The Secret Chapter – Genevieve Cogman

A Librarian’s work is never done, and once Irene has a quick rest after their latest adventure, she is summoned to the Library. The world where she grew up is in danger of veering deep into chaos, and she needs to obtain a particular book to stop this from happening. No copies of the book are available in the Library, so her only choice is to contact a mysterious Fae information broker and trader of rare objects: Mr. Nemo.

Irene and Kai make their way to Mr. Nemo’s remote Caribbean island and are invited to dinner, which includes unlikely company. Mr. Nemo has an offer for everyone there: he wants them to steal a specific painting from a specific world. He swears that he will give each of them an item from his collection if they bring him the painting within the week.

Everyone takes the deal. But to get their reward, they will have to form a team, including a dragon techie, a Fae thief, a gambler, a driver, and the muscle. Their goal? The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, in a early twenty-first century world, where their toughest challenge might be each other.

The Secret Chapter marks the sixth instalment in Genevieve Cogman’s wonderful Invisible Library books. I’ve been a huge fan of the series since the very first chapter of the very first book.

Short catch-up: Irene Winters is a Librarian. The Library connects worlds, and the Librarians jump between worlds to collect books. Oh, and there are dragons and Fae, and they don’t like each other much. The dragons prefer worlds which tend towards order, and the Fae towards chaos. Kai is Irene’s assistant. And a dragon.

Still with me? Excellent. Now, you’ve either read the other books, in which case you’ll need no enticement from me to read this one. Or you haven’t, in which case hie yourself off to the nearest bookshop (or library, of course) to get yourself a copy of The Invisible Library and settle down for some rollicking adventures.

In The Secret Chapter, our heroes must get their hands on a book. So far, so standard. Except the only copy of the book belongs to Mr Nemo, a delightfully Bond-esque villain (with a secret lair and a malevolent octopus, naturally). And Mr Nemo wants a very specific painting from another world in return.

Oh, and he’s assembled a motley crew (including Irene and Kai) to go and acquire it. A crew which includes a Fae thief, an ace getaway driver, a dragon computer hacker, a gambler and some muscle.

What could possibly go wrong?

Hijinks, naturally, ensue. And what hijinks they are. I love a good heist story! The action comes thick and fast. The gang fall out, get back together, fall out, and it’s all just wonderful.

I love these books so much, they’re very much a comfort read for me. Doesn’t matter where Irene and Kai end up, I know that we’re going to have a blast.

Very much recommended.

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman is published by Pan and is out now. Huge thanks to Genevieve Cogman for the copy to review.

Black Summer – M.W. Craven

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars. Charming. Charismatic. Psychopath . . . He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found and Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

Earlier this summer I picked up a copy of M.W. Craven’s The Puppet Show on my kindle. Loads of book bloggers had been raving about it. Cpuld it possibly stand up to the hype? A serial killer on the loose, a dysfunctional pair of detectives, sounded right up my street.

And indeed it was. I stayed up entirely too late reading it, unable to sleep until I found out what was going on.

So now we have Black Summer, book 2 in the Washington Poe series. I missed out on the hardback release, but the same gang of book bloggers was raving about this one too (do they have no respect for my TBR pile?). I was delighted to be asked to join the blog tour, and sat down to see what our old friends Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw got up to next.

A celebrity chef who definitely killed his daughter, and went to prison for it. But then she turns up, quite definitely alive (if not particularly well). And it was Poe who put him in prison for the murder. Could he have been wrong?

And then she goes missing again, and the evidence all points in one direction. Washington Poe, what have you done?

*claps hands excitedly* Shenanigans afoot! I love shenanigans. Especially when they’re as clever as this.

Poe has to work out how someone who was most definitely dead is now most definitely not. And who better to help than Tilly Bradshaw, computer genius?

As with The Puppet Show, it’s the Poe/Bradshaw dynamic which gives these books an extra zing. But the story here is taut and will keep you turning pages and second-guessing yourself until the wee small hours. I loved the cat-and-mouse game between Poe and Keaton, the chef.

The Puppet Show was (and is) great. Black Summer is, dare I say it, even better. Roll on Washington Poe #3!

Black Summer by M.W. Craven is published by Constable and is out now in paperback. Many thanks to Beth Wright for inviting me onto the blog tour.

Breakers – Doug Johnstone

Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings, he’s also trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addict mum.

On a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead, but that’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt.

With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in devastating danger, Tyler meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house, and he thinks she may just be his salvation … unless he drags her down too.

Well now. What do we have here?

A Scottish family drama? A taut crime story? Boy-meets-girl from the other side of the tracks blossoming romance? Puppies?

Check, check, check and yes, check. But take those simple ingredients and put them in the hands of Doug Johnstone and what you end up with is something truly special. If Michelin did stars for books, then Breakers would be wearing its star bright and proud.

Johnstone does characters and place exceptionally well, as evidenced in his previous book, Fault Lines. But here, his starkly contrasting aspects of Edinburgh are done so well. I love a book with a sense of place, and Breakers leaves you feeling that you could walk its streets (though you might want to avoid the estate that Tyler lives on) from the descriptions on the page.

The story bounces around Edinburgh, from the rough estates where Tyler and his family live to the more well-to-do suburbs where they go on the prowl for houses to break into.

Which is where Barry does something spectacularly stupid, even for him. And crime lord Deke Holt is on the hunt. It’s not going to end well…

And the characters! Tyler, young carer to his drug-addict mum and devoted older brother to his little sister Bean, forced into an impossible situation by his thuggish brother Barry. Forced to make some hard choices to survive, and to protect his beloved Bean.

Short, sharp and decidedly not sweet, Breakers is one of those books that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Hugely recommended.

Breakers by Doug Johnstone is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Thanks as ever to Karen Sullivan for the copy of Doug’s book to review.

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.