Strange weather: Four great reads in one

Previously, short stories have always been studiously avoided by me and I admit now, I might be guilty of misjudging them. Given that I always feel quite time poor you would think that short stories would rate quite highly with me, but this has never been the case. Until now. Joe Hill’s Strange Weather is an excellent collection of four short stories.

This is what you can look forward to:

Rain – America descends into chaos with sharp glass icicles raining from the sky with lethal results to those unfortunate enough to be caught outside. Of course it doesn’t take long for the vagaries of human nature to emerge and for polar changes to happen in people that used to coexist quietly together.

Strange Weather

Loaded –   Extra marital affairs, mental health issues and guns are never a good combination. America has a rather large gun problem and Loaded quite neatly flips between the pros and cons of easy access to guns while dealing with these issues. Like me; you may find yourself wishing that the good guy had a gun to hand by the end.

Snapshot – The story of a teenager that finds himself being threatened by the owner of a futuristic device that can steal aspects of a person’s memory with the click of a button. He has seen the loss and heartache that it causes to his old housekeeper and finds a way to prevent this from happening to other people.

Aloft – Imagine going skydiving for the first time. In addition to the terrifying thought of throwing yourself out of a perfectly good plane; you crash into a solid ‘cloud’ that can anticipate your needs and wants to keep you. And your only way off is to jump.

I had to stop myself wanting to know too much about why and how these things happened. That’s not what these stories are about. They are about ordinary people being thrust into extraordinary circumstances that change their lives forever. And they are really well written.

The best part about discovering an author that you really like is finding out that they have written plenty of other books for you to get your teeth into. Joe Hill is the author and co-author of several novels, graphic novels and short stories so why not try some of these other titles by him?

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And what about some short stories by other authors…

Cover of Everything's eventualCover of Match upCover f Legoland

Strange Weather
by Joe Hill
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473221178

The Girl Before : JP Delaney

Have you ever wanted to unclutter your life? Jane wants to start life over; a clean slate. Emma, the girl before, wants to be rid of not just “the clutter from our past…but the stuff we carry around inside our heads.”

Like a lesson on the Japanese art of tidying, the house at 1 Folgate Street offers just that. But does it come at a price?

Image supplied

The architect of this minimalist house, Edward Monkford, has strict rules for his tenants. 1 Folgate Street is a perfection of minimalist architecture; not one personal item may be on view to detract from the intention of this “sentient” house, programmed to respond to its occupants’ daily needs.

This is a great psychological thriller of repetition compulsion (a term coined by Freud). But who is acting out the sexual psychodrama?

Like pentimenti (parchments written over), Jane relates her tale over the Emma’s, discovering first Emma’s tragic death, then the similarities between them. Not the least being their physical resemblance.

But who is the reliable narrator? Jane? or Emma? And who killed Emma? Was it Edward, whose wife, too, looked like Emma and Jane, and also died tragically. Was it suicide? Or was it someone else…

The Girl Before is the first book under the pseudonym JP Delaney, used by Anthony Capella. This story had me riveted, addicted, then spectacularly surprised by its conclusion.

Pop your sleuth hat on these school holidays to keep up with the kids and enjoy this psychological thriller.

The Girl Before
by JP Delaney
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781786480286

Hear Orphan X author Gregg Hurwitz in Christchurch – Wednesday 1 March

Gregg Hurwitz is in Christchurch on Wednesday 1 March thanks to Penguin Random House New Zealand and WORD Christchurch.

Gregg Hurwitz

If you are at all into thrillers, you have probably heard of this New York Times bestselling author of Orphan X and its sequel The Nowhere Man.

But did you know his skills extend way beyond the crime genre? He’s also a Shakespeare-tragedy scholar and a writer of comic books.  Gregg will be interviewed by local crime reviewer Ken Strongman. After the talk, there will be an audience Q & A and book signing, with books available to purchase on the night. Book your tickets now.

