Books of 2021: the rest

Well now. We’ve had my list of the best crime/thriller books, and my favourite sci-fi & fantasy. There were books which didn’t fit into either category, but which I want to shout about too.

The Twenty Seven Club – Lucy Nichol

The Twenty Seven Club is steeped in a lovely 90s vibe that is a real joy to read. Told from the point of view of Emma, a young woman from Hull who enjoys rock music, beers (and the occasional Drambuie or a little something… extra) with her best mate Dave down their local. She’s shaken by the untimely death of her rock hero Kurt Cobain at 27, and is filled with worry that she’s approaching that age. It’s warm, often funny, and a delightful dose of 90s nostalgia.

This is How We Are Human, Louise Beech

It wouldn’t be a books of the year list without a Louise Beech book on there. 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. Utterly brilliant, and be warned, it *will* make you cry.

The Origins of Iris – Beth Lewis

Lewis’ writing is just a joy to read. It’s wonderful. Dark, raw and startlingly original, it will linger long in the memory after you turn the last page. It took me a while to recover myself after reading. Then go read The Wolf Road, because that’s incredible too. I can’t wait to see what Beth Lewis comes up with next!

Then the non-fiction books I’ve enjoyed:

Peaks and Bandits – Alf Bonnevie Bryn

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 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. And then there’s the fun with a snake called James, and an incident with a quart ceramic jar of Crosse & Blackwell marmalade that they persuaded someone to carry up a mountain…

Part of my subscription to Adventurous Ink, a book club covering the best in adventure, travel and nature books. Also highly recommended!

London Clay – Tom Chivers

A fascinating deep dive into what makes up London. The hidden rivers, the buried history, the layers upon layers that make up our capital city. The title suggests a book of geology, and whilst there is a seam of that running through the book, it’s so much more.

He explores the streets, pokes behind the construction boards and delves into the history of the city. It’s a book that I’m sure I’ll go back to next time I’m heading there. It’s more than just a series of places though. It’s also part memoir, with Tom Chivers’ own personal stories and history laced throughout.

The Storyteller – Dave Grohl

Finally an audiobook to recommend. Narrated by Dave Grohl himself, it’s an engaging and fascinating look at his life leading up to Nirvana and beyond with the Foo Fighters. I’m sure the book would be just as good, but having Grohl tell you these stories himself adds a little something extra. Hugely enjoyable.

Books of 2021 – crime & thrillers

As 2021 starts to roll to a close, it’s time to pull together the list of books I’ve loved over the year. Yes, I know that it’s not over, and there will be some more great books, but you might be on the lookout for some suggestions for a present for a loved one, or maybe yourself. Heck, even buy a book for your mortal enemy and/or personal nemesis. Everyone loves a good book, right?

I’m not doing a top ten, partly because they’re all really good and partly because there are 15 of them and OMG DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE OK.

In no particular order, I hereby present my favourite crime/thriller books of 2021 are:

When I Was Ten – Fiona Cummins

I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of Fiona Cummins’ When I Was Ten in 2020 and absolutely loved it. Alas, what with *waves hands* everything going on, it got pushed back to 2021. It’s bloody brilliant. And while you wait, go read Cummins’ other books.

Stone Cold Trouble – Amer Anwar

Last year Amer Anwar’s Brothers In Blood made it on the books of the year list, and January kicked off with more adventures for Zaq and Jags.  I settled down with a cup of tea to finish the last hundred or so pages, only to discover that my tea had gone cold.

Stone cold. (see what I did there?)

Yeah, it’s that good. I love the banter between Zaq and his best mate Jags, and it really makes this book stand out. Of course a book needs more than just a great pair of protagonists, and Anwar delivers another cracking read.

The Last Thing to Burn – Will Dean

Unforgettable. 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 also an astonishing book, a world away from Will Dean’s 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.


Slough House – Mick Herron

Mick Herron is one of those writers who make it look… effortless. He’s just got a way with a turn of phrase, a sentence dropped which is just… perfect. Slough House is full of those little gems. The gloriously foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, ever-flatulent, politically incorrect Jackson Lamb (soon to be appearing on our screens played by Gary Oldman) is back, and someone has wiped Slough House off the map and is picking off his Slow Horses.

He’s not happy about it. And you do not cross Jackson Lamb.

Far From the Tree – Rob Parker

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. I listened to the audiobook, 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.

