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A Sliver of Darkness by C J Tudor

A Sliver of Darkness is the debut short story collection from the author of best-selling books such as The Chalk Man and The Burning Girls. With elements of horror, dystopia and science fiction, C J Tudor takes us into her twisty world where everything is not how it seems to appear.

I have loved all of C J Tudor’s books and could not wait to get started on this one. I knew it would be worth the wait! Starting with an introduction to explain how this book came into being, I was immediately invested in it, knowing how difficult it had been for the author to write. The introduction to each story was an excellent addition to the book as it really helped to explain the author’s thought processes and the inspiration behind each plot.

Each short story is very different and readers will definitely have their own favourite depending on their preferred fiction genre. What links them all, however, is the unexpected and the way in which the author hits you with a twist you were not expecting. As someone who would not class horror as their favourite fiction genre, my favourite stories were End of the Liner, a dystopian mystery with a superb ending, and The Copy Shop, a plot that had me laughing out loud and wondering how I would utilise it!

This has really whet my appetite for C J Tudor’s next novel, The Drift. Fans of the author are going to love this collection and if you have never read any of her books, this is a perfect introduction to her work.

With thanks to Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House and Net Galley for my ARC.

The Jane Seymour Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

London 1527

A young Jane Seymour arrives to take her place in the court of Katherine of Aragon. With Henry VIII desperate for a son to continue his dynasty, he already has his eye on another woman, namely Jane’s cousin, Anne Boleyn. Jane soon realises that those at court are beginning to side with each of the women and when both fall out of favour with Henry, she fears he may begin to look in her direction.

Pembrokeshire 2020

When a document, The Pentagram Manuscript, is discovered, Perdita and Piper are once again thrown back into the world of Tudor England uncovering evidence that could completely change public perception of Jane Seymour. Trouble is also close at hand when their cousin, Xavier, once again is determined to ensure that Marquess House and everything else the sisters inherited from their grandmother, is passed down to his daughters. Knowing he will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, they find themselves in grave danger, fearing for their lives and the lives of those they love.

When I found out that what was originally The Marquess House trilogy was being extended, I was ecstatic and have waited patiently for this fourth instalment. Alexandra Walsh again takes us back to Tudor England, painting a vivid picture of life at the court of Henry VIII, introducing us to the many fascinating characters of the period. I love how fact and fiction are merged seamlessly, leaving us trying to work out what is historically accepted and what is straight out of the imagination of the author.

The modern sections of the book are equally readable and kept me on the edge of my seat as I waited to discover what secrets they would discover at Marquess House this time. I love the ‘race against time’ aspect of these books and am quite jealous of the archives the sisters have access to in order to carry out their research! In Xavier, we have an antagonist of the highest order and with his world crumbling around him, it was terrifying to see how he would do anything to remove Perdita and Piper from what is rightfully theirs.

The Jane Seymour Conspiracy is another excellent addition to the series and I hope that this isn’t the end for Perdita and Piper and their adventures at Marquess House,

With thanks to Sapere Books and Net Galley for my copy.

**Blog Tour** The Man on Hackpen Hill by J S Monroe

Crop circles often appear in Wiltshire but this one on Hackpen Hill is a bit different: the patterns seem to be trying to convey a message and the dead body in the middle is certainly not a common feature. DI Silas Hart is at a loss until he happens upon Jim, a Porton Down scientist who is convinced he is being pursued by MI5 for wanting to tell the truth about what is happening at the government laboratory. With Bella, a trainee journalist intent on telling Jim’s story, someone is desperate to stop the truth being told and is prepared to kill to achieve their aim.

This is an intense read that grabs you right from the very beginning and keeps you hooked until the last page. There is a lot going on with elements of mystery, thriller and police procedural but the short pacy chapters keep you gripped, making you want to read ‘just one more’ before putting it down. It is really well-researched and I do not claim to understand all of the science, but this did not hamper my understanding or enjoyment of the plot in any way.

