Little Siberia – Antti Tuomainen

A man with dark thoughts on his mind is racing along the remote snowy roads of Hurmevaara in Finland, when there is a flash in the sky and something crashes into the car. That something turns about to be a highly valuable meteorite. With euro signs lighting up the eyes of the locals, the unexpected treasure is temporarily placed in a neighbourhood museum, under the watchful eye of a priest named Joel.

But Joel has a lot more on his mind than simply protecting the riches that have apparently rained down from heaven. His wife has just revealed that she is pregnant. Unfortunately Joel has strong reason to think the baby isn’t his. As Joel tries to fend off repeated and bungled attempts to steal the meteorite, he must also come to terms with his own situation, and discover who the father of the baby really is.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Antti Tuomainen’s books. From 2017’s The Man Who Died and its Fargo-esque story of a poisoned man looking for his killer, to Palm Beach Finland‘s heady neon cocktail of Miami Vice, with a dash of Baywatch and a beach umbrella to top it off. Huge fun, black comedy at its best.

So, we’ve had #MushroomNoir and #FlamingoNoir. What flavour of Noir will Mr Tuomainen serve up next?

Well, it seems that this time round we’ve got #MeteoriteNoir. A small but very valuable meteorite crashes through the roof of a car on a dark, snowy night and changes the fortunes not only of the driver, but of the entire village. Because someone is out to make their fortune from the hunk of space rock, whatever the cost.

Told with Tuomainen’s signature wit, Little Siberia is another slice of brilliance from the King of Helsinki Noir. He’s got a lovely flair for character, and the inhabitants of Hurmevaara are a motley bunch, beautifully drawn. But characters alone cannot make a story, so we have a splendidly twisty black comedy to tie everything together.

And what a comedy of errors it is. It seems that most of the village is after the meteorite, with only Joel, the hapless town priest, setting his mind to make sure it’s safe until it can be moved on. He’s got his work cut out for him and it’s a sheer joy watching the plans within plans play out over the course of the book.

I loved The Man Who Died and Palm Beach Finland, but Little Siberia might just have pipped them both to be my new favourite of Antti Tuomainen’s books.

As ever, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Hugely recommended.

Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books on 17th October 2019. Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books and Anne Cater for inviting me onto the blog tour.

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

You can find Antti Tuomainen (and his fabulous shirts) on Twitter @Antti_Tuomainen

Nothing Important Happened Today – Will Carver

Nine suicides. One cult. No leader.

Nine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But, at the same time, they leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today.

That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of The People of Choice: a mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another. Thirty-two people on a train witness the event. Two of them will be next. By the morning, People of Choice are appearing around the globe. It becomes a movement. A social-media page that has lain dormant for four years suddenly has thousands of followers. The police are under pressure to find a link between the cult members, to locate a leader that does not seem to exist.

But how do you stop a cult when people do not know they are members?

Nothing Important Happened Today is, in a word, extraordinary.

Another word you might choose would be ‘dark’. And hoo boy, is it dark. I thought that Will Carver’s previous book, Good Samaritans was dark (and it most definitely is), but that’s like a little ray of sunshine on a bright spring morning compared with this, Carver’s latest. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. And I read a *lot*.

Trigger warnings – if you hadn’t guessed from the synopsis above, Nothing Important Happened Today deals with suicide. And lots of it. And up close and very visceral in places. Very much not for the faint-hearted.

So, nine people who have never met turn up at the same moment on the same day on the same bridge, and jump to their death. No-one falters. No-one has second thoughts. Yet they all jump as one.

What follows is an absolutely fascinating tale of how they got there, interspersed with perfect miniature portraits of each of the nine, and the others who follow.

It’s Carver’s ability to craft such intimate pictures of their lives is what gives this story such an emotional punch, and it’ll leave you reeling. The pace is breakneck, leaving you absolutely no room to recover. I devoured this in a day.

Good Samaritans showed Carver as an author to watch. Nothing Important Happened Today cements that as an author to watch very very carefully. He’s one of a kind, and part of me is kind of glad. I’m not sure I could handle more than one of him.

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books in November 2019

Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the advance copy of Will Carver’s book for review.

Violet – SJI Holliday

Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

Carrie and Violet set off on a journey on the Trans-Siberian Express. Strangers one day, travelling (and drinking) companions the next. But are either of them who the other thinks they are?

Let’s see:

  • Unreliable narrator? Check.
  • Psychological mystery? Check.
  • Glorious setting? Check.
  • Mysterious, murderous shenanigans? Check.

Absolutely loved this one, and sped through it in a single sitting. SJI Holliday’s previous book, The Lingering showed that she’s a dab hand at the old psychological thriller, and Violet is no exception.

It’s one of those books where you just know something Really Very Bad is going to happen, and Holliday seems to revel in dangling that Very Bad thing juuust in front of your nose, so tantalisingly close so you can almost touch it, then BAM, out of left field the actual Very Very Bad Thing just takes you out and leaves you glaring at the page for a moment before diving back in.

You may never speak to a stranger on a train ever again.

Hugely enjoyable, and highly recommended.

And can we just take a moment to bask in the glory that is the cover of the book? Sterling work!

Violet, by SJI Holliday is published by Orenda Books in September 2019 in ebook, and November in paperback. Many thanks (as ever) to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy.

The Bone Ships – RJ Barker

Two nations at war. A prize beyond compare.

For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war.

The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.

Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favour. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory, but the war.

RJ Barker, author of the wonderful Wounded Kingdom trilogy is back. This time we’re taking to the high seas, ships made from the bones of giant sea dragons and a more than generous helping of adventure and hijinks.

