Mount TBR Challenge Update – June 2018

Challenge Update

I was making really good progress in this challenge, but my reading has slowed down over the last month or so and I’ve only read three titles from my backlist this month.  Whilst I’d like to make up for this in June, it’s just not going to happen, as I’ll be moving to a new house later this month!  This does mean that I’ll be blogging less than usual, and I won’t be able to blog hop and share as much as I would like.  Hopefully July will see things get back to normal.

The backlist titles I did manage to read were:

  • The Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico – unfortunately, I didn’t get around to reviewing this, but I loved Pachico’s writing style, and the way that this seemingly disparate collection of short stories had little connections to join up the collection
  • Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic – I really wanted to like this, but I just couldn’t get into it.  I do think that this is a case of me being the problem rather than the novel, however, so I’ll probably give this another go in the future
  • A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge – now, I may have cheated a little with this one, as I bought it on Kindle when it came out late last year, but then picked up a physical copy in order to get it signed at this year’s Hay Festival (I’m glad I did, because Hardinge drew a very dapper looking goose for me) – BUT I originally bought it in 2017, so I’m still counting it as a backlist title 😛 My review for this title will be up soon


So what does this mean in terms of the challenge?  Well, I’m ALMOST at the top of Mount Vancouver!

Mount TBR Jun 18

Hopefully I’ll reach the summit this month!

TBR Watch

Hay Festival always causes a spike in my TBR, and this year is no exception – although I was more restrained than usual this year!

  • Total: 59
  • Backlist: 17
  • ARCs: 12
  • New: 30

G. X. Todd – Movies that Inspired the Voices series: Location, Isolation and the Power of Silence

I’m delighted to share a guest post from the wonderful G. X. Todd with you all today, in which she looks at movies that inspired the Voices series.

In this post I’ll be exploring what movies inspired location and atmosphere, and will reveal the one actor I think should play Pilgrim in a movie adaptation.

Location and Isolation

In HUNTED, there’s a scene set inside a long-abandoned train station. Little more than a shack, it offers shelter to Lacey, Addison and Alex after a particularly harrowing encounter. I saw a version of this train station in a film called The Station Agent (2003) and immediately decided I needed to include it in a book somewhere. The movie stars the wonderful Peter Dinklage and Patricia Clarkson. Peter’s character inherits a disused train station after his friend dies, and it’s a complete wreck. Filled with crap and old worn-out furniture. But with nowhere else to go, Dinklage sets about making it liveable. It never becomes habitable in HUNTED, but the general aesthetic remains the same.

Isolation is a theme I return to a lot in my writing. Whether it’s psychological, social or physical, isolation often affects characters in similar ways. There are a few films I found particularly insightful when it came to this theme, but there are two I’d like to highlight. The first is Moon (2009), directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones. It tells the story of a lone caretaker on a lunar station set up on the moon. Not only is this man alone (except for an AI called GERTY) but he is 240,000 miles away from earth and everyone he loves. It is a brilliant exploration into the resilience (or lack thereof) of the human psyche. How do we cope with loneliness? How far can we trust ourselves when we have no one but ourselves to trust? It’s a claustrophobic, paranoid-filled triumph of a film, and when it came to writing about differing forms of isolation in DEFENDER and HUNTED (Pilgrim’s isolation self-inflicted as a means of survival, Lacey’s through circumstance, Alex’s and Addison’s through misfortune), Moon’s was a great example to refer back to.

The second film is Let the Right One In (2008), and the isolation on show here is the kind I’d define as the isolation of “otherness”. Oskar is the bullied social outcast and Eli the “other”, a child who is mysterious and unsettling. They befriend each other because neither really understands where they fit in the world. Here, I found a story that highlighted difference. It explores how people react to things they don’t understand, how they push away the things they fear (or choose to accept them, as twelve-year-old Oskar does). How the things that scare us can also be the things that make us stronger, can protect us and help us see our true selves. All themes I want the Voices series to explore.

