The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Nesting by C. J. Cooke #BookReview

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A house stands alone in the woods.

Deep in the forests of Norway, Lexi finds a fresh start with Tom and his two young daughters, working as their new nanny.

The darkness creeps closer.

But Lexi is telling lies, and she’s not the only one. This family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build this house, and in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks.

Lexi must protect the children in her care – but protect them from what?

Challenge number 9 was ‘Read a book that is on the TBR of a Fiction Cafe Member.’ As The Nesting by C. J. Cooke was on the TBR of Charlene Mattson, and also on my NetGalley shelf, it seemed like the obvious choice. Two birds, one stone and all that. I actually listened to the audiobook, narrated by Aysha Kala, which is a great option if you are considering it. The narration was excellent.

This book is a really interesting mix of gothic fairytale, environmental parable and exploration of depression. It is dreamy and ethereal and dark and scary, and surreal all at the same time. The threads are so tightly and cleverly woven together by the author that, even by the end, you won’t be quite sure what is real and what has been a dream.

The book is told through the voices of a number of people. Troubled Lexi, running from her demons and her problems, finds herself hiding out in Norway, pretending to be someone she isn’t in an effort to find a life better than the one she has been living. Tom, battling the forces of nature in a remote Norwegian forest to balance building his beloved wife’s dream holiday home with protecting this unspoilt wilderness. And Aurelia, feeling isolated in the aftermath of her second daughter’s birth and haunted by the ghosts of the Norwegian forest. Each of them experiences supernatural events in the dark, Norwegian forest and the remote fjord, but which are real, and which are products of troubled minds.

The dive into Norwegian folklore and stories was the part that most drew me to this book, because anything along those lines fascinates me. I loved the way that the author wove them in to the narrative of the novel, and used them to make commentary on the impact of human beings on the planet and its non-human inhabitants without being preachy. It was also a clever way to explore why we are drawn to stories of darkness to explain things that we are afraid to confront inside ourselves.

Aside from these themes, this is just a cracking good story that is a compelling read. What is actually happening out there in the Norwegian forest? What is Aurelia really experiencing, and what is just a result of the problems that can afflict women after child birth that can go unnoticed and unrecognised by those around her? Is Lexi’s past going to come back to haunt her? Is Tom everything he seems to be? I was eager every time to get back to listening to the book, and it made some mundane chores seem a lot less arduous, I was so engrossed.

The Nesting is a great book for anyone who loves the gothic and the mythic, but also for anyone interested in the human brain and the things it can do for us when we are thrown off balance. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will definitely be recommending it to a few friends.

The Nesting is out now in all formats and you can buy it here.

About the Author

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C J Cooke (Carolyn Jess-Cooke) lives in Glasgow with her husband and four children. C J Cooke’s works have been published in 23 languages and have won many awards. She holds a PhD in Literature from the Queen’s University of Belfast and is currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, where she researches creative writing interventions for mental health. Two of her books are currently optioned for film.

Connect with Carolyn:

Website: https://carolynjesscooke.com/

Facebook: C J Cooke Books

Twitter: @CJessCooke

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Blog Tour: Summer at the Chateau by Jennifer Bohnet #BookReview

Summer at the Chateau

It is my turn on the blog tour today for Summer at the Chateau by Jennifer Bohnet and I’m thrilled to be sharing my review. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for giving me a place on the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Every end has a new beginning…

When Pixie Sampson’s husband tragically dies, she inherits the beautiful Château Quiltu in Brittany, Northern France.

But unbeknown to her, she also inherits a mysterious lodger, Justine Martin and her 4-year-old son Ferdie.

Heartbroken and with her adventurous Mum, Gwen, in tow, they travel to France to put the Château on the market but are soon drawn into a quest to seek the Château’s secrets.

Who is Justine? Why is she living at the Château? How did she know her husband?

Over the Summer months, the Château fills with family and laughter and secrets are discovered and old wounds begin to heal.

Sometimes you are just looking for a gentle read that doesn’t demand too much from you, but just transports you to a distant place for a relaxed, armchair holiday where you can take in the sights and sounds of a foreign land without any strain, and meander through a quiet family story without too much drama. If this is the case, you could do a lot worse than pick up this delightful book by Jennifer Bohnet, but watch out for the hidden riptides of surprise and emotion seething below the surface!

We start just after the tragic death of Pixie’s husband and the discovery that she is the full owner of a small chateau in France. With her feisty mother in tow, Pixie decides to travel to France and prepare the chateau for sale. Once she gets there, however, she discovers there is a lodger in situ and begins to wonder what secrets her laste husband may have been hiding from her.

The first half of this book is laid-back read, albeit tinged with tragedy as Pixie tries to come to terms with her husband’s death and the discovery of things he hadn’t told her. We travel to France, and the author beautifully brings the countryside of Brittany to life for the reader. One of the reasons I really love Jennifer Bohnet’s writing is that she always manages to perfectly evoke the sense of place of her book’s setting so that you can enjoy it with each of your senses, as if you are really there with the characters.

