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Kate (Oxford, Oxon United Kingdom)

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Kingdom Come: Kingmaker, Book 4
Kingdom Come: Kingmaker, Book 4
Offered by Audible Ltd

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic conclusion to this fine series, 8 Sept. 2017
Kingdom Come is the fourth and final novel in Toby Clements’ superb chronicle of the Wars of the Roses. The series, Kingmaker, focuses on the years between 1460 and 1471, from the Battle of Towton to the Battle of Tewkesbury, years that transformed England while tearing it apart. Kingdom Come completes the story of Thomas and Katherine and so you’d be well advised to read the series as intended, from the beginning starting with Winter Pilgrims. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure and that you don’t mind hearing about things that have happened before on Thomas and Katherine’s journey.

The year is 1470 and all is going well for Thomas and Katherine Everingham. Their son Rufus thrives and another is on the way. Their manor, Marton Hall in Lincolnshire, prospers, expanding even, providing a home, not only for Thomas and his family but also for the men and women who have endured with them through years of war and restlessness. There are so few left. With Edward IV on the throne and the old King Henry VI in the Tower, the country seems to be at peace at last. But, of course, it isn’t. It just seems like that on the surface. The Earl of Warwick, once such a close ally of Edward IV, is plotting against him, attracting to him men that Edward believes he can trust. They’re waiting for the perfect moment to set the trap and, unfortunately for Thomas, it’s he who discovers the plot and it’s Thomas who has to brave Edward’s wrath by revealing it.

But that’s not all. The manuscript that has been both the curse and blessing of Thomas and Katherine’s life for so long continues to threaten their very lives. Thomas’s secrets are about to be revealed. There is only one thing they can do. They must run. But the time will come when the call to arms will be heard once more and Thomas and Katherine won’t be found lacking as the armies gather for an almighty battle on the outskirts of Tewkesbury.

I have followed the Kingmaker series since it began and, without doubt, it is one of the finest historical series around. It’s successful for so many reasons, not least of which is the private and constant story of Thomas and Katherine Everingham. They have endured so much and deserve even more but it’s never easy and in this final book they must suffer again. This might be a series about war but Katherine is no less important than her soldier husband. War affects them both equally and her perspective matters just as much. This is refreshing, to say the least, in a novel about medieval warfare. There are scenes in Kingdom Come which are so painful to read. Life is far from easy and death, betrayal, illness and hunger come all too frequently. We care deeply for these two and, by the time of this fourth book, we cannot wait to see what happens to them in the end. But we know this is no fairytale. Happing endings are not guaranteed.

Katherine’s character is particularly fascinating, not least for her medical skills. Toby Clements always makes sure that each novel has at least one scene in which Katherine is up to her eyeballs (or at least her elbows) in blood, gore and disinfecting urine. Once read these scenes cannot be forgotten. You might even want to read them with your eyes shut – they’re most certainly gruesome and…. thorough. Kingdom Come is no different. I must admit that I anticipate these scenes and rather enjoy them but perhaps I shouldn’t admit to that!

The surrounding characters are so wonderful and it’s good to keep returning to old friends, although they are now much reduced in number – and even in body. John Stumps is an extraordinary personality and Toby Clements portrays him beautifully. But we still miss some of the figures from the earlier novels. Kingdom Come contains an intriguing look at Edward IV while in exile. There is so much more to Edward in these days of trial and punishment. The quality of the author’s writing and historical insight and imagination means that it really does feel like we’re there. Toby Clements also excels with his use of present tense. I’m not always a fan of present tense, especially in historical fiction, but it really works here.

As always with this series, Kingdom Come is such an exciting and dramatic novel that grips the reader tightly. I must admit to having grown wearisome of the manuscript, which has haunted these books from the beginning. I sensed that the author may have been feeling the same way. It was good to see the back of that. This series has moved so far ahead of conventional devices, such as secret manuscripts and lost memories that occasionally popped up in the earlier books.

