A Cheesemonger’s History of The British Isles – Ned Palmer

Every cheese tells a story. Whether it’s a fresh young goat’s cheese or a big, beefy eighteen-month-old Cheddar, each variety holds the history of the people who first made it, from the builders of Stonehenge to medieval monks, from the Stilton-makers of the eighteenth-century to the factory cheesemakers of the Second World War.

Cheesemonger Ned Palmer takes us on a delicious journey across Britain and Ireland and through time to uncover the histories of beloved old favourites like Cheddar and Wensleydale and fresh innovations like the Irish Cashel Blue or the rambunctious Renegade Monk. Along the way we learn the craft and culture of cheesemaking from the eccentric and engaging characters who have revived and reinvented farmhouse and artisan traditions. And we get to know the major cheese styles – the blues, washed rinds, semi-softs and, unique to the British Isles, the territorials – and discover how best to enjoy them, on a cheeseboard with a glass of Riesling, or as a Welsh rarebit alongside a pint of Pale Ale.

This is a cheesemonger’s odyssey, a celebration of history, innovation and taste – and the book all cheese and history lovers will want to devour this Christmas.

When I saw this book pop up on twitter, I knew it was going to brie really gouda. A grate book, some might say.

Ok, that’s enough of the cheese puns. I promise.

Ned Palmer, freelance cheesemonger (no, I didn’t know that was a thing either) and writer, takes us on a journey through British and Irish history, via the story of cheese in his new book, A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles. And what a journey it is!

Ned takes us from Neolithic feasts (4000 BCE – 43BCE), through the Romans, the impact of monks and monasteries on cheesemaking, the introduction of big cheeses in the 1500s, right up to factory production, the Milk Marketing Board, and right up to the current renaissance in artisan cheesemakers.

Be warned. There are a *lot* of cheeses in this book. And you will want to try them all.

Ned is a generous host on this meander through history – at times funny, always fascinating (did you know that Double Gloucester is so named because cream from the morning milk was added to the previous evening’s milk? Or that Cheshire cheese tends to have colour added down south, but up north we prefer it white?), his knowledge of cheese, and cheese making, is encyclopaedic.

Along the way, we’re introduced to a host of small independent cheesemakers around the country, who produce a mouthwatering array of delicious local cheeses, be they made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk. From Hawes Wensleydale (“As pale and creamy as a milkmaid’s shoulder.”) to Stichelton (“hints of malty digestive biscuits, marmite and bubblegum.”), Ned has an evident love of his subject which comes across on every page.

I devoured this book, lost in the history, drooling over the descriptions of the incredible array of cheeses on display. No more for me the anodyne generic cheddar sold by the block – I’ll be hunting out the local producers, the markets, and maybe even a pilgrimage to Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, where Ned learned his craft.

A fascinating read for any cheese lover. Get it on your christmas list (if you can wait that long!)

Many thanks to Profile Books for the advance copy of Ned Palmer’s book for review.

You can find Ned Palmer on Twitter at @CheeseTastingCo

Survivors – GX Todd

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who hear voices, and those who want to silence them.

Pilgrim is a man with a past he can’t remember. When he wakes alone in a shallow grave, there is a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. It explains who he is and what he’s done. It tells him he has one purpose: to find a girl named Lacey.

As Pilgrim is drawn north to Missouri in search of Lacey, he must also travel back to where it all began – to those he left behind. War is coming, and Pilgrim is going to need all the allies he can get.

So here we are. Book #3 of The Voices, following on from Defender and Hunted, both of which made my Books of the Year for 2017 and 2018. A high bar has been set.

Survivors just smashed it. The first two books are brilliant, but in this, Todd has taken it to the next level. Hard to say too much without giving too much away – if you’ve read the first two then you’ll need absolutely no nudging from me to pick up this instalment.

If you haven’t read Defender or Hunted, then get yourself to a bookshop immediately, clear a weekend, stock up on tea and biscuits and settle down for what one book reviewer said about them:

It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

(ok, it was me)

Survivors takes us back in time to before the Voices, and we get to know a little more about how the world came to be in the state we find it in Defender. We also find out a lot more about the mysterious Pilgrim, and it was fascinating to learn his backstory.

