#BookReview: The Coven by Lizzie Fry @BooksSphere #TheCoven #damppebbles

Let me repeat myself, so we can be very clear. Women are not the enemy. We must protect them from themselves, just as much as we must protect ourselves.

Imagine a world in which witchcraft is real. In which mothers hand down power to their daughters, power that is used harmlessly and peacefully.

Then imagine that the US President is a populist demagogue who decides that all witches must be imprisoned for their own safety, as well as the safety of those around them – creating a world in which to be female is one step away from being criminal…

As witches across the world are rounded up, one young woman discovers a power she did not know she had. It’s a dangerous force and it puts her top of the list in a global witch hunt.

But she – and the women around her – won’t give in easily. Not while all of women’s power is under threat.

The Coven is a dazzling global thriller that pays homage to the power and potential of women everywhere.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of The Coven by Lizzie Fry. The Coven was published by Sphere Books in paperback on 2nd September 2021 and is also available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read a free copy of The Coven which has in no way influenced my review. My grateful thanks to Lizzie for sending me a finished copy.

As Halloween approaches many readers change their reading habits to include the witchy, the ghostly and the ghoulish. Not me. Halloween is great but the supernatural and the scary work all year long, right? Summer, bring it on. Christmas, the perfect time to scare yourself witless. I’ve realised though that I haven’t read many books featuring witches. So when I received a gifted copy of The Coven by Lizzie Fry, I moved it straight to the top of the TBR. And I’m so glad I did. The Coven is a superbly crafted, high-energy, international thriller that starts at a cracking pace and doesn’t let up until the final word.

After many years of living relatively peacefully side by side, the President of the US declares all witches should be voluntarily imprisoned for their safety and for others. The Sentinel are charged with rounding up those who don’t present themselves and they’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. But a good few thousand miles away, in the city of Exeter, nineteen year old Chloe Su is about to come into her powers. With the help of her father, a newly escaped crystal witch, and the Sentinel Agent who broke the witch free, Chloe takes the first step on a journey which will take her across international borders and into more danger than she ever thought possible…

Powerful, gutsy women lead the cast in a thrilling, non-stop race against time. Bloody marvellous! Fry has created a dark, edgy thriller in an alternative world where some of the female population are considered by non-magical folk as the scourge of the earth. All because the big guy in the White House says so! The men reign supreme. The divide between the genders – which includes the non-magical women who are labelled by the menfolk as ‘Goody’s’ – is vast. Fry has created such a strong divide between the genders that it made my blood boil at points. But in the best way possible. I have read other dystopian novels where the storyline centres around a similar male/female divide but Fry outshines them all with The Coven. I was angry for the women, I wanted justice and recognition for them. I wanted them to escape from the oppressive misogynistic regime they were forced under thanks to the Sentinel. It’s safe to say I was rooting for them 100%.

The Coven is a fast paced, thrill-ride of a story which doesn’t let up until the nail biting conclusion. Along the way we meet several interesting, well-written characters. Some I warmed to, others not so much (they’re kind of despicable, horrible human beings – but again, very well-written). My favourite character was Daniel, Chloe’s father, who is thrown into a world he knows nothing about with a ferocity that would leave others running for the hills. (I should mention at this point that not all male characters in the book are crazed zealots out to destroy womankind – only some of them!!) I also really liked Ethan who, despite being on the wrong side for so long, realises his mistake and does absolutely everything he can to make amends. My heart went out to Chloe who, at the age of nineteen, suddenly has the weight of the world on her shoulders. It’s a pretty hefty cross to bear when you’re only just starting to learn who, or what, you are yourself.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Fry’s feminist debut is a thrilling, beautifully intense tale which I struggled to tear myself away from. I was drawn into this alternate world from the get-go and what a ride it was! I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with these intelligent, fearless, fiery women and I look forward to seeing what the author has in store for us next. Fans of dystopian thrillers featuring strong female characters will adore this gripping read. Recommended.

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

The Coven by Lizzie Fry was published in the UK by Sphere Books on 2nd September 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 |

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Lizzie is the author of The Coven, a dystopian thriller for Sphere Books which asks readers to imagine a world in which witchcraft is real, passed down mother to daughter … and men will do absolutely everything they can to stop them.

A fan of such books as The Handmaid’s Tale and A Discovery of Witches, the idea came to Lizzie because she lives in Devon. It was one of the hardest hit areas in England during the witch hunts of the middle ages. There are many monuments to these murdered women in and around the South West. Exeter is officially the first and last place in the UK to hang a witch, which is why Lizzie chooses to kick off the story there.

#BookReview: The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird @boroughpress #TheEndOfMen #damppebbles

“Glasgow, 2025.  Dr Amanda Maclean is called to treat a young man with a mild fever. Within three hours he dies. The mysterious illness sweeps through the hospital with deadly speed. This is how it begins.

The victims are all men.

Dr Maclean raises the alarm, but the sickness spreads to every corner of the globe. Threatening families. Governments. Countries.

Can they find a cure before it’s too late? Will this be the story of the end of the world – or its salvation?

