REVIEW : The Woman In Blue by Elly Griffiths


I've suddenly realised, to my shame, that if someone asks me who my favourite crime author is, more often than not I'll forget to mention Elly Griffiths. It is something that I find really hard to understand considering how much I enjoy her books and how, even after all this years, I still get excited about anything new she publishes. Hands down, she IS definitely one of my favourites. I've thought long and hard about this and the best explanation I can offer is that she is simply too reliable so somehow I always overlook her. You know, like Rankin and Dexter are? It's all my fault, of course. These days Ruth Galloway and Nelson are for me more akin to friends than to mere characters from a book. They're always there with their next case, just as good, if not better, then they were when they started. "The Woman in Blue", 8th book in the series has just come out and it's another corker.

"The Woman in Blue" opens with Cathbad house-sitting in Walsingham. He doesn't like the place in question. There's not a straight line in sight, and opressive atmosphere that is encouraged by the traditional ghost tales surrounding the house is not helping either. Cathbad, who, as you know, is a very spiritual person, feels like there is something seriously wrong here. To top it all, his friend has also left a particularly cunning cat in his care. He's really struggling to keep her in so when she escapes the house again and goes to the nearby graveyard, Cathbad is surprised to see a young, beautiful woman, dressed in a blue cloak standing there, offering a smile. She quickly disappears and Cathbad, as usual, is playing with an idea that he has actually seen a ghost. The truth is far more frightening. Tomorrow morning a body is found. It's Cathbad's girl and the cloak is actually a gown. The young woman is soon identified as Chloe, a famous model with a history of addiction who was recovering in a nearby clinic. It's a sad story but one that will continue to shock as it unfolds.

Ruth, on the other hand, is going on with her life, struggling to balance work and Kate, a still somehow being hopelessly in Nelson. For her sins, she end up in Walsingham when she's asked for help by Hilary, an old university friend turned priest, how has been receiving some particularly nasty letter that touch upon the archaeology and history of the place. Nelson thinks the two might be connected : Chloe's murder and the letters.

"The Woman in Blue" is another fantastic entry in the series that keeps on delighting. As always, I would suggest reading from the start because only then you'll fully appreciate how intricately complex the whole story is. There's a lot of tiny touches that point towards previous instalments that you would otherwise miss but if that seems like a too hefty undertaking, "The Woman in Blue" can be read as a standalone novel. As the rest of the Ruth Galloway's novels, "Woman in Blue" is warm, comforting and deadly. Don't miss.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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REVIEW : Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson


Gentle "Be Frank With Me" is a book that would feel at home at Hollywood screen. Its scenes play out like some of the finest heart-warming moments you'll recall thanks to its vivid prose. Newcomer Julia Claiborne Johnson tells the tale of the reclusive literary cult author M. M. “Mimi” Banning, who after staying away from the world for decades, decides to come out of her Banning mansion and embrace the limelight once more. The easiest way to describe M. M. “Mimi” Banning is to remember real life authors such as Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger who wrote one hugely influential book before disappearing for years. As this is her first major project in years and she has to accept that things have changed in the publishing. Even an author such as her is subject to editor's doubts. This is partly due to the fact that Mimi never really planned to publicly write another word but after falling a victim to a scam she's forced to. To make her stick to the deadlines, her publisher assigns her an assistant. 

The publisher sends Alice Whitley, who instead of helping out with the writing, ends up being nanny to Mimi's nine-year-old son Frank, a delightful if eccentric boy obsessed with past. Frank is something else, armed with razor sharp with and much too grown up for his age. Alice is instantly charmed and eventually ends up embroiled in a mini-quest to find out Frank's long lost father. Completing the cast of characters is Xander, a musician and a strange character in general. In a way, he's the only male presence in Frank's life.

Julia Claiborne Johnson's "Be Frank With Me" is a book that easy to love and easy to enjoy. It's absolutely gorgeously written, with every sentence seemingly in its right place. Told with passion and with a feeling, I expect "Be Frank With Me" to be a much loved, and if luck would have it, hugely successful book. It certainly deserves to be one, because despite its heart-warming nature, it's never too sugary. At worst it’s just slightly offbeat, at best it's simply gorgeous. I've simply loved it.

