Changeling – Matt Wesolowski

On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.
Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories was one of my books of 2017. In Hydra we met Scott King with another of his Six Stories podcasts, this time much darker and much, much spookier. If Nana Wrack gave you nightmares the first time round, the black-eyed children in Hydra might just keep you awake all night.

Changeling is another beast, and easily Matt Wesolowski’s best yet. And that, my friends, is a pretty damn high bar.

Scott King is back with another of his ‘Six Stories’ podcasts. Six people, six sides to a tale, six viewpoints on the events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of little Alfie Marsden, thirty years ago.

I dipped my finger into the Alfie Marsden case and something reached up and took hold.

I *raced* through Changeling. Having read and loved Matt’s first two books, I thought I knew what I was letting myself in for, thought I had a feel for the pattern of the story. After reading the first episode of six, thought I knew where it was going.

Oh how very wrong I was. The thing I love about his writing is the way that he puts you in the head of these distinct characters. You’re hearing their voices, hearing their side of the story. But just as two people can see the same thing and tell you different versions of what happened, so imagine what six people can do. The plotting is ingenious, and the way those six stories mesh together is played to perfection.

Changeling deals with some pretty dark subjects – a missing child is never an easy read, but it’s so much more, and so much more that I can’t say without giving away too much. Trust me in this, it’s massively relevant, incredibly intense and just so, so good.

And can we talk for a minute about Wentshire Forest. I am *so* glad that I’m not going camping in the woods any time soon. Scarclaw Fell in the first book was pretty spooky, but that’s got *nothing* on Wentshire Forest.

Is that a tapping at the window I can hear…?

You can find Matt Wesolowski on Twitter @concretekraken. Mark Swan (@Kidethic) delivers yet another stunning cover. One day I’m going to have to do a post on my favourite of his covers – Changeling will definitely be on the list.

Many thanks to @OrendaBooks for the advance copy of Changeling

Static Ruin – Corey J. White


She killed the man who trained her. She killed the fleet that came for her. She killed the planet that caged her. Now she must confront her father.
Mars Xi is on the run, a bounty on her head and a kill count on her conscience. All she has left are her mutant cat Ocho and her fellow human weapon Pale, a young boy wracked by seizures who can kill with a thought. She needs him treated, and she needs to escape, and the only thread left to pull is her frayed connection to her father, Marius Teo. That thread will take her to the outskirts of the galaxy, to grapple with witch-cults and privately-owned planets, and into the hands of the man who engineered her birth.

This is the third (and final?) book in Corey J. White’s Voidwitch Saga, the first being the splendid Killing Gravity (a ‘a kick-ass, whip-smart sci-fi short story/novella’). Book 2, Void Black Shadow continued in much the same vein. Mars Xi, genetically engineered psychic voidwitch is on a mission to retrieve one of her friends, and woe betide anyone who gets in her way.

These books are bloody, brutal and relentless. And cracking entertainment. Mars is brilliantly acerbic and pissed off with anyone who gets between her and her target, which turns out to be 90% of the people we meet. So much blood.

So much mayhem. So much fun.

And so we find ourselves at book 3, Static Ruin. Its publication sort of snuck up on me, and I dashed off to buy a copy as soon as I found out that it was already A Thing.

If you’ve already read the first two books (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?), you’ll know exactly what to expect. Mars Xi is on her final trajectory, aiming to find the man who made her. Mars is delightfully unpleasant to a whole host of new people, though the action is somewhat more measured in pace from the at times frantic bloodbath of the first two parts. The stakes are higher this time around and Mars faces some tough realities on her quest for answers. We’ve seen in the other books that no-one is safe, and the same is very much true here.

We’re introduced to some new faces (well, Mars did kill an awful lot of people thus far) as well as some old favourites – I particularly love Ocho, and Mars’ super protective attitude to her “cute space ferret of death” (as described by Warren Ellis).

As you can probably tell, I bloody loved these books. Highly recommended.

Static Ruin by Corey J. White was published in November 2018 by Tor.com. You can find Corey over at his website, coreyjwhite.com or on twitter @cjwhite

You can get a copy here (affiliate links)

Killing Gravity (Voidwitch Saga Book 1)

Void Black Shadow (Voidwitch Saga Book 2)

Static Ruin (Voidwitch Saga Book 3)

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

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.