Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Osiris Ritual by George Mann

I’m a big Newbury & Hobbes fan and will always jump at the chance to get stuck in to a new adventure from one of my favourite Victorian crime fighting duos. Sir Maurice Newbury is a gentleman investigator who works at the British Museum but is also an agent for her majesty Queen Victoria. He is often aided by his loyal and brave assistant Veronica Hobbes. 

The Osiris Ritual starts with a grand unveiling of a recently acquired Egyptian mummy and curious academic Newbury is in attendance to witness the event. Meanwhile, Veronica is investigating the disappearance of young women, who are all connected by a magician’s theatre show they had previously been to. 

Their cases collide when Newbury is put on the trail of a rogue agent and a spate of gruesome murders has Newbury in pursuit of a shadowy figure all across the city. 

Is there a mummy’s curse in effect, a human culprit or something altogether more sinister? It’s up to the daring duo to find out. Things are made more complex as Newbury fights his opium related demons and Veronica is keeping her own secrets that threaten the balance of their precious relationship.  

The Victorian London which George Mann has created is a captivating blend of old school genteel society and steampunk quirks. Airships soar across the city sky, horse and carriages are joined on the road by new-fangled automated vehicles and even mechanical people can be found across the capital. 

This story in particular features tantalising historical and occult elements of Ancient Egypt (a topic I have always found endlessly fascinating) and even some magical theatre. Add to that some gory murders and an unpredictable mystery and you have another awesome Newbury and Hobbes investigation. There’s a little something for all tastes; crime, history, supernatural and steampunk, which is why these books are so good! 

You don’t need to have read other Newbury and Hobbes books to enjoy this book (although I recommend them for the sheer fact that they are great!) but if you’re a fan of the Victorian crime / steampunk genre then you will enjoy this book as well as the whole Newbury and Hobbes series. If you did want to read the series from the start, I believe this is the second book, with The Affinity Bridge being the first. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

What do you get if you cross a super clever childhood scientist / inventor, a bird-whispering witch and a burgeoning love story between two very different people on opposite sides of a potentially world-ending war? You get this incredible novel by Charlie Jane Anders that you will fall deep into and never want to leave. 

Laurence is the science mad kid who invents things way beyond his age, who ends up befriending witch Patricia, as they both suffer in their roles as school outcasts. Eventually life gets between them and they grow apart, only to later reconnect again as adults. 

Patricia has graduated from a secret academy for witches and works with other magically gifted people to heal the world’s ills one magical act at a time. Laurence works with some of the cleverest technological minded people in the world, working on finding an alternative to a failing planet Earth. 

On the brink of war between science and magic, Patricia and Laurence must decide on which side of the divide they stand, whilst also working out their feelings on life, adulthood and most importantly each other. 

I loved the mash up between science and magic; two differing disciplines both with huge potential for good or for destruction. The science in this book is intelligent without sounding pretentious or too complicated and the magical realism is stunning as opposed to silly. 

The reader comes to know so much about Patricia and Laurence that they become people you really care about. In fact you learn a lot about most of the characters introduced; their appearance and their quirks, so that you feel that they could be friends that you already know, yet individual in their own ways. 

This is a wondrous coming of age story that deeply explores sex and relationships from the awkward teenage phase right through into adulthood. It’s magical and futuristic and also brilliantly funny at times, without being distracted from the bigger picture. 

I’m already a big fan of blurred lines, genre-bending novels and this one blew me away and was every bit as unique as I had hoped it would be. For a debut novel, I really think this is something special, and think it would also make an amazing movie. Fingers crossed it gets the accolades it deserves. 

If Patricia and Laurence don’t get a sequel, then I’d love to see what Charlie Jane Anders does with any of the other characters from the little bubble of awesomeness she has created. Failing that, I’d just love to see a second book from an author I’m pretty excited about. 

Friday, 22 January 2016

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Science Fiction is one of those genres that is so broad in scope and often pushes the boundaries of what I like in a novel. Occupy Me really took me out of my comfort zone and became a book I liked and disliked almost in equal measure. 

It stars an angel named Pearl who works for the Resistance; an organisation that improves the world by tiny incremental acts of kindness. When sent on a seemingly normal assignment, she suddenly becomes caught up in a chase around the globe in pursuit of a killer wearing another man’s body. 

Within the overlapping stories it transpires that it is not just the crimes of a wealthy dying man and shady corporations that are causing the problems, but a danger that could have severe consequences on reality, the future and humanity’s place in the universe. 

When I first heard about this book, I was mostly drawn in by the chase for the killer that can inhabit other people, and especially in the beginning, it made for dramatic and exciting reading. The story starts off with quite a futuristic vibe that I really liked. Then the sci-fi and fantasy really kicks up a gear and continues to climb as you go through the novel. It all got a bit random and complicated for me. 