Black Reed Bay – Rod Reynolds

A perennial favourite on my books of the year lists (don’t tell him or he’ll get a big head), Rod Reynolds has delivered a top-notch slice of contemporary American Noir on the shores of Long Island, present day.  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 Detective Casey Wray next. Superbly plotted, with Reynold’s customary mastery of place and character, it’s a cracking book.

Dead Ground – MW Craven

I love  Poe & Bradshaw, as I’m sure we all do. Washington Poe, the irascible detective sergeant who manages somehow to rub pretty much everyone up the wrong way.

Poe collected enemies the same way the middle class collect Nectar points

And his best friend, the inimitable Tilly Bradshaw. Suffice it to say that there are shenanigans, misdirections and twists as per usual. The case is bigger – involving not only MI5 but also the FBI, the stakes are higher, and it’s just a hugely enjoyable read.

A Numbers Game – RJ Dark

I read a lot of crime books. I assume you do too, if you’ve got this far down the list. But it’s refreshing to find one that manages to combine a lovely dark, twisty plot with a healthy dose of humour. I loved Mal and Jackie, the two leads with their long history and tenuous ‘friendship’.

The week started unseasonably warm for spring, and with my best friend sitting on top of me, threatening violence. From there it only went downhill.

Malachite Jones – ‘psychic’ medium (ably, if reluctantly, assisted by his assistant Beryl, who knows everyone and everything going on on the Blades Edge estate). Jackie Singh Kattar, respected businessman (just don’t ask what business, or you’ll find out he’s made you his business), sharp dresser and with a nice little line in motors. Best friends. And boy, do you want Jackie on your side when things go awry. And boy do things go awry. Huge fun.

Bad Apples – Will Dean

A second appearance in the list for Will Dean, and the fourth outing for our beloved Tuva Moodyson. Hoo boy is it good. I loved the first three books, so the bar was set pretty high. Bad Apples is the pick of the already very very good bunch*.

*[Sorry, enough of the fruity puns]

The Murder Box – Olivia Kiernan

I enjoyed this one enormously. It’s a clever game within an investigation that Kiernan neatly pulls off. DCS Frankie Sheehan believes that a murder mystery game sent to her is a birthday gift from a colleague. But there’s a striking resemblance between the game’s victim and the very real case of missing twenty-two-year-old Lydia Callin. Superb.

The Last House on Needless Street – Catriona Ward

The Last House On Needless Street absolutely blew me away. It’s astonishingly good. From the blurb you think you know what you’re going to get, and to a certain extent, you do. But there’s so much more to this book. It’s beautifully written, desperately tense at times, and goes to some very dark places indeed.

Brace yourself. Needless Street is a strange place, and the last house is stranger still.

My Heart is a Chainsaw – Stephen Graham Jones

A love letter to classic slasher movies, with a main character who lives and breathes the genre, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the movies, and who can spot the clues start to add up. Then the Final Girl arrives, and Jade must do whatever she can to help save the day.

It’s dark. It’s gory. It’s beautifully written, and uncomfortable to read in places. It’s also astonishingly good, though not for the squeamish!

The Christmas Murder Game – AK Benedict

This book is a huge amount of fun (though not for the characters!) A locked room (well, house) mystery where a bunch of people are stuck in an isolated manor house in Yorkshire in a snowstorm. Their aunt has left them a series of clues, one for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Each clue will reveal the location of a key, and at the end of the game, one of the family will inherit the house itself.

It reminded me of the movie Clue (and of course the game Cluedo) in that there was a lot of people who are suspects in one way or another, moving about the house trying to figure out answers. Huge fun trying to figure out the twelve clues as they’re presented to the players, though I’d have been rubbish at it as I didn’t get any of them!

The Good Thief’s Guide to Christmas – Chris Ewan

A late entry onto the list. I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Ewan’s The Good Thief’s Guide books since the start, and was delighted to get an early peek at this festive adventure. It’s a short story, but packs a lot in. Charlie Howard , mystery writer and professional thief, is in London for the holidays when his agent, Victoria, asks him to break into a jewellery shop to steal the perfect Christmas gift. Things naturally go awry. A fabulous festive caper.

