#BookReview: The It Girl by Ruth Ware @simonschusterUK #TheItGirl #damppebbles #20booksofsummer22

Everyone wanted her life
Someone wanted her dead

It was Hannah who found April’s body ten years ago.
It was Hannah who didn’t question what she saw that day.
Did her testimony put an innocent man in prison?

She needs to know the truth.

Even if it means questioning her own friends.
Even if it means putting her own life at risk.

Because if the killer wasn’t a stranger, it’s someone she knows…”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The It Girl by Ruth Ware. The It Girl will be published by Scout Press later this week (that’s Thursday 4th August 2022) and will be available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read a free ARC of The It Girl but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Sabah at Scout Press for sending me a proof copy.

Confession time! Despite being a crime reader and despite many (MANY!) people telling me how much I would enjoy Ruth Ware’s books, The It Girl is in fact the first book I’ve read by this author. I know. I’m ashamed of myself. But I have righted the wrong and all is good with the damppebbles world once more. And what a fantastic experience it was (I know, I know – you told me so 😂).

Tragedy struck the Pelham College community ten years ago when It Girl, April Clarke-Cliveden was discovered dead in her room by roommate and best friend, Hannah. Hannah still mourns the loss of April to this day and is shocked when the death of April’s killer, John Neville, is reported. Neville’s death brings the story back into the spotlight and a dogged journalist to Hannah’s door. The journalist believes that Neville was innocent, turning Hannah’s world upside down as her evidence and her evidence alone sent Neville to prison. Hannah reaches out to her college friends for comfort but they reveal some startling truths which send Hannah in a spin. Because if Neville didn’t kill April, someone else did…

The first thing I need to say about The It Girl is that I adored the setting. Pelham College is a fictional Oxford college but it could be based on any number of real life colleges. It felt so authentic, so true to life. I can say that because I worked at an Oxford college for many years and everything the author included about college life, the set-up and the workings was spot-on! All the terminology came flooding back and it was lovely to step back in time and experience it all over again in fictional form (of course, ignoring the creepy porter and the tragic death which are both present in the book!).

The story is told in the past and the present. In the past the reader gets to meet April and experience the events which led to her death. And in the present we watch as Hannah slowly realises that she may have sent an innocent man to prison and if that’s true, the biggest shocker of all, that April’s killer is still out there. Ware’s characters were very well-written and I really enjoyed the group dynamic between the friends during their time at Pelham. But the more I got to know them in the present-day setting, the less I trusted them. I was determined to solve the mystery before the reveal but I failed miserably. My jaw hit the floor, my gob was well and truly smacked! What a fantastic ending, high tension and completely unexpected. I loved it.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The It Girl is a gripping, hugely engaging and eminently readable mystery which I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved spending time in the company of Hannah who grew on me more and more as the story progressed. I enjoyed the journey Hannah took from being certain about Neville’s guilt to realising that perhaps things weren’t quite as she remembered to obsessively following leads which eventually lead her somewhere she never expected to be. A setting I’m incredibly fond of which brought back happy memories, well-defined and interesting characters who all played their part perfectly and a gripping storyline which had me glued to the pages. As I mentioned, this is the first book I have read by Ruth Ware but it certainly won’t be the last. Recommended.

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

The It Girl by Ruth Ware was published in the UK by Scout Press on 4th August 2022 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 | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Ruth WareRuth Ware grew up in Sussex, on the south coast of England. After graduating from Manchester University she moved to Paris, before settling in North London. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer. She is married with two small children, and In a Dark, Dark Wood is her début thriller.

#BookReview: Follow Me to the Edge by Tariq Ashkanani @AmazonPub @CapitalCrime1 @FMcMAssociates #FollowMeToTheEdge #damppebbles #20booksofsummer22

Rookie detective Joe Finch knows better than most what tragedy looks like. But trying to solve the brutal murder of an entire family? Just another day in Cooper.

Even for the sleazy backwater of Cooper, Nebraska, the multiple murder of an entire family, brutally bludgeoned to death in their beds, is big news.

Detective Joe Finch, raw with guilt over his partner’s traumatic shooting during a routine traffic stop, hopes the case will at least focus his mind. But then he discovers that the crime scene is the house he grew up in, and the ghosts of his own tragic childhood come rushing back to confront him.

As Finch dredges the corrupt and criminal mires of Cooper in a desperate search for the truth, the only certainty is that everyone there is lying. Caught between greedy politicians, a violent cartel boss, an ambitious reporter and a sinister cult lurking in the cornfields on the outskirts of town, Finch is soon out of his depth.

In a town where the law exists only to be bent or broken, can Finch steel himself against entrenched evil and the haunting spectre of his past—and live to serve justice in Cooper?”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Follow Me to the Edge by Tariq Ashkanani. Follow Me to the Edge was published by Thomas & Mercer on 8th March 2022 and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats. My copy of Follow Me to the Edge arrived at damppebbles HQ as part of my Capital Crime Book subscription which I fervently recommend to all crime fiction fans. And make sure you don’t miss the Capital Crime Festival in London in late September (scroll down for more information).

Follow Me to the Edge is the second book in Ashkanani’s ‘Cooper series’. The first being the excellent Welcome to Cooper which, once again, I can thank the marvels at Capital Crime for putting on my radar towards the end of last year. But this is not a follow on from the previous book, oh no! This is more of an origins story where the reader meets a younger, inexperienced Detective Joe Finch – a character who played in a key role in the first book. I thoroughly enjoyed Ashkanani’s first Cooper book so was excitedly champing at the bit to make a start on this latest instalment.

