What if you met the boy of your dreams but loving him was forbidden? Aisha Rashid is used to being invisible or bullied and overshadowed by best friend Isabelle. So no one is more surprised than her when Darren Brady, the hot new boy in school, takes an interest in her and not Isabelle. But Aisha is a devout hijab-wearing Muslim and Darren is off limits. Does she follow her heart even if it means losing her own identity? And is Darren really all that he seems? If only there was a way she could keep the boy and her faith. Maybe there is a way? All it takes are ten steps…
This was a read-in-one-sitting book for me. A wonderful balance of YA escapism, conflict, and a thoughtful, nuanced portrayal of Aisha’s thoughts, feelings, and struggles as a teenage Muslim girl. It’s hard to watch Aisha’s struggle between her beliefs and her feelings, particularly because it’s painfully evident how torn she is. It’s clear how important her faith is to her – but how can she ignore the very natural feelings she’s experiencing? Told by Attiya Khan with sensitivity, lots of humour (and some mouth-watering descriptions of food), Ten Steps to Us is a rounded exploration of faith, love, and self-discovery.
I was surprised at how abruptly it ended – I would have loved to carry on delving into Aisha’s life and discover the path she chooses for herself. The ending was perfectly set up for a sequel, so fingers crossed…
Many thanks to Literally PR and Hashtag Press for having me on this blog tour!
What do you do when your amazing, beloved sister dies?
Hide in your room for two years.
Sleep with a very, very wrong man.
Leave home and start a new life, lying to everyone you meet including your kind employer, your curious friends and the man you love?
Pip Mitchell’s an expert at making seriously bad decisions. But when her past, present and future collide at the Sydney Olympic Games, she’s going to have to decide whose side she’s on – or she’ll lose everyone she loves.
My predominant feeling reading this was that I just wanted to reach into the book and give Pip a big hug. F.J. Campbell writes about grieving with so much poignance and sensitivity, delving into its complexity and often-unexpected effects. Pip’s raw emotion makes reading No Number Nine feel very emotionally intimate; very much a journey the reader is on with her.
Although there are some heavy themes in the book, it’s an incredibly moreish read filled with humour and some great characters. Billy and Nadine were my favourites: two characters whose light, hilarious charisma radiates from the pages. Pip is a wonderful protagonist to follow because she’s complex, flawed, and grows so much as the story unfolds. I also enjoyed the central romance of the book, particularly because it didn’t dominate the story, but felt like a natural part of it.
Thanks to the story and characters, I ended up being much more absorbed by the hockey/Olympics theme than I expected. The Munich setting was also fun to be in, not least because going abroad feels like a distant memory thanks to COVID!
Thank you to F.J. Campbell and Literally PR for asking me to be on this blog tour!
Edwardian England. Agnes Ashford knows that her duty is threefold: she needs to work on cataloguing the archive of the titled Bryant family, she needs to keep the wounds of her past tightly under wraps, and she needs to be quietly grateful to her employers for taking her up in her hour of need. However, a dark secret she uncovers due to her work thrusts her into the Bryants’ brilliant orbit – and into the clutch of their ambitions.
They are prepared to take the new century head-on and fight for their preeminent position and political survival tooth and nail – and not just to the first blood. With a mix of loyalty, competence, and well-judged silence Agnes rises to the position of a right-hand woman to the family matriarch – the cunning and glamorous Lady Helen. But Lady Helen’s plans to hold on to power through her son are as bold as they are cynical, and one day Agnes is going to face an impossible choice…
As a story alone, this book is captivating: filled to the brim with family politics, conflict, and drama, it has an intricate plot, morally questionable characters, and an LGBTQ+ romance – all set against the backdrop of a mysterious, gothic castle in Edwardian England. When I found out it was actually based on real events from history, I was even more intrigued. The book is incredibly well-researched, full of little details that make all the difference in historical fiction.
I love a morally grey, flawed protagonist, so I enjoyed following Agnes and her climb to power within the Bryant household immensely. Her relationship with Lady Helen, particularly the power struggle between them, was one of the most gripping parts of the book.
Fielding’s gift for transporting description shines not only in her depiction of Edwardian England, but also in her illustration of Italy when the characters take a trip there. A major plus point of this book is its power to completely immerse the reader in its setting.
Thank you to Annabel Fielding for asking me to be on this blog tour, and for the ARC via NetGalley!
At the school gates, Faiza fits in. It took a few years, but now the snobbish mothers who mistook her for the nanny treat her as one of their own. She’s learned to crack their subtle codes, speak their language of handbags and haircuts and discreet silver watches. You’d never guess, at the glamorous kids’ parties and the leisurely coffee mornings, that Faiza’s childhood was spent following her parents round the Tooting Cash ‘n’ Carry.
