Monthly Archives: February 2019

Review of INDIE Ebook Pirate Consort – Book 2 of the Telepathic Space Pirates series by Carysa Locke #Brainfluffbookreview #PirateConsortbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed Pirate Nemesis – see my review here – which I discovered thanks to Lola of Lola’s Reviews. So it was a no-brainer to get hold of the second book in the series, when I realised it was available.

Mercy thought the hardest part of going home would be surviving the dangerous, psychically gifted pirates she calls family. But the truth is far more complicated, and now Mercy is their Queen—a role she never wanted. When a peace summit with the pirates’ greatest enemies ends in disaster, Mercy’s new life spins out of control. The Talented people she is supposed to be uniting are on the verge of a bloody war that will only end when all of them are dead. Will Mercy be able to stop the carnage and fulfil the role she’s been training for? Or is she too inexperienced and too overwhelmed?

I loved the fact that despite being able to snatch triumph out of the jaws of disaster at the end of the first book, Mercy is still struggling to cope with the demands of being Queen. I do get tired of books where the anonymous nobody gets boosted to take on the hugely responsible role they were predestined to fulfil – and then magically it all falls into place for them. Locke doesn’t fall into that tired cliché. Mercy is constantly playing catch-up in this high-powered environment where a bunch of telepathically powerful, touchy people look to her to enforce law and order.

So when a major incident crops up, requiring most of her coterie to see to it, she is left floundering. Quite right, too. And then she is thrown a lifeline from an unexpected source – which again, makes complete sense. I found I was completely engrossed in this page-turning adventure and urging Mercy to prevail.

The pacing is well judged – just as I was starting to wonder if the adventure was going to nock up to another level, the plot obligingly delivered the goods. Any niggles? Not really – if I was more invested in the romantic thread, I probably would be a tad taken aback at the speed with which Mercy and Sebastian were beginning to pair off, given her vehement views on multiple partners at the start of the book. But then, she does undergo a major change in her attitude during her training sessions – and it is the pragmatic course.

Overall, this is highly recommended for those space opera fans who like plenty of adventure with a splash of romance in their futuristic voyages.
8/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePsychologyofTimeTravelbookreview

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I’ve been eyeing this one with enthusiasm and was delighted to be able to get hold of it via Netgalley. Apart from anything else – that cover is to die for…

In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history. Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?

Firstly, if you are in the habit of diving in and skimming your way through a story – that reading tactic won’t work here. This is a densely written, tightly crafted book with a non-linear timeline that means you need to slow down and pay attention when reading this one. And if you approached this one, thinking that you would be in for the kind of adventurous mayhem offered by Jodi Taylor in her Chronicles of St Mary’s series – again, you’d be wrong. It’s nothing of the sort. So now we’ve got the two fundamental mistakes I committed when first approaching this one out of the way – let’s address what it is.

For once, the title is spot on – this book addresses what regular time travelling does to the travellers. Unlike most time-travelling books, this one doesn’t take us on forays into the past or future, but concentrates on a small handful of people who are profoundly affected by time travelling and follows their story. I was intrigued that some didn’t even time travel themselves – Ginger, for instance – but were connected in some way to people who did. Told in multiple viewpoint, the story weaves around a tightly-knit group for whom the ordinary rules of the universe no longer apply. Led by someone innately arrogant and entitled, Grace’s viewpoint pervades the group and anyone who disagrees with her viewpoint is forced to leave. Apparently driven by a fear that the project will be shut down on the grounds that time travel causes mental illness, Grace institutes rigorous checks, including nasty games designed to foster an indifference towards death in the travellers.

How can an outsider find a way into this group to discover details about a mysterious death? As the story jumps between the characters and different timelines, we gain an insight into the motivations and lives of a handful of women all somehow involved in the particular death, or time travelling. It is an engrossing, clever read packed with telling character details that have had me mulling over this one ever since I put it down. And, exceptionally, I’m tempted to go back and reread it – something I hardly ever do. Partly, because while I thoroughly enjoyed it and am in awe of the writing talent that is Mascarenhas – I didn’t love it. Being a rather simple soul, I need to be able to bond with at least one of the main characters and other than poor Bee – I didn’t.

