Blog Tour Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

Today I am part of the blog tour for Exquisite by Sarah Stovell, published by the wonderful Orenda Books, along with my counterpart Being Anne whose review you can check out here. Don’t forget to check out all the other fab stops on this epic blog tour!

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Blurb:

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.

Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend.

When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops… Or does it?

We are first introduced to Bo Luxton, a successful writer who is runs a writing course, is married to Gus, twenty-two years her senior with two daughters and lives in a beautiful house in the Lake District.

Alice Dark’s life seems to be at a standstill; she lives in a squalid bedsit in Brighton with a loser of a boyfriend who seems to drink and take drugs and works for cash in hand – she wants more from life.

When the two women meet at the writers retreat Bo is organising, they hit it off and end up staying in touch via email once the retreat is over. As their kinship develops and Bo invites Alice to stay with her a sinister relationship develops.

The novel is told from both women point of view, sometimes via email or telephone along with a characters view point from prison which immediately tells the reader that something bad will happen.

I adored the beautiful imagery and language the authors uses throughout this novel to draw the reader in and sets up a claustrophobic atmosphere which made the action even more chilling.

The author weaves an intricate plot with a brilliant ending I didn’t see coming and does a superb job of creating two such disturbing characters – even now I’m unsure who was telling the truth – or are they both liars?

This is a novel full of tension, toxic passion, breathless pace and disturbing characters – I loved it and cannot recommend this book enough! This is a psychological thriller at the top of its game.

Big thanks to Orenda Books and Anne Cater for allowing me to be a part of this blog tour and for my ARC.

About the author:

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Sarah Stovell was born in 1977 and spent most of her life in the Home Counties before a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel made her realise she was a northerner at heart. She now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children and is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Lincoln University. Her debut psychological thriller, Exquisite, is set in the Lake District.

This novel is out now and can be purchased on Amazon here.

Or Waterstones here.

To find out more about Sarah Stovell follow her on Twitter at @Sarahlovescrime

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Fierce Kingdom Blog Tour Extract by Gin Phillips

This is my second post for the Fierce Kingdom blog tour, by Gin Phillips. I am excited to share this exclusive extract for you below and it is a book I thought was gripping from start to finish. You can read my review of this novel here.

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*Exclusive Extract – Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips*

5:23 p.m.

Joan scans the sand pit for any forgotten plastic men, and then she takes Lincoln’s hand and heads down the path leading out of the woods. She wonders when he will stop wanting to hold her hand, but for now they seem equally happy with the arrangement. In less than twenty steps the trees have opened up – it’s only an illusion, the seclusion of this place – and there’s the sound of the waterfall splattering on the rocks in front of the otter exhibit.

The otter is one of their favorite animals, one of the few that will still pull Lincoln from his stories. The two otters have a huge cavern‐styled enclosure with faux‐rock overhangs, and the animals curve and flip and dive in a greenish pool behind a wide glass wall. The rocks jut over the walkway, and a waterfall rushes over visitors’ heads and spills down to a turtle pond thick with lily pads and reeds and some sort of purple‐flowered stalk. The wooden footpath that winds over the pond has always struck her as the prettiest part of the Woodlands – but now it seems only empty.

Lincoln laughs next to her. ‘Look at the otter. Look how he swims.’ He still struggles with words ending in ‐er. ‘Ott‐o,’ he says, instead of ‘otter’. Lex Luth‐o. Score a goal in socc‐o.

‘I like his paws,’ she says.

‘He has paws? Not fins? Real paws like a dog or finger paws like a monkey?’

She is tempted to stop and point out the anatomy of otters. This is what she wants most for him, maybe, to see that life is full of astonishing things, to know that you should pay attention – Look, it’s beautiful, he said, staring into a puddle of gasoline in the zoo parking lot – but they don’t have time. She gives his hand a tug, and he comes easily enough, though his head is slow to turn away from the otter. As they step onto the wooden bridge, lily pads to either side of them, she wishes that they would see someone else, some other chattering fam‐ ily also running late. Not that it’s unusual to have the path to themselves. They often see no one else all the way to the exit in the afternoon, and they are pushing it closer than usual to closing time. She picks up her pace.

‘Want to race?’ she asks. ‘No.’

‘You want to skip?’

‘No, thank you.’

He plods along.

She sometimes wonders if his determination not to do a thing is in direct proportion to the amount of enthusiasm she shows for it. He continues meandering along the bridge, pausing to shrink back from a gnat or to stare down at a speckled koi. He comes to a complete stop to scratch his chin. When she asks him to hurry, he frowns, and she knows by the look on his face what he will ask for.