There is a lot of technology and space jargon that I just didn’t understand; and add to that some dinosaurs and philosophical dilemmas and you have yourself a complex storyline that can be hard to keep up with at times. I think hardcore fans of this genre could probably get along with it – I believe Tricia Sullivan is a well established author within these themes so I’m sure there are plenty of readers who’d enjoy this novel – but although I didn’t hate it, I did struggle in parts. 

Pearl is a multifaceted character and is something of a mystery, as she battles to find out what she is and where she came from. She likes to fix people and she was a big reason why I carried on reading; I genuinely wanted to learn more about her and see how she would resolve such a convoluted situation. 

Another thing I liked about the story was the idea of the Resistance. It’s a cool yet profound concept that small acts of kindness can have such an influence on the world and if it was embraced globally, how much better would the world be? Occupy Me is an action-packed and mind-bending novel that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but will appeal to dedicated SF and fantasy fans. 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Stefan Ahnhem Guest Post - Victim Without a Face Blog Tour

Where do you get all your ideas from?

I’ve been a published author for nearly two years now, and I have probably been asked this question over a hundred times. Despite this, I haven’t been able to come up with a good answer – though God knows I’ve tried.

Maybe the question is the problem? It somehow assumes that an author simply sits down and waits for an idea to strike, and suddenly,like some kind of divine inspiration, it does. It also assumes that ‘ideas’ are in a special place, inaccessible to non-authors, and that in order to find them you just need a good map. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Writing is not about waiting for the perfect idea. It’s about writing and rewriting. And it’s about how each idea creates the next.

When I started to write Victim Without a Face the first idea I had was that I wanted to write a novel. That might not sound like an idea, but it was for me. I had been writing screenplays for so many years and was desperate for a new challenge.

A screenplay is supposed to be less than a hundred pages. In fact in some of my contracts – I think it was the Wallander series – the episodes had to be exactly 89,52 minutes long. So my second idea was that my novel should be at least five hundred pages long.

My next idea – the decision to write a crime story – felt natural since I had been working in that genre for so long that I knew its conventions inside out. I wanted it to take place in a city where neither Kurt Wallander nor Lisbeth Salander had ever set foot, so Helsingborg, where I grew up, felt like a good choice. The town is situated in the south of Sweden on the west coast and is so close to Denmark that you can almost see it,even when it’s foggy.

Because Helsingborg is unknown for most people, I decided to have my main character, Fabian Risk, move back to his hometown. That way he could experience the city with new eyes while at the same time being familiar with it.

At this point, I still had no idea what would actually happen in my story. But, by this point, it had naturally become a homecoming story. So it felt right that Risk’s past should come back to haunt him, and bring some of his memories back to life. Since my third idea was that this would be a crime story, it was only logical that those memories were horrible. I hit upon the solution of having a murder victim who attended my hero’sold elementary school. Then, in order to make the story longer (remember my second idea of writing five hundred pages), I had my killer leave behind a clue: an old class photo, with the victim’s face crossed out, implying there would be more victims from that same class.

And so it went on from there. One decision led to the next, and I almost always chose the most logical solution. After I had written several chapters, I became aware of what the story was about, and - even more importantly - what it wasn’t about. Only then did I go back and rewrite previous chapters to fit the story that was emerging.

So where did I get my ideas from? Well, you tell me.

Stefan Ahnhem

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Victim Without a Face by Stefan Ahnhem

Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles.

From the very beginning, the reader is presented with a series of terrifyingly gruesome murders. At the first murder scene a vital clue is left, a class photograph with the victim’s face crossed out. 

The police quickly learn that the classmates are all in danger and the case has particular meaning for lead investigator Fabian Risk who was also in that class. As the body count rises as former class members are picked off one by one, it becomes a race against time to try and second guess a cunning criminal before the entire class is wiped out. 

Fabian, who has just moved back to his hometown with his family finds himself as both a potential suspect as well as a potential victim. He struggles to balance out his family life with his new police job as the investigation causes him to revisit areas of the past he had long since put behind him. 

Fabian Risk is a good solid lead for a crime drama; he’s clever and just maverick enough to throw him into some risky situations, but not renegade enough to be really annoying. The murderer in this story is very scary. Intelligent, callous and calculating, this faceless fiend executes some truly horrific and inventive murders that are described very graphically and took the novel into some dark places. 

As the killer has had contact with the victims in the past, they choose deaths befitting that person’s past sins. Some are so cunningly elaborate, with maximum suffering and visual impact involved – it reminded me a bit of the Saw movies. I haven’t read a novel this graphic in ages and I was disturbingly engrossed in the action, just as eager to discover the identity of the elusive killer as the characters themselves. 

