when is a book not a book?

There’s a fairly regular discussion/argument over on the socials about what constitutes ‘reading’ a book.

Indeed, just the other day, a fairly prominent fantasy author (whose work I admire a lot, and therefore will not name) made a remark about people who read hundreds of books a year. How did they do it? Were those books, they mused, picture books? Do these people sleep, eat or work?

Cue the inevitable Twitter howls of outrage.

I read what I consider to be a fair few books a year. Sixty-two (or sixty-three, I kind of lost count what with being in the incredibly fortunate position of reading books pre-publication and some of those books not being on Goodreads).

I was having a conversation with a friend over Christmas, the conversation turned (as all good conversations do) to books and she counted how many books she had to read.

She counted them. She counted them on her fingers.


Six books.

And she’d read maybe six books last year too. I have more than that within arm’s reach of where I’m sat now. (27 – 17 unread, 10 read, I just checked. I’m nothing if not thorough)

So to her, my sixty-and-counting was a HUGE number. How did I do it? Do I sleep, or eat, or work?

And to me, 300+ is a huge number. But over the years of being a book blogger, I’ve come to know a lot of people who regularly read hundreds of books in a year. And yes, some of them don’t (or can’t) sleep. Some of them include graphic novels, or novellas.

But all of those people have one thing in common. They love books.

Some of them prefer to read a book rather than watch TV, for example. Five minutes spare time? Book. Waiting in the queue at the post office? Book. Tea in the oven? Book.

Driving in the car? Audiobook.

Ah, now there’s another fun topic.

Is listening to an audiobook the same as ‘reading’ a book? Does it, should it, count towards your number of books read?

Of course!

It’s just someone else reading the book for you, at a time when perhaps you can’t read it yourself. You’re still getting the story.

Now I love a good audiobook, with the perfect narrator. Car journeys, out walking the dog, cooking tea. A friendly voice telling you a tale.

Ah, but now what about this?

Over the past day or so I’ve been listening to ‘How To Kill Your Family’ on the BBC Sounds app. Bella Mackie’s darkly comic novel a young woman who set out to kill her estranged family in a variety of ways.

It’s a ten-part adaptation of the book, told in fifteen-minute chunks, so some two and a half hours. It’s enormously entertaining, and I’m enjoying it a lot.

But the unabridged audiobook (via Audible) clocks in at 10 hours 49 minutes. (see, I told you I was thorough)

Clearly I have not heard the whole story.

But have I ‘read’ the book?

What do you think?

*I do have the book on my kindle, and based on the abridged version, will definitely read it!

(This post originally appeared on my substack newsletter/blog, where I post semi-regularly about random stuff )

Rockdown in Lockdown – Adam Maxwell

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It’s not easy being a master criminal in lockdown. Almost all the rich people are at home with their valuables which makes it dreadfully inconvenient when you’re trying to rob them.

Catching up on box sets and ordering crap off the internet isn’t Violet Winters style and so she hatches a plan.

To pull of a socially-distanced heist.

Gathering her team together (over Zoom), she puts together a long-con wrapped in a heist and tied up with a bow. It’s perfect. Except for the bits that aren’t.

With a man planted on the inside, can Violet and the gang pull off an audacious robbery on a bunch of over-privileged celebrities or will the whole thing blow up in their faces?

Obstacles she can handle, but a social media star hell-bent on posting Violet’s picture online and a deranged Mixed Martial Artist with a grudge have changed the job from a walk in the park to a sprint over hot coals.

If she can just get everything back on track she might stand a chance…

…if she can’t she’s going to end up a dead body at the bottom of a lake.

Look out folks, Violet and the gang are back in town…

Well, they’re not actually out and about, per se, on account of the lockdown. And Violet gets bored when she can’t pull off any cunning heists, and Katie has been ordering things off the darker bits of the internet. Things that go boom. Clearly, something has to be done.

And Violet Winters is just the woman for the job.

I’m a huge fan of Adam Maxwell’s Kilchester books, from The Dali Deception to Kill It With Fire and onwards. Bizarrely (though not if you know Adam), Rockdown in Lockdown is book four in the series. Book 3 will be out at some point.

I’m assured it’ll all make sense.

Anyway, you don’t need to have read book 4 (or indeed any of the others) to enjoy Rockdown in Lockdown. Though you will be missing out on some splendid shenanigans (and you all know how much I love a good shenanigan).

I loved this book. It’s pure fun from start to finish. Violet and the gang are bored and decide that in order to relieve rich folks of their wealth, they need to pull off an extravagant heist – one involving a bunch of celebrities (and wannabe celebs) holed up in an expensive retreat. All goes to plan until naturally it doesn’t, and then the fun really begins.

Strap yourself in for another wild ride with Violet, Zoe and the inimitable Katie, who once again gets to hit people a lot. And that never gets old. Glorious fun.

You can read an excerpt from Rockdown in Lockdown at Adam’s website. Tell him I sent you.

