Raven’s Top Read 2019 – Nicolas Obregon- Unknown Male

He is a completely unremarkable man. Who wears the same black suit every day. Boards the same train to work each morning. And arrives home to his wife and son each night. But he has a secret.  He likes to kill people. With just weeks to go before the Olympics and the world’s eyes firmly fixed on Tokyo the body of young British student, Skye Mackintosh, is discovered in a love hotel. Tokyo’s Homicide Department are desperate for a lead. As a last resort they enlist the help of a brilliant former detective whose haunted personal life has forced him into exile thousands of miles away. But it isn’t long before Kosuke Iwata discovers the darkness in the neon drenched streets as Skye, like so many others, had her own secrets. Lies and murder haunt a city where old ghosts and new whisper from its darkest of corners and the truth is always just out of sight..

So we come to the last instalment of Nicolas Obregon’s remarkable Tokyo trilogy featuring former detective Kosuke Iwata. Having previously reviewed both Blue Light Yokohama and Sins As Scarlet and quite frankly, raved about both, I approached Unknown Male with more than a sense of delicious anticipation. What I love about Obregon as a writer is the way he so consistently holds his reader in the palm of his hand and the sense of real storytelling that is so absolutely central to the narrative. I must admit that I find it hard to define what it is about his writing that enthrals me, but will try in my own ham-fisted way to do so…

Firstly I think Obregon’s obvious love affair with Tokyo is absolutely central to this book, and his fearlessness in portraying this city with very much a love/hate edge to his depiction of it: “As he walked, he inhaled a cologne of rubbish, exhaust, wet concrete. No city had more nameless streets or alleyways…To walk through her ways was to be inveigled in her web…She murmured from steam vents and snickered from overflowing gutters.” All through the book the intangible hold of the city both on the main characters, and the general populace is front and centre, with Obregon exposing the pulsing beat of a city where there is a real sense of sink or swim, poverty or success and a constant feel of movement in “this shingle beach of crossed purpose“. Obregon also emphasises how easily people become lost, in this teeming morass of people, whether slaves to a wage, slaves to people basest violent desires, and how people seek to navigate a society that slows for no man. Although our detective figure Iwata is a native to the city, Obregon also instils in him a feeling of having to get to grips with this mercurial city after time abroad, and the very particular problems that arise in having to almost start afresh in navigating its unique idiosyncrasies.

Iwata himself is also a complicated soul, imbued with a deep sense of morality pertaining to his professional standards and the way he conducts himself in relation to this particular investigation. However, back amongst his countrymen he does at times seem like a square peg in a round hole, as his methods and thought process put him at odds with his fellow investigators. He is an outsider, but in that mould proves to be extremely effective at approaching the case from a different angle, and intuitive thinking. The issue of morality is explored in many ways throughout the book both through Iwata who is also seeking some personal retribution, but also through the British female detective Anthea Lynch (who finds herself despatched to Tokyo after a serious blip in her own career) and individuals involved with Skye, the murder victim. Throw into the mix one of the most strangely motivated serial killers I have encountered for some time (the thermos flask-eugh) and what Obregon gives us is a real smorgasboard of the good, the bad and ugly where the lines of morality and decent behaviour become fractured, and at times difficult to discern. People acting in surprising and unpredictable ways give a real emotional heft to this book, and also work beautifully in concealing the real villains of the piece, with revenge being another incredibly strong motif resonating through the characters.

I think it goes without saying that Unknown Male has secured a place in my Top 5 of the year with its masterful depth of characterisation, use of location with Tokyo as a living and breathing entity so crucial to the lives and crimes unfolding within it, and the way that the book keeps you in its grasp from beginning to end. It is the close to a trilogy which left me tinged with sadness as I loved these books so much, but also heartens me that hopefully more readers will discover these for themselves. Absolutely outstanding.

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(I bought this copy of Unknown Male published by Michael Joseph)

 

 

 

 

#BlogTour #Extract-Adam Southward- Trance- “A tense, original thriller”

To mark the publication of Trance by Adam Southward, I am delighted to be hosting an exclusive extract of this very book. Billed as an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller, with a speculative twist, Trance is, according to crime writer John Marrs,  A tense, original thriller that perfectly blends the nail-biting suspense and shocks of Silence of the Lambs and Shutter Island.”

