'The End of Magic' by Mark Stay and 'The Foundling' by Stacey Halls – reading with the PigeonholeHQ community

I really enjoy reading with the Pigeonhole community – I guess that might sound rather strange, but it’s nothing to do with pigeons. It’s a book reading club. I read on my app, but you can use your desktop computer. So, in a nutshell, it’s like a digital book group, sharing a book and chatting in the margins with other readers. Another great aspect of this, is the author often joins in, adding images and documents. Check it out at http://www.thepigeonhole.com

Two recent reads are the above two books: ‘The Foundling’ and ‘The End of Magic’. Both of them very different, but incredibly good fun to read.

‘The End of Magic’

Blurb:

Sander Bree is a royal mage. Steeped in privilege, he lives a cushy life advising the king on matters of court and politics, yet still complains that he’s stuck in a rut.

Rosheen Katell is a freelance mage and, with Anzu her griffin, she’s worked hard to build a reputation as a trustworthy truth seer. She never lies, never kills. 

The source of their power is the Lapis Moon in orbit above. Very soon, that magic will be gone, changing their lives and their world forever. Sander must keep a promise that would have been difficult enough with magic, but is a suicide mission without it. Rosheen is forced to side with a murderous warlord, and her once-solid principles are tested and found wanting. Both will be set against one another in a war unlike anything the world has seen before, in this sweeping fantasy of magic’s ending.

My thoughts…

Mark Stay’s ‘The End of Magic’ is a hugely enjoyable magical romp with conflicted characters; mythical and magical creatures; a truly villainous villain and the battle to save magic in a rich and creative fantasy world. What makes this book a joy is the wit and humour which laces the story together; it’s also a twisty interpretation of the genre. Our ‘heroes’ are certainly flawed but we find ourselves connecting with them despite this. At the heart of this story, is how a catastrophic natural event changes everyone’s fates and offers each character choices and ultimately redemptive paths, if they so choose. Blood thirsty, battle fuelled and with an epic disaster to face, this is a great read!

If you like a darkly witty spin to your fantasy reading then I’d highly recommend ‘The End of Magic’.

‘The Foundling’ by Stacey Halls

Blurb:

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst – that Clara has died in care – the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed – by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.

Less than a mile from Bess’ lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed Stacey Halls first novel, ‘The Familiars’, so I was very excited to read ‘The Foundling’, particularly so when it appeared on the Pigeonhole Book Club.

I was captivated from the opening pages. I’ve been interested in the Foundling Hospital since I visited the museum in London quite a few years ago now. If you’re not aware of it, the Hospital was founded by Thomas Coram in 1739 to help care for babies at risk of being abandoned. At that time, it was estimated that a thousand babies a year were being abandoned – Halls novel begins with a young mother taking her baby to the hospital to be cared for until she could reclaim her. Sadly, many babies were never reclaimed, but our protagonist never forgets her baby and works tirelessly to raise the funds to collect her child. However, a twist in the tale causes more suffering and builds the story of Bess Bright, born to poverty but with a good heart and determination to do right by her child in a harsh and cruel world.

Part historical drama, part mystery, this is a very moving and dramatic story inspired by a mother, who is forced to abandon their child, in an attempt to give their child a future. This novel also addresses the flawed way the mothers would leave tokens behind for their babies, so they could be identified and matched upon re-claiming. In the London Foundlings Museum you can see some of the tokens on display; it’s truly heartbreaking. These tokens were often pieces of material cut from the babies clothes, half being kept in the hospital records and the other given to the mother. In the novel, Bess Bright leaves half of an engraved heart with her baby and this becomes the novels central mystery. This is also the story of another woman, the widow Alexandra, trapped by circumstance and trauma; when her world collides with Bess’s, the story begins in earnest.

I would highly recommend ‘The Foundling’, it’s a beautifully written story that tugs at your heartstrings throughout. It’s a story of two women, born into different worlds, of different tragedies but both connected by their journeys. The story is told via alternating first-person points of view, so you are able to piece together the story and also understand both the women and their different perspectives. Hall balances the darkness and the light enough to provide the right balance for the reader.

