Exit Strategy – Jen J. Danna

After her mother’s death during a bank robbery when she was a child, Gemma Capello grew up to become one of the NYPD’s elite hostage negotiators. In a family of cops, there’s rarely a day when a Capello isn’t facing down some form of threat. Still, despite their unpredictable schedules, they always find time for their annual family summer picnic. But this year, a sudden phone call changes everything.

A heavily armed gunman has taken hostages at City Hall. Gemma races downtown to join the rest of the Hostage Negotiation Team as they scramble to identify the captives—fearing the mayor may be among them. But as they scramble for answers and struggle to gain control of the circumstances, it becomes clear that the mayor is at the center of it all, just not in the way they initially believed.

With several lives on the line and a criminal who always seems to be one step ahead, Gemma is the only one able to connect with the suspect. Soon, she finds herself engaging in a battle of wits while enduring a battle of egos in the command center. With time running out and a mastermind who has proven he’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants, Gemma risks it all—her career and her life—in a last-ditch effort to save the hostages. Now, she needs to figure out how to save herself . . .

Exit Strategy is the first in Jen J. Danna’s new NYPD Negotiators series. It’s a fast-paced thriller which puts the hammer down from page 1 and doesn’t let up.

The Capellos are a family of first responders – cops, a firefighter, and with Gemma, elite hostage negotiator. The events of Exit Strategy take place over the course of one day in New York, and Danna seems to delight in piling on the pressure and upping the stakes with every turn of the page in this book. I rattled through it in the course of an afternoon, and wasn’t able to put it down until I’d finished.

Great fun, a solidly entertaining thriller, with a great family cast and an engaging plot. Looking forward to seeing Gemma Capello in her next adventures!

Exit Strategy by Jen J. Danna is published by Kensington Books and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher for an advance copy to review via NetGalley.

The Devil and the Dark Water – Stuart Turton

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.

But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered.

And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.

Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger onboard. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.

A couple of years ago I read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton’s magnificent first book. It absolutely blew me away, and remains one of my favourite books. You have read it, haven’t you? Lord knows I’ve pestered enough people about how good it is.

And here we have Stuart Turton’s second book. Unrelated to Evelyn Hardcastle, we now find ourselves in 1634 on the good ship Saardam on a voyage from Batavia to Amsterdam. Along with a mysterious cargo, we are in the company of Samuel Pipps, master detective, and his Watson, Arent Hayes. Also on board are a Christie-esque cast of characters, and before long the bodies start piling up…

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year, and I’ve had a copy on order since forever (signed, sprayed edges, map, glorious), but jumped at the chance to get my hands on an early review copy. I raced through the book in a couple of days, pausing only to force myself to slow down and savour the story.

Turton has delivered another fantastic mystery which kept me guessing the whole way through. I enjoyed that the story’s ‘great detective’ is locked up, forcing the ever-loyal Hayes to take up the mystery solving. And what a mystery! The cast of suspects is splendidly broad and everyone has a secret to hide, as you’d expect. Murder, superstition, storms, ghost ships, this book as it all!

Just splendid. One of my books of the year, for sure. Get your order in now. Just decide which of the various sprayed edged editions you like the most.

And can we take a moment to admire that cover? Did you spot the skull hiding out in the waves? Is it Old Tom, out to get the Saardam? You’ll have to read to find out!

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton is published by Raven Books in October 2020. Many thanks to Laura Meyer at Raven Books for the advance copy to review.

Grave Secrets – Alice James

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Toni Windsor is trying to live a quiet life in the green and pleasant county of Staffordshire. She’d love to finally master the rules of croquet, acquire a decent boyfriend and make some commission as an estate agent.

All that might have to wait, though, because there are zombies rising from their graves, vampires sneaking out of their coffins and a murder to solve.

And it’s all made rather more complicated by the fact that she’s the one raising all the zombies. Oh, and she’s dating one of the vampires too. Really, what’s a girl meant to do?

