#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: 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: Bitter Sun by Beth Lewis @BoroughPress #BitterSun #damppebbles

It all started when we found the body.
Then nothing was ever the same.

The Dry meets Stand by Me and True Detective in this stunningly written tale of the darkness at the heart of a small mid-Western town and the four kids who uncover it.

In the heatwave summer of 1971, four kids find a body by a lake and set out to solve a murder. But they dig too deep and ask too many questions.

Larson is a town reeling in the wake of the Vietnam draft, where the unrelenting heat ruins the harvest, and the people teeter on the edge of ruin.

As tension and paranoia run rife, rumours become fact, violence becomes reflex. The unrest allows the dark elements of the close-knit farming community to rise and take control.

And John, Jenny, Gloria and Rudy are about to discover that sometimes secrets are best left uncovered…”

Hello my bookish friends and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be sharing my review of the beautifully written Bitter Sun by Beth Lewis with you. Bitter Sun was published by Borough Press on 7th March 2019 and is available in all formats.

I saw Bitter Sun mentioned on a number of blogs last year and my FOMO well and truly kicked in. I really can’t help myself when it comes to literary crime fiction at the moment and as soon as I clapped eyes on this book, I knew I had to read it. And oh my goodness, I’m so glad I did. Heartbreaking and emotive, this is a wonderfully consuming piece of fiction which I lost myself in.

A group of young teenage friends make a harrowing discovery one day whilst wasting time down by the lake. The body of a young woman. Their discovery is both horrifying and fascinating. They’re repulsed but drawn to the corpse. No one seems to particularly care who the victim is or why she was killed. So the friends take it upon themselves to find out. From the point of their shocking discovery and for the rest of their lives, life will never be the same for John, Jenny, Gloria and Rudy…

Set in a small, claustrophobic mid-Western town in the early 1970s, Bitter Sun is an all-consuming novel about family, friendship and the cruel hand fate can deal you, among other things. This is a powerful, character-driven coming-of-age novel which, in parts, broke me. Our lead character is John Royal. At the ripe old age of 13, John holds sole responsibility for the family farm (unless you count the endless ‘pigeon pa’s’ who fly in, sh!t all over the place and then fly out again!) and is determined to return it to its former glory. His mother is a man-hungry drunk who has all the time in the world for her son but a confusing, turbulent, sometimes hateful relationship with John’s younger sister, Jenny. It makes for uncomfortable reading at times but the author shows the reader exactly how things stand between these two characters. Poor John, who adores both his mother and his sister, is very much stuck in the middle of this warzone.

The day the kids discover the body is the day everything changes. John sees a new side to his sister. She reacts strangely to the discovery and he struggles to understand what is going on. The friends, as one would expect from a group of 13-year-olds in this situation, make the wrong decision – making a bad situation ten times worse. From here, the intricate unravelling of these four lives begins. We see life in Larson over several skin-blistering Summers. Each year brings more change, more bad news, more revelations. My heart ached for John. The author has done an exceptional job in writing this character. I wanted to look after him, protect him from more hurt and shield him from more bad news.

Would I recommend this book? I would, yes. Bitter Sun is an engrossing tale which really got under my skin. Heartbreaking at times and chock full of emotion, it was exactly the right book at the right time for me. If you’re a reader who thinks characters are key then get yourself a copy of this beautifully written novel. I can promise you, you won’t regret it. Completely immersive, unforgettable and utterly mesmerising. Recommended.

Bitter Sun by Beth Lewis was published in the UK by The Borough Press on 7th March 2019 and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | Goodreads |


Beth Lewis was raised in the wilds of Cornwall and split her childhood between books and the beach. She has travelled extensively and has had close encounters with black bears, killer whales, and Great White sharks. She has been, at turns, a bank cashier, fire performer, juggler, and is currently a Commissioning Editor at a leading London publisher. Her debut novel, The Wolf Road, was shortlisted for the inaugural Glass Bell Award. Bitter Sun is her second novel.

#BookReview: Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner @BoroughPress #MissingPresumed #damppebbles

missing presumed.jpg

Mid-December, and Cambridgeshire is blanketed with snow. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw tries to sleep after yet another soul-destroying Internet date – the low murmuring of her police radio her only solace.

