Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

thethreesarahlotz.jpgI finished reading The Three the same day as the horrendous air-crash in Germany, and seeing the events unfold on TV. Because of the intensity of Sarah Lotz’s horror thriller I had emotional connection to the unfolding news I would never have expected. The Three is as much an exploration of effects of a life changing event as it is a creepy, twisting mystery.

The first thing you notice is the structure. Lotz has put a fictionalised real-life non-fiction book, Black Thursday: From Crash to Conspiracy, inside her novel with only two framing chapters to let you know it’s a fiction.

It starts with four plane crashes with three of those flights having a sole surviving child collectively called The Three by the media. The opening ‘framing’ chapter provides us with a warning that fuels the events rest of novel. Then we are introduced to the ‘author’ before starting on the mix of interviews, transcripts and extracts which make up the rest of the book.

What’s immediately clear is that Lotz has a talent for not only characterisation but voice. Each segment has its own feel and style. There is a tangible change in tone as we swap back and fore between the different ‘evidence’ which make up The Three.

Lotz weaves four main narratives. Three following the journey of those closet to the surviving children as their families find out that they are not quite the same about the children they were before. They act out of character. The fourth deals with a message recorded by Pamela May Donald and the person who hears it.

That’s a thread that’s better left to be experienced though it does involve the theme of religion and how power and religion aren’t always too far away from each other. I’m mentioning it as this thread has an implication which in the end Lotz underplays.

Maybe knowing there was a sequel, especially being aware of where it is to be set, subtly changed the way I read The Three. Not in a big way. I think I spotted the occasional reference to events in the sequel and I paused to ponder where the next book might go.

But I wonder if this had been a one-off book if Lotz would have risked making some elements bigger and bolder rather than leaving the lingering feeling she was holding something back?

This one ends cleverly so I really need to know how Sarah Lotz is going to tackle the next one, especially if it’s have the same format, and why is it called Day Four?

Thank You Terry Pratchett, RIP

Last Thursday I saw a tweet which confused and worried me:

And then I saw three tweets which broke me:  1/3



And the most I can manage at the moment is to share my own tweet:

Thank you Terry Pratchett.

Awards: The Kitschies 2014

The Kitschies reward the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic. Now in our sixth year, we are proud to be sponsored by Fallen London, the award-winning browser game of a dark and mysterious London, designed by Failbetter Games.

The Kitschies’ 2014 finalists were selected from 198 submissions, from over 40 publishers and imprints. Congratulations to all who made the shortlists, and thanks to everyone who submitted a title for consideration.


The Red Tentacle (Novel)

  • Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith (Egmont)
  • The Peripheral, by William Gibson (Viking)
  • The Way Inn, by Will Wiles (4th Estate)
  • The Race, by Nina Allen (NewCon Press)

The Golden Tentacle (Debut)

  • Viper Wine, by Hermione Eyre (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne (Blackfriars)
  • Memory of Water, by Emmi Itäranta (HarperCollins)
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers (Self-Published)
  • The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara (Atlantic Books)

The Inky Tentacle (Cover Art)

  • The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, design by Steve Marking, lettering by Kimberly Glyder (Weidenfeld and Nicolson)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming, cover by Ben Summers (Hodder and Stoughton)
  • Through the Woods, cover by Emily Carroll and Sonja Chaghatzbanian (Faber and Faber)
  • The Book of Strange New Things, cover by Rafaela Romaya and Yehring Tong (Canongate)
  • Tigerman, cover by Glenn O’Neill (William Heinamann)

The Invisible Tentacle (Natively Digital Fiction)

  • echovirus12, created/curated by Jeff Noon @jeffnoon, Ed @3dgriffiths, James Knight @badbadpoet, violet sprite @gadgetgreen, Richard Biddle @littledeaths68, Mina Polen @polen, Uel Aramchek @ThePatanoiac, Graham Walsh @t_i_s_u, Vapour Vox @Wrong_Triangle
  • Kentucky Route Zero, Act III, by Cardboard Computer
  • 80 Days, by Inkle Studios
  • Sailor’s Dream, by Simogo

Learn more about this year’s judging panels.

Now here is a shortlist to get excited about I especially want to read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet as it is self-published also the The Invisible Tentacle makes a lovely edition to the categories.

Updated with the winners:

The winner of the Kitschies Red Tentacle for 2014 was Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith (Electric Monkey). Judge Kim Curran said, “We loved all the shortlist, and Grasshopper Junglewas, in the end, the novel with the biggest chance to actually blow a young person’s mind.”