Grave Secrets is one of those books that arrived just at the right moment. I was between books and casting around for something to read, stumbled across Runalongwomble’s excellent review and thought right, that sounds quite splendid.

Reader, I was not disappointed. It’s enormous fun, with a delightful sense of humour and a marvellous lead in Lavington Windsor, estate agent for the undead by day, necromancer by night. She is quite the busy bee, our Toni.

It’s also wonderful to read about zombies and vampires set in our countryside today, rather than a post-apocalyptic future, or 18th century France, for example. That said, it’s not *quite* our present, as vampires are out and about, and (largely) tolerated in the UK at least. Less so in America.

Being a story about zombies and vampires, there’s the requisite gallons of blood, but the gore is all tastefully handled, and we’re on with the adventure. And the adventure has everything! Murder, mystery, zombies, politics, work, relationships, how to get blood out of clothing, necromancy, stylish zombies, the works.

I loved Toni Windsor, and hope that Grave Secrets is just the first in a long-running series. Hugely enjoyable, and highly recommended.

Grave Secrets by Alice James is published by Solaris in September 2020. Many thanks to the publisher for the advance copy via NetGalley.

The Trials of Koli – M.R. Carey

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Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world.

But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind. 

So, here we have book 2 of M. R. Carey’s Ramparts trilogy. Following hot on the heels of book 1 – The Book of Koli – we find our hero out in the wide world.

And what a world it is. I love a good post-apocalyptic dystopia, and as I’ve said many a time before, Carey is particularly good at them. He’s also built a wonderfully rich world in this Ramparts trilogy, albeit probably not one I’d relish spending much time in!

It probably goes without saying that this being the second book in a trilogy means this is not a good place to start. But of course, you’ve read the first book, haven’t you?

(if not, why not, and get thyself to a bookstore, pronto. Read the first book then I’ll see you back here when you’re done)

Good, so you’ve read the first. And therefore you’ll need little encouragement to pick up this next installment. Koli is a wonderful character to spend a little more time with, and this time around his adventures are bigger, bolder, and an order of magnitude more perilous. But we also get to spend more time in the company of Spinner back at Mythen Rood, and find out a little (well, a lot) more about the Ramparts…

Utterly splendid. Book 1 was great, book 2 is even better, and I really cannot wait until book 3!

The Trials of Koli by M. R. Carey is published by Orbit and is out now. Many 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.\

Mexican Gothic – Sylvia Morena-Garcia

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After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find – her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. 

In Mexican Gothic Noemí, a young socialite, is summoned to sort out a problem with her recently married cousin, Catalina. The cousin is unwell and has sent Noemí an urgent letter, begging her to come. Catalina lives in the house of the very English Doyle family, into which she married. And not all is as it seems…

I loved this book. There’s a definite tension between Noemí and the very British Doyles, who refuse to speak Spanish and have made their fortunes mining silver from the nearby mine, though the mine and the fortunes are now derelict. There’s a real sense of atmosphere here, of claustrophobia, with mouldy rooms and a suitably spooky mist-shrouded graveyard. Noemí struggles to find time to spend with her cousin, but is all the more determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

The story unfolds gently at first, as we’re drawn into the characters and their lives, becoming more tense and creepy as we move into the second half of the book. I finished this book in a day, knowing that I just had to read on, to find out what was going on with the Doyles and their deeply unsettling house.

A splendid mystery, gloriously gothic, and beautifully told. Highly recommended. I’m off to go investigate what else Morena-Garcia has written, because on the strength of this book, she is very much an author to watch.

Mexican Gothic by Slyvia Morena-Garcia is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher for a review copy via NetGalley

Into The Tangled Bank – Lev Parikian

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Lev Parikian is on a journey to discover the quirks, habits and foibles of how the British experience nature. He sets out to explore the many, and particular, ways that he, and we, experience the natural world – beginning face down on the pavement outside his home then moving outwards to garden, local patch, wildlife reserve, craggy coastline and as far afield as the dark hills of Skye. He visits the haunts of famous nature lovers – reaching back to the likes of Charles Darwin, Etta Lemon, Gavin Maxwell, John Clare and Emma Turner – to examine their insatiable curiosity and follow in their footsteps.

