No apology required

Now then. You may have noticed that I read a lot of books. Not quite so many as some, but significantly more than others.

And you may also have noticed that I like telling you about the books that I’ve read, either here or on Twitter or Facebook. Or, if you’re particularly unlucky, in real life.

I tend to get quite excitable about books I love, especially after a beer or two. If I’ve seen you in a pub over the past couple of years and have raved at you about a book (or two), then you’ll know exactly what I mean.

I *love* talking about books. Especially the books I love.

Sometimes I even like talking about the books I didn’t quite love so much (yeah, the killer mermaid one. Though I know of at least three people who’ve gone on to buy a copy based on me getting very over-excited about what exactly was wrong with the killer mermaid book)

Over the past couple of months there have been several occasions where I’ve been chatting with someone and they’ve paused and said

“I’m *so* sorry…”

or

“I have a bit of a confession to make…”

They didn’t like the book. The book that I loved, and talked about so much. The book that I’d recommended so hard that they’d gone and bought it.

Please, don’t ever feel you have to apologise for not liking a book, especially to me.

A book is a personal thing. You either dig it, or you don’t. A ton of people absolutely loved that killer mermaid book. More power to them, I say.

I feel it should be me apologising to you, for pimping a book at you so hard that you spent your hard-earned cash on it but didn’t love it!

Right, that’s cleared that up. Now, back to the books…

🙂

The Tethered Mage – Melissa Caruso


Published by Orbit Books, October 2017
Source: review copy
In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.
Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations. But fate has bound the heir and the mage.
War looms on the horizon. A single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

This was the one I had on my shelf, sadly neglected for entirely too long (its sequel, The Defiant Heir has also turned up) much to my chagrin. I took the opportunity to bump it to the top of the TBR pile and I’m very glad I did. Lady Amalia Camaro is a splendid character, matched only by her Falcon, Zaira. Plots within plots abound as she’s drawn into the political machinations of the empire. Splendid stuff indeed!

The Tethered Mage was one of the two books on the Gemmell Morningstar Award shortlist that I hadn’t read (the other being Anna Smith Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives, which given how brilliant the other four books on the list are, I really must pick up!).

It’s a fantastic fantasy setting, with some quietly splendid worldbuilding which lurks in the background of a brilliantly twisty political magical story. It’s got everything – a fiesty fire warlock and her bonded Falconer,  court scheming, snappy dialogue and a cracking plot.

Book 2 is already on my shelf, but not for long! Looking forward to delving back into the world of Raverra.

You can find Melissa Caruso on twitter @MelissCaru, or at her website melissacaruso.net.

Hunted – GX Todd

Published by Headline, May 2018
Source: review copy

The birds are flying. The birds are flocking. The birds know where to find her.
One man is driven by a Voice that isn’t his. It’s killing his sanity and wrestling with it over and over like a jackal with a bone. He has one goal.
To find the girl with a Voice like his own. She has no one to defend her now. The hunt is on.
But in an Inn by the sea, a boy with no tongue and no Voice gathers his warriors. Albus must find Lacey … before the Other does. And finish the work his sister, Ruby began.

Sequel to the utterly brilliant Defender (one of my books of the year for 2017) we now have Hunted.

And boy, what a hunt it is.  It’s going to be hard to talk about this book without spoiling anything, but trust me on this. If you read and loved Defender, you *need* to read this. Pick up a copy, set aside a day, stockpile the biscuits, take the phone off the hook and strap yourself in for the chase.

And if you’ve not read Defender (what’s wrong with you??), go pick up that too (along with extra biscuits), and brace yourself for some of the finest dystopian worldbuilding you’re likely to see this side of the apocalypse.

Hunted takes the beautifully realised world of Defender, with it’s panoply of fantastic (albeit unpleasant in some cases) characters and expands the mythos. Those voices grow louder, the dystopia grows even more widescreen cinematic in scope, and the ending? Holy moly.

You are not ready for that ending. It’s a proper Empire Strikes Back kind of moment. Bereft, yet with a glimmer of hope that some things might just come right in the end.

The tension ratchets throughout the book, but it’s a slow burn, taking its time to catch light, but when the fire starts to burn, you need to stand back. The plotting is intricately woven through multiple viewpoints, multiple strands and the characters, oh the characters we meet. They’re complex, layered, always fascinating, often frustrating, and sometimes infuriating, but so utterly believable, facing down challenge after challenge, and when you think they can’t possibly take any more…

You’re ready. Join the hunt. #HearTheVoices

Book three cannot come soon enough.

You can find GX Todd on twitter @GemTodd. Many thanks to Headline for the review copy.