Demon – Matt Wesolowski

Last, but by no means least, Matt Wesolowski’s latest episode of his superb Six Stories series. Scott King delves into the cold case of Sidney Parsons, a young boy savagely murdered by two of his classmates. Seven years later his killers are released. And now, strange things are afoot in the little village of Ussalthwaite. Six stories, six people telling their side of what happened. Wesolowski’s stories are always dark, but this is the darkest yet. It’s also the best in a very strong series.

So those were my favourite books of the year. Have you read any of them? Agree, disagree? Got any that I should have on my list for 2022?

As ever, I’d love to hear what you think. Thanks to all the fabulous authors, publishers and publicists for sharing their books with me this year.

Stay tuned for the list of my favourite science fiction and fantasy, then for the list of non-fiction and others!

The Violence of Squid Game – a guest post by GX Todd

It’s publication day for GX Todd’s much-anticipated Ghosts, the fourth book in the Voices series. I’m about halfway through and loving it (but don’t want it to end!). This has been one of my all-time favourite book series, and I’ve nagged you to read Defender, Hunted and Survivors over the years (go! go read them!), so be prepared for more nagging just as soon as I’ve finished this one.

In the meantime, GX Todd has kindly written a guest post for you today, on the violence of the Netflix super hit, Squid Game.

The Violence of Squid Game:

Should it be this much fun to watch?

The kinds of violence in Squid Game aren’t new to the entertainment medium. For a while we’ve had movies and TV shows that have explored ‘death games’ – just turn your eye to Battle Royale, the Escape Room and Saw films, Cube, The Platform (to an extent), Alice in Borderland, and The Hunger Games franchise for examples. They’ve been around for a decades, but Squid Game has really rocketed hyper-violent entertainment into the popularity stratosphere. As of writing this, 2.1 billion hours of Squid Game have been watched by Netflix subscribers. To put that into context, that’s the equivalent of 239,700 years.

I binge-watched Squid Game in preparation for writing this article. I’ve wanted to see it and also not wanted to see it since talk revved up about it being so brilliant. If you’ve read any of my books, you can probably tell I don’t have a problem immersing myself in death and violence. If anything, I’ve become a little desensitized to it. I’ve spent a lot of time paddling round and splashing in the deep end of the horror pool. I’ve seen and read a lot of messed up shit. My hesitation about watching Squid Game was more to do with if it could live up to my expectations (which is, admittedly, a difficult task to do). But, before I reveal whether I enjoyed it or not, let’s talk about why everyone else is loving it.

In its total run-time of 485 minutes, a whopping 455 people die. Most of them on-screen. Bloodily. Painfully. With heaps of Technicolor gore. Yep, you read that right to any parents/guardians out there who are letting your kiddies watch this show. (Actually, the body count is more than 455 if you start counting the deaths outside of the games themselves). And they die in imaginative, often brutal, occasionally ridiculous, ways. Deaths from heights, many, many point-blank gunshots to the head, slit throats, and there’s even a clandestine doctor in the ranks who’s gorily harvesting dead contestants’ organs to sell on the black market. There’s a lot of blood and guts in this show. The makers also do a fantastic job of balancing these bursts of violence and tension-filled, high-stakes games with light-heartedness and empathetic character building. If the episodes had been so relentlessly filled with death and chaos, I think a lot of viewers would have switched off. Of course, curiosity is also a huge factor in keeping a viewer’s interest piqued. I continued watching because I wanted to know what the next game would be. A land-mine filled reconfiguring of Hopscotch, dismembered legs flying at my screen? Dodgeball with a spiked ball and no protective gear? Some games were better than others. I personally preferred the ones that were reliant on skill and cleverness compared to the ones catered more toward luck or physical strength. What I did appreciate, however – other than the great special effects and copious amounts of blood splatter – was how each round systematically broke down the competitors’ psyches. I think it might have been the smartest part of the whole series. [Spoilers in next section.]


The Basic Psychology of the Games (as told by an amateur non-psychologist)

The first two games are specifically individual rounds (Red Light, Green Light, and the honeycomb cake shape cutting), where death comes swiftly if you mess up and the punishment is dealt by the anonymous ‘powers that be’ behind the games. The next game has the contestants teaming up into groups of ten for Tug-of-War. Here we see the first instance where the players are directly responsible for killing their fellow contestants, and not in a pleasant way. They are forced to watch as they physically pull their competitors off a high platform and down to their screaming, bone-crunching demises. It’s a desperate You-or-Me situation with very little time to consider alternative actions. Camaraderie and trust for team members is tentatively built, a sense of security in numbers settles in, and then the next round swiftly demolishes it.

