Into the Drowning Deep – Mira Grant


Published by Orbit books, November 2017
Source: Review copy
Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.
But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

This review will come in two parts. First up, the general ‘what did Dave think of the book’ bit, then a SPOILERIFIC (real word, honest) bit.

I was torn when it came to giving Into The Drowning Deep a star rating on Goodreads. It’s a solid thriller, and I polished it off in a couple of days. Perfectly decent, if unsurprising alien horror. Reminded me a little (ok, a lot) early Michael Crichton books. But… just wasn’t really scary enough for me. Not quite a four-star ‘loved it’, but more than a three star.

Ok, let’s go 3.5 stars. If you like Michael Crichton’s ‘something scary going on, lots of science and OMG IT’S EATING MY FACE’ then I have no hesitation in recommending this book. You’ll almost certainly enjoy it (especially the face-eating bits). The story moves along nicely, the scary monsters are certainly monstery and it’s worth your time if you’re into that sort of thing. I did enjoy it.

MOSTLY.

HOWEVER.

[SPOILERIFIC BIT]

[NO, REALLY]

[are you still here? Have you read the book? Yes? Cool. No? Did I mention SPOILERIFIC BIT?]

[We cool? Right]

See, the trouble I had with this book is that I’ve seen it before. Strange things going on so a bunch of people go investigate and get their faces eaten. No, they’re not dinosaurs, they’re mermaids. With lots of teeth. But you’ve got the usual cast of characters who naturally, make a series of spectacularly stupid decisions, usually resulting in them getting their faces eaten off.

There’s the Company Man (and the company is called Imagine. Not at ALL like InGen. No sir. No dinosaurs here) with An Agenda. His estranged genius sort-of-ex-wife scientist. The cute younger scientist who lost her sister to a previous mission. There’s a tricked-out super science ship with non-working shutters (of course). There’s pretty much a bit where someone has to go down a darkened corridor to do A Thing and gets their face eaten afterwards. The husband-wife hired killers who liked hunting things but continued to make a series of stupid decisions throughout the story. The company who sends a partially-working ship to find killer mermaids but can’t be arsed to wait to sort the shutters out because waiting another few days to set off wouldn’t kill you (but mermaids with a face-eating thing will).

There were so many Chekhov’s guns scattered around the opening third of the book. I had a bet with myself that X would happen to Y because of *this*, and that Z would happen because of *that*, and was fairly spot on with 90% of it

Some bits did surprise me – Theo Blackwell’s gammy leg due to an unspecified-yet-teased injury which required regular injections of an oddly-specific concoction of snake venom mixed with other things, which I assumed would come up later – either he’s getting eaten because he can’t run because of the leg, or someone discovers that the oddly-specific drug concoction would turn out to the THE MAGIC THING that killed off the mermaids. Weirdly none of this happened and it turned out that he just had a bad leg and needed to inject himself regularly. Oh.

AND! the bit where Tory falls into the ocean with all the until-now-killer mermaids, who’ve pretty much eaten the faces off EVERYONE but now largely ignore her (??). And has to swim under the ship due to the now-working shutters and swim through a tiny hatch only to be stopped at the end and appear to be drowning BUT NO, someone spots her behind the clear plastic (??) shutter which can only be opened from the inside manually (I dunno, maybe the electrics were still fried despite the cameras working) and requires someone to risk life and limb (and face) to go into the pool with the mermaids (who have got bored of eating faces) to open it and save the day.

HOWEVER. Despite all that, I did enjoy it. It was daft and silly but rattled along – I liked the characters (mostly), it was an interesting setting, and left things open enough for a sequel. Which I’ll probably read. Like I said before, if you like Crichton, you’ll more than likely like this.

Huge thanks to Nazia @gambit589 for the review copy.

Jade City – Fonda Lee


Published by Orbit books, November 2017
Source: Review copy
FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Last weekend I found myself on a three hour train journey down to London to visit GollanzFest, so cast around through the TBR pile for something to read. It’s a splendid problem having a wide range of things to choose from, and with some gentle prompting from @gambit589 (which basically involved emails which went JADE CITY! JADE CITY!), I started (somewhat unsurprisingly) Jade City, by Fonda Lee.

