The Burning Girls by CJ Tudor

Published by Michael Joseph on 9th February 2021

What is it all about?

For Rev Jack Brooks and teenage daughter Flo this is supposed to be a fresh start. A new church, a new home. But, as they both know, the past isn’t so easily escaped.

In this close-knit community, Jack must tread carefully. Chapel Croft’s history, both ancient and recent, lies heavily on the villagers. They jealously guard the past from outsiders – even once it begins to torment Jack and Flo:

Who is leaving them sinister messages? Why is Flo plagued by visions of burning girls? Had the vicar been investigating the missing teenagers when he died?

Something is terribly wrong in Chapel Croft – but dare Jack uncover its secrets?

Because for some in this village the past, and the burnings, are still very real…

My Thoughts

CJ Tudor is one of those writers whose book I will buy regardless of the plot, she is that good of a writer. She comes with great plaudits, even the great Stephen King sings her praises, so you know you are going to be in for a treat and just like her previous books The Burning Girls is a top-notch chilling read. She has created yet another gripping un put downable read that will leave you hanging on every word.

The Rev Jack Brooks has left her previous parish in Nottingham and upped sticks with her daughter Flo to a new smaller rural parish. It sounds idyllic on the face of it, but Jack soon learns of the dark history of Chapel Croft when 500 years earlier eight people were burnt to death for their religious beliefs, but that is all in the past, isn’t it?

Well, no it is not as Jack and Flo soon discover the present is just as dangerous and as sinister as the past and Jack has to confront how her own past still has a hold over. Only 30 years earlier two teenage girls went missing from Chapel Croft, vanished without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again. Is it all connected? Are the two tragic events connected across the centuries? As the story develops more and more secrets are unraveled and Jack soon finds herself being drawn into events that are far beyond the requirements of the village reverend. The past has never settled in Chapel Croft and the only way it can bury its demons is to face the past head on and ultimately that is what happens. This story comes complete with ghostly apparitions, exorcisms and murder. There are a lot of things going on in this story, but Tudor is talented enough to keep all the strands ticking along nicely, each nicely building to a dramatic crescendo. We meet characters who on the face of it seem nice and charming but who are at the same time hiding deep dark secrets that have the power to blow the village apart, can Jack and Flo survive the secrets that are deeply hidden in the fabric of the village?

Like in all her previous books, Tudor manages to create a chilling and sinister tale that keeps you on edge and you never quite know what is around the corner, the only thing you can be assured of is that it is going to be unnerving and tense. The Burning Girls blends the historic with the present and seamlessly closes the gap between the centuries through harrowing tragedy and death. It is an unsettling tale which makes it a compulsive read that you will not be able to put down. It is another masterpiece by Tudor and all I can say is bring on the next one!!

About the Author

C.J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham and has recently moved to Kent with her partner and young daughter. Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert. Over the years she has had a variety of jobs including trainee reporter , radio scriptwriter, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and now, author.

Many thanks to Gaby Young and the publishers for offering me the opportunity to take part in the tour for The Burning Girls. Please do check out all the other wonderful reviews listed below.

The Burning Girls: Tudor, C. J.: 9780241371305: Books

The Burning Girls by C. J. Tudor | Waterstones

Also available from your local independent bookseller.

The Mist

Ragnar Jonasson

Published by Michael Joseph – Available Now

The Blurb

Just before Christmas a blizzard sweeps across Iceland. In their remote farmhouse, Erla and Einar are hunkering down for the night – when there’s a knock at the door.

It’s a stranger, desperate for shelter. They take him in – but they’ll wish they hadn’t because this man is not who he says he is. And, when the power cuts out, it’s the beginning of a terrifying ordeal.

Detective Hulda Hermannsdottir – recovering from a family tragedy – is called to an isolated farmhouse and a haunting mystery . . .

My Thoughts

As suspense thrillers go this is pretty darn good. When a stranger knocks on the door of an isolated farmhouse in the desolated countryside of eastern Iceland you just know nothing good is going to come from it. It is the night before Christmas Eve when the stranger comes knocking as husband and wife Einar and Erla are preparing for the festive season. But with the arrival of the strange man comes some strange happenings, first the phone line is cut quickly followed by a power cut leading to a tense and charged atmosphere. Erla’s suspicions are raised from the off and you do get a sense all isn’t quite as it seems with her too. The house holds some kind of secret, it is seems somewhat unsettled and unhappy, Erla herself is not wholly happy with her surroundings but as it is her husband’s birthright she seems resigned to a lonely existence.

