

You can always expect Shalini Boland to deliver a tense story that will keep you hooked throughout and The Other Daughter does exactly that.

Every parent’s worst nightmare comes true for Rachel when her two-and-a-half- year old daughter, Holly, is abducted from a shopping mall. Now, nine years later, Rachel has moved away, picked up the pieces of her life and has a new partner and a new family. But then Kate and her family move into town and when Rachel meets Kate for the first time, Rachel’s life comes tumbling down around her. Because she is absolutely convinced that Kate’s daughter Bella is her very own missing daughter, Holly.

And off we go to find out if Bella really is Holly. Rachel is quite obviously the character to root for. She is going to stop at nothing, which is completely understandable. Yet I couldn’t help but think some of her actions were a tad on the dubious side. But it all does make you wonder what you would do in a situation like that.

Is Rachel imagining things? Is her conviction that Bella is her daughter driving her somewhat paranoid? What is Kate hiding? So many questions and the answers take quite a long time in coming. This story is one big puzzle, often switching between “then” and “now”, and I had a really hard time trying to put the pieces together. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have bothered because I couldn’t have predicted the outcome at all and it absolutely boggled my mind.

The Other Daughter is a twisty, gripping and addictive story that I devoured in one afternoon. Granted, there were moments where I felt I needed to suspend belief somewhat and I wasn’t entirely sure if things actually made sense in the end but I enjoyed it anyway. This is yet another suspenseful read from Shalini Boland and once you pick it up, you will not want to put it down.

The Other Daughter is available to buy!

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery

This Week in Books (November 20)

Hosted by Lipsy Lost and Found, my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I’m reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

| LAST BOOK I FINISHED READING |

When the body of pregnant, 15-year-old Hope Lacey is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away. 

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking revelations and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

[I finished this one yesterday and it left me utterly broken. Definitely one to look out for!]

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

Yorkshire, 1845. A young wife and mother has gone missing from her home, leaving behind two small children and a large pool of blood. Just a few miles away, a humble parson’s daughters–the Brontë sisters–learn of the crime. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified and intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.

These three creative, energetic, and resourceful women quickly realize that they have all the skills required to make for excellent “lady detectors.” Not yet published novelists, they have well-honed imaginations and are expert readers. And, as Charlotte remarks, “detecting is reading between the lines–it’s seeing what is not there.”

As they investigate, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are confronted with a society that believes a woman’s place is in the home, not scouring the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril.

[Only a few pages in but loving it already]

| WHAT I’M (PROBABLY) READING NEXT |

FEAR 

Tuva’s been living clean in southern Sweden for four months when she receives horrifying news. Her best friend Tammy Yamnim has gone missing.

SECRETS

Racing back to Gavrik at the height of Midsommar, Tuva fears for Tammy’s life. Who has taken her, and why? And who is sabotaging the small-town search efforts?

LIES

Surrounded by dark pine forest, the sinister residents of Snake River are suspicious of outsiders. Unfortunately, they also hold all the answers. On the shortest night of the year, Tuva must fight to save her friend. The only question is who will be there to save Tuva?

[I do realise this isn’t out for ages yet but I don’t think I can wait any longer.]

What are you reading this week? Do let me know! It’s been a while since I bought something (and by a while, I mean at least a week 🤣) and I’m getting withdrawal.

Happy reading! xx

Weekly Wrap-Up (November 17)

Miserable, miserable week. Cold and dark and wet and blah. Is it Spring yet?

