The Origins of Iris – Beth Lewis

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‘I opened my eyes and the woman wearing my face opened hers at the same time.’ 

Iris flees New York City, and her abusive wife Claude, for the Catskill Mountains. When she was a child, Iris and her father found solace in the beauty and wilderness of the forest; now, years later, Iris has returned for time and space to clear her head, and to come to terms with the mistakes that have led her here. But what Iris doesn’t expect in her journey of survival and self-discovery is to find herself – literally.

Trapped in a neglected cabin deep in the mountains, Iris is grudgingly forced to come face to face with a seemingly prettier, happier and better version of herself. Other Iris made different choices in life and love. But is she all she seems? Can she be trusted? What is she hiding?

As a storm encroaches, threatening both their lives, time is running out for them to discover why they have been brought together, and what it means for their futures.

A few years ago I read The Wolf Road and proceeded to pester pretty much everyone who asked (and several who didn’t) that they needed to read it. It’s stunning. If you’ve somehow escaped my nagging over the past five years, you should read it.

That was then, and this is now, and it was with no small excitement that I found a copy of The Origins Of Iris landing on my doorstep earlier in the summer. I took it away with me on holiday and dived right in.

Remember earlier when I said that The Wolf Road was good? Like, really good?

The Origins of Iris is somehow even better. Beth Lewis has somehow taken one of my favourite books of recent years and written another book which bumped it down the list.

It’s split into two timelines, the one in the now following Iris as she flees from her abusive partner into the Catskills, the other in the past, in the lead up to her marriage. Lewis deftly weaves these two different strands together over the course of the book, revealing Iris to us, and indeed herself bit by bit.

Then Iris meets another woman at the cabin in the woods. A woman whose face looks familiar. Another Iris. Another facet to the story.

Lewis’ writing is just a joy to read. It’s wonderful. Dark, raw and startlingly original, it will linger long in the memory after you turn the last page. It took me a while to recover myself after reading.

The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis is published by Hodder Studio. Huge thanks to the publisher for the advance copy for review.

The Last House on Needless Street – Catriona Ward

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This is the story of a serial killer. A stolen child. Revenge. Death. And an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet they are all lies…

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. That’s where you’re wrong.

In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, lies something buried. But it’s not what you think…

This is a book that caused a bit of a buzz amongst the book blogger community when it first came out. Then a little while later I was at a virtual book event and Catriona was there talking about her book, cats, and I found myself ordering a copy from the lovely Forum Books (which turned out to be signed, to my delight).

I have to confess that I promptly got distracted and the book sat on the shelf for a while.

Until yesterday, when I found myself browsing the shelves, looking for my next read.

I’m now kicking myself for waiting so long. The Last House On Needless Street absolutely blew me away. It’s astonishingly good. From the blurb you think you know what you’re going to get, and to a certain extent, you do. But there’s so much more to this book. It’s beautifully written, desperately tense at times, and goes to some very dark places indeed.

It’s hard to say more without giving away too much. I can tell you that you’ll meet Ted, a recluse who lives in the last house. Lauren, his daughter. And Olivia, his cat. I *loved* Olivia and her narrative voice is something that made this book extra special.

Whatever you do, don’t read any reviews (other than this one, of course), or go further than the blurb.

You trust me, don’t you? But brace yourself. Needless Street is a strange place, and the last house is stranger still.

Easily one of my books of the year.

The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward is published by Viper and is out now.

#BlogTour #review A Slow Fire Burning – Paula Hawkins

Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She’s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous.

Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn’t mean she’s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace?

Innocent or guilty, everyone is damaged. Some are damaged enough to kill.

Reader, I really enjoyed this book.

A young woman is seen leaving the scene of a brutal murder on a canal boat. She’s got blood on her clothes. A man has been murdered. It can’t be that simple, can it?

Of course not! But what we have here is a deliciously twisty series of unreliable narrators, and who saw what and when (and why) unfurls over the course of this book, often leaving you guessing, and always leaving wanting just one more chapter.

The characters are fascinating, albeit not always immediately likeable. As the story develops we get to see their layers behind the surface, their complexities, what made them who they are. Not everyone is how they seem from the start, and it’s great fun trying to figure out where the story is going and who you dare to trust.

