*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AMurderatRosingsbookreview

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I was looking for an enjoyable whodunit, when I came across this offering – and was delighted to be approved to read it. I’ve largely enjoyed the Jane Austen-inspired books that I’ve read. Would I enjoy this one?

BLURB: When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.

The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death. Will he end up hanged, with the rest of his family shunned by polite society?

REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the end of the blurb and omitted the final paragraph, which gives the impression that it’s Mary who is at the heart of uncovering the murder mystery. And whoever wrote that clearly hadn’t read the book. Because while Mary makes more of an appearance in this book than in Pride and Prejudice, she isn’t part of the investigation. It’s a shame the blurb is so misleading, because I kept waiting for her to become swept up in the murder mystery – and was a bit taken aback when it didn’t happen.

So my advice is to ignore the blurb and just relax into the story. I think Purdey Pugh has nailed the setting and the atmosphere at Rosings. We see another side of Lady Caroline de Bourgh, rather than the overly entitled harridan portrayed by Austen. Lady Caroline is depicted as a stickler for the rules, but also someone who is genuinely concerned about her servants and is grieved at the violent death of Mr Collins, to the extent that she is willing for the local magistrate, Sir John Bright, and the village constable, Robert Archer, to freely question both the servants and the high-born occupants of Rosings, given that it soon becomes clear that whoever murdered Collins had to have close ties with the household. She also deeply loves her daughter, which becomes increasingly clear throughout the book. So while I started this one expecting to thoroughly dislike her, my initial prejudice towards her softened into genuine respect for her.

I also liked the depiction of Mr Bennet, who although isn’t as witty as he appears in Pride and Prejudice, nonetheless does make the occasional light-hearted comment. But then, this event takes place several years after the events of P & P. Mr and Mrs Collins are now blessed with three children and the three married Bennet daughters are all in an interesting condition. So Bennet has a particular and pressing reason to visit his cousin, Mr Collins, who is the heir to Longbourn on Mr Bennet’s death. I also appreciated seeing more of Mary, who is more of a retiring, desperately shy scholar who dreads social occasions in this version. She and Anne de Bourgh, Lady Catherine’s timid daughter, immediately form a close relationship as they attempt to study Greek together without the aid of a tutor. While Lady Caroline loathes the Bennets, after Lizzy treacherously stole Mr Darcy from the arms of her daughter, she is prepared to make Mary Bennet welcome for the sake of Anne’s happiness.

There is also a darker sub-plot running through the story. There are young and vulnerable female servants among Rosings’ large staff – and the dangers they are subjected to makes for a thought-provoking read. Especially as the investigators and most of the main characters are clearly striving to do the best they can for the people in their charge. Thus demonstrating that it only takes one or two of the other sort to cause real harm. So there’s a trigger warning for sexual assault.

I think the murder mystery is handled very well. Although I soon guessed who the perpetrator was – until I was proved utterly wrong. Meanwhile, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, before the unexpected and rather shocking solution came to light. Overall, I found this to be an engrossing read that took me convincingly into Austen’s world, treating it with respect while giving us a different view of some of her characters. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of A Murder at Rosings from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #LochDownAbbeybookreview

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It was the wordplay regarding the title and that rather gorgeous cover that snagged my attention – and the blurb ensured that I requested a copy of this one. And I’m very glad I did…

BLURB: It’s the 1930s and a mysterious illness is spreading over Scotland. But the noble and ancient family of Inverkillen, residents of Loch Down Abbey, are much more concerned with dwindling toilet roll supplies and who will look after the children now that Nanny has regretfully (and most inconveniently) departed this life.

Then Lord Inverkillen, Earl and head of the family, is found dead in mysterious circumstances. The inspector declares it an accident but Mrs MacBain, the head housekeeper, isn’t so convinced. As no one is allowed in or out because of the illness, the residents of the house – both upstairs and downstairs – are the only suspects. With the Earl’s own family too busy doing what can only be described as nothing, she decides to do some digging – in between chores, of course – and in doing so uncovers a whole host of long-hidden secrets, lies and betrayals that will alter the dynamics of the household for ever.