Nothing much else to report. The other half is coming up to the busiest time of year at his job which means long, long hours and lots of alone time for me. And apparently the people in my life have simultaneously decided that three weeks is way more than enough time to spend grieving over the loss of your pet and it’s time to start socialising again. Double blah. So that’s what I’ll be doing this afternoon. With the in-laws. I feel like I’m being punished for something 😂

Reading-wise, you know, I didn’t have such a bad week. Buddy reading is such a great way to keep me motivated because I’m apparently incredibly competitive (who knew?!) and I get a kick out of reaching the checkpoints first. I even wrote a review but Netgalley screwed me over by saying the book I reviewed was published in October when it’s not actually coming until late December. 🙄

So, which books left the TBR pile this week?

| BOOKS I READ THIS WEEK |

Okay, four isn’t all THAT impressive but I’ll take it. I thought about reviewing The Outsider but to be honest, my buddy (reader) Janel did a much better job than I ever could so have a look at her thoughts right here. Furious Hours was unfortunately a huge disappointment and went right onto the charity pile. Non-fiction and I, let’s just say it’s not exactly a match made in heaven. 😂. Keep your eyes pealed for the new Jo Spain, coming early next year. It’s a goodie! As is The Guardians, which I may attempt to review next week.

| BOOKS I BOUGHT THIS WEEK |

I had pre-ordered this months ago. It’s so incredibly pretty! With the jacket on, with the jacket off … gorgeous 🥰

| THE BOOK I’M CURRENTLY READING |

This book …. I mean, I’ve only read about 100 pages but if things keep going as they are, it may just kill me.

| LISTENING TO |

Yep. Still the same audiobook. Granted, it’s really long (have I mentioned that? 🤣) and I since I was actually reading, I didn’t have much time to listen to this one but I’m still only at 43%! Good though, really really good!

Which leads me nicely into some things I’ve been thinking about lately regarding this here blog of mine. Saying “no” to blog tours has been a lot easier than I expected and this in turn is freeing up lots of time to spend on my own TBR. A TBR that holds quite a few classics. Some of which I’m sure I read some time in the dark ages but don’t remember anything about, some that have just been sitting pretty on my shelves since the day I bought them. I think the time has come to tackle them and I fully intend to read at least one of them each month, starting in January. Think The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and many more. I’m ridiculously excited about this. Plus, it’ll give me a chance to step away from the new and shiny books from time to time, which quite frankly, in my most humble opinion, are beginning to sound a lot alike lately. As if people have run out of inspiration. Or maybe I’m just reading the wrong books 🤔

Also coming up in the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my favourite stand-alone books of the year and my favourite additions to series. As soon as I can make sense of my messy lists, that is. I may actually be able to get it down to a Top 10 this year. Maybe.

Right, that’s enough babble for this week. Time for some lunch and to mentally prepare myself for the arrival of the in-laws. Hope there’s wine. 😂

Wishing you all a fabulous week! Until next time! xx

The Ex-Girlfriend by Nicola Moriarty | #blogtour

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Ex-Girlfriend by Nicola Moriarty. My thanks to Sriya at Michael Joseph for the invitation to join and for the review copy!

Author : Nicola Moriarty
Title : The Ex-Girlfriend
Pages : 385
Publisher : Michael Joseph / Penguin
Publication date : October 31, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

SHE WANTS HIM BACK. SHE WANTS YOU GONE.

Luke is the one. After everything she’s been through, Georgia knows she deserves someone like him, to make her feel loved. Safe.

The only problem is his ex-girlfriend. Luke says Cadence is having trouble accepting their break-up, but Georgia thinks there’s more to the story. She has the feeling someone is watching her.

So when everything starts to go wrong at work, at home, in her old friendships and her happy new relationship with Luke, Georgia starts to feel afraid.

It’s becoming clear Cadence wants what she has. But how far will she go to get it? 

| MY THOUGHTS |

My Ex-Girlfriend is one of those books that is hard to review without giving anything away so this might quite possibly be one of the shortest reviews I’ve ever written.

Girl meets boy in bar, after having been stood up by a Tinder date. Georgia and Luke’s romance is one of the whirlwind kind. But Georgia knows she has finally found the one. Luke is everything she could possibly want in a boyfriend. Except for the fact that he can’t seem to shake his crazy ex-girlfriend, Cadence.

