Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

"In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods... "

review by Maryom

Vasya is the daughter of a rich lord allied through marriage to the princes of Moscow, but, although expected to spend her days by the fire perfecting her domestic skills such as sewing or cooking, she'd rather be outside, roaming the forests that surround their home, or spending her time in the stables with the horses. She's also possessed of an unusual gift, inherited from her 'witchwoman' grandmother - the ability to see and talk to the small gods and spirits of hearth, stable, rivers and woods. Some of these are mischievous, leading travellers astray or snatching the young and unwary, but others are helpful, performing chores for their human hosts and guarding against the darker forces that lurk in the forest. But this is a time when the older ways, and belief in these gods, are dying, being replaced by Christianity which would ideally rid the world of such 'demons', and while the smaller domestic spirits are in decline, leaving homesteads unprotected, something evil is growing in strength.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a fabulous, atmospheric blend of history, folk tale, and fantasy, with a real feel for the snowy depths of a Northern Russian winter. It's set in the 12th century, in the area that will become Russia, but which for now is ruled by Rus' princes paying tribute to the Khan of the Golden Horde. It's a time and place of which most readers (like me) will have little knowledge, and the author brings it wonderfully to life. Even for a wealthy family such as Vasya's much of life revolves around farming (at harvest-time everyone has to join in, including her father and the village's priest) and preparing for the long winter; in fact I think winter is as much a character in the book as the humans or spirits. I loved the authors's depiction of a family huddled round their enormous oven, listening to folk tales, sleeping beside and even on top of it, desperately trying to keep warm as temperatures plummet, and, in sharp contrast to that domesticity, the wilds of the forests stretching seemingly for ever in all directions.
The story starts fairly quietly, with emphasis on Vasya's childhood and family, then in the second half the fantasy element becomes stronger, leading to a showdown between the forces of good and evil which threatens the way of life of Vasya and her family.

I picked this book up through Netgalley after seeing the publisher/publicist talk about it on Twitter.I was intrigued by the title, and chose it from the 'blurb' which appealed to me, so I hadn't seen the cover till I came to write this review - somehow to me it isn't a cover which shouts out 'read me', but if you feel the same way, ignore that feeling and read it anyway!

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - 
Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Genre - adult fantasy

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Dry by Jane Harper

We're delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for a stunning Australian crime debut - The Dry by Jane Harper. All these bloggers will be posting today, Wednesday 11th January, and those for the rest of the week can be found after Maryom's review.

review by Maryom

The small Australian town of Kiewarra is gripped by the worst drought in a century. There's been no rain for two years. Crops and pasture wither away, stock dies, and farmers' livelihoods disappear. So although shocking, it isn't surprising when Luke Hadler takes his shotgun and kills first his wife and six year old son, then himself. It seems like an open and shut case; tragic but understandable, even to be expected with the current economic problems ...
For twenty years, Aaron Falk has kept clear of his hometown - he didn't even return for the wedding of his childhood friend, Luke Hadler - but a funeral is something he feels he can't avoid. Now a Federal policeman in Melbourne, he left in a cloud of suspicion following the suicide of another friend, Ellie Deacon, and Kiewarra's collective memory hasn't forgotten. Aaron's hoping his visit will be as brief as possible, but when first Luke's parents, then the local policeman, start to raise doubts about the Hadler family's deaths, he feels he owes it to his old friend to clear his name.

In a small town (at least in fiction), murder is rarely random but something stemming from hidden secrets and personal motives - and that's the case here, as much as in Miss Marple's St Mary Mead. There are two threads, linked by the actions of Aaron and Luke - as Aaron pursues his investigation into the Hadler family deaths, he's constantly reminded of the death of Ellie Deacon years before. Maybe that, too, wasn't suicide as originally presumed, and maybe the alibi Luke gave Aaron, was actually intended to cover Luke ... It seems Aaron isn't going to solve one crime without solving both, and for both there's a line-up of possible perpetrators and red herrings to keep the reader guessing till the end. The plotting's well thought out, and if you know where to look, and what for, the clues are there along the way.