Or you can buy a copy from Amazon (affiliate link – I might earn a tiny amount if you buy it, but you’ll pay the same)

Rockdown in Lockdown by Adam Maxwell will be out soon…

The 12 in 2022 Reading Challenge

If you’ve been around on Twitter or Instagram over the past couple of days, you might have heard of the 12 Reading Challenge. 12 months to read 12 books recommended by 12 friends.

Here’s what my friends recommended:

The Breach, by Patrick Lee. (@boliviafang)

Thirty years ago, in a facility buried beneath a vast Wyoming emptiness, an experiment gone awry accidentally opened a door. It is the world’s best-kept secret-and its most terrifying. Trying to regain his life in the Alaskan wilds, ex-con/ex-cop Travis Chase stumbles upon an impossible scene: a crashed 747 passenger jet filled with the murdered dead, including the wife of the [resident of the United States.

Though a nightmare of monumental proportions, it pales before the terror to come, as Chase is dragged into a battle for the future that revolves around an amazing artifact. Allied with a beautiful covert operative whose life he saved, Chase must now play the role he’s been destined for-a pawn of incomprehensible forces or humankind’s final hope-as the race toward Apocalypse begins in earnest. Because something is loose in the world. And doomsday is not only possible…it is inevitable. 

The House in The Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune (@JanetEmson)

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

She Lies In Wait, by Gytha Lodge (@DebbieAitchison)

On a scorching July night in 1983, a group of teenagers goes camping in the forest. Bright and brilliant, they are destined for great things, and the youngest of the group—Aurora Jackson—is delighted to be allowed to tag along. The evening starts like any other—they drink, they dance, they fight, they kiss. Some of them slip off into the woods in pairs, others are left jealous and heartbroken. But by morning, Aurora has disappeared. Her friends claim that she was safe the last time they saw her, right before she went to sleep. An exhaustive investigation is launched, but no trace of the teenager is ever found.

Thirty years later, Aurora’s body is unearthed in a hideaway that only the six friends knew about, and Jonah Sheens is put in charge of solving the long-cold case. Back in 1983, as a young cop in their small town, he had known the teenagers—including Aurora—personally, even before taking part in the search. Now he’s determined to finally get to the truth of what happened that night. Sheens’s investigation brings the members of the camping party back to the forest, where they will be confronted once again with the events that left one of them dead, and all of them profoundly changed forever.

Empire of the Vampire, by Jay Kristoff (@BookMoodReviews)

It has been twenty-seven long years since the last sunrise. For nearly three decades, vampires have waged war against humanity; building their eternal empire even as they tear down our own. Now, only a few tiny sparks of light endure in a sea of darkness.

Gabriel de León is a silversaint: a member of a holy brotherhood dedicated to defending realm and church from the creatures of the night. But even the Silver Order could not stem the tide once daylight failed us, and now, only Gabriel remains.

Imprisoned by the very monsters he vowed to destroy, the last silversaint is forced to tell his story. A story of legendary battles and forbidden love, of faith lost and friendships won, of the Wars of the Blood and the Forever King and the quest for humanity’s last remaining hope: 

The Holy Grail.

Blood and Sugar, by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (@Dutiful_Murdock)

June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark.

Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . .

To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him.

And that is only if he can survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford…

Seven Mercies, by Laura Lam & Elizabeth May (@Endalia)

After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the seven devils? Biggest score of them all. To avoid attacks, the crew of Zelus scavenge for supplies on long-abandoned Tholosian outposts. 

Not long after the remnants of the rebellion settle briefly on Fortuna, Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences: the Oracle has gone rogue. In a planned coup against the Empire’s new ruler, the AI has developed a way of mass programming citizens into mindless drones. The Oracle’s demand is simple: the AI wants One’s daughter back at any cost. 

Time for an Impossible to Infiltrate mission: high chance of death, low chance of success. The devils will have to use their unique skills, no matter the sacrifice, and pair up with old enemies. Their plan? Get to the heart of the Empire. Destroy the Oracle. Burn it all to the ground. 

Black Stone Heart, by Michael R Fletcher (@Lena88191r)

A broken man, Khraen awakens alone and lost. His stone heart has been shattered, littered across the world. With each piece, he regains some small shard of the man he once was. 

He follows the trail, fragment by fragment, remembering his terrible past.

There was a woman.

There was a sword.

There was an end to sorrow.

Khraen walks the obsidian path.

Chasing The Boogeyman, by Richard Chizmar (@DianeMarx5)

In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. Law enforcement, as well as members of the FBI are certain that the killer is a living, breathing madman—and he’s playing games with them. For a once peaceful community trapped in the depths of paranoia and suspicion, it feels like a nightmare that will never end.

Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown just as a curfew is enacted and a neighborhood watch is formed. In the midst of preparing for his wedding and embarking on a writing career, he soon finds himself thrust into the real-life horror story. Inspired by the terrifying events, Richard writes a personal account of the serial killer’s reign of terror, unaware that these events will continue to haunt him for years to come.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by NK Jemisin (@gripthebrox)

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

The Cabinet, by Un-su Kim (@FLSchwizer)

Cabinet 13 looks exactly like any normal filing cabinet…Except this cabinet is filled with files on the ‘symptomers’, humans whose strange abilities and bizarre experiences might just mark the emergence of a new species.

