#BookReview: Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone #Mirrorland #damppebbles

“The most dangerous stories are the ones we tell ourselves…

No. 36 Westeryk Road: an imposing flat-stone house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A place of curving shadows and crumbling grandeur. But it’s what lies under the house that is extraordinary – Mirrorland. A vivid make-believe world that twin sisters Cat and El created as children. A place of escape, but from what?

Now in her thirties, Cat has turned her back on her past. But when she receives news that one sunny morning, El left harbour in her sailboat and never came back, she is forced to return to Westeryk Road; to re-enter a forgotten world of lies, betrayal and danger.

Because El had a plan. She’s left behind a treasure hunt that will unearth long-buried secrets. And to discover the truth, Cat must first confront the reality of her childhood – a childhood that wasn’t nearly as idyllic as she remembers…”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to share my review of Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone. Mirrorland was published last week (on Thursday 1st April 2021) by The Borough Press and is available in audio and digital formats with the hardcover to follow later this month and the paperback in October. I chose to read a free eARC of Mirrorland but that has in no way influenced my review.

This book has so much appeal. I couldn’t resist that gorgeous cover and the intriguing blurb. However, once I made a start on Mirrorland, I began to question whether I was the right reader for this book. It’s incredibly rare that I DNF a book once I’ve started, and I really wanted to like Mirrorland, so I persevered. And oh my gosh, I’m so glad I did. Otherwise I would have missed out on one heck of a twisted story!

Identical mirror twins, Ellice and Catriona, have lost touch with each other as the years pass. Catriona lives in the US and doesn’t speak to Ellice, who lives in the family home on the outskirts of Edinburgh. But then Ellice goes missing. She sailed her boat from the harbour on the Firth of Forth and hasn’t been seen since. Which prompts Catriona’s immediate return to her home town. The search for Ellice is in vain. She’s disappeared without trace. That is until Catriona starts to receive strange, anonymous messages. A treasure hunt no less! It’s time for Catriona to confront her past, to recall memories which she had long since buried and find out what has happened to her sister…

So what was it about Mirrorland that made me question whether I was the right reader? A lack of imagination on my part is the most honest answer I think. The book is written in the past – when the twins were young children – and the present. It was the ‘past’ sections I struggled with as the girls have created a magical world within 36 Westeryk Road which, to a child’s mind, makes perfect sense. These scenes are fantastical, abstract, full of the things that add to the wonderment of childhood (pirates, the tooth fairy, witches, clowns *shudder at the clowns*). But I couldn’t understand their placement, to an extent, and why the author was spending so much time building a picture of the twins playing together, as children do. As you progress through the book it all makes perfect sense but at the time, I just wanted to get to the juicy stuff; the lies, betrayal and danger!

There is a good reason for these scenes and I can see that now with hindsight. It’s all part of the author building her characters and their story. I wish I had appreciated it more at the time.

Catriona is a fascinating character who I can’t claim to have liked – she does some pretty awful things – but I could empathise with her to a degree. Other characters in the book are well-written. My favourite character was DI Kate Rafiq who is tasked with discovering what happened to Ellice, alongside DS Logan. What a formidable team they made! I loved that Rafiq was there for Catriona when she was needed the most.

The plot has plenty of twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming and was left reeling after their reveal. The more you dig, the darker things become and I adored that. It’s a complex story which you need to dedicate time to – to savour what the author is sharing with the reader. It’s a beautiful piece of fiction and it needs to be appreciated.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Mirrorland is a deliciously dark debut. Its gothic tones are done to perfection with the creepy old house on Westeryk Road. I became completely invested in finding out the truth and my heart went out to Catriona as she made shocking discovery after shocking discovery. It’s a devilishly twisted tale and I’m so glad I read it. Recommended.

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

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone was published in the UK by The Borough Press on 1st April 2021 and is available in digital and audio 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 |

Scottish writer Carole Johnstone’s debut novel, Mirrorland, will be published in spring 2021 by Borough Press/HarperCollins in the UK and Commonwealth and by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in North America.

Her award-winning short fiction has been reprinted in many annual ‘Best Of’ anthologies in the UK and the US. She has been published by Titan Books, Tor Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and PS Publishing, and has written Sherlock Holmes stories for Constable & Robinson and Running Press.

Carole is represented by Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit UK and Allison Hunter at Janklow & Nesbit (US).

More information on the author can be found at carolejohnstone.com

#BookReview: Tall Bones by Anna Bailey @DoubledayUK #TallBones #damppebbles

tall bones“When seventeen-year-old Emma leaves her best friend Abi at a party in the woods, she believes, like most girls her age, that their lives are just beginning. Many things will happen that night, but Emma will never see her friend again.

