Review: Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

The Blurb

New York, 1895. It’s late on a warm city night when Sylvan Threadgill, a young night soiler who cleans out the privies behind the tenement houses, pulls a terrible secret out from the filthy hollows: an abandoned newborn baby. An orphan himself, Sylvan was raised by a kindly Italian family and can’t bring himself to leave the baby in the slop. He tucks her into his chest, resolving to find out where she belongs.

Odile Church is the girl-on-the-wheel, a second-fiddle act in a show that has long since lost its magic. Odile and her sister Belle were raised in the curtained halls of their mother’s spectacular Coney Island sideshow: The Church of Marvels. Belle was always the star-the sword swallower-light, nimble, a true human marvel. But now the sideshow has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in the ashes, and Belle has escaped to the city.

Alphie wakes up groggy and confused in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum. The last thing she remembers is a dark stain on the floor, her mother-in-law screaming. She had once walked the streets as an escort and a penny-Rembrandt, cleaning up men after their drunken brawls. Now she is married; a lady in a reputable home. She is sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband’s vile mother. But then a young woman is committed alongside her, and when she coughs up a pair of scissors from the depths of her agile throat, Alphie knows she harbors a dangerous secret that will alter the course of both of their lives…

On a single night, these strangers’ lives will become irrevocably entwined, as secrets come to light and outsiders struggle for acceptance. From the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular sideshow to a desolate asylum, Leslie Parry makes turn-of-the-century New York feel alive, vivid, and magical in this luminous debut. In prose as magnetic and lucid as it is detailed, she offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past marked by astonishing feats of narrative that will leave you breathless.

The Review

I’d like to thank the lovely people over at BookBridgr for sending me a review copy of Church of Marvels.

Ok, firstly let me say that I love literature set in the Victorian period. I also love books set in New York. Equally, I love books that have a quirky setting like a circus. Unfortunately, I did not find myself loving Church of Marvels. I liked it but I couldn’t say that it was a book that drew a huge emotional response from me.

At times I felt that the description was so heavy that it bogged you down. Perry tells you how everything is that you didn’t really have space to paint a mental picture yourself. However, she did create a dramatic sense of atmosphere and that isn’t easy to do. I can honestly say that I did feel like I was in the darkened underbelly of New York.

The story is made up of three narrative threads: Alphie, Sylvan and Odile. Odile is on the search for her twin sister who has gone missing; Sylvan has found an abandoned baby and he sets out to figure out who the mother is thus putting himself at great risk an Alphie has been taken to an asylum and cannot figure out how to escape. The three story threads are all interesting and they do all link together, however, it takes a long time for this to happen and makes the story feel like a bit of a slow burner. You find yourself trudging through the text rather than racing through the pages.

One thing that is exceptional about Church of Marvels is Parry’s haunting and atmospheric description of the asylum. It is evocative and I personally found it quite terrifying. Praise has to be given for the sheer terror that she instilled in me.

Whilst Church of Marvels does have a slow start, once the story develops it does get much better. It is mindblowingly so. Parry is a master of the plot twist shock and reveal. If you like a book to completely knock you off your feet then you should definitely give Church of Marvels a read.

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry is available now.

Church of Marvels


Review: Darkwood by Rosemary Smith

Title: Darkwood

Author: Rosemary Smith

Pages: 99 Pages

The Blurb

In the Spring of 1865, Silvia Harvey travels to Dartmoor.
She is to meet her fiancée, her cousin Gareth.
It is a match enthusiastically arranged by her family, as were the marriages of her mother and grandmother.
But Silvia’s hopes of a whirlwind romance are quickly quashed.
Gareth, though handsome, is cold and aloof. He has pale blue eyes that his smile has never reached.
Arriving at the historical house of Darkwood, Silvia finds herself increasingly isolated by her fiancée’s distance from her.
Matters are made worse by the presence of the lovely Estelle Benedict, who is as cruel as she is beautiful.
Left to her own devices, Sylvia explores the many rooms of the grand building, and finds a painting of her beloved grandmother Lizzie.
The face has been cruelly slashed, and she worries of the real story behind her grandmother’s fate…
Can Lizzie uncover the true history of the old house which seems to haunt its corridors?
Can she warm the heart of Gareth, and free him from the grasp of the vicious Estelle?
It will take a strong spirit to lay bare the secrets of Darkwood…

