The Moose Paradox by Antti Tuomainen

Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen has finally restored order both to his life and to YouMeFun, the adventure park he now owns, when a man from the past appears – and turns everything upside down again. More problems arise when the park’s equipment supplier is taken over by a shady trio, with confusing demands. Why won’t Toy of Finland Ltd sell the new Moose Chute to Henri when he needs it as the park’s main attraction?

Meanwhile, Henri’s relationship with artist Laura has reached breaking point, and, in order to survive this new chaotic world, he must push every calculation to its limits, before it’s too late…

The Moose Paradox follows Antti Tuomainen’s Henri Koskinen on his further adventures with his inherited adventure park, YouMeFun. Formerly an actuary, Henri is still a mathematician through and through, and whilst things are starting to settle from the events of The Rabbit Factor, nothing is ever easy for dear old Henri.

I adore Tuomainen’s writing, and the lovely vein of black humour that runs through his recent books. And the adventures (or misadventures) of everyone’s favourite insurance mathematician-turned-adventure park owner are just as much fun this time around. A delightfully heady mix of misunderstandings, shady businessmen, and the quest for the elusive Moose Chute (the answer to all Henri’s financial problems) lead us down a rollercoaster ride of shenanigans that only Tuomainen could pull off.

Enormously enjoyed this book, but you really do need to read The Rabbit Factor first! Do yourself a favour and pick up both books.

Hugely recommended.

The Moose Paradox by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Huge thanks to Orenda for the advance copy to review.

SOLO: What running across mountains taught me about life, by Jenny Tough

Jenny Tough is an endurance athlete who’s best known for running and cycling in some of world’s most challenging events – achieving accolades that are an inspiration to outdoor adventurers everywhere. But SOLO tells the story of a much more personal project: Jenny’s quest to come to terms with feelings and emotions that were holding her back. Like runners at any level, she knew already that running made her feel better, and like so many of us, she knew that completing goals independently was empowering, too. So she set herself an audacious objective: to run – solo, unsupported, on her own – across mountain ranges on six continents, starting with one of the most remote locations on Earth in Kyrgystan. 

SOLO chronicles Jenny’s journey every step of the way across the Tien Shaw (Asia), the High Atlas (Africa), the Cordillera Oriental (South America), the Southern Alps (Oceania), the Canadian Rockies (North America) and the Transylvanian Alps (Europe), as she learns lessons in self-esteem, resilience, bravery and so much more. 

What Jenny’s story tells us most of all is that setting out to do things solo – whether the ambitious or the everyday – can be invigorating, encouraging and joyful. And her call to action to find strength, confidence and self-belief in everything we do will inspire and motivate.

I saw Jenny Tough talk at last year’s excellent Sidetracked Live: The Creators Tour in Leeds (alongside some other great speakers), so when I found out that she was publishing a book of her challenge to run solo and unsupported across six mountain ranges on six continents, I immediately put in a pre-order.

Short review: it’s a fabulous book. You should read it.

Slightly longer review: Crikey, what an adventure! I’m trying very hard to resist the Tough by name, tough by nature line as I’m sure she’s heard it a million times, but it really is apt here. From the Tien Shaw in Krygystan to the heat of the High Atlas in Africa, the forests and peaks of the Bolivian Andes, down south to the Southern Alps in New Zealand, her childhood home by the Canadian Rockies and finishing in a sprint across the Transylvanian Alps in Romania, Jenny Tough experiences the highs and lows (sorry, I’ll stop with the mountain-related metaphors soon, I promise) of adventure running.

I seem to have read a load of travel books this summer (Sabrina Verjee’s excellent Where There’s A Hill is also worth checking out), and SOLO is right up there at the top of the list. Tough’s writing is deeply personal and supremely evocative as she brings you along on her adventure, showing you the sights and sounds of some of the world’s most spectacular mountains. It’s a fascinating read, following through some very remote landscapes with a tiny backpack. Smaller than the one I took for a weekend camping in the Lakes (but entirely better packed, I’m sure!).

The constant wondering where the next water or food will come from, the warnings from villagers about the dangers up ahead juxtaposed with the generosity of spirit of people along the way all come together in this fantastic account of six incredible journeys. Six very different mountain ranges, six different cultures, six great stories.

After each section of the book I went and watched the short films that she made about her trips. Mountains of Heaven covers the 900km, 25 day run across Krygystan. It was great to see the places that I’d just read about and get to look at the spectacular scenery. Kind of an added bonus feature to the book!