As with the first two books, Todd’s worldbuilding is just superb, rich and gloriously imagined. I read Survivors on a road trip in the US over the summer, and couldn’t think of a more appropriate setting. Todd also does characters really *really* well, and despite the relative heft of this book, you find yourself lost in the pages, only emerging blinking into the daylight after the final page.

Book four just cannot come soon enough. Easily one of my favourite series of books, ever.

Survivors by G.X. Todd is published by Headline on 31st October 2019. Huge thanks to Caitlin Raynor and Headline for the review copy.

Snare – Lilja Sigurðardóttir

That cover. oof. So good.

After a messy divorce, attractive young mother Sonja is struggling to provide for herself and keep custody of her son. With her back to the wall, she resorts to smuggling cocaine into Iceland, and finds herself caught up in a ruthless criminal world. As she desperately looks for a way out of trouble, she must pit her wits against her nemesis, Bragi, a customs officer, whose years of experience frustrate her new and evermore daring strategies. Things become even more complicated when Sonja embarks on a relationship with a woman, Agla. Once a high-level bank executive, Agla is currently being prosecuted in the aftermath of the Icelandic financial crash. 

So, I’m late to the party. Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s third book in her Reykjavik Noir trilogy, Cage, has just been published, and here’s me not having read any of them.

Until today, that is. I practically inhaled book 1, Snare, over the course of an afternoon, and promptly kicked myself for missing out. At least I don’t have to wait for books 2 and 3, I suppose!

Snare follows three strands: Sonja, drug smuggler snared in a spiralling series of ever more dangerous strategies to get cocaine into Iceland. Agla, high-level bank executive under investigation following suspicious activity in the banking crash, and Sonja’s lover. Rounding off the trio we have the relentless Bragi, a customs officer determined to crack down on the drug smuggling through his airport.

I must admit that I found Sonja and Bragi’s stories more interesting than the seemingly drier financial investigations into Agla’s past, but it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in the later books.

Sigurðardóttir has crafted an elaborate game of cat and mouse with Snare, though it’s not always clear who’s the cat and who’s the mouse. I’ve got a huge soft spot for a good twisty tale, and loved this one – from the brilliant characters to the Icelandic setting (huge thanks for the pronunciation guide!), I just couldn’t put it down. Right, now onto book 2!

Recommended.

Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir is published by Orenda Books. Translated by Quentin Bates (@graskeggur). Huge thanks as ever to Karen at Orenda for the review copy.

You can find Lilja Sigurðardóttir on twitter at @Lilja1972 or at her website http://www.liljawriter.com/

The Black Hawks – David Wragg

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for David Wragg’s The Black Hawks. More about the book later – first, a guest post!


Where did the Black Hawks come from?

Or “Whence came the Black Hawks?” if you like your titles pithy but archaic

Minor spoilers ahead, but if you’ve already read the blurb there shouldn’t be anything too destabilising

History

History was one of my favourite subjects at school. It’s no secret that you don’t have to look far with many works of fantasy to see their historical inspirations (cough Wars of the Roses cough), and I’m no great exception to the rule – no matter what horrors you can imagine, there’s always some historical bastard who got there first, often with considerably more enthusiasm. The period that most fascinated me was the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th Centuries, featuring treachery, intrigue, mercenary companies and wars by proxy, shocking assassinations and an overmighty church intent on carving out its own territorial legacy. Astute readers may be able to draw some parallels in the book.

Classic Fantasy

I grew up immersed in Classic Quest Fantasy, from the Hobbit onwards, and internalised much of what I read as How Things Should Be Done. There should always be a journey, and a rag-tag band coming together to save the day from a terrible threat. Against that, however, we must balance…

My spiteful nature

I’m a contrary sod, and have an alarming tendency to do the opposite of what’s expected of me, simply because. The Black Hawks is the first of a two-part story (the Articles of Faith series) – a bilogy, not a trilogy, as my agent has begged me to stop calling it. I planned it as two instead of three just to be different. Many of the book’s events and characters are likewise a reaction to my much-loved fantasy tropes, starting with…

The also-rans

Fantasy has a tendency to put heroes front and centre (especially Heroic Fantasy, for some reason), from common-or-garden chosen ones to the Greatest Warrior Who Ever Lived to the Last Scion of the Bloodline and so forth. I thought it would be satisfying to focus more on those at the sharp end, who are just trying to scrape a living together while a fantasy plot-line rages on in the background. What might happen, for example, if you or I found ourselves caught up in the whirlwind of your standard fantastical intrigue?

