How to Stay Alive – Bear Grylls

The ultimate survival guide from the world’s leading survival expert.

Bear Grylls. Explorer. Adventurer. Survival expert and Chief Scout. And now author of a book on how to survive… pretty much everything.

It’s a real mixed bag – some really practical and useful advice, like how to make a fire, survival shelter, and navigate. Things I could use with my Scout group. Then there are other, more esoteric chapters – how to escape quicksand, how to survive a shark attack or flying a plane in an emergency. Stuff that you hope will never happen – and if it does, I’m not sure I’d be able to remember what Bear had to say!

The book is split into five main sections:

  • basic survival skills
  • great escapes
  • terrain survival
  • life-or-death situations
  • medical emergencies

With each section covering 12-15 sections – Bear certainly covers most of the bases when it comes to surviving stuff. As I say, some of it was more directly and regularly useful (especially as a Scout Leader) than others, but each chapter is short and pithy, with some useful advice. Some of it I’d heard before from Bear’s regular appearance on telly – I think that contestants on The Island should be given a copy! Sometimes I think the chapters were a little *too* short, but the style is engaging.

Overall, I rather enjoyed How to Stay Alive. I know that Bear is one of those people you either love or can’t stand – I quite like his enthusiastic style and it comes across here.

Perfect Christmas present for someone who’s got everything. Now they can survive anything too.

Huge thanks to Bantam Press for the advance copy.

Need to Know – Karen Cleveland

Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—are threatened.

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

Sometimes a book turns up which piques your interest right off the bat. I do love a good spy thriller and Need to Know doesn’t disappoint. It’s clever, rattles along at a fair old clip and poses some interesting questions – what would you do when faced with a choice between your country and your family? It’s one of those can’t put it down books which I polished off in a single sitting, more or less.

Superbly plotted, with some fantastic twists and great characters. Highly recommended. Sadly you’ll have to wait until January to read it!

Many thanks to Becky Short and Bantam Press for the advance copy. I loved what you did with the book edges!

This book is rather splendid.

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The Man Who Died – Antti Tuomainen

The Man Who Died new front (1)
A successful entrepreneur in the mushroom industry, Jaakko Kaunismaa is a man in his prime. At just 37 years of age, he is shocked when his doctor tells him that he’s dying. What is more, the cause is discovered to be prolonged exposure to toxins; in other words, someone has slowly but surely been poisoning him. Determined to find out who wants him dead, Jaakko embarks on a suspenseful rollercoaster journey full of unusual characters, bizarre situations and unexpected twists.

Everyone should die at least once, if only to see how beautiful the morning can be.

The Man Who Died is one of those books that you emerge from with a small, satisfied sigh, and a smile on your face. I do love Antti Tuomainen’s books (and splendid taste in shirts), and this book, whilst a departure from his usual Helsinki Noir, is a delight. Perhaps creating a new genre, Mushroom Noir?

Maybe not.

It’s delightfully different – here we have a man who knows that he’s been (or being) poisoned, and sets out to solve his own murder. The cast of suspects is fairly short, and Jaakko does like making lists. Could it be his wife? The strange characters at the shiny new mushroom processing plant in town? Or the Japanese clients?

Jaakko follows the trail around town as he investigates, coming across a whole bunch of fabulous characters who wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Fargo. The humour in The Man Who Died is layered and oh so very dark and exactly the way I like it.

Highly highly recommended. The Man Who Died, by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books and is out in October in paperback and ebook. You can find Antti on twitter @antti_tuomainen.

Huge thanks to Anne for inviting me onto the blog tour, to Karen for publishing it, and to Antti Tuomainen for giving us such a wonderful book. And not forgetting David Hackston, for his masterful job in translating. The blog tour continues…

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Discovering Christie on the Orient Express

Many months ago I decided that this year I was going to read a ‘classic’ crime novel once a month, both to catch up with books I’ve always intended to read, but also to see how they compare with their modern-day equivalents.

Earlier this week I remembered my cunning plan, and being between books, I decided to take the plunge. But, where to start?
The eagle-eyed detectives amongst you will have deduced that it was the case of a Murder On the Orient Express, featuring one M. Poirot and his ‘little grey cells’ (and splendid moustaches). I’d watched the trailer for the new movie (Ken’s moustache is PHENOMENAL and I now have new facial hair goals). Just look at it!

Anyway. What can I say about the book? I was aware of the premise (the title rather gives it away), but I don’t think I’ve ever really watched any of the adaptations of Christie’s work, so I was coming to it pretty fresh.

It’s utterly wonderful, and I’m vaguely horrified that I’ve not read any of her books before. WHY DID NO-ONE TELL ME? The setting is glorious (and I’m a sucker for a book which immerses you in a location to the point where you can almost feel it), the characters splendid and varied, Poirot is cunning and devilishly clever and the mysterious murder is, at the end of the day, delightfully solved. It’s not Poirot’s first case, but you don’t really need to have read the others to benefit from it.

