Peaks and Bandits – Alf Bonnevie Bryn

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In 1909, while dreaming of the Himalaya, Norwegian mountaineer Alf Bonnevie Bryn and a fellow young climber, the Australian George Ingle Finch, set their sights on Corsica to build their experience. The events of this memorable trip form the basis of Bryn’s acclaimed book Tinder og banditter – ‘Peaks and Bandits’, with their boisterous exploits delighting Norwegian readers for generations. 

Peaks and Bandits is a short book, but packs a huge amount into its 117 pages. Young Alf Bonnevie Bryn decides to set off to Corsica to climb some mountains with his friend George Ingle Finch in their Easter holidays from school in 1909. Our Norwegian hero and his Australian chum have more than a few adventures along the way, fording freezing rivers, rescuing cats from bathtubs, spreading fake money to make their own funds go further. They introduce skiing to Corsica to repay a friendly farmer. There’s a hilarious story (well, more than one) about a snake called James, which I shall leave you to find out for yourselves. There’s an incident with a quart ceramic jar of Crosse & Blackwell marmalade that they persuaded someone to carry up a mountain. Oh, and they meet some bandits, of course. The list goes on.

It’s a lovely, quirky little book, with a real sense of derring do and proper adventure. Huge kudos to Bibbi Lee, the translator. They’ve captured the wit and charm of the book beautifully, and it feels so natural you forget that it’s been translated from the original Norwegian.

Originally published in 1943, Peaks and Bandits is a classic of Norwegian literature, and is now available in English.

I highly recommend that you pick up a copy. I got my copy via my subscription to Adventurous Ink, a book club covering the best in adventure, travel and nature books, curated by Tim Frenneaux. No affiliate links, just a subscription I really enjoy!

Peaks and Bandits by Alf Bonnevie Bryn (translated by Bibbi Lee) is published by Vertebrate Publishing.

Black Reed Bay – Rod Reynolds

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When a young woman vanishes from an exclusive oceanfront community, Detective Casey Wray’s investigation plunges her into a darkness she could never have imagined

A new book by Rod Reynolds? Yes please. We’ve had 40’s Noir with his Charlie Yates books (splendid stuff), then a change of pace, decade and country with Blood Red City. And now with Black Reed Bay we’ve hopped back over the Atlantic to the shores of Long Island, present day.

Tina Grace has gone missing from an exclusive, quiet beachfront community after making a distressing 911 call. Apparently running for her life, she has disappeared into thin air. And the neighbours are a curious bunch.

Then the first body turns up…

Reynolds has already shown that he’s got a real knack for character and place, and Black Reed Bay is no exception. Having captured modern London to a tee, and given us a very authentic-feeling 40s America, we now see that it doesn’t seem to matter where he sets his books, they all have that crucial realness to the location. You feel that you could drive the streets of Hampstead County and feel that Atlantic sea air on your face.

But a book cannot live on location alone. Enter Detective Casey Wray, a fantastic lead in this top-notch slice of contemporary American Noir. Casey’s investigation leads her down a twisted path of conflicting witness statements, with pressure from on high adding to her woes. Luckily she’s got her partner Cullen on her side. I loved the dynamic between these two, the easy banter and friendship just shines.

The story fair crackles along, with rising tensions between the detectives and the top brass, and a desperate family wanting to find their missing Tina. There are a lot of suspects in play, and it’s a testament to the writing that Reynolds keeps us on the edge of our seats from start to finish.

It’s another cracking crime thriller from one of my favourite authors, and I’m delighted to see that it’s just the first in a new series. I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for Casey Wray next.

Highly recommended.

Black Reed Bay by Rod Reynolds is published by Orenda Books and is out in ebook on 28th May 2021, and in paperback in September. Many thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.

This Is How We Are Human – Louise Beech

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When the mother of an autistic young man hires a call girl to make him happy, three lives collide in unexpected and moving ways … changing everything. A devastatingly beautiful, rich and thought-provoking novel that will warm your heart.

You read a lot of books in this blogging game. Some of them are good, some of them are great. Then there are books like this.