REVIEW: I’ve been reading a fair amount of historical fiction recently – but I can safely say that nothing has been quite like this offering. The Inverkillen clan are all thoroughly spoilt and entitled – and quite right, too. After all, they’re part of an aristocracy that goes back hundreds of years and everyone in the village and beyond acknowledges their superiority over the common sort. Indeed, they employ lots of the common sort to wait upon them hand, foot and finger. So when a mysterious and rather virulent illness strikes the domestic staff just when Lord Inverkillen is found dead by the weir, dramatic changes have to be made in domestic arrangements – and that’s before the Will is read…

This is a funny and engaging read – but do keep the character cast list bookmarked, at least for the first few chapters, because there are quite a lot of Inverkillens and events keep happening. Think of a cross between the televised version of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories and Agatha Christie’s country house mysteries. And I won’t compare Cowan-Erksine’s writing with Wodehouse, because his prose is far more hilarious. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed her dry humour and found myself laughing aloud more than once. And as I’m struggling with post-Covid fatigue syndrome, I’m not inclined to chuckle over anything that isn’t genuinely funny.

Since I’ve finished this one, I’ve found myself looking around for something similar – and I haven’t yet found it. If you are looking for a mystery that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then this one comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Loch Down Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 20th June, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

A very happy Father’s Day to those of you who are celebrating. This year, it won’t be a major thing in our house, as we’re still coming to terms with the death of my lovely father-in-law, Derek Higbee, who lost his battle with cancer on 6th May. He was a remarkable man, whose education was hampered by WWII and despite being dyslexic, he went on to have a successful career, ending up as Managing Director of an engineering firm, with several inventions to his name.

Derek with the wallclock he designed and made

A keen cyclist all his life, he embarked on several major sponsored cycle rides once he retired, including riding the length of Britain, from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and the other where he rode from the tip of South Island in New Zealand and ending in Auckland on North Island. All proceeds went to charity. He also took up pottery, passed exams and became good enough to have his work displayed for sale at the prestigious annual exhibition in the Bishop’s Kitchen at Chichester Cathedral. And his abiding passion for the last decade, was his involvement with the Ringwood Junior School, where he ran an Engineering afterschool club. He rounded up a team of like-minded friends and between them, they designed and constructed projects appropriate for 10 and 11-year-olds that could be successfully completed within a term. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Indeed, he received a national award in recognition of his efforts to introduce STEM subjects to schoolchildren. When he was in Christchurch Hospice, one of the nurses immediately recognised him, as her daughter had been one of the hundreds of children who had attended the club over the years.

Marie and Derek on his 70th birthday

All of this would be noteworthy and impressive – but he was also a charismatic, kindly, outgoing person with a lively intelligence and quirky sense of humour. And a very strong family man. Himself is the eldest of three – two boys and a girl. I came into the family rather unexpectedly, having divorced with two young children, and being determined never to get involved with anyone else ever again. Until Himself and I realised our strong friendship had become something deeper… I and my children were welcomed wholeheartedly by both Derek and Marie. When we first moved into our house, it was in a sorry state. Derek and Marie travelled up to help us fix up the house and we went away on holiday with them several times, first with the children – and then later, we took our eldest grandchild to stay with them and my sister-in-law’s family in a holiday cottage in Wales, back in 2008. So many happy times… We always knew they were there for us, and that was such a comfort.

Himself, Marie & Derek on a family holiday

His funeral service was on a lovely sunny day and although I wasn’t well enough to attend, I was able to watch it live online. I’ve promised myself that once I’m better, I’ll pay my respects by putting a posy of wild flowers on his grave. Derek was keen on wild flowers and nature – his final project was making a nestbox for owls, which he didn’t quite manage to complete. The celebrant at Derek’s funeral commented on just how much he had managed to pack into his life – not just with achievements and material success, but with past-times that made the world a better place. He is missed by all who knew him.