Now, I read a lot of books from the psychological thriller and suspense genre and I’m not entirely sure I’d put this book in that particular category. On top of that, I have a truly suspicious nature. So I pretty much figured out where things were heading right from the start. Yet that didn’t mean I wasn’t invested in the story. I often caught myself rolling my eyes, urging the characters to see what I was seeing or practically imploring them not to do certain things.

Personally, I prefer my psychological thrillers a lot more on the gripping side, which is something I felt was lacking somewhat in The Ex-Girlfriend. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining and quickie read and Nicola Moriarty tackles a range of subjects from mental health issues to depression to self-harm. It’s remarkably easy to imagine how a stalker can drive you to the brink when you’re already feeling vulnerable.

And really, that’s all I’m going to say. Very sorry but I’ve already had to delete certain things because they came too close to spoiler territory. I will say that things turned out quite a bit more harrowing than I expected them to and if there are lessons to be learned from this story, they are to stay as far away from the dating scene as you possibly can and never trust anyone. Ever. You’re welcome.

The Ex-Girlfriend is available to buy!

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery

| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |

Nicola Moriarty lives in Sydney’s north west with her husband and two small daughters. She is the younger sister of bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Jaclyn Moriarty. In between various career changes, becoming a mum and studying teaching at Macquarie University, she began to write. Now, she can’t seem to stop.

Close To You by Kerry Wilkinson | @kerrywk @bookouture

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Close To You by Kerry Wilkinson. I have an extract to share with you all today but first, let’s see what Close To You is all about.

Author : Kerry Wilkinson
Title : Close To You
Pages : 284
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : October 17, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

I pinch the screen to zoom until I’m staring at the face of a ghost. A man with very short hair, staring directly at the camera with piercing brown eyes. 

He is as he was when I last saw him: wrinkles around the corners of the eyes and a knowing smirk. That’s the expression I see when I can’t sleep. 

My body tenses. It can’t be him. It’s not my ex-husband. It’s not David. 

I know that better than anyone because he didn’t walk out on me. 

He didn’t disappear two years ago and he’s not a missing person. 

I know that for a fact because I’m the one who killed him.

| EXTRACT |

THE NOW

SUNDAY

There’s nothing quite like a good hypocrite. The people surrounding me, not to mention myself, will spend our day-to-day lives telling people about the benefits of moderation. A small glass of wine contains around 120 calories, so moderation is the key. Let’s be moderate, people. Nothing wrong with a glass or two here or there, but let’s hold back on downing half-a-bottle a night, yeah? Let’s not even dream of putting away a full bottle of Asda’s own £4-a-bottle white on a Friday night. That’s probably 800 calories right there and all your good work will be for nothing. All true – but none of that stops our room of ‘fitness professionals’ putting away the booze like a meteor strike has been pencilled in for tomorrow afternoon.

The waiter ambles around to my side of the table and reaches for my glass. His bottle is angled ready to dump another couple of hundred calories, but I place one hand over the rim and wave him away with the other. ‘Not for me,’ I say. His lips twitch into something close to a smirk and then they instantly arch down again. Assuming he works at this hotel most Friday and Saturday nights through November and December, he’ll have seen this over and over. Grown adults who are one step away from teenagers in a park sharing a bottle of cider. It really is not for me, though – not tonight in any case. My relationship with alcohol is like my mother’s with back-to-back episodes of her favourite soaps. A brief taste and I’m slumped in a chair, drooling for the rest of the night.

The bloke two seats away from me has no such hang-ups. He manages a leisure centre but has that hipsterish, waxy beard-look about him, as if he’d rather be running his own craft brewery. He motions the waiter over and gleefully eyes the white nectar that’s emptied into his glass. When it’s nearly full, he raises it in my direction: ‘To us,’ he declares. I waft my almost empty glass of water towards him. ‘To beards,’ I reply. He either doesn’t hear me, or doesn’t care, as he downs half his glass in one go.

