At forty-one I was overweight and unfit. As I turned 50 I was thirty pounds lighter, having spent my fifth decade training for, and racing multiple Ironmans, marathons, and other crazy adventures. This account of that fitness journey through my forties includes broken bones, severe chafing, regular cursing, rubber and lycra, an element of masochism … and cake.
So let’s get this clear from the start. I’m roughly the same age as Tim Lebbon is now, and did not get fit in my forties. I was, however, intrigued to see how he did it. And by the mention of cake.
I love cake.
This book threw me a little at the start – I was sort of expecting a tale of ‘oh how unfit I was’ followed by a training montage of sorts covering the next decade, with few juicy tales of derring-do, adventure and generally appearing out of the far end with the author being trimmer, fitter, and clutching the aforementioned cake.
Run Walk Crawl is definitely not that book. The training montage bit (without giving too much away) takes up a slim section near the start when our hero realises that he is somewhat overweight and unfit, and decides to do something about it. It’s not long before he’s running marathons, swimming triathlons and ultimately, taking part in more than one Ironman. And it’s the tales from those adventures that take up the majority of the book. And you know what? It’s great fun. For the reader, that is. Rather less fun for our hero getting up at the crack of dawn to go swim in a freezing lake, run up and down some hills and cycle what some would describe as ‘quite a long way’ afterwards. All for a t-shirt and a medal, and perhaps a slice of cake.
(Look, I know I said I love cake, and I really really do. But I’m not sure you’d catch me putting that much effort in. Probably explains my waistline.)
Tim Lebbon is a natural storyteller, and I found myself polishing off this book in the course of a couple of sittings. It’s a short book, but definitely filled with the tales of derring-do, adventure and with the author appearing at the far end trimmer, fitter and with the cake. Just don’t go into it looking for training plans – Tim’s approach seems to be ‘just get off your butt and go and do it, it’ll probably be fine’
I enjoyed this book a lot. Nearly as much as cake, and that’s saying something.
Run Walk Crawl: Getting Fit in my Forties by Tim Lebbon is published by Dreaming In Fire, and is out now. Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and to the publisher for the advance copy of the book for review.
Teagan Frost might be getting better at moving sh*t with her mind – but her job working as a telekinetic government operative only ever seems to get harder. That’s not even talking about her car-crash of a love life . . .
And things are about to get even tougher. No sooner has Teagan chased off one psychotic kid hell-bent on trashing the whole West Coast, but now she has to contend with another supernatural being who can harness devastating electrical power. And if Teagan can’t stop him, the whole of Los Angeles will be facing the sh*tstorm of the century…
Buckle up folks. Teagan Frost is back. Following on from The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind(hi, Teagan) and Random Sh*t Flying Through The Air (err, hi again Teagan), we find our psychokinetic heroine up to yet more shenanigans. But that pesky Jackson Ford has cranked the dial all that way up to eleven on the action, peril and snarky internal monologue scales, probably cackling to himself at the same time. Oh, wait. He did that with book 2. Somehow he found the boss-mode setting on those dials.
And I love it.
Teagan and the gang from China Shop are on a white-knuckle ride from page one. This time there’s a new kid on the block, and he’s got a certain set of skills that are literally electric.
The sh*t hits the fan (of course) and the gang find themselves separated and pursuing their own goals. It’s a great chance to see the characters running solo for a while, and gives us a real insight into the team dynamics, and Teagans… complex relationships with them all.
Then there’s that finale – I’m saying nothing, but seriously Jackson? When do we get book four?
Highly recommended, as per usual
The Eye Of The Sh*t Storm by Jackson Ford is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for the copy to review.
In 1909, while dreaming of the Himalaya, Norwegian mountaineer Alf Bonnevie Bryn and a fellow young climber, the Australian George Ingle Finch, set their sights on Corsica to build their experience. The events of this memorable trip form the basis of Bryn’s acclaimed book Tinder og banditter – ‘Peaks and Bandits’, with their boisterous exploits delighting Norwegian readers for generations.
