Monthly Archives: February 2022

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #10

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 11 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

I haven’t been here for a while. There are several reasons. I’ve had spells of feeling extremely tired again, which means I haven’t done much of anything – except sitting on the settee and watching TV. Thank goodness for the Winter Olympics which I loved. I have also been battling with back pain again, which means sitting at the computer isn’t something I felt like doing. And there were times when I had a bit more energy and my back was fine, but to be honest – I couldn’t see the point in bothering. With anything, really. I’m aware that is probably a sign of depression – I certainly struggle to get out of bed at times, even when I’ve got sufficient energy. I think I’m just battle weary as it was at the end of the first week last March that I got sick with Covid-19 and my busy, happy life disappeared. It now feels like it belonged to someone else.

We are trying to get out and about more. After a tumultuous week when we were battered by three storms in five days, this week there has actually been some sunshine. On Thursday after my reflexology appointment we went out for a coffee at a favourite river-side café. It wasn’t a total success, as I had underestimated the anxiety of ordering my own coffee, aggravated when their machine wouldn’t accept my debit card. And yesterday and the day before, we went for a walk down by the beach, getting down onto the sand as the tide was out. It was lovely. We weren’t there for long, but it was glorious to stand by the sea once again.

This week I’ve read:-

The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis
Lizzy Moon never wanted Moon Girl Farm. Eight years ago, she left the land that nine generations of gifted healers had tended, determined to distance herself from the whispers about her family’s strange legacy. But when her beloved grandmother Althea dies, Lizzy must return and face the tragedy still hanging over the farm’s withered lavender fields: the unsolved murders of two young girls, and the cruel accusations that followed Althea to her grave.

Lizzy wants nothing more than to sell the farm and return to her life in New York, until she discovers a journal Althea left for her—a Book of Remembrances meant to help Lizzy embrace her own special gifts. When she reconnects with Andrew Greyson, one of the few in town who believed in Althea’s innocence, she resolves to clear her grandmother’s name.
I really enjoyed this atmospheric story. It captures the strengths and weaknesses of a small community and I enjoyed watching a wary, aloof protagonist riven with far too much resentment try to come to terms with her troubled childhood. In amongst a page-turning story, there are strong messages we can all use in our lives – no wonder this one was a best-seller when it first came out. 8/10

For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash
A lone crow is a dead crow.
That’s what Diana Van Doren, exiled crow shifter, has always believed. The last murder of crow shifters known to exist wouldn’t accept her into the flock, leaving her vulnerable. Worse, her kleptomaniacal father’s schemes put them in a demon’s crosshairs. Without the support of the murder, Diana fears death will come all too quickly. So when an opportunity to steal a rare blade that can kill anything—even demons—crosses their path, she decides to play her father’s games one last time.

However, she isn’t the only one hoping to take the blade. Sasha Sokolov, a clairvoyant, has been forced from childhood to serve the very demon hunting Diana and her family. After two decades of service, his boss finally offers him what he can’t refuse: freedom. All he has to do is bring in the knife and the Van Dorens, and his bloodline will be free from serving the demon forever.
This intriguing shapeshifting urban fantasy adventure is alluding to the collective noun for crows – as in a murder of crows. The main protagonist is very well drawn and the slow-burn romance well handled. Full review to follow. 8/10

AUDIOBOOK – Rogue Prince – Book 1 of the Sky Full of Stars series by Lindsay Buroker
Starseer, pilot, and animal lover Jelena Marchenko wants to prove to her parents that she’s ready to captain her own freighter and help run the family business. When she finally talks them into getting a second ship and letting her fly it, it doesn’t faze her that the craft is decades old and looks like a turtle. This is the chance she’s craved for years.

