Category Archives: Reviews

The Reluctant Vampire Queen by Jo Simmons – Book Review

About the Book

Meet Mo Merrydrew – independent young woman, Mini Battenberg fan, president of the debating society – and reluctant vampire queen …

Fifteen-year-old Mo Merrydrew isn’t exactly expecting to be asked to be Vampire Queen of Great Britain when she’s cycling home from school one wet Tuesday evening. Apparently, she is ‘the Chosen One’. Aside from being uncomfortable with the idea of unelected power (not very democratic), there’s the blood drinking to consider (Mo is a vegetarian), and frankly it’s just not really the sort of role Mo’s looking for (she wants to aim for a real job in politics). But – if you’re Vampire Queen, you probably don’t have to do PE any more, and when the dreamy Luca, a vampire familiar, turns up, it all suddenly starts to look a bit more appealing …

Geek Girl meets Buffy in a brilliantly funny new teen series from bestselling author Jo Simmons

About the Author

The first teen book from Jo Simmons author of I Sold My Brother on the Internet which I reviewed here.

Jo Simmons began her working life as a journalist. Her first fiction series for children, Pip Street, was inspired by her own kids’ love of funny fiction, and two Super Loud Sambooks followed. In addition to children’s fiction, she co-wrote a humorous parenting book, Can I Give Them Back Now?: The Aargh To Zzzzzz Of Parenting, published by Square Peg. Jo lives in Brighton with her husband, two boys and a scruffy formerly Romanian street dog. I Swapped My Brother on the Internet was her first book for Bloomsbury and The Reluctant Vampire Queen is her first book for teens.


What I Thought

Mo Merrydrew has a PLAN which involves studying hard, attending university and gaining a glittering career in politics or law. It does not involve boys and definitely didn’t feature vampires but it seems that the universe has an alternative plan for her. Will she accept the chosen one role that has been laid out for her and put her lifelong dreams on the back burner? 

Or will she try to have it all? 

The Geek Girl meets Buffy comparison is pretty spot on, think of the episode of Buffy where she meets Dracula, or the original Buffy movie, and you’ve got a good idea what you’d be heading into.  

Other comparisons I’d give it would be an aged down What We Do in the Shadows or an aged up The Little Vampire. It did read a little young so fits very firmly in the teen bracket over what we’ve come to expect from YA. It’s very much a comedy rather than a horror. 

The friendship between Mo and Lou is explored well, particularly when it is breaking down. 

But who is the real villain of the piece? Mean girl Tracey or the Vampire King of Europe? Mo’s internal journey to fight her fear is important in terms of her success or failure to address the challenges of these two. 

And then there is Luca, a vampire’s familiar, but also a dreamy cute hottie. I really enjoyed his character and how he provided a bridge between the vampire and human world. I also felt pretty sorry for him having to do a particular one of the familiar’s tasks. Queens are certainly demanding and Vampire Queens – even reluctant ones are no different. 

Overall this was a really fun, pacy read, that seems to be the first in a series, and I’m very interested to see where it goes next. 

I received an E-ARC of this book via netgalley. Opinions are all my own. 

The Girl on the 88 Bus by Freya Sampson – Blog Tour Book Review

About the Book

When Libby Nicholls arrives in London, broken-hearted and with her life in tatters, the first person she meets on the bus is elderly pensioner Frank. He tells her about the time in 1962 he met a girl on the number 88 bus with beautiful red hair just like her own. They made plans for a date at the National Gallery, but Frank lost the ticket with her number written on it. For the past sixty years, he’s ridden the same bus trying to find her.

Libby is inspired by the story and, with the help of an unlikely companion, she makes it her mission to help Frank’s search. As she begins to open her guarded heart to strangers and new connections, Libby’s tightly controlled world expands. But with Frank’s dementia progressing quickly, their chance of finding the girl on the number 88 bus is slipping away.

More than anything, Libby wants Frank to see his lost love one more time. But their quest also shows Libby just how important it is to embrace her own chances for happiness – before it’s too late.

