Into the Drowning Deep – Mira Grant


Published by Orbit books, November 2017
Source: Review copy
Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.
But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

This review will come in two parts. First up, the general ‘what did Dave think of the book’ bit, then a SPOILERIFIC (real word, honest) bit.

I was torn when it came to giving Into The Drowning Deep a star rating on Goodreads. It’s a solid thriller, and I polished it off in a couple of days. Perfectly decent, if unsurprising alien horror. Reminded me a little (ok, a lot) early Michael Crichton books. But… just wasn’t really scary enough for me. Not quite a four-star ‘loved it’, but more than a three star.

Ok, let’s go 3.5 stars. If you like Michael Crichton’s ‘something scary going on, lots of science and OMG IT’S EATING MY FACE’ then I have no hesitation in recommending this book. You’ll almost certainly enjoy it (especially the face-eating bits). The story moves along nicely, the scary monsters are certainly monstery and it’s worth your time if you’re into that sort of thing. I did enjoy it.

MOSTLY.

HOWEVER.

[SPOILERIFIC BIT]

[NO, REALLY]

[are you still here? Have you read the book? Yes? Cool. No? Did I mention SPOILERIFIC BIT?]

[We cool? Right]

See, the trouble I had with this book is that I’ve seen it before. Strange things going on so a bunch of people go investigate and get their faces eaten. No, they’re not dinosaurs, they’re mermaids. With lots of teeth. But you’ve got the usual cast of characters who naturally, make a series of spectacularly stupid decisions, usually resulting in them getting their faces eaten off.

There’s the Company Man (and the company is called Imagine. Not at ALL like InGen. No sir. No dinosaurs here) with An Agenda. His estranged genius sort-of-ex-wife scientist. The cute younger scientist who lost her sister to a previous mission. There’s a tricked-out super science ship with non-working shutters (of course). There’s pretty much a bit where someone has to go down a darkened corridor to do A Thing and gets their face eaten afterwards. The husband-wife hired killers who liked hunting things but continued to make a series of stupid decisions throughout the story. The company who sends a partially-working ship to find killer mermaids but can’t be arsed to wait to sort the shutters out because waiting another few days to set off wouldn’t kill you (but mermaids with a face-eating thing will).

There were so many Chekhov’s guns scattered around the opening third of the book. I had a bet with myself that X would happen to Y because of *this*, and that Z would happen because of *that*, and was fairly spot on with 90% of it

Some bits did surprise me – Theo Blackwell’s gammy leg due to an unspecified-yet-teased injury which required regular injections of an oddly-specific concoction of snake venom mixed with other things, which I assumed would come up later – either he’s getting eaten because he can’t run because of the leg, or someone discovers that the oddly-specific drug concoction would turn out to the THE MAGIC THING that killed off the mermaids. Weirdly none of this happened and it turned out that he just had a bad leg and needed to inject himself regularly. Oh.

AND! the bit where Tory falls into the ocean with all the until-now-killer mermaids, who’ve pretty much eaten the faces off EVERYONE but now largely ignore her (??). And has to swim under the ship due to the now-working shutters and swim through a tiny hatch only to be stopped at the end and appear to be drowning BUT NO, someone spots her behind the clear plastic (??) shutter which can only be opened from the inside manually (I dunno, maybe the electrics were still fried despite the cameras working) and requires someone to risk life and limb (and face) to go into the pool with the mermaids (who have got bored of eating faces) to open it and save the day.

HOWEVER. Despite all that, I did enjoy it. It was daft and silly but rattled along – I liked the characters (mostly), it was an interesting setting, and left things open enough for a sequel. Which I’ll probably read. Like I said before, if you like Crichton, you’ll more than likely like this.

Huge thanks to Nazia @gambit589 for the review copy.

Jade City – Fonda Lee


Published by Orbit books, November 2017
Source: Review copy
FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.
Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon’s bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Last weekend I found myself on a three hour train journey down to London to visit GollanzFest, so cast around through the TBR pile for something to read. It’s a splendid problem having a wide range of things to choose from, and with some gentle prompting from @gambit589 (which basically involved emails which went JADE CITY! JADE CITY!), I started (somewhat unsurprisingly) Jade City, by Fonda Lee.

