#BookReview: The Survivors by Jane Harper @LittleBrownUK #TheSurvivors #damppebbles

“Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Yesterday was a very good day for book lovers. There were some absolutely cracking books published on Thursday 21st January 2021. So today I am delighted to be sharing my review of another eagerly anticipated release of 2021 with you, which is The Survivors by Jane Harper. I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Survivors but that has in no way influenced my review.

I absolutely adore Jane Harper’s books. Reading The Dry a few years ago, which was Harper’s debut, ignited a love of Australian crime fiction in me which burns bright to this day. The publication of a new Jane Harper novel is a big thing for me and something I always look forward to. Harper is a master of her craft and The Survivors is another intoxicating and beautifully intense mystery to add to her superb back catalogue. If you love crime fiction, you MUST read Harper’s novels.

Kieran Elliot has returned to Evelyn Bay with his young family to help his mother pack up the family home. His father’s illness is worsening – he’s become a danger to himself – so he’s being moved into residential care. Kieran’s mother needs to downsize and move closer to her husband. But returning to the small town he grew up stirs up old memories. He’s never really escaped the guilt and the regret but it’s a lot more difficult to avoid when everyone you meet knows what happened all those years ago. When a body is discovered on the beach the police are called to investigate. But the town of Evelyn Bay is full of secrets and tragedy is never far away….

Once again the author has excelled at making the three main elements of a novel the very best they can be. The plot is intriguing and keeps you turning the pages. The characters are all very normal people who, despite living a world away, you feel you can relate to in some way. And the setting is always as much a part of the story as the characters. I tend to favour characters in the books I read. I like character-driven stories with people who stand tall from the page. But there’s such a strong sense of place in Harper’s novels that you can’t help but fall in love with the drama and the danger of her settings. The crashing waves and the surging tides in The Survivors give a claustrophobic feel to proceedings which I couldn’t get enough of. It’s a thing of beauty and one of the many reasons Harper is one of my favourite authors.

This isn’t a ten thrills-a-minute novel but a confidently written slow unravelling of an older unsolved disappearance and a much more recent tragedy. Add to the mix the affection the reader feels for Kieran as we watch him struggle with his grief and all in all, this is one cracking read. The author takes her reader’s hand and leads them through the lives of her very real feeling characters until you’re part of their day to day lives – watching the drama play out from afar.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. If you love crime fiction then I heartily recommend The Survivors (alongside all of Harper’s other novels). I wasn’t able to work out the big reveal but I’m glad that was the case. It was shocking and saddening in equal measure. I think having an inkling of where the story was going would have spoilt that a little bit for me. Another masterclass from Jane Harper on how to write an all-round stunning novel. I couldn’t fault The Survivors and I’m now hoping I won’t have to wait too long until Harper publishes her next book. Whenever that happens, consider me first in line! Highly recommended.

I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Survivors. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Survivors by Jane Harper was published in the UK by Little, Brown on 21st January 2021 and is available in hardcover, digital and audio formats with the paperback to follow in September (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook DepositoryBookshop.orgGoodreads |

Jane Harper is the internationally bestselling author of The Dry and Force of Nature. Her third book, The Lost Man, was released in October 2018.

Jane has won numerous top awards including the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year, the Australian Indie Awards Book of the Year, the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel, and the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year.

Her books are published in more than 36 territories worldwide, with film rights sold to Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea.

Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK, and now lives in Melbourne.

Author Links: | Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads |

Review © Emma Welton | damppebbles.com

#BookReview: The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor @MichaelJBooks #TheBurningGirls #damppebbles

the burning girls“500 years ago: eight martyrs were burnt to death
30 years ago: two teenagers vanished without trace
Two months ago: the vicar committed suicide

Welcome to Chapel Croft.

For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo it’s supposed to be a fresh start. New job, new home. But, as Jack knows, the past isn’t easily forgotten.

And in a close-knit community where the residents seem as proud as they are haunted by Chapel Croft’s history, Jack must tread carefully. Ancient superstitions as well as a mistrust of outsiders will be hard to overcome.

Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns.

Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls?
Who’s sending them sinister, threatening messages?
And why did no one mention that the last vicar killed himself?

Chapel Croft’s secrets lie deep and dark as the tomb. Jack wouldn’t touch them if not for Flo – anything to protect Flo.

But the past is catching up with Chapel Croft – and with Jack. For old ghosts with scores to settle will never rest . . .”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of one of my most eagerly anticipated books of the year, The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor. The Burning Girls is published today (that’s Thursday 21st January 2021) and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow in the Summer. I received a free eARC of The Burning Girls but that has in no way influenced my review.

