When Last I  Died

When Mrs Bradley’s grandson finds an old diary in her rented cottage it attracts the interest of this most unconventional of detectives, for the book’s now deceased owner was once suspected of the murders of both her aunt and cousin. Does the missing diary finally reveal what happened to old Aunt Flora? Is the case of Bella Foxley really closed? And what happened to the boys from the local reformatory who went missing at the same time? As events unfold, Mrs. Bradley faces one of her most difficult cases to date, one that will keep readers guessing until the very end…

When Last I Died is the 2nd re-release from Vintage Books of titles from Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley Mysteries series. It’s rare for a publisher to shine their spotlights on works that have faded from view though some works seem to keep finding the light over and over again with a little help, whatever happened behind the scenes I’m glad I got chance start my exploration of Mitchell’s work.

Why? Because I enjoyed The Saltmarsh Murders but loved When Last I Died even more.

Why? As there is a difference in the narration. The first was narrated by the curate of the sleepy village who was good but only seeing Mrs Bradley from the outside. The narrator in this one is exterior to the action and follows around Mrs Bradley’s actions and internal thoughts, so we get to know Mrs Bradley a litte more intimately.

I have to say as a character she’s fab. She’s nosey, steely, insightful and intelligent without giving over to arrogance. She’s also very curious, and it’s that curiousity which is raised when her grandson finds an old diary in a rented cottage. The book’s owner is now deceased and was once suspected of the murders of both her aunt and cousin. But the contents raises more questions than it answers. Does it reveal what actually happended to Aunt Flora? Is the case of Bella Foxley really closed? And what happened to the boys from the local refectory who went missing that same time?

And it really is a mystery, one that keeps both the reader and Mrs Bradley guessing. My only slight reluctance in the story comes, I guess, from Mrs Bradley pushing at a case that is dead and buried and she doesn’t seem to get enough resistance to her questioning as one might expect.. but then this is a novel from 1941 and she is grandee of society so it doesn’t feel too odd. That was my only doubt.

A great device used by Mitchell is the diary which is reprinted, and which on first glance is heartfelt and absorbing but Mrs Bradley feels differently and she sticks her nose in to find out more about the events. It definitely wrong footed me. 

It’s a short novel at 208 pages, but it’s packed with twists, turns and surprises like all good mysteries should be. And in this case the truth of the matter is much stranger than the fiction that surrounds it.

This review was first published on MyFavouriteBooks

Here’s a first for GavReads – I’m pleased to be hosting an extract of The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock. I was lucky enough to have a chat to Tom for The Readers podcast, where I talked to him about John Le Carré, being a YA writer and, most importantly, dragon eggs.

The Glass Republic is the second part of the The Skyscraper Throne trilogy that was started with The City’s Son. I hope you enjoy.

‘Gwen’s not so bad,’ Pen said, stretching out on the cold concrete floor. ‘At least, not next to the crowd she runs with. They’re . . .’ She groped for the right word.

‘Toxic?’ the girl behind the mirror put in. For reasons of mutual convenience, they’d agreed she was ‘Parva’ rather than ‘Pen’.

‘I honestly think that if Iran stockpiled Gwen Hardy’s friends, the Americans would invade. There’s probably a UN convention just against Trudi Stahl.’

Parva laughed, the sound echoing through the glass. ‘Well, here’s to your new crew—’ The reflected girl rummaged around in her ostrich leather handbag and, to Pen’s astonishment, pulled out a bottle of wine. ‘I hope they make you happy.’

‘You’re drinking now?’

‘Pen,’ Parva said patiently, ‘in the last four months I’ve been kidnapped by a barbed-wire monster, ridden to war at the head of an army of giant scaffolding wolves and rejoined school in the middle of term. There’s only one girl I know who deserves a drink as much as I do, and I’ll happily share.’ She unscrewed the cap and swigged straight from the bottle before offering it to the lips of Pen’s own mortified reflection.

Pen shrank back. ‘But I never—’ she started.