The Golden Tentacle for debut went to Viper Wine, by Hermione Eyre (Jonathan Cape). The judges noted the audacity and craft of the novel.

The Inky Tentacle for cover art went to Tigerman, cover by Glenn O’Neill (William Heinemann)

Our first-ever Invisible Tentacle for natively digital fiction went to Kentucky Route Zero, Act III, by Cardboard Computer.

2014 Locus Recommended Reading List

This Recommended Reading List, published in Locus Magazine’s February 2015 issue, is a consensus by Locus editors and reviewers:

— Liza Groen Trombi, Gary K. Wolfe, Jonathan Strahan, Faren Miller, Russell Letson, Graham Sleight, Adrienne Martini, Carolyn Cushman, Tim Pratt, Karen Burnham, Gardner Dozois, Rich Horton, Paul Kincaid, and others — with inputs from outside reviewers, other professional critics, other lists, etc. Short fiction selections are based on material from Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois, Rich Horton, Lois Tilton, Ellen Datlow, Alisa Krasnostein, and Paula Guran with some assistance from Karen Burnham, Nisi Shawl, and Mark Kelly.

Essays by many of these contributors, highlighting their particular favorite books and stories, are published in the February issue. –

2014 had a lot of good speculative fiction published in all categories. Click on the above list and discover something you’ve missed.

An Interview With Neal Asher (Dark Intelligence)

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher


You may not know but I’m a huge fan of Neal Asher’s work especially this Polity Universe. So much so his publisher in the UK, Tor, invited me to write an introduction to it. I wrote 1200 words and could have easily written 1200 more. If you’re interested in thought-provoking but fun space opera please go check out the link.

I was also lucky enough to score interview with the man himself to talk about his new book Dark Intelligence and the return of Penny Royal.

Gav: Could you describe Dark Intelligence in five words or less? 

Neal: Transformations, vengeance and super-science.

Gav: Penny Royal has appeared in the short story ‘Alien Archeology’ and The Technician what makes him a character you keep returning to? 

NeaI: have a bit of a fascination with powerful and morally questionable characters (that’s not a bit of an understatement of what Penny Royal is). But it also seems that I agree with my readers on this. A previous example is the Brass Man, Mr Crane – I liked him, the readers liked him, so I resurrected him and dedicated an entire book to him. Much the same has happened here.

Gav: Transformation is a theme which runs through your work in the Polity was there a reason behind putting in front and centre in this trilogy?

That came about during a back and forth with Bella Pagan. I was all set to call it the Penny Royal trilogy but, as she pointed out, only those who have read my previous stuff will have any idea what that is about. New readers might well be picking up editions of the Herb Garden. Initially the title of the first book was to be Isobel, then it became Transformation, but then thinking about overall themes I realized that transformation was it for the whole trilogy. Each book is very definitely a transformation. The title of Dark Intelligence came about during that exchange with Bella – not quite sure how, but it fits perfectly. Now, of course, there’ll be a similar discussion about the other books, which are provisionally titled Factory Station Room 101 & Spear and Spine.

Gav: You left the Polity for a trilogy of books in the The Owner Series and now you’ve returned to the Polity. How did it feel to come back? 

Neal: It’s a fact of life for a writer of serial books set in the same future (or set around the same town with the same cops if you’re writing a police procedural) that you can get stale. But try to do something different and you can get pilloried by your fans. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I took that risk with The Owner Series (wasn’t too much of a risk because most of the staples my readers like were there) and, afterwards, returning to the Polity, felt refreshed.

Gav: And I guess following on from that how do you balance writing about something familiar with keeping things new and exciting for you as you write?

Neal: In one respect, see the answer above. But it can be difficult when working with the constraints of everything you’ve written in previous books. When I wrote The Skinner there was only Gridlinked to reference so I let my imagination run riot – it’s probably the book I enjoyed writing the most. There’s also a point you reach when you realize that it has become the day job. Yes, it’s one of the best jobs in the world, but still the day job. New and exciting occurs when I push my imagination, when I twist and expand things and try to go outside expectation. For example, man shoots another man in the head, blowing his brains out. The victim falls to the floor dead. That’s nuts and bolts writing. When the victim sits up and goes, ‘Ouch, that smarts,’ and grins, then you’re getting more into the kind of territory I like. Even more so if his brain drops out of his skull and crawls off under a nearby table.

