Monthly Archives: January 2022

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #8

Standard

This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

It’s been a week of two halves, but as I’m now able to write this Sunday Post just a week after my previous effort, you’ll be right in thinking that overall my energy levels are still reasonably good. So long as I don’t think of trying to do any housework! While I know it is definitely positive that my emotional and mental energy have improved so much – it’s very much a two-edged sword… The first half of the week was grim. I woke up on Monday feeling angry and miserable and while I can generally throw off those feelings – this time around, I couldn’t. It was the anger I found impossible to shift. And of course, given there is just the two of us – the person who bore the brunt of it is the one person in my life who is completely undeserving of my snarling criticisms on what he hadn’t managed to do around the house. It’s rather chastening to realise that I’m far less nice when I’m more like me, than when I was too ill and exhausted to care… And even that reflection didn’t manage to lift my black fury at how bloody helpless and useless I am.

However, thank goodness I had a reflexology appointment on Thursday afternoon. Laura listened sympathetically to my teary rant about how much I hated being so vilely furious – and how it was poisoning my life at a time when I really cannot afford the energy to be so negative. So she set to work, promising to concentrate on my emotional energies. At one point, while she was working on my hormonal energy, which she said was allll over the place, my leg was twitching uncontrollably. Whatever she did certainly worked. I always feel very tired after a consultation. But I woke up on Friday morning feeling reasonably happy again. I’m still sleeping badly, and the constant high-pitched screaming in my ears is still something of an ongoing struggle. But I’m back to believing I can get through this – that I haven’t finally run out of stamina and courage. And that there will come a time when I will regain sufficient energy to write my books again so that my grumpy black dragon, Castellan, will once again soar through my life.

This week I’ve read:-


Blood Politics – Book 4 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
You’d think that life would finally be dealing Mack Smith a kind hand. Living in London, and with the opening of the new improved city version of Clava Books mere days away, things appear to be settling down. Other than the terrible nightmares about dragons, that is. Or the fact that she’s being constantly tailed by a string of mages, shifters and faeries, all of whom are constantly demanding her attention. And that’s without even bringing the temptation of Corrigan, Lord Alpha of the Brethren, into the equation.

Then, when a local dryad asks her for some help, things really start to fire up. There are some long hot summer days ahead…
I thoroughly enjoy Harper’s gutsy, short-fused heroine. Mack is a shapeshifter with a difference and this urban fantasy is full of twists and turns that kept me reading throughout a wretched night and into the small hours. Be warned, Mack tends to get very sweary when she loses her rag, so there is a lot of bad language – but I’ll forgive that. And there is also a doozy of cliffhanger at the end that had me reaching for the next book in the series – which is something that I hardly ever do. 9/10

Blood Lust – Book 5 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Life’s no fun being a dragon, especially when you are forced into responsibilities that involve trying to keep the peace between an array of shifters, mages and faeries in order to bring down the scariest and deadliest foe the Otherworld has ever seen. And that’s not to mention the fact that your own soul mate hates your guts…

Mack Smith, a fiery Draco Wyr, is battling to come to terms with her emotions, her heritage and her true capabilities. All she has to do is defeat Endor, win back Corrigan and live happily ever after. From the streets of London and Russia, to the beaches of Cornwall, will she be able to ever win the day?
Not only does this book deliver yet another engrossing adventure featuring short-tempered Mack, our foul-mouthed yet endearing heroine – it also has to produce a convincing and satisfactory conclusion to this series. I’ll be honest – given the narrative dynamic Harper had set up, I couldn’t see how she would pull this one off. And then she did… I completed this one with a lump in my throat and a smile on my face. Very highly recommended. 10/10

The Gathering – Book 1 of The Hundred series by Vanessa Nelson
As one of the Hundred, Yvonne cannot ignore a plea for help, even if all she wants is a quiet life, somewhere safe for her adopted children to grow into adulthood. Safety is in short supply. Young people, some of them children, are going missing in large numbers, leaving bewildered and grieving families behind. It’s not something she can ignore.

She finds an unexpected ally in an arrogant goblin lord, who seems intent on following her from place to place. With her skills in magic, and his resources, can they track down the kidnappers and return the children home?
I’ve been reading her Ageless Mysteries series and been very impressed, so when I saw this series I immediately tucked into the first one and was very glad I did. Nelson’s worldbuilding is superb – a layered realistic world that gradually is revealed through the eyes of a nuanced, three-dimensional character. The relationship between Guise and Yvonne is beautifully done and I look forward to reading the next one. 9/10

Witch Hunt – Book 3 of the Secondhand Magic series by Lori Drake
Magic Crimes Consultant Emily Davenport’s prestigious family coven may have been disappointed in her lack of magical talent, but they never took issue with how she lived her life—until she registered as a witch. Now the gloves are off, and she’s under investigation by the Circle, a powerful alliance of ancient covens.