The other strand to the story focuses on police investigator Hulda who has recently suffered a family tragedy, you don’t know what this is until the story fully develops but she has thrown herself into work to try and bury the pain of her home life. She is sent to investigate a gruesome discovery out in eastern Iceland, needless to say not everyone has survived the festive period in the desolate farmhouse but there are plenty of shocks along the way.

I really enjoyed the plot of this story, it is tense and gripping and set against the backdrop of the snow filled Icelandic countryside the feeling of desolation is palpable. The feeling of desolation and the knowing that no one is close at hand to help builds the tension superbly, you know there is so much more to this story than meets the eye but you just don’t quite grasp what that is until everything starts to unfold.

If you like tense thrillers then this book, and the others in the series, will be right up your street. Be prepared to get hooked on the story, it is a terrific page turner that is chilling and dark right until the very end.

The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas

Published by Head of Zeus on 12th November.

The Blurb from the Publisher

The Kendrick family have run their world famous doll-making business in near isolation since the early 1800s. Only family members are permitted to work for the firm, and only the men know the closely guarded secrets of the workshop. Because Kendrick’s’ dolls aren’t coveted for their craftmanship alone. Each doll has a specific emotion laid on it by its maker. A magic that can make you feel Bucolic Bliss, Heady Optimism or even Consuming Paranoia at a single touch.

Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, but instead must fulfill a woman’s role working on the shop floor. When a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the family, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.

But then, one night, the family’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her. Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…..

My Thoughts

Firstly, thank you to the publisher for gifting me a free copy of this book in exchange for me honest review. Secondly, this book is beautiful. It is a story to lose yourself in, it is capable of transporting you away from the doom and gloom of 2020 to an almost mythical and, most definitely a magical, world of doll-making, although at times I did feel slightly on edge at the thought of all these wide eyed dolls who sit on the sidelines and watch the story unfold, but that just added to the feel of the book.

I was captured by this book from the very start, the synopsis alone is enough to pull you into the world of the Kendrick family and whilst the characters are varied in their traits there was always a sense that underneath they had much more to their story than what was perhaps being told to us, but that was fine for me, it added to the ambiance of the story and created an even more dark and mythical feel. That said Persephone is a wonderfully determined woman who is committed to smashing the patriarchal hold over her life and there are plenty of strong minded women to back her up. I really enjoyed the strong feminine vibe throughout the story and how that raging battle between the sexes was fought.

The book has a very gothic, almost Victorian feel to it so I had to remind myself that this is in fact set in the modern day, but I felt that was testament to the wonderful atmospheric writing that the author has used here in this book, and the use of magic in a modern day setting was a superb twist to what a normal magical tale perhaps would be like.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The story is superb and the characters complex. The writing is as magical as the story itself.

The Harpy by Megan Hunter

Published by Picador, available now.

Firstly I am not really 100% sure what category I would put the Harpy in. Is it fantasy? Is it Gothic? A domestic novel? Contemporary or thriller? I just don’t know, it may in fact have a touch of all those genres, either that or Megan Hunter has just created a genre all of her own.

I lift the razor and a fairy-tale drop of blood escapes from under the silver. The colours are the brightest I have ever seen: stark and cartoon-like, white skin and sea-blue shirt and dark red, rolling and seeking. He doesn’t make a sound.

The story’s narrator is Lucy, she is married to Jake and they have two young boys, she works from home and takes care of much of the domestic chores whilst Jake is at work at the local university. An enviable life you may think, a woman that on the outside has the perfect life and maybe she does until she finds out Jake has been having a passionate affair with a work colleague called Vanessa. This bombshell shatters the illusion of the life they have been living and Lucy has to try and find a way of coming to terms with her husband’s infidelity. Rather disturbingly, they decide between themselves that Lucy can hurt Jake three times, whenever she wants and in any manner she wishes. It is at this point Lucy embodies the role of The Harpy, the mythical creature that brings down misery and punishment on men in the form of spoiling a feast through poisoning, the stealing of possessions and finally torture, as a lifelong admirer of The Harpy, Lucy’s life seems to become entwined with that of the half woman half bird fantasy legend. Unfortunately it is easy for things to go too far and become out of control, just as Lucy’s life seems to be spiralling beyond her grasp she must do her best to try and regain some kind of control.