Abi’s disappearance cracks open the façade of the small town of Whistling Ridge, its intimate history of long-held grudges and resentment. Even within Abi’s family, there are questions to be asked – of Noah, the older brother whom Abi betrayed, of Jude, the shining younger sibling who hides his battle scars, of Dolly, her mother and Samuel, her father – both in thrall to the fire and brimstone preacher who holds the entire town in his grasp. Then there is Rat, the outsider, whose presence in the town both unsettles and excites those around him.

Anything could happen in Whistling Ridge, this tinder box of small-town rage, and all it will take is just one spark – the truth of what really happened that night out at the Tall Bones….”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of Tall Bones by Anna Bailey. Tall Bones is published today (that’s Thursday 1st April) by Doubleday Books and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read a free eARC of Tall Bones but that has in no way influenced my review.

Gosh, I loved this book. I’m currently suffering a bit of a book hangover and I can’t stop thinking about it. I was instantly drawn to the stunning cover and the promise of small town secrets. It delivered ten-fold. You’ve got to read it!

Seventeen year old Abi Blake waves goodbye to her best friend, Emma Alvarez, and assures her she’ll be able to get home safely. Emma, fearful for her friend’s safety, reluctantly leaves. The following morning there’s no sign of Abi. Everyone in the small town of Whistling Ridge has a secret. Everyone has their own version of events from the night Abi disappeared but no one is willing to talk. What happened to Abi Blake that fateful night out at the Tall Bones…?

Absolutely gorgeous and utterly glorious. 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. I loved it and I can easily see this book featuring in my top reads of the year, if not my absolute top pick for 2021.

My heart broke for Emma who is consumed with guilt after leaving Abi at the Tall Bones. She turns to drink to try and numb the hurt and the humiliation but no matter how much she drinks, it doesn’t stop the pain. And that’s how she meets Rat Lăcustă who she helplessly falls in love with. Rat is young, spirited and exotic. And not the slightest bit interested romantically in Emma which only brings her more heartache. In Emma, the author has created a young woman at her most vulnerable, and she touched my heart.

But Emma and Rat are only the beginning of a cast of characters who all stand tall from the page. The Blake family made me feel such a strong mix of emotions. I adored Jude, Abi’s younger brother, broken by those who should love him the most but still loyal to a fault. Abi’s mother, Dolly, made me furious in one breath for not acknowledging or stopping what was going on right in front of her eyes. In the next breath I couldn’t help but feel for her. Stuck in a loveless marriage and feeling completely trapped. Yes, her actions were unforgiveable but I wouldn’t wish her life on anyone. Noah, Abi’s older brother, was beautifully drawn. As he begins to realise who he is and what is important to him, he is shunned by the small town community he calls home and gossiped about at every opportunity. His blossoming relationship with Rat was both tentative and intense and I thoroughly enjoyed how the author wrote their interactions. A true love story. And finally we have Samuel Blake, Abi’s father. A cruel and aggressive man who made my blood boil with his  hatred and discrimination. He uses the bible and the church’s teachings to justify his atrocious treatment of his wife and sons without remorse.

The plot pulls the reader into the story to the point where it’s hard to put the book down for any length of time. When I wasn’t reading Tall Bones, I was thinking about it. It consumed me totally and I’m so glad it did. When I say ‘I will remember this book for some time to come’ that feels like a massive understatement. This is one of those books which has left its permanent mark on me.

Would I recommend this book? I most definitely would, yes. Tall Bones is a haunting, beautiful but ultimately dark read that I devoured with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Its themes can be quite unsettling and upsetting at times, particularly later in the book, but it’s an astonishing debut. I’m so happy I took a chance on this one but I also feel bereft that it’s over. I miss Whistling Ridge (although once you’ve read the book you’ll wonder why). I’m a sucker for a small town American crime novel and this is an absolutely superb one. Shame, secrets, love and lies as the tagline says. What more could you want? Highly recommended.

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

Tall Bones (also known as Where The Truth Lies in the US) by Anna Bailey was published in the UK by Doubleday on 1st 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 |

Anna Bailey grew up in Gloucestershire and studied Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, before moving to Texas and later Colorado. In 2018, she returned to the UK where she enrolled in the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She currently works as a freelance journalist in Cheltenham, where she lives with her three cats.