Kingdom Come is powerful and vigorous historical fiction, combining the horror and brutal energy of the battlefield with the more intimate drama of a family on the run and surviving as best that they can. All set within the vividly realised setting of the 15th century, a place where no one in their right mind would wish to be but how glorious it is to read about it. I don’t know where Toby Clements will take us next now that Kingmaker is done but I do know I’ll be there every step of the way. I'm grateful for the review copy.

All The Wicked Girls: Sometimes Ordinary Lives Hide the Darkest Secrets
All The Wicked Girls: Sometimes Ordinary Lives Hide the Darkest Secrets
by Chris Whitaker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This wonderful, wonderful book has left me speechless and in tears, 8 Sept. 2017
The small town of Grace in Alabama is in trouble. Isolated in many ways from the surrounding world, it is now even separated by its weather. A wall of cloud and looming storm hangs around and over this town. Several of its inhabitants drive out each day beyond the wall, just so that they can feel the warmth and brightness of sun on their skin and faces, and be reminded what normal is like.

Summer and Raine Ryan are sisters and their names reveal how different these teenage girls are from one another. Summer, though, the one who is easy to know and like, is missing and the disappearance reminds the town and its sheriff, Chief Black, of the case of the missing Briar girls. Presumed murdered, these girls continue to haunt the town. They are its curse and surely the worst thing that could happen to Grace is that the murderer has returned to continue his work. Everyone wants Summer found alive, especially her sister Raine and Raine’s friends Noah and Purv.

Beyond this, I’ll say no more about the plot because All the Wicked Girls is quite simply a work of genius. And that’s no exaggeration. Its story is astonishing and complex and it is driven as much by heart as it is by puzzles and surprises. Tall Oaks, Chris Whitaker’s previous novel, is one of my favourite novels of recent years but, incredible as it seems, All the Wicked Girls leaves it behind.

The central mystery is brilliantly told from a range of perspectives, including Summer’s own, and it moves back and forth through the weeks leading up to Summer’s disappearance. We hear from several of the people who influenced Summer’s life and were so deeply affected by this wonderful girl. We’re soon aware that not everything is as it seems but how we learn this, and what we learn, is beautifully told.

Chris Whitaker writes superbly. As with Tall Oaks, I marvel at how this British author captures the mood and sound of an American small town. It’s not overdone. It feels completely natural and each of these characters has his or her own distinctive voice.

But what drives All the Wicked Girls beyond its wonderful plot and its fantastically atmospheric sense of place, is its people. In Tall Oaks I fell for Manny (like everyone else!) but in All the Wicked Girls we have Noah and Purv and it’s fair to say that I can think of no other characters in recent years that I have fallen for quite as hard as this. Their individual personalities and their friendship come alive in an astonishing way, and this is as due to Chris Whitaker’s stunning and often understated use of language as it is his empathy for young people. This is clever writing. We hear a phrase and it’s only later that we learn the full significance of its meaning and it hits us like a fist. I loved Summer and Raine too (how could I not?) but Purv and Noah made me laugh and cry time after time. Just thinking about Noah, his courage, wisdom, kindness and deep heart, makes me want to weep.

This is a novel that takes us into some very dark places. The melancholy of Grace goes far deeper than the storm that hovers over it. It is disturbing at times, there is no doubt of that, but it is also filled with a humanity despite its subject and I was held spellbound. There are so many reasons to read All the Wicked Girls but if I had to give you just one – well, two reasons – it would be to read it for Noah and Purv. I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. I'm grateful for the review copy.

Treason's Spring (The Archives Of The Comptrollerate-General For Scrutiny And Survey)
Treason's Spring (The Archives Of The Comptrollerate-General For Scrutiny And Survey)
by Robert Wilton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.20

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immensely clever, controlled and compelling - superb, 8 Sept. 2017
It is 1792 and the age of the mob has brought violence and chaos to the streets of Paris, in particular the Place de la Révolution where Madame Guillotine holds centre stage. All of Europe reels from it, especially England which is still enduring the aftermath of the recent American Revolution. These are the early days of The Terror, the King and Queen of France are only recently imprisoned and the National Convention, the revolutionary ruling body of France, doesn’t quite know what to do with them. The Ministers, several of whom held position under King Louis, are anxious. A wrong word uttered, a whiff of sentimental nostalgia, the slightest slip is enough to consign even the most powerful to a public, humiliating death.

