Category Archives: Thriller

George and the Blue Moon

Travelling to Mars has become quite a thing now, what with ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’ people just about signing up for the first trip to our neighbouring planet. So not surprising that Lucy and Stephen Hawking’s George and Annie also get ready to go.

Lucy & Stephen Hawking, George and the Blue Moon

Except, it might have been described as a summer training camp for future trips to Mars, but in the end it seems that plans for the children who take part aren’t quite as they expected. But there would be no mystery and little excitement if we had no strange goings-on at space camp. And you can always have room for more bad guys, whether old enemies or new ones.

So while George and Annie make plans for the summer holidays, Annie’s dad is given the sack, and his computer Cosmos is facing tablet-status. What could be worse?

As usual in these books, Stephen and his colleagues from all over the world chip in with short ‘talks’ on their special subjects, and for the reader who can understand it all, lots of new worlds will be opening up to them. It is really tremendously educational and entertaining all at once.

The two children and their peers learn a lot about becoming astronauts and working together, making split-second decisions, and how to build stuff, and so on. And I know no other authors who could describe from personal experience, the feeling of zero-gravity in a ‘normal’ plane. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

This is fiction, so maybe George, Annie and their new friends are slightly more capable or clever than children that age (11-12?) would be, but how inspiring they are! And maybe future trips to Mars isn’t all that’s going to happen. Cosmos’s portal is still going strong and you can always teleport, can’t you?

I’d been under the impression that this fifth book was going to be the last, but the ending was such that I had to contact Lucy immediately to ask if there is more.

There is more.

Phew.

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Scarecrow

Just because you’re paranoid does not mean it is not out to get you.

Under normal circumstances 15-year-old Jack is a little crazy, and has a history of seeing things. So it doesn’t really help that as he and his dad are on the run from some bad guys, he witnesses a scarecrow eating a crow, and later he ends up talking to it. Him. The scarecrow. His name is Philbert.

Danny Weston, Scarecrow

Jack’s dad is a recent whistle-blower who decides to flee his London home with Jack, as a way of staying safe. Bad idea. The Scottish countryside is not a safer place. Bad guys. Hungry scarecrows. That kind of thing.

And they’ve left their mobile phones at home. Just to be safe. Hah.

This is very good. I’m thinking it might be Danny Weston’s best, so far. Think Pimpernel Smith. (That’s a film.) Or that Christmas song about a snowman, as sung by Bing Crosby.

Anyway, Jack meets a girl called Rhona. Did you know they even have iPhones up there, near Pitlochry? Not so sure about finding a copy of the Guardian in the village shop, but there you are. Or rather, there they are. And how is anyone going to escape?

It was Rhona’s mother – who was a white witch –  who made Philbert. His task was to look after her family once she was gone. Because a pile of straw tied to a cross in a field can totally do that.

Did I mention that things get quite exciting after a bit? Well they do. And what’s that thing in the woods? Who can you trust?

Just so you know, witches rule.

Bloody Scotland – the anthology

Bloody Scotland. What a – bloody – fantastic collection of crime stories! And what a gorgeous cover! It’s like blood dripping…

Bloody Scotland - the book

Although I have to admit to doubting the wisdom of going to bed so soon after finishing the last stories. How was I going to sleep after what Denise Mina put me through? Or Louise Welsh? She’d seemed like such a pleasant person when I got my book signed at the weekend. How could she?

Whereas Stuart MacBride, who usually is too dark for my general wellbeing, just entertained me, and almost made me laugh. Almost. I would like to see his crazy romp at Kinnaird Head Lighthouse with his insane characters made into a short film. I think. I might not be able to watch it, though. Crying out to be filmed, whether or not I am witch enough to view it.

This crime story collection with stories by twelve of Scotland’s best, was the brainchild of Historic Environment Scotland, or HES for short, in collaboration with Bloody Scotland. Why not have our professional killers write a story each, set in one or other of the many HES buildings or sites? Why not? Well, maybe in order not to scare people.

For those less feeble-minded than your witch, this is a marvellous memento of your visit to a HES site. It’s marvellous even if you never go, and after you’ve waded through some bloodbaths you might have second thoughts. So visit first, then buy, and read last. After which you either go back to look at the place again (I know your type..!), or your next visit will be to a place where Bloody Scotland has not murdered anyone.

Yet. I feel there should be more of these. Obviously not to be read at bedtime.

It’s not all blood and gore and devastation however. Chris Brookmyre is suitably fun and lighthearted, and Gordon Brown’s character has a lesson to learn. A couple of authors have gone for revenge, which was most satisfying. Or history, such as Lin Anderson’s visit to the distant past, or E S Thomson’s industrial history drama.