There are two sets of main characters, each with a distinctive role in the plot. In Jim and Bella, we have like-minded people who have been thrown together by an unknown person, each of them reliant upon the other. I genuinely feared for Jim’s safety throughout the book as it becomes apparent that he seems to have information on what message the crop circles are trying to convey. Likewise, as Bella became more and more embroiled in Jim’s world, her well-being became more of a concern, especially as other aspects of her life start to become more worrying. I admired the courage of Jim and Bella; Jim in particular was a favourite character.

I loved the relationship between the two main police characters and enjoyed how the focus was very much on their part in the investigation and not on their private lives. I feel that there is scope for DI Hart and DC Strover to appear in another book so I hope it’s not the last we see of them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the intelligent plot of The Man on Hackpen Hill and found myself drawn into the plot, desperate to see if my theories were correct! A great read.

With thanks to Lauren Tavella from Head of Zeus for my copy.


**BLOG TOUR** The Burning Girls by C J Tudor

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.

When Reverend Jack Brooks is sent with teenage daughter, Flo, to work at a church in Chapel Croft, it’s fair to say that they are not exactly enthralled at the idea of moving from the city to a sleepy town. The town has strong superstitions linked to its past and is not overly welcoming to outsiders, preferring to keep its secrets well hidden. Soon, Jack has many concerns about their new home. Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls? Who is sending them threatening messages? Why is no one keen to mention that the previous vicar killed himself?

As a fan of C J Tudor’s previous books, The Chalk Man, The Taking of Annie Thorne and The Other People, I was thrilled to be invited to take part in the blog tour for her latest novel, The Burning Girls. I was immediately grabbed by the premise of the book, the historical aspect of Protestant martyrs during the reign of Mary I piquing my interest greatly. Combined with the 30-year-old cold case of two missing girls, I couldn’t wait to read!

I always expect a supernatural element with C J Tudor’s books, but after being completely thrown by the plot of The Other People, I was not sure what to expect. I know that some people are put off reading books if there is a ghostly aspect but, while there are mentions of the burning girls, appearances of two of the Protestant martyrs, this is a minor part of the plot, the focus being on the mysteries surrounding this tight-knit village.

The book has a Wicker Man feel about it as we are introduced to the main characters, Flo and her vicar parent, Jack. Being forced to relocate to a completely different church than they are used to, with villagers intent on keeping their secrets hidden and their traditions alive, it’s not long before you realise that Jack and Flo’s lives are in danger. Just who is leaving the threatening replica burning girls and what are they trying to cover up? I really liked the two main characters, both of them not conforming to the traditional image of what a teenage girl and a vicar should act like.

There are several plots running through the book, each of them becoming intertwined as the story progressed. There is a sense of foreboding throughout which kept me on my toes as I tried to work out what had been happening in this village and who was responsible. C J Tudor has done a great job in tying all of these threads together to give a satisfying

conclusion, although I am pleased with myself for guessing what one of the big plot twists would be! One reveal had me shocked, however, especially as I felt I should have picked up on a movie-related clue that was given!

C J Tudor has definitely got another hit on her hands with The Burning Girls and I can’t wait to see what she gives us next.

With thanks to Michael Joseph and Net Galley for my copy and to Gaby Young for organising the blog tour.

**BLOG TOUR** The Island by C L Taylor

Six teenage friends decide to spend a week on a a remote tropical island, something that, on the face of it, sounds idyllic. This is no ordinary holiday, however, as they will be living off the land with just one guide to help them survive. When the guide has a stroke and dies, the teenagers begin to panic: with no way of getting back to the mainland and with limited means of acquiring food, how will they survive? Soon, when strange things start to happen, they realise that maybe they have more to worry about than they at first thought…

One of my favourite books of last year was Sleep by the same author, which was about a murderer on the remote Scottish island of Rum. I really enjoyed the claustrophobic atmosphere and so when I saw that this one had a similar setting, albeit on a slightly warmer island, I couldn’t wait to read it! I am not a big reader of YA fiction, but I knew that as this was written by C. L. Taylor, I’d love it. I was right!

Although there are some important events leading up to their arrival on the island, it is once they actually got there that I became fully invested in the plot. What seems, initially, like a Bear Grylls-type adventure soon evolves into some kind of Lord of the Flies scenario when their guide tragically dies, leaving them to fend for themselves until someone realises that they are missing. The teenagers soon discover that strange events begin to happen, leaving them to wonder who they can trust. Is there someone else on the island with them or should they be looking amongst themselves for the person who is wreaking havoc?