But it’s not long before the opportunity to rescue mistreated lab animals lures her from her parentally approved cargo run and embroils her in a battle between warring corporations. To further complicate matters, her childhood friend Thorian, prince of the now defunct Sarellian Empire, is in trouble with Alliance law and needs her help. Torn between her duty to her family and doing what she believes is honorable, Jelena is about to learn that right and wrong are never as simple as they appear and that following your heart can get you killed.
Once again, I quickly was pulled into this entertaining space opera adventure by one of my favourite authors. The added bonus is that this is a spinoff series from Fallen Empire, which I’d read last year, so I already knew some of the characters. The action was non-stop and as ever, I found myself listening far longer than I intended to hear what happens next… 9/10

Monster by C.J. Skuse
At sixteen Nash thought that the fight to become Head Girl of prestigious boarding school Bathory would be the biggest battle she’d face. Until her brother’s disappearance leads to Nash being trapped at the school over Christmas with Bathory’s assorted misfits. As a blizzard rages outside, strange things are afoot in the school’s hallways, and legends of the mysterious Beast of Bathory – a big cat rumoured to room the moors outside the school – run wild. Yet when the girls’ Matron goes missing it’s clear that something altogether darker is to blame – and that they’ll have to stick together if they hope to survive.

This was recommended to me by one of my Creative Writing students in another lifetime and I decided to finally get hold of it. I love the opening scene, which really held me. The tension was well sustained – my only main grizzle was that Nash didn’t seem to have any long-term friends she could rely on and that seemed rather unrealistic. However, this thriller whodunit got me through a wretched night when I couldn’t sleep. 8/10

Scot on the Rocks – Book 3 of the Last Ditch series by Catriona McPherson
A community is devastated when the bronze statue of local legend Mama Cuento is stolen on Valentine’s Day. When Lexy Campbell arrives on the scene, a big bronze toe is found along with a ransom note – Listen to our demands or you will never see her again. There are nine more where this came from.

Then, Lexy’s ex-husband Bran turns up begging for help to find his wife, Brandee, who has disappeared. Lexy agrees to pitch in, but when she shows up at Bran’s house he has just discovered one of Brandee’s false nails and another ransom note with the same grisly message. Are the two cases linked or is a copycat on the loose? Who would want to kidnap a bronze statue or, come to that, Brandee? And can Lexy put aside her hatred for Bran long enough to find out?
I loved the fourth book in this series, so it was a joy to backtrack and get more Lexy goodness and a few more laughs at the confusion that her Scot’s dialogue poses for her American friends – and her surprise at everyone’s reaction when she mentions buying Della’s small son a rubber to take to school… Meanwhile the mystery is also delightfully whacky, too. 9/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of This Charming Man – Book 2 of The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The This by Adam Roberts

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 Charming Man by C.K. McDonnell – Book 2 of The Stranger Times series #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheCharmingManbookreview

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I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Stranger Times, which is the first book in the series so I immediately requested the sequel and was delighted to be approved. Would I enjoy it as much?

BLURB: Vampires do not exist. Everyone knows this. So it’s particularly annoying when they start popping up around Manchester . . .
Nobody is pleased about it. Not the Founders, the secret organisation for whom vampires were invented as an allegory, nor the Folk, the magical people hidden in plain sight who only want a quiet life. And definitely not the people of Manchester, because there is nothing more irksome than being murdered by an allegory run amok. Somebody needs to sort this out fast before all Hell really breaks loose – step forward the staff of The Stranger Times.

It’s not like they don’t have enough to be dealing with. Assistant Editor Hannah has come back from getting messily divorced to discover that someone is trying to kidnap a member of their staff and while editor Vincent Banecroft would be delighted to see the back of any of his team, he doesn’t like people touching his stuff – it’s the principle of the thing. Throw in a precarious plumbing situation, gambling debts, an entirely new way of swearing, and a certain detective inspector with what could be kindly referred to as ‘a lot of baggage’ and it all adds up to another hectic week in the life of the newspaper committed to reporting the truth that nobody else will touch.

REVIEW: I’m always a bit wary about humorous fantasy. Far too often I’ve been assured that I’ll find a book absolutely hilarious when – as far as I’m concerned – it’s nothing of the sort. But on reading the first book of the series, I regularly laughed aloud as I inhaled the trials and tribulations of the staff working for a newspaper that features the weird and whacky. In amongst the adventure are also some delightful snippets featured in the paper – it’s these that mostly had me howling with laughter. The humour is very British, as this series is based in Manchester, a northern, industrial English city renowned for its soggy weather, which will give you an indication as to whether this is your type of thing.