It’s 1993 and newly qualified Cooper detective, Joe Finch, is called to the scene of a brutal murder. Three members of the Richardson family are dead in their beds, bludgeoned to death. David, the father, is found on the banks of the reservoir, stabbed through the heart. The initial cause of death mooted by many is murder-suicide. But Joe, who is overly familiar with the Richardson family home, makes a shocking discovery. A piece of evidence which raises many more questions than it answers. With police corruption rife within the upper echelons of Cooper PD, and fuelled by guilt and regret over the shooting of his partner, and the inescapable memories of his troubled past, it’s down to Joe to unpick what little evidence he has and find out who killed the Richardson family…

Follow Me to the Edge is a fantastic follow up to the first book in the series. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting a younger, less experienced, quite different version of Joe Finch. To the point where I actually warmed to Joe’s character despite him having very few redeeming qualities in the first book! Follow Me to the Edge can certainly be read without reading Welcome to Cooper but I think you would miss out on experiencing the contrast between now and then. Joe is a fascinating, multi-layered character – the more I discover about him, the more I can understand him. Sort of. I loved how this book provided the background to two key relationships in Joe’s life. The reader has now seen the bones of these connections, ready for the author to build upon (I hope) in the future.

It was a joy to return to Cooper, Nebraska after my first visit in Welcome to Cooper. Despite going back in time (this book is set in 1993, before the events in the first book) the place didn’t really feel as though it had changed much. Still a dead-end town where the rules don’t always apply. Still not a lot of hope amongst those who call it home. Alongside Joe’s investigation into the murder of the Richardson’s is a subplot featuring what is clearly a cult. These chapters were incredibly intriguing and I was keen to see in what direction the author was going to take this storyline. I have to say, it all fits in perfectly, I couldn’t have guessed how it was going to conclude but the author ties everything up in such a clever and satisfying way. It was a bit of a gasp out loud moment for me. Expertly done.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. But I would encourage you to read Welcome to Cooper first so you can become familiar with some of the characters beforehand. Follow Me to the Edge is a very assured, very readable follow up which drew me in and didn’t let go. Ashkanani has a talent for writing interesting, believable characters which I really appreciate. I particularly liked Ackerman. The plot was well paced with lots of surprises along the way and the setting felt like a character in its own right. Nebraskan noir at its finest! I hope there is more to come from Cooper but if there’s not (and I have no idea either way!) then I will happily read whatever the author delivers next. I really enjoy the way Ashkanani tells a story. Recommended.

Follow Me to the Edge by Tariq Ashkanani was published in the UK by Thomas & Mercer on 8th March 2022 and is available in paperback, 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 | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Tariq Ashkanani

Tariq Ashkanani is a solicitor based in Edinburgh, where he also helps run Write Gear, a company that sells high-quality notebooks for writers, and co-hosts Write Gear’s podcast Page One. His follow-up thriller, Follow Me to the Edge, is out now.

CAPITAL CRIME RETURNS IN SEPTEMBER WITH RICHARD OSMAN, ANTHONY HOROWITZ, DOROTHY KOOMSON AND PAULA HAWKINS TO HEADLINE

Richard Osman, Rev. Richard Coles, Kate Mosse, Robert Harris, Dorothy Koomson, Bella Mackie and Paula Hawkins are amongst the authors confirmed for Capital Crime, London’s only crime and thriller festival, which returns 29th September-1st October after its hugely successful inaugural event in 2019.

Taking place in London’s stunning Battersea Park, Capital Crime will be hosting over 164 panellists, bringing together readers, authors, industry figures and the local community for the first major literary festival held on the site. With a Goldsboro Books pop-up bookshop in the iconic Pump House Gallery, the first ever Fingerprint Awards ceremony, alongside an array of London’s tastiest local street food vendors and bar area, it promises to be a weekend of fun, innovation and celebration of crime fiction.

On the opening night (Thursday 29th September), Anthony Horowitz, Kim Sherwood and Charlie Higson will be discussing all things Bond, and the role the capital city has played in the fictional spy’s life, and the 007 car from Sherwood’s incredible new novel, ‘DOUBLE OR NOTHING’ will be on display at the heart of the festival, in association with Alpine and Ian Fleming Publications.

Thursday’s programming will comprise of a series of events dedicated to Capital Crime’s social outreach programme, in which two sixth form students and their teachers from schools in and around the capital will be invited to meet with authors and publishing professionals to demystify the industry and attract new and diverse young voices into publishing.

Robert Harris will be in conversation with comedian and podcaster Andrew Hunter Murray, discussing dystopian fiction, and there will also be a very special opportunity for aspiring authors to pitch their novel idea to agents David Headley (DHH), Emily Glenister (DHH), Camilla Bolton (Darley Anderson) or Phillip Patterson (Marjacq). The first evening will close with the very first Fingerprint Award Ceremony. The winners, selected by readers across five categories Crime Novel of the Year; Thriller Novel of the Year; Historical Crime Novel of the Year; Debut Novel of the Year and Genre-Busting Novel of the Year, will be announced alongside a very special Lifetime Achievement Award and Industry Award of the Year.