I’ve already mentioned how pleased Doug Johnstone was about my reaction to his tale about the Forth Bridge. And if I don’t mention Val McDermid, Sara Sheridan, Craig Robertson or Ann Cleeves next to their stories, it’s to avoid spoilers.

You don’t want to know when to beware the narrator/main character, or when they are as innocent as you want/expect them to be. Or people close to them. There’s a lot of bad people out there.

But as I said, once the sleep problems have been dealt with, I can’t but want more of this. I can think of authors not yet asked to kill for HES, or places to visit that have not yet been, well, ‘visited.’

Let the blood flow and your nerves take a beating. Won’t be the only thing to take a beating, I can promise you.

Bloody Scotland blog tour

Thrilling Fiction

They fought about who would sit on the middle chair, Michelle Paver or Peter Høeg, and while they did, their chair Daniel Hahn quickly sat down on the shiny red chair on the far side. In the end Michelle won, and Peter’s fame got him the chair between her and Danny.

I’d never thought about this before, but when Son pointed out earlier this summer that Peter Høeg hardly ever does events, it sort of made sense. So we made sure we were there to hear him speak, sparingly, about his new book The Susan Effect. (Everyone knows him for Miss Smilla.) And as I said last week in my review, I loved Michelle’s Thin Air.

Daniel began by saying they’d discovered they had one scientist and one mountaineer between them, and one book about science and one on climbing. But the trouble was that the ‘wrong’ person wrote the books; with Michelle covering the climbing and Peter the physics.

Describing Thin Air as a ‘thrilling, intense, really scary book’ that he shouldn’t have read alone late at night, Daniel asked Michelle how it came about. This story about the frozen world of Kangchenjunga began with her suffering from a frozen shoulder and when she couldn’t sleep, she got up and read something from her shelf of mountaineering books. Originally it was to be set in South America (she fancied making a research trip there), but in the end it had to be Kangchenjunga, with God at the top and the abominable snowman further down. And ghosts.

Peter Høeg and Michelle Paver

Peter usually gets his ideas during a ‘fleeting short moment’ in the middle of another book; this time about a woman who makes people speak the truth. He’s got a couple of such people in his own family, so knows what it’s like. It’s important how the character speaks. It has to be someone the reader can spend a week with, and the author maybe two years.

Like many Scandinavians, Peter speaks English well, slowly and with a marked Danish accent, but quite competently. He said Michelle ruined his reading of Thin Air, but Danny pointed out that this is what book festivals are for; having your illusions destroyed.

For her children’s series Wolf Brother she felt it important that children could like the characters, but for her adult books she’s quite happy to ‘be’ her new character, however unpleasant, or racist, they might be.

Peter tries to create something new each time, feeling it’s dangerous to repeat yourself. He was surprised by the humour in this new book. It’s warmer and more fun, and that makes him happy. Michelle mentioned that his line about a raisin made her laugh out loud when reading.

Peter Høeg

They both read from their books, with Peter apologising for his bad English as he read a short piece from the beginning of The Susan Effect. Michelle read the bit where her character wakes up in the tent, and how there might be someone out there…

As the middle of three sisters, she felt she had the necessary experience to write about sibling rivalry, and she mentioned the background of ‘beating the Hun’ and the public school ethos, and how men couldn’t admit to things like altitude sickness, which might affect a whole group.

Both authors admired each other’s books, and spoke about different – non-literary – genres, and how you need all kinds of books. The Danes, like other Nordics, read crime in the summer, a bit like porn. Michelle said that YA is good, because it tends to have a plot, and it doesn’t need to be literary.

Peter writes his first draft by hand, from beginning to end, and then he types it up, editing as he goes along. And if a day feels as if it won’t be a writing day, then he doesn’t force it. According to him, there are no books, only reading. We all read differently and there are as many versions of a book as there are readers.

Question time made a slow start, with Danny saying that if this had been a children’s event, all hands would be in the air. He mentioned one very important aspect about Peter’s book, which is that none of the words are his, but those chosen by his English translator (Martin Aitken). Peter said how grateful he is to him, and how all of Denmark relies on people to translate their small language. Daniel described the translating process as the translator first reads the book, then has to become arrogant – in a positive way – in order to rewrite the words so the book reads as though it is English. ‘Little Denmark’ likes this.

Michelle likes MR James, likes ghost stories, and she recognises that it’s unusual with ghosts somewhere empty like Svalbard (Dark Matter). Daniel said first you are scared because you are on your own, and then a stone moves, and you think ‘oh my god, I’m not on my own!’ And that is worse.

She does a fair bit of research, travelling to the places she sets her stories, and looking into things like illnesses and reading up on what others have already written, like the early climbers on Kangchenjunga.

Peter did research the first twenty years. And then the internet happened and he lost interest in old style research. He has a love for both science and music, but neither loves him back.

