Kill It With Fire – Adam Maxwell

They say revenge is a dish best served cold but Violet Winters isn’t the sort of criminal to play by other people’s rules.
Double-crossed and with her reputation as a master thief on the line she can only see one course of action. 
A Raucous Rampage of Revenge.
With a detective nipping at her heels and her escape route ablaze she’ll be lucky to escape with her life let alone anything else.

A couple of years ago I was sent a copy of a book called The Dali Deception, a cracking little heist story. I do love a good heist. 🙂

So when Adam got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in reading his latest, Kill It With Fire, I jumped at the chance. The email arrived and I jumped right in.

It’s a short story which finds us back in Kilchester with Violet Winters out for revenge. The action comes thick and fast and I breezed through this in an hour or so. But stories are as long as they need to be, and Kill It With Fire is nicely paced and a lovely little outing for a couple of our favourite criminals. And it features my favourite character Katie hitting people a lot, which never gets old.

Good fun, and an excellent way to pass an hour or so.

You can find Adam Maxwell on twitter @LostBookshop or on his website. Many thanks to Adam for the review copy. 

A Burglar’s Guide to the City – Geoff Manaugh


Published by Fsg Originals
Source: own copy
At the core of A Burglar’s Guide to the City is an unexpected and thrilling insight: how any building transforms when seen through the eyes of someone hoping to break into it. Studying architecture the way a burglar would, Geoff Manaugh takes readers through walls, down elevator shafts, into panic rooms, up to the buried vaults of banks, and out across the rooftops of an unsuspecting city.

With the help of FBI Special Agents, reformed bank robbers, private security consultants, the L.A.P.D. Air Support Division, and architects past and present, the book dissects the built environment from both sides of the law. Whether picking padlocks or climbing the walls of high-rise apartments, finding gaps in a museum’s surveillance routine or discussing home invasions in ancient Rome, A Burglar’s Guide to the City has the tools, the tales, and the x-ray vision you need to see architecture as nothing more than an obstacle that can be outwitted and undercut.

Full of real-life heists-both spectacular and absurd-A Burglar’s Guide to the City ensures readers will never enter a bank again without imagining how to loot the vault or walk down the street without planning the perfect getaway.

An all-too-rare dip into non-fiction here. I’ve had Geoff Manaugh’s A Burglar’s Guide to the City on my shelf for ages, but I’ve been dipping in and out and finally finished it earlier this week.

It’s a fascinating book looking at how the built environment around us can be used (or mis-used) by criminals to their advantage. I enjoyed its at times slightly haphazard meanderings through tales of heists, safe-crackers and lockpicking competitions, anecdotes about capers both successful and not quite as successful. It’s well-written and clearly meticulously researched, and well worth a look if the subject tickles your fancy. I’d originally bought it as research for my own long-suffering novel-in-progress, and there were plenty of useful nuggets in there!

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh is published by Fsg Originals. You can find Geoff on twitter @bldgblog or at his website geoffmanaugh.com

The Real McCoy – Claire Cock-Starkey

Got a great book for you today – The Real McCoy and 149 other Eponyms, by Claire Cock-Starkey, author of The Book Lovers’ Miscellany and A Library Miscellany. It’s a fascinating little book, and I’ve got an extract to share with you today.

Did you know where ‘cereal’ orginally came from? Let’s find out!

CEREALfood grains such as oat, corn, wheat and rye

This word came into use in the nineteenth century to describe grains which are used for food, but it originates from the Latin word cerealis, which is derived from associations with Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. Ceres was a benevolent goddess, the daughter of Saturn and Ops; she was believed to have given humans the gift to cultivate corn and brought fertility to the land. She is often pictured with a farm tool in one hand and a basket of fruit, grains or flowers in the other. The Romans explained the ebb and flow of the seasons through a myth related to Ceres. Ceres’ daughter Proserpina was taken into the underworld after lonely Pluto, god of the underworld, fell in love with her having been hit with one of Cupid’s arrows. Ceres was devastated to lose her daughter and plunged the world into famine, so Jupiter sent Mercury into the underworld to ask Pluto to return Proserpina to earth. Unfortunately while in the underworld Proserpina had eaten six pomegranate seeds – the fruit of the dead – and as a consequence she could not remain in the world of the living. Proserpina was allowed out of the underworld each spring and Ceres would celebrate by making the plants burst into life. Proserpina and Ceres would spend the summer happily together and plants would flourish, before Ceres would begin to grow unhappy at her daughter’s imminent return to the underworld, heralding the arrival of autumn. Proserpina was forced to spend the winter months back in the underworld with Pluto, and so in the world of the living nothing would grow while Ceres sadly waited for her return.