‘I want you to carry me,’ he says.

‘I can’t carry you all the way to the car,’ she says. ‘You’re getting too big.’

She watches his lip slide out.

‘Here’s my compromise,’ she says, before this escalates and slows them down further. ‘I’ll pick you up when we get to the scarecrows, and I’ll carry you from there. If you can do a good job of walking to the scarecrows.’

‘Okay,’ he says, although his voice is wobbly and his lip is extending more, and he is starting to wail even as he moves his feet in time with hers.

She did not, it occurs to her, specify that he could not cry as he walks. He is technically meeting her terms. It is possible that he will cry himself out in a few seconds and get distracted by some passing thought of Thor’s helmet or Odin’s eye patch. It is possible that he will only cry more loudly, and she will give in and pick him up because he has actually walked quite a long way, uncomplainingly, on his small legs. It is possible that he will keep crying and she will stand firm and make him walk all the way to the car because she does not want him to turn into one of those children who throw tantrums.

Such a system of checks and balances – parenting – of projections and guesswork and cost–benefit ratios.

A dragonfly hovers and darts. A heron picks its way along the edge of the water. The wooden path cuts back and forth through trees and wild grass.

Lincoln has stopped crying, and she’s fairly sure he’s hum‐ ming the Georgia Bulldogs’ fight song – ‘Glory, glory to old Georgia! / Glory, glory to old Georgia!’ – although as soon as she finishes the thought, he switches to the Texas Long‐ horns. No one in their family is a fan of either team, but he soaks up fight‐song lyrics as he soaks up superheroes and villains.

He is a collector. He accumulates.

Through the trees she can see the tent‐like top of the merry‐go‐round. It shines white against the dishwater sky. They pass a chicken‐wire‐enclosed exhibit for a one‐legged eagle and a near‐invisible enclosure for a pair of egrets. There are dead logs and monkey grass and lime‐green weeds. She walks toward an overhanging branch, and one of its leaves detaches, turning into a yellow butterfly and weaving up to the sky.

Finally they are back on the concrete sidewalks, which are as wide as roads. Jack‐o’‐lanterns perch on the fence posts.

They take a few steps into civilization, and she glances over at the merry‐go‐round. It is still and silent; the painted giraffes and zebras and bears and gorillas and ostriches are frozen. Lincoln used to love the merry‐go‐round, although he would only ride a zebra. Now the carousel animals have rubber bats and tiny Kleenex ghosts floating around them, hanging from the wooden framework. She and Lincoln are close enough that the white canvas top covering the carousel spreads over them, bright and calm.

‘Mommy,’ he says. ‘Carry me.’

‘When we get to the scarecrows,’ she says, ignoring his arms stretched toward her. ‘Just a little farther.’

He doesn’t protest this time. They hurry past the merry‐go‐round, toward the food court and the Kid Zone Splash Park, with the fountains of shoulder‐high water still arcing onto the blue‐raspberry‐colored splash pads.

‘Medusa’s been here,’ Lincoln announces, and she looks beyond the spraying water to the shaded spot with the stone statues of a turtle, a frog and a lizard. These days, anytime they see stone figures it is a sign that Medusa has passed by. Spider‐Man has been here, he says to spiderwebs.

‘Those poor guys,’ she says, because it is what she says every time they pass Medusa’s victims.

‘They should have kept their eyes closed,’ he says, because it is what he says every time.

She glances at the darkened glass of the Koala Café, with its shelves of plastic‐wrapped sandwiches and Jell‐O and hard‐boiled eggs, but she sees no sign of movement inside. The plastic chairs are upside down on the square tables. The staff usually close down the restaurants and lock the buildings fifteen minutes before closing time, so she’s not surprised.

Off to their right is the playground with the rock moun‐ tains and swinging bridge. Once upon a time, Lincoln was interested in Antarctica, and the big rocks were icebergs. Then last spring he was playing knights and castles on the swinging bridge, yelling at invisible kings to bring out the cannons and to fill the catapults with rocks. Now that same bridge is always Thor’s rainbow‐colored pathway to Earth. In a year Lincoln will be in kindergarten and these days of superheroes will fade and be replaced by something she can’t guess, and then at some point the zoo itself will be replaced and life will have gone on and this boy holding her hand will have turned into someone else entirely.

They are making good time now, scurrying past the gift shop and the wooden cut‐out where a kid can stick his head through a hole and pretend he is a gorilla. They slow down by the algae‐clogged aquariums at the edge of the children’s area – Lincoln cannot resist looking for the giant turtle – and an older woman appears a few yards in front of them, just around the curve of the aquarium walls, staggering backward slightly. She is holding a shoe.

