All posts by Jo

The Confession by Jo Spain

the confession

Late one night a man walks into the luxurious home of disgraced banker Harry McNamara and his wife Julie. The man launches an unspeakably brutal attack on Harry as a horror-struck Julie watches, frozen by fear.

Just an hour later the attacker, JP Carney, has handed himself in to the police. He confesses to beating Harry to death, but JP claims that the assault was not premeditated and that he didn’t know the identity of his victim. With a man as notorious as Harry McNamara, the detectives cannot help wondering, was this really a random act of violence or is it linked to one of Harry’s many sins: corruption, greed, betrayal?

This gripping psychological thriller will have you questioning, who – of Harry, Julie and JP – is really the guilty one? And is Carney’s surrender driven by a guilty conscience or is his confession a calculated move in a deadly game?

The Confession is told from three perspectives – Julie (the wife), JP (the attacker), and DS Alice Moody, who investigates the attack, although Alice’s chapters are few and far between.  I thought that all three were great characters – complex and multifaceted, with both Julie and JP eliciting sympathy, albeit for different reasons, and with neither of them being wholly likeable.  Alice takes a minor role, and yet the scenes between her and her colleagues add some lighthearted relief, and I liked that she was a little different to most fictional detectives.

The reader only sees Harry through the eyes of others, although this is enough to get a sense of the man.  He reminded me a little of The Wolf of Wall Street – someone who made a lot of money through some not entirely above-board dealings, particularly in the lead up to the financial crash, although that was one bullet he managed to dodge, coming out of it disgraced, but without his lifestyle taking a hit.  Even though he is largely detestable, there are a couple of moments I warmed to him a little, although I can’t tell you why without spoiling it for you.  Again, these are incredibly complex and realistic characters, who aren’t entirely good or bad.

Through the Julie and JP chapters, the reader gradually learns about their backgrounds, and that of Harry, and what a story it is!  I was absolutely gripped as events unfolded and the build up to the big reveal.  The Confession has a brilliant plot, and even when I knew what happened, there was an extra little twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.  The Confession is a fantastic novel, and one that brings something a little different to the psychological thriller genre.

The Confession will be published by Quercus on 11 January as an eBook, and on 25 January in hardback.  Many thanks to the publisher, Hannah Robinson, and Bookbridgr for the proof.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

the wicked cometh

The year is 1831. Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and no one is willing to speak out on behalf of the city’s vulnerable poor as they disappear from the streets.  Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock. But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations.

Hester and Rebekah find themselves crossing every boundary they’ve ever known in pursuit of truth, redemption and passion. But their trust in each other will be tested as a web of deceit begins to unspool, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking…

The Wicked Cometh includes several elements that I enjoy in a novel: a determined heroine, a suspicious sounding society, and plenty of dark deeds with people going missing, never to be heard of again, and it came as something of a surprise that I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as I expected to.

Starting with the positive, I thought that Hester was a great character, and I loved her determination to improve her situation.  Her parents died when she was young, and, with no family willing or able to take her in, she moved to London with her family’s gardener and his wife.  There, they struggle, and this educated young lady finds herself living in ever-worsening conditions through no fault of her own.  This background gives Hester a brilliant strength of character, and makes her increasingly determined to achieve something better.  I loved that she wasn’t intending to wait for some man to improve her situation, but was willing to make her own way in life.

I also loved Carlin’s writing style, and I thought that it was very in keeping with the time in which the novel is set, with a dark, Gothic edge that fits perfectly with the story.  Similarly, the mystery element of the novel – the missing people – is well-delivered, particularly as Hester and Rebekah begin to investigate.  And I enjoyed this element of the plot, which becomes increasingly dark as they begin to unravel the mystery.

I did, however, find the pace to be a little slow, particularly to begin with, and this is perhaps why I struggled with this novel a little more than I expected to.  Additionally, I didn’t like the big reveal.  Not in the sense of the outcome, which I did enjoy, but the way in which it was delivered.  This is purely personal preference, and I’m sure that others will like it more than I did, but it just wasn’t for me.