Over the airwaves come reports of a missing woman – door ajar, keys and phone left behind, a spatter of blood on the kitchen floor. Manon knows the first 72 hours are critical: you find her, or you look for a body. And as soon as she sees a picture of Edith Hind, a Cambridge post-graduate from a well-connected family, she knows this case will be big.

Is Edith alive or dead? Was her ‘complex love life’ at the heart of her disappearance, as a senior officer tells the increasingly hungry press? And when a body is found, is it the end or only the beginning?

Hello and a very warm welcome to the blog today and to my review of Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner. Missing, Presumed was published by The Borough Press in 2016. I received a free eARC of this book via NetGalley but that has in no way influenced my review.

Erin Kelly describes this book as beautifully written. I couldn’t agree more. Missing, Presumed feels quite different to other books in the genre. Steiner presents a pretty bleak story but with such style and eloquence that you can’t help but be captivated. This is a slow burn police procedural with a less than perfect detective set in a wintery Cambridgeshire. There was a heck of a lot of buzz about this book when it was first published so I knew I just had to read a copy and find out more. I’m very glad I did.

DS Manon Bradshaw made this book shine for me. On the verge of hitting the big ‘four-oh’ Manon is determined to find a husband (I’m sure a committed partner would be enough in all honesty, lol!). She’s fed up with her life and feeling so lonely, so turns to internet dating to find Mister Right. Only finding Mister Very Wrong, Mister Oh No and Mister You Must Be Joking! Falling asleep every night to the crackle and hiss of her ‘borrowed’ police scanner. When Edith Hind is reported missing Manon is one of the first to hear the report over her scanner, and it’s only around the corner so she gets dressed and heads out into the chilly night. What she finds is a scene that causes some concern; the coats in the hallway are disturbed, the front door is open, Edith’s phone and keys have been left behind and there are a few ominous looking blood spots in the kitchen. An investigation to find missing Edith is launched led by Manon’s Major Incident Team but they’re aware time is running out. When it’s revealed the missing woman is the daughter of Lord Ian Hind, physician to the Queen and is good friends with the Home Secretary, the team know the case is going to be big news. Can Manon and the team find the missing woman before it’s too late…?

The book is written from multiple viewpoints which include Edith’s mother, Miriam, Manon and a wonderful colleague of Manon’s, DC Davy Walker. I loved Davy – what a nice young chap! Manon’s DI, Harriet Harper, is also a great character I loved the relationship between the two of them. I didn’t like any of the Hinds who all come across as pompous, self-serving, self-entitled fools. Even the devastated Miriam failed to stir any sympathy within me. The other character I loved was Fly, a young boy who, having lost his brother, is taken under Manon’s wing. Their relationship absolutely blossoms and it’s a joy to watch.

The investigation was slow going and at times I would have liked things to happen a little quicker. The reveal was quite a shocker but I relished it. It was very satisfying and I wouldn’t have wanted the book to end any other way with hindsight.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would. It’s beautifully written and a wonderful character driven novel which I thoroughly enjoyed. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another book by Susie Steiner. An intriguing mystery with a wonderfully flawed lead character who I hope to see a lot more of in the future.

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

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner was published in the UK by The Borough Press on 25th August 2016 and is available in hardcover, paperback, audio and eBook formats (please note, some of the following links are affiliate links which mean I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | amazon.com | Waterstones | BookDepository | Goodreads |

about-the-author3

susie steiner.jpg

Susie grew up in north London, studied English at university and trained as a journalist. She worked in newspapers for 20 years, 11 of them on staff at The Guardian. Her first novel, Homecoming, was published by Faber & Faber to critical acclaim in 2013. Her second, Missing, Presumed was a Sunday Times bestseller which introduced detective Manon Bradshaw. It was a Richard & Judy book club pick and has sold 250,000 copies to date in the UK. Missing, Presumed was selected as one of the Guardian’s, Wall Street Journal’s and NPR’s standout books of 2016. It was shortlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year 2017. Persons Unknown, the sequel to Missing, Presumed, is her third novel – also a Richard & Judy book club pick and also long-listed for the Theakstons. The third in the Manon trilogy is called Loss of Life and is due out in May 2020. Susie has written extensively about losing her eyesight to Retinitis Pigmentosa. She is registered fully blind and lives in London with her husband and two children.

Author image and biog © http://www.susiesteiner.co.uk/

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