Books of the year 2018: crime & thriller

Right. We’ve seen the sci-fi books of the year, and the fantasy books. Now it’s time for the gritty crime and thrillers!

Again, in no particular order, can I respectfully present my favourite 13 crime/thriller books.

Attend – West Camel (Orenda Books, November 2018)

Ok, so Attend isn’t really a crime book, though it does feature a criminal and doesn’t really fit into either of the other two lists and it HAD to go somewhere, so it’s going here.

Look, it’s my blog, I’ll put it where I want, ok?

Attend is a book which doesn’t quite fit, yet fits perfectly.

It’s a wonderfully weird web of stories, deftly interwoven across time. It’s the story of Sam, a young gay man in Deptford. It’s the story of Derek, small-town gangster (see, I told you it fit in the crime section!). It’s the story of Anne, middle-aged ex-junkie. Each thread of the story is held by the enigmatic, mysterious Deborah, always present, always overlooked.

The characters are all fascinating in their own way, but it’s Deborah who demands the most attention, despite all but disappearing in the real world. It feels that she’s embedded into the very fabric of Deptford, in a house that’s almost as invisible as she is.

West Camel has given us a gorgeous, multi-faceted novel, a book to curl up with and lose yourself in. One of those where you don’t know what to expect, but know that you don’t want to end.

Hunted – G.X. Todd (Headline, May 2018)


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

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…

The Anomaly – Michael Rutger (Bonnier Zaffre, June 2018)

The Anomaly is a huge amount of fun. A film crew head off to the Grand Canyon to investigate a mysterious cavern found (and lost) decades earlier, reportedly filled with treasures galore.

Look, this was never going to end well, was it? A bunch of amateur explorers wandering around ancient dark caves? What could *possibly* go wrong?

Lots. Lots of things could go wrong. And boy, do they go wrong.

The Anomaly could easily be written off as yet another summer blockbuster thriller, the kind that Michael Crichton churned out back in the day. But it’s so gleefully done, with some great characters, snappy dialogue and a refreshing lack of people going ‘Oh, I’ll just wander off down this dark tunnel by myself armed only with a flashlight and an unhealthy disregard for horror tropes’.

The Anomaly is head and shoulders ahead of the competition. It zips along, the characters are ace, the dark tunnels sufficiently dark *and* scary, and it bounces along to an entirely satisfying conclusion. Someone said it was like the X-Files meets Indiana Jones, and they’d be entirely correct.

Oh, and Michael Rutger? It’s Michael Marshall Smith, hiding under a pen name. Sneaky.

The Collector – Fiona Cummins (Macmillan, December 2017)

I loved Fiona Cummins’ first book, Rattle. It was splendidly creepy with a fantastic serial killer, full of twists and turns. The Collector sees a return of the Bone Collector, thwarted by Detective Etta Fitzroy, and now looking for revenge. Except this time he’s got help…

Great characters, gripping plot and just a fantastic story. I rattled (sorry) through The Collector in the course of a day. Definitely a page-turner, one more chapter sort of a book, Fiona Cummins has a knack for ratcheting up the tension a notch further than you think possible, until the breathtaking final third, where she just turns the dial all the way up to eleven.

The Collector is one of the more memorable serial killers I’ve read for quite some time, and it’s fascinating to see part of the story from his point of view – it’s disturbing and twisted, but well thought out – he’s not just killing for the sake of it, he has his own, albeit warped, reasoning for doing what he does.

Fault Lines – Doug Johnstone (Orenda Books, May 2018)

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?

It’s a gripping story which rumbles along at pace to a satisfying conclusion.

Good Samaritans – Will Carver (Orenda Books, November 2018)

I sat and glared at a blank page for a good half hour trying to sum up my thoughts about Good Samaritans.

I’ve read a lot of Orenda Books’ output over the past couple of years (and indeed this list has a fair few on there), and you always get something different, something unique, something unlike you’ve come across before.

And that’s definitely the case with Good Samaritans. It’s very dark, very graphic and gripping, and demands that you read just one more chapter.

After all, the chapters are short, so one more can’t hurt, can it?

Narrator: Oh yes it can. They can hurt a lot.

Told from multiple viewpoints, Good Samaritans is a story of crossed lines and crossed fates.  Good Samaritans is definitely *not* for the squeamish, featuring some very graphic (and energetic) sex, and some very unpleasant things done with bleach. A phenomenal read.

The Lingering – SJI Holliday (Orenda Books, September 2018)

The Lingering is a deliciously creepy gothic tale of strange goings-on in a mysterious former psychiatric institution populated by some slightly odd characters.

It’s also part psychological thriller, part domestic intrigue, part ghost story, and entirely brilliant. It’s got a lovely slow-burn build up where the characters and setting are introduced and you think that things might be a *bit* odd but then the tension starts ratcheting up, notch by inevitable notch. Given that the story is set in an abandoned asylum, you know that the characters aren’t in for a nice little summer holiday.