When her husband Tom loses his job in finance, he stays calm. Something will come along, and in the meantime, they can live off their savings. But Faiza starts to unravel. Raising the perfect family comes at a cost – and the money Tom put aside has gone. When Tom’s redundancy package ends, Faiza will have to tell him she’s spent it all.
Unless she doesn’t…
It only takes a second to lie to Tom. Now Faiza has six weeks to find £75,000 before her lie spirals out of control. If anyone can do it, Faiza can: she’s had to fight for what she has, and she’ll fight to keep it. But as the clock ticks down, and Faiza desperately tries to put things right, she has to ask herself: how much more should she sacrifice to protect her family?
I don’t normally go in for ratings, but this was a 5-star read through and through. My adrenaline levels were so high while reading that I had to keep taking breaks to calm down despite being insanely impatient to find out what happened next.
There are few of us who can’t relate to the panic of a small, seemingly harmless lie ballooning out of proportion (although hopefully not to Faiza’s level!). Aliya Ali-Afzal demonstrates its domino effect so eloquently: the way one lie trickles down to another, the denial, the sickening anxiety.
I enjoyed how honest this book was. Money is a subject so frequently viewed as taboo – or at least uncomfortable – and it was refreshing to read a first-hand account showing the effects of how damaging lifestyle inflation, the pressure of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, and simply not being taught how to manage money can be.
Woven through the story is Faiza’s experience and perspective as a British Pakistani woman with biracial children. As a Brit with mixed Asian/white heritage, I felt familiarity with experiencing a split cultural identity and microaggressions just subtle enough to make objections appear unreasonable.
Although Faiza’s decisions often made me feel like screaming into the pages, I still found her a sympathetic character. The pressure she felt to fit in with the yummy mummy culture around her was powerfully illustrated, and the reasons behind her choices were explored with a lot of nuance.
All in all, a zinger of a book that balances heart-pounding suspense with themes that are impactful and thought-provoking.
Aliya Ali-Afzal has a degree in Russian and German from University College London, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is an Alum of the Curtis Brown Creative Novel Writing course.
Aliya worked as a City head-hunter, before retraining as an MBA career coach. She has always lived in London, since moving there from Pakistan as a young child, but has also spent time in Russia (both pre- and post-Perestroika), Germany, Amsterdam, and Cairo.
Her debut novel, Would I Lie to You? was longlisted for The Bath Novel Award and The Mslexia Novel award.
Her work in progress, The Funeral Book, was longlisted for The Mo Prize Hachette UK, and is about 24-year-old Zara, who is planning a wedding at the same time as her beloved 90-year-old granny is planning her funeral.
Le Prix d’Amour, a vibrant Paris cabaret, is caught in the crossfire of the occupation. Everyone is being watched, and some of Le Prix’s colourful performers are hiding dangerous secrets. Monsieur Maurice manages Le Prix d’Amour, a successful Parisian cabaret, which boasts glitzy performers and sassy showgirls. But with the German occupation in June 1940, Maurice treads a fine line between his German patrons, the French police and the Gestapo as he hides the dark secrets of his performers. Two of his lively showgirls, Lily and Poppy, soon join Maurice in the hunt for an informer who threatens to betray them. With the Allied landings, the tension builds, and Maurice is pushed to his limits as his performers finally take the fight to the invader in their own flamboyant way. Secrets and Showgirls portrays an occupied Paris in which exotic cabarets existed uneasily under the heel of the invader. It follows the antics of Maurice, Lily and a glittering array of characters, but never loses sight of the battle to survive that characterised the life of the everyday Parisian.
Secrets and Showgirls piqued my interest instantly – the glitz and glamour of the cabaret intertwined with the tense backdrop of Paris under German occupation.
The book skims over darker plotlines in favour of humour, camaraderie, and vivacious characters as colourful as their cabaret setting. I enjoyed the birds-eye view of the group rather than a focus on one protagonist. Watching them form a family and band together to survive occupied Paris was one of my favourite things about the book. Other highlights were the details that made Secrets and Showgirls a fantastic glimpse into the life in 1940s Paris. Despite possessing a more plentiful supply of cognac than the average Parisian, The Le Prix d’Amour family still felt the brunt of food shortages, leading to some culinary challenges with hedgehogs and badgers…
Spirited and atmospheric, Secrets and Showgirls is an entertaining escape into a dynamic wartime Paris cabaret – one I could easily imagine on the screen.