And everywhere he meets not only nature, but nature lovers of all varieties. The author reveals how our collective relationship with nature has changed over the centuries, what our actions mean for nature and what being a nature lover in Britain might mean today. 

I really enjoyed this ramble through nature with Lev Parikian. He makes for an amiable, knowledgeable companion. He’s delightfully enthusiastic about all things nature, from butterflies to trees, and all the birds and beasts inbetween. Including a beluga whale, albeit frustratingly some 200 yards upstream.

Parikian’s writing is easygoing and informative, with a sense of fun and wit that can often be missing from nature writing. He strikes me as someone it’d be fun to go on a ramble with, pausing for the occasional cheeky beverage where he’d regale you with another fascinating anecdote about nature or nature writers.

It’s refreshing that the author feels that he’s new to this nature lark, but is determined to catch up, and to bring you along with him. Oh, and there are footnotes. Lots of footnotes. I do love a good footnote.

Hugely enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. And with a gorgeous cover by Clover Robin.

Into The Tangled Bank by Lev Parikian is published by Elliott & Thompson and is out now. Many thanks to Alison Menzies for the review copy.

You can find Lev Parikian on twitter @LevParikian

Seven Devils – Laura Lam; Elizabeth May

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When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.

Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.

When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.

Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.

A group of rebels out to smash the patriarchy in space? A feminist space opera with a hint of Rogue One, a dash of Firefly and a heady dose of bad-assery? A Guardians of the Galaxy type heist, but with way more gay?

Sign me up. A princess, a soldier, a courtesan, a pilot, a mechanic, a leader and a child genius hacker. What could possibly go wrong?

I loved them all. Our motley crew: Eris, Clo, Ariadne, Kyla, Rhea, Nyx and Cato. Each very different, yet together more than the sum of their parts.

It’s a classic tale of the rag-tag bunch of misfits coming together to pull off the job. But it’s not often that it’s done with such style and panache as Lam and May have on display here.

The story stars with Clo and Eris on a mission for the resistance (should that have a capital R?), and it’s not long before they come across the others, and the action ramps up a notch or three as our gang set off to save the galaxy from its new heir.

Glorious fun, with a wonderfully diverse group of characters, Seven Devils is the sci-fi book you didn’t know you needed. Roll on book 2!

There’s even a playlist to accompany the book, curated by the authors.

Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May is published by Gollancz in August 2020. Many thanks to the publisher for the advance copy to review via NetGalley.

The Pull of the River – Matt Gaw

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In a handsome, homemade canoe, painted a joyous nautical red the colour of Mae West’s lips, Matt and his friend James delve into a watery landscape that invites us to see the world through new eyes.

Over chalk, gravel, clay and mud; through fields, woodland, villages, towns and cities, they reveal many places that otherwise go unnoticed and perhaps unloved, finding delight in the Waveney, Stour, Alde/Ore, upper and lower Thames, Lark, Great Ouse, Granta and Cam, Wye, Otter, Colne, Severn and the Great Glen Trail.

I’ve always loved being on, in or near water. Swimming in the sea, paddling in rivers, there’s something magical about bodies of water. So I had little hesitation in saying yes when asked if I’d like to read Matt Gaw’s The Pull of the River.

It’s a glorious meander through our waterways in a borrowed Canadian canoe, in the company of Matt and James. I do love a good bit of travel writing, and this is just that. Full of anecdotes and nuggets of information about the landscape they find themselves paddling gently through, it’s warm, witty and entirely splendid. Life on the water moves at a different pace, and it’s wonderful to spend some time away from the breakneck pace of modern life.

It’s not all paddling though. They come up against a variety of obstacles along their way – some man-made, some more natural (midges and rapids), punctuated with a bit of wild camping along the banks.

Gaw writes with a wit and enthusiasm which is infectious, and an eye for detail that will make you determined to take notice of the little things by the rivers and waterways.