In the second half of the book, the pace quickens as more family members turn up in France to join Pixie and her mum, and the secrets are gradually revealed. The family relationships are at the heart of this book, and are what really appealed to me about the plot. I loved the relationship between Pixie and her mum, Gwen, and the fact that the story centres around two older protagonists is refreshing and appealing. The dynamics between all of the relatives are honest and realistic and, as someone who comes from a large, rowdy and ever-changing family myself, it felt very familiar. This is a story all about family, love and how we can hurt and heal one another together and I loved that about it.

The book deals with some very painful problems for this family, and I could sympathise with the characters being put through the wringer as facts come to light. Of course, this being the type of book it is, all gets resolved before the end in a very satisfying way, but this does not lessen the anguish of the characters before they get there. Don’t let the cover and the genre fool you, there is some real meat on the bones of this story, and it gives you plenty to chew over amongst the pretty French countryside and within the walls of the charming chateau. This is no bubblegum novel, it is a rewarding read that offers plenty of emotion to anyone who slips between its covers.

Highly recommended to fans of this genre, this is another hit from Jennifer Bohnet that I enjoyed a great deal.

Summer at the Chateau is out now in all formats, and you can buy your copy here.

Make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Jennifer Bohnet is the bestselling author of over 12 women’s fiction titles, including Villa of Sun and Secrets and A Riviera Retreat. She is originally from the West Country but now lives in the wilds of rural Brittany, France.

Connect with Jennifer:

Facebook: Jennifer Bohnet

Twitter: @jenniewriter

Instagram: @jenniewriter

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Blog Tour: The Lost Sister by Kathleen McGurl #BookReview

The Lost Sister

I am delighted to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for The Lost Sister by Kathleen McGurl today with my review of the book. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on to the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Three sisters. Three ships. One heartbreaking story.

1911. As Emma packs her trunk to join the ocean liner Olympic as a stewardess, she dreams of earning enough to provide a better life for both her sisters. With their photograph tucked away in her luggage, she promises to be back soon – hoping that sickly Lily will keep healthy, and wild Ruby will behave. But neither life at sea nor on land is predictable, and soon the three sisters’ lives are all changed irrevocably…

Now. When Harriet finds her late grandmother’s travelling trunk in the attic, she’s shocked to discover a photo of three sisters inside – her grandmother only ever mentioned one sister, who died tragically young. Who is the other sister, and what happened to her? Harriet’s questions lead her to the story of three sister ships, Olympic, Titanic and Britannic, and a shattering revelation about three sisters torn apart…

This is a dual timeline novel, telling the story of different generations of the same family in 1911 and the present day. Harriet has just lost her husband and, as she clears out her home in preparation for downsizing, she comes across a trunk that used to belong to her grandmother who worked on cruise ships at the turn of the century. As she goes through the trunk, Harriet finds a photo of her grandmother and her sisters, which leads her to start investigating her family history and uncovering some long buried secrets.

At the same time as looking at her family tree, Harriet is compelled to revaluate her current family relationships. Things are strained with her younger daughter after a terrible mistake years before, and she has lost touch with her brother. There are also concerns with her elder daughter and grandson. As we go through the story, it is clear to see parallels between the story of the three sisters at the turn of the century, and Harriet’s fractured family in the present and Harriet’s growing understanding of her family’s past can help heal wounds going forward.

This is a really beautiful and moving book to read. The author has created some sympathetic and engaging characters in both timelines and I was completely drawn into their lives and fates from the beginning of the book. The narrative switches from chapter to chapter between Harriet in the present day and Emma back in 1911, and it is done effortlessly and seamlessly, whilst still giving each of the women a very clear and distinct voice.

It is clear that Kathleen has done a lot of research for this book. She managed to bring life in 1911 to life and include a lot of small, authentic detail that made me feel like I was really living through those experiences along with Emma. I am a tiny bit obsessed with the story of the Titanic, so I loved reading about it here and Kathleen has done an amazing job of bringing the horror of its sinking to the fore from the perspective of someone who was there. I felt that she had captured what Emma would have been feeling brilliantly, it was really upsetting to read, which is wholly appropriate for the story. It immersed me completely in the era, which is exactly what I am looking for in a historical novel.

Similarly, in the modern day, what Harriet is going through is totally believable and made me very emotional. I shed a few tears as I was going through the book, all too able to relate to her feelings. This is a really great story of love, family and the ties that bind us together in life. It will make you want to gather round everyone you love and give them a massive hug (not until Monday, mind you!) and tell them exactly how you feel because life is short and precarious and family means everything.

A fantastic dual timeline novel with real heart, I highly recommend it.