Friday’s events include Jeffrey Deaver, Michael Robotham and Mark Billingham interviewed on the theme of ‘Crime Across Continents’ by Victoria Selman, and Mark Edwards, Will Dean, Erin Young and Chris Whitaker speaking to Tariq Ashkanani about setting their thrillers in the US. In addition, Abir Mukherjee, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Anna Mazzola and Jessica Fellowes will be speaking to Suzy Edge about historical crime writing, and Dorothy Koomson and Kate Mosse will be in conversation about their work with the Women’s Prize and the versatility of crime fiction. Claire McGowan, David Beckler, Catriona Ward, Chris Carter, Nicci French, W.C. Ryan, Stuart Neville and Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir will also be taking part in panels on the themes of courtroom dramas, ghost stories, crime set in Brighton and medicine in crime fiction, amongst other topics, throughout the day, and the first two rounds of Capital Crime’s quiz ‘Whose Crime Is It Anyway?’ will take place, featuring teams of debut authors.

Saturday will see Peter James interviewed on his writing career by clinical psychologist Chris Merritt; bestsellers Jeffrey Archer, Lucy Foley and Clare Mackintosh in conversation with Barry Forshaw and a Polari Panel hosted by Paul Burston. Other events include former President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom Lady Hale in conversation with Harriet Tyce; bestselling Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson in conversation with the Prime Minister of Iceland Katrin Jakobsdottir; Sarah Vaughan, Louise Candlish and Paula Hawkins discussing the experience of screen adaptations, before rounding off the festival with Richard Osman in conversation with Bella Mackie.

The final round of ‘Whose Crime is it Anyway?’ will also take place, as well as panels on the topics of spies, Grand Dames, detectives and comedy crime featuring Vaseem Khan, Robert Thorogood, Antti Tuomainen, Steve Cavanagh, Jane Casey, Catherine Ryan Howard and Steph Broadribb.

As well as panels and events, there will be exciting public events throughout the weekend, including launch events for Elly Griffiths’ breath-taking new thriller Bleeding Heart Yard, The Perfect Crime anthology, which brings twenty-two bestselling crime writers from across the world together in a razor sharp and deliciously sinister collection of crime stories, and an interactive treasure hunt inspired by Peter James’s latest blockbuster, Picture You Dead (publisher). There will also be entertainment, including a crime-themed comedy performance from The Noise Next Door on Thursday.

The full programme can be found here.

Book your tickets here. I hope to see you there!

#BookReview: No Country for Girls by Emma Styles @BooksSphere #NoCountryForGirls #damppebbles #20booksofsummer22

GOLD. THEFT. MURDER.
A ROAD TRIP TO DIE FOR.

Charlie and Nao are strangers from different sides of the tracks. They should never have met, but one devastating incident binds them together forever.

A man is dead and now they are unwilling accomplices in his murder there’s only one thing to do: hit the road in the victim’s twin cab ute, with a bag of stolen gold stashed under the passenger seat.

Suddenly outlaws, Nao and Charlie must make their way across Australia’s remote outback using only their wits to survive. They’ll do whatever it takes to evade capture and escape with their lives . . .

Thelma & Louise for a new generation, No Country for Girls is a gritty, twisty road-trip thriller that follows two young women on the run across the harsh, unforgiving landscape of Australia.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of No Country for Girls by Emma Styles. No Country for Girls is published by Sphere Books today (that’s Thursday 21st July 2022) and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow next year. I chose to read and review a free ARC of No Country for Girls but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Sphere Books for sending me a proof copy.

If you’re a regular visitor to the blog then you may be aware that Australian crime fiction is very much a passion of mine and it’s my mission to read it all! So when I saw No Country for Girls mentioned on the socials, I jumped at the chance to read it. It felt a little different to my usual go-to Aussie reads, more of a modern day Thelma and Louise than the police procedurals set in a dusty town I tend to pick up. And what a joy it was!

Charlie and Nao, two teenagers living very different lives, are forced on the run after things go horribly wrong and one of them accidentally kills a man. With a bag full of gold and driving the victim’s stolen ute, they hit the road knowing that if they don’t, there’s a chance they won’t be alive for much longer. But the road ahead is tough. The outback is a very lonely place and it’s clear they’re being tailed. Someone wants the gold, they’ll go to any length to get it and the girls must do whatever it takes to survive…

No Country for Girls is a tense, thrilling read which I very much enjoyed. Charlie and Nao are both likeable characters and I found myself warming to them as the book progressed. However, as much as I liked them, they really weren’t keen on each other! Coming from very different backgrounds, having very different approaches to life and at times a different understanding of their situation, really added to the tension of the story and kept me turning the pages, desperate to find out how things would end for them both. I really enjoyed watching their initial frostiness towards each other thaw a little as the story neared its climax.

The plot moves at a great pace with many ‘hold your breath’ moments along the way and lots of well-written, thrilling action. The locations the girls stopped at along the way were all vividly drawn and I could picture the scenes unfolding in my mind with ease. But the absolute highlight for me was the drama the author captured in one of the final scenes which felt a little Bond-esque to me. OK, it was perhaps a little far-fetched (maybe it wasn’t – I live in a small rural town in the south of England – what do I know about the Australian Outback?!), but I didn’t give a damn! It was exciting, it was something I don’t think I’ve encountered in a novel before and I loved how theatrical it was!

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. No Country for Girls is an action packed, high-octane read featuring two great characters you can’t help but like. I loved the setting, it felt authentic and very vivid. I loved the urgency of the writing and the way the tension built almost from the opening chapter. You could feel the characters were in a race against time with the ever-present threat right at their heels. This is an accomplished debut and I look forward to reading more from Styles in the future. All in all, a gripping road trip thriller overflowing with well-written tension which I very much enjoyed. Recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of No Country for Girls. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

No Country for Girls by Emma Styles was published in the UK by Sphere Books on 21st July 2022 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow (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.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Emma StylesEmma Styles writes contemporary Australian noir about young women taking on the patriarchy. She grew up on Whadjuk Noongar Country in Perth, Western Australia and now lives in London where she was born. Emma loves a road trip and once sat out a cyclone on the north west coast of WA in a LandCruiser Troop Carrier. She is less afraid of great white sharks than she should be, and hopeless at surfing.