But to Mr Kong, the harried office worker whose job it is to look after the cabinet, the symptomers are a headache; especially the one who won’t stop calling every day, asking to be turned into a cat.

Rabbit Hole, by Mark Billingham (@Tangotastic)

Alice Armitage is a police officer. Or she was.

Or perhaps she just imagines she was.

Whatever the truth is, following a debilitating bout of PTSD, self-medication with drink and drugs, and a psychotic breakdown, Alice is now a long-term patient in an acute psychiatric ward.

When one of her fellow patients is murdered, Alice becomes convinced that she has identified the killer and that she can catch them. Ignored by the police, she begins her own investigation. But when her prime suspect becomes the second victim, Alice’s life begins to unravel still further as she realizes that she cannot trust anyone, least of all herself.

The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie (@LyndonMarquis)

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies. 

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules. 

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it. 

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glokta a whole lot more difficult. 

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

The Annual Migration of Clouds, by Premee Mohamed (@EllenDevonport)

In post-climate disaster Alberta, a woman infected with a mysterious parasite must choose whether to pursue a rare opportunity far from home or stay and help rebuild her community.

The world is nothing like it once was: climate disasters have wracked the continent, causing food shortages, ending industry, and leaving little behind. Then came Cad, mysterious mind-altering fungi that invade the bodies of the now scattered citizenry. Reid, a young woman who carries this parasite, has been given a chance to get away – to move to one of the last remnants of pre-disaster society – but she can’t bring herself to abandon her mother and the community that relies on her.

When she’s offered a coveted place on a dangerous and profitable mission, she jumps at the opportunity to set her family up for life, but how can Reid ask people to put their trust in her when she can’t even trust her own mind?

Bonus books, because some people recommended more than one

So there we have it. Lots of lovely books from lots of lovely people. Have you read any of them? Any take your fancy? Do you think I’ll get through them all in 2022?

Books of 2021: the rest

Well now. We’ve had my list of the best crime/thriller books, and my favourite sci-fi & fantasy. There were books which didn’t fit into either category, but which I want to shout about too.

The Twenty Seven Club – Lucy Nichol

The Twenty Seven Club is steeped in a lovely 90s vibe that is a real joy to read. Told from the point of view of Emma, a young woman from Hull who enjoys rock music, beers (and the occasional Drambuie or a little something… extra) with her best mate Dave down their local. She’s shaken by the untimely death of her rock hero Kurt Cobain at 27, and is filled with worry that she’s approaching that age. It’s warm, often funny, and a delightful dose of 90s nostalgia.

This is How We Are Human, Louise Beech

It wouldn’t be a books of the year list without a Louise Beech book on there. Beautifully and sensitively told, This Is How We Are Human is a story about love and life, of discrimation and difference, and the choices we make. It’s ultimately about being… human. Utterly brilliant, and be warned, it *will* make you cry.

The Origins of Iris – Beth Lewis

Lewis’ writing is just a joy to read. It’s wonderful. Dark, raw and startlingly original, it will linger long in the memory after you turn the last page. It took me a while to recover myself after reading. Then go read The Wolf Road, because that’s incredible too. I can’t wait to see what Beth Lewis comes up with next!

Then the non-fiction books I’ve enjoyed:

Peaks and Bandits – Alf Bonnevie Bryn

A short book, but packs a huge amount into its 117 pages. Young Alf Bonnevie Bryn decides to set off to Corsica to climb some mountains with his friend George in their Easter holidays from school in 1909. Our Norwegian hero and his Australian chum have more than a few adventures along the way, fording freezing rivers, rescuing cats from bathtubs, spreading fake money to make their own funds go further. And then there’s the fun with a snake called James, and an incident with a quart ceramic jar of Crosse & Blackwell marmalade that they persuaded someone to carry up a mountain…

Part of my subscription to Adventurous Ink, a book club covering the best in adventure, travel and nature books. Also highly recommended!

London Clay – Tom Chivers

A fascinating deep dive into what makes up London. The hidden rivers, the buried history, the layers upon layers that make up our capital city. The title suggests a book of geology, and whilst there is a seam of that running through the book, it’s so much more.

He explores the streets, pokes behind the construction boards and delves into the history of the city. It’s a book that I’m sure I’ll go back to next time I’m heading there. It’s more than just a series of places though. It’s also part memoir, with Tom Chivers’ own personal stories and history laced throughout.

The Storyteller – Dave Grohl

Finally an audiobook to recommend. Narrated by Dave Grohl himself, it’s an engaging and fascinating look at his life leading up to Nirvana and beyond with the Foo Fighters. I’m sure the book would be just as good, but having Grohl tell you these stories himself adds a little something extra. Hugely enjoyable.

Books of 2021 – sci-fi & fantasy

As 2021 starts to roll to a close, it’s time to pull together the list of books I’ve loved over the year.

We’ve already seen my 2021 picks of crime & thrillers, but if science fiction and/or fantasy is more your beverage of choice, this is the list for you. It’s a bit shorter than the crime list, I seem to have read fewer of these books this year!