You’ll never look at a bathtub in quite the same way ever again, I can assure you.

Nightfall Berlin – Jack Grimwood (Michael Joseph, May 2018)

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.

(On a side note, Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk books (PashazadeEffendi 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!)

Palm Beach Finland – Antti Tuomainen (Orenda Books, October 2018)


Antti Tuomainen’s The Man Who Died made it onto my top five crime books of last year and created a new genre of Mushroom Noir. Palm Beach Finland is another welcome venture into the darkly comic. And darkly comic it is. Billed as ‘Sex, lies and ill-fiting swimwear’, Palm Beach Finland is a splendidly odd romp set in the hottest beach resort in Finland.

If The Man Who Died evoked memories of Fargo, then Palm Beach Finland is a heady neon cocktail of Miami Vice, with a dash of Baywatch and a beach umbrella to top it off.  Antti Tuomainen delivers another beautifully judged dark vein of humour running through the neon and pastels, but lurking behind the colourful facade, there’s a splendid noirish tale of murder.

I loved Palm Beach Finland, another gem from the King of Helsinki Noir. Antti gave us #mushroomnoir, and now #flamingonoir. What will he come up with next?

Slow Horses – Mick Herron (John Murray, June 2010)

I’d heard a lot of good things about Mick Herron’s Slow Horses, so when I saw him on one of the panels at Hull Noir last year, I took the opportunity to pick up a copy and get him to sign it for me.

Slow Horses opens with a scene at King’s Cross station, where we follow River Cartwright in pursuit of a suspect. It’s an incredible opening, with a deft hand for detail and tension. What follows is the story of the ‘slow horses’, sidelined to the nondescript Slough House, each a failure of sorts, put out to pasture where they can cause the least harm.

Slough House is filled with some brilliant characters, not least their leader and chief misfit, the unforgettable Jackson Lamb. I’ve read a fair few thrillers and have never come across his like. Grumpy, sarcastic and almost entirely unpleasant, Lamb is a fabulous character who’ll grow on you over the course of the book, whilst still maintaining his gruff, unkempt and almost entirely unpleasant exterior. But there’s more going on beneath – Lamb is a smart, savvy character who will quite happily eat you for breakfast before breaking wind and sloping off for an actual breakfast.

White Rabbit, Red Wolf – Tom Pollock (Walker Books, May 2018)

Ok. So far the books have been very good. Now is where I start gushing.

Every now and then you come across a book which just grabs you from the very first page and refuses to let you go. White Rabbit, Red Wolf is one of those books.

It’s astonishingly good. I’ve been a huge fan of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy (and if you haven’t read that, go and do so with all haste) and so the news that he had a new book out was met with great excitement and regular trips to the bookshop to see if it was in yet.

The first page hits you like an unexpected thunderstorm on a cloudless day. It’s dark and brutal and introduces Peter Blankman in a scene you’re not going to forget in a hurry. Peter is one of the most original, honest characters I’ve read for a long time, and Pollock’s presentation of a young man’s mental health issues holds nothing back.

What follows is an adventure into the mind, maths and murder, with a side order of spies, violence and some genuinely funny moments. Unreliable narrators are ten a penny these days, but here you’ll be questioning everything. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, we’re off down another rabbit hole, wolves snapping at our feet.

Stunning. If you read nothing else on this list, read this one.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (Raven Books, February 2018)

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle made a sneak appearance on my books of 2017 list.

It is, to put it simply, one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s fabulously mind-twistingly clever, with a high-concept plot, a host of splendid, characters and a delightfully Christie-esque setting. It’s a book which demands that you pay attention, and rewards you handsomely for doing so. You know who dies from the title itself, but unlike your common or garden whodunnit, you follow the course of a day many times over, from different viewpoints as our protagonist tries to solve the question of who killed Evelyn Hardcastle, and more importantly, why.

I’m in awe of the plotting at work here – multiple characters interwoven across a day and the rooms and grounds of Blackheath. It’s been compared to Agatha Christie meets Inception, but it’s so much more than that – throw in a dash of Quantum Leap, and a smidgeon of Cluedo, topped off with a light dusting of Groundhog Day. 

I had the great pleasure of meeting Stuart at the fantastic Sledge-Lit in Derby in November, where he wrote very nice things about this little blog in my copy of his book.

Now, go and get your own copy. 🙂

Changeling – Matt Wesolowski (Orenda Books, January 2019)

Last year I snuck a book from 2018 onto the ‘best of’ list, and this year I’m following with tradition.

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories was one of my books of 2017. In Hydra we met Scott King with another of his Six Stories podcasts, this time much darker and much, much spookier. If Nana Wrack gave you nightmares the first time round, the black-eyed children in Hydra might just keep you awake all night.