Well, we’d almost certainly die immediately, so I had to take a few liberties with the story.

Personal experience

It’s not a huge spoiler to say Chel, the main character in the book, gets hurt.

A lot.

As well as a genre fiction, I’ve enjoyed a bounty of chronic pain in various forms since my teens. I thought it might be nice to share some of that day-to-day unpleasantness with my protagonist.

(Hell is) Other people

I’m old enough to have had a lot of jobs and worked on many projects, and in every one of them it’s been the people alongside me who have made or wrecked the experience. It’s possible to perform horrible, mindless drudgery and still look forward to a day of glorious chat with brilliant colleagues; conversely, a shower of dreadful bastards can swiftly torpedo the dreamiest posting. Given the chance, I’d assemble my own mercenary crew in a heartbeat. But you don’t often get to pick your colleagues – and nor do my characters.

This modern world

The book, and its sequel, contain a few more modern parallels than I’d first intended. Some will be obvious, some more subtle, but it shows we can’t help being influenced by our creative climate. Black Hawks 1 was first drafted in 2015 in relative peace (then revised many times since), but book 2 was written in the chaos of 2016. You can see what you make of it next year.

The Black Hawks are unleashed on 3rd October.

The Black Hawks by David Wragg is published by HarperVoyager. Many thanks to David Wragg for the guest post, and to the publisher for the copy of David’s book for review. You can find David Wragg on twitter at @itsdavewragg, or at his website https://www.davewragg.com/

Life as a knight is not what Vedren Chel imagined. Bound by oath to a dead-end job in the service of a lazy step-uncle, Chel no longer dreams of glory – he dreams of going home.

When invaders throw the kingdom into turmoil, Chel finds opportunity in the chaos: if he escorts a stranded prince to safety, Chel will be released from his oath.

All he has to do is drag the brat from one side of the country to the other, through war and wilderness, chased all the way by ruthless assassins.

With killers on your trail, you need killers watching your back. You need the Black Hawk Company – mercenaries, fighters without equal, a squabbling, scrapping pack of rogues. Prepare to join the Black Hawks.

Darkdawn – Jay Kristoff

The greatest games in Godsgrave’s history have ended with the most audacious murders in the history of the Itreyan Republic.

Mia Corvere, gladiatii, escaped slave and infamous assassin, is on the run. Pursued by Blades of the Red Church and soldiers of the Luminatii legion, she may never escape the City of Bridges and Bones alive. Her mentor Mercurio is now in the clutches of her enemies. Her own family wishes her dead. And her nemesis, Consul Julius Scaeva, stands but a breath from total dominance over the Republic.

But beneath the city, a dark secret awaits. Together with her lover Ashlinn, brother Jonnen and a mysterious benefactor returned from beyond the veil of death, she must undertake a perilous journey across the Republic, seeking the final answer to the riddle of her life. Truedark approaches. Night is falling on the Republic for perhaps the final time.

Can Mia survive in a world where even daylight must die?

Holy[1] fuck[2]. Darkdawn[3]: magnificent[4]!


[1] It’s a story about gods. The gods of day and night, and what happens when they fall out. And boy, do they fall out.

[2] There is a *lot* of smut. No, I’m not complaining either.

[3] Book 3 of the Nevernight Chronicles. It has come to my attention recently that some of you (mentioning no names) haven’t read Nevernight yet. I have been talking about this book FOR EVER. I will pimp it to you at the drop of a hat. I will pimp it to a hat, given half a chance that it might actually read it. I recommended it to a friend at work last week when he spotted Darkdawn on my desk, and not only did he read it, he went out and bought Godsgrave *and* he’s nearly finished Darkdawn.

[4] Can you write a review in a footnote?[5]

[5] I mean, what sort of pretentious arse would do that, gentlefriends?[6]

[6] Let’s give it a go, shall we?

