Jul 25, 2016

Seven days in the book world with Mick Herron

Spy novels (and noir) have always been my favourite genre. When you've been raised on a steady diet of Fleming, Deighton, Charteris et al you tend to think that spies and spy novels are action packed with fast cars, beautiful femme fatales and lantern jawed heroes with stiff upper lips.

Mick Herron takes that premise and shatters it. His spies are flawed, human they have to be to arrive in Slough House, the dumping ground for the british secret service. Dead Lions, the second in the series won a  CWA Gold Dagger. Mick, born in Newcastle, now living in Oxford and working full time in London has an English degree from Balliol College. He admits to knowing nothing about spying and is a firm adherent of the school of Making Stuff Up. He may take the train to work every day but has never written any part of his novels whilst on the rails.

Here is Mick's week in his own words.

I’ve long admired Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield novels, but a recent exchange with my friend Chris Ewan (Long Time Lost) reminded me I wasn’t entirely up to date with them. So this week started with Poison Flower, which turned out to be one of Perry’s most alarming thrillers, with his heroine hurled into and out of danger at satisfyingly breakneck speed.

Big read of the week, though, was Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s sequel to 2009’s Wolf Hall. With the country still reeling from the recent catastrophic referendum, and leading politicians of both major parties responding in their usual dignified fashion with an orgy of backstabbing and recrimination, it was a relief to spend a week in Tudor times, when the politics were every bit as vicious, the outcomes even more deadly, but at least – in Mantel’s version, anyway – there was elegance and wit among the carnage. In this riveting novel, the author continues her examination of Thomas Cromwell, and his painstaking attempts to solve Henry VIII’s marital problems and uphold the rule of law, whatever he decides that to be. Early in the narrative, he, Cromwell, muses: “Who can doubt that everything would be different and better, if only England were ruled by village idiots and their drunken friends?” Be careful what you wish for.

I usually have a collection of verse on the go, and for quite some while this has been Matthew Francis’s Mandeville, an absorbing volume inspired by the tales of the eponymous fourteenth century “traveller” (who almost certainly never went anywhere, and made his stories up). Francis is an extraordinary poet, and his beautiful, absorbing fables have huge imaginative clout.

After Mantel, I decided to stick with the historical novel, and picked up Wesley Stace’s Misfortune again. I say “again”: I’d been reading this some while ago and set it aside, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I was starting to find the trials endured by the protagonist too distressing. In retrospect, the title should have been a clue. Anyway, I returned to it and was glad I did. Stace is an underrated talent, and should be far better known than he is.

Mick's week in a nutshell

Poison Flower (2012)
Bring up the Bodies (2012)
Mandeville (2008)
Misfortune (2005)

Real Tigers is out now in hardcover 9781616956127
Spook Street will be out in hardcover Feb 2017 9781616956479

Jul 19, 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware

Another twisty little psychological thriller from the author of In a Dark Dark Wood.

Laura (Lo) Blackstock’s new assignment is the trip of a lifetime a boutique luxury liner cruising the fjords. 10 cabins, great food, sparkling conversation and a person overboard that no one else seems to miss. Lo’s long buried investigative reporter instincts keep her digging when everyone else tells she should stop. The Port of Trondheim and the authorities are a day away, the wifi’s not working and another body just went overboard…

Jul 18, 2016

Seven days in the book world with Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley needs no introduction to the staff at King's English. "Have you read Sweetness at the bottom of the pie?" is a question we ask a lot. Known for bringing mystery lovers a wonderful cover and memorable titles; (Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag being one of my favourites.) the multi award winning Toronto native retired from a successful broadcasting career to write full time. He has also taught screen writing and written a few screenplays himself. Flavia's adventures could soon be gracing the small screen as they have been optioned by director Sam Mendes. Alan currently resides on the Isle of Man

Here is Alan's week in his own words.

Remember the Rolodex? That handy hedgehog which bristled on your desk with names, address, telephone numbers and the odd scribbled reminder?

My TBR pile is something like that: an ever-changing heap of books which, like a bedside Ferris wheel, stops regularly to take on new passengers or discharge old ones.

The past seven days have turned up:

(1)   Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. Why? Because I’m always reading Finnegan’s Wake, of which I own too many copies, one of which is never more than a few feet away when I need a fix. The Wake, which contains the complete history of everything, is oxygen for authors, and ought to be published in a steel pressurized canister edition.

(2)   O Sing Unto the Lord: A History of English Church Music, by Andrew Gant. I’ve always loved books that contain a great number of curiosities about some topic I know absolutely nothing about. Who knew, for instance, that a certain organist was said to have relieved himself from the organ loft onto the head of his passing Dean?

(3)   A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny. Having just written an Appreciation for the forthcoming Scorpion Press limited edition, it’s a sheer delight to be back in the village of Three Pines, and in the company of Armand Gamache, former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec.

(4)   Blood & Beauty, by Sarah Dunant. One of the great disappointments of my life was arriving at a book fair just minutes after Sarah Dunant had departed. This new(ish) novel is about the Borgias. What more could a hungry heart, mind, or soul wish for?

(5)   Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London by Liza Picard. This is just one of the author’s superb books about London through the ages, written in breathtakingly beautiful prose. She truly makes the dead live again.

(6)   The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor. An historical thriller set during the Great Fire of 1666. Finger glue from this fine novelist – and, best of all, it’s the first of a new series featuring government informer, James Marwood. Highly recommended.

There have been other titles, of course, which I won’t bore you with. But as someone who has developed the habit of reading ten or a dozen books at the same time, anything less than that number seems wasteful.