As before, in no particular order, I hereby present my favourite sci-fi and fantasy books of 2021:

The Fall of Koli – MR Carey

Book 3 in M.R. Carey’s superb Ramparts trilogy. We followed Koli on his adventures from The Book of Koli back in April 2020, through The Trials of Koli late in September, and now to this final book, nigh on a year since we started. And what an adventure it is. Gorgeous writing, superb characters and a properly good finale. Hugely recommended.

These Lifeless Things – Premee Mohamed

A novella that’s just packed to the rafters with sublime writing. Told from two viewpoints – the invasion, where humanity was attacked by the ‘things’ and pretty much wiped out, and from fifty years later where an anthropologist delves into what happened. Superb.

Eye of the Sh*t Storm – Jackson Ford

Teagan Frost is back. Following on from The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind (hi, Teagan) and Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air (err, hi again Teagan), we find our psychokinetic heroine up to yet more and even bigger shenanigans. But our pesky Jackson Ford has cranked the dial all that way up to eleven on the action, peril and snarky internal monologue scales, probably cackling to himself at the same time. Oh, wait. He did that with book 2. Somehow he found the boss-mode setting on those dials. Strap yourselves in folks, it’s a wild ride.

A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik

Book 1 of Naomi Novik’s Scholomance, we have here a story about a school of magic. But we’re a world away from wands and wizards and pumpkin juice. Here there are no teachers, no rules, and the school is actively out to kill the students. Survival here is key, and the only way to leave is to graduate.

Glorious worldbuilding, monsters and magic and shenanigans aplenty. Adored this, and raced through it. Book 2 is out now, and I’m going in…

Call of the Bone Ships/The Bone Ship’s Wake – RJ Barker

Kind of a two-for-one deal here. You’re going to want to jump straight into Wake immediately after finishing Call. Barker takes us on a journey through turbulent waters, giant sea monsters, the incredible Gullaime and the adventures of our hero, Joron Twiner. I was assured that book 3 ended with kittens and balloons and a ‘they all lived happily ever after’, but seriously, where would the fun in that be?

It’s an incredible trilogy, and one which I highly recommend.

A Master of Djinn – P. Djèlí Clark

Cairo, 1912. Just not our Cairo. The Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities is on the case of the murder of a secret brotherhood. Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi, fresh from saving the universe on a previous job, is sent to investigate. There’s magic and monsters and some very sharp suits. Glorious fun from the first page to the last. Highly recommended.

Trail of the Cursed Cobras – Barry Nugent

This is an absolute blast, and one of the most fun, enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. Aimed at middle-grade readers (typically between 8 – 12 years old, and something I am very much not), it’s a cracking tale of adventure set in a North London comprehensive school the early 80s. Echoes of Grange Hill, mixed with a bit of the X-Files and maybe a dash of Scooby-Doo make this a properly fun read. One of my favourite books of the year.

So those were my sci-fi and fantasy books of the year. Have you read any of them? Agree, disagree? Got any that I should have on my list for 2022?

As ever, I’d love to hear what you think. Thanks to all the fabulous authors, publishers and publicists for sharing their books with me this year.

Stay tuned for the list of my favourite non-fiction and others!

Books of 2021 – crime & thrillers

As 2021 starts to roll to a close, it’s time to pull together the list of books I’ve loved over the year. Yes, I know that it’s not over, and there will be some more great books, but you might be on the lookout for some suggestions for a present for a loved one, or maybe yourself. Heck, even buy a book for your mortal enemy and/or personal nemesis. Everyone loves a good book, right?

I’m not doing a top ten, partly because they’re all really good and partly because there are 15 of them and OMG DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE OK.

In no particular order, I hereby present my favourite crime/thriller books of 2021 are:

When I Was Ten – Fiona Cummins

I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of Fiona Cummins’ When I Was Ten in 2020 and absolutely loved it. Alas, what with *waves hands* everything going on, it got pushed back to 2021. It’s bloody brilliant. And while you wait, go read Cummins’ other books.

Stone Cold Trouble – Amer Anwar

Last year Amer Anwar’s Brothers In Blood made it on the books of the year list, and January kicked off with more adventures for Zaq and Jags.  I settled down with a cup of tea to finish the last hundred or so pages, only to discover that my tea had gone cold.

Stone cold. (see what I did there?)

Yeah, it’s that good. I love the banter between Zaq and his best mate Jags, and it really makes this book stand out. Of course a book needs more than just a great pair of protagonists, and Anwar delivers another cracking read.

The Last Thing to Burn – Will Dean

Unforgettable. It’s a bleak book, set in a bleak landscape, but at every step of the way we’re rooting for Thanh Dao. Tiny slivers of hope keep her, and us, going.

It’s also an astonishing book, a world away from Will Dean’s Tuva Moodyson and her Swedish forest. And one where the subject may be too much for some. It’s a nail-biting, compelling, just one more page book, one where you’re willing Thanh Dao to get away from the very first page.


Slough House – Mick Herron

Mick Herron is one of those writers who make it look… effortless. He’s just got a way with a turn of phrase, a sentence dropped which is just… perfect. Slough House is full of those little gems. The gloriously foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, ever-flatulent, politically incorrect Jackson Lamb (soon to be appearing on our screens played by Gary Oldman) is back, and someone has wiped Slough House off the map and is picking off his Slow Horses.