This Charming Man is just as amusing and picks up more or less where The Stranger Times left off. That said, I don’t think you need to read the first book to fully appreciate this one, which is always an advantage with a series. I’ve seen this series compared with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series – and for once, there is some mileage in that comparison. McDonnell also writes in third person semi-omniscient viewpoint – which means the author is actually telling the story, at least in places, rather than using the protagonists to do the task. I’m not a huge fan of this mode of narration in modern fiction, other than children’s books, as it’s easy to do badly and difficult to do well. But McDonnell is an experienced wordsmith – he also has written The Dublin Trilogy and the McGarry Stateside series under the pen-name Caimh McDonnell, which I haven’t yet read, but will be checking out very soon.

The mystery at the heart of the book has a nicely satisfying consequence of some thoroughly unpleasant behaviour. So there is a strong moral theme which comes through without being remotely finger-wagging – something else that Pratchett was adept at, particularly in the earlier books. While reading this offering, I enjoyed reacquainting myself with the characters, and was interested to discover why the ghastly Vincent Banecroft, editor of The Stranger Times, is quite so awful. As with most really funny books, there is light and shade within the story, so there are also moments of real poignancy.

All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I look forward to checking out more of McDonnell’s writing – while oh-so-impatiently waiting for the next adventure featuring the eccentrics working for The Stranger Times. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of This Charming Man from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The This by Adam Roberts #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheThisbookreview

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A book by Adam Roberts is always worth reading – see my reviews of The Real-Town Murders and Yellow Blue Tibia. Being the shallow sort, first the cover snagged my attention, then when I saw the author I immediately requested it.

TRUNCATED BLURB: The This is the new social media platform everyone is talking about. Allow it to be injected into the roof of your mouth and it will grow into your brain, allow you to connect with others without even picking up your phone. Its followers are growing. Its detractors say it is a cult. But for one journalist, hired to do a puff-piece interview with their CEO, it will change the world forever.

Adan just wants to stay at home with his smart-companion Elegy – phone, friend, confidante, sex toy. But when his mother flees to Europe and joins a cult, leaving him penniless, he has to enlist in the army – move that changes his life forever…

REVIEW: This is another offering with a rather chatty blurb that you’d do well to avoid as it gives away far too much of the story. Although it also manages to be very misleading, because it concentrates on the plot, rather than the narrative engine of the book which isn’t the storyline.

Most novels provide stories that take their readers away to other places, peopled by sympathetic characters with whom we can identify. Sometimes it provides pure escape and entertainment, other times the story provides a warning message, or commentary on current inequalities – such as George Orwell’s 1984. However, there are novels who are powered by an idea, or theory and the story is tailored to support that notion – the other example that immediately springs to my mind is Jo Walton’s masterly and very enjoyable Thessaly trilogy, which explores Plato’s theory of an ideal society as proposed in his book, Republic – see my review of The Just City. And this book is another one that falls into that category – this time looking at Hegel’s philosophy in amongst other ideas.

That might sound dry and unappealing – and in less able hands that might be the case. But Roberts is a remarkable writer who deserves to be far better known for his talent and versatility. Few others could get away with flourishes like the opening passage at the start of the book, which charts the various incarnations of a single person, circling around the phrase, In the Bardo subject and object are the same thing… While the characters and the storylines matter and certainly had me turning the pages to see what would happen next, they also support or challenge the ideas that Roberts wants to explore. And my mention of 1984 wasn’t merely incidental – there is also a homage to the book in amongst the closing chapters that is both entertaining and slightly horrifying.

The notion of social media is thoroughly examined – what does it mean to be part of world-wide group such as Twitter. And what would happen if those who spend their time locked onto their phones tweeting were offered the opportunity to become part of a new cult craze called The This. Better still, to belong you don’t even need a phone – a small implant is inserted in the roof of your mouth and you’re good to go. You can be part of the hive mind of The This 24/7 – and never alone, again. Roberts explores the idea of loneliness and isolation versus the lure of belonging – although I don’t wholly agree with his premise or his conclusions, given he clearly has very fixed ideas about the impact of social media. But that doesn’t stop this book being a fascinating read that still has me mulling over the ideas it tosses out as the story rackets along at a gripping pace. Very highly recommended for those who enjoy their science fiction laced with philosophical ideas along with a very readable story. While I obtained an arc of The This from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Seven Mercies – Book 2 of the Seven Devils duology by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #SevenMerciesbookreview

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I absolutely loved the first book in this dystopian space opera adventure, where a brave band of women from all walks of life attempt to overthrow a thoroughly horrible regime – see my review of Seven Devils. Would I enjoy this concluding slice of the story?