Her double grinned at her through the mirror and said, ‘But I’m not you any more.’

Pen knew that. She’d plied Beth with careful questions, feigning idle interest, and learned as much as she could about the Mirrorstocracy in their city behind the mirrors. The girl on the other side of the glass had come from her – she was composed of all the infinite reflections of her that had been caught between the two mirrors – but that was when their co-existence had ended.

Pen and Parva had diverged from that moment in time like beams of refracted light; now Parva had her own feelings, her own life, built up in the weeks since she’d first stepped into whatever lay outside the bathroom door in the reflection. She drank wine, ate meat and swore like a squaddie with haemorrhoids. Much to Pen’s chagrined envy, she’d even managed to land herself a job, although she wouldn’t say doing what.

But still, she had been Pen: for nearly seventeen years they’d been one. Parva had seen everything Pen had seen, felt everything Pen had felt. It was like having a sister, a bizarre twin – a twin who understood everything. Not even Beth could do that.

‘I want to show you something.’ Parva blew softly over the neck of the bottle and the liquid pipe-sound echoed through both bathrooms. ‘Give me your hand.’ In the mirrored bathroom she extended her hand towards Pen’s reflection.

Pen reached into the empty space in front of her and felt warm, invisible fingers close over her skin.

‘What are you—?’

Shhh.’ Parva was digging in her handbag again. She pulled out a phone and earbuds and put one bud into her own ear and the other into the ear of Pen’s reflection.

Pen heard the crackle of an old-fashioned waltz and felt her double’s ghostly hand on the small of her back.

‘Come on,’ Parva said, ‘one–two–three, one–two–three!’

And then they were off, dancing to the creaky music. Pen followed the rhythm uncertainly, her feet stumbling a little, her arms curved around empty air. In the mirror, she saw her expensively dressed double leading her.

‘One–two–three, one–two–three – that’s it.’

Pen felt her arm lifted over her head and she spun under it as Parva whooped. Pen found herself laughing as they pirouetted around the tumbledown toilets like they were a twenties ballroom.

‘Where did you learn this?’

‘One–two–three. It’s the job, they’re teaching me all kinds of things, it’s—’

‘Ow!’ Pen abruptly broke away. She hopped in a circle as pain spiked through her foot.

‘Sorry!’ Parva winced. ‘I’m not used to leading, and, uh . . . the shoes are new, too.’

‘Yeah, I noticed them.’ Pen slid down the bathroom wall and tugged off her trainer and her sock. The impression of Parva’s vertiginous heel had gone all the way through to the skin, but at least there was no blood. ‘You have to go back to Reach to hoist you into them?’

Parva smiled from the mirror. Jokes about the slain Crane King were part of their routine. They felt weirdly daring, disarming the memories of their abduction.

‘I managed by myself,’ she said. ‘Just.’

‘Pretty fancy. Are they from the new job too?’ Pen clutched theatrically at her heart. ‘That’s it: that’s the lethal dose. I am now officially too jealous to live. Fancy new shoes, fancy dancing lessons – at least say your new boss is a slave-driving creep.’

Parva shrugged. ‘Sorry, sis. The new boss is really sweet, actually. Everyone is – well, most of the time.’

‘Most of the time?’

Her mirror-sister frowned. ‘It’s nothing really, just . . . the very top people here – only some of them, mind, and only some of the time – but . . . The way they look at me. I feel like they’re watching me when my back’s turned. Sometimes – sometimes I can’t shake the feeling they mean me harm.’

Pen sighed. That sounded familiar. ‘I reckon, after everything, maybe feeling like that’s normal for us, you know?’

‘I guess.’ Parva chewed her reflected lip. ‘They just look at me funny.’

‘Hate to be the one to break it to you, hon,’ said Pen, ‘but you are toting three-fifths of the western world’s total supply of scar-tissue around on your face.’ She smiled gently. ‘So, are you actually going to tell me what this magic new job is?’

Parva was about to speak when the distant sound of the period bell carried through the window glass.