I LOVE C.J. Tudor’s books. Tudor is a master storyteller and a new release from this author is always a highlight of my bookish year. I’ve been repeatedly checking NetGalley for MONTHS in the hope of seeing The Burning Girls appear (fangirling to the extreme!). So imagine my joy when this brilliant book landed on my Kindle in all of its eerie glory. Tudor has once again written a very compelling and human story with a nod to the supernatural. I really enjoyed it.

Following a high profile incident in Reverend Jack Brooks’ previous parish, the Rev. and 15-year-old daughter, Flo, are made to up sticks and move to the sleepy Suffolk village of Chapel Croft. But Chapel Croft isn’t the picturesque haven it makes itself out to be. Chapel Croft has a dark past which the residents are surprisingly proud of. Jack and Flo’s welcome isn’t quite what they hoped for and soon strange things start happening to the new arrivals. When Flo starts having peculiar visions and an anonymous parcel containing macabre artefacts arrives, the new vicar begins to fear for their lives…

I loved Jack. What a fantastic and memorable creation! Not your average vicar by a long shot. The internal dialogue the reader is party to is a wonderful thing and shows how completely human Jack is. Brutally so. Fearing for Flo’s safety in today’s modern world, Jack is plagued by concerns for Flo but without being a helicopter parent. Their relationship is heart-warming and felt very real to me.

The chapters in The Burning Girls are either from Jack or Flo’s point of view with a third unknown narrator sharing insights from their dark past along with their troubling thoughts. I found the chapters from the unknown narrator particularly eerie but that’s what this author does with style! Tudor skilfully ratchets up the ‘creep-factor’ which I find makes her books so utterly readable. I found myself looking forward to hearing from Jack who, I confess, I think I’m a little bit in love with.

Not only does the village’s past dominate daily life, the case of two missing teenagers from thirty years ago still weighs heavy on Chapel Croft. The disappearance of the vicar, alleged to have been one of the last people to see the girls, adds to the mystery. Then there are Jack’s concerns over Flo’s new friend (boyfriend?) who Jack can’t help but feel uncomfortable around. After all, no one will ever be good enough for Flo, no matter who they are. Add to this the fact that Flo is the new girl in town and isn’t all that worried about fitting in and Jack’s worries skyrocket.

I loved the intricacies of this novel. The strands where, no matter how hard you try, you can’t see the connection. Then all of a sudden…BOOM! It all makes perfect sense. I was a little wary of one aspect of the book and was proved correct but that in no way spoiled my enjoyment of this cracking novel.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I would recommend The Burning Girls and all of Tudor’s previous books. Another engrossing read from a superbly talented writer. I was pulled into this story hook, line and sinker and I loved every minute of it. Twists and turns galore, nothing is as it first appears and I am very grateful to have read such a fantastic story. Tudor has done it again and written an eerie mystery which I lapped up. I’m now left counting down the days until book five is released. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Burning Girls. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor was published in the UK by Michael Joseph on 21st January 2021 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Book DepositoryBookshop.orgGoodreads |

about-the-author3

cj tudorC. J. Tudor lives in Sussex, England with her partner and daughter.

Over the years she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voiceover and dog-walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full-time, and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much.

#BookReview: The Appeal by Janice Hallett @ViperBooks #TheAppeal #damppebbles

the appeal“IN A TOWN FULL OF SECRETS
SOMEONE WAS MURDERED.

SOMEONE WENT TO PRISON.

AND EVERYONE’S A SUSPECT.

CAN YOU UNCOVER THE TRUTH?

Dear Reader – enclosed are all the documents you need to solve a case. It starts with the arrival of two mysterious newcomers to the small town of Lockwood, and ends with a tragic death.

Someone has already been convicted of this brutal murder and is currently in prison, but we suspect they are innocent. What’s more, we believe far darker secrets have yet to be revealed.

Throughout the Fairway Players’ staging of All My Sons and the charity appeal for little Poppy Reswick’s life-saving medical treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. Yet we believe they gave themselves away. In writing. The evidence is all here, between the lines, waiting to be discovered.

Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth?

The standout debut thriller of 2021 that delivers multiple brilliant twists, and will change the way you think about the modern crime novel.”

Hello and a very warm welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of the utterly captivating The Appeal by Janice Hallett. The Appeal is published by Viper Books today (that’s 14th January 2021) and is available in hardcover and digital formats, with the paperback to follow in the Summer. I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Appeal but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Viper Books for sending me an early proof of the book.

The Appeal is quite a feat! Writing and publishing a book doesn’t strike me as a simple thing to do (more like a mammoth, complicated one) and I give massive kudos to anyone who achieves it. Authors, you have my everlasting respect. But to write THIS book…WOW! The Appeal is like nothing I’ve read before and, if the fascinating yet unusual format catches on, I don’t think another author will be able to achieve the heady heights of sheer brilliance Hallett has reached in this, her debut. It’s very early in the year to be saying this but, if you only listen to one of my book recommendations this year, please, please, please make it this one. Get yourself a copy of The Appeal.