The Power of Silence

As a writer who doesn’t relish writing dialogue, silence is golden. It’s also a useful tool – sometimes you can say more about a character when he doesn’t say a word than when he says two dozen. Pilgrim is a man of few words, and Albus, a new character in HUNTED, is a man of zero. I enjoy the contrast of having a bodiless character like Voice, who expresses solely through dialogue, and Albus who only has his body and expressions to communicate.

3 Iron (2004) is South Korean film about Tae-Suk, an itinerant man who breaks into people’s homes and lives in them for a day or two while he mends the owners’ broken appliances and washes their clothes. He stumbles across an equally silent woman on another of his illegal entries; she lives with her abusive husband, and Tae-Suk allows her to accompany him when he leaves. The two eventually fall in love without once speaking a word to each other. It’s a surreal yet magical bit of filmmaking and proves you can tell an effective and beautiful story through non-verbal interaction alone.

The Garden of Words (2013, 46mins) is a short animated Japanese film and, although silence plays an important role, dialogue has a bigger part to play. Saying that, it still feels as though director Makoto Shinkai allowed himself only a minimum amount of words to tell his story and he lets the visuals do the rest. A student bunks off school to sit in a picturesque Tokyo garden during rainy season. There, he meets a woman eating chocolate and drinking beer. As they continue to meet (but only when it rains), they eventually begin speaking without ever exchanging names. Both are there because they are avoiding personal problems, though they don’t speak of them until much later. It’s a pleasure to watch a non-romantic, innocent friendship between a teenager and adult develop so simply.

Finally, we have Drive (2011). The protagonist is only ever referred to as “the Driver”. He has very little dialogue, with many of his interactions played out by looks and subtle facial expressions. And that’s where his strength lies: in the mystery. The viewer never learns more than what he or she sees onscreen, and it is precisely the not knowing that makes the Driver so interesting. All his dynamism is revealed in action: when he’s driving, when his violence spills over, and when he is holding himself back from acting on his impulses: his stillness in itself is action. It’s fascinating to watch, to have all your attention tuned into his presence rather than the sounds he makes. It’s a good technique to make an audience focus on exactly the things you want them to.

Finally, I promised to reveal who my number one actor to play Pilgrim is. It was in Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) that I saw Matthias Schoenaerts all beardy and rough-looking and thought ‘Holy crap, he’d make a perfect Pilgrim.’ It’s all in the eyes.

So there you have it – go and Google image search him – you’ll see what I mean.

Many thanks to Gemma for this wonderful guest post. Hunted will be published on 31 May and follows on from Defender which was published in 2017.

Hay Festival 2018

This May bank holiday weekend marked the start of the 31st Hay Festival.  I’ve been to the festival for six years in a row now, and fully intend to make it seven come next May.

I arrived on Friday, already knowing that the weather forecast contained rather more rain that is strictly ideal for three nights of camping, got the tent up, and headed across to the festival site for a look round.  I don’t actually mind camping in the rain once I’ve satisfied myself that my tent is still watertight (it is), and once in the festival site it’s easy to avoid the weather as there are raised walkways (so you’re not constantly battling the mud) which are all covered, with plenty of options for getting tea, coffee, or something a little stronger if that’s your thing.

The talks at Hay cover a broad range of topics – fiction (for young and old alike), science, politics, economics, comedy… I could go on.  I attended a number of talks including:

  • Robert Webb talks to Sarfraz Manzoor – HOW NOT TO BE A BOY
  • Kayo Chingonyi talks to Dai Smith – THE 2018 INTERNATIONAL DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE
  • Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Lina Meruane talk to Rosie Goldsmith – FICTIONS: NEW LIFE
  • Roddy Doyle talks to Stephanie Merritt – FICTIONS: SMILE
  • Simon Mayo talks to Georgina Godwin – FICTIONS: MAD BLOOD STIRRING
  • Gaby Wood, Philippe Sands, Elif Shafak, Juan Gabriel Vasquez – THE GOLDEN MAN BOOKER PRIZE
  • Stephanie Merritt talks to Olivia Cole – FICTIONS: GOTHIC
  • David Baddiel – MY FAMILY: NOT THE SITCOM
  • Edith Hall, Shazia Mirza, Allison Pearson, Elif Shafak, Sharlene Teo, Gabrielle Walker – #VOTE100BOOKS
  • Allison Pearson talks to Stephanie Merritt – FICTIONS: HOW HARD CAN IT BE?
  • Frances Hardinge talks to Georgina Godwin – A SKINFUL OF SHADOWS
  • Margaret Atwood – THE HANDMAID’S TALE