Beautifully written, compelling and heart-wrenching. Highly recommended read.

So, if you fancy an online reading group, then do take a look at The Pigeonhole.

SHADOW by James Swallow and published by @ZaffreBooks #CompulsiveReaders #blogtour

Published 12th December by Zaffre

Blurb

A ruthless far-right terrorist is broken out of captivity.

A mysterious scientist with a terrible secret is abducted.

A lethal contagion threatens millions of lives across Europe and the Middle East.

Ex-M16 officer Marc Dane faces a deadly race-against-time to stop a devastating attack before a new kind of weapon is unleashed…

My thoughts

This is the fourth book in the Marc Dane action thriller series. It’s my first read of this series… although that really didn’t seem to matter at all.

This book doesn’t mess about, and you are hurtled into an action packed opening, swiftly moving between two high pressured and dangerous situations. It’s a relief (and great plotting) to calm down as we are introduced to people on a smuggler’s ship and the plot develops and deepens; it’s not long before the tension and action creeps back. I don’t read that many action thrillers, but I was drawn easily into the story. The central characters of the book series were introduced well and with enough background information to easily pick up who these people are and what has lead them to this point. Marc Dane, our lead and Ex-M16 officer, and Lucy Keyes, Ex Delta Force and now a private contractor with Dane, are brought into a kidnapping case and are soon off on a dangerous mission.

‘Shadow’ is an action thriller novel that is driven, well-researched with engaging lead characters that work aplenty to hook the reader into a dramatic plot of kidnapping, terrorism and mass destruction as a new threat is uncovered. Thank goodness Marc Dane has at least 9 lives; he’s literally leaping constantly into dangerous situations! Keyes is not much better, so they’re quite a pair. It’s one of those novels where you need to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the ride. I had a great time reading this. Dane’s character make-up is along the lucky lines of characters like Bond, Bourne, Reacher and Ryan and it’s dramatic action fun. I think the difference here with some lighter reads, is the book is very well researched, I found it easy enough to pick up unfamiliar subject areas of the military, technology, digital and terrorism. The world building and descriptions of the landscapes were also really atmospheric and detailed. The scene on the Icelandic tundra made me turn my heating up!

If you are looking for an incredibly pacy, very well-written action thriller read, that is tense, full of drama with non-stop action moments – then join Marc Dane and Lucy Keyes in ‘Swallow’.

Author

James Swallow is a New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author and script writer with over 750,000 books currently in print around the world. He was nominated for a BAFTA for his writing on the acclaimed video game DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION. His new novel and Marc Dane thriller Rogue is coming in May 2020.

Follow James on Twitter @jmswallow

Previous books in the Marc Dane series: Nomad, Exile and Ghost.

November Mini Reading Wrap-Up

An enjoyable month of reading some of my long awaited TBR books and some new 2020 releases. Favourites from this month are ‘His Bloody Project’, ‘The Silent Companions’, ‘Black Summer’ and ‘The Night Circus’. As always, some brief summaries and ratings below.

In December, I’m anticipating a quiet reading month for a few reasons, including spending more time with family and friends as Christmas approaches, more work to get finished so I can relax over the Christmas break and the main reason… I have a TV. It’s been quite a few years since we’ve had a TV in our front room. I’m enjoying a honeymoon period… so my reading is sure to suffer. But I doubt for long.

I’m back soon with two blog tours next week, looking forward to chatting books again soon!

‘His Bloody Project’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet – five stars. Loved this story of a brutal triple murder in the Scottish Highlands, it’s written as a memoir and searches for the truth. Fascinating.

‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell. Loved this gothic thriller – all the creepy period vibes you want from this kind of book, locked rooms, old diaries and the most disturbing painted wooden figures lurking beyond every turn of the page. 5 stars.

‘Vengeful’ by VE Schwab is the sequel to ‘Vicious’. 4 YA stars, this continues the supernatural battle between past friends and now adversaries Victor and Eli – lots more supernatural occurrences and a formidable enemy emerges for them both. Enjoyable dramatic supernatural fun.