The whole concept of The Harpy and the intention of setting out to purposefully hurt someone is deeply disturbing and sinister but Megan writes so beautifully that it is, at times, difficult to feel anything but wonder at what is a most despicable creature. The story is so well crafted, I loved the poetic nature of the words that at times almost lifted from the page and how the story of the Harpy so effortlessly intertwined with the story of Lucy and Jake.

The Harpy is such a unique kind of book, for me, it is a work of enormous skill and genius, I loved the concept of the story and as I have said before it is so beautifully written. It is dark and twisted with a touch of the unsettling about it, but WOW, it is one hell of a read!

The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair

Published by British Library as part of their Women Writers series in March 2020.

The British Library Women Writers series is a curated collection of novels by female authors who enjoyed broad, popular appeal in their day. In a century which the role of women in society changed radically, their fictional heroines highlight women’s experience of life inside and outside the home through the decades in these rich, insightful and evocative stories.

About the Author – May Sinclair (1863-1946) was a popular British writer and an active suffragist. Her publication record is prolific, including novels, philosophy, criticism, poetry and biography, as we as her 1912 pro-suffrage pamphlet, Feminism. she has been dubbed the ‘the readable modernist’.

The Blurb – Published in 1917 before women achieved the right to vote and victory in the First World War was far from assured, The Tree of Heaven taels the intertwining stories of Dorothea Harrison and her three brothers as their lives are overtaken by the outbreak of the hostilities. as the old certainties of the previous centuries distintegrate, Dorothea takes up the cause of women’s suffrage and joins the Women’s Service Corps as Nicky, Michael and John go off, one by one, to the trenches.

My Thoughts – I was very kindly asked to take part in the British Library Women Writers series and was instantly drawn to this book due to the author’s links to the suffrage movement. Set between the Boer War and World War One the story centres around the Harrison family of Hampstead, the children are young and innocent but those times will tragically change as the 20th century dawns and society moves in to more uncertain times. As the children grow into young adults it becomes apparent they are going to face some difficult decisions regarding their futures. The boys must decide whether or not to enlist in the army and be sent to the front line and Dorothea must consider her role as an active suffragette and the difficulties that could bring, not just to her but her family as well. As the boys leaves one by one for battle you cannot help but feel drawn into the heartache the family must have suffered as they waved them off, not knowing if they would return.

This is a story that has the ability to draw you into the time it is written, it gives us an eye witness account of life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the every changing political and social dynamics of the time, the Great War affected every man woman and child in this country one way or another, it marked the end of the old life and the beginning of a new way of living. The characters live through these changes, they are part of the fabric of life at that time, they are well written and relatable, they almost have a modern feel to them and as classics go this really should be considered along with some of the greats.

This book is what I would describe as a slow burner, the pace doesn’t really change from the first page t the last, which at times I found frustrating, but for the most part I can appreciate the skill of the author to build a story that can engage its reader for the duration of the story. The story is at time heart wrenching, sad, insightful but on the whole is a very good read.

Many thanks to British Library and Maria Vassilopoulos for my gifted copy on exchange for this honest review.

Awakening Musings on Planetary Survival by Sam Love

Published By Fly on the Wall Press.

Many thanks to Isabelle Kenyon for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Blurb – Far from the doom and gloom autopsy of the contemporary environmental crisis, ‘Awakening’ indulges in fun. From the craziness of shipping bottled water 6,000 miles, to how bcteria evolves for a counterattack, this collection laughs at humanity’s war on nature. after reading Love’s poetry, you will never look at nature in the same way.

Could there be a better time for this poetry collection than now, whilst the world is battling COVID-19 we mustn’t forget that climate change poses a huge threat to us and our planet.

The collection is divided in to four sections, Awakening, Origins, Impact and Recovering Hope each one dealing with aspect of climate change and the devastating effect it is having. In Elegant Travelers, Love talks to us about the Tundra Swans that dot the surface of Pungo Lake and how soon enough they will have to move further north as the south will be too hot for them in winter.