Adrift – Rob Boffard


Published by Orbit Books, June 2018
Source: review copy

In the far reaches of space, a group of tourists board a small vessel for what will be the trip of a lifetime – in more ways than one…
They are embarking on a tour around Sigma Station – a remote mining facility and luxury hotel with stunning views of the Horsehead Nebula.
During the course of the trip, a mysterious ship with devastating advanced technology attacks the Station. Their pilot’s quick evasive action means that the tour group escape with their lives – but as the dust settles, they realize they may be the only survivors…
Adrift in outer space, out of contact with civilization, and on a vastly under-equipped ship, these passengers are out of their depth. Their chances of getting home are close to none, and with the threat of another attack looming they must act soon – or risk perishing in the endless void of space.

Hot on the heels of his epic Outer Earth trilogy, Rob Boffard has delivered his new book, Adrift. A standalone this time, Adrift follows the (mis)fortunes of a group of tourists aboard the Red Panda, a small tour ship from Sigma Station, out by the Horsehead Nebula. Things, as you might expect, go awry fairly quickly as a mysterious ship appears and attacks the station, leaving the Red Panda adrift and alone in outer space.

Regular readers will be well aware by now that I rate Rob Boffard’s Outer Earth trilogy very highly indeed. They’re full-on, balls-to-the-wall action with every dial firmly cranked up to 11, with a cast of characters you come to care for over the course of the three books.

Adrift does have some (ok, lots of) absolutely stunning action set-pieces (and if there’s one thing Rob does well, it’s super-tense will-they-won’t-they action). It also has some great characters – I loved Volkova the hard drinking pilot who’ll do anything to protect her beloved ship, Lorinda who has more to her than meets the eye, and Corey the smart kid who manages to stay this side of annoying! The claustrophobic setting of the tiny, slightly rubbish tour ship which forces the characters to rub up against each other and let the sparks fly is nicely done too.

There are the occasional lulls in the action where the pace drops a bit, but you do need time to catch your breath before the tension is ratcheted up again. The plot is clever – first one thing, then another, with rugs being pulled out left right and centre before the dramatic and entirely satisfying finale.

Highly recommended.

You can find Rob on Twitter @RobBoffard, his website, and last but definitely not least, on his YouTube channel doing epic book raps, one minute book reviews and other fun stuff. Huge thanks to Nazia and the Orbit Books crew for the advance copy of the book (I’d already ordered my copy as soon as I knew it was coming out though!)

My Mother’s Secret – Sanjida Kay – an extract

Published by Corvus, 3rd May 2018

You can only hide for so long…
Lizzie Bradshaw. A student from the Lake District, forced to work away from home, who witnesses a terrible crime. But who will ultimately pay the price?
Emma Taylor. A mother, a wife, and a woman with a dangerous secret. Can she keep her beloved family safely together?
Stella Taylor. A disaffected teenager, determined to discover what her mother is hiding. But how far will she go to uncover the truth?
And one man, powerful, manipulative and cunning, who controls all their destinies.

Earlier this week Liz from Liz Loves Books tempted you with a peek at the prologue for Sanjida Kay’s new book, My Mother’s Secret. I’m here to whet your appetite further with a look at chapter one…