As the Ministers juggle for power and safety, their wives play the society game – politics now plays out almost as much in the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the fashionable as in the governmental hall of the Tuileries Palace. Intrigue competes with flirtation, and spies hide in plain sight. And behind the glamour and wit, there lurks the dirty reality of revolution – the torturer, the murderer, the joy of the hunt.

Joseph Fouché is a member of the National Convention and its master spy. He suspects everyone but more than anything he wants to find the lost correspondence of King Louis. These letters are believed to contain the names and details of the Revolution’s enemies, all ripe for the blade. But this is a bigger game than Fouché might have first suspected. The imprisonment of the king, the turmoil of France, is an international concern and there are other spies at work in Paris, from England, Prussia and elsewhere. A cat and mouse hunt is underway but which is the cat?

Treason’s Spring is the first novel in a new trilogy from Robert Wilton but it continues a theme that has filled all of his novels and made them unique and extraordinarily clever and rewarding. This, and the other novels, are presented as the archives of the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey – in other words, the secret records of the English government’s chief spy. Past novels have taken us to Napoleonic France, the English Civil War and the outbreak of World War 1. Each stands alone but the structure and appeal is the same. The archives themselves, such as letters and interviews are combined with a dramatised narrative of what was learned at the time and since. This is an omnipotent author, writing with the benefit of hindsight, but his interjections are few and far between. Instead, the spies, their lovers, their masters and their victims are allowed to speak for themselves. And they tell fascinating tales, providing an irresistible perspective on some of the most tumultuous events in recent centuries.

The cast of Treason’s Spring is large and complex and the narrative moves between them all, sometimes in past tense, occasionally in present tense. One man in particular is believed to hold the secret of what has happened to Louis’ letters and also to his stolen jewels, a British man called Henry Greene. And everyone is in pursuit of Greene. He moves like a shadow across the novel, barely seen, but the subject of whisper and rumour. And so too are the men and women who seek him. Their lives regularly cross. They speak the language of lies and deceit.

Nobody is quite what they seem. Identities are easy to borrow, lives just as easy to lose. You’d have thought from this that it would be hard for the reader to grow attached to any of the people of this novel, but this is far from true. Robert Wilton is a masterly writer. These are all well-rounded personalities and I was attached to many of the characters – in fact, I was concerned for all of them. With the exception of Fouché and his torturing thug. I was going to list the characters I enjoyed the most when I realised that this is almost everyone on the list of dramatis personae that can be found at the start of the book. But I must point out that the women are as important as the men in this novel and the role they play is vital and every bit as dangerous, perhaps more so because they have so much more to lose.

Treason’s Spring is an enormous achievement. It is immensely clever, controlled and ambitious and it succeeds in all of its aims. I was engrossed. I admired its intellectual brilliance while also being moved to tears by the horror and sadness of events. Personal tragedies were played out time and time again during The Terror and this novel captures so well the fear and uncertainty of these bloody, chaotic months. Revolutionary Paris is itself brought to life. This opening novel suggests that we are embarking on a trilogy of significance and I will drop everything to read the succeeding novel, Treason’s Flood, which we’re told will take us to the field of Waterloo. I cannot wait! I'm grateful for the review copy.

Defender: The most gripping read-in-one-go thriller since The Stand (The Voices Book 1) (Voices 1)
Defender: The most gripping read-in-one-go thriller since The Stand (The Voices Book 1) (Voices 1)
by G X Todd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully dark and menacing, 8 Sept. 2017
The world as we know it has ended. Just a few short years ago the majority of people listened to the voices in their heads that instructed them to kill – friends or family, strangers on the street, and then themselves. Those who survived have learned to hate and fear anyone with a voice inside their head, and with good reason, but what they might not know is that among the survivors there are those who still hear Voice, but its new words are not what they would expect. Pilgrim lives with Voice in his head and when it tells him to stop by the side of the road and buy homemade lemonade from Lacey, a young girl with nothing but her courage and brains left, he does what he’s told.