‘Tell you next time,’ the girl in the mirror said. It was what she always promised, like Scheherazade, keeping back one last story.

Pen pouted and headed for the door. ‘Whatever. Have fun at work.’

‘Pen, wait.’

Pen paused in the doorway. The lonely note in her double’s voice was stronger now.

‘How’s Beth?’

‘Chatty,’ Pen said dryly. ‘Supposedly, she’s still living at home, but I don’t think Paul sees her much. Things are okay, but a bit . . .’ She struggled to phrase it. ‘She thinks I—’

‘—blame her,’ Parva finished quietly. ‘You do, a bit. I do. It’ll take time.’

Pen didn’t reply.

‘Listen . . .’ Parva hesitated. ‘Do you think . . . do you think she’d come here? I get why you haven’t told her about me yet, but – well, it would be good to see her, you know?’

Pen imagined leading the silent, grey-skinned girl here; letting her in on this one last secret, and a resentful flare ignited in her throat. She loved B, but this was her sanctuary, her respite from the life she was living because of Beth.

The resentment burnt out fast. She loved B, and so did Parva. And unlike Pen, Parva hadn’t seen their best friend in months. ‘I’ll ask her.’

‘Thank you.’ Parva smiled in relief. ‘What you got now?’

‘English: Richard three.’ Pen mimicked a movie-trailer voice: ‘The hunch is back!’

Parva snorted at the weak pun. ‘With jokes like that, it’s a good thing you’re pretty.’

‘Narcissist,’ Pen countered.

Her double laughed. ‘Get out.’

Want to buy now? And why shouldn’t you. Here are some handy links or preferably order from your local bookshop.
Glass Republic JK

Blood Music

Should we read older SF? Gollancz seems to think so. Their SF Masterworks line has, for the last 14 years, highlighted SF classics and kept them in print. This series of posts is here to try to do two things. One to expand this authors’ knowledge of classical SF, especially eighties SF, and secondly to ask the question are classics worth reading?

Blood Music is the story of Virgil Ulman, who works at a genetics research lab. As his colleagues work away on a biological chip Virgil has been recoding cells to do something quite different. His abandonment of research ethics leads to trouble from his employer resulting in the suspension of his research but not before he injects himself with the results of his experiment. Virgil is the catalyst but his invention gets centre stage.

‘I will never understand men, as long as I live and breathe,’ his mother said, pouring another cup of thick black coffee. ‘Always tinkering, always getting into trouble.’ p43

Let’s start with the power of genetics. The first 100 pages deals with Virgil’s transformation. He’s the host of his experiment but Greg Bear looks at the effect of his transformation of those around him as well as the effect on himself. It doesn’t seem sensible to inject yourself with genetically altered material without an idea of the outcome though this is exactly what Virgil does. In the present we have several genetic modified crops, gene therapy so it’s not by any means implausible to alter genes but we’ve not quite caused the alterations that occur in Blood Music. To be fair to Virgil he just thinks he’s storing them for later retrieval. It shows how naive he is.

For the first section it appears that Virgil is both Dr Frankenstein and his monster. But he’s not a monster as such. His body and health vastly improve and you’d be forgiven that he’s created a new form of superhuman. You’d also be wrong as in the second half everything changes.

While the focus is on Virgil we get to see him gain a girlfriend. And it’s that relationship which is a bit unhealthy, if not creepy. Actually all his interpersonal relationships are a little odd. I’m not sure if Bear meant to give us a warning about scientists working alone in a lab with obsessions focused only on their work but he has.

A tension between Virgil and his friend, a doctor, shows another side to our scientist, but reinforces that he is difficult and demanding. And through Edward we get one of the most dramatic moments of the book. The trouble is that if feels like Bear is treading water up until that moment because he wants to explore the implications of the experiment being out in the wild but he can’t do that until a big reveal. It’s his girlfriend I felt most sorry for, which shows that Bear can create some interest in characters but it’s not his strength. Or at least it didn’t feel like he’d created rounded ones that would have lasted too far outside this story.