Peter Høeg and Michelle Paver

At the signing afterwards, I was delighted to discover that Michelle never travels without her paw print stamp for when fans bring copies of Wolf Brother. And she let me have a paw print in Thin Air. After all, we don’t know what’s out there on that mountain. Could be anything.

Contagion

To be honest, I’d been expecting the cliffhanger in Teri Terry’s Contagion to be, well, cliffier. So many readers before me had exclaimed about being left hanging. So, yes, I knew it was coming. Not that I will require a cliffhanger to motivate me to read on, when the time comes. Which I would like to be sooner rather than later, but the Witch who waits for something good…

It’s very much a ‘whew!’ story. This dystopia is set in a place close to me, in what feels like today. There is even a female PM. The thing about Teri’s writing is that she takes topics that could be quite distasteful and that would turn people off, but the way she writes about these very horrible things makes it – almost – all right.

It’s obviously not OK that 95% of people die, but looking on the bright side, 5% survive. As in the Slated trilogy Teri has some great mothers. I wish more fiction had good mother figures.

Teri Terry, Contagion

Set in and around Scottish Killin, plus places from Newcastle to Shetland, Contagion features Callie, a missing 11-year-old girl, her older brother Kai and Shay, the girl who last saw Callie. Somehow they end up at the centre of an epidemic that kills fast, and when they realise that all is not as it should be, even under these circumstances, they decide to get to the bottom of what’s happening.

Perhaps Shay is slightly too clever even for a fictional, 16-year-old heroine with exceptional talents, but I like her. It’s good to find someone who can be both cool and interested in science and more than capable at maths. Kai is very handsome. Naturally. And Callie is quite unusual in many ways.

I have great hopes for the next instalment, with fingers crossed that somebody will survive, and doing my best not to ponder that I probably wouldn’t have, had this been real.

Bookwitch bites #143

‘If the bacon flashes…’ It was late. I was tired. And some sign appeared to mention flashing bacon at Edinburgh airport. The second time I looked it said beacon. Whatever. I need to give up careless reading.

Holiday postal yield

We arrived home in the middle of the night. Thank goodness for 24 hour M&S where you can get your milk and juice and bread. Not to mention blueberries. Possibly also bacon. The postman hadn’t been too busy carting vanfuls of books to Bookwitch Towers while we were gone. Almost half of what you can see here arrived five minutes before we left. We had a quick look, in case there was anything that warranted a change of holiday reading plans. Yeah, I know the armchair should be for sitting in, but the books had to go somewhere.

Our leftover holiday milk was left (obviously) for Son who took over after us. His route from Helsingborg on Friday had him meandering between visiting the New Librarian, picking up Dodo in Copenhagen and [finally!] meeting ‘his’ author Andreas Norman, a mere three years – or is it four? – after translating Into A Raging Blaze. Seems selfies are the way to go these days. (My arms are too short.)

Andreas Norman and Ian Giles

On the home front the Carnegie Medal was busy being given to Ruta Sepetys on Monday. I wish I had read her winning book, Salt to the Sea, but despite no one sending it my way, I am sure it was a worthy winner. I’ve loved Ruta’s other books, and the refugee topic is as important today as it was in 1945.

Ending on a sad note, Swedish author Ulf Stark died a week ago. Having spent most of my life fairly unaware of him, it’s been different since I met Ulf in Manchester five years ago. There is never a good age to die, but Ulf was definitely too young to go at 72. Goodbye, and thanks for the singing.

Ulf Stark

Black Moon

Well!

What a book Black Moon is! The end of the trilogy Lee Weatherly set in her new dystopic 1940s, two thousand years in the future, after us Ancients caused the world to be destroyed by doing so many things wrong.

Mistakes are there to be repeated. Now that Kay Pierce has taken over the country and is busy killing anyone not to her liking, plus quite a few more while she’s at it, things look grimmer than ever. And the more you read you realise that this is WWII all over again. Just in a different place and with new people taking the place of those in our war. But the mistakes are the same and the consequences also.

And I believe this is what makes it so interesting, giving the reader a chance to look at what is the same but different. And to see how people still make the same mistakes despite knowing the fate of the Ancients all those years ago.

I’d been concerned about the love interest not taking a wrong turning, but there is of course always the problem with loving in a war to contend with. Who will survive?

Amity is a marvellous heroine and she is surrounded by great friends and lovers, and say what you want about President Pierce but she makes for a formidable enemy. Reading this third book made me marvel even more over the fact that Lee wrote it before the recent Presidential election, and still got it spot on.

I can’t recommend this trilogy enough. It’s the kind of read that makes you glad to be a reader and grateful that some good books are still published. I don’t – now – want more of this, but I do crave more wow-factor books. 650 pages can go so fast when you are having a fantastic time.