Review copy provided by HarperCollins
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REVIEW : City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett


City of Stairs was one of my favourite reads last year. It was fresh and surprising, because despite being at odds to everything that Robert Bennett Jackson Bennett wrote before, it worked both as an adventure story and a social commentary. City of Blades, its long awaited follow-up is finally here and I’m happy to report that once more everything has changed, and mostly for better. All the qualities that made City of Stairs such a appealing proposition are still here, and then some.

The story opens few years following the events in City of Stairs and the city of Voortyashtan is in ruins. General Turyin Mulaghesh is called from her retirement by Council President Shara to investigate the disappearance of Choudhry, a special agent working undercover in the city. Despite the heavy military presence, Voortyashtan is a volatile place filled with pockets of violence and there’s every chance that the excavations necessary to build a new seaport have disturbed something that shouldn’t have been disturbed – a new type of metal that could change everything. Mulaghesh is perfectly aware that she’s been thrown into the deep end but her sense of loyalty ultimately prevails and she’s determined to resolve her mission in a professional manner. Inside she’s in turmoil. She’s perfectly aware that she has deserved her retirement and rest but still, sense of loyalty is still there.

City of Blades is much bleaker and socially aware than its predecessor. In a way it feels like the recent news coverage seeped into the narrative and brought the new-found tension to the story. As you would expect from him, Bennett’s strongest point are the characters who feel real and lived in. There is an emotional depth that you don’t meet often in a book. Ultimately, City of Blades is a complex and hard hitting sequel that surpasses its predecessor in almost all aspects. It is an altogether different sort of book. It’s loud, bold and uncompromisingly ambitious and I wholeheartedly recommend it even if you haven’t read City of Stairs. 

Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books
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The story behind Fever City by Tim Baker

Normally it’s something you only ever see in movies – or read about in books! – that big eureka moment. But it actually happened to me.

One night in the middle of January 2011, around four o’clock, I woke up from a long, vivid dream, leapt out of bed, opened up the computer and started writing down exactly what I had dreamt.

I didn’t even have to think about what I was typing out at speed. It was as though the text were being narrated to me.

Several hours later when I finally stopped, I realised I had the opening to what would become my debut novel, FEVER CITY.

But this wasn’t just any old opening, these were the opening chapters to a novel that I had been trying to write, on and off, for over fifteen years.

And they proved to be the solution to the major difficulties that had been holding back the development of the work.

The novel had begun as a mystery set in Manhattan in 1950, involving the murder of a disgraced NYPD detective. A secondary plot involved the kidnapping of the only child of America’s richest and most hated man.

But as I moved forward with the manuscript, an unexpected thing happened. The secondary plot began to emerge as the principal one. The kidnapping story kept growing in intensity and pretty soon I had abandoned the other story for it alone.

As surprised – and excited – as I was about this development, I knew there was still one element that was missing, a parallel story that needed to evolve out of the kidnapping, and suggest an even greater mystery.

I explored various scenarios, but none of them seemed strong enough nor connected with the kidnapping in an organic way. After two years, I put the kidnapping novel down, knowing that one day I would return to it.

Meanwhile, there were many other writing projects to keep me busy. I started travelling for various film projects, and one of the trips took me to Los Angeles. As someone who had never owned a car in his life, I expected to hate the city but instead fell in love with it.

Yes, it was sprawling and unanchored, but it was surrounded by incredible natural beauty and was culturally diverse. And there were a multitude of neighbourhoods, each with its own community, ambiance and mood. Above all, there was the torrid, slap in the face heat. It was as if the whole city were running a temperature.

It only took me a couple of days to understand that I needed to change the setting of my kidnapping story from Manhattan to LA.

I went back to the work-in-progress, and was impressed with the results. Changing the terrain also changed the tempo, and deepened the mood to a high-gloss noir.

It also imposed a change in time, lifting the story up to the next decade. The Sixties were a pivotal time not just for the city of Los Angeles, but for the whole country. For the world.