The setting of the plot really helps to create a sense of foreboding where you wonder how on earth they are going to escape from these hellish conditions. I rushed through the book, desperate to find out how it would end and whether there would still be six teenagers leaving the island or whether any would not make it out alive. I had my suspicions throughout the book about what was actually happening and who was responsible, but was thrown completely off the scent by the author’s great plot.

The Island is a great quick read for anyone wanting a story they can totally immerse themselves in. C. L. Taylor is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

With thanks to HQ and Net Galley for my copy and to Sian Baldwin for organising the blog tour.

The House on the Lake by Nuala Ellwood

Fleeing from her controlling partner with her young son, Joe, Lisa is given directions to a lake house in Yorkshire from a friend, a place where she can feel safe. Rowan Isle House isn’t what she was expecting but despite it being run down and having no running water, she perseveres, desperate to keep her and her son safe. After receiving a visitor from the nearby village, however, Lisa realises that maybe she isn’t as safe as she thought she would be. When her past returns to haunt her, just what will she need to do to survive?

Nuala Ellwood has become one of those authors whose books I download without even needing to read the blurb as I know that I am going to enjoy it. Her previous books, My Sister’s Bones and Day of the Accident were both superb reads and I couldn’t wait to read her latest offering. I was definitely not disappointed as The House on the Lake is a dark, gripping tale that kept me intrigued right until the very last page.

Lisa is a woman living on her nerves, terrified of meeting new people in case she is discovered. I could feel her desperation as she found herself living at a clearly uninhabitable house and wondered exactly what it was she was fleeing from. Her unconditional love for her son was apparent, despite him not being the easiest child to bring up. Throughout the book, I willed her to succeed and felt genuine fear for her as her world seemed to be closing in around her.

Lisa is not the only main character as we meet, in alternate paragraphs, previous occupiers of Rowan Isle House. The girl who, initially, we know only as ‘soldier’, tugged at my heart strings from the off. Living with her father, who clearly has PTSD, I had nothing but sympathy for this girl who is longing to experience life outside of the regimented existence inflicted by her father. There were several terrifying scenes where I genuinely feared for her life and I willed her to find a way out of this situation.

It was obvious that the two stories would eventually merge, and I liked how the author built this up slowly, creating a tense read that just made you want to keep reading. There were plenty of surprises along the way that I did not see coming and I was gripped right until the fitting end.

If you have never read any of Nuala Ellwood’s books before, then I can recommend each of them, this one being no exception.

With thanks to Net Galley and Penguin Books (UK) for my copy.

 

17 Church Row by James Carol

Life has never been the same for the Rhodes family since the tragedy that occurred three years ago. In a devastating road accident, four-year-old Grace was killed, leaving her twin sister, Bella, so traumatised that she has refused to speak ever since. In an attempt to finally move on, Nikki and Ethan Rhodes move into a state-of-the-art new property, designed by the celebrated architect, Catriona Fisher. The house, with its ultra-modern security systems should be exactly what they are looking for, but what if it isn’t the safe place they think it is?

Well, this book has certainly given me pause for thought! From the start, I could understand the internal conflict felt by Nikki: should she stay at the house that holds so many memories of her dead daughter or should she move to 17 Church Row, a house that could surely protect her remaining child? As someone who has vowed to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of Bella, the new property seemed a no-brainer and, for a while, all seemed fine. As the story progressed, it soon became apparent that there was a malevolent force in action, but who was behind it and what was their motive?

I think the scariest part of this book was that that the family became so reliant upon ‘Alice’ an artificial intelligence system that makes Alexa seem almost neanderthal. We see Alice making more and more decisions for the family, controlling their lives in every way, to the point where you wonder how far she will actually go. I found it quite unnerving to think that this sort of technology probably isn’t too far off in the future and how we rely upon the internet to do so many things already. What if this goes wrong? What will happen to society?

Most of the story is told from the perspective of Nikki, but some chapters are written by an unknown character who becomes more unhinged as the plot develops. I liked how we weren’t told who this is until much later in the book, making me constantly wonder who this could be. I have read numerous books with cold, calculating narrators but this is probably the one who has perturbed me the most.