Marbles asks for a two-player partnership and then forces those players into a head-to-head competition. The bonds recently formed are now turned on themselves. Only one winner can progress to the next game; the team-mate you chose is now your deadly foe. And this isn’t a few minutes of frantic push-and-pull struggling. This is a decisive, thought-out, very deliberate form of survival over the space of a thirty-minute-long game. I really liked how the writers slowed the pacing down here and allowed some breathing room for conversation and latent manipulation to come out. I especially appreciated the discussion between the two teenage girls (even if was a little tropey). There were some real fraught, emotional scenes here and without needing any adrenaline-fueled mayhem to boost the enjoyment.

Next, the penultimate game, and this was a bridge too far for me, personally. I think this was the weakest round. But we see the contestants are not only back to working at an individual level after losing most of their ability to place trust in others, but some are even actively using other players’ deaths (grabbing and pushing them forward to test the glass surfaces to see which will break) to further their own progress. It hasn’t taken long at all to degrade the moral codes of the majority of these remaining people. There could be parallels drawn here with how Big Media and their owners control and disseminate information in order redirect the attention of the common people on to undeserving quarters, distracting them from the true culprits (i.e. Banks, Politicians, Tax-Evading Big Corporations, etc.) But let’s not get into that right now. We’re talking about a Netflix show here, after all.

By the time the final two contestants make it to the last game – the squid game itself – all sense of brotherhood, collusion and humanity is gone. The only way to survive, to win, is to violently, brutally take it. In fact, it might have been interesting if the writers had seen this through to the end: the stripping down of humanity to its basest of instincts, to its most animalistic form of survival after suffering so much trauma and conditioning. After all, every one of these people entered these games with the full knowledge that only one of them could win. But, alas, it doesn’t. Everything ends quite predictably.


Notice how I dodged commenting on how any of this on-screen violence translates into the more obvious themes of capitalism or classism? Themes I’m sure other articles have already discussed in detail and in a far more articulate and intelligent manner than I could. I’m not discussing those here because, honestly, I don’t think Squid Game handles them all that well. For me, the whole ‘Bored Rich Elite vs Lower Class Pleb in Debt’ feels like a shallow veneer the makers have thrown over their show like a set dressing, much like the Escher-like staircases and the over-sized children’s playground. Deep, thought-provoking discussion over class structure or South Korea’s growing personal debt crisis aren’t why we, the viewers, have spent a collective 239,700 years watching this show. In fact, if they had tackled those topics with all seriousness, I’d hazard a guess that Squid Game wouldn’t be a fraction as fun or as popular. None of us are finishing the nine-episode run and saying ‘Gosh, I wonder what the average amount of personal debt a person in South Korea is in’. No, what we’re saying is ‘Man, did you see that woman’s brains coming out of her head?!’. None of our kids are going to school the next day and asking their teachers about the working and living conditions of South Korean people and their households. No, they’re running into the playground at lunchtime and making up improvised quasi-violent Squid Game games to play with their friends. And it’s in Squid Game’s sheer audacity (I mean, come on, has no one noticed that 400+ people have been going mysteriously missing every year for over a decade?) that the enjoyability comes from. Yes, horrific things happen to the most vulnerable of our society on a daily basis – they’ll be preyed on by those more powerful than them until the end of time. But never is it done in such grandly-designed, gaudily-painted sets, or during children’s games played to the death while being watched by fat, white men in ornate, golden animal masks who are the most awful (like, the worst) English-speaking actors on the planet.

So, in conclusion, Squid Game is as fun, grotesque, dramatic, comedic, over-the-top, unsubtle, exasperating (I’m still puzzling over the many plot-holes in the whole brother-cop sub-plot), entertaining and absurd a TV-watching experience as you could hope to find on Netflix – or anywhere else for that matter. And I enjoyed it very much. For the first 5 or 6 episodes, at least. I’m still not very happy about how they treated my favourite character. Writers can be such assholes.

G X Todd is the writer of ‘the Voices’ series, the fourth and final book of which, GHOSTS, releases on the 9th December in all good book shops.

The Bone Ship’s Wake – RJ Barker

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The sea dragons are returning, and Joron Twiner’s dreams of freedom lie shattered. His Shipwife is gone and all he has left is revenge.