So what’s it about?

Three university scientists are found dead in a gruesome murder-suicide, and the only suspect in the case, Victor Lazar, is quickly captured. When the spate of violent suicides follows him to prison he is moved to solitary confinement, reserved for the highest-risk inmates. And then his assigned psychologist inexplicably takes his own life. Alex Madison, a former forensic psychologist turned private therapist, is brought in to interview Victor. He suspects that Victor is controlling his victims, somehow coaxing them into a suggestive trance. It seems like science fiction, but as Alex digs deeper he uncovers a frightening reality of secret research and cruel experimentation—and the perpetrators are closer to home than he could ever have imagined. Too late, Alex learns the true extent of what Victor is capable of—and who he’s after. With everything he holds dear at risk, can Alex take control of a dangerous mind—before it takes control of him?

Intriguing huh?

So here for your enjoyment, is an extract of the book, just to whet your appetites a little more…

Sophie kept glancing at Alex as they descended the stairs to the guard station. He noticed it and wondered what was bothering her.

‘Will you be assessing him?’ she said, after several steps.

‘Him?’

‘Him. Thirteen. Victor Lazar.’

Alex slowed and turned to her. ‘Mr Lazar is why I’m here. Thirteen?’

Sophie’s eyes narrowed. ‘It’s what he called himself when he arrived. Thirteen. So that’s a yes?’

Alex was surprised at her reaction. ‘What do you know about him?’

Sophie bit her lip. ‘Not much,’ she said. ‘His case is sensitive. Robert has access to the full case file. I don’t.’ She shrugged and walked faster.

Alex hadn’t seen the full case file yet either. He’d had a summary history emailed to him by the CPS but was told the full information would be available once he was on site.

As well as the unusual circumstances surrounding Victor Lazar’s arrest, there was the headline mystery, which was that Victor’s previous psychologist had committed suicide while treating him. Dr Henry Farrell, an experienced clinician close to retirement, had interviewed Victor alone in his cell for an hour. He’d left the cell complaining of a headache and driven home to call his wife, who was out of town. He’d made various nonsense statements over the phone, which his wife couldn’t accurately recollect, then jumped out of a third-floor window, landing on the concrete driveway. He was pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene.

Alex could no doubt suggest several theories why a sane and intelligent man would take his own life, but the association with Victor was bizarre and curious. Victor appeared to be special – a potentially untreatable psychopath if the initial report was anything to go by. But that didn’t explain Dr Farrell’s behaviour. Connected or not, Alex intended to find out.

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Trance is published 1st July by Thomas & Mercer (published in paperback and ebook, price £4.99)

Available at Amazon

Twitter: @adamsouthward

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#BlogTour- Chris Carter- Hunting Evil

As roommates, they met for the first time in college. Two of the brightest minds ever to graduate from Stamford Psychology University. As adversaries, they met again in Quantico, Virginia. Robert Hunter had become the head of the LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit. Lucien Folter had become the most prolific and dangerous serial killer the FBI had ever encountered.

Now, after spending three and a half years locked in solitary confinement, Lucien has finally managed to break free. And he’s angry. For the past three and a half years, Lucien has thought of nothing else but vengeance. The person responsible for locking him away has to pay, he has to suffer.
That person … is Robert Hunter.
And now it is finally time to execute the plan…

After boom shabang of a cliff hanger at the end of The Gallery of the Dead Chris Carter has reintroduced us to the devil incarnate in the shape of strangely charismatic serial killer, Lucien Folter from An Evil Mind. Having escaped incarceration he is on a revenge mission, and has our erstwhile hero Detective Robert Hunter of the LAPD Ultra Violent Crimes Unit firmly in his sights.

Let the terror begin.

