The ONE book: Liz de Jager

Welcome to the Littlest Library, where guests get to choose the ONE book they’d like to save and add to the collection. This can be a physical copy of a book you own or a book that means something to you personally.

Last time we talked about my own ONE book, my dad’s battered paperback copy of Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat and why it means so much to me.

Today we’ve got Liz de Jager, author of one of my favourite trilogies (start with Banished!).

The rules

  1. You can choose ONE book
  2. see rule #1

It can be any book you like, but in the words of the Highlander, there can be only ONE.

Without further ado, over to Liz to talk about her ONE book.

My name is Liz de Jager, and I’ve written a YA trilogy a few years back.  The other stories I’ve written have yet to find a home, but in the meantime, I’m working as a bookseller at my local high street independent bookshop here in Beckenham.  And yes, I’m writing something new.  Which I’m excited about. 

Right, onto the book I’d grab from my library if I had to choose.  

I’ve chosen THE WALKING DRUM by Louis L’Amour.  

paperback copy of The Walking Drum, by Louis L'Amour

Now, if you know about Louis L’Amour, you’d know he wrote hundreds of Westerns back in the day.  If you don’t know him, well, he’s written loads of Westerns about cowboys, wrangling and range wars. 

The Walking Drum is not a Western.  It is a historical novel set during the 12th Century in Europe, Russia and Constantinople following our hero, Kerbouchard as he goes from slave, to warrior to scholar and also, well, lover. 

This book, shook my world in the 80’s.  I grew up in South Africa, the youngest of six kids. My parents were older than most parents, and so I really didn’t have much in common with anyone, apart from my siblings’ kids.  My dad however, was an avid reader.  But he mostly read Westerns and pulp fiction.  Not anything ‘worthy’ and so, that’s what I read.  In South Africa in the 80’s your world was really limited to what you saw on TV (westerns and American shows like Knight Rider and Airwolf and also dubbed German TV shows) and so it was all very skewered towards white, Westernised ideas of the world. The 80’s were wild.  There were sanctions so we were effectively cut off from the rest of the world and the government controlled the news.  It was a very claustrophobic time, growing up, I realise that now, but at the time, you don’t know what freedoms you lack because you don’t know any better.  


In steps Louis L’Amour with The Walking Drum and the blew my tiny mind.  He introduced me to a Spain under the rule of Moors.  He introduced me to astronomy and astrology, to the other stuff we weren’t every taught in (State run ultra conservative and highly religious) schools.  For instance, I became obsessed with the Steppes and with the Mongols and with Russia.  I became enamoured of Constantinople and Turkey and the precepts of Christianity vs that of the Muslim world.  I needed to know more.  The Walking Drum rocked my known world and I was desperate to find out everything about well, everything, really. 

Sure, it was still Westernised (the book) but heavens, it opened up my mind to how the Arabian world formed such an integral part in our learning: mathematics, astrology, language, storytelling to name but a few.  It taught me that the Mongols were terrifying but that their court held untold wonders and how they had religious freedoms.  It also introduced me to the Old Man of the Mountain in far off Afghanistan by sending Kerbouchard into the Valley of the Assassins.  

I genuinely couldn’t get enough of the world suddenly laid open at my feet.  I credit The Walking Drum as the book that started my fascination with not only travelling, history, but also reading, discovering new cultures and new religions and new thoughts that challenge the staid institutionalised thinking perpetuation by frightened governments that strive to keep us dumb and docile.  It also made me want to become a writer.  

So yes, if there is one book I’d rescue from my shelf, it’s the 1985 paperback, well thumbed and much loved, copy of THE WALKING DRUM. 

My website is currently a mess, so I won’t link to that, but you can find me on Twitter as @LizUK and over on Instagram as @lizdejagerwriter 

Fabulous! Our Littlest Library has its first guest book! Huge thanks to Liz for joining in, and I will be pestering her for this ‘something new’ that she’s writing.

Do you want to take part in the Littlest Library ONE book? I’ve got a few more guests lined up, but the more the merrier!

Drop me an email: with a photo of your book, and some words to explain why it’s your ONE book.