Now, I must confess that I’ve not read many ship-based books. Barker clearly has, and his love of them just shines through every page. After a bit of a slow start where we’re introduced to the world and characters, the adventure really kicks in and it’s full speed ahead.

And what a world it is – shipwives and deckchilder, arkeesian sea monsters and ships made from their bones. Fleet ships and Black Ships of the dead. There’s an awful lot going on in the first quarter of this book in setting all of this up, and introducing us to our main characters – Joron Twiner, former ship’s captain, sorry, Shipwife of the Tide’s Child and Lucky Meas who takes his place (with some force) and molds Joron’s rag-tag crew into one worthy of the name.

I struggled a little with the opening of The Bone Ships, information-heavy as it is. But knowing Barker’s skill at weaving a cracking story I pressed on and was richly rewarded with a grand old adventure. As I said earlier, he has a clear love of this setting, and it really shows through. The world he’s created here is so utterly different from The Wounded Kingdom, yet just as rich with detail.

He’s also got a gift for character. Meas and Twiner are both brilliant, one the supremely confident, capable shipwife, the other initially a no-hoper who learns that he’s more than he thinks possible.

The Bone Ships is the first of The Tide Child trilogy, and I’m intrigued to see where RJ Barker takes us next.

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker is published by Orbit Books and is out in September 2019.
Many thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for the advance copy to review.

The Rage of Dragons – Evan Winter

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him. 

Fast, brutal, African-tinged epic fantasy featuring incredible swordfights, revenge, magic, demons and of course, dragons.

What’s not to like?

The Rage of Dragons is great, a big meaty chunk of a book that I devoured over the course of a few days. The setting feels very different from your regular run-of-the-mill swords and sorcery, but the elements are all there – a well thought out magic and caste system, a young man with a mission to avenge, and a rag-tag group of misfits to help him along the way.

It’s so good. The battle scenes are incredibly well written and you feel that you’re deep in the action, dodging blades. The political skulduggery is suitably devious. The training montages are exciting and brutal, and there’s a real sense of menace and danger from the demon-inhabited underworld.

Winter has a great group of characters – our main hero Tau is headstrong, determined and brave, but flawed. It was fun watching him grow and his character arc was particularly well drawn out. The supporting characters are also nicely done – Jayyed and his group of misfits, Zuri and her own training.

Billed as Game of Thrones meets Gladiator, The Rage of Dragons definitely has flavours of both, possibly more of the latter, but is most certainly its own concoction of epic fantasy.

You can read an excerpt from the book at Orbit’s website.

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit for the advance copy of the book to review.

The Undoing of Arlo Knott – Heather Child

What if your life had an ‘undo’ button?

Arlo Knott develops the mysterious ability to reverse his last action. It makes him able to experience anything, to charm any woman and impress any friend. His is a life free of mistakes, a life without regret.

But second chances aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. As wonderful as his new life is, a mistake in Arlo’s traumatic childhood still haunts him and the temptation to undo, undo and keep undoing could be too much to resist.

A new book by Heather Child? I’m in. Loved her first book, Everything About You, a clever, creepy, smart thriller which you should definitely check out. I said at the time that I couldn’t want to see what she came up with next.

Well, here it is. The Undoing of Arlo Knott. I was planning on saving this for an upcoming holiday but just couldn’t resist taking a peek. A peek which turned into ‘just one chapter’. Which, somewhat inevitably, resulted in emerging from Arlo’s world some hours later, wondering at what I’d just experienced.

It’s an incredible concept – what if you could flip back in time a few moments to undo something you’ve said or done? What if you could keep trying, a second chance, a third?

We follow Arlo’s life (or fragments of life) from a traumatic event in his childhood which may have triggered his unusual ability, through various escapades and adventures. Chatting up a woman? Wind back when that line didn’t work. Betting on sports events? Easy money. His abilities are fantastic but do come with a darker side which leave you wincing at times.

I must confess that for chunks of this book I didn’t really like Arlo much, but Heather Child’s skilful writing and plotting draws you into his world and you won’t be able to put it down. She’s got a real gift for character, and Arlo, though flawed, is wonderfully different.

It’s love which drives the central core of the story – Arlo’s love for his mother, his sister, his girlfriend. But what would you do for love? How far would you go? Moral dilemmas abound!

If Everything About You was a confident debut, then The Undoing of Arlo Knott is an even more confident sophomore. And once again, I cannot wait to see what Heather Child comes up with next.

Hugely recommended.

The Undoing of Arlo Knott by Heather Child is published by Orbit Books in August 2019. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for the review copy via NetGalley.

Heartstream – Tom Pollock

Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can’t believe that she’s actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can’t know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie.

Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother’s degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It’s the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable.

But on the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s rigged herself and the house with explosives – and she’s been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.

Heartstream is a dark look into fandom, fame and obsession. And boy does it get very dark. I’m a huge fan of Tom Pollock’s writing, and his ability to really put us into the heads of his characters is astonishing, and he does seem to enjoy putting them through the emotional wringer, cranking the tension up firmly to eleven from the off.

I bought Heartstream on the day of publication and finished it in a single sitting. Impossible to put down, the story is utterly absorbing and the characters beautifully drawn. You could easily see this as an episode of Black Mirror, with its near-future tech all too scarily plausible. The pack mentality of the internet, and the lengths people will go to from behind a keyboard is all too sharply displayed here, and at times makes for very uncomfortable reading.

Highly recommended.

Tom’s previous book, White Rabbit,Red Wolf is also well worth checking out, and his Skyscraper Throne trilogy is just superb.

I urge you to go read them all!

Heartstream by Tom Pollock is published by Walker YA.