Sleep – M.K. Boers

A marriage made in heaven, a murder made in hell.
Why kill the man you love?
Lizzy was struggling, everyone knew that.
He shouldn’t have done those things.
He shouldn’t have pushed her so hard.
And now, her children, her marriage, her hope – gone.
It was all her fault, she knew that, but was there a chance of redemption?
Lizzy Dyson’s on trial for her life. She knows she must pay for what she did, even if it wasn’t planned, but will the jury believe her?

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blogtour for M.K. Boers’ Sleep. I’ve got a Q&A with the author for you today.

What was the inspiration behind Lizzy’s story?

I wanted to explore what drives a woman to murder. Having experienced anger & frustration in my own relationships, I wanted to explore what could possibly push someone that far, especially someone who still loved their spouse so much. For women it can be hard juggling so much: work and running a home, and then if they choose to have children it’s even more. If they start to feel unsupported by their partner it can really tip the balance. I wanted the reader to understand and even feel sympathy for her.

Why did you use the topic of miscarriages as one of the factors?

Having children isn’t always that straightforward, although many men and women think it is. A large majority of women suffer miscarriages but you only find this out when you experience one yourself, as I did between my two children. Mine was early on but it was still an emotional ride, but I have many friends over the years who have had multiple losses & some quite late on. It can destroy a person and a marriage. It’s a subject that isn’t talked about very often, if at all. And although I only touched on it lightly with Tony’s character, it affects men too. I considered his affair to be, in some ways, his way of dealing with that loss and what was happening to his wife.

Lizzy clearly suffered a breakdown; did you find that difficult to write?

I didn’t, it sort of wrote itself. From the opening it is clear that Lizzy has had a break from reality and lost it completely. I have spent time in therapy myself, both in my early 20s and early 40s due to a traumatic childhood, so I understand the process of analysing and taking yourself apart and putting yourself back together. I knew what a therapist would say or do, and how they would direct her to help her gain clarity. In some ways they were the easiest parts of the book for me.

This is your first psychological thriller, do you plan to write more?

I don’t tend to write within genre lines. I didn’t really know what this book was until another writer friend read it and defined it. I always tend towards darker stories, even horror, particularly in terms of people’s minds – my flash collection Mostly Dark contains many of them. But I also like exploring science fiction and am currently working on a sequel to my novella The Game (found in my short story collection, Slipping Through). In this story a the dark villain is playing mind games with his victims forcing them to chase him through different parallels universes in attempts to get to their own time. What can I say, a sick mind intrigues me.

And finally, who was the most difficult character to write in Sleep & why?

Tony was actually quite hard because I liked him. He had a good heart and really loved Lizzy. I found it hard to turn him into a bad guy. For a while I wasn’t sure he was coming across bad enough until my early readers expressed a hatred of him. I think maybe because Lizzy is the main point of view and she still loved him that it was hard for me as the writer not to as well.

(Mostly Dark & Slipping Through are written under pen name Miranda Kate)

You can get a copy of Sleep, by M. K. Boers here.

You can find out more on her website, or Twitter @PurpleQueenNL

Miranda Kate spent her early childhood in Surrey, in the south of England, and her teens moving round the UK, but currently resides in the Netherlands. Miranda has been featured in several Flash Fiction anthologies, and has published two collections, one of dark flash-fiction tales, called Mostly Dark, and another of science-fiction stories, called Slipping Through. The latter containing a short novella, for which a sequel is forthcoming.

The Puppet Show – M.W. Craven

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.

When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant but socially awkward civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive…

I bought The Puppet Show following a load of my bookblogger friends raving about it. Serial killer, dysfunctional detective pairing, sounds right up my alleyway.

They were right. I stayed up far too late one night on holiday powering through this book more or less in a single sitting (if you ignore the break to go get some food). A proper page-turner, this one!

Washington Poe (and what a great name *that* is) is summoned back from suspension to investigate a murder in his patch of Cumbria. The victim, as with the first two, has been burned alive. But this one has something carved into his chest. Carved when the victim was very much alive.