I’m really sorry about that, because the other outstanding aspect of this book is that the only male characters who appear are incidental. For once, I’m reading a book where every single person who has agency and matters is a woman – I can’t tell you after growing up in the 60s and 70s what an amazing feeling that is. I just wished I cared more about at least one of these brave, powerful females. However, that doesn’t diminish the book’s importance or lessen my appreciation of the writing skill on display and I shall definitely be looking out for more by this immensely talented author. While I obtained an arc of The Psychology of Time Travel from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is ABANDONED BUILDINGS, so I’ve selected a post-apocalyptic read, Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Tom Sweterlitsch.

 

This hardback edition was produced by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in July 2014 is a really interesting cover as it features a mirror design with two different skylines of Pittsburgh. The interesting thing to note is that the post-apocalyptic world is the one where the air is fresher and the sky is blue, whereas the pre-apocalypse scene depicts large chimneys belching out smoke to the extent that the vista is a sickly yellow. This one is my favourite as I also really love the treatment of the font.

 

Published in May 2015 by Berkley, this cover features the protagonist’s wife. It’s an interesting cover, especially as parts of her image is starting to disintegrate – which is a clever reference to one of the main themes in the book. I would have liked this cover more if there wasn’t quite so much chatter cluttering up a strong, eye-catching design.

 

This edition, published by Headline in July 2014, is another strong contender, this time focusing on the protagonist, John Dominic Blaxton. I love the way this outline is tilted and we then get paler copies of him in various attitudes of his former life – a cool reference to the book. I think this cover gives a strong clue about the genre, which is a big plus in its favour. Once again, the font is done well and it was a close-run thing between this one and the first cover as to which was my favourite.

 

Produced by Heyne Verlag in April 2015, this German edition is eye-catching and effective. The twisting building reflected and fractured in the mirrored background provide big clues as to the futuristic aspect of the genre, which is always a major plus. Once again, I love the treatment of the font, which works well. My one grizzle is that I would have liked a greater colour contrast between that twisting building and the background which would have given a cover with more visual impact.

 

This Polish edition, published by Buchmann in March 2015, goes back to the shattered landscape of Pittsburgh. I love the silhouette of John against the dramatic cityscape as the title reaches into the boiling clouds. It works really well. This week there isn’t a bad cover here, so it’s all a question of personal preference – this is another one that could easily have been my favourite. So this week in particular, I’m fascinated to see which cover is your favourite – do let me know!

Review of The High King’s Vengeance – Book 2 of the Malessar’s Curse by Stephen Poore #Brainfluffbookreview TheHighKing’sVengeancebookreview #TheBacklistReaderChallenge2019

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I loved Poore’s Heir to the North – see my review here. And my firm advice would be that if you haven’t yet had the pleasure and you are all set to tuck into The High King’s Vengeance, don’t do so until you have read the first book. As this book immediately picks up the story, you’ll probably flounder in the opening chapters.

“I am the Heir to the North.”
Malessar’s Curse is broken, the wards around Caenthell destroyed. The Warlock himself lies, exhausted and gravely wounded, in the rubble of his own house. And while the dire spirits trapped behind the wards for centuries are unleashed into the world once more, Cassia is confined to a cell deep in Galliarca’s grand palace. Yet Caenthell calls to her, and Cassia must answer. As Heir to the North, the throne and the power behind it belong to her. But the twisted hunger of Caenthell’s spirits appals her and Cassia vows to do everything she can to defeat them.

This epic fantasy tale is a gripping read – particularly if you have already fallen in love with Cassia. She is now swept up in the terrifying consequences of her own actions, having been systematically deceived and used as a pawn by one of those lantern-jawed heroes that tend to people these stories. I think Poore has masterfully written a protagonist in the grip of a magical curse, by his depiction of her effect on those around her. As ever, Poore takes the genre conventions and flips them around – Cassia Cats-Paw is what Craw the dragon calls her. Once her part in the story is done – unleashing the dreadful curse – she is supposed to be so overwhelmed by the drumming in her head that she either goes mad, or joins the High King’s evil quest in conquering the world. The novel is about her struggle to avoid either fate… and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if she would succeed.

