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.

Heartstream – Tom Pollock

Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can’t believe that she’s actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can’t know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie.

Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother’s degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It’s the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable.

But on the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s rigged herself and the house with explosives – and she’s been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.

Heartstream is a dark look into fandom, fame and obsession. And boy does it get very dark. I’m a huge fan of Tom Pollock’s writing, and his ability to really put us into the heads of his characters is astonishing, and he does seem to enjoy putting them through the emotional wringer, cranking the tension up firmly to eleven from the off.

I bought Heartstream on the day of publication and finished it in a single sitting. Impossible to put down, the story is utterly absorbing and the characters beautifully drawn. You could easily see this as an episode of Black Mirror, with its near-future tech all too scarily plausible. The pack mentality of the internet, and the lengths people will go to from behind a keyboard is all too sharply displayed here, and at times makes for very uncomfortable reading.

Highly recommended.

Tom’s previous book, White Rabbit,Red Wolf is also well worth checking out, and his Skyscraper Throne trilogy is just superb.

I urge you to go read them all!

Heartstream by Tom Pollock is published by Walker YA.

The Possession – Michael Rutger


A group of explorers arrive in the remote town of Birchlake, Northern California, to investigate the appearance of mysterious stone walls.


A teenage girl has disappeared without a trace.


Soon it becomes clear that the two events may be connected in the most terrifying way. Because sometimes the walls we build end up closing us in .

Here we go – the second instalment of The Anomaly Files and our old chums are back. Nolan and the crew are up in Northern California investigating some rather mysterious stone walls for their YouTube channel, whilst Nolan’s ex, Kristy looks into the story of a missing girl.

Except Nolan kind of sort of didn’t tell the Scooby Gang that she’s there…

I loved the first book, The Anomaly (one of my books of 2018). It was a lot of fun as Nolan and the crew investigated weird goings-on in a mysterious cavern where lots of things went very very wrong.

The Possession is a slightly different beast – spookier (ooh, witches), more unsettling (you’ll never look at a stone wall in quite the same way, especially in a wood) but the gang’s banter is still fun even as unpleasant things unfold.

Small town weirdness. Odd characters. Great plot that’ll keep you turning the pages (with the light firmly on). Amused to see that Michael Rutger has graduated from ‘for fans of Dan Brown‘ on the cover of The Anomaly, to ‘for fans of Stephen King‘ here.

I’m happy to say that I’m a huge fan of Michael Rutger (and his alter-ego, Michael Marshall Smith), and would happily take one of his books over either Mr Brown or Mr King any day.

Highly recommended.

The Possession by Michael Rutger is published by Zaffre in July 2019. Many thanks to the publisher for an advance copy of the book via NetGalley to review.

David Mogo Godhunter – Suyi Davies Okingbowa


The gods have fallen to earth in their thousands, and chaos reigns.

Though broken and leaderless, the city endures.

David Mogo, demigod and godhunter, has one task: capture two of the most powerful gods in the city and deliver them to the wizard gangster Lukmon Ajala.

No problem, right?

David Mogo, Godhunter is billed on the back cover as “A Nigerian Harry Dresden”. This only goes a little way towards what we’ve got here though – whilst there are definite echoes of the Chicago wizard private eye, David Mogo is very much his own man, and we definitely ain’t in Chicago…

What we have here is Nigerian Godpunk – a genre that I must confess I didn’t know existed until reading this book, but one that I hope to see more of in the future. At one level it’s classic urban fantasy, but with a distinctly unique edge.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a fun read, set in a Lagos filled with fallen gods and godlings and wizards, peppered with interesting characters. The worldbuilding is great and the story whistles along at a great pace. I do love a good sense of place, and there’s plenty of that on show here. Okungbowa’s writing is punchy and sharp, with a rich vein of description which gives a great sense of place. There’s a fair bit of infodumping at points along the way, but it just adds to the atmosphere and the mythos.

One other thing I particularly enjoyed was Okungbowa’s use of language – David Mogo and Papa Udi’s conversations dialogue has a real, authentic feel to it, and though at times the dialect can be tricky to follow it’s all the stronger for it.

Finally, that cover! Oof. Huge kudos to Yoshi Yoshitani. Stunning.

David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa is published by Abaddon Books in July 2019. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to take part in the blog tour and the publisher for providing a copy of the book to review.

Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian writer of science fiction, contemporary and dark fantasy, and crime fiction. His work has appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Podcastle, The Dark, Mothership Zeta, Omenana, Ozy, Brick Moon Fiction; amongst other magazines and anthologies. He is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, and has worked in editorial at Podcastle and Sonora Review. He lives online on Facebook, tweets at @IAmSuyiDavies, and blogs at suyidavies. com.

Cold Desert Sky – Rod Reynolds

No one wanted to say it to me, that the girls were dead. But I knew.

Late 1946 and Charlie Yates and his wife Lizzie have returned to Los Angeles, trying to stay anonymous in the city of angels.

But when Yates, back in his old job at the Pacific Journal, becomes obsessed by the disappearance of two aspiring Hollywood starlets, Nancy Hill and Julie Desjardins, he finds it leads him right back to his worst fear: legendary Mob boss Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, a man he once crossed, and whose shadow he can’t shake.

As events move from LA to the burgeoning Palace of Sin in the desert, Las Vegas – where Siegel is preparing to open his new Hotel Casino, The Flamingo – Rod Reynolds once again shows his skill at evoking time and place. With Charlie caught between the FBI and the mob, can he possibly see who is playing who, and find out what really happened to the two girls?

Let’s just start by saying that I’m a huge fan of Rod Reynolds’ books and have been eagerly awaiting this, the third book featuring reporter Charlie Yates who we last saw in Black Night Falling. Charlie is now back in LA on the case of missing starlets Nancy Hill and Julie Desjardins. He’s obsessed with tracking down the two women, but quickly falls foul of his old nemesis Bugsy Siegel who gives him an ultimatum that he really can’t refuse.

Or can he?

Rod Reynolds proved with his first two books that he has a deft hand at conjuring up small-town Americana on the page. Here he turns that hand to the larger canvas of 40s Los Angeles and Las Vegas and again we’re sucked into the murky underworld of the mob. Reynolds has a real gift for place and atmosphere, and you almost feel that should you be dropped into Yates’ world, you could find your way around. Not that the California of Charlie Yates is somewhere you’d particularly want to be, not with someone as connected as Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel on the loose…

Cold Desert Sky has it all – a proper Noir feel, great characters and a splendid plot that draws us across the state line to Nevada and into the early days of Las Vegas, just starting on its way to becoming the neon-soaked casino city we know today.

Reynolds’ books just keep getting better and, and they were pretty darn good to start off with. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for poor old Charlie Yates next…

Hugely recommended.

Cold Desert Sky by Rod Reynolds is published by Faber & Faber.