Gav: You started a lot of chapters in earlier books with extracts of ‘works’ which often had some bearing on the events which followed, something I really enjoyed, but you’ve not that done that this time, you also start Dark Intelligence with a first person narrator is there a reason behind the change of style or is it just an evolution of you as a writer?

I have used first person narrator before (Hilldiggers) so it’s not a major change. It’s a good way of getting right inside the skull of your character. However I find it stifling just to stick with that when I want to deal with other aspects of the story so I also use third person. As for the chapter starts – those little excerpts from ‘How It Is – by Gordon’ and the like – I just didn’t want to slow things down with them this time. It is also the case that having done so many of them I’m noticing a tendency towards repetition.

Gav: Following you on twitter, even if someone hasn’t read your work, it becomes pretty obvious you keep up with field of biology, which immediately evident in your novels. Is something you do for purely research purposes or it is a wider passion that feeds into your work?

It’s both. I’ve always been interested in what’s going on at the forefront of science. When I decided that writing was going to be what I would pursue properly it helped that it was inclusive of all my other interests. Now I try to make it part of the discipline by reading 5 or 10 science articles in the morning as a mental warm-up before I start writing. In these latest books you’ll see how that has impinged what with the use of meta-materials, matter printers and that all-time favorite of mine the grotesque parasite.

Gav: I think I’m right in saying you’ve finished the story, if not all the edits, for the next two books in The Transformation and that leads me to two questions; did it make it more relaxing to know you could go back and fiddle with earlier bits the closer you got to the end? And secondly, how does it feel getting to the end of a big project, does it get any easier knowing you’ve done it three times before? 

I started out aiming to write a trilogy and wrote all three books in one hit, to first draft, because that way it was easier to sort out the inconsistencies. I didn’t want to put myself in the position whereby something I’d written in book one made it impossible, difficult or overly complicated to resolve something in book three. I also wanted the option to add stuff to the first book to make the resolution at the end more logical, or natural. So yes, it did make it more relaxing to be able to go back and fiddle. Getting to the end of a big project like this is still hard because it has to have a satisfying ending to all plot threads and the overall story. However, it is easier having done it before because of simple experience. I’m now not afraid to make major alterations, to rip the thing apart and stick it back together in a different shape, because I know I can.

Gav: Finally, 2015 is the date travelled to in Back to the Future and it’s not what was expected in 1985. Do you think we’ll be brave enough to start transforming ourselves in the near future?

Yeah, I just saw a thing on Facebook about people’s predictions of what phones would look like by now, and only one of them got close. As for transforming ourselves, that’s already happening. We have bionic eyes and thought-controlled prosthetics now, we have brain implants like those used to kill the tremors in Parkinson’s sufferers. I would bet that within the next 10 years some of this stuff will have moved out of the realm of just medical science. Even I am about to transform myself into an SF writer cyborg by having refractive lens replacement. It’s happening.

Thanks Neal. 

PS: I’ll have a review of Dark Intelligence up in the next couple of weeks.

Wonderings: Re-Reading


I’ve been dipping into the collected essays of Jo Walton, What Makes This Book So Great and wondering why I don’t re-read more. When I had limited choice I used to do it quite a lot. In fact the ‘keeping rules’ for my shelves are that a book has to be unread (a lot shelf space), special (mostly signed, part of a  collection, favourite author or proofs) or I have to want to re-read them, which is why I still have The Great Game trilogy by Dave Duncan (as I want to re-read it) but not Lord of the Rings (I didn’t even finish the last book). I have re-read The Hobbit a few times though that went to charity not so recently.

A friend just re-read The Song of Achilles, which resulted in a flood of tears for the third time. Another finds comfort in the Harry Potter series and is on their 30th re-read.  For me re-reading Pratchett is always a pleasure.  I’ve re-read The Hogfather as a Christmas tradition for quite a few years  though I think I’ve re-read Sourcery the most out of the Discworld series.  I’ve been re-reading very very very slowly the City Watch thread but I think The Witches will always be my favourite. I’m need to crack on and read Jingo – goodness it’s been over a year since I read Feet of Clay!!

I’ve re-read The Old Kingdom books by Garth Nix and wanted to re-read them before reading Clariel.  I’d also love to re-read the Polity books by Neal Asher as the more I read the more I see how clever he is at using the universe he’s created. Then there is a duology by James Stoddard, called The High House and The False House, which I wish had chance to become a trilogy and  I’d love to be more widely read.