So begins Pilgrim and Lacey’s road journey in search of Lacey’s sister and niece. Lacey insists that they’re still alive, although she hasn’t seen or heard from them in the eight years or so since the world’s fall into bloody violence. Pilgrim has nowhere else to go and so, driven on by Voice and then by another waif that they collect along the way, he takes on his new role of protecting Lacey, keeping Voice very much to himself.

Defender is the first of a series of four novels called The Voices and takes us into territory reminiscent of Stephen King’s finest novel (in my opinion) The Stand and Todd’s homage is a fine tribute. The world building is absolutely fantastic, with its long stretches of dusty road, abandoned by all but empty vehicles and the occasional solitary soul or, and these should be avoided, mysterious convoy. Houses, towns, motels are places of refuge, supplies and the utmost danger. After eight years of apocalypse a lot of things are running out. Life hasn’t yet found a way. People have become feral. This is frightening stuff, especially when you realise that one of the main characters is a young teenage girl who is having innocence forced from her with almost every step of the journey.

There is nothing safe about this new world and Defender takes us into some bleak places and situations. Predators lurk and Pilgrim and Lacey have a knack of falling into the wrong hands. This includes sexual violence which, I will admit, is not something I like to read about and so I did skim these sections while wishing that they weren’t there. To me, these scenes didn’t come with the significance or resonance I felt they would have in reality. But this is just a thing of mine and so is my fault rather than the novel’s, which has a great deal of difficult themes to contend with and otherwise does so brilliantly.

Pilgrim and Lacey are both such deeply involving characters to follow. Pilgrim in particular is fascinating and I grew very fond of him. The novel moves between the two and so we spend good time with them both. Voice has a personality of its own and it plays such an intriguing and effective role. I loved its tone and couldn’t wait to learn more of it. How characters deal with having such a voice in their heads constantly is a big appeal of the novel and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this develops in future books.

This is the first novel in a series and so there is much still to be revealed. There are rumours of other travellers, of people on the hunt for those who can hear Voice as well as much more that is barely touched on at this early stage. It leaves the reader prepared and ready for more. But there have been shocks along the way and we know that in the second novel much will have changed.

Defender finishes at a good point. There may be more to come but it is also pleasingly complete in itself and so is a very satisfying read. It’s disturbing and menacing, dusty and heated, and it is also immersive and extremely accomplished. G.X. Todd writes so well. The way she gets into the heads of her characters is wonderful and what she does with them is both shocking and thrilling. This is one of those books that does not let you put it down. It keeps you enthralled from start to finish and is a fast and exciting read. Not only is Defender the first in the series, it’s also Todd’s debut and is an astonishing one – it’s hard to imagine a better beginning to The Voices. Who knows where they’ll take us next? I’ll be listening. Source: a bought copy and a review copy.

The Real-Town Murders
The Real-Town Murders
by Adam Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.18

5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely brilliant - Adam Roberts is a genius, 8 Sept. 2017
This review is from: The Real-Town Murders (Hardcover)
Alma is a private detective trying to make ends meet. She doesn’t have many cases to pick from and the few she has are hardly promising – a mother who thinks her son is getting thinner with every meal he eats and then there’s the case of the body found in the boot of a car. This could be one of those interesting lucrative cases until Alma learns that this is a brand new manufactured car, still in its factory and untouched by human hands. That it should have a dead body in it is an impossibility but the company want her to find out why, who and, most especially, how.

But as soon as Alma starts digging into the mysterious murder of civil servant Adam Kem, she realises that she’s out of her depth. Important people keep warning her off. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Some of them want her dead as well. But why? All she wants to do is drop the case but instead Alma finds herself on the run. It doesn’t help that she has to return to her home every four hours and four minutes to medicate her love Marguerite. If she misses that deadline, Marguerite will die. Quickly.

