Monthly Archives: October 2020

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Food and Drink #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonFoodandDrink #PickyEaters

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Avoid eating pine and eucalyptus trees. The resin will gum up your mouth and can cause explosions that crack teeth when you are flaming.

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Review of INDIE NOVELLA Night’s Tooth – Book 1 of Tales of the River Vine series by Jean Lee #Brainfluffbookreview #NightsToothbookreview

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I’ve known Jean as a wonderful book blogger for some years now – check out her site Jean Lee’s World and my interview with her, and you’ll know that she is an inspired writer with a quirky take on life. I read and loved her fantasy novel, Fallen Princeborn: STOLENsee my review. I also had the pleasure of reading an early draft of this one, so was a bit flummoxed to realise that I hadn’t then bought a copy and read the finished article – surely I must have done that? Must have been in the parallel universe I keep sliding into…

BLURB: Mississippi River Valley, 1870s. The white man wields rails and guns to bring law to the land. But there are more than wild animals hiding in the territories, and it will take more than guns to bring them down. Sumac the bounty hunter needs no guns to hunt any bandit with a price on his head, even one as legendary and mysterious as Night’s Tooth. But Sumac didn’t count on other bounty hunters coming along as competition, nor did he expect hunters sharing his own magical gifts. It’s one man against a gang and a mystery, all to protect a train that must cross the territories at all costs…

REVIEW: Lee’s punchy immersive style doesn’t take any prisoners. This one grabs you by the collar and hauls you right into the middle of the story and you’d better pay attention, or you’ll miss something vital. But that’s just fine – because I want to pay attention. Her prose sends shivers up my spine and has me alert and scenting danger, along with Sumac. I immediately care about him, even though I’m not totally sure what he is. And as for that sheriff with the squirrel-tail moustache…

Each tense exchange in this story is an event and the narrative tension only pauses to ensure no one is following. The action scenes are well described and the sensory writing means I can smell, taste and feel this freezing scenario on the outskirts of a town set in the Wild West, where the other side are also shapeshifters on the hunt…

I blew through this one in a single sitting and emerged, blinking owlishly to discover that I’m not some muscle-caked shapeshifter desperate to save the children – but a middle-aged woman who just finished a cracking story. Recommended for fans of gritty fantasy where you experience the world.
10/10



Friday Faceoff – No one can be a hero without the heart being torn open… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofftorncovers

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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 something TORN.

I’ve selected How To Break a Dragon’s Heart – Book 8 of the How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.

August 2009

This offering was produced in August 2009 – though I cannot find out who published this edition. I really like it. The large red dragon, surrounded by the forest with the huge moon in the sky is a scene from the book and makes an attractive, eye-catching cover. But there’s a dealbreaker here. The title and author fonts are displayed clearly and in a suitably quirky style – but NOT the series number! Given there are twelve books in this series, and they all follow on, one from the other, so need to be read in the right order – this is a real issue. We got muddled, thanks to this omission and ended up reading a couple of the books the wrong way around – and yes, it spoilt it for Oscar, who hasn’t gone back and properly completed the series.

Little, Brown Books for Children, November 2011

Published in November 2011, by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, this is another attractive, eye-catching offering. Poor old Hiccup being held in the palm of the Dragon Furious doesn’t look all that comfortable – and I rather like the fact that a series initially aimed at young boys features a pink background. Even more importantly, this edition has the series number clearly displayed.

Hodder Children’s, June 2017

This edition, published in June 2017 by Hodder Children’s books, is the cover that came to mind when I was searching for TORN covers. I love this one – the ripped section showing the huge dragon on the other side of the rather battered covering. Cowell initially wanted the covers to look rather scruffy and blotted, as so many boys cannot produce neat tidy work. Hence the spattered, rather scribbly nature of the drawings inside… But, despite loving the design, I’m not choosing it. Because book covers should aid the reading experience by giving all the necessary information. And this one doesn’t fulfil the brief.

German edition, March 2016

This German edition, published in March 2016 by Arena Verlag, is my least favourite. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with it, other than it reminds me far too much of the vanilla film franchise, where Hiccup is cool and good-looking, with Toothless as a special, rare dragon and he has a little group of admirers who generally follow his escapades. So unlike the books and the ethos behind them – where Hiccup is one of the awkward, nerdy kids that regularly gets bullied by Snotlout and his gang. And Toothless is constantly naughty and far too small to ride. But I can’t deny that it is an attractive cover, if rather generic.

Russian edition, 2015

This Russian edition, published by Азбука, Азбука-Аттикус in 2015, is my favourite. I love the look in the dragon’s eyes as Hiccup offers him his freedom. Part amusement, part contempt, part loathing… And all the relevant, important information is suitably displayed. I also like the slight grubbiness of the background – this isn’t supposed to be a book that looks too shiny and finished. What about you – which is your favourite?


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Postscript Murders – Book 2 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ThePostscriptMurdersbookreview

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I am a real fan of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series – her interesting, nuanced characters and strongly atmospheric settings have entertained me for years. So I was delighted to be approved to read this second book in her new series, featuring another spiky female protagonist. See my review of The Stranger Diaries, the first book in the series.

BLURB: PS: thanks for the murders.
The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death.
But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her…
And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to…
And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure…
Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all.

REVIEW: This book continues the strong literary theme that started in the first book, The Stranger Diaries. Peggy, an old lady who lived in sheltered accommodation in Shoreham-by-Sea, is involved with a number of crime writers. As Harbinder starts to investigate her death to try and clear up whether her death is natural, she finds herself dealing with the publishing industry. It is great fun to see what a successful writer (Griffiths) thinks of the industry that assists her in getting her books out to her readers – I very much enjoyed the crime writing conference set in Scotland.

However, it wouldn’t be much of a murder mystery if that was the high point of the story. What I loved with this one is the sheer puzzle that initial death poses and what happens subsequently. There is a fabulous cast of characters. Oddly, Harbinder very much takes a back seat during the investigation of this one, but I found that I didn’t mind. Natalka and the odd crew she gathers around her do a reasonably good job of tracking potential suspects. While Harbinder grits her teeth and gets on with trying to sort out the latest death that occurred in Shoreham, not having the freedom to go flitting off to Scotland after a tenuous lead.

I found it difficult to put down this quirky, entertaining murder mystery with an enjoyable denouement that managed to give those caught up in the investigation, an extra dimension to their lives that they had been lacking before the first murder. It’s a neat trick to pull off and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Highly recommended for fans of well-crafted contemporary murder mysteries without too much gritty grimness or gore. While I obtained an arc of The Postscript Murders via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Cover Love – 8 #Brainfluffcoverlove #CoverloveEllyGriffiths

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Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m featuring some of Elly Griffith’s covers, in honour of her recent release of The Postscript Murders – Book 2 of the Harbinder Kaur series. If you are interested in reading reviews of some of her books, here they are: – The Crossing Places – Book 1 of the Ruth Galloway series; The Janus Stone – Book 2 of the Ruth Galloway series; A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series; and The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series. I am aware I have completely omitted the covers of her Brighton Mystery series, but I have included the first cover in her whodunit mystery for children – A Girl Called Justice. It looks great fun and I will be checking it out in due course… Which are your favourites?


Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 21st October, 2020 #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 – Fallen Princeborn: Chosen – Book 2 of the Fallen Princeborn series by Jean Lee – release date 27th October 2020

#fantasy adventure #portal world #monsters #romance

BLURB: CHARLOTTE’S FAMILY MAY NO LONGER REMEMBER HER NAME,
BUT HER ENEMIES WILL NEVER FORGET.

Charlotte just wanted to start a new life with her sister Anna out of the reaches of their abusive uncle. When their journey led to Anna’s disappearance from human memory, Charlotte hunted for her sister and the mysterious creatures that took her behind an ancient Wall that hid a land of magic the world had long forgotten. Charlotte woke the Princeborn Liam Artair, and with his return the conflict between factions of the magical Velidevour turned cursed and deadly.

Now Charlotte must end this conflict before the land of River Vine and the inhabitants she’s befriended are consumed by Orna, Lady of the Pits, who is still very, very eager to see her beloved return. And Orna is not the only one who wants hold of the Princeborn Liam’s heart. These Velidevour come armed with firey wings, crimson claws, and pale fire, and like dead magic, they know no kindness.

The Bloody Days are soon returning, and they will not end until a choice is made, a choice that could tear the heart of River Vine apart.

Fallen Princeborn: Chosen is a direct continuation of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury.