Last week I read:
Chains and Memory – Book 2 of the Wilders series by Marie Brennan
Last autumn Kim and Julian stood at the center of that storm. Now they face a challenge closer to home: a battle over the laws governing wilders, the closest genetic relatives of the sidhe. Many feel that change should wait until the current upheaval has ended . . . but Kim sees opportunity in the chaos, a chance to free Julian and all his kind from the chains of the deep shield that locks their gifts away.

The roots of that shield run deeper than she knows. The quest to destroy it will lead her and Julian back into the world of the sidhe, where they will uncover ancient lies, face betrayal on all sides — and gamble everything on the possibility of freedom.
This was a real page-turner. Having recently read the first book in this engrossing series, I was completely on board with Kim and Julian – and the twisty plotting has left me hoping for more…

Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of A Trash n’Treasures mystery series by Barbara Allan
Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming.
But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.

Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on.
This quirky whodunit is something of an acquired taste – but I was charmed by the tension between mother and daughter, who write alternative chapters. And along with the murder mystery is all sorts of high jinks that largely appealed to my humour. Review to follow.

Love’s Labor’s Won – Book 6 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Two families, alike in dignity…and armed with powerful magic.

The Magical Families of Ashworth and Ashfall have been feuding for countless years, ever since something happened to split one family into two. Now, they have been invited to Cockatrice Faire… when no other magician would dare invite them both. And when it becomes clear that the Ashworth Heir and the Ashfall Heir have fallen in love with one another, Emily finds herself caught in the middle between two powerful families, each one capable of destroying her once and for all…
This isn’t the best book in this gripping and unusual school adventure series – but I was interested to see Emily’s ongoing progression as she makes her way in this different world a portal away from the universe where she was born. And negotiating the customs and manners of the highest echelons of society was bound to trip her up…

Deathmaker – Book 2 of the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker
When Lieutenant Caslin Ahn joined Wolf Squadron, she was prepared for the reality that she might one day be killed in the line of duty. She was less prepared for being shot down, assumed dead by her own people, and dragged off to the Cofah Empire as a prisoner of war.

As if being thrust into a dungeon and interrogated wasn’t bad enough, the sadistic commandant decides to give her a cellmate: the notorious pirate Deathmaker. Given the crimes he’s committed against Iskandia, Cas owes it to her people to try and kill him…
That cover belies the sheer energy and humour that pings off the page as feisty Cas finds herself hauled into a criminal underworld against her will. I love Buroker’s writing and I’m looking forward to reading more in this entertaining fantasy series.

AUDIOBOOK – Soul Music – Book 16 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Young Susan has always suspected that her Grandfather was different, as though all the time he spent riding a white horse and wielding a scythe weren’t enough of a giveaway. Now that her worst fears have been confirmed, Susan learns that she’s expected to take over the family business when she grows up, even though most people mistake her for the Tooth Fairy.

But as attractive as Death can be to many people, Susan is drawn into something else: the exciting, addictive heavy beats of ‘Music with Rocks In,’ Discworld’s latest dance craze.
Nigel Planer does a fabulous job of narrating this one. I read the paperback a lifetime ago, and listening to this one was still a treat. Though I got a tad tired of the running joke regarding the Klatchian foreign legion – but that’s a niggle. It might not be Pratchett at his best, but that’s a very, very high bar to scramble over.

My posts last week:

Friday Face-off featuring Dead Astronauts – Book 2 of the Bourne series by Jeff VanderMeer

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Mystic’s Apprentice by Mary Miley Theobold

Unfortunately, as I’ve been ill again most of the week, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or article. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

Friday Faceoff – I’m so dizzy… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffdizzycovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with dizzying images. I’ve selected Dead Astronauts – Book 2 of the Bourne series by Jeff VanderMeer.

Fourth Estate, December 2019

This edition was produced by Fourth Estate in December 2019 and it’s certainly eye-catching. And has the sense of surrealism and power that runs through VanderMeer’s writing. I love the swirling colour and glorious difference – I just wish the title and author fonts were less wussy and more visible.