SOLO: What running across mountains taught me about life, by Jenny Tough is published by Aster and is out now in hardback.

Where There’s a Hill – Sabrina Verjee

Sabrina Verjee is an ultrarunning phenomenon. In June 2021, on her fourth attempt, she became the first person to climb the Lake District’s 214 Wainwright hills in under six days, running 325 miles with a colossal 36,000 metres of ascent, more than four times the height of Everest.

Where There’s a Hill tells the story of an outsider who was never picked for a school sports team yet went on to become an accomplished modern pentathlete and adventure racer. After switching her focus to ultrarunning in her thirties, Sabrina moved to the Lake District, where she could hone her mountain-running skills in the local fells. High-profile success in endurance events followed, as she completed the Dragon’s Back Race three times and was the outright winner of the 2019 Summer Spine Race, beating her nearest competitor by more than eight hours.

However, it was the Wainwrights Round which really captured Sabrina’s imagination. Having learnt about the challenge from fell-running legend Steve Birkinshaw, Sabrina began to plan an attempt of her own. Despite multiple obstacles – including lockdown regulations, bad weather, injury and controversy – Sabrina’s grit and determination shone through. Where There’s a Hill is a frank and inspirational account of how one woman ran her way into the record books.

Where There’s A Hill is one of two books I’ve read recently about women who have gone on to do some incredible feats of running, the other being Jenny Tough’s excellent SOLO. Both very different books, and both well worth your time!

In Where There’s A Hill, we follow Sabrina from her childhood, treated as an outsider and picked last for games, through to her move into top level adventure racing across the globe, initially as the token women on a male team but very much determined (and better prepared than many male athletes) to compete on her own terms.

Sabrina moved to the Lake District and her focus changed to ultrarunning. Success at the Dragon’s Back Race in Wales and the Montane Summer Spine Race followed, and her attention turned to a challenge closer to home.

The Wainwrights Round consists of summiting the 214 peaks mentioned by Alfred Wainwright in his Guide to the Lakeland Fells. And Sabrina planned to run this 325 mile challenge in under six days.

It’s a fascinating story of her multiple attempts to complete the challenge, with the added complications of lockdown, weather (surely it’s always sunny in the Lake District?) and the inevitable injuries that she picked up along the way. It’s a story of determination, of a sole focus to complete a task that very few people could ever do, alongside support from a great bunch of friends and fellow fell runners, some of whom had done it before, or others who went on to try the Wainwrights Round themselves.

I can’t even begin to imagine running such distances, having struggled recently to do a 13 mile walk in the Lakes. Huge respect to all the people who chose to run up and down those mountains!

Really enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it.

Where There’s A Hill by Sabrina Verge is published by Vertebrate Books and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher for the ebook copy to review.

The Rabbit Factor – Antti Tuomainen

What makes life perfect? Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen knows the answer because he calculates everything down to the very last decimal.

And then, for the first time, Henri is faced with the incalculable. After suddenly losing his job, Henri inherits an adventure park from his brother – its peculiar employees and troubling financial problems included. The worst of the financial issues appear to originate from big loans taken from criminal quarters … and some dangerous men are very keen to get their money back.

But what Henri really can’t compute is love. In the adventure park, Henri crosses paths with Laura, an artist with a chequered past, and a joie de vivre and erratic lifestyle that bewilders him. As the criminals go to extreme lengths to collect their debts and as Henri’s relationship with Laura deepens, he finds himself faced with situations and emotions that simply cannot be pinned down on his spreadsheets…

I’m a huge fan of Antti Tuomainen’s books. The Man Who Died (#MushroomNoir), Palm Beach Finland (‘Sex, lies and ill-fiting swimwear’, aka #FlamingoNoir), and Little Siberia‘s #MeteoriteNoir.

And he’s back again, with The Rabbit Factor. Will it be #BunnyNoir?

What it turned out to be is another glorious (mis)adventure. Mild-mannered Henri Koskinen likes his life neat and orderly, with everything calculated down to the finest detail. Ideal, really as he works in insurance. Or did. Recently redundant, he inherits a theme park, sorry, adventure park from his brother.

Let the shenanigans begin.

It’s just glorious fun. Henri is a man out of his depth, lost in an unpredictable world of giant rabbits, over-ambitious staff, huge murals and some very unsavoury characters who would really quite like some of their money back. Please. Now.