After so many ice cold Nordic Noir crime novels, The Dry's Australian setting comes as a shock - the air ripples with heat, the ground is parched, and rivers once large enough to swim in have dried up completely. Despite the vast open spaces surrounding the town, within it the atmosphere is claustrophobic and tense. Tempers are already on edge due to the ongoing drought, and not improved by Aaron's presence or the thought that there is a murderer within the community.

It's often said in book reviews, but this really was a case of me being hooked from the first page. I loved the writing style, the characters, the sunburned setting, the nigh on perfect balance between the two threads - I maybe could have done without some of the creepy Australian spiders though, no matter how casually they seemed to be dismissed.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Little, Brown
Genre -adult, crime, Australia

To read more about The Dry check out the rest  of the blog tour as below -

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

review by Maryom

Following an operation to remove a tumour when she was younger Flora Banks has been unable to make new memories. She's now seventeen, and, although she can remember events before the operation, and basic everyday things like making tea or how to work the TV, anything else slips away after a few hours - until now.
After a going-away party for her best friend's boyfriend Drake, Flora kisses a boy on the beach - and it's the most wonderful thing ever! Maybe it's the totally new experience, maybe it's the heightened emotions of the moment, but, for what ever reason, Flora can remember it the next day.
There's a snag though - the boy on the beach was Drake, and now he's gone away to study in the Arctic, and her life-long best friend Paige will no longer speak to Flora. So when her parents are called away on an emergency, instead of Paige staying over, Flora is left alone. With only her post-it note reminders and her one clear memory of kissing on the beach, Flora becomes increasingly obsessed by Drake and convinced that he is the key to unlocking her memory, so decides to set off on a journey to find him ...

Whatever you care to label this book as - teen romance, psychological drama, travel adventure - I loved it!
It's hard, and terrifying, to put yourself in Flora's shoes, to imagine what it must be like to have no memory of what happened to you yesterday, last week, or a year ago. It would be so easy for her to just drift along doing as her parents say, always treated a child and never achieving independence, but given the opportunity Flora isn't going to sit back and let that happen to her. She's filled with indomitable spirit and tremendous courage. On her hand she has a tattoo saying "Flora be brave". It's intended to get her through her 'normal' everyday confusion of waking up and believing she's still a ten-year old, but she's now adopted it as a motto to live her life by. With the aid of reminders written on her hands, in notebooks and on her phone, she heads off to the Arctic in search of Drake and some answers. I think she's amazing!
I loved the sense of place within the story - from comfortable, sunny Penzance to Flora's amazing journey to Spitsbergen and her adventures there, brought to life by the author's evocative descriptions of snow in summer and midnight sun (so much so that I ended up on Google maps trying to trace her steps!)

It's the sort of book that has you sitting up late, needing to know how things work out. Is Flora's one and only memory reliable? Is she right in suspecting her parents are keeping something from her? - after all, she can't remember what happened yesterday, so it would be so easy to do!

Although this is billed as YA, and could be seen as a coming of age novel, the story is gripping enough for all. It's a story of the mistakes we might make for love, of breaking free and finding one's own way in the world.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Penguin

Genre - teen/YA romance/adventure/drama/coming of age

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Mole's Top Ten books of 2016

My reading list for the year is never as extensive as Maryom's (in the main part because she reads a great deal faster than me) but that doesn't mean that I didn't read some fantastic books as well. I have reviewed my year and extracted the best although there were many others that only just missed out.

In no particular order....

Carrying The Fire - Michael Collins

I grew up at the height of the space race and was caught, for much of my youth, by the wonder and promise that the space race seemed to offer. I avidly read any newspaper articles or watched TV programmes that even vaguely touched on the subject. Originally published in 1974 and republished 40 years later, this book gives a great deal of insight into the space program and Mike Collins - the man.

The Climb - Chris Froome

I became most interested in cycling because of my father-in-aw who watches it avidly and assumes everyone else does too. There's a magic to the Tour de France that can easily catch you and drag you in and our youngest has caught the bug. This book tells the story of the rise of this young rider who had no privileges to help him along the way yet still went on to win the greatest bike race of all time.

It's Just The Chronospehere Unfolding As It Should - Ira Nayman

I have read a few books by Ira Nayman and they all have a zany humour that closely matches my own but this one is his best to date - In My Opinion.

