#BookReview: The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt @noexitpress #TheKillingHills #damppebbles

“A literary master across genres, award-winning author Chris Offutt’s latest novel The Killing Hills is a compelling, propulsive thriller in which a suspicious death exposes the loyalties and rivalries of a deep-rooted and fiercely private community in the Kentucky backwoods.

Mick Hardin, a combat veteran now working as an Army CID agent, is home on a leave that is almost done. His wife is about to give birth, but they aren’t getting along. His sister, newly risen to sheriff, has just landed her first murder case, and local politicians are pushing for city police or the FBI to take the case. Are they convinced she can’t handle it, or is there something else at work? She calls on Mick who, with his homicide investigation experience and familiarity with the terrain, is well-suited to staying under the radar. As he delves into the investigation, he dodges his commanding officer’s increasingly urgent calls while attempting to head off further murders. And he needs to talk to his wife.

The Killing Hills is a novel of betrayal – sexual, personal, within and between the clans that populate the hollers – and the way it so often shades into violence. Chris Offutt has delivered a dark, witty, and absolutely compelling novel of murder and honour, with an investigator-hero unlike any in fiction.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt. The Killing Hills was published by No Exit Press on 23rd November 2021 and is available in paperback and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Killing Hills but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Hollie at No Exit Press for sending me a finished copy.

Upon seeing The Killing Hills for the first time I knew I had to read it. I am such a huge fan of small town literary crime thrillers and this one looked to tick all of the boxes. That feeling you get in your gut that tells you that you can’t let a particular book pass you by? Yup, that’s what I felt. So as soon as The Killing Hills arrived at damppebbles HQ, I got stuck in. I just couldn’t resist. And I savoured every second I spent with this beautifully written mystery.

Mick Hardin is home from the army to sort out a few personal problems he’s having when his sheriff sister, Linda, ropes him in to help with her first murder investigation. Mick, a combat veteran now working with Army CID, has the hands on experience Linda lacks. As the investigation progresses and his marriage spirals out of control, Mick is drawn deeper and deeper into the closed Kentucky hill community he left behind years ago. Can Mick solve the murder before the killer strikes again…?

This is the first book I’ve read by this author but it certainly won’t be the last. I was transported to another world thanks to Offutt’s vivid imagery, his standout characters and his clear love of the Kentucky hills. I’m very much a ‘character’ reader. I like the characters in the novels I read to stand tall from the page. But I also love a setting that becomes as much a part of the story as the characters themselves. Where the characters and the setting are weighted almost equally. And Offutt does exactly that in The Killing Hills.

With pressure on Linda from outside the community to solve the murder, Mick uses his years of experience to assist her in the investigation. The brother/sister bond these two have makes for a very enjoyable read. The well placed digs, the history held between the two of them, the obvious admiration. The retorts, the hard hitting truths no one else would dare speak, the perfectly placed moments of humour. I really warmed to both characters and I hope this is not the last we see of them.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Killing Hills ticked all the boxes for me and I relished every moment I spent in the Kentucky hills. I loved the community and the constant dead ends Mick faced as the hill folk closed ranks. Only by Mick using his own knowledge of local life was he able to chip away at the truth and make gradual progress. Marvellous stuff! The mystery aspect of the novel was wonderfully intriguing and I was at a loss as to whodunit. I also really enjoyed the sub-plot of Mick’s failing marriage and it’s unexpected spin. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable read which I recommend.

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

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt was published in the UK by No Exit Press on 23rd November 2021 and is available in 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 Depositorybookshop.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Chris Offutt

© Melissa Ginsburg

Chris Offutt is the author of the short-story collections Kentucky Straight and Out of the Woods, the novels The Good BrotherCountry Dark and The Killing Hills, and three memoirs: The Same River TwiceNo Heroes, and My Father, the Pornographer. His work has appeared in Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays, among many other places. He has written screenplays for WeedsTrue Blood, and Treme, and has received fellowships from the Lannan and Guggenheim foundations.

#BookReview: The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett @ViperBooks #TheTwyfordCode #damppebbles

“It’s time to solve the murder of the century…

Forty years ago, Steven Smith found a copy of a famous children’s book by disgraced author Edith Twyford, its margins full of strange markings and annotations. Wanting to know more, he took it to his English teacher Miss Iles, not realising the chain of events that he was setting in motion. Miss Iles became convinced that the book was the key to solving a puzzle, and that a message in secret code ran through all Twyford’s novels. Then Miss Iles disappeared on a class field trip, and Steven has no memory of what happened to her.

Now, out of prison after a long stretch, Steven decides to investigate the mystery that has haunted him for decades. Was Miss Iles murdered? Was she deluded? Or was she right about the code? And is it still in use today?

Desperate to recover his memories and find out what really happened to Miss Iles, Steven revisits the people and places of his childhood. But it soon becomes clear that Edith Twyford wasn’t just a writer of forgotten children’s stories. The Twyford Code has great power, and he isn’t the only one trying to solve it…

Perfect for fans of Richard Osman, Alex Pavesi and S.J. Bennett, The Twyford Code will keep you up puzzling late into the night.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett. The Twyford Code is published by Viper Books today (that’s Thursday 13th January 2022) and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow later this year. I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Twyford Code but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to the team at Viper Books for sending me an early proof copy.

