The Possession – Michael Rutger

THEY CAME LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

A group of explorers arrive in the remote town of Birchlake, Northern California, to investigate the appearance of mysterious stone walls.

WHAT THEY FOUND WERE QUESTIONS

A teenage girl has disappeared without a trace.

FOR NOT EVERYONE IS AS THEY SEEM

Soon it becomes clear that the two events may be connected in the most terrifying way. Because sometimes the walls we build end up closing us in .

Here we go – the second instalment of The Anomaly Files and our old chums are back. Nolan and the crew are up in Northern California investigating some rather mysterious stone walls for their YouTube channel, whilst Nolan’s ex, Kristy looks into the story of a missing girl.

Except Nolan kind of sort of didn’t tell the Scooby Gang that she’s there…

I loved the first book, The Anomaly (one of my books of 2018). It was a lot of fun as Nolan and the crew investigated weird goings-on in a mysterious cavern where lots of things went very very wrong.

The Possession is a slightly different beast – spookier (ooh, witches), more unsettling (you’ll never look at a stone wall in quite the same way, especially in a wood) but the gang’s banter is still fun even as unpleasant things unfold.

Small town weirdness. Odd characters. Great plot that’ll keep you turning the pages (with the light firmly on). Amused to see that Michael Rutger has graduated from ‘for fans of Dan Brown‘ on the cover of The Anomaly, to ‘for fans of Stephen King‘ here.

I’m happy to say that I’m a huge fan of Michael Rutger (and his alter-ego, Michael Marshall Smith), and would happily take one of his books over either Mr Brown or Mr King any day.

Highly recommended.

The Possession by Michael Rutger is published by Zaffre in July 2019. Many thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the book via NetGalley to review.

David Mogo Godhunter – Suyi Davies Okingbowa

LAGOS WILL NOT BE DESTROYED

The gods have fallen to earth in their thousands, and chaos reigns.

Though broken and leaderless, the city endures.

David Mogo, demigod and godhunter, has one task: capture two of the most powerful gods in the city and deliver them to the wizard gangster Lukmon Ajala.

No problem, right?

David Mogo, Godhunter is billed on the back cover as “A Nigerian Harry Dresden”. This only goes a little way towards what we’ve got here though – whilst there are definite echoes of the Chicago wizard private eye, David Mogo is very much his own man, and we definitely ain’t in Chicago…

What we have here is Nigerian Godpunk – a genre that I must confess I didn’t know existed until reading this book, but one that I hope to see more of in the future. At one level it’s classic urban fantasy, but with a distinctly unique edge.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a fun read, set in a Lagos filled with fallen gods and godlings and wizards, peppered with interesting characters. The worldbuilding is great and the story whistles along at a great pace. I do love a good sense of place, and there’s plenty of that on show here. Okungbowa’s writing is punchy and sharp, with a rich vein of description which gives a great sense of place. There’s a fair bit of infodumping at points along the way, but it just adds to the atmosphere and the mythos.

One other thing I particularly enjoyed was Okungbowa’s use of language – David Mogo and Papa Udi’s conversations dialogue has a real, authentic feel to it, and though at times the dialect can be tricky to follow it’s all the stronger for it.

Finally, that cover! Oof. Huge kudos to Yoshi Yoshitani. Stunning.

David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa is published by Abaddon Books in July 2019. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and the publisher for providing a copy of the book to review.

Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian writer of science fiction, contemporary and dark fantasy, and crime fiction. His work has appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Podcastle, The Dark, Mothership Zeta, Omenana, Ozy, Brick Moon Fiction; amongst other magazines and anthologies. He is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, and has worked in editorial at Podcastle and Sonora Review. He lives online on Facebook, tweets at @IAmSuyiDavies, and blogs at suyidavies. com.

Favourite books of the year so far

As we’re halfway through 2019(!!!), it seems like a good place to take stock of the books read so far this year.

