The Neighbour – Fiona Cummins

FOR SALEA lovely family home with good-sized garden and treehouse occupying a plot close to woodland. Perfect for kids, fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers . . .
And, it seems, the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer.
On a hot July day, Garrick and Olivia Lockwood and their two children move into 25 The Avenue looking for a fresh start. They arrive in the midst of a media frenzy: they’d heard about the local murders in the press, but Garrick was certain the killer would be caught and it would all be over in no time. Besides, they’d got the house at a steal and he was convinced he could flip it for a fortune.
The neighbours seemed to be the very picture of community spirit. But everyone has secrets, and the residents in The Avenue are no exception.
After six months on the case with no real leads, the most recent murder has turned DC Wildeve Stanton’s life upside down, and now she has her own motive for hunting down the killer – quickly.


I’m a huge fan of Fiona Cummins’ books – Rattle and The Collector are both brilliantly creepy with a fantastic (if that’s the right word) serial killer that you won’t forget in a hurry. Both books have made my ‘books of the year’ lists in 2017 and 2018, so it was with no small measure of excitement that I rushed to buy a copy (yes, bookbloggers *do* buy books!) of Fiona’s new book, The Neighbour.

Reader, I was not disappointed. I started reading on my commute into Leeds and was immediately hooked. Snatched a few more minutes with the book over lunchtime, then again on the way home, where I promptly settled down with a large mug of tea and promptly lost myself in the delightfully mysterious goings-on at The Avenue.

Garrick and Olivia Lockwood move into a quiet little street with plans to turn around the property and make some money. Except the house backs onto some woodland, where several people have met a rather sticky end. Enter DC Wildeve Stanton, who has her own reasons for tracking down the murderer. But it seems that everyone has secrets…

Told over the course of a few days over the long, hot, sticky summer of 2018, The Neighbour is wonderfully atmospheric, and not a little claustrophobic in places. The cast of neighbours on The Avenue are an intriguing bunch, and you’re never quite sure who to suspect, though you’ll end up questioning what you think about pretty much all of them along the way. I particularly liked DC Stanton, though Cummins does rather put her through the wringer in this one. I’d love to see more of her in future books.

Loved it from the first page to the last. Very highly recommended, and will be most surprised if it’s not on my books of the year list for 2019!

The Neighbour by Fiona Cummins is published by Macmillan and is out now.
You can find Fiona on twitter @FionaAnnCummins.

The Stars Now Unclaimed – Drew Williams

Delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Drew Williams’ The Stars Now Unclaimed, from Simon & Schuster. More about the book later – today I’ve got an extract for you.


Chapter One

I had Scheherazade drop me on top of an old refinery, rusted out and half collapsing. Around me the stretch of this new world’s sky seemed endless, a bright sienna-colored cloth drawn over the stars above. I watched Schaz jet back off to orbit—well, “watched” is probably a strong word, since she had all her stealth systems cranked to high heaven, but I could at least find the telltale glint of her engines— then settled my rifle on my back and started working my way down, finding handholds and grips among the badly rusted metal.

It’s surprising how used to this sort of thing you get; the climbing and jumping and shimmying, I mean. On a world free of the effects of the pulse, none of that would have been necessary— I would have had antigravity boots, or a jetpack, or just been able to disembark in the fields below: scaling a three-hundred-foot-tall structure would have been as easy as pressing a button and dropping until I was comfortably on the ground.

Now, without all those useful cheats, it was much more physically demanding—the climbing and jumping and shimmying bits— but I didn’t mind. It was like a workout, a reminder that none of that nonsense mattered on the world I was descending toward, and that if I wanted to stay alive,  reflexes and physical capability would be just as important as the few pieces of tech I carried that were resistant to post-pulse radiation.

By the time I made it down the tower I’d worked up a decent sweat, and I’d also undergone a crash course in the physical realities of this particular planet: the vagaries of its gravity, of its atmosphere, that sort of thing.