Gregg has a contract for three more Orphan X novels, and Bradley Cooper’s production company has picked up the film rights. Gregg has experience writing for television, so he is on screenwriter duties for this movie adaptation.

I asked my Dad – who is thriller and crime buff  – a few questions about Gregg:

You’ve read books by Gregg. Tell me a bit about them.

As mentioned I have read three of Gregg’s books over the past year. My first taste was Don’t Look Back about a year ago. A great story about a single mother on an adventure tour group to Mexico, concerns over being trapped by a dangerous predator and secrets wanting to get safely back home to her son. Great “edge of the seat” stuff to keep you glued to the pages.

I then noticed the highly acclaimed Orphan X which I read next a few weeks later. Evan Smoak is the man. Taken from a group home and trained in undercover operations it has more potential thrills, twist and turns you think you could handle. It is no surprise Bradley Cooper is signed up for the movie.

I was hooked by now, so read one more of Gregg’s books to confirm my theory. I read Tell no Lies in May of last year and this one was based in San Francisco, a counsellor with ex cons and suddenly anonymous threats from a killer. No rest again as the action is maintained.

He is bleeding good, one of my favourites.

What are the best things about his writing?

The joy of his books is the immense variety, realism yet excitingly dangerous and ever changing scenarios. Some people may only like to read them during the day as those noises from inside your house could be the precursor to something evil.

Are you keen to see him in person? What would you ask him?

If I happened to meet Greg my question would be how hard is it to switch from comic book to a serious badass thriller.

Thanks Dad!



An exciting new book from the author of Holes

Louis Sachar is an exciting author. He’s not prolific but when he does publish a book it’s always something to shout about. My first Louis Sachar book (and probably his most popular) was Holes, the story of Stanley Yelnats and Camp Green Lake. It totally grabbed me and is still one of my favourite books. His last, The Cardturner, was a fascinating tale of bridge and family secrets.  It’s been 5 years since his last outing, so I was very excited to hear about Louis Sachar’s new book, Fuzzy Mud.  After reading his previous books and having high expectations I wasn’t disappointed.

Cover of Fuzzy mudTamaya is on a scholarship to the prestigious Woodridge Academy and every day she and seventh-grader Marshall walk to school together. They never go through the woods. And when they arrive at school they stop talking to each other – because Marshall can’t be seen to be friends with a little kid like Tamaya. Especially not with Chad around. Chad-the-bully, who makes Marshall’s life utterly miserable. But today, hoping to avoid Chad, Marshall and Tamaya decide to go through the woods … And what is waiting there for them is strange, sinister and entirely unexpected. The next day, Chad doesn’t turn up at school – no one knows where he is, not even his family. And Tamaya’s arm is covered in a horribly, burning, itchy wound. As two unlikely heroes set out to rescue their bully, the town is about to be turned upside down by the mysterious Fuzzy Mud.

Fuzzy Mud is a weird, thrilling, suspenseful story about friendship, bullies and an experiment gone wrong.  Louis Sachar keeps you on the edge of your seat as the suspense builds right to the end. It’s slightly creepy and I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to end.

Like each of Louis’ books there are several strands to the story. What at first seems like just a school story about fitting in and bullies making life hell, soon becomes a quite different story with far worse problems. The tale of Tamaya and Marshall is interspersed by extracts from an inquiry into a place called SunRay Farm, a research facility not far from their school, that was creating an organism that would be used to make a bio-fuel to help save the planet. These extracts show you that their experiments didn’t quite go as planned. When Tamaya discovers the fuzzy mud in the forest when she is helping Marshall escape the school bully, the consequences are disastrous. Could an organism that was designed to help people actually harm or even kill them instead?

The book has got one of the coolest covers I’ve seen recently and it is sure to grab the attention of kids. The design of the book is very clever too. I wasn’t quite sure what all the dots at the top of the chapter headings were to start off with but this became clear as I kept reading. I think it’s kind of quirky and a nice touch.