There is also an enjoyable cast of well-drawn characters that I also really cared about – the debonair Prince Rais, who accompanies her throughout her adventures, a complete misfit amongst the band of hard-bitten, weary ex-warriors who also feel compelled to join this desperate quest. I also very much liked the dynamic in which characters who I loathed in the first book were revisited and came across as less vile.

The catch with writing a story powered by a final confrontation is that said battle needs to be sufficiently spectacular to provide a satisfactory conclusion for a reader who has devoured the previous 448 pages to get to this point. Fortunately, Poore triumphantly succeeds in providing a cracking ending to this accomplished duology. If you are a fan of epic fantasy – or even if you’re a bit jaded and fed up with the genre – this one is highly recommended.
9/10

Review of LIBRARY copy Chasing Embers – Book 1 of the Ben Garston series by James Bennett #Brainfluffbookreview #ChasingEmbersbookreview #LibraryLoveChallenge

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The cover snagged my attention, because… dragons! And so I was delighted when I saw a copy of this in my local library.

There’s nothing special about Ben Garston. He’s just a guy with an attitude in a beat-up leather jacket, drowning his sorrows in a downtown bar. Or so he’d have you believe. What Ben Garston can’t let you know is that he was once known as Red Ben. That the world of myth and legend isn’t just a fantasy, as we’ve been led to believe. And he certainly can’t let you know the secret of what’s hiding just beneath his skin…

The clue about this book actually was splashed across the front cover Not all stories are made up and unlike much front cover chatter, this short phrase actually was the key to understanding this book. James Bennett is a principally a storyteller. Yes – I know all writers exhale stories, but storytellers tell… And so while the world is a delightful mash-up, convincingly portrayed and Ben is suitably angst-ridden and vulnerable – what prevented me from completely losing my heart to this one, is that there are large sections written in semi-omniscient and omniscient viewpoint. That isn’t a bad thing – indeed, lots of readers love that way of depicting the action, however I found it slightly distanced me from both the character and the world as I prefer experiencing my reads from the inside out.

That said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the adventures of Red Ben and found the pages flew by as I wanted to know what happened next. This was a strong start to what looks to be an engaging series.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Six of Crows – Book 1 of the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo #Brainfluffbookreview #SixofCrowsbookreview

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Yeah – I know, I know… Everyone in the galaxy has read this book and most of them – except the aliens lurking on Io – absolutely loved it. So I hesitated – partly because I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it and partly because I wasn’t sure I’d have anything meaningful to say about it when I came to review it, given all those folks in the galaxy got there before me…

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

I’ll be honest – criminal underworld fantasy heist adventures aren’t my go-to genre. I’ve enjoyed the likes of Scott Lynch’s The Gentleman Bastards Sequence – the first three and a bit, anyhow – and Daniel Polansky’s Low Town series is one of my all-time favourites – see my review of The Straight Razor Cure here. But I’ve begun too many books in this genre, only to abandon them when the filth, abject poverty and violence got too much. However, something about this one – including that amazing cover – was calling to me and I’m so very glad I gave in and eventually listened. It takes technical skill to keep this number of protagonists as viewpoint characters without one of them being skimmed, yet Bardugo pulls off this feat, so that we get to know each main member of the gang – why they’ve ended up as part of Ketterdam’s criminal underclass and what their particular role is supposed to be.

Inevitably, the plan put in place by the cold, calculating Kaz doesn’t run all that smoothly and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have cared all that much, but I fell for Inej, or the Wraith, which is her gang nickname. I wanted her to be able to move on and resume a better life for herself. And then, once we are pulled right into the heart of the story, Bardugo reveals hidden layers of the main character in the middle of plot – ‘Dirtyhands’ Kaz, himself. It’s very well done. The character development throughout the story is masterfully handled – you only have to read a handful of reviews to realise these characters matter to readers.

And I haven’t even started on the plot, yet. Because for a book in this sub-genre to really work, we need to have a clear idea of what’s at stake, what the plan actually is, how it goes wrong and what happens next… There are any number of places where an author can slip up during the delivery of a novel in a criminal underworld fantasy adventure – and I’m not particularly forgiving of a lot of them. I don’t like it when the plot wanders, or one character takes over, or a romance blossoms right in the middle of what should be an action adventure story, or the major climax isn’t so major after all. So I regularly abandon books which have committed these crimes, unfinished and of course, unreviewed.