I guess what I’m convincing myself of is that I actually do enjoy re-reading. And I used to do it more but over the last several years I’ve not indulged – last year wasn’t a good reading year for me anyway.  As seen in my previous post I’ve got a pile of first reads that I want to explore. So why do I feel a big urge to re-read Harry Potter?

Jo Walton re-reads a lot but as she points out in her introduction  she needs to read forward so she has new things to re-read but I think for me I need to re-read more in order to enjoy reading more.

Looking Backwards and Forwards

Happy New Year everyone. I hope you ended the year as happy readers? As you can see from the tweet above I can’t say I’ve read everything I wanted to read in 2015, not by a long shot, but the more  I think about what I actually read the more I think I’ve read some great books though that was when I was actually reading.  From July, when I started one particular book by what used to be a favourite author (I don’t know how I feel about reading them again as the book  broke my trust – I know that sounds dramatic), towards November, when I devoured Fox Glove SummerI only read the books for Hear … Read This! I told a few people privately that my mojo had gone but I think it’s worth mentioning now as a counter to the ‘I’ve read 1 million book’ posts and tweets that have popping up all over the place. It’s also the reason that the blog is stripped back and it’s been extremely quiet.  Reading for me is escapism and I struggled to escape into reading due to the book who remain nameless. 

Oddly I did keep buying books in the hope the mojo would come back. And now that is has I’m hoping to gather up some speed again. But I’m going to be more willing to let authors go but not be scared to celebrate those books that made me happy – The Floating Admiral is a great example as the rest of the gang HATED it.

Actually have a list of memorable books I read in 2014:

  • Artful by Ali Smith
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
  • The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
  • Under the Skin by Michel Faber
  • Dreams and Shadows by  C . Robert Cargill
  • A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr,
  • The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
  • Slow River by Nicola Griffith
  • The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher
  • The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan
  • The Line of Polity/Brass Man by Neal Asher
  • The Gospel of Loki  by Joanne M. Harris
  • Broken Homes/Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
  • Brenda and Effie Forever by Paul Magrs
  • Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins
  • The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas
  • Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
  • Speedy Death/The Mystery of a Butchers Shop by Gladys Mitchell
  • Elric: Fortess of Pearl by Michel Moorecock

 I’m pretty proud of that.

Speaking of proud The Readers Podcast, which I started with Simon Savidge, had me back for a guest appearance to share books from the first six months of 2015 I’m looking forward to. I’m sharing a slightly tweaked list here:


Alice and the Fly by James Rice – Hodder

Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition’s caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep-rooted in my mind. As soon as I come clean I’ll flood out all these tears and it’ll all be ok and I won’t be scared of Them anymore. The truth is I can’t think of any single traumatic childhood incident to tell her. I mean, there are plenty of bad memories – Herb’s death, or the time I bit the hole in my tongue, or Finners Island, out on the boat with Sarah – but none of these are what caused the phobia. I’ve always had it. It’s Them. I’m just scared of Them. It’s that simple.

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher – Tor

One Man will transcend death to seek vengeance. One woman will transform herself to gain power. And no one will emerge unscathed…

Thorvald Spear wakes in hospital, where he finds he’s been brought back from the dead. What’s more, he died in a human vs. alien war which ended a whole century ago. But when he relives his traumatic final moments, he finds the spark to keep on living. That spark is vengeance. Trapped and desperate on a world surrounded by alien Prador forces, Spear had seen a rescue ship arriving. But instead of providing backup, Penny Royal, the AI within the destroyer turned rogue. It annihilated friendly forces in a frenzy of destruction, and, years later, it’s still free. Spear vows to track it across worlds and do whatever it takes to bring it down.

Isobel Satomi ran a successful crime syndicate. But after competitors attacked, she needed more power. Yet she got more than she bargained for when she negotiated with Penny Royal. She paid it to turn her part-AI herself, but the upgrades hid a horrifying secret. The Dark AI had triggered a transformation in Isobel that would turn her into a monster, rapidly evolving into something far from human.

Spear hires Isobel to take him to the Penny Royal AI’s last known whereabouts. But he cheats her in the process and he becomes a target for her vengeance. And as she is evolves further into a monstrous predator, rage soon wins over reason. Will Spear finish his hunt, before he becomes the hunted?