Oh, what a splendid choice. Described as “a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Godfather with magic and kung fu”, it’s all that and more. The magic system is both delightfully simple (jade gives its owner magical powers – the more jade the stronger the powers) and wonderfully complex. The worldbuilding is top-notch, giving Kekon a deep and well-considered culture which sets it apart – it feels like a mishmash of a variety of different places – Hong Kong spring to mind, but with other far eastern islands layered on top, creating a unique, new-yet-familiar setting.

Similarly, the characters draw on the familiar – Yakuza, the Triads, and yes, The Godfather, but with its own unique polish. The level of detail in the world presented is fantastic – from the food, religion, clan power structures to the cars and weaponry – moon blades, and talon knives, jade giving the wearer powers, but too muc in the wrong hands bringing the dreaded (and deadly) itches. The powers that Jade confers, giving us some splendid kung fu sequences. It’s all too easy to see how Jade City would rock on the big screen.

All this worldbuilding would be for nothing if there wasn’t a rock-solid story to back it up. Jade City delivers on every front. Rival families at war over control of the city. Anden, a young student reaching the end of his studies in how to control his jade powers. City lowlife trying to get by in a city ruled by the clans. It’s all here, every layer of society.

Jade City is the first book in The Green Bone Saga, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. You can find Fonda Lee on twitter @FondaJLee, or at her website fondalee.com

Huge thanks to Nazia @gambit589 for the review copy.

How to Stay Alive – Bear Grylls

The ultimate survival guide from the world’s leading survival expert.

Bear Grylls. Explorer. Adventurer. Survival expert and Chief Scout. And now author of a book on how to survive… pretty much everything.

It’s a real mixed bag – some really practical and useful advice, like how to make a fire, survival shelter, and navigate. Things I could use with my Scout group. Then there are other, more esoteric chapters – how to escape quicksand, how to survive a shark attack or flying a plane in an emergency. Stuff that you hope will never happen – and if it does, I’m not sure I’d be able to remember what Bear had to say!

The book is split into five main sections:

  • basic survival skills
  • great escapes
  • terrain survival
  • life-or-death situations
  • medical emergencies

With each section covering 12-15 sections – Bear certainly covers most of the bases when it comes to surviving stuff. As I say, some of it was more directly and regularly useful (especially as a Scout Leader) than others, but each chapter is short and pithy, with some useful advice. Some of it I’d heard before from Bear’s regular appearance on telly – I think that contestants on The Island should be given a copy! Sometimes I think the chapters were a little *too* short, but the style is engaging.

Overall, I rather enjoyed How to Stay Alive. I know that Bear is one of those people you either love or can’t stand – I quite like his enthusiastic style and it comes across here.

Perfect Christmas present for someone who’s got everything. Now they can survive anything too.

Huge thanks to Bantam Press for the advance copy.

Need to Know – Karen Cleveland


Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—are threatened.

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

Sometimes a book turns up which piques your interest right off the bat. I do love a good spy thriller and Need to Know doesn’t disappoint. It’s clever, rattles along at a fair old clip and poses some interesting questions – what would you do when faced with a choice between your country and your family? It’s one of those can’t put it down books which I polished off in a single sitting, more or less.

Superbly plotted, with some fantastic twists and great characters. Highly recommended. Sadly you’ll have to wait until January to read it!

Many thanks to Becky Short and Bantam Press for the advance copy. I loved what you did with the book edges!

This book is rather splendid.

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The House of Spines – Michael J. Malone


Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who appears to have been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, he finds that Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman …

House of Spines is a deliciously gothic, spooky tale set in an old house near Glasgow. Inherited by writer Ranald McGhie from a long-lost relative, the house is host to a magnificent collection of books, and more than a few family secrets.