When making a list of my most eagerly anticipated books of the year, it was no secret that The Twyford Code was at the very top, the very pinnacle, of that list. Hallett’s debut, The Appeal, completely blew me away with its clever plotting, completely original format and captivating mystery when I read it twelve or so months ago. I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on more of this talented authors work. Would the story and characters be as absorbing? Would the format be as interesting and unique? Would the mystery be as satisfying? Yes, yes and yes! The Twyford Code was an absolute ‘must-read’ for me and what a complete and utter joy it was from start to finish.

Schoolboy Steven Smith finds a battered copy of an old book on the bus one day which he takes into his remedial English class only for it to be confiscated by his teacher, Miss Isles. Despite it being outdated and officially banned, Miss Isles begins to read aloud the story written by disgraced children’s author Edith Twyford. The class are enraptured by the tale. But then Miss Isles notices annotations and strange markings in the margins, which she believes is secret code. It becomes somewhat of an obsession for the group, ending in an ill-fated trip to the coast and Twyford’s old stomping ground. Fast forward many years and Steven is fresh out of prison. Having recently met his son for the first time and armed with his son’s old mobile phone, Steven sets out to solve the mystery of the Twyford Code and finish what Miss Isles started all those years ago…

There is so much I want to say about this book, so much TO say about The Twyford Code. The author has absolutely gone and done it again with another beautifully crafted and intricate mystery which I fell head over heels in love with. First of all, the characters are sublime. Hallett is an expert at getting under the skin of people and making her creations feel incredibly lifelike. They have flaws, they have weaknesses but you can’t help but feel fondness towards them. This was my experience of Steven Smith. He’s not a bad bloke but he made a few dodgy decisions along the way, probably not helped by a tough upbringing. But my heart went out to him. A thoroughly intriguing character with hidden depths. I was glad he was my guide throughout the twists and the turns of the Twyford Code.

If you’ve read The Appeal then you will be aware that this author likes to spice things up for her readers by throwing away tradition and taking a completely different approach to her storytelling. In The Appeal the story was told through emails, texts and WhatsApp messages. In The Twyford Code we have audio files which have been converted to text via transcription software. Sometimes it’s spot on. Other times…it’s not. Which makes for thoroughly entertaining reading. I was a little worried initially that I would be slow to make the connections needed, work out what was being said. But I shouldn’t have worried as I was in very safe hands. Before long the words were flowing and the misinterpretations and notations in the text were as normal as normal can be. What a skill to come up with something so clever and then make sure it works across the board. Absolutely marvellous!

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would. Janice Hallett has once again engaged, amazed and enthralled this reader and I cannot (CANNOT) wait to see what she comes up with next. Beautifully complex, utterly absorbing and an experience from start to finish. I loved the mystery, I loved the characters and I loved the way the book swept me away to another world. There is something very special about this author’s books and I urge you, if you’re a fan of a well-written mystery, to do everything you can to get hold of copies. Highly recommended.

I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett was published in the UK by Viper Books on 13th January 2022 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow later this year (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 |

Janice 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, Thandiwe Newton and Jamie Bell. The Appeal is her first novel.

#BookReview: The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson @FaberBooks #TheGirlWithAClockForAHeart #damppebbles

“George Foss never thought he’d see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack’s Tavern.

When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl’s grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece – the one who had committed suicide – was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved – and of the things she may have done to escape her past.

Now, twenty years later, she’s back, and she’s telling George that he’s the only one who can help her…

In his electrifying debut, Peter Swanson evokes the spirit of Body Heat and Double Indemnity, in a thriller about love, loss and those memories we hold closest to our hearts.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson. The Girl with a Clock for a Heart was published by Faber & Faber on 2nd June 2016 and is available in all formats.

It’s a well-known fact that I am, officially, the world’s biggest Peter Swanson fan (the nice kind, of course, not the stalker kind 😬). So I was aghast when I realised that one book from Swanson’s back catalogue was missing from my shelf, his debut – The Girl with a Clock for a Heart. I wanted to rectify this heinous oversight of mine as quickly as possible so bumped everything else I was planning on reading down a notch to make room for this cracking debut!

George Foss lives a fairly ordinary life where nothing much happens, which is exactly how George likes it. Until the day he sees someone he recognises in a bar. He thinks it’s his college girlfriend, the woman who broke his heart and, if truth be told, he never got over. But that can’t be right. Because George’s college girlfriend committed suicide. Or so he thought. On leaving the bar George knows he’ll never rest if he doesn’t check, so he returns, spinning his date a tall tale in order to call an early halt to the evening’s proceedings. Within moments of re-entering the bar he knows for sure, it’s her. And she needs George’s help. He’s the only person who can help her. But George’s willingness to do anything for the love of his life may be the death of him…

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is an intriguing, well written mystery full of, what has become over time, Swanson’s trademark suspense. I really liked George but wanted to him to wake up and smell the coffee. However, his obsession with Liana seems to completely cloud his judgment (it did then, it certainly does now), very much returning him to the intensity of first love infatuation. And don’t we all remember that?! Well, no…perhaps not to George’s extremes, but each to their own.