Of course, now I have a HUGE backlog of Christie’s work to get through (crikey but she wrote a lot) – but before I do, does anyone have a recommendation for next month’s “Dave Reads A Classic Crime Novel” series? I can feel a list coming on…

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

Isolated by the storm and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer amongst a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again…

Artemis – Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of Jazz’s problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself – and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even more unlikely than the first.

First off, let me just say that I loved the Martian. I loved the premise, the setting, the character of Mark Watney and his internal monologue as he figured his way through life on Mars. Even the movie was pretty good.

So it was with no small measure of excitement that I opened a parcel to find Andy Weir’s second book, Artemis. The TBR pile was pushed unceremoniously to one side and I sat down to read it.

Alas, I was disappointed. My first problem was with Jazz herself – she comes across as a bouncy enthusiastic teen, which would be absolutely fine, but it turned out she’s supposed to be in her mid-twenties. I did like a lot of the other characters, and found them at times to be better written and more… plausible? Particularly fond of Svoboda, Jazz’s excitable engineer friend. Jazz was a bit too much of a Mary Sue for me – very very competent, and nothing much seemed to get in her way – some quite dicey situations cropped up but were too swiftly resolved with no real sense of peril.

Some of the science seemed a bit shonky too, which *really* surprised me. Unless my understanding of lighting fires around pure oxygen is off (don’t do it kids, things go BADABOOM), bits of the story made me scratch my head.

[Edit] having spoken to some people about this (thanks @SafeNotAnOption), my grumbles about the sciencey bit may have been unfounded and my understanding of fires in low-pressure O2 environments isn’t what I thought it was. My apologies.

I now return you to the review…

There’s also some weirdness and inconsistency with how things react in the lunar gravity, and a scene involving a free beer which turns out not to be… Minor niggles, but they jarred for me.

The plot itself is a bit on the cheese grater side[1], but given that a lot of heist movies fall into the same trap I was prepared to forgive it. And the story did grow on me – whilst the first half of the book did feel a bit sluggish and exposition-heavy at times, I rattled through the second half and found myself quite enjoying it towards the end.

There’s a cracking story in there somewhere, it just feels a bit… muddled in places. A friend commented that he suspected that Mark Watney in The Martian *was* Andy Weir – figuring out the problems in his head as the character had more misfortune lumped on him, and I agree. In The Martian, the style really worked, but here there’s a bit too much info-dumping as the author tries to set up the next thing.

Artemis will shift by the bucketload, given its provenance. It’s got Hollywood written all over it too, and I reckon it’ll make for a fantastic movie, given the right casting.

Artemis by Andy Weir is published by Del Rey and is out on 14th November.

Many thanks to Emma and Del Rey for the gorgeous advance copy for review. It really is stunning!

[1] full of holes. OH COME ON.  🙂

Wychwood – George Mann

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After losing her job and her partner in one fell swoop, journalist Elspeth Reeves is back in her mother s house in the sleepy village of Wilsby-under-Wychwood, wondering where it all went wrong. Then a body is found in the neighbouring Wychwoods: a woman ritually slaughtered, with cryptic symbols scattered around her corpse. Elspeth recognizes these from a local myth of the Carrion King, a Saxon magician who once held a malevolent court deep in the forest. As more murders follow, Elspeth joins her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate, and the two discover sinister village secrets harking back decades.

A small town murder mystery with a healthy dose of the supernatural? Count me in!

Elspeth Reeves is an interesting change to the standard police whodunnit (or in this case, howdidtheydunnit?). She’s a reporter who’s returned home to her little village after losing her job and her partner in short order, only to stumble over a rather gruesome murder scene literally on her back doorstep.

There’s a nice interplay between Elspeth and childhood friend-turned-copper Peter Shaw as they team up to solve the mystery of Carrion King, a figure from local mythology. Plenty of potential suspects, a netful of red herrings and some genuinely quirky murders make this an entertaining, if sometimes a little gory read. I polished it off in a couple of sittings, eager to get to the bottom of who was behind it all!

Wychwood, by George Mann is published by Titan Books and is out now. Many thanks to Phillipa at Titan Books for the review copy.

The House of Spines – Michael J. Malone

Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who appears to have been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, he finds that Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman …

House of Spines is a deliciously gothic, spooky tale set in an old house near Glasgow. Inherited by writer Ranald McGhie from a long-lost relative, the house is host to a magnificent collection of books, and more than a few family secrets.

Michael J. Malone has created a beautifully layered story, filled with strong characters, not least of which is Newton Hall which becomes a character in and of itself in the book – with creepy corridors, an ancient lift and long-forgotten rooms and a housekeeper/gardener couple who seem to have become part of the very fabric of the house. We follow young Ran as he first delights in his new-found property owner status but soon the house’s… quirks start to show up. As the secrets unravel, so does Ran’s sanity. Are the events really happening, or has his grip on the real world started to fray?

Fantastic characters, a gloriously mysterious house and a delightfully twisty plot. Highly recommended.

House of Spines by Michael J. Malone is out now, from Orenda Books. You can find Michael on twitter @MichaelJMalone1

Many thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for asking me to take part in the tour, and for the review copy.