I don’t know how Louise Beech does it, but she’s done it again. After Call Me Star Girl, I was hooked. I Am Dust confirmed her as one of those authors where I’d read anything they write. And now with this? I’m lost for words.

This is going to be a really short review.

Just read it.

There, that’s it. Trust me.

You want more? This is a story which a mother pays a call girl to make her autistic son happy. You might feel a little… apprehensive approaching this book, given the subject matter. But you’re in the hands of Louise Beech here. Nothing is as simple or straightforward as it appears. And it’s handled with such love and compassion that you emerge blinking from the other side, having fallen completely for the three leads.

I read this book in an afternoon, having unceremoniously dumped the TBR pile to one side. And yes Louise, you made me cry.

Sebastian is a young man (twenty years, six months and two days old, thank you very much) who very much wants to have sex. But he struggles with relationships, as other people’s prejudices get in the way. And some people can’t see past the surface to the man underneath. His mother Veronica can, of course. And she’s heartbroken to see her son have to battle through life. Opportunity presents itself in Violeta, a call girl. Could she bring herself to pay this woman to take care of her son? What would he think if he ever found out?

Each of the three has their own story to tell, and they tell it their own way. Beech’s characters are always fantastic, and there’s no exception here. They’re complex, layered, really real people who come alive off the page and leave you changed by the end. Prejudices examined, wrung out and hung up to dry.

Beautifully and sensitively told, This Is How We Are Human is a story about love and life, of discrimation and difference, and the choices we make. It’s ultimately about being… human.

Hugely recommended, I’m putting this straight on the books of the year list.

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech is published by Orenda Books and is out now in ebook, and paperback in June 2021. Many thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.

The Fall of Koli – MR Carey

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The world that is lost will come back to haunt us . . .

Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he’d be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.

Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they’ve been following – the mysterious “Sword of Albion” – there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something.

Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.

Here we are. Book three in M.R. Carey’s Ramparts trilogy. We’ve followed Koli on his adventure for such a long way, from The Book of Koli back in April 2020, through The Trials of Koli late in September, and now to this final book, nigh on a year since we started.

And what an adventure it’s been. Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love Carey’s writing. And how much I love a good dystopian post-apocalyptic setting. Put those three things together and I’m a happy little reader. Just keep me topped up with regular cups of hot tea and a steady supply of biscuits and we’re good.

Reader, I loved The Book and The Trials. And of course you’ve listened to me banging on about them for the last year, and have read and enjoyed them, haven’t you?

HAVEN’T YOU. (right, you at the back, yes, you. Get thee to a bookshop, pronto)

The rest of you have? Excellent, excellent.

So, why do you need me to persuade you to read book three? You’re as invested in the adventures of Koli, Cup and the irrepressible, mischievous Monono as I am, surely? And not forgetting Spinner and the Ramparts back at home base in Mythen Rood of course!

The Fall of Koli finds our intrepid adventurers rather at sea in their hunt for the mysterious ‘Sword of Albion’. Quite literally. They’re rescued by Paul, Lorraine, and their something’s-not-quite-right-here son, Stanley, who are apparently alone on the megaship Sword of Albion. It’s up to Koli and the gang to figure out what’s going on, and not to put too fine a point on it, things escalate quickly…

Back in Mythen Rood, Spinner is facing some challenges herself, both from within the encampment and outside, with the Peacemaker from Half Ax determined to get hold of all the tech in Ingland. I was torn reading this book, as Carey knew just when to switch viewpoints from Koli to Spinner to ensure maximum tension! I really loved watching Spinner’s character grow across the three books, and become the fantastic, clever, resourceful woman we find here.

It’s these different viewpoints and wonderfully diverse characters that really make these books shine. It’s an exploration of identity and growth; from young, naive Koli Woodsmith, to the older, wiser Ursala, Cup – the young trans woman and the bouncy, virtual Monono Aware who helps Koli find his place in the world. Carey clearly loves these characters and it’s a testament to his writing that they all come across equally well-drawn despite their differences.

It’s hard to say more without giving away too much about this book. I’m confident that if you’ve read the first two, you’ll absolutely love this one too.

Hugely recommended.

