Hard Time – Jodi Taylor

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Team Weird are back causing havoc in the Time Police in this irresistible spin-off series by international bestseller Jodi Taylor, author of The Chronicles of St Mary’s. If you love Doctor Who, Ben Aaronovitch and Jasper Fforde, you’ll love the Time Police.

A time slip in Versailles, problems in the Ice Age and illegal time travellers in need of rescue. Must be a job for the Time Police.

Luke, Jane and Matthew are back and ready to cause havoc – inadvertently or otherwise – in their latest adventures.

Following on from the adventures of Team Weird in the first book, Doing Time, we’re back with another rollicking adventure up and down the time streams with our favourite Time Police recruits. If you’ve read the first (and if not, why not?) then I heartily suggest that you do, then get yourself back for this, round two.

Doing Time and Hard Time are both spin-offs from Jodi Taylor’s hugely successful Chronicles of St Mary’s, which I still haven’t had a chance to read. Note to self: catch up!

Our lovable (if that’s the right word) misfits are thrust straight into the action to go and retrieve an illegal time tourist who has got lost in the past, who just happens to be Luke’s ex. Ooops. Before long, they’re hot on the trail of the criminals behind this new (and very very illegal) form of tourism.

Hijinks ensue. Boy, do they ensue.

As with the first book, this is a huge amount of fun (and boy, at 500+ pages, I’m not kidding about the huge bit). But even for such a big book it’s a quick read. The plot fairly rattles along, and we follow our heroes from 17th Century England, call in on Marie Antoinette, and even end up with the team in a *very* chilly spot.

Great fun. Grab yourself a copy and strap yourselves in for the ride!

Hard Time by Jodi Taylor is published by Headline, and is out now in hardback. Huge thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of Jodi Taylor’s book to review for the blog tour.

Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse – Nina Schick

It will soon be impossible to tell what is real and what is fake.

Recent advances in AI mean that by scanning images of a person (for example using Facebook), a powerful machine learning system can create new video images and place them in scenarios and situations which never actually happened. When combined with powerful voice AI, the results are utterly convincing.

So-called ‘Deep Fakes’ are not only a real threat for democracy but they take the manipulation of voters to new levels. They will also affect ordinary people. This crisis of misinformation we are facing has been dubbed the ‘Infocalypse’.

Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse looks at the recent advances in AI how the use of deep fakes – video or images created by computer – have come along in recent years so that they are now virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. It’s both scary and fascinating – whereas once video would count as proof, now it’s open to suspicion. Can anything be trusted?

Schick’s book is a slim volume, but one which delves into how misinformation on a global scale is being used to affect democracy. Covering the Trump election in 2016 and looking forward to the imminent 2020 election, Schick investigates the Russian interference and how it could (or rather is) happening again. She looks at the key challenges facing democracy in our current climate of fakery and distrust, and it’s not a comforting read.

It’s a well-researched, fascinating read. One which you could probably get through in a single sitting, but will sit with you for a long time afterwards.

Deep Fakes and the Infocalypse by Nina Schick is published by Octopus Books and is out now.

Reading roundup – Aug/Sept

Looking back over the summer reading and I’ve read some really great books. Here’s a quick roundup

August

I read six books in August, helped largely by having two weeks off work. First up was The Trials of Koli, by M. R. Carey. Book two in the Ramparts trilogy, and an excellent second installment. Make sure you read book 1 first!

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Then we had the deliciously spooky Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which came highly recommended by @runalongwomble and @bluebookballoon, so of course I couldn’t resist. Fantasic book.

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Next up in my holiday reading was Josh Malerman’s Malorie, the much-anticipated follow-up to the excellent Bird Box. Really enjoyed this – tense, pacy and with a similar feeling of dread to the first book.

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I really enjoyed Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi (review to come). It was clever and… different. A series of murders, a panoply of mysteries and lots of fun trying to work out whodunnit.

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A non-fiction book next – The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself and Win by Maria Konnikova. Konnikova, a writer and student of human behaviour (with a PhD in psychology) takes her skills and applies to them to the poker table under the wing of legendary poker player, Eric Seidel. Fascinating stuff.

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Last, but by no means least we had Grave Secrets by Alice James, another of @runalongwomble’s booktempting… tempts. Simply 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. Zombies, vampires and a bit of croquet.

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Phew. Six books in August. On to…

September

First up we had M.W. Craven’s Cut Short, a trio of short stories featuring Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw from The Puppet Show, Black Summer and The Curator. I love these characters and could happily have read a dozen more. It’ll keep me going until book 4, I suppose…

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Another delve into non-fiction with Do Make, by James Otter. Interesting book – James Otter left his job to set up a company making wooden surfboards. Less about making, and more about his story becoming a maker, but interesting. And now I want to go make a surfboard.

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Two huge books to round out September. Stuart Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water has been on pre-order since January, but I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy, and tore through it. Absolutely brilliant. The world’s greatest detective (no, not that one) is being transported to Amsterdam aboard the Saardam, but the devil himself may be on board.

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And finally we have The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. Addie LaRue, a girl with seven freckles, one for every love she will ever have. A girl who wants a life of her own. A girl who made a deal with the gods who you definitely should never, ever pray to after dark.

Utterly sublime. Schwab’s writing is gorgeous, and Addie LaRue will live in your memory for quite some time. One of my books of the year.

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So, that was my summer reading list. Have you read any of them? Any take your fancy? Tell me what you’ve been reading, I’d love to know.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue - V.E. Schwab
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France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Addie LaRue, a girl with seven freckles, one for every love she will ever have. A girl who wants a life of her own. A girl who made a deal with the gods who you definitely should never, ever pray to after dark.

A girl who is unable to leave her mark on the world. A girl who everyone forgets.

Then one day she meets a young man who remembers.

Books are like meals. Sometimes you fancy a light snack, quick to eat on the go. Other times you want something more substantial, like a burger and fries. Warm and filling, and you enjoy it at the time, but like Addie, one you don’t remember.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is like a meal from a Michelin starred restaurant. Layer upon layer, expertly combined. A hint of something you can’t quite put your finger on, but which gives it that certain… je ne sais quoi that will linger in the memory for long afterwards.

It is… wonderful.

It’s an exploration of love and life, of the price we pay to make our mark on the world. It’s a love story told in the here and now, but also in the three hundred years of Addie LaRue’s life. A glimpse into the inbetween places of life, those liminal spaces which are merely glimpsed at.

And there’s a bookshop, with a cat. What more could you ask for?

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is just the most splendid, beautiful book. One to curl up on the sofa and lose yourself in for a century or three, in the company of a girl with seven freckles.

One of my books of the year.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is published by Titan Books in October 2020. Many thanks to Titan Books for the advance copy via NetGalley

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 – Silvia Moreno-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 Moreno-Garcia has written, because on the strength of this book, she is very much an author to watch.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-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