New Books (November)

BooksReceived-20141105

Featuring: Paolo Bacigalupi, M.L. Brennan, Peter Carey, John Cleese, Allen Drury, Michel Faber, Jacob Grey, Joe Hill, N.K. Jemisin, E.C. Myers, Michael Pitre, Patrick Swenson, Matthew Quick, Jo Walton, Cecily Wong, Chris Wraight Continue reading

New Books (September/October)

BooksReceived-20141007

Featuring: Mitch Albom, Gillian Anderson, Kelly Armstrong, Lauren Beukes, Adam Brookes, Christopher Buehlman, Blake Butler, W. Bruce Cameron, Michael Carroll, Al Ewing, Tana French, Peter F. Hamilton, Michael Harvey, Lee Henderson, Steffen Jacobsen, Rajan Khanna, James Luceno, Todd Moss, Claire North, Pierre Pevel, John Sandford, Graeme Simsion, Matthew Smith, Peter Watts, Alec Worley Continue reading

New Books (August #1)

BooksReceived-20140814

Featuring: David Annandale, Anne Blankman, Christopher Fowler, Felix Gilman, Emmi Itäranta, Philip Kerr, M.A. Lawson, Peter Liney, Caitlin Moran, Haruki Murakami, Lauren Owen, Greg Rucka, Brian Ruckley, Adelle Waldman, Will Wiles, Tad Williams

Annandale-HH30-DamnationOfPythosDavid Annandale, The Damnation of Pythos (Black Library)

In the aftermath of the Dropsite Massacre at Isstvan V, a battered and bloodied force of Iron Hands, Raven Guard and Salamanders regroups on a seemingly insignificant death world. Fending off attacks from all manner of monstrous creatures, the fractious allies find hope in the form of human refugees fleeing from the growing war, and cast adrift upon the tides of the warp. But even as the Space Marines carve out a sanctuary for them in the jungles of Pythos, a darkness gathers that threatens to consume them all…

This is the 30th book in the Horus Heresy series. Kind of cool that it’s lasted this long. Annandale is one of Black Library’s best new(ish) writers, and I’ve enjoyed all of his work. Lately, he has just been getting better and better, too, so I have very high hopes for this novel. I’ll be reading the 29th book in the series – Graham McNeill’s Spirit of Vengeance – first, even though this is set earlier in the chronology. (My series OCD is at play…) Hopefully I’ll get to this beginning of September.

Also on CR: Interview with David Annandale; Guest Post on David’s Favourite Novel

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BlankmanA-PrisonerOfNightAndFogUSAnne Blankman, Prisoner of Night and Fog (Harper Collins)

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth – even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

A harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed… and to trust her own heart instead.

I spotted this while still in the UK, and have been keeping my eye open for it ever since. I found it in the Toronto Public Library, so will hopefully read it ASAP. Like the premise, and have heard nothing by good things about it. Hitler seems to be quite the popular protagonist or subject, recently – see also Timur Vermes’s Look Who’s Back and Lavie Tidhar’s upcoming A Man Lies Dreaming.

*

Christopher Fowler, Nyctophobia (Solaris)

FowlerC-Nyctophobia

Isolated and beautiful, Hyperion House is a house of eerie symmetry; uniquely designed to ensure that one half remains always in the light and one half always in the dark.

When new owner Callie Shaw begins to uncover the house’s strange history she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the shrouded servant’s quarters at the back of the house, increasingly convinced that someone is living a half-life among the darkness there…

This sounds like it has the potential to be deliciously spooky.

*

GilmanF-RevolutionsUKPBFelix Gilman, The Revolutions (Corsair)

In 1893 a storm sweeps through London, while Arthur Shaw – a young astronomer with a side career writing fiction – is at work in British Museum Reading Room. The storm wreaks unprecedented damage throughout London. Its aftermath of the storm Arthur’s prime literary market closes, owing him money, and all his debts come due at once. His fiancé Jo takes a job as a stenographer for some of the fashionable spiritualist and occult societies of fin de siècle London society. Meanwhile, Arthur deciphers an encoded newspaper ad seeking able young men. It seems to be a clerking job doing accounting work, but the mysterious head man Mr. Gacewell offers Arthur a starting position at a salary many times what any clerk could expect. The work is long and peculiar, and the men spend all day performing unnerving calculations that make them hallucinate or even go mad… but the salary is compelling.