Loved this from the start – the unlikely but brilliant pairing of Poe and Tilly really made this story shine for me. Along with the Cumbrian setting which Craven depicts so well, you can really feel the sense of place in the mist-shrouded hillsides.

The Puppet Show is a strong police procedural, with all that entails – plenty of suspects (and victims), and plenty of following the trail of breadcrumbs, toasted as they may be by the Immolation Man.

I particularly loved Tilly – ace analyst, genius at computers, data, stats and gaming. Socially awkward at first, it’s her growing relationship with Poe as he takes her under his wing and starts to shine that lifts this from your regular buddy cop pairing.

I’m looking forward to the further adventures of Poe and Bradshaw, and luckily book 2, Black Summer, is out already! There are some perks to being late to the party.

The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven is published by Constable, and is out now.

Violet – SJI Holliday

Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.

Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.

When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.

Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…

Carrie and Violet set off on a journey on the Trans-Siberian Express. Strangers one day, travelling (and drinking) companions the next. But are either of them who the other thinks they are?

Let’s see:

  • Unreliable narrator? Check.
  • Psychological mystery? Check.
  • Glorious setting? Check.
  • Mysterious, murderous shenanigans? Check.

Absolutely loved this one, and sped through it in a single sitting. SJI Holliday’s previous book, The Lingering showed that she’s a dab hand at the old psychological thriller, and Violet is no exception.

It’s one of those books where you just know something Really Very Bad is going to happen, and Holliday seems to revel in dangling that Very Bad thing juuust in front of your nose, so tantalisingly close so you can almost touch it, then BAM, out of left field the actual Very Very Bad Thing just takes you out and leaves you glaring at the page for a moment before diving back in.

You may never speak to a stranger on a train ever again.

Hugely enjoyable, and highly recommended.

And can we just take a moment to bask in the glory that is the cover of the book? Sterling work!

Violet, by SJI Holliday is published by Orenda Books in September 2019 in ebook, and November in paperback. Many thanks (as ever) to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy.

The Bone Ships – RJ Barker

Two nations at war. A prize beyond compare.

For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war.

The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.

Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favour. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory, but the war.

RJ Barker, author of the wonderful Wounded Kingdom trilogy is back. This time we’re taking to the high seas, ships made from the bones of giant sea dragons and a more than generous helping of adventure and hijinks.

Now, I must confess that I’ve not read many ship-based books. Barker clearly has, and his love of them just shines through every page. After a bit of a slow start where we’re introduced to the world and characters, the adventure really kicks in and it’s full speed ahead.

And what a world it is – shipwives and deckchilder, arkeesian sea monsters and ships made from their bones. Fleet ships and Black Ships of the dead. There’s an awful lot going on in the first quarter of this book in setting all of this up, and introducing us to our main characters – Joron Twiner, former ship’s captain, sorry, Shipwife of the Tide’s Child and Lucky Meas who takes his place (with some force) and molds Joron’s rag-tag crew into one worthy of the name.

I struggled a little with the opening of The Bone Ships, information-heavy as it is. But knowing Barker’s skill at weaving a cracking story I pressed on and was richly rewarded with a grand old adventure. As I said earlier, he has a clear love of this setting, and it really shows through. The world he’s created here is so utterly different from The Wounded Kingdom, yet just as rich with detail.

He’s also got a gift for character. Meas and Twiner are both brilliant, one the supremely confident, capable shipwife, the other initially a no-hoper who learns that he’s more than he thinks possible.

The Bone Ships is the first of The Tide Child trilogy, and I’m intrigued to see where RJ Barker takes us next.

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker is published by Orbit Books and is out in September 2019.
Many thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for the advance copy to review.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach. 

A mysterious murder at a magical school? Two of my very favourite things! Though we are very much not at *that* school for Witchcraft and Wizardry. And the murder is so *very* gruesome that even You Know Who might blanch at it. And yes, there’s a Chosen One.

Ivy Gamble is a private investigator, going about her business, investigating your regular everyday private investigator-y things. Then she is hired to investigate something a little more… unusual, at the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, the school where her sister Tabitha is on the faculty. Her sister Tabitha, who can do magic.