‘The rock’s out, Tara,’ she says, and there is a certain cheerful desperation in her voice that identifies her as a grandmother. ‘Come on, now.’

Two blonde girls, surely sisters, come into view, and the grandmother leans down, holding out the shoe to the smaller girl. Her hair is in pigtails, and she looks a little younger than Lincoln.

‘We’ve got to go,’ says the grandmother as she works the rubber sandal onto a small foot. Then she straightens.

The little one says something, too quiet to hear, even though they are all within a few feet of each other now. Several flies tap against the aquarium glass.

‘I’ll take them off when we get to the car,’ says the grand‐ mother, out of breath. She takes an off‐balance step, holding the girls by their wrists. The girls blink at Lincoln, but then the woman is propelling them forward.

‘That’s a grandmother,’ Lincoln says, too loudly, stopping suddenly enough that he jerks Joan’s arm.

‘I think so, too,’ she whispers.

Joan glances toward the older woman – there is a flowery chemical smell in the air, perfume that reminds her of Mrs Manning in the sixth grade, who gave her and no one else a copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins on the last day of school – but the woman and her grandchildren are gone now, already past the curve of the final aquarium.

‘If I had a grandmother, is that what she would look like?’ Lincoln asks.

He has been fixated on grandparents lately. She hopes it will pass as quickly as all his other phases.

‘You do have a grandmother,’ Joan says, tugging him for‐ ward again. ‘Grandma. Daddy’s mommy. She was here at Christmas, remember? She just lives far away. We need to go, sweet.’

‘Some people have lots of grandparents. I only have one.’

‘No, you have three. Remember? Now we’ve got to get going or we’ll get in trouble.’

The magic words. He nods and speeds up, his face serious and resolute.

There is another popping sound, louder and closer than before, maybe a dozen sharp cracks in the air. She thinks it might be something hydraulic.

They’ve come to the edge of a pond – the largest one in the zoo, nearly a lake – and she catches a glimpse of swans cutting through the water. The path forks: the right branch would lead them around the far side of the pond, up through the Africa exhibit, but the left will take them to the exit in a few less seconds. She can see the green‐and‐red flash of the parrots up ahead, unusually quiet. She likes their little island in the middle of all the concrete – a bricked‐in pool with a grassy mound and spindly trees – and it is always their first and last stop, the final ritual of every visit.

‘Start practicing your parrot caws,’ she tells him.

‘I don’t need to practice,’ he says. ‘I just want to see the scarecrows.’

‘We’ll have to look at them while we walk.’

A long row of scarecrows has been propped along the fence that circles the pond. Many of them have pumpkins for heads, and Lincoln is fascinated by them. He loves the Superman one and the astronaut one – with the pumpkin painted like a white space helmet – and especially the Cat in the Hat.

‘All right, sweet,’ she says.

He drops her hand and lifts his arms.
She glances along the fence, spotting the bright‐blue

pumpkin head of Pete the Cat. About halfway down the fence several scarecrows have fallen. Blown down by the wind, she assumes, but, no, it hasn’t been stormy. Still, the scarecrows have collapsed, half a dozen of them scattered all the way down to the parrot exhibit and beyond.

No, not scarecrows. Not scarecrows.

She sees an arm move. She sees a body way too small to be a scarecrow. A skirt, hiked indecently over a pale hip, legs bent.

She is slow to lift her eyes, but when she looks farther, past the shapes on the ground, past the parrots, toward the long, flat building with public bathrooms and doors marked employees only, she sees a man standing, facing away from her, unmoving. He is by the water fountain. He is in jeans and a dark shirt, no coat. His hair is brown or black, and other than that she cannot see details, but she cannot miss it when he does finally move. He kicks the bathroom door, his elbow coming up to catch it, a gun in his right hand, some sort of rifle, long and black, the narrow end of it stretching like an antenna past his dark head as he dis‐ appears into the pale‐green walls of the women’s bathroom.

She thinks there is another movement around the parrots, someone else still on his feet, but she is turning away by then. She does not see more.

She grabs Lincoln and heaves him up, his legs swinging heavily as he lands against her hip, her right hand grabbing her left wrist underneath his bottom, linking her arms.

She runs.

Blog Tour Review Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Today, I’m absolutely ecstatic to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for Fierce Kingdom penned by Gin Phillips. As part of the blog tour I have reviewed the book and I have an exclusive extract of the novel which I will share with you later on today. Don’t forget to check out all the other stops on this fab blog tour!