The Real-Town Murders is a brilliant detective thriller but that description only scratches the surface. This is Adam Roberts, after all, who yet again shows us what a wizard he is with words and ideas. He has created here a near future Britain and it is an almost empty place. That’s because 90% of the population is buried away in their apartments, some the size of coffins, to immerse themselves in the Shine – our internet’s future. The only time these people venture out is in their mesh suits – an automated robotic case which exercises these unconscious bodies. And if you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself in either prison or hospital, there you’ll be forced into the Shine – you’re so much easier to handle that way.

But the Shine has almost shut Britain down. The appeal of the real world has gone. There is a drive by some to get it back and that means giving the place a boost! The UK is now UK!-OK!, Reading is R!-Town (or Real-Town), and then there’s Basingstoked! and sWINdon. Staines is still Staines, though… The White Cliffs of Dover have been sculpted to draw in the crowds and make the British feel good about themselves – what could be better than having the monumental face of Shakespeare carved into the white cliffs to usher in tourists? But you only have to look around the streets and bars to see how ineffective this is.

This is worldbuilding at its very best. It’s complex, multi-layered, absolutely fascinating and so witty. This is very clever writing but it’s not difficult to read or get into, it’s a delight. And we see all of this crazy, really rather horrible world through Alma as she tries to work out what on earth is going on while always keeping an eye on that ticking clock. There are joys along the way – the argumentative talking door is a highlight – but there is also great tension and topnotch adventure as Alma runs from scrape to scrape.

This is also a novel full of fabulous women. The majority of the characters, both goodies and baddies, are female but this doesn’t feel forced. It’s just how it is. And Adam Roberts writes women so well. Alma is wonderful and so too is Marguerite, who sees herself as the Mycroft to Alma’s Sherlock. These two women have got themselves into a pitiable situation and the world around them is only making it worse.

There are some brilliant touches of science fiction that pay homage to such lovely things as Star Trek. There are extraordinary flying cars. There are hints of impossible things, all becoming real in the familiar mystery of the body in the locked room, which here gets such a fantastic twist.

The Real-Town Murders is a joy to read. Adam Roberts’ imagination is incredible, backed up by some truly beautiful writing. I think that it is more accessible than The Thing Itself, a book that I adored, and so I hope it gains the huge audience it deserves. Whatever will be next?!

I must also mention that all of Adam Roberts’ hardbacks have the most stunning covers. The Real-Town Murders is no different – gorgeous. I'm grateful for the review copy.

The Good Daughter: The Best Thriller You Will Read in 2017
The Good Daughter: The Best Thriller You Will Read in 2017
by Karin Slaughter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.50

5.0 out of 5 stars A stand alone novel and it is superb, 8 Sept. 2017
Twenty-eight years ago Charlie Quinn’s life was ripped to pieces around her. Her father Rusty, a defence attorney, was notorious in the small town of Pikeville for his defence in court of the indefensible. As a result, his wife, known as Gamma, paid the ultimate price during a vengeful attack on their family home. Gamma was shot dead, Charlie’s elder sister Sam was shot and left for dead in a stream and Charlie herself had to run for her life. She did survive but that day could never be forgotten and its effect on her relationships could never be underestimated, even all these years later as she makes her own name as a lawyer, following in her father’s footsteps, always the good daughter.

Pikeville is hit by violence again. A shooting at the school leaves two people dead and a town in shock and bewilderment. Charlie was a crucial witness and what she sees makes her confront her own past, unlocking the secrets that she had kept buried within her for so many years. As her family gathers around her, truths must be revealed, however painful they might be, because the past never died.

The Good Daughter is a stand alone novel and it is superb. I haven’t read a Karin Slaughter novel before (that is true, I’m afraid) and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I was surprised by the directions in which The Good Daughter took me. This isn’t a crime novel as such but instead a hugely impressive and engrossing scrutiny of a family and small town in America during their darkest days. It is entirely character driven and succeeds because the people that we meet inside this substantial novel are three-dimensional, vital and very real.