‘The Hunting Party’ by Lucy Foley ticks most of the thriller genre requirements. A great premise and collection of characters, for me there were some pacing issues but the final half picked up and I raced towards the ending and my answers. 4 stars.

‘Black Summer’ by M.W. Craven – this is the second in the Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw character series, the first being ‘The Puppet Show’ which I loved. I’m on the blog tour for this book in a week so more then, but for now, I loved it! 5 stars.

‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern – this book has been on my shelf for years, and the publication of Morgenstern’s second novel ‘The Starless Sea’ spurred me on to finally read it. I’ve seen some very mixed reviews for this book, I am definitely on the loved it team. Gorgeous, rich language, an enchanting circus and fascinating group of characters. 5 stars.

‘The Beautiful’ by Renee Adhieh is a YA fantasy novel about a young girl running away from a traumatic experience, who arrives in 1872 New Orleans in an attempt to escape. The city and its inhabitants have other ideas. I quite enjoyed this for the sheer storytelling fun. 3.5 YA stars, nearly 4.

‘The Queen of Nothing’ by Holly Black – this is the final book in the ‘Folk of the Air’ series. Overall, a fun ending to the story (or shall I say a very cheesy ending), it felt shorter and less developed that I think the final book should have been. I would have liked a little more time spent on some developments; there was also an abrupt and dismissive end to one of the important characters and another character seemed to add oddly – I think her overall story arc needed more care. However, for most readers I think the main reason to read and enjoy this series was the relationship between Cardan (I still can’t cope with the tail – lol) and Jude… so just about 4 YA stars for this.

‘The Keeper’ by Jessica Moor is a 2020 thriller release. It centres around a women’s refuge and, what seems to be, a suicide. There’s a police investigation, an insight into the refuge and a journey into the past; this is a disturbing story of male power and control with twists. 4 stars.

‘The Guest List’ by Lucy Foley is another 2020 release from the writer of the successful ‘ The Hunting Party. This book has a very similar style to her first book, and some coincidences too many for me, however there’re lots of positives about it as well. Full review will follow before publication. Just reaches 4 thriller stars.

‘The Forbidden Promise’ by Lorna Cook. This is published in March 2020 and is about two women decades apart, one in 1940 and the other in 2020. Both centre around their experiences at Invermoray House in Scotland. I really enjoyed this, a great way to spend Sunday afternoon. 4 stars.

‘The Widow of Pale Harbour’ by Hester Fox is more romance than thriller and it was okay. You get a isolated and mysterious widow; small town gossip and hatred; a new minister with secrets of his own and a murder. 3 stars.

‘The Memory Wood’ by Sam Lloyd. This is a Feb 2020 release and despite finding this a difficult read (child abuse and abduction themes) it was enjoyable. A book that plays with your perceptions; a clever, challenging thriller read. 4.5 stars.

‘Soon’ by Lois Murphy, with huge thanks to Titan Books for the review copy.

BLURB

On winter solstice, the birds disappeared, and the mist arrived.

The inhabitants of Nebulah quickly learn not to venture out after dark. But it is hard to stay indoors: cabin fever sets in, and the mist can be beguiling, too.

Eventually only six remain. Like the rest of the townspeople, Pete has nowhere else to go. After he rescues a stranded psychic from a terrible fate, he’s given a warning: he will be dead by solstice unless he leaves town – soon.

My thoughts…

Okay, I’m not a horror genre reader. In the past, I’ve read one Stephen King and a James Herbert, but I’ve such an over-active imagination that I crept around for weeks afterwards and jumped at every shadow at night. So, when I received ‘Soon’ by Lois Murphy I decided to be brave, although rather foolishly read it late at night! Don’t ask me why!