The English language is rich with eponyms – words that are named after an individual – some better known than others. This book features 150 of the most interesting and enlightening specimens, delving into the origins of the words and describing the fascinating people after whom they were named.

Eponyms are derived from numerous sources. Some are named in honour of a style icon, inventor or explorer, such as pompadour, Kalashnikov and Cadillac. Others have their roots in Greek or Roman mythology, such as panic and tantalise. A number of eponyms, however, are far from celebratory and were created to indicate a rather less positive association – into this category can be filed boycott, Molotov cocktail and sadist.

Encompassing eponyms from medicine, botany, invention, science, fashion, food and literature, this book uncovers the intriguing tales of discovery, mythology, innovation and infamy behind the eponyms we use every day. The perfect addition to any wordsmith’s bookshelf.

The Real McCoy and 149 other Eponyms by Claire Cock-Starkey is published by Bodleian Publishing in October 2018. You can find Claire on twitter @nonfictioness or at her website nonfictioness.com

Good Samaritans – Will Carver


Published by Orenda Books, November 2018
Source: review copy
Seth Beauman can’t sleep. He stays up late, calling strangers from his phonebook, hoping to make a connection, while his wife, Maeve, sleeps upstairs. A crossed wire finds a suicidal Hadley Serf on the phone to Seth, thinking she is talking to The Samaritans.
But a seemingly harmless, late-night hobby turns into something more for Seth and for Hadley, and soon their late-night talks are turning into day-time meet-ups. And then this dysfunctional love story turns into something altogether darker, when Seth brings Hadley home…
And someone is watching…

I’ve sat and looked a blank page for the past half hour, trying to come up with some kind of coherent thoughts about Will Carver’s Good Samaritans. I’ve read a lot of Orenda Books’ output over the past couple of years, and I’ll say this – you’ll always get something different, something unique, something unlike you’ve come across before.

And that’s definitely the case with Good Samaritans. It’s very dark, very graphic and gripping, and demands that you read just one more chapter.

After all, the chapters are short, so one more can’t hurt, can it?

Narrator: Oh yes it can. They can hurt a lot.

Told from multiple viewpoints, Good Samaritans is a story of crossed lines and crossed fates. After a brutal opening, I found it took a little while to settle into the style of the book, flicking as it does from Seth to Maeve to Hadley, from present to flashback, from first to third person. But once you’ve adjusted, you’re in for quite a ride. There were several points at which I was convinced that I’d figured it out, only for something to come out of left-field and blindside me. One in particular (and I’m not giving anything else away) had me put the book down and glare at it (in a good way!) for a minute or two before diving back in.

The plotting is devilishly clever, and Carver does a splendid job of getting into the heads of some spectacularly unsavoury people. Good Samaritans is definitely *not* for the squeamish, featuring some very graphic (and energetic) sex, and some very unpleasant things done with bleach.

If I had any quibble I’d loved to have seen more of Detective Pace, who feels a little like background texture. Maybe he could have more adventures… Will?

Good Samaritans is a phenomenal read. I finished it the day it arrived, hooked from the first page.

Good Samaritans by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books. Thanks to Karen for the review copy. You can find Will on Twitter @will_carver.

The Consuming Fire – John Scalzi

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy… and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre[1].

Regular readers of this blog (I know there must be some of you out there) will recall that I bloody loved The Collapsing Empire, the first book in John Scalzi’s Interdependecy trilogy/series.  I’m normally pretty good at keeping on top of my favourite authors (no, not like *that*. Get your mind out of the gutter) so I was more than a little surprised to discover book 2 was out already. One quick trip to the bookshop[2] later, a quick reshuffle of the TBR pile[3] and here we are.

We’re back. Glorious worldbuilding, snarky characters, feuding Houses, and an Emperox looking to save humanity. So far, so sci-fi, but The Consuming Fire is clever, funny, and it’s like taking the essence of an Iain M. Banks book and boiling it down until you’ve stripped it down to the pure essence of an idea, making it 100% more witty, with a ton more diverse characters and 100% more sex. There are a lot of characters shacking up with a lot of other characters in this book.