Normally at this point in a damppebbles review I would give my take on the plot. However, The Appeal is a very different reading experience and everything you need to know is written in the blurb. I started this book without a clue what to expect. I hadn’t looked the book up online, I hadn’t read the back or the inside cover. And from the opening introduction, I was intrigued. A murder, you say? Someone possibly wrongly convicted? Sounds pretty ‘normal fare’ for us crime fiction readers so far, right? But then it starts to get really interesting. The book, the story, is told using emails, reports, messenger transcripts and other digital forms of communication. All of it. From start to finish. It’s a brilliant achievement and I take my hat off to the author. To tell such an intricate story with so much detail in this format must have taken one heck of a lot of work and planning. The cherry on the top is that you, the reader, are tasked with solving the case. The evidence is laid before you and you need to read between the lines, spot the hidden truths in amongst the recovered conversations. The Appeal is something very special and I devoured it.

The book is set around an amateur dramatics group called The Fairway Players. Quite early on we’re given a list of those who make up the Players, which made my heart sink a little as there are quite a few names (along with their ages and their relationship to other members of the group). My ageing brain isn’t as quick or as capable as it used to be. So at this point, I did something I don’t normally do. I put a page marker in my copy of the book so I could refer back to the list if I needed to. Including the list so early in the book is a masterstroke. It’s then repeated later on as well which I think really helped cement who everyone is. Before long I was reading the email conversations between Hallett’s wonderfully written characters quickly and with ease.

And what a group of characters they are! The author has created an absorbing character study that shows exactly how ‘human’ humans can be. Flawed, deceitful, selfish and secretive. Unendingly loyal and protective. The email exchanges between these people are both fascinating and uncomfortable at times. You see scenarios from different points of view. Situations are ever so slightly changed in their retelling so the author of the email looks a little bit better than they would have done otherwise. One character’s desperation is utterly cringeworthy and, oh my gosh, the way they speak to each other…. Well, I was astounded! I felt on edge reading these exchanges, I wanted to know more as it was clear we were cleverly being drip-fed information bit by bit. What was going on behind the scenes, what secrets were we not party to? I loved it. Everything about The Appeal worked for me.

Would I recommend this book? I most definitely would, yes. I’ve barely scratched the surface of The Appeal in this review. I’ve not mentioned Roderick Tanner QC, Femi or Charlotte. I’ve not mentioned the fundraising drive to raise money for Poppy’s Appeal. I’ve not mentioned that there are no traditional chapters in this book (which I found a little mind bending until I got used to the format). And I’ve also not mentioned that you don’t find out who has been murdered until around two-thirds of the way through the book. Nor who has been put in prison for the crime.

The Appeal is a very clever, all-consuming novel which I struggled to put down. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about the characters. For the duration of my time with this book, I was 100% in its pages and now I’ve finished it, I feel a little bereft. For the record, I failed to work out whodunit. I spent a large proportion of the book hoping the author was actually going to tell us who the culprit was as I was flummoxed and if it was down to me, the appeal wouldn’t have been solved. I may not have solved the case but I had a few suspicions about a few other things and I was right about those so not all is lost. An absolutely outstanding piece of clever, brilliantly written crime fiction that deserves all the awards. I savoured every single moment I had with The Appeal. This is a book you need on your reading list. This is a book everyone is going to be talking about and oh boy, does it deserve it. Compelling and utterly irresistible. Highly recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Appeal. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett was published in the UK by Viper Books on 14th January 2021 and is available in hardcover and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | Goodreads |

about-the-author3

janice hallettJanice Hallett is a former magazine editor, award-winning journalist and government communications writer. She wrote articles and speeches for, among others, the Cabinet Office, Home Office and Department for International Development. Her enthusiasm for travel has taken her around the world several times, from Madagascar to the Galapagos, Guatemala to Zimbabwe, Japan, Russia and South Korea. A playwright and screenwriter, she penned the feminist Shakespearean stage comedy NetherBard and co-wrote the feature film Retreat, a psychological thriller starring Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell. The Appeal is her first novel.

#BookReview: Q by Christina Dalcher #QBook #damppebbles

“It begins as a way to make things fairer. An education system that will benefit everyone. It’s all in the name of progress.

This is what Elena Fairchild believes. As a teacher in one of the government’s elite schools for children with high ‘Q’ scores, she witnesses the advantages first-hand.

But when Elena’s own daughter scores lower than expected, she is taken away. Elena follows her to her new home. A government institute.

What she finds there makes Elena question everything. Because this world is about perfection – and that comes at a terrible price.”

