Category Archives: Blog Tour

Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan

Harvill Secker | 2017 | 418p | Review copy | Buy the book

Watch Her Disappear by Eva DolanFinally, Corinne Sawyer is happy in herself. She looks the way she wants to look, she’s made the break from an unhappy past, and the future looks as if it will belong to her. And so, as she lies dying, murdered during her regular morning jog, her face pressed into muddy leaves, Corinne’s last thoughts are of regret for losing what she was never permitted to enjoy.

DI Zigic and DS Ferreira work for the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit and so can’t understand why they are called to the latest victim of a serial rapist who is terrorising the area. But Corinne is not quite what she first appears. Corinne was born Colin Sawyer and she is a prominent member of Peterborough’s trans community. There have been several recent attacks on trans women but nothing quite like this. Was Corinne attacked because she was a woman or because someone thought she wasn’t? But, whichever it is, the murder represents an escalation of violence that captures the imagination of the media and the public, and causes all sorts of problems for Mel Ferreira and Ziggy.

Watch Her Disappear is the fourth novel in Eva Dolan’s superb Zigic and Ferreira series. This really is a standout series not least because it tackles serious issues. Eva Dolan clearly cares a great deal about people who have found themselves marginalised. These books place them at the centre of our attention and more often than not it’s a troubling tale that ends in murder.

The Hate Crimes Unit is itself under threat in Watch Her Disappear. Ziggi and Mel feel a need to prove its worth to their superiors but sometimes Mel in particular is her own worst enemy. She gets too close and makes it personal. But Mel’s empathy and anger is also her strength. Ziggy is quieter and more centred – his private life is very different to Mel’s – but he lets nothing get in the way of his pursuit of justice, not even a crying baby keeping him up at all hours of the night. How I love these two! They are so different from each other but they work perfectly together. I love spending time with them. And in Watch Her Disappear, I think we see them at their very best.

Watch Her Disappear tells such a strong story and its characters are marvellous. Corinne’s family life is extraordinarily complicated and Eva Dolan untangles it with so much care. Her wife and children are wrapped up in the most difficult conflicting feelings. Corinne – and Colin – is almost lost in the mess. It’s up to Ziggy and Mel to unravel the truth but none of it is easy. But throughout we want to learn about Corinne. She demands to be brought back to life.

The novel has such breadth to it. The investigation is so fascinating but this is broadened out to cover the whole trans community and it is a compelling picture, full of colourful personalities and, by contrast, withdrawn and secretive individuals. It’s clear that the community is under attack, but so too is society as a whole, and there is more than one crime for Ziggy and Mel to solve.

Eva Dolan is a fine writer. She knows full well how to plot a satisfying and involving mystery but she is also brilliant at creating characters we care about or, if needs be, despise. I don’t know Peterborough at all but I do enjoy it as a setting – it’s certainly out of the way of many other crime series. These books now go straight to the top of my TBR pile and Watch Her Disappear, which is quite possibly the best, demonstrates why better than ever.

Other reviews
Tell No Tales
After You Die

I’m delighted to post this as part of the Blog Tour. Please look below for other stops on the tour.

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Blog Tour: Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent – the opening chapter

lying-in-wait-pbLying in Wait by Liz Nugent was one of the best psychological thrillers I read last year, perhaps no surprise considering how superb its predecessor, Unravelling Oliver, was. One of the attractions of Lying in Wait that was most commented upon at the time of its first release in the summer was the hook of its opening lines. This is a book that grabs you by the neck and insists you read it. Penguin is celebrating the paperback’s publication at the end of 2016 with a Blog Tour throughout January. I am so pleased to be a part of it and I have the perfect post for it – that wonderful, attention-grabbing opening chapter. Put your feet up, pour a glass or cup of something lovely and journey into the lives of Lydia, Andrew and their son Laurence – if you dare.

My review of Lying in Wait
Buy the paperback

Part 1
1980

1. Lydia

My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it. After we had overcome the initial shock, I tried to stop him speaking of her. I did not allow it unless to confirm alibis or to discuss covering up any possible evidence. It upset him too much and I thought it best to move on as if nothing had happened. Even though we did not talk about it, I couldn’t help going over the events of the night in my mind, each time wishing that some aspect, some detail, could be different, but facts are facts and we must get used to them.