As you can see, there is quite a mix even in the events I went to, despite my predilection for fiction.  I enjoyed all of these events, but to pull out a few highlights:

Margaret Atwood

I will never get tired of hearing Margaret Atwood speak, and whilst she has written many novels since The Handmaid’s Tale, I really enjoyed hearing her discuss its relevance today, the TV adaptation, the influences of the time at which she wrote the novel… there was so much packed into this one-hour conversation.  And she made quite the entrance, followed by handmaids who sat either side of the stage during the talk.  Absolutely wonderful, and I highly recommend going to see her if you get the opportunity.

The Golden Man Booker Prize

To celebrate 50 years of one of the leading literary awards, five former winners – one from each decade – have been selected by a panel of judges, and the public can vote for their favourite until 25 June, and the winner will be announced on 8th July.  I really enjoyed the discussion around the five selected titles, and it will be interesting to see if the public vote goes the same way as the panel and Hay audience did in selecting the best of them (both the panel and the audience were torn between the same two titles).

The five nominated titles are: In a Free State by V. S. Naipaul; Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively; The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

Simon Mayo

I’m really looking forward to reading Mad Blood Stirring, Mayo’s first novel for adults, and I was delighted when he was announced as a speaker at this year’s festival.  This was an engaging talk, and it was fascinating to hear about the inspiration behind the novel, and the elements that were inspired by real events and individuals that he wanted to explore through this novel.

Of course, no trip to Hay would be complete without adding a title or two to the TBR, and this year was no exception:

This is actually an extremely modest haul for me for the Hay Festival – I’m very proud of myself for showing such restraint! 😀

Blog Tour: The Old You by Louise Voss

the old you

I’m delighted to be able to share by review of The Old You by Louise Voss today as part of the blog tour.

Nail-bitingly modern domestic noir.

A tense, Hitchcockian psychological thriller.

Louise Voss returns with her darkest, most chilling, novel yet…

Lynn Naismith gave up the job she loved when she married Ed, the love of her life, but it was worth it for the happy years they enjoyed together.  Now, ten years on, Ed has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and things start to happen; things more sinister than missing keys and lost words.  As some memories are forgotten, others, long buried, begin to surface… and Lynn’s perfect world begins to crumble.

But is it Ed’s mind playing tricks, or hers…?

At the start of the novel, Ed is diagnosed with Pick’s disease, a rare form of dementia.  The diagnosis comes as a shock to Lynn, although with hindsight she realises that he has been acting a little strangely in recent weeks, forgetting words and behaving increasingly out of character.  With no small amount of fear of what the illness will mean for Ed and their relationship, Lynn settles into this new life as best she can, wanting to make the most of their time together.  But as Ed’s illness progresses, Lynn finds herself questioning Ed’s behaviour, which varies from that of a forlorn, scared individual to a sinister, violent man.  But it’s just how the illness is developing, isn’t it?

I thought that Voss was incredibly clever in the way that she played out the “is it him or me” battle that is constantly going on in Lynn’s mind.  These situations can sometimes be a little overdone, but I thought that Voss got the balance exactly right, and it was very convincing.  My opinion changed constantly as to whether Ed was genuinely ill, and Lynn was letting paranoia and the stress of the situation get to her – completely understandable – or whether there was something much more sinister going on.

Lynn and Ed’s background is anything other than straightforward, and I loved the complexity of the situation and how they became a couple.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it was rather unexpected and wholly original, and this formed one of the many twists in the novel.  I liked that this background was only divulged later in the novel and through brief flashbacks, whilst most of the novel is told chronologically, and these few sections really helped to flesh out Lynn and Ed’s characters.

