Monthly Archives: September 2021

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of An Untidy Death – Book 2 of the Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AnUntidyDeathbookreview

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I enjoy reading Simon Brett’s writing – see my reviews of Death on the Downs, Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations, The Liar in the Library, The Killer in the Choir and Guilt at the Garage. But I’d particularly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Clutter Corpsesee my review. I snapped this one up with excitement when I saw it featured on Netgalley, though I was a tad worried at just how much I was looking forward to diving in, as that can often be a recipe for disappointment – would I enjoy this one as much?

BLURB: “My mother’s going to kill herself . . . That is, if I don’t kill her first.” When Alexandra Richards approaches professional declutterer Ellen Curtis to ask her to help sort out her mother’s chaotic flat, Ellen gets the impression Alexandra doesn’t like her mother very much. But after hearing the local news, Alexandra’s exasperated words don’t seem such a joke…

REVIEW: And that’s as much of this very chatty blurb that I’m inclined to share – don’t read it as it spoils far too much of the plot. I loved this one – indeed, it’s on my Outstanding Reads of the Year list. Ellen is a lovely character, who is briskly efficient and clearly extremely intelligent. She also has dealt with a devastating tragedy in her life with fortitude and resilience. And yes… I know she’s fictional, but I finished this book full of warmth towards this wonderful, three-dimensional protagonist. Brett is an accomplished, experienced author whose main characters are often a bit larger than life, but Ellen isn’t one of those. Her thoughtful, quieter outlook drew me right into the story as she tries to unpick what appears to be an accidental death that she increasingly feels is something else.

Ellen is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast – I love her relationship with her ebullient mother, who is clearly dissatisfied with Ellen’s life choices and delights in emphasising her closeness with Ellen’s daughter. Unlike so many fictional families, they don’t get to hurl hurtful truths at each other that in real life would probably cause complete estrangement. And I also found Ellen’s relationship with her son, who suffers from clinical depression, achingly realistic.

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound a rather fraught, dreary read – and it’s nothing of the sort. Set in my neck of the woods, I found myself spluttering with laughter at Brett’s pithy descriptions of local settings. Meanwhile, the murder mystery is beautifully plotted. The pacing is spot on, there are a satisfying number of potential suspects – and of course, I’d spotted the perpetrator. Until halfway through the denouement scene, when I realised it wasn’t who I thought it was… Nicely done! All in all, this is by far the best written murder mystery I’ve read this year and while I’d recommend that you grab the first book, just because it’s also a cracking read – it isn’t necessary to appreciate this gem. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of An Untidy Death from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Murder at Standing Stone Manor – A Langham and Dupré mystery by Eric Brown #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderatStandingStoneManorbookreview

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I’ve read two other books in this series and thoroughly enjoyed them – see my reviews of Murder Takes a Turn and Murder Served Cold. Right now, I’m particularly drawn to historical murder mysteries, so I was delighted to see this latest book in the series available and to be approved to read it.

BLURB: Newlyweds Donald Langham and Maria Dupré have moved to the country. They’re excited about starting a new life in the picturesque village of Ingoldby-over-Water – and about meeting their new neighbours.

But they’ve barely moved into Yew Tree Cottage when their new neighbour at Standing Stone Manor, Professor Edwin Robertshaw, invites Donald over to discuss some ‘fishy business’. Shortly after, a body is found by the professor’s precious standing stone in the manor grounds. Donald and Maria discover tensions, disputes and resentment raging below the surface of this idyllic village, but can they find out which of the villagers is a cold-blooded killer?

REVIEW: This is another enjoyable, well crafted murder mystery from an experienced writer who knows what he’s doing. The setting – a village deep in the English countryside in the mid-1950s in the depths of winter – is perfectly realised. I enjoyed learning about the village characters and possible suspects. One of the entertaining parts of this story, is that it is a while before the actual murder takes place – so I had fun working out who was going to be the eventual victim and who would be the murder suspects.

I liked the fact that World War II is still hanging heavily over the lives of several people who had served – it brought home to me just how much it affected the generation that went through it. Once the murder occurs, the leisurely pace picks up and there are more attempted deaths in quick succession. Donald Langham is given a great deal of licence to go off and do his own thing with the blessing of the local police, which works well for the purposes of the story.

