Biblioshelf Musings – The Favour by Laura Vaughan

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings took me a dark, deceptive trip down memory-lane to the fascinating art-world of Italy. The Favour by Laura Vaughan is a tricksy, mind-bending novel filled with a cunningly unreliable narrator, an insight into the lavish lifestyles of the social elite all framed with the overarching question, just how far would you go to fit in? Huge thanks to Readers First and the publishers Corvus for providing me a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book: The Favour by Laura Vaughan
Genre: Fiction (Thriller / Mystery)
Publication Date: 4th March 2021
Publisher: Corvus
Pages: 325
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

When she was thirteen years old, Ada Howell lost not just her father, but the life she felt she was destined to lead. Now, at eighteen, Ada is given a second chance when her wealthy godmother gifts her with an extravagant art history trip to Italy.

In the palazzos of Venice, the cathedrals of Florence and the villas of Rome, she finally finds herself among the kind of people she aspires to be: sophisticated, cultured, privileged. Ada does everything in her power to prove she is one of them. And when a member of the group dies in suspicious circumstances, she seizes the opportunity to permanently bind herself to this gilded set.

But everything hidden must eventually surface, and when it does, Ada discovers she’s been keeping a far darker secret than she could ever have imagined…

My Musings

At the start of the story we are immediately thrown into Ada’s world of grief and upheaval as she faces leaving behind her lifestyle and ancestral home upon the death of her father. After a move to London and a generous offer from a wealthy relative, Ada embarks upon an art history adventure travelling through Italy as a Dilletante. For Ada, this is the break she has always desired, to discover her true purpose and destiny within a world of like-minded people. The trouble is, fitting in with the social elite isn’t always as easy as it seems (not when you have secrets to hide) – and after a tragic accident at a party, the relationships between the travel buddies is severely tested as they return home and try to go on living their usual lives amidst its aftermath. 

Ada was a thrillingly complicated and unreliable narrator. Her character arc was spectacularly crafted and took me on an incredible journey of shifting emotions. My empathy towards her varied greatly at different episodes in the story. Her feelings of mis-identity and that strong yearning to fit in with her fellow Dilletantes showed you this sense of loneliness and vulnerability which she must have been feeling – but then in the next breath, her fabrication of particular gestures or her backstory and her yearning to fit in has you wondering just what type of person she truly is. Her voice gave off a sense of dissociation which was intriguing; was she actually witnessing her life from outside of her body or was she truly experiencing all of those emotions and events from within her own head? In part, it reminded me of Eleanor’s narrative voice in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

“Attempting to make myself indispensable had hollowed me out.”

As we got deeper into the plot and some of the Dilletantes started to reveal their true motives, it really made me wonder what kind of reality Ada was missing out on due to her tunnel-visioned focus into this lifestyle that she’d only ever been on the periphery of? The way the ‘favour’ masked Ada’s guilt at being an accomplice and her vehement self-denial was the flipside of a split-personality which just craved friendship and belonging. The multi-facetedness of her character and the tantalisingly dark plot twists gave this novel an unpredictability which I found fascinating to read.

Being set in Italy was such a draw for me. Travelling to Venice, Florence and Rome was one of my favourite and most memorable holidays so it was almost like journeying back to the past to see those places again through Ada’s eyes. I was immediately transported into those gloriously artisan surroundings with tavernas, canals and piazzas oozing with creativity and delicious food (and wine!). Vaughan’s lyrical writing helped to bring that Italian world to life in a way that made me want to keep on reading and exploring those galleries and museums with their beauty and Renaissance charm.

The technicalities of the artwork were expressed in a way which I found intriguing without being too overwhelming. I still couldn’t define for you what a pentimento is, but I enjoyed the way that some of those art techniques and famous paintings/sculptures tied in to the themes and plot of the novel.

I loved how sentient the ‘favour’ seemed to be and how it was used and moulded by several different characters all for their own motives. At first, the favour seemed to be created out necessity and tragedy, an act of quick-thinking combined with the desperation of trying to protect someone whilst at the same time cementing your place within their world. As the plot unravels, that same favour spiralled and shifted out of control leaving you to wonder who was the real puppet-master manipulating its strings. All of that drama made for such mind-bending reading and the plot twists came thick and fast right up until the very end.