Kim Kardashian’s Marriage by Sam Riviere  – Faber

The 72 poems in Kim Kardashian’s Marriage mark out equally sharpened lines of public and private engagement. Kim Kardashian’s 2011 marriage lasted for 72 days, and was seen by some as illustrative of celebrity life as a performance, as spectacle. Whatever the truth of this (and Kardashian’s own statements refute it), Sam Riviere has used the furor as a point of ignition, deploying terms from Kardashian’s make-up regimen to explore surfaces and self-consciousness, presentation and obfuscation. His pursuit is toward a form of zero-privacy akin, perhaps, to Kardashian’s own life, that eschews a dependence upon confessional modes of writing to explore what kind of meaning lies in impersonal methods of creation.

The poems have been produced by harvesting and manipulating the results of search engines to create a poetry of part-collage, part-improvisation. The effect is as refractive as it is reflective, and disturbs the slant on biography through a bricolage of recycled and cross-referenced language, until we are left with a pixellation of the first person.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman Headline

In this new volume, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction-stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013-as well as BLACK DOG, a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods.

Trigger Warning is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explores the realm of experience and emotion. In Adventure Story-a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane-Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience A Calendar of Tales are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year-stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale The Case of Death and Honey. And Click-Clack the Rattlebag explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

Autumn Republic by Brian McCleellan 

The capital has fallen . . .

Field Marshal Tamas has finally returned to Adopest, only to find the capital in the hands of a foreign power. With his son Taniel presumed dead, Tamas must gather his beleaguered forces and formulate a plan to defeat the Kez – no easy task when you’re outnumbered and can’t tell friend from foe.

The army is divided . . .

With their enemy bearing down on them, the Adran command is in disarray. Someone, it seems, is selling secrets to the Kez. Inspector Adamat is determined to flush out the traitor, but as the conspiracy unravels, he will learn a horrifying truth.

And all hope rests with one man . . .

Taniel Two-Shot, the powder mage who shot a god in the eye, is on the run. He possesses the sole means of defeating the Kez, but to do so he must evade treachery at every turn. If he fails, Adro will fall.

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough – Gollancz 

This is an exceptional, contemporary, heart-breaking novel.

Toby’s life was perfectly normal . . . until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House; an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.

No one returns from the sanatorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes.

Because everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.


 The Faces of God by Mallock – Europa Editions

Murder and depravity are Police Commissioner Amde Mallock’s daily bread. As far as he is concerned, mankind has been thoroughly abandoned by God, and the visions that haunt him do nothing to disabuse him of this notion. But nothing he has encountered has prepared him for the sudden appearance of a serial killer dubbed “”””The Makeup Artist.”””” The bodies of the killer’s first victims, found in four separate neighborhoods of Paris, are monstrous works of art, baroque masterpieces of depravity. As Mallock investigates, he is shocked by the level of devilish behaviour

 The Mirror of Melody Black by Gavin Extence – Hodder

Life has its ups and downs. From the author of The Universe Versus Alex Woods comes a dark, painful and witty novel about a woman whose life is spiralling out of control.

You’re going to find some of my actions frustrating. I’m hard to live with, maddening, uneven – I get that. But I can’t stand around listing my faults or we’ll be here for ever. All I ask right now is that you indulge me. For as long as it lasts, this is going to be one hell of a ride.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link – Canongate

Fantastic, fantastical and utterly incomparable, Kelly Link’s new collection explores everything from the essence of ghosts to the nature of love. And hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the pyramids . . .

With each story she weaves, Link takes readers deep into an unforgettable, brilliantly constructed universe. Strange, dark and wry, Get in Trouble reveals Kelly Link at the height of her creative powers and stretches the boundaries of what fiction can do.

 The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased.

The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years. They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other-worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge and war.

Starborn: The Worldmaker Trilogy by Lucy Hounsom – Tor UK

When Kyndra accidentally breaks a sacred artefact at her village’s coming-of-age ceremony, she finds all hands turned against her. Then, following too swiftly for coincidence, a madness sweeps her home, along with unnatural storms. An angry mob blame her and she fears for her life – until two strangers, wielding a power not seen for centuries, take her to safety. They flee to the sunken citadel of Naris, but worse dangers will lie ahead, amongst the underground city’s politicians, fanatics and rebels. But in its subterranean chambers, she will find her true path – facing betrayal and madness to find it.