EMMA

It’s as if we’ve stepped into a Constable painting, a bucolic vision of England. There’s a single oak ahead of us in the heart of the valley; the grass is lime-green and the steep sides of the Cotswold escarpment are covered in dense woodland. Even though it’s May, the sky is shale-grey; there’s a brooding mass of clouds on the horizon.
‘We could have parked right there! Why did you make us walk all this way?’ Ava whines.
‘Because you’ll appreciate it even more,’ says Jack.
Stella snorts. ‘Yeah, like anyone but you is going to “appreciate” a mouldering old church.’
‘It’s so creepy. I don’t like it,’ Ava says.
I have to admit, the lowering sky and the dark green of the trees surrounding us make me feel a bit hemmed in.
‘I’ve been bitten!’ she shrieks and jumps about, slapping at her ankles.
‘I did see a horsefly back there,’ I say.
‘It’s probably nothing. Just a scratch,’ says Jack.
‘Let me have a look.’ I turn Ava’s slim calf in my hands.
Sure enough, there’s a large red lump starting to form above her ankle bone.
‘Don’t worry, I’ve got some ointment,’ I say, sliding my backpack off my shoulders.
Stella rolls her eyes.
‘Of course,’ says Jack, ‘your mum is prepared for anything. Break a leg, and she’ll wrap you in her space-blanket while we wait for mountain rescue on speed-dial.’
‘You’re kidding, right?’ says Stella. ‘A space-blanket.’
‘I do have a space-blanket, as it happens. You never know when you might need one . . .’ I rub antihistamine into Ava’s leg and she stops whimpering. ‘It’s so light, it would be stupid not to bring it.’ ‘I told you,’ says Jack.
‘Oh my God, you are insane.’
‘We could use it to fly to the moon,’ says Ava.
‘Jesus, Mum, the Taliban carry those things to stop the US spying on them with thermal cameras,’ says Stella.
‘Multi-purpose,’ murmurs my husband.
I finish putting away my first-aid kit. Ahead of us are a tiny stream and the remains of an old bridge.
‘Look! The people who once owned this place probably swept down here in their coach and horses, right over that bridge and up to the big house,’ I say brightly.
‘Like, that’s even interesting,’ says Stella.
There’s a sign saying the ruined bridge is unsafe. A round, stone ball lies to one side, as if it has tumbled from the crumbling turrets. It’s now half-obscured by long grass. There’s a cowpat next to it. We head to the right; buttery-coloured Cotswold stones poke through the soil.
I start singing ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’.
‘Spare me,’ mutters Jack under his breath, striding ahead of us. He’s smiling, though.
Ava joins in with the chorus, and we keep singing and she forgets to moan as the hill curves steeply upwards.
I don’t have my husband’s strength or resilience in the face of concerted opposition: I would never have managed to drag a fourteen-year-old and an eleven-year-old out of the house when they’d much rather be Snapchatting (Stella) or practising ballet (Ava). So I’m pleased Jack’s cheerily ignored any opposition to his plans, as he normally does, even if it means visiting yet another church. We haven’t been to see this one in a while, but sadly there’s no cafe nearby that the girls and I can escape to.
I’m out of breath. I really should lose some weight, I think, as I always do when Jack is marching us up some hill. He’s as fit as a flea. He goes to a posh gym in town and does kettlebells and something called HIIT in his lunch hour.
At the top, there’s a mansion that a family actually lives in, rather than opening it up to the public and allowing the whole world to traipse through the living room to raise money to repair the roof, plus a walled garden with stables and greenhouses that are also off-limits. The church is open but to reach it you have to walk round in a loop and double-back to give the owners a modicum of privacy. I get distracted by a lily pool and stop to take some photos on my phone. It’s surprisingly dark: there’s a thick hedge behind me, and beech trees overhead. I imagine this must have led to the main driveway for the house at one time. I lean over the fence, the metal cold against my stomach, and try and get a water lily to fill the frame in my camera. When I finally manage to take a halfway decent photo, I look up, ready to show Ava.
She’s gone. I can’t hear her or Stella and Jack, either. There’s the faint smell of horses and leather. It’s silent. It appears darker than before. The first spot of rain hits my cheek. I look round, but the narrow path is empty of walkers or my family.
I start jogging and call out, ‘Ava? Stella?’
I still can’t see them. The path grows narrower, the trees tower over me and it’s impossible to see over the hedge. Shrubs encroach. Something snaps across my face, stinging my cheek. I cry out. It’s a branch. I feel as if I’m in a tunnel. I run faster. A black shape explodes out of the bushes and I jump back. It’s a blackbird, disappearing into the wood in a flurry of feathers. I can’t breathe. There’s no sign of them, no sign that anyone else even passed this way.
I start screaming their names, over and over, the names of my family, my loved ones, the people I cannot live without. My heart is beating so hard it’s painful.
I must have missed the turn for the church, because now I’m on a wide driveway flanked by those giant beech trees, last year’s masts crunching beneath my feet, and the house is behind me, the windows shuttered against tourists. There’s still no one else around. No walkers. No one appears at the window. I can’t stop shouting; the silence will choke me. I feel as if my chest is in a giant vice that’s squeezing my ribs. I run to a fence and look down into the valley. There’s a girl on horseback a long way below me. She isn’t even aware that I’m up here, shouting for help. The path twists to the left, away from the fields, and disappears into a dark thicket of laurels. Is that where they are? I’m frozen. I don’t know where to search next, what to do.
And then Jack is running towards me. He puts one hand on my shoulder and looks straight into my eyes.
‘Take it easy. Deep breath. In. We’re all here. We’re safe. Breathe out.’
I see the girls peeking round a trellis draped with pink tea roses. Their faces are white. They’re fine, though, just as Jack said they were.
Once I’ve stopped hyperventilating, Jack folds me in his arms.
‘We were inside the church,’ he murmurs in my ear. ‘You know I’d never let anything happen to them, don’t you?’
I nod, and pull away. Ava comes and flings her arms around my waist.
‘Are you all right, Mum? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have left you. I thought you saw . . .’
‘It’s okay,’ I say. ‘It’s my fault, not yours. I should have kept up.’