The Lost Sister is out now as an ebook and will be published in paperback in July and you can buy a copy here.

Please do visit some of the other marvellous blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

Kathleen McGurl author photo

Kathleen McGurl lives in Christchurch, UK, with her husband. She has two sons who have both now left home. She always wanted to write, and for many years was waiting until she had the time. Eventually she came to the bitter realisation that no one would pay her for a year off work to write a book, so she sat down and started to write one anyway. Since then she has published several novels with HQ and self-published another. She has also sold dozens of short stories to women’s magazines, and written three How To books for writers. After a long career in the IT industry she became a full time writer in 2019. When she’s not writing, she’s often out running, slowly.

Connect with Kathleen:

Website: https://kathleenmcgurl.com/

Facebook: Kathleen McGurl

Twitter: @KathMcGurl

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Blog Tour: All My Lies by Sophie Flynn #BookReview

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I am thrilled to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for All My Lies, the debut novel by Sophie Flynn. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Anna wants to escape.

She doesn’t know when her marriage to James began to feel like a trap or when he became so controlling. All she knows is that she needs to leave before it’s too late.

And she has a plan.

When Anna reconnects with her childhood sweetheart, Sam, she sees it as the answer to her problems. Finally, they’ll have a life together, like they’d always planned – the life she was meant to have.

But the lies are catching up with her . . .

On the morning of their escape, Sam goes missing. Anna knows he wouldn’t leave her, that something must have happened to him.

Her search for answers will force her to confront her past, something that she has been running from for a very long time . . .

Well, I’m not sure if this is the effect that Sophie Flynn was going for when she wrote the book but I was on edge all the way through this book. And I don’t mean on the edge of my seat, but on the edge of my nerves, every sinew strained with worry for Anna and what was going to happen to her before the book ended. This is good, books should make the reader uncomfortable sometimes.

Right from the beginning, the author has created a sense of peril for the main character that it is absolutely impossible to shake throughout, and every action the protagonist takes intensifies the feeling because she is making unwise decisions that ramp up the risk for herself. For most of the book I wanted to take her by the shoulders and give her a good shake, because she handles absolutely everything so badly that I couldn’t understand why she was so foolish, especially at the end. I’ve obviously never been in love with someone the way she was with Sam!

Sophie has also constructed a book here in which you have no idea who you can trust. Clearly, Anna doesn’t know throughout who is being honest and who is lying to her, and what about, but I also had extreme doubts about Anna herself and whether she was telling us, the reader, the truth or whether some of what she says is lies or fantasy. She has been dishonest in situations in both past and present, so having an unreliable narrator on top of all her suspicions about everyone else will have your brain twisted into a frenzy of doubt and confusion by the end of the novel, which only adds to the tension.

The book isn’t quite perfect, I did have a couple of niggles about it. There were parts where I found it a little unevenly paced. Rosie was an unbelievably accepting and forgiving character, I think I would have been much more annoyed with and questioning of Anna’s behaviour myself. In fact, I was, I found her quite spineless and a little too much of a willing and passive victim in the story until she does finally find some gumption. I am sure this is how the author intended her to be, its a huge plot driver that she is this way, but it did make it difficult for me to get behind her 100% personally because I just don’t relate to this type of character. These are the things that pulled the book down slightly from a five star read for me.

However, I do think these might be niggles that are very specific to me and what I like to read, so I would not allow them to put you off from the reading the book because, all in all, this is a gripping and different thriller with a huge amount to offer. I read it in only two (very busy) days, so it clearly held my interest for me to keep glued to it over that time frame and I was fully invested in knowing the outcome of who was lying and who was telling the truth. One thing I thought was really great about the book was how the author chose to end it – it wasn’t obvious and neat and I really loved that about it, it felt more authentic. Overall, this is a solid and rewarding psychological thriller with plenty of plot twists and misdirection, huge amounts of tension that will gnaw on your nerves and keep you gripped to the end and a satisfyingly believable ending. I would highly recommend it and look forward to seeing what comes next from this exciting debut author.

All My Lies is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to check out some other reviews on the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

Sophie Flynn Author pic

Sophie Flynn is a Cotswolds based psychological thriller author with an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes. Alongside writing, Sophie is the Head of Marketing at Jericho Writers. After being awarded a place at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School on the TopWrite scheme for young writers in 2017, Sophie began writing short fiction. She has since had many stories published and placed in competitions with organisations such as Writing Magazine and The Cheltenham Literature Festival.

When not writing, Sophie can mostly be found on muddy walks with her husband and rescue dog or disappearing to Cornwall whenever possible. She is represented by Kate Nash of Kate Nash Literary Agency.

Connect with Sophie:

Website: https://sophieflynn.com/

Twitter: @sophielflynn

Instagram: @sophieflynnauthor

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Blog Tour: The Ladies’ Midnight Swimming Club by Faith Hogan #BookReview

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Three women. Three different stages of life. United by one thing: the chance to start again.

