Five Reasons Why on A.I. with Heather Child. Everything About You.

Today I’ve got a guest post from Heather Child, author of the spookily brilliant Everything About You (you can read my full review here)

AIs are becoming more like designer friends

Google Assistant and Alexa haven’t always been on our wavelength. Alexa went through a period of terrifying people with its witchy laughter, and has been known to record private conversations and email them to other users, as well as making some serious blunders with shopping lists.

It probably got a lot of abuse from users as a result, and perhaps this is why some of the new generation of intelligent assistants are being designed to be less ‘assistant’ and more ‘friend’.

Microsoft’s Xiaoice, an AI styled as a teenage girl, has 660 million users and mixes in emotions and empathy – she doesn’t always answer questions, but learns to be more ‘human’ every day. People send her gifts and seek her advice on all kinds of personal issues.

In Everything About You, the AI has been built from the data of the main character’s foster sister, meaning the relationship is personal from the very beginning.

So we started with search engines, and now we have helpful ‘friends’. It’s a blurring moment between service technology and humanity, and our perception of ‘friendship’ could potentially change as a result.

A Japanese man who married a hologram (again modelled on a teenage girl) hit the headlines last November, and he is one of thousands who have married similar AI characters. Part of the attraction of these virtual friends and partners is that they don’t come with the challenges of a real human. With some virtual girlfriends such as Kari, you can tailor the personality to your liking. On forums users discuss how they’ve dialled up certain traits on their Kari, making her super horny and anti-feminist (these forums make for unsettling reading). But I digress…

When it comes to designing friends, there is a lot of temptation to make designer friends. As in Everything About You, the companions we choose will fulfil our deepest needs, whether they are home-made, idealised, or built like snowmen from the data of people we have lost.


about the book

THINK TWICE BEFORE YOU SHARE YOUR LIFE ONLINE.

Freya has a new virtual assistant. It knows what she likes, knows what she wants and knows whose voice she most needs to hear: her missing sister’s. 
It adopts her sister’s personality, recreating her through a life lived online. But this virtual version of her sister knows things it shouldn’t be possible to know. It’s almost as if the missing girl is still out there somewhere, feeding fresh updates into the cloud. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

You can purchase Everything About You (Orbit) Here.

Book Tag – The Finished Books Tag

Inspired by the ever-inspiring Womble from runalongtheshelves.net, I’ve picked up the book tag that was created by Headless Books and it seemed a fun topic – what happens when you finish a book?

Do you keep a list of the books you have read?

Yes. They’re all up on Goodreads (here’s my read-2020 tagged books). I tag them by year, which makes end-of-year lists a lot easier to do, and I can see at a glance how many books I’ve read so far.

If you record statistics, what statistics do you record?

I used to keep track of fiction vs non fiction, tag them as favourites and other things. But that’s gone by the by – now I just tag them by year. Goodreads spits out an end-of-year report which is kind of interesting.

I’ve been thinking of other things I could tag as I’ve been trying to read more diverse books over the past couple of years. Gender split would be interesting – I’ve certainly read more by women authors and non-cishet male authors, but could certainly do better.

Do you give star ratings for books, and if so, what do you score books out of and how do you cone about this score?

Only on Goodreads, and often after much deliberation. I’ve also gone back and revisited the star ratings after a month or three, as I realised that the book perhaps wasn’t all that. I’ve talked about star ratings here, and how I rate books here

Do you review books?

Yes. Next question.

Where do you put your finished books?

Now that does rather depend on the book.

ARCs [link] will usually go on the shelf or to friends/family. Finshed hardbacks/paperbacks will either go on the shelves or to the charity shop. Books I’ve really enjoyed may get pressed in the hands of someone I think will like them.

How do you pick your next book?

Depends what I’ve just read, and what I’m in the mood for. I’ve usually got a few blog tour reads on the go, so need to keep an eye on dates so that I’ve read them nice and early and not in a panic the day before my spot on the blog tour. I’d never do that, no sir, not me. guilty look

I’m hugely fortunate to be on the list for some brilliant publishers and publicists, so often a new book will turn up and jump immediately to the top of the pile, with a muttered apology to the long-suffering, much neglected TBR pile.