MCD, December 2019

Published in December 2019 by MCD, someone must have heard my grizzle about the previous cover. Because this time around, we get the psychedelic colours AND the emphatic title and text – in eye-blurring detail, actually. But you certainly can’t miss them… And I take my hat off in tribute to the cover art designers – this book pushes all sorts of boundaries in regards to narrative, use of language and story conventions. New Weird aptly sums it up. And it’s a testament to the skill and imagination of the designers that this offering and the previous cover gives the potential reader a very strong clue as to what they’re getting into.

Subterranean, 2020

This edition was published in 2020 by Subterranean. It couldn’t be more different to the other offerings for this book – but is still beautiful, for all that. My main reservation is that I’m not sure it adequately conveys the sheer oddness of the book.

Turkish edition, March 2021

This Turkish edition, produced by Alfa Yayınları in March 2021, is my favourite. I love the Mandelbrot fractal designs – a strong clue to the challenging nature of the book, as well as being beautiful and very easy on the eye. And the addition of the fox outline introduces another main character who features in the book, which is always a plus for me. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Mystic’s Accomplice by Mary Miley Theobold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMysticsAccomplicebookreview

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I’ve read a 1929s murder mystery by this author writing as Mary Miley and thoroughly enjoyed – see my review of Renting Silence. So when this first book in a new series caught my eyes, I was delighted to be able to get hold of it.

BLURB: It’s 1924, and Maddie Pastore has it made. A nice house, a loving husband with a steady job – even if it is connected to Chicago’s violent Torrio-Capone gang – and a baby on the way. But then Tommy is shot dead, and she learns her husband had a secret that turns her life upside down. Penniless and grieving, Maddie is only sure of two things: that she will survive for the sake of her baby, and that she’ll never turn to the mob for help.

So when she’s invited to assist a well-meaning but fraudulent medium, she seizes the chance. She’s not proud of her work investigating Madam Carlotta’s clients, but she’s proud of how well she does it. When Maddie unearths potential evidence of a dark crime, however, she faces a terrible dilemma: keep quiet and let a murderer go unpunished, or follow the trail and put herself and her baby in mortal danger . . .

REVIEW: Poor Maddie’s life disastrously falls apart at the start of this book. Bad enough to suddenly find herself suddenly widowed and pregnant – but when she then loses everything, she’s desperate. Fortunately, she’s blessed with a lovely nature that people warm to and while she doesn’t want to be a charity case, Maddie is on the receiving end of a lot of genuine kindness. Though once Baby Tommy is born, she needs to find a job so she can keep a roof over their heads and feed herself – and it’s a huge struggle. She is caught in the all-too familiar dilemma facing working women with children, especially as she is breastfeeding him.

No… this book isn’t all about that. But I’m glad to see one of the plot threads running throughout the story is Maddie’s constant worry about how she will keep Baby Tommy safely cared for while she holds down a job. It certainly means that once she has a measure of financial security while helping Madam Carlotta gain information about her clients, she can’t easily find another position. Even though she is uneasy about what she is doing at times.

I was aware that in the wake of the Great War and the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, there was a huge upsurge of interest in spiritualists on both sides of the Atlantic. Millions of grieving relatives struggled to come to terms with the loss of far too many young people well before their time and turned to spiritualists for comfort. So Madam Carlotta feels she is called upon by a higher power to help people. And there are occasions when she clearly has flashes of genuine insight that can’t be explained away. However they are infrequent and fleeting. Therefore Maddie finds out as much as she can about the clients who book in advance to attend a séance, so Madam Carlotta can drop these details in. And it is when she discovers one family who have been particularly afflicted with more than one death that it occurs to her that the latest tragedy may not have been natural.

In the meantime, we get a vivid insight into a vibrant Chicago where Prohibition is in full swing and speakeasys and illegal gin joints have sprung up on every street. This gives the major crime families a licence to print money, by getting involved in the production of illegal liquor and distributing it. Gang warfare is simmering just below the surface – and given that Tommy was driving for one of the major outfits, Maddie needs to tread very carefully if she is going to keep herself and her newborn son free of their pernicious influence.