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First up is the blurb:

Lincoln is a good boy. At the age of four, he is curious, clever and well behaved. He does as his mum says and knows what the rules are.

‘The rules are different today. The rules are that we hide and do not let the man with the gun find us.’

When an ordinary day at the zoo turns into a nightmare, Joan finds herself trapped with her beloved son. She must summon all her strength, find unexpected courage and protect Lincoln at all costs – even if it means crossing the line between right and wrong; between humanity and animal instinct.

It’s a line none of us would ever normally dream of crossing.

But sometimes the rules are different.

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My Review:

I love thriller novels and I had heard so much about this novel, so when I was sent an copy I just jumped at the chance to read this.

Joan and her four year old son, Lincoln, decide to visit one of their many favourite haunts, the local zoo, after school to catch the last of the day’s sunshine. But as time fades quickly Joan and Lincoln have to make a mad dash towards the exit before the zoo closes for the night; but all too soon they are faced with a bigger danger – a man with a gun is blocking the exit and is on the hunt for humans. Joan is faced with every parent’s nightmare and the fight for survival.

Wow – what can I say about this novel? I absolutely loved the action and the drama of this story which was just utterly breathless – the pace was relentless from start to finish and I found myself holding my breath a lot willing Joan and Lincoln to survive.

I most admit some of the decisions Joan makes along the way made me question how I would react in the same/similar situation? What is apparent though is the strength and determination which Joan has, which I felt made her an outstanding heroine. Joan’s desperate need to protect her son also shines through this novel and I loved the relationship between Joan and Lincoln which really showed the love between them – it made me want to close my eyes at times because I just felt so scared for these characters.

I think what made this book so scary for me is that it hits on themes which seem very relevant in the society we live in now.

I thought Fierce Kingdom was a gripping novel which takes the reader on a fast-paced journey of a mother’s fierce protection for her child. This was such a thrilling read which I just couldn’t put down and I would urge you to read – just don’t read it in a dark room on your own!

I would like to say a huge thanks to Alison Barrow and Transworld Publishers for my advanced review copy.

This novel is out 15th June which you can preorder from Amazon just click here

Or to preorder this book from Waterstones click here.

To find out more about Gin Phillips follow her on Twitter at @GinPhillips17

Thriller Review: Yesterday by Felicia Yap

When I received a shiny package a couple of weeks ago which contained this novel I couldn’t wait to get started. It’s a novel I’ve heard a lot about and it didn’t disappoint!

Blurb:

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There are two types of people in the world. Those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before.

You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.

Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police? Can you trust your husband? Can you trust yourself?

 

Humans are divided into two categories, they are either a mono or a duo.

Monos: Can only remember the day before

Duos: Can not only remember yesterday but the day before as well

When a women turns up dead in the River Cam the police suspect foul play. How can you solve a murder when everyone can only remember what happened yesterday?

I can’t actually describe anymore of this book without giving anything else away. I thought this novel was just CAPTIVATING and I actually read this in two sittings! It is a high-concept dystopian thriller which plays on the memories of the characters and sweeps the reader along on a complex and exciting narrative.

The story is told from the point of view of Hans, the police officer who is investigating  the murder, Mark who is a duo and had been having an affair with the dead woman, his wife Claire who is a mono and Sophia. It is also features many of the characters’ diary entries which I found fascinating.

The author Felicia, does a brilliant job of creating a realistic world where humans have to rely on technology to capture their memories otherwise they will be lost forever. I found the world of the novel refreshing and was so different from other books I’ve read recently it just sucked me in and I can tell you I loved every second of it!

Weirdly, one of my favourite characters was Sophia – a character with a very strange world view and whose thoughts and actions were very catatonic, I just couldn’t wait to read the chapters where I was in her head.

This is a book full of pace, has a number of clever twists and turns and is fraught with emotions. I found this such a refreshing and different read it kept me glued to the page. I also felt the themes of memory loss were explicit and very realistic and made me question how I would cope if this ever happened to me.

I’m not sure which one I would want to be – a mono or a duo, I think they both have their problems. Is it better to know more than others in your society or live in blissful ignorance? What one would you be?

This is one of those novel I would recommend looking out for and would rate this as one of my tops reads so far this year!

I would like to say a massive thank you to Millie Seaward, WildFire Books and Headline Publishers for sending me an advanced review copy.

This novel isn’t out until 10th August but the good news is you can preorder this book from Amazon just click here

Or to preorder this book from Waterstones click here.

To find out more about Felicia Yap follow her on Twitter at @FeliciaMYap.