Latest Reads: The Tethered Mage Melissa Caruso

Publication Date: 24th Oct from Orbit

Source: Review Copy

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army. 
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

Ooh good this one was. That was my attempt at Yoda again. I’m never any good at it but it’s always worth a try.

So The Tethered Mage is a political thriller. Kind of. I’m glad Theresa May doesn’t have access to falcons.

This book has magical mayhem and behind the scenes shenanigans, a brilliantly imagined world  and two girls bound to each other by fate and fury. Mostly on Zaira’s part the fury. Which is unfortunate as she possesses the ability to burn the world to the ground so a bit like the hulk you really don’t want to make her angry.

What I loved about this one was, well, all of it. Amalia is a beautifully drawn character, born into duty and expected to eventually do great things. Then she ends up becoming a Falconer  through sheer chance and is bound to Zaira, a fire warlock whose power is huge yet lacking in control. To say nobody is that happy about this would be an understatement but with Amalia’s calm intelligence and Zaira’s fast wit and street smarts (also hilarious bouts of sarcasm which keep you smiling) somehow they start building a relationship and trust. Very slowly. Considering there’s the strong possibility a war is about to start they might want to move that along a little…

Gosh I really don’t want to give anything away. The story is strongly character driven, but Melissa Caruso manages to make you see their world in vivid, colourful snapshots. The different empires (or wishful empires) the hierarchy and political landscape all built to perfection through the characters adventures. I loved all of them especially the wickedly dark Lord Ruthven, but what gave the book such huge heart were the relationships between the various people, some trying to start that war some trying to stop it – and especially the growing friendship between our two main protagonists.

The writing is sharp and often ironically funny, sometimes very powerful especially when all hell* (*translation: Zaira) is breaking loose and overall The Tethered Mage is a fantastically readable, incredibly addictive and intelligently plotted fantasy novel, the start of a series that I cannot WAIT to read more of – I loved it, complete and utter escapism of the very best kind. Roll on The Defiant Heir. Can I have it now please?

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: Last Will – William McIntyre

Publication Date: November 16th from Sandstone Press

Source: Review Copy

Blood is thicker than water – but it’s not as hard as cash. The trial of Robbie Munro’s life: one month to prove he’s fit to be a father. No problem. Apart, that is, from the small matter of a double-murder in which Robbie’s landlord, Jake Turpie, is implicated. Psycho-Jake demands Robbie’s undivided attention and is prepared to throw money at the defence – along with some decidedly dodgy evidence. 

Robbie has a choice: look after his daughter or look after his client. Can the two be combined to give the best of both worlds? Robbie aims to find out, and his attempts lead him into the alien worlds of high fashion, drug-dealing and civil-litigation. It’s what being a father/lawyer is all about. Isn’t it?

I’m a HUGE fan of this series based on the last couple I’ve read so I was excited enough when I received this prequel through the door to pick it up straight away. Then I read it fast because seriously, these characters are SO engaging you just want to go and live with them…

In Last Will we are finding out how Robbie’s daughter came to live with him – it is funny, intelligent and realistic on the parenting front – at the same time he is embroiled with Jake, a murder and dealing with people’s “help” creating some hilarious situational moments as well as some edge of the seat ones…

What I love about the Best Defence series is the dynamic, edgy and immersive writing, the vividly drawn and full of life characters and the deft plotting that incorporates family drama, legal drama and thriller to an absolutely addictive degree. I love Robbie’s family (especially his ex-footballer brother), his staff (it was great to see Joanne in retrospect knowing what was coming later) and the authors ability to write a totally non annoying and brilliantly authentic child character really puts the icing on the cake.

The mystery element is also excellent – Robbie’s path to the truth is hilariously twisted and keeps the reader guessing. The dialogue sparks, the personal relationships built between our main protagonist and the supporting cast is hugely compelling and overall I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

Loved it. Loved loved. When can I have more?

That is all.

 

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Latest Reads: Bluebird Bluebird Attica Locke

Publication Date: Available now from Serpents Tail

Source: Netgalley

Southern fables usually go the other way around. A white woman is killed or harmed in some way, real or imagined, and then, like the moon follows the sun, a black man ends up dead.

 

But when it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules – a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger working the backwoods towns of Highway 59, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about his home state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.

 

So when allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he is drawn to a case in the small town of Lark, where two dead bodies washed up in the bayou. First a black lawyer from Chicago and then, three days later, a local white woman, and it’s stirred up a hornet’s nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes – and save himself in the process – before Lark’s long-simmering racial fault lines erupt.