After Virgil’s experiment is released things become less plausible but fascinating and it also gives a strong indication of the atmosphere in the eighties between Russia and America and perhaps Bears views on that. We move away from Virgil’s point of view and it’s replaced by those of another scientist but one we’ve already met, a girl who is all alone and Virgil’s mother who gains some twin companions. These three give different interactions with the experiment’s growing reach.

Bear is asking what if we altered our biology via genes? What if we made something intelligent? What would they do when they interact with us?

We’re now tipping into spoiler territory but the experiment has two effects; billions more observations taking place over a finite area and America’s plight causes hysteria around the globe. The implication, at least at first, is that without America the world would turn into chaos. I’m not sure that’s strictly true. But then we have the question of observation and how observing the universe can cause it to stiffen as observed things aren’t as free to change.

Blood Music is a novel of ideas and for that it is well worth reading. The science may feel a little old and dated though it still raises some valid and interesting questions. The structure is a little bit more problematic. It’s a novella expanded to a short novel and it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s not that it’s padded but it spends time in odd ways while before it feels its time to move on. For example the thread with the mother could have been told in one page but there needed to be a journey. But that then took focus away from the scientist and the girl.

Greg Bear makes you wonder how easily the world can change through the power of science and imagination. So does that make it a classic and should it be kept in print? It is a novel of its time and is standing up quite well. It’s a concept that still feels plausible though the worldwide consequences could be a little different now.

The next novel in the SF Masterworks Project is Grass by Sheri S. Tepper  and will be posted towards the end of August.

Time is fleeting… madness takes its toll…

I’m sure you already know this but I’m a book addict. I read them, I blog books, I chat about them (mostly on twitter), I co-host a podcast, which also has a great book club, I make them (new website coming real soon) and I even try to write them.

Basically, books are a huge part of my life.

But the thing is I feel like I have books coming out of my ears physically (the books are spilling out of the bookshelves) and mentally (I can’t escape thinking about them) and I’m on the verge of being Mr Creosote full – one book away from being an explosive mess – so I’m going on a bit of a book diet.

I really don’t want to make this into one of those ‘navel-gazing’ posts that bloggers can be so good but I did want to at least let you all know of a few changes that are coming – a couple good and a couple bad (in a sense). 

You see it all started when I started thinking about posting a half-year review – comparing my goals from the start of the year with what I’d actually managed… it was quite depressing really. A few things I’d promised myself just hadn’t happened. I did’t think I’d put in enough time into some things I wanted to get done. 

This pic is a really good, mostly unread, illustration:

It includes books I bought in January – History of a Pleasure Seeker and Jack Holmes and His Friends, Alms for Oblivion which I’ve been reading forever, Gridlinked that I’ve been promising myself for ages I’d get into and read the Agent Cormac sequence, The Folding Man as Matt is a friend and he’s been getting great reviews, Jitterbug Perfume/Inherent Vice as I wanted to try something different, A Talent for War as I read McDevitt so many years ago and only read one book of his and want to try more, The Golem and the Djinn, Burial Rites, River of Stars etc from my 13 Books post that I really want to read, I’ve not read Railsea yet, or The Long War… I could go on explaining. 

Don’t get me wrong it’s not a bad problem to have. I love having unread books. So much potential just sitting there. 

But instead of reading I’m probably on twitter or reading forums or other blogs catching up on book gossip. And doing The Readers podcast is part of that. Keeping up gives me something to say.

So I’m taking a break from The Readers’ main show. I’ve got two left before I take a break. I’m not abandoning it completely as I’m cheekily doing the Book Club as we’re close to announcing the autumn selection and they are crackers, which I can’t wait to read. And I’m planning on being back. Simon would kill me if I didn’t. 

I’m also limiting my time on twitter. I have mostly good times chatting but sometimes it all gets a little tense – like shouting that an author has commented on your blog or making a fuss that JK Rowling wrote a book and didn’t tell anyone. 

That’s the bad.

