14+, Books that adults should read, Dystopian, Fantasy, Teen, YA, Young Adult, Young Adult Fiction

The Toll by Neal Shusterman

So publication day is FINALLY here and the third and final novel in the Arc of a Scythe series. First we had Scythe, then Thunder Head, and now The Toll.

Synopsis for The Toll

I DO NOT SPEAK WITH THE VOICE OF THE THUNDER.

BUT THE THUNDER DOES SPEAK THROUGH ME.

The explosive conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Arc of a Scythe series!

It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver, and it’s time for things to change. In this pulse-pounding finale to Neal Shusterman’s internationally bestselling trilogy, constitutions are tested and old friends are brought back from the dead.

The Arc of Scythe is set in a dystopian world where humanity has discovered all it can, including how to avoid death.  But in a world where nobody dies, population has to be controlled. Scythes choose who, when and how people are “gleaned” and the Thunderhead presides over all other political and economic issues; will AI bring about the world’s end or could humanity be their own destruction.

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My thoughts

This has been the most amazing set of books!  Neal Shusterman has created a breath-taking dystopian series that makes you explore humanity and it’s freedom. Will we ultimately be our own destruction with the AI that we create?

Imagine a world where nobody dies? Where we can never get old by simply resetting and going on and on. Of course the population still needs to be controlled. Scythes have the power to decide who, when and how people are ‘gleaned’.  They are distinctive by their often ornate robes and are never a welcome visitor. But overseeing all political and economic issues is the Thunderhead, an ominous ‘cloud’ ultimately controlling humanity.

I can’t recommend this series highly enough. Both myself and my students have been awaiting this final installment and I can tell you it doesn’t disappoint. Oh. My. God. I couldn’t read this fast enough. It is such an exciting, rollercoaster of a read. I’m tempted to start all over again…now where’s my copy of Scythe?

If you haven’t discovered the Arc of a Scythe then I urge you to start at the beginning…you lucky things.

So…who would my Patron Historic be?

Who do I find an inspiration? Well I think it would have to be Mary Wollstonecraft.

Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer who lived from April 1759 until September 1797. She was one of the very first feminists and a passionate advocate of educational and social equality for women. She was earning her own money through her writing at  a time when it was unheard of for women to be financially independent. She had a short and somewhat tragic life but she helped to lay the foundations for feminism and equality. She died 11 days after giving birth to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author who gave us Frankenstein.

And what would my robes be?

Well, they would be of the deepest purple made from the softest eco-friendly bamboo (we’d be doing even more to save the world of we were likely to be spending more time on it!) with silver trim. They would be decorated in shimmery silver words of wisdom that from a distance would look like thousands of sparkly stars. 

Thank you so much to the fabulous people at Walker Books for inviting me to review this amazing series. Go get it today. It’s perfect for teens, YAs and adults.

About the author

Neal Shusterman is an award-winning author whose books include the Arc of a Scythe series (Scythe, Thunderhead and The Toll), the New York Times bestselling Unwind series and Challenger Deep, which won a National Book Award. He also writes screenplays for film and television, for shows such as Goosebumps and Animorphs. He lives in Southern California, USA.

 

 

 

 

 

Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Relationship Stories, Romance

Starlight Over Bluebell Castle by Sarah Bennett

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for the wonderfully sparkly Starlight Over Bluebell Castle by Sarah Bennett

Synopsis

The most magical time of the year…

Jessica Ridley’s life has just been turned upside-down – and not in a good way! So when blast-from-the-past Tristan Ludworth invites her to stay at Bluebell Castle and transform it into a winter wonderland, it’s the perfect distraction for Jess and her two young children…

Jess is used to planning even the most elaborate events in her sleep, but she certainly didn’t expect to be working so closely with Tristan at the castle – or that she could still find him quite  so handsome after all this time!

And with a little holiday magic in the air, it’s becoming harder and harder to resist his charms. Can Tristan convince Jess to give love one more chance, just in time for Christmas?

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This is such a delightful, heartwarming read. The most perfect piece of escapism for anyone wanting to escape talk of elections and dodgy politics. Curl up somewhere warm with this light, romantic read and be whisked away to a castle that is home to the warmest, most wonderful family ever. I came to adore each and every character in this story, even the troublesome mother. If you’re looking for a rainbow in the rain  with a festive feel then you’ll love this joyous tale where dreams really can come true and a happy ending is guaranteed. It was such an enjoyable, refreshing read without too much conflict but enough of a teaser to keep you hooked. I had a delightful stay at Bluebell Castle and left it with a smile  on my face and a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart.