Kyndra, like every reluctant hero, has a choice: seize her destiny with both hands or walk away, perhaps dooming a whole world to fall. Starborn is about a girl coming of age, but it’s also about heroism. Its strengths, burdens, responsibilities and – not least – its consequences.

 The Case of the Hail Mary Celeste by Malcom Priyce – Bloomsbury

It was Tuesday the second of December 1947 when Jenny the Spiddler walked into my office: almost a month before they nationalised my mother.

Jack Wenlock is the last of the Railway Goslings: that fabled cadre of railway detectives created at the Weeping Cross Railway Servants’ Orphanage, who trod the corridors of the GWR trains in the years 1925 to 1947. Sworn to uphold the name of God’s Wonderful Railway and all that the good men of England fought for in two world wars, Jack keeps the trains free of fare dodgers and purse-stealers, bounders and confidence tricksters, German spies and ladies of the night.

But now, as the clock ticks down towards the nationalisation of the railways Jack finds himself investigating a case that begins with an abducted great aunt, but soon develops into something far darker and more dangerous. It reaches up to the corridors of power and into the labyrinth of the greatest mystery in all the annals of railway lore – the disappearance in 1915 of twenty-three nuns from the 7.25 Swindon to Bristol Temple Meads, or the case of the ‘Hail Mary’ Celeste.

Shady government agents, drunken riverboat captains, a bandaged bookseller, a missing manuscript, a melancholic gorilla and a 4070 Godstow Castle engine – the one with a sloping throatplate in the firebox and the characteristic double cough in the chuffs – all collide on a journey that will take your breath away.

 The Day Shift by Charlaine Harris – Gollancz

It’s a quiet little town, perched at the junction between Davy Road and Witch Light Road, and it’s easy to miss. With its boarded-up windows, single traffic light and sleepy air, there’s nothing special about Midnight . . . which is exactly how the residents like it.

So when the news comes that a new owner plans to renovate the run-down, abandoned old hotel in town, it’s not met with pleasure. Who would want to come to Midnight, with its handful of shops, the Home Cookin diner, and quiet residents – and why?

But there are bigger problems in the air. When Manfred Bernado, the newest resident in town, is swept up in a deadly investigation suddenly the hotel and its residents are the least of the towns concern. The police, lawyers and journalists are all headed to Midnight, and it’s the worst possible moment . . .


 Stallo by Stephan Spjut – Faber

In the Summer of 1978, a young boy disappears without trace from a cabin in the Dalecarlian woods of Sweden. His mother claims he was abducted by a giant.

The previous year, in the Sarek National Park, Laponia, a wildlife photographer takes a strange picture from his small airplane, of a bear running over the marshes. On its back sits a creature. It looks like a small monkey, but the photographer claims he has taken his first picture of a troll.

Twenty-five years later, and back in Laponia, Susso runs a web page dedicated to searching for creatures whose existence have not yet been proven: the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot. But Susso’s true obsession is Trolls. When an old woman claims that a small furry animal has been standing outside her house, observing her and her five year old grandson for hours, Susso picks up her camera and leaves for what will become a terrifying adventure into the unknown.

Because what if there really are trolls out there, and they’re taking our children?

Any you like the look of? I’ve got a longer list. A much longer list. And I’ve got books that came out in 2014 that make 2015’s reading  a year to look forward to immediately:
Have I got any resolutions? Only to have read a list of books I’ve enjoyed by the end of the year.

Audiobook Review: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Foxglove_IconWhere do you go after the literally shocking ending of Broken Homes. PC Peter Grant, Britain’s only official apprentice Wizard, had been investigated events at architecturally curious high-rise estate called Skygarden before Ben Aaronovitch pulled a very large rabbit out the hat.

Well it seems that life, and crime, carry on. This time Peter is off to the Herefordshire countryside to see if anything supernatural is involved in the disappearance of two girls and his investigation starts with doing a routine elimination check on a wizard who has hung up his staff.

Aaronovitch keeps the format tightly woven in the police-procedural mode with Peter being the good copper he is and adhering to his training and the fundamentals of police work. One of the strengths of the series is that it reads like crime fiction with magic. To be honest I am surprised by how popular they are outside genre circles as magic and the supernatural play a major part of the plot. But through Peter’s eyes they always feel grounded and accessible.

Peter is also a good narrator of his own adventure though for me that narrative voice is synonymous with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who reads the audio books and he is now my Peter. I mention this mostly as it took me a week to listen to the 10hrs and 45 minutes of audio. I can’t really multitask when listening to an audio book but luckily I had a a 5 hour round trip which topped up with snatches on my commute, and a bath or two to fed my addiction.

