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.

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.

To tag or not to tag

There have been a number of discussions on Twitter and Facebook recently amongst the bookblogger community on the subject of tagging authors in reviews.

Recently Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, requested that she not be tagged in negative reviews of her work. Note that she didn’t ask people to stop writing bad reviews, only that they didn’t tag her if they did.

She’s faced a load of online abuse for this position, and there has been a ton of chatter about it online.

So, should you tag an author in a negative review of their book?

I’m firmly in the ‘no’ camp here.

Whilst I tend not to write up negative reviews in the first place – I’d rather spend my time shouting about books that I love – I completely reserve the right to write an honest review based on what I think of a book.

However, I wouldn’t go and shove that opinion under the author’s nose. Doing so wouldn’t achieve anything – the book is written and out in the world. The author can’t, and almost certainly wouldn’t change anything in that book. Also, it’s just rude. You wouldn’t walk up to someone in the street and go ‘hey, that shirt looks awful‘ to someone, would you?

This brings me to an interesting point. Would you tag an author in a positive, glowing review?

Why?

There are a few reasons why I would, and do.

If I’ve loved a book, I want to tell as many people as possible about it. I also want the author to know that I’ve loved it. It’s a little way of saying thanks for writing it.

I’m a firm believer in saying thanks. I had a spectacular bowl of ramen the other day and made a point of going back to the guys who made it to say how much I’d enjoyed it. They seemed genuinely thrilled that someone had taken a few moments to come and say hello.

But am I being presumptuous? Do the big-name authors really care what I think? I am but a humble book blogger. Why does my opinion matter to them? Chances are it doesn’t, but it might. And writing can be a lonely place, sharing your day with a keyboard and screen. I know that I’m thrilled when someone likes a blog post I’ve written, or retweets a review, or best of all, buys a book that I’ve raved about.

Or best of best of all, tells me when they’ve bought a book that I’ve raved about, then goes on to tell the author that they’ve loved their book.

That’s what it’s about, after all. The love of books, and the love of sharing our love of books.

Favourite books of the year so far

As we’re halfway through 2019(!!!), it seems like a good place to take stock of the books read so far this year.

Books read: 35
audiobooks: 2 (really not getting on with audiobooks – too easily distracted)
kindle: 10 (includes NetGalley. DO NOT LOOK AT MY NETGALLEY BACKLOG)
Hard copy: 23 (yay for physical books)

I’ve read a lot of great books so far this year. In no particular order, here are my favourites.

Red Snow – Will Dean

TWO BODIES

One suicide. One cold-blooded murder. Are they connected? And who’s really pulling the strings in the small Swedish town of Gavrik?

TWO COINS

Black Grimberg liquorice coins cover the murdered man’s eyes. The hashtag #Ferryman starts to trend as local people stock up on ammunition.

TWO WEEKS

Tuva Moodyson, deaf reporter at the local paper, has a fortnight to investigate the deaths before she starts her new job in the south. A blizzard moves in. Residents, already terrified, feel increasingly cut-off. Tuva must go deep inside the Grimberg factory to stop the killer before she leaves town for good. But who’s to say the Ferryman will let her go?

Red Snow was one of the first books I read this year. A welcome return for investigative journalist Tuva Moodyson in the small town of Gavrik. A suicide, a murder and a family-owned liquorice factory. Just how are they connected? Deeply creepy.

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

The Lost Man is a lovely slow burn of a mystery, leaving you with the dust of the Outback under your nails. Jane Harper has a wonderful ability to evoke the essence of a place and here she really shows off that skill to magnificent effect. You really feel the atmosphere here, the dust-soaked landscape, the incessant sun, the constant knife-edge balance between life and death.

And the death here is one of those properly splendid whodunnits. A man is found next to a remote grave, a circle etched into the sand as he’s struggled to follow the meagre shade whilst slowly dying of exposure and thirst.

Why is he here? Why is a seasoned, experienced farmer, who knows the Outback like the back of his hand, miles from the safety of his car? What has brought him to this place with none of the essential survival equipment that everyone carries by default in this unforgiving environment?


