Blog Tour: The Blood Dimmed Tide by Michael R. Johnston

Hello fellow readers and welcome to my stop on the Random Things Tours blog tour for The Blood Dimmed Tide by Michael R. Johnston!

The sequel to The Widening Gyre, praised by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal and more!
Tajen’s mission to seek aid from the Kelvaki Assembly is cut short when the Zhen invade Earth. Now he, Liam,and Kiri must return to Earth and liberate the colony from brutal occupation. When Tajen learns the Zhen plan todestroy a human fleet amassing in preparation to help Earth, he and his crew must escape the planet once more and warn them.

I only realised after I received this book in the post that it was a sequel. So naturally, I had to read the first one. Which I did and I loved it. ‘The Widening Gyre’ introduces us to Tajen and his crew with ‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ taking place a few months after the conclusion.

I really enjoyed reading both these books back to back but I am obviously focusing on ‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ for this review. We are thrown head first into a battle, with Tajen and Liam’s wedding being brutally interrupted with a Zhen attack. What follows is an expansive race across space with Tajen and his family to seek aid while also trying to maintain the upper hand on the Zhen’s attacks.

There was some great character development here, especially for Tajen. He has already been through so much in the first book but Johnston manages to develop what he built even further. What I really like about him is he embraces his own flaws while also trying to work on himself. Tajen and Liam’s relationship is an absolute breath of fresh air too. There is a strong sense of equality here and it is great to see such a healthy m/m romance in an SFF book.

I was very intrigued to learn as well that the author based some of the Zhen/human struggles on accounts of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I feel he did a wonderful job here with this but there is also a moment where one of the characters is broadcast a declaration from Earth citing independence from the Zhen. Another nice nod to Irish history here I couldn’t help but spot and delight in.

If you are a fan of Mass Effect, Firefly or Becky Chambers, this should be next on your radar. This book and the previous are two fantastically paced books with a wonderful found family dynamic and great potential to build on for future books.

Thank you to Anne Cater and Flame Tree Press for sending me a copy of ‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ in exchange for a review! ‘The Blood-Dimmed Tide’ is published on the 20th of Februrary, and ‘The Widening Gyre’ is available now!

About the author:

Born in the San Francisco Bay Area and raised in Napa,California, Michael R. Johnston grew up steeped in everything Science Fiction and Fantasy. In the early 90s, he took a“break” from college that went from being one semester to ten years. In that time, he had several jobs, from
serving subpoenas to making sandwiches, before he became the Data Processing Manager of a small research company. Eventually he decided he’d had enough of the corporate world and returned to college, graduating with honors from California State University, Sacramento. In fall 2006, he became a high school English teacher,a job he likens to herding a swarm of angry bees. It’s the best job he’s ever had. Michael currently lives in Sacramento, California, with his wife and daughter. When he’s not writing or teaching, he spends time with his family, plays
video games and tabletop RPGs,and reads. He blogs at MJohnstonBooks.com,and can be found on Twitteras @MREJohnston.

Review: Prospers Demon by K.J Parker

‘They have them, for sure. It’s a bizarre but widespread myth that only heroes have good qualities, and the only qualities heroes have are good; villains are, by definition, all bad. Bullshit.’

I usually try to keep novellas and shorter works I read to my Sunday Shorts posts that I post as often as I can. Especially since I only started that section of my blog before Christmas. However, sometimes a book needs a review all on its own. This is one of those books.

An unnamed narrator greets us with this one warning, we probably won’t like him very much. A darkly witty voice of an exorcist who has been marked by demons or Them since a child, walks the reader through his methods and how he works with questionable methods. Then he meets Prosper Schanz, a true renaissance man who is determined to lead the newly born prince into the new world of science of sense. Prosper is possessed by a demon. Then he meets the narrator.

This was way too short, I had to take a star from the book for it. It was such a good read and I wanted more of this world. There is no distinct world building here, only that there are clerics, royal families and children left to raise themselves on the lawless streets. The narrator provides us with choice flashbacks to describe his experience with demons, or Them as they are known here, and how this led him to where he is.

Something I thought was great was what we get to learn about Them. Is anyone else slightly frustrated with demonic possession stories and the lack of research in the stories about the demons in that world? Not only do we get to know how many of Them are (narrator is unsure how that was counted) but how they are hurt, how they can possess people and its just handled so well. I think if K.J Parker ever wanted to expand on this world, there is limitless opportunity to do it with what he has built here.