“The Welsh have a word: hiraeth. It’s basically untranslatable, but it means the grief you feel for the lost places of your past. And something more: a longing for a home or time that may have never been.”

In a similar way, Ada’s ancestral home, Garreg Las, almost became one of the characters itself – always waiting there in the depths of Ada’s subconscious, an explicit reminder of how the house ties itself to Ada’s sense of identity and belonging. Sometimes it could be a status symbol to prove that Ada was a part of the Dilletante world, whereas at other times it was a refuge, a little corner of Wales that Ada felt she was truly home. I loved the way it would appear at different intervals within the narrative, like a guest star who makes special appearances and has to ensure they find their way into the encore before the final curtain fall.Overall, The Favour is a tremendously well-constructed story with Vaughan giving you teeny segments at a time whilst slowly building up to that spectacular final twist. Ada’s narration had me constantly second-guessing if I could trust her or whether in some ways she truly is a victim of her own making or sheer circumstance. Combining that dark and twisty narrative with the wondrously charming Italian surroundings made The Favour such a compelling read, and although at the start of the novel I was readily signing myself up a Dilletanti Discoveries style adventure… let’s just say I’d definitely be a little warier about trusting my fellow travel buddies after reading this!

Why Should I Read This?

For a superbly written unreliable narrator who has you questioning her motives right up to the end.
For the richly decadent Italian settings – the perfect wanderlust quencher in a lockdown world.
For the psychological questioning of friendship and what it truly means to belong and fit in.

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Waterstones | | Goodreads | Author’s Website |

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf | Email:

Biblioshelf Musings – The Island by C.L. Taylor

Hello Bibliofriends!

This week’s Biblioshelf Musings are all about a YA Mystery/Thriller set in a beautiful Thai paradise! Think phobias, secrets, lies and intrigue – this book definitely kept me on my toes and turning page after page. 

This is my first review since I can actually remember! To be honest, I wasn’t reading much towards the tail end of last year and even though my reading has picked back up again, I just haven’t been in the mood to really ‘review’ what I’ve been reading. The Island by C.L. Taylor was a Netgalley arc I received in October and read cover to cover within 2 days. It’s out tomorrow so I thought now would be the perfect time to upload and share my review. Huge thanks to NetGalley, C.L. Taylor and the publishers HQ for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book: The Island by C.L. Taylor
Genre: YA / Mystery
Publication Date: January 21st 2020
Publisher: HQ Young Adult
Pages: 384
Rating: 📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Welcome to The Island.
Where your worst fears are about to come true…

It was supposed to be the perfect holiday: a week-long trip for six teenage friends on a remote tropical island.

But when their guide dies of a stroke leaving them stranded, the trip of a lifetime quickly turns into a nightmare.

Because someone on the island knows each of the group’s worst fears. And one by one, they’re coming true.

Seven days in paradise. A deadly secret.

Who will make it off the island alive?

My Musings

When I read that this book was like Lost meets The Hunger Games – I was sold! The beautiful Thai setting was the perfect world for me to escape into when I wanted a reprieve from the cold, wintery landscape outside. I could practically see the crystal blue waters and hear the macaques and jungle birds as they drifted through the trees. 

Tropical paradise aside, it took me a little while to get to grips with who was who in the band of 6 main characters. The perspectives shift quite quickly which was a little confusing to start with but I soon got into the rhythm of it. The format definitely helped draw out the suspense because the actions and events were coming from changing viewpoints. It was tricky to decide which narrator/character was giving you the honest truth but that made me more invested in the story.

The Phobias each character had were a real plot driver to carry the story forward and reveal more clues about what was really going on compared to what was perceived to be going on. As each character had to face their phobia, you were able to whittle down who could possibly be the one behind all of the drama. Then particular events near the end have you not only questioning what you thought you knew already, but also questioning what you thought you had read. These little red herrings continue to mind-trick you into narrowing down the list of suspects and their motivations whilst also keeping you engrossed in the plot. It’s probably the setting and mystery that kept me turning the pages rather than the actual characters themselves.