The good is that I’m not putting the blog on hiatus. I thought about it. But I do like sharing books. I want people to be inspired and pick up books that I’ve loved – does that sound too egotistical? 

I’ve got two reviews almost ready – a short on The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks and I’m restarting the SF Masterworks project with Blood Music (something else that I promised at the start of the year but got put on hold mostly as I failed to do something on time when it as going to move to another place). 

I’m going to spilt posts into ‘pre-reading’ and ‘post-reading’ and by the end of the year I want to have most ‘post-reading’ posts (I really do feel I’ve finished enough books). Though I’m hoping to do some more post-read interviews – they may contain spoilers :O 

More good is that the time I’m away from twitter or keeping up with blogs is going on to do more work for Jurassic London and Fox Spirit Books and others as I’m giving my freelance ebook formatting and typesetting business handebooks.co.uk a big push shortly with a new website and logo and a hunt for new clients. 

I’m going to switch off and just enjoy what I’m reading without wondering what everyone else is reading and what everyone else thinks – this post should have been a self-warning. 

Anyway, enough navel-gazing. 

Essentially, I’m here but might be around less and it’s going to be bit more broadcast-like for a while though knowing me I’ll become addicted to Facebook instead

The Laundry Files Stross1

I love The Laundry series by Charles Stross so catching up with news around it today has been really exciting.

Firstly, The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue have re-released with updated covers to match the style of The Fuller Memorandum and The Apocalypse Codex. I’m so tempted to replace my copies of the first two as they’ll look so nice on the shelf.

Secondly, and much more exciting is that Orbit UK have released the first two as audiobooks and re-recorded them with a UK narrator:

TheLaundaryAudioBook

“The first two adventures in Charles Stross’s Locus Award-winning supernatural thriller series the Laundry Files came out today as audiobooks:  THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES (UK|ANZ) and THE JENNIFER MORGUE (UK|ANZ).”

(Via: The Laundry Files: Listen to the Audiobooks!)

Am even more tempted to use up my Audible credits. Very very tempted as Jack Hawkins is very good.

Thirdly and fourthly, NEW STORIES!!

“Astute sky watchers will know that a new Laundry Files novel, ‘The Rhesus Chart’, is due out in July 2014.

I’m now able to announce that, in addition, a new Laundry Files novella is going to show up in the next few months! You’ll be able to read ‘Equoid’ on Tor.com at the end of September. It will be followed by a limited run signed first edition hardcover (illustrated by Steve Montiglio, who did the covers for the Golden Gryphon editions of ‘The Atrocity Archives’ and ‘The Jennifer Morgue’!) from Subterranean Press in 2014.

‘Equoid’ is set shortly before the events of the ‘The Fuller Memorandum’. It’s the longest non-novel-length Laundry story so far. And it explains (among other things) precisely what H. P. Lovecraft saw behind the wood-shed when he was 14 that traumatized him for life, the reproductive life-cycle of unicorns, and what really happened on Cold Comfort Farm.

(Beyond that, I’ve got tentative plans for more Laundry Files novels—but nothing’s going to happen until after I’ve written the next chunk of the Merchant Princes series.)”

(Via: His Master’s Voice – Charlie’s Diary)

I don’t buy myself special editions of books very often but I’m damned going to try for Equoid though I’ll have read the Tor.com release much sooner.

It’s probably a timing issue (as Merchant is going to be another trilogy I think) but I thought that The Laundry was a six book arc, however, I can live with it being five it that means there isn’t a big wait for a climax (I’m looking at you Felix Castor).

If you haven’t read the series (WHY NOT??) I’ve written a few reviews:

The Atrocity Archives
The Jennifer Morgue
The Fuller Memorandum
The Apocalypse Codex

And an interview from when The Fuller Memorandum was coming out.

A nice way to start the weekend.