Told in the past and the present, I really enjoyed the flashbacks to the early years of George and Liana’s relationship. Discovering exactly what terrible deceit Liana had spun to George as teens. There are multiple twists and turns throughout the book which keep the reader on their toes and I became desperate to discover the next jaw-dropping reveal, refusing to put the book down for any length of time. The way the author slowly reveals to the reader what happened twenty years ago had me on the edge of my seat.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I would recommend The Girl with a Clock for a Heart along with Swanson’s entire back catalogue because he is an absolute master storyteller. The way this author writes suspense is like nobody else and it’s an absolute joy – a tense, unnerving, pulse-racing joy – to read. I firmly remain Peter Swanson’s biggest fan and I look forward, with baited breath, to his next release which is Nine Lives in March 2022 (and then the one after that, and the one after that, and so on…). Recommended.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson was published in the UK by Faber and Faber on 2nd June 2016 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.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook Depositorybookshop.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Peter Swanson is the author of six novels including The Kind Worth Killing, winner of the New England Society Book Award, and finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, Her Every Fear, an NPR book of the year, and his most recent thriller, Eight Perfect Murders. His books have been translated into 30 languages, and his stories, poetry, and features have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Atlantic Monthly, Measure, The Guardian, The Strand Magazine, and Yankee Magazine.

A graduate of Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College, he lives in Somerville, Massachusetts with his wife and cat.

#BookReview: Opal Country by Chris Hammer @Wildfirebks #OpalCountry #damppebbles

“Opals…

In the desolate outback town of Finnigans Gap, police struggle to maintain law and order. Thieves pillage opal mines, religious fanatics recruit vulnerable youngsters and billionaires do as they please.

Bodies…

Then an opal miner is found crucified and left to rot down his mine. Nothing about the miner’s death is straight-forward, not even who found the body. Homicide detective Ivan Lucic is sent to investigate, assisted by inexperienced young investigator Nell Buchanan.

But Finnigans Gap has already ended one police career and damaged others, and soon both officers face damning allegations and internal investigations. Have Ivan and Nell been set up, and if so, by whom?

Secrets…

As time runs out, their only chance at redemption is to find the killer. But the more they uncover, the more harrowing the mystery becomes, and a past long forgotten is thrown into scorching sunlight.

Because in Finnigans Gap, nothing stays buried for ever.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Opal Country by Chris Hammer. Opal Country is published by Wildfire Books today (that’s Thursday 6th January 2022) and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow later this year. I chose to read and review a free eARC of Opal Country but that has in no way influenced my review.

I absolutely adore Australian crime fiction. If you’re a regular visitor to damppebbles that previous statement probably comes as no surprise to you because Australian crime fiction gets priority above everything else for me at the moment. So when I saw Chris Hammer was due to publish a standalone mystery, I knew I had to read it. I’m a huge fan of the author’s Martin Scarsden thriller series so I knew Opal Country would be good. And I wasn’t wrong!

Finnigans Gap doesn’t have a lot going for it. Desolate and decaying, it’s a town kept alive thanks only to the opal mines which rumble away underground. When ratters, out to make a quick buck, discover the crucified body of Jonas McGee, the close knit community closes ranks. Sydney-based Detective, Ivan Lucic is called in to investigate the grisly death assisted by local police officer, Detective Constable Nell Buchanan. Together they come up against dead end after dead end. Time is running out for Nell and Ivan, internal affairs are breathing down their necks and they both realise this could be the end of their careers. Can they discover who killed McGee, and why, before it’s too late…?

Opal Country is a gripping slow burn of a novel with truly compelling characterisation and an intriguing mystery at its heart. The author has created an intricate tale with many threads, all expertly linked and concluded by the final paragraph leaving the reader with the knowledge that they’ve read a very clever, very satisfying work of fiction. I really warmed to both Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan who make a great team, despite initial differences, and hope this isn’t the last we see of them. The more dead ends they came up against, the more I rallied for them.

Like many of Hammer’s earlier books, Opal Country is not a short novel and takes it’s time to build the story, set the scene and introduce you to the key players. At no point during the 504 pages did my interest or attention wane.  I was completely absorbed by the plot and the characters, and of course, the atmospheric setting. With the burning sun beating down on the rain starved ground, and the dust swirling in the air, I could feel the blistering intensity of the heat. Particularly as Nell laughed, once again, at Ivan for deciding to walk around Finnigans Gap, risking third degree burns from the unrelenting fireball in the sky. So wonderfully vivid, I loved it!

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I found Opal Country to be a very compelling, very informative read which taught me a few things about mining I never knew. The story is quite complex at times but I never felt lost or confused, and everything is tied up masterfully by the author by the end. A very enjoyable crime thriller which drew me in from early on and didn’t let me go until I closed the final page. Hammer is a fantastic storyteller and I can’t wait to see what he has for us readers next. Crime fiction fans, you need Opal Country on your shelf! Recommended.

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

Opal Country by Chris Hammer was published in the UK by Wildfire Books on 6th January 2022 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats with the paperback to follow later in the year (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 |

Chris HammerChris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs. For many years he was a roving foreign correspondent for SBS TV’s flagship current affairs program Dateline. He has reported from more than 30 countries on six continents. In Canberra, roles included chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, current affairs correspondent for SBS TV and a senior political journalist for The Age.

His first book, The River, published in 2010 to critical acclaim, was the recipient of the ACT Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Walkley Book Award and the Manning Clark House National Cultural Award.

Chris has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master’s degree in international relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra with his wife, Dr Tomoko Akami. The couple have two children.

#BookReview: The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel @MichaelJBooks @PenguinUKBooks #TheRecoveryofRoseGold #damppebbles

“Rose Gold Watts believed she was sick for eighteen years.

Turned out her mother was a really good liar.

After five years in prison, Patty Watts is finally free. All she wants is to put old grievances behind her, reconcile with the daughter who testified against her – and care for her new infant grandson.

When Rose Gold agrees to have Patty move in, it seems their relationship is truly on the mend. And she has waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

But has Patty truly forgotten their past?