Compelling, confronting and devastating, The End of Men is the novel that everyone is talking about.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird. The End of Men is published by The Borough Press today (that’s Thursday 29th April 2021) and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free eARC of The End of Men but that has in no way influenced my review.

Oh.My.Goodness! This book is incredible. After the last year or so, you’ll understand why I have been purposefully avoiding all fiction which involves a virus or a pandemic. Too close to home. Far, far too close to home. But Sweeney-Baird’s debut intrigued me. I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. However, I don’t read anywhere near enough. The End of Men has without doubt reignited my love of this compelling, thought-provoking genre. This book is an absolute must-read!

On a normal shift in A&E, Dr Amanda Maclean makes a shocking discovery. Male patients and staff in the hospital are coming down with a mystery illness which, within a few days, kills them. Dr Maclean recognises the risk and tries to put emergency measures into place to control the spread of the virus. But she’s thwarted at every turn by those higher up the food chain. Before long the virus – named by Dr Maclean as the Plague – is taking over and spreading faster than anyone could imagine. As the World struggles to find a vaccine, the question on everyone’s lips is: could this be the end of men….?

Absolutely superb and frighteningly real. The author has included a note at the start of the novel which explains how the book was written before COVID came into our lives. I wonder how the author felt as she watched the news stories building day by day. The virus in The End of Men is, of course, not the same as COVID but there are similarities which can’t be ignored.

Anyway, enough talk of COVID. I only mentioned it because I think it’s impossible to ignore our own experience of a pandemic when you’re discussing a book about a pandemic! So instead let’s imagine a world where virtually everyone you meet is female. All of the men – the husbands, the sons, the fathers, the brothers, the uncles – have died. A few men are immune but the odds aren’t great, only 1 in 10. Every other male is guaranteed to die because there is no stopping the Plague. Women carry the virus but don’t become ill. There is no vaccine, shielding can help but only for so long. It’s a death sentence and there’s nothing that can be done. Now think of all of the professions where the large majority of people qualified are men (not exclusively men but the majority). Pilots, electricians, refuse workers, the army, the police force, the list goes on. The implications of the author’s scary new world are far reaching and it was a real eye opener for this reader. The slow realisation of what no men would, in reality, actually mean.

The End of Men is 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. We follow the lives of several woman and watch how grief, uncertainty and a complete change in lifestyle affect them. Some, surprisingly, for the better. For a lot of the woman in this novel, the painful loss of some or all of their family, was devastating. My heart broke on several occasions and I particularly felt for Catherine. Catherine is an anthropologist who features throughout the book and decides to record the stories of the Plague for future reference. I loved Catherine who was unapologetic in her grief, devoted to her loving husband and adorable son. I looked forward to hearing from her and I longed for her story to finish on a high note. Whether it does or not, you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. The End of Men is a must read for all. Intelligent, poignant, devastating and totally absorbing. This is another stunning debut for 2021 which I heartily recommend. Another strong contender for my ‘books of the year’ list. I struggled to put this one down and on the odd occasion where I did, I was desperate to pick it up again and return to the author’s world. Such an emotional, well thought out and captivating piece of fiction that I hope flies off the shelves. It absolutely deserves to! Highly recommended.

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

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird was published in the UK by The Borough Press on 29th April 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.orgGoodreadsdamppebbles bookshop.org shop |

Christina Sweeney-Baird was born in 1993 and grew up in North London and Glasgow. She studied Law at the University of Cambridge and graduated with a First in 2015. She works as a corporate litigation lawyer in London. The End of Men 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

Calling all crime, thriller and dystopian fiction writers – PM Books want to hear from YOU #SubmissionCall @PMBooksHHB @HhouseBooks #PMBooks #WritingCommunity #amwriting #damppebbles

Hello and welcome to the blog on this sunny Thursday. I have something a little different to share with you today, which I’m really excited about. One of my favourite publishers – Holland House Books – are starting a Kindle-first crime, thriller and dystopian imprint called PM BOOKS and they are looking for established and aspiring writers to submit their work. Is that you? If so, read on….

PM Books are a Kindle-First imprint of Holland House Books that specialises in crime, thriller and dystopian fiction. Phaidra Robinson and Mia Skevington set up PM Books in April 2020 in order to pursue their respective loves of true crime and detective fiction. Our background of Literary Fiction at Holland House Books means that we bring an expectation of and experience in producing high quality books to these genres. An inaugural imprint, this is the time for authors to submit their work for the chance to be one of our founding book releases.

Doesn’t that sound exciting? Do you have a manuscript languishing unloved in a drawer? Have you recently written the two most exciting words in the world…THE END? Are you ready to get your writing into readers’ hands? Then here’s everything you need to know to submit your book to PM Books:

We are looking for most types of crime and thriller fiction, from the classic English whodunit through to police procedurals, or classic noir through to mind-bending psychological thrillers. Maybe you want to introduce us to a dystopian future. We want well-written, satisfying work – a good twist and convincing characters are the ways to our hearts. It may be cosy and comfortable or dark and disturbing… or something completely different.