As pleased as I was with the novel’s progress, I was still searching for an event that linked into the kidnapping. It had to perform a tricky balancing act, being big enough to stand on its own, yet not overwhelm the kidnapping story.

Several times I thought about the assassination of JFK in Dallas. That would certainly fulfil the two criteria, but how could it fit in? Try as I might, I couldn’t find a convincing link. The novel was still blocked.

Then came my dream, and with it the solution.

They say dreams are the manifestation of the unconscious mind. Perhaps they’re right. I don’t know where the inspiration came from for my dream. All I know is that I’m thankful it arrived.

Thanks to that dream, my novel was completed and published. Now, when someone tells me only in your dreams, it has a whole different meaning…  

Fever City: A Thriller (Faber & Faber) by Tim Baker out 21 January, £12.99

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimBakerWrites

Tim Baker
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REVIEW : The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson


While, without question being an all-around great reads, previous Wayne and Wax novels weren't really up to par with the original Mistborn trilogy. It's easy to see why. They are served as self-contained adventure yarns which expand the universe and mythology but not necessary change it. Their stories are on a local scale while Mistborn trilogy produced a god. It doesn't compare. I suppose, they were never intended to be as epic (you have Sanderson's other doorstoppers for that). They were such great fun nonetheless. But that is the main reason why The Bands of Mourning feels so refreshingly great. It reminded me of why I feel in love with Mistborn in the first place. It's still a Wax and Wayne novel but one which finally pushes the boundaries of the characters and fleshes out world even further. There's epicness and there's still the usual Wax and Wayne's occasionally cringe worthy antics.

The Bands of Mourning continues the events of Shadows of Self and finds Wax and Steris on the cusp of their marriage. This is one of the most important social events in the calendar and yet, we find Wax and Wayne in their retrospective mood. It's like they're rebelling against the time itself, not realising that what is coming ahead might be for the best. Steris seems to be the only person who has everything in grasp but even she is hard pressed to avert the catastrophe when Wayne pays for someone to use a water tower to flood their wedding. Things get even more complicated when kandra MeLaan arrives and leaves them no choice but to join her on an adventure to find the mythical Bands of Mourning. It's a subtle case of emotional blackmail that involves Wax's sister and uncle known to your previous books a Mr. Suit. By taking the story out of Elendel, Sanderson completely tears out the rulebook and shifts the focus from Wax and Wayne to an unlikely protagonist. It is quiet, fiercely intelligent Steris who is a true star of The Bands of Mourning. She saves the day on more than one occasion and her planning is absolutely essential for the success of their mission. I love the way Wax is suddenly awakening to her and realising how fantastic she truly is. On the other hand, Wayne's methods are getting increasingly tired and old fashioned. This time, it is all about the new kids.

The Bands of Mourning is definitely a changing point in the series, and a welcome one at that. Even Sanderson admits it in the introduction and, as far as I'm concerned, this is exactly the novel that was needed to fire up the old passions in readers. It's bold exciting and above everything, fresh. The Bands of Mourning is also providing a fleeting glimpse of many exciting things looming on the horizon and, for one, I can't wait to sink my reading teeth into the future installments. There's great stuff ahead!

Review copy provided by Gollancz
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The story behind Graft by Matt Hill

Set in a lawless Manchester in 2025, Graft’s first chapter includes an audacious car theft that throws Sol, one of its viewpoint characters, into the middle of a trans-dimensional trafficking conspiracy. It’s a scene that sets the novel’s pace as well as its tone – this is a story about people forced into crime to make ends meet.

However, Graft’s fictional car theft isn’t completely made-up. It’s actually a retelling of what happened to my first car – and a nice example of how life can inspire fiction in ways you can’t quite predict.

The car in question was a mark 1 Renault Clio which sat rotting outside my dad’s house for years before I passed my driving test and we spent a fortune getting it roadworthy. It had a heavy steering wheel, a heavy clutch, and some characterful rattles and squeaks. I drove it to work, often drove it over the Pennines and back, and one time even managed to get it down to London for a trial by lane-changing. I loved it a lot, and I like to think it loved me back.