Emma has an MA in crime fiction from the University of East Anglia. Her debut novel, No Country for Girls, won the Little, Brown UEA Crime Fiction Award in 2020 and will be published by Sphere in the UK in July 2022, and by Hachette in Australia and New Zealand in September.

#BookReview: Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi @TitanBooks #BlackMouth #damppebbles #20booksofsummer22

“A group of friends return to their hometown to confront a nightmare they first stumbled on as teenagers in this mesmerising odyssey of terror.
An atmospheric, haunting page-turner from the bestselling author of Come with Me

For nearly two decades, Jamie Warren has been running from darkness. He’s haunted by a traumatic childhood and the guilt at having disappeared from his disabled brother’s life. But then a series of unusual events reunites him with his estranged brother and their childhood friends, and none of them can deny the sense of fate that has seemingly drawn them back together.

Nor can they deny the memories of that summer, so long ago – the strange magic taught to them by an even stranger man, and the terrible act that has followed them all into adulthood. In the light of new danger, they must confront their past by facing their futures, and hunting down a man who may very well be a monster.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi. Black Mouth is published by Titan Books today (that’s Tuesday 19th July 2022) and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats. I chose to read a free eARC of Black Mouth but that has in no way influenced my review.

One of my standout books from 2021 was Malfi’s beautifully haunting Come With Me which to this day, nearly a year later, I can bring to mind with ease. I remember accurately how the book made me feel, I remember how fond I was of the lead character and how I lived the journey with him. So it goes without saying that Malfi was put straight on my ‘must read’ author list and I made a start on Black Mouth as soon as it landed with me.

Jamie Warren is a haunted man who tries to find solace at the bottom of a bottle. When he receives a call to return to his childhood home he knows there’s no way he can refuse, no matter how much he wants to. His brother needs him and Jamie is the only person Dennis has left to turn to. But the Warren’s childhood home is on the edge of a notorious area of Sutton’s Quay, dubbed by the locals as Black Mouth. The last thing anyone wanted to be was a Black Mouth kid, and Jamie and his friends paid the price on a daily basis. Rumours of hauntings and strange goings-on were rife in the area. He knows returning to his childhood home will stir up feelings he’s been trying to mask for nearly twenty years. Because something terrible happened to Jamie and his friends in the eerie Black Mouth woods, and it looks as though there’s no escape from the terror of the past…

Absolutely stunning! Once again Malfi has delivered a tale which draws the reader into the story, getting under their skin, and which features the most exquisitely written, nuanced characters. I fell head over heels in love with the author’s writing and his wholly believable creations. When I think about Jamie, Dennis, Mia and Clay I am very much reminded of the way Chris Whitaker’s characters in We Begin at the End made me feel (and WBatE is my all-time favourite book!). Which makes Black Mouth something very special indeed (and, with hindsight, I would include its predecessor, Come With Me, in the same category – they’re both exceptional books). Told in the past and the present this absorbing story of childhood trauma and the scars it leaves behind was totally unforgettable. Beautifully written, extremely unnerving and impossible to put down.

Malfi has created a perfectly unpalatable setting in the form of Black Mouth with its dark past. A prosperous mining town until the day the mine collapsed, burying the coalminers alive and taking out acres of woodland and several houses in the process. The area, little more than a crater in the earth, was renamed Black Mouth by the locals as it looked, from above, like a gaping mouth with sharp, pointy fangs. Add the mysterious ‘Magician’ whom Jamie, Mia and Clay meet when they’re eleven years old and the creep factor is ramped up tenfold! Personally magicians leave me cold (along with clowns) so I found myself even more on edge than the author probably hoped for by the situation the characters found themselves in.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Black Mouth is a captivating, emotional, yet creepy story of childhood trauma and how, as we get older, the nightmares we faced as children can still be just as frightening, the memories just as destructive. The characters are sublime, the setting was perfect and the writing is divine. Completely absorbing, totally immersive, I was addicted to this book from the moment I cracked the spine and I now feel bereft that my time with Jamie, Mia and Clay, and of course the pure delight that is Dennis, is over. I’m so excited to see what’s next for the author. You can be sure of one thing, I’ll be at the front of the queue! Highly recommended.

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

Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi was published in the UK by Titan Books on 19th July 2022 and is available in paperback, 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 | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Ronald Damien MalfiRonald Malfi is the award-winning author of several horror novels, mysteries, and thrillers. He is the recipient of two Independent Publisher Book Awards, the Beverly Hills Book Award, the Vincent Preis Horror Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award, and his novel Floating Staircase was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Maryland and tweets at @RonaldMalfi

#BookReview: The Trial by S.R. Masters @0neMoreChapter_ #TheTrial #damppebbles #20booksofsummer22

“Would you sign up to a medical trial if you didn’t know the possible side effects?

18-40? PAID CLINICAL TRIAL IN THE CANARY ISLANDS – UP TO £20,000 TAX FREE

It seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. An all-inclusive luxury trip abroad, all you need to do is take a pill every day and keep a diary.

Except you don’t know anything about the drug or what its side effects might be.