If you have a completed novel or novella which you believe may fit, then send us:

1) The first fifty pages of your work.
2) A synopsis of your work (maximum two pages).
3) A covering letter with a brief overview – we do NOT need you to do a brilliant ‘pitch’ or the kind of blurb which would go on the back of the book. The basic story, main character(s) and the general themes is all we need.

These documents should be Word Documents, size 12 in a standard font, with a line spacing of 1.5.

Please email us at pmbooks@hhousebooks.com and address them to the Editor Phaidra Robinson.

The road to publication beckons and I really hope you’re as excited as I am about this brilliant opportunity.

You can contact PM Books by email on pmbooks@hhousebooks.com, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram and via their website: https://pmbooks0.wixsite.com/pmbooks/. Good luck and I hope to be reading your book very soon!

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#BookReview: The Feed by Nick Clark Windo (@nickhdclark) @headlinepg #NeedTheFeed #TheFeed

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“Tom and Kate’s daughter turns six tomorrow, and they have to tell her about sleep.
If you sleep unwatched, you could be Taken. If you are Taken, then watching won’t save you.
Nothing saves you.

Your knowledge. Your memories. Your dreams.
If all you are is on the Feed, what will you become when the Feed goes down?

For Tom and Kate, in the six years since the world collapsed, every day has been a fight for survival. And when their daughter, Bea, goes missing, they will question whether they can even trust each other anymore.

The threat is closer than they realise…”

Not my usual fare, I know, but when I read the blurb of The Feed and when I witnessed the fantastic PR stunt the folks at Headline pulled the day they revealed this book on Twitter, I knew I HAD to read it. (And if you’re wondering what the stunt was, the Headline twitter ‘feed’ went down. Their profile picture was a solid black square, their twitter header was the same. Something had gone ‘seriously wrong’ and it was fascinating to see how people reacted. Kudos to whoever came up with the idea and whoever was manning the Headline timeline that day. It was pitched perfectly and worked a treat!)

The Feed is a dystopian thriller with a hefty dose of sci-fi added to the mix. Like I said, not my usual fare but I think it’s good to step out of your comfort zone every now and then, especially for a genre reader like myself. I tend to enjoy dystopian thrillers, there’s often a very strong crime component in many dystopian tales which will always appeal to me. However, the sci-fi element did make me a little nervous.  I am not a sci-fi reader, I have very little experience of reading sci-fi (does Douglas Adams count?) and I felt a little out of my depth. But I was so keen to read The Feed that I put these feelings to one side. And I fell head over heels in love with the start of this book. I was smitten. I loved learning what The Feed meant to the characters encapsulated in this strange online world, in particular to Tom and Kate our lead characters. I loved the idea of the Feed and I was well and truly gripped. So gripped I couldn’t stop telling my husband about the Feed, reading sections out to him while he politely smiled and nodded.

When the Feed went down I was on the edge of my seat, lost in this new savage world and I didn’t want to put the novel down. What the characters lost was heartbreaking, so clearly a destructive addiction ready to tear it’s users apart. Powerful, thought-provoking and very intense writing from this talented debut author.

The writing throughout the book is superb. The author has a talent for creating a scene in his reader’s minds, so sharp and so crisp. The issues raised in the book gave me a lot to think about. I want to talk to other readers about this book and that’s always a good sign, right? (In fact, I would love to know. If you have read The Feed, would you want to be enabled or would you be a Resister? Let me know in the comments.)

I will say one thing. I loved, loved, loved the start of this book. The middle section and the end were well written but I found myself losing interest a little. I loved the author’s ability to transport you to a world where you wouldn’t necessarily want to live or stay for any amount of time. But I was just a smidge disappointed with the middle section and the conclusion. I keep asking myself whether this book just wasn’t for me but then I remind myself how much I enjoyed the start, so that can’t be the case.

Having sat here staring at the screen for a few minutes I think I’ve worked it out. The Feed ‘COULD’ happen. It’s something that ‘may’ be in our future. We’re already all glued to our phones and tablets 24/7 so would it be such a great leap to move to something like the Feed? Maybe not. The later sections of the book I think I found harder to believe and that may be where my problem lies. Regular readers of the blog will know that I like my crime reads to be real (for example, I struggle with certain supernatural elements) and that may be the issue for me here. I didn’t believe enough and that could be why my attention waned. Going back to my earlier question and flipping it a little, maybe I’m not the right type of reader for this book…?

Would I recommend this book? This is a well written, interesting novel which raises a lot of pertinent questions. I would recommend it, yes. And I would pick up a second novel by author Nick Clark Windo in a heartbeat. I strangely love the idea of the Feed in a fictional sense. I’m not so sure about in an actual, physical sense though. What do you think? This book really got me thinking and I liked that!

Four out of five stars.

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

The Feed by Nick Clark Windo was published in the UK by Headline Books on 25th January 2018 and is available in hardcover, eBook and audio formats (with the paperback to follow later this year) | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | Goodreads | (please note, the above Amazon and Waterstones links are affiliate links)

about the author3

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Nick Clark Windo studied English Literature at Cambridge and acting at RADA, and he now works as a film producer and screenwriter. Inspired by his realisation that people are becoming increasingly disconnected from one another, and questions about identity and memory, The Feed is his debut novel. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

Author Links: | Twitter |