Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker

Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town. Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.

Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own…

From time to time you might have heard me say that a book kept me up late, wanting just one more chapter.

Tall Oaks was one of those books.

Except in this case, I couldn’t stop at ‘just one more’. I couldn’t stop until it was done.

Twenty to three on a Sunday morning. That’s what time I finished Tall Oaks.

That’s how good it is.  The rest of this review is merely set dressing, just go and buy it already. It’s going to be in my top ten books of the year, I can tell you that now.

I’d heard chatter about Tall Oaks on twitter, mainly from Liz of Liz Loves Books. And Liz particularly loved this book, and wasn’t shy about saying so (is she ever?). I’d somehow managed to resist, citing an ever-growing, tottering TBR pile. But in a moment of lapsed attention, I found myself with a copy on my kindle. I settled in for a story of a small town and a missing child, thinking that I’d read stories like this before.

How wrong I was. Tall Oaks is a beautifully wrought tale of small town America, shot through with a deft line in wit and with what were to become some of my favourite characters in a book, ever. Manny and Abe, I’m looking at you.

The characters in Tall Oaks all have their story to tell, and what stories they are. There’s a real depth to these people, quirks, secrets and lies playing out over the days and weeks following the disappearance of three year-old Harry.

The sense of small town America seeps through the pages of this book and I was surprised to find out that Chris Whitaker is, in fact, British – born in London and living in Hertfordshire and yet has captured the feel of the town so brilliantly. What’s even more astonishing is that this is a debut novel – the writing, plotting and characterisation are confident and accomplished, and if this is just the start of Chris’s writing career, I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

Thankfully we won’t have too long to wait, as his new novel  All The Wicked Girls is out in the summer. My pre-order is already in.

You can find Chris on twitter @WhittyAuthor.

Defender – GX Todd

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

The moment locks them together.

Here and now it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet.

These voices have purpose.

And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where something… unusual has happened, Defender tells the story of a young girl called Lacey and a drifter, Pilgrim. The world has changed – the biggest threat to mankind is from the voices that have started appearing – voices which tell people to do bad, bad things. Suicide, murder or a descent into madness – you don’t get to choose, the voices do…

Defender is a thriller, of sorts. It’s also part horror, and you could argue there’s a dash of sci-fi in there too. It’s also startlingly original, blackly comic, bleakly desolate, with an utterly fantastic cast of characters, and a setting which just oozes menace. It’s one of those ‘just one more chapter’ books, which keeps you up until far too late.

It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

It’s a stunning debut, and I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s going to be one of those books that I pester you about until you give in and read it. You may as well just go and read it and save yourself the nagging.

I can’t wait to find out where book 2 will take us. I just know that it can’t get here soon enough.

You can find GX Todd on twitter @GemTodd. Many thanks to Headline for the review copy.

Movies of 2017: Nerve

A high school senior finds herself immersed in an online game of truth or dare, where her every move starts to become manipulated by an anonymous community of “watchers.”

Nerve (2016). Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, based on the novel by Jeanne Ryan and starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Emily Meade. Featuring a cameo by everyone’s favourite vlogger, Casey Niestat.

A paltry 6.6 stars on IMDb, Nerve clocks in at a very healthy 1 hour 36 minutes long – which, as we all know, is nigh-on the perfect length for a movie at a shade under 100 minutes.

Venus “Vee” Delmonico is a high school student desperate to leave home, but ends up embroiled in ‘Nerve’, an online game where the Watchers dare the Players to do more and more dangerous things.

Nerve is a fast-paced, gloriously neon-soaked joyride through New York by night. Emma Roberts and Dave Franco have a definite chemistry and are fun to watch. It’s a thriller with a technological edge, but one which has a certain plausibility and feels like the writers actually know how social media works. People will say and do a lot of things hidden behind the anonymity of a phone screen, and people will do a lot more to become famous on the internet.

Great fun, even if it does falter slightly in the final act where a bit of moralising comes to play. It’s a minor niggle though, and worth going along for the ride. 96 minutes well spent.

James Bond: Hammerhead

James Bond is assigned to hunt down and eliminate Kraken, a radical anti-capitalist who has targeted Britain’s newly-upgraded nuclear arsenal. But all is not as it seems. Hidden forces are plotting to rebuild the faded glory of the once-mighty British Empire, and retake by force what was consigned to history. 007 is a cog in their deadly machine – but is he an agent of change, or an agent of the status quo? Loyalties will be broken, allegiances challenged. But in an ever-changing world, there’s one man you can rely on: Bond. James Bond.