Changeling is another beast, and easily Matt Wesolowski’s best yet. And that, my friends, is a pretty damn high bar. The plotting is ingenious, and the way those six stories mesh together is played to perfection.

Changeling deals with some pretty dark subjects – a missing child is never an easy read, but it’s so much more, and so much more that I can’t say without giving away too much. Trust me in this, it’s massively relevant, incredibly intense and just so, so good.

So, there we have my favourites of the year. As with the others, have you read any of these? Any favourites? Any you think I’ve missed?

Books of the year 2018: fantasy

Having seen my list of favourite science fiction of the year, attention turns to the more fantastical. And it’s been a fantastic year for fantasy books.

Without further ado, and again in no particular order, here are my favourite fantasy books that I’ve read this year. The observant amongst you will note that it’s not a top 10!

Empire of Sand – Tasha Suri (Orbit, November 2018)

Empire of Sand is a lushly realised world filled with gods and mystics, spirits and empire, and some quite beautiful writing. It’s an epic fantasy, but not what you might expect, set in a world with analogies to the Mughal era of medieval India.

It’s a book of love and loss, control and breaking bonds, with a truly original heroine in Mehr. I’ve been on a bit of a quest to read more diverse fiction from diverse authors, and Empire of Sands delivers on every level.

The setting is wonderful, you can almost feel the heat from the sands and the mile upon mile of unending desert punctuated by the settlements and the grand palace of the Maha. I loved the idea of the daiva too, the shadowy demons which Mehr and Amun must dance to keep in check.

It’s beautifully written, with some wonderful, strong female characters, and I shall be looking forward to the next books with great anticipation.

Blood of Assassins/King of Assassins – RJ Barker (ORBIT, February/August 2018)

Ah, where to start? (Age of Assassins, probably). I must give a slight caveat here – I’ve met RJ a few times at various things since Age of Assassins came out, and he’s a lovely human. But rather than give him an easy ride with reviews for Blood of Assassins and King of Assassins, I held the books up to deeper scrutiny. Had they been anything less than awesome, I’d have popped them back on the shelf with a rueful tut.

Reader, they’re bloody awesome. Blood of Assassins finds an older, wiser(?) Girton returning after five years away. He turned into a bit of a dick, to be honest. But the story ventures past the castle of Maniyadoc into the world beyond. King of Assassins stretches the canvas wider, is more epic in scope, the characters brilliant and the plot devious.

RJ can write a fight scene like few others – the action has a balletic, bullet-time fluidity as Girton moves, followed only by blood and death and Xus The Unseen in his wake.

This, my friends, is a fitting end to Girton’s tale. Apprentice assassin turned master. Highly recommended.

Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett (Jo Fletcher books, August 2018)

I just loved Foundryside. A heist, with a wonderful magic system, set in an alternative medieval-ish Italy, with Merchant Houses vying for power. Ancient magical artefacts, dead gods, the works.

Then there are the characters. Sancia Grado is a wonderful kick-ass, take no prisoners heroine who naturally harbours a dark and mysterious past. But once she’s retrieved the apparently-innocuous something from the warehouse in the opening scenes, we meet one of the novels truly brilliant characters, and the interplay between the two gives this novel something unique and is just so much fun.

Often when talking about books I get asked ‘so, what else is it like?’ If I had to compare this to any other books, I’d say take a health slug of Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, add in the whip-smart dialogue of Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight and sprinkle it with just a dash of China Mieville.

And these are some of my favourite things. But Foundryside is very much its own thing, and Robert Jackson Bennett has given us a cracking adventure.

Bloody Rose – Nicholas Eames (orbit, August 2018)


The follow-up to the excellent Kings of the Wyld, Bloody Rose builds on the world in the first book and delivers another cracking tale of high adventure, with yet more beasts, monsters and hijinks.

The music references again come thick and fast, but never at the expense of story. They’re lovely little nods throughout the book – a town called Coverdale, a purple-veined prince, and at one point a namecheck for a character in Final Fantasy VII (the best one of the series, don’t @ me).

The story is so much more than your standard ‘bunch of people go fight some monsters’ that you see so often in fantasy. It’s an exploration of family, both the biological kind and the kind you make yourself. It explores what it means to be a monster, and what they might think when all these shiny-armoured, sword-laden Bands come rampaging for their hides.

The Lost Plot/The Mortal Word – Genevieve Cogman (Pan, DEcember 2017/November 2018)

I’m an enormous fan of this series, and this year I got to read book 4, The Lost Plot, and book 5, The Mortal Word (review incoming!).