Girl In Danger - Leigh Rusell

The second Lucy Hall Mystery and it feels very much that Lucy has come of age. A great second novel in the series.

Happy Birthday Old Bear - Jane Hissey

Old Bear is one of those story book characters that I shared of lot of time with as our youngest was growing and somehow he, and his friends, remain kind of special to me.

The End - Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings - edited by Ashley Stokes

Short stories are things I generally enjoy a great deal and this collection is unusual because fifteen paintings were created with one thing in common - The End was part of the picture and fifteen authors then wrote short stories that the images inspired - a project that worked wonderfully.

The Book of Ralph - Christopher Steinsvold

This quirky SciFi novel surprised me immensely and I was surprised we didn't hear a great deal more about it.

The King's Revenge - Philip Womack

The last of the trilogy brought the story to a conclusion(?). A book every bit as good as the first in the trilogy and that's frequently not the case.

North of Porter by Kirkland Ciccone

As ever Ciccone has produced a quirky and extremely entertaining novel that has become his trademark. Once again this is probably his best to date.

Talisman - Paul Mudoch

A story of wizards and magic and well meaning friends, family and neighbours.
Book 1 in The Peck Chronicles and now book 3 has been published. It was very much the characters that won me over in this book but we can all be swayed by the fantasy of magic.

Warning Cry - Kris Humphrey

Rather negligently I didn't read the first in this series but was swept along by this story and the concept of a series where there is little character interchange between the books - although the chronology and overall arc does move forward. A great read. Book One's title involved wolves at a time when wolves were appearing on so many book covers which is why I overlooked it.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Maryom's Top Ten of the Year - 2016

It's that time of year when everyone seems to be doing their 'round-ups' and 'best of...' lists, and I'm not going to be left out. I've already done a rather different summing up of the year in Reading Bingo, but here are my favourite books, the ones I feel sure I'll read again and again, the ones I'll be thrusting at people saying "you must read this" ... anyway, here's my Top Ten of the Year ...

First up, a book that I think everyone should read - You Shall Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris This is the account of the first few weeks following the author's wife's death in the terrorist attack on Paris' Bataclan nightclub last November. While the press and social media were filled with hatred, fear and calls for vengeance, Leiris declared that to give way to such feelings would be to let the terrorists win, to also cripple his own life and that of his small son. So instead, he resolved that, despite over-whelming grief, he would continue to live as full a life as possible. It's a book filled with loss, love, horror, and, ultimately, hope.

Breach by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes is a specially comminsioned book from Peirene Press, bringing to life the individual stories behind the statistics and news reports about the refugees in the Calais 'Jungle', taking the reader behind the stereotypic image, and reminding us that above all they are people like us - who just happen to be running from persecution or a war zone, trying to earn money to send home, or just hoping to be reunited with their families. Another 'mut read'.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon also looks at the way we treat outsiders - but a little closer to home. During the long heatwave of 1976, Mrs Creasy goes missing from her home - and the strange man at Number 11 is immediately suspected of somehow being behind it. It's a story about 'us' (the sheep) and 'them' (the goats), and as events unfold it makes you think about the way a community may treat outsiders, how anyone who doen't quite fit or is a little 'odd' can be ostracised and victimised by the rest of us who consider ourselves 'normal'.

Cove by Cynan Jones  A man out at sea in a kayak is struck by lightning - left drifting, out of sight of land, his sense of direction lost, even his sense of self. All he has to cling on to is his animal instinct which pushes him towards land and home. Jones proves again that a huge word count isn't necessary to make an impact; Cove is less than a hundred pages, doesn't contain a single surplus word, but captures the helplessness, confusion and fear of this man adrift at the mercy of tides and currents. Is it, though, the personal story of one man, or a metaphor for anyone adrift in life, like Stevie Smith's swimmer "much too far out all my life/And not waving but drowning" ?