But with an important case three months in the making finally starting to bear fruit, she can’t just stop and walk away. The witches of Santa Fe need her. A mysterious, illicit drug that only affects witches is gaining more traction by the day, and every minute she spends worrying about her own future is an opportunity for another witch to die. Can Emily stop the flow of the deadly narcotic and prove herself before her clock runs out, or will she be carted off to face tribunal in chains?
This urban fantasy whodunit has a strong heroine, who used to be an emergency nurse who is dismissed once she registers as a witch. Now she ekes out a living as a consultant on magical cases with the local police department. I really enjoyed Emily’s backstory – she is a strong, sympathetic protagonist who has been put in a convincingly difficult position. I’m delighted there are more books in this smart, well written series. 9/10

The Dragon and Mrs Muir by Connie Suttle
The wedding was an outdoor affair, on a beach with the Gulf of Mexico in the background. In all, seventy-two were injured, and the body count rose to seventeen. Local hospitals were filled with bleeding attendees, and, at one point, the bride, her bloodied white wedding dress cut away and spilling onto the emergency room floor, went into cardiac arrest. Her groom died at the scene.

Philomena Muir became a widow on her wedding day. Three years later, she found herself bumping into the strangest man she’d ever met–except he wasn’t a man. More specifically, he wasn’t human. That brief meeting became the catalyst for a brewing war, pitting one human witch against the might of a supernatural race. The cards are stacked, and Philomena needs a winning hand…
This is an unusual book and despite the slight unevenness of the story-telling and the ease with which some of the conflicts are overcome, I enjoyed the dynamic. The dramatic backstory is very well handled and I really liked Phil. Overall, an intriguing and memorable read. 8/10

Little Witches – Book 21 of Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Laughter Academy is in trouble. The student witches are growing increasingly reckless, preying on the mundanes below the mountains as their tutors plot and scheme to take advantage of the chaos. And no one seems to know why.

Emily is in no condition to intervene. But she cannot refuse. Heading to Laughter, Emily finds herself dragged into a world of schoolgirl games, staffroom politics and a deadly plot aimed at the heart of the Allied Lands themselves…
As I’ve been reading this entertaining and unpredictable fantasy series, I’ve often imagined Nuttall having a conversation in a bar with a couple of writing buddies. “So… what do you think would happen if a girl got transported from our world, back to a medieval society? And then triggers a major change by introducing some key inventions – what would happen then? I think I’m going to write it. Just to see where it goes.” Because that’s exactly the dynamic of this fascinating series story arc and Emily – the protagonist and catalyst of so much of the upheaval that occurs – has become a firm favourite of mine. There are three more books to go in this series and I’d intended to space them out – but I immediately got hold of the next one, because of that amazing cliffhanger ending. 8/10

The Right Side of History – Book 22 of Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall

A brutal uprising in the Kingdom of Alluvia has shaken the Allied Lands – and Emily finds herself accused of starting it. Desperate, all too aware the kingdom is on the verge of becoming a vortex of chaos, Emily travels to Alluvia in the hopes of calming both sides long enough to secure peace…

…Unaware that the uprising is merely the first step in a plan to shatter the Allied Lands beyond repair.
I pretty much inhaled this one – the beginning is fraught and full of danger. And the tension doesn’t ease up. But the climactic final battle at the end left me reeling as we lose a major character – and Emily suffers a terrible betrayal that I didn’t see coming. Oh my goodness. I’m trying to be good and not immediately reach for the penultimate book in the series as I want to cling onto this world for just a bit longer… this series has seen me through so many wretched nights and difficult days during the worst of my illness. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Hard Time – Book 2 of The Time Police series by Jodi Taylor
Team Weird are back causing havoc in the Time Police in this irresistible spin-off series by international bestseller Jodi Taylor, author of The Chronicles of St Mary’s. A time slip in Versailles, problems in the Ice Age and illegal time travellers in need of rescue. Must be a job for the Time Police.

Luke, Jane and Matthew are back and ready to cause havoc – inadvertently or otherwise – in their latest adventures.
This time travelling adventure hasn’t quite the rollicking, no-holds-barred flavour of the St Mary’s books, but it is still full of humour. In typical Taylor style, there are also deeply moving and emotional moments, too. It was a joy to listen to. 9/10

This week I have posted:


*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Ivory Key – Book 1 of The Ivory Key duology by Akshaya Raman

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore by Mary Miley

Sunday Post – Living with Long Covid #7

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ivory Key – Book 1 of The Ivory Key duology by Akshaya Raman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheIvoryKeybookreview

Standard

That gorgeous cover drew me in – and then when I read the blurb I grew even more intrigued. It’s relatively rare that it’s the conflict between four siblings that powers the narrative, so I was delighted when I was approved to read this arc.