And is Rose Gold really able to forgive?

A gripping and electrifying tale that will make you question your allegiances until the very end . . .”

Hello and a very Happy New Year! Goodbye 2021, you were a bit pants. Hello 2022, you’d better have some good books in store for us! No pressure but the brilliant books published last year were pretty much the only highlight in a damp squib of a year. Am I right? Anyhow, I digress… I hope the year ahead holds good things for you and yours, plus a myriad of cracking reads 🥂

Today I am delighted to share my review of The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel. The Recovery of Rose Gold was published by Penguin Books on 18th February 2021 and is available in all formats. I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Recovery of Rose Gold but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to the team at Michael Joseph for sending me a proof.

Dang, this book was blimmin’ good! I’ve been wanting to read it for ages. I remember it being very popular with fellow bloggers and reviewers when it was first published in hardcover, but for some strange reason, it’s taken me until now to pick it up. Which was a huge mistake on my part. HUGE. I loved it and I only wish I’d read it sooner.

Patty has served her time and is being released from prison. She has high hopes for the future as her daughter, Rose Gold Watts, has willingly agreed to collect her from the gates. She always knew Rose Gold didn’t mean what she said in court. Patty was only trying to look after her, like any mother would! Patty’s plan is to convince Rose Gold to allow her move in so she can get acquainted with her brand new grandson, make sure Rose Gold is looking after him properly and become an integral part of their little family. Rose Gold needs her mama, she always has. And what the courts accused Patty of, Rose Gold has forgiven her for all of that. Hasn’t she….?

The Recovery of Rose Gold is an astonishing debut. I never really felt as though I could trust any of the characters: their recollections of the past, nor what the future held. There are things bubbling beneath the surface here and the author’s ability to keep the reader constantly wondering, asking questions, shows what a superb writer Wrobel is. Has Rose Gold forgiven Patty for the years of abuse? Does Patty still truly believe everything she did for her daughter was for Rose Gold’s own good?

The story is told in two parts. Patty narrates the present day chapters and the more I read of her perspective, the more I despised her. Rose Gold narrates the ‘past’ sections which, throughout the book, work their way to the present day. The reader gets to see what Patty put Rose Gold through, the abuse disguised as love. It’s a difficult read, there’s no doubt about that. Dark themes, flawed characters, obsession by the bucket load, twisty and twisted. Bloody marvellous stuff!

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Recovery of Rose Gold is a tense, twisted read, and pretty much everything I love in a novel. The characters felt believably real, scarily so, and the story will stay with me for a long time to come. Very compelling and near impossible to put down. Addictive is an understatement for this one. Highly recommended.

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

The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel was published in the UK by Penguin Books on 18th February 2021 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 | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Stephanie WrobelStephanie Wrobel grew up in Chicago but has been living in the UK for the last four years with her husband and her dog, Moose Barkwinkle. She has an MFA from Emerson College and has had short fiction published in Bellevue Literary Review. Before turning to fiction, she worked as a creative copywriter at various advertising agencies. The Recovery of Rose Gold is her first novel.

The damppebbles Top Ten(ish!) of 2021 #amreading #amreviewing #amblogging #Bestof2021 #TopReadsof2021 #BookRecommendations #bookblogger #BookTwitter #damppebbles

Hello bookish friends, I’ve missed you! After posting every day for fifty-three days straight, when you don’t post, it feels a little…odd. Like you’ve forgotten to do something really, REALLY important! Anyway, it’s only been a week and a smidge since I last officially posted and I have lots of reviews coming your way starting the first week of January so we’ll be back in the swing of things soon.

Welcome to my final post of 2021, my top ten(ish!) books of the year. ‘Ish’ because, as in previous years, I hope you can’t count 😂. It’s been a cracking year for books and in particular, debuts. Time and time again, the debut authors have absolutely hit it out of the park and I’m excited about what 2022’s debut authors have to offer. No pressure though, lol!

So without further ado and in no particular order (actually, tell a lie, they’re in the order I read them starting with the earliest!), here are my top ten(ish!) books of the year…

Shiver by Allie Reynolds
I loved Shiver. The dangerous and atmospheric setting of the Alps ensured I was hooked from the very start. I wanted to return again and again to my copy of the book. When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about the story. Trying to work out how things were going to turn out, picturing the snow covered mountains and the pure terror of being trapped in such a hostile, unforgiving environment. Absolutely flipping marvellous. I lived and breathed Shiver.
My Review of Shiver

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton
I’ve never read such a tense, compelling novel before. My heart was in my mouth from the very start and it stayed there throughout. I was living the story alongside the characters, like a movie playing in my mind. And the terror felt real. It was insane how deeply this book burrowed its way into my being. It was such an intense, emotional experience.
My Review of Three Hours

Tall Bones by Anna Bailey
From the opening chapters this book had a hold over me and I savoured every moment I spent with it. It’s such a beautifully written piece of fiction which managed to completely entrance me. Tall Bones is a haunting, beautiful but ultimately dark read which I read with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. An astonishing debut.
My Review of Tall Bones

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird
Oh.My.Goodness! This book is incredible. Absolutely superb and frighteningly real. The End of Men is a must read for all. Intelligent, poignant, devastating and totally absorbing. The true definition a page turner. I couldn’t put this book down as I was desperate to find out what revelation the author was going to share with me next.
My Review of The End of Men

The Hunger by Alma Katsu
Like nothing else I have read before. I found The Hunger to be a completely engrossing and spell-binding read which I heartily recommend to horror fans. The ending was perfect and took my breath away. I adored this book. Something truly special which has left its mark on me.
My Review of The Hunger