The headaches start, a dull ache at first. Every day worse than the last.

Then a body is found.

Everyone is a suspect. Anyone could be a killer. Even you . . .

2022’s biggest summer thriller, for fans of Alex Michaelides, T. M. Logan and JP Delaney”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Trial by S.R. Masters. The Trial was published by One More Chapter last week (that’s Thursday 7th July 2022) and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Trial but that has in no way influenced my review.

So the question is, would you? Would you sign up for a clinical trial without knowing what the drug you were going to be ingesting was? Or the possible side effects? No, nor me. But oh my goodness, that blurb had my attention immediately! The blurb combined with the striking cover, the fact that I read and enjoyed the author’s debut and once again, THAT BLURB ensured that I couldn’t let The Trial pass me by. I had to read this book and I’m so glad I did!

Elle really needs a holiday! Following a frightening experience at work she decides to book a well-deserved break. But her plans fall through when her holiday money is needed elsewhere. So whilst in a bad mood one evening, most of the way down a bottle of wine, Elle sees a Facebook advert for a clinical trial. The ad promises four relaxing weeks at a luxurious resort in the Canary Islands, plus £20,000 tax free on completion of the trial. Elle can’t see the harm in signing up. She knows they’re bound to be inundated with applications so it’s unlikely she’ll be chosen. So when a confirmation email arrives, Elle can’t believe her luck. As she boards the private plane she begins to wonder what she’s let herself in for. What drug are they being given? What are the side effects? And will all twelve subjects make it out alive…?

The Trial is an intriguing thriller with a different yet highly compelling edge to it which kept me turning the pages late into the night. The author has expertly created a cast of mostly unlikeable characters who the reader can’t help but doubt the integrity of. This is particularly so after the discovery of a body. Elle is clearly out of her depth and the only member of the group who seems to realise that things in paradise aren’t as perfect as they were made out to be. As the situation worsens and things really start to spiral out of control, she and Benji (who is employed by the trial organisers to oversee the health and well-being of the participants 24/7) realise that they very much need to watch their own backs.

The plot is well-written throughout and introduces the reader to the many different personalities on the island. The first two thirds of the book are a slow build setting the scene, allowing the reader to see what makes each trial participant tick, along with finding out a little more about the support staff. The last third of the story is where the author really ramps the tension up and I found myself holding my breath on several occasions. I have to confess that this book was one of my holiday reads – we went to Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands (the location of the book although not the same island!) for a week – and at times I perhaps did regret choosing it. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers but events were maybe a little too close to home.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Trial is a well-written, intriguing story which I enjoyed. I do wish I hadn’t read it on holiday but that’s my fault, no one else’s. I was able to predict what the drug they were testing was for but there were still several twists and turns along the way I didn’t see coming. I would happily read another book by this author and look forward to seeing what Masters delivers next. Recommended.

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

The Trial by S.R. Masters was published in the UK by One More Chapter on 7th July 2022 and is available in paperback, 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.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook Depositorybookshop.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shop |

S R Masters grew up around Birmingham in the UK. After studying Philosophy at Cambridge University, he worked in public health. He currently lives in Oxford with his wife and children.

His short fiction and novels have been published internationally. Labelled as “a writer to watch” by Publishers Weekly, his books include THE KILLER YOU KNOW (Sphere) and the forthcoming THE TRIAL (HarperCollins).

20 Books of Summer Challenge #20booksofsummer22 #amreading #amreviewing #damppebbles #bookblogger #BookTwitter

Hello bookish pals and welcome to damppebbles.

After a mini hiatus last year, and on the back of my somewhat shocking success in 2020, I’m excited to be joining Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer challenge again this year (check out Cathy’s BRILLIANT blog at 746 Books)!

Now, you may say that in 2020 we were in the middle of a lockdown and therefore finding the time to read was perhaps a little easier. You may also say that we’re now NOT in a lockdown, life seems to be returning to some sort of semblance of normality and the time period we’re talking about covers a whole six weeks where two young children (my children) will expect me to entertain them during their waking hours. You may say that and yes, you would be very sensible to point that out! Using a pinch of common sense I should, in theory, drop the target from twenty books to say, perhaps, fifteen? That would be sensible, right? I laugh in your face ‘sensible’. I’m going for the big TWO OH again this year, which I’m sure to regret.

Our lovely host as always is the fabulous Cathy. If you would like to take part yourself then you’re very welcome to join in – the more, the merrier. More information about #20BooksofSummer can be found HERE where you can also sign up yourself if you fancy it. Cathy is very relaxed about the rules, which is lucky for me. I think I may need a spot of leniency this year 😰. You can choose to read 10, 15 or 20 books during the challenge which starts on 1st June and runs until 1st September. Want to change your choices part way through? That’s fine. Want to drop from 20 to 10 books. Also fine. Check out Cathy’s sign up post for all the information you need.

Selecting my twenty books this year was tough. Seventy-five percent of my choices in 2020 came from my NetGalley shelf which made a hefty dent in my TBR and increased my NG percentage a heck of a lot. This year, the three books I still have to read on my NetGalley shelf are all included in my list. The rest is made up of review copies from publishers – past and present – and my own books. I’ve also made sure that I’ve included three books from my ’12 books in 12 months’ challenge, otherwise I’m going to fall even further behind with that one. I think it’s a cracking list and I’d be interested to hear what you think!