Catherine McCullagh completed a Bachelor of Arts (Asian Studies) at the Australian National University in Canberra and taught English, History and languages at secondary and pre-tertiary level. She then embarked on a military career spending twenty years as an officer in the Australian Army as a teacher and linguist. On leaving the Army she established herself as a freelance editor, working primarily with military history volumes published by the Australian Army History Unit. She has two published non-fiction works to her name, Willingly into the Fray, a narrative history of Australian Army nursing which she compiled and edited, and War Child, the poignant memoir of a woman who grew up in pre-war Germany, which she ghost-wrote for Annette Janic, whose mother is the subject of the story. Catherine’s first novel, Dancing with Deception, a historical fiction novel based in World War II, was published in 2017. Secrets and Showgirls is her second historical fiction novel and is also based in World War II, exploring the world of the cabaret in occupied Paris.
The partner we no longer trust, the boss we fear, the family member we cannot tolerate. Stories exploring the psychological effect of modern life: a pregnant mother becomes convinced her husband is having an affair and will stop at nothing to get to the truth; a married man is drawn inexorably towards temptation, despite knowing it could cost him his family; a quiet man absorbs increasing pressure and stress, with devastating consequences. Ordinary people count the cost of ‘just one more thing’.
There’s something voyeuristic about this short story collection. I felt as though I was eavesdropping on the characters’ thoughts and conversations, peering through their windows into their lives. Each story pulses with tension and raw honesty, revealing the often-ugly effects of modern life’s pressures. They leave you wanting more but never give too much, always stopping at a point that achieves the most impact. The collection isn’t comfortable to read. It deals with challenging emotions and actions. It looks at Brexit, COVID, social media, politics, and racism in everyday life. It’s a bold and unapologetic examination of life today, forcing us to confront what and who we might be under the surface.
In between his day job, bringing up three children, being run off his feet by a crazy cocker spaniel, listening to Mozart’s D minor piano concerto, perfecting the art of homemade pizzas and studying Ordnance Survey maps of the Yorkshire Moors, Dom likes to write. Dom lives in the fantastic town of Ilkley in Yorkshire, having arrived there via Bedford, Nottingham and London. Dom has written two books, So Long, Marianne, a romantic fiction, and Just One More Thing, a book of short stories about greed, obsession and fear.
In a crumbling old mansion in the English countryside, eleven people gather, each one famous in their field. They have been invited for a three-day house party, to celebrate the launch of a groundbreaking virtual reality game that promises to unite the worlds of technology, politics and the environment.
DCI Maarten Jansen has been summoned to join the house party. His instructions are to offer police protection in case of an outside attack. Instead, he finds simmering tensions, long-buried secrets – and a murderer in their midst…
This book was straight up addictive. Packed across three tense days, it jumps between height of the crisis and the build-up. The chapters are short and suspenseful, divided into the perspectives of Maarten, Filip, Lois, and Iqbal. There is a sense of watching each scene through a smudged magnifying glass. I felt simultaneously imbued with the heightening tension between the characters and kept at arm’s length from the truth simmering beneath them – right up until the last moment.
The secluded countryside mansion setting adds a layer of claustrophobia to the taut atmosphere. The threads binding the guests together wind tighter with each conversation. Each page vibrates with energy. Rachael Blok’s writing has an urgency that keeps the reader almost stumbling in excitement to read the next sentence.
Into the Fire hits that spot between a totally unputdownable mystery and a fascinating delve into human emotion and relationships. It totally engrossed me and gave me a much-needed shake from my lockdown lethargy.
Thank you to Midas PR and Head of Zeus for having me on the blog tour!
Today I’m part of the blog tour for Nemesis by Anthony Riches, and I’m excited to be sharing an extract below! If you like the sound of it, scroll down for links to where you can grab a copy.
First off, a little about the the book…
They killed his sister. Now he’ll kill them all.
Mickey Bale is an elite close protection officer. That’s why the Met police has given him the toughest job of all: guarding the Minister of Defence at a moment when Chinese-British relations have hit a deadly boiling point. And when Mickey’s life isn’t on the line for his work, he’s taking his chances waging war on a powerful London gang family. Their dealer supplied a lethal ecstasy pill to his sister, and Mickey is determined to take them down, one at a time. But will he get away with it – or will his colleagues in the force realise that the man on an underworld killing spree is one of their own?