Inborn – Thomas Enger

When the high school in the small Norwegian village of Fredheim becomes a murder scene, the finger is soon pointed at seventeen-year-old Even. As the investigation closes in, social media is ablaze with accusations, rumours and even threats, and Even finds himself the subject of an online trial as well as being in the dock… for murder? Even pores over his memories of the months leading up to the crime, and it becomes clear that more than one villager was acting suspiciously… and secrets are simmering beneath the calm surface of this close-knit community. As events from the past play tag with the present, he’s forced to question everything he thought he knew. Was the death of his father in a car crash a decade earlier really accidental? Has his relationship stirred up something that someone is prepared to kill to protect? It seems that there may be no one that Even can trust. But can we trust him? A taut, moving and chilling thriller, Inborn examines the very nature of evil, and asks the questions: How well do we really know our families? How well do we know ourselves?

Huge fan of Mr Enger’s books, and Inborn is no exception. Wonderful characters, perfectly balanced plotting deftly played out over the multiple timelines.


Call Me Star Girl – Louise Beech

Tonight is the night for secrets…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

I read a lot of crime books. Some are good, some are great. This one falls firmly into the latter category. Call Me Star Girl is tautly written, cunningly plotted and twistier than a curly wurly.

Louise Beech has crafted a beautifully dark little tale in Call Me Star Girl, with a creeping sense of menace that leaves you wondering if you locked the doors. You might want to go and check. You never know who might be lurking outside.

Easily a contender for crime book of the year.

The Raven Tower – Ann Leckie

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

Very weird, very brilliant. Glorious worldbuilding. A story of gods and power and what people will do to gain the latter and the price they’re willing to pay to do so. But Ann Leckie does this with such a deft hand that you’re left marvelling at how it’s all constructed. The way she plays with character and language and structure reminded me not a little of the skilful hand of Claire North, and whilst they tell very different stories, they both show a similar joy at playing with expectations.

Lord of Secrets – Breanna Teintze

Magic is poison. Secrets are power. Death is . . . complicated.

Outlaw wizard Corcoran Gray has enough problems. He’s friendless, penniless and on the run from the tyrannical Mages’ Guild – and with the search for his imprisoned grandfather looking hopeless, his situation can’t get much worse.

So when a fugitive drops into his lap – literally – and gets them both arrested, it’s the last straw – until Gray realises that runaway slave Brix could be the key to his grandfather’s release. All he has to do is break out of prison, break into an ancient underground temple and avoid killing himself with his own magic in the process.

In theory, it’s simple enough. But as secrets unfold and loyalties shift, Gray discovers something with the power to change the nature of life and death itself.

Now Gray must find a way to protect the people he loves, but it could cost him everything, even his soul . . .

More wonderful fantasy here. A magic-related heist, some more brilliant wordbuilding, a nice magic system (though not for the magic wielders themselves). Great characters, Gray has a nice line in funny one-liners and the plot fairly rattles along. Definitely check this out.

The Furies – Katie Lowe

In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing, with no known cause of death. The novel opens with this image, as related to us by the narrator, Violet, looking back on the night it happened from the present day, before returning to relate the series of events leading up to the girl’s murder.

After an accident involving her Dad and sister, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town, which has an unpleasant history as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet quickly finds herself invited to become the fourth member of an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex – led by their charismatic art teacher, Annabel.

While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals – warning the girls off the topic, describing it as little more than mythology – the girls start to believe that magic is real, and that they can harness it. But when the body of a former member of the society – Robin’s best friend, with whom Violet shares an uncanny resemblance – is found dead on campus nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself. 

More magic here, though of the witchy variety. A tightly-drawn portrait of a private girls school with secret societies and a mysterious teacher. Oh, and a murder. Though the murdered girl went missing months ago…

Splendidly creepy, The Furies is a book which will keep you up long past the witching hour trying to get to the bottom of what happened at Elm Hollow Academy.

Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe

Sanda and Biran were siblings destined for greatness. Her: a dedicated soldier with the skills to save the universe. Him: a savvy politician with ambitions for changing the course of intergalactic war. 

However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda’s gunship gets blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later upon an empty enemy smartship who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system and everyone in it is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe.

Now, separated by space and time, Sanda and Biran will find a way to put things right.

Smart, slick sci-fi with brilliant characters and a cracking plot, Velocity Weapon is everything I love about science fiction. The worldbuilding is superb, spanning hundreds of years of political shenanigans and a planetbusting doomsday weapon wouldn’t be amiss in an Iain M. Banks novel.