The littlest library: what’s THE book?

I was musing the other day about books, as you do.

I found myself gazing at my bookshelves, and wondering thus: if something happened (natural disaster, vampire attack, you get the idea), and I had sixty seconds to to grab a dozen books to save, which would I pick?

THEN I got to wondering, what if I could only save ONE book.

I thought about this for a while. I had several cups of coffee and more than a few biscuits.

I have, as you may have gathered, a lot of books. But to save only one? Now there’s a puzzler.

There are a lot of books that I love, and regular readers will be well aware of my favourites. But a lot of those books could be replaced, even some of the signed copies or rare proof copies.

So it would have to be a book that really meant something. I started to delve deeper into the bookshelves. Ah, here we go. This is the one.

What we have here is a 1974 reprint of Harry Harrison’s book, The Stainless Steel Rat. Originally published in the UK by New English Library in 1966, this is the Sphere paperback, costing a whole 30p at the time of purchase.

Meet Slippery Jim diGriz

Cosmic criminal, the smoothest, sneakiest con-man in the known Universe. He can take any bank in the Galaxy, con a captain out of his ship, start a war or stop one – whichever pays the most.
So when the law finally catches up with the Stainless Steel Rat, there is only one thing to do – make him a cop. And turn him loose on a villainous lady who is building herself a battleship.

This is one of my all-time favourite books. It’s an absolute corking read which zips along barely pausing for breath. The thing I love about old sci-fi books is that they’re short, skinny little paperbacks that you can get through in a couple of hours, but packed with excitement, adventure and really wild stuff.

This is the story of Slippery Jim DiGriz, ace con-man, and titular Stainless Steel Rat, and his recruitment into the Special Corps, run by criminals to catch criminals. Who better to catch a thief than another thief? Brilliant.

So why this book? When I was young, my dad had a small bookcase in his office at work, and this was one of the books on it. I was drawn to it by the fabulous spaceship on the front and asked if I could read it. I was probably 7 or 8 at the time and so it’s quite possibly one of the first ‘adult’ books that I’d ever read.

I’m not ashamed to say that in my own writing, Monty owes a lot of his heritage to the Rat.

I’d choose this book over the many, many others because of that. It was my dad’s copy and has been with me for a very very long time. It’s ‘just a book’, but to me it’s irreplaceable.

I’m adding The Stainless Steel Rat to the Littlest Library.

Well, dear reader. What one book would you choose? Would you like to take part in this series? Let me know!

Rules of The Littlest Library

  1. You can save ONE book
  2. It can be any book, including your own if you’re an author!
  3. see rule #1

If you want to play, drop me a comment here, an email or DM on twitter. Authors, bloggers, publishers, book lovers, anyone can join!

The Moose Paradox by Antti Tuomainen

Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen has finally restored order both to his life and to YouMeFun, the adventure park he now owns, when a man from the past appears – and turns everything upside down again. More problems arise when the park’s equipment supplier is taken over by a shady trio, with confusing demands. Why won’t Toy of Finland Ltd sell the new Moose Chute to Henri when he needs it as the park’s main attraction?

Meanwhile, Henri’s relationship with artist Laura has reached breaking point, and, in order to survive this new chaotic world, he must push every calculation to its limits, before it’s too late…

The Moose Paradox follows Antti Tuomainen’s Henri Koskinen on his further adventures with his inherited adventure park, YouMeFun. Formerly an actuary, Henri is still a mathematician through and through, and whilst things are starting to settle from the events of The Rabbit Factor, nothing is ever easy for dear old Henri.

I adore Tuomainen’s writing, and the lovely vein of black humour that runs through his recent books. And the adventures (or misadventures) of everyone’s favourite insurance mathematician-turned-adventure park owner are just as much fun this time around. A delightfully heady mix of misunderstandings, shady businessmen, and the quest for the elusive Moose Chute (the answer to all Henri’s financial problems) lead us down a rollercoaster ride of shenanigans that only Tuomainen could pull off.

Enormously enjoyed this book, but you really do need to read The Rabbit Factor first! Do yourself a favour and pick up both books.

