Surely there’s been some mistake…

Hello you lovely readers. It feels like a while since we last had a chat which didn’t revolve around me going OMG BOOKS THIS ONE IS GREAT READ IT NOW.

It is still book-related though. You looked nervous. Maybe a little concerned?[1]

So, I’ve read a lot of books recently[2]. Mostly they’ve been really good, but every now and again you get a book where some little detail jumps out at you and jars you out of the story. I’ve had a few over the years, and often wondered what to do about it.

Do I mention it in the review? Should I drop a note to the author? The publisher? Do they even care at this point? After all, the book is out in the wide world, and they’re unlikely (or indeed unable) to fix it at this point.

Case in point – I was reading a book recently which was set in London, but one of the characters came from Yorkshire. The book continued, and it transpired that the character in question came from Sandal & Agbrigg.

Whoa. That’s near where I live. Like, really near. Literally[3] around the corner from my house.

The trouble is that Sandal & Agbrigg isn’t a place. Well, it is, but it’s a train station, between Sandal and, you’ve guessed it, Agbrigg. You’d either say you lived in Sandal, or you lived in Agbrigg, but you’d never say that you’re from Sandal and Agbrigg. Sandal’s that side of the train line, Agbrigg is the other, more or less.

I can see[4] what the author has done – they’ve taken a map of Wakefield, picked a place at random and thought ‘great! A nice little suburb, that’d be perfect for this character’s backstory.’

It’s a tiny, tiny detail, and one which will only be picked up by people who know the area really well[5]. Doesn’t affect the overall story in the slightest, but jarred with me. It’s like seeing a TV show set in your city but the characters turn left down a street and end up on the wrong side of town. You can’t get *there* from *there*, it’s just not how the roads are set up. Or in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves where Robin arrives at Dover, takes a short lunchbreak and Hadrian’s Wall (boy, was he lost) then home to Nottingham in time for tea.

Worth mentioning to the author? Who can say. Thoughts welcome!

[1] Yes, this is a tortuous Princess Bride reference. You win ONE MILLION POINTS. Well done.
[2] Occupational hazard of being a #bookblogger, I guess
[3] Actually literally.
[4] Well, I can assume what they’ve done
[5] Or live literally round the corner

Senlin Ascends – Josiah Bancroft

Published by Orbit Books, January 2018
Source: review copy
The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

Senlin Ascends is an astonishing book, but not an easy one. The worldbuilding is incredible, and Bancroft’s Tower of Babel must rank up there with the best of literary wonderlands. It’s an intriguing concept, a tower which scrapes the sky, built of many ‘ringdoms’. Each level of the tower is its own little microcosm of life, each one startlingly different from the last, yet linked together by the tale of the titular Thomas Senlin on the hunt for his missing wife.

Thomas and Marya are honeymooning at the Tower when they are separated in the throng of tourists in the market which skirts the tower’s base. Thomas hopes that she will make her way to their hotel on the third floor, so sets off in pursuit. What follows is one of the… odder stories I’ve read for a very long time.

I must confess that I struggled a little with the beginning of Senlin Ascends. The style takes a little getting used to, and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting (though I’d hesitate to say exactly what that might be). A case of the wrong book at the wrong time, perhaps, as I picked it back up again recently and ploughed through Senlin’s ascent at quite a rate. It’s easy to empathise with Senlin’s quest, though I found myself wanting to tell him to stop faffing about quite so much and get on with tracking down his beloved Marya rather than having quite so many interesting (though time-consuming) adventures!

Senlin is a fascinating character, though initially one which it’s rather hard to actually like. He does grow on you over the course of his ascent, and by the end of this, the first book, you find yourself rather rooting for him in his quest. Handily book 2 arrived just this morning, so I don’t have *too* long to wait.

The Arm of the Sphinx is out in mid-March, so you’ve just got time to rattle through Senlin Ascends before that arrives. I’d get going though, it’s a long climb…

Huge thanks to Nazia Khatum (@gambit589) and Orbit Books for the review copy of Senlin Ascends and The Arm of the Sphinx. Keep your eyes peeled for a review of that soon!

Force of Nature – Jane Harper

Published by Little, Brown, February 2018
Source: review copy
When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

Jane Harper’s first book, The Dry, was one of my favourite books of 2017, and featured highly in my criminally good books list of the year. I’ve pestered an awful lot of people to read it over the course of the year, and have been delighted to see friends reading it, and even moreso to find out that they too loved it.