You can find Sanjida at her website, or on twitter @SanjidaKay

Fault Lines – Doug Johnstone

Published by Orenda Books, May 2018
Source: review copy
In a reimagined contemporary Edinburgh, in which a tectonic fault has opened up to produce a new volcano in the Firth of Forth, and where tremors are an everyday occurrence, volcanologist Surtsey makes a shocking discovery. On a clandestine trip to The Inch – the new volcanic island – to meet Tom, her lover and her boss, she finds his lifeless body. Surtsey’s life quickly spirals into a nightmare when someone makes contact – someone who claims to know what she’s done…

Fault Lines takes place in an alternate Edinburgh, where a new volcanic island, The Inch, has risen in the Firth of Forth. It’s an interesting premise and makes the setting feel distinctly unique.  The Inch looms large over the story as it unfolds and feels like an actual character in the book. And you all know how much I love a good location when it comes to books. Dare I suggest #VolcanicNoir? 🙂

It’s a short book, but packs a lot into its 200-odd pages. There’s the suspicious death of Tom, out on The Inch. It’s a classic whodunnit, with a small cast of characters in a relatively confined small-town location, but done so well. Surtsey is a brilliant character, flawed and genuine, not only dealing with the death of her boss and lover, but also her mum’s terminal cancer and her sister’s seeming indifference towards it. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see this developed for television and think it would work brilliantly on screen. Should we start the fantasy casting?

I polished this book off in a couple of sittings, and not just because of its relative slimness. It’s a gripping story which rumbles along at pace to a satisfying conclusion. I’ll definitely be adding Doug Johnstone to my list of authors to watch out for.

Highly recommended.

Fault Lines by Doug Johnstone is published by Orenda Books in May 2018.
Many thanks to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy and @AnneCater for inviting me onto the blog tour. Which continues tomorrow!

Nightfall Berlin – Jack Grimwood

Published by Michael Joseph, May 2018
Source: review copy
In 1986, news that East-West nuclear-arms negotiations are taking place lead many to believe the Cold War may finally be thawing.
For British intelligence officer Major Tom Fox, however, it is business as usual.
Ordered to arrange the smooth repatriation of a defector, Fox is smuggled into East Berlin. But it soon becomes clear that there is more to this than an old man wishing to return home to die – a fact cruelly confirmed when Fox’s mission is fatally compromised.
Trapped in East Berlin, hunted by an army of Stasi agents and wanted for murder by those on both sides of the Wall, Fox must somehow elude capture and get out alive.
But to do so he must discover who sabotaged his mission and why…

I was delighted to be asked to kick off the blog tour for Jack Grimwood’s Nightfall Berlin. It’s a superbly drawn, deftly plotted intelligent cold war thriller, following in the footsteps of the equally excellent Moskva, but could be read as a standalone (if you must!)

Major Tom Fox has been recalled from a holiday with his wife and son to escort a defector from East Berlin. What should have been a relatively easy-in, easy-out quickly spirals out of control, leaving Fox trying to avoid capture by the Stasi and solve a murder for which he is the prime suspect, on both sides of the Wall.

I do love a good Cold War spy thriller and Nightfall Berlin is a superb example of the genre. Less glitzy than Bond, more real than Bourne, it feels utterly authentic of the time and Fox is a complex, believable protagonist. A real sense of time and particularly place too, something which I really like in a book.

Grimwood ratchets up the tension with a relentlessly as Tom Fox finds himself in increasingly perilous straits as he navigates the back streets of East Berlin and beyond. I’ve long been a fan of his books and love his way with language, drawing us into the story, sketching out the political and cultural climate of the time.

Whilst Tom Fox is a great character, he’s just one of a host of layered, complex individuals, key of which is his son Charlie who has his own story to tell. There are one or two familiar faces along for the ride as well!

Highly recommended.

Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood is published on 17th May 2018 by Michael Joseph. Many thanks to Sam Deacon for inviting me to take part in the tour.

Jack Grimwood, a.k.a Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta and christened in the upturned bell of a ship. He grew up in the Far East, Britain and Scandinavia. Apart from novels he writes for national newspapers including the Times, Telegraph, Independent and Guardian. Jon is two-time winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel, with Felaheen, and End of the World Blues. His literary novel, The Last Banquet, as Jonathan Grimwood, was shortlisted for Le Prix Montesquieu 2015.

(On a side note, Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk books (Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen) are bloody brilliant, and count amongst my favourites – I urge you to give them a try. Or if you prefer something a little more… vampiric and Venetian, The Fallen Blade is also superb. Enjoy!)