At the heart of the novel is the Quinn family and we move through past and present to understand what has happened to them and why. Charlie and Sam embody the novel’s friction and conflict but this expands to include Charlie’s husband Ben and, arguably the most dominating figure in the novel, her father Rusty. Rusty is a tour de force, with a public face. But as we learn something of his private self, it’s painfully revealing. Shadowing them all, though, is Gamma – that extraordinary wife and mother whose life was wiped out in an instant. And new crimes in the present day reflect the pain of the past, more victims, more hatred, more vengeance, forgiveness impossible. Some of this is quite painful to read. The most brutal elements are only revealed bit by bit and in the most shocking manner. The surprises in this novel are stunning.

This is a small town in which everyone knows everybody else and is fed by ignorance and prejudice. This is most apparent in the court scenes – female lawyers are expected to behave and dress in a certain way. There is a sense that this town carries its pain within and it’s difficult for those who live there ever to escape it. Pikeville is brilliantly drawn by Karin Slaughter, as are its buildings, its homes, courtrooms and schools.

The greatest achievement of The Good Daughter is Charlie Quinn. This novel presents a process of self-learning and understanding that holds the reader in a tight grip. This is a compelling and powerful read. It’s dark and painful, with some pitiable characters, but it is also about the difficult process of survival and healing and coming to terms with the truth. This is a significant novel, giving me so much more than I was expecting. I'm grateful for the review copy.

Acadie (Kindle Single)
Acadie (Kindle Single)
Price: £2.22

4.0 out of 5 stars Hints of wonder as well as the stuff of nightmares, 8 Sept. 2017
Duke Faraday is sleeping off the effects of his 150th birthday celebrations when he’s woken up with dire news. A probe is approaching their colony. Earth has found them. They must dismantle the whole enormous complex and move off, seeking safety in the darkness of space once more. Earth wants every one of them dead. Duke, the colony’s president, must do all he can to keep them alive. He can only hope that nobody does anything stupid with the drone, such as shoot it down. He doesn’t want to make Earth even more mad that it is already.

Acadie is a short novella by Dave Hutchinson, author of the highly original and prophetic Fractured Europe series, now complete. Hutchinson takes us away from Earth and into the realms of space, where mankind has the ability to alter itself – extra arms and legs are just the beginning. Earth itself is less keen on this tampering.

This is a very quick read at under an hour and, as with the best short stories, it left me wanting much more. There is definitely enough here to form the heart of an exciting and thought-provoking full-length novel. Dave Hutchinson is so good at coming up with ideas and backing them up with fantastic characters and such an enjoyable writing style. The wit is on display here, especially in the very likeable character of Duke.

There are hints of wonder as well as the stuff of nightmares, all told with humour and an eye for the curious. Giving nothing away, the ending packs an enormous punch. It is such a fun read. While it left me wanting much more, I certainly enjoyed what I was given. I just hope that Dave Hutchinson ventures into space again – and soon. I'm grateful for the review copy.

The Night Stalker (Detective Jane Bennett and Mike Lockyer series)
The Night Stalker (Detective Jane Bennett and Mike Lockyer series)
by Clare Donoghue
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex, emotional, tense and dangerous - brilliant, 16 Aug. 2017
A young woman, Pippa, is driven off the road, meeting a grim death near the site of Dead Woman’s Ditch, the scene of a murder in the 18th century for which a man was hung. This is the Quantock Hills in Somerset, an eerie place surrounded by superstition and dread. Nobody wants to be out alone after dark and on this particular cold December night, Pippa’s murder shows these fears are justified. Somerset is a long way from London and the usual beat of DI Mike Lockyer and DS Jane Bennett but the powers that be aren’t satisfied with the DI in charge of the case. Pippa lived in London, providing the perfect excuse for Lockyer and Bennett’s intervention. But the local police are’t happy, to put it mildly.