Hugely recommended.

The Moose Paradox by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Huge thanks to Orenda for the advance copy to review.

SOLO: What running across mountains taught me about life, by Jenny Tough

Jenny Tough is an endurance athlete who’s best known for running and cycling in some of world’s most challenging events – achieving accolades that are an inspiration to outdoor adventurers everywhere. But SOLO tells the story of a much more personal project: Jenny’s quest to come to terms with feelings and emotions that were holding her back. Like runners at any level, she knew already that running made her feel better, and like so many of us, she knew that completing goals independently was empowering, too. So she set herself an audacious objective: to run – solo, unsupported, on her own – across mountain ranges on six continents, starting with one of the most remote locations on Earth in Kyrgystan. 

SOLO chronicles Jenny’s journey every step of the way across the Tien Shaw (Asia), the High Atlas (Africa), the Cordillera Oriental (South America), the Southern Alps (Oceania), the Canadian Rockies (North America) and the Transylvanian Alps (Europe), as she learns lessons in self-esteem, resilience, bravery and so much more. 

What Jenny’s story tells us most of all is that setting out to do things solo – whether the ambitious or the everyday – can be invigorating, encouraging and joyful. And her call to action to find strength, confidence and self-belief in everything we do will inspire and motivate.

I saw Jenny Tough talk at last year’s excellent Sidetracked Live: The Creators Tour in Leeds (alongside some other great speakers), so when I found out that she was publishing a book of her challenge to run solo and unsupported across six mountain ranges on six continents, I immediately put in a pre-order.

Short review: it’s a fabulous book. You should read it.

Slightly longer review: Crikey, what an adventure! I’m trying very hard to resist the Tough by name, tough by nature line as I’m sure she’s heard it a million times, but it really is apt here. From the Tien Shaw in Krygystan to the heat of the High Atlas in Africa, the forests and peaks of the Bolivian Andes, down south to the Southern Alps in New Zealand, her childhood home by the Canadian Rockies and finishing in a sprint across the Transylvanian Alps in Romania, Jenny Tough experiences the highs and lows (sorry, I’ll stop with the mountain-related metaphors soon, I promise) of adventure running.

I seem to have read a load of travel books this summer (Sabrina Verjee’s excellent Where There’s A Hill is also worth checking out), and SOLO is right up there at the top of the list. Tough’s writing is deeply personal and supremely evocative as she brings you along on her adventure, showing you the sights and sounds of some of the world’s most spectacular mountains. It’s a fascinating read, following through some very remote landscapes with a tiny backpack. Smaller than the one I took for a weekend camping in the Lakes (but entirely better packed, I’m sure!).

The constant wondering where the next water or food will come from, the warnings from villagers about the dangers up ahead juxtaposed with the generosity of spirit of people along the way all come together in this fantastic account of six incredible journeys. Six very different mountain ranges, six different cultures, six great stories.

After each section of the book I went and watched the short films that she made about her trips. Mountains of Heaven covers the 900km, 25 day run across Krygystan. It was great to see the places that I’d just read about and get to look at the spectacular scenery. Kind of an added bonus feature to the book!

SOLO: What running across mountains taught me about life, by Jenny Tough is published by Aster and is out now in hardback.

Where There’s a Hill – Sabrina Verjee

Sabrina Verjee is an ultrarunning phenomenon. In June 2021, on her fourth attempt, she became the first person to climb the Lake District’s 214 Wainwright hills in under six days, running 325 miles with a colossal 36,000 metres of ascent, more than four times the height of Everest.

Where There’s a Hill tells the story of an outsider who was never picked for a school sports team yet went on to become an accomplished modern pentathlete and adventure racer. After switching her focus to ultrarunning in her thirties, Sabrina moved to the Lake District, where she could hone her mountain-running skills in the local fells. High-profile success in endurance events followed, as she completed the Dragon’s Back Race three times and was the outright winner of the 2019 Summer Spine Race, beating her nearest competitor by more than eight hours.