Fuzzy Mud would be a great read-aloud for kids aged 10 and up. Not only is it a thrilling story that will keep kids entertained, but it’s also thought-provoking. What would you do if you found a weird substance in the forest? How would you react if the kid who was bullying you suddenly disappeared?

If you love Louis Sachar or just want a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat, place a hold on Fuzzy Mud.

Quite Graphically Fantas(y)tic

If anyone had told me that I would become a huge fan of fantasy graphic novels with an anthropomorphic badger and more, I would have suggested they change their prescription.

Cover of Grandville Bete NoirDon’t get me wrong – I like graphic novels, well, some anyway.  I give a wide berth to superheroes and the like, but Grandville and the nicely put together Detective Inspector LeBrock and his terribly English, monocle-wearing sidekick Detective Sergeant Roderick Ratzi have me hooked.

The Grandville books are set in a steampunk world with murder, greed and political conspiracy as the themes. When I reserved the first book in the series I had no idea they were fantasy, or that my would-be heroes were animals. While most of the characters are anthropomorphic animals, there are a few “doughfaces” representing humans.

England has recently won independence from superpower France (Napoleon won!). The far right have bombed Robida Tower, with the English being accused. Having created the fear, the scheming politicians/moguls plan to unite their citizens in a war against terrorism, thus overcoming any further socialist republic tendencies. They are working on the explosive finale, but not if our heroes have anything to do with it.

Cover of Grandville Mon AmourArchie LeBrock is no gentleman when it comes to dishing out justice and the body count is high in Grandville, the first book in the series. Think working-class Le Carré, Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming and pure fantasy. The steampunk theme is a perfect match for the characters and the stories, and adds an extra quality to the whole series. I found myself studying the background instead of just reading the words and moving onto the next frame.

The English resistance movement have struggled against France and have won independence, but at what cost? LeBrock and Ratzi find power does indeed corrupt and they have to face the unthinkable in the second title in the series, Grandville Mon Amour. Once again they burrow their way through the political system to find the rotten apples at its core. As a wee sideline, we get a small hope that Archie might find love again.

I love the sly digs, the twisted, quite fictional history and the visual and verbal puns which are a large part of the pleasure of reading these books. Despite my initial wariness (I mean, fantasy!?) I will read these books again and wait for the next two that will finish the series. I’m yet to read book number 3, Grandville Bete Noir, having saved it for a treat.

Cover of The Tale of One Bad RatI first came upon the terrific penmanship and fertile mind of the author of the Grandville series, Bryan Talbot, with The Tale of One Bad Rat set in the Lake District of England.

It would be hard to find a graphic novel less like standard comic books than this. I loved the almost Beatrix Potter-like watercolour drawings and the moving story of teenage runaway Helen and her pet Rat. Her story evolves, her past and her reasons for running away slowly becoming obvious as Helen tries to deal with her fear and self-loathing and  find her place in the world. An excellent combination of a sadly familiar story with a satisfactory ending, enhanced by beautiful drawings.

Have you ever had your reading tastes altered by a book, as firmly as I have? Ever tried reading graphic novels? Put a book back on the shelf after spotting the word “fantasy” and thought, not for me? I have enjoyed having my head turned by all of these books and will be more open-minded (I hope) in future.

Sequels: fleshing out the ghosts…

Daphne Du Maurier‘s epic 1930s Cornwallian mystery Rebecca was excellent – do not care to remember how many years ago I read the original, but the subsequent movie versions and TV dramatisations have made it a classic story that transcends the media forms.Cover: Rebecca's Tale

So it was with some initial trepidation that I curled up on my squashy sofa to read the sequel Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman.

Aside from occasional forays into the kitchen in search of snacks and drinks, and my usual attack of the ‘fidgets’ when I’d spent too long in my ‘Do Not Disturb: Serious Reading Going On’ position, I couldn’t put the book down.