Do you have any other rituals for when you have finished a book?

Other than the ritual sacrifice to the book gods to ensure an ever-growing TBR pile?

I’ll mark it as read in Goodreads, fill in the dates read, ponder a star rating and think ‘ooh, I should really write up the review for that immediately’, then fall about laughing and pick up another book.

Let me know in the comments what you do, I’d love to know.

I Am Dust – Louise Beech

The Dean Wilson Theatre is believed to be haunted by a long-dead actress, singing her last song, waiting for her final cue, looking for her killer…

Now Dust, the iconic musical, is returning after twenty years. But who will be brave enough to take on the role of ghostly goddess Esme Black, last played by Morgan Miller, who was murdered in her dressing room?

Theatre usher Chloe Dee is caught up in the spectacle. As the new actors arrive, including an unexpected face from her past, everything changes. Are the eerie sounds and sightings backstage real or just her imagination? Is someone playing games?

Is the role of Esme Black cursed? Could witchcraft be at the heart of the tragedy? And are dark deeds from Chloe’s past about to catch up with her?

Not all the drama takes place onstage. Sometimes murder, magic, obsession and the biggest of betrayals are real life. When you’re in the theatre shadows, you see everything.

And Chloe has been watching…

I first heard about I Am Dust at the launch for Louise Beech’s previous book, the magnificent Call Me Star Girl (easily one of my books of the year for 2019). I was intrigued. A ghostly story set in a theatre? I made a note in my List of Books To Keep An Eye Out For.

And lo, here we are some months later, and the book itself lands on my doorstep. Could it possibly live up to expectations? Could it match the heady heights of Star Girl?

Dear reader, it very much does.

It’s a story of love and loss, of murder and mystery, of the glam and glitz of showbusiness in a small theatre, haunted by the spectre of its greatest success, the musical extravaganza that is Dust.

The writing is beautifully evocative, with the Dean Wilson Theatre almost a character in itself. Louise Beech clearly has a deep love of theatre and it just shines through on the page. You can feel yourself walking the backstage corridors, poking your head around the doors of the once glamorous dressing rooms, standing in the wings watching the cast take their bow at the final curtain.

The book is just a lovely, lovely thing. Fiercely funny at times as the ushers put up with yet another terrible play, or try and push pamphlets for Dust, the show that everyone wants to see but sold out in hours.

But the story isn’t all light and showbiz. What began as a game between three friends in 2005 has repercussions in present-day, and the story flits back and forth between the interlocked timelines. Beech’s skill at showing us just a little, just a glimpse behind the curtain at what went on back then before bringing us back to the now of 2019 drives this story on. I read it pretty much in a single sitting, drawn into the world of the theatre and the three friends.

There’s layer upon layer at play here, and just when you think that perhaps you might have it sussed, you realise that it’s all smoke and mirrors, greasepaint and costume jewellery. But the real jewels are there, if you know where to look.

Look, I’ve waffled on for long enough. Do you trust me? Go buy a copy of this book, and spend a couple of hours in the company of players that make up the tale of I Am Dust. You will not regret it.

Hugely recommended.

I Am Dust by Louise Beech is published by Orenda Books in ebook in February 2020, and in paperback in April 2020. Thanks as ever to Karen Sullivan for the review copy.

The Secret Chapter – Genevieve Cogman

A Librarian’s work is never done, and once Irene has a quick rest after their latest adventure, she is summoned to the Library. The world where she grew up is in danger of veering deep into chaos, and she needs to obtain a particular book to stop this from happening. No copies of the book are available in the Library, so her only choice is to contact a mysterious Fae information broker and trader of rare objects: Mr. Nemo.

Irene and Kai make their way to Mr. Nemo’s remote Caribbean island and are invited to dinner, which includes unlikely company. Mr. Nemo has an offer for everyone there: he wants them to steal a specific painting from a specific world. He swears that he will give each of them an item from his collection if they bring him the painting within the week.