What I like about this collection is that Love looks at the impact on all areas life, not just the human aspect but the effect on animals, the land and the sea. There is anger and fury in his words but that is justified as each poem is only reinforcing what we already know, but seem loathe to do anything about. But at the same time, it is a lighthearted look at the environmental challenges we face, it is written in a way in which you can understand, not to say it is dumbed down, it isn’t, but it all just makes sense.

I connected with each poem in this collection, I found myself agreeing with his words, despite never thinking about some aspects before, for example in Jacuzzi Guilt when he comments that he is luxuriating in the same amount of water an African villager would use in ten days. I could happily spend hours discussing each poem as each one is excellently written and carries such an important message.

This may only be a small collection of poems but it is a very powerful one, the poems are easy to connect with and the messages are clear. I would definitely read more of Sam Love’s work and I would urge you to as well.

About The Author

Sam Love’s interest in the environment started with reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a teenager in rural Alabama. He vividly remembers watching entertainment the airplane crop dusters spraying pesticides on the fields near his house. Currently, he lives New Bern, NC where he is president of Nexus Poets that organises a monthly poetry reading. He considers it as good a place as any to observe the drama that currently passes for Western Civilisation

About The Publisher

Fly on the Wall Press is a publisher with a conscience. Publishing high quality anthologies on pressing issues, chapbooks and poetry products, from exceptional poets around the globe. Founded in 2018 by founding editor, Isabelle Kenyon.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Published By Michael Joseph – Out Now

Many thanks to Gaby Young for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Blurb – Astrid Strick has always tried to do her best for her three children. Now, they’re finally grown up – but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Elliot doesn’t have any idea who he really is, or how to communicate with his own sons. Porter is, at last, pregnant – but feels incapable of rising to the challenge. Nicky has fled to distant New Mexico, where he’s living the bohemian dream. And Astrid herself is up to things that would make her children’s hair curl. until now, the family have managed to hid their true selves from each other. but when Nicky’s incorrigibly curious daughter Cecelia comes to stay, her arrival threatens to upturn everything…

My Thoughts – Isn’t it every parents wish that they can raise their children without causing them any major damage?

All Adults Here is like holding a looking glass up to every family you know. It is about how we all interact with our family, how siblings get on and how our relationships with our parents can shape us in to the adults we become. It also demonstrates how those relationships change over time as we grow and become parents ourselves. The family dynamics explored within this book are true of any family.

The story centres on the Strick family, Astrid is the matriarch, she is a widower and is in a love affair with her hairdresser Birdie. She is a recent witness to a RTA and soon to be guardian of her granddaughter Cecelia.  Astrid’s eldest son is Elliott; he is married with young twins who are a handful to say the least. He seems slightly lost in life and feels like he has never quite achieved the great things his parents had hoped for him. The middle child is a daughter called Porter, she runs a goat farm and is currently pregnant by a sperm donor as she can’t seem to settle with one partner or another she is also concerned over how she will cope as a single parent.  Finally there is the baby of the family Nicky, he is married to Juliette and they have one daughter called Cecelia. As the baby of the family you get a sense that Nicky has never really been held accountable for his actions, and still isn’t, which is why he has sent Cecelia, who has been expelled from school, to live with her grandmother.

For me it is Cecelia that holds everything together, often acting more like an adult than the adults do. She grows into a mature and well-rounded teenager, she is honest and makes a good friend for August, a lad who before meeting Cecelia had never really felt comfortable with his school surroundings.

All Adults Here is a witty and charming book that takes a heart-warming look at family life, the characters are relatable and whilst I didn’t connect with all of them you can appreciate the life struggles they are coping with and I think we will all see a little of ourselves somewhere amongst the Strick family.

I enjoyed this book for its attempts to deal with lots of different and often challenging aspects of life and in doing that you find yourself connecting with it on various levels.

The Sight of You by Holly Miller

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 11th June 2020

This is the story of two people kept apart by circumstance – but not like you’ve ever read before.