The Review

Darkwood is a historical romance which is set within the confines of a familial estate. Two cousins, Sylvia and Gareth, are set to have an arranged marriage due to a clause in their spiteful grandfather’s will.

Before the wedding, Sylvia sets out to find out the secrets of Darkwood and the details of her beloved grandmother’s passing. She is also determined to ensure that she is marrying for love and not just for money.

On the surface the plot of Darkwood seems like an excellent read. It has passion, drama, family feuds and romance; unfortunately, the promise of a great story is let down by a few things. Firstly, the story is very rushed. For example the character of Gareth – who to begin with is frosty and arrogant – suddenly changes with no real explanation or character development. Secondly, the writing reads like an instruction manual – then I went outside, then I pulled my coat closer, then I got in the carriage etc. It was clunky and uncomfortable.

I do believe that Darkwood, in the right writer’s hand, could have been excellent. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat.

Darkwood by Rosemary Smith is available now.


Review: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

The Blurb

A moving, poignant, compelling YA debut, as a 15-year-old boy struggles to understand his best friend’s suicide through the list of songs he leaves behind.

Here’s what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam – listen and you’ll understand.

As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it’s only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

Part mystery, part love story, and part coming-of-age tale in the vein of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Playlist for the Dead is an honest and gut-wrenching first novel about loss, rage, what it feels like to outgrow a friendship that’s always defined you – and the struggle to redefine yourself.

The Review

Ok, I have spoken before on about the strange trend in YA fiction of writing about suicide; this is the topic of Michelle Falkoff’s debut novel Playlist for the Dead. Unlike other novels that have chosen this subject matter, the actual suicide doesn’t play that big a role. It is more about  the devastation for those who are left to pick up the pieces.

In Playlist for the Dead, Sam finds his best friend Hayden, dead. It is confirmed as suicide but there is nothing to indicate why except for a memory stick with a playlist on left to Sam saying that it should make him understand. However, Sam harbours a lot of guilt over Hayden’s death. The night before they had argued and now Sam feels responsible. However, slowly he realises that other people feel the same. A mystery over who is actually responsible for his death starts to unravel and Sam knows that he has to keep hunting for the reason that Hayden killed himself.

Playlist for the Dead is a damn good YA novel; one that I read in one sitting. Michelle Falkoff deals with the different emotions felt – sadness, anger, confusion etc – with sensitivity. She focuses on those that are left to deal with death rather than glorifying the act of suicide. Playlist for the Dead is one of the better YA Fiction novels I have read this year.

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff is available now.

Follow Michelle Falkoff (@MichelleFalkoff) on Twitter.

Review: The Girl’s Guide to Getting Hitched by Sophie Hart

The Girl’s Guide to Getting Hitched by Sophie Hart

The Blurb

Rule number one: Keep calm and marry on…

When new mum and events planner Julia Crawford is given the opportunity to plan three weddings, she jumps at the chance. What could possibly go wrong? …

Forget bridezilla, Aimee’s future mother-in-law is the stuff of nightmares – hell bent on taking over the wedding entirely. Worse still, her fiancé, Jon, seems oblivious. Aimee’s starting to wonder if she and her groom-to-be are right for each other after all…

Body shy Debbie is on a mission. She’s determined to shed a lot of pounds before the big day. As the wedding inches closer, will the new Debbie lose sight of what’s really important?

Gill loves Mike and their blended family of five kids to bits, but with a house full of teenage hormones and her eldest, Kelly, struggling with so much change, Gill is feeling the pressure…

As the women bond over cake and a cuppa, can they each resolve their wedding woes before the big day?