Oh, what a splendid choice. Described as “a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Godfather with magic and kung fu”, it’s all that and more. The magic system is both delightfully simple (jade gives its owner magical powers – the more jade the stronger the powers) and wonderfully complex. The worldbuilding is top-notch, giving Kekon a deep and well-considered culture which sets it apart – it feels like a mishmash of a variety of different places – Hong Kong spring to mind, but with other far eastern islands layered on top, creating a unique, new-yet-familiar setting.

Similarly, the characters draw on the familiar – Yakuza, the Triads, and yes, The Godfather, but with its own unique polish. The level of detail in the world presented is fantastic – from the food, religion, clan power structures to the cars and weaponry – moon blades, and talon knives, jade giving the wearer powers, but too muc in the wrong hands bringing the dreaded (and deadly) itches. The powers that Jade confers, giving us some splendid kung fu sequences. It’s all too easy to see how Jade City would rock on the big screen.

All this worldbuilding would be for nothing if there wasn’t a rock-solid story to back it up. Jade City delivers on every front. Rival families at war over control of the city. Anden, a young student reaching the end of his studies in how to control his jade powers. City lowlife trying to get by in a city ruled by the clans. It’s all here, every layer of society.

Jade City is the first book in The Green Bone Saga, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. You can find Fonda Lee on twitter @FondaJLee, or at her website fondalee.com

Huge thanks to Nazia @gambit589 for the review copy.

147 Things – Jim Chapman

Published by Pan Macmillan, December 2017
Source: NetGalley
In 147 Things, Jim takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the best bits of everything, from the mind-blowing to the ridiculous. As with his videos, no subject is off-limits and he’ll lift the lid on his life and his relationships, sharing embarrassing stories and things he’s learnt along the way. If you’ve ever felt weirded out by the fact we’re seven billion (mostly) hairless apes spinning around a giant ball of flaming gas, or that we all begin as tiny humans INSIDE our mothers, or that many of us keep slightly-less-dangerous wolves in our homes, then you need this book in your life. Jim wants to inspire you with the sheer unlikelihood of us all being here and equip you to feel just a little less overwhelmed by the small stuff.

Ah, Jim. Regularly appearing on the telly in our house due to my daughter’s love of watching Zoella and Alfie on YouTube, I found myself watching more when Jim was on. I do like Jim. He seems like a thoroughly nice chap, the kind of guy you would quite happily spend an hour chatting to in the pub over a beer. You’d probably end up talking about some of the things in his book.

I really enjoyed 147 Things. They’re a slightly odd, eclectic mix ranging from quantum physics, to life (and death), the universe, lobsters, and why not to try and wax your gentleman’s parts. This was painfully funny. Funny for me, painful for Jim. Poor Jim. He also talks about animals, bodies, fears, myths, urban legends and a whole host of other stuff.

Dotted amongst the science-y bits, Jim also tells us about some more personal things – how he met his wife (another of my daughter’s favourites, and whose cookery book sits on our shelves. Tanya Burr’s cookbook is also really quite good and we’ve had some excellent cakes as a result. I digress), stories about his first love, his family and so on. It’s a bit hard to work out the target audience – his younger YouTube fans (such as my daughter) would love to read about some of the personal stuff, but might balk at some of the more serious science, even with Jim’s down-to-earth, chatty style.

It’s that writing style that I really liked – it does feel a bit like your mate telling you stuff that he’s just found out which you might find interesting. And some, indeed most, of Jim’s 147 Things are genuinely interesting.

Great fun. Not my usual genre (I’ve never read a book by a YouTuber before), but an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours. Jim, if you ever fancy a pint and someone to tell some more things to, give me a shout.

The Binding Song – Elodie Harper

Published by Mulholland Books, June 2017
Source: Review copy
Dr Janet Palmer is the new lead psychologist at HMP Halvergate in a remote, bleak area of Norfolk. At first, she was excited by the promotion. Then she starts to see how many secrets are hiding behind the high walls.
A string of inmates have committed suicide, leaving no reasons why, and her predecessor has disappeared – along with his notes. The staff are hostile, the threat of violence is ever-present, and there are rumours of an eyeless woman stalking the corridors, punishing the inmates for their sins.
Janet is determined to find out what is really going on. But the longer she stays and the deeper she digs, the more uncertain she feels.
Halvergate is haunted by something. But it may be a terror worse than ghosts…

Delighted to be asked to feature The Binding Song as part of First Monday Crime. It’s a deeply spooky book with a fantastic setting. HMP Halvergate sits in a remote part of Norfolk and is as much a character in the story as anyone else. It looms, gothic and large over everything and is never far from the character’s thoughts. The characters themselves are an interesting bunch, and in more than one case, deeply unpleasant. I liked how Elodie Harper teases out Dr Janet Palmer’s backstory across the course of the book, giving us more and more insight into the character as the story unfolds. It’s a creepy tale in places, and I found myself at times almost afraid to turn the page, but all too keen to find out what happens next!