Warren Ellis described it as

…frictionless high-speed platinum-pulp science fiction storytelling.

which pretty much sums it up perfectly.

I read it in one sitting. It’s short, fast and pretty darn awesome. You have to read book 1 first though.

[1] No, I had no idea what ‘gyre’ meant either. Turns out it’s ‘a spiral or vortex’. See, we both learned stuff today! Don’t tell me I never do anything for you.
[2] See? Bookbloggers *do* buy books.
[3] Only joking. You approach the TBR pile at your peril. I just kind of bypassed it a tiny bit.

Some Old Bloke – Robert Llewellyn

When writer, comedian and Red Dwarf actor Robert Llewellyn’s son scrawled a picture of him at Christmas and titled it ‘Some Old Bloke’, Robert was cast deep into thought about life and what it means to be a bloke and an old one at that.

In this lighthearted, revealing and occasionally philosophical autobiography, we take a meandering route through Robert’s life and career: from the sensitive young boy at odds with his ex-military father, through his stint as a hippy and his years of arrested development in the world of fringe comedy, all the way up to the full-body medicals and hard-earned insights of middle age.

Whether he is waxing lyrical about fresh laundry, making an impassioned case for the importance of alternative energy or recounting a detailed history of the dogs in his life, Robert presents a refreshingly open and un-cynical look at the world at large and, of course, the joys of being a bloke.

Ah, Robert Llewellyn. Star of Red Dwarf and Scrapheap Challenge (Junkyard Wars to our American chums), lately of Fully Charged and Carpool. Here with Some Old Bloke he tells a delightfully rambling sort-of-autobiography series of tales about a variety of topics, which one could easily imagine him telling over a pint of something nicely refreshing in a pub somewhere.

I’d love to have a chat with Rob in a pub somewhere. He comes across as the sort of guy who’d have a story for pretty much everything, an anecdote to while away the time between the glass being full and oh look, the glass is empty, can I get you another drink?

The stories range from his youthful hippy days driving an ancient van around the country, to the somewhat surprising (to me at least) revelation that he once ran a shoe-making business. There are tales of dogs that he’s owned, of the time he emptied the portaloos for famous people on a film set, to tales from Scrapheap Challenge and its American cousin, Junkyard Wars. It finishes up with an impassioned chapter about the importance of alternative energy. As viewers of his YouTube channel Fully Charged will be aware, Robert has a keen interest in the topic, and he presents a fascinating case for it.

I really enjoyed Some Old Bloke. I guess that as I’m one too (my brother cheekily suggested that I look not unlike Mr Llewellyn, with our short cropped hair, beard and glasses), I’m the book’s perfect target audience. And maybe that’s the case, but if you’ve enjoyed watching Rob on tv or YouTube over the years, then I’m confident that you’ll enjoy this philosophical ramble too.

Some Old Bloke by Robert LLewellyn is published by Unbound, and is out now.

Robert Llewellyn is an actor, novelist, screenwriter, comedian and TV presenter, best known for Red Dwarf, Scrapheap Challenge, Carpool and Fully Charged. He drives an electric car and writes under a rack of solar panels in Gloucestershire.

The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

A post-apocalyptic fantasy with some glorious worldbuilding, The Fifth Season is the first book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. It’s a book to lose yourself in, told through three viewpoints – Essun, on the hunt for her husband who has kidnapped her daughter after murdering her son. Syenite – fourth ring Orogene on a mission to a coastal city to help with a problem with their harbour. And Damaya, a young girl on the way to the Fulcrum, where she will learn to control her Orogeny, and the very earth itself.

Three brilliant, unforgettable strong female leads, each told in a distinct voice. Indeed this takes a little getting used to, the swapping of styles between the three. One of which is told in the second person, something you see all too rarely. Persevere though, and if you give it a chance, The Fifth Season will reward you richly. The rest of the cast of characters is wonderfully diverse, both in gender, sexuality and race and all equally fascinating, each bringing more facets and layers to the story.

The worldbuilding on display here is absolutely top-notch, and with every chapter Jemisin draws you into this world which at times has shades of our own, but is otherwise completely… different. The story is like a jigsaw puzzle, sections interlocking piece by piece until you slot in the final segment and see the glorious whole.

It’s a phenomenal work, and I can’t wait to read the next two books.

The Fifth Season is the first of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, and won the 2016 Hugo Award. Huge thanks to Nazia (@gambit589) for introducing me to this book.