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

Wychwood image

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.

All The Wicked Girls – Chris Whitaker

“Raine sometimes complains that nothing exciting is ever gonna happen in Grace again. Daddy told her careful what you wish for.”

Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine.

Then Summer goes missing. Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.

But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye

Regular readers (and twitter followers) will be well aware of my love for Tall Oaks, Chris Whitaker’s stunning debut novel. It kept me up until the wee small hours reading.

It was with some trepidation that I started his second book, All The Wicked Girls. The bar had been set pretty high.

I needn’t have worried. All The Wicked Girls is utterly brilliant, though in a different way to Tall Oaks. I’d struggle to pick one to recommend to you if pressed, and would probably insist that you just buy both and thank me (or rather thank Chris) later.

It’s deep and complex, harrowing and heartbreaking, a story of a young girl’s hunt for her missing sister in a small southern bible belt town. Chris Whitaker does small-town America really really well, and the town and townsfolk are pitch perfect. As with Tall Oaks, All The Wicked Girls is a character piece, and what characters they are – from the distraught parents to the fire & brimstone preachers, the harried cops and Raine’s unlikely partners, Noah and Purv.

Much like Manny and Abe from Tall Oaks, I loved the three kids, each with their own secrets, each trying to make it in their own version of the world.

All The Wicked Girls will sit firmly alongside Tall Oaks in my books of the year. As I said earlier, don’t make me choose – buy both and settle down for some of the best storycrafting you’re likely to see for a long time.

Chris Whitaker can be found on twitter @whittyauthor. Go say hi. The go read his books.

August book update

Hello dear reader!

I thought I’d give you an update on what’s been going on, book-wise. It’s been a busy old month so far.

Currently tracking the TBR pile via a spreadsheet –

total in the TBR pile: 154

Kindle: 72 (35 from netgalley, oops – need to get that number down a bit!)
Hard copy: 82 (53 review copies, 29 mine)

Books read recently

The Other Twin, by L.V. Hay

Sharp and smart, the twists and turns nicely paced, and the characters well-drawn. Highly recommended.
(full review here)

Godsgrave, by Jay Kristoff

Nevernight was one of my favourite books of last year, if not ever. Godsgrave is, dare I say it, even better. Get your hands on a copy as soon as it comes out. Full review soon.

Rattle, by Fiona Cummins

Dark, twisty and downright unsettling. Very very good. Again, full review up soon.

All The Wicked Girls, by Chris Whitaker

Bumper month for awesome books. Tall Oaks was (and indeed is) astonishingly good. All The Wicked Girls is even better, filled with fantastic characters in a small-town America where Raine looks for her missing sister. Just buy it, thank me later.

The Fourth Monkey, by JD Barker

Huge fun, despite spotting the twist (or one of them) early on I really really enjoyed it. Cracking dialogue, brilliant characters, nasty serial killer on the loose. Recommended.
(full review here)

Artemis, by Andy Weir (published in November 2017)

I *loved* The Martian, both book and film. Sadly, Artemis disappointed – there’s a cracking story in there somewhere, it just feels a bit muddled in places. The character comes across as a teenager but isn’t, the dialogue is clunky and the science is, surprisingly, a bit shonky. That said, it’ll sell by the bucketload and make a fabulous film if they get the casting right. Full review up closer to the publication date.

Currently reading:

Yesterday, by Felicia Yap

There are two types of people in the world. Those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before.
You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.
Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.
Can you trust the police? Can you trust your husband? Can you trust yourself?

Up next

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence, by Michael Marshall Smith

It’s not every day that the Devil knocks on your door
From the critically-acclaimed author of Only Forward comes a delightful new tale about Hannah, a young girl living a mundane existence in California, who discovers that her grandfather has been friends with the Devil for the past 150 years . . . and now, they need her help.

Books received

Two very lovely signed ARCs:
Force of Nature, by Jane Harper (Pan Macmillan – February 2018)
Force of Nature
Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.
The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.
Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – in just a matter of days she was to provide the documents that will bring down the company she works for.
Falk discovers that far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. But does it include murder?

The Feed, by Nick Clark Windo (January 2018)
The Feed
It makes us. It destroys us.

The Feed is everywhere. It can be accessed by anyone, at any time. Every interaction, every emotion, every image can be shared through it.

Tom and Kate use The Feed, but they have resisted addiction to it. And this will serve them well when The Feed collapses.

Until their six-year-old daughter, Bea, goes missing.

Because how do you find someone in a world devoid of technology? And what happens when you can no longer trust that your loved ones are really who they claim to be?

From The Shadows, by Neil White (Zaffre – March 2017)

He hides in the shadows, watching, waiting, until the time is right . . .
Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered and Robert Carter is accused of killing her.
When defence lawyer, Dan Grant inherits Carter’s case only weeks before the trial starts, everyone expects him just to babysit it, but Dan’s not that kind of lawyer. He’ll follow the evidence – wherever it takes him.
But as Dan and his investigator Jayne Brett look into the case, they discover that there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to do their jobs they need to push the limits of the system, even if it means putting themselves in danger.
Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost

Scorn, by Paul Hoffman (Whitefox – September 2017)

After an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider goes horribly wrong, depressed scientist Aaron Gall wakes up to discover his mind and body have undergone an astonishing transformation. Now bursting with the joys of life, he is inspired to undertake a radical new therapy: to talk to the priests who brutalized him and his school friends, point out the intellectual dishonesty and inhumanity of their religious beliefs – and then eat them. Aaron enjoys the process so much (as well as taunting the police and MI5) he decides to extend his murderous conversations to include the Archbishop of Westminster, recently converted Catholic Tony Blair, the Queen of England – and, finally, the Pope himself. But a Catholic Church that has given the world the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Papal Infallibility hasn’t survived for two thousand years without a reason. Aaron is in for the greatest shock in the history of mankind.