Starlight Over Bluebell Castle is the third book in the series but the first that I have read. I now very much look forward to reading the previous two!

Book 1: Spring Skies Over Bluebell Castle
Book 2: Sunshine Over Bluebell Castle

Thank you so much to the team at HQ Stories for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for gifting me a review copy.

Starlight Over Bluebell Castle Blog Tour Banner

Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Fiction, Psycological Thriller, Thriller

Violet by S J I Holliday

Today I’m so delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the stunning new novel by S J I Holliday, Violet.

Synopsis

Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

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My thoughts

I absolutely loved The Lingering which I was lucky enought to review last year.  It was a brilliantly chilling novel and so I was super excited to receive a copy of Susi’s next novel, Violet This story is very different but doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. Violet explores the darker side of friendship where  obsession and desire become deadly and it will certainly leave you with a deep sense of unease.

Violet and Carrie are both travelling from Beijing to Russia. Both are looking for adventure and fun. But one is looking for something more and she doesn’t like it if things don’t go her way.  No, she doesn’t like it at all. The story mostly comes to us through Violet’s viewpoint and it serves well to build a portait of both girls. Both girls have their secrets and Susi does a brilliant job of keeping the tension running throughout.  One of them is extremely dangerous though and isn’t who she says she is.    I absolutely loved the twists and turns, Suzi’s prose is brilliant and she is master of suspense.  We never really know what lurks beneath the surface of anyone and this novel is a prime example that you should always be weary of strangers (and friends).  You never quite know what they are capable of.

Absolutely brilliant, Susie is a true master of the psychological thriller.  Her stories take us on dark journeys with complex, terrifying characters that you just can’t help feel compelled to follow into the unknown.  I can’t wait to see where the darkness of her imagination takes us next.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.  Thanks also to the lovely people at Orenda Books for my review copy.  I always know I’m in for a treat when an Orenda title arrives at my door.

About the author

1-5S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday is a scientist, writing coach and the bestselling author of five crime novels, including the Banktoun Trilogy (Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly), the festive chiller The Deaths of December and her creepy Gothic psychological thriller The Lingering. Her short story ‘Home From Home’ was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and shortlisted for the CWA Margery Allingham Prize. Encapsulating her love of travel and claustrophobic settings, her latest novel, Violet, explores toxic friendships and the perils of talking to strangers, as well as drawingon her own journey on the Trans-Siberian Express over 10 years ago. All of her novels have been UK ebook number-one bestsellers. Susi was born and raised in Scotland and now divides her time between Edinburgh, London and as many other exciting places that she can fit in.

You can follow Susi on Twitter at @SJIHolliday

About the publisher

Orenda Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in literary fiction with aheavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and approximately half the list in translation. They’ve been twice shortlisted for the Nick Robinson Best Newcomer Award at the IPG awards, and publisher and owner Karen Sullivan was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016. In 2018, they were awarded a prestigious Creative Europe grant for their translated books programme. Three authors, including Agnes Ravatn, Matt Wesolowski and Amanda Jennings have been WHSmith Fresh Talent picks, and Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award, won an English PEN Translation Award, and adapted for BBC Radio Four ’s Book at Bedtime. Six titles have been short- or long-listed for the CWA Daggers. Launched in 2014 with a mission to bring more international literature to the UK market, Orenda Books publishes a host of debuts, many of which have gone on to sell millions worldwide, and looks for fresh, exciting new voices that push the genre in new directions. Bestselling authors include Ragnar Jonasson, Antti Tuomainen, Gunnar Staalesen, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Louise Beech, Johana Gustawsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Sarah Stovell.

Find out more by visiting their website www.orendabooks.co.uk
You can follow Orenda on Twitter at @OrendaBooks

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Adult Fiction, Ghost Stories, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

There is something rather wonderful about reading ghost stories during the time between Halloween and the New Year, and oh how I do like a good creepy read. I love nothing more than curling up with an atmospheric, spine-chilling novel whilst the wind howls outside and the lights flicker inside. It therefore gives me great pleasure to join in with the Halloween takeover for the very wonderful, very creepy The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

Synopsis

Some houses are never at peace.