The way the story plays out is interesting – there’s a novellist character whose book is partly told within this story – a novel within a novel. It’s an interesting and unusual way of framing the story, and of course it shows yet another facet of the mystery at hand. It’s a neat plot device that I really liked.

This is the first of Paula Hawkins’ books that I’ve read – I’m not sure how I managed to miss reading The Girl On The Train given how huge it was, but on the strength of the writing here, I’m not surprised it was a hit. This is crying out for a TV adaptation, and I’d be first in line to watch it.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins is published by Doubleday and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inving me to take part in the blog tour, and for the advance copy of the book to review.

#BlogTour #Review – Resistance by Mara Timon

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Three women. One mission. Enemies everywhere.
May 1944. When spy Elisabeth de Mornay, code name Cécile, notices a coded transmission from an agent in the field does not bear his usual signature, she suspects his cover has been blown– something that is happening with increasing frequency. With the situation in Occupied France worsening and growing fears that the Resistance has been compromised, Cécile is ordered behind enemy lines.
Having rendezvoused with her fellow agents, Léonie and Dominique, together they have one mission: help the Resistance destabilise German operations to pave the way for the Normandy landings.
But the life of a spy is never straightforward, and the in-fighting within the Resistance makes knowing who to trust ever more difficult. With their lives on the line, all three women will have to make decisions that could cost them everything – for not all their enemies are German.

Resistance is the follow-up to Mara Timon’s debut novel City of Spies. Now, I’ve not read the first book but on the strength of the second I’ll definitely be adding it to the list.

It’s not often you get a really good strong female lead in a spy story, and in Resistance we have three! Elisabeth de Mornay is parachuted into France along with fellow agent Léonie to investigate suspicions that the Resistance has been compromised. De Mornay (codenamed Cécile) teams up with Dominique to help the Resistance prepare for the D-Day landings. Nothing is every quite straightforward though, of course.

This tense, atmospheric spy thriller keeps you on your toes from the very first page, with plenty of danger for our plucky SOE operatives. At times you could cut the tension with a knife (maybe Cécile’s trusty sgian dubh knife which she carries everywhere). Great cast of characters and a real sense of place and time give this book the edge that I look for in a thriller. There were plenty of references back to earlier events in City of Spies, but you could easily read this as a standalone, though I’m sure you’d get more out of it having read the earlier book. I definitely plan on going back to find out more about de Mornay’s adventures!

I really enjoyed this book (as you can probably tell!)

Highly recommended.

Resistance by Mara Timon is published by Zaffre. Many thanks to Zaffre and Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the tour.

The Killing Tide – Lin Anderson

After a fierce storm hits Scotland, a mysterious cargo ship is discovered in the Orkney Isles. Boarding the vessel uncovers three bodies, recently deceased and in violent circumstances. Forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod’s study of the crime scene suggests that a sinister game was being played on board, but who were the hunters? And who the hunted?
Meanwhile in Glasgow DS Michael McNab is called to a horrific incident where a young woman has been set on fire. Or did she spark the flames herself?
As evidence arises that connects the two cases, the team grow increasingly concerned that the truth of what happened on the ship and in Glasgow hints at a wider conspiracy that stretches down to London and beyond to a global stage. Orcadian Ava Clouston, renowned investigative journalist, believes so and sets out to prove it, putting herself in grave danger.
When the Met Police challenge Police Scotland’s jurisdiction, it becomes obvious that there are ruthless individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to protect government interests. Which could lead to even more deaths on Scottish soil . . .

The Killing Tide is the 16th book in Lin Anderson’s Scottish crime thriller series featuring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. It’s the first of the series I’ve read, and whilst there are plenty of callbacks to earlier books, it’s easily readable as a standalone.

Storm Burka delivers a seemingly abandoned cargo ship to the shores of Orkney, though of course there’s more to it than meets the eye. There are bodies on board – enter Rhona MacLeod to help unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding their deaths.

I really enjoyed this book. The plotting is intricate and intriguing, and the strands of the investigations into the bodies aboard the abandoned ship and the woman set alight in Glasgow play out to a satisfying conclusion.