Books read: 35
audiobooks: 2 (really not getting on with audiobooks – too easily distracted)
kindle: 10 (includes NetGalley. DO NOT LOOK AT MY NETGALLEY BACKLOG)
Hard copy: 23 (yay for physical books)

I’ve read a lot of great books so far this year. In no particular order, here are my favourites.

Red Snow – Will Dean

TWO BODIES

One suicide. One cold-blooded murder. Are they connected? And who’s really pulling the strings in the small Swedish town of Gavrik?

TWO COINS

Black Grimberg liquorice coins cover the murdered man’s eyes. The hashtag #Ferryman starts to trend as local people stock up on ammunition.

TWO WEEKS

Tuva Moodyson, deaf reporter at the local paper, has a fortnight to investigate the deaths before she starts her new job in the south. A blizzard moves in. Residents, already terrified, feel increasingly cut-off. Tuva must go deep inside the Grimberg factory to stop the killer before she leaves town for good. But who’s to say the Ferryman will let her go?

Red Snow was one of the first books I read this year. A welcome return for investigative journalist Tuva Moodyson in the small town of Gavrik. A suicide, a murder and a family-owned liquorice factory. Just how are they connected? Deeply creepy.

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

The Lost Man is a lovely slow burn of a mystery, leaving you with the dust of the Outback under your nails. Jane Harper has a wonderful ability to evoke the essence of a place and here she really shows off that skill to magnificent effect. You really feel the atmosphere here, the dust-soaked landscape, the incessant sun, the constant knife-edge balance between life and death.

And the death here is one of those properly splendid whodunnits. A man is found next to a remote grave, a circle etched into the sand as he’s struggled to follow the meagre shade whilst slowly dying of exposure and thirst.

Why is he here? Why is a seasoned, experienced farmer, who knows the Outback like the back of his hand, miles from the safety of his car? What has brought him to this place with none of the essential survival equipment that everyone carries by default in this unforgiving environment?


Inborn – Thomas Enger

When the high school in the small Norwegian village of Fredheim becomes a murder scene, the finger is soon pointed at seventeen-year-old Even. As the investigation closes in, social media is ablaze with accusations, rumours and even threats, and Even finds himself the subject of an online trial as well as being in the dock… for murder? Even pores over his memories of the months leading up to the crime, and it becomes clear that more than one villager was acting suspiciously… and secrets are simmering beneath the calm surface of this close-knit community. As events from the past play tag with the present, he’s forced to question everything he thought he knew. Was the death of his father in a car crash a decade earlier really accidental? Has his relationship stirred up something that someone is prepared to kill to protect? It seems that there may be no one that Even can trust. But can we trust him? A taut, moving and chilling thriller, Inborn examines the very nature of evil, and asks the questions: How well do we really know our families? How well do we know ourselves?

Huge fan of Mr Enger’s books, and Inborn is no exception. Wonderful characters, perfectly balanced plotting deftly played out over the multiple timelines.


Call Me Star Girl – Louise Beech

Tonight is the night for secrets…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

I read a lot of crime books. Some are good, some are great. This one falls firmly into the latter category. Call Me Star Girl is tautly written, cunningly plotted and twistier than a curly wurly.

Louise Beech has crafted a beautifully dark little tale in Call Me Star Girl, with a creeping sense of menace that leaves you wondering if you locked the doors. You might want to go and check. You never know who might be lurking outside.

Easily a contender for crime book of the year.

The Raven Tower – Ann Leckie

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

Very weird, very brilliant. Glorious worldbuilding. A story of gods and power and what people will do to gain the latter and the price they’re willing to pay to do so. But Ann Leckie does this with such a deft hand that you’re left marvelling at how it’s all constructed. The way she plays with character and language and structure reminded me not a little of the skilful hand of Claire North, and whilst they tell very different stories, they both show a similar joy at playing with expectations.

Lord of Secrets – Breanna Teintze

Magic is poison. Secrets are power. Death is . . . complicated.

Outlaw wizard Corcoran Gray has enough problems. He’s friendless, penniless and on the run from the tyrannical Mages’ Guild – and with the search for his imprisoned grandfather looking hopeless, his situation can’t get much worse.