The Trial by S.R. Masters (One More Chapter)
Black Mouth by Ronald Malfi (Titan Books)
A Sliver of Darkness by C.J. Tudor (Penguin Michael Joseph)
True Crime Story by Joseph Knox (Penguin Books)
Follow Me to the Edge by Tariq Ashkanani (Thomas & Mercer)

What Lies Between Us by John Marrs (Thomas & Mercer)
The Watchers by A.M. Shine (Aries)
Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi (Penguin Books)
Black Widows by Cate Quinn (Orion)
Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker (Bonnier Zaffre)

No Country for Girls by Emma Styles (Sphere)
The It Girl by Ruth Ware (Simon & Schuster)
The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh (Sphere)
Then She Vanishes by Claire Douglas (Penguin Books)
The Sound of Her Voice by Nathan Blackwell (Orion)

The Collective by Alison Gaylin (Orion)
Hunting Evil by Chris Carter (Simon & Schuster)
The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson (HQ)
Until the Debt is Paid by Alexander Hartung translated by Steve Anderson (Amazon Crossing)
Damage by Caitlin Wahrer (Penguin Books)

What a good looking bunch they are, even if I do say so myself! Have you read any of them? Any you’re really looking forward to reading? Are you taking part in the challenge this year? I’d love to see your books so please feel free to leave a link to your challenge post in the comments!

If you would like to join in then there’s still plenty of time as we don’t kick off until 1st June. Go on, give it a try. How hard can it be, right…? 😉

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#BookReview: Last Breath by Robert Bryndza @bookouture #LastBreath #20booksofsummer20 #damppebbles

last breath“He’s your perfect date. You’re his next victim.

When the tortured body of a young woman is found in a dumpster, her eyes swollen shut and her clothes soaked with blood, Detective Erika Foster is one of the first at the crime scene. The trouble is, this time, it’s not her case.

While she fights to secure her place on the investigation team, Erika can’t help but get involved and quickly finds a link to the unsolved murder of a woman four months earlier. Dumped in a similar location, both women have identical wounds – a fatal incision to their femoral artery.

Stalking his victims online, the killer is preying on young pretty women using a fake identity. How will Erika catch a murderer who doesn’t seem to exist?

Then another girl is abducted while waiting for a date. Erika and her team must get to her before she becomes another dead victim, and, come face to face with a terrifyingly sadistic individual.

Gripping, tense and impossible to put down, Last Breath will have you on the edge of your seat, racing to the final dramatic page.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles on a very exciting day. Not only have I managed to put this post together with the new WordPress Block Editor (just ignore me if you don’t use WordPress, but I know there are a couple of bloggers out there who will feel my pain) but today is the day I share my TWENTIETH 20 Books of Summer review with you, which is for Last Breath by Robert Bryndza. Last Breath was published digitally by Bookouture in April 2017 and by Sphere in paperback more recently (November 2019). I chose to read and review an eARC of Last Breath but that has in no way influenced my review.

It’s no secret that I love this series. I’ve come to realise of late that my true reading passion lies with police procedurals and serial killer novels. If I could only read one sub-genre for ever more, it would be police procedurals. No doubt about it. And the Detective Erika Foster series by the hugely talented Robert Bryndza is one of the best I’ve found.

Always keen to solve the crime, Detective Erika Foster is one of the first officers to respond to the scene of a brutal murder. The only problem is, it’s not her case and she’s most definitely not welcome. No matter how hard she argues. When Erika is the only person to spot a connection to a similar recent murder, and following the sudden demise of one of her colleagues, she fights her way onto the investigation and into the SIO chair. But there’s a sadistic killer stalking the streets of London targeting young woman, and time is running out. Can Detective Foster and the team connect the dots and find out who the mysterious killer is before it’s too late…

I really enjoyed this book (as I have enjoyed all previous books in this series). The author’s writing is absolutely spot-on and it draws you into the story instantly. I have such a soft spot for Detective Foster who is feisty and fearless. Her drive and determination to solve the case know no bounds. I flipping love it! Add to that the support of her outstanding team and Last Breath ticks all the boxes.

You do discover who the killer is fairly early on in the book but that allows the author to paint a much more vivid picture of them, showing the external factors which may have helped mould them into a merciless murderer (or maybe they’re just a psychopath, huh?). I really enjoyed seeing some of the story from their side of things too. The plotting, the planning, the manipulation and the entrapment. All wonderfully compelling and had me on the edge of my seat.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Last Breath and all of the Detective Erika Foster books that came before. This is a great series which crime fiction fans shouldn’t miss out on. I’m delighted to have two more books left to read in the Detective Foster series before I move on to Bryndza’s new Kate Marshall series. Incredibly readable, thoroughly enjoyable and very well-written. Recommended.

I chose to read and review an eARC of Last Breath. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Last Breath by Robert Bryndza was published in the UK by Bookouture and Sphere and is available in paperback, 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 | Foyles | Book Depository | Goodreads |

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robert bryndza

Robert Bryndza is the author of the international #1 bestseller The Girl in the Ice, which is the first in his Detective Erika Foster series.

The Night Stalker, Dark Water, Last Breath and Cold Blood are the second, third, fourth and fifth books in the series. The sixth book, Deadly Secrets is now available to purchase.

Robert’s books have sold over 2 million copies and have been translated into 27 languages.

In addition to writing crime fiction, Robert has published a bestselling series of romantic comedy novels. He is British and lives in Slovakia.

Sign up to Robert Bryndza‘s mailing list here.

Author Links:Instagram | Website | Twitter | Facebook |

#BookReview: The Search Party by Simon Lelic @VikingBooksUK #TheSearchParty #20booksofsummer20 #damppebbles

the search party

“Sixteen-year-old Sadie Saunders is missing.