Throw love into the mix and poor Henri doesn’t know which way is up. But gradually he finds his feet.

I loved The Rabbit Factor. It’s Tuomainen’s best yet, and that’s on the back of some of my favourite books. Black humour at its finest, deftly handled. Quirky characters, a fantastic setting and just a great, fun read.

Hugely recommended.

Huge props, as ever, to David Hackston for the excellent translation work.

The Rabbit Factor, by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books, and is out now. Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda for the advance copy to review.

The Redeemer – Victoria Goldman

Threatening plaques, vigilante killings, a Jewish community in an English town – what’s the link? The clock is ticking to the next murder.

After witnessing a racist incident in a small Hertfordshire town, journalist Shanna Regan uncovers a series of threatening fake historical plaques. Each plaque highlights someone’s misdemeanour rather than a good deed.

Delving deeper, Shanna discovers these plaques are linked to vigilante killings spanning several decades, with ties to the local Jewish community.

As her search for the truth becomes personal, Shanna puts her own life in danger. Can she stop the next murder in time?

The Redeemer takes the small-town crime mystery and adds something fresh and interesting that I’ve not come across often, if at all.

Shanna Regan is a former investigative journalist who has recently moved to a small town in Hertfordshire to edit a local magazine. She witnesses a shocking antisemitic attack by a group of young hooligans on a young woman in a park. This leads her to the town’s Jewish community and a series of mysterious blue plaques around the town. But these plaques aren’t like the ones you see around in your town, celebrating a famous person or event. Here, each one seems to be pointing towards vigilante killings going back years. Shanna is drawn deeper into the Jewish community, looking for answers.

I really enjoyed this book, and it’s a strong debut from Goldman. The story is strong, well-plotted and kept me guessing (wrongly, of course) all the way. Great start to a series, looking forward to more!

The Redeemer by Victoria Goldman is published by Three Crowns Publishing and is out now. Many thanks to the author for an advance ebook copy to review.

The Secret Life of Fungi – Aliya Whiteley

Aliya Whiteley has always been in love with fungi – from a childhood taking blurry photographs of strange fungal
eruptions on Exmoor to a career as a writer inspired by their surreal and alien beauty. This love for fungi is a love for life,
from single-cell spores to the largest living organism on the planet; a story stretching from Aliya’s lawn into Space and
back again via every continent. Despite their familiar presence, there’s still much for us to learn about the eruption, growth
and decay of fungi’s connected world – one that Aliya lays out before us, linking fungal geography and history with myth;
fiction and culture with science. From fields, feasts and fairy rings to death caps, puffballs and ambrosia beetles, this is an
intoxicating personal journey into the life of these extraordinary organisms, which we have barely begun to understand.

I’ve always been slightly fascinated by fungi. You see them loitering in woodlands when out on a walk, or clinging onto trees. They’re there poking up from the grass in fields, or you hear tales of truffle-hunting pigs in the forests, snuffling up expensive, tasty delicacies. So I jumped at the change to read Aliya Whiteley’s The Secret Life of Fungi and delve deeper into this mysterious world.

It’s a delightful book, told with a lovely sense of awe and a clear love, nay obsession with the subject. Whiteley takes us on a ramble through the world of fungi and it feels like you’re in the company of a knowledgeable friend telling stories along the way. It’s very much not a guide book to help you identify fungi, but more the story of the fungi themselves. Did you know that the British Mycological Society (formed in Yorkshire, yay) holds a UK Fungus Day in October? Or that a frozen body in the alps dating back some 5,000 years (making him Europe’s oldest frozen human) had two different kinds of fungi with him, but neither for eating?

The book is scattered with little gems like this. Whiteley’s writing is lush and lyrical, drawing you into the hundreds of stories as you follow down the tracks through the forests of Europe, across the high peaks of the Himalayas, to the Jotï people of Guayana and the delightfully named Spider Monkey Bile Mushroom, thought to restore the luck and skill to any hunter who eats it. That does remind me a little of the Zelda game Breath of the Wild a little! There are even fungi that can survive in space. A 2009 experiment showed that some fungi, exposed to radiation in space for seven months, showed changes in their melanin which helped them resist that radiation!

It’s a lovely, deeply fascinating book, and one to lose yourself in for a couple of hours. Highly recommended.