References to grief, guilt and PTSD are dealt with sensitively in a way which doesn’t necessarily dive right into the traumatic heart of its core but still help to raise awareness of these conditions well enough for a teenage / YA audience.

In a way, The Island totally reminded me of Lord of the Flies in the sense that these friends are stuck on this beautiful island which seems to be filled with horrors caused by one of their own. It’s definitely the new Lord of the Flies for a modern YA generation. One thing which could be said about The Island is that it seemed (in my own mind) to be a bunch of fairly privileged teenagers on a paradise island almost bemoaning about their lot in life whilst at the same time struggling to reconnect with each other now that they’re getting older, growing apart and dealing with the aftermath of events which have led to mental health issues. If you’re looking for diversity and complex world-building then I’m not sure that this book will appeal to you, but if you’re looking for thrills, spills and a multi-layered mystery (with a hint of paradise!) then this modern day Lord of the Flies may be right up your street.

Why Should I Read This?

For a compelling mystery complete with shifting character perspectives and tropical island vibes.
For a dark, twisty set of phobias which come to life one by one.
For a layered plot filled with mind-tricks which will keep you flipping page after page.

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Harper Collins – Listen/Read a Sample | Waterstones | Goodreads | Author’s Twitter | Author’s Website

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf |Email:

Biblioshelf Musings – The Savage Garden

Hello Bibliofriends,

There are so many hectic things going on in my life right now that I’m getting waaaayyyy behind on all of my scheduled blog posts! 🙈 Normally, I get into a good habit of scheduling posts a week or two in advance but with a house clearance and Parents’ Evenings at work there has been very little time for reading or blogging! 🙃

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills is a book I picked up at an English language bookshop whilst visiting my friend in Lanzarote. I was immediately sold by the fact that the story is set in a large Memorial Garden near Florence in Italy (my favourite city ever!) and bought it straightaway. I’ve been trying to get through my gigantic, colossally mammoth large collection of books as part of my house clear-out so it seemed a perfectly good time to pick this one up.

Book: The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 388
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

The story of two murders, four hundred years apart – and the ties that bind them together.

From the author of the acclaimed national bestseller Amagansett comes an even more remarkable novel set in the Tuscan hills: the story of two murders, four hundred years apart-and the ties that bind them together. 

Adam Banting, a somewhat aimless young scholar at Cambridge University, is called to his professor’s office one afternoon and assigned a special summer project: to write a scholarly monograph about a famous garden built in the 1500s. Dedicated to the memory of Signor Docci’s dead wife, the garden is a mysterious world of statues, grottoes, meandering rills, and classical inscriptions. But during his three-week sojourn at the villa, Adam comes to suspect that clues to a murder are buried in the strange iconography of the garden: the long-dead Signor Docci most likely killed his wife and filled her memorial garden with pointers as to both the method and the motive of his crime. 

As the mystery of the garden unfolds, Adam finds himself drawn into a parallel intrigue. Through his evolving relationship with the lady of the house – the ailing, seventy-something Signora Docci – he finds clues to yet another possible murder, this one much more recent. The signora’s eldest son was shot by Nazi officers on the third floor of the villa, and her husband, now dead, insisted that the area be sealed and preserved forever. Like the garden, the third-floor rooms are frozen in time. Delving into his subject, Adam begins to suspect that his summer project might be a setup. Is he really just the naive student, stumbling upon clues, or is Signora Docci using him to discover for herself the true meaning of the villa’s murderous past?

My Musings

Now I’m not just saying this because it’s set in Italy but the setting and the Memorial Garden featured in this novel really hooked me in – right from the map of it on the very first page! The fact that the whole plot basically spirals out of the design and layout of a garden was a pretty unique concept and it’s probably this element of the story that I enjoyed the most.

Like with my love of treasure hunts and all things Robert Langdon-esque, the way each of the statues and groves related to Greek mythology and provided clues for the murder mysteries at the centre of the plot was intriguing – whilst the references and links to Dante added that extra layer of geeky literary goodness.

