February round-up

Another month gone. Spring is just around the corner. Let’s have a look back at how February went.

Blog posts
Six blog posts this month (seven if you include the January round-up!),

A guest post from the brilliant Angela Marsons on the role of manipulation in daily life.

Blog tours for Thomas Enger’s Cursed and Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls (both fabulous books)

A review of Claire North’s The Sudden Appearance of Hope (courtesy of David @bluebookballoon)

And a departure – two movie reviews. Suicide Squad (not as bad as I was expecting) and Ex Machina (utterly brilliant). Interested to hear what you think of this – I quite enjoyed writing them (and have a few more in the pipeline), but realise they don’t really fit in with the whole book blog thing. Thoughts welcome. Do you want to see more?

Books read in February

bit light this month, with only 3 books read. C-, must try harder.

As you’ll have noticed, I’ve already reviewed two of the three. Keep your eyes peeled for Parallel Lines later this month!

Currently reading:

Still lots on the currently reading pile. Regular readers will spot some old favourites on there.

  • The Burning Page – Genevieve Cogman (Jan 2017 – kindle)
  • The Ninth Rain – Jen Williams (Jan 2017 – ARC)
  • Defender – GX Todd (Jan 2017 – ARC)
  • Spiderlight – Adrian Tchaikovsky (bought in Sep 2016 when it first came out)
  • The Shadow of What Was Lost – James Islington (ARC received in Sep 2016)
  • Moskva – Jack Grimwood (NetGalley from June 2016)
  • Nimona – Noelle Stevenson (bought in Jan 2016)
  • A Burglar’s Guide to the City – Geoff Manaugh (bought in umm, late 2016?)
  • Kings of the Wyld – Nicholas Eames (Feb 2017 – ARC)
  • Six Stories – Matt Wesolowski (March 2017 – from the @OrendaBoks roadshow in Leeds)

Received this month:

Lots of lovely books to review turned up in February.

  • Don’t Turn Out The Lights – Bernard Minier
  • New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Remnant – Charlie Fletcher
  • Creation Machine – Andrew Bannister
  • Parallel Lines – Steven Savile
  • Sins of Empire – Brian McClellan
  • Ten Dead Comedians – Fred Van Lente
  • The City/The Immortal Throne – Stella Gemmell
  • A Game of Ghosts – John Connolly
  • The Sudden Appearance of Hope – Claire North
  • Redemption Road – John Hart
  • Bane and Shadow – Jon Skovron
  • A Banquet of Consequences – Elizabeth George
  • Little Bones – Sam Blake

And I bought a few:

  • Sockpuppet – Matthew Blakstad
  • Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
  • The Damselfly – SJ Holliday

The TBR pile update

Now up to 67 review copies of books – 43 hard copy/ARCs, 22 on my NetGalley shelf, and 2 other ebooks.

Bought a couple of books taking my own TBR to 98 – 26 hard copy/72 kindle.

Had a bit of a clear-out of some old books too as I was running out of shelf space!

Job for Feb was to finish the currently reading list (oops) and crack into the NetGalley TBR pile. Neither of which seemed to work. All those pesky lovely shiny new books…

Research – a guest post by David Mark

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I’d like to welcome David Mark to the ever-growing list of fabulous guest writers on the blog. David is the author of the DS Aector McAvoy series of crime novels. His latest book, Cruel Mercy, is the sixth in the series. But more on that later.

David is here to give us an insight into the research which goes into a novel. Without further ado, over to you David…

It’s a little after midnight. I’m freezing. The flight seemed to take forever and the security guy at the airport was a right prick. Apparently ‘a bit of both’ isn’t an answer that they can work with in reply to the question ‘business or pleasure?’ The cab driver who brought me from JFK to the Lower East Side had been thrilled to discover he had an author in his taxi. He took it as an opportunity to outline his idea for a novel. And when I say ‘outline’, I mean ‘tell me every word that is going to be in it’ and insist upon an in-depth critique.