The story rattles along full of incident and suffused with Maddie’s gutsy can-do attitude, which I found very endearing. While the murder mystery is enjoyable and well done, it isn’t the narrative engine that powers this story – that is Maddie’s struggle to regroup after two devastating blows take everything, other than her child, away from her. That’s fine by me – the pages more or less turned themselves as I was fascinated to discover what happens next. And I’m definitely going to be looking out for the next book in this enjoyable series. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, particularly 1920s America. While I obtained an arc of The Mystic’s Accomplice from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Dog Days of Summer: Flash Fiction anthology edited by Barbara Venkataraman

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Earlier in the year – fortunately, well before I went down with Covid-19 – Barbara contacted me to ask if I would be interested in submitting a 100-word story to her summer-themed anthology. And I jumped at the chance – it sounded like such fun! I sketched out one story, intending it to be the first of three pieces of flash fiction, but in the first week of March I became ill.

BLURB: Dog Days of Summer Flash Fiction, what a blast! The challenge: capture a mood, a memory, or an experience, using exactly 100 words. Stories like Ice Cream Hero, Lemonade Stand, and The Prank take you back to your childhood, while others like Fever Pitch, The Panty Liner Incident, and Lemonade Stand evoke summer heat and the search for relief. Other stories like What’s the Buzz?, Lazy Lake, and Change of Season leave you with a smile. Enjoy stories by Goodreads authors: Jina Bazzar, James J. Cudney, IV, S.J. Higbee, Sandra J. Jackson, Loretta Marion, Didi Oviatt, Carmen Radtke, Amy Reade, Rosemary Reeve, Kelly Santana-Banks, L.A. Starks, and Barbara Venkataraman as well as authors Nico Morales, Kathleen Fowler Costa, Jeff Homberger, Geoffrey Marion, Jodi Markley, and Kaitlyn Sutey. This book transports you to that time of lethargy, thunderstorms, and mad dogs known as the dog days of summer–only our dogs are more fun.

MY TAKE: Luckily, when Barbara sent me a polite reminder that the due date was approaching, I was going through a good spell and able to get together my short about Castellan the Black, a rather grumpy dragon who features in Picky Eaters. And a few days later, the book was published. Now, obviously, this can’t be a review because I’m a contributor. It’s not good form – but the reason why I’ve featured this small book is because it’s such FUN. I was badly struggling when I first picked it up, as I was suffering ongoing symptoms from my Covid illness. But despite that, several of these made me laugh aloud. I’d started reading, intending to dip in and out of these little bite-sized pieces of fun and quirkiness. But as with many bite-sized morsels, I found it far too morish to stop until I reached the end – which came far too soon.

I haven’t yet had a chance to read Barbara’s longer fiction, but she’s clearly a talented editor with a clear vision of what she wants. For every one of these shorts delivers something enjoyable and different. The theme of summer runs throughout, and you won’t be surprised to learn that dogs also feature reasonably heavily – but I wasn’t expecting quite so much humour, and emotion. It takes real skill to achieve such a punch in a hundred words, and every single one of these tales delivers. I was charmed, as I moved onto the next one, impatient to see what was next. Inevitably, some stood out – I winced at ‘Ice Cream Demon’ by Kaitlyn Sutey, grinned at ‘Track and Field Practice’ by Kelly Santana-Banks, sighed in pleasure at the writing of ‘Summer Nights’ by Amy Reade, had a lump in my throat at ‘Eternal Summer’ by Jodi Markley – and burst out laughing at Barbara’s ‘What’s the Buzz?’. I could go on, because each of these gems offered a particular delight.

And the bonus? Dog Days of Summer is a real steal at less than a £1, as well as being available on Kindle Unlimited. If you are looking for a light, refreshing read that won’t break the bank, then this one comes very highly recommended. It certainly brightened up my day, when I was in a very dark place.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – The chains on my mood swing just snapped – RUN! #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffcoversthatannoyme

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers that annoy me. I’ve selected Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller.

Tin House Books, March 2015

This edition was produced by Tin House Books in March 2015. I believe that as well as being attractive to attract readers, a successful book cover should provide an accurate clue as to what sort of story it represents. However this one – and the covers below – lamentably fail in that vital task. The girl in this story simply looks quirky, while the design and very simple, pared-back artwork have a light-hearted feel. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the prose is often beautiful, the story is a dark one and has haunted me since I read it. And the cover doesn’t give any inkling of that – other than a figure made up of dots looming over her, who could merely be her imaginary friend.

