Annotated Excerpt: THE ANNUAL MIGRATION OF BIRDS by Premee Mohamed (ECW Press)

MohamedP-AnnualMigrationOfCloudsCAI wrote The Annual Migration of Clouds all in a rush in 2019 after seeing a single tweet from an entomologist I followed (I didn’t even read the paper right away!) containing the phrase ‘heritable symbiont.’ My imagination yanked the reins from my hands and went galloping across a blank document I think literally hours later; dimly I suspected the paper was probably about Wolbachia, a bacterial genus that inhabits some insects and affects their reproduction and behaviour, but I was too excited about the possibilities for a human disease. And ofcourse there are human diseases and syndromes caused by infections that affect our behaviour, as well as examples in various other species (Cordyceps is the obvious one, but there’s also Toxoplasmosis, many infections that cross the blood-brain barrier, certain parasitic infections of the gut, etc).

As I created this heritable symbiont, I began asking myself: How can I craft a story out of this though? What we have here is a premise. The premise is: What if there was a disease with a long latency period, invisibility to testing, and uncertain transmission, that affected your behaviour and maybe even your thoughts, and you were never sure of your own free will? It wasn’t a plot. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE MAID by Nita Prose (Harper/Ballantine)

ProseN-MaidUKHCAn intriguing mystery, starring an engaging protagonist

I am your maid.
I know about your secrets. Your dirty laundry.
But what do you know about me?

Molly the maid is all alone in the world. A nobody. She’s used to being invisible in her job at the Regency Grand Hotel, plumping pillows and wiping away the grime, dust and secrets of the guests passing through. She’s just a maid – why should anyone take notice?

But Molly is thrown into the spotlight when she discovers an infamous guest, Mr Black, very dead in his bed. This isn’t a mess that can be easily cleaned up. And as Molly becomes embroiled in the hunt for the truth, following the clues whispering in the hallways of the Regency Grand, she discovers a power she never knew was there. She’s just a maid – but what can she see that others overlook?

Escapist, charming and introducing a truly original heroine, The Maid is a story about how everyone deserves to be seen. And how the truth isn’t always black and white – it’s found in the dirtier, grey areas in between…

Molly is a dedicated, utterly focused maid at a boutique, exclusive hotel. Someone who struggles with social cues and reading others, she unwittingly becomes entangled in the strange goings-on at the Regency Grand Hotel. Through her eyes, we get an engaging, interesting view of society, relationships, and the motivations for murder. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE GUIDE by Peter Heller (Knopf)

HellerP-GuideUSA new guide stumbles across a dark mystery at the heart of an elite retreat

A heart-racing thriller about a young man who is hired by an elite fishing lodge in Colorado, where he uncovers a plot of shocking menace amid the natural beauty of sun-drenched streams and forests.

Kingfisher Lodge, nestled in a canyon on a mile and a half of the most pristine river water on the planet, is known by locals as “Billionaire’s Mile” and is locked behind a heavy gate. Sandwiched between barbed wire and a meadow with a sign that reads “Don’t Get Shot!” the resort boasts boutique fishing at its finest. Safe from viruses that have plagued America for years, Kingfisher offers a respite for wealthy clients. Now it also promises a second chance for Jack, a return to normalcy after a young life filled with loss. When he is assigned to guide a well-known singer, his only job is to rig her line, carry her gear, and steer her to the best trout he can find.

But then a human scream pierces the night, and Jack soon realizes that this idyllic fishing lodge may be merely a cover for a far more sinister operation.

I’ve been reading Peter Heller’s work since The Dog Stars, and each of his books has been an enjoyable, well-written read that offers a twist on a new genre. The Guide is no different: this time, it’s a mystery set during a pandemic at a retreat for the wealthy and famous. Well-written, I quite enjoyed this. Continue reading

Excerpt: THE SILENCE OF SCHEHERAZADE by Defne Suman (Head of Zeus)

SumanD-SilenceOfScheherazadeUSNext month, Head of Zeus are due to publish The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman, a historical novel set at the beginning of the 20th century. Along with that eye-catching cover, it sounds really interesting, too. Here’s the synopsis:

At the heart of the Ottoman Empire, in the ancient city of Smyrna, a devastating moment determines the fates of four families.