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker is a book about choices. The German invasion of France poses a dilemma for a young Irish writer - he can return to his family in Ireland, stay there safely for the duration, or, as a citizen of a neutral country, remain in Paris with his lover. Choosing to stay poses another question - should he sit by while the Germans take over, or join the resistance? I love Jo Baker's writing style - the capturing of intense, intimate moments, then building with them to bring a fictional world to life - but what particularly appealed to me about this 'true' story was its 'hero', Samuel Beckett. Having read his books at school, I'd rather had the impression of a dull, geeky guy, obsessed with words and meanings. Jo Baker's story sheds light ona very different side of him - still that odd, literary chap but one with an unsuspected quiet courage.

All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan Melody Shee is thirty three, abandoned by her husband, pregnant by a Traveller boy barely half her age, frightened, angry, full of guilt - and amazingly brought to life in the first person by a male author! Melody's story revolves around several threads - the difficulties that can at times surround something we take for granted, the birth of a child; the gradual wearing away of a loving marriage by constant recriminations; the way a community makes its own unwritten rules and judges anyone who doesn't conform; and how inflicting pain and suffering on others can bounce back on the giver. Ryan's writing just seems to go from strength to strength, with each novel.


Melissa by Jonathan Taylor The death of Melissa Comb is marked by a strange phenonomen - a burst of music, spreading happiness and pride among her neighbours. The only people who don't hear it are those closest to her - her immediate family, hiding behind closed curtains, is slowly starting the disintegrate. There's a certain level of quirkiness to this story of a family struggling to cope with grief and the intrusion of the media - it's told in a variety of styles (with snippets from newpapers and scientific journals), it doesn't move in a straight line but starts with Melissa's death and moves back to her illness before moving forwards, and seems to only gradually work in towards the heart of the story - but I found it irresistable!

Death and The Seaside by Alison Moore  is a strange, disturbing tale of manipulation, of living up (or down) to people's expectations, and of the interwoven-ness of life and art. Nearing the age of thirty, Bonnie has had a life of missed opportunities, but now her new landlady, Sylvia, has taken an interest in her - encouraging her writing, making plans for a holiday together. Sylvia has an interest, though, in self-fulfilling prophecies, suggestibility and how expectation influences behaviour; the future doesn't really look that rosy for Bonnie. A psychological drama of subtle oozing menace.

The Museum of You by Carys Bray Like Bray's first novel, A Song For Issy Bradley, this is a story about a family trying to cope with death. Clover and her dad Darren form a small, tightly-knit, loving family, but at its centre is a gaping hole left by the death of Clover's mother, not long after Clover was born. To Clover, she's an enigma, someone she's never known but would love to know more about; Darren finds talking about her too distressing and 12 years later still has the spare room full of her belongings. Sad, funny, and heartwarming this story charts their attempts to bridge that gap, as the two try to communicate across the gap, and Clover searches through the hoarded things in an attempt to piece together an image of her mother. Tender and compassionate, it's a joy to read, and Bray has again turned a story with tragedy at its heart into something positive and life-affirming.

Fell by Jenn Ashworth Ashworth is an author I've been intending to read for some years, and, at last having got round to it, I realise what a delight I've been missing. Despite the older work sitting on my TBR pile, I started with her latest, Fell, an atmospheric, beguiling story of home and family, regrets and reconciliation - and loved it. Middle-aged Annette has returned to her childhood home to clear it out and sell it off, but the ghosts of her parents have other ideas. It isn't what you would really describe as aghost story though -  it's rooted firmly in reality, just laced with something otherworldly much like Sarah Winman's A Year of Marvellous Ways or Lucy Wood's Weathering, both of which were among my picks of last year.

That's Ten, my favourites from this year's publications - but I've also loved some older books which, in all fairness, I ought to have read before now.

Firstly, it may be odd, and I'm definitely late to the party, but this is the year I've finally realised what is so great about Neil Gaiman. I'd read some of his work before but having read and loved both The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Neverwhere this year, I consider myself changed from a casual reader to a fan!