When Elizabeth’s husband dies, leaving her with crippling debt, the only person she can turn to is her friend, Jo. Soon Jo has called in her daughter, Lucy, to help save Elizabeth from bankruptcy. Leaving her old life behind, Lucy is determined to make the most of her fresh start.

As life slowly begins to return to normal, these three women, thrown together by circumstance, become fast friends. But then Jo’s world is turned upside down when she receives some shocking news.

In search of solace, Jo and Elizabeth find themselves enjoying midnight dips in the freezing Irish Sea. Here they can laugh, cry and wash away all their fears. As well as conjure a fundraising plan for the local hospice that will bring the whole community together…

Today, I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour for The Ladies’ Midnight Swimming Club by Faith Hogan. Huge thanks to Vicky Joss of Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part and for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Sometimes you read a book that just makes you want to call all of your girlfriends, get together for a soul-baring evening of gossip, laughter, tears, big hugs all round, and sharing with them a book that has really moved you because it captures everything that is magical, wonderful and life-affirming about female friendship. There has been far too little of that over the past 18 months and it is one of the things I have missed the most throughout the pandemic restrictions. The Ladies’ Midnight Swimming Club is one of those books. Faith Hogan has managed to distil the essence of all that is wonderful about female friendship within its pages.

There is a character in this book for everyone to relate to. Elizabeth, recently widowed, whose life has always looked polished and perfect to the residents of Ballycove, but who is struggling behind closed doors with secrets that blighted her marriage, and more than have come to light since her husband’s death. She is supported throughout, as she always has been, by her generous friend, Jo, but Jo is now bearing a huge burden of her own. Jo’s daughter, Lucy, has come to Ballycove to work out a new path in life after her divorce, but will she be able to find a happy ever after that works for both herself and her unhappy son, Niall? Then there is Dan, who has come to Ballycove searching for a ghost from his past and a new way forward. Somehow, these people find amongst themselves a community and a peace that will see them all through on their different journeys.

This book is soul-warmingly, heart-squeezingly wonderful from beginning to end. From the very start, the stories of each of these women moved me because they were so real and authentic. I absolutely believed every single thing they were going through and all of their responses. The issues that the author addresses in this book – which may not be easy ones for some people to read about because they are so relatable – are something that will have touched each and every one of us in some way or another over the course of our lives, whether directly or through someone we know and we will recognise some of the joy, fear, pain, anguish, love and happiness portrayed here. Faith has really got under the skins of these characters and portrayed what they are going through in a way that communicates every nuance to the reader, so the book carries you along on its tide.

The notion of the Midnight Swimming Club is what will attract a lot of readers to this book, and it plays out exactly the way you hope it would. I adored the scenes involving the women taking to the sea, the feelings the wild swimming evokes in them, the way they talk and share and heal in the water, I believed all of it and was slightly jealous of their experience, even though I know it is fictional. Being able to draw a reader so completely into a world in this way is the skill of a great writer, and the reason we read in the first place. These are the reasons I love Faith’s books.

This is a truly fantastic read for any fans of intelligent and believable women’s fiction. It really moved me, but also left me feeling hopeful and uplifted. If you are a fan of Calendar Girls or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, this book will give you the same warm feelings that you get from those movies, whilst still feeling that you have read something containing real emotional truth and an insight into the challenges women can overcome in their lives with support, love, friendship and hope. A gorgeous book.

The Ladies’ Midnight Swimming Club is out now as an ebook and will be published in paperback on 13 May, and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to visit some of the other fabulous blogs taking part in the tour for this book:

About the Author

Faith Hogan portrait for inside cover of her book

Faith Hogan is an Irish award-winning and bestselling author of five contemporary fiction novels. Her books have featured as Book Club Favorites, Net Galley Hot Reads and Summer Must Reads. She writes grown up women’s fiction which is unashamedly uplifting, feel good and inspiring.

She is currently working on her next novel. She lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, four children and a very busy Labrador named Penny. She’s a writer, reader, enthusiastic dog walker and reluctant jogger – except of course when it is raining!

Connect with Faith:

Website: https://faithhogan.com

Facebook: Faith Hogan Author

Twitter: @GerHogan

Instagram: @faithhoganauthor

Blog Tour: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint #BookReview

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Today, I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Ariadne by Jennifer Saint. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for allowing me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Ariadne Cover

‘My story would not be one of death and suffering and sacrifice, I would take my place in the songs that would be sung about Theseus; the princess who saved him and ended the monstrosity that blighted Crete’

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?

Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Greek myths and legends, a love which I seem to have passed on to my eldest daughter who reads every book of Greek mythology she can get her hands on and will, no doubt, pinch this now I have finished it. But most of the accounts I read when I was younger were all about the heroic feats of Greek heroes, and the temptations and misdoings of women, trying to impede the men, lead them astray, or were there simply to be rescued. How refreshing it has been to see the recent spate of books telling these stories from the female perspective, and Ariadne is the latest book to be added to this canon.

Here, Jennifer Saint has retold the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, but switching the perspective to that of the other central character in the story, Ariadne, whose contribution to the legend is essential but usually downplayed. In addition, this story goes beyond the simple story of Theseus slaying the Minotaur and takes us from Ariadne’s childhood in Crete, all the way to her marriage and motherhood, and encompasses the parallel story of her sister, Phaedra.

The author has placed herself firmly into the shoes of the two women featured in this book and imagined their lives in a way that translates quite startlingly on to the page in a way that will drag you back to the era and the palace of Knossos, to become totally immersed in what was happening. Imagine being brought up in the court of a stern and ruthless king, granddaughter of a god, sister to a monster, waiting to be used as a bargaining chip in the endless struggle for power. This is where this book takes us, and it doesn’t take much of a leap for the reader to feel what these girls must have been going through.

For this is a book that examines and laments the lot of women in Ancient Greece. Devoid of power, useful only insofar as men wanted them for their beauty and graces, at the mercy of those same virtues when some capricious god’s eye landed on them and decided to use them for their sport, and then to bear the brunt of the fallout of that sport. This is the underlying theme of the novel, how the women suffered and were punished for the misbehaviour and misdeeds, ambition and cruelty of the men – be they mortal or immortal – and what little ability they had to protect themselves.

Ariadne is a woman brought up under the shadow of a curse brought upon her family because of the behaviour of men – her father Minos and the god, Poseidon – but laid upon her mother who ended up birthing the monstrous Minotaur. She is aware from a young age how vulnerable women are, and how little agency they have, but she internally rails against this powerlessness, becoming slightly obsessed with Medusa, how she was treated, and the way she refused to take her punishment calmly. It ends up being no surprise when she rebels against the tyranny of her father and helps Theseus, only to be betrayed by Theseus soon after. Ariadne tries throughout her life to look out for herself, ever aware, ever reminding herself that all men, whether god or mortal, are the same and cannot be trusted.

The writing here is stunning, beautiful, rich, evocative and immersive. The book really brings Ancient Greece to life and gives us the characters we know from the myths as 3D, fully rounded people to whom it is very easy to relate. Such is the power of the writing that the book left me distraught and enraged on behalf of these women, so abused and mistreated and so unable to do anything about it, despite the internal strength they have, their intelligence and their awareness of their fragile situations. If this book doesn’t stir your internal feminist to roar, nothing will. A fabulous piece of work.

Ariadne is out now in hardback and ebook formats and will be out as an audiobook on 10 May and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour by visiting the blogs detailed below:

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About the Author

Jennifer Saint Author pic

Due to a lifelong fascination with Ancient Greek mythology, Jennifer Saint read Classical Studies at King’s College, London. She spent the next thirteen years as an English teacher, sharing a love of literature and creative writing with her students. ARIADNE is her first novel and she is working on another retelling of ancient myth for her second.

Connect with Jennifer:

Website: https://www.jennifersaint.com/

Facebook: Jennifer Saint Author

Twitter: @jennysaint

Instagram: @jennifer.saint.author

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Book Review: The Wild Girls by Phoebe Morgan #BookReview

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Four friends. A luxury retreat. It’s going to be murder.

In a luxury lodge on Botswana’s sun-soaked plains, four friends reunite for a birthday celebration…

THE BIRTHDAY GIRL
Has it all, but chose love over her friends…

THE TEACHER
Feels the walls of her flat and classroom closing in…

THE MOTHER
Loves her baby, but desperately needs a break…

THE INTROVERT
Yearns for adventure after suffering for too long…

Arriving at the safari lodge, a feeling of unease settles over them. There’s no sign of the party that was promised. There’s no phone signal. They’re alone, in the wild.

THE HUNT IS ON.

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital copy of this book via NetGalley for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Blimey, what a rollercoaster of a book this is! I sat down and started it one morning and I kept sneaking back to read it throughout that day, resenting the chores that took me away from the story, and by that night I had finished it. This is one of those books that you want to completely immerse yourself in and stay gripped by until you get to the end, it is absolutely blooming fabulous.

I was really excited by the whole premise of the book – four friends holidaying in a luxury lodge in Botswana – as I love a book that takes me armchair travelling and I’ve always wanted to go on a safari holiday. Hmmm, not sure I do any more. Phoebe has managed to imbue the pages with this book with a creeping, suffocating sense of menace and jeopardy that would have anyone running screaming from the situation, if it was possible to escape.