Bluebird Bluebird is a novel of true excellence,  in concept, execution, character and incredibly talented writing. It pulls you in from the very first page, tells truth however uncomfortable, leaves you thinking about it for a good few hours afterwards and is one of those books that defies definition.

The plot is complex, intelligent and disturbingly realistic – and described much better than I could do justice to in other reviews (this being my favourite) so I’ll stick to talking about the impact Bluebird Bluebird (taken from the John Lee Hooker song) had on me  –  that was one of quiet contemplation about the realities of life outside my little bubble of work, school runs, reading and an easy, fairly privileged upbringing.

I’m not sure I can get over how vastly emotional the descriptive, beautiful tone of this novel, telling a sad and unfortunately all too authentic story, makes you feel. Darren Matthews, black Texas ranger, facing a range of problems even aside from the causal racism, is a uniquely qualified character to drive the narrative – his experiences, determination, flaws, all form the heart of the story, which is both thriller and thought provoking drama within one vivid and genuine setting.

Attica Locke is an engaging, perceptive writer who immerses you into the world she is talking about with beautifully captivating prose, an unsettling sense of feeling and sparking dialogue – it is yes an entertaining read but also an educational one – oh how far we think we have come as humans but oh so far do we still have to go….

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: Now We Are Dead Stuart MacBride

Publication Date: 2nd November from Harper Collins

Source; Review Copy

From the No. 1 bestselling author of the Logan McRae series, comes a standalone spinoff featuring DS Roberta Steel
Sergeant Roberta Steel has recently been demoted after being caught fitting up a suspect. The trouble is, the man she got sent down has had his sentence quashed now he’s back on the streets. And women are being attacked again. But if DS Steel goes anywhere near him his lawyers will get her thrown off the force for good.

The Powers That Be won’t listen to her not after what happened last time. Besides, she’s got more than enough ongoing cases to keep her busy perhaps she should focus on solving them instead of harassing an innocent man?

But Steel knows he’s guilty and the longer he gets away with it, the more women will suffer. The question is: how much is she willing to sacrifice to stop him?

Is there a single detective anywhere created in fiction who could outdo  Roberta Steel? No is what I say – she is (subjectively) the single most entertaining and cleverly written police protagonist on the block. All the blocks. In my humble opinion anyway – therefore a book from the uber talented Mr MacBride focusing on her was probably the biggest book treat I’ve had this year.

I rocketed through this like a grasshopper on acid, immediately compelling, laugh out loud funny, the dialogue crackles, the plot is both exciting and incredibly immersive, there is actually not a single downside to reading this book. Unless you count eating too much chocolate and being incapable of coherent thought on any other subject until you have finished it. I don’t count that because for me that is what books are supposed to do. Even the lack (apart from a cameo) of one of my other favourite fictional detectives Logan McCrae didn’t put a dent in my enjoyment of this one.

Poor Roberta, she’s been demoted for planting evidence – something that anyone who read the novel where that happened can sympathise with. Still now she’s sorting out stolen goods, dealing with violent loan sharks and still determined to bring down her nemesis  – unfortunately she’s under the spotlight, in danger of losing her job entirely – yeah right, like that is going to stop her. Throw into the mix the incredibly lovable DC Stuart Quirrel, whose attempts to keep up with Roberta and keep her under control create some of the best moments in Now We Are Dead and boy you have a read and a half on your hands. I just loved it. Loved loved loved. And my gosh that last little bit had me quite literally on the edge of my seat – brilliant brilliant finale that I’ll never forget. Just the icing on the top of the most delicious bookish cake.

I have to give a nod to the beautiful little hardback too  – the author’s introduction is fantastic and the end papers provide some hilarious and beautiful drawings which I considered taking pictures of to show y’all but in the end decided that it was best unwrapped like the best looking Christmas gift ever – and I can’t believe I just said the C word considering my hatred of all things festive season – but honestly perfect present material.

All the positive, none of the negative, a banging good read that will engulf you in madness but it is the best madness ever. Bring it on.

Highly Recommended.

Stuart MacBride will be appearing at First Monday Crime November – unmissable. Book your free place HERE.

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Latest Reads: The Perfect Victim Corrie Jackson

Publication Date: 16th November from Bonnier Zaffre

Source: Review Copy

Charlie and Emily Swift are the Instagram-perfect couple: gorgeous, successful and in love. But then Charlie is named as the prime suspect in a gruesome murder and Emily’s world falls apart.