This got me thinking of other books that have had that effect on me and only one other novel sprang instantly to mind: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, the story of Antoinette Cosway’s formative years spent in 1830s Jamaica which culminates in a disastrous marriage with a Mr Rochester, a character we all recognise from that literary masterpiece, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

Cover: "Wide Sargasso Sea"n both cases I needed to know how Rebecca De Winter and Antoinette Cosway came to be the women they were. Both women dominate the original stories, but at best they are shadowy albeit powerful ladies whose husbands desire them out of their lives.  Now, I love a good mystery as much as others, but these ladies urgently needed family backgrounds and humanising in a major way!

In Sally Beauman’s book, Rebecca’s personality is analysed and debated by, amongst others, a Colonel Julyan and his daughter Ellie – both of whom knew Rebecca before her death – and Tom Gray, a mysterious stranger on a mission to discover Rebecca’s past.  Each character’s perspective of Rebecca (including access to Rebecca’s own thoughts via a recently discovered diary) gives up a complex and compelling portrayal of the woman who had been such an enigma in her life.

Can you think of any other literary character that has been successfully ‘fleshed’ out or needs an instant treatment in that area?  My contribution: yet another character from Rebecca –  Mrs Danvers.

Gang of three: Crime watch

Cover ImageTurn of Mind by Alice La Plante
Cool, clinical orthopedic surgeon Jennifer White has early onset Alzheimer’s.  The story of her marriage, children and successful career is told through her own increasingly untethered memories, notes from her caregivers and most critically from the police investigation that has developed around her since the murder and mutilation of her neighbour and long-term “frenemy” Amanda.

As the murder investigation gathers pace, Jennifer’s mind conversely start its final unraveling, and the dénouement when it comes, while predictable, is both heartbreaking and tragic. Turn of mind is a mystery with a very small m – but is instead a beautifully written expose of a dysfunctional family and a brilliant mind in slow, tortured free fall.

Before I go to sleep by SJ Watson
Cover imageWinner of the 2011 John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, SJ Watson – like La Plante – grapples with dual concepts of memory and identity while simultaneously developing a tense and escalating plot-line.

Christine Lucas has a rare form of amnesia; unable to store new experiences for more than 24 hours, she is also unable to access memories from before her “accident” 20 years previously.  The daily task of re-introducing her to horrible reality falls to her husband Ben but Chrissy suspects he is revealing only part of her story.

The reader needs to suspend some initial disbelief but the central theme and the way it is handled is so dynamic and intriguing that compulsive reading is inevitable. I was also thrilled when a seemingly extraneous character was sent to far-flung NZ – Aotearoa being a place in fiction tradition so unimaginably far away that any characters unfortunate enough to be sent there are lost beyond the horizon for ever.

Watson, formerly an audiologist with the NHS was inspired by the fascinating real life amnesia cases of Henry Gustav Molaison and Clive Wearing.

Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason
Cover ImageIcelandic author Arnaldur Indridason’s atmospheric mystery titles usually star gloomy detective Erlendur, this title instead features female detective Elinborg who takes charge of a tricky murder investigation after a body is discovered in a Reykjavik apartment.

A wife and mother, Elinborg’s domestic life is just as important to her as her career and she juggles domestic worries such as her relationship with her son with the complexities and challenges of solving a murder. As the victim’s complex story is slowly revealed so too are the underlying tensions in what appers to be a liberal and tolerant society.

Elinborg is a clever, sympathetic character with just as strong and satisfying a presence as Inspector Erlendur. Another well-written and absorbing title in this long-running series.

Gang of three brings you short and sharp reviews of criminally good reading. If these aren’t enough, you can:

Christchurch Crime Wave

Duh, not a real crime wave but oodles of mystery and thriller writers from all across the globe, here in Christchurch … yes … really … woo-hoo. I’ll be at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival to marvel at the twisted, tortured minds of these crime-peddling  scribes.

The line-up includes:
CoverSimon Kernick, specialising in high-octane thriller, his latest bestseller The last ten seconds is some crazy voodoo, believe me.  I read it in only two  sittings without blinking, barely breathing and compulsively turning page after page. Could be mind-control or maybe darn good writing? I need to know, and blog-readers I will find out.