It was the 14th of November 1980. It had all been arranged. Not her death, just the meeting to see if she was genuine, and if not, to get our money back. I walked the strand for twenty minutes to ensure that there was nobody around, but I needn’t have worried. The beach was deserted on that particularly bitter night. When I was satisfied that I was alone, I went to the bench and waited. A cruel wind rushed in with the waves and I pulled my cashmere coat around me and turned up the collar. Andrew arrived promptly and parked not far from where I was seated, as instructed. I watched from thirty yards away. I had told him to confront her. And I wanted to see her for myself, to assess her suitability. They were supposed to get out of the car and walk past me. But they didn’t. After waiting ten minutes, I got up and walked towards the car, wondering what was taking so long. As I got closer, I could hear raised voices. And then I saw them fighting. The passenger door swung open and she tried to get out. But he pulled her back towards him. I could see his hands around her throat. I watched her struggle, mesmerized momentarily, wondering if I could be imagining things, and then I came back to myself, snapped out of my confusion and ran to the car.

‘Stop! Andrew! What are you doing?’ My voice was shrill to my own ears, and her eyes swivelled towards me in shock and terror before they rolled back upwards into her head.

He released her immediately and she fell backwards, gurgling. She was almost but not quite dead, so I grabbed the crook lock from the footwell at her feet and smashed it down on to her skull, just once. There was blood and a little twitching and then absolute stillness.

I’m not sure why I did that. Instinct?

She looked younger than her twenty-two years. I could see past the lurid make‑up, the dyed black hair, almost navy. There was a jagged white scar running from a deformed top lip to the septum of her nose. I wondered that Andrew had never thought to mention that. Her jacket had been pulled off one arm during the struggle and I saw bloodied scabs in the crook of her elbow. There was a sarcastic expression on her face, a smirk that death could not erase. I like to think I did the girl a kindness, like putting an injured bird out of its misery. She did not deserve such consideration.

Andrew has always had a short fuse, blowing up at small, insignificant things and then, almost immediately, remorseful and calm. This time, however, he was hysterical, crying and screaming fit to wake the dead.

‘Oh Christ! Oh Jesus!’ he kept saying, as if the Son of God could fix anything. ‘What have we done?’

‘We?’ I was aghast. ‘You killed her!’

‘She laughed at me! You were right about her. She said I was an easy touch. That she’d go to the press. She was going to blackmail me. I lost my temper. But you . . . you finished it, she might have been all right . . .’

‘Don’t even . . . don’t say that, you fool, you idiot!’

His face was wretched, tormented. I felt sympathy for him. I told him to pull himself together. We needed to get home before Laurence. I ordered him to help me get the body into the boot. Through his tears, he carried out my instructions. Infuriatingly, his golf clubs were in there, unused for the last year, taking up most of the space, but luckily the corpse was as slight and slim as I had suspected, and still flexible, so we managed to stuff her in.

‘What are we going to do with her?’

‘I don’t know. We have to calm down. We’ll figure it out tomorrow. We need to go home now. What do you know about her? Does she have family? Who will be looking for her?’

‘I don’t know . . . she . . . I think she might have mentioned a sister?’

‘Right now, nobody knows she is dead. Nobody knows she is missing. We need to keep it like that.’

When we got home to Avalon at quarter past midnight, I could see by the shadow from his window that the bedside light was on in Laurence’s bedroom. I had really wanted to be there when he got home, to hear how his evening had been. I told Andrew to pour us a brandy while I went to check on our son. He was sprawled across the bed and didn’t stir when I ruffled his hair and kissed his forehead. ‘Goodnight, Laurence,’ I whispered, but he was fast asleep. I turned out his lamp, closed his bedroom door and went to the bathroom cabinet for a Valium before I went downstairs. I needed to be calm.

Andrew was trembling all over. ‘Jesus, Lydia, we’re in serious trouble. Maybe we should call the guards.’

I topped up his glass and drained the bottle into my own. He was in shock.

‘And ruin Laurence’s life for ever? Tomorrow is a new day. We’ll deal with it then, but we must remember Laurence, whatever happens. He mustn’t know anything.’

‘Laurence? What has it to do with him? What about Annie? Oh God, we killed her, we murdered her. We’re going to prison.’

I was not going to prison. Who would look after Laurence? I stroked Andrew’s arm in an effort to comfort him. ‘We will figure it out tomorrow. Nobody saw us. Nobody can connect us with the girl. She would have been too ashamed to tell anyone what she was up to. We just have to figure out where to put her body.’

‘You’re sure nobody saw us?’

‘There wasn’t a soul on the strand. I walked the length of it to make sure. Go to bed, love. Things will be better tomorrow.’

He looked at me as if I were insane.

I stared him down. ‘I’m not the one who strangled her.’

Tears poured from his cheeks. ‘But maybe if you hadn’t hit her . . .’

‘What? She would have died more slowly? Or been permanently brain-damaged?’

‘We could have said that we’d found her like that!’

‘Do you want to drive back there now and dump her, ring an ambulance from the phone box and explain what you are doing there on the strand at one o’clock in the morning?’

He looked into the bottom of his glass.

‘But what are we going to do?’