 

I know that just about everything that can be said about the digital reading experience as opposed to the printed one has been, but, hey, I’m a late developer. I’ve read quite a few books digitally recently. First off, the titles are cheap and plentiful. Which is great, except we know that, when a business is trying to reel you in, that’s the way they do it. Loss leaders: ‘Books for 99p! 45p! For absolutely criminally nothing! Roll up, roll up.’ The only problem is, when the last of us finally falls before this technological onslaught, the books won’t be 99p anymore. That’s business. That’s life.

As for the actual reading experience, like most people I find e-readers just fine. They do lack something though, and I hate to sound superficial here, but it’s ‘style’. An utterly useless and irrelevant factor in the book-reading experience, I know, but it’s still undeniable that no one reading a Kindle/iPad/etc looks interesting. Sorry, but you just don’t. On the other hand, sitting in the corner of a bar or restaurant with a book, dammit, it’s hard not to look cool and interesting.

The other thing I noticed about reading electronically – and maybe this is a writer thing – was how I missed the ‘weight’. The subconscious awareness of how many pages I’ve read and how many there are to go and what that means for the plot. And no, knowing that you’re on page 229 of 320 just isn’t the same. Like I say, it’s the ‘weight’. You have to be able to feel the ebb and flow of the story. Maybe it is just a writer’s thing?

And talking of writers: no matter how many readers you might persuade concerning the value of ebooks, a lot of writers will need more convincing. Seeing your book listed with Amazon is never going to compare with being able to walk into a bookshop and find it on the shelf. Yes, I know, if the readers decide that’s the way it’s going to go, there’s not a lot to be done about it; and let’s face it, there are lots of advantages for the writer with self-publishing on the Net. No agents, no publishers, no endless rejections, no agonising wait for publication, no suffering the harrowing trials of being edited. Just your book. Your vision. And no one else interfering. And yet . . . and yet . . . writing is such a solitary experience. Doesn’t it make sense to leave the final part to the ‘team’ – the experts in their fields? Of course, you might not agree with them sometimes, and ‘Hey, isn’t this my book? Didn’t I write it?’ Yes, it is, and it always will be – nothing can change that – but that doesn’t mean you’re always right about it. So the choice is: finish your book today, make sure you’ve edited it to the best of your ability, get it online in 48 hours and get ready for the cash to ‘pour’ in; or surround yourself with people who love books and want to see yours presented as well as it can possibly be.

Like I say, most writers will need a lot more persuasion.

Am I allowed to disagree with a guest post? :O What do you think? Your thoughts?

Peter Liney is on a bit of a blog tour this week:

Civilian Reader: SEEDS IN THE DESERT – Monday 8th July
J for Jetpack: THINK RHINO – Tuesday 9th July
Speculative Assessments: STORY – Wednesday 10th July
Gavreads: PLASTIC OR PAPER – Thursday 11th July – This post :D
Ranting Dragon: LITERARY QUISLING – Friday 12th July

Check them out :D

.The Detainee by Peter Liney

 The Detainee is out now

**EXCITING BREAKING NEWS**

We’re delighted to confirm that a brand new Discworld novel is heading your way and will available before Christmas!

RAISING STEAM – the 40th book in the Discworld series – will be published on 24th October and will see the Disc’s first train come steaming into town.

More details to follow very soon…

via Terry Pratchett’s Facebook Page

Fabulous! And the 40th? I remember the 25th :D 

Twice a year Simon and I choose 13 books that are coming out over the next six months and dedicate a whole episode of The Readers Podcast to tell everyone about them and why we’re curious about reading them.

This time the brief was to choose books that weren’t the obvious ones. This is definitely a list of books that are on the fringes for me and not what you might think I’d read. I’ve jotted them down in month order though they’re not chronological and may be subject to change.

July

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay (Harper Collins)

In his critically acclaimed novel Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay told a vivid and powerful story inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Now, the international bestselling and multiple award-winning author revisits that invented setting four centuries later – a world inspired this time by the glittering, decadent Song Dynasty.

Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.

Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.

In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.

August

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Picador)

They said I must die. They said that I stole the breaths from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up away from me in a grey wreath of smoke.

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover.

Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district office Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.

Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human (Century)

Baxter Zevcenko’s life is pretty sweet. As the 16-year-old kingpin of the Spider, his smut-peddling schoolyard syndicate, he’s making a name for himself as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. Profits are on the rise, the other gangs are staying out of his business, and he’s going out with Esme, the girl of his dreams.

But when Esme gets kidnapped, and all the clues point towards strange forces at work, things start to get seriously weird. The only man drunk enough to help is a bearded, booze-soaked, supernatural bounty hunter that goes by the name of Jackson ‘Jackie’ Ronin.

Plunged into the increasingly bizarre landscape of Cape Town’s supernatural underworld, Baxter and Ronin team up to save Esme. On a journey that takes them through the realms of impossibility, they must face every conceivable nightmare to get her back, including the odd brush with the Apocalypse.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (Atlantic)

Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone – and serendipity, coupled with sheer curiosity, has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behaviour and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore…

The Golum and the Djinn by Helen Wecker (Blue Door)

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a djinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.

The Golem & The Djinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

Let the Games Begin by Niccolo Ammaniti and Kylee Doust (Cannongate)

WARNING: Contains Satanic cults, intoxicated supermodels, Olympic refugees and man-eating hippos

The world might be in the throes of a global recession but when an author on the brink of despair, an enigmatic musician, a supermodel and a Satanic sect meet with the cream of Italian high society at the home of a Roman property tycoon, the world outside the mansion’s walls is soon forgotten. There’s going to be one hell of a party. And you’ve got a VIP ticket.

Ammaniti’s latest baroque masterpiece is an invite to the party to end all parties. But what mayhem will ensue when the games begin?

With all the verve of The Bonfire of the Vanities and Glamorama, this calamitous, supercharged and wildly enjoyable novel pulls no punches in its satire of the excesses of modern life.

The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi (Harvill Secker)

This was a summer the islanders would never forget. It all started one gloomy morning at the cusp of dawn when hail began falling to the south of Haven. Woken out of the deepest dreams, people walked outside or stood by their windows and looked out, bewildered at a seemingly shrunken world. Lit by the streetlamps, shooting hunks of hail pounded the seashore, glowing like mini-asteroids with a silver-blue light. Although the sound of the hail battering the corrugated iron roofs, the asphalt road, the stone steps by the beach, the streetlamps and the cars parked by the side of the road must have been deafening… nobody recalled hearing a thing

September

Babayaga by Toby Barlow (Corvus) [ebook only in the UK?]

From the author of Sharp Teeth,
a novel of postwar Paris,
of star-crossed love
and Cold War espionage,
of bloodthirsty witches
and a police inspector
turned into a flea…
and that’s just the beginning.

October

The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring (Quercus)

Welcome to Borley Rectory, the most haunted house in England.

The year is 1926 and Sarah Grey has landed herself an unlikely new job – personal assistant to Harry Price, London’s most infamous ghost hunter. Equal parts brilliant and charming, neurotic and manipulative, Harry has devoted his life to exposing the truth behind England’s many ‘false hauntings’, and never has he left a case unsolved, nor a fraud unexposed.

So when Harry and Sarah are invited to Borley Rectory – a house so haunted that objects frequently fly through the air unbidden, and locals avoid the grounds for fear of facing the spectral nun that walks there – they’re sure that this case will be just like any other. But when night falls and still no artifice can be found, the ghost hunters are forced to confront an uncomfortable possibility: the ghost of Borley Rectory may be real. And, if so, they’re about to make its most intimate acquaintance.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)

They made me kill thousands, but I only have one target now.

The Radch are conquerors to be feared – resist and they’ll turn you into a ‘corpse soldier’ – one of an army of dead prisoners animated by a warship’s AI mind. Whole planets are conquered by their own people.

The colossal warship called The Justice of Toren has been destroyed – but one ship-possessed soldier has escaped the devastation. Used to controlling thousands of hands, thousands of mouths, The Justice now has only two hands, and one mouth with which to tell her tale.

But one fragile, human body might just be enough to take revenge against those who destroyed her.