This is the problem with these sorts of awards dinners – the seating plans are thrown together like an expressionist’s painting of an orgy. It’s all a vague collection of limbs and there are dicks everywhere. Even though it’s a ceremony and not strictly a Christmas party, it is December – so the room is decorated with various wreathes and tinsel. There’s a giant Christmas tree in the corner and twinkly lights zigzagging across the ceiling. There was turkey for dinner, but, now that’s cleared away, the booze is flowing and it’s time for the main event. Well, almost time.

I am fighting back the yawns as the comedian compère is busy making himself laugh, which at least makes it one person who’s enjoying the act. Someone else on my table described him as ‘old-school’, which is essentially code for ‘a bit sexist’. A decade back and there would’ve been a few racist jokes thrown in for the old-timers. His act is drawing a mix of muted laughs, awkward silences and brainless cackling from a handful of people who’ve either been lobotomised or had too much to drink. When the comedian reaches for his water, he trips on the mic stand and gets the biggest laugh of the night. Life offers nothing quite as funny as a stranger falling over and then pretending it hasn’t happened.

When his act is done, there’s an excited hum to the room. This is the reason we’ve paid £80-a-head for bad food and unfunny comedy. On the stage at the front, some bloke in a suit is messing around with the PowerPoint display that’s being beamed onto the screen. He’s obviously making a hash of it because that’s what blokes in suits do. He jabs at a laptop, looks gormlessly to his mate off to the side, holds up both hands, and then has a hushed argument with someone else who ends up plugging in a cable. A slide finally appears, displaying ‘Eighth Annual UK Fitness Professional Awards’. It’s not exactly the BAFTAs and, as I sit through a series of prizes being awarded, I start to question a few of my life choices. I’ve done some bad things in my time, one in particular, but I’ve never stumbled onto a stage and thanked ‘God, the Queen and my Mum’ for allowing my branch of Total Fitness to win gym chain of the year. Most people here are of the eye-rolling variety. We know this is a farce, but it’s also the game we play. For personal trainers like me, winning these sorts of awards means more offers of work, more appearances, better contracts, perhaps even a book deal.

I’ve more or less switched off when my best friend, Jane, leans over to me. She’s more excited than I am: ‘Is this your award?’ It takes me a second to catch what she’s said but, when I look up, I realise that she’s right. Jane hasn’t said much all evening, although she doesn’t really know anyone. I would have come with Andy, but he’s busy with his scout troop. That sounds like a euphemism, but isn’t – there really is a scout troop. I was happy to come by myself, but Jane said she’d be my plus-one and that was that. I could have mentioned a midwinter trip to the Antarctic with Piers Morgan and she’d have still volunteered to come. I think that’s what happens when there’s a 16-month-old at home. Any excuse for a night away. She won’t say it out loud, but she’s definitely missed work since giving up her job to have Norah.

The slide on the screen has changed to read ‘Personal Trainer of the Year’ and then ‘Seven Nation Army’ pulses in the background as Steven, the organiser, runs through a list of the nominees. Before today, I’d only met him via emails. He has that comic-book airline-pilot-look going on. All neat hair, stiff upper lip and moustachy. There are five of us nominated for the award, with our photos flashing across the screen as our names are announced. ‘Jason McMahon’, whose head is like a cork atop a barrel, gets a big cheer from his table. The next three names get polite applause and I tense as my own face appears on the screen. It’s one of the shots from my portfolio, the one that I convinced myself was a good idea after reading a New Year, New You article and, presumably, temporarily losing my mind.

‘ And finally,’ Steven says, his moustache practically audible, ‘after all she’s been through, Morgan Persephone.’There’s a gentle wave of applause that gets louder as people realise who I am. He’s pronounced my name wrong, making it rhyme with ‘telephone’, instead of ‘per-sef-oh-knee’. A shiver creases along my back, but not because of the mispronunciation. After all she’s been through. Maybe they are; maybe they’re not – but I can feel everyone watching as I give the watery, closed-lip smile that I’ve become so good at over the past couple of years. I can sense the whispers, if not hear them. People telling those next to them that my husband disappeared two years ago.