‘Go to bed.’

As we ascended the stairs, I heard the whirr of the washing machine. I wondered why Laurence had decided to do laundry on a Friday night. It was most unlike him. But it reminded me that my clothes and Andrew’s really needed to be washed too. We both stripped and I set aside the pile of laundry for the morning. I washed the sand off our shoes and swept the floors we had passed over. I deposited the sand from the dustpan in the back garden, on the raised patch of lawn beyond the kitchen window. I studied the ground for a moment. I had always thought of having a flower bed planted there.

When I slipped into bed later, I put my arms around Andrew’s trembling form, and he turned to me and we made love, clawing at and clinging to each other like survivors of a terrible calamity.

Andrew had been a very good husband until just a year previously. For twenty-one years, our marriage had been solid. Daddy had been very impressed with him. On his deathbed, Daddy had said he was relieved to be leaving me in good hands. Andrew had been Daddy’s apprentice in Hyland & Goldblatt. He had taken Andrew under his wing and made him his protégé. One day, when I was about twenty-six, Daddy had telephoned me at home and told me that we were having a special guest for dinner and that I should cook something nice and get my hair done. ‘No lipstick,’ he said. Daddy had a thing about make‑up. ‘I can’t stand those painted trollops!’ he would say about American film stars. Daddy’s views could be extreme. ‘You are my beautiful daughter. No point in gilding a lily.’

I was curious about this visitor and why I should dress up for him. I should have guessed, of course, that Daddy was intent on matchmaking. He needn’t have worried. Andrew adored me right away. He went to enormous lengths to charm me. He said that he would do anything for me. ‘I can’t stop looking at you,’ he said. And indeed, his eyes followed me everywhere. He always called me his prize, his precious jewel. I loved him too. My father always knew what was best for me.

Our courtship was short and very sweet. Andrew came from a good family. His late father had been a consultant paediatrician, and though I found his mother a little contrary, she raised no objections to our relationship. After all, when Andrew married me, he would get Avalon too – a six-bedroom detached Georgian house on an acre of land in Cabinteely, south County Dublin. Andrew wanted us to get a house of our own when we got married, but Daddy put his foot down. ‘You’ll move in here. This is Lydia’s home. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.’

So Andrew moved in with us, and Daddy gave up the master bedroom and moved to the large bedroom on the other side of the corridor. Andrew grumbled a little to me. ‘But, darling, don’t you see how awkward it is? I’m living with my boss!’ And I admit that Daddy did order Andrew around quite a lot, but Andrew got used to it quickly. I think he knew how lucky he was.

Andrew did not mind that I did not want to host parties or socialize with other couples. He said he was quite happy to keep me to himself. He was kind and generous and considerate. He usually backed away from confrontation, so we did not have many arguments. In a heated moment, he might kick or throw inanimate objects, but I think everyone does that from time to time. And he was always terribly contrite afterwards.

Andrew worked his way up through the ranks until finally all his time on the golf course paid off and three years ago he was appointed as a judge in the Criminal Courts. He was a respected member of society. People listened to him when he spoke, and quoted him in the newspapers. He was widely regarded as having the voice of reason on matters legal and judicial.

But last year, Paddy Carey, his old pal, accountant and golfing partner, had left the country with our money. I thought that, at the very least, Andrew would be careful with our finances. That was the husband’s job, to be a provider and to look after the economic well-being of the household. But he had trusted Paddy Carey with everything and Paddy had fooled us all. We were left with nothing but debts and liabilities, and Andrew’s generous salary barely covered our expenditure.

Had I married badly after all? My role was to be presentable, beautiful, charming – a homemaker, a companion, a good cook, lover and a mother. A mother.

Andrew suggested selling some land to developers to raise capital. I was horrified at the suggestion. Nobody of our status would do such a thing. I had spent my whole life in Avalon. My father had inherited it from his father, and it was the house in which I was born. And the house in which my sister died. I was not going to compromise on selling any part of Avalon. Nor was I going to compromise on the money we needed to pay the girl.

But we had to take Laurence out of the hideously expensive Carmichael Abbey and send him to St Martin’s instead. It broke my heart. I knew he was unhappy there. I knew he was victimized because of his class and accent, but the money simply wasn’t there. Andrew quietly sold some of the family silver to pay our debts, and we kept the wolf at bay. He could not risk being declared bankrupt, as he would have been forced to resign from the bench. We had never lived extravagantly, but the few luxuries that were normal to us began to disappear. He gave up his golf club membership but insisted that he could still pay my store account at Switzers and Brown Thomas. He always hated to disappoint me.