BLURB: Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.

Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power. They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good.

REVIEW: This fantasy adventure, set in an Eastern-style country, takes a while to really get going. That didn’t bother me overmuch, as the narrative swings between all four siblings and we gradually learn about them and their motivations. I think I would have struggled more if I hadn’t grown to like each of them and understand their actions – even when I could see them making horrible mistakes. On the face of it, they are all pampered princes and princesses. But when we get to see exactly what has happened to each of them, then it becomes clear they are all essentially trapped in lives they didn’t choose and they are all desperately trying to break free, or make things better. The conflict rises as each of them approaches their problem in very different ways…

It takes deft writing and very clear characterisation skills to give us four such rounded and sympathetic protagonists within a relatively short time, before they finally embark on a major adventure together. And as it all starts kicking off, I simply couldn’t put this one down. Be warned – it ends on something of a cliff-hanger, but I loved it and have found myself thinking a lot about this one after I finished, which is a sure sign that it’s something a bit special. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who like an Eastern setting, strong characters and lots of adventure.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore mysteries by Mary Miley #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SpiritsandSmokebookreview

Standard

I was delighted to come across the first book in this entertaining series last year, The Mystic’s Apprenticesee my review. So when I saw this second book on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and I’m very glad I did.

BLURB: December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.

It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive.

REVIEW: While I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and recommend you get hold of it if you enjoy historical murder mysteries set in the 1920s – it’s not vital to have read it before plunging into this offering. Though do be aware that at one point the first book was released under the pen name, Mary Miley Theobold. That now has been changed, but I mention it in case you come across a copy with the previous name across the cover.

It was a real joy to once again read a story featuring Maddie’s gutsy first-person narrative. She has had a terrible year, going from being a happily married young woman expecting her first child, to being suddenly widowed and out on the streets and penniless in 1920s Chicago. Thanks to the kindness of strangers and her own courage, she has now managed to rebuild her life. Miley portrays this without any sentimentality, which I appreciated. As you’d expect in this genre, it isn’t too long before Maddie’s job collecting information on the clients of her employer and landlady, the medium Madam Carlotta, brings her up against another suspicious death. And while this is a major narrative engine to the plot, I also enjoyed the fact that it isn’t Maddie’s major priority, because her main concern is looking after Baby Tommy. Knowing that so many working mothers have to perform similar daily juggling acts – it was enjoyable to read a book that reflects that reality.

She is also trying to keep him safe from the attentions of the mob. However, given how much the criminal gangs are raking in from Prohibition and how much they have pervaded all levels of Chicago society, that task is harder than it might seem. At the back of the book, Miley explains just how money the likes of Al Capone were making – and the amounts are truly eye-watering. The pages more or less turned themselves, as the vivid characters, complete with seances, mob members and Maddie, along with her friends, leap to life with Miley’s easy prose style. There is plenty of tension and danger, but we also have interludes where Maddie has a brainwave about a present for Freddie, the young orphan that Madam Carlotta has taken under her wing, as they get ready to celebrate Christmas.

All in all, it was a thoroughly satisfying read that completely immersed me from the first page to the last – and I’m looking forward to more books in this entertaining series. Highly recommended for fans of historical whodunits, particularly 1920s America. While I obtained an arc of Spirits and Smoke from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #7

Standard

This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I had hoped to continue to feel better after the uptick in my energy levels once I recovered from my cold at the beginning of January. But last week, it was a struggle to get out of bed before the middle of the afternoon and by the time I’d showered and dressed, it was often getting dark again. While I’m aware it’s important to get outside in the fresh air and whatever sunshine – there didn’t seem much point shuffling around the block in the frigid gloom of a mid-winter late afternoon. So I didn’t bother – for one thing, I can’t move fast enough to get the blood moving to combat the cold, so it’s an exercise in misery.

However this week, I woke up on Monday feeling hugely better. And so far, on Sunday, I’m still feeling better. Though I’m taking it cautiously. I still am dealing with the ongoing nasal drip, which I’m heartily sick of – both the disgusting taste and the resulting tinnitus. And my neck is still very swollen and tender, making it painful to turn my head quickly. But my energy levels, both physical and mental, are much improved. When I saw the Dr last week, he was very reassuring. My liver and kidney functions are normal and while my thyroid is swollen and has a number of nodules, which he thinks is a result of covid, it is also functioning normally. I’m due to have another scan in March to monitor any further changes. But I still don’t manage to get up much before midday and I still struggle to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, even if I go to bed at the right time. Thank goodness for books – if I wasn’t able to put the light on and read in the wee small hours, Life would be a whole lot more challenging.