The Old You is an excellent domestic noir / psychological thriller, and whilst I’d like to say that I worked out was going on, I suspect that Voss was just very carefully drip-feeding hints so subtly that I didn’t realise that’s what they were at the time.  Whether my powers of detection are improving (doubtful) or not, there was still a magnificent twist that I didn’t see coming at all.  Recommended to fans of domestic noir.

The Old You was published in paperback by Orenda Books earlier this month and is also available to buy in a digital format and is currently available on Amazon Kindle for the bargain price of £0.99.  Many thanks to Anne Cater for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

FINAL Old You blog poster 2018 copy

Hunted by G. X. Todd


I adored G. X. Todd’s debut, Defender, and it was one of my top ten novels of 2017.  I’m sure it goes without saying that I was thrilled when my request to review the follow up, Hunted, via Netgalley was approved.  That said, I did experience some trepidation in reading the follow up to a novel that I loved, but I needn’t have worried – Hunted is excellent!

The birds are flying.  The birds are flocking.  The birds know where to find her.

One man is driven by a Voice that isn’t his.  It’s killing his sanity and wrestling with it over and over like a jackal with a bone.  He has one goal.

To find the girl with a Voice like his own.  She has no one to defend her now.  The hunt is on.

But in an Inn by the sea, a boy with no tongue and no Voice gathers his warriors.  Albus must find Lacey… before the Other does.  And finish the work his sister, Ruby began.

Hunted is the second book in the highly acclaimed Voices series, where the battle between Good and Evil rages on.  And on.

I don’t want to go into the plot in too much detail as I think that it would be all too easy to slip into spoiler territory but Hunted opens with something of a curveball.  I was expecting it to pick up where Defender left off, featuring those same characters that I grew to know and love.  Instead, it starts by introducing two groups of mostly new characters, one of which is led by a familiar face.  Both groups are hunting Lacey – for markedly different reasons – and for the first third or so of the novel the story alternates between these two groups, introducing the key players and providing the necessary background to allow the reader to understand their motivations.  I wasn’t sure what to make of this change at first, but I soon came to appreciate the shift in perspective.  It gives the novel a bit of a twist, and I enjoyed getting the perspective of the bad guys.  Additionally, it’s clear that certain characters introduced here have a significant role to play in the series, assuming they live long enough.

Given the need to introduce the new characters, the novel did start out a little slower than I was expecting, but there is still plenty of action as the reader comes to understand what these people have been through, and I found that the novel became increasingly tense as the two groups start getting closer to their target.  This allows Lacey and friends to make their entrance later in the novel, and I loved the way in which Lacey had grown and developed since Defender.  She’s so young, and this, combined with the relatively sheltered life that she’d lived before her journey began, gave her an innocent air bordering on naivety.  In Hunted, I felt that she had toughened up a great deal and had become less vulnerable, and whilst this is sad in some ways, I felt that it made her a more interesting character.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I love post-apocalyptic novels, and the harsher and bleaker the world the better.  This series fits the bill perfectly.  Todd’s world building is second to none, and her writing style is such that I found myself completely immersed in the setting – it’s so easily to visualise the narrative as it unfolds.  I really enjoyed finding out a little more about the voices in this novel, although with two instalments still to come, there are still some unanswered questions, and I’ve no real idea of where the story will head in book three, I just know that it will be brutal, and some people will die.  It’s Todd, after all.

Hunted is a brilliant novel in what is proving to be a brilliant series, and I really can’t wait for book three!

Hunted is published on 31 May by Headline.  Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read and review this title via Netgalley.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

My Sweet Friend by H. A. Leuschel

my sweet friend

I enjoyed H. A. Leuschel’s collection of short stories, Manipulated Lives, and I was really pleased when she offered me the chance to read and review her latest novella, My Sweet Friend.

A perfect friend… or a perfect impostor?

Alexa is an energetic and charismatic professional and the new member of a Parisian PR company where she quickly befriends her colleagues Rosie and Jack.  She brings a much-needed breath of fresh air into the office and ambitiously throws herself into her new job and friendships.