Peaks and Bandits is a short book, but packs a huge amount into its 117 pages. Young Alf Bonnevie Bryn decides to set off to Corsica to climb some mountains with his friend George Ingle Finch in their Easter holidays from school in 1909. Our Norwegian hero and his Australian chum have more than a few adventures along the way, fording freezing rivers, rescuing cats from bathtubs, spreading fake money to make their own funds go further. They introduce skiing to Corsica to repay a friendly farmer. There’s a hilarious story (well, more than one) about a snake called James, which I shall leave you to find out for yourselves. There’s an incident with a quart ceramic jar of Crosse & Blackwell marmalade that they persuaded someone to carry up a mountain. Oh, and they meet some bandits, of course. The list goes on.
It’s a lovely, quirky little book, with a real sense of derring do and proper adventure. Huge kudos to Bibbi Lee, the translator. They’ve captured the wit and charm of the book beautifully, and it feels so natural you forget that it’s been translated from the original Norwegian.
Originally published in 1943, Peaks and Bandits is a classic of Norwegian literature, and is now available in English.
I highly recommend that you pick up a copy. I got my copy via my subscription to Adventurous Ink, a book club covering the best in adventure, travel and nature books, curated by Tim Frenneaux. No affiliate links, just a subscription I really enjoy!
When a young woman vanishes from an exclusive oceanfront community, Detective Casey Wray’s investigation plunges her into a darkness she could never have imagined
A new book by Rod Reynolds? Yes please. We’ve had 40’s Noir with his Charlie Yates books (splendid stuff), then a change of pace, decade and country with Blood Red City. And now with Black Reed Bay we’ve hopped back over the Atlantic to the shores of Long Island, present day.
Tina Grace has gone missing from an exclusive, quiet beachfront community after making a distressing 911 call. Apparently running for her life, she has disappeared into thin air. And the neighbours are a curious bunch.
Then the first body turns up…
Reynolds has already shown that he’s got a real knack for character and place, and Black Reed Bay is no exception. Having captured modern London to a tee, and given us a very authentic-feeling 40s America, we now see that it doesn’t seem to matter where he sets his books, they all have that crucial realness to the location. You feel that you could drive the streets of Hampstead County and feel that Atlantic sea air on your face.
But a book cannot live on location alone. Enter Detective Casey Wray, a fantastic lead in this top-notch slice of contemporary American Noir. Casey’s investigation leads her down a twisted path of conflicting witness statements, with pressure from on high adding to her woes. Luckily she’s got her partner Cullen on her side. I loved the dynamic between these two, the easy banter and friendship just shines.
The story fair crackles along, with rising tensions between the detectives and the top brass, and a desperate family wanting to find their missing Tina. There are a lot of suspects in play, and it’s a testament to the writing that Reynolds keeps us on the edge of our seats from start to finish.
It’s another cracking crime thriller from one of my favourite authors, and I’m delighted to see that it’s just the first in a new series. I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for Casey Wray next.
Black Reed Bay by Rod Reynolds is published by Orenda Books and is out in ebook on 28th May 2021, and in paperback in September. Many thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.
When the mother of an autistic young man hires a call girl to make him happy, three lives collide in unexpected and moving ways … changing everything. A devastatingly beautiful, rich and thought-provoking novel that will warm your heart.
You read a lot of books in this blogging game. Some of them are good, some of them are great. Then there are books like this.
I don’t know how Louise Beech does it, but she’s done it again. After Call Me Star Girl, I was hooked. I Am Dust confirmed her as one of those authors where I’d read anything they write. And now with this? I’m lost for words.
This is going to be a really short review.
Just read it.
There, that’s it. Trust me.
You want more? This is a story which a mother pays a call girl to make her autistic son happy. You might feel a little… apprehensive approaching this book, given the subject matter. But you’re in the hands of Louise Beech here. Nothing is as simple or straightforward as it appears. And it’s handled with such love and compassion that you emerge blinking from the other side, having fallen completely for the three leads.
I read this book in an afternoon, having unceremoniously dumped the TBR pile to one side. And yes Louise, you made me cry.