Most terraformed worlds were within a certain range in those kinds of measurements—on some, even orbital rotations had been shifted to roughly conform to the standard galactic day/night cycle— but it’s surprising how much small differences can add up when you’re engaged in strenuous physical activity. A touch less oxygen in the air than you’re used to, a single percentage point of gravity higher or lower, and suddenly everything’s thrown off, just a bit. You have to readjust.

I checked my equipment over as I sat in the shadow of the refinery tower, getting my breath back. Nothing was damaged or showing signs of the radiation advancing faster than I would have expected. I had a mission to complete here, yes, but I had no desire to have some important piece of tech shut down on me at an inopportune time and get me killed. Then I wouldn’t be able to do anyone any good.

As the big metal tower creaked above me in the wind, I kept telling myself that—that I was still doing good. Some days I believed it more than others.

After I’d recovered from my little jaunt, I settled my rifle onto my back again—a solid gunpowder cartridge design common across all levels of postpulse tech, powerful enough that it could compete with higher-end weapons on worlds that still had a great deal of technology intact, low-key enough that on worlds farther down that scale like this one, it wouldn’t draw undue attention—and set off across rolling plains of variegated grass.

This world was very pretty; I’d give whoever had designed it that. The sky was a lovely shade of pinkish orange that would likely shift into indigo as night approached. It perfectly complemented the flora strains that had been introduced, mostly long grasses of purple or green or pink, with a few patches of larger trees, mostly Tyll-homeworld species, thick trunks of brown or gray topped by swaying azure fronds. Vast fields of wheat— again, of Tyll extraction—made up most of the landscape that wasn’t grassland; that made sense with the research I’d done before having Scheherazade drop me off.

The research told me that this world had been terraformed for agricultural use a few hundred years ago or so; it had seen only mild scarring during the sect wars, which meant it was a little bit perplexing that the pulse had knocked it almost as far down the technology scale as a planet could go—all the way to before the invention of electric light.

Still, trying to understand why the pulse had done what it had done was a fool’s errand: I’d seen systems where one planet had been left untouched, another had been driven back to pre-spaceflight, and the moon of that same world had lost everything post–internal combustion. There was never any rhyme or reason to it, not even within a single system—the pulse did what it did at random, and looking for a will behind its workings was like trying to find the face of god in weather patterns.

I knew that much because I was one of the fools who had let it off the chain in the first place. That’s why I was here: trying to right my own wrongs.

In a very small way, of course. I was only one woman, and it was a big, big universe. Also, I had a great many wrongs.


I can’t wait to read more. Huge thanks to Harriet Collins from Simon & Schuster UK for inviting me to take part in the tour, and for the review copy of Drew’s book.

The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams is published by Simon & Schuster and is out now. You can find Drew on twitter @DrewWilliamsIRL

AN IMPOSSIBLE MISSION
A century ago, a mysterious pulse of energy spread across the universe. Meant to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, it instead destroyed technology indiscriminately, leaving some worlds untouched and throwing others into total chaos.
AN UNSTOPPABLE ENEMY
The Justified, a mysterious group of super-soldiers, have spent a hundred years trying to find a way to restore order to the universe. Their greatest asset is the feared mercenary Kamali, who travels from planet to planet searching for gifted young people and bringing them to the secret world she calls home. Kamali hopes that those she rescues will be able to find a way to reverse the damage the pulse wreaked, and ensure that it never returns.
THE END OF THE UNIVERSE
But Kamali isn’t the only person looking for answers to unimaginable questions. And when her mission to rescue a grumpy teenaged girl named Esa goes off the rails, Kamali suddenly finds herself smack in the centre of an intergalactic war… that she started.

The A-Z of #bookblogging

Having recently done an A-Z of me which seemed to go quite well, I thought I’d turn my attention to bookblogging, and pull off the same trick twice (well, three times as the A-Z came in two bits…)

Are you sitting comfortably? Got a nice cup of tea/coffee/beverage of your choice? Here we go!