Leading the black fleet from the deck of Tide Child Joron takes every opportunity to strike at his enemies, but he knows his time is limited. His fleet is shrinking and the Keyshan’s Rot is running through his body. He runs from a prophecy that says he and the avian sorcerer, the Windseer, will end the entire world.

But the sea dragons have begun to return, and if you can have one miracle, who is to say that there cannot be another?

So here we are. The final chapter in RJ Barker’s Tide Child trilogy, which started back with The Bone Ships, Barker’s magnificent world of shipwives and deckchilder, sea monsters and ships made from their bones. Fleet ships and Black Ships of the dead, and the mysterious gullaime. There’s a clear love of this world and it absolutely shines through on the page.

After the setup and worldbuilding in the first book, the action ramped up in The Call of the Bone Ships, leaving us on tenterhooks waiting for the third book.

And boy, was it worth the wait. Barker has once again pulled off that rare trick – the trilogy where every book is better than the last. He did it with the Assassin’s trilogy, and he’s done it here again. And the first book in each was pretty darn good to start with.

There’s absolutely no messing around here and we’re straight back into the thick of the action with D’keeper Joron Twiner in charge of the Tide Child and his Shipwife, poor old Lucky Meas having a not great time. RJ Barker is very mean to Meas in this book.

The plot simply roars along like a nor’easter in a hurricane (look, I’m no good at the nautical stuff), with sea battles, giant sea dragons, double-crossing, piratical piracy and other exciting stuff. And there’s an awful lot of it crammed into the 500+ pages here. But it’s the characters that make this book shine. Meas and Twiner are simply splendid creations (if not always very nice ones), but there’s a motley crew aboard the various vessels in the fleet and more than a few dastardly types on dry land too.

The Bone Ship’s Wake is a quest for revenge. Joron is [spoilers if you’ve not read the first two in which case WHAT ARE YOU DOING GO READ THEM OMG] out to rescue Meas and nothing will stand in the way of the dreaded Black Pirate. Nothing.

Be warned, no matter what RJ will try and tell you, it’s not all kittens and puppies and jelly and ice cream at the end. It wouldn’t be an RJ Barker book without you reaching the final pages with a sigh and a sense that it’s suddenly really dusty in here and I appear to have something in my eye and OMG RJ WHAT DID YOU DO.

What RJ has done is deliver us the perfect conclusion to a simply splendid trilogy.

Hugely recommended. Now, where did I put my shipwife hat?

The Bone Ship’s Wake by RJ Barker is published by Orbit and is out in paperback now. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun at Orbit Books for the review copy of the book.

#blogtour #review London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City – Tom Chivers

Part personal memoir, part lyrical meditation, London Clay takes us deep in to the nooks and crannies of a forgotten city: a hidden landscape long buried underneath the sprawling metropolis. Armed with just his tattered Streetfinder map, author Tom Chivers follows concealed pathways and explores lost islands, to uncover the geological mysteries that burst up through the pavement and bubble to the surface of our streets.

From Roman ruins to a submerged playhouse, abandoned Tube stations to ancient riverbeds, marshes and woodlands, this network of journeys combines to produce a compelling interrogation of London’s past. London Clay examines landscape and our connection to place, and celebrates urban edgelands: in-between spaces where the natural world and the city mingle, and where ghosts of the deep past can be felt as a buzzing in the skull. It is also a personal account of growing up in London, and of overcoming loss through the layered stories of the capital.

London Clay is a fascinating deep dive into what makes up London. The hidden rivers, the buried history, the layers upon layers that make up our capital city. The title suggests a book of geology, and whilst there is a seam of that running through the book, it’s so much more.

Chivers’ writing takes you on a series of journeys in and around (and underneath) London. Walk with him as he explores the streets, pokes behind the construction boards and delves into the history of the city. I’m fascinated by the city that I only ever see in passing – a day trip here to see friends, a shopping trip there, only ever brushing the surface. I found myself reading this book and stopping to bring up the places mentioned on google maps, to further place myself alongside the author as he tells you yet another fascinating fact or anecdote.

It’s a book that I’m sure I’ll go back to next time I’m heading there, though the hardback is quite chunky and probably doesn’t lend itself well to being carried on a day out!

It’s more than just a series of places though. It’s also part memoir, with Tom Chivers’ own personal stories and history laced throughout. In the latter stages of the book we also see the impact of the pandemic on the city (and his family). It may have taken him several years to write, but feels bang up to date and current.