So I’m grumpy. I’m hungry. My back aches and I can smell marijuana. Two men are arguing about a parking space and a small woman with her arms and feet poking out of the holes in a sleeping bag is sitting on a low wall swinging her legs and eating Chinese food from a tray. I’m outside the precinct where a few months from now, Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy will have his first meeting with New York Detective Ronald Alto. I’ve seen it on GoogleMaps a dozen times. But I’ve never felt the cold. Never tasted the air. Never breathed in this miasma of scents or learned that the drifts of compacted snow turns to jagged little mountain ranges of dirty ice. That’s why I’m here. I need to understand the city. I need to get my head tuned in right.

Two hours later I’m in a speakeasy where Lucky Luciana used to drink. I’m sipping cocktails from a teacup. The barman is wearing a bowler hat and braces (and other stuff too) and my brain is going into overdrive as he tells me about the date-rapist that got caught at a nearby bar slipping Rohypnol into a girl’s beer. She was a niece of a cop from New Jersey. Word is that somebody made him eat a hundred dollars in quarters before dumping him in the river near Staten Island. I’m not believing it, but the story is going down a treat with my Gin Sling.

And now I’m standing with the bouncers. ‘Nightclub security’ is the label they prefer. Big fella with a cauliflower ear is telling me how the movies get it wrong. ‘Aint no gangsters, not no more. Just criminals, man. Just bad people. You think we’d bow our heads to let some guy skip the line because he’s hooked up to some crime family?”

I push. There must be some Godfather characters left. Must be some patriarchs giving orders about life and death from an ice cream parlour downtown. The big guy scratches his cheek. Leans low enough to whisper. Tells me a story he heard at the gym. Old wiseguy. 70-plus. Used to keep a knuckle-duster under the handle of his walking frame. Served 20 years for strangling a council official with his own dog-lead. The dog had still been attached at the time. Pomeranian. Wiseguy got caught because he took the dog to the vet when the murder was over. Poor animal had dangled off his master’s back while the noose was tightened.

I’m soaking it up. Drinking it in. Imagining. People are coming to life in my brain.
Now I’m at an unlicensed boxing match. Slavic visages. Tattoos and buzz-cuts. Fur coats, leather jackets and the smell of garlic and cigars. I’m keeping my head down, as my guide has urged. Used to be a warehouse, apparently. Owner lost it in a card game. Belongs to the organisation that runs Little Odessa at Brighton Beach. Tonight’s bout doesn’t promise much blood. Just a friendly little bout between two young men looking to make some cash. The people betting on the outcome might not be criminals. Might be lovely people spending their salary on a different kind of night out. But I’m seeing so much more. Seeing an Irish Traveller who has flown over for a grudge match against a brute. Seeing it all go wrong. Seeing the carnage and the bloodshed and an ugly murder committed upstate – bullets and blades in the snow-filled, crow’s-back blackness.

Three days later I’m home. I’m fizzing with ideas. I’m reining myself in. The camera roll on my phone is full of more incriminating pictures than I’m comfortable with. The microphone has several hours worth of crackly conversations recorded in my pocket. I’m feeling alive. Feeling like a character in my own story. I can’t remember which bits are real and which are made up. It’s a good feeling. I start to write.

The detectives’ room is on the second floor of the utilitarian Seventh Precinct. It overlooks a dreary, blustery corridor of the Lower East Side. The constant wind seems to have picked up a vast chunk of Manhattan’s most uninspiring constructions and deposited them at the edge of the East River. The Seventh, housed at the pleasingly exact address of 19 and-a-half Pitt Street, looks out on a scene almost Soviet in its bleakness. This is a place of housing projects, bridge ramps, and squat brick buildings, rattled almost insensible by the constant rumble of vehicles crossing the bridge overhead. Nobody would put this view on a Christmas card, despite the hard, frozen snow which is piled up on the sidewalks like garbage bags. Fresh snow hasn’t fallen for three nights but the temperature has yet to get above zero and the flurries that did fall have now turned to jagged white stone. The emergency rooms are overrun with people who slipped and hurt themselves…

I nibbled at the rancid core of the Big Apple. I hope you take a big bite out of the story it inspired.

thanks David. Fascinating stuff! Cruel Mercy is published by Mulholland Books and is available now. You can find David on twitter @davidmarkwriter.

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Three Irishmen went to America.

One’s dead. One’s as good as. One is missing…

The missing man is Valentine Teague. Petty criminal, bare-knuckle fighter – and DS Aector McAvoy’s brother in law.