I love Lee’s immersive, punchy and contemporary writing style that contrasts nicely with this brutal, magical world. The characters sing off the page, particularly Charlotte and Liam and I’m looking forward to discovering what happens to this damaged, charismatic duo…




*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheOnceandFutureWitchesbookreview

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I loved the cover of this one – and the premise, which sounded great. However, I don’t think I’d appreciated just how gritty a read it would prove to be – but that’s down to me rather than Harrow. It’s not her fault that this book appeared at a time when all our lives are being twisted into something we can no longer call normal, with no end in sight. So I have put all those considerations into my back pocket as much as possible, because a book of this calibre deserves to be read mindfully.

BLURB: In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box. But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

REVIEW: This is an alternate history, of sorts. Because just imagine that instead of women being discriminated against because they are physically weaker and often objects of desire, often encumbered by helpless children – there is an extra twist of fear. That they are witches. And when they were witches, women were often in charge. Until the nexus of their power was burnt, along with every practitioner the witch-hunters could get hold of. But many women still have a few household charms that they whisper to their daughters, when no one is looking, with bits of advice on how to stay safe. Except for the Eastwood sisters, who’s mother died in childbirth, leaving them to the mercy of their brutal father – and a beloved grandmother, who lived in a tumbledown cottage in a forest. Theirs was an upbringing you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy – and from being a tight-knit unit, they were finally ripped apart in a welter of anger and betrayal.

And this is where the book starts… I found it initially a hard read. The setting is in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, where capitalism is red in tooth and claw and workers’ rights are simply not considered. Especially if those workers are women and children. The writing is beguiling – poetic and beautiful and each sister’s strength and weaknesses are portrayed with insightful compassion. I did worry that this was going to be one of those beautifully written books with an ultimately bleak ending. And I hope it won’t be regarded as a spoiler if I reveal that I was mightily relieved when it didn’t turn out to be the case.

I am also conscious that this review sounds as if there isn’t much going on – but this book is packed with intrigue, tension and sudden, violent bursts of action that had me reading far later than I’d wanted to. In short, it is a stunning portrayal of a lovely premise – I particularly enjoyed Harrow’s playing about with the wording of nursery rhymes. And I highly recommend this passionate, moving book to anyone who enjoys reading about witches. While I obtained an arc of The Once and Future Witches via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10




Tuesday Treasures – 16 #Brainfluffbookblog #LightintheLockdown

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In this week’s Tuesday Treasures, I’m returning to Bexhill, where I was on a writing retreat with my sister in law. On this particular day, we had a procession of sunshine and showers and watching the rainclouds travelling across the sea towards us was incredible. And – for the record, I haven’t added any filters or tweaked the colours in any way. The clouds really looked like this…


Review of AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #TheStrangerDiariesbookreview

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I am a fan of Griffiths’ writing – see my reviews of The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone and A Room Full of Bones, so I was delighted to be approved for an arc of The Postscript Murders – and a bit shocked to discover that it was the second book in the series – how come I had missed the first book? So I decided to get hold of the Audible version to listen to while away in Bexhill.

BLURB: Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case.

Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal…

REVIEW: I haven’t had the pleasure of listening to a full ensemble cast perform a book since listening to the audiobook of the Radio 4 dramatisations in Poirot’s Finest Cases. So I wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy this treatment. In the event, it turned out to be a solid joy. This murder revolves around a rather creepy story by the fictional writer R.M. Holland. The English teacher at the heart of this mystery is in the process of writing Holland’s biography and throughout the murder mystery, short extracts from Holland’s famous short story keep appearing, after having started the book – and then at the end, we get the full story, right to the chilling ending. As well as attempting to write Holland’s biography, Clare keeps a daily diary. So the narrative bounces between Clare’s diary; Harbinder Kaur, Griffiths’ latest detective; and Georgia, Clare’s teenage daughter.

I always enjoy first person viewpoint and Griffiths does a fine job of dropping in all sorts of little details. There are regular shafts of dark humour running through this one, much of it provided by Harbinder, who is a feisty character with decided views about everything. Griffiths once more provides an interesting protagonist – a gay, British-born Asian detective in her thirties who lives at home with her parents in Shoreham. It was a pleasure to hear details mentioned that I know well, given that I don’t live far from the area. As ever, this being Griffiths, the landscape contributes to the overall tone of the book, particularly the deserted cement works, which actually does exist.