I’m pleased to say that with Force of Nature, Jane Harper has delivered another cracking read. It’s a different beast, moving from the arid, drought-ravaged tight-knit farming community of Kiewarra to an outward bounds retreat in the rain-drenched forests of the Giralang Range. The setting couldn’t be more different, but the sense of place is still vividly drawn.

It’s the second outing for Harper’s policeman, Aaron Falk, and this time he’s helping look for a missing hiker who’s playing a key role in an ongoing investigation into underhand goings-on at the firm she works for. Five women set out for a weekend of corporate-sponsored teambuilding, but only four return. What exactly happened out there, and where is Alice? Only four women return, and each of them has a slightly different story.

I really liked the way that Harper layers the story in Force of Nature, starting with a mysterious middle-of-the-night phone call from Alice to Falk which drags him and his partner Carmen up to the retreat at the head of the trail where the women set off. We then jump back a couple of days to the start of the weekend, where the five women from very different backgrounds set off, some more reluctantly than others, on their adventure. The story plays out like this – Falk and Carmen investigating in the present, and the women’s story in flashbacks, each time uncovering a little more of what happened.

Force of Nature kept me guessing right up to the last – a couple of times I thought I’d called it, only for another sliver of information to upset my theory. It didn’t quite hit the lofty heights of The Dry for me, but Force of Nature is a splendid read, and I highly recommend it. It goes without saying (but I’m going to anyway) that if you’ve not read The Dry, you should get that too!

Force of Nature is published by Little, Brown and is out now.
Many thanks to @LittleBrownUK and @kimberleynyam for having me on the blog tour.

You can find Jane Harper on Twitter @janeharperautho

Forever and a Day – new Bond from Anthony Horowitz

The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time.

One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand.

It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime.

It’s time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill.

This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera

Excited to hear about the upcoming new James Bond novel from Anthony Horowitz. I loved his first 007 outing, Trigger Mortis, so looking forward to reading this one!

Forever and a Day is a prequel to Fleming’s first Bond story, Casino Royale, and follows Bond’s origin, earning his infamous licence to kill. Set on the French Riviera in the 50s, it also features Moneypenny and M. Apparently it also includes previously unpublished material from Fleming for Horowitz to weave into the story.

Exciting stuff! Forever and a Day is published by Jonathan Cape Publications on 31st May 2018 in the UK, coinciding with Fleming’s 110th birthday.

My pre-order is already in!

Slow Horses – Mick Herron

Published by John Murray
Source: own copy
Slough House is a dumping ground for British intelligence agents who’ve screwed up a case in any number of ways—by leaving a secret file on a train or blowing a surveillance. River Cartwright, one such “slow horse,” is bitter about his failure and about his tedious assignment transcribing cell phone conversations.

When a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to broadcast his beheading live on the Internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself.

Is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone has his own agenda.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Mick Herron’s Slow Horses, so when I saw him on one of the panels at Hull Noir last year, I took the opportunity to pick up a copy and get him to sign it for me.

Slow Horses opens with a scene at King’s Cross station, where we follow River Cartwright in pursuit of a suspect. It’s an incredible opening, with a deft hand for detail and tension. What follows is the story of the ‘slow horses’, sidelined to the nondescript Slough House, each a failure of sorts, put out to pasture where they can cause the least harm.

Slough House is filled with some brilliant characters, not least their leader and chief misfit, the unforgettable Jackson Lamb. I’ve read a fair few thrillers and have never come across his like. Grumpy, sarcastic and almost entirely unpleasant, Lamb is a fabulous character who’ll grow on you over the course of the book, whilst still maintaining his gruff, unkempt and almost entirely unpleasant exterior. But there’s more going on beneath – Lamb is a smart, savvy character who will quite happily eat you for breakfast before breaking wind and sloping off for an actual breakfast.

The story is also first-rate – a young man is kidnapped and his captors are threatening to broadcast his beheading live on the internet. ‘Five’ at Regents Park are on the case, but will Lamb and his slow horses pip them at the post?

Gritty, dark and shot through with a beautifully dark wit, Slow Horses is one not to be missed. Utterly brilliant, and I’ll be racing through the rest of Mick Herron’s back catalogue to get ready for book five, London Rules which is out now.

Blood of Assassins – RJ Barker

Published by Orbit Books, February 2018
Source: review copy

The assassin Girton Club-foot and his master have returned to Maniyadoc in hope of finding sanctuary, but death, as always, dogs Girton’s heels. The place he knew no longer exists.

