#BookReview: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse @TransworldBooks #TheSanatorium #damppebbles

EVERYONE’S IN DANGER. ANYONE COULD BE NEXT.

An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother’s recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it’s beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous – as does her brother, Isaac.

And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancée Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin’s unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

But no-one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they’re all in . . .”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse. The Sanatorium is published in the UK today (that’s Thursday 18th February 2021) by Bantam Press and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review an eARC of The Sanatorium but that has in no way influenced my review.

The Sanatorium was impossible to resist! That intriguing title, the striking, atmospheric cover, the enticing blurb. It screamed my name so I had to read it. This is the second book I’ve read set in the Alps in the space of a month but it gave me a whole different set of chills.

Detective Elin Warner and her boyfriend are staying at an isolated boutique hotel in the Swiss Alps. The hotel itself has an unnerving history, having started its life as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. Her estranged brother has surprisingly invited Elin to his engagement party. He’s marrying a childhood friend of hers, the glamorous Laure. Elin is happy to leave the UK for a while as, following her last case, something happened which made her doubt her future in the police force. But on arrival, nervous Elin is instantly put on edge even more by the imposing setting. The pressing snow storm doesn’t help her feel any safer. The relationship between Elin and her brother, Isaac, is tense and a missed dinner invitation causes more upset. But the following morning, Isaac reports Laure missing. The snow storm and the risk of avalanches cuts off all access to the hotel as the search for Laure continues. They’re on their own. Elin needs to step up and take control of the situation. Which, despite feeling hesitant, she feels ready to do. Until they discover the body…

Poor Elin. From the start of The Sanatorium she’s on the edge and that doesn’t really change very much as the story progresses. She’s a troubled woman who carries the tragic death of her brother at the age of 8 in her heart and her mind. The real reason for her decision to reconnect with her estranged other brother becomes very clear to the reader. She wants the truth and the only person who can give it to her is Isaac. Her grief has moulded and shaped her into the woman she is today. Elin is an interesting character who at times I really liked and admired, at other times I wanted to sit her down and ask her what the fluff she was doing!

The mystery aspect of The Sanatorium was interesting and it kept me turning the pages. I think the time has come to admit that perhaps I’ve read too many crime books as I could guess a couple of plot points which, disappointingly, turned out to be accurate. There weren’t any big surprises for me in this novel but that’s my own personal experience and I wouldn’t let that put you off.

I adored the setting. I love isolated, claustrophobic settings in novels and this one is done particularly well. The snowy mountains feel as though they’re pressing in on the hotel and the unpredictability of the avalanches was really wonderful. Picturing the icy scenes in my mind gave me goosebumps! Marvellous stuff.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I would recommend The Sanatorium to anyone who enjoys a locked-room mystery with a bit of an icy twist. The plot moves at a steady pace and keeps the reader turning the pages. There was something about the ending which didn’t quite work for me. I can’t really go into any detail as I would be revealing too much and that wouldn’t be fair but I did enjoy reading The Sanatorium and I would gladly read more from this author. It’s a chilling, atmospheric mystery which I was happy to lose myself in. Recommended.

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

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse was published in the UK by Bantam Press on Thursday 18th February 2021 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | the damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Sarah Pearse lives by the sea in South Devon with her husband and two daughters. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick and worked in Brand PR for a variety of household brands. After moving to Switzerland in her twenties, she spent every spare moment exploring the mountains in the Swiss Alpine town of Crans Montana, the dramatic setting that inspired her novel. Sarah has always been drawn to the dark and creepy – remote spaces and abandoned places – so when she read an article in a local Swiss magazine about the history of sanatoriums in the area, she knew she’d found the spark of the idea for her debut novel, The Sanatorium. Her short fiction has been published in a wide variety of magazines and has been shortlisted for several prizes.

#BookReview: Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis @PenguinUKBooks #HarrowLake #damppebbles

“Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her. But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot.

The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone – or something – stalking Lola’s every move.