A is for ARCs

ARC stands for Advance Reader Copy, and is the holy grail of #bookblogging. If you’re new to the book blogging community you may feel a twinge of jealousy at photos of all the lovely ARCs that lucky bloggers show off. That feeling never goes away – I’m incredibly lucky to get fairly regular #bookpost from lovely publishers, but still get all green-eyed when a fellow blogger tweets about a book from a favourite author.

How do you get hold of an ARC? Luckily ace bookblogger Drew over at The Tattooed Book Geek has a handy guide.

Oh, and selling ARCs is very naughty. VERY. I’ve got a SUPER rare ‘two birds’ copy of Jay Kristoff’s awesome Nevernight, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. ANYTHING. Not even more books.

Super-rare Nevernight. And it’s all MIIIIINE.
B is for books

Need I say more? A bookblogger without a book is just a blogger. Go buy a book, quick!

B is also for buying books. It’s not all about the freebies. Every bookblogger worth their salt will have a pile of bought books that are jostling for space on the TBR pile.

And B is for blog tours. A blog tour is where a publisher or publicist organises a group of bloggers to post about a book around the same time. Some blog tours last a week, with one blog for each day, but the bigger tours can last a month, with several bloggers posting each day. They can be a mix of reviews, extracts, giveaways and other content, all with the aim of creating a buzz around the launch of a book.

C is for conventions

I’ve been to a few fabulous bookish events, and they’re a brilliant place to go listen to authors talk about books, talk to other people about books, talk to authors about their books, and maybe even get your lovely books signed. And maybe buy a book or three just in case you ever run out of books. IT COULD HAPPEN.

Anyway, don’t be shy, go and introduce yourself to your favourite author, tell them how much you love their books.

D is for diversity in fiction

I’ve written about this elsewhere, but I realised that I spent a lot of time reading books by old white guys and was really missing out. I’ve been making more of a conscious effort to read more books by women, by people of colour, by people who don’t fit into my default. And my reading is so much the better for it. By reading and shouting about more diverse books, publishers will see the demand for more diverse books and we’ll get more diverse books. Which can only be a good thing.

E is for extracts

Sometimes on a blog tour you might not have time to read and review a book before it’s published, so you often see bloggers posting an extract from a book. Often just a short snippet from near the start of the book to give readers a flavour for what the book is about.

F is for fantasy and science fiction

Two of my very favourite genres. Though I’m also partial to a spot of crime fiction, and especially some Nordic Noir.

G is for guest posts

As with extracts, sometimes an author will be generous enough to write a guest post for your blog. They can either be about the book itself, like this interview with a character from A.K. Benedict’s The Evidence of Ghosts, some thoughts on plotting from Neil White, author of The Domino Killer, research by David Mark (of the DS Aector McAvoy series of crime novels), or even a guest post from another blogger, like the time that Liz Barnsley from Liz Loves Books stopped by to take us on a reader’s journey through the world of Charlie Parker from the books of John Connolly.

H is for helpfulness

The book blogging community is enormously helpful – we’ll shout about new books that we love, but we’ll also shout about other bloggers reviewing books, new authors that we’ve found and any other bookish things. Take that post from Liz – being helpful setting up a blog week for John Connolly to help promote his new book. We’re a helpful bunch. Just feed us books.

Mmm, books.

I is for immersing yourself in a story

Nothing better than losing yourself in a good book. Apart from maybe losing yourself in a good book with a large cup of tea. And maybe a biscuit. Or a slice of cake.

Mmm, cake.
J is for jealousy

Another blogger gets a book that you *really* want to read. A super advance copy of your favourite author’s new book. One can’t help but be a tiny bit jealous as you wander off to your local bookshop to put in a pre-order.