Overall, the main character Adam was a good narrator. He didn’t reveal all of his findings directly to the reader which made the suspense and guessing last a little longer, but he did reveal enough to let you wonder how he was going to then ‘tell-all’ to the other characters in the story. There was enough action and character conversation balanced with Adam’s internal dialogue to keep the pace moving quick enough. What I also loved was the way that the story didn’t just end as soon as the culprits had been discovered, there were additional twists near the end of the story which made me respect the whole book that little bit more.

If you’re on the lookout for a gently suspenseful mystery filled with a little Dante, a dash of Greek mythology and set against a glorious Tuscan landscape then you might enjoy spending a little time with The Savage Garden!

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf |Email:

#Friday56 – The Windsor Knot

Happy FriYAY Bibliofriends!

This week’s Friday 56 comes from The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett. This novel is the first in a brand new series where HM The Queen dons her deerstalker hat and magnifying glass and turns detective to investigate the latest crime-capers rocking Windsor Castle.

Hosted by Freda’s Voice, the Friday 56 is a weekly bookish prompt. It’s quite easy to do and could cover no end of different books and genres so seems great if you’re looking for a quick snippet to discover something new!


*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader (If you have to improvise, that’s ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It’s that simple.

As a little girl, when asked who she would like to be when she grew up, Princess Elizabeth had said, “A lady in the country, with animals.” For the past few weeks she had been just that, but for the next few days it was time to be Queen.

The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett

This book is a must-read if you’re a fan of the old-style, British crime-fictions stories or you just love to read a fun mystery with Queen Elizabeth II as one of the main protagonists. A big thank you to Netgalley, Zaffre and S.J. Bennett for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can check out my full, spoiler-free review here.

Drop me a comment below or connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf |Email:

Biblioshelf Musings – The Windsor Knot

Hello Bibliofriends!

When I think of some of the greatest detectives of all time – Poirot, Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes and even Agatha Raisin spring to mind… but HM The Queen?! Well, new novel The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett tries to prove that Elizabeth II deserves her place amongst these crime solving greats. Thank you to Netgalley, Bonnier Books UK/Zaffre and S.J. Bennett for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book: The Windsor Knot: A Novel by S.J. Bennett
Genre: Mystery / Fiction
Publication Date: October 29th 2020
Publisher: Bonnier Books UK / Zaffre
Rating: 📚📚📚.5

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

The first book in a highly original and delightfully clever crime series in which Queen Elizabeth II secretly solves crimes while carrying out her royal duties.

The morning after a dinner party at Windsor Castle, eighty-nine-year-old Queen Elizabeth is shocked to discover that one of her guests has been found murdered in his room, with a rope around his neck.

When the police begin to suspect her loyal servants, Her Majesty knows they are looking in the wrong place. For the Queen has been living an extraordinary double life ever since her coronation. Away from the public eye, she has a brilliant knack for solving crimes.

With her household’s happiness on the line, her secret must not get out. Can the Queen and her trusted secretary Rozie catch the killer, without getting caught themselves?

The Windsor Knot is the first book in the ‘Her Majesty The Queen Investigates’ mystery series by SJ Bennett – for fans of The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, Agatha Christie and M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin.

My Musings

Born and raised in England, I’m slightly addicted to the Royals – the pomp and pageantry of Trooping the Colour, the tradition of counting the 3-second pauses between the Queen’s Speech at Christmas, the Cambridges…! It’s no wonder that a book featuring the Queen as a crime-solving detective would find its way into my book pile.

S.J. Bennett has got, what I imagine to be, the Queen’s personality right down to a T. Her character came across so whimsically that I was definitely picturing and hearing our real Queen’s image and voice whilst reading. I could totally visualise her rattling around Windsor with her corgis and riding her horse through the castle grounds, magnifying glass in hand trying to solve the latest crime to grace her historically decorated threshold. S.J. Bennett has done such a brilliant job of capturing and creating this realistic, yet fun portrayal of Elizabeth that I was immediately gripped into the whole world of the novel.

Rozie, HM’s Watson sidekick for this novel really intrigued me and brought a vibrancy to the story. For anything that Queenie couldn’t investigate or carry out, Rozie was there to fill in the gaps. I liked the references to her heritage and that she was a young, confidant woman against a backdrop of patriarchal figures and other characters. She also gave us an additional insight into what it may be like to work behind the scenes alongside The Firm. I have always been fascinated by this and here it brought an interesting kind of narrative to complement the overall storyline.