Hugely enjoyable. The only problem I have is that now I want a canoe. You will too. Be warned…

The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw is published by Elliot & Thompson and is out now. Many thanks to Elliot & Thompson for the review copy.

Malorie – Josh Malerman

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In the old world there were many rules. In the new world there is only one: don’t open your eyes.

In the seventeen years since the ‘creatures’ appeared, many people have broken that rule. Many have looked. Many have lost their minds, their lives, their loved ones.

In that time, Malorie has raised her two children – Olympia and Tom – on the run or in hiding. Now nearly teenagers, survival is no longer enough. They want freedom.

When a census-taker stops by their refuge, he is not welcome. But he leaves a list of names – of survivors building a future beyond the darkness – and on that list are two names Malorie knows.

Two names for whom she’ll break every rule, and take her children across the wilderness, in the hope of becoming a family again… 

Malorie is the much anticipated follow-up to Josh Malerman’s brilliant Bird Box. I loved the first book. The movie was pretty good too, though as with all such things, the book was better.

I must admit I was a little surprised to see a sequel, and a little concerned – could Malerman pull off the double?

Well, I really enjoyed Malorie. It was tense, pacy and with a similar feeling of dread to the original book. The creatures are still an ever-present deadly menace to anyone who dares to steal a glance. Malorie is still fiercely protective of her kids, and Olympia and Tom (no longer Boy and Girl from the first book) are growing up.

Short version – if you read the first book, you’re going to want to read this one. I rattled through it in a day. And if Sandra Bullock is up for the film, I’ll watch that too.

Great stuff. Recommended.

Malorie by Josh Malerman is published by Orion and is out now.

Hinton Hollow Death Trip – Will Carver

It’s a small story. A small town with small lives that you would never have heard about if none of this had happened.
Hinton Hollow. Population 5,120.
Little Henry Wallace was eight years old and one hundred miles from home before anyone talked to him. His mother placed him on a train with a label around his neck, asking for him to be kept safe for a week, kept away from Hinton Hollow.
Because something was coming.
Narrated by Evil itself, Hinton Hollow Death Trip recounts five days in the history of this small rural town, when darkness paid a visit and infected its residents. A visit that made them act in unnatural ways. Prodding at their insecurities. Nudging at their secrets and desires. Coaxing out the malevolence suppressed within them. Showing their true selves.
Making them cheat.
Making them steal.
Making them kill.
Detective Sergeant Pace had returned to his childhood home. To escape the things he had done in the city. To go back to something simple. But he was not alone. Evil had a plan.

Well now. Will Carver’s first two books, Good Samaritans and Nothing Important Happened Today were phenomenal. Indeed, I said of the first book that I sat and stared at a screen for a good half hour, trying to work out how best to come up with a coherent review. It was dark (oh so dark), then along came book 2, which made the first look like a little ray of sunshine on a bright spring morning in comparison.

And so we find ourselves with book three – Hinton Hollow Death Trip. Carver has clearly looked at the dials marked ‘Dark’, ‘Disturbing’ and ‘Weird’, laughed in his best Bond villain style, and promptly whacked them all up to 11. Or possibly beyond.

DS Pace has returned to his childhood home following the events of Nothing Important Happened Today, to get away from the city, to get back to a simpler life. But nothing is ever as simple, is it? And this is no cosy little village mystery, oh no.

The thing which marks out Hinton Hollow Death Trip from the norm is that it is told from the point of view of Evil itself. And what a fascinating perspective that is.

You see, it takes just a small nudge to this person here, a gentle prod to that person there and before you know it, chaos ensues. And boy, does chaos ensue. Carver ramps up the body count in this one, and fair warning, mothers and their children are on the list.

This then is not an easy read, by any stretch. I said with the first two books that they were quite unlike anything I’d read before, so I’m even more impressed that Will Carver has pulled off a hat trick here. Easy it might not be, but an utterly compelling delve into the human condition it is.

One of my books of the year. Solid five stars.

Hinton Hollow Death Trip by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books in August 2020. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and for the review copy of the book.