TRUNCATED BLURB: After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the seven devils? Biggest score of them all. To avoid attacks, the crew of Zelus scavenge for supplies on long-abandoned Tholosian outposts.

Not long after the remnants of the rebellion settle briefly on Fortuna, Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences that forces the seven devils to act. Because if they don’t – there won’t be anything left to fight for…

REVIEW: My advice is not to read the blurb, as it’s far too chatty. I was very glad that I hadn’t, because when the hammer fell I was both surprised and horrified at the enormity of the game-changing twist that forces the devils back into the fray.

What sucked me into the first book is the energetic writing and gung-ho heedlessness that most of women displayed in the face of danger. At the start of Seven Mercies, however, the rebel group are reeling. They have suffered a terrible betrayal that has struck at the very heart of their resistance movement, and they are all counting the cost. The fallout from this catastrophic reverse makes for grim reading, given that it put the eek! in bleak. Now my inability to cope with well written devastation that spans a galaxy is far more down to me and my ongoing battle with Long Covid, rather than any failure of the writing. But do be aware – the dynamic energy that was the hallmark of Seven Devils doesn’t really get going until about 40% of the way through Seven Mercies.

Inevitably, in an ensemble narrative, there are favourites. There was no one I disliked, other than the truly odious villain, Damocles – and even he is also pitiable at times, having also been on the receiving end of his father’s ruthless cruelty. But the highlights for me were the toxic and layered relationship between Eris and her psychotic brother, Damocles, which was powerfully portrayed with surprising depth, given how much is going on throughout this book. And Ariadne’s poignant story – the young girl’s desperate loneliness as she tends to the powerful A.I., Oracle, is also beautifully conveyed, especially at a key moment in the narrative that nicely heightens the tension.

In the meantime we go on learning more about each woman and her backstory, which I enjoyed. I’ve seen this book promoted as a Feminist space opera adventure – and it’s a label I find a bit misleading. It actually features a group of desperate rebels who decide to use their skills and influence to oppose a shockingly brutal regime – who just happen to all be women. They aren’t proposing Feminist principles, or trying to change the society to be more mindful of women’s needs because the Tholosian rulers treat everyone – men, women and children – as if none of them matter.

Overall, this is a powerful and effective conclusion to the story and certainly a must-read if you enjoyed Seven Devils and your jaw dropped in disbelief at that shocking ending. The ebook arc copy of Seven Mercies was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Scot Mist – Book 4 of the Last Ditch Mystery series by Catriona McPherson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYreview #ScotMistbookreview

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I liked the look of the cover and the blurb sounded thoroughly intriguing. While I probably wouldn’t have wanted to pick up a murder mystery set in the early stages of lockdown last year, now those weird days of 2020 seem such a very long time ago. What I hadn’t appreciated is that this is the fourth book in the series.

BLURB: March 2020 and Operation Cocker is a go! The owners of the Last Ditch Motel, with a little help from their friend Lexy Campbell, are preparing to support one another through the oncoming lockdown, offering the motel’s spare rooms to a select few from the local area in need of sanctuary.

While the newbies are settling in, an ambiguous banner appears demanding one of them return home. But who is it for? Lexy and her friends put a plan into action to ward off the perpetrator, but the very next night, a resident disappears and a message scrawled in human blood is found. As California shuts down, the Last Ditchers make another gruesome discovery. They tried to create a haven but now it seems as if everyone’s in danger. Is the motel under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.