If ever the question was put to me of what would be my ‘treacle’ read, I would plump for Mr Carter every time.  I have a real sense of just sitting back and relaxing with these books, allowing them to take me on a flight of fear and excitement, with characters I’m familiar and comfortable with, and the nifty way that Carter has of plumbing the depths of real evil, offering up a host of ghoulish surprises along the way. I see that the jacket for this one is emblazoned with the message, “As addictive as a TV boxset,” and that is in no way wide of the mark for the sheer entertainment value of his books. In the same way as Stephen King, Carter very much plays up to the notion that his readers like to be unnerved, startled and genuinely scared at points, and I always enjoy the way his killers come crashing into the lives of ordinary people like you and I which always adds another level of tension to his books. Ten books in and Carter is showing no let up in the depths of depravity his books deliciously reveal to us. Mwahaha…

As I think I have now read all ten books in the series, I am still delighted by his two central police characters, Detectives Hunter and Garcia, the cerebral Batman and Robin as I refer to them. Throughout the course of the books, Carter uses the character of Garcia to filter information to the reader, as he observes and questions the more intuitive impulses of Hunter, during their investigations. What is noticeable in this book is that as much as Hunter is caught out by the sheer deviousness of Folter, especially when the case takes a more personal turn, there seems to be a slight growing in stature of Garcia. Although he still questions, he is much more forthcoming with his challenges to Hunter’s suppositions, and makes some significant breakthroughs of his own, as Hunter becomes so immersed in his battle of wills with Folter.  As much as Hunter takes centre stage, and rightfully so given his personal history with Folter, I very much enjoyed seeing Garcia blossom, equally so, as he as he had missed out on their previous showdown in An Evil Mind, but perhaps this worked significantly in his favour, giving him an unsullied take on this most pernicious of adversaries. Being reluctant to reveal any of the details on this tussle between Hunter and Folter, suffice to say there are some interesting blurred lines between them, and as clichéd as it may be, Folter possesses all the twisted charm, cerebral flexibility, and extreme wickedness of a certain Mr Lecter, as he embarks on his devilish game of cat and mouse with Hunter, the US Marshall service, and the FBI. I quite like him, although he is one evil dude.

I think Chris Carter should be afforded some major kudos for maintaining such consistency over a relatively long series of books, still unleashing some surprising twists and tricks along the way, and for this reason Hunting Evil is no exception. He seems to have an infinite trove of heinous murderous techniques, and a bottomless pit of nasty, violent killers to scare the bejesus out of us with. This I applaud, and for this reason too, I will be a constant reader of this author. Bring on the nasty…

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

#BlogTour- James Delargy- 55

Wilbrook in Western Australia is a sleepy, remote town that sits on the edge of miles and miles of unexplored wilderness. It is home to Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, who is proud to run the town’s small police station, a place used to dealing with domestic disputes and noise complaints.

All that changes on a scorching day when an injured man stumbles into Chandler’s station. He’s covered in dried blood. His name is Gabriel. He tells Chandler what he remembers. He was drugged and driven to a cabin in the mountains and tied up in iron chains. The man who took him was called Heath. Heath told Gabriel he was going to be number 55. His 55th victim. 
Heath is a serial killer.

As a manhunt is launched, a man who says he is Heath walks into the same station. He tells Chandler he was taken by a man named Gabriel. Gabriel told Heath he was going to be victim 55.
Gabriel is the serial killer.

Two suspects. Two identical stories. Which one is the truth?

There is a real slew of solid Australian crime writing at the moment from the likes of Jane Harper, Emma Viskic, Chris Hammer et al, and although not of Australian stock himself, James Delargy has produced a clever, disquieting, and altogether compelling thriller set in the remote western Australian outback, that holds more than one or two surprises of its own…