However, it was the Wainwrights Round which really captured Sabrina’s imagination. Having learnt about the challenge from fell-running legend Steve Birkinshaw, Sabrina began to plan an attempt of her own. Despite multiple obstacles – including lockdown regulations, bad weather, injury and controversy – Sabrina’s grit and determination shone through. Where There’s a Hill is a frank and inspirational account of how one woman ran her way into the record books.

Where There’s A Hill is one of two books I’ve read recently about women who have gone on to do some incredible feats of running, the other being Jenny Tough’s excellent SOLO. Both very different books, and both well worth your time!

In Where There’s A Hill, we follow Sabrina from her childhood, treated as an outsider and picked last for games, through to her move into top level adventure racing across the globe, initially as the token women on a male team but very much determined (and better prepared than many male athletes) to compete on her own terms.

Sabrina moved to the Lake District and her focus changed to ultrarunning. Success at the Dragon’s Back Race in Wales and the Montane Summer Spine Race followed, and her attention turned to a challenge closer to home.

The Wainwrights Round consists of summiting the 214 peaks mentioned by Alfred Wainwright in his Guide to the Lakeland Fells. And Sabrina planned to run this 325 mile challenge in under six days.

It’s a fascinating story of her multiple attempts to complete the challenge, with the added complications of lockdown, weather (surely it’s always sunny in the Lake District?) and the inevitable injuries that she picked up along the way. It’s a story of determination, of a sole focus to complete a task that very few people could ever do, alongside support from a great bunch of friends and fellow fell runners, some of whom had done it before, or others who went on to try the Wainwrights Round themselves.

I can’t even begin to imagine running such distances, having struggled recently to do a 13 mile walk in the Lakes. Huge respect to all the people who chose to run up and down those mountains!

Really enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it.

Where There’s A Hill by Sabrina Verge is published by Vertebrate Books and is out now. Many thanks to the publisher for the ebook copy to review.

The Rabbit Factor – Antti Tuomainen

What makes life perfect? Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen knows the answer because he calculates everything down to the very last decimal.

And then, for the first time, Henri is faced with the incalculable. After suddenly losing his job, Henri inherits an adventure park from his brother – its peculiar employees and troubling financial problems included. The worst of the financial issues appear to originate from big loans taken from criminal quarters … and some dangerous men are very keen to get their money back.

But what Henri really can’t compute is love. In the adventure park, Henri crosses paths with Laura, an artist with a chequered past, and a joie de vivre and erratic lifestyle that bewilders him. As the criminals go to extreme lengths to collect their debts and as Henri’s relationship with Laura deepens, he finds himself faced with situations and emotions that simply cannot be pinned down on his spreadsheets…

I’m a huge fan of Antti Tuomainen’s books. The Man Who Died (#MushroomNoir), Palm Beach Finland (‘Sex, lies and ill-fiting swimwear’, aka #FlamingoNoir), and Little Siberia‘s #MeteoriteNoir.

And he’s back again, with The Rabbit Factor. Will it be #BunnyNoir?

What it turned out to be is another glorious (mis)adventure. Mild-mannered Henri Koskinen likes his life neat and orderly, with everything calculated down to the finest detail. Ideal, really as he works in insurance. Or did. Recently redundant, he inherits a theme park, sorry, adventure park from his brother.

Let the shenanigans begin.

It’s just glorious fun. Henri is a man out of his depth, lost in an unpredictable world of giant rabbits, over-ambitious staff, huge murals and some very unsavoury characters who would really quite like some of their money back. Please. Now.

Throw love into the mix and poor Henri doesn’t know which way is up. But gradually he finds his feet.

I loved The Rabbit Factor. It’s Tuomainen’s best yet, and that’s on the back of some of my favourite books. Black humour at its finest, deftly handled. Quirky characters, a fantastic setting and just a great, fun read.

Hugely recommended.

Huge props, as ever, to David Hackston for the excellent translation work.

The Rabbit Factor, by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books, and is out now. Huge thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda for the advance copy to review.

The Redeemer – Victoria Goldman

Threatening plaques, vigilante killings, a Jewish community in an English town – what’s the link? The clock is ticking to the next murder.