There is mercifully little time to dwell as Steven rips open the envelope like a kid with a Christmas present. And the winner is…’ He pauses, thinking he’s Simon Cowell waiting to tell some Mariah wannabe that she’s one step closer to being a little-known answer to a pub quiz question.

‘…Morgan Persephone.

’Steven gets my name wrong again and there’s a second or two in which I can’t quite take in what he’s said. It’s like we’re in different time zones with a slight delay. Jane leans in and gleefully hisses, ‘You won!’ – and then I find myself clambering to my feet. Jane adds a quick ‘Smile!’, which is when I realise I’m stumbling blankly to the front, like a drunk at closing time. I wave to a pair of women I don’t know on one of the front tables, largely because they’re clapping and cheering. I’ve seen those award shows, where winners guff a load of nonsense about not expecting their victories. This isn’t that. I had an inkling ever since the nominations went out in a barely noticed press release a couple of months back. I suspected I’d probably win, if for no other reason than everyone loves a good redemption story. That doesn’t prepare me for the wall of noise, all from strangers. The eruption is disorientating and hard to prepare for.

I head onto the stage and Steven passes me a golden trophy that’s in the shape of a treadmill. I expect it to be heavy, but the metal is plasticky and cheap. No matter – it’s the title that counts. A weird thought creeps into my mind that I’m going to need new business cards. ‘Personal Trainer of the Year’ sounds a lot better than ‘Personal Trainer’.

Everything is a bit of a blur – but it’s been like that since it all happened with David. After all she’s been through. Sometimes it feels as if someone else is steering the ship and I’m watching myself go through life. Not now. In this moment, I’m completely aware that nobody wants to look like the bitch who prepared a speech in advance. I run through the mental list of things to say while attempting to make it seem as off-the-cuff as possible. I remember to thank the organiser Steven; the gyms where I work and a few other industry types. To an untrained eye, it probably seems as if I know what I’m doing. That’s the game, really. That’s life. Nobody cares if a person actually knows what they’re doing, as long as they look like it.

When I’m done, Steven re-takes the mic and I hustle back to my table while shaking hands like a low-level Royal opening a community centre. When I get to my seat, more people come over to offer congratulations and pass across business cards, like I’m a hooker heading to a London phone box. I know very few faces, only a handful of people from the speaking circuit. Jane gives me a hug, but it’s awkward because we’re both sitting. The drunken leisure centre manager downs the rest of his wine and winks. There are more nods and waves and then, finally, Steven hushes everyone and continues onto the next category.

It’s late and, despite the rush of the past few minutes, I have to stifle a yawn. I’ve never really got these people that can do all-nighters. I’m a drowsy mess after about 11 and, with my trophy in hand, the hotel bed is calling. Steven runs through the nominees for Fitness Brand of the Year and, after another blast of ‘Seven Nation Army’, he names the winner. There’s a big cheer from the table at the front and then, after a chaotic speech with half a dozen people trying to talk over one another, the ceremony is finally put out of its misery. Jane uses the table to push herself up and is clear-eyed as she rubs my upper arm. ‘You deserve this,’ she says. ‘It’s only an industry award.’ ‘Your industry, though. It’s amazing… especially after everything you’ve been through.’ There’s that line again…

She smiles and then adds: ‘Are there photos?’ ‘I hope not.’ Jane nods over my shoulder, to where Steven is beckoning together the winners. ‘I’ll keep an eye on your bag,’ she says. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I’m back to my wedding day. Back with David. I have to blink away the moment. I think of him every day – but it’s never the Saturday we married; it’s always what happened at the end. Someone says, ‘Where is everyone?’ and then it’s all, ‘Stand here’, ‘Look there’, ‘Smile’, ‘Don’t smile’, ‘Point there’, ‘Laugh’, ‘Roll over’ – and so on. Possibly without the rolling over. There are around thirty winners in all and we’re divided into various groups for the picture-taking on the stage. At the rear of the room, the staff bustle back and forth clearing the tables. Steven continues to take photos, but Jane and others are there, too, with their phones. Nothing can happen nowadays without it being captured and sent to the cloud. Steven asks all the winners to smoosh closer together. I make sure I’m angling with my left side away from him, hiding the purple-brown scar at the base of my neck from the camera’s unrelenting gaze. He takes a few more photos and then puts his camera down.