About the author

Aliya Whiteley is inspired by how fungi and humanity share the world. She grew up in North Devon where she developed an early passion for walking and observing nature. She writes novels, short stories and non-fiction and has been published in places such as The Guardian, Interzone, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and in several anthologies. Previously a magazine editor, she has written about the natural world for Mental Floss and in her fiction. Her novella, The Beauty, was shortlisted for both Shirley Jackson and Sabotage Awards, and depicts a future world in which a fungus interacts with humanity to create a new form of life, leading readers all over the world to send her photographs and articles relating to mushrooms.
She walks with her dog through the woods and fields around her home in West
Sussex every day, taking inspiration from the hidden worlds around her.

The Secret Life of Fungi: Discoveries From A Hidden World by Aliya Whiteley is published by Elliot & Thompson. Huge thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the book to review

A Sh*tload of Crazy Powers – Jackson Ford

Teagan Frost has enough sh*t to deal with, between her job as a telekinetic government operative and a certain pair of siblings who have returned from the dead to wreak havoc with their powers. But little does she know, things are about to get even more crazy…

Teagan might have survived the flash flood of the century, but now she’s trapped in a hotel by a bunch of gun-toting maniacs. And to make matters worse, her powers have mysteriously disappeared. Faced with certain death at every turn, Teagan will need to use every resource she has to stop a plot that could destroy Los Angeles – maybe even the entire world.

A Sh*tload of Crazy Powers marks the fourth outing for our favourite foul-mouthed would-be chef, telekinetic ass-kicking black ops government operative, following hot on the heels from The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind, Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air, and The Eye of the Sh*t Storm. All of which are enormous fun.

Teagan Frost is back, with a bang. As you’d expect. In earlier episodes (because hopefully those TV discussions are going to pay off) Jackson Ford cranked the dials all that way up to eleven on the action, peril and snarky internal monologue scales before finding the boss-mode setting on those dials for book 3.

Can you go higher than eleven? If you’re Jackson Ford you can. Just add another number, stomp on the gas and let’s gooooo.

The story here picks up directly after the events of Eye of the Sh*t Storm – trying very hard not to spoil that one if you’ve not read it – but suffice it to say that Teagan and the gang are not going to have a happy little picnic on the beach. They’re thrown into all sorts of shenanigans involving arms dealers, missing powers, secret tunnels, and some people you might be surprised to see. You get the general idea.

Do you need to read the previous books? Hell yes. I’ve been banging on about them for years now, and if you’ve not had the pleasure, get thee to your local friendly indie bookstore and grab all four.

Superb. Bring on book five, Jackson. If you’d be so kind. Sorry this review took so long.

A Sh*tload of Crazy Powers by Jackson Ford is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Orbit Books for the copy of Jackson’s book to review.

Wolf Pack – Will Dean

A closed community

Rose Farm is home to a group of survivalists, completely cut off from the outside world. Until now.

A missing person

A young woman goes missing within the perimeter of the farm compound. Can Tuva talk her way inside the tight-knit group to find her story?

A frantic search

As Tuva attempts to unmask the culprit, she gains unique access to the residents. But soon she finds herself in danger of the pack turning against her – will she make her way back to safety so she can expose the truth?

Ah, a new Tuva Moodyson book. Time to bump everything else down the list and settle down with everyone’s favourite Swedish reporter.

I’ve been a huge fan of these books since the very start. From the Dark Pines to the Red Snow, the adventures on the Black River and the creepy goings-on in Bad Apples, we find ourselves for the fifth visit to the the little town of Gavrik – or rather on the outskirts, a little place with the delightful name of Rose Farm. Though a rose may look pretty on the surface, it can hide some sharp surprises.

I love Tuva Moodyson, She’s a brilliant character who’s been through some truly shocking events over the course of these books. And Will Dean shows no sign of allowing Tuva an easy ride.

Dean’s writing brings the odd little town of Gavrik to life perfectly, from the looming presence of the liquorice factory to the Thai food van in the car park with its bowls of delicious chill noodles. The town feels real and alive and is very much a character in the book as much as any other.

The story is great, as ever. Tuva has to investigate a missing woman, but quickly things start to develop into something more sinister. Are the preppers at Rose Farm up to no good? What are they hiding behind the fences and ditches protecting their little enclave?

No spoilers here, of course. You’ll have to jump in Tuva’s truck to follow her on the winding road out of Gavrik. It’s quite a ride.

Hugely recommended, as are all of the other books in the Tuva Moodyson series. Long may it continue. #TeamTuva all the way.