I think I can confidently guarantee that the very premise of this book, and the lengths that Delargy goes to in order to trick and wrong-foot his readers, will catch you out at regular intervals. With two men under suspicion of being a remorseless serial killer, and their individual stories of being captured and tortured by said serial killer, Delargy manages to keep the narrative tension spread over, for what is a crime thriller, a remarkable stretch of time. This is no mean feat as there is a relatively slim cast of characters, with only one real other story arc, the tension between the Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, and the team that come in to takeover the investigation, headed up by an unwelcome face from his past, Inspector Mitch Andrews.  I absolutely loved the conundrums that the seeming innocence of Gabriel and Heath, the two accused men brought to bear on the story, leading me to constantly re-evaluate the evidence that Delargy lays before us, perplexing the reader as much as the investigative team. Delargy is a real tease, as he consistently exposes pseudo Jekyl and Hyde aspects to both these men’s characters, and just as you fixedly decide on one’s guilt and the other’s innocence, guess what, you’re wrong. There is a real controlled and supremely well-measured pace to the book, so that the slightly slower passages where the men are interrogated, threatened or cajoled into professing their guilt, is punctuated by not only the backstory of the build up of animosity between Chandler and Mitch, but sporadic moments of nerve shredding tension, as the police mine for some credible evidence to prove the guilt of either Gabriel or Heath. Or neither. Or both. Or somebody else entirely…

I liked the character of Chandler Jenkins enormously, with his integrity and seemingly natural fair-mindedness, which plays of beautifully against the power crazed narcissism of Mitch Andrews, former friend, now foe. The differences between the two men, which is brought to light as the sub-narrative of one of their earliest cases together plays out, makes for a rocky, testy and tension filled investigation, outside of their basic remit of bringing a killer to justice, and there’s some nice little twists and turns in their relationship along the way too. To be honest the other members of the investigation team didn’t make a significant impact on me, but with the book focussing so intently on the changing boundaries,  and intensity of the exchanges between Chandler and Mitch, and their interactions Gabriel and Heath. There was more than enough angst, threat of violence and the whiff of testosterone to pretty much drown out the other characters, but not to any real detriment of the book overall.

Thinking about the characters further, I think there is a nice correlation between them, and the environment and location, the book is set in. Set in the bleak expanse of remote western Australia, there is an intense feeling that although the landscape is sprawling and open, the vastness and aridity of it can conceal so much. Two of the characters, seem to reflect the openness and raw beauty of this hostile landscape, whereas two others seem to reflect the opposite, with their characters being altogether more dark and volatile. Despite being set in this endlessly repeating landscape, there is a significant sense of claustrophobia to the book, and the local police station becomes a microcosm of energy and pent up tension, that works exceptionally well to unsettle the reader, and the ending? Well, far be it for me to spoil the ending, but I think the author deserves more than a smattering of applause for not going down a certain well-worn path in thriller finales- so thanks for that- and loved the ending.  I thought that 55 was an extremely cleverly plotted, well-paced, and consistently engaging thriller with some nifty tricks in the narrative, solid characterisation of the main players, and suffused with the claustrophobic heat and isolation of its Australian setting. A compelling debut, and a recommended read.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

Ilaria Tuti- Flowers Over The Inferno

In a quiet village surrounded by the imposing Italian Alps, a series of violent assaults take place. Police inspector and profiler Teresa Battaglia is called in when the first body is found, a naked man whose face has been disfigured and eyes gouged out. Soon more victims are discovered – all horrifically mutilated – and when a new-born baby is kidnapped, Teresa’s investigation becomes a race against the clock.

But Teresa is also fighting a battle against her own body, weighed down by age and diabetes, and her mind, once invincible and now slowly gnawing away at her memory…

Okay, I think I’m going to have rein in my exuberance, passion and generally ‘gee-that-blew-me-away-ness’ that this book aroused in me. Having already staked a claim for a spot in my Top Ten of the year, I will endeavour to do justice to this frankly incredible book. Bear with me…

The first absolute stand out feature of this book is the character of Teresa Battaglia herself, an older woman battling the twin issues of ageing and physical deterioration. Tuti paints a moving and incredibly touching portrait of this indomitable woman who caught up in an exceptionally distressing and seeming unsolvable case, is battling with her increasing concerns over her mental aptitude, recording her thoughts day by day feeling that they could slip away from her at any time, “what am I if not my thoughts, my memories, my dreams, my hopes for the future? What am I without these feelings, without my dignity?” These sections of the book where Battaglia unloads her consciousness into the written word are incredibly moving, brimming with a self-awareness, and a fluttering sense of mental fortitude that enthrals the reader, and says much about every person’s fear of losing their sense of self.

