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

The Dying Squad – Adam Simcox

When Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down a notorious drug gang; instead, he discovers his own body and a spirit guide called Daisy-May.

She’s there to enlist him to The Dying Squad, a spectral police force who solve crimes their flesh and blood counterparts cannot.

Lazarus reluctantly accepts and returns to the Lincolnshire Badlands, where he faces dangers from both the living and the dead in his quest to discover the identity of his killer—before they kill again.

Who better to solve a murder than a detective? Except in this case, the detective is dead, and the dead body is his. Before long he’s enlisted into The Dying Squad, a supernatural police squad based in The Pen/Purgatory who investigate the more… unusual murders.

Hugely enjoyed this. I read a lot of crime books and love a good supernatural thriller and police procedural, so this was right in my ballpark. I loved the interplay between Joe and his spirit… guide? Daisy-May as they navigate this world and the one beyond in their quest to figure out who killed Lazarus. Not everyone ends up in Heaven or Hell, and the Dispossessed are stuck for eternity. But Lazarus is given an out – solve his murder, and he gets to move on from the never-ending grey that is The Pen.

Loved the world building, loved the characters, and that’s all on top of a cracking murder mystery, with plenty of dodgy goings-on that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Lovely line in dark humour and some whip-smart dialogue make this one of my favourite books of the year so far.

Oh, and there’s a supremely creepy villain called the Xylophone Man, who you definitely don’t want to meet in a dark alley. Or anywhere. *shudder*

Strong Rivers of London vibes here, and if you liked that, then I highly recommended picking this up.

There’s a sequel coming later this year, and I can’t wait!

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox is published by Gollancz and is out now. Huge thanks to the publisher for the copy of Adam’s book for review.

Gallant – VE Schwab

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home—to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home, it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

Regular readers to this blog will know that I’m a big fan of VE Schwab’s books. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was simply magnificent. So it was with no small amount of excitement that I jumped at the chance to read Schwab’s latest, Gallant.

Schwab’s writing is like a warm, comfortable blanket that you throw around yourself on a cold winter’s day. It’s all too easy to lose yourself in the magical worlds she creates. And here we have a fantastic, fantastical world. A young girl without a voice, living at the cold, cruel Merilance School for Girls, receives a letter inviting her to the home she didn’t know she had. And on arriving at the manor house Gallant, she discovers that it has a mysterious mirrored world just over the garden wall.

She delves into both Gallants, and to her family secrets with the help of her mother’s journal. But what happened to her father? And who lives at the other Gallant?

I loved the writing. I loved the world and the characters that Schwab invites us to spend time in. The story itself is splendid, though I had a sneaking feeling that like the barrier between the two Gallants, it was maybe stretched a tiny bit thin in places, and not quite enough for a full length book. I feel it would have worked just as well if not better as a short story or novella length.

That said, I didn’t begrudge a moment spent in the world Schwab has created. Recommended.

Gallant by VE Schwab is published by Titan Books in the UK and is out now. Huge thanks to Titan Books for the advance copy for review.

Dawnshard – Brandon Sanderson

When a ghost ship is discovered, its crew presumed dead after trying to reach the storm-shrouded island Akinah, Navani Kholin must send an expedition to make sure the island hasn’t fallen into enemy hands. Knights Radiant who fly too near find their Stormlight suddenly drained, so the voyage must be by sea.

Shipowner Rysn Ftori lost the use of her legs but gained the companionship of Chiri-Chiri, a Stormlight-ingesting winged larkin, a species once thought extinct. Now Rysn’s pet is ill, and any hope for Chiri-Chiri’s recovery can be found only at the ancestral home of the larkin: Akinah. With the help of Lopen, the formerly one-armed Windrunner, Rysn must accept Navani’s quest and sail into the perilous storm from which no one has returned alive. If the crew cannot uncover the secrets of the hidden island city before the wrath of its ancient guardians falls upon them, the fate of Roshar and the entire Cosmere hangs in the balance. 

Described as ‘a new hefty novella‘ Dawnshard is book 3.5 of the Stormlight Archive, Brandon Sanderson’s bestselling series. Or rather, one of Sanderson’s bestselling series. He’s written a lot of books. Like, really a lot. So many that the word ‘lot’ probably deserves a capital L.

And yet, here’s yours truly. A fantasy fan since forever, and I’ve not read any of them.

Until now.

OK, admittedly jumping into book three-and-a-half of a long-running series of seriously chonky novels probably isn’t the best place to start. But Dawnshard is a novella, and I figured it would be a good taster and a chance to see whether spending time with another epic fantasy would be worth it.

And reader, I enjoyed it a lot. Maybe even a Lot.

Yes, there was an awful lot of world building that I had missed out on from the first three books in the Stormlight Archive (and probably others in the wider Cosmere universe of his books). But the story was well told, with some engaging characters, nicely paced and with some great action, and a sneak peek into the wider world.

I loved the magic, and Radiant The Lopen’s delightful devil-may-care attitude to life. I particularly liked the depiction of Rysn Ftori, shipowner and trader, who lost the use of her legs prior to this book. Sanderson apparently went to great lengths to ensure that he portrayed Rysn’s experience sensitively and accurately. I can’t speak to that myself, but it was very refreshing to see such a strong character and her thoughts on the journey.

At close to 250 pages, it’s more of a short book than a slim novella, and it packs a lot in there. As a starting point for Sanderson’s books it might not be the easiest entrance into the world of the Cosmere, but there were very few things that I couldn’t figure out that affected the overall story.

I guess the key question is whether Dawnshard whetted my appetite sufficiently to delve back into the Stormlight Archive.

Yes, I think it did. Though quite when I’ll find time to embark on such an epic quest is another question.

Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson is published by Titan Books and is out now. Many thanks to Sarah Mather at Titan Books for the copy to review.

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