But the Academy most definitely isn’t Hogwarts. It feels very much like a regular high school, with corridors full of lockers rather than talking paintings, and nary a moving staircase in sight. It’s also got the requisite bunch of cliques and gangs, and teenagers doing regular teenage stuff, though using spells to pass messages, or draw uncleanable graffiti, or a thousand other teenager things.

And that’s what I loved about Magic for Liars. It’s a tale about magic, but relegated to the background. It’s a murder investigation, with all the usual questioning, red herrings, sneaking around, misdirections and ‘oh, I think I know who did it… oh, wait, no I don’t.’

It’s fascinating watching Ivy go back to school, to the magic school where she wished she fitted in like her sister. And equally fascinating seeing their world through Ivy’s eyes. Ivy, the hard-drinking, tough-nosed investigator faced with a bunch of kids and teachers who are all hiding someting. But can she figure out what?

Highly recommended.

Thanks @JamiedoesPR and @UKTor for the copy of the book for review.

The Rage of Dragons – Evan Winter

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him. 

Fast, brutal, African-tinged epic fantasy featuring incredible swordfights, revenge, magic, demons and of course, dragons.

What’s not to like?

The Rage of Dragons is great, a big meaty chunk of a book that I devoured over the course of a few days. The setting feels very different from your regular run-of-the-mill swords and sorcery, but the elements are all there – a well thought out magic and caste system, a young man with a mission to avenge, and a rag-tag group of misfits to help him along the way.

It’s so good. The battle scenes are incredibly well written and you feel that you’re deep in the action, dodging blades. The political skulduggery is suitably devious. The training montages are exciting and brutal, and there’s a real sense of menace and danger from the demon-inhabited underworld.

Winter has a great group of characters – our main hero Tau is headstrong, determined and brave, but flawed. It was fun watching him grow and his character arc was particularly well drawn out. The supporting characters are also nicely done – Jayyed and his group of misfits, Zuri and her own training.

Billed as Game of Thrones meets Gladiator, The Rage of Dragons definitely has flavours of both, possibly more of the latter, but is most certainly its own concoction of epic fantasy.

You can read an excerpt from the book at Orbit’s website.

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit for the advance copy of the book to review.

The Undoing of Arlo Knott – Heather Child

What if your life had an ‘undo’ button?

Arlo Knott develops the mysterious ability to reverse his last action. It makes him able to experience anything, to charm any woman and impress any friend. His is a life free of mistakes, a life without regret.

But second chances aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. As wonderful as his new life is, a mistake in Arlo’s traumatic childhood still haunts him and the temptation to undo, undo and keep undoing could be too much to resist.

A new book by Heather Child? I’m in. Loved her first book, Everything About You, a clever, creepy, smart thriller which you should definitely check out. I said at the time that I couldn’t want to see what she came up with next.

Well, here it is. The Undoing of Arlo Knott. I was planning on saving this for an upcoming holiday but just couldn’t resist taking a peek. A peek which turned into ‘just one chapter’. Which, somewhat inevitably, resulted in emerging from Arlo’s world some hours later, wondering at what I’d just experienced.

It’s an incredible concept – what if you could flip back in time a few moments to undo something you’ve said or done? What if you could keep trying, a second chance, a third?

We follow Arlo’s life (or fragments of life) from a traumatic event in his childhood which may have triggered his unusual ability, through various escapades and adventures. Chatting up a woman? Wind back when that line didn’t work. Betting on sports events? Easy money. His abilities are fantastic but do come with a darker side which leave you wincing at times.

I must confess that for chunks of this book I didn’t really like Arlo much, but Heather Child’s skilful writing and plotting draws you into his world and you won’t be able to put it down. She’s got a real gift for character, and Arlo, though flawed, is wonderfully different.

It’s love which drives the central core of the story – Arlo’s love for his mother, his sister, his girlfriend. But what would you do for love? How far would you go? Moral dilemmas abound!

If Everything About You was a confident debut, then The Undoing of Arlo Knott is an even more confident sophomore. And once again, I cannot wait to see what Heather Child comes up with next.

Hugely recommended.

The Undoing of Arlo Knott by Heather Child is published by Orbit Books in August 2019. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for the review copy via NetGalley.