Things are beginning to look up when the wages of dabbling in the esoteric suddenly come due: a war breaks out between competing magical societies, and Arthur interrupts Jo in the middle of an elaborate occult exploration. This rash move turns out to be dire, as Jo’s consciousness is stranded at the outer limits of the occultists’ psychic day trip. Which, Arthur is chagrinned…

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a negative review of a Felix Gilman novel. This has been on my radar for some time, so I have very high hopes. I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

*

ItärantaE-MemoryOfWaterEmmi Itäranta, Memory of Water (Voyager)

In the far north of the Scandinavian Union, now occupied by the power state of New Qian, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio studies to become a tea master like her father. It is a position that holds great responsibility and a dangerous secret. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that once provided water for her whole village. When Noria’s father dies, the secret of the spring reaches the new military commander… and the power of the army is vast indeed. But the precious water reserve is not the only forbidden knowledge Noria possesses, and resistance is a fine line.

Threatened with imprisonment, and with her life at stake, Noria must make an excruciating, dangerous choice between knowledge and freedom.

I’ve seen a lot of positive buzz about this book, and so I’m quite looking forward to trying it. Sounds really interesting.

*

praying-hands copyPhilip Kerr, Research (Quercus)

If you want to write a murder mystery, you have to do some research… In a luxury flat in Monaco, John Houston’s supermodel wife lies in bed, a bullet in her skull. Houston is the world’s most successful novelist, the playboy head of a literary empire that produces far more books than he could ever actually write. Now the man who has invented hundreds of best-selling killings is wanted for a real murder and on the run from the police, his life transformed into something out of one of his books. And in London, the ghostwriter who is really behind those books has some questions for him too…

Sounds like a great thriller. I’ve never read anything by Kerr, but he’s another of the established thriller/crime/fiction writers that is often recommended to me.

Review copy from NetGalley.

*

LawsonMA-KH1-RosaritoBeachUSM.A. Lawson, Rosarita Beach (Blue Rider Press)

Bold, brash, and beautiful, Kay Hamilton is not your average DEA agent — she’s as infuriating as she is irresistible. Having recently moved to San Diego after a case in Miami brought her more notoriety than medals, Kay once again finds herself embroiled in an international bust.

Tito Olivera, younger brother of drug czar Caesar Olivera, is within her grasp. If she takes down Tito, Kay is positive that Caesar will follow — and when Caesar falls, so does the largest and most vicious drug cartel in Mexico. But when a mysterious stranger shows up on her doorstep, all of Kay’s carefully laid plans are thrown out the window. The Olivera case suddenly becomes far more personal — not to mention dangerous — and Kay must be willing to sacrifice everything to get her man. Rosarito Beach is an explosive, action-packed thriller that will have readers on the edge of their seats until the final moments of the epic conclusion.

This is actually a pen-name for one of my favourite thriller authors, Mike Lawson (not sure why he decided to go with a slight pseudonym for this one). It’s a separate series from his best-selling Joe DeMarco series, and I’m looking forward to trying it out. The second book in the series, Viking Bay, is due out in January 2015.

*

LineyP-D2-IntoTheFirePeter Liney, Into the Fire (Jo Fletcher Books)

Having escaped the Island – a wasteland that housed those no longer able to contribute to society – ageing ‘Big Guy’ Clancy thought his fight was over. But they have returned to the mainland to find that it is not the haven they anticipated.

With the punishment satellites that kept them on the Island – and the city under control – gone, hell has been unleashed. A mysterious organisation has begun to decimate the population; those it doesn’t kill outright are herded into the streets and then set free to run – for the rich and powerful to hunt. Clancy is about to discover that his work is far from over. The fires of hell don’t burn much hotter than this.

The sequel to The Detainee (which I shamefully still haven’t read…), this is a series I really want to get caught up with. Hopefully I’ll manage it soon.

Review copy from Edelweiss.

Also on CR: Interview with Peter Liney; Guest Post by Liney; Excerpt of The Detainee

*

MoranC-HowToBuildAGirlCaitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl (Harper)

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes — and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde — fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer — like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës — but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

I’ve read some of Moran’s journalism, but for some reason have never got around to reading any of her books. This novel, though, caught my eye a few months back, and I was very happy to find it on Edelweiss for review. Expect more soon.

Review copy from Edelweiss.

*

Murakami-ColorlessTsukuruTazakiUSHaruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage (Doubleday)

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning ‘red pine’, and Oumi, ‘blue sea’, while the girls’ names were Shirane, ‘white root’, and Kurono, ‘black field’. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it.

One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced that they didn’t want to see him, or talk to him, ever again.

Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.

I have never read anything by Murakami. I’m not sure why. I guess I just never got around to it, and surrounded by review copies I never felt a need to go out and buy it (although, that hasn’t stopped me in other situations…). With this just arrived, though, I think I’ll have to make this my first read. I’ve been told he’s brilliant, so I have high hopes.

*

NichollsD-UsUKDavid Nicholls, Us (Harper)

I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.”

Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?”

Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home.

He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together.

So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

It’s been a long time since I last read a novel by Nicholls – I remember reading Starter for Ten and The Understudy back-to-back when I was younger. Since then, I have been well and truly distracted by SFF and thrillers, so Nicholls’s novels always seemed to pass me by. This sounded fun, though, so I’ll hopefully get back into reading his books, and do some catching up as well.

Review copy from Edelweiss.

*

OwenL-TheQuickUKPBLauren Owen, The Quick (Vintage)

You are about to discover the secrets of The Quick –

But first, reader, you must travel to Victorian England, and there, in the wilds of Yorkshire, meet a brother and sister alone in the world, a pair bound by tragedy. You will, in time, enter the rooms of London’s mysterious Aegolius Club – a society of the richest, most powerful men in England. And at some point – we cannot say when – these worlds will collide.

It is then, and only then, that a new world emerges, a world of romance, adventure and the most delicious of horrors – and the secrets of The Quick are revealed.

Another book I’ve seen mentioned on most of the blogs I still read, and almost always positively (or, at least, impressed and intrigued). Sounds interesting, so I’ll hopefully get to it soon.

*

RuckaG-JB2-BravoUSGreg Rucka, Bravo (Mulholland Books)

In the wake of a failed attack on America’s premier theme park which put his own daughter at risk, Special Forces operator Jad Bell is sent after the man who arranged it. But it soon becomes clear that capturing him is just the start: his employer, known only as the Architect, has already set something far worse in motion.

At the centre of it all are two women deep under cover. One is an American spy whose intel is the only hope they have, but who has lived a lie for so long she cannot be trusted. And the other is a woman as beautiful as she is deadly, already living in the States, and poised to execute the Architect’s plans at a moment’s notice.

The stakes are even higher, the clock is ticking, and this time the enemies are hiding in plain sight…

I love Rucka’s comics work, but have never read any of his prose fiction. I also have the first book in this series, Alpha, and I intend to read them both pretty close together, and hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

*

RuckleyB-TheFreeBrian Ruckley, The Free (Orbit)

A warrior of legend. A warrior to be feared.

The famed Yulan is leader of The Free, the last remaining band of mercenaries in the Hommetic Kingdom. Feared and revered, they were once seen as a threat to the Hommetic Kingdom’s power – until they outlasted it in the course of a bloody rebellion.

With the oppressive monarch overthrown, The Free plan to finally lay down their weapons, hoping for a chance of peace at last – until Yulan is offered one final contract that he is unable to refuse. The target is the very man responsible for the worst atrocity Yulan has ever witnessed, one that has haunted him ever since. And now is his last chance to right that wrong.

But as Yulan and his companions embark on their last journey, a potent mix of vengeance, love and loyalty is building to a storm. It is a storm so violent it is likely to destroy the last of the free companies. And only then will they discover the true price of freedom.

I’m a big fan of Ruckley’s novels. This is the start of a new series (perhaps? It may be a stand-alone), and I’m eager to get around to it.

Review copy from NetGalley.

Also on CR: Interview with Brian Ruckley

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WaldmanA-LoveAffairsOfNathanielPUSAdelle Waldman, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (Picador)

Writer Nate Piven’s star is rising. After several lean and striving years, he has his pick of both magazine assignments and women: Juliet, the hotshot business reporter; Elisa, his gorgeous ex-girlfriend, now friend; and Hannah, “almost universally regarded as nice and smart, or smart and nice,” who holds her own in conversation with his friends. When one relationship grows more serious, Nate is forced to consider what it is he really wants.

In Nate’s 21st-century literary world, wit and conversation are not at all dead. Is romance? Novelist Adelle Waldman plunges into the psyche of a flawed, sometimes infuriating modern man—one who thinks of himself as beyond superficial judgment, yet constantly struggles with his own status anxiety, who is drawn to women, yet has a habit of letting them down in ways that may just make him an emblem of our times.

I read the short-story prequel to this and thought it was pretty good. It left me wanting more – partly because it felt incomplete, but also because I thought the characterisation was interesting.

*

WilesW-TheWayInnUSWill Wiles, The Way Inn (Harper Perennial)

Neil Double is a “conference surrogate,” hired by his clients to attend industry conferences so that they don’t have to. It’s a life of budget travel, cheap suits, and out-of-town exhibition centers — a kind of paradise for Neil, who has reconstructed his incognito professional life into a toxic and selfish personal philosophy. But his latest job, at a conference of conference organizers, will radically transform him and everything he believes as it unexpectedly draws him into a bizarre and speculative mystery.

In a brand new Way Inn — a global chain of identikit mid-budget motels — in an airport hinterland, he meets a woman he has seen before in strange and unsettling circumstances. She hints at an astonishing truth about this mundane world filled with fake smiles and piped muzak. But before Neil can learn more, she vanishes. Intrigued, he tries to find her — a search that will lead him down the rabbit hole, into an eerily familiar place where he will discover a dark and disturbing secret about the Way Inn. Caught on a metaphysical Mobius strip, Neil discovers that there may be no way out.

I only heard about this novel from Christopher Priest’s positive review of it. (Which was, in turn, only found through a Twitter link.) It sounds interesting, so I requested it on Edelweiss.

Review copy from Edelweiss.

*

WilliamsT-BD3-SleepingLateOnJudgementDayUKTad Williams, Sleeping Late (Hodder)

Bobby Dollar thinks he’s seen it all – after all, he’s been to Hell and back again. Literally.

But he has another think coming. Sleeping Late on Judgement Day will find Bobby back in his adopted hometown of San Judas, California, trying to stay out of trouble… and failing. His love life is still a mess, there are one too many people who have it out for him, and drowning his sorrows in a nice glass of whisky won’t keep the demons at bay forever.

Bobby’s going to have to pull himself together and make a few tough decisions before time runs out. The problem is, time could run out at any moment. In the final Bobby Dollar novel in Tad Williams’s groundbreaking epic fantasy trilogy, fallen angel Bobby Dollar will finally be force to confront the one problem he can’t talk his way out of: his own.

This is the final volume in Williams’s Bobby Dollar supernatural/urban fantasy series, following The Dirty Streets of Heaven and Happy Hour in Hell. I haven’t read either of the first two volumes, much to my confusion. This sounds right up my alley. Maybe because I’ve been devouring Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series, which is in the same sub-genre. Maybe after I finish the latest Slim novel, I’ll get started on Bobby Dollar’s (mis)adventures.

*

Mini-Review: “Back Story” by David Mitchell (Audible / Harper)

MitchellD-BackStoryA marvellous memoir by one of Britain’s best new(ish) comedians

David Mitchell, who you may know for his inappropriate anger on every TV panel show except Never Mind the Buzzcocks, his look of permanent discomfort on C4 sex comedy Peep Show, his online commenter-baiting in The Observer or just for wearing a stick-on moustache in That Mitchell and Webb Look, has written a book about his life.

As well as giving a specific account of every single time he’s scored some smack, this disgusting memoir also details: the singular, pitbull-infested charm of the FRP (‘Flat Roofed Pub’); the curious French habit of injecting everyone in the arse rather than the arm; why, by the time he got to Cambridge, he really, really needed a drink; the pain of being denied a childhood birthday party at McDonalds; the satisfaction of writing jokes about suicide; how doing quite a lot of walking around London helps with his sciatica; trying to pretend he isn’t a total **** at Robert Webb’s wedding; that he has fallen in love at LOT, but rarely done anything about it; why it would be worse to bump into Michael Palin than Hitler on holiday; that he’s not David Mitchell the novelist. Despite what David Miliband might think…

The synopsis does a very good job of suggesting the tone and content of the memoir. But what it doesn’t fully convey is just how good it is. Delivered in Mitchell’s distinctive voice, with just the right amount of sarcasm and cynicism, this could very well be the best memoir I’ve listened to from Audible, or at least an equal to Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles. This memoir had me laughing out loud plenty of times (something only Tina Fey and Jane Lynch have done so far).

I was surprised to learn just how much great television Mitchell has been involved in over his relatively few years of fame and celebrity. That being said, it was the chapters covering his early years that were hilarious – when talking about his successes, he came across as almost embarrassed (which was rather endearing). Tales from his childhood and years at Cambridge were great, and quite relatable. Recounting his post-university years of near-poverty, and his eventual success also gave me a modicum of confidence that I’ll be able to make something of myself, too (though, not in the way Mitchell has, I’m sure).