Falling by T.J. Newman
Falling is a superb debut. Tense, scarily real and absolutely relentless. The book starts with a bang. Highly, highly entertaining. I was completely captivated from that blisteringly good start to the heart-stopping, ‘read behind your hands’ end. Shedloads of suspense, a fast and pacey plot and a cast of characters I felt fully invested in. Sublime!
My Review of Falling

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker
I devoured The First Day of Spring. When I wasn’t reading the book, I was thinking about the characters. Chrissie broke my heart time and time again. The author’s writing is immersive and totally believable which made Chrissie, Julia and Molly come to life before my very eyes. I don’t think I’ll be able or willing to forget The First Day of Spring. Haunting, compelling and utterly devastating.
My Review of The First Day of Spring

The Beach House by Beverley Jones
The Beach House is a gripping tale of secrets, lies and obsession and I gobbled it up in a couple of short sittings. I found Grace, as the book’s lead character, to be intriguing and utterly captivating. I think I’m a little bit in love 😳. As the story unfolds, the tension ramps up with a dramatic and thrilling denouement which I thought was a perfect conclusion to Grace’s story.
My Review of The Beach House

Survive the Night by Riley Sager
I loved Survive the Night. Everything about it was perfection on a page. The twists are weaved into the story masterfully. There are lots of other really clever little details thrown into the story to keep you gripped and turning the pages. Sager has excelled himself. I feel as though I lived this book alongside the characters. Absolutely bloody marvellous! Tense, all absorbing and utterly captivating.
My Review of Survive the Night

Good Neighbours by Sarah Langan
Good Neighbours is a deliciously dark, visceral tale of suburbia which I devoured with utter glee. It’s so beautifully sinister, so packed full of menace, it was impossible to tear myself away from it. I was fully immersed in the drama of Maple Street. The ending was perfect. The whole darn book was pretty perfect.
My Review of Good Neighbours

For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing
I adored spending time with Downing’s characters, I could happily have read another 500 pages of Teddy’s nefarious goings on (and it’s not a short book at 400 pages for the hardcover!). For Your Own Good was a dark and devious joy to read. Totally absorbing, exactly the type of book I love to lose myself in. I will be shouting about this one for a long time to come.
My Review of For Your Own Good

Come With Me by Ronald Malfi
Emotional, edgy and dark. It ticked so many boxes for me and I struggled to be parted from it, needing to find out how things would turn out for Aaron. As for the ending, it blew my mind and made a book I was really enjoying hit new heady heights. A memorable story the reader can truly invest in. Perfectly pitched and expertly written.
My Review of Come With Me

So there you have it. Lashings and lashings of gorgeousness in one glorious post (even if I do say so myself 🤣). It’s a darn fine looking bunch of books, I think you’ll agree. Ten (😳) truly amazing books which you should do everything in your power to get hold of. I said it earlier but I’ll say it again, the debuts have absolutely stolen the show this year. I think five of my, ahem, ten are debuts which is incredible, right? The future for us booklovers is looking very bright indeed.

Have a peaceful and safe New Year, bookish lovelies, and I will see you on the other side. I’ll be sharing my #R3COMM3ND3D2021 After-Show Party post in January which will feature all 130 books chosen, along with the winner (OR winners!), so keep an eye out for that. Thank you for your support through a second difficult year. You are AMAZING! Stay safe, stay bookish and keep reading. Lots of love, Emma @damppebbles x

Fancy purchasing one of the books on my top ten(ish!) of the year? Then please check out my bookshop.org affiliate page (please note, the following link is an affiliate link which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): damppebbles bookshop.org shop

#BookReview: The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu @FarshoreBooks #TheChristmasCarrolls #mglit #kidlit #damppebbles

“Funny festive middle grade about the world’s most Christmassy family from the founder of Authorfy, perfect for 8+ readers and fans of Matt Haig, Ben Miller, Sibeal Pounder’s Tinsel, and the Nativity! films

Wish it could be Christmas every day? Well, for nine-year-old Holly Carroll and her family, it is! Living her merriest life in a house with year-round fairy lights and Christmas trees, a carol-singing toilet and a diva donkey who thinks he’s a reindeer, home-schooled Holly tries to spread cheer wherever she goes.

But when she goes to a new school with a singing Santa backpack and first day Christmas cards (during a heatwave in September!), she realises not everyone shares her enthusiasm for spreading cheer. In fact, when the neighbours try to remove the Carrolls from the street and Holly discovers a group of children that may not get a Christmas at all, her snowglobe world begins to crack. Is the world’s most Christmassy girl about to lose her Christmas spirit?

The Christmas Carrolls is a heartwarming, hilarious and inclusive tale about the power of spreading cheer, the magic of friendship and what really matters at this most wonderful time of the year.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Christmas Carrolls written by Mel Taylor-Bessent and illustrated by Selom Sunu which was published by Farshore Books on 14th October 2021 in paperback, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Christmas Carrolls but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Rachel and Farshore Books for sending me a proof copy.

Joining me to shout about this wonderful festive book today is my favourite damppebbles guest reviewer (don’t tell the husband!), my 10 year old daughter. When we were offered the chance to read The Christmas Carrolls we squealed with delight and grabbed at it with grateful, eager hands. My daughter, unable to wait for the book to actually arrive, started reading it thanks to a well-known book selling site. Only to burst into fits of laughter as Holly asks the reader in the opening paragraph if an idea has ever hit them so hard they fell off the toilet. She then proceeds to describe the feeling of falling into the loo, comparing it to a thrilling water ride at a theme park! My daughter was in hysterics, and I knew she had found a new favourite read.