Back home, Val’s being held responsible for the blood spilt in the snowy woods of upstate New York. If McAvoy doesn’t find out the truth, all hell will break loose, putting his own family in the crossfire.

Investigating proves harder than he could have imagined. New York City is a different world, with different rules. Soon, he finds himself up against squabbling cops, mafias old and new, and the culmination of a crime forty years in the making.

All McAvoy can do is the right thing. Even if it kills him…

Movies of 2017: Ex Machina

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A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.

Ex Machina. 2015, a healthy 7.7 stars on IMDb. Written and directed by Alex Garland and starring Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleason. Nominated for two Oscars, it won Best Visual Effects against a strong competition – Mad Max Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which amusingly also starred Domhnall Gleason and Oscar Isaac).

I *really* liked this film. Super small scale, super tiny budget (a mere $15 million), essentially a three-hander between Vikander, Gleason and Isaac exploring what it means to be human. The cinematography is fantastic given the somewhat cramped setting of the bulk of the movie, with some interesting scenes between Caleb and Ava where he’s conducting his Turing test – even though he’s the one doing the questioning, she’s the one in the larger room with space to move around. It’s a neat touch. I also loved that Nathan had a crazy wall of post-it notes to help him design something as complex as Ava.

I can see why the film won the visual effects Oscar. Most big-budget sci-fi movies rely on massive spectacle, often at the expense of plot – whereas here they’re brilliantly understated, but effectively done.

Highly recommended. I’d give it 9 creepy robot AIs out of 10.

Cursed – Thomas Enger

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When Hedda Hellberg fails to return from a retreat in Italy, her husband discovers that his wife’s life is tangled in mystery. Hedda never left Oslo, the retreat has no record of her and, what’s more, she appears to be connected to the death of an old man, gunned down on the first day of the hunting season in the depths of the Swedish forests. Henning Juul becomes involved in the case when his ex-wife joins in the search for the missing woman, and the estranged pair find themselves enmeshed both in the murky secrets of one of Norway’s wealthiest families, and in the painful truths surrounding the death of their own son. When their lives are threatened, Juul is prepared to risk everything to uncover a sinister maze of secrets that ultimately leads to the dark heart of European history.

Cursed follows the interlocking narratives of Henning Juul and his ex-wife Nora as they investigate what appear to be different mysteries. Nora is looking into the disappearance of Hedda Hellberg who was supposed to be on a trip to Italy but appears not to have left Oslo. Henning is delving into the tragic events surrounding the death of their son. Despite being the fourth book to feature Henning Juul, this can easily be read as a standalone – there are hints at previous cases and events, but this story stands firmly on its own two feet. Henning and Nora are two fantastic characters, with a real and compelling depth to their relationship and backstory.

I particularly loved Nora and her story – a strong, wilful investigative journalist who will stop and nothing, and brook no nonsense from anyone in pursuit of the truth, whilst dealing with a complex and challenging personal life.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love reading a story with a real sense of place, and Cursed has that feeling that you could visit the locations in the story and know them immediately from the book.

Cursed is dark and riveting, with a plot which zigs and zags through a twisting landscape of suspense, truth and lies. Brutal in places, but beautifully layered and plotted.

If you like your noir of the nordic variety, Thomas Enger is definitely an author you need to read.

Cursed by Thomas Enger is published by Orenda Books and is out now. You can find Thomas on Twitter @EngerThomas. Many thanks, as ever, to Karen at Orenda Books for the book to review.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope – Claire North

The Sudden Appearance of Hope | Claire North

Listen.
All the world forgets me. First my face, then my voice, then the consequences of my deeds.
So listen. Remember me.

My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. We’ve met before – a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit – you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

A globe-trotting jewel thief who no-one can remember. An app which promises perfection. A truly fascinating protagonist.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope is a remarkable book, with a unique voice. What would you do if no-one could remember you? How would you cope? Relationships are out, and you’d struggle to get medical treatment. Every time someone met you, it’d be the first time, kind of a never-ending groundhog day.