Six of Crows deftly skips around all these potential pitfalls as if they don’t exist. Every single requirement is triumphantly nailed such that this one became increasingly difficult to put down. And once I finally finished it, I suffered from book hangover so that I struggled to find something else I wanted to read – this hardly ever happens to me! So, at the risk of sounding like everyone else in the universe, except for those embittered, six-legged critters on Io, this is an excellent read and very highly recommended to… well – anyone with a pulse, really.
10/10

Book Review of INDIE Ebook Black Holiday – Book 2 of The Black Chronicles by J.M. Anjewierden #Brainfluffbookreview #BlackHolidaybookreview

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I read and enjoyed the first book in the series – see my review of The Long Black – sufficiently to want to track down the next book in the series and discover what happens to Morgan next.

Morgan has finally made it, earning an officer’s slot on S.T.E.V.E., the ancient flagship of the Takiyama Merchant House. She’s survived so much to get here, and isn’t about to let lingering nightmares over those events stop her now. That said, even the toughest mechanics need down time. Grudgingly taking some shore leave, Morgan goes to visit the estate of her friend Emily, Baroness Novan – and gets caught up in trouble that, for once, isn’t of her own making…

I have tweaked the blurb because it tells you exactly what happens next and given that I never read blurbs, I was genuinely shocked at how events overtook her. Morgan is a really likeable character, if a tad on the grumpy side right now – but that’s hardly a surprise given that she is suffering from PTSD. I really like the fact that there is such a fallout from all the adventures that befell her in the first book – and that she isn’t willing to face them.

That didn’t prevent me from really rooting for her as she finds herself facing desperate people who believe they have right on their side. I liked the fact that Anjewierden takes care not to depict all the members of the group dealing with Morgan as having exactly the same viewpoint. Some are certainly nicer than others and in fact, Lanky’s story is a heartbreak in itself, given that he has never been given an opportunity to make up his own mind, having been brainwashed since a child. Morgan’s courage and resourcefulness is still evident without being unbelievable – and once again, kudos to Anjewierden for not resorting to the usual tactic, so popular in this genre, of having someone bashed on the head resume consciousness after a couple of hours with nothing worse than a bad headache and a bit of blurred vision. As the story makes clear – head injuries are always serious and mostly incapacitating, often with long-term problems.

There is plenty of tension, along with the action and the story ends with a chilling twist that leaves me determined to get hold of the third book once it becomes available. Recommended for fans of character-led space opera.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Only do what your heart tells you… Brainfluffbookblog

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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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is HEART, so I’ve selected a classic book that I read another lifetime ago – when I was a teenager – Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

 

This edition was produced by Prestwick House in September 2004 and I think this cover is amazing. Classic books often have rather boring covers – but this one is nothing of the sort. This African coastline also incorporates the face of the protagonist in a psychedelic way and it’s also avoided the dreaded textbox. This one is my favourite.

 

Published in May 1995 by Penguin, this cover is a little more traditional – but nevertheless manages to be both attractive and exotic, providing the kind of illustration that most people contemporary with Conrad would envision Africa looking like. Sadly there is a textbox, but at least it has the good manners to be reasonably small with an inoffensive font.

 

This edition, published by Penguin in 1983, is even more traditionally classic with a sepia-shaded drawing that looked aged from the moment the paint dried. The obligatory textbox is splatted across the top of the cover like a big black carbuncle. Oh well.

 

Produced by Newton and Compton in July 2013, this Italian edition is more like it! I love the bright green and yellow cover with the tropical leaf design bordering the edge and featuring the small plant, complete with roots. The yellow heart marked up with the roots of that little plant is so very effective that I very nearly had this one as my favourite – what stopped me from choosing it was that nasty little blob advertising a special low price bang in the middle of the artwork *sigh*.

 

This edition, published by Enhanced Media Publishing in November 2016, is an arresting and attractive design and was the one that made me choose this book. I love the contrast of the bright red heart splitting apart against a black background. No textbox – yippee! And I love the lovely flowing title font. Which is your favourite?