Michael J. Malone has created a beautifully layered story, filled with strong characters, not least of which is Newton Hall which becomes a character in and of itself in the book – with creepy corridors, an ancient lift and long-forgotten rooms and a housekeeper/gardener couple who seem to have become part of the very fabric of the house. We follow young Ran as he first delights in his new-found property owner status but soon the house’s… quirks start to show up. As the secrets unravel, so does Ran’s sanity. Are the events really happening, or has his grip on the real world started to fray?

Fantastic characters, a gloriously mysterious house and a delightfully twisty plot. Highly recommended.

House of Spines by Michael J. Malone is out now, from Orenda Books. You can find Michael on twitter @MichaelJMalone1

Many thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for asking me to take part in the tour, and for the review copy.

All The Wicked Girls – Chris Whitaker


“Raine sometimes complains that nothing exciting is ever gonna happen in Grace again. Daddy told her careful what you wish for.”

Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine.

Then Summer goes missing. Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.

But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye

Regular readers (and twitter followers) will be well aware of my love for Tall Oaks, Chris Whitaker’s stunning debut novel. It kept me up until the wee small hours reading.

It was with some trepidation that I started his second book, All The Wicked Girls. The bar had been set pretty high.

I needn’t have worried. All The Wicked Girls is utterly brilliant, though in a different way to Tall Oaks. I’d struggle to pick one to recommend to you if pressed, and would probably insist that you just buy both and thank me (or rather thank Chris) later.

It’s deep and complex, harrowing and heartbreaking, a story of a young girl’s hunt for her missing sister in a small southern bible belt town. Chris Whitaker does small-town America really really well, and the town and townsfolk are pitch perfect. As with Tall Oaks, All The Wicked Girls is a character piece, and what characters they are – from the distraught parents to the fire & brimstone preachers, the harried cops and Raine’s unlikely partners, Noah and Purv.

Much like Manny and Abe from Tall Oaks, I loved the three kids, each with their own secrets, each trying to make it in their own version of the world.

All The Wicked Girls will sit firmly alongside Tall Oaks in my books of the year. As I said earlier, don’t make me choose – buy both and settle down for some of the best storycrafting you’re likely to see for a long time.

Chris Whitaker can be found on twitter @whittyauthor. Go say hi. The go read his books.

Block 46 – Orenda Audio Week

Delighted to be taking part in Orenda Books’ Audio Week, where a host of awesome bloggers (and me) are reviewing the audiobook versions of some fantastic Orenda titles. Plus I’ve got *two* copies of Johana Gustawsson’s Block 46 audiobook to give away! More on that later.

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

Firstly, the story. It’s dark and often horrific, told in part through flashbacks to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp towards the end of the Second World War. The characters here are twisted and barbaric in their treatment of the prisoners, and you’re dragged along through the story of Erich Hebner as he does what he needs to do to survive. How this then links to the murder of Linnea Blix in the present, or to the murders of a young boy in London, is what drives this story.

The characters are brilliantly realised – I loved Emily Roy and Alexis Castells in particular as they unpick the unpleasant clues behind these horrific murders. There’s a real international feel to the book – written by a French author (and here translated into English by Maxim Jakubowski), with the action moving from Falkenberg in Sweden to London, with a Canadian Behavioural Insight Analyst (Roy) and a French crime writer based in London (Castells). Regular readers of this blog know of my love of books which give you a sense of place, and Block 46 delivers this in spades, across the various locations in the book.

The audiobook is narrated by Patricia Rodriguez and Mark Meadows. If I had any criticism, I found Patricia’s delivery to be a little too measured and slow. However, the great thing about the Audible app is that you can alter the speed of the narration. I found that by bumping it up fractionally to 1.25x speed, the delivery felt better for me, and I got through the book quicker – always useful when you’ve got a lot of other books to read! The shift between Rodriguez and Meadows as narrators worked really well and really gave the story an extra dimension.

Karen at Orenda Books has given me TWO copies of the audiobook to give away – leave a comment here on the blog, or retweet a link to this post – I’ll pop all the names into a random number generator next week and announce the winners on twitter. You’ll need an account at audible.co.uk though!

You can find Johana Gustawsson on twitter @JoGustawsson. Block 46 is published by Orenda Books.