A beautifully uplifting novel about how one chance meeting can change the course of your life

About the Author

Freya Sampson works in TV and was the creator and executive producer of Channel 4’s Four in a Bed and Gogglesprogs. She studied History at Cambridge University and is a graduate of the Faber Academy. She lives in London with her husband, two young children and an antisocial cat. The Last Library was her debut novel.

What I Thought

Well, this was just a big hug in a book, and one that actually had me guessing at what would happen – mostly incorrectly but I liked the mystery of it. 

Our main character Libby, when we first meet her, is ‘on an enforced break’ from a long term relationship. She moves to London to live temporarily with her sister Rebecca – the two seem to have a slightly fractious relationship and that’s not exactly helped when she is treated as a replacement to their live in nanny. 

Libby’s first meeting in London is with pensioner Frank who, on spying her red hair, sees in her the image of his ‘one that got away’ – the eponymous Girl on the 88 bus. What leads from this chance encounter is a fabulous story of intergenerational friendship, love, loss and hope. Hope that it isn’t too late for second or third chances to follow your dreams. 

Frank is a delight, and although we see his sadly inevitable decline it is handled in a very respectful way and not over-sensationalised. His diagnosis does also give the novel a sense of urgency. 

Although Libby’s helping him is a way for her to shift concentration away from her own life and challenges, her humanity and kindness shine through because she maintains the contact throughout and beyond the resolution of their hunt. 

Frank encourages Libby to pursue her passion for art, but her attempt at drawing someone on the bus lands her in trouble with a punk – or does it? I guess it depends how you define trouble. 

The ‘all is lost’ section gets flipped on its head somewhat at the close but provides the dramatic tension and pause to move the plot forward. All in all this is a beautifully crafted plot. 

The ending was bittersweet but with enough hopefulness to make it satisfying. So much so that I’m off to download Freya’s debut now – The Last Chance Library. 

Trigger warnings: Advancing Dementia, off the page mentions of physical abuse/violence, brief discussions re infertility

Thanks to Tracy at compulsive Readers and the publisher for a gifted ARC copy for the purposes of this honest review. Do see what everyone else on the tour thought.

I Saw What He Did by Kemi Estephane – Blog Tour Book Review and Guest Post

About the Book

Ren Shephard is at a comfortable crossroads.

Enjoying the temporary freedom of her recent redundancy, her life revolves around her cherished friendships, sporadic communication with her unconventional parents and occasionally bailing her errant sister out of trouble.

However, when she signs up for an online writing course, she meets a group of people who will impact her in unimainable, unexpected and tragic ways.

When a gruesome murder takes place during one of the lessons, Ren becomes embroiled in a dangerous and terrifying sequence of events.

With the police stonewalling and Ren overtaken by a desperate urge to find the truth – and justice for the victim – she uncovers some shocking and mystifying evidence that sends her world spiralling out of control, whilst simultaneously placing her life in jeopardy.

About the Author

I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Writing; made it into my local newspaper, then spent the next couple of decades with my head buried in suspense fiction, absorbed in the work of others! In real life, I have been a College Lecturer for many years, alongside roles with various examination boards: marking, moderating, assessing and undertaking a host of other interesting duties.

During lockdown, I spent a reasonable amount of time in a virtual classroom: teaching, training, taking part in meetings…and the list goes on.  With that in mind, I chose to base my novel around the world of virtual learning – where something deviant occurs online, and at the same time, throw a bit of family drama into the mix. 

My debut novel (a.k.a My Lockdown Project) was written whilst navigating my teenage sons through online schooling; stopping my maverick husband from DIY-ing the house to death, and trying to negotiate a balance between comfort eating and regular 8km walks….I made it to 12km on one occasion! Needless to say, my hobbies are: reading, snacking, walking – and I simply adore my huge, raucous family!

What I Thought

I was initially drawn to this story by the idea of someone witnessing a murder during an online creative writing course and the premise worked very well. This reminded me a little of The Girl on the Train and it was so pacy I definitely didn’t want to put it down. 