The Binding Song is a delightfully (if that’s the right word) eerie, gothic tale, perfect for a dark winter’s night. It’s a psychological thriller with a difference, and that’s all too rare these days. Read it, if you dare…

Elodie Harper is appearing at the First Monday Crime event in London on Monday 6th November. You can find Elodie on twitter @elodieITV. Find out more about First Monday Crime @1stMondayCrime

How to Stay Alive – Bear Grylls

The ultimate survival guide from the world’s leading survival expert.

Bear Grylls. Explorer. Adventurer. Survival expert and Chief Scout. And now author of a book on how to survive… pretty much everything.

It’s a real mixed bag – some really practical and useful advice, like how to make a fire, survival shelter, and navigate. Things I could use with my Scout group. Then there are other, more esoteric chapters – how to escape quicksand, how to survive a shark attack or flying a plane in an emergency. Stuff that you hope will never happen – and if it does, I’m not sure I’d be able to remember what Bear had to say!

The book is split into five main sections:

  • basic survival skills
  • great escapes
  • terrain survival
  • life-or-death situations
  • medical emergencies

With each section covering 12-15 sections – Bear certainly covers most of the bases when it comes to surviving stuff. As I say, some of it was more directly and regularly useful (especially as a Scout Leader) than others, but each chapter is short and pithy, with some useful advice. Some of it I’d heard before from Bear’s regular appearance on telly – I think that contestants on The Island should be given a copy! Sometimes I think the chapters were a little *too* short, but the style is engaging.

Overall, I rather enjoyed How to Stay Alive. I know that Bear is one of those people you either love or can’t stand – I quite like his enthusiastic style and it comes across here.

Perfect Christmas present for someone who’s got everything. Now they can survive anything too.

Huge thanks to Bantam Press for the advance copy.

Need to Know – Karen Cleveland


Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—are threatened.

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

Sometimes a book turns up which piques your interest right off the bat. I do love a good spy thriller and Need to Know doesn’t disappoint. It’s clever, rattles along at a fair old clip and poses some interesting questions – what would you do when faced with a choice between your country and your family? It’s one of those can’t put it down books which I polished off in a single sitting, more or less.

Superbly plotted, with some fantastic twists and great characters. Highly recommended. Sadly you’ll have to wait until January to read it!

Many thanks to Becky Short and Bantam Press for the advance copy. I loved what you did with the book edges!

This book is rather splendid.

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Discovering Christie on the Orient Express

Many months ago I decided that this year I was going to read a ‘classic’ crime novel once a month, both to catch up with books I’ve always intended to read, but also to see how they compare with their modern-day equivalents.

Earlier this week I remembered my cunning plan, and being between books, I decided to take the plunge. But, where to start?
The eagle-eyed detectives amongst you will have deduced that it was the case of a Murder On the Orient Express, featuring one M. Poirot and his ‘little grey cells’ (and splendid moustaches). I’d watched the trailer for the new movie (Ken’s moustache is PHENOMENAL and I now have new facial hair goals). Just look at it!

Anyway. What can I say about the book? I was aware of the premise (the title rather gives it away), but I don’t think I’ve ever really watched any of the adaptations of Christie’s work, so I was coming to it pretty fresh.

It’s utterly wonderful, and I’m vaguely horrified that I’ve not read any of her books before. WHY DID NO-ONE TELL ME? The setting is glorious (and I’m a sucker for a book which immerses you in a location to the point where you can almost feel it), the characters splendid and varied, Poirot is cunning and devilishly clever and the mysterious murder is, at the end of the day, delightfully solved. It’s not Poirot’s first case, but you don’t really need to have read the others to benefit from it.

Of course, now I have a HUGE backlog of Christie’s work to get through (crikey but she wrote a lot) – but before I do, does anyone have a recommendation for next month’s “Dave Reads A Classic Crime Novel” series? I can feel a list coming on…

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

Isolated by the storm and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer amongst a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again…