The Pursuit of William Abbey – Claire North

South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William.

William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die.

A new book by Claire North is always a welcome event. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but can rest assured that it’ll be different and thought-provoking.

The Pursuit of William Abbey is exactly that. Starting with a horrific, brutal event, we’re drawn into the life of Dr William Abbey and his quest to stay one step ahead of his pursuer, the shadow of a young boy murdered by white colonists in Natal. Abbey was present at the lynching, and cursed by the boy’s mother. Langa never stops, undeterred by mountain range or ocean, by desert or forest. He is utterly relentless.

As Langa grows closer, Abbey discovers that he can see the truth in people’s hearts. Close enough, and Abbey finds himself unable to stop himself from blurting those truths out to any and everyone who’ll listen.

If Langa catches up with Abbey, someone he loves will die, and the chase will begin again.

North does not spare us of the brutality of war or colonialism. Some sections of the book are hard to stomach, deliberately so. Man’s inhumanity to man is writ large across the pages of this book as Abbey travels from continent to continent.

Abbey finds himself at the attention of The Nineteen, a shadowy organisation who promise him salvation from his curse. He just needs to do a few little jobs for them first – go here and find out those truths, go there and find out some more. Always travelling, always moving, always pursued.

North’s writing is, as always, wonderful and easy to lose yourself in. In part I wanted to finish the book to find out what happens, but on another level I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere, the astonishing cast of characters that she conjures forth throughout the book.

If I had any criticism, it would be that the pace, relentless as it is for our titular William Abbey, flags ever so slightly around the halfway mark. But it recovers as we approach the final act, leading to an ending which…

Well, I’ll have to leave that to you, dear reader. Will Abbey find absolution for his sins? Will he escape his pursuer?

I’m not sure my words are doing this book justice – for a more thorough review I’d like to direct you to David at BlueBookBalloon who is far better than I am at putting such things in the perspective they deserve.

In short, The Pursuit of William Abbey is a work of an astonishing imagination. A Claire North book is always worth investigating, and if you do get this one, I’d love to hear what you think.

The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Thanks to Nazia Khatun at Orbit for the advance copy of the book to review, and to Tracy Fenton for inviting me onto the blog tour.

This is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Red and Blue are two operatives on opposing sides of the Time War. Each determined that their side should be victorious, each travelling up and down the braids of time to make a subtle change here, or a little tweak there to encourage the desired outcome. Blue works for Garden, at one end of the time stream. Red is an agent of The Commandant, at the other. Each working for their own side, trying to foil the other.

So far, so sci-fi. But this is so much more. It is, at heart, a series of letters between the two agents. Letters written in the seeds of a plant, nurtured over hundreds of years. In the flow of a lava field, in the feathers of a goose, in knots tied in a sample of cloth, the missives grow increasingly abstract and lyrical.

Letters which start as taunts, which turn into mutual admiration, and ultimately into love letters the like of which have rarely been seen. The word poetic fails to do justice to the missives of these star- and time-crossed lovers.

Victoria Schwab (another of my favourite authors) summed up this book perfectly.

Holy shit this was good.

V.E. Schwab

It’s more than good. It’s astonishing. You should read it.

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is out now.

Huge thanks to @runalongwomble and @bluebookballoon for bringing this book to my attention

Viper Books

Delighted to receive a rather epic parcel of books recently from the lovely folk at Viper Books, a new imprint of Serpent’s Tail which launched in November 2019

Four fabulous looking books, a splendid tote bag (you can never have too many bookish totes) and a little bottle of Viper Vodka. Let’s pop that in the freezer for later, and take a look at the books, shall we?


The Broken Ones – Ren Richards

published March 2020

When her child was taken what did she really see?

A bestselling true crime writer, Nell Way tells other people’s stories. But there is one story Nell won’t tell. Ten years ago and with a different name, she was a teenage mother with a four-year-old she found desperately hard to love. Then the little girl disappeared, and Nell has never shaken off the shadow of suspicion.

As she begins to interview the subject of her next book – a woman convicted of murdering her twin sister – it becomes clear that someone has uncovered her true identity. And they know that Nell didn’t tell the truth about the day her daughter disappeared… 


Who We Were – BM Carroll

published May 2020

IT’S BEEN TWENTY YEARS
BUT ALL IS NOT FORGIVEN

Katy is not the shy schoolgirl she once was, and she’s looking forward to showing her classmates who she’s become.

Annabel was the queen bee. But her fall from grace changed her life forever.

Zach was cruel, but he thinks he’s changed.

Robbie was a target. And he never stood a chance.