On the bright side, our car has now been fixed after the minor accident when someone swung into the passenger door – and their insurance accepted the liability. And our grandson came to stay again from Tuesday through to Friday. Having him in the house, travelling back and forth to college on the train, with his bubbling enthusiasm for his college course is a real tonic. So I’m delighted that his staying with us is going to become a regular fortnightly event. Now he is 17, I’m not worried about having to look after him if I’m too ill to get out of bed and he is happy to help around the house.

This week I’ve read:-
The Red King – Book 1 of the Wilde Justice series by Jenn Stark
As the first Justice of the Arcana Council in two hundred years, Tarot-reading Sara Wilde is tasked with taking out the most dangerous magic-wielding criminals on the planet. Her first assignment? A killer known only as the Red King, who’s systematically picking off the world’s most gifted magicians in the rollicking streets and storied canals of Venice, Italy, on the eve of Carnevale.

Amidst the festival’s music, masks, and brightly colored costumes, Sara must unravel the truth about a brutal murderer from Venice’s own murky past, navigate the twisting political currents of magicians who seek to rival her own Council, and keep one costume change ahead of a conjurer whose lethal spells could end Justice–permanently. Good thing the diabolically sexy and deeply powerful Magician of the Arcana Council has Sara’s back…if only he didn’t hold so much of her heart as well.
This was a gripping read – and it didn’t hurt that Stark’s vivid evocation of Venice reminded me of a wonderful family holiday in what seems another life. Sara is a sympathetic protagonist, there were plenty of plot twists that kept the pages turning and I’m delighted to discover there are plenty of books in this spinoff series. 9/10

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced. In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.

But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the tradeoffs all of us must make in building a life.

Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.
I’ve included the complete very wordy blurb as it does a good job of setting out the narrative imperative behind this intriguing book. While I’m not completely familiar with the political landscape of the time, Sittenfeld has done a thorough job of depicting it. But what I think is masterly is her evocation of the unthinking sexism and racism running throughout the spheres of influence that not just impacts Hillary, but other women around her. I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot since I finished reading this one, and the main reason why it hasn’t garnered a 10 from me is the unevenness of the pacing in places. 9/10

Immortal in Death – Book 3 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb
When Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas investigates the murder of a top model, she is putting her career on the line, because the prime suspect is her best friend. Eve’s investigations lead her into the glamorous world of high fashion.


Himself has bought all these books, so I’m starting to work my way through them. Set in the near future, the writing is pacy with plenty of romance as Norah Roberts in the guise of J.D. Robb serves up a number of brutal murders for our feisty protagonist to contend with. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Kingdoms at War – Book 1 of the Dragon Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
For centuries, wizard kings have ruled the world from their elite sky cities, battling each other to add to their wealth and power, while using normal human beings as pawns. Those without magic struggle to feed their families and live in constant fear of bringing down the wrath of their tyrannical masters. Something must change.

As a cartography student, Jak has always dreamed of finding the lost dragon gate and exploring and mapping distant worlds. Developing magical powers and becoming a powerful wizard? Not a chance. Wizards are cruel and inhumane, warring with each other from their great sky cities and keeping most of humanity enslaved. Jak wants nothing to do with them.
But when he and his archaeologist mother unearth the gate, they attract the attention of the very wizards they sought to avoid. Even more troubling, Jak starts developing magical powers of his own, powers that could rival those of the great rulers. Fate may have given him the opportunity to change the world. But the wizard rulers don’t like change, and when they detect threats, they send their elite assassins to eliminate them.
And if the above blurb sounds like an intriguing situation – you’re absolutely right. I love Buroker’s vivid, three-dimensional worlds. Her settings are always detailed and politically sophisticated and once again, I’ve lost my heart to the main protagonists, Jak and his clever, studious mother. I’m thrilled to discover yet another gripping series by this accomplished author to dive into – Buroker has been one of my major lifelines during my illness! 9/10

The Cruel Stars – Book 1 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham
The galaxy was once terrorized by the Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements. Fashioning themselves as the one true “Human Republic,” the Sturm cut a bloody swath across the stars, killing billions before finally being defeated and driven into the far reaches of Dark Space. Centuries of peace bred complacency. Everyone believed the Sturm had died out in the Dark. They were wrong.