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…

In the classic tradition of The Woman in Black, Anita Frank weaves a spell-binding debut of family tragedy, loss and redemption.

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My thoughts

I have had this book sitting on on my tbr pile for a few weeks now but I was due be away from home for a few nights, sleeping alone, and I just knew I would never have been able to sleep whilst reading it. How right I was! Once back in th safety of my own bed opened the first page and was immediately swept away. This is a delicously creepy, gripping novel, one that whispered into my thoughts even when I wasn’t reading it. At times I literally found myself holding my breath as I read.

Set in 1917 in the gentle english countryside at a time when the country is shrouded in the darkness of the First World War. So many mourn the loss of loved ones and Stella Marcham is still reeling from the death of her beloved fiancee Gerald. In an effort to distract herself from her sadness she travels to visit her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at Greyswick, an imposing country mansion where Madeleine’s husband spent his childhood. When Stella arrives at the house Madeleine is withdrawn and not herself. There is something deeply unsettling about the house that Stella can’t quite put her finger on. Strange things start to happen and these, alongside the ghostly noises and sobbing in the night, lead Stella to try and uncover the truth hidden in Greyswick’s past and the family who live there. There is much unexplained about this life and what happens next and sometimes secrets are best left undisturbed…just like the ghosts waiting in the shadows of the attic.

I can hardly believe that this is a debut. It’s wonderfully constructed and filled with all the ingredients of a nail biting gothic thriller. The atmosphere Anita creates is tangible. I could feel the chill of the room, hear the footsteps on the stair. I was completely absorbed and terrified as I disappeared into the pages. I absolutely adored it and having recently read Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black and Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger can absolutely say that Anita Frank is way up there with those brilliant authors of such calibre. Thoroughly recommended. This is sure to be a great success and would make the perfect read for the long, winter evenings ahead of us.

Thank you so much to the lovely team at HQstories for inviting me to read and review this novel as part of the amazing Halloween take over.

About the author

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A farmer’s daughter from Shropshire, Anita studied English and American History at the University of East Anglia before moving to London to work in media analysis and communications.

She left paid employment to become a stay-at-home mum when she had the first of her three children. Sadly, Anita‘s youngest child developed a rare form of epilepsy in infancy which has left him severely mentally disabled and she is now his full-time-carer, but she has begun snatching what time she can to pursue her lifelong ambition of writing historical fiction.

Anita now lives in Berkshire with her husband, her two lovely girls and her gorgeous boy, a fluffy cat with an attitude, and a bonkers Welsh Springer Spaniel.

You can follow Anita on Twitter at @Ajes74

Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Family Drama, Relationship Stories, Review, Romance

Coming Home To Winter Island by Jo Thomas

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Coming Home To Winter Island by Jo Thomas.

Synopsis

Do you need to find out where you’ve come from before you can know what the future holds?

Ruby’s singing career is on the verge of hitting the big time, when her voice breaks. Fearing her career is over, she signs up for a retreat in Tenerife to recover. But an unexpected call from a stranger on a remote Scottish island takes her on a short trip to sort out some family business. It’s time to go and see the grandfather she’s never met.

City girl Ruby knows she will be happy to leave the windswept beaches behind as quickly as she can, especially as a years-old family rift means she knows she won’t be welcome at Teach Mhor. But as she arrives at the big house overlooking the bay, she finds things are not as straightforward as she might have thought. There’s an unexpected guest in the house and he’s not planning on going anywhere any time soon …

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My thoughts

This is an absolutely gorgeous read that will warm the cockles of your heart and remind you that happiness can be found in the most unlikely of places.

I haven’t read any of Jo’s previous novels but I can honestly say that I absolutely adored Coming Home To Winter IslandIt has all the ingredients of a warmhearted, uplifting read that will take you away from the doom and gloom of everyday life.