Relocating to Somerset isn’t perfect for Jane Bennett either because where she goes so too does her young autistic son, Peter. This creates challenges all of its own. And all the time the fears build for whatever it is that haunts the Quantock Hills by night. One young woman in particular is terrified to drive over the hills in the dark. With good reason.

The Night Stalker is the fourth novel in Clare Donoghue’s Lockyer and Bennett series and with no doubt at all it’s my favourite. This is no mean feat as this is a fantastic series – Mike Lockyear and Jane Bennett are really easy to like, especially Mike, and the pair of them together are fabulous. They have a lot of history behind them, which you’ll know if you’ve read the earlier books but, if you don’t know their past, I think you’d still really enjoy watching the two of them together in The Night Stalker. They complement each other perfectly, perhaps here better than ever. They’ve been through the mill for sure but there is humour, too, sometimes at the expense of Jane’s extraordinary mother. But I don’t think Mike Lockyer could stop being loveable however much he tried.

What really makes The Night Stalker stand out in my opinion is its atmosphere. The whole book is steeped in it and the scenes on the Quantock Hills are frightening. Bits of this are as scary as any horror novel. I’m not easy to scare but this book managed it.The menace that hangs over the entire novel is delicious and Clare Donoghue manages the tension brilliantly. Quite a few of these chapters end on a knife’s edge. I love moody atmospheric books!

The story is such a good one. It’s complex, emotional, tense and dangerous. I enjoyed the location outside London and I loved the use of the 18th-century murder which overshadows the hills and the villagers. This is one of those places where you walk in a pub and all goes silent, where families stick together (not necessarily because they like one another) and where everyone knows everybody else. Lockyer and Bennett are isolated, not knowing who they can trust, and the more they learn about the case the worse it becomes. The fact that it’s the winter really helps to set the mood. I savoured every page of this mystery. It sets a very high bar indeed. I'm grateful for the review copy.

The Ghost Line
The Ghost Line
by Andrew Neil Gray
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyably creepy tale, 16 Aug. 2017
This review is from: The Ghost Line (Paperback)
Saga is an explorer of abandoned starships and asteroids, regaling her fans with video of her discoveries. Conveniently, Saga is marriage to Michel, a renowned hacker, just the sort of person who can get Saga inside these ships. But the couple are finally ready to take a break and at last have the children that they long for. And then Wei shows up. Wei offers Saga and Michel (and their pilot, Gregor) a huge amount of money to do one last job. The Martian Queen is a luxurious spacefairing cruise liner that used to carry tourists between Mars and Earth. Twenty years ago she was mothballed but she continues to cruise between the two planets, bookmarking a lucrative tourist route and so, according to the law of space, preventing anyone else from taking it over.

It isn’t clear exactly what Wei wants with the ship but she has some strict rules for her team and the chief one is never, ever to remove their protective suits while on board The Martian Queen. But when Saga, Michel and Gregor roam the beautiful corridors and cabins of this enormous and eerily empty ship, it all feels completely harmless and the air is breathable. What harm can it do to take their helmets off? And yet there are moments when Saga could swear that somebody or something is watching her…

I love spooky tales of ghost ships, whether they’re floating on the seas or soaring through space, and so I was instantly drawn to The Ghost Line. It’s a novella, of about 100 pages, and so it’s a quick read but I soon found it to be immersive and pleasingly creepy. Links are made to the Titanic and in fact The Martian Queen seems modelled on that doomed vessel – only missing the funnels and an anchor. The ship has an elegance to it and an evocative nostalgia. It reminds me just as much of the empty grand hotel in The Shining. You just know that somewhere horror is waiting.

Saga and Michel are great characters, particularly Saga from whose perspective we see much of what happens. The short length of the story did leave me wanting. I would have liked many more pages filling out the characters of Saga, Michel and Wei. They’re such interesting and intriguing people – they deserve a full length novel. That way I might have understood a little more the reasons for the ways in which Saga acts. On one level, I can see why she acts as she does but I’d have liked more about what it meant to her and to her relationship with Michel. I definitely wanted to know more about Wei – there’s a story there very ready for telling.