The enemy has returned and, with a brutal and decisive attack, knocks out almost all of humanity’s defenses. Now on the brink of annihilation, humankind’s only hope is a few brave souls who survived the initial attack: Commander Lucinda Hardy, thrust into uncertain command of the Royal Armadalen Navy’s only surviving warship. Booker3, a soldier of Earth, sentenced to die for treason, whose time on death row is cut short when the Sturm attack his prison compound. Princess Alessia, a young royal of the Montanblanc Corporation, forced to flee when her home planet is overrun and her entire family executed. Sephina L’trel, the leader of an outlaw band who must call on all of her criminal skills to resist the invasion. And, finally, Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero of the first war with the Sturm hundreds of years ago, who hopes to rout his old foes once and for all—or die trying.
This military space opera adventure is full of action and conflict, as well as a number of punchy, well-written protagonists. One of the best written is the terrified child caught up in the middle of a waking nightmare by dint of her birth – Birmingham’s depiction of Alessia is one of the highlights in this enjoyable book. 8/10

Baking Bad – Book 1 of the Beaufort Scales Mysteries by Kim M. Watt
A tranquil village. A poisoned cupcake. A murdered vicar.
A simple case – or it should be. But all clues point to the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, and Detective Inspector Adams is about to discover there’s much more to the W.I. than bake sales and jam making.

Alice Martin, RAF Wing Commander (Ret.), and current chair of the W.I., knows the ladies of the Women’s Institute are not guilty. But she has a bigger problem. Toot Hansell has a dragonish secret, and she needs to keep the police well away from it. And she’d really rather not be arrested for murder. Again. Meanwhile, Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and survivor of the days of knights and dragon hunts, knows even better than Alice that the modern dragon only survives as long as no one knows they exist. But he also knows friends don’t let friends face murder inquiries alone. Beaufort fully intends to Get Involved.
This investigation is about to take on dragonish proportions.
A cosy murder mystery set in a small English village, accompanied by quantities of tea, cake and dragons… This one sounds almost to be too good to be true. So I was delighted to discover that as well as being genuinely funny with a cast of enjoyable, believable characters – the dragons are also intriguingly different from the general run of scaly monsters we’re used to seeing in our fiction. I will definitely be reading more of this series. 9/10

The Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham
The Sturm, a group of “species purists” intent on destroying any human with genetic or cybernetic enhancements, returned from the far reaches of Dark Space to strike a devastating blow against humanity. Though their victory seemed inevitable, a small group of reluctant heroes managed to beat back the invading force. Now left with the remains of a crippled civilization, they must work together to rebuild–and to stand guard, in case those weren’t the only enemies hiding in the dark…


This Netgalley arc is the second book in this military space opera adventure. Once again our plucky group of misfits are faced with dealing with a lethal and committed enemy. Review to follow.


Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

Review of NETGALLEY arc Absynthe by Brendan Bellacourt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Absynthebookreview

Standard

For those of you who are interested in such things, Brendan Bellacourt also writes under the name of Bradley Beaulieu. I loved his exciting Sand and Sorcery trilogy The Song of the Shattered Sands – see my reviews of Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand – so I was keen to get hold of this arc when I realised who the author is. Would I enjoy his science fiction writing as much as his fantasy?

BLURB: truncated: Liam Mulcahey, a reclusive, shell-shocked veteran, remembers little of the Great War. Ten years later, when he is caught in a brutal attack on a Chicago speakeasy, Liam is saved by Grace, an alluring heiress who’s able to cast illusions. Though the attack appears to have been committed by the hated Uprising, Grace believes it was orchestrated by Leland De Pere–Liam’s former commander and the current President of the United States.

Meeting Grace unearths long-buried memories. Liam’s former squad, the Devil’s Henchmen, was given a serum to allow telepathic communication, transforming them into a unified killing machine. With Grace’s help, Liam begins to regain his abilities, but his journey towards self-discovery hits a major roadbump, when he becomes a target for those who are determined to prevent him from learning who he is really is and what he can do.

REVIEW: I’ve tweaked the very chatty blurb and my advice is to give it a miss, as it gives away far too many of the main plotpoints of the story. This is an intriguing world, clearly still fractured and struggling after the terrible events of the Great War. In this alternate United States ended up fighting a desperate war against a coalition of Britain, France, Canada and Germany and only narrowly managed to win, thanks to the valiant intervention of the now-President De Pere. Their technology is far in advance of where we were in the 1920s, as huge strides have been made in the field of virology, so that people can undergo major transformations, both physically and mentally on being injected by serums.

I particularly enjoyed the opening sequences of this book, where we are firmly in Liam’s head and he reluctantly attends a public opening for a new train as a favour to his friend – and it is Liam’s journey that powers this narrative. Personally, I would have preferred it if the narrative had kept with Liam throughout, as there were times when we were with other characters and I was conscious that I was flipping the pages wanting to get back to him.