The police and investigation aspect of the book is very detailed, as is the level of forensic description which I really liked. This novel is a masterpiece in suspense and has so many unexpected twists and turns that will keep you in a state of perpetual uncertainty right up to the end. Another big plus for this book is its unpredictability which also keeps you engaged. 

Victim Without a Face is the first novel by screenwriter Stefan Ahnhem and won Crimetime’s Novel of the Year Award in Sweden in 2014, and has also been published in eight languages to date. Even more excitingly, a TV series of the book is in production with Nordisk and is due for release this year. 

I’m thrilled to be part of the Victim Without a Face blog tour, so keep an eye out on Wednesday 20th for a guest post by the author himself. Attention grabbing, chilling and suspenseful, this is a crime thriller of epic proportions. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Strictly Between Us by Jane Fallon

I can’t believe I have waited so long to read a Jane Fallon novel. Since the buzz about her sixth book, Strictly Between Us began, I’ve been super excited to sample this bestselling author and I was not at all disappointed.

Tamsin and her best friend have been inseparable since childhood and she also has a good relationship with Michelle’s handsome, successful husband Patrick. As well as a happy social life, things tick along nicely for her at her work, mostly down to the constant hard work put in by Tamsin’s faultless assistant Bea. 

Tamsin begins to hear rumours that seemingly perfect Patrick has been playing away and sets a honey-trap for him using Bea as bait. What she doesn’t count on, is that fact that Bea has her own plans and her involvement spirals into a web of lies and deceit when all she wanted to do was protect her best friend. 

Tamsin is a lead character that is likeable and infuriating in equal measure. There were parts of her personality that I liked, and overall her heart in the right place, but some of her decision making is shocking, throwing up so truly mortifying moments, as well as adding to the action. For me, the story kicked up a gear when Bea’s perspective was introduced which doubles the drama when the reader sees things from her point of view. 

The two main themes dissected in this story are so topical and definite food for thought. One examines the relationship between boss and colleague, and the blurred lines between professional boundaries and friendship. The second poses the difficult question of whether it is right to interfere in your friend’s relationship. The way the characters all interact and illustrate these themes makes this novel seriously addictive. 

In regard to these themes, I’ll briefly give my opinion, and I’d love to hear from anyone else that has read these books. I thought Tamsin was a pretty good boss; a bit scatty but she was never initially malicious. I think she crosses some lines with what she expected Bea to do, and maybe Bea should have stuck up for herself a little more as to what was expected of her in a professional capacity.

Is it right to interfere in a friend’s relationship? I think Tamsin’s actions in this novel are a little extreme and do escalate because of her involvement. At the same time, I think in some cases intervention could be needed, and it takes guts to expose a friend to truths like that, however hurtful. 

This book has flavours of some of my favourite authors; Adele Parks, Jane Green, Marian Keyes but with a sharper edge to it. There is so much drama in this book; it’s witty with plenty of highs and lows, and characters that are as memorable as they are realistic. Strictly Between Us is a brilliant novel about friendship and working relationships that readers won’t want to put down. 

Monday, 11 January 2016

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

I’ve always had a bit of thing for perfume and scents. I remember flooding a school bathroom in primary school trying to make perfume out of flower petals in the sink. I later got a proper perfume making kit for Christmas one year and spent many happy hours concocting bottles of scent at home. Even now, I enjoy the smells and descriptions of essential oils and I never can resist trying out all the scents in duty free when at the airport.

So it was for that reason, as well as being a hist-fic fan that I was drawn to this book about perfumers and their muses, and histories discovered. In the 1950s, newly-wed Grace Munroe leads a comfortable yet ordinary life when she is suddenly named the chief beneficiary of an estate that belonged to a woman she has never even met.

These unusual circumstances see Grace travel to Paris where she uncovers the history of a woman who has given her so much and who led such an interesting life. That woman is Eva D’Orsey, a bold, unique woman who enthralled high society in the 1920s from New York to Europe, but whose coloured past was never too far behind her.

The 1920s is a time in history I have always enjoyed reading about and there is plenty of vintage glamour and scandal portrayed as we learn how Eva came to be the person she was. Grace’s part of the tale is set in the 1950s, another time period I am also fascinated by but haven’t read much of in fiction (yet).

Grace is a former debutante, who after making a good marriage, is expected to be a devoted wife and attend all the necessary social engagements. But from the off, you see that Grace isn’t well suited to that lifestyle; she seems to think differently to other women in her social circle, she yearns for more, and the journey incited by the unexpected inheritance  gives her that opportunity to try out her much needed independence. Eva; clever, sexy and strong, was by far my favourite character. I was fascinated by her and her extraordinary life.