Hello and a very warm welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my first review of 2021 with you which is for Q by Christina Dalcher. Q is published by HQ in paperback format today (that’s 7th January 2021). I chose to read and review a free ARC of Q but that has in no way influenced my review.

I have mixed feelings about Q. On the one hand the writing is powerful, the story immersive and the subject matter is highly emotive. On the other, I didn’t like any of the characters apart from one (one character in particular made my blood absolutely boil to the point he nearly sent me into a screaming rage) and despite frequently wanting to return to the book, I found myself needing to take regular breaks to calm my blood pressure and just stop thinking! Q is a devastating story which could, in fact, be all too plausible. I have Vox by the same author on my TBR and I now know that it’s going to break me, but I can’t wait to read it!

A new system has been implemented in the US which grades adults and children according to their intelligence, family standing, their income (or the income of their parents) and their attendance rate, among other things. Students and staff in the ‘new and improved’ school system are subjected to monthly high ranking tests to determine their individual ‘Q Score’.  The ‘Q’ is everything and can make or break a family in many ways. But that’s not something teacher Dr Elena Fairchild needs to worry about. Her husband, Malcolm, is the Deputy Education Secretary and her two daughters – teenage Anne and 9-year-old Freddie – are successful. But Elena has always had concerns over Freddie who is struggling with the pressure and suffers regular panic attacks come test day. Having slightly smudged Freddie’s prenatal Q score, Elena is always watchful over her younger, slightly less able daughter. And then Freddie fails the monthly test and is sent from her ‘green’ tiered middle school to a ‘yellow’ state school – the lowest of the low. Completely cut-off from seeing or speaking to her daughter, Elena does the only thing that makes sense. She fails her own test and gets sent to the same isolated school in Kansas. But what if everything you thought you knew wasn’t actually true? What if you’re now part of an evil, despicable plan to change humanity forever…?

Elena is an interesting character and I wanted to like and sympathise with her situation but there were certain things about her which irritated me no end. For example, despite the dawning realisation of the situation she finds herself in, she appeared to be part of the problem, alongside a teenage Malcolm. The flashbacks to ‘then’ detail a time when Elena and Malcolm were friends at school. Bullied and harassed for being nerds, the last in line for the school canteen, missing out on social events – you know how these things go when you’re a kid. The popular kids versus the not so popular kids. So a colour card system is introduced (oh the power these teenagers have in their school!) which soon puts the popular kids at the back of the queue. I guess I felt Elena only stepped up to the mark when her own family were affected, which I think is what the author was going for. A case of everything is hunky dory providing it doesn’t affect me…. But I also think the author wants you to side with this determined female lead, see the wrong she has done, forgive past decisions and cheer her on as she battles onward. But I just couldn’t. Elena Fairchild was past redemption for me. Nothing she said or did would save her.

In Q I met quite possibly the most frustrating, despicable and controlling character I have ever met in fiction – Elena’s husband, Malcolm Fairchild. He made my blood boil. The way he treated his wife and children, particularly Freddie, made me feel deeply uncomfortable and I hated him with every ounce of my being. I don’t think a book has ever affected me the way Q has. I went from being angry to being frustrated to being sad that the book was over and sobbing quietly to myself. I don’t cry often at the end of books and to be honest, I was surprised I did at Q but I think it really got under my skin.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I found Q to be a difficult read but I became so emotionally involved with the story and, despite not liking the characters, there was an attachment of some sort there which left me feeling a little bereft once I had finished the last page. The subject matter is highly emotive and the story-telling doesn’t pull any punches which I applaud Dalcher for. I found Q to be a very compelling novel despite wanting to throw it through the window several times because it made me angry (I hope that’s what the author wants her readers to feel!). I would have liked Elena to be a little less agreeable and to have a little more sass. She felt almost ‘sheep-like’ at times and that frustrated me no end. But, that aside, this is a very readable book which will be hard to forget. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of Q. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Q by Christina Dalcher was published in the UK by HQ on 7th January 2021 and is available in hardcover, audio, paperback and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook DepositoryGoodreadsBookshop.org |

Christina Dalcher is a linguist, novelist, and flash fiction writer living in the American South. She has over 100 publishing credits in the UK, US, and Australia. Recognitions include first prize in the Bath Flash Fiction Award (February 2019), second prize in the 2016 Bartleby Snopes Dialogue-Only Contest, and nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions.

Her flash fiction appears in The Molotov Cocktail Prize Winners’ anthology, Whiskey Paper, Split Lip Magazine, (b)OINK, Five2One Magazine, and several others.

Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents Christina’s novels, including the international best seller VOX.

Christina lives with her husband and the ghosts of several dogs and cats.

To read more about her, or see samples of her work, please visit http://www.christinadalcher.com