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.

Blog Tour: We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk

Good evening fellow readers, and welcome to my stop and the beginning of the Random Things Tours blog tour for We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk!

When a troubled psychiatrist loses funding to perform clinical trials on an experimental cure for schizophrenia, he begins testing it on his asylum’s criminally insane, triggering a series of side effects that opens the mind of his hospital’s most dangerous patient, setting his inner demons free.

So this did not go the way I thought it was going to go. This book on the surface is sold as closed circle narrative where through the fault of the people who care for the mentally ill, they are locked in with the patients. I was thinking Arkham Asylum meets that awesome scene in Watchmen. What we get is an examination of the treatment of mental illness and the horrors of living with trauma

We encounter many characters through differing points of view varying from the staff of Sugar Hill and the patients. Alex, our main protagonist, is not a likable man. Alex has discovered a possible medication that can help those suffering from Schizophrenia return to their former selves. He is however in chronic debt, is corrupt to his very core and a bad husband. Trust me. You don’t wanna marry this guy.

The same can be said about the rest of the characters and this felt very intentional. I’ve said it in the past that I do love a flawed, morally grey character but I think what resonated with me the most was that characters like Alex are very real. There are people working in mental health services who are just as morally corrupt as him. But there is also another conversation that is happening in this book.

The other staff of Sugar Hill are all dealing with their own traumas while working with the mentally ill people who reside there. They are all awful but they all need help. Eli, the head of the facility battles his own PTSD and channels his own bias towards not using medication to treat mental illness into the patients treatment. Angela, a gifted young social worker within the walls of Sugar Hill throws herself into binge drinking and one night stands that she can barely remember every other night to forget what she hears and sees.

The book is a bit slower than I am used to with horror books, especially since I was expecting a totally different story. There is a purposeful build up to the conclusion as we learn what is taking over Sugar Hill. But in the end there is an important discussion to be had here. The use of medication in treatment, the attitude towards people with mental health within society and most importantly the trauma we all carry everyday.

Thank you to both Anne and Flame Tree Press for sending me a copy of We Are Monsters in exchange for review!

★★★/5

Brian Kirk is an author of dark thrillers and psychological suspense. His debut novel, We Are Monsters, was released in July 2015 and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award®for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. His short fiction has been published in many notable magazines and anthologies. Most recently, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, where his work appears alongside multiple New York Times bestselling authors,and received an
honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year compilation. During the day, Brian works as a freelance marketing and creative consultant. His experience working on large, integrated advertising campaigns for international companies has helped him build an effective author platform, and makes him a strong marketing ally for his publishing partners. In addition, Brian has an eye for emerging media trends and an ability to integrate storytelling into new technologies and platforms.


Blog Tour: A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone

Good evening all and welcome to my stop on Random Things Tours blog tour for A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone!

The Skelfs are a well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-established funeral-home business, and private investigators. When patriarch Jim dies, it ’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events. Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another women, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined.
As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief, and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything…

I have a deep fascination with the death industry. I regularly watch Ask A Mortician on YouTube, I have also read her books about the subject and one of my dreams is to visit the catacombs in Paris. Like my previous review, this is more of an assurance of my sanity and serves as background for what elements I liked from this book.

This book was fascinating and very engaging. One concern of the book is very much routed in the processes of handling the dead and arranging for the treatment of them. The other is routed in the lives of these 3 different generations of the Skelf women. We spend time with all three as they struggle and process their various traumas.

Our changing perspectives between Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah allows a view into each of their lives. There is a focus on the evil of men and the change of climate in the modern day attitude towards women. Johnstone has a fantastic ability to not only write realistic female characters but also allows them to be flawed, almost unlikable. This is something I do actually look for actively in my own reading of all books and this book is the best example I have seen of it outside of SFF.

We have Dorothy, a new widow with a funeral business to run also has to cope with her forever longing to return to her youth in Pismo Beach, CA, while also grappling with the possibility her husband was hiding his own sins. Jenny, mother to Hannah, is a bitter, middle aged divorcee who is struggling with life in general and her own feeling towards men overall. And of course we have Hannah, a queer physics student who is determined to discover the story behind her friend’s disappearance but has to try an maintain her own mental wellness through all the chaos.