Five friends set out into the woods to find her.

But they’re not just friends…

THEY’RE SUSPECTS.

You see, this was never a search party.

It’s a witch hunt.

And not everyone will make it home alive…

THE CHALK MAN meets THE HUNTING PARTY in this gripping story; witness four suspects as, alongside DI Fleet, you attempt to discover the truth about what happened to Sadie…

Hello and a very warm welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my nineteenth 20 Books of Summer review with you, which is for The Search Party by Simon Lelic. The Search Party is published by Viking Books today (that’s 20th August 2020) and is available in hardcover, digital and audio formats. I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Search Party but that has in no way influenced my review.

So I admit it, ‘The Chalk Man meets The Hunting Party…’ line sold this book to me before I had fully taken on what the book was about. Two of my very favourite books, the publisher was telling me, had conceived a book baby and it was The Search Party with its fantastically striking cover. I was sold and oh boy, I was excited to make a start.

Sadie Saunders is missing. Her friends, keen to be involved in the search for Sadie, want to help. But they’re told they’re too young. They’re told to stay at home and wait for news. So they decide to pack a few non-essential items (phone chargers for example 🤦) and head out to the woods for a few nights to look for Sadie. But they all have secrets. Things they’re keeping from one another. And one of the teenagers, Mason, is a little hot-headed. He’s Sadie’s boyfriend and he suspects one of the friends has something to do with Sadie going missing…

The book opens with a bang which immediately grabs your attention, puts you on the wrong foot and makes you start to ask questions. We’re then introduced to the absolutely brilliant DI Robin Fleet who was one of my very favourite things about this book. Fleet is in charge of putting the pieces together and working out not only what has happened to Sadie Saunders, but who is responsible for this latest tragedy. I loved Fleet. He’s flawed but not too flawed. Just a good, honest copper who struggles with the politics of policing and the restrictions put upon him by his current superior officer. I hope to see more of him in future books.

What’s interesting about this book is the way the author has presented the viewpoints of the teenagers who went into the woods that fateful day. It’s clear from the get-go that they’re recounting what happened to a police officer, but you only ever hear from the teenagers. The accounts are presented as monologues allowing each character to have their say and their moment in the spotlight. There’s every chance this approach is used in most of the books I read but this time, it felt different and new.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Search Party is an intricate, slow-burn mystery full of suspense which I found entertaining from start to finish. I should say that before reading this book, I had very recently finished another novel featuring a cast of moody teenagers which perhaps took the edge off of the book for me a little. However, the chapters focusing on the investigation with DI Fleet as their star, I really enjoyed. More Fleet please! Recommended.

I chose to read and review an eARC of The Search Party. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Search Party by Simon Lelic was published by Viking Books on 20th August 2020 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 | Foyles | Book Depository | Goodreads |

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Simon Lelic credit Justine StoddartSimon Lelic was born in 1976 and has worked as a journalist in the UK and currently runs his own business in Brighton, England, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

#BookReview: The Killer You Know by S.R. Masters @BooksSphere #TheKillerYouKnow #20booksofsummer20 #damppebbles

the killer you know“I’ll murder three people. And you’ll know it was me . . .

Summer 1997. When Will jokes about becoming a serial killer, his friends just laugh it off. But Adeline can’t help but feel there’s something darker lurking behind his words.

Winter 2015: Years later, Adeline returns to Blythe for a reunion of the old gang – except Will doesn’t show up. Reminiscing about old times, they look up the details of his supposed murder spree. But the mood soon changes when they discover two recent deaths that match.

As the group attempts to track Will down, they realise that he is playing a sinister game that harks back to one they used to play as kids. Only this time there are lives at stake . . .”

Hello and a very warm welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my eighteenth 20 Books of Summer review with you, which is for The Killer You Know by S.R. Masters. The Killer You Know was published by Sphere Books on 2nd May 2019 and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free eARC of The Killer You Know but that has in no way influenced my review.

I absolutely love the concept of this book. A group of teenage friends gather one night as the end of Summer approaches. One of them, Will, is considered to be the odd kid in the group. So when he makes an off-the-cuff comment about being a serial killer when he’s older, the others are shocked and a little unnerved by his bold statement. When Will fails to turn up to a group reunion many years later, it leaves his friends wondering, could he have carried out the unthinkable? When the friends check the very precise details he gave about the killings, they find reports of a suicide that matches…and then a second death. One report could be classed as a coincidence, but two deaths…? No, there’s no question about it, there’s something suspicious going on. Now all they have to do is find Will, and see for themselves. Particularly as Will threatened a third death, much closer to home…

Set in the late 90s and the present day, this book delivered shedloads of fantastic nostalgia. Now, I admit, I’m a little older than the characters in this book but the 90s were my decade. I loved the trips back in time where the bands of the day were discussed alongside the group’s obsession with movies. Wonderful stuff!

The characters all stood tall each adding something to the story. Their personalities were all very different but when you live in a small village, you’re thrown together with people you perhaps wouldn’t necessarily choose as friends yourself. That added a very interesting group dynamic to the book. They all had their own very defined roles which weren’t necessarily accepted by some members but rather pushed upon them – expected maybe. Leading to tension, rivalry and an undercurrent of bad feeling. It was interesting to watch a group of teenagers who, like many teenagers, think they’re wise beyond their years, deal with some very adult emotions.