Neil Cross, now living here in Godzone, this British ex-pat excels at twisty-turney, dark psychological novels. Neil’s thriller Burial is in the running  for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and he is also promoting his latest title Captured. Mr Cross is nothing if not versatile; having written an exquisite memoir Heartland, a Man Booker long-listed novel Always the sun and scriptwriting the BBC’s Spooks series. Someone told me he is funny too, so c’mon Neil make me laugh.

Liam McIlvanney holds the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies at Otago University and spends most of his time introducing youthful kiwis to the extremely dubious pleasures of Rabbie Burns, James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott.  Liam is also the author of All the colours of the town, a richly textured thriller exploring the long shadow of Scots-Irish sectarianism. Ayrshire born, he is appearing in conversation with Iggy McGovern and will be chatting about something close to my own heart: the boozy, conflicted and violent Scots.

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You don’t want to meet Smiling Jack

Ken Catran is a national treasure.  He’s written close to fifty books from a range of genres including history, war fiction, thrillers, science fiction, both for children and young adults, and has brought some classic moments to New Zealand television through his work as a writer for Shortland Street and the TV adaptation of Under the Mountain.  I’ve been a fan of his for years and it’s always interesting to see what he will write next as he seems to like trying something different.  His new book, Smiling Jack, is a return to the thriller genre that he is particularly good at.

Set in a rural South Canterbury town, Smiling Jack is the story of Robert whose father and uncle get caught up in some dodgy dealings.  The local police sergeant turns up on Robert’s door-step one night to tell him that the car his father and uncle were in has crashed into the river, killing his uncle and washing his father’s body away.  Robert goes to the crash site to investigate and finds a Jack playing card with a huge grin drawn on it.  This is only the first of the ‘Smiling Jack’ cards that will turn up in this small town as others are killed, connecting the murders back to Robert.  As the body count rises so do the number of suspects that Robert adds to his list as he tries to prove his innocence, including the mysterious head of the Aten cult that seems runs the town.

Ken Catran keeps you guessing right until the end when the Smiling Jack is revealed.  It’s not just for young adults as I’m sure plenty of adults would enjoy it for the thriller that it is.  HarperCollins also have teachers notes available on their website.

Irish king of crime, John Connolly coming to Christchurch

In amongst all the Children’s and Young Adult books I read, I also like to read some actual grown-up, adult books.  Usually these are crime or thrillers, such as Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, anything by Dean Koontz, and one of my favourites, John Connolly.  Like a lot of crime writers, Connolly has a central character who pops up in nearly all of his books and his name is Charlie Parker.  Throughout the series, which starts with Every Dead Thing, you learn a little more about Charlie Parker (a private detective) and his shady past.  There are two main things I like about Connolly’s Charlie Parker books; he’s a private detective who works alone, but often with the help of his dubious friends Angel and Louis, so you don’t have all that annoying Police procedure getting in the way of the story, and his books are dark and often have a supernatural element.   His characters are genuinely creepy and he makes Maine sound so eerie that I never want to go there.  I can’t wait to read his new book, The Whisperers.

However, he’s also incredibly versatile, and recently crossed over to Young Adult fiction with his book The Gates.  I am amazed at how he can switch from writing horrific scenes in his thrillers to something so hilarious that I’m laughing out loud.  The Gates is about a boy called Samuel and his dog Boswell who witness their neighbour opening a door to Hell in her basement, but it’s more funny than frightening as a myriad of weird creatures come through the gates and collide with the human world.  My favourite character has to be Nurd, the Scourge of Five Deities, but there are plenty of others to keep you laughing.

If you want to meet John Connolly and listen to him talk about his books (I know I’ll be there) you can come along to ‘An Evening with Irish crime writer John Connolly.’  See his publisher’s website, Hachette NZ, for more details of the event.