So when a fugitive drops into his lap – literally – and gets them both arrested, it’s the last straw – until Gray realises that runaway slave Brix could be the key to his grandfather’s release. All he has to do is break out of prison, break into an ancient underground temple and avoid killing himself with his own magic in the process.

In theory, it’s simple enough. But as secrets unfold and loyalties shift, Gray discovers something with the power to change the nature of life and death itself.

Now Gray must find a way to protect the people he loves, but it could cost him everything, even his soul . . .

More wonderful fantasy here. A magic-related heist, some more brilliant wordbuilding, a nice magic system (though not for the magic wielders themselves). Great characters, Gray has a nice line in funny one-liners and the plot fairly rattles along. Definitely check this out.

The Furies – Katie Lowe

In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing, with no known cause of death. The novel opens with this image, as related to us by the narrator, Violet, looking back on the night it happened from the present day, before returning to relate the series of events leading up to the girl’s murder.

After an accident involving her Dad and sister, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town, which has an unpleasant history as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet quickly finds herself invited to become the fourth member of an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex – led by their charismatic art teacher, Annabel.

While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals – warning the girls off the topic, describing it as little more than mythology – the girls start to believe that magic is real, and that they can harness it. But when the body of a former member of the society – Robin’s best friend, with whom Violet shares an uncanny resemblance – is found dead on campus nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself. 

More magic here, though of the witchy variety. A tightly-drawn portrait of a private girls school with secret societies and a mysterious teacher. Oh, and a murder. Though the murdered girl went missing months ago…

Splendidly creepy, The Furies is a book which will keep you up long past the witching hour trying to get to the bottom of what happened at Elm Hollow Academy.

Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe

Sanda and Biran were siblings destined for greatness. Her: a dedicated soldier with the skills to save the universe. Him: a savvy politician with ambitions for changing the course of intergalactic war. 

However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda’s gunship gets blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later upon an empty enemy smartship who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system and everyone in it is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe.

Now, separated by space and time, Sanda and Biran will find a way to put things right.

Smart, slick sci-fi with brilliant characters and a cracking plot, Velocity Weapon is everything I love about science fiction. The worldbuilding is superb, spanning hundreds of years of political shenanigans and a planetbusting doomsday weapon wouldn’t be amiss in an Iain M. Banks novel.

It’s hard to say too much about Velocity Weapon without spoiling the plot, and it’s really something you need to go into without knowing too much. Suffice it to say that if you like your space opera played out on the grandest, galaxy-spanning stage, with some brilliantly diverse characters and a whip-smart plot, then this book is for you.

Loved it. Ten sentient AIs out of ten. Hugely recommended.

The July Girls – Phoebe Locke

Every year, on the same night in July, a woman is taken from the streets of London; snatched by a killer who moves through the city like a ghost. 

Another strong contender for crime book of the year, The July Girls is just brilliant. A fabulous twist on the serial killer trope, brilliant characters and fantastic writing.

Trust me. Just read it.

The Gameshouse – Claire North

Everyone has heard of the Gameshouse. But few know all its secrets…

It is the place where fortunes can be made and lost through chess, backgammon – every game under the sun.

But those whom fortune favors may be invited to compete in the higher league… a league where the games played are of politics and empires, of economics and kings. It is a league where Capture the Castle involves real castles, where hide and seek takes place on the scale of a continent.

Among those worthy of competing in the higher league, three unusually talented contestants play for the highest stakes of all…

Three interlocking short stories about the mysterious Gameshouse. Few know of it, fewer still are invited to play amongst the elite. From the opening in 17th century Venice where a young woman plays an unusual game of cards, to 1930s Thailand for a game of hide and seek across a whole country, to the epic, globe-trotting finale where the stakes are highest.

Originally three ebook novellas, The Gameshouse showcases Claire North’s prodigious writing talent. Dare you play the game?