The more she discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her…”

Hello and welcome to a brand new day on damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of the creepy Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis. Harrow Lake was published by Penguin in paperback, audio and digital formats on 9th July 2020. This book was impossible to resist so I treated myself to a copy and I’m so glad I did (check out the glorious yellow sprayed edges!).

Lola Nox lives in the shadow of her famous horror filmmaker father, Nolan, and her absent movie star mother, Lorelei. After a devastating event at home she’s sent to Harrow Lake, the small town her mother grew up in, to stay with her grandmother. A grandmother she’s never met before. In a town which featured in her father’s most famous film, Nightjar, the film which made Lorelei a star. On arrival she discovers everyone in Harrow Lake is obsessed with her mother and Nightjar. To the point where they hold a regular festival and parade for the tourists. There’s literally no escape! But Harrow Lake has its own secrets and as Lola starts to dig deeper, she find out about the missing girls. Who – or what – is responsible for their disappearance? And will Lola be next…?

Harrow Lake is a compulsive and chilling YA horror novel which sent shivers down my spine. It’s a modern-day take on an 80s horror movie and I enjoyed every single moment of it. Not only is Harrow Lake a creep-fest but to ratchet things up a notch it has its own town legend – Mister Jitters. The residents live in fear and carry out macabre practices such as leaving their teeth tied to the bone tree to stop Mister Jitters from wanting to get a taste of their bones (😱). It’s the stuff nightmares are made of and Ellis has told such a vivid tale that you feel at times like you’re actually living the horror alongside Lola.

I couldn’t get enough of the setting nor the characters who all stand tall. Lola was difficult to like initially but you grow to like and admire her. I was with her every step of the way (despite wishing I wasn’t at times). Lola’s grandmother made me feel uncomfortable from the first meet. She’s a closed-off, odd woman who has plenty of devastating secrets of her own. There are some pretty unlikeable, well-written characters in Harrow Lake and their strange behaviour and peculiar ways really kept me on my toes.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Harrow Lake is a very immersive, vivid tale and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the small town feel of the story, the claustrophobia and the heaps of unease the author has woven into the book. It’s a compelling YA novel which I heartily recommend to young and *erm* slightly older horror fans. I would make sure you pick up a copy soon otherwise Mister Jitters may come-a-knocking… Recommended.

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis was published in the UK by Penguin on 9th July 2020 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): | bookshop.orgamazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook DepositoryGoodreadsthe damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Kat EllisKat Ellis is the author of YA novels HARROW LAKE, PURGE, BLACKFIN SKY, and BREAKER, and the novella THE TWINS OF BLACKFIN in the THREE STRIKES collection. Her next book, BURDEN FALLS, will be published in the summer of 2021.

You’ll usually find Kat up to no good on Twitter, trekking through ruins and cemeteries with her camera, or watching scary films with her husband.

#BookReview: Pine by Francine Toon @DoubledayUK #Pine #damppebbles

“They are driving home from the search party when they see her. The trees are coarse and tall in the winter light, standing like men.

Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Halloween night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pickup. In the morning, she’s gone.

In a community where daughters rebel, men quietly rage, and drinking is a means of forgetting, mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust.

In the shadow of the Highland forest, Francine Toon captures the wildness of rural childhood and the intensity of small-town claustrophobia. In a place that can feel like the edge of the word, she unites the chill of the modern gothic with the pulse of a thriller. It is the perfect novel for our haunted times.”

Welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of Pine by Francine Toon. Pine was published by Doubleday in all formats on 1st October 2020. I chose to read and review a free ARC of Pine but that has in no way influenced my review.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year (and let’s face it, for many of us that would probably have been preferable!) then chances are you’ve seen Pine mentioned before. It’s a huge book. A prize-winning novel, shortlisted for many prestigious crime fiction awards. And rightly so. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like Pine before.