Unnamed and questionable narrators are always tricky too since the writer can easily fall into some very cliche territory. Thrillers in recent years have especially exploited it but Parker handles it very well. We don’t need to know this narrators name, we aren’t supposed to like them. He is willing to do whatever he needs to get rid of Them, but most importantly Him. There is a cat and mouse game stretching across the years between the protagonist and Him. Both of these characters met when when the narrator was VERY young and have been trying to catch and outwit each other ever since.

The way that this is all woven in with the main story of Prosper Schanz and his encounter with the protagonist makes for a creepy, dark tale with a fantastic payoff. I just wish this could have been longer since there was such good tension within the story. This is still a great read, very quick with a great take on the demonic possession tale.

Have you read this? Do you intend to? Please tell me in the comments. Happy reading folks!

★★★★/5

Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

‘One Flesh, One End. Say it loser.’

Have you ever had a book rip a hole in your very soul? Have you ever had a book that you threw (softly, because you love it and it has feelings) across the room for the damage it inflicted on you? Have you wept for your favourite characters because you want them to be safe? This was my experience of reading Gideon the Ninth.

Gideon Nav has a sword, some dirty magazines and serves the Ninth House. Gideon wants out of the Ninth and their necromantic business. When the ninth heir, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, is summoned by the Emperor Undying to take part in a trial that will secure her future, she summons Gideon to be her cavalier. As Gideon reluctantly follows her nemesis to the First House under a promise of freedom from the Ninth, both soon realise that some things are truly better off dead.

I am not exaggerating. This is my favourite I’ve read so far in 2020 and its only February. This is the gothy, mouthy SFF book my soul wanted so desperately. What Muir has managed here is a genre mash up with vibrant, memorable characters and a spinning plot. Like what is not to love, this is necromancers with swords people locked into a mysterious, empty house with one instruction; do not enter any locked door without permission.

Each of the houses are on different planets, all having to travel to the First house (Canaan House) for the trial. I do feel the world building lacked a little here but since the majority of the plot happened in Canaan House I didn’t mind as much. Hell sometimes I didn’t even notice because the house became its own character and was basically a giant puzzle box to be solved. Just think The Hellbound Heart but with no cenobites and skeletons instead.

Muir really shows her strengths here with her characters. Gideon as a protagonist made this such an enjoyable read. Readers may not gel with the sarcasm and sheer level of attitude that Gideon and Harrow have, but I am a sarcastic twat who always wants the last word so I can well and truly relate. The other cast of characters to begin with are very forgettable, since like Harrow, they have long aristocratic names that sound amazing but can blend together especially in the first half. This is why I would highly recommend the audio book of this since the narrator distinguishes each character beautifully. I’ll gush about Harrow and Gideon in a second but honestly outside of both of them I loved the members of the sixth house, Palamedes and Camilla his cavalier.

Something I loved as well the necromancy. For a start there are different types of necromancy. This blew my mind since my experience with necromancy in books is limited to Garth Nix and some DnD one shots. Palamedes, and the entire sixth house, is an agent of medical necromancy. There are others, including soul siphoning (creep central), flesh constructs (also creep central) and so much more I can’t wait to learn about.

Gideon and Harrow. Holy shit. Watching both of these women who grew up together with a very distinct power imbalance along with lifelong trauma, learn how to trust each other and confront their own egos. Once the plot gathers into what is a murder mystery (more genre mashing!) they both have no other choice but to stick together. Muir has created some absolutely devastating character moments in this book, by the time the book reaches the final act you are totally connected to them.

The ending is a total payoff. The one common thread I think many who have finished the book and who didn’t enjoy the first two thirds is that Muir wraps up the plot wonderfully. I found myself in tears and well and truly shook by it. Before finishing this review, I read the last 100 pages again last night. I am still shook by the conclusion.

Have you read this? Are you going to read it? Are you someone who started this and didn’t finish it? I need to discuss this with someone and I love a good discussion of a book that people didn’t like but that I loved wholeheartedly. Thank you for checking in folks, happy reading!

★★★★★/5

Review: The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G Parry

‘Every supporting character is the protagonist of his own story.’

Something that I have felt over my life is that readers understand readers. Book nerds call to each other through the endless deluge of daily life and repetitive social media posts. This book for me is truly a love letter to other readers from the author herself. What H.G Parry has captured here is my teenage dream, all of my favourite well know literary characters solving a mystery in our world.