Ruby Mac is on the verge of having everything she ever dreamed of fall into place.  A recording contract is within her grasp and once she has signed on the dotted line she and her boyfiend Joe will finally be able to make their relationship more official and move in together.  He is her greatest supporter after all and wants only what’s best for her career. Unfortunately just as she’s about to perform the most important gig of her career her voice deserts her. Unable to sing she is sent away on a retreat for rest and recovery in the hope that her voice will come back. Things don’t go quite as planned though and before she knows it she’s on a remote scottish island visiting a grandfather she’s never met in an effort to try and sort out his long term care after he becomes unable to continue living alone.  What should have been a short visit to sign the relevant paperwork to sell the house and get him into a care home soon becomes riddled with complications including an unwanted house guest who just won’t leave. There is unfinished business waiting for Ruby at Teach Mhor and she soon begins to realise that her life is not quite as idyllic as it seems and that happiness may just lie in a very different place to what she previously thought.

This is such a delicious novel.  I loved everything about it.  Ruby is a very engaging, likable character and I really enjoyed watching her journey as she finally came to understand the truth that lies in her family’s past. Jo’s wonderful setting made me wistfully dream of living in such a location amongst a tight knit community,  a place to put down roots and build memories.  Wonderfully escapist storytelling that will whisk you away and leave you with a warm feeling in your heart.

Thank you to the lovely Ann Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour and to Headline Review for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.  I abolutely loved it and look forward to discovering Jo’s previous novels.  LOVE discovering a new author. 🙂

About the author

1-2Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award.  Her follow-up novels, The Olive Branch, Late Summer in the Vineyard, The Honey Farm on the Hill, Sunset Over the Cherry Orchard, A Winter Beneath the Stars and My lemon Grove Summer are also highly acclaimed. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.

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Film talk, Review

One night with ‘Judy’

Just over a week ago I went to see the film Judy, a film about the iconic film star Judy Garland. It is set in the winter of 1968 when Judy arrives in London to perform for a sold-out run of concerts. These would prove to be her last and I found it an incredibly moving biopic of the star. The next morning I wrote the following which I’d like to share with you now.

Judy is not an accurate, historical depiction of the last few months of the life of Judy Garland. There are aspects of it that are of course but this is a lifetime rolled into a few months. Flash backs to the set of The Wizard of Oz, pills given to a young teenager just to make sure she was up when she needed to be and down when not, and then of course, when the drugs started to have no effect whatsoever. This wonderful, beautiful lady. She spent her life being wanted for her voice and the way it made others feel. Yet her self-esteem was low. There was always someone prettier and slimmer just waiting to take her place, or so she was told. People basked in her spotlight and yet it seems that the times when she met rock bottom they could be so unforgiving. The alcohol and addictions a byproduct of her childhood, how could she ever hope to overcome them? How could a lifetime of abuse ever not leave lasting damage?

Stunningly acted by Renée Zelwegger, Judy is, although heartbreakingly sad, a celebration of the person behind the voice. Her compassion, her fierce love for her children and her desire for normality. What I think the film had succeeded in, is to capture the essence of her life in just these last few months. The abuse, the loneliness, the loss of money, and much of it through no fault of her own, but she ultimately shouldered the responsibility.

Afterwards I delved deeper to see which elements of the film were added for ‘artistic licence’ and of course there is quite a bit. Perhaps if you are a stickler for historical accuracy then this may not be the film for you. It most certainly isn’t a documentary. Scenes and moments have been added as an expression of who she was and what she endured. I won’t be too specific so as not to spoil it but the portrayal works well to capture the love and adoration she received, her compassion and sense of connection with those who were considered a little different (such as the LQBT community at that time) and the persecution of it. Her highs when she found love and the hope of someone who she thought loved and needed her, and the crashing lows as it all came falling down. How the audience could be cruel if she wasn’t on her game (who throws rolls and boos someone til they run off stage?) and how they all wanted to be a part of it when she was on top. Of course she loved that audience and the adoration that she received but what this film shows is the sacrifice she made for it. From a very early age she was told she wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t thin enough, how she would be forgotten in an instant if it wasn’t for her voice. In that respect she was doomed from the beginning, perhaps never actually feeling loved and accepted for herself.

The final scenes where Judy is performing her final London performance is wonderful, it shows her at her best, pulling in the crowd, making them feel, making them love her. Yet it also shows her at her most vulnerable, showing just how much the business took from her and how, ultimately, there was nothing left to give. Renée’s performance here was particularly moving.

For me this is a film that encapsulates a life lived. A life of extreme highs but also many lows. There are moments of such tenderness that took my breath away along with my resolve to not cry along with it. Please don’t expect this to be historical accurate in every detail but understand that it is still Judy laid out before us.