Unfocused? Nonsense! Multi-tasking at its finest!

Alan's week in a nutshell

Finnegan's Wake (1939)
O Sing Unto the Lord: A History of English Church Music (2015)
A Great Reckoning (August 30th 2016)
Blood and Beauty (2014)
Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London (2003)
Ashes of London (Out now in Canada, Out March 2017 in the US)

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is out now in paperback 9780345539946
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd is out in hardcover in September 9780345539960 

Here's a sneak peek at the cover art.

Secret Language of Stones, M.J. Rose

Magic and intrigue meld in MJ Rose’s follow-up to Witch of Painted Sorrows.

Sandrine Duplessi’s oldest daughter Opaline is being shipped out of France, the country is bogged down in WWI and her parents want her to be safe. Defying them and denying her magical heritage, Opaline runs away to Paris where her talent for working with precious stones brings her work with the Orloffs a Russian jeweler and his wife fleeing the Bolshevik revolution and seeking news of the fate of their beloved Romanovs. Opaline discovers that even as an untrained witch, her powers can bring her friendship, danger and the curse of the daughters of La Lune, love.

Jul 14, 2016

Seven days in the book world with Julia Keller

If you've read Julia's brilliant mystery thriller series you'll know Acker's Gap like the back of your hand. Julia is a native of West Virginia, a graduate of Marshall earned an English literature degree at Ohio State. She won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2005 and to quote from her website 'books have furnished, burnished and enabled my life'. She also has an adorable shelter dog named Edward.

Here is Julia's week in her own words.

    It’s a sickness, I tell you. I simply cannot read one book at a time. The habit began in graduate school, when I was forced to juggle at least a dozen hefty tomes simultaneously. Nowadays, the notion of polygamous reading is thoroughly ingrained in my lifestyle. If the tower of books next to my chair hasn’t risen so high that it threatens to topple every second, thereby frightening Edward, my mixed-breed pooch named for Edward Rochester in “Jane Eyre,” it’s a sure sign that I have been ill or out of town, or perhaps had my soul absorbed by alien invaders.
Last week, the following books made me a willing captive to their wiles:

“David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens. I always have at least one classic novel under way. Last summer was the Summer of Thomas Hardy; this summer, it’s Dickens. I finished the final chapters over the weekend. I thoroughly identified with “the wandering ardour and unsettled purpose” of young Dave.

“Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space” by Janna Levin. Who doesn’t love astrophysics? Levin’s patiently lucid book explains how gravitational waves created by black holes kindle symphonies deep in the universe.

“The Uninvited Guests” by Sadie Jones. I’d never heard of Jones, but saw the paperback at a Barnes and Noble and couldn’t resist the elegant cover. It’s a darkly funny comedy of manners, as the residents of a crumbling British estate in 1912 fend off the ravages of time and social change.

“Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner. There are no independent bookstores near my home, so I make do by scouring my local Goodwill store, trusting to happenstance and serendipity to lead me to what I need. That’s where I snatched up (for a thin dime) this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from 1971, a sprawling, brilliant epic about the settling of the American West. Think Larry McMurtry without the raised eyebrow and the smug wink.

“Against the Fall of Night” by Arthur C. Clarke. Another gem from Goodwill, this is one of Clarke’s early novels (1953). A kid who lives in a safe, settled world decides to risk everything to satisfy his curiosity. It’s the kind of rattling yarn I would have loved when I was twelve years old. Wait—I still do.

“Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind,” a graphic novel by Catherine LePage. Like a gin and tonic at dusk, this brief, lovely book about frenetic fretting and odious overthinking can help get you through the night.

Julia's week in a nutshell

David Copperfield (1850)
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space (2016)
The Uninvited Guests (2013)
Angle of Repose (1971)
Against the Fall of Night (1953)
Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to East a Worried Mind (2016)

Sorrow Road will be published August 23rd  9781250089588 
Last Ragged Breath is out in paper July 19th  9781250044761

Jul 12, 2016

The Asset, Shane Kuhn

Operation Red Carpet just recruited their new leader, Kennedy and he’ll tell you that the job interview was terrifying. This CIA ghost operation is intended to prevent a terrorist threat which, if the Red Carpet team can’t stop it, will leave the US a shattered wreck. 

The team are desperate for intelligence, they don’t know the nature of the attack but they have an idea of the time frame. They have 63 days to save America and worse news reaches them, the terrorist has caught wind of their plans and deployed an asset of his own. With his team falling around him it’s down to Kennedy to stop a catastrophe but how can he do that when he’s been declared a fugitive? Fasten your seatbelt, this is one hell of a ride.

Jul 5, 2016

Wolf Lake, John Verdon

Could a nightmare cause four deaths? Dave Gurney, Jack Hardwick and a very reluctant Maddie Gurney are about to find out.

Four men, four different parts of the country, all related the same dream to people close to them and all of them are now dead. With unseemly haste the police have zeroed in on psychologist Richard Hammond who refuses to defend himself against such ridiculous accusations and is being ripped apart in the media.

Hammond’s sister hires Jack and by extension Gurney to clear her brother’s name. Gurney is convinced into stopping off for a night at the Wolf Lake resort something Maddie isn’t too upset about, for once. As his interest in the case deepens and Maddie begins acting strangely Gurney begins to believe that some very powerful people have it in for Richard Hammond and that Maddie may be losing her mind. Dave believes the root of the case lies in some very old ground indeed, before he can establish a link between the four victims a killer storm hits the Wolf Lake lodge trapping the Gurneys and their suspects inside and then the power goes out…