The characters are great too. We get a lot of glimpses into the history of MacLeod and DS McNab throughout this book which have taken place in earlier books, and I look forward to delving back (if that makes sense!) into those stories soon. MacLeod in particular is a fascinating character, strong and driven, determined to figure out the truth. The story moves between the viewpoints of MacLeod, McNab and investigative journalist Ava Clouston, and I really liked the way the story unfolded between the three of them.

Regular readers will know how much I love a book with a good sense of place, and The Killing Tide delivers just that. You can almost feel the storm lashing the windows of the cottages on Orkney, and the damp streets of Glasgow as we follow our investigators tracking down clues.

It’s not a book for the faint-hearted – there are some dark moments along the way as you’d expect from any good crime story!

The Killing Tide by Lin Anderson is published by Pan Macmillan and is out now. Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour, and to the publisher for the copy of the book to review.

Call of the Bone Ships – RJ Barker

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Dragons have returned to the Hundred Isles. But their return heralds only war and destruction. When a horde of dying slaves are discovered in the bowels of a ship, Shipwife Meas and the crew of the Tide Child find themselves drawn into a vicious plot that will leave them questioning their loyalties and fighting for their lives

Call of the Bone Ships is the follow-up to RJ Barker’s excellent The Bone Ships. We’re back once again on the high seas following the adventures of Joron Twiner, Lucky Meas and their ship, The Tide Child.

There’s less world-building setup this time round as you’d expect from the second book in a trilogy, so we’re straight into the action. The crew of The Tide Child come across a ship with a cargo of dying slaves, a gruesome discovery that will set Meas and Twiner on a mission which will pit them against the fleet of the Hundred Isles.

Barker’s writing is, as ever, a delight to immerse oneself in. He clearly has a love of nautical adventures, and you can almost feel the sea spray on your face and the deck sway beneath your feet as you read. I won’t spoil too much (or indeed anything) about the plot, but there’s action, adventure, derring-do and danger at every turn.

There’s one sequence towards the end of the book which had me on the edge of my seat, and I only realised afterwards that I had been tensed up from being so much part of the action. Not many authors can do that to me, to lose me so completely in the scene that you emerge blinking from the other side.

And we get to find out a little more about the mysterious gullaime, the bird-like creatures who can summon the wind to power your ship. They’re a brilliant invention and a key part of Barker’s world, and I loved finding out a bit more about them.

Look, it’s a fabulous book. If you’ve read the first, then you know what you’re letting yourself in for (or at least you think you do…) and you’ll need no encouragement from me to read this. If you haven’t read The Bone Ships, then what are you waiting for? Get thee to a bookshop, pronto.

Highly recommended. And book 3 can’t come quickly enough.

Call of the Bone Ships by RJ Barker is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks as ever to Nazia Khatun at Orbit for the advance copy for review.

Fragile – Sarah Hilary

Nell Ballard is a runaway. A former foster child with a dark secret she is desperate to keep, all Nell wants is to find a place she can belong. So when a job comes up at Starling Villas, home to the enigmatic Robin Wilder, she seizes the
opportunity with both hands. But her new lodgings may not be the safe haven that she was hoping for…

I love a good psychological thriller, and Sarah Hilary’s Fragile absolutely nails it.

Nell and Joe, foster kids. Best friends and more. Runaways, living on the streets of London. Joe goes missing after a night at Starling Villas with a mysterious woman, and Nell just has to find out why. She manages to finagle a job there as housekeeper, determined to find out what happened. But there’s more to Starling Villas and its enigmatic, controlling owner Robin Wilder than meets the eye…

Sarah Hilary gradually ratchets up the tension slowly, drawing you into this tale of deceit. Who exactly is Robin Wilder? What happened to the previous housekeeper? What are in all the boxes that Wilder spends his days going through?

The story is told partly in flashback to Nell’s childhood, growing up in a foster home with Joe under the not-so-caring eye of Meagan Flack. And of the terrible events one fateful day which led Nell and Joe to run. But you can never run away from your past, and it has a way of catching up with you.

The writing is sublime, the characters sharply drawn, living long in your mind after you turn the final page. Hilary carefully measures out the story much like Nell takes care of the housekeeping money for Robin Wilder. You’re given exactly enough, at exactly the right time. It’s superb storytelling, perfectly plotted, demanding that you read just one more chapter.