The dynamics of female relationships always make for a fascinating read for me, and the author has constructed a friendship group here that is clearly dysfunctional, for reasons that she very cleverly hints at throughout to keep reader enthralled but doesn’t fully explain until the end, so you spend plenty of time trying to work out what is going on from the sneaky clues she drops in to the story at cunning intervals. All of the girls have secrets, and problems in their private lives which they aren’t sharing with one another, and the whole lot comes together in a beautiful explosion when they meet up. The book is very cleverly plotted and was one of the main things that kept me reading.

The book is told from the perspective of each of the characters, and it jumps around in time from present to past, as the events leading up to the Botswana trip are revealed, but you will barely notice the changes and it is very easy to follow. the author has constructed it in a way that flows easily, with each character having a distinctive voice, and I felt we got to know them all really well. They aren’t all particularly likeable, but that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book at all.

There are some difficult issues touched upon in this book, which might be triggering for some people, but they all serve the plot and Phoebe has dealt with them delicately. I have to say, the ending gets a bit mad, but I was fully invested in the book by this point so I just went with it and, if I did find the ending a bit far-fetched, I still came away from the book feeling that I had had a really enjoyable and satisfying reading experience. I think you can tell when a writer has had a really good time writing a book, it usually translates to a great time for the reader, and this was certainly true of The Wild Girls. I had been greatly looking forward to reading it, and it completely fulfilled my expectations and then some. A really entertaining, gripping, immersive read.

The Wild Girls is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Phoebe Morgan is a bestselling author and editor. She studied English at Leeds University after growing up in the Suffolk countryside. She has previously worked as a journalist and now edits commercial fiction for a publishing house during the day, and writes her own books in the evenings. She lives in London.

Her books have sold over 150,000 copies and been translated into 10 languages including French, Italian, Norwegian, Polish and Croatian. Her new thriller The Wild Girls will be published by William Morrow in the US. Her books are also on sale in Canada and Australia. Phoebe has also contributed short stories to Afraid of the Light, a 2020 crime writing anthology with proceeds going to the Samaritans, Noir from the Bar, a crime collection with proceeds going to the NHS, and Afraid of the Christmas Lights, with all profits going to domestic abuse charities. Her four thrillers can be read in any order:

The Doll House (2017)
The Girl Next Door (2019)
The Babysitter (2020)
The Wild Girls (2021)

Connect with Phoebe:

Website: https://phoebemorganauthor.com/

Facebook: Phoebe Morgan Author

Twitter: @Phoebe_A_Morgan

Instagram: @phoebeannmorgan

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Book Review: The Dinner Guest by B. P. Walter

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Four people walked into the dining room that night. One would never leave.

Matthew: the perfect husband.

Titus: the perfect son.

Charlie: the perfect illusion.

Rachel: the perfect stranger.

Charlie didn’t want her at the book club. Matthew wouldn’t listen.

And that’s how Charlie finds himself slumped beside his husband’s body, their son sitting silently at the dinner table, while Rachel calls 999, the bloody knife still gripped in her hand.

I am delighted to be posting my review of The Dinner Guest by B. P. Walter today. I received an advance digital copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of review, and I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Have you ever read a book in which none of the characters were likeable? This is one of those books. Honestly, all of the characters are fairly awful, selfish people with a litany of faults and you’ll spend half the book wanting them to get their comeuppance. Especially the main two characters who takes turns in voicing the story, Charlie and Rachel. I didn’t like either of them from the beginning.

You’d think this would be the death knell for a novel, wouldn’t you, but you’d be wrong. The Dinner Guest had me hooked from first page to last in a way that I meant I could not look away and I raced through the pages. To achieve this with characters for whom I had practically no sympathy was nothing short of bare genius by the author.

The book thrusts us into the perfect world of Charlie, a man who has never known a day of hardship in his life and who seems to have everything anyone could wish for. Perfect home, great job, perfect husband, perfect stepson, no financial worries. Then he bumps into Rachel whose life is the exact opposite. For some reason, Charlie’s husband decides to take Rachel under their wing and, from then on, the perfect facade starts to crack and disintegrate, as if Rachel’s appearance has infected it with rot.

The book jumps around in time, beginning with the aftermath of the murder of Charlie’s husband and then going back to the introduction of Rachel into their lives, and exploring all the characters back stories until we understand what has happened and why. The author has been extremely clever with the plotting of this novel, building the tension as facts are revealed piece by piece, but taking us off in different directions, so it is impossible to guess what is the truth and who is responsible for what until the very end. Many times I thought I had worked it out, only to be proven wrong and sent off down another path, so I had to keep reading and reading to construct another theory.

This book is a great psychological thriller, whose very ending completely chilled me and the whole thing left me shaken and excited for what I had just read. This writer is clearly very talented and I will be looking out for more of his work to pick up in the future. A great addition to the genre that I would highly recommend to its fans.