He’s not happy about it. And you do not cross Jackson Lamb.

Far From the Tree – Rob Parker

Twenty seven bodies are found in an unmarked grave. Is this the work of a serial killer? DI Brendan Foley is on the case. Then it turns out that one of the dead is someone close to home, and what was initially ‘just’ a murder enquiry turns into something a lot more personal. I listened to the audiobook, superbly narrated by Warren Brown (DS Ripley from Luther), I loved every minute of the near nine-hour runtime. I’d plug my headphones in whilst walking the dogs, and must admit to going just once more around the block to get another chapter in.

Black Reed Bay – Rod Reynolds

A perennial favourite on my books of the year lists (don’t tell him or he’ll get a big head), Rod Reynolds has delivered a top-notch slice of contemporary American Noir on the shores of Long Island, present day.  I’m delighted to see that it’s just the first in a new series. I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for Detective Casey Wray next. Superbly plotted, with Reynold’s customary mastery of place and character, it’s a cracking book.

Dead Ground – MW Craven

I love  Poe & Bradshaw, as I’m sure we all do. Washington Poe, the irascible detective sergeant who manages somehow to rub pretty much everyone up the wrong way.

Poe collected enemies the same way the middle class collect Nectar points

And his best friend, the inimitable Tilly Bradshaw. Suffice it to say that there are shenanigans, misdirections and twists as per usual. The case is bigger – involving not only MI5 but also the FBI, the stakes are higher, and it’s just a hugely enjoyable read.

A Numbers Game – RJ Dark

I read a lot of crime books. I assume you do too, if you’ve got this far down the list. But it’s refreshing to find one that manages to combine a lovely dark, twisty plot with a healthy dose of humour. I loved Mal and Jackie, the two leads with their long history and tenuous ‘friendship’.

The week started unseasonably warm for spring, and with my best friend sitting on top of me, threatening violence. From there it only went downhill.

Malachite Jones – ‘psychic’ medium (ably, if reluctantly, assisted by his assistant Beryl, who knows everyone and everything going on on the Blades Edge estate). Jackie Singh Kattar, respected businessman (just don’t ask what business, or you’ll find out he’s made you his business), sharp dresser and with a nice little line in motors. Best friends. And boy, do you want Jackie on your side when things go awry. And boy do things go awry. Huge fun.

Bad Apples – Will Dean

A second appearance in the list for Will Dean, and the fourth outing for our beloved Tuva Moodyson. Hoo boy is it good. I loved the first three books, so the bar was set pretty high. Bad Apples is the pick of the already very very good bunch*.

*[Sorry, enough of the fruity puns]

The Murder Box – Olivia Kiernan

I enjoyed this one enormously. It’s a clever game within an investigation that Kiernan neatly pulls off. DCS Frankie Sheehan believes that a murder mystery game sent to her is a birthday gift from a colleague. But there’s a striking resemblance between the game’s victim and the very real case of missing twenty-two-year-old Lydia Callin. Superb.

The Last House on Needless Street – Catriona Ward

The Last House On Needless Street absolutely blew me away. It’s astonishingly good. From the blurb you think you know what you’re going to get, and to a certain extent, you do. But there’s so much more to this book. It’s beautifully written, desperately tense at times, and goes to some very dark places indeed.

Brace yourself. Needless Street is a strange place, and the last house is stranger still.

My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones

A love letter to classic slasher movies, with a main character who lives and breathes the genre, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the movies, and who can spot the clues start to add up. Then the Final Girl arrives, and Jade must do whatever she can to help save the day.

It’s dark. It’s gory. It’s beautifully written, and uncomfortable to read in places. It’s also astonishingly good, though not for the squeamish!

The Christmas Murder Game – AK Benedict

This book is a huge amount of fun (though not for the characters!) A locked room (well, house) mystery where a bunch of people are stuck in an isolated manor house in Yorkshire in a snowstorm. Their aunt has left them a series of clues, one for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Each clue will reveal the location of a key, and at the end of the game, one of the family will inherit the house itself.

It reminded me of the movie Clue (and of course the game Cluedo) in that there was a lot of people who are suspects in one way or another, moving about the house trying to figure out answers. Huge fun trying to figure out the twelve clues as they’re presented to the players, though I’d have been rubbish at it as I didn’t get any of them!

The Good Thief’s Guide to Christmas – Chris Ewan

A late entry onto the list. I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Ewan’s The Good Thief’s Guide books since the start, and was delighted to get an early peek at this festive adventure. It’s a short story, but packs a lot in. Charlie Howard , mystery writer and professional thief, is in London for the holidays when his agent, Victoria, asks him to break into a jewellery shop to steal the perfect Christmas gift. Things naturally go awry. A fabulous festive caper.

Demon – Matt Wesolowski

Last, but by no means least, Matt Wesolowski’s latest episode of his superb Six Stories series. Scott King delves into the cold case of Sidney Parsons, a young boy savagely murdered by two of his classmates. Seven years later his killers are released. And now, strange things are afoot in the little village of Ussalthwaite. Six stories, six people telling their side of what happened. Wesolowski’s stories are always dark, but this is the darkest yet. It’s also the best in a very strong series.