Wychwood, by George Mann (Titan Books – Sept 2017)

Elspeth May, a young female journalist who never seems to be in the right place at the right time, suddenly gets her big break only to find that no one will ever believe her story
When a local woman is found murdered in her own home, slashed viciously across the throat, the police begin a manhunt of the surrounding villages, unsure exactly of who or what they are looking for. Elspeth, accidentally first on the scene, finds her interest piqued, and sets out to investigate the details surrounding the crime. In doing so she finds herself constantly battling against Peter Shaw, a police sergeant working on the case and under suspicion due to a terrible incident that occurred on a previous investigation. More murders follow, each of them adopting a similar pattern. What links the victims? And why are some of the local people trying to cover things up?

Maria in the Moon, by Louise Beech (Orenda Books – August 2017)

‘Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’

Thirty-one-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria. With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything. Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…

The Shock, by Marc Raabe (Bonnier Zaffre – August 2017)

When Laura Bjely goes missing during a storm on the Cote d’Azur, the only thing her friend Jan finds is her smartphone – with a disturbing film in the memory.
Back in Berlin, Jan’s neighbour is discovered with a bloody message left on her forehead.
As Jan searches for answers about what happened to Laura, he is thrown into a nightmare of madness and murder.

Domina, by L.S. Hilton
Everything you thought you knew about Maestra… You don’t.
Judith Rashleigh returns in the stunning new thriller from the author of the Worldwide No.1 Bestseller, Maestra.

Kill Me Twice, by Simon Booker (Bonnier Zaffre – August 2017)

Karl Savage is dead.
He must be. His ex, Anjelica, is in prison for murdering him in an arson attack. Multiple forensic experts testified to finding his charred remains.
So when Anjelica begs investigative journalist Morgan Vine to prove her innocence, it seems an impossible task. It doesn’t matter that Karl was abusive. That Anjelica has a baby to care for. That she’s petrified of fire. The whole world knows Karl is dead.
Then he walks past Morgan’s window . . .

The Fourth Monkey – JD Barker

For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago. When his body is found, the police quickly realize he was on his way to deliver one final message, one which proves he has taken another victim who may still be alive.

As the lead investigator on the 4MK task force, Detective Sam Porter knows even in death, the killer is far from finished. When he discovers a personal diary in the jacket pocket of the body, Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath, unraveling a twisted history in hopes of finding one last girl, all while struggling with personal demons of his own.

With only a handful of clues, the elusive killer’s identity remains a mystery. Time is running out and the Four Monkey Killer taunts from beyond the grave in this masterfully written fast-paced thriller.

The Fourth Monkey is enormous fun, if you can call a tale of a serial killer ‘fun’. Even if I did spot the twist some twenty pages in and worked out how it would pan out way before the end (one of the perils of reading so many books, I suspect!), and I *still* really enjoyed it! I loved the detectives’ banter as they raced to solve the clues left by 4MK – they made a fantastic team and I’d love to see them in more investigations. I also really liked the way the main story is interspersed with the diary extracts of 4MK as a young boy – they really gave the story added depth and intrigue – you’re torn between wanting to find out more about the diary, but also more about the investigation in the present day.

It’s creepy and twisty and has definite shades of Jeffrey Deaver. Definitely falls into the ‘page-turner’ category, The Fourth Monkey is highly recommended.

You can find JD Barker on twitter @jdbarker. The Fourth Monkey is published by HQ and is out now in hardback and ebook.

Thanks to Liz @Cvr_2_Cvr from Cover to Cover for hosting the competition which resulted in me getting a copy of the book!

The Other Twin – LV Hay

When India falls to her death from a bridge over a railway, her sister Poppy returns home to Brighton for the first time in years. Unconvinced by official explanations, Poppy begins her own investigation into India’s death. But the deeper she digs, the closer she comes to uncovering deeply buried secrets. Could Matthew Temple, the boyfriend she abandoned, be involved?
And what of his powerful and wealthy parents, and his twin sister, Ana? Enter the mysterious and ethereal Jenny: the girl Poppy discovers after hacking into India’s laptop. What exactly is she hiding, and what did India find out about her?

What happened to Poppy’s sister? Was it suicide, or was she pushed? Poppy isn’t convinced it’s the former, so starts digging into her sister’s life, revealing a host of secrets that others would far rather have remained firmly buried.

The Other Twin is a smart psychological thriller, with an expertly woven web of twisted plot strands. There are secrets, lies and half-truths buried in the wintry lanes of Brighton, and Hay delivers an authentic taste of the city and its inhabitants as the tension ramps up and Poppy gets deeper into the mystery.

Poppy is a compelling heroine, drawn inexorably into the sometimes murky lives of her friends and family. It’s been some time since she was last home, and the people she knew have changed – who’s telling the truth and who’s bending the truth? I loved Poppy’s detective work into her sister’s life through the medium of blog posts, each throwing a new slant on what she thought she knew of her sister. Who is the mysterious Jenny? How is she linked to Poppy’s former boyfriend Matthew, his sister Ana, or any of the other key players?

The Other Twin is a relatively short read and I whistled through it in a couple of sittings. The writing is sharp and smart, the twists and turns nicely paced, and the characters well-drawn. Highly recommended.

The Other Twin by LV Hay is published by Orenda Books, and is available now. You can find Lucy on twitter @LucyVHayAuthor or at her website
Many thanks to Karen at @OrendaBooks for the review copy.