Partly because of this, she over compensates in the tough exterior she is known for, not suffering fools gladly, and proving a hard taskmaster for her investigating team. The scenes that focus on her repartee with one of the newer members of her squad, who experiences no easy ride from his new boss are particularly barbed, but cut through with wit and a slowly developing sense of acceptance in a play on the pupil and mentor roles. She is, however, bestowed with a remarkable empathy for both victims and the killer saying at one point that “before crossing the point of no return, even a serial killer is a human being in pain. Often abused. Always lonely” which is incredibly prescient as the plot plays out. Tuti cleverly manipulates both Battaglia’s and the readers’ perception of the killer throughout, blurring the lines of moral responsibility, and with a real sense of there but for the grace of God.

As regular readers of my reviews know, landscape is all important in my assessment and enjoyment of the books I read, and this small village overshadowed by forest and mountains in the Alpine region, works completely in harmony with the story. It’s an enclosed community, rife with secrets, and permeated with suspicion and folklore, producing a creepy and chilling backdrop to this murderous tale, “it was like the village had for many years been infected by a dark, tainted humour which had slipped beneath its surface, and festered there, out of sight.” The darkness, density and danger of the surrounding terrain, provides a place of both safety and threat for a group of children with difficult home lives, lending the story a touch of Stephen King who often employs children as a conduit for evil. It’s very effectively done, and really heightens the creeping sense of unease that permeates the book, and with the portrayal of the St Nicholas’ Day torch-lit procession evoking the evil figure of the Krampus, Tuti builds further on this theme of darkness and threat lurking in the shadows of this claustrophobic community.

I think it’s fair to say that this book left a real impression in its wake on this reader, being not only a perfectly formed murder mystery, but also a book that is layered with a supreme awareness of the frailties and strengths of the human condition, through the investigators, the inhabitants of the village and the killer too. I found this a really intense and emotional reading experience, and felt utterly bound up in the lives of the characters, and the travails they experience. Absolutely highly recommended.

(With thanks to W&N for the ARC)

M. W. Craven- The Puppet Show

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless. When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.  Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it. As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …

So here we go springing (or crawling depending on the ratio of fruit:mince pies consumed) into the New Year with a hugely enjoyable serial killer thriller, The Puppet Show from debut author, M. W. Craven. I could easily break this down into a short list of attractive features, as it ticked many boxes for me from the outset. A dryly witty maverick detective with exceptionally cool name, and hints of darkness in his past. Cute doggy called Edgar Poe (great name). Techno nerd providing inadvertent comedic moments. Fire obsessed serial killer. Pagan stone circles with a backdrop of one of my favourite areas of the country, Cumbria. However, as I’m known for my long, yes possibly too long, reviews I’ll tell you why all this worked so effectively throughout the book, so linger a while longer.

This has to be one of the most intensely character driven thrillers I have read of late, and to be honest, Craven has paved the way for a series of books, that will accommodate them in whatever investigation for some time to come. In common with Stuart MacBride’s Logan Mcrae books for example, I have a feeling that these are characters, Poe himself and Tilly Bradshaw (aforementioned techno nerd)  that you will immediately pick up on again even if you have to wait the usual year for a new book, and that is a great thing to nail this quickly. He’s also allowed himself a bit of wiggle room to flesh out another of the main characters, DI Flynn, as well as a tantalising opportunity to dig deeper into the darkness of Poe’s unsettled past, as well as building further on the fresh and entertaining interplay between these three characters generally. I really enjoyed the fluidity of the dialogue between the characters, and how Poe and Bradshaw gradually change and influence each other in differing ways but with a real feeling of yin and yang as his darkness is deflected by her light. Pretty deep huh? No, joking aside there is a lovely innocence and gentle joshing underpinning the more difficult sides of their characters, and it works superbly. 