The plot in itself was quite cleverly done. Amidst all of the little clues and hints, I still hadn’t fully put together exactly ‘whodunnit’ until right near the end. The breadcrumb trail and character motives are descriptively and gently teased out to keep you guessing throughout the whole multi-layered plot.

Overall, this series starter was such a moreishly addictive read – it’s like the book version of The Crown mixed with a little of The Windsors and topped off with a bit of Poirot. I read it from cover to cover in just one weekend. I’m really keen to see this original series develop and my mind is already boggling at what adventures and crime-capers Rozie and HM The Queen are going to solve next!

Why Should I Read This?

For the fun-factor of imagining our reigning monarch solving a fairly risqué crime… by Windsor Castle standards!
For the exciting new crime-solving duo of The Queen and Rozie!
For a glimpse behind the scenes at what might really go on behind palace doors!

If you’re a Royals fan, or you just love those good old-fashioned ‘whodunnits’ from the golden age of crime fiction, then you’re bound to find something to enjoy in The Windsor Knot!

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Waterstones | Goodreads |

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf |Email:

#Friday56 – The Inheritance Games

Happy FriYAY Bibliofriends!

This week’s Friday 56 comes from The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I absolutely love puzzles and mysteries, especially when they take place in such grand settings such as Hawthorne Manor – I mean, the home of a billionaire… give me my fictional passport and I’m off!

Hosted by Freda’s Voice, the Friday 56 is a weekly bookish prompt. It’s quite easy to do and could cover no end of different books and genres so seems great if you’re looking for a quick snippet to discover something new!


*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader (If you have to improvise, that’s ok.)
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It’s that simple.

Libby had apologised at least a dozen times. She’d told Drake everything – about the will, the conditions on my inheritance, where we were staying. Everything. I knew her well enough to know why.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If you’re a fan of treasure hunting, clue-solving mysteries and riddles; if you love films such as Knives Out or Clue then there’s bound to be something for you in this brilliantly addictive YA Mystery. You can check out my full, spoiler-free review here.

Drop me a comment below or connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf |Email:

Biblioshelf Musings – The Inheritance Games

Hello Bibliofriends!

I finally managed to make it into a real-live Waterstones shop a couple of weeks ago and came out with an absolute armful of books! I love those tables where they have the ‘buy one, get one half price’ deals (even though I miss 3 for 2 more). When I saw The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes on one of those tables, I knew I had to buy it as I’d read lots of great reviews from some of my fellow book bloggers!

Book: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Genre: YA / Mystery
Publication Date: September 3rd 2020
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 400
Rating: 📚📚📚📚

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

An utterly addictive and twisty thriller, full of dark family secrets and deadly stakes. Perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying and Knives Out.

She came from nothing. 
Avery has a plan: keep her head down, work hard for a better future.
Then an eccentric billionaire dies, leaving her almost his entire fortune. And no one, least of all Avery, knows why.

They had everything. 
Now she must move into the mansion she’s inherited. 
It’s filled with secrets and codes, and the old man’s surviving relatives – 
a family hell-bent on discovering why Avery got ‘their’ money.

Now there’s only one rule: winner takes all. 
Soon she is caught in a deadly game that everyone in this strange family is playing.
But just how far will they go to keep their fortune?

My Musings

There’s no doubt about it, if you liked the film Knives Out then there is a 99.9% chance that you’ll end up loving this book! It gave me so many flashbacks and feelings that led me to draw so many parallels between the two. 

I loved the way that Avery entered into the family and the inheritance as a complete unknown. My quizzical mind was already trying to find the breadcrumb trail of clues and solve the puzzles before they were revealed by the author – and on the whole, my attempts mostly backfired (except for one aspect, but that may be because I am a huge fan of Mr. Stink by David Walliams and I couldn’t help but associate two specific parts of both those books together).

Avery is a really easy character to get along with. The opening scene immediately made me like her and I enjoyed reading the story unfold from her perspective. Those Hawthorne brothers… 👀Having four of them brought lots of fun to the story as each of them had their own unique dynamic which would have been just too much for one or two other main characters to handle on their own. I have to admit, I did enjoy the very incredibly light love triangle that seemed to be hinted at, without it ever being really carried out. 
On the whole, I think each of the characters were developed well, giving me enough information about them to get to know them as part of the story, but not too much that it detracted away from the main plot. 