The Neighbour – Fiona Cummins

FOR SALE: A lovely family home with good-sized garden and treehouse occupying a plot close to woodland. Perfect for kids, fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers . . .

And, it seems, the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer.

On a hot July day, Garrick and Olivia Lockwood and their two children move into 25 The Avenue looking for a fresh start. They arrive in the midst of a media frenzy: they’d heard about the local murders in the press, but Garrick was certain the killer would be caught and it would all be over in no time. Besides, they’d got the house at a steal and he was convinced he could flip it for a fortune.

The neighbours seemed to be the very picture of community spirit. But everyone has secrets, and the residents in The Avenue are no exception.

After six months on the case with no real leads, the most recent murder has turned DC Wildeve Stanton’s life upside down, and now she has her own motive for hunting down the killer – quickly.

Last on my list, but by no means least, Fiona Cummin’s superb The Neighbour. Delightfully creepy, another serial killer with a difference.

Told over the course of a few days over the long, hot, sticky summer of 2018, The Neighbour is wonderfully atmospheric, and not a little claustrophobic in places. The cast of neighbours on The Avenue are an intriguing bunch, and you’re never quite sure who to suspect, though you’ll end up questioning what you think about pretty much all of them along the way. I particularly liked DC Stanton, though Cummins does rather put her through the wringer in this one. I’d love to see more of her in future books.

Loved it from the first page to the last. Very highly recommended.

So, dear reader. There are my favourite books of the first half of 2019.

Have you read any of them? What have been your favourite books? I’d love to know!

The Gameshouse – Claire North

Everyone has heard of the Gameshouse. But few know all its secrets…

It is the place where fortunes can be made and lost through chess, backgammon – every game under the sun.
But those whom fortune favors may be invited to compete in the higher league… a league where the games played are of politics and empires, of economics and kings. It is a league where Capture the Castle involves real castles, where hide and seek takes place on the scale of a continent.

Among those worthy of competing in the higher league, three unusually talented contestants play for the highest stakes of all…

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Claire North’s books, from the mind-bending 84K to the remarkable The Sudden Appearance of Hope. So it was with some excitement that I received a copy of The Gameshouse – originally published as three digital-only novellas The Serpent, The Thief, and The Master, now all three are collected together.

In the world of the Gameshouse, players come to make their fortunes through any and every game. The House itself can be anywhere, a door in London, New York, here today and gone tomorrow, for it exists out of time.

We start the tale with The Serpent, set in 17th century Venice, where a young woman is invited to play beyond the silver door into the higher league, a game of kings and pawns, where Thene the player moves her pieces around the city, real people with real stakes and very real consequences.

In The Thief we move to 1930s Thailand where we’re introduced to Remy Burke, who wakes up with a hangover having been tricked into a game of hide and seek. Except the field of play is Thailand, and the stakes are very high – twenty years of life if he wins, and the loss of his memories if he loses. And Remy is very hungover, very tall and very white. Not the ideal start to a game where you’ve got twenty minutes head start…

We finish up with The Master. Set in the present day, it ties the previous two stories together into a whole. Whereas the first game took place in a city, and the second in a country, the final game is truly global.

Just brilliant. Each game gets bigger in scope, with higher stakes, and each builds on the other, delivering a complex, layered narrative where little inconsequential things become vital pieces in the endgame. North’s writing is, as ever, just glorious to experience. She has a style which at times can take a little getting used to, but like all good things, worth the effort. The worldbuilding is phenomenal, and the world of the Gameshouse is fascinating and thought-provoking.

Hugely recommended.

The Gameshouse by Claire North is published by Orbit Books. Thanks as ever to Nazia Khatun for the review copy.

Worst Case Scenario – Helen Fitzgerald

Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line.
Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists.
Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice … with devastating consequences.

I must confess that after the first dozen or so pages of Worst Case Scenario I wondered if this was really the book for me. I wasn’t sure if I could cope with Mary’s in-your-face approach to life and work. Borderline alcoholic, menopausal, obsessed with her awful clients, she’s quite the character.