The Dinner Guest is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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B P Walter was born and raised in Essex, England. After spending his childhood and teenage years reading compulsively, he worked in bookshops then went to the University of Southampton to study Film and English followed by an MA in Film & Cultural Management. He is an alumni of the Faber Academy and works in social media coordination. His debut novel, A Version of the Truth, was published in 2019, followed by Hold Your Breath in 2020, and The Dinner Guest, which was chosen as a Waterstones Book of the Month, in April 2021.

Connect with Barnaby:

Twitter: @BarnabyWalter

Instagram: @bpwalterauthor

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Blog Tour: Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage by Samantha Tonge #BookReview

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A new start can come from the most unexpected places…

It’s been years since Lizzie Lockhart spoke to her parents. But she was safe in the knowledge she knew everything about them. Once upon a time, they were as close as could be. Until they weren’t.

After receiving the earth-shattering news of their passing, Lizzie decides it’s time to unearth some family secrets and find out just who her parents really were… starting with Streamside Cottage. A cottage Lizzie never knew existed, in a place she’s never heard of: the beautiful English village of Leafton.

Leaving behind London, and the tattoo parlour she called home, Lizzie finds herself moving to the countryside. Faced with a tight-lipped community, who have secrets of their own, Lizzie is at a loss for what to do, until her rather handsome neighbour, Ben, steps in to help.

As Lizzie finally begins to piece together the puzzle of her family history she realises she has to confront the truth of the past in order to face her future.

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the new book by Samantha Tonge, Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage. My thanks to Victoria Joss at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part and providing me with a digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Lots of books start off with a character being jolted out of their current life and into a new situation but few people have such a shocking and dramatic change as Lizzie does at the beginning of Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage. What could possibly persuade a London-based tattoo artist to move to a tiny cottage in a rural setting, and how on earth will she fit it when she does? Was there ever a more fish-out-of-water scenario to open a book?

Well, finding out how this can all possibly work out is the joy of this book, and Samantha does a fantastic job of unfurling a convincing story out of this implausible scenario and making it all make sense. There are family secrets lurking in the walls of Streamside Cottage and Lizzie is determined to weed them out and try and make sense of why she became estranged from her over-protective parents, and why some villagers in Leafdon are so reluctant to talk about the past of Streamside Cottage.

Wrapping up an intriguing mystery with an exploration of family dynamics and what it really means to love and lose another person, this book has so much to offer to a range of different readers. It also seemed early on that the story might have a touch of the paranormal about it, until it took a very different direction. The story jumps backwards and forwards to different points in Lizzie’s life, so you have to pay quite keen attention to the headings at the beginning of each chapter to check what point you are at at any given time or the story won’t make sense, and the time jumps are not linear, but if you do that, the story will flow quite easily. I did have an inkling fairly early on as to what part of the secret might be, but this did not detract from my enjoyment of the book as I was eager to find out if I was right – and the answer was – not 100%!

I loved the fact that Lizzie was a tattoo artist – not something you come across often as a profession in a novel – and Samantha has included a little fact at the beginning of each chapter about tattoos, which tied in with events in that chapter. I found myself googling some of the things she referred to, I was so interested. She had obviously done a lot of research, and it was something Lizzie is very passionate about in the book. After living for 10 years with someone who has a bit of a tattoo addiction and having watched him add to them, I understand how meaningful they can be, and how much thought goes in to them, and this really came across in the writing here.

The storyline of the book is quite complex and dark, and the writing doesn’t shy away from this. I actually found myself in tears close to the end, so this may not be the light and fluffy read people come to expect from this type of fiction. However, this is something that appeals to me, I like the fact that romance novels can address some very personal and intense topics in an accessible way and I think people often underestimate this about the genre. This novel offers the reader a lot to think about during the read, and proved very satisfying.

This is a meaty read from Samantha Tonge, and will be enjoyed by anyone who loves a romance novel that they can get their teeth into.

Summer Secrets at Streamside Cottage is out now an an ebook and will be published in paperback in July, and you can buy a copy here.

Please visit some more bloggers taking part in the tour for alternative reviews and extracts:

Summer Secrets at Streamside Blog Tour 1

Summer Secrets at Streamside Blog Tour 2

About the Author

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Samantha Tonge lives in Manchester UK with her husband and children. She studied German and French at university and has worked abroad, including a stint at Disneyland Paris. She has travelled widely. When not writing she passes her days cycling, baking and drinking coffee. Samantha has sold many dozens of short stories to women’s magazines. She is represented by the Darley Anderson literary agency. In 2013, she landed a publishing deal for romantic comedy fiction with HQDigital at HarperCollins and in 2014, her bestselling debut, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award. In 2015 her summer novel, Game of Scones, hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart and won the Love Stories Awards Best Romantic Ebook category. In 2018 Forgive Me Not heralded a new direction into darker women’s fiction with publisher Canelo. In 2019 she was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association romantic comedy award

Connect with Samantha:

Website: http://samanthatonge.co.uk/

Facebook: Samantha Tonge Author

Twitter: @SamTongeWriter

Instagram: @samanthatongeauthor

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane #BookReview

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In the wake of tragedy, two sisters have to piece their family back together…

Grace never thought she’d have to return home to Floral Street. Having spent most of her life building a successful career in London, she’s done everything she possibly can to avoid the flower stall that’s been in her family for generations. But when tragedy hits, she’s got no choice. It’s time to face the demons of the past and support her family.