An uplifting, warm-hearted read packed with love, laughter and friendship. If you’re a fan of Jill Mansell, Milly Johnson or Lucy Diamond you’re in for a real treat.

The Review

Sophie Hart first came to my attention when I read her debut novel – The Naughty Girl’s Book Club; I loved it, my mum loved it, her friends loved it and so on and whilst I am aware that Sophie Hart has since released another novel and a novella I have been a bad fan and not read them yet. However, I have just read her latest offering, The Girls Guide to Getting Hitched and I was reminded of the reasons why I loved her writing. She can write a damn good story.

Admittedly, when I told my boyfriend I was reading this book he broke out into a cold sweat; to be frank, he is a bit of a flight risk and was worried that it was a wedding manual. The evil part of me wants to keep reading books about weddings to freak him out a bit more but then if we broke up then it would kind of be my own fault. Anyway, I digress.

The thing I loved about The Girl’s Guide to Getting Hitched (and incidentally The Naughty Girl’s Book Club) is that Sophie Hart is so talented at creating believable friendship groups. I loved how the characters came together so seamlessly; the storyline didn’t seem contrived and they were all dealing with the real world problem of planning a wedding.

My heart ached for Debbie and her weight issues, I wanted to scream at Aimee that she was better than the way she was being treated by the mother-in-law from hell, I wanted to bang Julie and Nick’s heads together and make them talk out their issues and I just wanted to hug Gill and tell her that she was doing a good job with her family. To be succinct, I fell in love with Hart’s characters.

And with the risk of sounding completely cheesy (ah what the heck, who doesn’t love a bit of cheese) Sophie Hart has managed to pack her novel The Girl’s Guide to Getting Hitched with a lot of heart.

The Girl’s Guide to Getting Hitched by Sophie Hart is available.

Follow Sophie Hart (@CafeCrumb) on Twitter.

The Girls Guide to Getting Hitched

My Writing Journey 23.08.15

For many years I have harboured a dream to write novels. I think this is true of many avid readers. This year, along with plenty of previous years, I made the resolution that I would make this dream a reality. This was going to be the year; I set myself a deadline (August), I emotionally prepared myself write a novel. I made all the usual procrastinating promises to myself. Ooh once you have this piece of software or read this book on writing or did this course that I would start writing. Heck, I even told a few people that I wanted to do it just to give me that added incentive to write. This was going to be my year.

This wasn’t my year.

I haven’t written a sodding thing besides book reviews. The frustrating thing is that I have read some truly dire books. Honestly, drivel for 300+ pages and I have had that thought to myself I can write better than that. It turns out I can’t. It turns out that this whole writing malarkey is harder than you think.

I knew what I wanted to write about but when I sat down last night and stared at the blank screen in front of me I just fell apart. Everything that I was writing came across as putrid and unrealistic. The characters came across as false and whiney. It was just plain awful.

My boyfriend sent me a message asking me how the writing was going and I took a tantrum saying that I am giving up and I am not doing it and he cannot make me. I should explain that my boyfriend is a professional working writer. After he listened to my meltdown, he laughed with a smile on his face and told me that I will just have to try again tomorrow.

See, the thing is, he has faith in me that I can do this. And whilst he is not a fan of fiction (I know, it is shocking) he encourages me because he knows that writing is something that I will be good at. I know I will be good at it. I just need to get over the fear of actually putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard.

A novelist called Lynsey James and I were talking over Twitter the other day and she said that she struggled getting over the fear and you just have to tell it to go away. We came up with a collective mantra that goes “Oh piss it, you cockwomble.” Not the most eloquent of quotes about fear or it being the fear itself that we fear but I think it will suffice.

So this is going to be a new series on my blog. I won’t post all the time, just the times that I am struggling or that I feel that I have something to vent about or what not. I’m not even going to tweet about them so anyone that reads this…hello. Any words of encouragement or whatnot will always be appreciated.