The story centres around Joel, he is a thirty something ex vet whose life is ruled by his haunting dreams about the people he loves, he has visions that always come true. Callie, is stuck in a life rut, still tormented by the death of her best friend and trapped in a job she feels obliged to keep. Neither are looking for one another but when they tentatively start dating Joel must fight his urge to fall for Callie as he knows if he does he could destroy it all.

You get a sense that this relationship has the potential to change both of their lives and when Joel finally admits his true feelings for Callie it appears they have it all. Their happiness radiates from the page and you feel the same happiness you would if they were your true friends. That is until Joel has a night vision and sees how it is all going to end.

The build up of the relationship is lovely, it is heartwarming that these two people have found each other and finally both seem to be able to move on with their lives and be happy. And you are happy for them and want the best for them but then Joel has his dream and it shatters everything to pieces.

The story raises so many personal questions about relationships, mortality and the biggest of all, would you want to know how and when you were going to die? And how would you react if you knew? It is an exquisitely written story and puts you right there in the relationship with them. It gives you hope that love can be found when you are not even looking for it, but is also a stark reminder that love and life are fragile.

I personally think Holly has created a masterpiece with this book, I loved the plot, the characters, who I actually felt like I knew by the end of the story, and even though it broke my heart I loved the journey Joel and Callie take, both together and apart.

This is a book that will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions and one that will leave you with questions. It is also one that will definitely stay with you for a long time and I can’t gush about it enough!!

Many thanks to Rebecca Mundy at Hodder and Stoughton for my proof copy.

The Phonebook at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina (Translated by Lucy Rand)

Published by Manilla Press on 25th June 2020 (Kindle).

This is such a pleasant and enjoyable read about how different people cope with grief and how friendships and relationships can blossom from the most difficult times. The book has the ability to be serene and offer a calming and comforting environment at the most trying of times.

Based on a true story the plot follows Yui, a radio presenter who has lost her mother and young daughter in the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. When a man calls her radio show she learns about an old disused telephone box in his garden that allows grieving families and friends an opportunity to talk to those they have lost.

Yui sets out on a pilgrimage to find the phonebox and enrolee she crosses paths with Takeshi, a widower with a young daughter who has recently lost his beloved wife. His daughter is struggling to come to terms with the premature loss of her mother and has remained mute since the day she died. But the new friendships that form help all those who are struggling to find their place in the world without their loved ones.

There are other stories woven through the narrative which are both heartwarming and gentle but sad at the same time. The story is heartwarming and gentle it is like a big hug that is reassuring and comforting. It beautifully written and given the sensitive topic being discussed it is tender and respectful and gives hope to readers currently experiencing grief and a sense of loss.

It is amazing to think this phone box actually exists in Japan and is called the “phone of the wind” you can find out more here

Many thanks to Manilla Press for my gifted copy.

Little Friends by Jane Shemilt

Published by Penguin UK on 20th February 2020

This is an excellent psychological thriller focusing on three families who all come together through their children taking private tuition classes together. Eve is the tutor, she appears to live the perfect life, she has children, a husband and a beautiful big family home. But what this book does well is show you that what appears on the outside is not what is necessarily happening on the inside. Eve actually has a husband who seems to ignore her and a teenage daughter who looks like she might be about to go off the rails. However, A bond soon builds between the children in the tutor group and before long they are happily playing together. The parents also start to connect, in more ways than one, there is Melissa and Paul with their brattish young daughter Izzy and Grace and Martin with their two boys Blake and Charley. Whilst the parents spend time getting to know each other the children seem to have been given a free rein to go wild. But that can only end badly.

All seems to be going well when suddenly tragedy strikes, it is every parents nightmare and panic soon sets in to turn their idyllic worlds upside down. What happens is shocking and tears their worlds apart, it gives you the reader a sudden jolt and whilst there were aspects of the story that I figured out, I was way off on other parts. What I liked about the narrative was that the story is told through the point of view of the three mothers, Eve, Grace and Melissa. Each one is a strong woman who knows her own mind but at the same time each has her own issues to deal with and through their narratives we soon learn how their perfect lives actually really aren’t that perfect at all.

The book deals with violence, trauma and tragedy and the tension that all this builds is immense, and at time unsettling, but I liked that, I liked the edginess of the story. This is a book that picks you up and forces you to hold your breath until it lets you go again. The story telling is superb, so, if you like a good psychological thriller this will not let you down.