We’re all ready to stop tensing our muscles when Jane calls, ‘One more’ and then she clicks a final photo or three. After that, we are finally done. Everyone offers weary smiles and drifts back to their colleagues. One of the other winners asks if I want a drink to celebrate, but I’m already batting away yawns. Sex and chocolate are good – but there’s nothing quite like a good sleep. Before I can get back to the table in order to collect my bag, Steven corners me at the edge of the stage. He is wearing the looks of a man who’s relieved it’s all over. ‘Congratulations,’ he says, rubbing my arm while he does so. I’d tell him to stop, but it already feels awkward. ‘Thank you.’ ‘I know it’s been hard after everything you’ve been through.’ ‘Yes…’ I almost reach for the mark on my neck. I used to rub the scar all the time – but I’ve been working at stopping myself for months now. Stephen’s stare flickers across it without lingering. He leaves my arm alone long enough to smooth his moustache, even though it doesn’t look like a hurricane would put a hair out of place. There is a moment in which he angles forward and I wonder if he might try to kiss me. Perhaps it’s ego on my part. I brace myself to flinch to the side, but he slants away at the last moment to whisper in my ear. ‘I voted for you,’ he says. ‘Thank you.’ ‘You’ve been very brave about everything. ’He speaks as if I’ve done a lengthy stint in Afghanistan and am finally back in Blighty. I don’t know what to say, so give him a slim smile and a half-hearted ‘thanks’. He pats my shoulder and then disappears off to talk to someone else.

Back at the table, the leisure centre manager has disappeared, along with the remnants of the table wine. Jane hands me my bag and we step to the side as the staff continue to clear the tables to make way for a dance floor. ‘You look tired,’ she says. ‘This isn’t really my thing,’ I reply. Jane finishes her water and passes the empty glass to one of the staff. I’ve only had a single glass of wine and she’s not had any alcohol at all. We’re a right pair of lightweights. I’m only thirty-three but can sense my teenage-self disapproving. ‘I’ve got to head back,’ Jane says, ‘I don’t like being away from Norah for a night… not a whole one, anyway.’ We’d spoken about this beforehand and brought two cars. I’m staying at the hotel where the awards are taking place, while Jane is driving home.

She starts to fish into her bag: ‘Do you want to see the photos?’ ‘How do I look in them?’ ‘Fit.’ ‘Let’s see then.’ She retrieves her phone from her bag and flicks through the images before passing it across. The device is one of those plus-sized ones that’s closer to a TV than a phone. Give it a few years and mobiles will be the same size as the bricks that used to pass for phones in the 80s. I suppose fashion really is cyclical. I refuse to use the word ‘phablet’. I’d bring back capital punishment for inventing words like that. 

The thing about a photograph full of fitness professionals is that we are, by definition, fit. Almost everyone in the picture will have to stay in shape as part of the job. That brings a natural competition. Almost all the women are wearing tight, low-cut tops or dresses, while the men are in custom-cut slimming suits. Everyone is flexing their arms, either subtly or not. At one time, everyone desired the biggest muscles; now it is all about getting lean. I glance at Jane’s photo and clock myself at the side. I’ve got my back straight, chest puffed up, chin solid, smile fixed. Give it the old tits and teeth. Half of us are turned towards Steven’s camera while the others are looking towards Jane. It’s all quite the mess. I’m about to hand the phone back when I spot a face at the very back. It doesn’t belong to the group, it’s not one of the winners, it’s simply there.