Another party to which I'm a late arrival is the Fitz and the Fool series by Robin Hobb. I've had a free download of the first book Assassin's Apprentice sitting on my kindle for seemingly ages, but hearing that after 15 books the series will come to an end next year I've eventually been spurred on to read it - and again discovered something magical and engrossing that I've missed out on. Reading the series will definitely be part of my reading plans for next year!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Painkiller by NJ Fountain

review by Maryom

Since an accident five years ago, Monica has been in almost constant, unbearable pain. Each day she wakes up not knowing what to expect - will this be a rare 'good' day when her pain is manageable enough for her to get up, go out, live a semblance of normal life, or one of the far more frequent days when, despite the cocktail of painkillers, she ends up lying flat on her back all day, her mind made hazy by the drugs, afraid that any movement will cause agony?   One night, kept awake by pain, and looking for something to distract her, Monica finds a letter hidden away - a suicide note she'd written years before when her pain was too bad to cope with. But something doesn't ring true about it; despite her unceasing pain, despite the tricks high doses of painkillers have played with her memory, despite the handwriting appearing to be hers, despite everything her husband Dominic says, Monica finds it impossible to believe she would ever really have contemplated taking her own life. Is someone trying to mess with her mind? or maybe her seemingly loving husband, Dominic, isn't quite as caring and patient as he appears, and has been planning to kill her?

You've probably guessed, from the ambiguous title alone, that Painkiller is a tense psychological thriller with a woman fearing that someone close to her is threatening her life. It starts well, told mainly from Monica's point of view, capturing her constant pain and her equally strong determination to fight it, however she can, and of course the reader is expecting the first step of a psychological thriller - the revelation that not everything is quite as Monica believes.  Perhaps because of that, I found the middle third moved a little slowly for a thriller - it explores Monica's condition more though, and makes both it and the affects of the drugs things the reader can begin to understand. The end speeds up again, with revelations and twists coming thick and fast as the story reaches its climax.

There are definitely echoes of SJ Watson's Before I Go To Sleep, with the plot depending on huge gaps in the narrator's memory, but it's in no way a copy-cat retelling. If Watson had written this as his second book, I'd have been disappointed; as it is, in a different author's hands there's no feeling of re-visiting the same material. It's gripping, well-plotted, and that ideal thriller - a book you won't want to put down.

Maryom's Review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Sphere 
Genre - adult psychological thriller

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Reading Bingo - 2016

I spotted this 'game' over on CleopatraLovesBooks a few weeks ago, and had to see how well I'd done with my reading this year. I started off thinking 'Oh, yes, I can tick off every square', then ran into problems when I could only think of one book to cover three categories, but with a little shifting around I managed to find at least one for each. Most are books that I've reviewed this year, and clicking the link will take you there.

A Book With More Than 500 Pages

Let's start with one of the troublesome categories. I thought I'd read quite a number of long books this year, but most of them, when checked, turned out to be an annoying length of 460 or 480 pages. I could only think of Dan Simmons' The Terror for this slot, but I wanted to include it as the 'bottom of the TBR pile' book. Fortunately, last week at Book Club we were discussing the titles we'd read this year, and The Bone Clocks was mentioned ... there it was, my over 500 epic!
The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell; It's a weird, complex story, darting about over time and probably better on a second read after you're got the outline of the plot clear in your head.

A Forgotten Classic

I've been a little 'loose' with my interpretation of classic, but, while not something from the Victorian era, this is certainly an old book, first published in 1995 and the beginning of Robin Hobb's Fitz and the Fool series which has run to, I think, fifteen novels, and will conclude next year. I don't think Hobb's fans have ever forgotten it, but it's been sitting neglected on my kindle for a couple of years or more, so I think it deserves that title.
Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb; fantasy meets political intrigue.An excellent beginning, and now I'm looking forward to discovering the rest of the series.

A Book That Became A Movie

Another troublesome square *sighs* I was on the verge of picking Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere which has been made into a TV series, when a movie website suggested I might like this film - and I realised I'd read the book.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith; it does 'what it says on the tin' really. Austen's words are interspersed with zombie blood and guts to comic effect. It was an amusing read, but not one to revisit.

A Book Published This Year 
As I'm a book reviewer/blogger obviously a lot of what I read is newly published, so I had a lot to choose from.
All We Shall Know - Donal Ryan is going to be making it onto my Top Ten of the year so it's only fair to include it here. Melody Shee is thirty three, alone, pregnant, frightened, angry and riddled with guilt - and amazingly brought to life in the first person by a male author!

A Book With A Number In the Title

I tried really hard to find an alternative here as this is the 'number in the title' book chosen by CleopatraLovesBooks, and just choosing the same one feels like taking an easy option, but I couldn't find another which fitted! The One-in-Million Boy by Monica Wood is the story of a special eleven-year old boy, his relationship with 104 year old Ona Vitkus, and obsession with Guinness Records.

A Book Written By Someone Under Thirty
This was the most troublesome to track down. Most authors don't go around shouting about their ages, so I needed to check on Wikipedia or their publishers' web site, and then quite a few authors just slipped over the magic figure of 30 by a year or two. The easy way would have been to have followed CleopatraLovesBooks again, and chosen Barney Norris and Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, fortunately Stefan Mohamed and his super-hero Stanley came to the rescue with Ace of Spiders

A Book With Non-human Characters
I'd quite a choice here - ghosts, vampires, cats but I've settled on fantasy debut  Infernal by Mark de Jaeger. It's not clear at first who or what the book's hero Stratus is, but it's pretty clear he's not fully human. I'll let you read it to discover his secret - beware though, even for a fantasy novel it's rather violent.

A Funny Book

I'm not really a reader of laugh-out loud funny stories so this is the nearest I could find. The Radleys by Matt Haig is ostensibly a story of vampires hiding in suburbia, but in many ways it's a humorous observation on all of our (middle-aged, middle-class) lives - sort of like The Office but with blood!

A Book By A Female Author
This is another category for which I had a wide range of books to choose from but Carys Bray's second novel The Museum of You is one of my favourites this year. Bray's first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, told of a family coping with the loss of a child, and that theme of loss is here again in the story of 12 year old Clover struggling to get to know and understand her mother who died shortly after she, Clover, was born. Sad, yes, but funny and heart-warming too.

A Book With A Mystery

I read a lot of crime books so this was a difficult one to pick out but with a girl, covered in scratches and wearing only a man's shirt, running into a busy road, causing a car crash and then disappearing again, I think Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary has the 'mystery' element well and truly covered.

A Book With A One Word Title

Again a lot of choice for this 'square' so I've picked a recent read, short but with huge impact - Cove by Cynan Jones A man out at sea in a kayak is struck by lightning, left drifting, out of sight of land, sense of direction gone. The personal story of one man or a metaphor for all of us?

A Book of Short Stories
There were several I could have picked, but this collection of eight stories inspired by the lives of refugees in the Calais 'Jungle' is a must-read. Commissioned by Peirene Press, the authors Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes spend time in the camp talking to refugees, aid workers and locals, before setting pens to paper (or fingers to keyboards) to bring their stories to life.

A Book Set On A Different Continent

Again, I had several options - The Terror (Antarctica), Michelle Paver's Thin Ice (mountaineering and ghosts in Asia), any number of books set in the USA - but I've picked a dystopian quest/thriller Wolf Road - Beth Lewis, set in post-apocalypse North-West Canada. There were so many things I loved about this story - wilderness survival, the 'quest for home', strong female leads, and a buried secret to haunt the heroine.

A Book Of Non-fiction
Turns out I don't read much non-fiction, so didn't really have a choice. Weatherland  by Alexandra Harris is an excellent book though - concerned not with weather itself but how it's been seen through the words and paintings of poets, writers and artists over the centuries - from Anglo-Saxons huddled round their Great Hall fires keeping the winter cold at bay through the Romantics delight in storms and extremes, to modern writers exploring climate change. It's a long read, just under 400 pages, but interesting whether you read it cover to cover, as I did, or dip in here and there.

The First Book By A Favourite Author

I discovered Elly Griffiths through her second series set in the 1950s world of magic and theatrical illusion, and sort of stayed there, vaguely intending to read her earlier series centred on forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway sometime or other, but always wanting to start with the very first book, The Crossing Places  not jump in part way through. Then I picked up a free e-version of it on my phone, found myself killing time one evening and started reading. I loved it - and now have seven more to catch up with!