And then one Friday evening I left my office in Manchester to discover it had gone.

My Clio’s theft was a gut-shot. While it wasn’t much of a car – it was worthless, value-wise – it had been a project, and in a sentimental way, it was part of the family. I wanted to drive it into the sunset, send it off to a breaker’s yard in the sky. I didn’t want some thieving bastard doing that for me.

But there was a bit of hope. A CCTV camera overlooked where I’d parked the Clio, and there was a manned security booth nearby. So after I’d visited the police station, I thundered back to the crime scene and went into the security guard, who eventually agreed to look at the camera footage. And there it was: in just a few minutes, my Clio was loaded on to an unmarked recovery truck by two men in hi-vis jackets.

Watching the footage was surreal. From talking to the police, I knew I hadn’t parked it illegally, and that the council hadn’t taken the thieves were confident, even nonchalant, and clearly skillful. I simply couldn’t make sense of it – and while I’ve long since remade the memory as its own piece of fiction (it’s a good pub-story), it’s still hard to get my head around it happening at all.

There wasn’t a happy ending, either. My stepdad, who used to run a scrapyard, told me the Clio would already be cut down or cubed – sold for an easy hundred quid with no questions asked. The police investigated, but nothing came of it. I hoped we’d read about the collapse of a Manchester-wide car-thieving gang soon, but there were no such reports (apart from another poor sod whose banger met a similar fate). That was that.

Until you zip forward a couple of years, anyway. In late 2012 I’d made some abortive attempts on a second novel. I had my setting sorted – a return to the broken Manchester of my first novel, The Folded Man – and had a few characters whose lives I thought it might be satisfying to revisit.

But something was missing.

‘Write what you know’ has never really worked for me. It tends to be boring, what I know – and I wouldn’t get to learn anything new in the process. That’s why ‘it’s all material’ has always made more sense. Whether it’s suffering or joy, success or failure, your experiences exert a hidden influence on the ways you tell your stories – so you might as well listen to them.

With this in mind, I sat down and tabbed through my private obsessions, my interests. Formative stuff – films, telly, games, fiction from my childhood. And each time I did, I circled back to one thing that glowed intensely: driving. Looking at things like this, it was obvious that cars had been a constant presence in my life – threaded through my identity in one way or another. My dad sold them, my big brother restored them, and my little brother seemed to enjoy racing and occasionally crashing them. And me – well I’d not that long ago had my pride and joy stolen.

So I projected outwards. I wrote a scene about the men who’d stolen my Clio, and tried to envisage why they’d stolen it (parts for their inventory), why they were so calm (habit), and what they did to conceal their tracks (violence with metal cutters and files). It was a strange exercise in empathy, and while I resented the thieves for what they’d done, I enjoyed imagining why they might have done it, and how they slotted into my future Manchester. Soon enough, these two men had names – Sol and Pete – and they were dragging me along with them. And as I drafted and redrafted, the stakes changed, and the novel’s real story started to emerge.

What was the worst thing these chancers could find in a stolen car’s boot? A body, I decided. And what could be worse, or stranger than that? Maybe a person that isn’t dead at all. And then the real kicker: what if that person also had three arms?

This is pretty much how Y, the novel’s central character, came to be. Every fragment of an idea I’d had in the previous months suddenly coalesced around her, the idea of her, and sent the whole thing careening away on a different track. Who is Y? Why is she in the boot in the first place? And why the hell does she have three arms?

Finally, it felt like my second novel was going somewhere.

Matt Hill
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REVIEW : The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada


In his native Japan Soji Shimada is considered to be one of the most respected literature writers. He wrote over 100 mystery novels in his career and in 2009 was honoured with prestigious Japan Mystery Literature Award. However, it all started in 1981 with "The Tokyo Zodiac Murders", a grisly tale that blurred the borders between genres while hiding behind the guise of detective fiction. Like many other classics published in superb Pushkin Vertigo line-up, it is a novel that is hard to pinpoint, but one that fascinates and easily holds the attention of a reader. 