Love L x

Review: The Girl Who’s Never Had a Valentine by Elizabeth Player

Title: The Girl Who’s Never Had a Valentine

Author: Elizabeth Player

Pages: 23 pages

The Blurb

All Beth’s ever had on Valentine’s Day is unwanted junk mail and unpaid bills! But this year, when the post lands on her doormat, one item in particular catches her eye…

Could this be Beth first ever genuine Valentine’s Day card?! The handwritten card might be a cheesy cliché….but who cares! The big question is – who is it from?
Unfortunately, the only possibilities racing through her head are people she sincerely hopes didn’t send it, including all of her definitely-not-Mr-Perfect exes. (Oh, or the guy in Accounts with the comb-over!)
Sadly, Beth’s pretty sure it’s not from Luke – her dishy new neighbour with the super-glamorous model girlfriend, and dreamy eyes that have never once noticed her… Or have they?

For a girl who’s never received so much as a Valentine’s e-mail before, this February 14th Beth finds herself with a secret admirer…who could just turn out to be The One!

The Review

I have read a few books in this series of short stories and they have been good. Nice, cute and short; however, The Girl Who’s Never Had a Valentine by Elizabeth Player just did nothing for me. The direct first person narrative sounded clunky and fake. The characters did not come across as fully formed. I know this is difficult in a small amount of space but some people manage to do it well. Unfortunately, in this instance Player failed to do so.

I really do not have much else to say on this dismal short story.

The Girl Who’s Never Had a Valentine by Elizabeth Player is available now.

Review: Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

The Blurb

Oliver’s absence split us wide open, dividing our neighbourhood along a fault line strong enough to cause an earthquake. An earthquake would have been better. At least during an earthquake, you understand why you’re shaking.

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. But now Oliver is back, and he’s not the skinny boy-next-door that used to be Emmy’s best friend. Now he’s the boy who got kidnapped. A stranger – a totally hot stranger! – with a whole history that Emmy knows nothing about.

But is their story still meant to be? Or are they like the pieces of two different puzzles – impossible to fit together?

The Review

Robin Benway’s latest novel – Emmy & Oliver is a clear example of YA fiction at its best.

Emmy and Oliver were best friends from birth. Growing up next door to each other meant they were always together. Until one day they were not. At the age of seven Oliver is kidnapped and is not to be seen again until he is 17 years old when he returns to the neighbourhood that he was snatched from 10 years ago. But can Emmy and Oliver’s friendship stand the test of time?

What is great about Emmy & Oliver is that the plot is so unusual but not that bizarre that you don’t believe that it could happen. You totally buy into the premise from the get go. You feel the pain that Oliver’s mum goes through as she mourns the disappearance of her son; you completely understand the overprotective nature of Emmy’s parents. More than anything, you feel for those left behind – Emmy and her other friends Drew and Caro; their lives have been affected more than they realise.

Besides all the drama of having their world rocked by the reappearance of Oliver the group also have real world problems of just being teenagers and making decisions about their own future; as if things aren’t already complicated enough.

Benway is definitely onto a winner with Emmy & Oliver; it is so easy to relate to and besides that fact it is also a damn good read. Buy it now.

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway is available now.

Follow Robin Benway (@robinbenway) on Twitter.

Emmy And Oliver

Review: Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra

The Blurb

“Long after the last drink is poured and the final gunshot fired, Cheryl Della Pietra’s novel inspired by her time as Hunter S. Thompson’s assistant will linger in your mind. This debut novel is raucous, page-turning, head-spinning, and side-splitting as it depicts a boss and mentor who is both devil and angel, and a young heroine who finds herself tested in the chaos that surrounds him. An intense story, Della Pietra’s tale about writing, firearms, psychotropics, and the pros and cons of hot tubs will suck you in and take you on ride. Gonzo Girl is a ticket you want to buy.” —Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black

Alley Russo is a recent college grad desperately trying to make it in the gruelling world of New York publishing, but like so many who have come before her, she has no connections and has settled for an unpaid magazine internship while slinging drinks on Bleecker Street just to make ends meet. That’s when she hears the infamous Walker Reade is looking for an assistant to replace the eight others who have recently quit. Hungry for a chance to get her manuscript onto the desk of an experienced editor, Alley jumps at the opportunity to help Reade finish his latest novel.