Anansi International, March 2015

Published in March 2015 by Anansi International, this beautiful cover is eye-catching and tempting – but there isn’t so much as a hint of what a harrowing read this is. And yes – I’m really angry about it. For once, straplines that regularly are plastered across a cover would be helpful – so where are they? In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be any harm in being plunged into a book that takes us completely out of our comfort zone. But this story encompasses kidnapping, coercion, mental, physical and sexual abuse – and just because it is wrapped up in stunning prose and happens in the heart of a beautiful wilderness doesn’t lessen the impact for an unwary reader who might be triggered.

Czech edition, February 2017

This Czech edition, published in February 2017 by Argo, has also decided to go for a simple design, without giving any of its readers any clue as to the content. There isn’t anything on that cover except the title and author’s name. And, that isn’t sufficient information to safeguard a reader, who thinks they are getting a book about a rustic idyll.

Italian edition, February 2016

This Italian edition, produced by Mondadori in February 2016, is even more misleading. It depicts young Peggy, well wrapped up, playing in the snow. And yes… the book does describes the beauty of the woods in winter in poetical terms. But that doesn’t hide the fact that the child is having to cope with losing everyone she knows and loves, other than her father. And spend large tracts of time foraging just to survive in freezing conditions with an increasingly delusional man.

Penguin, February 2017

This edition, published by Penguin in February 2015, is perhaps the closest cover of my selection to hinting at the darker side of this book. The black backdrop with the white scratched drawing and title is full of impact, as well as literally depicting the tone. But even so, I looked at that ‘little house on the Prairie’ hut and wasn’t fully aware of how disturbing I would find this offering. Luckily, while I found it shocking and it is etched on my memory – it hasn’t caused me any harm. But there are readers who shouldn’t touch this one with a bargepole. And I’m frankly disgusted that there isn’t any warning whatsoever on the cover to prevent them from unknowingly picking this book up. What about you – have you ever picked up a book whose cover suggested one story, only to discover that you’re reading something completely different?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder at Beaulieu Abbey – Book 11 of the Abbess of Meux series by Cassandra Clark #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderatBeaulieuAbbeybookreview

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I’ve been reading some excellent historical murder mysteries recently, so this offering on Netgalley caught my eye. As usual, I didn’t research it properly before requesting it. So I was slightly surprised to discover it was Book 11 of a long-running series. Oh well – it’s been a while since I crashed midway into a series with such style!

BLURB: February, 1390. The Church seethes with rebellion. Newly elected Pope Boniface faces a challenger: the anti-pope Clement, who sows discord from his power base in France.

The quarrel threatens the very survival of the Cistercian Order. So when suspicions grow that distant Beaulieu Abbey may turn traitor, Hildegard’s prioress summons her with a mission she can’t refuse: travel to the isolated royal abbey and spy out their true allegiance. The public reason for Hildegard’s trip is more prosaic. A young Cornish heiress, promised in marriage to the son of local aristocrat Sir William, needs escorting to her new home. It’s not often Hildegard joins a betrothal party, and she’s looking forward to meeting the girl.

But little does Hildegard know, death and danger wait at Beaulieu – and even the protection of her travelling companions, the monks militant Brother Gregory and Brother Egbert, may not be enough to keep her safe from harm . . .

REVIEW: As luck would have it, I know this part of the world rather well. In another life, we owned a yacht and Beaulieu River was a favourite destination when cruising up and down The Solent. So I was especially keen to read this murder mystery set in this beautiful, atmospheric part of the world.

Hildegard is a sympathetic protagonist, who is clearly intelligent and courageous. I also liked the fact that she is a widow with grown children that brought a steadiness and experience she demonstrated throughout. It makes a nice change to have a female protagonist who is a bit older and past her physical prime. However, this murder mystery is clearly action led, despite being told from the viewpoint of a single protagonist. There are so many twists and turns and so much going on that at times Hildegard’s thoughts and reactions – other than those about the mystery – aren’t apparent, so by the end of the book I didn’t know her as well as I wanted. While she is in some very dangerous situations. I didn’t ever get the sense of her real fear, or her ongoing dialogue with God, which would have been the case in those days.