Both are cracking adventures for Librarian spy Irene Winters and her dragon assistant Kai. In The Lost Plot we find them in 1930s Chicago and New York, with all the attendant trappings – tommy guns, wiseguys and speakeasy bars. The Mortal Word sees Irene, Vale and to a lesser extent Kai investigate the murder of a dragon at peace talks between the warring dragons and Fae. We’re now in 1890s Paris. It shows of Cogman’s wonderful plotting skills and there’s a real depth to the book.

Roll on book 6! This is a wonderful series, but you need to start from the start – these are very much not standalone adventures!

The Tethered Mage – Melissa Caruso (orbit, OCtober 2017)

Book 1 of the Swords & Fire trilogy , The Tethered Mage was nominated for the Gemmell Morningstar Award this year.

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. I’ve got book 2 on my TBR pile and hope to get to it very soon.

Spellslinger – Sebastien de Castell (Hot Key Books, May 2017)

I blame Nazia from Orbit Books for Spellslinger appearing on my kindle, as she mentioned something called ‘squirrel cats’. I was intrigued, and despite having half a dozen other books on the go, picked it up on Kindle, promptly devoured it over the course of the journeys to and from Edge-Lit in Derby.

Spellslinger has everything – brilliant characters, pacy plot, superb worldbuilding and a new take on magic. Oh, and a feisty, snarky squirrel cat called Reichis who might just remind you a little of Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

We’ve all read fantasy stories where the young protagonist comes into their powers and go off to fulfill their destiny. This is the story of what happens when those powers don’t turn up as expected, but you’re left to get on with the whole destiny thing. It’s a YA fantasy with a wild west twist, a magic system which is intriguingly different, and some fantastic (and funny) banter between the characters.

Someone Like Me – M.R. Carey (Orbit, November 2018)

Easily one of my books of the year, Someone Like Me is just stunningly good.

As I said in my post about favourite dystopian fictionThe Girl was good, and The Boy was astonishing, but Someone Like Me takes it to another level entirely, and as predicted, easily sits around the top of the Books of 2018 list.

It’s a fantastic, complex book with so many layers and depths to the characters that it just takes your breath away. It’s often said that there are two sides to every story, and that’s literally the case here.

I see the world changing its mind.

But those two sides twist and turn and mesh and fold around each other like a kind of intricate literary origami, where each movement reveals a new facet of the story, bringing into question what you’re reading. Tiny moments have huge repercussions, and seeming throwaway lines come back to haunt you later.

It’s so beautifully done, so skillfully plotted that you just have no option but to put everything else on hold and just immerse yourself in the book. 

The Fifth Season – NK Jemisin (ORBIT, august 2015)

A post-apocalyptic fantasy with some glorious worldbuilding, The Fifth Season is the first book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. It’s a book to lose yourself in, told through three viewpoints – Essun, on the hunt for her husband who has kidnapped her daughter after murdering her son. Syenite – fourth ring Orogene on a mission to a coastal city to help with a problem with their harbour. And Damaya, a young girl on the way to the Fulcrum, where she will learn to control her Orogeny, and the very earth itself.

Three brilliant, unforgettable strong female leads, each told in a distinct voice. Initially this took a little getting used to, the swapping of styles between the three. One of which is told in the second person, something you see all too rarely. Persevere though, and if you give it a chance, The Fifth Season will reward you richly. The rest of the cast of characters is wonderfully diverse, both in gender, sexuality and race and all equally fascinating, each bringing more facets and layers to the story.

The worldbuilding on display here is absolutely top-notch, and with every chapter Jemisin draws you into this world which at times has shades of our own, but is otherwise completely… different. The story is like a jigsaw puzzle, sections interlocking piece by piece until you slot in the final segment and see the glorious whole.

It’s a phenomenal work, and I can’t wait to read the next two books.

So, there are my favourite fantasy books of 2018. What was your favourite? Have you read any of these?

Books of the year 2018: science fiction

2018 is drawing to a close, and a bookblogger’s thoughts inevitably turn to the books that have made the biggest impact of the year.

I therefore give you my favourite ten science fiction books of 2018

In no particular order (don’t make me choose…), I give you:

84k, by Claire North (Orbit Books, May 2018)

Claire North’s books are always startlingly original, and 84K is no exception to that rule. She takes language and format and plays with them, twisting and shaping the very forms of lines and sentences, leaving you with such imagery that the words in and of themselves couldn’t provide, leaving you with the sense of a sculptor playing with marble, or plasticine, or both. It’s astonishing to see it happen in front of you on the page and wonder how on earth she made it work.

Adrift, by Rob Boffard (Orbit Books, June 2018)

Enormous fun. I’ve been a huge fan of Rob Boffard’s books since Tracer first landed on my doorstep, and Adrift does not disappoint. It’s a standalone adventure following the (mis)fortunes of a group of tourists aboard a tour ship out by the Horsehead Nebula. Things go awry, and no-one does awry better than Mr Boffard. Cracking read.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells (TOR, May 2017)

All Systems Red won a *lot* of stuff (Hugo Award for Best Novella, Nebula Award for Best Novella, Alex Award, Locus Award, one of the Verge’s Best Books of 2017, as well as being a New York Times and USA Today Bestseller).