Lauren and her father are driving home one night when a mysterious, unresponsive figure steps out into the road. They bundle her into their truck, take her home to safety and give her a good meal. In the morning, the woman has gone. But only Lauren can remember what happened the night before. Odd occurrences like this aren’t all that unusual in the small town on the outskirts of the pine forest in the Scottish highlands though. Strange things sometimes happen, people go missing without a trace…

I really felt for Lauren who is such a beautifully written character. Her innocence and her maturity broke my heart in equal measure. She really got under my skin and I was repeatedly drawn back to the book to see what was going to happen next. I willed for her to have a happy ending. You’ll have to pick up a copy of the book yourself to see if she does.

For a debut, this is quite an astonishing book. The prose is stunning and the setting is creepy and atmospheric, almost haunting. I would go as far as saying it is a character in it’s own right. There’s a supernatural feel to Pine which had me on the edge of my seat. The author sprinkles unease over her story from start to finish and I loved how the building sense of the unknown drew me into the pages. I was hooked and with Lauren every step of the way.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Pine is a beautiful slow-burn gothic mystery. I’m a huge fan of claustrophobic small town settings and Toon has achieved something great here. It’s haunting and suspenseful, eerie and compelling. A tale of fractured relationships, grief and addiction. Of lives destroyed and of lives with just nowhere to go. As I said earlier, I’ve not read anything like this before and I don’t expect to read anything like it again. Recommended.

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

Pine by Francine Toon was published in the UK by Doubleday on 1st October 2020 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.orgthe damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Francine Toon grew up in Sutherland and Fife, Scotland. Her poetry, written as Francine Elena, has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Best British Poetry 2013 and 2015 anthologies (Salt) and Poetry London, among other places. Pine was longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award. She lives in London and works in publishing.

#BookReview: Halcyon by Rio Youers @TitanBooks #Halcyon #damppebbles

Nightmarishly compelling and flawlessly told horror for fans of Paul Tremblay and Joe Hill.

Halcyon is the answer for all Americans who want to escape, but paradise isn’t what it seems. A beautiful self-sustaining community made up of people who want to live without fear, crime, or greed, Halcyon is run by Valerie Kemp, aka Mother Moon, benevolent and altruistic on the outside, but hiding an unimaginable darkness inside. She has dedicated her life to the pursuit of Glam Moon, a place of eternal beauty and healing. And she believes the pathway there can only be found at the end of pleasure.

On the heels of tragedy, Martin Lovegrove moves his family to Halcyon. A couple of months, he tells himself, to retreat from the chaos and grind. He soon begins to suspect there is something beneath Halcyon’s perfect veneer and sets out to discover the truth, however terrible it might be, behind the island and its mysterious founder.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of Halcyon by Rio Youers. Halcyon was published by Titan Books in paperback, digital and audio formats on 23rd October 2018. I received a free ARC of Halcyon but that has in no way influenced my review.

Oh wow, this book! I admit it, I’m bookish (shocker, I know!) but rarely do I take to the socials to talk about a book I’m reading (yes, I’m a terrible book blogger). Halcyon hooked me in so quickly and made me fall head over heels in love with the lead characters – a *fairly* average all-American family – that I had to share my concerns, that impending sense of doom, with other book nerds on Twitter. My anxiety was through the roof and by taking regular breaks, putting the book down and taking deep breaths, I had somehow convinced myself (in a completely ridiculous and deluded way) that I could delay whatever horrible things were coming their way. I couldn’t, of course, but I HAD to share how I felt. And if that isn’t the mark of a great book, I don’t know what is!

Martin Lovegrove has had enough. He watches as shocking events are reported almost daily on the news – plane hijackings, mass shootings, multiple car pile-ups, bombings, the list feels endless. Horror after blood-soaked horror. He finally reaches breaking point when tragedy comes knocking at his own door and so vows to do everything he can to protect his two daughters, ten year old Edith and fifteen year old Shirley, and prevent any further trauma. When a stranger in a bar suggests a haven away from the aggression of every day life, Martin is dubious but wants to find out more. How could he not after everything his family have been through? Martin decides to move the family to Halcyon for a few weeks, no more. Unless they really feel at home in their new safe haven. It’ll give them the break they need and hopefully give his eldest daughter, Shirley, something other than darkness to focus on. When they arrive on the island they meet the hypnotic Mother Moon, founder and leader of Halcyon (although no one would be so vulgar as to call her that). After a few days in paradise, Martin realises that not everything is as perfect as it first appears. To help settle his mind and clear up any doubts, he decides to address a few concerns he has with a spot of breaking and entering. The cause of his concern is a small locked box Mother Moon keeps in her cabin. What secrets does it hold? And can Martin handle the truth? Instead of being a haven, it looks like Halcyon could actually be hell on earth…