Of course the best element in the story for me had to be the perfume references. The process in procuring and putting together individual components of a perfume and the inspiration behind some of the scents was stunning to read. I think we forget how powerful the sense of smell is, and how closely it can be linked with memory and past experience.

The descriptions transport you right into the action of the story as if they were your own memories, which is a wonderful sensation when reading such an engaging tale. If ever a book is invented where you get to smell what you are reading, then this story should be at the top of the list to be published in that way.

Stunningly detailed and rich in history and emotion, The Perfume Collector is a fabulous novel for readers to truly get lost in. 

Friday, 8 January 2016

Made To Kill by Adam Christopher

The first striking thing about this novel is the cover. A bit shallow I know, but this is a seriously cool cover and it got my attention. Second, I read the words, “Robot noir in 60s Los Angeles” and decided I wanted a piece of the action. 

Set in 1960s LA, we are introduced to the last robot on Earth, Raymond Electromatic. Not everybody likes robots, but that doesn’t much affect his job as a private detective. In fact it helps him if people keep their distance, which suits him and his colleague Ada, the office supercomputer. 

Things are ticking along nicely enough at the Electromatic Detective Agency until Ray is hired to find an awol actor and he is plunged into the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. What starts as a missing persons case – with a big bag of mysterious gold as the incentive – soon finds Ray caught up in a sinister plot involving spies and hidden villains that goes far beyond the reach of the silver screen. I won’t say anymore, so as not to give anything away! 

This is a fab mix of pulpy classic crime thrillers and cyber science fiction with some added sparkle from the LA setting. Who’d have thought all that would go together! Ray the Robot has a great personality and I loved the working relationship he has with Ada, it makes for very entertaining reading. I liked the book from the start, but it was when you find out that Ray kind of has a darker side than you first think that I really got interested. 

Once the mystery really gets going, the plot thickens and there is plenty for crime fiction fans to get their teeth into. There are all the thrills of a crime novel, but the science fiction element is equally well illustrated with plenty of robot and technology goodness throughout. The reader is always made aware that although he has human quirks, he is also very much machine. The 60s goes well and gives the story that vintage vibe that makes it stand out all the more. 

Made To Kill is the first book in the new LA Trilogy by Adam Christopher, and I’m quite excited to see what lies in store for Ray and the detective agency. Weird, wonderful and very original, Made To Kill is a crime tale, sci-fi hybrid that is thrilling as well as being pages of fun. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Widow by Fiona Barton

I’m starting off the New Year with a book that is tipped to be one of the most anticipated novels of 2016. Although it’s not out until January 14th, I just couldn’t wait to give my thoughts on The Widow

Jean Taylor lived an ordinary life; a nice house, a nice husband and a steady job. Then her beloved husband Glen is accused of an unthinkable crime and overnight her life is forever changed. Jean stands by her man throughout the trial, the media frenzy and the public backlash. But now Glen is dead, Jean is alone for the first time and able to tell her story on her own terms. 

In centre stage is Jean, The Widow, but we also see the story from the views of the detective involved in the case and the journalist trying to get the ultimate scoop of the story, as well as a couple of others central to the tale. 

Glen is accused of the abduction and possible murder of a baby girl and of course any crime involving children although terrible, is also big news. It’s obvious from the start that the seemingly normal Taylors have their secrets and as the reader is propelled back and forth through time, you start to unravel their lives and their connection to the disappearance of Baby Bella. 

I found it interesting to get the view from the detective and the reporter intertwined in Jean’s story. The characters are closely linked anyway, so you get the media buzz and need for the story from the journalist, the pressure and police procedural element surrounding the detective, and of course the emotions and actions of Jean who is at the centre of it all. Jean is a scarily believable character, inspired by women who have appeared by the side of loved ones at high profile court cases. 

It’s an intriguing theme; going with the person not fully in the spotlight but on the periphery of the circus, the person not accused but who will undoubtedly share in public anger, media storm and emotional rollercoaster that goes with being accused of monstrous crimes. As a journalist, this is something Fiona Barton has obviously been witness to and that authenticity comes through in the writing. 

The story is perfectly paced. There is enough going on to keep you engaged but it goes slowly enough to build all the tension and suspense that makes the tale all the more thrilling to read. It’s one of those novels where you’re not sure who to trust and you second guess what you know until all the pieces are finally laid into place. 

This book already has a number of impressive accolades under its belt. It was acquired in a hotly contested UK auction and is to be published in 28 territories around the world as well as having world television rights acquired by a major production company. 

Once you’ve read this taut and tense thriller, it is plain to see what the fuss is about. The Widow is a compulsive, unsettling yet riveting psychological thriller that will keep you gripped page after page.