And it’s just utterly splendid. A somewhat depressed Company supplied SecUnit hacks its own governor unit so can pretty much do what it likes, calls itself Murderbot (long story) and has a soft spot for soap operas. Then some creatures start attacking Murderbot’s clients and it, somewhat reluctantly, is forced to do something about it.

I love Murderbot. The story might be short (well, it *is* a novella), but it’s fast and funny, and the plot fairly whistles along. It’s also a lovely character study, delving into the mind of a machine hybrid that’s not entirely sure who it is, or wants to be.

Everything About You, by Heather Child (Orbit Books, April 2018)

Everything About You is an unsettling, creepy techno-thriller which feels all too plausible. Echoes of Black Mirror abound as we follow the story of Freya and her new ‘Smartface’ virtual assistant. Technology has advanced to the point where you can have any personality installed you like, built up from the thousands of interactions that person had with others – emails, texts, voice. Except Freya has a new, bleeding-edge prototype and the voice of her missing sister, who vanished when they were teenagers.

I loved this book and rattled through it in a couple of sittings. It’s clever, it’s creepy and it’s just so damn smart. The mystery is neatly plotted and beautifully written, with plenty of twists and turns thrown in.

I also had the pleasure of attending a writing workshop with Heather at the Edge-Lit book festival in Derby over the summer.

Rosewater, by Tade Thompson (Orbit Books, SEptember 2018)

Stunningly good sci-fi. Rosewater is a community which grew up around an alien biodome, where people gather in the hope of its healing powers. But the healing doesn’t always take the form they might wish…

Deliciously weird biopunk with an avalanche of clever ideas and brilliant characters. Just read it.

Tade Thompson wrote a great guest post on the five ingredients that make up Rosewater as part of a mini-blog tour.

Void Black Shadow/Static Ruin, by Corey J. White (TOR, March/November 2018)

Books 2 and 3 of Corey J. White’s superb Voidwitch Saga. I adored Killing Gravity and was excited to see book 2, Void Black Shadow, turn up in March. Even more excited to discover that book 3, Static Ruin was out in November.

The action is bloody, brutal and relentless. Mars is brilliantly acerbic and pissed off with anyone who gets between her and her target, which turns out to be 90% of the people we meet in this book. So much blood. So much mayhem. So much fun.

The writing style is punchy and taut, with no time wasted. These books are short and to the point (often brutally so – did I mention all the blood?), and unlike some of their contemporaries, don’t wallow around waiting for stuff to happen. Gloriously refreshing

The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi (Tor, October 2018)

Another sequel, following Scalzi’s glorious The Collapsing Empire, again this one snuck up on me and I had to zip down to the bookshop to get a copy immediately. I bloody loved book 1, and book 2 continues in the same vein – glorious worldbuilding, snarky characters, feuding Houses, the works. The Consuming Fire is clever, funny, and it’s like taking the essence of an Iain M. Banks book and boiling it down until you’ve stripped it down to the pure essence of an idea, making it 100% more witty, with a ton more diverse characters and 100% more sex. 

Warren Ellis described it as

…frictionless high-speed platinum-pulp science fiction storytelling.

which pretty much sums it up perfectly.

Vicious/Vengeful, by V.E. Schwab (Titan Books)

Last, but by no means least, these two books by V.E. Schwab consumed a couple of very late-into-the-night reading sessions. I realised that I’d had book 1, Vicious, on my kindle since FOREVER and finally found a spare evening to read it. A couple of days later I got an email asking if I wanted to read book 2, Vengeful, and I nearly bit the publicists hand off.

The format was challenging at first, with timeline jumps between ‘last night’, ‘ten years ago’, ‘ a week ago’ and so on, but once you settle into the style you start to appreciate the craft on display. The characters are great but awful, but also sympathetic (ish) and you can’t help rooting for them.

Vengeful continues the story, but introduces us to the utterly brilliant and merciless Marcella. It’s a hefty book at 600ish pages, but the chapters are short and punchy and I flew through it.

So, those are my sci-fi books of the year. Have you read any of them? Agree/disagree? I’d love to hear what you think!, Oc

Attend – West Camel

Attend, by West Camel
Published by Orenda Books
Source: Review copy, ebook

When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.

Well, now then. We are, dear reader, presented with somewhat of a conundrum when it comes to this book. A quandary, some might say.

Most books that I’ve read you could neatly slot into a category, or maybe two. Crime fiction. Check. Science fiction. Check. Crime fiction in space. Check.