Holly Carroll loves Christmas. Which is a fairly normal thing for a nine-year-old. But Holly’s family are as equally smitten with the festive season as Holly is. So much so, they live Christmas and all it’s accoutrements 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Every day is Christmas for the Carrolls. So when the opportunity to move to a house on Sleigh Ride Avenue arises, the third most Christmassy named street in the world, Holly’s parents – Snow and Nick – pack up their belongings and move the family to London. The move leads to necessary changes within the family. Snow and Nick need to find new employment which means previously home-schooled Holly must start attending Lockerton Primary. She’s excited about the new challenges ahead and, if truth be told, just a little bit nervous too. But she’s used to spreading cheer wherever she goes and starting school will be no different. But after several days of trying to bring festive joy and the Christmas spirit to her classmates, it becomes clear that not everyone is as keen on Christmas as Holly is…

I’ll share my thoughts on this fun-filled middle grade read in a tick but first, here’s what the most important person, my 10 year-old daughter, thought of The Christmas Carrolls

The Christmas Carrolls is a book about being yourself and how it’s OK to be different. I liked this book because Holly is different to other people but she can still make friends despite being a little different to her classmates. I think the moral of the story is that you don’t have to fit in with everyone else, you should always be yourself. I like how intelligent Holly is and how she wants to be an inventor. I also like how Holly’s mum has changed her name to Snow. Holly’s dad is a keen inventor. My favourite character was Reggie because he is a cheeky little donkey (reindeer) and I love animals. I think people who like Christmas will like this book. The perfect book to read in front of your fire drinking a hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream on it. I would give this book 5/5 stars.

I’ll admit it, I’m on the ‘bah humbug’ side of things a little when it comes to Christmas. I know, I know. Not the best person to be reading a Christmas book. But G and I couldn’t resist this festive adventure. And I’m delighted to confirm reading The Christmas Carrolls turned this Scrooge into a someone who was looking forward to Christmas a little bit more after turning the last page. I found Holly’s enthusiasm for the festive season to be infectious. The made-up words, the silliness and the crazy antics of the Carroll family all added up to a joyful story which this grown-up enjoyed just as much as the book’s intended middle-grade audience.

The beautiful pencil-drawn illustrations throughout the novel really add something extra special to a well-written, heart-warming story. I really appreciated the skill that had gone into creating these works of art. I know my daughter was a fan of the artwork too and we often spoke about what was happening in the sketches. I felt the take home message was clear for young readers to pick up on and understand.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Christmas Carrolls is a well-written, laugh out loud middle-grade adventure with a large, sparkly dollop of Christmas cheer and a mince pie on top! The characters were clearly defined and I particularly liked grumpy Mr Bleurgh. He’s the panto baddie who we all ‘boooooo’ when he walks on stage, which is exactly what I was doing in my own head every time he was mentioned. I loved everything about this gorgeous festive novel and both G and I are looking forward to The Christmas Carrolls 2 soon. An uplifting, feel good read. The perfect Christmas gift for the middle grader in your life. Recommended.

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

The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu was published in the UK by Farshore Books on 14th October 2021 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 |


See the source imageFounder of the hugely successful Authorfy and Little Star Writing, Mel Taylor-Bessent has made her career connecting readers to their favourite authors and encouraging children to write for pleasure. After gaining a Creative Writing degree, Mel launched her first business at the age of 22 and ran creative writing workshops for thousands of children aged 6-12. As a result, she also arranged hundreds of author events and witnessed first-hand the positive impact these interactions had on her students.

In 2017, she decided to replicate this via online ‘Author Masterclasses’ on a website she created called Authorfy.com. Since then, Authorfy has gone on to win numerous awards, partner with the likes of World Book Day and BookTrust, and is used in classrooms all over the world. Now Mel is bringing her own writing to readers with The Christmas Carrolls, her debut fiction series.

See the source image

Selom Sunu is a London-based Illustrator and Character Designer who enjoys bringing characters to life visually.

He is a people person through and through and tries to bring his interactions with people and their various quirks into his work.

Selom has worked on a number of book projects including illustrations in ‘Puffin’s Book of Big Dreams’ for Puffin’s 80th birthday and ‘Ghost’, a New York Times Best Seller with publisher Knights Of and author Jason Reynolds.

Selom has also lent his drawing skills to Animation studios, providing Character Designs for various TV series pitches. He is also passionate about encouraging others to draw for fun and has run workshops for children and adults to that effect.

Outside work Selom enjoys playing football and is a devoted Christian, husband and father.

#BookReview: Hide by Nell Pattison @AvonBooksUK #YouCantHide #Hide #damppebbles

“Seven friends. One killer. You can run, but you can’t hide…

It’s Boxing Day and your friendship group has planned a hike.

You know tensions are running high.

You’ve heard the rumours flying around.

But this trip is a chance for you to reconnect.

As you head into the reserve, everyone is quiet.

It almost feels like you’ve imagined the rift.

But as the sun sets, you hear a gun shot.

One of your group is dead.

And someone you know killed them…”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Hide by Nell Pattison. Hide is published by Avon Books today (that’s Thursday 9th December 2021) and is available in paperback and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free ARC of Hide but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to El at Avon Books for sending me a proof copy.