The black Loake boots, Mickey decided. A perfect match for black Wrangler Arizonas, and freshly resoled in rubber. A midnight-blue shirt, and that was him ready. Externally, at least. Looked in the mirror and got a quizzical stare back. Michael James Bale. Age forty-three, no distinguishing marks. A nondescript face, nothing to make him stand out. Not the tallest of men at six foot one, but solid. One hundred and eighty-five pounds of gym-toned muscle honed at his local boxing club. Good genes too. Strong, and in good shape. In his prime, pretty much.
Roz met him at the bottom of the stairs. The usual examination, before letting him out for the night. Looking up at him with that expression. The all-knowing, all-commanding, straight-to-the-point woman who’d charmed him over a decade before. And who still had him in the palm of her hand after all that time. With her dark hair that she wished was blonde. The all-seeing brown eyes that she wished were green, like Mickey’s. And a body that she kept very, very well toned. ‘Giving you no excuses, Mickey Bale,’ as she frequently told him. Not that Mickey wanted any excuses. A childhood spent watching his friends struggling through the debris of their parents’ failed relationships had taught him the value of holding on to what worked. And not letting go for anything.
‘Shaved? Sure there’s no-one waiting for you?’
He grinned in the way that always disarmed her.
‘Oh they’ll be waiting all right. Empty glasses and “where you been all this fucking time?” looks.’
She laughed with him. Knowing his friends well enough.
‘You will keep drinking with that lot. What do you expect?’
He let his face assume what she called his chump look. Lips pursed, eyes rolled up. Waited a moment, timing being the secret of comedy. Then face-palmed and shook his head.
‘Now you tell me?’
‘Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing.’
‘Wait… what? You’ve seen through my plan?’
A swift prod in the breadbasket to reinforce her point.
‘You come it the poor me, but really you love it. Talking shop with the boys, playing up to the image. Flash Mickey. With the guns and the cars and all that.’
He shrugged. ‘Beats the alternative, doesn’t it? Beats actually working. You know how that would have gone.’
‘Yeah.’ She turned him round and pushed him to the door. Slapped his backside for emphasis. ‘Go on. Back by eleven though; you’ve got an early start.’
He grinned at her again, accepting the heavy-lipped kiss. The door closed behind him as he stepped out into the early spring night. Down the Crescent and out onto the High Road. Warm enough in his black Belstaff jacket that had cost a fortune the previous month. Strolling under the streetlamps, he zipped it up to his neck. Clicked the placket pop-studs shut. Checked that the wrist and pocket studs were closed too. Knowing they would clatter if left unfastened. Then fastened the neck strap, not wanting the buckle to flap around.
He paused on the corner with Jervis Road. Looked up at the CCTV camera above his head. Frozen, lifeless on its gimbal mount. Still out of action. Just the way Warren liked it. Mickey quietly slipped into a doorway and squatted down. Affecting to fiddle with a bootlace. Peeped round the corner, looking down the pavement. The club opposite Warren Margetson’s pitch would still be nine-tenths empty. Its drinks too expensive while the pubs were open. But Warren was already on duty. As any good dealer would be. A professional, of a sort, Warren. And there was more than one sort of client in his line of business. Some of them dabbling. Some of them hardened recreational users. Some of them functioning addicts. And some just victims. Like Katie.
About the author Anthony Riches, coming from a family with three generations of army service, has always been fascinated by military history, psychology and weaponry – which led him to write the Empire series set in ancient Rome. The idea for his first contemporary thriller, Nemesis, came to him under the influence of jetlag at two in the morning in a Brisbane hotel room. He lives in rural Suffolk with his wife, two dogs the size of ponies and a bad tempered cat.
The passionate, young police officer Sam Shephard returns in a taut, atmospheric and compelling police procedural, which sees her take matters into her own hands when the official investigation into the murder of a local businessman fails to add up… The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters. The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation. And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.
Chopped into short, staccato chapters, Bound reels the reader in with an unnerving opening and a tough, spirited heroine. Set in Dunedin, New Zealand, the story’s backdrop is vivid and atmospheric – just like its characters. Sam Shepard is a brilliant protagonist to follow on this twisting, layered case. The tight plot is made even more fun to unwrap by the splashes of her wry, humorous observations. Despite Sam’s sharp instincts, she doesn’t have an easy run. Both her personal and professional life close in on her as she struggles with a complex case, a toxic work environment, and family and relationship troubles. Almost fuelled by the obstructions surrounding her, she retains the grit and resolve to see the case to its – very unexpected – end.
Bound is evocative and unpredictable, heartbreaking and humorous. If you want the chance to pick it up ASAP, enter my giveaway on Instagram @milasbookshelf.
Thanks so much to Orenda Books and Random Things Tours for having me on the blog tour!
About the author
Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and has also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.