So those were my favourite books of the year. Have you read any of them? Agree, disagree? Got any that I should have on my list for 2022?

As ever, I’d love to hear what you think. Thanks to all the fabulous authors, publishers and publicists for sharing their books with me this year.

Stay tuned for the list of my favourite science fiction and fantasy, then for the list of non-fiction and others!

Rockdown in Lockdown by Adam Maxwell – cover reveal & giveaway

The cure for all your Covid blues…

The Blurb

Violet Winters was a master criminal. A one-woman crimewave. Until lockdown happened. Now she’s stuck in the house catching up on box sets and ordering crap off the internet. 

And then she finds out about The Lakehouse. A former rehab facility, the residents have been thrown out and replaced with a roll-call of some of the most dangerously stupid celebrities in this hemisphere all indulging in a torrent of excess while the rest of the world cowers in their beds.

And that doesn’t sit well with Violet. 

At the centre of the The Lakehouse is a vault and inside… the combined riches of every one of these over-privileged idiots. Violet hatches a cunning plan to pull off an audacious robbery and begins by planting a man on the inside.

But when does anything ever go to plan? 

With a social media starlet hell-bent on revealing Violet’s identity to her millions of followers and a deranged MMA fighter on their trail things rapidly go from bad to worse.

If she can pull off the world’s only socially-distanced heist, it will be the stuff of legend.

If she can’t she might very well end up floating face-down in the lake.

Rockdown in Lockdown is the latest book in the Kilchester series. It mixes high-octane heist shenanigans with sharp, surreal wit. It all started with The Dali Deception, and went from there. They’re splendid fun, and highly recommended.

The Giveaway

Rockdown in Lockdown will be published on the 20th January 2022 and the author is giving away signed copies of the hardback edition (shipping anywhere in the world included). To enter all you need to do is visit Adam’s website https://www.adammaxwell.com/giveaways/rockdown-in-lockdown/ and everyone who enters will receive a free Kindle copy of the Kilchester Christmas short story ‘Come On Steal The Noise’.

Rockdown in Lockdown is available to pre-order now as an ebook, with real-book pre-orders arriving any minute! https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B09N4WT1TL

The Author

Crime writer. Idiot. Genius. Liar. Adam Maxwell is at least three of these things. 

Adam lives in the wilds of Northumberland with his wife, daughter and an increasingly irritated cat. If you wave to him there is every chance he will consider waving back.  You can find him lurking around on his website www.adammaxwell.com

The Christmas Murder Game – Alexandra Benedict

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict. It’s a little different from your regular tours as all the posts will have a clue, and you can win a prize!

If you’ve been following along with the tour, you should have ten clues already. The first letter of each word over the days will spell out a 12 letter phrase. What could it be?

Here’s clue #11

Book wrapped in brown paper, with a festive red ribbon. The tag attached reads "This fruit will get a festive refresh with a candle and sweets piercing its flesh..."
“This fruit will get a festive refresh with a candle and sweets piercing its flesh…”

Tricky? Or not? Don’t forget to check out tomorrow’s post on the blog tour to get your final clue!

And now to the book itself!

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Follow the clues. Find the fortune. Solve the Mystery. This Christmas is to die for. Let the game begin…

‘Endgame has kept our secrets for half a century, now it’s time for it, and its secrets, to have a new owner.’

When Lily returns home to her aunt’s manor house, she discovers that in order to inherit, she and her estranged cousins must stay together over the Christmas week and take part in a family tradition: the annual treasure hunt.

But as they are drawn deeper into the game, the clues seem to point not to the deeds to the manor house, but to the key to a twenty-year-old mystery: what really happened to Lily’s mother?

As a snowstorm cuts them off from the village, it becomes apparent that the game has turned deadly and that Lily is fighting for more than just an inheritance: she is now fighting for her life. Does she have what it takes to survive?

12 clues, 12 keys and 12 days of Christmas for the heirs of Endgame House to find their inheritance, but how many will die before Twelfth Night?

Oh, this book is a huge amount of fun. A locked room (well, house) mystery where a bunch of people are stuck in an isolated manor house in Yorkshire in a snowstorm. Their aunt has left them a series of clues, one for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Each clue will reveal the location of a key, and at the end of the game, one of the family will inherit the house itself.

But Lily is there for more than just the game. Her aunt has suggested that the game will also reveal what happened to Lily’s mother all those years ago.

Glorious fun. I loved everything about it. Endgame House, the wonderful cast of characters with their own secrets and reasons for being there, the enigmatic Mrs Castle, the housekeeper and only person in the house not playing the game.

It reminded me of the movie Clue (and of course the game Cluedo) in that there was a lot of people who are suspects in one way or another, moving about the house trying to figure out answers. Huge fun trying to figure out the twelve clues as they’re presented to the players, though I’d have been rubbish at it as I didn’t get any of them!