It’s the first of Sarah Hilary’s books that I’ve read, but on the strength of this book, I’ll definitely be reading more.

Highly recommended.

Fragile by Sarah Hilary is published by Macmillan and is out now. Many thanks to Macmillan and Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and for the advance copy of the book to review.

Dead Ground – MW Craven

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe is in court, fighting eviction from his beloved and isolated croft, when he is summoned to a backstreet brothel in Carlisle where a man has been beaten to death with a baseball bat. Poe is confused – he hunts serial killers and this appears to be a straightforward murder-by-pimp – but his attendance was requested personally, by the kind of people who prefer to remain in the shadows.

As Poe and the socially awkward programmer Tilly Bradshaw delve deeper into the case, they are faced with seemingly unanswerable questions: despite being heavily vetted for a high-profile job, why does nothing in the victim’s background check out? Why was a small ornament left at the murder scene – and why did someone on the investigation team steal it? And what is the connection to a flawlessly executed bank heist three years earlier, a heist where nothing was taken…

A new Poe & Bradshaw book is one of those things that will elbow its way to the very top of the tottering pile of books to read. I absolutely loved the first three – The Puppet Show, Black Summer and The Curator (not forgetting Poe & Bradshaw 3.5, Cut Short), and was really looking forward to this fourth full outing for DS Washington Poe and the inimitable Tilly Bradshaw.

I love them both. Poe, the irascible detective sergeant who manages somehow to rub pretty much everyone up the wrong way.

Poe collected enemies the same way the middle class collect Nectar points

And his best friend Tilly Bradshaw. I’d happily read pretty much anything with these two in it, no matter what it might be (seriously, go check out Cut Short, a delightful collection of three short stories).

And this time they’re in rather deeper than they’re used to. Summoned to investigate the murder of a man in a backstreet brothel in Cumbria by a secretive government department, our favourite duo find that there’s rather more going on than first meets the eye.

I could go into more detail about the plot, but suffice it to say that there are shenanigans, misdirections and twists as you’d expect. The case is bigger – involving not only MI5 but also the FBI, the stakes are higher, etcetera, etcetera. There are bank heists, mysteriously missing ornaments, an international trade summit, and a plot to take Poe’s beloved croft away. Oh, and a brilliant character by the name of Bugger Rumble. Craven weaves these elements together masterfully, and I couldn’t put it down.

Look, it’s a Poe & Bradshaw book. I assume you’ve read the first three (and a half) books already, so you’re already champing at the bit to read this fourth outing. If you’re new to the series, you could start here, but why deprive yourself of the fun? These books just keep getting better and better, and they were already pretty darn good to begin with.

Hugely recommended.

Dead Ground by M.W. Craven is published by Constable and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher for the advance copy of the book to review.

A Numbers Game – RJ Dark

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One dead man and a missing lottery ticket.

Two family members who need that money to get away from the rundown Blades Edge estate.

Three local gangsters who want that money for themselves.

Meet Malachite Jones – the foremost (and only) psychic medium on the gritty Blades Edge estate. All he wants are two things: a name that isn’t ‘Malachite’, and a quiet life. And maybe some real psychic powers, but he’s making a living without them.

Janine Stanbeck wants to find her dead husband Larry’s winning ticket and escape Blades Edge with her son. And she thinks Mal can help her.

But Larry’s dad is the crime lord of the estate, and he wants that ticket for himself, and worse for Mal, he’s not the only criminal with his eyes on it. Add in two coppers desperate to nick Mal’s best, only, and admittedly quite dangerous, friend, Jackie Singh Kattar, and Blades Edge is getting pretty crowded.

Malachite Jones might not really be able to talk to the dead, but if he and his friend Jackie Singh Kattar can’t find that money and a solution that pleases everyone they’re likely to be in need of a psychic medium themselves.

So, what have we here? A crime novel set on a sprawling, gritty estate in Yorkshire, with a psychic medium on the hunt for a lost lottery ticket worth quite a lot of money. And a series of other unsavoury characters who want the ticket for themselves, and are not afraid to let Malachite Jones know exactly how much they’re willing to hurt him if he doesn’t hand it over.