There’s nothing I love more than a snowy setting in my psychological thrillers. There’s something about the isolation, the unpredictability and the sheer force and speed at which events can turn, that just draws me in. So when I found out that Nell Pattison’s new standalone novel, Hide, takes place in a deserted nature reserve, the day after Christmas, as the snow begins to fall, I leapt at the chance to read it. And I am so very glad I did.

Lauren has persuaded her boss at the nature reserve to allow her nature group exclusive access to the grounds on Boxing Day for their monthly meet up. The seven of them, including her estranged sister, haven’t seen each other since the incident at the Christmas party the week before and understandably, tensions are running high. For this group of wildlife enthusiasts, the chance to see the starling murmuration is an opportunity for the group to bond once again and hopefully, put the past behind them. But as a gunshot rings out across the reserve, the rest of the group suddenly realise what terrible danger they are in. They’re the only people out on the reserve as far as they know, which can mean only one thing. The victim, and the killer, is one of them…

Hide is a page-turning read where the weather, the unusual terrain and those around you pose an immediate, somewhat deadly threat. I enjoyed getting to know the nature group and watching as some relationships blossomed, whilst others were well past saving. They’re an interesting bunch with several seeing themselves as ‘experts’ in the field, and not afraid to let everyone know it. Others were the opposite. Happy to watch, listen and learn – just enjoying the company. The one thing I would not describe the group as is ‘friends’. A shared common interest bringing them together and keeping them together, rather than a sense of loyalty to one another. Which gives the author a wonderful amount of free rein and the ability to hide her killer in plain sight. Which Pattison does incredibly well.

The story is paced well with lots of shocks and surprises along the way to keep the reader engaged. The more you learn about the group, the more you start to question their motives. Sisters Lauren and Emily lead the way with bolshie Lauren taking charge. She feels her knowledge of the reserve, as an employee there, is second to none. Volunteer Morna, just as knowledgeable as Lauren but pushed to one side due to Lauren’s seniority, also takes a stand which ends up separating the group and possibly hindering their escape. All of the characters are well written but special mention must be made of Emily who I found fascinating. Following an infection in her childhood, Emily is deaf. For those of us who can hear imagine being lost in the woods, in total darkness, disorientated by a sudden snow storm and not being able to hear someone approach. I loved the character. I don’t think, from memory, I’ve read a psychological thriller featuring a deaf character before but I want more please! A different perspective which really added to the story.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Hide is a claustrophobic psychological thriller which had me glued to the pages. I was very keen to find out whodunit and more importantly why-they-dun-it, so was hesitant to put Hide down for any length of time. It’s a slow burn of a read but full of atmosphere and tension, with a number of characters you’ll take pleasure in disliking. All in all, a great book and I would happily read more by this author. Recommended.

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

Hide by Nell Pattison was published in the UK by Avon Books on 9th December 2021 and is available in 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.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Nell Pattison

Nell Pattison is the USA Today bestselling author of THE SILENT HOUSE, SILENT NIGHT and THE SILENT SUSPECT, the crime thriller series featuring British Sign Language interpreter Paige Northwood.

After studying English at university, Nell Pattison became a teacher and specialised in Deaf education. She has been teaching in the Deaf community for 14 years in both England and Scotland, working with students who use BSL. Nell began losing her hearing in her twenties. She lives in North Lincolnshire, England, with her husband and son.

#BlogTour | #BookReview: To the Lake by Yana Vagner (translated by Maria Wiltshire) @_SwiftPress #ToTheLake #ToTheLakeBlogTour #damppebbles

Are you ready for the journey to the edge?

A deadly flu epidemic sweeps through Moscow, killing hundreds of thousands. Anya and her husband Sergey decide they have no choice but to flee to a lake in the far north of Russia.

Joining them on their journey are her son and father-in-law; Sergey’s ex-wife and son; and their garish neighbours. But then some friends of Sergey show up to complete Anya’s list of people she’d least like to be left with at the end of the civilised world.

As the wave of infection expands from the capital, their food and fuel start to run low. Menaced both by the harsh Russian winter and by the desperate people they encounter, they must put their hatreds behind them if they’re to have a chance of reaching safety…

Inspired by a real-life flu epidemic in Moscow, To the Lake was a number one bestseller in Russia, and has now appeared in a dozen languages and been adapted into a Netflix TV series.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be joining the blog tour for To The Lake by Yana Vagner (translated from it’s original Russian by Maria Wiltshire). To the Lake was published in hardcover by Swift Press on 4th November 2021 and is also available in digital format. I chose to read and review a free ARC of To The Lake but that has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Rachel at Swift Press for sending me a proof copy.

A viral pandemic isn’t so much fiction these days as cold, hard fact. And as a result, my interest in books featuring a pandemic has somewhat waned recently. Until I saw To The Lake mentioned on social media. I am a huge fan of translated fiction but for some reason, I’m not reading as much as I used to. So this book, originally written in Russian, with it’s unforgiving, icy setting and end of the world feel, really appealed.

Anya and Sergey, along with Anya’s teenage son Mishka, live a quiet life in their nice, modern house on the outskirts of Moscow. Until the news breaks that a new virus is slowly shutting down the city. Before long, Moscow is closed. The virus is spreading and there’s no cure. Friends, family and neighbours are dying all around them so they decide, following a particularly nasty incident with a group of vigilantes and encouragement from Sergey’s father, to flee to a lake house miles away from civilisation and start a new life. Joining them are their neighbours, Sergey’s ex-wife and young son. But the road ahead is fraught with danger. Will they make it to the lake alive and well, or will the journey be the death of them…?