"The Tokyo Zodiac Murders" takes place in mid 1930s Tokio. The story open when an older artist and a womanizer Heikichi Umezawa known for his eccentric ways is found dead in a locked room as he was working on the final painting in his Zodiac cycle. The only thing keeping him company is a notebook filled with occult texts which reveals extensive plan to murder each of the seven women he was living(2 daughters, 3 stepdaughters and his 2 nieces) with at the time. At that point the story turns even more sinister. The women are found murderer in gruesome fashion resembling the diaries. Over 40 years later, Tokyo Zodiac Murders are still a matter of public fascination. There's many theories but not an actual solution. Can an unlikely duo featuring an astrologer and illustrator crack the case?  

"The Tokyo Zodiac Murders" is one of the books that resonate strongly with its readers and that eventually reached cult status in Japan. This is partly due to Shimada's unique approach. At the beginning of the novel he invites the reader to try its hand at solving the case themselves, promising that all the elements necessary for doing so are in the text and that characters don't have any unfair advantage. It's clever and very engrossing. At the time "The Tokyo Zodiac Murders" was shortlisted for the Edogawa Rampo Prize and its appeal still endures to this day. Without question, it is one of the most fascinating things I've recently read.

Review copy provided by Pushkin Press / Pushkin Vertigo
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Gollancz January Paperbacks


The aliens are here. And they want to help. The extraordinary new project from one of the country's most acclaimed and consistently brilliant SF novelists of the last 30 years.

The Jackaroo have given humanity fifteen worlds and the means to reach them. They're a chance to start over, but they're also littered with ruins and artifacts left by the Jackaroo's previous clients.

Miracles that could reverse the damage caused by war, climate change, and rising sea levels. Nightmares that could forever alter humanity - or even destroy it.

Chloe Millar works in London, mapping changes caused by imported scraps of alien technology. When she stumbles across a pair of orphaned kids possessed by an ancient ghost, she must decide whether to help them or to hand them over to the authorities. Authorities who believe that their visions point towards a new kind of danger.

And on one of the Jackaroo's gift-worlds, the murder of a man who has just arrived from Earth leads policeman Vic Gayle to a war between rival gangs over possession of a remote excavation site.

Something is coming through. Something linked to the visions of Chloe's orphans, and Vic Gayle's murder investigation. Something that will challenge the limits of the Jackaroo's benevolence


The power struggle begins . . .

The people of Weyland always believed the slavers raids, which destroyed families and homes like a natural disaster, were a misfortune that couldn't be averted or stopped.

But it's not true.

King Marcus struck a deal: his people in exchange for technology and a powerful alliance with the Vandian civilisation.

And now everyone knows.

Jacob and Carter Carnehan escaped the slavers - along with the true king of Weyland - and have returned home with both the truth, and a Vandian princess as their hostage. Their purpose was to avoid war . . . instead, the truth prompts a civil war at home - while an invasion force focused on reclaiming the captive princess starts to gather on their borders.

Jacob and Carter will be separated once again - and this time they're fighting for something bigger than their lives.


Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space - from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these 'zones of thought', but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artefact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines - an alien race with a harsh medieval culture - and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue party, not entirely composed of humans, must free the children - and retrieve a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.


To the residents of Abalone, Arizona, a sleepy southwestern town whose chief concern is surviving the Great Depression, the arrival of a circus in town is a chance to forget their woes for a while. But this is the circus of Dr. Lao and instead of relief, the townsfolk are confronted with an array creature seemingly straight out of mythology: a chimera, a Medusa, a sphinx, a sea serpent and, of course, the elusive, ever-changing Dr. Lao. As the circus unfolds, it spins events towards a climactic final act that will change the lives of Abalone's residents for ever.

Win one of this month's titles by sending a receipt/confirmation for one of the Gollancz's books you bought during the last three months to info @ upcoming4 . me.