Darkdawn. Hooyah. It’s the final chapter in our murderous little Mia’s story. And no, that’s not a spoiler. Jay Kristoff did warn us, all the way back in Nevernight, page one.

This is very much the end. But what a glorious end it is. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you put the book down and glare it at. It is a just and right finale to my favourite trilogy, and my favourite assassin/gladiati/pirate.

Oh yes. There are pirates this time round. Cloud Corleone, with his four bastard smile, is just a glorious, glorious character. And there’s a pirate king too.

Look, gentlefriend. You’re one of two sorts of people.

One – you’ve read Nevernight and Godsgrave, in which case you’ve almost certainly bought a copy of Darkdawn and read it already. Nothing I say, and no amount of footnotes will make the slightest difference to you.

Or two – you’ve not read Nevernight (or Godsgrave), in which case you need to rectify that IMMEDIATELY, at which point you’ll be the first sort of person, in which case this review will mean nothing to you, etc etc.

Go, read the books. Laugh, cry, blush at the smutty bits, and when you’re done, we can talk.

Talk about the stabby bits, the funny bits, the pirates and gladiators and assassins and cats made of shadows, of the mountain of murderers, the gods, everything.

Then we’ll go back to the books and read all about a girl called Mia. For we love her so very very much.

Thank you, Jay Kristoff.

PS – if anyone has a spare ARC of Darkdawn to complete my collection, I will love you forever. I might even send you a cake.

The Puppet Show – M.W. Craven

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.

When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant but socially awkward civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive…

I bought The Puppet Show following a load of my bookblogger friends raving about it. Serial killer, dysfunctional detective pairing, sounds right up my alleyway.

They were right. I stayed up far too late one night on holiday powering through this book more or less in a single sitting (if you ignore the break to go get some food). A proper page-turner, this one!

Washington Poe (and what a great name *that* is) is summoned back from suspension to investigate a murder in his patch of Cumbria. The victim, as with the first two, has been burned alive. But this one has something carved into his chest. Carved when the victim was very much alive.

Loved this from the start – the unlikely but brilliant pairing of Poe and Tilly really made this story shine for me. Along with the Cumbrian setting which Craven depicts so well, you can really feel the sense of place in the mist-shrouded hillsides.

The Puppet Show is a strong police procedural, with all that entails – plenty of suspects (and victims), and plenty of following the trail of breadcrumbs, toasted as they may be by the Immolation Man.

I particularly loved Tilly – ace analyst, genius at computers, data, stats and gaming. Socially awkward at first, it’s her growing relationship with Poe as he takes her under his wing and starts to shine that lifts this from your regular buddy cop pairing.

I’m looking forward to the further adventures of Poe and Bradshaw, and luckily book 2, Black Summer, is out already! There are some perks to being late to the party.

The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven is published by Constable, and is out now.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach. 

A mysterious murder at a magical school? Two of my very favourite things! Though we are very much not at *that* school for Witchcraft and Wizardry. And the murder is so *very* gruesome that even You Know Who might blanch at it. And yes, there’s a Chosen One.

Ivy Gamble is a private investigator, going about her business, investigating your regular everyday private investigator-y things. Then she is hired to investigate something a little more… unusual, at the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, the school where her sister Tabitha is on the faculty. Her sister Tabitha, who can do magic.

But the Academy most definitely isn’t Hogwarts. It feels very much like a regular high school, with corridors full of lockers rather than talking paintings, and nary a moving staircase in sight. It’s also got the requisite bunch of cliques and gangs, and teenagers doing regular teenage stuff, though using spells to pass messages, or draw uncleanable graffiti, or a thousand other teenager things.

And that’s what I loved about Magic for Liars. It’s a tale about magic, but relegated to the background. It’s a murder investigation, with all the usual questioning, red herrings, sneaking around, misdirections and ‘oh, I think I know who did it… oh, wait, no I don’t.’

It’s fascinating watching Ivy go back to school, to the magic school where she wished she fitted in like her sister. And equally fascinating seeing their world through Ivy’s eyes. Ivy, the hard-drinking, tough-nosed investigator faced with a bunch of kids and teachers who are all hiding someting. But can she figure out what?

Highly recommended.

Thanks @JamiedoesPR and @UKTor for the copy of the book for review.