Halcyon is incredibly well-written and I would pick up another book by this author in a nano-second. What I found particularly enjoyable is how Youers has been extremely clever and gets his reader to fully invest in the Lovegrove family before he starts to tear their lives apart. I found myself enjoying spending time with them and I looked forward to picking up my copy of the book. I mentioned above that they are a *fairly* average family. Well, that’s not entirely true. This is a horror/thriller novel so it has a delightful drizzle of darkness from the opening chapters which comes courtesy of a gift (/curse) one of the Lovegrove clan have. Visions, premonitions, prophesies of great pain, terror and anguish. Horrific night terrors which consume their holder. This darker edge made me love the Lovegroves just that little bit more.

I adored the first third of this book. The pace changes a little for the second third and I found it’s grip loosening a little on me. I was still intrigued as to where the author was going to take the story but watching the happy and contented residents live their happy and contented lives on Halcyon didn’t have the same pull as meeting the Lovegroves (in the first section). Mother Moon is such a brilliantly written character and I found myself surprisingly sympathetic towards her at times. Her story is one of pure darkness and it pulsates with evil. A very memorable character who, despite trying, I probably won’t be able to get out of my head!

The last third is ohmhgoodness, edge-of-your-seat thrilling and I was glued to the book. I was completely in the story with the characters; watching the snow fall and feeling the terror build. It was magnificent.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Halcyon is not a short novel (528 pages) but it’s well worth investing the time in this excellent piece of storytelling. I loved the characters, the setting was beautifully presented, so much so that I can picture Halcyon clearly in my mind’s eye, and the plot took me on one hell of a ride. A thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable reading experience that I would recommend to all. And if the word ‘horror’ puts you off, don’t let it stop you from reading this fantastic book. I promise, you’ll be fine. Recommended.

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

Halcyon by Rio Youers was published in the UK by Titan Books on 23rd October 2018 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 DepositoryGoodreadsBookshop.orgthe damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Rio Youers is the British Fantasy and Sunburst Award–nominated author of Westlake Soul and Halcyon. His 2017 thriller, The Forgotten Girl, was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel. He is the writer of Sleeping Beauties, a comic book series based on the bestselling novel by Stephen King and Owen King. Rio’s new novel, Lola on Fire, will be published by William Morrow in February 2021.

#BookReview: The Rosary Garden by Nicola White @ViperBooks #TheRosaryGarden #damppebbles

“It was Ali who found the body of a murdered newborn baby, hidden in the garden of her convent school. In an Ireland riven by battles of religion and reproduction, the case becomes a media sensation, even as the church tries to suppress it. But this is not the first dead baby Ali has found.

For Detectives Vincent Swan and Gina Considine, the pressure to discover the identity of the dead child is little help against a community with secrets to protect. Gina knows all too well how many of Ireland’s girls are forced to make difficult decisions in terrible circumstances, silenced by shame. Is Ali one of those girls? Because what evidence there is, points to Ali herself…”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of The Rosary Garden by Nicola White. The Rosary Garden was published by Viper Books on Thursday 21st January 2021 and is available in paperback and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free ARC of The Rosary Garden. My grateful thanks to Viper Books for sending me an early copy of the book.

Nicola White first came to my attention when the first book in her Vincent Swan series – A Famished Heart – was chosen as a #R3COMM3ND3D2020 pick by author Rachel Sargeant. I said then how much that first book appealed to me. So when the opportunity to read this second Vincent Swan Mystery – set in Ireland in the 1980s – arose, I grabbed it with both hands.