But now, this? A dead girl in the boot of the car in the garage. I was sorry she was dead, but I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t or couldn’t have strangled her myself under the circumstances. We just wanted our money back. I couldn’t stop thinking about the scars on the girl’s inner arm. I had seen a documentary about heroin addicts on the BBC, and reports of a heroin epidemic were in our newspapers. It seemed obvious that she had injected our money into her bloodstream, as if our needs and wants hadn’t mattered.

As Andrew slept fitfully, whimpering and crying out occasionally, I made plans.

The next morning, a Saturday, Laurence slept late. I warned Andrew to say as little as possible. He readily agreed. He was hollow-eyed, and there was a tremor in his voice that never quite went away after that night. He and Laurence had always had a fraught relationship, so they were not inclined to be conversational. I planned to get Laurence out of the house for the day, send him into town on some errand or other while Andrew buried the girl in our garden. Andrew was shocked that we would bury her here, but I made him see that, this way, she could not be discovered. We were in control of our own property. Nobody had access without our permission. Our large rear garden was not overlooked. I knew exactly the spot where she could be buried. In my childhood there had been an ornamental pond under the plane tree beyond the kitchen window, but Daddy had filled it in after my sister’s death. Its stone borders, which had lain under the soil for almost forty years, were conveniently grave-like.

After Andrew had buried the body, he could clean out and hoover the car until there would be no trace of fibres or fingerprints. I was determined to take all precautions. Andrew knew from his job the kind of thing that could incriminate a person. Nobody had seen us on the strand, but one can never be too sure of anything.

************

When Laurence arrived at the breakfast table, he had a noticeable limp. I tried to be cheerful. ‘So how are you today, sweetie?’ Andrew stayed behind his Irish Times, but I could see his knuckles gripped it tightly to stop it from shaking.

‘My ankle hurts. I tripped going upstairs last night.’

I examined his ankle quickly. It was very swollen and probably sprained. This scuppered my plans to send him into town. But I could still contain my boy, confine him to quarters so to speak. I strapped his ankle and instructed him to stay on the sofa all day. That way, I could keep an eye on him, keep him away from the rear of the house where the burial was to take place. Laurence was not an active boy, so lying on the sofa watching television all day and having food delivered to him on a tray was no hardship to him at all.

As dusk fell, when everything had been done, Andrew lit a bonfire. I don’t know what he was burning, but I had impressed upon him the need to get rid of all evidence. ‘Think of it as one of your court cases – what kind of things betray the lie? Be thorough!’ To give him his due, he was thorough.

However, Laurence is a smart boy. He is intuitive, like me, and he noted his father’s dark mood. Andrew was snappy about wanting to see the television news, terrified, I suppose, that the girl would feature. She did not. He claimed he had the flu and went to bed early. When I went upstairs later, he was throwing things into a suitcase.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I can’t bear it. I have to get away.’

‘Where? Where are you going to go? We can’t change anything now. It’s too late.’

He turned on me then for the first time, spitting with anger.

‘It’s all your fault! I’d never have met her if it wasn’t for you. I should never have started this. It was a crazy idea to begin with, but you wouldn’t stop, you were obsessed! You put too much pressure on me. I’m not the type of man to . . .’ He trailed off because he was exactly the type of man to strangle a girl, as it happens. He just didn’t know it until now. Also, my plan had been perfect. He was the one who ruined it.

‘I told you to pick a healthy girl. Didn’t you see the marks on her arms? She was a heroin addict. Don’t you remember that documentary? You must have noticed her arms.’

He broke down into sobs and collapsed on the bed, and I cradled his head to muffle the sound. Laurence mustn’t hear. When the heaving of his shoulders had subsided, I upended the contents of the suitcase and put it back on top of the wardrobe.

‘Put your things away. We are not going anywhere. We will carry on as normal. This is our home and we are a family. Laurence, you and I.’

********************************
For other stops on the Blog Tour, do take a look at the poster below.

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The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Raven Books | 2017 (12 January) | 304p | Review copy | Buy the book

The River at Night by Erica FerencikWin Allen is struggling. After the death of her brother and an unhappy divorce, she wants to keep the world firmly locked outside. She sees danger everywhere and her fear and sadness are almost crippling. But when her old friend Pia proposes a white-water rafting adventure in the Maine wilderness, Win is torn. An adventure, particularly THIS type of adventure, is the last thing she wants but this is a chance to re-bond with Pia and their two dear friends, Rachel and Sandra. Time has flown since they last met up and so much has happened to each of them in the interim. Win can’t help but think that if she doesn’t go she’ll regret it for the rest of her life. She’s wrong about that.

And so begins an adventure of a lifetime for Win, Pia, Rachel and Sandra. A time to chat around campfires and put their worlds to rights, to try something new, maybe flirt a little with their young handsome guide Rory, all within this most stunning Maine scenery. None of them could have imagined it would be so beautifully remote, so far away from the cares of daily life. So far from help.