Finished off with a plethora of footnotes inviting further research London Clay is a fascinating book, and recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in London, its streets, geology and history.

London Clay by Tom Chivers is published by Doubleday and is out now in hardback. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the copy of the book to review.

Books on the Hill project

Today I’m taking part in a blog tour for something a little different. BOTH Publishing is a new venture set up to make exciting good quality fiction accessible to a minority group currently not provided for by today’s UK traditional mass book market and providing a new tool for booksellers to use in their drive to increase diversity and inclusion.

They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign, which aims to publish and print 8 titles of dyslexic friendly books for adults. Their long term goal is to continue  publishing good quality adult fiction to produce a wide range of books for people who have challenges when reading. 

Their initial target is 3 titles with successive stretch goals to get them to the magical 8. Of course they want to do more and if by your support they really go over our target, they will produce yet more stunning books with great authors.  

The Project

Books on the Hill is passionate about helping people who have dyslexia, or have any difficulty with reading, to access the joy of good fiction. There are great books out now for children with dyslexia, with specialist publishers like Barrington Stokes and mainstream publishers such as Bloomsbury doing their part. However, there are sadly very few books for adults with Dyslexia in traditional mass market publishing.

Dyslexia is a learning difference that primarily affects reading and writing skills. The NHS estimates that up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK have some form of dyslexia, while other dyslexic organisations believe 1 in 5 and more than 2 million people in the UK are severely affected.

Dyslexia does not stop someone from achieving. There are many individuals who are successful and are dyslexic. Famous actors, such as Orlando Bloom; Entrepreneurs like Theo Paphitis, and many, many more, including myself. All of who believe dyslexia has helped them to be where they are now. Dyslexia, though, as I can attest to, does not go away. You don’t grow out of it, and so we are acknowledging that and trying to without being patronising, create a selection of books that will be friendly to people who deal with dyslexia every day.

Since we started the project in 2019, Books on the Hill have had many adults customers with dyslexia come in shop the asking for something accessible to read. For example, one customer asked if we stocked well known novels in a dyslexic friendly format. Unfortunately we had to say no, as they just don’t exist. We explained what we are trying to achieve by printing our own and she replied:

“I have been reading [children dyslexic] books but they are a bit childish so am really happy I have found your company!! Thanks so much again and thank you for making such a helpful and inclusive brand – it means a lot. “ This response is not isolated. We have had many adults come in to the shop with dyslexia, who do not read or struggle to read and they they believe dyslexic friendly books would have real impact on their reading for pleasure.

How To Get involved

We are launching a Kickstarter beginning in April 2nd 2021 for 30 days, with the focus on paying for the printing of our books and giving us starting capital to continue to print more titles.

There will be many ways you can be involved in this. You can contribute on the Kickstarter website itself. There will be a number of different options of donating money, in which you will receive rewards, such as ebooks of a title or a paperback of one or more of the titles to be published. In addition a unique reward from authors who are contributing to the project. You can still contribute outside the kickstarter. We are happy to receive your help in the shop, where we will have a donation box available.

Who Are We Working With

We have been so fortunate that many great authors have agreed to contribute to this project. All are brilliant authors and are names I am sure you will recognise.
Stan Nicholls, who has been a great support to me particularly with my PhD. He is the author of many novels and short stories but is best known for the internationally acclaimed Orcs: First Blood series.
Steven Savile, the fantasy, horror and thriller writer, now lives in Stockholm whose father is a customer of our bookshop.
The horror duo that is Thana Niveau and John Llewellyn Probert, both well established and engaging authors and also residents of Clevedon.
Adrian Tchaikovsky is an Arthur Clark Award winner and best known for his series Shadows of the Apt, and for his novel Children of Time.
Steven Poore is the highly acclaimed fantasy writer who I first met on my first fantasy convention in Scarborough.
We finish the Magnificent Seven with Joel Cornah, who also has dyslexia, and with whom I participated in a podcast on dyslexia for the Clevedon Literature 2020 ‘Festival in the Clouds’.

The Team

Books on the Hill is Alistair Sims. He is the manager and commander-in-chief of the bookshop (though his partner, Chloe and his mother, Joanne, who set up the bookshop with him, may disagree with this description ). Alistair is dyslexic and has a PhD in history and archaeology. Alistair could not read until he was 13 and is passionate about helping anyone who has difficulty reading. He is the driving force behind BOTH Press and has been involved in every step in this project, from finding award winning authors to contribute, the cover design, and the road to publication, including setting up for distribution.