If you like your locked room mysteries with a side order of tinsel, then this book is perfect. Pop a copy under the tree for your favourite booklover, or maybe for yourself.

Highly recommended.

The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict is published by Zaffre and is out now. Many thanks to Eleanor Stammeijer for the finished hardback copy to review.

The Violence of Squid Game – a guest post by GX Todd

It’s publication day for GX Todd’s much-anticipated Ghosts, the fourth book in the Voices series. I’m about halfway through and loving it (but don’t want it to end!). This has been one of my all-time favourite book series, and I’ve nagged you to read Defender, Hunted and Survivors over the years (go! go read them!), so be prepared for more nagging just as soon as I’ve finished this one.

In the meantime, GX Todd has kindly written a guest post for you today, on the violence of the Netflix super hit, Squid Game.

The Violence of Squid Game:

Should it be this much fun to watch?

The kinds of violence in Squid Game aren’t new to the entertainment medium. For a while we’ve had movies and TV shows that have explored ‘death games’ – just turn your eye to Battle Royale, the Escape Room and Saw films, Cube, The Platform (to an extent), Alice in Borderland, and The Hunger Games franchise for examples. They’ve been around for a decades, but Squid Game has really rocketed hyper-violent entertainment into the popularity stratosphere. As of writing this, 2.1 billion hours of Squid Game have been watched by Netflix subscribers. To put that into context, that’s the equivalent of 239,700 years.

I binge-watched Squid Game in preparation for writing this article. I’ve wanted to see it and also not wanted to see it since talk revved up about it being so brilliant. If you’ve read any of my books, you can probably tell I don’t have a problem immersing myself in death and violence. If anything, I’ve become a little desensitized to it. I’ve spent a lot of time paddling round and splashing in the deep end of the horror pool. I’ve seen and read a lot of messed up shit. My hesitation about watching Squid Game was more to do with if it could live up to my expectations (which is, admittedly, a difficult task to do). But, before I reveal whether I enjoyed it or not, let’s talk about why everyone else is loving it.

In its total run-time of 485 minutes, a whopping 455 people die. Most of them on-screen. Bloodily. Painfully. With heaps of Technicolor gore. Yep, you read that right to any parents/guardians out there who are letting your kiddies watch this show. (Actually, the body count is more than 455 if you start counting the deaths outside of the games themselves). And they die in imaginative, often brutal, occasionally ridiculous, ways. Deaths from heights, many, many point-blank gunshots to the head, slit throats, and there’s even a clandestine doctor in the ranks who’s gorily harvesting dead contestants’ organs to sell on the black market. There’s a lot of blood and guts in this show. The makers also do a fantastic job of balancing these bursts of violence and tension-filled, high-stakes games with light-heartedness and empathetic character building. If the episodes had been so relentlessly filled with death and chaos, I think a lot of viewers would have switched off. Of course, curiosity is also a huge factor in keeping a viewer’s interest piqued. I continued watching because I wanted to know what the next game would be. A land-mine filled reconfiguring of Hopscotch, dismembered legs flying at my screen? Dodgeball with a spiked ball and no protective gear? Some games were better than others. I personally preferred the ones that were reliant on skill and cleverness compared to the ones catered more toward luck or physical strength. What I did appreciate, however – other than the great special effects and copious amounts of blood splatter – was how each round systematically broke down the competitors’ psyches. I think it might have been the smartest part of the whole series. [Spoilers in next section.]


The Basic Psychology of the Games (as told by an amateur non-psychologist)

The first two games are specifically individual rounds (Red Light, Green Light, and the honeycomb cake shape cutting), where death comes swiftly if you mess up and the punishment is dealt by the anonymous ‘powers that be’ behind the games. The next game has the contestants teaming up into groups of ten for Tug-of-War. Here we see the first instance where the players are directly responsible for killing their fellow contestants, and not in a pleasant way. They are forced to watch as they physically pull their competitors off a high platform and down to their screaming, bone-crunching demises. It’s a desperate You-or-Me situation with very little time to consider alternative actions. Camaraderie and trust for team members is tentatively built, a sense of security in numbers settles in, and then the next round swiftly demolishes it.

Marbles asks for a two-player partnership and then forces those players into a head-to-head competition. The bonds recently formed are now turned on themselves. Only one winner can progress to the next game; the team-mate you chose is now your deadly foe. And this isn’t a few minutes of frantic push-and-pull struggling. This is a decisive, thought-out, very deliberate form of survival over the space of a thirty-minute-long game. I really liked how the writers slowed the pacing down here and allowed some breathing room for conversation and latent manipulation to come out. I especially appreciated the discussion between the two teenage girls (even if was a little tropey). There were some real fraught, emotional scenes here and without needing any adrenaline-fueled mayhem to boost the enjoyment.

Next, the penultimate game, and this was a bridge too far for me, personally. I think this was the weakest round. But we see the contestants are not only back to working at an individual level after losing most of their ability to place trust in others, but some are even actively using other players’ deaths (grabbing and pushing them forward to test the glass surfaces to see which will break) to further their own progress. It hasn’t taken long at all to degrade the moral codes of the majority of these remaining people. There could be parallels drawn here with how Big Media and their owners control and disseminate information in order redirect the attention of the common people on to undeserving quarters, distracting them from the true culprits (i.e. Banks, Politicians, Tax-Evading Big Corporations, etc.) But let’s not get into that right now. We’re talking about a Netflix show here, after all.