On an orange-tinted evening in September 1905, Scheherazade is born to an opium-dazed mother in the ancient city of Smyrna. At the very same moment, a dashing Indian spy arrives in the harbour with a secret mission from the British Empire. He sails in to golden-hued spires and minarets, scents of fig and sycamore, and the cries of street hawkers selling their wares. When he leaves, seventeen years later, it will be to the heavy smell of kerosene and smoke as the city, and its people, are engulfed in flames.

But let us not rush, for much will happen between then and now. Birth, death, romance and grief are all to come as these peaceful, cosmopolitan streets are used as bargaining chips in the wake of the First World War.

Told through the intertwining fates of a Levantine, a Greek, a Turkish and an Armenian family, this unforgettable novel reveals a city, and a culture, now lost to time.

And now, on with the excerpt!

Continue reading

Upcoming: SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf/Picador)

MandelESJ-SeaOfTranquilityUSHCLike many people, I thoroughly enjoyed Emily St. John Mandel‘s 2014 novel, Station Eleven. While I’ve been slowly catching up with the author’s earlier novels, I’ve also been eagerly anticipating each new novel (The Glass Hotel, a follow-up to Station Eleven, was published last year). Next April, readers will be able to enjoy the author’s next offering, Sea of Tranquility — an ambitious-looking, centuries-spanning novel with an intriguing science fictional twist. Here’s the synopsis:

A novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal — an experience that shocks him to his core.

MandelESJ-SeaOfTranquilityUKHCTwo centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

Really looking forward to reading this. Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility is due to be published by Knopf in North America (April 19th) and Picador in the UK (April 28th).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Guest Post: “Accuracy & Writing Historical Fiction” by Adrian Goldsworthy

GoldsworthyA-CoV1-FortHCI have always loved history, was lucky enough to study it at the highest level, and after teaching for a while have been even luckier to make a living writing non fiction history books. At the same time, I have always loved historical novels. At their best they give a flavour and feel for a place and an era much faster than reading conventional history. So when I came to write historical novels, accuracy was very important to me. A novel will only work if readers get caught up in the plot and want to spend time with the characters, but the world it conjures up has to feel real, at least on its own terms, and that is as true of fantasy or science fiction as it is for stories set in the past. The world of the story has to be convincing enough for readers to visit it in their imagination. Many readers and authors do not care too much if that world bears little or no relation to the reality of the past as long as it is consistent. That is fine, after all, reading should be about pleasure and we all have different tastes. However, I am a professional historian and find it hard to switch off, which makes me an unrepresentative reader, and I only stick with a novel if I feel that the research behind it and the author’s sensitivity for the period are good. Since, like most authors, I write books – whether novels or non fiction – that I would like to read, that is how I try to write my stories. So each novel begins with research. Continue reading

Excerpt: LAST FLIGHT TO STALINGRAD by Graham Hurley (Head of Zeus)

HurleyG-LastFlightOfStalingradWith Last Flight to Stalingrad, Graham Hurley continues his Spoils of War series of World War II related novels. Each of which seems to be a stand-alone, so I don’t think they need to be read in order. This one caught my attention, and I’m looking forward to reading it soon. Head of Zeus were kind enough to provide an excerpt to share with CR readers. Here’s the synopsis:

Berlin, 1942.

For four years, the men in field grey have helped themselves to country after country across Western Europe.

For Werner Nehmann, a journalist at the Promi – the Ministry of Propaganda – this dizzying series of victories has felt like a party without end. But now the Reich’s attention has turned towards the East, and as winter sets in, the mood is turning.

Werner’s boss, Joseph Goebbels, can sense it. A small man with a powerful voice and coal-black eyes, Goebbels has a deep understanding of the dark arts of manipulation. His words, his newsreels, have shaken Germany awake, propelling it towards its greater destiny and he won’t let – he can’t let – morale falter now. But the Minister of Propaganda is uneasy and in his discomfort has pulled Werner into his close confidence.