As mentioned, Craven has picked a wonderful part of our green and pleasant land as his location, and uses it at every opportunity and extremely effectively to add an air of menace and drama to his dark and twisted tale. Highlighting the desolate and remote nature of the Cumbrian landscape, I felt it both mirrored and heightened the general sense of darkness at play in the killer’s psyche, the unfolding trauma of Poe’s own life, and the fact that Poe lives a solitary life in such a place is wholly in keeping with his own psyche. Using the stone circles that occur in multitudes throughout the region as the perpetrator’s killing sites is a neat touch linking the theme of sacrifice from the past to the present. Too often writers do not manipulate the landscape enough to add depth and colour to their central story, making their stories have the feel that they could just be plonked into any setting, but Craven (alongside authors like Mari Hannah and William Shaw) has definitely mastered the art of landscape in this one. 

And so to the plot itself, and with my familiar refrain of no spoilers here, there are no spoilers here! What plays out is a perfectly paced, twisty murder investigation with some surprising reveals, a really quite empathetic killer and (cue host of angels) a killer whose identity remained remarkably well hidden. So another box firmly ticked, and giving an overall feeling of tremendous satisfaction to this reader. I shall be recommending this at work and beyond on its publication later this month, and a cracking good read to start the year. Highly recommended. 

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(I downloaded this ARC from Netgalley UK via Little Brown Books)

Pre-order your copy of The Puppet Show here

Blog Tour- Mari Hannah- The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)

When the body of a young woman is found by a Northumberland railway line, it’s a baptism of fire for the Murder Investigation Team’s newest detective duo: DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver. The case is tough by anyone’s standards, but Stone is convinced that there’s a leak in his team – someone is giving the killer a head start on the investigation. Until he finds out who, Stone can only trust his partner. But Frankie is struggling with her own past. And she isn’t the only one being driven by a personal vendetta. The killer is targeting these women for a reason. And his next target is close to home…

The Insider is the second outing for Northumbria detectives, DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver introduced in the hugely enjoyable first book, The Lost Our intrepid duo are back in search of a pernicious and twisted killer (rubs hands with glee) and once again Mari Hannah has produced a quality page-turner of a thriller for these increasingly dark winter nights…

I felt a wonderful sense of familiarity stepping back into the world of Stone and Oliver, such was the strong impression that the first book left on me, and was delighted that their working and personal relationship was as emotionally bumpy yet suffused with a genuine feeling of respect as the previous book. Both characters are extremely empathetic, realistic and genuinely likeable- Stone for his calmness and pragmatism, and Oliver for her impetuousness and gumption.  As traumatic experiences from their own lives rise uncomfortably to the surface in the course of this investigation, and as Stone continues to navigate his way as a surrogate father to his teenage nephew Ben, Hannah has a wide scope of emotional upset, and self doubt to convey in her characters. There are some moments of emotional revelation for both, and one storyline in particular will, I’m sure, have further repercussions in the future. What I like about both characters is their unerring ability to handle their own personal upset so incredibly ham-fistedly, but also the rock solid and extremely professional way they go about their search for this killer, overcoming an initially mistrustful and obstinate Murder Investigation Team, and meticulously picking apart the threads of the investigation before their arrival. Once again, the procedural detail is spot on, and the reader experiences all the tension and frustrations that the detectives do themselves in this thorny and distressing case. As the necessity to trap the killer gains in intensity, so too does the pace and vigour of Hannah’s writing, echoing the increasing frustration but slowly appearing chinks of knowledge that Stone and his gradually cooperative team unearth.

What I am consistently impressed with in relation to Hannah’s writing is the extremely well structured and visual quality of her writing. Everything is so clearly described that there is a strange sense that you almost watching the action unfold before you- an experience more akin to watching a thriller on television than reading a book. Even outside of the fact of being incredibly familiar with the various north east locations that Hannah uses, her depiction of landscape, whether town or country, is vibrant and oozes with colourful detail. If ever the Northumbria tourist board is looking for a regional champion, they need look no further than Hannah whose affection and love of her home turf, both its good and bad points, shines throughout the whole book.

Another sterling addition to Hannah’s repertoire, and I am very much looking forward to the next Stone and Oliver investigation, which I think, judging my the unresolved issues in this book, is likely to be another emotional rollercoaster for Hannah’s characters, and us, as readers, too. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orion for the Netgalley ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: