Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Space Between Us by Doug Johnstone

Happy Tuesday! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things tour for Doug Johstone's latest, The Space Between Us

Now, Johnstone is known for his Skelfs series, but this one is a little bit different.

Lennox, Heather, and Ava have nothing in common: a teenager living in a kids home, a divorcee who lost her child to cancer and now suffers the same illness, and a pregnant woman desperate to leave a bad marriage, respectively. But they're linked due to very strange circumstances. All three suffered what could have been fatal strokes—and indeed were for a number of people—but all three miraculously recovered by morning.

In the moments leading up to the stroke, all three saw a light in the sky. And when an odd cephalopod washes up on shore, all three realize it's connected. But when Lennox touches the creature, it speaks to him, and the three find themselves coming together to help this creature. 

Of course there's much more to the story. The three are wanted by the police after Ava's terrible (and terribly connected) husband reports her as being kidnapped. Then in saving the creature more unfortunate circumstances occur. 

Luckily for them, a somewhat jaded reporter was assigned the story of the strokes and wants to help. His feeding them info is one more thing that allows them to stay ahead of the police and other agencies seeking the creature. 

This is a seriously cool book! The perfect kind of read that truly does suck you in from the start, digging into your brain in a way that won't let you stop until you get to the end and find out what will happen!

And it's truly enjoyable as well with fabulous characters and pacing akin to a thriller, even though it's something a little adjacent to that genre. Not quite crime thriller, not quite science fiction, but a comfortable balance of both. 

The Space Between Us is wonderful! And even more wonderful, Johnstone puts his PhD in nuclear physics to use. While I can't swear everything in this book is scientifically accurate, I can promise you that it feels that way, making it even easier to become fully invested!

This one is out now from the fabulous folks at Orenda!

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

Happy Wednesday, readers! Today I'm at stop on the Random Things tour for Julia Bartz's The Writing Retreat!

Alex can't believe it when she's accepted as a late addition to the highly exclusive writing retreat being offered by her idol, Roza Vallo. 

Four writers were chosen but when one dropped out, a friend of Alex's sent in one of her stories as a submission. And Alex was accepted! But Alex's ex best friend Wren was accepted as well. And the retreat means a month at Roza's isolated home, the Blackbriar Estate (a home with a very colored history). A month with Roza's almost exclusive attention. But also a month in close quarters with Wren. 

From the start things are very intense. Roza expects the writers to produce an entire book by the end of the retreat—with required daily word counts, critique circles, and one on one meetings with Roza herself. That aside, they do get cocktail and dinner hours with food provided by a private chef. And all in a luxe setting. 

But when a heavy snowstorm hits and one of the girls goes missing, the writers realize their dream retreat is not quite what they'd expected it would be. 

This book was seriously fun! I should add that I probably found it extra fun as someone who works in publishing!

So a chance for four young authors (they're all supposed to be under 30) to spend a month with an acclaimed author they all revere...That's too much for any hopeful to pass on! And yet, someone does pass. Which is why Alex has the opportunity in the first place. 

Unfortunately, she's going to be doing it with a once very close friend who shut her out for very specific reasons. And as the story unfold and those reasons become clear, Alex's discomfort is understandable. 

Except there's much more to it than that! 

There's a cool element concerning the house itself and the story of the previous owners, a wealthy man whose wife was rumored to have made contact with a demon. Both the husband and wife died under mysterious circumstances, and they're the inspiration for Alex's book she'll be writing at the retreat itself. 

All of this sets a nice tone. The addition of a snowstorm cutting the house off completely is one that I particularly enjoy (I like to call them snowed-in thrillers). 

Like I said, I thought this was great fun! Which was awesome because I'd been looking forward to this book as soon as it was announced (Julia Bartz's sister is author Andrea Bartz whose work I also quite enjoy). 

The Writing Retreat is perfect for fans of Ruth Ware. amongst others. And I think writers in the trenches will find much to enjoy as well! Definitely one I recommend to anyone who loves a dark thriller!

Friday, February 10, 2023

Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell

Happy Friday! Today I'm super excited to be part of the Random Things Tours for Ramsey Campbell's rereleased Ancient Images

How could any avid film collector resist the promise of a missing film starring Boris Karloff and Bela Legosi? A film no one has ever admitted to seeing, no less! Sandy's friend and coworker has spent years tracking down just this film and he's finally found it. But before they can watch the film, Sandy witnesses her friend tumbling from the roof of a building. And the film in question is turns up missing. 

With her friend's legacy in mind, Sandy becomes determined to find out what happened to the missing film. But the amount of secrecy and threat that surrounds not only the film itself but the story it's based on is more than she ever expected!

So not only is Ramsey Campbell one of the horror greats, but this book in particular has been on my radar for a while. And I was disappointed to find that it was out of print. Originally published in 1989, the book has thankfully been brought back to print by the fabulous folks over at Flame Tree Press!

I first heard about this book via an interview with Gemma Files about her own book Experimental Film where she cites Ancient Images as one of the inspirations behind her novel. And while there are no shortage of books about cursed films, I would say that when you have one of the best mentioning another one as one of the best, you know you need to track it down :)

So yes, I was thrilled to see this was coming back in print and I think it's the perfect time! Found Footage horror has been on trend for a while, and I absolutely love it! 

Here we have a film historian who's been tracking down a film for two years before finally securing a copy. Two years! And the book begins with his revealing to Sandy that he's not only found it, but that he's inviting her to an exclusive screening. 

Campbell does a fantastic job of setting the scene so that the reader feels like they're right alongside Sandy. And the anticipation of what the film would turn out to be is hugely tense! Especially when it goes missing before our narrator can see it. 

But of course she doesn't suspect what we the reader already suspects, that the film itself is somehow behind her friend's death. 

Sure, the police believe it was a break in. That the man died trying to save his sought after film from a thief. And that's what Sandy suspects as well. But seeing as this is a horror novel, I would say the reader already has more complex suspicions at this stage!

And honestly, that's just the first few chapters. There are flashbacks to a side story woven throughout, the meaning of which becomes more clear as the story progresses. But for me, those opening chapters set the tone for a perfectly enthralling story that is every bit as fantastic as I'd hoped it would be!

Ancient Images is officially out on February 21. Be sure to preorder a copy from Bookshop.org so you have it in your TBR ASAP!

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Trouble by Katja Ivar

Good morning, readers! Today I'm super excited to be part of the Random Things tour for Katja Ivar's latest Hella Mauzer mystery, Trouble

Having recovered from nearly losing her life on her last investigation, Hella has decided it's finally time to face down her own past. 

It's been over a decade since her family was killed in a horrible accident. And Hella has taken great pains to avoid the family home. Until now. Even though she's recuperated, four floors of stairs to her apartment aren't exactly welcome. And the house has been empty all along. 

No sooner has she arrived, however, than her former boss calls her with another case. This time it's a simple background check for the new head of homicide. But it's delicate considering the man was a revered spy. And it probably wouldn't be great for the man's soon to be employees to be doing the investigation either. 

Hella agrees, but only if she's granted access to her family's file. After all, it was only until recently she began to believe their death might not have been an accident after all. 

At first her case is simple and the man seems to be the perfect candidate. But as Hella digs further, she does find something suspicious. Whether it concerns the focus of her investigation or is a coincidence is up to Hella to discover. 

This is such a fun series!

Set in the 50s, this third in the series takes place right on the heels of book 2, which takes place directly on the heels of book 1. That said, each can be read as a standalone (with minor spoilers if you backtrack). 

Hella's father was a top tier spy in his day. In fact, he died just after announcing his retirement. Hella was the only one left, having been sick the day the family took their fateful last outing. 

Working for her old boss again isn't exactly Hella's cup of tea. The last favor she did for him didn't end that well. But hints of something suspicious in her family's file are enough for her to take the job. 

Unfortunately for Hella, her family's file is empty. 

No matter. She sets forth to do her promised job and requests that her old boss look into the file in the meantime. 

And really it should be a simple job. But trouble finds Hella no matter where she goes!

Hella is a fabulous character! A female police officer in Finland in the wake of WWII and Finland's own issues. This third in the series is set in the days after Stalin's death, so things aren't exactly stable around the country. 

And in truth, each book deals with those issues to an extent. Evil Things concerns the body of a dead Russian found just over the border and Deep As Death involves the suspected murders of prostitutes. 

As mentioned, each book can be read as a standalone. And honestly any spoilers are pretty minor. 

Fans of fabulous Nordic Noir should take note, Ivar is an author you definitely need to add to your TBR! It's also perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries in general. It's definitely a series I want more people to discover—and I can't wait for another installment myself!

Trouble is out now in the UK and will be out in the US later next month!