While the memoir is undoubtedly funny, as one can expect, it is also quite moving. When talking about his friends and colleagues, he is always gracious and warm. His respect and brotherly love for Robert Webb is obvious, and he is particularly heartfelt when talking about his writing/comedy partner’s wedding. The second-to-last chapter of the book, however, was the greatest surprise: in it, he talks about Victoria Coren, who he recently married. It is a very sweet and endearing story of a long courtship, with its ups-and-downs, but also shows Mitchell has a hitherto unseen romantic streak. Very moving.

Overall, and I know this review is relatively short, I loved listening to this. It’s funny, curmudgeonly, honest, and entertaining from beginning to end. There were no drops in momentum or interest. Excellently and clearly performed, great production, and a great story.

Very highly recommended. If you have any interest in comedian/actor memoirs, or comedy, then you must listen to and/or read Back Story.

I liked it so much, I’ve also bought the eBook, so I can read the best bits again, later – I’d like to share some of the best nuggets of wisdom, but I didn’t write any of them down while listening.

***

Back Story is out now – available as an audiobook from Audible, and in print and eBook from Harper.

Mini-Review: “Drama” by John Lithgow (Audible/Harper)

Lithgow-DramaOne of America’s great contemporary thespians on his actor’s education

Through the vivid stories in Drama, John Lithgow shares a backstage history of his struggle, crisis, and discovery, and the scenes of his early life and career that took place before he became a nationally-known star. Above all, Drama is a tribute to the most important influence in John Lithgow’s life: his father, Arthur Lithgow. An actor, director, producer, and great lover of Shakespeare, Arthur brought theatre to John’s boyhood, where performance and storytelling were a constant and cherished part of family life. Lithgow brings the theatre worlds of New York and London to life as he relives his collaborations with renowned performers and directors including Mike Nichols, Bob Fosse, Liv Ullmann, Meryl Streep, and Brian De Palma. Lithgow’s ruminations on the nature of theatre, performance, and storytelling cut to the heart of why actors are driven to perform, and why people are driven to watch them do it. At once hilarious and reflective, Drama pulls back the curtain on the making of one of our most beloved actors.

This memoir took me a little by surprise. For one thing, Lithgow doesn’t linger so much on the projects in which he has performed – rather, he focuses more on the lessons he’s learned, the experiences he’s enjoyed, and some of the people he has met along the way. It’s an interesting memoir, and a really good listen.

He talks about his peripatetic upbringing, and how he would change school too often to form close bonds – a problem that resolved later in his school years, when he returned to Massachusetts. Lithgow also talks honestly about his early-career luck, and acknowledges that some of his earliest roles he got partly because of his father’s position as a director. At the same time, he later recognises how this spoiled him for his career-proper, and how when he was in New York, he was completely unused to having to go through the auditioning grinder. Lithgow tells us about his time in London, and how he tried to get his draft deferred (successfully, it seems). He’s not proud of it, but he is honest about how afraid he felt about having to go to the jungles of Vietnam. He speaks candidly about his first marriage, and the dalliances that led to its demise.

Delivered in Lithgow’s distinct voice, the emotion in his performance is pretty flat – or, measured, perhaps. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I think I could spot the moments he found less interesting. It’s not as humorous as I was expecting, but it didn’t suffer for this.

Definitely recommended, this is another very good memoir – well-written, excellent production, and enjoyable and interesting.

***

Drama is out now, available as an audiobook through Audible, and is published in print by Harper.

An Interview with ALISON GAYLIN

GaylinA-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Alison Gaylin?

Hmm, I’m still trying to figure that one out.  For the purposes of this blog, I am a suspense writer and reader of all sorts of things.

Your next novel, Stay With Me, the third in your Brenna Spector Trilogy, is due to be published in June by Harper. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader? What can fans of the series expect?

Stay With Me is the third book in the Brenna Spector suspense series, and the culmination of what readers of the series would know as the “Clea Trilogy.” Brenna is a private investigator blessed – and cursed – with hyperthymesia (perfect autobiographical memory.) It makes her pretty great at her job, but it wreaks havoc on her relationships with others. (How can you forgive and forget when you can never forget?) She specializes in missing persons cases, but the one missing person she’s never been able to find is her older sister Clea, who got into a blue car 28 years ago when she was 17, never to appear again. That event triggered Brenna’s hyperthymesia at the age of 11 and has haunted her ever since. In Stay With Me, Brenna’s life is turned upside down when her 13-year-old daughter, Maya, disappears. Also in the book, the mystery of Clea – which plays a major role in the first two books, And She Was and Into the Dark – is finally solved. Continue reading

Quick Review: “Happy Accidents” by Jane Lynch (Audible / Harper)

LynchJ-HappyAccidentsAUDA great memoir by a great comedienne and actress

In the summer of 1974, a fourteen-year-old girl in Dolton, Illinois, had a dream. A dream to become an actress, like her idols Ron Howard and Vicki Lawrence. But it was a long way from the South Side of Chicago to Hollywood, and it didn’t help that she’d recently dropped out of the school play, The Ugly Duckling. Or that the Hollywood casting directors she wrote to replied that “professional training was a requirement.”