K is for kindle

I love my kindle. I can carry a ton of books around and have a huge virtual TBR pile on there. There’s an age-old debate about which is better – ebook or hard copy. I love both – there’s nothing quite like the feel of a dead tree book, but the sheer convenience of kindle is hard to beat.

L is for love of books

Need I say more? Bookbloggers love books, we love talking about books, we love recommending books. Just don’t ask us what our favourite book is, unless you’ve got plenty of spare time, a notebook and pen, and a large cup of tea.

M is for meeting authors

I’ve met a few, and taken a few selfies. Felt slightly awkward at the time, but they were all good sports!

YT with the very dapper Thomas Enger at an Orenda Roadshow.
Pierce Brown, author of the fabulous Red Rising books at Hodder HQ for the Howler Party launch for Morning Star
OK, so not a convention, more a pub. Rob Boffard, author of the brilliant Tracer , Impact and Zero-G, books enjoying the sunshine in Leeds. He sent a book into SPACE. Duuuude.
N is for non-fiction

It’s not all fiction round here you know. I don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction, but there’s the occasional one which sneaks in. Currently reading Matt Gaw’s The Pull of the River, which is wonderful and has made me investigate getting a canoe.

I am not getting a canoe.

O is for Orenda and Orbit

Two of my favourite publishers. Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books is a veritable force of nature when it comes to promoting brilliant books, and has assembled a phenomenal team of authors, but also a huge team of bloggers. Proud to be part of #TeamOrenda.

And Orbit Books keep me well-stocked in awesome fantasy and science fiction. Good job they’re two of my favourite genres, eh?

P is for publishers and publicists

Where would we be without all the brilliant publishers and awesome publicists who shout about their brilliant books? Looking at empty shelves, sobbing quietly.

Q is for Q&As

So, a book blog could feature an extract or a guest post, but I do like a good Q&A, such as this one with Leeds author RJ Tomlin.

R is for reviews

Extracts, features, guest posts. They’re all well and good, but the humble review is the core of a good book blog. I’ve written a fair few (obviously), sometimes they just seem to write themselves, and other times you find yourself hunched over the keyboard trying to put into words just how much you loved a book.

There’s a regular debate in the bookblogging community over negative reviews – some bloggers will review every book that comes in, good or bad, and others will only shout about the books they love. Each point of view is absolutely fine – I tend to mostly post positive reviews because I like talking about great books. If I’ve not enjoyed it, I’ll probably not have finished the book anyway. That said, I *have* written a couple of negative reviews. It’s up to you if you want to go looking…

S is for shocking twists you didn’t see coming

Can we just stop with this? At least stop plastering it all over the cover. I read a lot of books, and 90% of the time I *will* see it coming.

That said, I read one book where I spotted the twist by about page 20, but enjoyed the book enormously (The Fourth Monkey, by J.D. Barker – hugely entertaining). But all too often you get to the end and go, yeah, I spotted that.

T is for Twitter, TBR and Tsundoku

Twitter is where the #bookbloggers live, where we moan about the size of our TBR piles (TBR: To Be Read). A TBR can also be known as a Tsundoku.

U is for updating the blog

How often should you update your #bookblog? Some bloggers post daily, or multiple times a day. Some weekly, some less often. I tend to go through flurries of posts where I get in the zone and knock out a few reviews at once, or get a bunch of blog tours which all land at the same time. Update as often as you feel comfortable with. There are no rules.

V is for views

Blogging is all about the views – how many views did my latest post get? What’s my most popular post? What time should I schedule a post to get the most views? How often should I update twitter to make sure I get more views? Should I cross-post to Facebook groups?

Stop chasing the views. Blog because you want to talk about the books. I see bloggers who get a ton of retweets and likes, and I’m sure they must get a LOAD of views. But views are just the tip of the iceberg – there’s a lot more to it than that. The conversations that go on about the posts on twitter are often more valuable than the views.