Hammerhead collects the six-issue mini-series by Andy Diggle, illustrated by Luca Casalanguida.

I think this may well be the first graphic novel I’ve ever reviewed. I’ve read a few, but this is definitely the first Bond.

I’m a huge Bond fan, both the books and movies, so it was interesting to see how well it translated to this format. I have to say I was impressed – we’ve got a very authentic-feeling Bond story, plenty of action and nice one-liners thrown in, an implausibily-named villian and some evil shenanigans, with a smattering of globe trotting .

The action comes thick and fast from the start and there’s nary a pause for breath as Bond follows the trail of ubervillain Kraken and a cunning plan involving stolen nukes.

So far, so Bond. It’s glorious fun spotting where the story is going to go. The villian’s motivations are delightfully sinister, if a bit random – I’m not *entirely* sure that our Kraken really thought things through here, but it’s a minor niggle.

Will definitely be looking out for more of these in future. And I’ve realised that I’ve missed the Warren Ellis/Jason Masters Bond books, so I’ll be off to check those out.

James Bond (the reviews) will return…

Many thanks to Dynamite Entertainment and NetGalley for the review copy.

The Man Who Loved Islands – David F. Ross

In the early 80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than 10 years. A bizarre opportunity to honor the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself, if only they can forgive and forget. With the help of the deluded Max Mojo and the faithful Hamish May, can they pull off the impossible, and reunite the legendary Ayrshire band, The Miraculous Vespas, for a one-off Music Festival—The Big Bang—on a remote, uninhabited Scottish island?

Regular readers of the blog will be well aware of my fondness for Mr Ross and his books – The Last Days of Disco was my first experience of a blog tour (and what a way to start!) and The Rise & Fall of The Miraculous Vespas followed last year, raising the bar once more.

A year later (more or less) and we’re back again with The Man Who Loved Islands, rounding out the trilogy in fine style. I adored the first two books for both their amazing sense of place and time.  Book three continues with this, taking us on a journey through the later 80 and from Ibiza to Shanghai, bringing us up to the present day and back full circle to Scotland as Max, Bobby, Hammy and Joey come together one last time for one final, glorious outing.

This is a book of three parts – we follow the rise and rise of Bobby Cassidy and his ever-faithful sidekick Hamish as they take over the Ibiza music scene. Joey (now Joseph) has become an architect, adrift in the corporate world of Shanghai. A message from Hammy brings Joey back to see his old friend and, when one thing leads to another, hijinks ensue.

And what glorious hijinks they are. Max Mojo and the boys decide to put on a gig and reunite the Miraculous Vespas for one last, epic gig the like of which the world has never seen…

I loved seeing how Bobby and Hammy took on the Ibiza club scene. Growing up around the same era as the books were set gave it something extra for me, though I was never into the club scene, the musical references are, as ever, perfect. Fascinating to see them grow up from the young, vibrant guys in the first books into middle age – still gloriously foul-mouthed (this book is probably not for the prudish!), and with a fine line in bickering.

Heartbreaking, poignant, and ferociously funny, it’s a perfect ending to a fabulous trilogy. If you’ve not come across the Vespas, the Heatwave Disco boys

If you’ve not come across the Vespas, the Heatwave Disco boys or the incomparable Max Mojo, then get yourself all three Disco Days books, a nice wee dram (or maybe a bottle) of something and settle down for a musical journey through the years.

You’re in for quite a ride.

Book 18 of 2017 The Man Who Loved Islands by David F. Ross, finished last night with a wee dram of @copperdogwhisky. Highly recommended, both!

Enormous thanks to Karen at Orenda Books (@OrendaBooks) for the review copy, to David F. Ross (@dfr) for taking us on one last journey back to Ayrshire (and to @CopperDog for the splendid whisky!)

Opinions are, as ever, entirely my own.

The blog tour continues tomorrow!

Dog Fight – Michael J. Malone

Dog Fight - Michael J. Malone

Kenny O’Neill, a villain with a conscience, returns in a hard-hitting thriller of exploitation, corruption and criminal gangs. When Kenny’s cousin, Ian, comes to the aid of a fellow ex-squaddie in a heap of trouble, he gets caught up in the vicious underground fight scene, where callous criminals prey on the vulnerable, damaged and homeless. With Ian in too deep to escape, Kenny has no option other than to infiltrate the gang for the sake of his family. Kenny is an experienced MMA fighter, as tough as they come, but has he found himself in the one fight he can never win?