Books on the Hill are collaborating with Chrissey Harrison, who is also an local author and member of North Bristol Writers Group. Chressey and Alistair have designed the book-covers together, with Chrissey creating the finished product we now look on at awe with. Nearly all the design work has been done by Chrissey, and she is also in charge of the printing process, typesetting. We are so proud and appreciative to be working with her.

Special mention must go to Harrison Gates, who runs Nine Worthy, and who has dedicated his time and expertise to produce our print catalogue for us free of cost.

Joanne Hall is an author, editor and formerly the Chair of BristolCon, Bristol’s premier (and only) science fiction and fantasy convention. We must give a huge thank you to Jo for proof reading the stories free of cost.

Vicky Brewster has edited all the new stories by the authors. She specialises in editing and beta reading long-form fiction. Vicky is a great professional editor.

You can find Books On The Hill on Facebook @indpendentbooksonthehill Instagram @booksonthehill and Twitter @booksonthehill

The Twenty Seven Club – Lucy Nichol

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It’s 1994. The music industry is mourning Kurt Cobain, Right Said Fred have re-emerged as an ‘ironic’ pop act and John Major is the country’s prime minister. Nothing is as it should be. 

Emma, a working-class rock music fan from Hull, with a penchant for a flaming Drambuie and a line of coke with her best mate Dave down The Angel, is troubled. 

Trev, her beloved whippet, has doggy IBS, and her job ordering bathroom supplies at the local caravan company is far from challenging. So when her dad, Tel, informs her that Kurt Cobain has killed himself aged 27, Emma is consumed with anxiety. 

Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix…why have so many rock musicians died aged 27? And will Emma be next to join The Twenty Seven Club?

I really enjoyed The Twenty Seven Club. It’s steeped in a lovely 90s vibe that is a real joy to read. Told from the point of view of Emma, a young woman from Hull who enjoys rock music, beers (and the occasional Drambuie or a little something… extra) with her best mate Dave down their local. She’s shaken by the untimely death of her rock hero Kurt Cobain at 27, and is filled with worry that she’s approaching that age.

The book follows Emma’s daily life, the highs (literal, in some cases) and lows of life in Hull in the nineties and her existential crisis following Cobain’s suicide. The music forms a backdrop to Emma’s life and story, and as someone who was there (though slightly younger than Emma in 1994) is pitch-perfect for the time.

I read this book in two sittings, staying up far too late one night and getting up early the following morning to finish it off. I enjoyed spending time with Emma and Dave (and her whippet Trev), and following their adventures over the course of the book. It’s warm, often funny, and a delightful dose of 90s nostalgia.

The Twenty Seven Club by Lucy Nichol is out now. Huge thanks to the author for the free copy to review via NetGalley. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Winter’s Orbit – Everina Maxwell

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While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

I really enjoyed Winter’s Orbit, and polished most of it off in a single sitting. It’s got everything you could want. Murder, political chicanery, arranged marriages, devious goings-on, a disreputable playboy prince and a studious, quiet scholar.

It’s definitely a sci-fi romance, heavy on the romance though with goodly lashings of your galactic politics and a nice bit of worldbuilding going on in the background. Our good Prince Kiem is told that he must marry his freshly deceased cousin Prince Taam’s widower. He’s not a little alarmed by this, not only as it will mark the end of his current lifestyle, but also because of how soon after Taam’s death it is, and how his husband Jainan must still be deep in grief.

I really liked Kiem (and his PA Bel, who I wish we’d seen a lot more of). I loved the politics of it, and the slow-burn misunderstanding romance going on. I found Jainan a little annoying for a good chunk of the book, and his ‘oh no, I’m not good enough’ attitude, but warmed to him in the second half. Having the chapters switch between Kiem and Jainan worked really well at building the tension and you find yourself shouting (internally at least) JUST KISS HIM YOU FOOL.

The worldbuilding was also interesting, with the very odd and slightly creepy Auditor lurking in the background. I’d love to see a bit more of that corner of the galaxy should Everina Maxwell ever decide to return – I think this is a standalone.

In short, great fun and a welcome change from recent sci-fi books.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell is published by Orbit Books. Many thanks to Nazia Khatun from Orbit Books for the advance copy, and to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.


