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.

Survivors – GX Todd

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who hear voices, and those who want to silence them.

Pilgrim is a man with a past he can’t remember. When he wakes alone in a shallow grave, there is a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. It explains who he is and what he’s done. It tells him he has one purpose: to find a girl named Lacey.

As Pilgrim is drawn north to Missouri in search of Lacey, he must also travel back to where it all began – to those he left behind. War is coming, and Pilgrim is going to need all the allies he can get.

So here we are. Book #3 of The Voices, following on from Defender and Hunted, both of which made my Books of the Year for 2017 and 2018. A high bar has been set.

Survivors just smashed it. The first two books are brilliant, but in this, Todd has taken it to the next level. Hard to say too much without giving too much away – if you’ve read the first two then you’ll need absolutely no nudging from me to pick up this instalment.

If you haven’t read Defender or Hunted, then get yourself to a bookshop immediately, clear a weekend, stock up on tea and biscuits and settle down for what one book reviewer said about them:

It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

(ok, it was me)

Survivors takes us back in time to before the Voices, and we get to know a little more about how the world came to be in the state we find it in Defender. We also find out a lot more about the mysterious Pilgrim, and it was fascinating to learn his backstory.

As with the first two books, Todd’s worldbuilding is just superb, rich and gloriously imagined. I read Survivors on a road trip in the US over the summer, and couldn’t think of a more appropriate setting. Todd also does characters really *really* well, and despite the relative heft of this book, you find yourself lost in the pages, only emerging blinking into the daylight after the final page.

Book four just cannot come soon enough. Easily one of my favourite series of books, ever.

Survivors by G.X. Todd is published by Headline on 31st October 2019. Huge thanks to Caitlin Raynor and Headline for the review copy.

Doing Time – Jodi Taylor

At some time in the future, the secret of time-travel became available to all. Chaos ensued as people sought to take advantage. Because there will always be nutters who want to change history…

And so the Time Police were formed. Internationally sanctioned thugs whose task it was to keep the timeline straight by any and all means possible. And they succeeded. The Time Wars are over. The Time Police won. But who will win the peace?

Doing Time follows three hapless new Time Police recruits – Jane, Luke and Matthew – as they try to navigate their first year on the beat. It’s all going to be fine. Obviously.

Doing Time is a spinoff from Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s series. Now I’ve not read any of those, but judging by the hijinks on display here, I think I might have a few books to add to my ever-growing backlog!

I enjoyed this a lot – it’s a fun romp through time following the adventures of the three new recruits. The action comes thick and fast, and we’re whisked from Time Police HQ in the future back to ancient Egypt and pyramids, to the Romans and the Ides of March.

Our misfit heroes are put through the wringer a lot, faced with trying to gel as a team despite pressures from all sides, save the history of the world as they go, try not to get in the way too much, and prove to everyone that they *do* know what they’re doing. Well, mostly…

Whilst you can read Doing Time as a standalone, there are a lot of references to St. Mary’s peppered throughout the book and it’s definitely got me intrigued as to what goes on over there. That said, we get plenty of glimpses at the backstory of St Mary’s here to bring you up to speed. I think that if you’re already a fan, there’ll be a lot there to make you smile. I wondered whether I might have missed out on some of the in-jokes though!

Doing Time by Jodi Taylor is published by Headline in October 2019. Huge thanks to Headline and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour, and for the advance review copy.

Snakes and Ladders – Victoria Selman

One killer on the loose. Another setting the rules. A profiler caught in the middle.

A serial killer is terrorising London, removing a body part from each victim and leaving in its place a single pink rose.

Dr Vernon Sange, a multiple murderer awaiting extradition, seems to know the culprit’s identity—but he’ll only talk to profiler Ziba MacKenzie, the woman responsible for putting him away. Though there’s something he wants in return from her. And time is running out.

With one killer whispering in her ear and another running rings around the police, Ziba must play a game in which only her opponent knows the rules, and the forfeit is death.

I do love a good serial killer book, and Snakes and Ladders fits the bill. It’s the third in Victoria Selman’s Ziba MacKenzie series, following on from Blood for Blood (nominated for the 2017 Crime Writer’s Award Debut Dagger) and Nothing to Lose, but can easily be read as a standalone.

Ziba MacKenzie is an ace profiler with the FBI, called back to London to deal with imprisoned serial killer Dr Vernon Sange, who says he knows the identity of the PRK, a new murderer on the loose. Shades of Silence of the Lambs at work here then, but this is very much its own story, and a gripping one at that!

Ziba and the team are faced with a deadly countdown until the Pink Rose Killer strikes again. Can she elude Sange’s mind games and figure out the clues?

Loved it – raced through this book in no time. The action comes thick and fast, and I thought I was *so* clever and had figured things out early on, only to find out that Selman had been playing me much like Dr Sange plays Ziba throughout the book! Tricksy authors…

I’ve not read the first two books in the series, but on the strength of Snakes and Ladders, I will definitely be adding them to my reading list.

If you like a good psychological thriller, with strong characters and a great plot that’ll keep you guessing, then I can highly recommend this book.