Review of KINDLE Ebook Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #CertainDarkThingsbookreview

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I encountered this remarkable author when reading The Beautiful Ones – see my review here. My admiration of her writing grew when I read Prime Meridian, so I treated myself to this one, which everyone mentions when talking about her work. Would I, too, enjoy it?

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…
Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

I’m not adding the rest of this rather chatty blurb, as it ventures into Spoiler territory and this one is far too good to be compromised by unwanted knowledge about future plotpoints. It’s a gem. Moreno-Garcia is superb at getting under the skin of her characters and making you care, even when they aren’t very likeable. Atl is entitled and spoilt – a fact even she acknowledges. She has done terrible things – and yet, like Domingo, I was smitten. I really wanted her to succeed in fleeing Mexico City without be executed by the police, or worse still – fall into the hands of a sadistic young vampire, who has a very valid reason for wanting to torture her. As her story unfolds, along with Domingo’s own life as a street kid, I found myself inhabiting the smelly hideout and eking out a precarious existence, while constantly harried by the inescapable hunger for blood.

I mostly read SFF, so while it isn’t my go-to genre, I’ve read one or three books featuring vampires. This is the one that best depicts their otherness, the differing races, differing customs and what drives them. It clearly lays bare their sense of entitlement and utter lack of humanity, while demonstrating their dangerous ability to mimic those emotions in order to influence the humans around them. I could see all that – and yet I still wanted Atl to prevail. And as for Domingo… sweet, trusting Domingo, who was enchanted by her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. What did I want for him? Well, not to have his throat torn out, obviously. Other than that – I wasn’t sure. He clearly wanted to become part of her life and leave with her when she went on the run. Was that the best thing for him?

I don’t know how Moreno-Garcia manages to worm her characters right into my inscape – I suspect she is a witch, whose books weave an enchantment. But I have yet to read anything of hers where I haven’t passionately cared about her world and the people in it. As for what happens to Atl and Domingo – you’ll have to read the book to find out. Even if you’re sick of reading vampire books, even if you’ve never read a vampire book, pick this one up and give it a go. It is every bit as beautiful and dark as that amazing cover.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Revenant Express by George Mann #Brainfluffbookreview #TheRevenantExpressbookreview

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This is the long-awaited next book in this entertaining steampunk, gothic series featuring our two heroic crime fighters Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes.

Following their bloody encounter with the Executioner, Sir Maurice Newbury’s assistant Veronica Hobbes is close to death. Desperate to save her life, Newbury and Veronica’s sister Amelia board a sleeper train bound for St. Petersburg, in the hope that Gustav Faberge might have the answer. But there are enemies on board, and Newbury and Amelia will need all their strength and cunning to survive the Revenant Express.

This is an action-packed read, given that it is only just over 250 pages long. Mann certainly manages to keep the tempo fast and furious as both Veronica Hobbes and Maurice Newbury are both attempting to tackle a terrible threat. Although I enjoyed the excellent action scenes, particularly on the train – I am a tad concerned about a major anomaly. We are told in the blurb that Veronica is close to death – so I actually reread the opening chapter in which she features, and at no time do we get a sense in her viewpoint that she’s anything other than a tad cold and miserable while standing in the pouring rain. While close to death, she happily goes off to get involved in a demanding case with Sir Charles Bainbridge and doesn’t mention feeling slightly unwell at any stage.

While in the ordinary run of things, this issues would be a dealbreaker, they aren’t this time around, simply because I like the world and the characters so much. It doesn’t hurt that this particular adventure is largely set on a train travelling across Europe, so a lot of the action doesn’t impact the wider story arc. The gruesome nature of the infection causing all sorts of havoc presents a real danger to our trusty protagonists – and has Mann has already demonstrated that he isn’t shy of killing off some main characters, I found myself paying real attention to the very dramatic fights.

That said, something clearly occurred that threw a major spanner in the works regarding Mann’s writing. I hope he is able to get back on track to write the next exciting instalment, but if he can’t or doesn’t – that’s okay, too. I do wince sometimes at the angry impatience of some readers while waiting for the next book. Everyone experiences major upsets in their lives – including authors in the middle of writing a popular series. In the meantime this series is recommended for fans of steampunk adventure with a gothic feel.

While I obtained an arc of The Revenant Express from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10