The River at Night is one of those novels that hooks its claws into you almost immediately. It’s not a long novel, at about 300 pages, and so I would recommend that you try to read it in as few a sittings as possible. I read it in two over twenty-four hours and this really intensified its mood and atmosphere, immersing me not only in the wonderful descriptions of the wilderness and the river but also in the horror and terror of it all. The two complement each other perfectly, with Erica Ferencik doing such a fine job of creating the perfect setting for danger and menace and then fulfilling that promise completely.

The novel brings together a range of styles – travel, adventure, buddies, crime, thriller and horror – and it’s a recipe that works very well. Win narrates the story and seeing its developments through her eyes adds so much to the mood. She is an intriguing character – flawed, timid, scared, suspicious – and that’s even before they set foot on the boat. But Win is capable of surprising herself and us. We also learn about the other characters through Win and it’s like peeling an onion of its layers of skin. Sandra, in particular, is fascinating. There are surprises through the book and some take the breath away, they are so unexpected.

It’s clear from the outset that something is going to go badly wrong and the tension builds page by page. I did not want to put it down. As much horror as thriller, this tense, fast and very well-written novel has put me off camping and rivers for a long, long time!

I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of The River at Night on 12 January.

River at Night blog tour poster

Guest post: The background for the Bernicia Chronicles by Matthew Harffy

To celebrate the publication by Aria earlier this month of Blood and Blade, the third novel in the Bernicia Chronicles, I’m delighted to host a guest post by its author Matthew Harffy. In it, Matthew presents his thoughts on the term ‘Dark Ages’ and discusses the background to the Chronicles, which are set during a fascinating yet enigmatic period of British history, a period that sets challenges all of its own to historical authors.

My reviews of The Serpent Sword and Blood and Blade

Blood and Blade by Matthew HarffyThe background for The Bernicia Chronicles – Where does the history come from?

People often ask me if it is difficult to write about a period that is often referred to as the Dark Ages. They ask about the sources I use and how I can know what it was like and what happened. The short answer is, I can’t know. Nobody can really know what it was like to live in seventh century Britain. But, we can guess and we can make informed judgements.

Most, if not all, historians and academics of the post-Roman period of British history deplore the term “Dark Ages”, feeling that it somehow denigrates the amazing feats of craftsmanship, art and learning of the time. But I think the term is right for many reasons. First, of course, it really would have been dark. Houses and halls were lit by a central hearth and maybe some rush lights or oil lamps. Candles were expensive and rare, and apart from the richest in society, the setting of the sun probably signalled bedtime.

The second reason I feel that the term is accurate is that there are very few first-hand written accounts from the period. The Germanic tribes that settled in Britain after the Romans left were not a literate people. They had written language, runes, and created great sagas, poems and riddles, but they rarely wrote these things down. Most of the Old English texts that have survived, such as Beowulf, were written centuries after the seventh century.

The third reason for the term, I think, is that archaeology from the time is so hard to come by. Of course, in such a densely populated island as Great Britain, there are many finds; especially of burials, which is where we obtain much of our knowledge of the people of the era. But the Anglo-Saxons built their houses in wood, and timber doesn’t last long when unattended in the British climate, so there are no buildings left for us to walk around, no crumbling castles, mosaic floors or huge walls to marvel at. We must rely on aerial photos and LIDAR data giving away the location of great royal halls, and then piece together what they may once have looked like.

The Serpent Sword by Matthew HarffyAgainst this backdrop of what I think of as Dark Age Britain, you could be forgiven for believing that putting together a story that is gripping and also factually accurate is nigh impossible. But what some see as a hindrance, I see as a blessing. The period gives me great freedom to craft plots without being constrained in the same way that I would be if I wrote about a later time when there were newspapers, written diaries and an almost infinite number of primary sources.

I have bookshelves full of history books about the Anglo-Saxons, their clothing, their weapons, their politics, their kings, and all manner of other subjects, but the two books I return to over and over are The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Bede’s History of the English Church and People. I read the events described within these tomes and try to find something that sparks my attention. For The Serpent Sword it was a mention of the year following the death of King Edwin. Bede described the year as “looked upon by all people as despicable and shameful”. He goes on to talk about the savagery of Cadwallon’s harrowing of Northumbria. I thought this would make the perfect backdrop for my hero’s story. In The Cross and the Curse, it was the battle of Heavenfield and the coming of the first Christian bishop from Iona that caught my eye. In Blood and Blade, the story of the protagonist, Beobrand, is told around two historical events – the marriage of Oswald to the daughter of King Cynegils of Wessex and the siege of Din Eidyn (Edinburgh).