I am such a nerdigan for anything involving a treasure hunt, riddles, quizzes, puzzles or games of any variety so the premise of The Inheritance Games was right up my street. I’m so used to those ‘high stakes’ kind of mysteries and conspiracies such as Dan Brown and Scott Mariani, that I feel I would have liked a few more challenges within the story, but I guess it’s definitely a YA version of a mystery as opposed to something which is geared up to a more adult audience.This was such an enjoyable read for me that I read the whole thing in under 24 hours – I can’t quite remember the last time that happened! It was an incredibly fun read and the ‘big reveal’ at the end leads it nicely on the sequel which I am very much looking forward to reading.

Why Should I Read This?

For an intriguing mystery and gradually-revealed plot that will have you devouring page after page.
For Avery, who proves that smart girls have courage and integrity and can still come from disadvantaged/challenging backgrounds.
For a manor house filled to the brim of exciting clues and puzzles waiting to be solved.

Find out more about this book here:

Amazon | Penguin | Waterstones | Goodreads | Author’s Twitter | Author’s Website

Connect with me here:

Twitter | Goodreads | Book Sloth: @thebiblioshelf |Email:

Biblioshelf Musings – The Carpet Cipher

Hey Biblioshelf Friends!

Ever since I started reading more books in Lockdown and getting involved with BookTwitter, that little need to start requesting books on Netgalley resurfaced again! Being approved for a more popular arc still seems like a distant dream, however after scrolling through the Read Now section I came across The Carpet Cipher by Jane Thornley which sang out to my inner historical-mystery soul. Big thanks to Netgalley and the publishers BooksGoSocial / Riverflow Press for my free e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Book: The Carpet Cipher by Jane Thornley
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Publication Date: 12th March 2020
Publisher: BooksGoSocial / Riverflow Press
Pages: 258 (from paperback edition)
Rating: 📚📚


Can a painting hold a secret safe in plain sight across seven centuries? The murder of the last member of an old Venetian family peels back the rug on a shocking truth that draws art historian and textile expert Phoebe McCabe into the fray. 

What she sees in the missing Renaissance symbology will shake the foundations of religious and cultural assumptions across two continents and point the way to a priceless hoard. It’s a secret potent enough to pitch rival factions against Phoebe and her team while destroying history as collateral damage along the way.

By the time Phoebe tracks down the truth to its final destination, she’ll need to face her greatest enemy armed with nothing but wry wit, an indomitable spirit, and what’s left of a broken heart. But nothing will stop this warrior of the ancient lost and found.

From the dark misty canals of Venice to the vivid souks of Marrakech, Phoebe and her friends are pitched against the desperate and the entitled. Who owns a treasure buried on foreign soil? Can the poor ever win against the rich? And most importantly, can love conquer religious persecution and even time itself?

If you love twisty, action-packed mysteries driven by engaging characters set in vividly drawn locales rich in historical detail, then you’ll love this first book in the Ancient Lost and Found series. Think Robert Langdon meets Lara Croft with a side of textiles.

Why Did I Want To Read This Book?

First tick: Anything set in Italy, especially with reference to the Renaissance immediately grabs my attention and makes me read the blurb.
Second tick: Symbology, secrets, mysteries, histories and my little nerdish senses get really tingly.
Third tick: “Think Robert Langdon meets Lara Croft with a side of textiles.” Are you kidding me? To me, this would be one of the greatest pairings since Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sang Islands in the Stream! This is the bit that made me hit that ‘read now’ button! I was expecting BIG things from this pairing/strapline and reader… I was fooled.

Am I Missing Something…?

To start with, there’s the usual murder in the prologue. This I can cope with – it happens. Except here, we get told exactly what time and place the murder happens, then all of a sudden in chapter one, we are left wondering whether we are still in the same time and place of the aforementioned murder. Turns out…we weren’t – cue: head scratching.