I have to admit that the ending was not quite how I would have preferred it to conclude – only because I liked the alternative option also laid out. Main character Ren – whose point of view the story is told from – did have quite an extensive vocabulary that had me reaching for a dictionary on occasion – but then again she is a wannabe writer. There was also a slightly out of date reference to CRB checks instead of DBS but I’m guessing I only know that because of my job.

Ren discovers during the course of the story that she wants to write for teeenagers and therefore I can’t decide if the author’s ‘I let out the breath I hadn’t realised I had been holding’ was an ironic homage to this 😉. These were the slight issues that took me out of the story temporarily but otherwise I really enjoyed it. 

I thought the characters and their relationships were well developed.

Ren and her troubled sister Faye and wanderlust parents gave a nice balance and provided relevant backstory for Ren’s stubborn independent go getting attitude. 

I enjoyed the scenes with her friends Lex and Kizzy and would have been happy to read more with them and ex boyfriend Denny definitely came in handy as the investigation progressed. 

Her fellow writing group members provide sources of creepiness, romance and intrigue but can Ren determine fact from fiction when it comes to them? 

The plot kept me guessing and brought the reader along with Ren at every turn. This is an assured thriller and I would definitely read another book by this author. 

Do read on for a guest post from the author giving us more insight into main character Ren. 

Guest Post

Most interesting facts about my main protagonist

Serendipity Shephard. We’d all love a best friend like her! Loyal, protective, fun-loving, level-headed, in everyday situations, and – for the most part – positive.

Ren’s loyalty is most evident in her relationship with her best friends, Lex and Kizzy, who mean the world to her, and she is happiest when in their company. A friendship formed in their heady university days, they have since followed different pathways but remain close and supportive of each other. Ren’s loyalty extends to her underserving sister who has been a thorn in Ren’s side for much of their adult lives. When most would have given up and cut ties, Ren, (exasperated though she is) battles on in her sister’s defence. But how far can she be pushed?

Ren has parent issues. Her nonconformist parents, Al and Angie, have made no secret of the fact that her very existence was neither planned nor favourably received. Her ‘chance’ conception was a hindrance which they felt they had no choice but to embrace. Unsurprisingly, the relationship Ren has with them is fractured and sporadic. Al and Angie exist in their own bubble, often detached from anything that happens outside of their world. Ren has never felt there is adequate space for anyone to penetrate their lives. The chasm between them is punctuated by their random communication, often consisting of Ren listening to animated and lengthy anecdotes of their adventures in Southern Asia. Ren is at a point in her life where she no longer allows their selfishness to affect her.

Ren had a nomadic childhood, having spent many years moving from place to place with her adventure-seeking parents. Although she has no memory of this, she spent the first two years of her life in Kuala Terengganu, a small fishing port in Northeast Malaysia; this followed by many homes across London. It was a long time before Ren established any solid roots or lasting friendships – partly why she places such high value on her relationship with Lex and Kizzy.

Ren doesn’t allow life’s unpredictable challenges to faze her: redundancy, a relationship breakdown. She has faced both head-on in recent times and has approached each incident with the same positive spirit: onwards and upwards. 

When faced with an unspeakable and harrowing situation, there is no telling which mode will kick in – fight or flight. Ren proves herself to be impulsive and audacious when she witnesses a gruesome attack online. She could never have envisaged herself in such a random and perilous predicament, but her tenacity and determination to get to the truth are endearing and commendable. She mentions early on in her story that she can be a ‘fierce lioness’ when she wants to be, and this is wholly demonstrated in her unyielding and indefatigable search for the truth. Her iron will isfundamentally brought to the fore in her story, where she is tested to the extreme. Her attempts to get to the truth, irrespective of the danger she is never far from, presents a side to Ren that is totally at odds with her regular, structured existence.

Thanks to Bee at Kaleidoscopic Tours for arranging a gifted copy for the purposes of an honest review. Do check out the rest of the blog tour by following the hashtag #ISawWhatHeDid.

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