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

So Pretty by Ronnie Turner

It's Tuesday! I hope it's warmer wherever you are than it is here!

Today I'm super excited to be part of the Random Things Tour for Ronnie Turner's So Pretty

Now, I have to admit I've been struggling with this review. Every once in a while I'm able to dive into a book with very little knowledge of what I'm in store for and it turns out to be an amazing experience! And that's what happened here. I really don't want to post anything that will prevent another reader from that same surprise. 

So rather than risk ruining it, I'm not penning my own synopsis this time around. Here's the publisher's description:

When Teddy Colne arrives in the small town of Rye, he believes he will be able to settle down and leave his past behind him. Little does he know that fear blisters through the streets like a fever. The locals tell him to stay away from an establishment known only as Berry & Vincent, that those who rub too closely to its proprietor risk a bad end.

Despite their warnings, Teddy is desperate to understand why Rye has come to fear this one man, and to see what really hides behind the doors of his shop.

Ada moved to Rye with her young son to escape a damaged childhood and years of never fitting in, but she’s lonely, and ostracised by the community. Ada is ripe for affection and friendship, and everyone knows it.

As old secrets bleed out into this town, so too will a mystery about a family who vanished fifty years earlier, and a community living on a knife edge.

Teddy looks for answers, thinking he is safe, but some truths are better left undisturbed, and his past will find him here, just as it has always found him before. And before long, it will find Ada too.

Things you should know: you can rely on Orenda for fabulous books! That's just a given. Also, this book is creepy! They're calling it a gothic thriller, and that's definitely the most appropriate genre tag ever!

I'm tempted to say this a bit of a slow burn, but tight, short chapters give the book a great momentum, pulling the reader along as the story alternates between Teddy and Ada's perspectives. And the writing is excellent! I mean really, excellent. With multiple POVs, I think it can be challenging for authors to truly distinguish between the voices but Turner has done a great job. Teddy and Ada, and even the non POV characters that live in Rye, are all so well built and rounded, it makes for such an immersive experience.

Also, shout out to the fact that the author is a bookseller! We're not an exclusive club, but I think any bookseller (former or present) loves to support bookseller authors! At least I know I do. 

If you're a fan of unsettling reads, this is the book for you!!!

Monday, January 23, 2023

Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Happy Monday, everyone! Today I'm thrilled to be part of the Compulsive Readers tour for Heather Fawcett's latest, Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries. (First in a new series!)

Emily Wilde is young and determined. And also a bit fusty, with a preference for keeping to herself. But absolutely nothing will keep her from learning and documenting as much as she can about the world's fairy folk. 

Which is how she finds herself in the small village of Hrafnsvik. Here she hopes to find evidence of a folk unique to the area. But while she immediately befriends a tree brownie, she clumsily insults the head of the village, leaving her on the outs until her maddening and unwelcome colleague, Wendell Bambleby, arrives. 

Wendell is nothing but supportive and, in truth, wins over the very people Emily put off fairly quickly. But as Emily becomes entwined in the village's issues with the fair folk, she makes more and more trouble for herself. Having Bambleby along proves to be fortuitous in many ways, but Emily has her suspicions about the man and his motives. 

This book was an utter delight!

Told in the form of Emily's journal during her research trip, the book is at once driven by Emily's wonderful voice and truly enchanting world building!

As I mentioned, Emily is a bit...set in her ways. She's not overly social, she doesn't do particularly well with groups of people, and she acknowledges that she has a terrible habit of putting her foot in her mouth. Which she does immediately and with no clue how or what to do to put things right. 

But she is brilliant in the field, has an excellent memory for fairy lore, and proves that she can think quick on her feet in implementing that lore in real life when dealing with the fair folk. 

Which might be why Wendell obviously finds her charming company. And much as Emily hates to admit it, it's clear that she not only views Wendell as a friend, but that he's likely the only one she really has. 

As I mentioned, because this is told in journals, Emily is our narrator (most of the time) and the character we get to know best. And I adore her! I see myself in her, to be honest, an introvert who's happiest with books!

I had the extreme pleasure of listening to this one on audio, narrated by Ell Potter and Michael Dodds. Potter is absolutely perfect as Emily, giving literal voice to our narrator (and offering pronunciations things I would have butchered in my head otherwise).  

Like I said, this was a genuine delight. A completely charming book that has left me anxiously awaiting whatever comes next for our intrepid academics!

Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries is out now in the UK and in the US!