And here, amid the power struggle between the Nazi Chieftains, Werner will make his mistake and begin his descent into the hell of Stalingrad…

Now, on with the excerpt…

Continue reading

Quick Review: SONGS IN URSA MAJOR by Emma Brodie (Knopf)

BrodieE-SongsInUrsaMajorUSA young singer finds herself experiencing the highs and lows of the music industry

The year is 1969, and the Bayleen Island Folk Fest is abuzz with one name: Jesse Reid. Tall and soft-spoken, with eyes blue as stone-washed denim, Jesse Reid’s intricate guitar riffs and supple baritone are poised to tip from fame to legend with this one headlining performance. That is, until his motorcycle crashes on the way to the show.

Jane Quinn is a Bayleen Island local whose music flows as naturally as her long blond hair. When she and her bandmates are asked to play in Jesse Reid’s place at the festival, it almost doesn’t seem real. But Jane plants her bare feet on the Main Stage and delivers the performance of a lifetime, stopping Jesse’s disappointed fans in their tracks: A star is born.

Jesse stays on the island to recover from his near-fatal accident and he strikes up a friendship with Jane, coaching her through the production of her first record. As Jane contends with the music industry’s sexism, Jesse becomes her advocate, and what starts as a shared calling soon becomes a passionate love affair. On tour with Jesse, Jane is so captivated by the giant stadiums, the late nights, the wild parties, and the media attention, that she is blind-sided when she stumbles on the dark secret beneath Jesse’s music. With nowhere to turn, Jane must reckon with the shadows of her own past; what follows is the birth of one of most iconic albums of all time.

Shot through with the lyrics, the icons, the lore, the adrenaline of the early 70s music scene, Songs in Ursa Major pulses with romantic longing and asks the question so many female artists must face: What are we willing to sacrifice for our dreams?

There’s been a bit of an uptick in the number of nostalgic, music-related novels published recently — in part, no doubt, to the considerable success of Daisy Jones & the Six. This is no bad thing, given that I’m a fan of the sub-genre. Emma Brodie’s Songs in Ursa Major is the latest, buzzed-about novel in this oeuvre, and it’s not hard to see why. It ticks all the boxes, and is an enjoyable (if slightly flawed) read. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE VIEW WAS EXHAUSTING by Mikaella Clements & Onjuli Datta (Grand Central Publishing)

ClementsDatta-ViewWasExhaustingUSAn interesting, engaging look at the psychological impacts of living your life in the public eye

Faking a love story is a whole lot easier than being in love…

The world can see that international A-list actress Whitman (“Win”) Tagore and jet-setting playboy Leo Milanowski are made for each other. Their kisses start Twitter trends and their fights break the internet. From red carpet appearances to Met Gala mishaps, their on-again, off-again romance has titillated the public and the press for almost a decade. But it’s all a lie.

As a woman of color, Win knows the Hollywood deck is stacked against her, so she’s perfected the art of controlling her public persona. Whenever she nears scandal, she calls in Leo, with his endearingly reckless attitude, for a staged date. Each public display of affection shifts the headlines back in Win’s favor, and Leo uses the good press to draw attention away from his dysfunctional family.

Pretending to be in a passionate romance is one thing, but Win knows that a real relationship would lead to nothing but trouble. So instead they settle for friendship, with a side of sky-rocketing chemistry. Except this time, on the French Riviera, something is off. A shocking secret in Leo’s past sets Win’s personal and professional lives on a catastrophic collision course. Behind the scenes of their yacht-trips and PDA, the world’s favorite couple is at each other’s throats. Now they must finally confront the many truths and lies of their relationship, and Win is forced to consider what is more important: a rising career, or a risky shot at real love?

An interesting behind-the-curtain look at “crisis” management, the industry and lifestyle of Hollywood, and the ways in which is alters its inhabitants’ perceptions of reality, love, and life. Populated by interesting and varied characters, it’s a well-constructed, slightly predictable, but enjoyable read. Continue reading

Quick Review: GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead (Knopf)

ShipsteadM-GreatCircleUSA sweeping, engaging story of adventure, determination, and the ties that bind

An unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost…

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There — after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates — and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times — collide.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Maggie Shipstead, and it turned out to be an excellent one to begin with. It’s mostly the story of Marian Graves, and the people who fall in and out of her life, and her (successful) pursuit of a career as a female aviator. It is also the story of Hadley Baxter, an actress in the present day who finds herself cast in a biopic of Marian’s life. Alternating between the two stories, it’s a sweeping, engaging, and immersive novel. I really enjoyed it. Continue reading