The reunion will bring together friends and enemies, many for the first time in decades. But someone is still holding a grudge…


Bitter Wash Road – Garry Disher

published April 2020

Hirsch is a whistle-blower. Formerly a promising metropolitan detective, now hated and despised, he’s been exiled to a one-cop station in South Australia’s wheatbelt. Threats. Pistol cartridge in the mailbox.

So when he heads up Bitter Wash Road to investigate gunfire and finds himself cut off without backup, there are two possibilities. Either he’s found the fugitive killers thought to be in the area. Or his ‘backup’ is about to put a bullet in him.

He’s wrong on both counts. But Tiverton when the next call-out takes him to the body of a sixteen-year-old girl, his investigation has disturbing echoes of the past he’s trying to leave behind…


A Famished Heart – Nicola White

published February 2020

Her head was bowed, and the hands braced on the chair arms were not like hands at all, but the dry dark claws of a bird…

The Macnamara sisters hadn’t been seen for months before anyone noticed. It was Father Timoney who finally broke down the door, who saw what had become of them. Berenice was sitting in her armchair, surrounded by religious tracts. Rosaleen had crawled under her own bed, her face frozen in terror. Both had starved themselves to death.

Francesca Macnamara returns to Dublin after decades in the US, to find her family in ruins. Meanwhile, Detectives Vincent Swan and Gina Considine are convinced that there is more to the deaths than suicide. Because what little evidence there is, shows that someone was watching the sisters die…


The Resident – David Jackson

published July 2020

YOU THINK YOU’RE ALONE.
THINK AGAIN.

Thomas Brogan is a serial killer, and he has nowhere left to hide. At least until he finds an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he discovers that he can access three other houses through the attic space, the real fun begins.

Because the one thing that Brogan enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet…


Phew! What a selection. Huge thanks to Viper Books for the bookish goodies, I can’t wait to get started.

But where to start? Which one would you pick?

17 Church Row – James Carol

Three years ago, Nikki and Ethan Rhodes suffered a devastating loss when their four-year-old daughter Grace was tragically killed in a road accident. Ethan, a radio personality, escapes into work, leaving Nikki to care for their remaining child, Bella, who hasn’t spoken since that day.

Seeking a fresh start, the family moves into a revolutionary new house designed by renowned architect, Catriona Fisher. The house features a state-of-the-art security system, along with every amenity you could dream of.

For the Rhodes’ this is a chance to finally pick up the pieces and get on with their lives in a place where they feel totally safe.

But what if 17 Church Row isn’t the safe haven that they think it is?

I really enjoyed this – it’s a smart, sharp techno-thriller with an interesting cast of characters and an intriguing setting. We’re all becoming used to having smart assistants around these days – from ‘hey Siri’ to ‘OK Google’ or Alexa, help is but a request away. Phones by our side, smart devices in our homes, voice control over lights, heating, every part of modern-day living is gradually being handed over to our technological helpers.

The tech in 17 Church Row is a bit more futuristic, to almost Star Trek levels.

The Rhodes’ new home has this tech built-in. Alice is set up to deal with your every whim, almost before you realise what it is you need. Fancy a coffee? It’s already made. Pizza for tea? No problem, it’s been ordered from your favourite restaurant.

A traumatised young girl who’s lost her sister and can no longer talk? A family grieving for their daughter?

What can Alice do for them?

Hard to say much more without spoiling the fun, but it’s an engaging tale, which picks up momentum in the second half before rattling to a satisfying ending. A proper page-turner, lose yourself in the action. Great fun.

Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

Ghoster – Jason Arnopp

Kate Collins has been ghosted.

She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty flat. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared.

Except for his mobile phone.

Kate knows she shouldn’t hack into Scott’s phone. She shouldn’t look at his Tinder, his texts, his social media. But she can’t quite help herself.

That’s when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn’t recognise. Scratch marks on the door that she can’t explain.

And the growing feeling that she’s being watched

Ah, the humble smartphone. Where would we be without them? That constant ping of notifications – texts, emails, Twitter, Facebook. The socials. All to easy to get sucked in.

After reading this book, you may very well look at your little slab of glass in an entirely different way…

I went into Ghoster fresh, didn’t read the blurb, didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard great things about Jason Arnopp’s previous book, The Last Days of Jack Sparks from friends and fellow bookbloggers, so jumped in with both feet.

What starts off as a regular ‘what happened to Scott?’ thriller takes a very sharp turn in an entirely unexpected direction. Spoiler-free version: It’s dark, it’s very creepy, and entirely brilliant.