This mystery moved along at a good clip, with plenty of possible suspects being produced and all sorts of twists along the way. There are definite creepy moments that are well evoked, though this isn’t overly gory, or too gritty. It is a contemporary murder mystery with a strong literary theme throughout, flashes of humour and genuinely tense situations. The denouement worked well, and I certainly didn’t work out who the murderer actually is – in fact I spent about a third of the novel rather desperately hoping that a certain character wouldn’t turn out to be the murderer, as that would have ruined it for me. Thankfully, it wasn’t them!

This was a perfect mix of murder mystery tension, enjoyable characters, strong landscape and plot twists. Highly recommended for fans of Agatha Christie, who would like to read something more contemporary – and this particular edition does a brilliant job of bringing those characters to life.
10/10

Sunday Post – 18th October, 2020 #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.

After having been away for a couple of weeks, this last week has been a blur of catching up – but also resuming activities I haven’t done since before Lockdown in March. Like attending my first Fitstep session on Wednesday, and teaching Tim on Friday. I am very thankful that I’d had those two weeks away in Bexhill, where we went out every single day for at least a walk along the seafront and occasionally for a coffee or lunch at the wonderful art deco Pavillion, where their safeguarding measures are the best I’ve seen, anywhere. My pictures this week come from Bexhill, again…

So I’ve lost the tight-knit knot of fear that used to appear every time I’d walked through my back gate, masked up to face a world full of jagged differences. Just as well, really. Last Sunday, I drove to Basingstoke accompanied by my younger sister to visit our youngest sibling, who was celebrating her 50th birthday. Instead of having the large family celebration she’d wanted, we all took turns to pop in to see her to ensure we didn’t break the Rule of Six and she had an ongoing series of visitors over the weekend, all organised by her husband. So it was a complete surprise to her as to who would be turning up on her doorstep. The catch was that the road we normally take was closed for some reason – so while we got there on time, we’d wandered down some very, very narrow roads via the detour. On the way home, while following an alternative route, we managed to get magnificently lost. However, the journey was on A-roads that wound through open countryside and through tree-covered tunnels, with rich, buttery Autumn sunshine slipping through the greenery. It was absolutely beautiful – and even though I didn’t have a clue where we were, I recall looking around feeling very glad to just be there. Fortuntely, soon afterwards, we arrived on the outskirts of Chichester and just half an hour from home on familiar roads.

On Thursday, I drove over to see my daughter and grandchildren which was lovely – it seemed far too long since I’d seen them. I couldn’t get over how many more words Eliza now has – she’s a real little chatterbox, so very much like her mother at the same age! On Friday, Himself and I returned to pick up Frank after school and bring him to stay, so I had a chance to catch up with him. It’s his GCSE year, so he’s working hard towards his mock exams in a year where everything is so very different.

Last week I read:
The Postscript Murders – Book 2 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
PS: thanks for the murders.
The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death.
But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her…
And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to…
And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure…
Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all.
This intriguing murder mystery continues the literary theme started in the previous book. It isn’t a cosy, but it certainly seems to follow in the footsteps of Agatha Christie’s type of whodunit and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Lost Hero – Book 1 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
JASON HAS A PROBLEM. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and his best friend is a guy named Leo. They’re all students at the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids,” as Leo puts it. What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly? Jason doesn’t know anything—except that everything seems very wrong.

PIPER HAS A SECRET. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out, whether she wants to or not.

LEO HAS A WAY WITH TOOLS. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts?
Well this was huge fun and nicely filled the gap left since I finished listening to Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. And I’m delighted to see that we have all the books – so I shall be enjoying more of these, too. Review to follow.


The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive. There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.
This is a brilliant read. I absolutely loved it, but I did find it something of a struggle, as the poor Eastwood sisters had a very rough time of it and I’m not really in the place to read such grim grittiness. But that isn’t the author’s fault – and I will be reviewing it in due course.


My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Déjà vu Review of Victory of Eagles – Book 5 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

Friday Face-off featuring Wintersmith – Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

Cover Love – featuring the covers of Naomi Novik

Review of Minimum Wage Magic – Book 1 of the DFZ series by Rachel Aaron

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Map’s Edge – Book 1 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair

Tuesday Treasures – 15

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Deadly Education – Book 1 of The Scholomance series by Naomi Novik

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwarb

Sunday Post – 11th October 2020

It’s been a crazy week – full of resuming threads of my old life, as well as catching up. What I’m no longer doing is sitting at the computer until stupid o’clock to continue working. So no posts to recommend again this week, I’m afraid. Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.