However, Clark’s depiction of the surroundings, infrastructure and all the topographical features are spot on. Once I realised the limits of the characterisation, I was perfectly happy to relax into the story and appreciate the plotting, which was very well done. Though three- quarters in, I was a bit dismayed to have worked out exactly what was going on – until the denouement when I realised that I was completely wrong. And that is always the mark of a cracking good plot. Checking back, I realised that Clark has not cheated her reader in any way while achieving such a volte-face, which is the mark of an experienced, skilled writer.

All in all, this whodunnit is a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted read. Though I would have preferred more insight into the character, it certainly wasn’t a dealbreaker and I would happily go on to read more books in this entertaining series. While I obtained an arc of Murder at Beaulieu Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 9th June, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Artifact Space by Miles Cameron – release date 24th June, 2021.

#science fiction #space opera adventure #feisty heroine

BLURB: It has always been Marca Nbaro’s dream to achieve the near-impossible: escape her upbringing and venture into space.

All it took, to make her way onto the crew of the Greatship Athens was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one. But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life – and scandals – behind isn’t so easy.

She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new…

I loved the Traitor Son series – see my reviews of The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm and The Fall of Dragons – so I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley.

It was a no-brainer that I’d apply for an arc, given that space opera is a favourite genre of mine. I’m due to start it any day now, and very much looking forward to tucking into this one. A poverty-stricken heroine goes all out to achieve her dream of getting to the stars… I can relate to that! Has anyone else got a copy of this one?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley #BrainfluffNEGALLEYbookreview #TheKingdomsbookreview

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I’ve heard good things about this author, and when I saw that the blurb mentioned England as a French colony, I was immediately intrigued and requested the arc. I’m always a sucker for a well-written alternate history…

BLURB: Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English—instead of French—the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer.

The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.

REVIEW: Think of a mash-up of The Time Traveller’s Wife and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and you’ll have some idea of what Pulley is aiming for in this highly ambitious novel that dances around different strands within two main times – 1805 and 1898/99. And as the blurb doesn’t give away any spoilers as to why one of those dates, in particular, is significant, then I shan’t do so here.

Both times are very well evoked, particularly just how hard life is – and how cheaply it is held. Particularly the lives of sailors, slaves and soldiers. There are some quite shocking scenes in the book of murder and violence – and as we also have a naval battle portrayed and a ringside scene of the injuries inflicted, this one isn’t for the squeamish. We also see what this does to the main characters in the story, especially Missouri Kite who is scarred both physically and emotionally. He is capable of wonderful leadership that undeniably saves the lives of those in his charge; real tenderness in an age that doesn’t value or regard such an emotion. And absolute, lethal savagery.

I’ve been quite conflicted by this one. Terrible things happen and we are encouraged to feel it’s okay, because at the heart of it all is a love story. And while there is an upbeat ending, I wasn’t convinced that Joe wouldn’t wake up one morning full of longing for someone in a lost time and simply walk away, again, driven to desperately seek her out… But that kernel of uncertainty demonstrates the power of Pulley’s writing, which packs a strong emotional punch, throughout. She portrays Joe’s constant, terrible yearning for someone he can’t quite recall with a visceral vividness that had me wanting to weep at times.

What is undeniable is the technical skill Pulley displays in dealing with the scrambled timelines, the depiction of the historical times and the changes brought about by alternate circumstances. Her handling of those elements is masterful, as is her pacing and the management of a complex plot, complete with a number of twists that kept me paying attention. I saw a couple of them coming – but not the full picture. And that bittersweet ending adds up to a challenging book that has raised some awkward questions it leaves to the reader to figure out. I’m not sure if this is a story demonstrating just what a destructive force love is, for instance. Very highly recommended for fans of alternate historical tales. While I obtained an arc of The Kingdoms from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10