#BookReview: Girl A by Abigail Dean @HarperFiction @HarperCollinsUK @1stMondayCrime #GirlA #FirstMondayCrime #damppebbles

Girl A,’ she said. ‘The girl who escaped. If anyone was going to make it, it was going to be you.’

Lex Gracie doesn’t want to think about her family. She doesn’t want to think about growing up in her parents’ House of Horrors. And she doesn’t want to think about her identity as Girl A: the girl who escaped. When her mother dies in prison and leaves Lex and her siblings the family home, she can’t run from her past any longer. Together with her sister, Evie, Lex intends to turn the House of Horrors into a force for good. But first she must come to terms with her six siblings – and with the childhood they shared.

Beautifully written and incredibly powerful, Girl A is a story of redemption, of horror, and of love.”

Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of one of the most talked about books of 2021 so far – Girl A by Abigail Dean. Girl A was published by HarperCollins on 21st January 2021 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats. I chose to read and review a free copy of Girl A but that has in no way influenced my review.

Abigail Dean is one of the authors appearing at March’s First Monday event over on Facebook (the first gathering – although online – for 2021!). Read on to find out more and how you can get involved!

Girl A is a hugely popular book, and rightly so. It is exquisitely written, emotional and pulls the reader into the story of the Gracie children. It’s a book I was keen to read following a couple of really enticing blog reviews, and I’m so glad I did.

Lex Gracie is a survivor. A survivor of child abuse. She and her six siblings are the infamous Gracie children who were discovered in a house of horrors near Manchester. Malnourished, abandoned and neglected by their cruel, deluded parents. But Lex escaped and ran for help. And now she’s Girl A – her identity hidden from the press and the watching world. Her life picked apart and put back together again, along with the lives of her siblings. Years later, following the death of her mother, Lex is made executor of her estate and finally has to confront her past and the house which became her prison. The dream, with her sister Evie, is to turn the house of horrors into a community centre. But to do that Lex must visit each of her siblings and get them to sign on the dotted line. Can Lex relive her traumatic past to make a positive change for her future…

Lex is such a complicated character but I really enjoyed spending time with her. Despite numerous sessions with a psychologist, she still bears the painful scars of her traumatic past. And who could blame her?! Her distance from her siblings, except Evie, aides her continual healing. The reader watches on as she is no longer able to avoid the difficult confrontations she’s managed to distance herself from for years. For me, the journey with Lex, spending time with her and discovering what made her tick, was the highlight of Girl A.

The story is told in the past – from the early days when life was fairly quiet for the small Gracie family, all the way through to Lex’s brave escape – and the present, with an adult Lex meeting with her siblings after so many years and working out how to make them agree to the community centre. Each sibling bears their own scars, their own allegiance to a brother or sister who helped soften the horror they were suffering at the time. The dynamics of the family are very intriguing and the reader is drawn into the story with ease. There’s always a question mark over what really happened during the children’s imprisonment; those overheard conversations from another room, the bangs and crashes and the sudden, threatening silences.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Girl A is an emotional and compelling read which I think true crime fans will particularly enjoy. It’s not a book of twists and turns (although I will say that I was able to work out one of the major twists a smidge before it was revealed) but a well-drawn and considered exploration of a trauma survivor’s life. Defined forever by another person’s twisted ways. An exciting debut novel from a writer to watch. Recommended.

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

Girl A by Abigail Dean was published in the UK by HarperCollins 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 |  WaterstonesFoylesBook Depositorybookshop.orgGoodreadsthe damppebbles bookshop.org shop |

First Monday Crime
Abigail Dean will be joining the panel for March’s First Monday Facebook event on Monday 1st March 2021. Abigail will be appearing alongside Nadine Matheson (author of The Jigsaw Man), Tim Glister (author of Red Corona), Femi Kayode (author of Lightseekers) and asking the questions will be Leye Adenle. The event is FREE of charge and will be held at 7.30pm on Monday 1st March via the First Monday Facebook page.

Abigail Dean was born in Manchester, and grew up in the Peak District. She graduated from Cambridge with a Double First in English. Formerly a Waterstones bookseller, she spent five years as a lawyer in London, and took summer 2018 off to work on her debut novel, Girl A, ahead of her thirtieth birthday. She now works as a lawyer for Google, and is currently writing her second novel, The Conspiracies.

Girl A sold in the UK after a 9-way auction, and also sold at auction in the US. The novel has since been acquired in 27 other territories, and television/film rights have sold to Sony. Johan Renck, director of Chernobyl, is attached to work on the television adaptation of Girl A.

Abigail has always loved reading, writing, and talking about books. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @AbigailSDean.