Everyone takes the deal. But to get their reward, they will have to form a team, including a dragon techie, a Fae thief, a gambler, a driver, and the muscle. Their goal? The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, in a early twenty-first century world, where their toughest challenge might be each other.

The Secret Chapter marks the sixth instalment in Genevieve Cogman’s wonderful Invisible Library books. I’ve been a huge fan of the series since the very first chapter of the very first book.

Short catch-up: Irene Winters is a Librarian. The Library connects worlds, and the Librarians jump between worlds to collect books. Oh, and there are dragons and Fae, and they don’t like each other much. The dragons prefer worlds which tend towards order, and the Fae towards chaos. Kai is Irene’s assistant. And a dragon.

Still with me? Excellent. Now, you’ve either read the other books, in which case you’ll need no enticement from me to read this one. Or you haven’t, in which case hie yourself off to the nearest bookshop (or library, of course) to get yourself a copy of The Invisible Library and settle down for some rollicking adventures.

In The Secret Chapter, our heroes must get their hands on a book. So far, so standard. Except the only copy of the book belongs to Mr Nemo, a delightfully Bond-esque villain (with a secret lair and a malevolent octopus, naturally). And Mr Nemo wants a very specific painting from another world in return.

Oh, and he’s assembled a motley crew (including Irene and Kai) to go and acquire it. A crew which includes a Fae thief, an ace getaway driver, a dragon computer hacker, a gambler and some muscle.

What could possibly go wrong?

Hijinks, naturally, ensue. And what hijinks they are. I love a good heist story! The action comes thick and fast. The gang fall out, get back together, fall out, and it’s all just wonderful.

I love these books so much, they’re very much a comfort read for me. Doesn’t matter where Irene and Kai end up, I know that we’re going to have a blast.

Very much recommended.

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman is published by Pan and is out now. Huge thanks to Genevieve Cogman for the copy to review.

Viper Books

Delighted to receive a rather epic parcel of books recently from the lovely folk at Viper Books, a new imprint of Serpent’s Tail which launched in November 2019

Four fabulous looking books, a splendid tote bag (you can never have too many bookish totes) and a little bottle of Viper Vodka. Let’s pop that in the freezer for later, and take a look at the books, shall we?


The Broken Ones – Ren Richards

published March 2020

When her child was taken what did she really see?

A bestselling true crime writer, Nell Way tells other people’s stories. But there is one story Nell won’t tell. Ten years ago and with a different name, she was a teenage mother with a four-year-old she found desperately hard to love. Then the little girl disappeared, and Nell has never shaken off the shadow of suspicion.

As she begins to interview the subject of her next book – a woman convicted of murdering her twin sister – it becomes clear that someone has uncovered her true identity. And they know that Nell didn’t tell the truth about the day her daughter disappeared… 


Who We Were – BM Carroll

published May 2020

IT’S BEEN TWENTY YEARS
BUT ALL IS NOT FORGIVEN

Katy is not the shy schoolgirl she once was, and she’s looking forward to showing her classmates who she’s become.

Annabel was the queen bee. But her fall from grace changed her life forever.

Zach was cruel, but he thinks he’s changed.

Robbie was a target. And he never stood a chance.

The reunion will bring together friends and enemies, many for the first time in decades. But someone is still holding a grudge…


Bitter Wash Road – Garry Disher

published April 2020

Hirsch is a whistle-blower. Formerly a promising metropolitan detective, now hated and despised, he’s been exiled to a one-cop station in South Australia’s wheatbelt. Threats. Pistol cartridge in the mailbox.

So when he heads up Bitter Wash Road to investigate gunfire and finds himself cut off without backup, there are two possibilities. Either he’s found the fugitive killers thought to be in the area. Or his ‘backup’ is about to put a bullet in him.