I pressed on and was rewarded with a deliciously dark, delightfully un-PC, often downright hilarious tale of a Glaswegian probation officer’s last days in the job. Mary Shields grew on me with every page, and I found myself watching events unravel with a horrified cover-your-eyes what-will-happen-next sense of anticipation.

She’s just brilliant, flawed and fiercely protective of her own. The scenes with John Paul were particularly poignant and touching (and heartbreakingly funny).

It’s Mary’s job to deal with some of the worst in society, and she’s dealt a rogue’s gallery of offenders, be they paedophiles or murderers, to deal with. They’re uniquely horrible people, making the book hard to read at times, but Fitzgerald’s skill is portraying a grim reality to their situations, with only Mary to look out for them.

Interspersed with excerpts from men’s rights activist Liam Macdowall’s awful book of letters to his dead wife, the story spirals towards a thoroughly unforgettable climax.

Short, sharp and not at all sweet, Worst Case Scenario is a book that’ll live with you for quite some time. Recommended.

Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen for the advance copy of Helen’s book to review.

Turbulent Wake – Paul E. Hardisty

Ethan Scofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father. Hidden in one of the upstairs rooms of the old man’s house he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of stories that seems to cover the whole of his father’s turbulent life.
As his own life starts to unravel, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, trying to find answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one else left, did his own father push him away?
Swinging from the coral cays of the Caribbean to the dangerous deserts of Yemen and the wild rivers of Africa, Turbulent Wake is a bewitching, powerful and deeply moving story of love and loss … of the indelible damage we do to those closest to us and, ultimately, of the power of redemption in a time of change.

When I was asked if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for Paul E. Hardisty’s latest book, I was told that it was something a little different from his Claymore Straker series. I was intrigued.

Turbulent Wake tells the story of a young man who discovers a manuscript in his recently deceased father’s estate. The manuscript appears to be a collection of short stories which turn out to cover his father’s life, but which turn out to be rather more than they appear.

I was absorbed by the structure of these stories within a larger story – each a facet of his father’s life, each providing a glimpse into the past and uncovering some uncomfortable secrets. Hardisty has shown that he’s a deft hand at the thriller in his Straker books, but the writing on display here is on another level. Fascinating to see how a young man’s life builds from a series of vignettes, played off against his son’s own story in the present day.

Some of the early stories are deeply uncomfortable, revealing a hidden traumatic childhood which is as hard for the reader as they are for the son. I think this is what I found the most interesting thing about the book – we’re reading about a son reading about his father, from his father’s own point of view, and discovering things about his father’s history as the son does. Seeing how our own reactions compare with the son’s as he finds out so much that he didn’t know about his father’s (and indeed his family’s) life is an unusual experience, but one which works well.

Already a fan of Hardisty’s books, Turbulent Wake has put him firmly onto the “can’t wait to see what he comes up with next” list.

Recommended.

Turbulent Wake by Paul E. Hardisty is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks as ever to Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

The Passengers – John Marrs

Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem?

The Passengers is a high-concept, fast-paced thriller that you’ll just race through. Eight characters for the public to judge, who will live, who will die? But are we seeing the full side of each of their stories? And why does the mysterious Hacker want to make the public judge, jury and executioner?

Loved it. Completely hooked from the first page, and one of those books with more twists and turns than that really twisty street in San Francisco which will leave you wanting to read just a *tiny* bit further.

The characters initially feel a little bit cookie-cutter stereotype, but of course as the book progresses you find that there’s more than meets the eye for each of them, and finding out their true stories is fascinating. Similarly with the Hacker – initially a faceless Man In Black, but discovering the why behind his actions as the story progresses gives way to a much deeper character.

Also fascinating to see the role that social media plays in the story – our Hacker plays on the emotions of the public to see how they can make them turn for and against his Passengers.

Who will live? Who will die? There’s one way to find out…

The Passengers by John Marrs is published by Ebury in May 2019 in paperback but is available now as an ebook. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton and the publisher for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.