Charley Sutherland is gifted, attending Oxford as a thirteen year old boy and as an adult, the living expert on Charles Dickens. Charley also has the gift to bring literary characters to life. Literally, and sometimes he can’t control it. But with more and more literary characters popping up all over Wellington city, Charley for the first time has to contemplate that he is not the only one with this talent. While these characters all mentioning the approach of The End, it’s down to Charley and his older brother Rob to stop it, while also finding out what The End is.

It took me longer than I thought to finish this. Between work, pet death and just generally being run down, I felt like I had been living with these characters for a long period of time and that somehow made it harder to finish this. This is the book I wish my lonely, teen self had. Rich and alive with characters we all know and have seen many times but somehow, this feels like a needed breath of fresh air many of them needed.

I read many classics when I was growing up, much like Charley, and it was like meeting them for an afternoon tea. Among the well known Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray and the Artful Dodger, we had others like Matilda Wormwood and the White Witch herself. I couldn’t control my joy at Dorian Gray putting Heathcliff (not a Wuthering Heights fan) in his place. Heathcliff also has flaming eyes, like literally. Flaming eyes.

Woven among this cast is of course Charley himself and his older brother Rob. Rob is the absolute antithesis to Charley and some of the best scenes are how they are written together. I really look for realistic sibling relationships win fiction these days and Parry writes some of the best I’ve seen in a while. Charley is obviously a more than unusual mean with his ‘summoning’, as he calls it, along side being a childhood prodigy. Rob is the reluctant older brother trying to smooth as much normality into Charley without actually pelting him over the head with it. Their relationship is one full of love, unresolved conflict and the normal push and pull of any sibling relationship. That being said, I did find Rob very frustrating in places. Sometimes he was trying to control far too many things while also trying to pretend everything was ‘fine’ which wore me down slightly.

Something Parry has built into the world so deftly is the whole idea of family and how important it is. There is an honest discussion of what is important to both found families and traditional one. At one point Parry describes a relationship as a mess, and goes on to explain that is exactly what all relationships are. A beautiful mess. I was also not surprised to discover Parry has siblings after reading the book. The found family that is holding the literary characters in the story is also what is allowing their continued survival. Millie Radcliffe Dix, a character I have zero knowledge of, kind of runs a safe place for all of these characters and it really works well with the moments of Rob and Charley together.

This ongoing discussion of family, the important of reading comes together in a earth shaking plot revelation. I realised it just before it became clear and I actually had to take a deep breath for a minute before I read on. The plot is built around this and it is such a pay off in the end that I can’t remember the last time a standalone novel paid off for me like this.

If you are looking for a standalone fantasy that is both an homage and a self aware discussion of what it means to be a reader, then please check this out. Even if like me, you were a cranky, classics reading teenager then definitely read it. I’ll be picking up Parry’s other works in future for sure.

Thank you so much to Orbit Books for sending me a copy of this book to review!

★★★★/5

Sunday Shorts: 3 Mini Reviews (09.02.20)

Welcome back to Sunday Shorts! This is my first write up of shorter works in 2020 so far. Just in case anyone wasn’t aware, I changed job over the holiday period so most of January has been a settling in period for me. And being a typical Hedwig, I had four blog tours. No matter, lets talk about the shorter pieces I have read so far this year.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth

Title: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries)
Author: Martha Wells
Genre: Science Fiction

I’m not gonna lie, I read this between jobs in work. I couldn’t put it down! I don’t think I have ever related to a character as much as I did Murderbot. I too want nothing more than hours of books, TV shows and movies while avoiding all humans. This is a very touching story with really great characters. Its also definitely also one of the the most quotable scifi books I read in a while. It’s also an incredible start to a series. I’m definitely aiming to catch up for the new novel in May.

★★★★★/5

Coffee, New Orleans & Zombies.

Title: Bitter Grounds
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Dark/Contemporary Fantasy

This was an interesting one. I read this one afternoon while nosing through tor.com and remembered vaguely from one of the short story collections. I read it in about a half hour but it gave me such strange feelings. The summary of the story is minimal for reason, to interpret this story is to spoil it. All I will say is, from judging online, everyone has a similar and different explanation for it. Fantastic structure, memorable imagery and a very lasting mood.