It made me wonder about this actress who has always had a small part in my own life from the moment I watched The Wizard of Oz as a young child. Yes, the rainbow is slightly tainted now but it will never stop me enjoying the wonder of that incredible film that must have proved so magical when it first hit cinema screens. I remember saying to my son once as we sat watching the screen turn from black and white to colour. ‘Imagine that! Imagine seeing that beautiful colourful landscape up on the big screen for the first time’. Those magical ruby slippers that would eventually take Dorothy home. Judy Garland, I wonder, must have found it much more difficult to get there.

Judy Garland has never stopped touching people’s lives, she is still in the thoughts and hearts of many people. Only a few weeks ago I read and reviewed My Judy Garland Life by Susie Boyt. As well as my own personal interest in the star reading this book os one of the reasons I was so keen to see the film. I was intrigued by this star who sill had such a hold over people.

There is still so much that I don’t know about Judy Garland but one thing that I am sure about is that she will always be remembered and will never stop moving people. Long after the body is gone the song still remains.

*The film cover image is from the imbd website where there is further information about the film.

Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Historical Fiction, Literary

The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the wonderful novel by Iona Grey, The Glittering Hour.

Synopsis

1925. The war is over and a new generation is coming of age, keen to put the trauma of the previous one behind them. Selina Lennox is a Bright Young Thing whose life is dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure; to parties and drinking and staying just the right side of scandal. Lawrence Weston is a struggling artist, desperate to escape the poverty of his upbringing and make something of himself.

When their worlds collide one summer night, neither can resist the thrill of the forbidden, the lure of a love affair that they know cannot possibly last.
But there is a dark side to pleasure and a price to be paid for breaking the rules. By the end of that summer everything has changed.

A decade later, nine year old Alice is staying at Blackwood Hall with her distant grandparents, piecing together clues from her mother’s letters to discover the secrets of the past, the truth about the present, and hope for the future.

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My thoughts

Expertly crafted with a dual time setting The Glittering Hour firstly begins in early 1926, in the days soon after the Great War when the horrors of the past sit in the shadows and life is for living again. Then we move on ten years later and it is 1936, nine-year-old Alice is sent to stay with her cold and distant grandparents at Blackwood Park, the large country estate where her mother grew up.

Alice is missing her mother, Selina, desperately in the unwelcoming house. Her only comfort can found in the letters that her mother sends her. Through these letters a treasure hunt begins in which Selina tells Alice exactly where she comes from and so unfolds a story of love, passion and heartbreak.

This novel is a multi-faceted joy. It takes us back to a time in history where the world changed forever. The years after the First World War when loss was still raw and the ghosts of those who never came home are all around. A new age was dawning with the hedonistic lifestyle of the Bright Young Things rebelling against the suppression of the past.

I adored the treasure hunt theme flowing through. The anticipation of secrets being unearthed between mother and daughter. Selina and Alice have a wonderful relationship and Iona has written them perfectly. So much love, it is hard not to feel the pain of their separation.

Back in 1926, Lawrence, the struggling artist, is a wonderful expression of the time, his desire to create art through photography indicative of the changes occurring in the early 20th Century. He begins to capture moments and feelings. The now traditional method of processing printed images as they would magically appear, holding moments frozen in time. He and Selina are worlds apart in so many way and yet find comfort from the pain of the past together. How can their love survive in this world that is changing in so many ways but still held tight to the past?

Yet still nearly a decade later Alice is still feeling the ties and expectations of her time but finds allies in the old house with Polly and the gardener, the lovely Mr Patterson. But what secrets will she unearth as she follows her mother’s treasure hunt? What skeletons will be brought out into the open?

The Glittering Hour is a beautifully written, deeply moving piece of historical fiction. This is an absolutely stunning novel in so many ways. It is a story about love, holding tight to what’s dear and of living with the freedom to be true to ourselves.

Thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour and to the lovely people at Simon and Schuster for my review copy. This was a truly wonderful read. Pure escapism. 🙂

About the author

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Iona Grey has a degree in English Literature and Language from Manchester University, an obsession with history and an enduring fascination with the lives of women in the twentieth century. She lives in rural Cheshire with her husband and three daughters.

You can follow her on Twitter at @iona_grey.

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