Desperate for answers, she turns to Charlie’s troubled best friend, London Herald journalist, Sophie Kent. Sophie knows police have the wrong man – she trusts Charlie with her life.

Then Charlie flees.

Sophie puts her reputation on the line to clear his name. But as she’s drawn deeper into Charlie and Emily’s unravelling marriage, she realises that there is nothing perfect about the Swifts.

As she begins to question Charlie’s innocence, something happens that blows the investigation – and their friendship – apart.

Now Sophie isn’t just fighting for justice, she’s fighting for her life.

Blimey I think Corrie Jackson may be the new queen of the twist in crime fiction, The Perfect Victim was pure drama and just when you thought you’d grasped the truth you got sent down another dastardly dark alley (figuratively and literally) and just ended up turned around some more. Excellent plotting. Huge brownie points for keeping me guessing for far longer than any other mystery novel this year so far.

I loved the first Sophie Kent book – it was absolute class as is the character – but in The Perfect Victim things are taken up a notch – that touch of glamour remains but through a glass darkly as Sophie struggles not just with her own demons but it seems everyone else’s as well. Her long term friend is suspected of murder, his wife is acting strangely, Sophie herself is trying to come to terms with many things and it is beautifully written HIGHLY addictive and genuinely unpredictable.

There are a lot of books that explore the dark facade beneath the most pitch perfect seeming relationships but I think this one does that better than many – Emily and Charlie seem like a dream couple but what goes on beneath the surface you would never guess. As Sophie struggles to adjust to a new reality, you feel every moment of it, the emotional depth Corrie Jackson brings to her characters is in the top tier of crime writing today and she is only on book 2 so I can’t even begin to imagine where we might end up next. No pressure or anything but I can’t wait for more.

As a fan of crime fiction and series crime fiction in particular I’m always looking for my next must read obsession. Well here is one right here. Hugely talented, I’d say this author is one to watch for the next few years.

Full of heart, darkly disturbing, thought provoking and honestly authentic.

Highly Recommended.

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Ones to Watch in 2018. Everless Sara Holland

Publication Date: January 2018 from Orchard Books

Source: Review Copy

In the land of Sempera, the rich control everything – even time. Ever since the age of alchemy and sorcery, hours, days and years have been extracted from blood and bound to iron coins. The rich live for centuries; the poor bleed themselves dry.

Jules and her father are behind on their rent and low on hours. To stop him from draining himself to clear their debts, Jules takes a job at Everless, the grand estate of the cruel Gerling family.

There, Jules encounters danger and temptation in the guise of the Gerling heir, Roan, who is soon to be married. But the web of secrets at Everless stretches beyond her desire, and the truths Jules must uncover will change her life for ever … and possibly the future of time itself.

So first post back after my rather more extended than  planned downtime belongs to Everless – a book I read in one big gulp of a sitting whilst downing maltesers at a rate of knots and hanging off every single word. Definitely one of my top reads of this year that will be released on the world in 2018 – watch out for this one, it has a knack of making time do funny things…

The blurb on my proof called it “an intoxicating new series” and I’m not sure I can put it better than that. Everless is entirely addictive, utterly beautifully written, magic, time, love, loss, it’s all in here and once you pick it up you don’t want to put it down.

Jules is a brilliantly formed character and the premise for this is wonderfully imaginative – think about how it would be to be poor if the only way to eat and keep a roof over your head was to give up months and years of your lifespan, with no guarantee of being able to earn it back. Then think how the rich/poor divide might work in that scenario- and throw in a heroine with sass, savvy and a secret even she doesn’t understand, a cast of eclectic and brilliantly layered support acts and an author that doesn’t bother with the A B C of young adult fantasy but just makes you think she’s doing that whilst the sands of time move relentlessly through that hourglass..

The world building was sublime, you’ll want to go and live at Everless despite the dangers – there is a hint of romance and a huge hit of atmospheric storytelling – alongside some twists and turns that make you take a breath, especially in relation to the character arc’s and that ending really.  I went DARN IT how can I wait to find out what happens next. Come to think of it how CAN I wait to find out what happens next? I’ll just sulk over here for a moment…

Anyway, genuinely this was a hugely favourite read for this year. An honest to God page turner done with both style and substance – it was, indeed, intoxicating.

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: White Bodies Jane Robins

Publication Date: 19th September (US – Touchstone) 28th December (UK -HQ)

Source: Netgalley (Touchstone)

Felix and Tilda seem like the perfect couple: young and in love, a financier and a beautiful up-and-coming starlet. But behind their flawless facade, not everything is as it seems. 