He’s wrong on both counts. But Tiverton when the next call-out takes him to the body of a sixteen-year-old girl, his investigation has disturbing echoes of the past he’s trying to leave behind…


A Famished Heart – Nicola White

published February 2020

Her head was bowed, and the hands braced on the chair arms were not like hands at all, but the dry dark claws of a bird…

The Macnamara sisters hadn’t been seen for months before anyone noticed. It was Father Timoney who finally broke down the door, who saw what had become of them. Berenice was sitting in her armchair, surrounded by religious tracts. Rosaleen had crawled under her own bed, her face frozen in terror. Both had starved themselves to death.

Francesca Macnamara returns to Dublin after decades in the US, to find her family in ruins. Meanwhile, Detectives Vincent Swan and Gina Considine are convinced that there is more to the deaths than suicide. Because what little evidence there is, shows that someone was watching the sisters die…


The Resident – David Jackson

published July 2020

YOU THINK YOU’RE ALONE.
THINK AGAIN.

Thomas Brogan is a serial killer, and he has nowhere left to hide. At least until he finds an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he discovers that he can access three other houses through the attic space, the real fun begins.

Because the one thing that Brogan enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet…


Phew! What a selection. Huge thanks to Viper Books for the bookish goodies, I can’t wait to get started.

But where to start? Which one would you pick?

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth book cover

Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.

This is one of my favourite books of the year. Weird, dark and often very funny, I loved it from the first page to the last.

It’s got everything – lesbian necromancers, a giant labyrinthine crumbling (possibly haunted, definitely deadly) house by the sea, swordfights, murder, blood, skeletons, locked rooms (which should *definitely* stay locked), mysterious mystics, battling Houses, daring cavaliers and a cluedo-esque whodunnit running throughout.

I *loved* the dynamic between Harrow and Gideon. Exchanging barbs and one-liners like they’re going out of fashion, the two Ninth House heroines have to battle against the other great Houses for the ultimate prize of Harrowhark becoming Lyctor to the Emperor. Except that she really needs Gideon’s help. And Gideon isn’t sure she can really be arsed.

The worldbuilding is glorious, though we only see a fragment of it on display here. The inter-House rivalries hint at larger things which we’ll hopefully see more of in the later books. The locked-room mysteries that the pair have to solve are delightfully cunning, and Harrow and Gideon make such a wonderful pairing. The Houses themselves are fascinating, as are the necromancers and cavaliers from each – for a book with 18 characters, they’re all well-realised and splendidly different.

Hugely recommended. I can’t wait to see where the story takes us in Harrow the Ninth, which is out next year.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is published by Tor.

Doing Time – Jodi Taylor

At some time in the future, the secret of time-travel became available to all. Chaos ensued as people sought to take advantage. Because there will always be nutters who want to change history…

And so the Time Police were formed. Internationally sanctioned thugs whose task it was to keep the timeline straight by any and all means possible. And they succeeded. The Time Wars are over. The Time Police won. But who will win the peace?

Doing Time follows three hapless new Time Police recruits – Jane, Luke and Matthew – as they try to navigate their first year on the beat. It’s all going to be fine. Obviously.

Doing Time is a spinoff from Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s series. Now I’ve not read any of those, but judging by the hijinks on display here, I think I might have a few books to add to my ever-growing backlog!

I enjoyed this a lot – it’s a fun romp through time following the adventures of the three new recruits. The action comes thick and fast, and we’re whisked from Time Police HQ in the future back to ancient Egypt and pyramids, to the Romans and the Ides of March.

Our misfit heroes are put through the wringer a lot, faced with trying to gel as a team despite pressures from all sides, save the history of the world as they go, try not to get in the way too much, and prove to everyone that they *do* know what they’re doing. Well, mostly…

Whilst you can read Doing Time as a standalone, there are a lot of references to St. Mary’s peppered throughout the book and it’s definitely got me intrigued as to what goes on over there. That said, we get plenty of glimpses at the backstory of St Mary’s here to bring you up to speed. I think that if you’re already a fan, there’ll be a lot there to make you smile. I wondered whether I might have missed out on some of the in-jokes though!

Doing Time by Jodi Taylor is published by Headline in October 2019. Huge thanks to Headline and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour, and for the advance review copy.