Despite my appreciation of the 90s vibe in The Killer You Know, I did prefer the sections set in the present day when the group are trying to track Will down. The mystery of Will’s disappearance, the bubbling undercurrent of not really knowing who to trust anymore and the sense of foreboding made parts of the book a fairly tense read. The author takes time to set the scene, taking the reader back to 1997 and painting a very vivid, thorough picture.

Would I recommend this book? If you’re a fan of slow-burn, suspenseful mysteries then you may enjoy The Killer You Know. I felt it could have been a little shorter as I found my attention drifting at times and I wanted something to hook me back in. I was able to guess where the story was going to go, which may not have helped my meandering attention. I also struggled a little with the writing style and had to re-read large sections to grasp what was happening and check I hadn’t missed a key plot point – but that could have just been me having a bad day. A really interesting concept and I would happily read more by this author.

I chose to read and review an eARC of The Killer You Know. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Killer You Know by S.R. Masters was published in the UK by Sphere Books on 2nd May 2019 and is available in paperback, 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 | Foyles | Book Depository | Goodreads |

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S R Masters studied Philosophy at Girton College, Cambridge. He is a regular contributor to UK short fiction anthology series The Fiction Desk, having won their Writer’s Award for his short story Just Kids. His story Desert Walk was included in Penguin Random House USA’s Press Start to Play collection, published last year, and he continues to have short fiction published in a variety of magazines.

When not writing, Simon works in public health in Oxford, where he lives with his wife, Helen.

The Killer You Know is his first novel.

#BookReview: Tattletale by Sarah J. Naughton @TrapezeBooks #Tattletale #20booksofsummer20 #damppebbles

tattletale“One day changes Jody’s life forever. She has shut herself down, haunted by her memories and unable to trust anyone. But then she meets Abe, the perfect stranger next door and suddenly life seems full of possibility and hope.

One day changes Mags’s life forever. After years of estrangement from her family, Mags receives a shocking phone call. Her brother Abe is in hospital and no-one knows what happened to him. She meets his fiancé Jody, and gradually pieces together the ruins of the life she left behind. But the pieces don’t quite seem to fit…

Packed with twists and turns, this gripping psychological thriller will make you question whether we can ever really trust the ones we love.

Hello and welcome bookish friend to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my seventeenth 20 Books of Summer review with you, which is for Tattletale by Sarah J. Naughton. Tattletale was published by Trapeze Books on 21st September 2017 and is available in all formats. I chose to read and review an eARC of Tattletale but that has in no way influenced my review.

So this book was a whole lot darker than I ever expected it to be! I like to read fiction that errs on the dark side but with this book, I had to put it down and take a break a couple of times. It’s a great book and I enjoyed reading it, but it got under my skin. The way the best fiction does.

Mags returns to the UK following her brother’s horrific accident. He’s on life support and she’s been told to prepare for the worst. She goes to the hospital, meets her brother’s devastated fiancee for the first time and tries to come to terms with what has happened. Mags and Abe were never close as children. More like rivals really, out to get the other in trouble as much as possible with their controlling and aggressive father. The divide between the siblings seems too wide now though, and Mags wants to change that before it’s too late. So she moves into Abe’s flat, spends time with Jody, his fiancee, and starts to discover things she never knew about her brother. But not everything fits. Not everyone is telling Mags the truth. Then she discovers something which makes no sense at all. Who is lying to Mags and why…?

The chapters are broken down into sections and told from one of four perspectives; Jody – Abe’s fiancee, Mags, Mira – a neighbour, and an unknown young female narrator whose chapters are harrowing and difficult at times to read. This is probably the most appropriate point in my review to do something I don’t normally do, and that’s issue a warning. This book contains some very distressing scenes of sexual abuse and rape against children. For that reason, it’s not going to be for everyone.

The plot doesn’t stop moving from the moment you open the book and I was immediately sucked into the story. The opening packs a punch with its vivid imagery and intriguing characters. There’s a feeling though that you, as the reader, aren’t party to everything that’s going on, or gone on before. You’re missing…..’something’, but what is it? It’s a very intriguing start and the book had its hooks in me from then on. The wonderful sense of impending doom helped as well. I do love a sense of foreboding!

There isn’t a lot I can say about the characters without putting my foot in it so I won’t go into detail. But I will say, I couldn’t decide if I liked or loathed Mags. Mags is the character we spend the most time with and at times I think it may have been a bit of both. She was quite judgmental and superior for a large proportion of the book, which riled me. She rubbed me up the wrong way and I don’t think there was any going back from that point.

Would I recommend this book? I would yes, But please heed my warning about the abuse if that’s something you like to avoid in your fiction. It has its place in this novel but it’s a tough read. Tattletale is a multi-layered, intense read for fans of the psychological suspense genre and one I enjoyed. I did find the ending a smidge far-fetched but as I always say, if you can’t stretch the limits a little in fiction, when can you? I also saw one of the twists coming but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this book as there were plenty more twists and turns coming my way that did surprise me. Recommended.

I chose to read and review an eARC of Tattletale. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

Tattletale by Sarah J. Naughton was published in the UK by Trapeze Books on 21st September 2017 and is available in hardcover, paperback, 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 | Foyles | Book Depository | Goodreads |

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Sarah J. Naughton

Sarah Naughton’s debut novel, The Hanged Man Rises, was shortlisted for the Costa children’s award. It was followed by a second young adult thriller, The Blood List. Her thrillers for adults, Tattletale and The Other Couple (Orion) are Amazon bestsellers. Sarah lives in London with her husband and sons.