The Fall of Koli by MR Carey is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia Khatun at Orbit for the advance copy of the book, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

The Unbroken – CL Clark

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Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale. 


The Unbroken took me a little while to get into, but once I’d hit my stride I found myself devouring it in hundred-page chunks, immersed in the beautifully drawn, albeit harrowing, world Clark has created. And what a world it is. We’ve got a heady mixture of military-based fantasy set against colonialist conquerors, with a rebellion brewing in the streets of Qazāl. One where the lines of good and bad are blurred. Characters make big, epic mistakes, and have to live with the consequences.

Speaking of characters, I loved the dynamic between the two main leads. Touraine, Lieutenant in the Balladairan army. A Sand conscript, taken from her Qazāli home some twenty years earlier, now returning. Hated by the Balladairans as the lowest of the low, but also hated by her people as a traitor, working for their enemy. She has a lot to prove, and boy does she not mess around.

Then there’s Luca, princess and heir to the throne of Balladaire. She’s come to Qazāl to prove herself worthy of that throne, currently occupied by her uncle, the Regent. So for her, Qazāl is just a means to that end. She wants it sorted, and is prepared to compromise if she needs to – though at times she’s not too bothered what lines needs to be crossed to get there.

The action comes thick and fast from the outset, as these two women, wildly different in background and social status are thrown together. Can Tour help Luca see what needs to be done to help Qazāl? Or will Luca do whatever it takes to seal her place on the Balladairan throne and become Queen? And can she find the Qazāl magic?

Beautifully complex, layered characters. A solid, intriguing world which explores colonialism and oppression. A will-they-won’t-they dance between our two leads, in a society where same-sex relationships don’t raise an eyebrow. A supporting cast of devious generals, priests, soldiers and others.

You’ll find yourself alternately on #TeamLuca or #TeamTouraine, wanting to give them a hug one minute and berating them for doing something spectacularly dangerous/daft/stupid the next. Or admiring Touraine’s biceps. That seems to be a thing. I’m there for that.

Big, chonky epic fantasy. What’s not to like? The Unbroken leaves us with a nicely rounded story, though I’m very much looking forward to book 2 to see where Clark takes us next!

The Unbroken by CL Clark is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Orbit Books for the copy to review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.

C.L. Clark

C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless SkiesFIYAHPodCastle and Uncanny.

Far From The Tree – Rob Parker

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Brendan Foley has worked to balance the responsibilities of a demanding job and a troublesome family. He’s managed to keep these two worlds separate, until the discovery of a mass grave sends them into a headlong collision. When one of the dead turns out to be a familiar face, he’s taken off the case. 

Iona Madison keeps everything under control. She works hard as a detective sergeant and trains harder as a boxer. But when her superior, DI Foley, is removed from the case, her certainties are tested like never before. 

With stories of the Warrington 27 plastered over the news, they set out to solve the crime before anyone else. The local constabulary is small and under-funded – Brendan knows they can’t crack this case alone, and he’s not letting a rival force take over. Not with the secrets he fears are lurking. Their investigations lead them into the murky underworlds of Manchester and Liverpool, where one more murder means little to drug-dealing gangs, desperate to control their power bases. 

But as Madison steps into the ring for the fight of her life, the criminals come to them. It’s no coincidence that the corpses have been buried in Foley’s hometown. The question is, why? Foley might not like the answer…

Browsing through the titles on Audible a while back I discovered Far From The Tree, an ‘Audible Original’. I’ve only read one other of Rob Parker’s books (the brilliant A Wanted Man) so jumped at the chance to have a listen to this.

Twenty seven bodies are found in an unmarked grave. Is this the work of a serial killer? DI Brendan Foley is on the case. Then it turns out that one of the dead is someone close to home, and what was initially ‘just’ a murder enquiry turns into something a lot more personal.

It’s a great story, and I loved the interplay between Foley and DS Madison as they work to uncover exactly what has been going on. There’s a real grittiness to the story, which feels worryingly plausible. It’s also not one for the faint-hearted, with some seriously visceral scenes of violence. It’s a story of family, of the hard men who run the streets and what they’ll do to keep control.