We are also rapidly introduced to a whole bank of characters (including the protagonist Phoebe McCabe) and what feels like an entire spider web of backstories and events at how all of these people seem to know each other. For what is supposedly the first book in this new Agency of the Ancient Lost and Found Series, I feel like I’ve stumbled in halfway through. As it turns out, I actually did – cue: more head scratching.

Going back to do a quick Goodreads search and it turns out that Phoebe McCabe & Co. have been in 5-book series before which is why I felt like there was a bit of reliance on my prior knowledge of these characters’ escapades and a lot of info-dumping in the first few chapters. Whilst this awareness of the characters’ histories is not essential to the plot of The Carpet Cipher, the continuous references to past events from a different time/series made my reading experience feel a little disjointed, as if I couldn’t fully invest myself in all of the characters.

Phoebe McCabe & Co.

Phoebe herself, has a remarkable passion for textiles which bounces off the page. The references to carpets and clothing throughout the book is well-researched and clearly evident of the writer’s enthusiasm for this subject.

When I was still trying to work out what nationality Phoebe is (she works at a gallery in the UK), some of the vocabulary she used only sought to make me think she was American. Phrases like, “stuck in my craw”, “Crud, Phoebe, stop it.” and talk of ‘phyllo’ instead of filo didn’t marry up with what I would expect a British person to be saying, so is she British or is she American? Cue: even more head scratching.

She also has an over-reliance on calling the bad-guys ‘bastards’ which did grate on me towards the end. This very male-bashing attitude that radiates through her narration felt quite passive aggressive as if she has a chip on her shoulder and I found it difficult to warm to her as a character overall [from further text deduction, previous boyfriend from previous series ‘Noel’ definitely has something to do with this].

There are a whole host of other characters who feature in this story (Max, Evan, Serena, Noel, Nicolina, Seraphina, Zara, Agent Walker, Foxy, the ‘bastards’, June & Joe) but a special mention must go to Peaches. Her comedic quips and zesty attitude breathed some much-needed humour into the dialogue towards the end of the novel. I loved her Jamaicanese speech and all-around eccentricity. “Muscle Man’s coming here with Hottie on the roof?” was one of her defining moments.

The History Behind the Mystery

The plot behind this story is based around two real-life pieces of artwork; the main piece by Bartolo becoming a painting for the purposes of this story, rather than the fresco that it really is. Having looked into the real representations of these pieces of art, the author admits to taking artistic liberties with some of the elements and symbology within the pictures. The passionate historian in me was left slightly longing. Nevertheless, the conspiracy and mystery at the heart of The Carpet Cipher and the puzzle which needed to be unlocked was engaging enough to just about keep my attention span going to the end.

Notes Whilst Reading

Lastly, my e-book notes are crammed with 39(!) highlights containing grammatical/spelling errors, alongside my own utterances of questions, queries and all of the head-scratching moments that made me shout ‘huh?’ or ‘why would you do that?’ so often that I had to check whether there was a bald-patch forming on the back of my head. Here are some of my favourites:

  • “That alone was enough to induce conniptions.” – I had to use a dictionary for the word conniptions.
  • At 37% of the book it’s finally carpet time!
  • “I changed into my only non-jeans pants – leather,” – Why does everyone wear leather ‘pant-suits’ in this book?
  • “Let’s assume that everybody is innocent until proven guilty and discuss what we know together.” – Phoebe McCabe channels her inner Poirot.
  • “Seemed like a bad time to mention my mold allergy so I just coughed for effect.” – Are you kidding me, someone who works with mouldy old textiles is allergic to mould?!

And my personal favourite:


Final Thoughts

Overall, it is abundantly clear through the writing that The Carpet Cipher is a work of fiction. References to real historical facts and attitudes are minimally skimmed across the surface of the text. If you’re looking for a thrill-ride full of the common tropes found in historical mystery/thrillers then this could very well be the book for you; however, if you’re looking for a narrative that is so deeply entrenched with historical accuracy that you could genuinely believe that the conspiracy is real, then perhaps this may not quite capture your imagination for long enough.

Are you a fan of historical mysteries and thrillers or a carpet addict à la Phoebe McCabe? Feel free to recommend me a conspiracy novel that is so damned good I’ll believe it’s real!  

T xx