After surviving an absurd three-day “trial period” involving a .44 magnum, purple-pyramid acid, violent verbal outbursts, brushes with fame and the law, a bevy of peacocks, and a whole lot of cocaine, Alley is invited to stay at the compound where Reade works. For months Alley attempts to coax the novel out of Walker page-by-page, all while battling his endless procrastination, vampiric schedule, Herculean substance abuse, mounting debt, and casual gunplay. But as the job begins to take a toll on her psyche, Alley realizes she’s alone in the Colorado Rockies at the mercy of a drug-addicted literary icon who may never produce another novel—and her fate may already be sealed.

A smart, rollicking ride told with heart, Gonzo Girl is a loving fictional portrait of a larger-than-life literary icon.

The Review

Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra is an interesting novel that is similar in style to the mad cap literary greats such as Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut and Lester Bangs; poetically verbose and a little bit screwball. The basic premise is that wannabe writer Alley Russo has landed her dream job working with respected and revered writer Walker Reade. However, her respect slowly dwindles like sand through an hourglass as she realises that he is washed up and is writing sheer nonsense. One bad decision to alter his work leads to a world of worry.

Alley is quickly ensconced in a world so far away from her comfortable life as the precious only daughter of a close knit Italian family, she is rapidly surrounded by people living a debauched lifestyle; rather than shy away from this Valhalla of decadence Ally joins in with gusto.

Gonzo Girl is a great read and is a nosy peak into such a warped way of life. Whilst I did go through the book rather rapidly I did feel that some of Walker Reade’s crazier moments could have been edited out and it would have still had the same impact. What is great about Gonzo Girl is the astounding voice of Cheryl Della Pietra and how she has managed to create such an evocative image of time and place.

Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra is available now.

Follow Cheryl Della Pietra (@CherylPietra) on Twitter.

Gonzo Girl

Review: Love Locked by Tess Highcroft

Title: Love Locked

Author: Tess Highcroft

Pages: 106 Pages

The Blurb

It’s not how Jocelyn planned to fall in love.

In fact, Jocelyn isn’t looking for love at all. She has a good job, and a great apartment, in a city she loves: she’s happy.

But then she meets a (somewhat angry) stranger when she mistakenly locks her bike to his. Lucas is nothing at all like any guy Jocelyn’s ever dreamed of, but she can’t get him out of her mind from the moment she meets him.

Is it love? Or lust? Or could it be both together?

Love Locked follows Jocelyn and Lucas on a romantic romp filled with plenty of both love and lust.

**Contemporary Romance with mature content Recommended for 17+ due to mature language and adult situations.**

The Review

Ok, so I am a sucker for the concept of fixing a lock to a bridge with the one you love to symbolise forever love. I know that probably makes me a huge girl who likes fairies and unicorns. I’m not ashamed of it but I feel that you should know that this was the reason I chose to read Love Locked – the image on the cover made me want to read it. I judged the book by its cover, sue me!

Love Locked is about a girl called Jocelyn who falls pretty quickly for a guy called Lucas. They met when (for some strange reason) she decided to lock her bike around his and a lamppost. Yes, this was their meet cute. Like all love stories there was an obstacle stopping them from getting together there and then – that obstacle is Lucas’s girlfriend, Charlotte. The whole story revolves around Jocelyn and Lucas who keep bumping into each other thus making Jocelyn fall harder for Lucas. Like most romances, the things keeping them apart only get resolved near the end.