Wolf Pack by Will Dean is published by Point Blank. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Running For Our Lives – Rachel Ann Cullen

Each day, millions of people around the world put on their trainers and try to deal with their personal demons and life challenges by going for a run. And, increasingly, they do it knowing that they are not alone: a growing and often virtual community is right there running alongside them. We are all, in some sense, running for our lives.

Rachel Ann Cullen’s first book, Running for My Life, described her own marathon journey through depression, bipolar disorder and body dysmorphia, and her revelatory discovery that running could transform her physical and mental wellbeing.

Since hearing from people who had read about her experiences, Rachel wanted to tell some stories of other runners from all around the world – ordinary people living with mental health struggles, dealing with grief, cancer and other unavoidable life events who have relied on running to get them through their worst days and to keep going.

Running for Our Lives shares moving accounts of hope and resilience; it demonstrates the power of running to help us all overcome adversity, and is a lesson for us all in learning not only how to survive life’s challenges, but to thrive.

I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with running over the years. Gone through phases of running regularly and not running at all. Recently I had to stop for a while due to an injury, and starting up again was harder than I thought. But I knew that if I could take it slow and steady, I’d get there again. Running, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to do it, does have that ability to change the way you think.

I’ve not read Rachel Ann Cullen’s first book, Running for My Life, but this book follows up on that. Readers were reaching out to Rachel to talk about their own stories of how running helped them get through all sorts of issues, from the unfathomable grief of losing a child, through cancer diagnoses and mental health issues. Be warned, you might need some tissues at some of the stories being offered up here. They’re poignant and at times heartbreaking, but ultimately demonstrating how running has a certain power to help us get through life.

Cullen is a fantastic host, the stories invariably inspiring, if harrowing in places. Well worth checking out.

You can pick up a signed copy of Rachel Ann Cullen’s book from the publisher’s website here

Running For Our Lives by Rachel Ann Cullen is published by Vertebrate Publishing and is out now. Huge thanks to the publisher for the advance copy to review.

The Farthest Shore – Alex Roddie

The Farthest Shore: Seeking solitude and nature on the Cape Wrath Trail in winter, by Alex Roddie

In February 2019, award-winning writer Alex Roddie left his online life behind when he set out to walk 300 miles through the Scottish Highlands, seeking solitude and answers. In leaving the chaos of the internet behind for a month, he hoped to learn how it was truly affecting him – or if he should look elsewhere for the causes of his anxiety.

The Farthest Shore is the story of Alex’s solo trek along the remote Cape Wrath Trail. As he journeyed through a vanishing winter, Alex found answers to his questions, learnt the nature of true silence, and discovered frightening evidence of the threats faced by Scotland’s wild mountain landscape.

I’ve long admired Alex Roddie’s writing in the excellent Sidetracked magazine, and picked up the audiobook of The Farthest Shore as part of my Audible subscription this month.

Alex found himself becoming overwhelmed by his digital life – the constant ping of notifications, of emails piling up, and the general chaos that is life on the internet these days. His reaction was somewhat unusual, deciding to take on the 300-mile Cape Wrath Trail from Fort William up to Cape Wrath in the north of Scotland. A fairly arduous journey at the best of times, taking on the route in winter was something else.

Alex decided to start his route not at Fort William, the usual starting point, but at the lighthouse at Ardneamurchan Point, joining up with the route at Glenfinnan and winding north along what is considered to be an extremely challenging, if magnificent hike.

It’s the story of the hike, certainly. It features a lot of mountains, more than a few bothies, damp tents, howling winds, not as much snow as expected, and some fascinating characters that Alex met along the way.

It’s also a muse on modern life, on our constant interconnectedness via the internet, of the slab of glass and electronics that most of us carry around with us day in, day out. It’s about solitude and loneliness, and the effect that climate change is having on our environment.

If I had one niggle, it’s something Alex mentions in the epilogue about how one particular conversation in a bothy late at night came from a distillation of other conversations. It feels like an odd choice to do this, a single off-key note in an otherwise fantastic book.

I listened to the audiobook version, ably narrated by Alex Wingfield. There are a lot of Scottish place names in there, and I can’t comment on how well they’re pronounced!

The Farthest Shore: Seeking solitude and nature on the Cape Wrath Trail in winter, by Alex Roddie, is published by Vertebrate Publishing and is out now.

You can buy a copy direct from Adventure Books here (currently 20% off)

The audiobook is read by Alex Wingfield

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