Teenage Ali and her friend, Fitz, make a shocking discovery in the garden shed at their convent school. The body of a newborn baby. Detective Vincent Swan of the Murder Squad is called to investigate the grisly scene but because of Ireland’s turbulent history between religion and a woman’s rights, the case becomes an instant media storm. Particularly when it’s discovered that this isn’t the first dead baby Ali has discovered. The nuns are quick to absolve themselves of any blame. Swan struggles to find a link between his suspects and the child. Nothing seems to make any sense and the investigation falters. But someone is hiding a very dark secret. Someone knows what happened to the baby…

The Rosary Garden is a dark, beautifully written, emotional story which kept me turning the pages. It works perfectly well as a standalone. I haven’t read the first book in the series but I didn’t feel I was missing out. I will be rectifying that though and reading A Famished Heart as soon as I can. The author has skilfully managed to bring her reader into the lives of these characters to the point where they felt so very real to me. I watched as Vincent Swan struggled to find a link to the baby, as Ali was caught up in the media frenzy, wrung out by the press who claimed their pound of flesh and then left on her own to pick up the pieces. The way Ali was treated at times was appalling but sadly I feel this is how life was for young women in Ireland (and elsewhere) in the 1980s.

The subject matter isn’t something everyone is going to be comfortable with. The heart-breaking scenes the author paints are made to make the reader think about life for a young unmarried woman in Ireland in the 1980s and she does it with aplomb. If you’re looking for a book to make you feel something, The Rosary Garden is definitely it. The mystery aspect of the book flows steadily from the very beginning and I instantly liked Detective Vincent Swan, who is having his own issues at home, as well as investigating a very emotional and prominent case. The story builds gradually layer by layer and I was on the edge of my seat as the story edged ever closer to the end. And what an ending! It was a perfect fit and very satisfying.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The Rosary Garden is a very compelling and beautifully written heart-felt mystery which I devoured quicker than most other reads of late. There was something quite addictive about the characters and their story. You’re never really quite sure who to trust and I really enjoyed that. I would happily pick up another book by this author and I look forward to reading A Famished Heart soon. Recommended.

I chose to read and review an ARC of The Rosary Garden. The above review is my own unbiased opinion.

The Rosary Garden by Nicola White was published in the UK by Viper Books on 21st January 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 | damppebbles Bookshop.org Shop |

Nicola White won the Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award in 2008 and in 2012 was Leverhulme Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University. The Rosary Garden won the Dundee International Book Prize, was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, and selected as one of the four best debuts by Val McDermid at Harrogate. She grew up in Dublin and New York, and now lives in the Scottish Highlands.

#BookReview: Shiver by Allie Reynolds @headlinepg #Shiver #damppebbles

“They don’t know what I did. And I intend to keep it that way.

How far would you go to win? Hyper-competitive people, mind games and a dangerous natural environment combine to make the must-read thriller of the year. Fans of Lucy Foley and Lisa Jewell will be gripped by spectacular debut novel Shiver.

When Milla is invited to a reunion in the French Alps resort that saw the peak of her snowboarding career, she drops everything to go. While she would rather forget the events of that winter, the invitation comes from Curtis, the one person she can’t seem to let go.

The five friends haven’t seen each other for ten years, since the disappearance of the beautiful and enigmatic Saskia. But when an icebreaker game turns menacing, they realise they don’t know who has really gathered them there and how far they will go to find the truth.

In a deserted lodge high up a mountain, the secrets of the past are about to come to light.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Shiver by Allie Reynolds. Shiver was published last week on Thursday 21st January by Headline and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review an eARC of Shiver but that has in no way influenced my review.

I tried very hard to resist this book but I failed, and I’m so incredibly glad I did. I saw it mentioned a few times on blogs and the socials and it immediately caught my attention. But I am trying to be stronger this year. Yeah, who am I kidding?! So Shiver became my first NetGalley request of the year….and it blew my socks off! I’m still suffering from a bit of a book hangover several days after finishing it.