Where to put Attend though?

Sometimes we’re too quick to attach labels, and those labels often mislead. It’s much like the sizing of my favourite t-shirts. One might say it’s a large, but be a little baggy, one an XL and yet be snug. When buying a new t-shirt, you never quite know what you’re going to get until you try it on.

And sometimes you get one which fits *just* right, despite what the label says. (I’m afraid there are going to be a lot of fabric-related analogies here folks).

Attend is just that.

It’s a book which doesn’t quite fit, yet fits perfectly.

It’s a wonderfully weird web of stories, deftly interwoven across time. It’s the story of Sam, a young gay man in Deptford. It’s the story of Derek, small-town gangster. It’s the story of Anne, middle-aged ex-junkie. Each thread of the story is held by the enigmatic, mysterious Deborah, always present, always overlooked.

The characters are all fascinating in their own way, but it’s Deborah who demands the most attention, despite all but disappearing in the real world. It feels that she’s embedded into the very fabric of Deptford, in a house that’s almost as invisible as she is.

I loved the way the story bounces from present-day back to Deborah’s younger days, unravelling her story one fold at a time. She’s a fascinating, unique character providing the warp threads to anchor the weft of the other three. She’s not the person they’re looking for, but she’s the person they all need in their own way. She fits *just* right.

West Camel has given us a gorgeous, multi-faceted novel, a book to curl up with and lose yourself in. One of those where you don’t know what to expect, but know that you don’t want to end.

Hugely recommended.

Attend by West Camel is published by Orenda Books. You can find West Camel on Twitter @west_camel. Huge thanks to Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan for the review copy. Kudos also to the hugely talented Mark Swan for another stunning cover.

The A-Z of me: Part 1

Inspired by Splodz and The Urban Wanderer, I thought I’d put together a little A-Z of me as a bit of a change to the usual OMG THIS BOOK IS TOTES AMAZE YOU SHOULD READ IT.[1]

[1]It is *def* totes amaze, and you should *def* read it, ok?

Ahem.

A is for astrophysics

So yeah. I studied astrophysics at university. It was fun, hard work, and sounds great.
I wasn’t very good at it. Should have done maths. 🙂

B is for books and blogging

As you’ve probably guessed, espresso coco is pretty much entirely a book blog. I read a lot of books, but not as many as some of my #bookblogger chums, who seem to churn through a book a day, and are constantly putting out fantastic reviews. I’m aiming for 60 books this year, which will be a new record for me.

C is for coffee and cycling


I love coffee. Start the day with an espresso, and spend entirely too much time and money in Leeds’ many and varied indie coffee shops.

I also love cycling, and have written a couple of cycling adventure posts, on turning left and getting off the beaten track. I’ve got several bikes – four (and a half) of them – and love nothing more than going for a cycle through the woods.

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D is for dakegra

It’s pronounced ‘dah-keh-gra’. Not dake-gra, dah-kee-gra or anything else. Though I do love Cody Wanner’s attempt here (skip to about 2.42)

(Cody is a great vlogger, you should check him out)

E is for espresso coco

[insert YOU ARE HERE graphic]
Yup, this is my blog, my little chunk of the internet. Welcome! Come in, pull up a chair and let’s talk books. Or
movies, or stuff. Brew?

F is for Firefly

Huge fan of Firefly. HUGE.

G is for gaming and Guiness
Apart from reading, I love playing games on my XBox or Nintendo Switch. I’m fairly terrible at games though, but it doesn’t put me off. I’ve also tinkered with writing about games – see The Fallout Diaries. I also loved playing Skyrim and lost months of my life to it. I could tell you such tales, like the time I got married to Farkas – lovely wedding, all our friends came then he went mysteriously missing for three weeks of game time because the beautiful idiot decided to walk home ACROSS THE ENTIRE MAP. Then kept rearranging my troll skull collection, and was often found with the Captain of the Guard in our house. Maybe it was him who messed up my troll skulls. Or the time a horse fell on me up at the top of a mountain, or when a dragon fight ended up with a dead dragon skeleton on my front lawn…

Ed and I thought of setting up a YouTube gaming channel where I’d play games whilst he mocked me for being RUBBISH and unable to hit anything with pretty much any kind of weapon ever. We’d have been a smash hit.

I’m also partial to a nice pint of Guinness.

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H is for Harry Potter and Howler

Two of my favourite books. I’ve read the Harry Potter books multiple times, and listened to the audiobook on car journeys more times than I care to count. I got Harry Potter trivial pursuit for christmas, but had to stop playing in the end because I kept winning. I’ve also written a couple of posts about how death eaters got their name and how wizards get their wands.

Howler refers to the Red Rising trilogy, by Pierce Brown. Stunningly good, I highly recommend that you read them. Though I’ve probably recommended them to you before. Have you read them yet? Also Pierce is a thoroughly nice chap. Met him at the Howler Party that Hodder threw for the launch of book 3, Morning Star.