It’s hard to say too much about Velocity Weapon without spoiling the plot, and it’s really something you need to go into without knowing too much. Suffice it to say that if you like your space opera played out on the grandest, galaxy-spanning stage, with some brilliantly diverse characters and a whip-smart plot, then this book is for you.

Loved it. Ten sentient AIs out of ten. Hugely recommended.

The July Girls – Phoebe Locke

Every year, on the same night in July, a woman is taken from the streets of London; snatched by a killer who moves through the city like a ghost. 

Another strong contender for crime book of the year, The July Girls is just brilliant. A fabulous twist on the serial killer trope, brilliant characters and fantastic writing.

Trust me. Just read it.

The Gameshouse – Claire North

Everyone has heard of the Gameshouse. But few know all its secrets…

It is the place where fortunes can be made and lost through chess, backgammon – every game under the sun.

But those whom fortune favors may be invited to compete in the higher league… a league where the games played are of politics and empires, of economics and kings. It is a league where Capture the Castle involves real castles, where hide and seek takes place on the scale of a continent.

Among those worthy of competing in the higher league, three unusually talented contestants play for the highest stakes of all…

Three interlocking short stories about the mysterious Gameshouse. Few know of it, fewer still are invited to play amongst the elite. From the opening in 17th century Venice where a young woman plays an unusual game of cards, to 1930s Thailand for a game of hide and seek across a whole country, to the epic, globe-trotting finale where the stakes are highest.

Originally three ebook novellas, The Gameshouse showcases Claire North’s prodigious writing talent. Dare you play the game?

The Neighbour – Fiona Cummins

FOR SALE: A lovely family home with good-sized garden and treehouse occupying a plot close to woodland. Perfect for kids, fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers . . .

And, it seems, the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer.

On a hot July day, Garrick and Olivia Lockwood and their two children move into 25 The Avenue looking for a fresh start. They arrive in the midst of a media frenzy: they’d heard about the local murders in the press, but Garrick was certain the killer would be caught and it would all be over in no time. Besides, they’d got the house at a steal and he was convinced he could flip it for a fortune.

The neighbours seemed to be the very picture of community spirit. But everyone has secrets, and the residents in The Avenue are no exception.

After six months on the case with no real leads, the most recent murder has turned DC Wildeve Stanton’s life upside down, and now she has her own motive for hunting down the killer – quickly.

Last on my list, but by no means least, Fiona Cummin’s superb The Neighbour. Delightfully creepy, another serial killer with a difference.

Told over the course of a few days over the long, hot, sticky summer of 2018, The Neighbour is wonderfully atmospheric, and not a little claustrophobic in places. The cast of neighbours on The Avenue are an intriguing bunch, and you’re never quite sure who to suspect, though you’ll end up questioning what you think about pretty much all of them along the way. I particularly liked DC Stanton, though Cummins does rather put her through the wringer in this one. I’d love to see more of her in future books.

Loved it from the first page to the last. Very highly recommended.

So, dear reader. There are my favourite books of the first half of 2019.

Have you read any of them? What have been your favourite books? I’d love to know!

One Way Out – A.A. Dhand

A bomb detonates in Bradford’s City Park.

When the alert sounds, DCI Harry Virdee has just enough time to get his son and his mother to safety before the bomb blows. But this is merely a stunt.

The worst is yet to come.

A new and aggressive nationalist group, the Patriots, have hidden a second device under one of the city’s mosques. In exchange for the safe release of those at Friday prayers, the Patriots want custody of the leaders of radical Islamist group Almukhtareen – the chosen ones.

The government does not negotiate with terrorists. Even when thousands of lives are at risk.

There is only one way out.

But Harry’s wife is in one of those mosques. Left with no choice, Harry must find the Almukhtareen, to offer the Patriots his own deal.

Because sometimes the only way to save lives, is to take them.

One Way Out is the fourth in A.A. Dhand’s Harry Virdee series of books, but my first introduction to the character. Set just down the road from me in Bradford, the story kicks of with a bomb alert in City Park and the pace doesn’t let up for a moment from that point on. Early books were billed as Luther meets The Wire and I think that’s pretty fair – Harry Virdee is a great character who takes a… creative approach to police work, even moreso when his wife is in danger!