Love Locked is an interesting book to write about. I can’t say that I loved it because I didn’t swoon for the characters or scream at the book in frustration. I was kind of indifferent to it. I think the reason for this was because in the first few chapters the writing style was written in a very detached manner. Ergo, I felt very detached. I also think that some of the scenes of a sexual nature were unnecessary.

If you are looking for a quick read then Love Locked is definitely a good one to start with. It doesn’t gnaw away at you afterwards or leave you with a book hangover; if you want a book with more substance, then Love Locked is not for you. However, it is an entertaining book for the right audience.

Love Locked by Tess Highcroft is available now.

Love Locked

Blog Tour: The Waiting Game by Jessica Thompson EXCLUSIVE CONTENT

A letter from Mick to Betsy

01.02. 2011

Dear Betsy,

I’m writing you this letter in a rare moment of clarity. As you well know, these don’t come so often these days. It’s a bit like trying to listen to the radio in the car when the reception’s bad. All those precious memories just flicker on and off.

I hope you’ll actually get to read this.

It’s possible I will put it down somewhere and the fog will descend. I’ll forget I even wrote it, and that will be that.

Still, if that happens, I’m sure you’ll find it one quiet weekday afternoon, just like you still find the remains of the cheese and pickle sandwiches I leave behind the bookshelves sometimes. I’m sorry about that, I know it makes you cross.

Perhaps you’ll uncover this letter, long after I’m gone and you’re moving house. You will have removed the curtains and the blinds, light will pour through the kitchen windows and you’ll spot it, taped to the back of the fridge. You’ll make a cup of tea, and you’ll sit down read it, and you’ll be reminded of just how much I loved you.

I hope you’ll feel free, and happy when I’m gone. I’d never want you to be sad.

Do you feel free, Betsy?

When we married all those years ago, the vicar was droning on, reading this and that from the bible and I didn’t half start to zone out, love. I remember you squeezing my hands and giving me a look and so I tried harder to listen.

He went on to say some nice things about being together for the rest of our lives, in health and sickness, for better and for worse. Do you remember? I know we were all just desperate to get to the pub for a good old knees up.

We were so young then. We half listened, and wholly agreed. We made those promises in front of our family and friends, but they never meant too much until recently.

I was a healthy, young lad back then – ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’ my father used to say. But look at me now. I’m a mere sliver of what I used to be. Many of my best qualities have fled, one by one like thieves out the back door – taking parts of me and hoping we wouldn’t notice.

I wonder sometimes… if you knew of all that you’d have to handle, with this horrible illness, would you have still gone through with it?

I’m sure you would. I’d like to think you would. I can’t see you having walked away, leaving me standing there by the altar, my heart exploding with love.

Thank you for everything. For not just seeing me as my illness, and looking past all that to the man you fell in love with all those years ago. I couldn’t have asked for a better wife. You, with all your kindness and patience, you’ve never let me down once.

Sometimes, when I look at you and I can’t quite place your name, it feels like my heart is breaking. A smudge appears, more fragments slip away and memories are gone forever, like in iceberg slipping into the sea. You and I become shards of broken glass. A puzzle I cannot piece together.

But when the focus comes back, so do technicolour souvenirs of the happiest days of our life, and it’s glorious. I’ll never forget when Jake was born, and how peaceful he looked as he slept. We leant over his cot in the darkness, looked up at each other and smiled, your hand in mine. When that happens, when those memories return, I cannot feel sad about how things turned out.

How can I feel sad Betsy Bruce, when I’ve been able to love you every day for the past fifty or so years?

I hope you’ll feel free and happy when I’m gone.

I hope you go into town whenever you can, and eat great slabs of your favourite cake (is it carrot? I’m sorry, it’s happening again and I can’t remember…) in that café you love so much. I hope you spend hours in the library leafing through the books, and walk in the park when the sun shines.

Do you feel free Betsy?

Yours, always and forever,

Your husband Mick