A man with very short hair, facing sideways but staring directly at the camera with piercing brown eyes. My body tenses and I can’t quite take in what I’m seeing. I pinch the screen to zoom until I’m staring at the face of a ghost. He is as he was when I last saw him: wrinkles around the corners of the eyes and a knowing smirk. That’s the expression I see when I can’t sleep. ‘Are you OK?’ I glance up to see Jane frowning in my direction. She has released her hair from its bun and the curly waves have dropped to her shoulders. She seems ready to leave. ‘Yes, um…’ My gaze flicks to the screen once more. ‘Could you send this photo to me?’ ‘Sure. ’Jane takes back her phone and swipes around the screen until she says ‘Done’.

The thing is, I recognise the man in the background of the photo. How could I not? It’s just that it can’t be him. It’s not my ex-husband. It’s not David. I know that better than anyone because he didn’t walk out on me. He didn’t disappear two years ago and he’s not a missing person. I know that for a fact because I’m the one who killed him.

I don’t know about you but that certainly got my attention! I’m sure you’d like to find out more so why not go ahead and grab yourself a copy of Close To You today!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo

| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |

Kerry Wilkinson has had No.1 crime bestsellers in the UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Singapore. He has also written two top-20 thrillers in the United States. His book, Ten Birthdays, won the RNA award for Young Adult Novel of the Year in 2018.

As well as his million-selling Jessica Daniel series, Kerry has written the Silver Blackthorn trilogy – a fantasy-adventure serial for young adults – a second crime series featuring private investigator Andrew Hunter, plus numerous standalone novels. He has been published around the world in more than a dozen languages.

Originally from the county of Somerset, Kerry has spent far too long living in the north of England, picking up words like ‘barm’ and ‘ginnel’.

When he’s short of ideas, he rides his bike or bakes cakes. When he’s not, he writes it all down. 

Celebrating #Orentober with Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver | @will_carver @OrendaBooks | #recommended

Author : Will Craven
Title : Nothing Important Happened Today
Pages : 276
Publisher : Orenda Books
Publication date : November 14, 2019 (UK paperback)

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Nine suicides
One Cult
No leader

Nine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But at the same time, they run, and leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today.

That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of The People Of Choice: A mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another.

Thirty-two people on that train witness the event. Two of them will be next. By the morning, People Of Choice are appearing around the globe: a decapitation in Germany, a public shooting at a university in Bordeaux; in Illinois, a sports team stands around the centre circle of the football pitch and pulls the trigger of the gun pressed to the temple of the person on their right. It becomes a movement.

A social media page that has lain dormant for four years suddenly has thousands of followers. The police are under pressure to find a link between the cult members, to locate a leader that does not seem to exist.
But how do you stop a cult when people do not know they are members?

One week after the two witnesses jump to their deaths, twenty letters are opened across London that all say the same thing. Later that day, the strangers all know to meet at Tower Bridge. The Teacher will jump first. The Detective will be last…

| MY THOUGHTS |

Holy guacamole! What … the …. flipping … hell … was … this?! 🤯

And breathe. 

Nothing important happened today. And even if it did, I wouldn’t remember because what little brain I have was blown to smithereens from reading Will Carver’s weird and wonderful new book. I don’t know what they put in his breakfast but it sure is providing us with the most exceptional and deliciously dark stories I’ve ever come across.

Nine strangers meet on Chelsea Bridge and jump to their deaths. Thirty-two people on a train witness the event. Two of those witnesses will die next. The People of Choice are here and their movement is growing. It all feels like something from a cult. But how do you stop a cult when people do not know they are members? And how do you find their leader when it doesn’t look like there is one?

This is unlike anything I’ve read before, which I’m pretty sure I said about Will’s previous book too. I was all set to expect the unexpected but I was not prepared for the amount of “WTF’s” that went through my head. Fifty pages in, I was already panicking about having to write this review, wondering what the heck I was reading and how to go about convincing you to pick this one up as soon as you can. I often struggle with reviewing Orenda books but this one? This is the kind of book that makes you want to throw in the reviewer towel altogether and just admit you’re not good enough. WTF and exclamation points abuse seem to be the extent of my vocabulary. Or I could try to say it with emojis, which would look like this 🤨🤔😲🤯

As I’m sure you’ve noticed from the book descriptions, this is not the easiest of topics to tackle. Some of it is heartbreaking, a lot of it is hugely uncomfortable. Nothing Important Happened Today is one of the most dark and disturbing stories out there but it’s immensely compelling from start to finish. All the while, it manages to highlight some of the issues modern society deals with, or doesn’t deal with depending on how you look at it, and it all just pulls you in like a magnet and doesn’t let go. I couldn’t at all figure out what the heck was going on but I enjoyed every bloody single minute of this unique, suspenseful and tense ride.