To The Lake is a very vivid, atmospheric read full of tension. I loved the Russian setting with it’s sub-zero temperatures, frozen landscape and ice crusted roads. The extreme weather added another threat to the travellers’ already dangerous journey and I really enjoyed how the descriptions of the landscape made me feel as though I was squashed into one of the cars alongside the characters, gazing out of the window at the passing scene, not knowing what was on the horizon.

The impending sense of doom throughout the novel is handled brilliantly. I was on the edge of my seat as the group heard the rumble of tyres approach in the distance. Would the new arrivals be friend or foe? Would they have succumbed to the virus and be unconcerned about infecting others? Was this the end for the group? I enjoyed the initial apprehension and build-up sometimes more than discovering who was actually approaching. Sometimes, and this is probably just me and my dark heart, I wanted a little more from the meetings. I felt the tension build, only to discover that the threat wasn’t really a threat at all. Or, in situations where there was a real weapon-wielding threat, the action was over very quickly and the group were moving on. I would have liked a little more.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. To The Lake is a well-written novel which transported me to the harsh frozen lands of Russia. The plot is all too plausible in this day and age but written years before the COVID pandemic hit, this bleak, character-driven race-to-survive novel will add an extra chill to those winter nights. I will admit that I found the book a touch hard going at times but perhaps that is due to it all being a little too close to home. Obviously, it is different. Very different. But still… All in all, a very interesting, frightening tale which I enjoyed. Recommended.

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

To The Lake by Yana Vagner (translated by Maria Wiltshire) was published in the UK by Swift Press on 4th November 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 | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Яна ВагнерYana Vagner was born in Moscow in 1973 into a bilingual family. Her Czech mother came to Moscow in the 60s to study Russian language and literature. Yana graduated from Russian State Humanitarian University with a major in management and has worked as an interpreter, an anchorperson on radio, and a logistics manager, which allowed her to travel to Africa, Europe and Latin America. Yana Vagner lives with her husband and two dogs in their country house on the outskirts of Moscow.

#BookReview: The Inheritance by Gabriel Bergmoser @FaberBooks #TheInheritance #BookTwitter #damppebbles

The author of the bestselling The Hunted returns…

A young woman is hiding out in a sleepy North Queensland tourist town, trying to stay under the radar, when she stumbles across a dangerous drug cartel. Anyone else might back away, pretend they haven’t seen anything, keep quiet, but Maggie is no ordinary girl.

She has to get out of town – fast. She heads towards Melbourne, where she just might find the answers she needs: about her mother, her past and the sins of her father. With a dubious cop as her ally, the police tracking her and a dangerous biker gang on their trail, Maggie’s troubles are doubling down fast.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Inheritance by Gabriel Bergmoser. The Inheritance is published in paperback format by Faber Books today (that’s Thursday 4th November 2021) and is also available in audio and digital formats. I chose to read a free eARC of The Inheritance but that has in no way influenced my review.

I LOVED The Hunted, the first book in this gripping Australian thriller/horror series. It warmed my dark little heart on so many levels. So, without question, The Inheritance was one of my most anticipated books of the year. And oh boy, it didn’t disappoint. We’re back with kick-ass, bad-ass Maggie who has a personal mission to fulfil. Anyone who gets in her way better watch out because Maggie has been through hell and back to get to this point and she’ll do whatever it takes to discover the truth…

This is a very personal mission for Maggie and I loved finding out more about her history, what shaped her to be the determined, stop-at-nothing woman she’s become. There’s bloodshed galore, some particularly grisly moments but I loved being along for the ride as Maggie dug deeper into her family history. She comes across some particularly violent and unrelenting characters on her quest, does some pretty horrendous things to them but I couldn’t help but like her. She’s a one-woman powerhouse but I could understand where she was trying to get to.

I found it fascinating to watch as she discovered that what she believed to be one of the few good things about her childhood turned out to be not as peachy as she recalled. I was on the edge of my seat as she ran, full pelt, from her enemies (and there are a few!), having to trust people she’s not completely sure she can, leaving a trail of destruction and chaos in her wake. Wonderful stuff.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Inheritance is a gutsy, thrilling read which I devoured with glee. Maggie is a force to be reckoned with and I hope there is more to come. Despite her penchant for violence, you can’t help but warm to this very human character who just wants answers after a lifetime of misery. The Inheritance is a non-stop, adrenaline ride of a book – it would make a GREAT movie – and I hope this isn’t the last we see of this intriguing, well-written character. If you love a thrilling, female-led tale then make sure you pick this one up. I don’t think you need to have read The Hunted first as it works well as a standalone. Although, like its sequel, The Hunted is a fantastic book so why not treat yourself to both! Recommended.

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

The Inheritance by Gabriel Bergmoser was published in the UK by Faber Books on 4th November 2021 and is available in paperback, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Gabriel BergmoserGabriel Bergmoser is an award-winning Melbourne-based author and playwright. He won the prestigious Sir Peter Ustinov Television Scriptwriting Award in 2015, was nominated for the 2017 Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing and went on to win several awards at the 2017 VDL One Act Play Festival circuit. In 2016 his first young adult novel, Boone Shepard, was shortlisted for the Readings Young Adult Prize. His first novel for adults, The Hunted (HarperCollins, Faber, 2020) is a bestseller and a film adaptation of The Hunted is currently being developed in a joint production between Stampede Ventures and Vertigo entertainment in Los Angeles.