Hope is a curious and wonderful character who is remarkable for being unremarkable, and the author really gets under Hope’s skin, with all her worries and fears and the spectrum of grey morality that Hope inhabits. The fight against Prometheus, the makers of the Perfection app, plays out this moral ambiguity beautifully – are they really the bad guys, wanting to help people become perfect? What lines will Hope cross to bring them down?

At times it’s not an easy read, living inside Hope’s head, with a constant stream of trivia, definitions and counting to help herself remain sane (or as sane as one could be with such a condition). It does put you into Hope’s shoes as she bounces from country to country, always on the run to or from someone or some place.

Highly recommended. You can find Claire North on twitter @ClaireNorth42

Many thanks to David @BlueBookBalloon for the copy.

Movies of 2017: Suicide Squad

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A secret government agency recruits some of the most dangerous incarcerated super-villains to form a defensive task force. Their first mission: save the world from the apocalypse.

Suicide Squad. 2016, 6.3 stars on IMDb. Written and directed by David Ayer and starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie and Viola Davis, amongst many others.

Regular readers of this blog may just about remember my movie A-Z back in… crikey. April of 2014. I could have *sworn* it was last year. I had enormous fun doing it and have been meaning to do more movie things for some time now. Slightly more time than originally intended. I blame the books. You may also have noticed that I quite like talking about books. Thought I’d branch out into movies.

So, here we are in 2017 and I finally got round to watching David Ayer’s Suicide Squad.

You know what? It was alright. Better than I was expecting, though a little light on story. Will Smith is hugely watchable in just about anything, as is Jared Leto. His Joker, whilst not up to Heath Ledger standards, was perfectly serviceable. Could have done with a bit (lot) more screen time, and a more developed character arc. Or indeed any kind of character arc.

Most of the other characters get a bit lost in the mix, as is so often the case with these ensemble movies. Killer Croc turned up to do basically one job. Diablo was pretty good, but remarkably easy to talk out of his ‘not doing this any more’ thing. The Enchantress was probably the most interesting character, but again, woefully underused. It did feel a bit like getting all these cool bad guys together, do a Snake Plissken on them and set them loose against an even bigger bad guy. Viola Davis was utterly splendid and ruthless as Amanda Waller.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the other character with some semblance of development. Fun to watch, though her relationship with Joker was a bit weird. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not particularly up on much of the Joker/Quinn from the comics, so I can’t say how well it fits with that.

Could have done with being a movie with half the squad and Joker as the Big Bad. Never really felt the menace or the stakes.

Overall, it was a fun popcorn movie. I give it six deranged evil villains out of ten.

Have you seen Suicide Squad? What did you think? Should I do more movie reviews? Answers onna postcard please…

Day One – All the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda

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It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared without trace. Then a letter from her father arrives – ‘I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl.’ Has her father’s dementia worsened, or has he really seen Corinne? Returning home, Nicolette must finally face what happened on that terrible night all those years ago.

Then, another young woman goes missing, almost to the day of the anniversary of when Corinne vanished. And like ten years ago, the whole town is a suspect.

Told backwards – Day 15 to Day 1 – Nicolette works to unravel the truth, revealing shocking secrets about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne.

So, here we are. Day 1 of the upside-down blog tour for All The Missing Girls. It’s a very… unusual book. The story is told in reverse, starting at the end then skipping backwards a day at a time. It reminded me a little of the film Memento (which, if you’ve not seen it, is awesome – go check it out!) which has a similar structure – you follow the events of the moment, but then jump back to what happened before and get a whole new spin on what you’ve just experienced, shedding a new glimmer of light onto the unfolding mystery of what happened to Corinne and her friends on that fateful night so long ago.

It’s a small town thriller with a splendid cast of characters. Everyone thinks they know everyone else, and it’s only when an outsider comes along that things start to unravel. I’m a huge fan of books with a great sense of place, and Megan has captured the claustrophobic small-town America perfectly.

This is a book which absolutely demands that you pay attention – more than once I had to skip back a chapter (but forwards in time) to double check what had happened to a person or a thing – had she spoken to that person? What did she say again? Did she still have that item at that point? It’s meticulously organised and beautifully constructed. If you like your crime dark and twisty, this one is most definitely for you. Highly recommended.

Follow @MeganLMiranda on Twitter
or at her website meganmiranda.com. All The Missing Girls is published by Corvus and is out now.

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