W is for waitingfor new book coming out

Especially when you’ve seen the buzz around the book on Twitter, waiting for the book to actually appear in the bookshop can be torture. Luckily I’ve got a bit of a backlog to keep me going until the new book arrives. Though sometimes you get the lovely new book but it ends up on the shelf while other books take precedence for blog tours. Hey, we’ll read them all eventually, right?

Right?

X is for x-factor

No, not the TV series. Who has time to watch telly when you’ve got so many lovely books to read? We’re looking for the book that makes you go whoa. The one with that elusive x-factor, the one which you finish and just know that you’ll pester EVERYONE that you know to read. Books like The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle or The Fifth Season. Books that have that certain… something that makes it jump out at you.

Y is for you, this is why we wrote the reviews

Without you, dear reader, we’re just shouting into the void. Admittedly, some days it feels like that’s exactly what we’re doing when a post goes live and there’s little reaction, but we do it anyway. We’re #bookbloggers, and proud.

Z is for sleep

Pfft. Sleep is for wimps. We’ve got books to read, books that demand to be read, books that insist you read one more chapter. Books like Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker, which saw me turn the final page at twenty to three in the morning. Books which you just cannot put down.

Has a book ever kept you awake? I’d love to hear about it.

Phew! Well done for making it this far. That’s my A-Z of #bookblogging. Love to know what you think!

The Courier – Kjell Ola Dahl

In Oslo in 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly
avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In great haste, she escapes to
Sweden whilst the rest of her family is deported to Auschwitz.
In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum,
who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and
allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, Ester ’s childhood
best friend. A relationship develops between them, but ends
abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire.
And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He
wants to reconnect with his daughter Turid. But where has he
been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles
across information that forces her to look closely at her past,
and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…

So this marks the third appearance of Kjell Ola Dahl’s books on the blog, and roughly a year apart. First we had Faithless, then The Ice Swimmer, books five and six in his series featuring his detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich. Classic slices of Nordic Noir, both.

And so now we have The Courier, a standalone historical thriller which delves into the dark history of Norway in WWII. The story is told across three time periods – 1942, 1967 and 2015, though the modern-day element bookends the story.

It’s a fascinating tale, told in Dahl’s signature style of short, punchy sentences, once more ably translated by Don Bartlett. It’s a style that in previous books took me a little while to get into, but here it’s like sinking into a familiar, favourite armchair and you’re soon lost in the story.

As with his earlier books, Dahl shows a deft hand with plot, juggling the two main threads between 1942 and 1967 and revealing his cards only when he’s good and ready. Even though we know how things turn out in the quarter century after the earlier chapters, there’s a real sense of menace and genuine peril in the earlier sections.

It’s not just the plot though, character and especially the relationships between them is where Kjell Ola Dahl excels. Fascinating to see Ester grow from the girl who loses her parents to Auschwitz, a courier who is forced to flee to Sweden to escape the Gestapo herself, to the woman she becomes some 25 years later. The world has changed and so has she, but then everything changes again when an old face makes a startling reappearance.

I don’t usually read a lot of historical fiction, but couldn’t resist seeing what Kjell Ola Dahl, the Godfather of Nordic Noir, would come up with. It’s proper, hard-boiled Noir with a wonderfully gritty, distressingly authentic edge.

It’ll keep you thinking for a long while after you’ve finished. Highly recommended.

The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl is published by Orenda Books on 21st March 2019. You can find Kjell Ola Dahl on twitter @ko_dahl.

Huge thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the review copy.

A Gift For Dying – M.J. Arlidge

Adam Brandt is a forensic psychologist, well used to dealing with the most damaged members of society.
But he’s never met anyone like Kassie.
The teenager claims to have a terrible gift – with one look into your eyes, she can see when and how you will die.
Obviously, Adam knows Kassie must be insane. But then a serial killer hits the city. And only Kassie seems to know where he’ll strike next.
Against all his intuition, Adam starts to believe her.
He just doesn’t realise how deadly his faith might prove…

A Gift for Dying is the first book by M.J. Arlidge that I’ve read, and it definitely won’t be the last. Intriguing premise, great characters and snappy pacing make for a great read.