Victoria Selman will be appearing at the November instalment of First Monday Crime on 4th November 2019. Get yourself a ticket!

Snakes and Ladders by Victoria Selman, book 3 in the Ziba MacKenzie series, is published by Thomas & Mercer on 21st November 2019. Huge thanks to Victoria for the advance copy of her book to review.

After graduating from Oxford University, Victoria Selman studied Creative Writing at the City Lit and wrote for the Ham & High and Daily Express newspapers. In 2013 she won the Full Stop Short Story Prize, and her first novel, Blood for Blood, was shortlisted for the 2017 Debut Dagger Award. Victoria lives in London with her husband and two sons.

Little Siberia – Antti Tuomainen

A man with dark thoughts on his mind is racing along the remote snowy roads of Hurmevaara in Finland, when there is a flash in the sky and something crashes into the car. That something turns about to be a highly valuable meteorite. With euro signs lighting up the eyes of the locals, the unexpected treasure is temporarily placed in a neighbourhood museum, under the watchful eye of a priest named Joel.

But Joel has a lot more on his mind than simply protecting the riches that have apparently rained down from heaven. His wife has just revealed that she is pregnant. Unfortunately Joel has strong reason to think the baby isn’t his. As Joel tries to fend off repeated and bungled attempts to steal the meteorite, he must also come to terms with his own situation, and discover who the father of the baby really is.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Antti Tuomainen’s books. From 2017’s The Man Who Died and its Fargo-esque story of a poisoned man looking for his killer, to Palm Beach Finland‘s heady neon cocktail of Miami Vice, with a dash of Baywatch and a beach umbrella to top it off. Huge fun, black comedy at its best.

So, we’ve had #MushroomNoir and #FlamingoNoir. What flavour of Noir will Mr Tuomainen serve up next?

Well, it seems that this time round we’ve got #MeteoriteNoir. A small but very valuable meteorite crashes through the roof of a car on a dark, snowy night and changes the fortunes not only of the driver, but of the entire village. Because someone is out to make their fortune from the hunk of space rock, whatever the cost.

Told with Tuomainen’s signature wit, Little Siberia is another slice of brilliance from the King of Helsinki Noir. He’s got a lovely flair for character, and the inhabitants of Hurmevaara are a motley bunch, beautifully drawn. But characters alone cannot make a story, so we have a splendidly twisty black comedy to tie everything together.

And what a comedy of errors it is. It seems that most of the village is after the meteorite, with only Joel, the hapless town priest, setting his mind to make sure it’s safe until it can be moved on. He’s got his work cut out for him and it’s a sheer joy watching the plans within plans play out over the course of the book.

I loved The Man Who Died and Palm Beach Finland, but Little Siberia might just have pipped them both to be my new favourite of Antti Tuomainen’s books.

As ever, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Hugely recommended.

Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books on 17th October 2019. Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books and Anne Cater for inviting me onto the blog tour.

Huge props, as ever, to David Hackston for the excellent translation work.

You can find Antti Tuomainen (and his fabulous shirts) on Twitter @Antti_Tuomainen

Snare – Lilja Sigurðardóttir

That cover. oof. So good.

After a messy divorce, attractive young mother Sonja is struggling to provide for herself and keep custody of her son. With her back to the wall, she resorts to smuggling cocaine into Iceland, and finds herself caught up in a ruthless criminal world. As she desperately looks for a way out of trouble, she must pit her wits against her nemesis, Bragi, a customs officer, whose years of experience frustrate her new and evermore daring strategies. Things become even more complicated when Sonja embarks on a relationship with a woman, Agla. Once a high-level bank executive, Agla is currently being prosecuted in the aftermath of the Icelandic financial crash. 

So, I’m late to the party. Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s third book in her Reykjavik Noir trilogy, Cage, has just been published, and here’s me not having read any of them.

Until today, that is. I practically inhaled book 1, Snare, over the course of an afternoon, and promptly kicked myself for missing out. At least I don’t have to wait for books 2 and 3, I suppose!

Snare follows three strands: Sonja, drug smuggler snared in a spiralling series of ever more dangerous strategies to get cocaine into Iceland. Agla, high-level bank executive under investigation following suspicious activity in the banking crash, and Sonja’s lover. Rounding off the trio we have the relentless Bragi, a customs officer determined to crack down on the drug smuggling through his airport.

I must admit that I found Sonja and Bragi’s stories more interesting than the seemingly drier financial investigations into Agla’s past, but it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in the later books.

Sigurðardóttir has crafted an elaborate game of cat and mouse with Snare, though it’s not always clear who’s the cat and who’s the mouse. I’ve got a huge soft spot for a good twisty tale, and loved this one – from the brilliant characters to the Icelandic setting (huge thanks for the pronunciation guide!), I just couldn’t put it down. Right, now onto book 2!

Recommended.

Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir is published by Orenda Books. Translated by Quentin Bates (@graskeggur). Huge thanks as ever to Karen at Orenda for the review copy.

You can find Lilja Sigurðardóttir on twitter at @Lilja1972 or at her website http://www.liljawriter.com/