A Book You Heard About Online
As a blogger, following authors and publishers, I hear about a LOT of books online, but I always believe it's worth following the recommendations of authors whose own work you like, and that's why this piqued my interest.
Fell by Jenn Ashworth is an atmospheric story of home and family, regrets and reconciliation, in which middle-aged Annette returns to her childhood home to clear it out and sell up, but the ghosts of her parents have different ideas. It isn't a 'ghost' story as such - it has a much firmer rooting in reality, just laced with something otherworldly, much like Sarah Winman's A Year of Marvellous Ways or Lucy Wood's Weathering, both of which were among my picks of last year

A Best-selling Book
Not just a best-seller here, but a debut novel too. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon is set in the heatwave of 1976; as pavements melt and tempers fray, Mrs Creasy goes missing from her home, and everyone immediately lays the blame on the strange man at number 11. Seen through the eyes of ten-year old Grace, it makes you think about the way anyone a little 'odd' can be ostracised and victimised by the rest of us who consider ourselves 'normal'.

A Book Based On A True Story

I've read quite a few books this year that have started out as true stories but what particularly appealed to me about Jo Baker's A Country Road, A Tree was its 'hero'. Having 'suffered' Samuel Beckett's books at school I'd rather had the impression of him as a dull guy, interested in words and meanings, geeky in a literary sort of way, but not anyone you'd want to end up talking to at a party - Jo Baker's story sheds light on a very different side of him; still that odd, literary chap but one with an unsuspected quiet courage.

A Book At The Bottom Of Your To Be Read Pile

I've been making a bit of an effort to clear the huge piles of unread books from around the house, so eventually got round to reading this, The Terror by Dan Simmons which has been waiting for SO long, easily over three, maybe even four, years, so it must count as from the bottom. The story follows the doomed Franklin expedition of 1845 in its search for a sea-route from the Atlantic across the north coast of Canada to the Pacific ocean, but mixes fact and horror; as the ships end up trapped in Arctic Ice, something shadowy and shapeless is lurking and picking off crew members one at a time ...

A Book Your Friend Loves
My elderly neighbour is a great fan of crime novels, but the cosier, less violent sort, which she tends to read once, then pass on to friends and family. So a few months ago, she gave me three of the Hamish MacBeth series by MC Beaton, including Death of a Witch. To be honest, although I liked the TV series starring Robert Carlyle (though perhaps mainly for the Scottish scenery) the books didn't really grab me. I think my tastes in fictional crime are rather different - I prefer something grittier and urban, to this comparatively light-hearted approach.

A Book That Scares You

I nearly chose David Mitchell's Slade House for this square, but he's already represented once by The Bone Clocks (over 500 pages), so I've chosen this YA fantasy thriller The Creeper Man - Dawn Kurtagich. Two young girls flee to their aunt's house in the woods hoping to find safety, but something or someone is out among the tress, creeping ever closer ... It might be aimed at a younger readership but I found it every bit as frightening as many an adult horror story!

A Book That Is More Than Ten Years Old
Another 'trickier to pin down than you'd think' category, much like the 'author under 30' one but this time, books were proving to be too young. Fortunately, Neil Gaiman wrote Neverwhere in 2005, although it's been re-released this year with a new cover, illustrations by Chris Riddell and an additional short story. It's set in the parallel city of  London Below, with a range of fascinating, fantastical characters, is a non-stop adventure, full of danger and excitement, twists and turns - and I loved every page!

The Second Book In A Series

Possibly the biggest cheat of all my responses, as I couldn't track down an actual second story of a series but went for a second bookThe Forgotten and the Fantastical 2,  edited by Teika Bellamy, is a collection of short stories, and doesn't continue series-like from the previous volume. They are alike in being stories of magic and otherness, reinvented fairy tales and the like; is that enough?

A Book With A Blue Cover
The book I've chosen here could have fitted in so many squares - based on a true story, non-human characters, heard about on the web, and, of course, blue cover.
A Ghost's Story by Lorna Gibb is the story of superstar spirit, Katie Green, a favourite of the seance parties of the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. It's not a scary book, but it did make me wonder more about the nature of 'ghosts'.

Free Square
Last and by no means least You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris
The author's wife was among those killed by terrorists at the Bataclan nightclub in Paris last November, and a few days later he took to social media, not to encourage hatred against or fear of the French Muslim population but pledging himself to live life to the fullest, and to refuse to have his life defined by one random act. A story of overwhelming, almost unbearable grief but one with a positive note of hope.