Teenager Kassandra Wojcek has a gift (if you can call it that) – she can see how and when a person will die, just by looking in their eyes. And some of those people will be meeting a very sticky end. A serial killer is on the loose, and she is the key to stopping him. She’s a wonderful character, troubled and alone, but with a deeper, hidden strength that she eventually comes to realise she has.

Forensic psychologist Adam Brandt is faced with a tricky dilemma – Kassie can’t be telling the truth. Or can she? She knows too much about what’s been going on. Is she somehow involved in the murders? Or can she actually do what she claims to be able to?

Arlidge’s writing style tends towards the short and snappy, with chapters coming thick and fast, giving you the excuse to just read one (or ten) more. A Gift For Dying was very hard to put down, and races towards the ending at breakneck pace.

Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

A Gift For Dying by M.J. Arlidge is published by Penguin and is out now. You can find M.J. Arlidge on twitter at @mjarlidge

Blogging

On 14th March 2003, I wrote my first blog post.

That was over on Livejournal (remember that, kids?), where I racked up quite a lot of posts. Now some of those are cross-posted from here, but I reckon a good 90% were unique to LJ.

Now the bit I miss most is the comments – LJ felt like a real community where you’d check in a couple of times a day to see what was going on around the world, or to chew the fat in the comments section on a post, often diverting wildly from the original topic.

Bit like twitter really. Twitter has kind of taken over from LJ in that regard, for me at least.

I’ve made a huge number of friends from blogging over the years, and it makes me a little sad to think that I might never actually meet most of them in person. A while back I sent out a small moleskine notebook on a trip around the world and my LJ friends – one person would get it, write something (anything) in there, then when they were done we’d look for a couple of volunteers and send it on its way again. I got it back a few years ago and it’s full (well, half-full) of wonderful things, memories and thoughts and general musings from people I know but might never meet. It even got as far as the White House, just after Obama’s inauguration!

So, happy blogging birthday to me.

Espresso coco, on the other hand, celebrates *its* birthday at the end of the month. 🙂

Do you have a blog? How long have you been blogging? Drop me a link in the comments!

Like, a #bookblogger mini-rant

It’s not often I veer off the path of reviews, but something caught my notice this morning and after a mini-rant with a fellow blogger.

It’s all to do with likes.

I often wander through my WordPress reader or my fellow bookbloggers’ blogs looking for something interesting to read. And if I find a review that I like, I click on the little star and, erm, like it.

Often if I’ve liked something, I’ll share it too. Because if I liked it, then chances are other people might like it too. Share the joy.

There are some bloggers who I know well, who are posting reviews of books that I’ve read and liked, and I may click retweet *then* go and read their posts, but you can count that list on the fingers of one hand.

And, from time to time, people stumble across *this* little slice of the internet, and click the like button and share the post. And for that I am eternally grateful, and I really do appreciate every like and share.

They mean a lot. Like, totally a lot. When you’ve put your time and effort into crafting a review (yes, I do craft them, there’s no need for that), it’s nice to see that someone has, you know, liked it.

Then you stumble across a blog which has HUNDREDS of likes. Much like (sorry) the one above. Over three hundred likes.

Whoa.

But… I do wonder with some of these blogs whether it’s a mutual you follow me/I follow you thing, with people autoclicking the like button.

I know of some bloggers who seem to go through and retweet a bucketload of blogposts. It’s entirely possible that they’re reading them all and genuinely liking/sharing, but the sceptic in me wonders if they’re just going down the list in WordPress reader and liking/sharing.

Now me, I’d love the likes, but would far rather someone retweet/like a post because they’ve actually *read* it and liked it.

Talk to me, folks. Why do you like and share?