Dog Fight is gritty and brutal, a vicious story of illegal fight clubs and the ex-servicemen who are forced to fight for their lives against a backdrop of PTSD and abandonment by the state.

The characters are fantastic, portrayed warts and all. The action is intense and pulls no punches (sorry) as we’re drawn into Kenny’s world as his cousin Ian gets caught up in the shady world of underground fight clubs. There’s a real sense of menace running through the pages. Not everyone is going to get out of this in one piece, and some aren’t going to get out at all.

There are some brutal scenes in the book, it’s not for the squeamish, but it’s a worthwhile read. The plotting and characterisation is top-notch, with a nice layer of dark humour in the dialogue running throughout.

Thanks to Contraband for the review copy, and to Gordon (@grabthisbook) for organising the blog tour. Dog Fight by Michael J. Malone is out now in paperback and ebook.

The Cutaway – Q&A with Christina Kovacs

book cover - The Cutaway - Christina Kovac

It begins with someone else’s story. The story of a woman who leaves a busy restaurant and disappears completely into the chilly spring night. Evelyn Carney is missing – but where did she go? Who was she meeting? And why did she take a weapon with her when she went?

When brilliant TV producer Virginia Knightley finds Evelyn’s missing person report on her desk, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened that night. But her pursuit of the truth draws her deep into the power struggles and lies of Washington DC’s elite – to face old demons and new enemies.

The new thriller by debut author Christina Kovac is set in the world of rolling news, a world that Christina knows well as she worked in TV journalism for many years in Washington DC. And today Christina is here for a Q&A!

Tell me about a typical day at the office when you worked in TV news?

It depended on where I was working, but my days were often like Virginia Knightly’s workday. Before I went into the office, I’d read the newspapers and websites and peek at the cable news. At the office, I’d read into the stories we were working on and call around to sources. Hunting for news, I’d call it. There were editorial meetings where stories were pitched. Sometimes I’d run out to grab an interview. Other times, I’d spend weeks on a special project, like election coverage or a crime story. It was always busy.

Washington is like its own closed little world to those of us on the outside – which books or films are the best way in?

This is only my opinion, but if you’d like a good explainer for how the United States government became the mess it currently is, read DARK MONEY by Jane Mayer. It’s non-fiction.
If you want to forget what a mess it is, watch Scandal. So sexy, but not even close to realistic, and you’ll need that after you read Jane Mayer.

Who are your writing heroes and heroines?

I read A Room of One’s Own when I was in college. It struck me as a good manual for women who want to do anything creative. It still does. I named my protagonist after Ms. Woolf.

Who do you think tells the best stories about contemporary America?

The sands beneath us are still shifting, so it’s hard to say right now. All we know is that everything has changed. Whoever captures the sense of being utterly lost, of no longer knowing who you are as a country or even what your country wants to be, whoever tells that story has got contemporary America. I say this with great love for my country, and tears in my eyes.

We were all hooked on podcast Serial and Netflix’ Making a Murderer. What do you think about the dramatic retelling of true crimes in a way that sets them up as entertainment?

Making a Murderer was so great, because you never knew who was telling the truth—which is how it is. You get to be the armchair detective in an investigation where everyone lies—or bends the truth. And the stakes are so high. Life and death, freedom or incarceration, innocence and guilt and the social stigma that comes with being accused, and don’t forget—the murdered girl who deserves justice.

Do you think people in power often get away with the abuse of the vulnerable?

Yes. They will often do what they can get away with. It’s up to the media to throw a light on abuse. That’s why we need a strong Fourth Estate—and whistle blowers.

How do you think books especially fiction coming out of the Trump era will differ from those that preceded it?

We’ll have to see. It’s only been two months! Doesn’t it feel like years? I do know it was much easier to write good prose under “No Drama Obama,” as we called him.

Who are your favourite literary heroines?

When I was a girl, I loved the MM Kaye female protagonists. They were adventurous and smart and carried me along with them to foreign lands—England, Zanzibar, India! Scarlett O’Hara got me through my parent’s divorce. Recently, I loved Tana French’s Antoinette Conway. She didn’t need to be loved. She just needed to do her job—and that made her lovable, to me.

 

Thanks Christina!

You can find Christina on twitter @christina_kovac and THE CUTAWAY is out now in hardback and ebook and is published by Serpent’s Tail (@serpentstail).

Get a copy at:

 

book cover - The Cutaway - Christina Kovac

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.