After witnessing a racist incident in a small Hertfordshire town, journalist Shanna Regan uncovers a series of threatening fake historical plaques. Each plaque highlights someone’s misdemeanour rather than a good deed.

Delving deeper, Shanna discovers these plaques are linked to vigilante killings spanning several decades, with ties to the local Jewish community.

As her search for the truth becomes personal, Shanna puts her own life in danger. Can she stop the next murder in time?

The Redeemer takes the small-town crime mystery and adds something fresh and interesting that I’ve not come across often, if at all.

Shanna Regan is a former investigative journalist who has recently moved to a small town in Hertfordshire to edit a local magazine. She witnesses a shocking antisemitic attack by a group of young hooligans on a young woman in a park. This leads her to the town’s Jewish community and a series of mysterious blue plaques around the town. But these plaques aren’t like the ones you see around in your town, celebrating a famous person or event. Here, each one seems to be pointing towards vigilante killings going back years. Shanna is drawn deeper into the Jewish community, looking for answers.

I really enjoyed this book, and it’s a strong debut from Goldman. The story is strong, well-plotted and kept me guessing (wrongly, of course) all the way. Great start to a series, looking forward to more!

The Redeemer by Victoria Goldman is published by Three Crowns Publishing and is out now. Many thanks to the author for an advance ebook copy to review.

The Secret Life of Fungi – Aliya Whiteley

Aliya Whiteley has always been in love with fungi – from a childhood taking blurry photographs of strange fungal
eruptions on Exmoor to a career as a writer inspired by their surreal and alien beauty. This love for fungi is a love for life,
from single-cell spores to the largest living organism on the planet; a story stretching from Aliya’s lawn into Space and
back again via every continent. Despite their familiar presence, there’s still much for us to learn about the eruption, growth
and decay of fungi’s connected world – one that Aliya lays out before us, linking fungal geography and history with myth;
fiction and culture with science. From fields, feasts and fairy rings to death caps, puffballs and ambrosia beetles, this is an
intoxicating personal journey into the life of these extraordinary organisms, which we have barely begun to understand.

I’ve always been slightly fascinated by fungi. You see them loitering in woodlands when out on a walk, or clinging onto trees. They’re there poking up from the grass in fields, or you hear tales of truffle-hunting pigs in the forests, snuffling up expensive, tasty delicacies. So I jumped at the change to read Aliya Whiteley’s The Secret Life of Fungi and delve deeper into this mysterious world.

It’s a delightful book, told with a lovely sense of awe and a clear love, nay obsession with the subject. Whiteley takes us on a ramble through the world of fungi and it feels like you’re in the company of a knowledgeable friend telling stories along the way. It’s very much not a guide book to help you identify fungi, but more the story of the fungi themselves. Did you know that the British Mycological Society (formed in Yorkshire, yay) holds a UK Fungus Day in October? Or that a frozen body in the alps dating back some 5,000 years (making him Europe’s oldest frozen human) had two different kinds of fungi with him, but neither for eating?

The book is scattered with little gems like this. Whiteley’s writing is lush and lyrical, drawing you into the hundreds of stories as you follow down the tracks through the forests of Europe, across the high peaks of the Himalayas, to the Jotï people of Guayana and the delightfully named Spider Monkey Bile Mushroom, thought to restore the luck and skill to any hunter who eats it. That does remind me a little of the Zelda game Breath of the Wild a little! There are even fungi that can survive in space. A 2009 experiment showed that some fungi, exposed to radiation in space for seven months, showed changes in their melanin which helped them resist that radiation!

It’s a lovely, deeply fascinating book, and one to lose yourself in for a couple of hours. Highly recommended.

About the author

Aliya Whiteley is inspired by how fungi and humanity share the world. She grew up in North Devon where she developed an early passion for walking and observing nature. She writes novels, short stories and non-fiction and has been published in places such as The Guardian, Interzone, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and in several anthologies. Previously a magazine editor, she has written about the natural world for Mental Floss and in her fiction. Her novella, The Beauty, was shortlisted for both Shirley Jackson and Sabotage Awards, and depicts a future world in which a fungus interacts with humanity to create a new form of life, leading readers all over the world to send her photographs and articles relating to mushrooms.
She walks with her dog through the woods and fields around her home in West
Sussex every day, taking inspiration from the hidden worlds around her.