Sebastian is a young man (twenty years, six months and two days old, thank you very much) who very much wants to have sex. But he struggles with relationships, as other people’s prejudices get in the way. And some people can’t see past the surface to the man underneath. His mother Veronica can, of course. And she’s heartbroken to see her son have to battle through life. Opportunity presents itself in Violeta, a call girl. Could she bring herself to pay this woman to take care of her son? What would he think if he ever found out?
Each of the three has their own story to tell, and they tell it their own way. Beech’s characters are always fantastic, and there’s no exception here. They’re complex, layered, really real people who come alive off the page and leave you changed by the end. Prejudices examined, wrung out and hung up to dry.
Beautifully and sensitively told, This Is How We Are Human is a story about love and life, of discrimation and difference, and the choices we make. It’s ultimately about being… human.
Hugely recommended, I’m putting this straight on the books of the year list.
This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech is published by Orenda Books and is out now in ebook, and paperback in June 2021. Many thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy.
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.
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’.
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.
The world that is lost will come back to haunt us . . .
Koli has come a long way since being exiled from his small village of Mythen Rood. In his search for the fabled tech of the old times, he knew he’d be battling strange, terrible beasts and trees that move as fast as whips. But he has already encountered so much more than he bargained for.
Now that Koli and his companions have found the source of the signal they’ve been following – the mysterious “Sword of Albion” – there is hope that their perilous journey will finally be worth something.
Until they unearth terrifying truths about an ancient war . . . and realise that it may have never ended.
Here we are. Book three in M.R. Carey’s Ramparts trilogy. We’ve followed Koli on his adventure for such a long way, from The Book of Koli back in April 2020, through The Trials of Koli late in September, and now to this final book, nigh on a year since we started.
And what an adventure it’s been. Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love Carey’s writing. And how much I love a good dystopian post-apocalyptic setting. Put those three things together and I’m a happy little reader. Just keep me topped up with regular cups of hot tea and a steady supply of biscuits and we’re good.
Reader, I loved The Book and The Trials. And of course you’ve listened to me banging on about them for the last year, and have read and enjoyed them, haven’t you?
HAVEN’T YOU. (right, you at the back, yes, you. Get thee to a bookshop, pronto)
The rest of you have? Excellent, excellent.
So, why do you need me to persuade you to read book three? You’re as invested in the adventures of Koli, Cup and the irrepressible, mischievous Monono as I am, surely? And not forgetting Spinner and the Ramparts back at home base in Mythen Rood of course!
The Fall of Koli finds our intrepid adventurers rather at sea in their hunt for the mysterious ‘Sword of Albion’. Quite literally. They’re rescued by Paul, Lorraine, and their something’s-not-quite-right-here son, Stanley, who are apparently alone on the megaship Sword of Albion. It’s up to Koli and the gang to figure out what’s going on, and not to put too fine a point on it, things escalate quickly…
Back in Mythen Rood, Spinner is facing some challenges herself, both from within the encampment and outside, with the Peacemaker from Half Ax determined to get hold of all the tech in Ingland. I was torn reading this book, as Carey knew just when to switch viewpoints from Koli to Spinner to ensure maximum tension! I really loved watching Spinner’s character grow across the three books, and become the fantastic, clever, resourceful woman we find here.
It’s these different viewpoints and wonderfully diverse characters that really make these books shine. It’s an exploration of identity and growth; from young, naive Koli Woodsmith, to the older, wiser Ursala, Cup – the young trans woman and the bouncy, virtual Monono Aware who helps Koli find his place in the world. Carey clearly loves these characters and it’s a testament to his writing that they all come across equally well-drawn despite their differences.
It’s hard to say more without giving away too much about this book. I’m confident that if you’ve read the first two, you’ll absolutely love this one too.
The Fall of Koli by MR Carey is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia Khatun at Orbit for the advance copy of the book, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.
Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.
The Unbroken took me a little while to get into, but once I’d hit my stride I found myself devouring it in hundred-page chunks, immersed in the beautifully drawn, albeit harrowing, world Clark has created. And what a world it is. We’ve got a heady mixture of military-based fantasy set against colonialist conquerors, with a rebellion brewing in the streets of Qazāl. One where the lines of good and bad are blurred. Characters make big, epic mistakes, and have to live with the consequences.