Nebulah, once a prosperous mining town, is now isolated due to a strange phenomenon of a ghostly mist arriving, no one can understand why and the town becomes more of a tourist attraction and a freak show; one by one the inhabitants leave. I spent a lot of time saying ‘WHY?’ as I read this book… these last inhabitants of the town are certainly stubborn and loyal, or completely crazy! I, quite frankly, would have been on the first bus out of there! If you live in Nebulah then you have to board yourself in at night, otherwise a maelstrom of horrors is upon you! Seriously creepy. The story follows the last six people who, for different reasons, decide to stay and live in this literal ghost town.

The story is steadily told through the eyes of Pete, a former policeman and a good man but he’s very isolated. The day time is slowly paced, and this increases our anticipation for what horrors will come at night. Once I started reading I wanted answers. When events turned intense, I wanted to throw the book with frustration at these last inhabitants. As usual, in these horror situations there are people who think they are impervious to harm – and Pete is suddenly faced with the task of risking himself to save those foolhardy ones that come to experience the famous ‘ghost town’.

Now as an animal lover, I hate it when animals are in books like this, as I just spend most of my time worrying about them, so that’s exactly what I did here – it was like watching Will Smith and his dog again in ‘I am Legend’. So, without giving away plot, animals lovers beware, it’s not a happy wagging tale ending for our furry friends – but not on the level of ‘Marley and Me’ so it’s manageable.

Overall, if you like odd creepy horror genre reads this is worth it; it’s a well written, nicely paced read with lots of thriller elements. It’s also inspired loosely from the actual Australian blue asbestos town of Wittenoom. The toxic town has only a handful of remaining residents and has become a fascination for tourists and thrill-seekers; people are strange! Look it up, it’s crazy! This also suggests there’s a real social commentary at the heart of this story from Lois Murphy.

This is definitely a recommended read from me – a weird, creepy and startling horror read; gripping and disturbing.

Blog Tour for ‘The Birthday House’ by Jill Treseder #RandomThingsTour

A friendship. A Murder. A life that will never be the same.

I’m really happy to be a part of this blog tour for Jill Treseder’s book with thanks to Anne Cater at #RandomThingsTours and @SilverWoodBooks – do check out the chat about this book from other book bloggers on this tour.

BLURB

The year is 1955, the location picturesque Devon.

In a house by the River Dart, schoolgirl Josephine Kennedy posts invitations to her twelfth birthday party – a party that never takes place.

Horrific violence is committed that night in the family home, leaving all of its occupants dead.

Based on a disturbing real-life crime, this compelling story explores Josephine’s fate through the prism of friends and family – the victims and survivors who unwittingly influenced the events that led up to the tragedy.

Josephine’s best friend, Susan, is haunted by the secrets of the birthday house. Can she ever find a way of making peace with the past?

MY THOUGHTS

‘The Birthday House’ is a novella, and it’s a well put together multi-perspective narrative leading up to tragic events of one day in 1955. Whilst some narratives are stronger than others it does make compelling reading. Our retrospective narrator Susan looks back from 2018 to these traumatic events from her childhood. What follows is a series of first-person voices leading up to terrible events surrounding the loss of her childhood friend and family; this is an attempt to explore how life and relationships can lead to awful circumstances that need to be explored, to be able to grieve and comprehend the shocking events.

I enjoyed the piecing together of events of 1954/5 from the voices of those involved; this is at its heart a very sad story, but it also serves as an attempt to put to rest the deep loss during this time for Susan, whose loss of her friend at such a young age has deeply affected her and the rest of her life.

You know the events right from the start, the brutal murder of a family by the father, and his suicide; they are made more thought-provoking when you find out the author is exploring these events from her own personal experience and loss of her childhood friend.

This is a decent novella that has many points for discussion, it also highlights the need for honesty and communication to minimise years of grief clouding your life. It explores a tragic event in an open way; the deaths are awful and hard to read, so be aware of this when reading. This also highlights mental illness and the importance of recognition and seeking help.

A novella of a shocking family murder-suicide, written with a sensitive touch, exploring why such terrible events occur and the effects on those left behind. A poignant and tragic tale.

Check out the bloggers above to find out more…

https://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/product/9781781328798/the-birthday-house – to purchase from the publishers and support independents X