The plot is satisfyingly twisty with plenty of suspects who had strong motives for murdering the initial victim. I enjoyed the well-handled denouement which manages to provide a complete surprise without short-changing the reader. All in all, this is an enjoyable read that provides a solidly written whodunit, complete with a cast of entertaining characters in an attractive, clearly depicted setting. Recommended for fans of historical whodunits, after the style of Agatha Christie. While I obtained an arc of Murder at Standing Stone Manor from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Inhibitor Phase – a Revelation Space novel by Alastair Reynolds #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #InhibitorPhasebookreview

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Alastair Reynolds is one of the game-changers in hard sci-fi, with his amazing, bleak far-future Revelation Space. I devoured them years ago, awed at the inventiveness and depth of hard science packed into these stories with such a very different feel – and indeed, no one writes quite like Reynolds. So I always pay attention when he produces something new. I thoroughly enjoyed his Revengers series, see my reviews of Revenger, Shadow Captain and Bone Silence. I also absolutely loved Slow Bullets. However, I wasn’t so impressed with House of Suns, which I felt was let down by the ending. Would I enjoy this standalone, which is set in the Revelation Space world?

BLURB: Miguel de Ruyter is a man with a past. Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – he has protected his family and his community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. The slightest hint of human activity could draw the wolves to their home, to destroy everything… utterly. Which is how Miguel finds himself on a one-way mission with his own destructive mandate: to eliminate a passing ship, before it can bring unwanted attention down on them.

Only something goes wrong. There’s a lone survivor. And she knows far more about Miguel than she’s letting on . . .

REVIEW: Reynolds used to be a space scientist and that clearly shows in this book, which is absolutely crammed with all sorts of technical details to explain why the world is the way it is. I’m aware that I used to thoroughly enjoy reading these types of books, back in the days when most hard sci-fi was stuffed full of techie toys and deep explanations as to why things were the way they were.

Reynolds has attempted to humanise Miguel by giving us a ringside seat in a first-person viewpoint. And the gripping start of this book quickly pulled me into the adventure. However, because this is set in the Revelation Space world, there are all sorts of techie tricks and gismos that we apparently need to know about in jaw-dropping detail. Inevitably, in order to keep the pace up in a book crammed with all sorts of adventures, the characterisation suffered. It doesn’t help that he is a posthuman, who has lived for a very long time with layers of experiences that makes it difficult to empathise with him. And Reynolds simply hasn’t the time or inclination to give us more than a few bonding moments with a very complex being, so that over the course of the story, I didn’t really care about any of the main protagonists.

I also struggled with the sheer bleak awfulness of the lives that humanity has been reduced to in this terrible post-apocalyptic universe that has been razed by the Inhibitors. That’s more my problem than the writing – I hadn’t remembered just how terrible the Revelation Space world actually is. However, I didn’t have any problem with continuing to turn the pages, due to the stunning inventiveness of Reynolds’ imagination. I never knew what would happen next. And there were times that when I thought I did know what was going on, it turned out to be something else. If you have read and enjoyed Reynolds’ Revelation Space novels, then track down this one – you won’t be disappointed. If you are fed up with the current taste for character-led space opera and yearn for the hard sci-fi adventures we used to see, then grab a copy. This wasn’t my favourite Reynolds’ read – but it certainly offers something very different from much of the current space adventures on the shelves. The ebook arc copy of Inhibitor Phase was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Women of Troy – Book 2 of The Women of Troy series by Pat Barker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheWomenofTroybookreview

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I encountered The Silence of the Girls last September – see my review – and it blew me away. While it was a powerful, disturbing read, I have always had a soft spot of Greek myths and this retelling really stayed with me. So I was thrilled to see this turn up on Netgalley – and even more thrilled to be approved to read it.

BLURB: Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.

The women of Troy.

Helen – poor Helen. All that beauty, all that grace – and she was just a mouldy old bone for feral dogs to fight over.

Cassandra, who has learned not to be too attached to her own prophecies. They have only ever been believed when she can get a man to deliver them.

Stubborn Amina, with her gaze still fixed on the ruined towers of Troy, determined to avenge the slaughter of her king.

Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore, as if she could make her cries heard in the gloomy halls of Hades. As if she could wake the dead.

And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles. Once again caught up in the disputes of violent men. Once again faced with the chance to shape history.

REVIEW: As should be evident from the punchy blurb, there are trigger warnings for rape and violence. Although I’d like to emphasise that there is nothing graphic or sensationalised about the plight of the women who find themselves part of the booty looted from Troy. Probably the most visceral scene is King Priam’s death – and that isn’t as grisly as some of the vicious hand-to-hand fighting depicted in epic fantasies written by the likes of John Gwynne, Joe Abercrombie and Miles Cameron.

What is undeniable is the power of Barker’s prose, as she immerses us in the daily lives of the captured women, experienced in first-person pov by former Princess Briseis, who witnessed the death of her family at the hands of Achilles in the early stages of the Trojan campaign. And was then captured by him. Now he’s dead, her life has once more become uncertain – particularly as she is carrying his child. It’s Briseis who tries to make life easier for the newly captive women, traumatised by the death of their husbands, fathers and sons – and are now having to cope with being owned by those responsible for killing their families. Barker could have so easily turned this into a sensational, stomach-churning read, but her immersive, intelligent writing – while not in any way belittling what is going on – gives us a ringside seat in the camp where the Greeks are still living. For despite being the victors, they are now imprisoned on the shores where they’ve been living for the past decade…

The unfolding story of what happens within that camp, as political alliances shift and rebalance in the light of the Greek victory, makes a riveting read. I fell in love with beautiful, brave Briseis in The Silence of the Girls and this book has only strengthened my admiration for her. If you enjoyed The Silence of the Girls, then this sequel comes very highly recommended. And if you like the idea of reading a retelling of the Trojan war and haven’t yet done so, then I suggest you look out The Silence of the Girls. This engrossing series gives you a version of the story from the viewpoint of the women caught up in it – something the Greek canon never bothered to do. While I obtained an arc of The Women of Troy from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Haunted Homecoming – Book 10 of the Southern Ghosts series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheHauntedHomecomingbookreview

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I’ve done it again… I thoroughly enjoyed Angie Fox’s Monster M*A*S*H series – see my reviews of The Monster MASH, The Transylvania Twist and Werewolves of London. So during lockdown, I also tucked into the first couple of books in this engaging Southern Ghosts series and was delighted to find new release, The Haunted Homecoming, appear on Netgalley. What I hadn’t appreciated was that it was the tenth book! Would I be able to enjoy it anyway?

BLURB: Apple cider, bonfires, football, and—ghosts.

It’s homecoming weekend in Sugarland, Tennessee and ghost hunter Verity Long is tickled to see so many souls—living and dead—back in town to celebrate. But not all reunions are happy ones, and when Verity stumbles upon a dead body by the football field, it appears someone has already evened the score.

REVIEW: Despite having missed out books 3-9 in this delightfully warm-hearted, cosy murder mystery, I don’t think newcomers to this series would have any difficulty in crashing into this series, as Verity’s enjoyable first-person narration sweeps up the reader and draws them into Sugarland’s festivities. Right now, I particularly appreciate dollops of humour along with my urban fantasy shenanigans – and Fox provides just the right amount of snark and delightful moments of comedy. I particularly relished getting to know Verity’s mother, who returns to Sugarland for Homecoming Week, along with her husband. The tension between mother and daughter was both funny and, at times, poignant. Humour can often have a cruel edge – but Fox’s exuberant, upbeat writing style doesn’t go there.

For all the excitement and loving descriptions of lots of sugar-laden treats – I wouldn’t recommend this book if you’re trying to diet – Fox also has a sharp eye for small-town friction. We have a good spread of suspects with strong reasons for wanting Ashley to keep quiet. Although I was pleased to see that the perpetrator wasn’t someone I had initially suspected. All in all, this was a really enjoyable read and I look forward to going back and catching up with more of Verity’s adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Haunted Homecoming from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #VelvetWastheNightbookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian. So when I saw this one was available on Netgalley, I scampered across to request it and was delighted to be approved to read it…

BLURB: 1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.

Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.

Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance…

REVIEW: I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb, which I think strays into Spoiler territory. I’m a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – she is a mighty talent who makes a point of hopping across a number of genres to produce something different every time. Even more impressively, she manages to nail each genre every time, too. But I’ll confess that this time around, it was something of a battle to get through the first half of this book. It’s a noir thriller, set in a terrible time when people were being persecuted and beaten by thugs because of their political opinions. So inevitably, the mood is gritty and the main characters are trapped in circumstances beyond their control. As I’m also struggling with my own issues right now, I found it a difficult read – especially as I really cared about Maite.

Moreno-Garcia’s superpower is the way she manages to make me care about protagonists who are deeply flawed. Poor, downtrodden Maite is far too worried about what everyone else thinks. Lonely and depressed, she is also oblivious to what is going on around her. Elvis has got mixed up with a terrible organisation, having been mesmerised by a monster, and is capable of terrible acts of violence. Both of them aspire to a more glamorous life, as depicted in the films – the kind of life that missing Leonora seems to be leading. Though, despite her insecurities and ignorance of the sheer horror of what is going on around her, what stopped me from dismissing Maite as a complete loser, is the core of kindness that runs through her. And her refusal to give up trying to do the right thing.

After I got halfway through the book, the gathering pace and my fondness for Maite kept the pages turning. Moreno-Garcia’s evident talent shines through in her handling of the increasing tension, while the finale brought together all the strands of the story into a fabulous ending. Whatever you do, read the Afterword which explains the historical context of the events depicted in the book. Once more, this is a triumphant success by an outstanding author and I just wish my own circumstances had left me in a better place to be able to fully appreciate it. While I don’t normally reread books, this is one that I intend to visit again, once I’ve finally recovered from Long Covid. The ebook arc copy of Velvet Was the Night was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Paper & Blood – Book 2 of The Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Paper&Bloodbookreview

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I love The Iron Druid series – see my reviews of Hounded, Hammered, Shattered, Staked and Scourged. Atticus is a fabulous hero with his adorable dogs and the steady humour they provide prevent the series from getting too dark as his enemies get angrier and more powerful. So I was delighted when Ink & Sigil, the first book in a spin-off series, appeared. Would I enjoy Paper & Blood as much?

BLURB: There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.
REVIEW: I really have rather fallen in love with Al. It’s such a refreshing change to find a sympathetic, enjoyable protagonist who also happens not to be in the full flush of youth – and yes… I’m aware that Atticus is two thousand years old. But he looks like a twenty-something, whereas Al doesn’t. The extra weight of years and wry wisdom has completely won me over. It doesn’t hurt that I also enjoy the company he keeps, especially his foul-mouthed hobgoblin companion, Buck Foi and Nadia. And yes… there is a lot of swearing in this book, so if you find that offensive, then this won’t be for you. It was the one thing that, at times, slightly niggled as I wished that Al had reported that Buck Foi cursed, rather than giving me the benefit of all the sweariness. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker, because I enjoyed the characters and the action.

And the great big bonus for me is that Atticus and his dogs also heavily feature in this adventure. I’ve really missed tucking into yet another amusing story featuring Atticus since the Iron Druid series finished, so I was delighted that he has such a big role in this book. And it is also fascinating to see him filtered through Al’s viewpoint. As ever, Hearne tells a cracking tale, full of action and suspense. As the mystery of the missing sigil agents deepens, Hearne’s warm-hearted, larger-than-life characters are genuinely concerned. When we meet the horrible monsters intent to tearing apart everyone they meet, I did wonder if we’d ever see them again. Because for all his folksy fun, Hearne isn’t afraid to kill off a likeable, affectionate character if it fits the plot.

A large part of the story is set in the Australian outback, which is effectively evoked and certainly adds to the vividness and tension, while Al and his gang attempt their desperate rescue. As ever with Hearne, I didn’t see the denouement coming – but that didn’t stop it being entirely satisfying. While there is lots of action and humour, I also appreciated the discussions and stories between the characters and the philosophical deliberations. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and is highly recommended for urban fantasy fans with a liking for their fantasy with a strong Celtic twist and lots of quirky humour. While I obtained an arc of Paper & Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10