The Wicked Cometh will be published on 1 February.  Many thanks to the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton, and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this title in advance of its publication.  Whilst it wasn’t entirely suited to my tastes, I think that those who enjoy dark, gothic mysteries will like this one.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Mount TBR Challenge 2018

I enjoy a reading challenge that encourages you to read through some of your own titles – you know, the ones that have been sat waiting patiently for far too long, and this year I’ve decided to take part in the Mount TBR Challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block.

Mount TBR 2018

The idea is simple – you choose a mountain to climb, the difficulty corresponding to the number of books you’re committing to.

Challenge Levels

  • Pike’s Peak: Read 12 books from your TBR pile
  • Mount Blanc: Read 24 books from your TBR pile
  • Mt. Vancouver: Read 36 books from your TBR pile
  • Mt. Ararat: Read 48 books from your TBR piles
  • Mt. Kilimanjaro: Read 60 books from your TBR pile
  • El Toro: Read 75 books from your TBR pile
  • Mt. Everest: Read 100 books from your TBR pile
  • Mount Olympus (Mars): Read 150+ books from your TBR pile

I’ve added a summary of the key rules below (for full details, follow the link above), but I’ve decided that rather than trying to tackle my whole TBR, that I’m going to sign up for Pike’s Peak initially.  Obviously I’m hoping to read more than 12 from my TBR, but I think that achieving the initial 12 may spur me on to do another 12, and so on.  That’s the theory, at least!

You can sign up at the link above, if this is something that you’re interested in taking part in!

The (Main) Rules

  • Once you choose your challenge level, you are locked in for at least that many books.  If you find that you’re on a mountain-climbing roll and want to tackle a taller mountain, then you are certainly welcome to upgrade.  All books counted for lower mountains carry over towards the new peak
  • Challenge runs from January 1 to December 31, 2018
  • You may sign up anytime from now until November 1st, 2018
  • Books must be owned by you prior to January 1, 2018
  • You may count “Did Not Finish” books provided they meet your own standard for such things

There are a few other rules, but I see these as the key points.

Wish me luck! 🙂

2017: A Year in Books and Blogging

At this time of year, I like to take a look back over the last 12 months at my year in books and blogging.  It’s partly an excuse to roll out some funky graphs, but also a chance to send a big thank you to the authors and publishers who’ve provided copies of their books for review, as well as to my fellow bloggers – book people really are the best kind of people!

I’ve already posted by favourite books of the year, which you can see here.  It was particularly difficult to put the list together this year, as I’ve read some fantastic books, and there were several that I really wanted to include in my list.

To put it into context, during 2017 I’ve read 123 books, totalling 42,195 pages, which breaks down like this:

2017 infographic

Not too shabby, eh?

Of the titles I’ve reviewed this year, the most viewed were:

  1. The Baltimore Boys by Joël Dicker
  2. Autumn by Ali Smith
  3. Final Girls by Riley Sager

Happy New Year!

My Favourite Books of 2017

Each year, I like to put together a list of my favourite books published in the last 12 months.  This year has been particularly difficult to a top 10 list together, and I’ve done multiple versions, each a little different from the last.

Here’s what I settled on, in no particular order.


Defender by G. X. Todd

defender

I absolutely loved this post-apocalyptic novel, the first in a planned series of four.  The second instalment, Hunted, will be published in May, and I’m delighted that my request to read this ahead of publication via Netgalley has been approved.  You can see my full review here.

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice.

Those who do, keep it quiet.

But one man listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

There is a reason why Pilgrim and Lacey must cross paths.

They just don’t know it yet…


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant

Oh this novel!  Both happy and sad, I still think fondly on Eleanor months after reading it, even though I didn’t warm to her immediately.  My review can be found here.

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?