Closed for Winter by Jorn Lier Horst (Sandstone Press)

The summer cottages are closed and peace is settling over the coast of Vestfold, but the autumn fog conceals evil deeds. In the novel Closed for Winter , William Wisting has a new case to solve during the off-season. Ove Bakkerud, newly separated and extremely disillusioned, is looking forward to a final quiet weekend at his summer home before closing for winter but, when the tourists leave, less welcome visitors arrive. Bakkerud s cottage is ransacked by burglars. Next door he discovers the body of a man who has been beaten to death. Police Inspector William Wisting has witnessed grotesque murders before, but the desperation he sees in this latest murder is something new. Against his wishes his daughter Line decides to stay in one of the summer cottages at the mouth of the fjord. Wisting s unease does not diminish when they discover several more corpses on the deserted archipelago. Meanwhile, dead birds are dropping from the sky.

November

The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt (Bloomsbury)

It is the summer of 1940, and Lisbon is one of the only neutral ports left in Europe – a city filled with spies, crowned heads and refugees of every nationality, tipping back absinthe to while away the time until their escape. Awaiting safe passage to New York on the S. S. Manhattan, two couples meet: Pete and Julia Winters, expatriate Americans fleeing their sedate life in Paris; and Edward and Iris Freleng, elegant, independently wealthy, bohemian, and beset by the social and sexual anxieties of their class. Swept up in the tumult, the hidden currents of the lives of these four characters – Julia’s status as a Jew, Pete and Edward’s affair, Iris’s increasingly desperate efforts to save her tenuous marriage – begin to come loose. This journey will change the four of them irrevocably, as Europe sinks into war.

Equilateral: A Novel by Ken Kalfus (Bloomsbury Circus)

Equilateral is a concise book motivated by an expansive idea: contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s the late nineteenth century, and British astronomer Sanford Thayer has won international funding for his scheme to excavate an equilateral triangle, three hundred miles to a side, from the remote wastes of Egypt’s Western Desert.

Nine hundred thousand Arab fellahin have been put to work on the project, even though they can’t understand Thayer’s obsessive purpose. They don’t believe him when he says his perfect triangle will be visible to the highly evolved beings who inhabit the planet Mars, signaling the existence of civilization on Earth. Political and religious dissent rumbles through the camps. There’s also a triangle of another sort—a romantic one involving Thayer’s secretary, who’s committed to the man and his vision, and the mysterious servant girl he covets without sharing a common language. In the wind-blasted, lonely, fever-dream outpost known only as Point A, we plumb the depths of self-delusion and folly that comprise Thayer’s characteristically human enterprise.

Illustrated throughout with black-and-white astronomical diagrams, Equilateral is an intellectual comedy that’s extravagant in its conception and intimately focused on the implications of Empire, colonization, exploration, the Other, and who that Other might someday be. 

To come up with 13 books I had to trawl through several publishers catalogues and those aren’t exhaustive and I’ve missed some and some publishers like Solaris don’t really have catalogue. But regardless it’s a fun exercise as I definitely not have heard of some of them otherwise and I know that a new David Leavitt is coming out. 

There are loads of other books I noted down along the way I’m looking forward to but I’m sure you’ll hear more about them over the next few months so I won’t list any more.

But out of the lot I’m most excited by Babayaga as I loved Sharp Teeth but I can only find an ebook in the UK so far so I might pick up the US edition if I need to.

What do you think of the list? Any that take your fancy?

 

 

Max aka One Chapter More
was nice enough to ask me to write him a guest post to celebrate the relaunch of his blog.

The phrase ‘social reading’ has been on my mind for a while so I thought now was a good time to write about it:

When I took the first baby steps to becoming a ‘social reader’ in 2005 it was a little quiet on the internet. It was nice but it was quiet. But look at it now.

GUEST POST: Gav Pugh on The Art of Social Reading

I go on to describe what effect being a social reader has on me eg. I end up buying lots of books.

To read more click here:

GUEST POST: Gav Pugh on The Art of Social Reading