You know what? I have no idea what else I’m supposed to say. Nothing Important Happened Today is an amazingly original and extremely shocking story of manipulation and a total WTF book from the highest WTF shelf. You should read it, that’s all there is to it. Thank me later.

Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my proof copy!

Nothing Important Happened Today is available to buy in ebook format. The UK paperback will be published on November

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery

Celebrating #Orentober with Breakers by Doug Johnstone | @doug_johnstone @OrendaBooks

Today I’m joining in the Orentober celebrations by re-sharing my review of the immensely thought-provoking Breakers by Doug Johnstone.

Author : Doug Johnstone
Title : Breakers
Pages : 230
Publisher : Orenda Books
Publication date : May 16, 2019

| ABOUT THE BOOK |

Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings, he’s also trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addict mother. On a job, his brother stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead—and the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt. 

With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in devastating danger, Tyler meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house, and he thinks she may just be his salvation, unless he drags her down, too.

| MY THOUGHTS |

Every once in a while, it really hits home how hard this reviewing malarkey can be. Especially when you come across a book like Breakers. While I was reading, I already realised there was no way any of the words I could possibly come up with would do this book justice.

Having only read Doug Johnstone’s previous book, Fault Lines, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Breakers but it soon became apparent Johnstone is seemingly somewhat of a chameleon who can seamlessly switch genres. In this case, from a dystopian novel to a psychological thriller. But not just any psychological thriller. This is one with a difference, incredibly original and with an amazing level of depth to it that you don’t always find in this genre.

Seventeen year old Tyler lives in Edinburgh with his mother and his seven year old sister. Life is hard in one of the most depraved areas of this city and Tyler is being bullied by his older half-brother into burgling houses of the more affluent residents. But one night, things go horribly wrong when a homeowner returns home unexpectedly and Tyler’s brother stabs her. Unbeknownst to them, this woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt, and he is not a man to be messed with.

This isn’t an easy story to read. It’s at times massively uncomfortable and immensely sad. Tyler’s circumstances are extremely heartbreaking and I really felt for him and everything he had to deal with on a daily basis. His love for his sister, Bean, and his fierce determination in protecting her and keeping her safe almost brought a tear to my eye. Stuck in this cycle of poverty, addiction and violence, Tyler goes out of his way to somehow create an environment of normalcy for his sister, a routine, all the while doing whatever he can to shield her from the things that are really going on around her.

A little beacon of light comes from a somewhat unlikely source when Tyler meets Flick. Flick is posh, goes to an expensive boarding school and drives a flashy car. She seems to have everything Tyler wants from life but looks can be deceiving. Watching their friendship develop was truly heartwarming. Flick sees Tyler the same way I, as the reader, did. As a young man who is good, who does good, but is also forced to do bad and unable to see a way out. 

Breakers is quite dark and gritty. It’s tense and constantly has this sense of impending doom. I kept feeling deep down this couldn’t end well but was utterly unable to see how things would turn out. Tyler is one of those characters you become completely invested in, one you’ll root for all the way. This gripping, compelling, raw, sometimes brutal and utterly thought-provoking novel will make you reel against the injustice, will make you feel helpless, will put your own life into perspective and appreciate what you have. Breakers is a story that will stay with me for quite some time to come and I’m secretly hoping for a follow-up to see what becomes of Tyler and Bean.

Breakers is available to buy!

Affiliate link : Bookdepository
Other retailers : Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Waterstones | Wordery