I’ve been intending to do this for years, a rewatch of Bond from the very beginning, and a post to go with each. I stumbled across the Really 007 podcast discussing the best Bond henchmen (and henchwomen) and it rekindled my plans. So you can blame Rob Parker and his mates.

And now No Time To Die has been pushed back (again), which seems like the perfect opportunity.

I’ve got a few of the movies already on blu-ray – three out of the four Craig-era films, and a weird little six-disc box set which is heavy on the Connery (Dr No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball), light on Moore (Live And Let Die and For Your Eyes Only), finishing up with Die Another Day.

The less said about that, the better.

So I need to pick up a box set of the rest – I had thought of streaming them or buying from Apple/Amazon/Google, but the digital versions are like 8 or 9 quid a pop to buy, whereas you can get the entire box set for about fifty quid.

I’m intrigued as to how well the old Bonds stand up (or don’t). I want to investigate the movies, the baddies, the henchmen, the cars, the music, everything. What makes a good henchman? Is there anywhere Bond *hasn’t* been?

Before I watch all the movies again I thought I’d have a go at ranking them from memory (though I have watched a couple, oops)

I’ve sorted them by Bond, then overall. Will my opinions change after a rewatch?

For Connery I’ve gone with

  • Goldfinger
  • From Russia With Love
  • Diamonds Are Forever
  • You Only Live Twice
  • Dr No
  • Thunderball

Lazenby is somewhat easier, obvs.


  • Live and Let Die
  • The Man With The Golden Gun
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Moonraker
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Octopussy
  • A View to a Kill

Dalton again is a little easier – only two to choose from and I’ve gone in order:

  • The Living Daylights
  • License to Kill

Brosnan next. Bit trickier

  • GoldenEye
  • The World Is Not Enough
  • Die Another Day
  • Tomorrow Never Dies

Finally Craig:

  • Skyfall
  • Casino Royale
  • Spectre
  • Quantum of Solace

And finally, I’ve sorted them all into three groups – top tier, middle tier and the rest. Top tier are sorted in order, the other two are just pots.

What do you think? Who’s your favourite Bond? And your favourite movie? Anything else I should be looking out for on my journey back through 007’s adventures?

Slough House – Mick Herron


A year after a calamitous blunder by the Russian secret service left a British citizen dead from novichok poisoning, Diana Taverner is on the warpath. What seems a gutless response from the government has pushed the Service’s First Desk into mounting her own counter-offensive – but she’s had to make a deal with the devil first. And given that the devil in question is arch-manipulator Peter Judd, she could be about to lose control of everything she’s fought for.

Meanwhile, still reeling from recent losses, the slow horses are worried they’ve been pushed further into the cold. Slough House has been wiped from Service records, and fatal accidents keep happening. No wonder Jackson Lamb’s crew are feeling paranoid. But have they actually been targeted?

With a new populist movement taking a grip on London’s streets, and the old order ensuring that everything’s for sale to the highest bidder, the world’s an uncomfortable place for those deemed surplus to requirements. The wise move would be to find a safe place and wait for the troubles to pass.

But the slow horses aren’t famed for making wise decisions.

Mick Herron is one of those writers who make it look… effortless. He’s just got a way with a turn of phrase, a sentence dropped which is just… perfect.

“This was the spook trade, and when things went awry on Spook Street, they usually went the full Chris Grayling.”

The Slough House books are always a pleasure to read (start with Slow Horses and catch up!), and the series just keeps getting better. The gloriously foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, ever-flatulent, politically incorrect Jackson Lamb (soon to be appearing on our screens played by Gary Oldman) is back, and someone has wiped Slough House off the map and is picking off his Slow Horses.

He’s not happy about it. And you do not cross Jackson Lamb.

Herron has taken the landscape of today – the “you know what” which has left the country with fewer friends, less money and opportunities for populist windbags to opine on everything, the novichok poisonings in Salisbury, the gilets jaunes movement which made its way across the Channel, and layered a cracking spy tale over the top. It’s a tale of revenge for revenge, of the dangers of inviting a wolf to dinner, and just how far the Slow Horses will go for each other.

Whip-smart writing, multi-layered plotting, with some of my favourite characters in fiction, Slough House is just brilliant. Hugely recommended.

(for a more coherent review, check out @bluebookballoon’s thoughts)

Huge thanks to the publisher John Murray for an advance copy of the book.

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