17 Church Row is one of those books that draws you in instantly and holds your attention until the very last page. A fast-paced, exciting read that will certainly make you question the use of technology!

With thanks to Readers First for my copy.

 

The Other People by C J Tudor

Driving home, Gabe receives a devastating phone call – his wife and daughter have been murdered at their home. How can this be, though, when he has just seen his daughter being driven past him? For a while, it is thought that Gabe was responsible for their deaths, and now, three years later, he is a shadow of the man he once was. Never giving up hope of finding his daughter alive, he travels up and down the motorway, searching for her. Whilst at a motorway service station, he meets Katie, a waitress who knows what he is going through as her father was brutally killed nine years ago. Fran and her daughter, Alice, are also constantly on the move, desperately trying to evade someone who knows the truth about what links each of these events…

After reading (and thoroughly enjoying) C J Tudor’s previous books, The Chalk Man and The Taking of Annie Thorne, I was fully expecting them to be of a similar vein. Whilst there are shadowy undertones to The Other People, it is more of a straightforward thriller than the previous two books, and this made it an unexpected and very welcome read.

I love C J Tudor’s storytelling and it is to her credit that she manages to successfully weave together several stories to create a tight, cohesive plot. At the start, I did wonder how each part of the plot related to the other, but gradually the truth was revealed, creating a timeline of events that explained everything clearly.

I warmed to the character of Gabe straight away and had great sympathy for his plight. I could feel his frustration in knowing that his daughter was still alive yet not being able to convince anyone else that he was telling the truth. His confidant, The Samaritan, was a fascinating character and I was pleased when we finally discovered his story.

The Other People is one of those books that, once I reached a certain point, I found myself saying, ‘I’ll just read one more chapter…’ It has an addictive plot that demands you know what is going to happen next. If you’re a fan of this author, then you are going to love this!

With thanks to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and NetGalley for my ARC.

**BLOG TOUR** Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

In a Somerset school, the unimaginable has happened: gunmen are on the loose, stalking the grounds and corridors. The school is on lockdown, some more secure than others, each person focused on one thing: survival. With one person already seriously injured, the police have a race against time to identify the gunmen before a massacre occurs.

Ever since reading Sister in 2010, Rosamund Lupton has been one of those authors whose books I always look forward to. I was absolutely thrilled, therefore, to be given the opportunity to share my review of her latest book Three Hours as part of the blog tour. I knew that this was going to be a book that I would enjoy, buy I was not prepared for the emotions that I would go through whilst reading.

Told in real time, the siege has a very true to life feel about it as we see it from the perspective of all those involved. As someone who works in a similar environment and has had experience of a staged lock down situation, I was able to immediately put myself in the pages of the book and wonder how I would react if I were placed in the same terrifying circumstances. The bravery and resilience shown by the staff and pupils was immense and I was in awe at how some of the characters responded to this inconceivable horror. From the teenage girl who tries everything in her power to save her headteacher, to the deputy head who is fighting depression yet showing tremendous courage to protect others, we witness the best of people in the worst of situations.

I was impressed by the stoicism of the children and staff in the theatre as they continued with their Macbeth rehearsal. The parallels between what the children were rehearsing and what was going on outside were evident, with power and manipulation being common themes. Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play and I was delighted to see it playing such a huge part in the culmination of the plot.

My favourite character in the book was Rafi, the teenage boy who has escaped untold terror in Syria with his young brother, Basi. My heart really went out to both boys as they found themselves involved in yet another terrifying incident, Rafi’s love for his sibling shining through. It was heartbreaking reading what they had been through and Rosamund Lupton’s writing really highlighted the dangers faced by child refugees.

With such an emotive, hard-hitting plot, it may sound strange to say that I found Three Hours a very heart-warming story. At a time when true horrors were being experienced, we saw the very best of human nature and it is a huge lesson in how important it is to stand together against acts of terror. It may only be January, but I think it is safe to say that this will be one of my favourite reads of the year – the plot will stay with me for a long time to come.

With thanks to Viking Books UK, Ellie Hudson and Rosamund Lupton.

 

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