I love a good crime story, and this one is absolutely top notch. It’s got a real sense of place, which regular readers of this blog will know is something I really look for in a book. Parker is clearly at home here, and you can tell it’s his patch.

With audiobooks, the narration can be the make or break for me. Fortunately Far From The Tree is superbly narrated by Warren Brown (DS Ripley from Luther), I loved every minute of the near nine hour runtime. I’d plug my headphones in whilst walking the dogs, and must admit to going just once more around the block to get another chapter in. The dogs didn’t seem to mind!

Far From The Tree by Rob Parker, read by Warren Brown, is available exclusively on Audible.

The Black Coast – Mike Brooks

Cover for The Black Coast by Mike Brooks

When the citizens of Black Keep see ships on the horizon, terror takes them, for they know who is coming: for generations, Black Keep has been raided by the fearsome clanspeople of Iwernia. Saddling their war dragons, the Naridans rush to defend their home only to discover that the clanspeople have not come to pillage at all. Driven from their own homeland by the rise of a daemonic despot who prophesies the end of the world, they have come in search of a new home. Meanwhile the wider continent of Narida is lurching toward war. Black Keep is about to be caught in the cross-fire of the coming war for the world – if only its new mismatched society can survive.

The Black Coast is one of the biggest books I’ve read for a long time. Often I’ll look at the size of a book and think that maybe I don’t have time to spend on such a chonky tome given the state of my TBR pile. But in this case I was invited to take part in the blog tour, thought that book sounds great! War dragons! Daemonic despots! Shenanigans!

Then the book turned up and it was (and indeed is) huuuuge, clocking in at nearly 650 pages.

Reader, I need not have worried. Yes, it took me a week to read rather than a weekend, but it was so worth it. Yes, there are a lot of characters to remember, and a lot of interweaving plots (and the aforementioned shenanigans). But it reminded me what I love about epic fantasy. The worldbuilding is splendid, told through the eyes of multiple characters. Saana, the chief of the raiders on the lookout for a new place to settle. Daimon, law-son of the leader of the Black Keep, who sees the approaching fleet and must battle with his conscience and family. Jeya, young thief who finds the purse she picked belongs to someone far different from who she expected.

And that’s just a few of the characters we follow through the book. There are war dragons, battles, skulduggery and political chicanery. The story looks at prejudice and what it means to change your mind, to look at things from another’s point of view and see that deep down, we’re all just people. It’s not done in a heavy-handed way, but feels like a natural part of the story.

The Black Coast by Mike Brooks is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and to Nazia Khatun from Orbit Books for the advance copy to review.

Black Widows – Cate Quinn

Black Widows by Cate Quinn

The only thing the three women had in common was their husband. And, as of this morning, that they’re each accused of his murder.
Blake Nelson moved into a hidden stretch of land – a raw paradise in the wilds of Utah – where he lived with his three wives: Rachel, the chief wife, obedient and doting to a fault. Tina, the other wife, who’s everything Rachel isn’t. And Emily, the youngest wife, who knows almost nothing else.
When their husband is found dead under the desert sun, the questions pile up. What are these women to each other now that their husband is dead? Will the police uncover the secrets each woman has spent her life hiding?
And is one of them capable of murder…?

Told from the point of view of the three wives in turn, Black Widows is an ingenious murder mystery which will keep you guessing right up to the end. It’s a fantastic premise for a story. Each of the three wives loved their husband in their own way, and each had a reason not to.

The story jumps between the three women – Rachel, first wife, obedient and highly devout. Emily, the youngest sister wife. And Tina, ex-junkie who met Blake through rehab, the most streetwise of the three. But who could have done it?

I love a story which keeps you guessing like this one does. Each one tells a convincing story, but each one is convinced that the other wives aren’t telling the whole truth. It’s great fun watching it unfurl as the story progresses, and be warned, it goes to some very dark places indeed.

Blake and his wives live on an isolated farm in Utah. Their polygamous marriage is frowned upon by other members of their church (the Latter-Day Saints) and the book explores this lifestyle and why someone would choose to have multiple wives. I found the whole thing fascinating, and a great backdrop to the central murder mystery.