The fast-moving, twisty plot provides a number of surprises. The worldbuilding was especially well done, so that I was able to visualise the interesting blend of art deco and steampunk, with a helping of speakeasies and vintage cars to add to the richness. This is an ambitious novel that examines the theme of power – who has it, who wants it and what some people will do for it. None of the conclusions are particularly original or world-shattering. But I like the fact that Bellacourt ends up having power as a personification – and that the damage started when initially decent people decided that the means justified the ends when they were in desperate straits.

However, if you’d rather read it as a straightforward 1920s steampunk action adventure story – fans of this genre should find it an entertaining book. While I obtained an arc of Absynthe from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – CHRISTMAS WITH LONG COVID

Standard

This is an update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 10 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Like everyone else, my runup to Christmas was full of chores that don’t normally occur, despite my best intentions to dial it right back and make it a much quieter affair. In the event, Christmas Day was lovely, as my sister came over to spend it with us, while Himself cooked a wonderful meal. I’d been able to help by gathering sage from the garden for the stuffing and roll vegan bacon slices around prunes, replacing the stones with almonds. My sister brought along a chicken breast and Himself cooked a nut roast for us. While it wasn’t as nice as the one I usually prepare using fresh chestnuts, the meal was still delicious. And we then collapsed in front of the TV, too full to move. But I woke up the following morning exhausted once more and it took several days to recover – by which time we’d both gone down with a cold. Or maybe it was Omicron. Despite the fact that the lateral flow tests all were negative, given that my daughter and young granddaughter got sick with covid over the Christmas holidays, it had to be a possibility even though they’d stood at the door and not come into the house when we saw them the one time during the Christmas period. Fortunately they recovered without any ill effects, which was a huge relief.

To be safe, I cancelled my reflexology appointment and we stayed in. Until the glorious morning two days into the New Year when I woke up feeling much, much better – and no longer smelling horrible. Since I got sick in March, I’ve been aware that I smell bad – a musty sick smell that I hate. And for two whole days it disappeared. In addition I had much more energy – that wasn’t new, but the absence of that horrible smell was. So… perhaps I’d had Omicron after all, I thought – and like a number of other people, maybe contracting another version of covid actually cured my Long Covid! I felt fantastic – but decided to take it easy… not push myself too much. So I did a couple of two-minute exercise sessions, spent some time working on the timeline for my Castellan stories and actually cleaned the bathroom for the first time in ages. Hm. Turns out I wasn’t cured and had only succeeded in flattening myself allll over again.

Initially, I felt stupid for thinking it would be that easy. Why would I magically get a free pass and be able to skip the tricky slow recovery bit, when I hadn’t been cured by having the booster jab? But looking back, I’ve decided that it wasn’t stupidity – it was hope. And if I lose that, then I really am sunk. So no more beating myself up for wishing I was better, and accept that it isn’t going to work that way. Now I’m back to working on improving my sleep patterns, filling in my activity journal, enforcing my pacing routine, including regular meditations. And trying to hang onto my patience, as I now inconveniently have enough emotional energy to get very frustrated and fed up with the situation – unlike earlier on when I was too tired to care. And also celebrate the bright lights that shine in the gloom, like Himself’s constant caring presence. While he had to work right up to Christmas Eve, he’s been off work now since New Year’s Eve on annual leave, which I’m very grateful for. And our eldest grandson came to stay from Wednesday to Friday this week – which was a huge treat. He’s loving college and it’s a joy to see him blossom in an environment where he’s surrounded by other creative people who understand his enthusiasms. I’d like to send a huge shoutout to the lecturers and teachers out there doing a stellar job in increasingly difficult circumstances – thank you!

A very Happy 2022 to you all. Let’s hope that it is a MUCH better year than the previous two have been.

Since the start of the year I’ve read:-
The Stranger Times – Book 1 of The Stranger Times series by C.K. McDonnell
There are Dark Forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular) and so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them. A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but more often the weird) of modern life, it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable . . . At least that’s their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and -mouthed husk of a man who thinks little (and believes less) of the publication he edits, while his staff are a ragtag group of wastrels and misfits, each with their own secrets to hide and axes to grind. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door – and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who’s got her own set of problems.