But is Alexa all she claims to be?

As her life intertwines with Rosie and Jack’s, they must all decide what separates truth from fiction.  Will the stories that unfold unite or divide them?  Can first impressions ever be trusted?

Like Manipulated Lives, My Sweet Friend focuses on the affect that a manipulator can have on those around them, why those being manipulated might not realise immediately, and why they may try to excuse the manipulator’s behaviour.  It’s a topic that Leuschel knows extremely well through her studies, and this comes through in this novella (and her short story collection) with authentic characters and situations.

Throughout, I found myself wondering how I would react to the situation between Rosie, Alexa, and Jack.  I like to think that I wouldn’t have allowed it to go so far (I like to think that I wouldn’t be in such a situation at all!) and yet I think it’s human nature to forgive to a certain extent, to not rock the boat too much and it’s this facet of human behaviour that manipulators seek to take advantage of.  I thought that this was cleverly portrayed in the way that the manipulator in My Sweet Friend blames a misunderstanding or a misremembered event for their actions, and I could see how such a situation might evolve.

I loved the structure of My Sweet Friend which alternates between the manipulator’s perspective and that of their victim, giving both sides of the story.  Whilst the victim’s perspective evokes sympathy and gives the reader a character to root for, hoping that they’ll come out of the situation unscathed, I did find the manipulator’s point of view to be absolutely fascinating.  I thought that Leuschel was deviously clever in the way that the manipulator would twist events in their own mind and find a way to take advantage of the situation, even when it didn’t look all that good for them.

I thought that the length of this novella suited the story well, and for me personally it worked better than the short stories I’ve read by Leuschel.  This is just my opinion, but I thought that this format allowed her to explore the manipulation over a longer period and through a variety of means so that the reader could see the full extent of their actions and the effect it had.

My Sweet Friend is available to purchase now and is currently available for the bargain price of £0.99 via Amazon Kindle!  Many thanks to H. A . Leuschel for the copy.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This Week in Books – 16-05-18

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

The last book I finished reading was Hunted by G. X. Todd, which I really enjoyed – my review will be up soon!


The birds are flying. The birds are flocking. The birds sense the red skies are coming.

One man is driven by an inner voice that isn’t his – this Other is chewing at his sanity like a jackal with a bone and has one purpose.

To find the voice hiding in the girl.

She has no one to defend her now.

But in an inn by the sea, a boy with no tongue and no voice gathers his warriors. Albus must find the girl, Lacey . . . before the Other does.

And finish the work his sister Ruby began.

Hunted is the second book in the acclaimed Voices series, where the battle between Good and Evil holds you in its vice-like grip.



My current read is The Old You by Louise Voss which I’m reading as part of the blog tour.

the old you

Nail-bitingly modern domestic noir.

A tense, Hitchcockian psychological thriller.

Louise Voss returns with her darkest, most chilling, novel yet…

Lynn Naismith gave up the job she loved when she married Ed, the love of her life, but it was worth it for the happy years they enjoyed together. Now, ten years on, Ed has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and things start to happen; things more sinister than missing keys and lost words. As some memories are forgotten, others, long buried, begin to surface … and Lynn’s perfect world begins to crumble.

But is it Ed’s mind playing tricks, or hers…?


My next read will be Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic, which I picked up at last year’s Hay Festival, and has just been released in paperback.


An electrifying novel of blood ties, online identities, and our tormented efforts to connect in the digital age.

At twenty-three, Alice Hare leaves England for New York. She falls in love with Manhattan, and becomes fixated on Mizuko Himura, an intriguing Japanese writer whose life has strange parallels to her own.

As Alice closes in on Mizuko, her ‘internet twin’, realities multiply and fact and fiction begin to blur. The relationship between the two women exposes a tangle of lies and sexual encounters. Three families collide as Alice learns that the swiftest answer to an ancient question – where do we come from? – can now be found online.

And that’s my week in books! What are you reading this week?  Let me know in the comments!