Callie, Tilda’s unassuming twin, has watched her sister visibly shrink under Felix’s domineering love. She has looked on silently as Tilda stopped working, nearly stopped eating, and turned into a neat freak, with mugs wrapped in Saran Wrap and suspicious syringes hidden in the bathroom trash. She knows about Felix’s uncontrollable rages, and has seen the bruises on the white skin of her sister’s arms. 

Worried about the psychological hold that Felix seems to have over Tilda, Callie joins an Internet support group for victims of abuse and their friends. However, things spiral out of control and she starts to doubt her own judgment when one of her new acquaintances is killed by an abusive man. And then suddenly Felix dies–or was he murdered? 

Memorable characters and a highly creepy feel to this. Admittedly the resolution was no surprise but that did not detract from the fact that this is beautifully written, explores mostly the relationship between 2 sisters who are both, frankly, all the weird and whether you want to call it a psychological thriller or not it is, for sure, an incredibly riveting character study.

It is indeed deeply disturbing, the voice that Jane Robins gives to Callie is taut, mesmerising and clear, she is a strange one but it’s possible her sister Tilda, shown to us only through Callie’s eyes, may be even stranger. Both of them are entirely fascinating, you look on in not some little awe as Tilda seemingly falls into an abusive relationship and Callie becomes more and more obsessed with that fact. This is a twisted plot indeed and nothing is more twisted in it than these two sisters – which isn’t to say you won’t fall in love with Callie because you probably will. There is such a beautiful vulnerability about her, even when she is doing the most absurd things, when her obsessive quality spills over as she becomes entangled in a web of deceit that may unravel her.

It is very difficult to review this one in a way that gets across just how indomitably clever it is – I’ve seen it called Strangers on a Train for a new generation – I guess in some ways that would be a good description. However “White Bodies” is so much more than mystery, so much more than the characters, it has that underlying emotional buzz to it that only comes along once in a while, it will make you feel odd and uneasy, like those times you think you see something out of the corner of your eye but when you turn there is nothing there.

The quality of the writing is superb, the storytelling is excellent, White Bodies as a whole is an entirely satisfying if extremely disconcerting read – I felt vaguely off kilter for hours after finishing it. The ending, external to the mystery resolution, is absolutely brilliantly placed and completely true to the rest of the narrative, no gimmicks here just a genuinely perturbing finish.

I loved every last moment of it. Every word, every chapter, from the moment I started until the moment I finished.

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: The Deaths of December Susi Holliday.

Publication Date: 16th November from Mulholland

Source: Review Copy

It looks like a regular advent calendar.

Until DC Becky Greene starts opening doors…and discovers a crime scene behind almost every one.

The police hope it’s a prank. Because if it isn’t, a murderer has just surfaced – someone who’s been killing for twenty years.

But why now? And why has he sent it to this police station?

As the country relaxes into festive cheer, Greene and DS Eddie Carmine must race against time to catch the killer. Because there are four doors left, and four murders will fill them…

It’s shaping up to be a deadly little Christmas.

I’m not sure how many sleeps it is until Christmas right now (no please don’t tell me!) but if you are already looking out for the perfect book gift to give this year and you prefer your festive season dark and dastardly, you probably can’t go wrong picking this one up and popping it into a few stockings. Keeping one for yourself of course…

The Deaths of December is a rocking good crime read, twisted and clever, personally I might sit and read it again on Christmas Eve when there will only be one more sleep….

A very different kind of advent calendar turns up, showing mini crime scenes – some of which are all too familiar to Eddie Carmine – together with Becky Greene he tries to untangle a killers’ pointed yet hidden message – and prevent more deaths at this oh so happy (???!!??) time of year.

I’ve always loved the characters that Susi Holliday portrays in her novels – they are very very real, could easily be your neighbour or your friend (even the killers!) which makes any reading of her novels a truly immersive experience. I hesitate to say that a Christmas book featuring a serial killer can be all the fun – but actually it WAS all the fun, a story I got all tangled up in until the final resolution which was perfectly formed.

As the countdown continues it gets ever more intense, there are also a lot of hidden layers here, it is like unwrapping a gift only to find another wrapped gift and so forth until you end up with a severed finger or something (yes my mind just goes there ) as things unwind and we find out what is behind that final door. So to speak.

Spoiler: It ain’t puppies, kittens, or the jolly fat man in red.