But the funny thing is, it all came true. Through a series of Happy Accidents, Jane Lynch created an improbable and hilarious path to success. In those early years, despite her dreams, she was also consumed with anxiety, feeling out of place in both her body and her family. To deal with her worries about her sexuality, she escaped in positive ways such as joining a high school chorus not unlike the one in Glee but also found destructive outlets. She started drinking almost every night her freshman year of high school and developed a mean and judgmental streak that turned her into a real- life Sue Sylvester.

Then, at thirty-one, she started to get her life together. She was finally able to embrace her sexuality, come out to her parents, and quit drinking for good. Soon after, a Frosted Flakes commercial and a chance meeting in a coffee shop led to a role in the Christopher Guest movie Best in Show, which helped her get cast in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Similar coincidences and chance meetings led to roles in movies starring Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and even Meryl Streep in 2009’s Julie & Julia. Then, of course, came the two lucky accidents that truly changed her life. Getting lost in a hotel led to an introduction to her future wife, Lara. Then, a series she’d signed up for abruptly got canceled, making it possible for her to take the role of Sue Sylvester in Glee, which made her a megastar.

Today, Jane Lynch has finally found the contentment she thought she’d never have. Part comic memoir and part inspirational narrative, this is a book equally for the rabid Glee fan and for anyone who needs a new perspective on life, love, and success.

While listening to this audiobook, I realised I’ve seen a hell of a lot more of Jane Lynch’s TV and movie work than I originally thought I had. And, it must be said, she’s brilliant in everything. That’s quite the detailed synopsis, above, and I think I will actually not go into too much detail about the topics and projects Lynch goes into, here. I really, really enjoyed listening to this.

Happy Accidents is an aptly-titled memoir, too. The author’s journey really has been a long string of happy accidents – with a few unhappy ones thrown in the mix, too. Here, Lynch takes the listener/reader on a journey to and from her childhood in small-town Illinois, to New York (which seems to have been an alternatively exhilarating and exasperating city), to Hollywood. She describes her experiences trying to get her first roles, the roadblocks that appeared in front of her – sometimes due to her gender, sometimes because of the vagaries of Hollywood and television.

She’s honest, self-deprecating, sarcastic and doesn’t speak ill of anyone. She’s kind towards and praiseworthy of many of the people she’s worked with – from Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men) and James Spader (Boston Legal), to the whole cast and crew of Glee (her enthusiasm for this show is infectious).

Happy Accidents is, frankly, excellent. Lynch’s narration is amusing, welcoming, clear and, well, quite happy. She’s open and honest about certain aspects of her character that she doesn’t seem too happy about, but also enthusiastic about her experiences and work, and certainly her colleagues. The production is crystal clear. Very highly recommended.

Also try: Tina Fey’s Bossypants; Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles

LynchJ-HappyAccidents

Review: A COLDER WAR by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-TK2-AColderWarUKTom Kell returns…

A top-ranking Iranian military official is blown up while trying to defect to the West. An investigative journalist is arrested and imprisoned for writing an article critical of the Turkish government. An Iranian nuclear scientist is assassinated on the streets of Tehran. These three incidents, seemingly unrelated, have one crucial link. Each of the three had been recently recruited by Western intelligence, before being removed or killed.

Then Paul Wallinger, MI6’s most senior agent in Turkey, dies in a puzzling plane crash. Fearing the worst, MI6 bypasses the usual protocol and brings disgraced agent Tom Kell in from the cold to investigate. Kell soon discovers what Wallinger had already begun to suspect – that there’s a mole somewhere in the Western intelligence, a traitor who has been systematically sabotaging scores of joint intelligence operations in the Middle East.