By the time the final two contestants make it to the last game – the squid game itself – all sense of brotherhood, collusion and humanity is gone. The only way to survive, to win, is to violently, brutally take it. In fact, it might have been interesting if the writers had seen this through to the end: the stripping down of humanity to its basest of instincts, to its most animalistic form of survival after suffering so much trauma and conditioning. After all, every one of these people entered these games with the full knowledge that only one of them could win. But, alas, it doesn’t. Everything ends quite predictably.


Notice how I dodged commenting on how any of this on-screen violence translates into the more obvious themes of capitalism or classism? Themes I’m sure other articles have already discussed in detail and in a far more articulate and intelligent manner than I could. I’m not discussing those here because, honestly, I don’t think Squid Game handles them all that well. For me, the whole ‘Bored Rich Elite vs Lower Class Pleb in Debt’ feels like a shallow veneer the makers have thrown over their show like a set dressing, much like the Escher-like staircases and the over-sized children’s playground. Deep, thought-provoking discussion over class structure or South Korea’s growing personal debt crisis aren’t why we, the viewers, have spent a collective 239,700 years watching this show. In fact, if they had tackled those topics with all seriousness, I’d hazard a guess that Squid Game wouldn’t be a fraction as fun or as popular. None of us are finishing the nine-episode run and saying ‘Gosh, I wonder what the average amount of personal debt a person in South Korea is in’. No, what we’re saying is ‘Man, did you see that woman’s brains coming out of her head?!’. None of our kids are going to school the next day and asking their teachers about the working and living conditions of South Korean people and their households. No, they’re running into the playground at lunchtime and making up improvised quasi-violent Squid Game games to play with their friends. And it’s in Squid Game’s sheer audacity (I mean, come on, has no one noticed that 400+ people have been going mysteriously missing every year for over a decade?) that the enjoyability comes from. Yes, horrific things happen to the most vulnerable of our society on a daily basis – they’ll be preyed on by those more powerful than them until the end of time. But never is it done in such grandly-designed, gaudily-painted sets, or during children’s games played to the death while being watched by fat, white men in ornate, golden animal masks who are the most awful (like, the worst) English-speaking actors on the planet.

So, in conclusion, Squid Game is as fun, grotesque, dramatic, comedic, over-the-top, unsubtle, exasperating (I’m still puzzling over the many plot-holes in the whole brother-cop sub-plot), entertaining and absurd a TV-watching experience as you could hope to find on Netflix – or anywhere else for that matter. And I enjoyed it very much. For the first 5 or 6 episodes, at least. I’m still not very happy about how they treated my favourite character. Writers can be such assholes.

G X Todd is the writer of ‘the Voices’ series, the fourth and final book of which, GHOSTS, releases on the 9th December in all good book shops.

Trail of the Cursed Cobras – Barry Nugent


An ill-advised short cut pulls the twelve-year-olds into a deadly plot involving secret agents, an ageless sorcerer, and an artefact of devastating power.

As the children race against time to solve the mystery, they must face their fears, outwit their foes, battle monsters born of shadow and nightmare, and make their way through traps to the heart of it all: the Apocalypse Chamber.

It’s 1982 and five kids from a North London comprehensive school are fighting the End of the World.

I’d say the odds are about even… 

Well, that was an absolute blast, and one of the most fun, enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.

I’d spotted Trail of the Cursed Cobras via @runalongwomble’s excellent review, and the author very kindly offered to send me an ebook copy. I dove straight in, and raced through the book in a couple of hours, enjoying every minute.

Aimed at middle-grade readers (typically between 8 – 12 years old), it’s a cracking tale of adventure set in a North London comprehensive school the early 80s. Echoes of Grange Hill, mixed with a bit of the X-Files and maybe a dash of Scooby-Doo make this a properly fun read.

Regular readers may have spotted that I am not a twelve year old (though do have the sense of humour of one, apparently). However, Trail of the Cursed Cobras can be (and indeed should be) enjoyed by anyone. It’s got everything – a brilliant cast of well-formed characters (better than some ‘grown-up’ fiction, for sure), an exciting, well-plotted story with some tense action and it’s just a joy to read.

I loved the gang of kids. Ada, the super smart detective. Bobby, who still talks to his dead mum. DJ, who can get into anthing. Nikki, who loves nothing more than causing trouble and pinching lollipops from anyone. And our way into this gang, Tony, the new boy. He’s not sure he wants to be part of it, but gets drawn along with the adventure against some sorcery, mysterious government types, school bullies and more.

One of my favourite books of the year, I can highly recommend picking up a copy. And I can’t wait to find out what happened to the kids in Norfolk…

Trail of the Cursed Cobras by Barry Nugent is out now from Batten Press. You can find Barry on twitter @unseen_shadows. Huge thanks for a copy of the book to review.

Runalongwomble also has a great interview with Barry Nugent

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