It’s when tragedy strikes in Hannah’s first week on the job that The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious, proper, actual investigative journalism. What they discover leads them to a shocking realisation: that some of the stories they’d previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly, gruesomely real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker foes than they could ever have imagined. It’s one thing reporting on the unexplained and paranormal but it’s quite another being dragged into the battle between the forces of Good and Evil .
Thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I laughed aloud throughout this one. McDonnell manages to make his highly eccentric bunch of characters both sympathetic and engaging, while keeping their oddness – which isn’t all that easy to do. The pages turned themselves and it was a wonderful New Year’s treat to start 2022 by reading this offering – I look forward to reading more books from this series in due course. 10/10

A Familiar Sight – Book 1 of the Dr Gretchen White series by Brianna Labuskes

When a high-profile new case lands on Shaughnessy’s desk, it seems open and shut. Remorseless teenager Viola Kent is accused of killing her mother. Amid stories of childhood horrors and Viola’s cruel manipulations, the bad seed has already been found guilty by a rapt public. But Gretchen might be seeing something in Viola no one else does: herself. If Viola is a scapegoat, then who really did it? And what are they hiding? To find the truth, Gretchen must enter a void that is not only dark and cold-blooded, but also frighteningly familiar.
This contemporary murder mystery is a compelling read, made more so by the clever use of a fractured timeline which jumps between the lives of the victims and the investigation. It could have quickly turned into a hot mess, but the deftness of the writing and the strong characterisation instead made this one hard to put down. Highly recommended. 9/10

Spirits and Smoke – Book 2 of the Maddie Pastore series by Mary Miley
December, 1924. Young widow Maddie Pastore feels fortunate to be employed by the well-meaning but fraudulent medium Carlotta Romany. Investigating Carlotta’s clients isn’t work she’s proud of, but she’s proud of how well she does it. Maddie’s talents, however, draw them unwelcome attention: sharp-eyed Officer O’Rourke from the Chicago Police. He doesn’t believe in spiritualism – but in a city packed with mobsters, con artists and criminals, he’ll take any help he can get.

It’s not long before Maddie has a case to bring him. Why did teetotal banker Herman Quillen die of alcohol poisoning? And who is the gold-toothed man claiming to be his brother, and demanding the spirits reveal where Herman hid his money? All Maddie wants is to uncover the truth – but to her horror, she’s soon mixed up in a tangled web of secrets and deception that leads to the heart of Chicago’s violent gangs . . . and she’ll need all her wits about her if she, and her loved ones, are going to make it out again alive.
This historical murder mystery, set in 1920s Chicago, leaps off the page with a strong, sympathetic protagonist and the vivid depiction of the Prohibition era. I enjoyed the first book, The Mystic’s Apprentice, and loved this one. Review to follow.

Blood Trade – Book 6 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter
The Master of Natchez, Mississippi has a nasty problem on his hands. Rogue vampires—those who follow the Naturaleza and believe that humans should be nothing more than prey to be hunted—are terrorizing his city. Luckily, he knows the perfect skinwalker to call in to take back the streets.

But what he doesn’t tell Jane is that there’s something different about these vamps. Something that makes them harder to kill—even for a pro like Jane. Now, her simple job has turned into a fight to stay alive…and to protect the desperately ill child left in her care.
Once again, the sheer quality of the writing shines through as Jane continues her dark journey in the employ of Leo, the Master of the City of New Orleans. While it’s violent and often blood-soaked, I never find the details gratuitious – and there are often amusing interludes as Jane also has a snarky mouth and isn’t afraid to use it. This is a classy series that stand above the rest, and highly recommended. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Cytonic – Book 3 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson
Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home. Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy. The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return. To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.
I’m not quite sure why this one didn’t hold me as much as Skyward or Starsight, but there were times when I felt the narrative pace slightly dragged. It was never sufficient for me to decide not to listen to the audiobook any more – but I did feel there was a bit too much repetition regarding Spensa’s feelings and her feisty A.I.’s exploration of its new emotions. That said – I was still fascinated to see where Sanderson was taking this story, as the plot delivered plenty of surprises along the way. 7/10

Bloodfire – Book 1 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mackenzie Smith has always known that she was different. Growing up as the only human in a pack of rural shapeshifters will do that to you, but then couple it with some mean fighting skills and a fiery temper and you end up with a woman that few will dare to cross. However, when the only father figure in her life is brutally murdered, and the dangerous Brethren with their predatory Lord Alpha come to investigate, Mack has to not only ensure the physical safety of her adopted family by hiding her apparent humanity, she also has to seek the blood-soaked vengeance that she craves.

Mack is certainly short-fused. All sorts of things make her angry, some justifiably and some not so much. Do be warned, though, part of her annoyance is expressed in her colourful swearing. I also liked her glorious disregard for rules, which makes entire sense once we realise exactly what is going on. Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world and while we weren’t overwhelmed with details of the countryside, there was sufficient for me to be able to clearly visualise what is going on. REREAD 8/10

Bloodmagic – Book 2 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
After escaping the claws of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the Brethren, Mack is trying to lead a quiet lonely life in Inverness in rural Scotland, away from anyone who might happen to be a shapeshifter. However, when she lands a job at an old bookstore owned by a mysterious elderly woman who not only has a familiar passion for herbal lore but also seems to know more than she should, Mack ends up caught in a maelstrom between the Ministry of Mages, the Fae and the Brethren.