War rages across Maniyadoc, with three kings claiming the same crown – and one of them is Girton’s old friend Rufra. Girton finds himself hurrying to uncover a plot to murder Rufra on what should be the day of the king’s greatest victory. But while Girton deals with threats inside and outside Rufra’s war encampment, he can’t help wondering if his greatest enemy hides beneath his own skin.

Hark back to June of last year. I’d just read Age of Assassins by a chap called RJ Barker. I thought it was jolly good[1] and that it would most definitely be on the illustrious[2] Books of 2017 list[6].

Wind forward to January 2018. A parcel arrives at Espresso Coco HQ, nestling amongst many of its brethren. I open it and out pops Blood of Assassins.


Blood of Assassins takes place five years after the events of Age of Assassins. Girton has grown older (though not necessarily wiser) – he and his master Merela Karn have been travelling the lands as mercenaries and have returned to Maniyadoc to find three kings vying for control. Then things take a turn for the worse, Merela is poisoned and Girton must balance saving his beloved master and helping an old friend unearth a spy.

I could go on, but that would rather spoil the story. And what a story it is – part whodunnit, part fantasy, part spy story. with a health dose[8] of stabbing and murder and blood. Deftly plotted, with a host of splendid characters, Blood of Assassins takes the already brilliant concept and cranks everything up to 11 across the board. The action scenes are astonishingly beautiful and almost poetic in their pacing. Time seems to slow[9] as Girton glides through the steps, leaving bodies in his wake.

The central mystery is as strong and cleverly plotted as any I’ve read in the copious amounts of crime fiction I’ve read. The battle scenes are staggeringly brutal and almost cinematic in scope. Girton’s battle with his true nature feels visceral and real and you find yourself whispering ‘Oh, Girton…’

A splendid addition to the series, and I can’t wait to see what Girton gets up to in book 3, King of Assassins. Luckily we won’t have too long to wait.

I give this book five bloody stabswords out of five.

Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit Books and RJ Barker for the chance to read an early review copy. You can find RJ over on twitter @dedbutdrmng where you can distract him from writing at your peril.

[1] True. It is jolly good.
[2] for a given value of ‘illustrious’[3]
[3] yes, I used the exact same gag last year. Sue me[4]
[4] OMG DON’T ACTUALLY SUE ME. I am but a poor, lowly bookblogger and have naught but these few books[5]
[5] oh so many books. SAVE ME FROM THE BOOKSES
[6] it did. Look.
[7] Wasn’t she in Star Wars?
[8] I’m not entirely sure that’s possible…
[9] Like that scene in Serenity where River is watching the Fuity Oaty Bars ad and everything goes dead silent and she starts to move, time stretching out as she spins and strikes and moves like a leaf on the wind[10]

The Perfect Stranger – Megan Miranda

Published by Corvus, February 2018
Source: advance copy

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

Last year I read Megan’s first book All The Missing Girls and loved it. It was (and indeed is) a superbly twisty tale, told in reverse, with each chapter revealing a little more of what happened the previous day. It was meticulously organised and beautifully constructed, and made the honourable mentions list of my books of 2017.

The Perfect Stranger then had quite a lot to live up to!

I really enjoyed it – Megan Miranda really knows how to play the suspense game, drip-feeding you snippets of information, revealing another piece of the puzzle, all the while making you question what you think you know about these characters. Questioning how well you ever know someone, and what you’d do for your best friend… She’s created another tense, twisty plot with huge swathes of threads to keep track of.

There are so many questions floating around throughout the story – who is Emmy? What happened to make Leah move to western Pennsylvania, leaving her old life, career and friends behind? Everyone has secrets, and Leah has plenty of her own.

Is it as good as All The Missing Girls?  Short answer, not quite. It’s always tricky following up something so unique. That said, it is a fantastic read.  It’s more straightforward in the telling, but the writing is superb and it’s cleverly constructed with memorable characters.

If you’ve not read either, I’d recommend that you go for this one first and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Then go read All The Missing Girls!

Many thanks to Anne Cater and Corvus Books for the advance copy.

Megan Miranda is the author of the bestseller ALL THE MISSING GIRLS. She has also written several books for young adults. She grew up in New Jersey, graduated from MIT, and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children. THE PERFECT STRANGER is her second novel of psychological suspense. Follow @MeganLMiranda on Twitter and Instagram, or @AuthorMeganMiranda on Facebook.