The writing as ever is excellent, the plot tightly woven and endlessly intriguing and this is absolutely my type of Christmas read – dispensing with the holly and the church bells and replacing them with bodies and bloodshed. Criminally good reading.

Highly Recommended.

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Latest Reads: Bonfire Krysten Ritter.

Publication Date: 9th November from Randomhouse UK (Hutchison)

Source: Netgalley

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands. 

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s economic heart, she begins to find strange connections to a decade-old scandal involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

But as Abby tries desperately to find out what happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret, her search threatens the reputations, and lives, of the community and risks exposing a darkness that may consume her.

I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed this intense and atmospheric tale from Krysten Ritter – whilst it is far from being the first “Girl escapes small town only later having to return and face her demons” tale I have read, it is definitely one of the ones of superior quality and storytelling – Abby as a character immediately engaged me and the well layered, twisted yet authentic plot just sealed the deal.

Big corporation v socially engaged lawyer is another type of story that I love to read – this is also the defining theme within “Bonfire” which the author uses to great effect – mixing up Abby’s past life with her present, making her see things with new eyes and eventually leading us to answers and a rather heart stopping conclusion. I liked that Abby was portrayed as strong, driven, yet haunted by her very realistic demons – there was no sense of safety within the story for her at all, no promises made that she would endure. The supporting cast are cleverly woven in, the socially relevant big corporation cover up is given a new little twist and ultimately this is a tale of redemption and understanding. Sometimes you know, you just can’t go home….

The small town setting is beautifully described, you can smell the “Bonfire” in the air, see the good and the bad and all the area’s in between – I want to describe it in some ways as “mean girls on acid” but that doesn’t really say what I mean, Krysten Ritter building her relationships between the people you meet in an intelligent and thought provoking way. The mystery elements are clever, you’ll love/hate/love Kaycee as remembered by Abby and the ups and downs between these two girls is one of the strengths here.

Very good indeed. Yes. I’m aware of course that the author is a well known and much admired actress – I have not watched any of her screen moments but I’m fairly sure that if she is as good an actress as she is writer I’d better go track them down. I might even do that  right now.

Recommended.  A brilliant read.

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Ones to Watch in 2018: This Is How It Ends. Eva Dolan.

Publication Date: 25th January 2018 from Raven

Source: Review Copy

This is how it begins.

With a near-empty building, the inhabitants forced out of their homes by property developers.

With two women: idealistic, impassioned blogger Ella and seasoned campaigner, Molly.

With a body hidden in a lift shaft.

But how will it end?

Well to be honest I’m not sure where to begin. I’m certainly sure that the end has left me with that melancholy, low key buzz of a feeling that all real readers will know when they’ve just finished a novel that will  linger in the senses and be the benchmark for future reads for a long long time to come.

Eva Dolan’s Zigic and Ferreira series is one of the best, most authentic police series out there but This Is How It Ends enters a whole new league of subtle brilliance that defies explanation in any kind of review – things to note though are the beautifully immersive writing, the insightful and deeply layered characters and the ability to recreate the world we are living in without need for filter or fuss. Socially relevant, entertaining yes but also utterly genuine and just getting you right in the heart.

This Is How It Ends is masterfully plotted – A party, a body and two friends who live in a world of protest and activism, suddenly faced with a moral dilemma – This is how it began…

I’m not telling you anymore about the detailed plot than that and I hope HOPE that not many reviewers coming after me do either. This is a masterclass of suspense and character study, peeling back layers of both the fact and the fiction of these two women, until you are left with how it ends. If you know almost anything else it won’t have the same impact – and it does have impact, trust me on that one. I was blown away by the ultimate resolution both emotionally and practically, all I could do was sit there and shake my head at the pure resonance of it (and give a small nod of approval to the clever way Eva Dolan had manipulated my head)

Look this is classically good writing right? There are a plethora of brilliant crime and thriller writers around, using language in many different ways to entertain us, but there a few, those very few that just have that depth of emotion, that literary twist to the way they do things, that thing in their storytelling that tells you they were born to do this – and this author is one of those. She’s been showing us for a while now, but with this novel, undoubtedly for this reader her best so far, she’s hit that sweet spot that starts defining a writing career.

Exquisitely understated prose that digs deep, two characters that you will live with, an utterly utterly riveting story with a final denouement that will leave you stunned, This Is How It Ends heads straight onto my favourites of all time list. No messing. Sometimes that’s just the way it is.

Read this. This is what it’s all about. Eva Dolan is the real deal.

Highly Recommended.

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