I loved this book – great characters, superbly atmospheric with a real sense of place (something regular readers of this blog know that I find irresistible). And the plot is superbly taut, with the author ratchetting up the stakes and tension as we go. It’s not just the conflict between the terrorist demands and the police though, there’s also the very current and real danger between radical elements – here the so-called Patriots, and the equally radical Almukhtareen. Oh, and then there’s Harry’s parents, divided over their son’s marriage to his Muslim wife.

Faced with the choice of sacrificing four people to save a thousand, what would you do?

The plot is splendidly twisty – just when you think you’ve worked out what’s going on and what Harry is prepared to do, the author will flip the switch and send you off down another track, all the while hurtling towards a great final act.

It might be my first DCI Harry Virdee thriller, but it won’t be my last. Looking forward to picking up the rest of the series, and to what A. A. Dhand has in store for him next.

One Way Out by A.A. Dhand is published by Bantam Press in June 2019. Many thanks to Bantam Press and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

You can find A.A. Dhand on twitter @aadhand or his website www.aadhand.com

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind – Jackson Ford

Teagan Frost is having a hard time keeping it together. Sure, she’s got telekinetic powers — a skill that the government is all too happy to make use of, sending her on secret break-in missions that no ordinary human could carry out. But all she really wants to do is kick back, have a beer, and pretend she’s normal for once.

But then a body turns up at the site of her last job — murdered in a way that only someone like Teagan could have pulled off. She’s got 24 hours to clear her name – and it’s not just her life at stake. If she can’t unravel the conspiracy in time, her hometown of Los Angeles will be in the crosshairs of an underground battle that’s on the brink of exploding

Oh, this was a lot of fun.

Teagan Frost has PK – psychokinesis – meaning she can literally move sh*t with her mind. And she works for a shadowy government organisation who use her… particular skillset for their own nefarious purposes.

On second thoughts, throwing myself out of the window of a skyscraper may not have been the best idea.

We’re introduced to Teagan and her gang of government-sponsored misfits mid-job (and mid-air for two of them), and the action does not let up from that point onwards. The job goes sideways and a body turns up. A body that could only have been killed by someone with a… particular skillset. One which only Teagan possesses.

It’s not been the best of days, if she’s honest.

She and her crew have 24 hours to prove that she didn’t do it. Only the crew aren’t convinced it wasn’t her.

I loved Teagan’s snarkiness and her wise-ass internal commentary as her day goes from bad (falling out of a window, albeit sort-of-on-purpose) to worse (being accused of murder) to properly sh*t-hits-the-fan (no spoilers).

It’s a cracking book, with wall-to-wall action and shenanigans aplenty as Teagan and crew zoom around Los Angeles try ing to prove her innocence. There’s a great sense of place here too as we visit some of the less salubrious parts of the City of Angels.

Jackson Ford is a pseudonym, and I’d love to find out who the author *really* is!

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind by Jackson Ford is published by Orbit Books in June 2019. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun for the advance copy to review.

Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe

Sanda and Biran were siblings destined for greatness. Her: a dedicated soldier with the skills to save the universe. Him: a savvy politician with ambitions for changing the course of intergalactic war. 

However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda’s gunship gets blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later upon an empty enemy smartship who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system and everyone in it is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe.

Now, separated by space and time, Sanda and Biran will find a way to put things right. 

Smart, slick sci-fi with brilliant characters and a cracking plot, Velocity Weapon is everything I love about science fiction. The worldbuilding is superb, spanning hundreds of years of political shenanigans and a planetbusting doomsday weapon wouldn’t be amiss in an Iain M. Banks novel.

We’ve also got a super smart ship AI in the form of The Light of Berossus – who prefers to be called Bero, a brilliantly complex character who might just have a little more to him than meets the eye.

The action unfolds across multiple timelines – the ‘now’ of Sanda’s awakening on Bero playing out against the ‘then’ of Sanda’s brother Biran, 230 years earlier when the battle which ended up with Sanda in a survival pod for a couple of centuries. Then there’s a third timeline involving a heist on another world which feels rather disconnected from the main narrative, at least initially. But of course everything is connected…

It’s hard to say too much about Velocity Weapon without spoiling the plot, and it’s really something you need to go into without knowing too much. Suffice it to say that if you like your space opera played out on the grandest, galaxy-spanning stage, with some brilliantly diverse characters and a whip-smart plot, then this book is for you.

Loved it. Ten sentient AIs out of ten. Hugely recommended.

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe is published by Orbit Books. Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun for the advance copy to review.