★★★★/5

Lord Daniel’s absence triggers a series of crimes and calamities that consume the lives of those already tangled in his fate. Until he is found, his realm’s residents must protect its broken borders alone. But the most senior storytellers are tormented by invasive secrets, the warden Lucien is doubting his own mind, and beyond the gates, something horrific awaits with tooth and talon. Only Dora, the monstrous, finds opportunity in madness, stealing dreams for the highest bidder. But she has no idea how deep the danger lies. Meanwhile, in Daniel’s gallery, something new is growing…

Title: The Dreaming Vol. 1: Pathways and Emanations
Authors: Simon Spurrier, Bilquis Evely (Illustrator), Neil Gaiman
Genre: Graphic novel, fantasy, horror

Okay, if for some daft reason you are not after reading The Sandman series, you are wandering into MASSIVE SPOILER TERRITORY. This is your final warning.

I am trying to catch up with all my comics recently and this is one of my main series I have on my pull list. This was a wonderful reread but again, I feel so many complicated things towards this continuation. Daniel being absent, Lucien literally falling apart and to be honest that ending too? I am very stiff to accept it but I’m in no way dis encouraged to keep reading and get up to date. I did like seeing more of the nightmares and the art by Everly is AMAZING.

★★★★/5

That’s all I have this week for Sunday Shorts! I do have a plan to do a series comparing the new Sandman Universe to the original series but that won’t be for another while. Also, is it really a Sunday Short if I don’t discuss one Neil Gaiman work?

Have you read any of these? (Please say Sandman) Do tell me in the comments! Happy reading everyone!

Review: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

‘We weren’t invited. People don’t have to invite witches, they just know we’ll turn up if we want to.’

Good evening fellow readers and welcome back to the Disc! Today in the Discworld Project we will have witches, a murder most foul (that didn’t happen) and the return of my favourite Discworld matriarch, Granny Weatherwax.

All in one night in the kingdom of Lancre high in the Ramtops, three witches gather on the moors (quite to the confusion of one Esme Weatherwax), a king is brutally killed and a child is stolen away to return when the time is right. When the witches are drawn into this brutally ambitious plot and forced to meddle, which is not a witches business, it is down to Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Margarat Garlick and a ghost or two to save the Kingdom.

I think it’s clear to everyone now that I love the Discworld and most of all I love the witches. This book pulled in many elements of Macbeth, Hamlet and most of all Pratchett’s wonderful storytelling. I thought I would enjoy this one the most so far out of all the books but this one fell a little flatter than usual for me. I did however still have a great time reading it.

We get to head back to the Ramtops, last seen in ‘Equal Rites’ in the village of Bad Ass. We also finally get tot meet more of the neigmatic witches of the Disc. Adding to the cast is Nanny Ogg, the opposite of Granny with her many partners, children and grandchildren who loves a drink. We also meet Margrat Garlick for the first time, the youngest of the witches with her own ideas of covens and wearing occult jewellery.

Seeing the witches together on the page was honestly the best part of this book for me. The sheer contrast of Granny and Nanny makes you even wonder how they are friends in the first place. Granny is very clearly in charge of the situation however, Nanny being more of a family orientated witch. There is even a distinct comment about Granny’s leadership within all the witches’ circles;

Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn’t have.

I was delighted to have finally come across Nanny Ogg and Magrat. There was also the cameos of other Discworld’s greatest, Death and the Librarian included. Pratchett’s characters will always have very important places in my hearts and as usual, the humor and banter between them all had me overjoyed at every stage of the book.

The plot this time for me felt a little bit weaker than usual, especially for a story about the witches. The pacing seems to be the issue more than the actual plot itself. Like i said earlier there is a strong satire of plays like Macbeth and Hamlet. This is actually half the fun of the plot, especially when a drama group arrives towards the end of the book, but there is a stage the book got to at about half way into the book and it felt like this was the climax. It threw me off slightly and kind of messed with he pacing overall.

This being said you can still see the growth of the Discworld as well as Pratchett’s writing. The plot as always is tidied up and brought together very well at the end of the book. I was very happy seeing Granny again in particular and look forward to my next outing on the Disc.

Have you read this book? I am now 7 books in to the Discworld series and I’m still really enjoying myself. I recently watched the Back in Black documentary again and was left an emotional wreck. I also got an exciting email this week about my DVD of ‘Troll Bridge’ that I backed in August. Up next, ‘Pyramids’!

★★★.75/5 (Constantly struggling with 4 or 3 for this one!)