Speaking of characters, I loved the dynamic between the two main leads. Touraine, Lieutenant in the Balladairan army. A Sand conscript, taken from her Qazāli home some twenty years earlier, now returning. Hated by the Balladairans as the lowest of the low, but also hated by her people as a traitor, working for their enemy. She has a lot to prove, and boy does she not mess around.
Then there’s Luca, princess and heir to the throne of Balladaire. She’s come to Qazāl to prove herself worthy of that throne, currently occupied by her uncle, the Regent. So for her, Qazāl is just a means to that end. She wants it sorted, and is prepared to compromise if she needs to – though at times she’s not too bothered what lines needs to be crossed to get there.
The action comes thick and fast from the outset, as these two women, wildly different in background and social status are thrown together. Can Tour help Luca see what needs to be done to help Qazāl? Or will Luca do whatever it takes to seal her place on the Balladairan throne and become Queen? And can she find the Qazāl magic?
Beautifully complex, layered characters. A solid, intriguing world which explores colonialism and oppression. A will-they-won’t-they dance between our two leads, in a society where same-sex relationships don’t raise an eyebrow. A supporting cast of devious generals, priests, soldiers and others.
You’ll find yourself alternately on #TeamLuca or #TeamTouraine, wanting to give them a hug one minute and berating them for doing something spectacularly dangerous/daft/stupid the next. Or admiring Touraine’s biceps. That seems to be a thing. I’m there for that.
Big, chonky epic fantasy. What’s not to like? The Unbroken leaves us with a nicely rounded story, though I’m very much looking forward to book 2 to see where Clark takes us next!
The Unbroken by CL Clark is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Orbit Books for the copy to review, and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.
C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, PodCastle and Uncanny.
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.
Brendan Foley has worked to balance the responsibilities of a demanding job and a troublesome family. He’s managed to keep these two worlds separate, until the discovery of a mass grave sends them into a headlong collision. When one of the dead turns out to be a familiar face, he’s taken off the case.
Iona Madison keeps everything under control. She works hard as a detective sergeant and trains harder as a boxer. But when her superior, DI Foley, is removed from the case, her certainties are tested like never before.
With stories of the Warrington 27 plastered over the news, they set out to solve the crime before anyone else. The local constabulary is small and under-funded – Brendan knows they can’t crack this case alone, and he’s not letting a rival force take over. Not with the secrets he fears are lurking. Their investigations lead them into the murky underworlds of Manchester and Liverpool, where one more murder means little to drug-dealing gangs, desperate to control their power bases.
But as Madison steps into the ring for the fight of her life, the criminals come to them. It’s no coincidence that the corpses have been buried in Foley’s hometown. The question is, why? Foley might not like the answer…
Browsing through the titles on Audible a while back I discovered Far From The Tree, an ‘Audible Original’. I’ve only read one other of Rob Parker’s books (the brilliant A Wanted Man) so jumped at the chance to have a listen to this.
Twenty seven bodies are found in an unmarked grave. Is this the work of a serial killer? DI Brendan Foley is on the case. Then it turns out that one of the dead is someone close to home, and what was initially ‘just’ a murder enquiry turns into something a lot more personal.
It’s a great story, and I loved the interplay between Foley and DS Madison as they work to uncover exactly what has been going on. There’s a real grittiness to the story, which feels worryingly plausible. It’s also not one for the faint-hearted, with some seriously visceral scenes of violence. It’s a story of family, of the hard men who run the streets and what they’ll do to keep control.
I love a good crime story, and this one is absolutely top notch. It’s got a real sense of place, which regular readers of this blog will know is something I really look for in a book. Parker is clearly at home here, and you can tell it’s his patch.
With audiobooks, the narration can be the make or break for me. Fortunately Far From The Tree is superbly narrated by Warren Brown (DS Ripley from Luther), I loved every minute of the near nine hour runtime. I’d plug my headphones in whilst walking the dogs, and must admit to going just once more around the block to get another chapter in. The dogs didn’t seem to mind!
Far From The Tree by Rob Parker, read by Warren Brown, is available exclusively on Audible.