For the Winner by Emily Hauser

for the winner

I love a bit of mythology, and Hauser’s second novel delivers a brilliant retelling of Jason’s search for the golden fleece, focusing on the women from this period.  My review is here.

Some three thousand years ago, in a time before history, the warriors of Greece journeyed to the ends of the earth in the greatest expedition the world had ever seen.

One woman fought alongside them.

Abandoned at birth on the slopes of Mount Pelion, Atalanta is determined to prove her worth to the father who cast her aside. Having taught herself to hunt and fight, and disguised as a man, she wins a place on the greatest voyage of that heroic age: with Jason and his band of Argonauts in search of the legendary Golden Fleece.

And it is here, in the company of men who will go down in history as heroes, that Atalanta must battle against the odds – and the will of the gods – to take control of her destiny and change her life forever.

With her unrivalled knowledge and captivating storytelling, Emily Hauser brings alive an ancient world where the gods can transform a mortal’s life on a whim, where warriors carve out names that will echo down the ages… and where one woman fights to determine her own fate.


Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

gather the daughters

An incredibly dark and twisted tale, and as bleak as they come.  Of course I absolutely loved it! My full review can be found here.

Years ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonised an island off the coast.  They built a radical society of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict rationing of knowledge and history.  Only the Wanderers – chosen male descendants of the original ten – are allowed to cross to the wastelands, where they scavenge for detritus among the still-smouldering fires.

The daughters of these men are wives-in-training.  At the first sign of puberty, they face their Summer of Fruition, a ritualistic season that drags them from adolescence to matrimony.  They have children, who have children, and when they are no longer useful, they take their final draught and die.  But in the summer, the younger children reign supreme.  With the adults indoors and the pubescent in Fruition, the children live wildly – they fight over food and shelter, free of their fathers’ hands and their mothers’ despair.  And it is at the end of one summer that little Caitlin Jacob sees something so horrifying, so contradictory to the laws of the island, that she must share it with the others.

Born leader Janey Solomon steps up to seek the truth. At seventeen years old, Janey is so unwilling to become a woman, she is slowly starving herself to death. Trying urgently now to unravel the mysteries of the island and what lies beyond, before her own demise, she attempts to lead an uprising of the girls that may be their undoing.


Yesterday by Felicia Yap

yesterday

I loved this novel, in which the mono / duo memory works as something of a pseudo-class system, giving a unique edge to this murder mystery.  Full review here.

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

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

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

Can you trust the police?

Can you trust your husband?

Can you trust yourself?


The Scandal by Fredrik Backman

the scandal

A small-town mystery and ice hockey – what’s not to love?!  This is a fantastic mystery, with a brilliant setting, and one that was an instant favourite.  You can see my full review here.

Late one evening towards the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barrelled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there.

For most of the year it is under a thick blanket of snow, experiencing the kind of cold and dark that brings people closer together – or pulls them apart.

Its isolation means that Beartown has been slowly shrinking with each passing year. But now the town is on the verge of an astonishing revival. Everyone can feel the excitement. A bright new future is just around the corner.

Until the day it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act. It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done. At last, it falls to one young man to find the courage to speak the truth that it seems no one else wants to hear.

With the town’s future at stake, no one can stand by or stay silent. Everyone is on one side or the other.

Which side would you be on?


Little Deaths by Emma Flint

little deaths

I didn’t write a full review of this novel, as it’s one that I read on holiday, but I absolutely loved this retelling of a true crime in which the mother was eventually arrested, albeit on flimsy evidence.  My mini review can be found here.

It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.

Noting Ruth’s perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip and speculation. Sent to cover the case on his first major assignment, tabloid reporter Pete Wonicke at first can’t help but do the same. But the longer he spends watching Ruth, the more he learns about the darker workings of the police and the press. Soon, Pete begins to doubt everything he thought he knew.

Ruth Malone is enthralling, challenging and secretive – is she really capable of murder?

Haunting, intoxicating and heart-poundingly suspenseful, Little Deaths is a gripping novel about love, morality and obsession, exploring the capacity for good and evil within us all.


Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

little fires everywhere

A fantastic novel that contained so much.  I loved the setting and the characters, and this is a novel that has stayed with me since reading it.  Full review here.

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.


The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

the girl in the tower

The Girl in the Tower is the second novel in Arden’s wonderful Winternight series, and if I liked the first instalment, I loved the second.  Vasya is one of my favourite characters, and I love her determination to be more than those around her think possible.  My full review can be found here.

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…


Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

hold back the stars

I was intrigued by Hold Back the Stars when it was first published in January, but didn’t read it until quite recently.  I loved that this was a mix of genres, delivering a little bit of something for everyone.  My full review can be found here.

Carys and Max have ninety minutes of air left. None of this was supposed to happen.  Adrift in space with nothing to hold on to but each other, Carys and Max can’t help but look back at the world they left behind. A world whose rules they couldn’t submit to, a place where they never really belonged; a home they’re determined to get back to because they’ve come too far to lose each other now.

Hold Back the Stars is a love story like no other.


And there you have my top 10 books for 2017!  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

Merry Christmas!

Christmas tree

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Or, Happy Holidays, if Christmas isn’t your thing.

I’m taking a brief break from the blog over the festive period, but I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the wonderful people who have visited Jo’s Book Blog over the last year, to all the publishers and authors who’ve allowed me to read and review their books, and especially to my fellow bloggers for stopping by to have a chat about bookish things and for sharing my posts!

I’ll be back next week (quite possibly a few pounds heavier) with my end of year wrap up post where I share my top books of 2017.  Until then, take care, and enjoy the festive season!

Jo ❤

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

how to stop time

I was delighted when I found out that Matt Haig was doing an event at this year’s Hay Festival Winter Weekend in November, and I was thrilled to pick up a copy of his latest novel, How to Stop Time, and to have the opportunity to get it signed by the man himself.

How to Stop Time introduces Tom Hazard, who appears to be around 40 years old, but is actually closer to 440 years old.  His secret?  Tom has a rare condition called anageria, which means that, since puberty, he has aged 1 year for approximately every 15 years that pass.

The first rule is that you don’t fall in love

Whilst this may sound appealing – it’s close to immortality, after all – there are downsides, and Tom has to hold himself apart from others, because coming to love and care for someone who you’re bound to outlive by hundreds of years would not be easy to deal with.

To avoid arousing suspicion, Tom, and those like him, are encouraged to move around regularly, cutting all ties and starting afresh somewhere new, and the novel opens as Tom takes up a post as a history teacher at a London comprehensive.  I loved this cover story for Tom – it’s a perfect fit for someone who has not only studied history but has lived it, and he is able to bring it to life for his pupils as few others can.  Of course, this allows for some humorous moments, as Tom occasionally slips up in front of his class, talking about an event as though he was actually there!

The narrative moves backwards and forwards in time, and covers both the present day and Tom’s new posting, as well as key events from his past, and I loved gradually getting to know this intriguing character.  The reader slowly builds up a picture of Tom, from his childhood in the late sixteenth century where he first learned to be cautious as people began to notice that there was something not quite right about him, and through experiences both good and bad.  I absolutely adored Tom as a character, even though I wanted to shake him at times, and he is one that will stay with me for some time.

Another aspect of the novel I particularly enjoyed was the shadowy Albatross Society, which is headed up by the extremely cautious Hendrich.  The Society helps Tom and those like him to move around regularly (every eight years is recommended), providing funds, official papers, and anything else that they might need to begin a new life.  Hendrich takes a very authoritarian approach to running the society, however – it’s his way or not at all – and there is a price for being looked after, and Hendrich is a man who will make sure that you pay up.

How to Stop Time is a wonderfully life-affirming novel that manages to by turns to be both amusing and sad, and I raced through it to find out what would happen to Tom.  I think it’s a novel that different people will take a different message from, but for me it came down to allowing yourself to live, even though that may mean that you occasionally get hurt.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