The Cross and the CurseAs soon as I have the idea for the historical events, I read up as much as I can about them and then go about weaving a page-turning plot around them. I map out the novel as best I can, with the limited information available, and then I get writing, focusing much more on the story, than the history. I rely on my prior reading and immersion in the period for the day-to-day details, and I also do further research to fill in any gaps after completing the first draft.

Another area of research that really helps to bring the period to life is that of living history, or practical archaeology, as carried out by groups such as Wulfheodenas and Regia Anglorum. There is so much that has been learnt by these extremely dedicated and knowledgeable people who some might see as just wanting to dress up in chain mail and hit each other! But there is so much more to what they do than the battle re-enactments (though I am sure it is the fighting that attracts most spectators, and possibly most people to join the groups). They recreate all of the tools, clothing, armour and weaponry using only resources that were available to our Anglo-Saxon forebears. Regia Anglorum has even built a full-size hall at a site they own, called Wychurst. Talking to people who have helped forge tools and build halls, men and women who have worn kirtles, breeches and byrnies and stood in a shieldwall on a rainy Saturday afternoon, people who have not only read about these things, but actually lived them, is a wonderful way to get what all historical fiction writers strive for – authenticity.

Ultimately, I cannot know whether the stories I write have any bearing on what really happened. In fact, I would be very surprised if events were anything like I portray them in the Bernicia Chronicles. But I am not trying to explain Dark Age Britain’s history, I am seeking to entertain. All I want to do is to tell a good tale against a backdrop of a credible seventh century. What I am aiming for is that when a reader finishes one of my books, they feel they have seen into a lost world. Did it happen that way? Was it like that? Almost certainly not, but I hope readers go away thinking that it might have been.

Matthew HarffyAuthor info:
Matthew Harffy is the author of the Bernicia Chronicles, a series of novels set in seventh century Britain. The first of the series, The Serpent Sword, was published by Aria/Head of Zeus on 1st June 2016. The sequel, The Cross and The Curse was released on 1st August 2016. Book three, Blood and Blade, was released on 1st December 2016.

Book info and links:
The Serpent Sword, The Cross and the Curse and Blood and Blade are available on Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, and all good online bookstores. Killer of Kings and Kin of Cain are also available for pre-order.

Contact links
Website: www.matthewharffy.com
Twitter: @MatthewHarffy
Facebook: MatthewHarffyAuthor

For other stops on the blog tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Blood and Blade blog tour poster

Wings of the Storm by Giles Kristian

Bantam Press | 2016 (1 December) | 309p | Review copy | Buy the book

Wings of the Storm by Giles KristianWings of the Storm concludes, in a magnificent hardback, Giles Kristian’s mighty Viking Saga that chronicles Sigurd Haraldarson’s rise to glory in the later years of the 8th century. Before you step any further, do be aware that you need to have read God of Vengeance and Winter’s Fire first. This review, which, I’m honoured to say, opens the Wings of the Storm blog tour on publication day, assumes that you have so please tread carefully.

The fame of Sigurd is growing. Warriors, both male and female, have been drawn to his flame, attracted by the promise of arm rings, wealth and a noble hero’s death, iron weapon in hand. But Sigurd’s relentless mission, to confront the oath-breaker King Gorm, the betrayer of his people, killer of his family, has stalled. Sigurd and his warriors have become too useful to Alrik who needs them to defend his stolen hillfort from his great enemy, the jarl Guthrum. The rewards of success are high – boxes of iron and silver, even pieces of gold – but the price of failure is one Sigurd is not used to paying. But Guthrum is powerful, no easy man to beat, nor are his men, and Sigurd finds himself a captive, intended to be sacrificed to the gods in the sacred temple at Ubsala. But, as Sigurd regularly reminds Guthrum, Sigurd is Odin-favoured and the fate of us all lies within the gift of the gods.

Giles Kristian has Viking blood flowing through his veins and every page of this novel, and the trilogy, is enriched by the author’s inherent empathy for and understanding of the period that he so vividly and colourfully evokes. This is a saga set during a time and place that fascinate but can also seem remote and unknowable. Giles Kristian throws all of the shadows to one side and rewards us with an epic vision of heroism, war, vengeance, blood, warships, snowy mountains and thick forest, gods and feasting, that seems both real and a glorious dream. The characters are larger than life, literally at times, and yet, despite their objectives and their methods of attaining them, they are still recognisable human beings who have flaws, can suffer, can inflict great pain, and can die, every one of them. Sigurd’s trust and confidence in his gods seems unwavering but even Sigurd has his moments of doubt, particularly when a sword or axe is held at his throat.