This is the second novel to star Tom Kell, disgraced SIS agent, and apparently the services new go-to problem fixer. At least, for problems that need to be fixed quietly and delicately – more so than the secret service normally requires. A Colder War improves on A Foreign Country in almost every way (quite the feat, given how good the previous novel was), and hopefully marks the beginning of a long-running series to star Kell. This is another engrossing, expertly crafted espionage thriller. Continue reading

Short Review: A FOREIGN COUNTRY by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-TK1-AForeignCountryUKAn excellent spy thriller

On the vacation of a lifetime in Egypt, an elderly French couple are brutally murdered. Days later, a meticulously-planned kidnapping takes place on the streets of Paris.

Amelia Levene, the first female Chief of MI6, has disappeared without a trace, six weeks before she is due to take over as the most influential spy in Europe. It is the gravest crisis MI6 has faced in more than a decade. Desperate not only to find her, but to keep her disappearance a secret, Britain’s top intelligence agents turn to one of their own: disgraced MI6 officer Thomas Kell.

Tossed out of the Service only months before, Kell is given one final chance to redeem himself – find Amelia Levene, at any cost. The trail leads Kell to France and Tunisia, where he uncovers a shocking secret and a conspiracy that could have unimaginable repercussions for Britain and its allies. Only Kell stands in the way of personal and political catastrophe.

Charles Cumming is one of my favourite authors – in the thriller genre or otherwise. He writes tightly-plotted, gripping espionage thrillers in the tradition of John le Carré and others of that era. [It is, perhaps somewhat cliché to now compare Cumming to le Carré, but it really is apt.] Cumming’s novels are decidedly British, in that they are devoid of melodrama or the dick-swinging swagger that can characterise American-authored espionage thrillers (see, for example, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor). They are, however, just as gripping. Continue reading

Books Received (Easter Week & a Bit)

BooksReceived-201404-17

Featuring: Mark Alder, Charles Cumming, Stella Gemmell, Terry Hayes, Sarah Pinborough, Justin Richards, Marcus Sakey, Tom Rob Smith

AlderM-SonOfTheMorningMark Alder, Son of the Morning (Gollancz)

Edward the Third stands in the burnt ruin of an English church. He is beset on all sides. He needs a victory against the French to rescue his Kingship. Or he will die trying.

Philip of Valois can put 50,000 men in the field. He has sent his priests to summon the very Angels themselves to fight for France. Edward could call on God for aid but he is an usurper. What if God truly is on the side of the French?

But for a price, Edward could open the gates of Hell and take an unholy war to France…

This has been creating quite the buzz around the UK SFF community. It took me a little while to discover that “Mark Alder” is a pseudonym for “M.D. Lachlan” (which, incidentally, is also a pseudonym…). I really enjoyed Wolfsangel and Fenrir, but have yet to catch up with the rest of Lachlan’s werewolf series. Soon, hopefully. You can read an excerpt from the novel, here.

Also on CR: Interview with M.D. Lachlan, Catch-Up Interview

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Cumming-AColderWarUKCharles Cumming, A Colder War (Harper)

A top-ranking Iranian military official is blown up while trying to defect to the West. An investigative journalist is arrested and imprisoned for writing an article critical of the Turkish government. An Iranian nuclear scientist is assassinated on the streets of Tehran. These three incidents, seemingly unrelated, have one crucial link. Each of the three had been recently recruited by Western intelligence, before being removed or killed.

Then Paul Wallinger, MI6’s most senior agent in Turkey, dies in a puzzling plane crash. Fearing the worst, MI6 bypasses the usual protocol and brings disgraced agent Tom Kell in from the cold to investigate. Kell soon discovers what Wallinger had already begun to suspect – that there’s a mole somewhere in the Western intelligence, a traitor who has been systematically sabotaging scores of joint intelligence operations in the Middle East.

Charles Cumming is one of my favourite authors – not just of thrillers, but of any genre. I’ve fallen behind a bit, but I’m really looking forward to jumping into this novel. A Foreign Country, the first in this series, is one of the books I haven’t read, so I’ll be reading that in a few days, before starting in on this one.

Also on CR: Reviews of Typhoon and The Trinity Six

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GemmellS-CityUKPBStella Gemmell, The City (Corgi)

The City is ancient and vast and has been waging almost constant war for centuries. At its heart resides the emperor. Few have ever seen him. Those who have remember a man in his prime – and yet he should be very old. Some speculate that he is no longer human, others wonder if indeed he ever truly was. And a few have come to a desperate conclusion: that the only way to halt the emperor’s unslakeable thirst for war is to end his unnaturally long life.