The story bounces between the then – Kate and Scott hooking up and their blossoming relationship – and the now, the ‘what on earth has happened to him?’. Arnopp has entirely too much fun playing with us – setting up little tidbits of information, scraps of their lives, another cliffhanger to entice you to keep turning those pages.

And turn those pages you will.

Ghoster is a cautionary tale at heart. We put so much of ourselves online, but never know quite who might be watching.

Highly recommended, though you might end up spending a little less time with your phone as a result.

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour

A Cheesemonger’s History of The British Isles – Ned Palmer

Every cheese tells a story. Whether it’s a fresh young goat’s cheese or a big, beefy eighteen-month-old Cheddar, each variety holds the history of the people who first made it, from the builders of Stonehenge to medieval monks, from the Stilton-makers of the eighteenth-century to the factory cheesemakers of the Second World War.

Cheesemonger Ned Palmer takes us on a delicious journey across Britain and Ireland and through time to uncover the histories of beloved old favourites like Cheddar and Wensleydale and fresh innovations like the Irish Cashel Blue or the rambunctious Renegade Monk. Along the way we learn the craft and culture of cheesemaking from the eccentric and engaging characters who have revived and reinvented farmhouse and artisan traditions. And we get to know the major cheese styles – the blues, washed rinds, semi-softs and, unique to the British Isles, the territorials – and discover how best to enjoy them, on a cheeseboard with a glass of Riesling, or as a Welsh rarebit alongside a pint of Pale Ale.

This is a cheesemonger’s odyssey, a celebration of history, innovation and taste – and the book all cheese and history lovers will want to devour this Christmas.

When I saw this book pop up on twitter, I knew it was going to brie really gouda. A grate book, some might say.

Ok, that’s enough of the cheese puns. I promise.

Ned Palmer, freelance cheesemonger (no, I didn’t know that was a thing either) and writer, takes us on a journey through British and Irish history, via the story of cheese in his new book, A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles. And what a journey it is!

Ned takes us from Neolithic feasts (4000 BCE – 43BCE), through the Romans, the impact of monks and monasteries on cheesemaking, the introduction of big cheeses in the 1500s, right up to factory production, the Milk Marketing Board, and right up to the current renaissance in artisan cheesemakers.

Be warned. There are a *lot* of cheeses in this book. And you will want to try them all.

Ned is a generous host on this meander through history – at times funny, always fascinating (did you know that Double Gloucester is so named because cream from the morning milk was added to the previous evening’s milk? Or that Cheshire cheese tends to have colour added down south, but up north we prefer it white?), his knowledge of cheese, and cheese making, is encyclopaedic.

Along the way, we’re introduced to a host of small independent cheesemakers around the country, who produce a mouthwatering array of delicious local cheeses, be they made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk. From Hawes Wensleydale (“As pale and creamy as a milkmaid’s shoulder.”) to Stichelton (“hints of malty digestive biscuits, marmite and bubblegum.”), Ned has an evident love of his subject which comes across on every page.

I devoured this book, lost in the history, drooling over the descriptions of the incredible array of cheeses on display. No more for me the anodyne generic cheddar sold by the block – I’ll be hunting out the local producers, the markets, and maybe even a pilgrimage to Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, where Ned learned his craft.

A fascinating read for any cheese lover. Get it on your christmas list (if you can wait that long!)

Many thanks to Profile Books for the advance copy of Ned Palmer’s book for review.

You can find Ned Palmer on Twitter at @CheeseTastingCo

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth book cover

Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

This is one of my favourite books of the year. Weird, dark and often very funny, I loved it from the first page to the last.

It’s got everything – lesbian necromancers, a giant labyrinthine crumbling (possibly haunted, definitely deadly) house by the sea, swordfights, murder, blood, skeletons, locked rooms (which should *definitely* stay locked), mysterious mystics, battling Houses, daring cavaliers and a cluedo-esque whodunnit running throughout.

I *loved* the dynamic between Harrow and Gideon. Exchanging barbs and one-liners like they’re going out of fashion, the two Ninth House heroines have to battle against the other great Houses for the ultimate prize of Harrowhark becoming Lyctor to the Emperor. Except that she really needs Gideon’s help. And Gideon isn’t sure she can really be arsed.

The worldbuilding is glorious, though we only see a fragment of it on display here. The inter-House rivalries hint at larger things which we’ll hopefully see more of in the later books. The locked-room mysteries that the pair have to solve are delightfully cunning, and Harrow and Gideon make such a wonderful pairing. The Houses themselves are fascinating, as are the necromancers and cavaliers from each – for a book with 18 characters, they’re all well-realised and splendidly different.

Hugely recommended. I can’t wait to see where the story takes us in Harrow the Ninth, which is out next year.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is published by Tor.