REVIEW : In the Cafe of Lost Youth and The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano


The latest batch of beautifully designed MacLehose Press' translations of Patrick Modiano's novels is set to come out in January and this time we're treated to "In the Cafe of Lost Youth" and "The Black Notebook", some of the finest pieces ever written by this great man. Usually I would review each of the novels separately but this time I'll make an exception as these two books are, in my mind at least, one completely inseparable entity. Both "In the Cafe of Lost Youth" and "The Black Notebook" have a tale of mysterious young women who touched upon the lives of many and then mysteriously disappeared, usually in tragic circumstances. Both stories are told through the eyes of people who were their friends, lovers or, in one case, a private investigator tasked with tracking them down. As always, Modiano's prose is simply beautiful to read. The ease with which he manages to capture the wistfulness and the fallacy of youth is simply stunning and a pleasure to read but there are subtle difference between the two.

On one hand, "In the Cafe of Lost Youth" is perhaps Modiano's most approachable novel. Completely untypically it even has a conclusion of sorts with a final sentence that both shocks and explains. I can't recall another case when he finished a novel with such a final stop. In short, it is a story about a young woman known to everyone as Louki. It is not her real name but rather a name given to her when she first arrived to the Cafe of Lost Youth, a bohemian haunt frequented by young Parisians. Her story unfolds through the words of her friends and lovers, and, as I've mentioned before, of a private investigator who is employed by her husband to track her done after she leaves him. As the novel progresses, it gets increasingly obvious that Louki is quite sad but full of life. I'll leave to you find out what side of her will eventually prevail. "The Black Notebook", on the other hand, is a more elusive beast and it more akin to the rest of Modiano's novels. This time the mysterious woman is called Dannie but once again her real name could be any of the pseudonyms that she takes over the course of the story. Her tragic story is told through the notes that an unnamed writer wrote in his black notebooks. There is no real conclusion, only the hints of murder and something even darker that's unfolding just beyond the horizon.

The second set of MacLehose Press' translations of Patrick Modiano's novels is probably the best starting point for a new reader. Structurally complex "The Black Notebook" sits well with the more straightforward "In the Cafe of Lost Youth", and together they manage to provide a welcome insight into a larger body of work. Well recommended.

Review copy provided by MacLehose Press
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REVIEW : Spinning Thorns by Anna Sheehan


Few years back when I was reviewing a trilogy of saucy fairy tale retellings by Sarah Pinborough I have commented on the fact that there are more and more of the similar "approaches" to fairy tales appearing in all sorts of media. Personally, I think this is great, especially when you consider the fact that over the course of history fairy tales themselves have been retold many times, changed by people to all the better reflect the sensibilities and the fashion of a particular time. However, I've thought this current trend will eventually fizzle out but I was wrong - it has never been stronger. There's new Beowulf starting on the telly tonight and Anna Sheehan's Spinning Thorns is the latest addition to the canon.

"Spinning Thorns" is Anna Sheehan's take on the Sleeping Beauty. Her story takes place some 20 years since the familiar events and as the time goes by it is increasingly obvious that the mantra "happily ever after" doesn't have a chance in hell to come through. The thorns are still surrounding the castle, there's civil unrest and magic racist wherever you look. The violence is in the air and this is the kind of setting that introduces us to princess Willow and her sister Lavender, Queen Amaranth and King Lesli. To make things even more complicated there's a new curse threatening the kingdom and it's up to Will to find the solution. In short, Sheehan gives us an inside view from within the tale. A look from the perspective of those who lived through it and for whom this was something more than a tall tale. It definitely an interesting approach that mostly works surprisingly well.

I have to admit that I've never read anything from Anna Sheehan before as her work is usually labelled as Young Adult and I'm not exactly the target market for that particular genre but I found "Spinning Thorns" to be a very readable and enjoyable tale that manages to imbue new passion into an all too familiar tale. This is helped by Sheehan's decision to tell her tale through multiple points of view. These are quite different from each other and correspond rather well with the characters of the person who owns it. I thought this was a rather clever thing to do. The good impression is also helped by the book's powerful and sophisticated ending. I've read "Spinning Thorns" while being stuck on the train during the recent floods in the UK and I had a blast so do give it a go if you're in a market for a good fairy tale retelling. "Spinning Thorns" is just the ticket.

Review copy provided by Gollancz
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