I really can’t say what one thing got me hooked. The setting reminds me of home. Getting away from London and into the countryside we’re introduced a wonderful cast of colourful characters. Ben drops some well waited hooks and teases with revelations about Nightingale, Beverly Brook and Molly. Plus Kobna as a wonderful way of saying latin phrases.

This is the first book in the series where Peter is kicked out of the nest of London and away from DCI Nightingale’s protective wing. Like the last book Aaronovitch keeps the plotting focused and narrow – and in a way simplex. You can summarise the who did what to whom and why quite easily at the end. It would it completely spoil your enjoyment if I did but it’s the investigation of the events which makes Foxglove Summer compelling. It’s who does what during an investigation, where the suspicions fall and how you keep a story hungry media fed without them getting a whiff of magic balanced that draws you in and keeps you on the hook.

I only have one small niggle and that’s the wizardly talents that PC Grant has. It’s hard with magic to keep it from being a deus ex machina to pull out and fix things. There is a a great one used here but not by Peter. He’s getting good at impelo to blow things up but I’m craving a little bit more variety in his bag of tricks.

I really can’t fault it. Foxglove Summer is a fun and well told police procedural which manages to keep the magic to investigable levels. Aaronovitch shows no signs he nor Peter is tiring, in fact, here he shows us that his apprentice wizarrd can coming out of his master’s shadow and shines I hope Nightingale keeps having a role as he’s so much fun to read and watch especially as he blows up a barn.

We leave with the story with new questions, which hopefully will result in teasing answers in the next book.

Highly recommended.

Anne Rice Answers Three Questions

I’m so excited to be able to bring you this quick interview with the extraordinary Anne Rice. Queen of the Damned is one of my favourite ever novels and reading that Lestat has further adventures to share is truly exiting. Without further ado here is a brief but nevertheless exciting Q & A:

Prince Lestat

What inspired you to return to Lestat after more than a decade?

New ideas. New visions. New possibilities. At the time I retired from the Chronicles (2003) I really had no more to say with Lestat. I associated the Chronicles with some of the most painful parts of my life. But as the years passed, I kept thinking of Lestat, wondering what he would think about this or that cultural development, what he might have to say about this or that new film or book. He was alive for me, out there, in exile. Finally I went back and reread all of the books, and he was talking to me again, coming out of exile, out of his ‘depression’, wanting to live again. It was glorious.

Why do you think vampires continue to be such a popular phenomenon? What has changed in the genre while you’ve been writing?

I’m not surprised at all at the popularity of the vampire. The concept is so rich – the vampire is a metaphor for the outsider, the outcast, the artist, the addict, the alienated one. So of course writers would come along and do new and interesting things with such a rich concept. The vampire craze today is author driven. But the movement amongst some very popular authors is towards domesticating the vampire – the very opposite of my approach. We’re seeing the vampire as the boy next door, the guy next to you in biology class in high school, or the handsome man you meet at the nearby tavern or bar. It’s quite interesting. My vampires are mythic, tragic, larger than life. I’m kind of delighted by all the variations.

What do you think the new generation of vampire fans will find in your novels that they may not have come across before?

My emphasis has always been on the vampire as godlike, heroic, hugely powerful, facing the challenge of immortality as his physical and mental powers grow beyond his wildest dreams. If the new generation wants the vampire as mythic hero, I hope they will be drawn to Lestat. Also my beloved vampire heroes are international; they come from all parts of the globe and they roam the earth in their quest for love, and for meaning. I absolutely love exploring Lestat’s ties to Paris and the Auvergne where he was born; I enjoy describing the life of Armand and others today in New York; it was fun for me to explore what vampires all over the world were up to as they confront the problems of the modern age. If readers want a global vision of the tribe, if they enjoy my cosmology – how the vampires came into existence, what unites them, etc. – well, I think they might enjoy Prince Lestat. But what has always driven my work is character. I’m in love with Lestat, with Louis, with all of my vampires. And if readers share that intense love, well, the books will work for them. I’m an intensely romantic writer. But what I write is a romance of heroes, of those who are larger than life… because I believe truly that just about everybody is larger than life.

Are you, like me, looking forward to reading more from Lestat? Please let me know in the comments.

Prince Lestat by Anne Rice is out now.