The characters were the true bonus for me. I feel like we get a captivating glance at the lives of these three women and how they interact with each other. The death of Jim Skelf truly opens up many wormholes for them all. We see them argue with each other, they all do questionable things but in the end they are the standout of A Dark Matter.

The plot at first had me wondering where it was going to go. There are so many events that pop up within the greater events of the plot and I was wondering how and if they would all be answered. Luckily, they were and in a spectacular fashion. The ending dawned on me seconds before the big reveal happen but that did nothing to prevent my shock and glee at getting such a satisfactory conclusion.

Overall this was a true revelation for me, scattered with some wonderful insights into the death industry and a portrait of a family trying to handle the mess a sudden death will leave. This is a condensed, clever story with a very plain discussion of misogyny over time.

I want to thank Orenda Books and Anne of Random Things Tours for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

★★★★★/5

Doug Johnstone is the author of ten novels, most recently Breakers (2018), which has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his books have been bestsellers and award winners, and his work has been praised by the likes of Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh and Ian Rankin. He’s taught creative writing and been writer
in residence at various institutions – including a funeral home – and has been an arts journalist for twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.

Blog Tour:The Home by Sarah Stovell

Good evening readers and welcome to my stop on the Random Things Tours Blog tour for The Home by Sarah Stovell!

When the body of pregnant, fifteen-year-old Hope Lacey is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away. As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge. A dark and devastating psychological thriller, The Home is also a heartbreaking and insightful portrayal of the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live … if they are allowed to live at all.

I grew up surrounded by crime books. We grew up surrounded by the books of Patricia Cornwell, Martina Cole and many others. I’m telling you this is so that you won’t be alarmed when I tell you that reading this book was like going home (unintended pun, I swear).

The Home is an utter revelation and a true gift to the crime genre. One of these things I like to do going into any crime/thriller books is a total unknowing about the plot and go straight into the story. I did that again with this story and it truly benefited the entire reading experience. What followed was a constantly twisting plot that is dark beyond belief while being a very relevant discussion on issues that are very prevalent today.

We get the perspective of 3 characters as the plot unfurls and the background of each characters is revealed. What Stovell has crafted is 3 very disctinct voices that want you to trust each and every one of them and listen to their side of the story. Don’t trust a single one.

I was honestly taken aback by some of the revelation’s about Hope’s tragic background as the plot moves along. Hope is such a tragic character but has this unusual dichotomy of victim and heroine within this plot. She is obviously completely powerless to the life that she has been dealt especially for the abuse that she sustains that results in her arrival at the Home. But it is her sheer will not give in and let those people have power over, her love for the others she surrounds herself with particularly her love for Annie, that honestly casts her as the true heroine of the story.

Stovell is not even trying to hide her criticisms within this tragic story. The foster care system in the UK is not something I am very familiar with but the criticisms online are unavoidable. The foster care system in Ireland however is very much in need of a makeover with 6,000 children currently in the system. What both Annie and Hope have been through is utterly terrifying. Lara’s experience in particular is what has stuck with me, the trauma of which has left her non verbal.

The tightly woven plot alongside deeply flawed characters that balance tragic with courageous leads to a conclusion that is both satisfying and raw. This is a story that will stay with you long after you put this book down but I honestly would recommend to anyone who is looking to read more crime. You won’t be disappointed.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and ate it up as anytime it wasn’t in my hand I was genuinely scared for both Hope and Annie. Thank you to both Anne and Orenda book for the copy of this book in exchange for a review. Happy reading folks!

★★★★/5

About the Author:

Sarah Stovell was born in 1977 and spent most of her life in the Home Counties before a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel made her realise she was a northerner at heart. She now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children and is a lecturer in
Creative Writing at Lincoln University. Her debut psychological thriller, Exquisite, was called ‘the book of the summer’ by Sunday Times.

‘The Home’ will be published on the 6th of February 2020.