Other much loved characters return with Sigurd, notably Floki, Olaf and Valgerd, but there are more added to their number and not all of them are who we’d expect. As Sigurd’s fame spreads so too does his appeal as leader. Sigurd might not yet be a jarl but he is close. The parallel story of Sigurd’s sister, Runa, also continues in Wings of the Storm, adding a tantalising glimpse of another part of this world, an island-bound community of warrior women.

Sigurd’s destiny shapes this novel and it is so satisfying to see the trilogy draw to its magnificent and breathtaking close. War, battle, blood pulses through the last exhilarating and traumatic third of the book and to call it intense is an understatement. There’s plenty of gore and violence but there’s also high emotion and these Vikings brought me to the edge of my seat.

The end of such a wonderful trilogy can be saddening as well as satisfying but Giles Kristian has given us a silver lining – the sensational Raven trilogy, which continues the saga of Sigurd, the favourite of the gods.

Other reviews
The Terror: a short story
God of Vengeance (Rise of Sigurd 1)
Winter’s Fire (Rise of Sigurd 2)
Raven: Blood Eye; Raven: Sons of Thunder; Raven: Odin’s Wolves
The Bleeding Land
Brothers’ Fury
With Wilbur Smith – Golden Lion

Find Giles Kristian online
Twitter: @gileskristian
Facebook: GilesKristian

I am so proud and chuffed to open the blog tour with this review. For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

gkblogtour

Living among the extraordinary maiko of Kyoto, Japan – Guest post by Lesley Downer, author of The Shogun’s Queen

The Shogun's Queen by Lesley DownerThis week, Bantam Press publishes Lesley Downer’s new novel The Shogun’s Queen. This attractive novel, set during the middle years of the 19th century, tells of the transformation of the young and beautiful Okatsu from being an independent and free-sprited member of a samurai people, the Satsuma Clan, to becoming Princess Atsu, concubine and consort to the shogun himself. The Shogun’s Queen is both a romance and an adventure as Atsu’s changing fortunes are played out against a backdrop of Japanese politics, piracy, warfare and secrets. And Atsu is destined to play a role at the heart of it.

I’m delighted to host a guest post from Lesley Downer as part of the blog tour that celebrates the publication of The Shogun’s Queen. In it, Lesley tells us of her own experiences while researching the novel, a journey that led her to live among the geisha and maiko of Japan.

Living among the extraordinary maiko (trainee geisha) of Kyoto, Japan

When I’m in grey wintry London I spend a lot of my time in my mind back in Japan. There men and women lead rather separate lives and I was privileged to find myself welcomed into the women’s world. I often think back to the extraordinary time when I lived among geisha.

When I was in Kyoto doing research for my latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen, I often went back to Miyagawa-cho, the geisha district where I used to live, to look up my friends among the geisha and maiko.

The upstairs room I stayed in for 6 months there only had three proper walls. The fourth was just sliding glass doors which didn’t do a very good job of keeping out the cold in winter or the heat in summer. I could hear every noise on the street outside. The doors opened onto a narrow balcony. I’d stand there and look down at the maiko clip clopping by on their high wooden clogs, chattering and laughing.

Lesley with a maiko friend

Lesley with a maiko friend

Maiko are trainee geisha. Most are in their mid-teens but they are magical creations – creatures of artifice, not teenagers. Their hair is oiled into stiff wings by the local hairdresser, who tucks in wads of yak’s hair to give volume. In the evening their faces are painted shimmering white and glow in the dark and they paint just the middle of the bottom lip with a single petal of bright red, which gives their mouths a pouting, bee stung look. They wear spectacular richly-coloured kimonos with long sleeves with bells that tinkle as they walk and a stiff very long obi sash of glittering brocade tied into a huge bow at the back with the ends hanging nearly to the ground.

They’re walking works of art – which is what the word ‘geisha’ means – ‘artiste’. Gei is ’arts’, sha is ’person’. In Kyoto the trainee geisha (aged 15 to 20) are called maiko – literally ‘dancing girls’ and the adults who’ve finished their training and qualified as geisha are geiko – ‘arts girls’. In all the other cities in Japan – and yes, there are geisha in every city in Japan – they are called geisha.

People always ask me if they sleep with men for money. My answer is that that’s like asking whether ballet dancers or opera singers sleep with men for money. Geisha are professional dancers and singers and skilled at the art of keeping the conversation light and entertaining – the perfect hostesses, in fact, and many a man’s ideal wife. They get paid quite enough – an enormous amount – just to do what they do.

Lesley in geisha makeup

Lesley in geisha makeup

Even at sixteen the maiko – the young trainee geisha – are already gracious and composed and confident.
Koharu was one of my favourites. I was once walking down the narrow street in Miyagawa-cho, lined with dark wooden houses with paper lanterns hanging outside. It was beginning to rain and I’d forgotten my umbrella. Koharu, a sixteen-year-old from a country town in the north, ran over and walked alongside me, holding her oiled paper umbrella over my head to protect me. She walked with tiny steps, toes pointed in. It was daytime, so she wasn’t wearing makeup. Her face was washed clean and she had huge innocent eyes.