I is for ice cream

Vanilla, or mint choc chip. Never chocolate. It’s weird – I like chocolate, or chocolate cake. But not chocolate ice cream.

J is for juggling


I’ve been juggling since I was at university *cough* years ago and I find it enormously relaxing. There’s something hypnotic about juggling. It forces you to be in the moment. All other worries fade to one side as you get into the rhythm of throw, catch, throw, catch. It’s all very zen (and there’s an excellent book called The Zen of Juggling by Dave Finnigan).

I’ve taught quite a few people to juggle over the years too – and you’d be surprised at how many of them started with “oh, I couldn’t possibly/I’m too clumsy/I’ve got no co-ordination”

I’ve also talked about juggling on the blog. It wasn’t always just about books!

Can you juggle?

K is for kids

I’ve got two – Ed and Lil. Both are awesome.

L is for Leeds and librarians

I moved down to Leeds to go to university nearly 30 years ago and never quite left. I got a job working in the university library washing shelves and moving books around, then ended up there for a year before doing a postgrad course in librarianship, which turned into a job for three weeks at a law firm in their library, which turned into a job at a different law firm’s library for a few years. Now, five career moves later, I’m still here. Well, just down the road in Wakefield, but I work in Leeds and love my adopted city. I also love taking photos of Leeds.

M is for Monty and maps

I’ve been calling myself a writer for some years now, and always feel slightly guilty about it. I’ve written more than a few scenes or short pieces featuring Monty, gentleman thief and drinker of coffee. They’re great fun to write, and I really should try and do some more. Whether it’s him making prank calls, not being drunk, encountering a minefield or making a getaway, I love coming up with new adventures.

I also love maps. There’s something glorious about them, translating the physical space into two dimensions. I’ve also written about maps elsewhere on the blog: Maps. What’s up?

So that’s part 1 of the A-Z of me. Watch out for Part 2, coming soon…

Bait, Grist and Security – Mike Hodges

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Mike Hodges’ Bait, Grist and Security, three darkly comic noir novellas from the cult director of Get Carter.

More on the book later, but first I’ve got an extract from chapter one of BAIT.

Summer is hell here.

Winter is the only time to be in this place. On a wet night preferably.

Like tonight.

The dark sea, flattened by rain, laps against the long curving beach. White-painted iron railings and ill-lit weather shelters recede into the mist. An amusement arcade, boarded up, sits like a blind man watching nothing.

The Grand Atlantic Hotel, a vast, corroding edifice, looms over the deserted esplanade. A torn canvas banner flaps over its darkened entrance, announcing the presence of the Brotherhood of Magicians Conference. Bedroom windows stacked up to the murky sky are black patches. The magicians are long in bed.
They’ll need steady hands in the morning. The clock tower strikes on the hour.

Twice.

An approaching motorbike cuts through the sound of rainwater smacking the tarmac. The red Yamaha rounds a corner slowly, ominously, powerful as a shark. A metallic titanium flip-front helmet glints under the street lamps. Moulded gloves with visor wipes, grinder boots, cowhide jeans and a leather jacket embossed with a bloody knife embedded in the rider’s back. The rider steers his machine along the esplanade before circling a traffic island housing the public urinals, all the while scanning the empty street.

A municipal shelter with a noticeboard advertising local events for wet winter nights stands beside the amusement arcade. It’s here the bike comes to rest. The rider leaves the engine running as he nervously pulls posters from a saddlebag.

He works fast, skilfully.

Soon the forthcoming amateur operatic production of Annie Get Your Gun is no longer forthcoming. But ‘The Personal Improvement Institute: A Course in Leadership Dynamics’ is. The etched face of a wild-eyed mountaineer intending to give a slide lecture the very next evening is replaced by the well-fed features of Dr Hermann P. Temple, who will show you the QUICK way to the TOP! during his impending weekend course on SUCCESS-POWER GETTING!

A similar fate is accorded ‘Pinkie and Barrie, the Comedy Duo’; ‘Diana Barnham playing Bach on the Clavichord’; and the providers of ‘Merrie England Banquets. Book now to avoid disappointment.’ All disappear within seconds to be replaced by five identical images of Dr Temple. A quintet of pointing forefingers, quiffs and eyes that would make a cobra back off.

*

A solitary light snaps on.

It’s on the third floor of an office block five minutes from the esplanade. The bare bulb backlights the gold lettering on the window: ‘Mark Miles Intercontinental’. Below that: ‘Creative Publicity and Personal Management’. On the bottom line: ‘MAKE your MARK with MILES. He’s WAY ahead.’