Faith has returned home after years travelling the world. The baby of the family, she always struggled to find her place. She thought that her life would be different after a trip across the globe, but as she settles back into life in her childhood room she has to come to terms with the fact her life isn’t quite what she expected. And she has no way of getting out of the rut she finds herself in.

Faith and Grace have never seen eye-to-eye, always clashing, never forgiving. But they might just find a way to understand one another, to fight their way through their grief and come out stronger. By opening up, they’ll discover they aren’t so different at all. And family will always be there for you.

Category six of The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge was ‘Read a book by an author with the same name as your best friend.’ Now, this caused me a bit of a dilemma as I have a number of close friends and didn’t want to offend the others by naming any one of them ‘best.’ So I chose the name of my first best friend at senior school who moved to Cornwall after a year and who I haven’t seen since 1984! It also allowed me to tick a book off my NetGalley list, so it was win-win. The book I picked was The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane.

I am ashamed that this book has been languishing on my TBR for so long, because I have loved Jane’s previous two books. This one was another great piece of women’s fiction, that spoke to me on a personal level, dealing as it does with the relationship between three sisters. As someone who is the eldest of four girls, and who counts her sisters as her closest friends as well as siblings, the dynamics of relationships between sisters is always something I am interested in seeing explored in a novel.

In this book, two of the sisters have remained close, despite the fact that the eldest left home at a young age after become largely estranged from their father. The youngest sister has been away travelling and her return to the family home marks a period of upheaval for them all, that culminates in a family tragedy that changes them all forever, and has the power to push them all apart or pull them back together.

In this novel, Jane has drawn a truly authentic and believable family dynamic that plays out honestly on the page. I felt that each of the characters, and their relationship to one another, were beautifully realised and explored and I could really relate to all of them. Despite my own closeness to my sisters, the tensions and rivalries between the three girls were very recognisable to me; with the best will in the world every family has difficulties and areas of friction, and the way each of the sisters interpreted events differently depending on their position and role within the family was all too familiar!

As the eldest, Grace was the one to whom I most related. I recognise that feeling of responsibility and having the weight of sorting out the family’s issues and taking on its burdens, whilst the younger sisters have a much more carefree existence. I am sure my sisters would argue that the younger girls have their own crosses to bear, and would recognise themselves more in Hope or Faith, which is the genius of Jane’s drawing of the characters!

The story centres around the family’s flower stall business, and its future in the wake of the tragedy and the shockwaves of its aftermath and, in this regard, it is a tight, small story that could be happening to any family up and down the country today and, in fact, in the wake of so many losses suffered by so many families in the last twelve months, many of the issues explored will be painful and relevant to a lot of people at the moment. In this regard, the book will speak to a lot of people and touch many of us with its message. This is a book that takes a step beyond a typical women’s fiction novel.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a novel with a big heart and a gentle exploration of issues that will have touched most of us in some way at some point in our lives. I would be surprised if there is anyone who can’t find some recognisable experience or emotion in its pages. Well worth reading.

The Little Shop on Floral Street is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jane has reached the age now where she no longer tells people her age! She’s old enough to legally be able to do everything and that’s all that matters. Secrets & Tea at Rosie Lee’s is Jane’s debut novel. Born and brought up in London’s East End, she now lives in Lincolnshire with her family. Thankfully she recently discovered the joys of mail order pie, mash & liquor, so she can relive her youth anytime she feels like it!

Although writing stories was something that Jane had always done, she never thought anyone would pay her to do it so she focused on learning to act instead, figuring that this was a much more reliable way to earn a living. Sadly, her career as an actress was shortlived, actually it was non-existent, so she turned her attention to another reliable line of work – Cable Television! This was where Jane managed to finally get paid (badly!) doing something she enjoyed – writing. She began with scripts for a series all about Serial Killers (imaginatively entitled ‘Serial Killers’) and then moved on to a series of history documentaries. This series never saw the light of day in the UK but Jane has been informed that it used be very popular with insomniacs staying in hotels in the Far East. This may or may not be true.

Jane’s latest book, The Little Shop on Floral Street, is out now and returns to the familiar East London streets where the author grew up.

Connect with Jane:

Facebook: Jane Lacey-Crane

Twitter: @JaneLaceyCrane

Instagram: @janelaceycrane

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