Blog Tour: Highfire by Eoin Colfer

Good morning everyone and I am so excited to welcome you to the blog tour for Highfire by Eoin Colfer!

‘Battle dragons do not listen to their little voices, They go directly to war.’

In the days of yore, he flew the skies and scorched angry mobs—now he hides from swamp tour boats and rises only with the greatest reluctance from his Laz-Z-Boy recliner. Laying low in the bayou, this once-magnificent fire breather has been reduced to lighting Marlboros with nose sparks, swilling Absolut in a Flashdance T-shirt, and binging Netflix in a fishing shack. For centuries, he struck fear in hearts far and wide as Wyvern, Lord Highfire of the Highfire Eyrie—now he goes by Vern. However…he has survived, unlike the rest. He is the last of his kind, the last dragon. Still, no amount of vodka can drown the loneliness in his molten core. Vern’s glory days are long gone. Or are they?

A canny Cajun swamp rat, young Everett “Squib” Moreau does what he can to survive, trying not to break the heart of his saintly single mother. He’s finally decided to work for a shady smuggler—but on his first night, he witnesses his boss murdered by a crooked constable.

Regence Hooke is not just a dirty cop, he’s a despicable human being—who happens to want Squib’s momma in the worst way. When Hooke goes after his hidden witness with a grenade launcher, Squib finds himself airlifted from certain death by…a dragon?

The swamp can make strange bedfellows, and rather than be fried alive so the dragon can keep his secret, Squib strikes a deal with the scaly apex predator. He can act as his go-between (aka familiar)—fetch his vodka, keep him company, etc.—in exchange for protection from Hooke. Soon the three of them are careening headlong toward a combustible confrontation. There’s about to be a fiery reckoning, in which either dragons finally go extinct—or Vern’s glory days are back.

This is one of my most anticipated books of the year, if not the most anticipated. When Eoin Colfer announced the release of this book at World Con, Dublin 2019, I knew I was going to love it. Colfer has long been one of my favourite writers since childhood, I was luckily enough to meet him twice last year and I can honestly say, this book is now one of my favourites.

‘Highfire’ takes every single thing I love from Colfer’s writing, from the wonderful characters to the razor sharp humor, and remake them into a unique story that turns everything we expect from a story with a dragon and his familiar on its head and gets it drunk on vodka martinis.

Vern stole my heart. How could I not love a world weary dragon who lives on Absolut vodka, hates people and loves Flashdance? He is the last of his kind, he is wary of all humans (same, Vern) and is coagulating in his own sorrows. He struggles constantly between giving up and ending it all and continuing on to hate on humans further. He even considers having sex with an Alligator to liven things up for him. You really feel for this dragon who used to be royalty and is now reduced to just living in hiding every day. His only friend, a Mogwai named Waxman, is even kept at arms length. Then in comes Squib Moreau.

I would honestly die for Squib. Have you ever had that need to make sure the characters in your book are okay when you put the book down? That was me every waking minute with Squib. He has a face that gets him into trouble but is so pure and good you even wonder how he will survive in this world. Squib and Vern’s scenes are some of my favourite in the entire book. Their dynamic of master/familiar quickly grows into a friendship each needs as much as the other.

Colfer displays his usual skill of handling a tight plot that refuses to let the reader a moment to breathe. I mentioned already that I found it hard to put this down and I honestly mean that. This is a fast paced story with some very gory scenes that will leave you glued to the book while totally disgusted.

This book while also being tense and very graphic in places is extremely funny. Vern has some of the best lines in the book, but honestly the person who made me laugh is Waxman. He functions almost as Vern’s Renfield but if Renfield could kill Dracula at any moment but can’t be bothered. I lost it laughing at the below quote;

‘Makes me seem a character,’ he said. “Crazy Waxman” would be better, or maybe, “Scary Waxman” to keep the kids away, but “Waxman” will do just fine. I’m like Boo fuckin’ Radley on crack to these backward-ass folk.’

If you are a fantasy fan who likes your fantasy with a bit of black humor, or like me, you grew up reading any of Colfer’s books, this is for you. I can’t recommend this book enough, it is honestly my favourite book so far this year and I’m so glad I got to read it early too.

Thank you to Netgalley, Jo Fletcher Books and Colfer for giving me a copy of the book for an honest review and thank you /to Millie for having me on the blog tour!

‘Highfire’ is out on the 28/01/2020.

★★★★★/5