I read a lot of crime books. So do you, probably. But it’s refreshing to find one that manages to combine a lovely dark, twisty plot with a healthy dose of humour. I loved Mal and Jackie, the two leads with their long history and tenuous ‘friendship’.

The week started unseasonably warm for spring, and with my best friend sitting on top of me, threatening violence. From there it only went downhill.

Malachite Jones – ‘psychic’ medium (ably, if reluctantly, assisted by his assistant Beryl, who knows everyone and everything going on on the Blades Edge estate). Jackie Singh Kattar, respected businessman (just don’t ask what business, or you’ll find out he’s made you his business), sharp dresser and with a nice little line in motors. Best friends. And boy, do you want Jackie on your side.

But it’s not just them – the supporting cast is also brilliant – Trolley Mick Stanbeck and his dim (but wanting to improve themselves) sons. The Russians. The dodgy coppers (one of whom Jackie assures Mal she fancies him)

It’s just a joy from the first page to the end. Do yourself a favour, grab a copy for your kindle (ebook only at the moment) and settle down with a brew. Malachite Jones and his best friend Jackie Singh Kattar are about to become your new favourite duo.

Highly recommended.

A Numbers Game by RJ Dark is published by Wavesback, and is out now.

You can buy a copy from Amazon here

Books roundup – April/May

Blimey, June already? Where has the year gone?

When I sat down to do my May catchup, I realised that I’d not done a post of the books I read in April. Ooops. Bad bookblogger. Double dose then.

I thought I’d not read much recently, but both April and May saw me get through six books each, after only three in March (and one of those was in audiobook)

April

April kicked off with MR Carey’s finale of his superb Ramparts trilogy, the Fall of Koli. A fitting end to a brilliant set of books.

Next up was Blackstoke, by Rob Parker. Delightfully spooky goings on in a new housing estate. Not for the faint hearted!

These Lifeless Things, by Premee Mohamed is a superb little novella about an alien invasion, told through the journal of Eva, a survivor of the invasion, found by Emerson a young anthropologist sent to study the ruins of our former civilisation.

Then we had Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, by TA Willberg. Intriguing premise and location – a secret detective agency beneath the streets of London, full of traps and dangers and murder. It just didn’t quite grab me, though I did finish it.

Strong contender for the book of the year list, Louise Beech’s This is How We Are Human is just stunning. I finished it in an afternoon. Be warned, you’ll need tissues.

Another contender for The List is Black Reed Bay, by Rod Reynolds. Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Reynold’s books, from his Charlie Yates trilogy to his more modern, London-based Blood Red City. In Black Reed Bay we’re back in America, present day. A young woman dials 911 from an exclusive beachfront community, then promptly goes missing. Proper page-turner crime. Highly recommended.

May

Started May with a couple of excellent non-fiction books. Run Walk Crawl: Getting Fit In My Forties, by Tim Lebbon was great (and included cake).

As was Peaks and Bandits, by Alf Bonnevie Bryn. The tale of a young Norwegian climber who set off to Corsica in his Easter holidays in 1909, it’s packed full of amusing anecdotes, including a snake called James, and an incident with a quart ceramic jar of Crosse & Blackwell marmalade that they persuaded someone to carry up a mountain. Oh, and they meet some bandits, of course. 

Dead Ground, by MW Craven was one of my much anticipated books of the year, and it’s another cracking outing for Poe and Tilly. Book four in the series, well worth a look.

Eye of the Sh*t Storm, by Jackson Ford is the third in his Frost Files series, and he’s managed to turn the action/adventure/snark dials up even further. Splendid entertainment, and hugely recommended.

A Numbers Game, by RJ Dark is one I’ve had my eye on for a while. I had a peek at a super-early version of the book a couple of years ago. Luckily RJ Dark ignored all of my feedback and produced a superb little crime thriller set on an estate in Yorkshire. Mal and Jackie are your new favourite duo, trust me.

Rounded out the month with Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education, which I really enjoyed. It’s a tale of a magical school, but unlike any you’ve seen before. Education really is deadly at the Scholomance, there are no teachers, no friendships other than strategic ones to help you graduate. And not everyone will make it through lunch, let alone the year. Highly recommended.

Phew. That was April and May. Some great books in there. Have you read any of them? Any take your fancy? Do let me know, and let me know what you’ve read recently that you think I’d enjoy!