The three wives are very different people, and their individual voices really come through distinctly in the book, each with their own well-drawn backstory bringing them to the remote farm.

I really enjoyed Black Widows, though here are some very dark themes and scenes in here. Recommended.

Black Widows by Cate Quinn is published by Orion and is out now. Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours and Orion for the review copy and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

The Last Thing To Burn – Will Dean

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On an isolated farm in the United Kingdom, a woman is trapped by the monster who kidnapped her seven years ago. When she discovers she is pregnant, she resolves to protect her child no matter the cost, and starts to meticulously plan her escape. But when another woman is brought into the fold on the farm, her plans go awry. Can she save herself, her child, and this innocent woman at the same time? Or is she doomed to spend the remainder of her life captive on this farm?

I’ve been a huge fan of Will Dean’s books ever since an early copy of his debut novel Dark Pines popped through my door in early 2018. I’ve watched as he’s built on that strong start to just get better and better with every Tuva book he writes.

Then we come to this book, The Last Thing To Burn. And it’s like until now he was just coasting, and has just put his foot to the floor.

It’s not an easy read, and the subject matter is horrifying, and horrifyingly plausible. A young woman lives on a huge farm in the middle of nowhere, held captive by her husband. He calls her Jane.

That’s not her name. Her name is Thanh Dao, and she’s been brought over to the UK from Vietnam by traffickers promising a new life, only to find herself captive of the most hideous of men. Who keeps her by his side by threats against her sister, safe in another part of the country. Trapped in a vast, flat landscape, with a badly damaged ankle and no hope of escape.

Thanh Dao is our narrator and takes us through her life with Lenn, with his bland food and bland life, living in the shadow of his beloved, dead mother. But make no mistake, he’s pure, distilled evil. Everything has to be just so, or she’ll lose another of her dwindling collection of personal possessions. A photo of her parents. Letters from her sister. A book. Hers, hers hers. Not his.

Lenn is the most unpleasant, unredeemable character I’ve read for a long, long time. Utterly controlling, utterly convinced by his rightness, utterly nasty.

It’s a bleak book, set in a bleak landscape, but at every step of the way we’re rooting for Thanh Dao. Tiny slivers of hope keep her, and us, going.

It’s an astonishing book, a world away from Tuva Moodyson and her Swedish forest. And one where the subject may be too much for some. It’s a nail-biting, compelling, just one more page book, one where you’re willing Thanh Dao to get away from the very first page.

Unforgettable.

The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is out now.

Body Language – A.K. Turner

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Camden mortuary assistant Cassie Raven has pretty much seen it all. But this is the first time she’s come face to face with someone she knows on the slab. Someone she cared about. Her friend and mentor, Mrs E.

Deeply intuitive and convinced that she can pick up the last thoughts of the dead, Cassie senses that there must be more to the ruling of an accidental death. Is her grief making her see things that aren’t there, or is her intuition right, and there’s something more sinister to her friend’s death than the ME thinks? Harbouring an innate distrust of the police, Cassie sets out to investigate and deliver justice to the woman who saved her life.

Body Language is a cleverly plotted mystery, with a pair of engaging characters in mortuary technician Cassie Raven and the very uptight DS Phyllida Flyte. The two couldn’t be more different, and the interplay between them as they both strive to solve the various deaths really drives this book along.

I loved Cassie – pierced, tattooed goth living with her Polish grandma (another fabulous character), a cynical loner with a distrust of the police who works with the dead, and with an intuitive ability to hear the dead’s last thoughts. Diametrically opposite, we have DS Phyllida Flyte. Immaculately turned out, very process-driven and logical. It was fascinating watching the two bounce off each other before they start working together.

Cassie is shocked to find her former teacher and mentor Mrs E turns up at the mortuary. She was responsible for helping Cassie off the streets and through education into the job she now loves. Cassie has to try and discover what happened – was it natural causes, or something more sinister?

Body Language is a well-written and neatly plotted crime fiction story which I read over the course of an afternoon. I enjoyed it enormously, and highly recommend it.

Body Language by A.K. Turner is published by Zaffre, and is out now.