In her bedroom she had a hard wooden pillow to stop her hair being mussed. She also had photographs of her pin ups, film stars and pop stars, tucked along the mirror. One had come to Kyoto and asked to be entertained by maiko and she’d been chosen to sit next to him, pour his drink and talk to him. She told me about it bubbling with excitement.

I also saw her at work in the evening, no longer a wide-eyed sixteen-year-old but a beauty with a white-painted face, pouring sake for rich and powerful men, teasing them, making them feel young again.

Being a maiko is a bit like being a model. There’s a distinctive look, a distinctive way of walking. Koharu was a country girl, a farmer’s daughter, but as a maiko she mixed with the richest, most powerful men in the realm – for those are the people who attend geisha parties. It was a sure way to rise in the world.

Last time I was back I heard that Koharu had left and gone back up north to get married but many of my other geisha friends were still there. I feel extraordinarily privileged to have been welcomed into their world.

In the end I collected my experiences into a book about geisha and went on to write several more books about the extraordinary worlds which women occupied in old Japan. The most recent, The Shogun’s Queen, is set largely in the vast harem in Edo Castle – a place where three thousand women lived and only one man, the shogun, could enter. But that’s another story!

For other stops on the blog tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Blog tour poster

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Rock the Boat | 2016 (20 October) | 672p | Review copy | Buy the book

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffThis week sees the publication by Rock the Boat of Gemina, the follow up to the spectacular YA science fiction triumph Illuminae. I cannot overstate how fabulous Illuminae is. In fact it’s quite possibly the best YA SF novel I’ve read, although I’d ignore that YA label as this is a book for all ages, both young and less young, to relish. I was so thrilled to be invited to post my review of Gemina as part of the blog tour celebrating its publication on 20 October.

Gemina follows hot on the heels of Illuminae and, although it revolves around a different set of characters in another place, I can’t recommend enough that you read Illuminae first. Everything that happened in Illuminae is revealed in Gemina but, even more than that, don’t deny yourself the treat of reading such a magnificent and original novel. The review below assumes that you’ve already read Illuminae.

Hannah Donnelly is the rather spoilt teenage daughter of the commander of the Jump Station Heimall. Heimall, poised on the edge of a wormhole, is, at least as far as Hannah is concerned, the most boring and remote space station in the universe. It’s fair to say that a number of the adult inhabitants would agree with her. Hannah passes the time being pampered and buying drugs from one of the station’s bad boys, Nik, much to the disapproval of her perfectly manicured boyfriend. At the moment, Hannah is most interested in the outfit she’s bought (that her father bought) to celebrate Terra Day, a big bash that is due to take place in just a few days.

Unfortunately, the most boring space station in the universe is about to become the most lethal as a bunch of baddies choose the day of the festivities to launch a bloody attack. The starship Hypatia is on a desperate run to Heimall and it brings survivors from the invasion of Kerenza. The perpetrators are adamant that nobody on the ship or the space station will live to pass on the sorry tale. Hannah Donnelly and Nik are thrown together to defend Heimall, and not just against the baddies either. If there’s one thing worse than gun-toting mercenaries, it’s aliens.

I was so excited to read Gemina, not least because it provides more of the same of Illuminae‘s fantastic style and structure. Both novels tell their stories through extracts from emails, computer communications, witness accounts, schematics and diagrams. Some of these are used particularly brilliantly, conveying tension, drama or death. Parts are astoundingly clever as well as really witty. You never quite know what you’re going to get when you turn the next page. In one section, two versions of the same story are told on facing pages. So clever! It makes demands on the reader and we are rewarded for the effort with added involvement in this extraordinary adventure and these wonderful characters.

I loved Helen and Nik. I wondered if I could possibly love them as much as I did Kady and Ezra in Illuminae, but I did. There are moments of excitement and tension and there are others of pure horror and disgust. We’re thrown into the thick of it.

I don’t think that Geminae is quite as perfect as Illuminae – to be honest, I think this is impossible, Illuminae is unique in several ways – but it is a fine follow up and I loved every single page, thoroughly enjoying the experience of reading it and being so grateful that we’ve been given a book 2. And the good news is, there will also be a book 3 to look forward to.

Please do yourself the favour of reading these books. Marvel at the skill of the authors, enjoy the company of these fantastic characters, and immerse yourself in the adventure, all set within a remote and, as it turns out, not at all boring region of space.

Other review
Illuminae

I’m so pleased to be part of this tour! For other stops along the journey, please click on the poster below.

Gemina blog tour