Milla and four other snowboarders (well, one hanger-on) are attending a reunion at a resort in the French Alps. Milla isn’t sure she wants to attend after what happened last time they were all together. But her crush, Curtis, will be there and the desire to see him is just too much. In fact, he’s the one who invited her so it would be interesting to see if she still feels the same. When they arrive at the resort they find it’s deserted. It’s off-season though so it’s no great surprise. Perhaps the staff will arrive soon. When an ice-breaker game asks some distressing, unsettling questions, the five attendees start to wonder what’s going on. There is no escaping the past. Last time they were together the abrasive, hyper-competitive Saskia went missing and has never been found. Now someone wants answers and they’ll stop at nothing to get them…

I loved Shiver. It reminded me of a Lucy Foley novel in some ways (and I love Lucy Foley). Add to that the dangerous and atmospheric setting of the Alps and 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.

There were a couple of tiny things which I didn’t love so much but the overall story and the setting were so strong, I still fell madly in love with the book. For example, this is a book about snowboarding and each chapter is told in either the past or the present. I adored the ‘present’ chapters. The ‘past’ chapters paint the picture perfectly of what happened during that fateful season all those years ago. But there are a heck of a lot of technical snowboarding references and as someone who hasn’t paid a lot of attention to the sport (let’s be fair here, I’ve never really paid any attention to sport full stop! 😂), it all went over my head a little. I found myself googling a couple of things but by doing that, it took me out of the story. But, on the plus side, it’s clear the author knows her stuff and has put her love of snowboarding into the pages of Shiver. It shines through and you can’t knock that really.

I didn’t warm to any of the characters but I loved how dark Saskia’s personality was. She was, by far, my favourite character in the book. I’m not a reader who needs to fall in love with the characters to enjoy a story. All I want are strong personalities (good or bad….doesn’t matter to me) who stand tall from the page and that’s exactly what the author has achieved.

There are lots of lovely twists and surprises in store for the reader in Shiver. I was able to guess one aspect of the story and I had an inkling about another, but the author managed to keep me from committing to my idea by throwing sufficient doubt into situations so I was never 100% sure of anything! This is a suspense thriller so it should come as no surprise that nearly all of the characters carry a secret they would rather not have revealed. Reynolds keeps her reader on the very precipice of a snowy mountain by drip feeding information piece by tantalising piece, and I loved it. I wanted more. I had to know what was going to happen!

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. I heartily encourage you pick up a copy of Shiver if you enjoy contemporary mysteries with great big dollop of suspense (don’t we all?!). I loved the setting, I loved the story and I loved the way Shiver wormed its way under my skin. It became a bit of an obsession for the five days I was reading it. Oh, and this is the author’s debut novel. HER DEBUT!! I think the future is very bright for Allie Reynolds and I’m certainly going to be keeping an eye out for future releases. Highly recommended.

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

Shiver by Allie Reynolds was published in the UK by Headline on 21st January 2021 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.ukWaterstonesFoylesBook DepositoryBookshop.orgMy Bookshop.org ShopGoodreads |

Allie Reynolds is the author of the thriller SHIVER, which will be published in January 2021.

Born and raised in Lincoln, England, she moved to Australia in 2004. She lives on the Gold Coast with her two young boys and a cat who thinks he’s a dog.

Many years ago she competed at snowboard halfpipe. She spent five winters in the mountains of France, Switzerland, Austria and Canada. These days she sticks to surfing – water doesn’t hurt as much as ice when you fall on it.

Her first ever job was a Saturday job in a bookstore, at age 14. She taught English for many years and became a full-time writer in 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review © Emma Welton | damppebbles.com

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

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

Welcome to Chapel Croft.

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

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

Yet right away Jack has more frightening concerns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about-the-author3

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

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

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

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

SOMEONE WENT TO PRISON.

AND EVERYONE’S A SUSPECT.

CAN YOU UNCOVER THE TRUTH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about-the-author3

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

#BookReview: Q by Christina Dalcher #QBook #damppebbles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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