The Secret Life of Fungi: Discoveries From A Hidden World by Aliya Whiteley is published by Elliot & Thompson. Huge thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the book to review

A Sh*tload of Crazy Powers – Jackson Ford

Teagan Frost has enough sh*t to deal with, between her job as a telekinetic government operative and a certain pair of siblings who have returned from the dead to wreak havoc with their powers. But little does she know, things are about to get even more crazy…

Teagan might have survived the flash flood of the century, but now she’s trapped in a hotel by a bunch of gun-toting maniacs. And to make matters worse, her powers have mysteriously disappeared. Faced with certain death at every turn, Teagan will need to use every resource she has to stop a plot that could destroy Los Angeles – maybe even the entire world.

A Sh*tload of Crazy Powers marks the fourth outing for our favourite foul-mouthed would-be chef, telekinetic ass-kicking black ops government operative, following hot on the heels from The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind, Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air, and The Eye of the Sh*t Storm. All of which are enormous fun.

Teagan Frost is back, with a bang. As you’d expect. In earlier episodes (because hopefully those TV discussions are going to pay off) Jackson Ford cranked the dials all that way up to eleven on the action, peril and snarky internal monologue scales before finding the boss-mode setting on those dials for book 3.

Can you go higher than eleven? If you’re Jackson Ford you can. Just add another number, stomp on the gas and let’s gooooo.

The story here picks up directly after the events of Eye of the Sh*t Storm – trying very hard not to spoil that one if you’ve not read it – but suffice it to say that Teagan and the gang are not going to have a happy little picnic on the beach. They’re thrown into all sorts of shenanigans involving arms dealers, missing powers, secret tunnels, and some people you might be surprised to see. You get the general idea.

Do you need to read the previous books? Hell yes. I’ve been banging on about them for years now, and if you’ve not had the pleasure, get thee to your local friendly indie bookstore and grab all four.

Superb. Bring on book five, Jackson. If you’d be so kind. Sorry this review took so long.

A Sh*tload of Crazy Powers by Jackson Ford is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Orbit Books for the copy of Jackson’s book to review.

Wolf Pack – Will Dean

A closed community

Rose Farm is home to a group of survivalists, completely cut off from the outside world. Until now.

A missing person

A young woman goes missing within the perimeter of the farm compound. Can Tuva talk her way inside the tight-knit group to find her story?

A frantic search

As Tuva attempts to unmask the culprit, she gains unique access to the residents. But soon she finds herself in danger of the pack turning against her – will she make her way back to safety so she can expose the truth?

Ah, a new Tuva Moodyson book. Time to bump everything else down the list and settle down with everyone’s favourite Swedish reporter.

I’ve been a huge fan of these books since the very start. From the Dark Pines to the Red Snow, the adventures on the Black River and the creepy goings-on in Bad Apples, we find ourselves for the fifth visit to the the little town of Gavrik – or rather on the outskirts, a little place with the delightful name of Rose Farm. Though a rose may look pretty on the surface, it can hide some sharp surprises.

I love Tuva Moodyson, She’s a brilliant character who’s been through some truly shocking events over the course of these books. And Will Dean shows no sign of allowing Tuva an easy ride.

Dean’s writing brings the odd little town of Gavrik to life perfectly, from the looming presence of the liquorice factory to the Thai food van in the car park with its bowls of delicious chill noodles. The town feels real and alive and is very much a character in the book as much as any other.

The story is great, as ever. Tuva has to investigate a missing woman, but quickly things start to develop into something more sinister. Are the preppers at Rose Farm up to no good? What are they hiding behind the fences and ditches protecting their little enclave?

No spoilers here, of course. You’ll have to jump in Tuva’s truck to follow her on the winding road out of Gavrik. It’s quite a ride.

Hugely recommended, as are all of the other books in the Tuva Moodyson series. Long may it continue. #TeamTuva all the way.

Wolf Pack by Will Dean is published by Point Blank. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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