The mood and the atmosphere is excellent and the setting of The Martian Queen is wonderful. For a short novel, the authors do a fine job of evoking its bygone splendour as well as the chilling isolation and loneliness of space. It’s not a bad thing to be left wanting more and The Ghost Line certainly achieved that. I read it as a late night read – the best time for spooky tales – and it was perfect for that. I'm grateful for the review copy.

A Man of Shadows
A Man of Shadows
by Jeff Noon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ingenious and unforgettable novel, 16 Aug. 2017
This review is from: A Man of Shadows (Paperback)
Within the world lies a very strange city indeed, concealed by a dome. Almost half of it is called Dayzone, where endless bright lamps reproduce hot sunlight for every hour of the day. Connected to it by train is its opposite – the endless night of Nocturna. But, to travel between the two, the train must pass through an area of fog and permanent gloom called Dusk and therein lives the unexplained and the terrifying. As if all of this weren’t strange enough, the whole city has turned its back on the linear time of the outside world. Hundreds, if not thousands, of timelines co-exist, many available to be bought, and they mean that the inhabitants of Dayzone and Nocturna move from timeline to timeline, often obsessed with their watches and clocks. Never has the question ‘what’s the time?’ seemed so vital and yet also such a waste of time.

Moving between the timelines is a feared killer called Quicksilver, managing to commit murder in broad faked daylight, sometimes in front of an unsuspecting audience. Private detective John Nyquist has taken on the case of a runaway wealthy young woman Eleanor but he’s soon sure that there are links with Quicksilver. His pursuit of Eleanor takes him not only across Dayzone and Nocturna but also into the place he dreads the most, Dusk, and even to the very edges of his sanity. And all the time, all of the times, he has that feeling that he’s being watched and judged.

A Man of Shadows is a quite extraordinary novel. Its world building is absolutely fantastic – intricate, complex, moody and disturbingly real. The movement between timelines means that John Nyquist rarely sleeps and you can strongly sense his extreme fatigue as the hours pass. People who become too time-obsessed almost literally lose their minds and you know that Nyquist is well on the way to this state. It gives his task an extra urgency and desperation.

Dayzone and Nocturna are brilliantly visualised and would have been sufficiently impressive on their own but the skill of Jeff Noon astounds even further with his treatment of time. I found myself wondering why anybody would chose to live such an existence, what its appeal might be. Many of the inhabitants of this city have almost a euphoria about them as they defy the restrictions of a conventional life but others are clearly damaged by it. This is a book that makes you think as you read it. It is extremely clever.

We never see the world beyond the city, although occasionally characters are nostalgic for a sight of the real sun or the real stars. The city itself has a 1950s’ feel to it, just as the mystery element of the novel is detective noir. Now and again we’re given extracts from guidebooks which tell us a little of the background to Dayzone, Nocturna and Dusk, but generally we experience it all through the increasingly fraught mind of John Nyquist. This can be claustrophobic at times and there is also chaos and confusion. It is certainly atmospheric.

In the final third of the novel, the mystery inevitably takes us into Dusk, and what a frightening place this is. I must admit that I did become a little lost during this section as it becomes increasingly surreal and fantastical. Throw in some mind bending drugs and you get an idea of the state of Nyquist’s mind during this phase of his hunt. It’s hugely disturbing. Personally, and this is probably because I’m more of a science fiction reader than a fantasy reader, I enjoyed more the majority of the novel which portrays so brilliantly life in a world of endless day or endless night, in which time is a force to be controlled, manipulated and even sold. And all the time, outside the city lies the ‘real’ world, out of reach in so many ways to a man such as John Nyquist.

I was completely absorbed by A Man of Shadows and deeply impressed by the skill and imagination of this author. This is the first novel I’ve read by Jeff Noon and I’m not sure why that is – there are such big ideas here that provide an unusual and quirky perspective on our own lives. I love a book that makes me think while also entertaining me and A Man of Shadows does just that. I'm grateful for the review copy.

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