From the crumbling catacombs beneath the City where the poor struggle to stay alive to the blood-soaked fields of battle where so few heroes survive, these rebels emerge. Their hopes rest on one man. A man who was once the emperor’s foremost general – a revered soldier who could lead an uprising and liberate a city, a man who was betrayed, imprisoned, tortured and is now believed to be dead…

The paperback release of this novel arrives. I received the large, trade-paperback last year. I started reading it when I was really not in the mood for fantasy. It was very well-written, and the world was really well-realised. But at the time I found it rather slow, and a bit too heavy on the world-building over the story-telling. I’ll give it another go, hopefully, some time later this year.

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Hayes-IAmPilgrimTerry Hayes, I Am Pilgrim (Corgi)

Can you commit the perfect crime?

Pilgrim is the codename for a man who doesn’t exist. The adopted son of a wealthy American family, he once headed up a secret espionage unit for US intelligence. Before he disappeared into anonymous retirement, he wrote the definitive book on forensic criminal investigation.

But that book will come back to haunt him. It will help NYPD detective Ben Bradley track him down. And it will take him to a rundown New York hotel room where the body of a woman is found facedown in a bath of acid, her features erased, her teeth missing, her fingerprints gone. It is a textbook murder – and Pilgrim wrote the book.

What begins as an unusual and challenging investigation will become a terrifying race-against-time to save America from oblivion. Pilgrim will have to make a journey from a public beheading in Mecca to a deserted ruins on the Turkish coast via a Nazi death camp in Alsace and the barren wilderness of the Hindu Kush in search of the faceless man who would commit an appalling act of mass murder in the name of his God.

Another novel I’ve heard great things about, but for some reason haven’t got around to reading. It’s a biggie, but I’m really interested in reading it.

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PinboroughS-LT2-MurderSarah Pinborough, Murder (Jo Fletcher Books)

Dr. Thomas Bond, Police Surgeon, is still recovering from the event of the previous year when Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London – and a more malign enemy hid in his shadow. Bond and the others who worked on the gruesome case are still stalked by its legacies, both psychological and tangible.

But now the bodies of children are being pulled from the Thames… and Bond is about to become inextricably linked with an uncanny, undying enemy.

This is the next in Pinborough’s historical London crime novels (with a hint of the supernatural). I’m currently reading the first, Mayhem, and really enjoying it. Review pretty soon, hopefully.

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RichardsJ-SuicideExhibitionUKPBJustin Richards, Suicide Exhibition (Del Rey UK)

WEWELSBURG CASTLE, 1940.

The German war machine has woken an ancient threat – the alien Vril and their Ubermensch have returned. Ultimate Victory in the war for Europe is now within the Nazis’ grasp.

ENGLAND, 1941

Foreign Office trouble shooter Guy Pentecross has stumbled into a conspiracy beyond his imagining – a secret war being waged in the shadows against a terrible enemy.

The battle for Europe has just become the war for humanity.

Another paperback release, and another novel I’ve been so slow about getting around to reading. I do like the sound of it, I’ve just been distracted constantly whenever I think about reading it. Maybe now I’ll get my act together.

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Sakey-B2-ABetterWorldMarcus Sakey, A Better World (Thomas & Mercer)

The brilliants changed everything.

Since 1980, 1% of the world has been born with gifts we’d only dreamed of. The ability to sense a person’s most intimate secrets, or predict the stock market, or move virtually unseen. For thirty years the world has struggled with a growing divide between the exceptional… and the rest of us.

Now a terrorist network led by brilliants has crippled three cities. Supermarket shelves stand empty. 911 calls go unanswered. Fanatics are burning people alive.

Nick Cooper has always fought to make the world better for his children. As both a brilliant and an advisor to the president of the United States, he’s against everything the terrorists represent. But as America slides toward a devastating civil war, Cooper is forced to play a game he dares not lose – because his opponents have their own vision of a better world.

And to reach it, they’re willing to burn this one down.

This is the sequel to Brilliance, which I have but have not yet got around to reading. (That is a bit of theme for this post…) I’ve never read anything by Sakey, but I’ve heard lots of very good things.

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SmithTR-TheFarmUSTom Rob Smith, The Farm (Grand Central)

If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.

Your mother… she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.

Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

Tom Rob Smith’s previous novels have been huge, international hits. Which, as with so many in an ever-busier publishing environment, I haven’t managed to try, yet. After seeing it on NetGalley, and my request being accepted, I’m hoping to get around to this very soon. Especially since I seem to have developed a real taste for international thrillers, lately.

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Which of these catches your eye? Have you been waiting for any of them?