Now she has to decide between staying hidden and facing the music, as well as confronting her real feelings for the green eyed power of Corrigan himself.
Enjoyable sequel to Bloodfire, taking Mack into more scrapes and adventures while giving us more information about her mysterious origins. A nicely snarky protagonist. Recommended for fans of shape-shifting, paranormal adventures. REREAD 8/10

Bloodrage – Book 3 of the Blood Destiny series by Helen Harper
Mack begins her training at the mages’ academy in the hope that, by complying, the stasis spell will be lifted from her old friend, Mrs. Alcoon. However, once there, she finds herself surrounded by unfriendly adults and petulant teenagers, the majority of whom seem determined to see her fail.

Feeling attacked on all fronts, Mack finds it harder and harder to keep a rein on her temper. Forced to attend anger management classes and deal with the predatory attentions of Corrigan, the Lord Alpha of the shapeshifter world, her emotions start to unravel. But when she comes across a familiar text within the walls of the mages’ library, which might just provide the clues she needs to unlock the secrets of her background and her dragon blood, she realises that her problems are only just beginning…
It’s a while since I read the first two books – so I reread them both, thoroughly enjoying once more immersing myself in the problems stacking up for poor old Mack as she struggles to discover exactly who she is and what she does. I do enjoy how characters from previous books keep popping up, allowing us to get to know them better and the oh-so-slow burn romance that is gradually unfurling throughout the series is being very well handled. Given just how short-fused and grumpy Mack is, I liked how her loyalty and bone-headed refusal to compromise her principles regarding those she takes responsibility for balances up against her less likeable attributes – it works well. My main niggle is that I personally would prefer less swearing – it’s a book I’d like to recommend to younger members of the family, but can’t. 9/10

Sigma Protocol: Jane Poole Genesis – Part 1 by Michael Penmore
Disoriented and alone, Sigma wakes from enforced sleep with questions that need to be answered. Who is she? Where is she? How did she end up in this place? With only a cryptic message from the ship’s AI to guide her, the determined survivor sets out on a race against time to uncover the desperate story of Starship Copernicus and its crew. Sigma Protocol is the fast-paced first episode in the Jane Poole Genesis describing the beginnings of Jane Poole, aka Sigma.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that this is a short story with only 76 pages. So just as I was starting to relax into the narrative – it came to a sudden, abrupt stop. Which was a shame as I was just beginning to bond with poor old Jane and her problems. 7/10

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Untold Story – Book 8 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheUntoldStorybookreview

Standard

I have been a huge fan of this series – see my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, The Dark Archive and my mini-review of The Lost Plot. So I jumped at the chance to read this latest and last episode in Irene’s adventurous journey.

BLURB: Irene is trying to learn the truth about Alberich-and the possibility that he’s her father. But when the Library orders her to kill him, and then Alberich himself offers to sign a truce, she has to discover why he originally betrayed the Library.

With her allies endangered and her strongest loyalties under threat, she’ll have to trace his past across multiple worlds and into the depths of mythology and folklore, to find the truth at the heart of the Library, and why the Library was first created.

REVIEW: Not only does this story have to deliver yet another interesting and twisty plot featuring Irene and her comrades in her ongoing task to carry out the Library’s wishes – it also has to successfully wrap up this series. Irene has intrigued me, as being admirably self possessed. And throughout all her entanglements with both fae and dragons, she has kept her head and dealt with life-threatening emergencies with a capable coolness. This sets her apart from those heroines, who flap around in a soup of self doubt and end up backing into situations they’re not prepared for.

However, the previous adventure in The Dark Archive finally punctured her confidence, as she was told a shocking fact that has her questioning all her core beliefs. This is the book where she has to deal with the fallout. So Irene sets out on an adventure, with the support of Kai, Vale and Catherine to discover the truth of what is going on. And yes – it’s a somewhat far-fetched story, but Cogman tells it with skill and conviction and I’m quite happy to suspend my disbelief. Partly because in amongst all the adventures and unexpected discoveries, Cogman looks at the human drive to tell stories and how it can affect the way the the world is formed. As I have always been fascinated by the way some small children start weaving imaginative narratives almost before they are able to talk, this theme really chimed with me.

Even more importantly, Cogman brings this series to a successful close. I was happy with the future stretching before Irene and Kai, which doesn’t prevent further adventures, if Cogman wants to revisit the Library again at some stage. Indeed, I hope she does. I’ve loved this series and I’ll particularly miss dashing between worlds alongside Irene, while she sorts out book-related problems. Or mediating between the Fae and dragons. In the meantime, I can always reread this delightful portal fantasy series and if you haven’t yet had the pleasure – it comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Untold Story from Netgalley via the publishers, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10