The block housing Mark Miles’ office is just that: a block. It has all the charm of a coal bunker. Built in the sixties, it’s an early example of how easily even smart people can be conned. Concrete is beautiful. Or so the architects decreed at the time.

Providence House, for that’s the block’s portentous name, takes on a gloomy appearance in the torrential rain. Mark Miles appears at the window, taking off his helmet, while simultaneously dropping the slatted blind. One side falls faster than the other, which doesn’t happen in movies, but almost always does in real life. Cursing, he tries to level it off, one-handed. Instead it becomes uncoupled and collapses on top of him. Mark Miles and his blind have one quality in common. Both spend their lives dangling.

Mark is sick of being a small fish in a small pond. His only remaining heroes are the sharks in the local aquarium. These massive glistening predators eye the awed visitors on the other side of the glass with contempt as they sweep majestically past in their eternal search for a way out. Like them, Mark wants to command respect. To this end, his pinball mind has been hyperactive since being approached by Dr Temple’s people to promote his weekend course. Leadership dynamics might just be the metamorphosis needed to take him to the top.

And quickly.

He switches on a battered desk lamp, puts it on the floor and kills the overhead. Mark has to be careful. The landlord suspects that, contrary to the terms of his lease, the office also doubles as his living quarters.
The landlord is right.
That’s why the chipped commode with ‘Hospital Property’ boldly stencilled on its lid, and smuggled in under cover of darkness from his late grandma’s council flat, is disguised with a potted palm. He lifts the palm and urinates into the china basin.

Slopping out has always been a complicated ritual. When he first moved into the building, the landlord – Fred Snipe, thin as a drainpipe
– was wont to ambush him on his early-morning run along the corridor to the communal lavatory. After several narrow escapes, Mark devised a strategy whereby he transferred the contents of the commode into a plastic first-aid box before embarking upon this essential mission.

Now, on their occasional encounters, Snipe’s nose twitches like a gerbil’s at the odour. His mouth opens but words refuse to emerge. He just can’t bring himself to ask what the container contains. Mark relishes these precious moments, smiling and patting the Red Cross on the box. ‘Preparation H, Fred. Works wonders.’ He sometimes varies the exchange: ‘Glycerine suppositories, Fred. Never fails to get you moving.’ Or, if he wants to make the landlord really blush, he adds, ‘Clinically proven to be effective against irritation and itching piles.’

These words always play on Snipe’s retreating figure.

Mark now eases out a crumpled futon and sleeping bag from under the defeated sofa, carefully avoiding any tangling with its bare springs. Rolling back and forth on the floor, he sheds his clothes and slips into the kapok envelope.

Light out.

*

In the street below Mark’s office, a black umbrella is opened from the shelter of a shop door. A man, short and paunchy, steps out, his suet- pudding face glistening in the rain. His name is William Snazell and he’s a private detective, a gumshoe. Dressed in a faded raincoat and shapeless trilby, he takes a final look at the darkened window before crossing the road. His shiny rubber galoshes shuffle through the sheet of rainwater.

~~~~~~

Bait, Grist & Security by Mike Hodges is published by Unbound on 29th November 2018. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Unbound for the review copy.

In ‘Bait’, a slippery PR man, Mark Miles, is unaware he’s being manipulated and dangled as bait by an investigative reporter until he’s swallowed by a sadistic mind-expanding cult from
America.
In ‘Grist’, the bestselling writer, Maxwell Grist, ruthlessly uses real people as fodder for his crime novels before finding himself living up to his name and becoming grist for his own
murder.
In ‘Security’, an American movie star, unhappy with the film he’s working on, refuses to leave his hotel for the studios, while in the corridor outside his luxury suite mayhem and murder take over.

All Systems Red – Martha Wells

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Winner: 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Alex Award
Winner: 2018 Locus Award
One of the Verge’s Best Books of 2017
A New York Times and USA Today Bestseller

So, All Systems Red won a *lot* of stuff. And it’s just utterly splendid. A somewhat depressed Company supplied SecUnit hacks its own governor unit so can pretty much do what it likes, calls itself Murderbot (long story) and has a soft spot for soap operas. Then some creatures start attacking Murderbot’s clients and it, somewhat reluctantly, is forced to do something about it.

I love Murderbot. The story might be short (well, it *is* a novella), but it’s fast and funny, and the plot fairly whistles along. It’s also a lovely character study, delving into the mind of a machine hybrid that’s not entirely sure who it is, or wants to be.

You see, Murderbot doesn’t really like people. It just wants to be left alone to get on with watching the long-running Sanctuary Moon. I can empathise a lot with Murderbot.

All Systems Red is the first of four (at time of writing) in the Murderbot Diaries, and I’m greatly looking forward to following their adventures.

You can get All Systems Red here (affiliate link)

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is published by Tor. You can find Martha Wells on twitter @marthawells1 or on her website marthawells.com