REVIEW: Despite this being the fourth book in the series, this was my first foray into Lexy’s quirky world of eccentrics who all, for one reason or another, fall outside what society regards as the norm. Lexy, a Scot who has relatively recently arrived in California is the first person protagonist in this irreverent and unusual murder mystery. Noleen and her wife, Kathi, who is also a compulsive cleaner, are worried that the authorities will force them to hand over The Last Ditch Motel and Skweeky-Cleen laundrette as part of the national emergency sweeping across the country in the face of the looming pandemic. So Lexy comes up with a solution – fill the rooms with relatives of front-line workers who want to shield their families from possible infection. Or those who will be particularly vulnerable, which includes her boyfriend’s blind mother. In amongst those who are keen to move in are two spouses enduring physical and emotional abuse, along with two very small children. In fact, they end up with twelve adults and five children keen to join in their lockdown before it actually becomes a legal requirement. Meanwhile, Lexy is living a short distance away in her houseboat, which is connected to the motel by barbed wire fencing.

While the murder mystery certainly provides much of the narrative drive, the interaction between the guests and their unfolding stories also keeps the pages turning. McPherson’s humour ranges from pure farce, to witty wordplay and plenty of enjoyable snark. I was grinning while reading and on occasions laughed out loud. But what I loved most is the amount of heart and warmth in amongst the smart cynicism. Though this is a story about betrayal leading to murder, it is also a book about love and acceptance – though you won’t catch Lexy putting it in those terms. This noisy and extended found family all have their problems, and while there are irritations on a day to day level – providing much of the mayhem and hilarity that runs throughout the book – there is a basic fund of good will that is the bedrock of this small community.

So a murder that might incriminate one of the people living in the motel immediately undermines that cohesion and Lexy is determined to discover the culprit as fast as possible. As this is the fourth book in the series, she and her companions have a track record in solving murders – something the local police officer is determined won’t happen again. I liked how the stakes were raised in this story and I particularly enjoyed how the murder was solved. McPherson clearly has a profound understanding of how people tick, managing to keep a strong sense of compassion along with the humour, which is far harder to pull off than she makes it look. This might have been my first experience of McPherson’s writing, but it certainly won’t be my last. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Scot Mist from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #9

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 11 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

Overall, it’s been a better week. That black anger that had lifted after my reflexology appointment had the good manners to stay away, which was a huge relief. If I’m battling a miserable mood, I don’t have the option to jump in the car, get lost in my writing, or walk it off along the beach so I was more than pleased to find that I was mostly reasonably upbeat throughout the week.

However, while I’m mentally and emotionally far more energetic, I have been struggling with feeling tired all the time. I wake up still feeling weary and often drop back off to sleep after breakfast. But even if I don’t, it has been a struggle to get out of bed much before mid-afternoon. Once in a while, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but I’ve been concerned that this is becoming a habit. Annoyingly, as the day wears on I tend to gradually feel more lively so that by the evening when I should be winding down again, I’m wide awake which makes going to sleep a real challenge. We had my grandson staying over from Tuesday through to Friday, which is always a treat, but even that didn’t shift my weariness. I had a chat with my reflexologist and we agreed that this coming week, I’ll make it a target to try to get out of bed before midday.

And there was another bit of progress. While I have at times felt well enough to drive short distances over the last 11 months, it’s been a while since I’ve been behind the wheel. So when Himself needed to visit his mother on Thursday, rather than rearrange my reflexology appointment, I decided to drive there. It isn’t very far and I felt well enough to have a go. What I hadn’t realised is that there are three lots of roadworks that have started up between her house and mine! Fortunately, I don’t find driving too draining – although I was very tired by the time I got home again.

So, it’s mostly been a good week. However, I’m no longer naive enough to think that being able to drive again is a major breakthough. I’ve been here before, several times in fact. So while I’m pleased that right now I can manage the occasional short journey, I’m not going to assume that it’s a major sign that I’m the road to recovery. Or start taking Twinkle out on daily runs. Not yet. In the meantime, I’m still pacing my daily activity levels, still keeping my activity journal, still meditating and trying very hard to live each moment with as much acceptance and contentment that I can muster. Thank goodness for books!

This week I’ve read:-

Magic Uncorked – Book 1 of the Midlife Magic Cocktail Club series by Annabel Chase
The only magic word Libbie Stark seems to know these days is ‘ibuprofen’ thanks to a headache-inducing job, two teenagers, one ex-husband, and a deadbeat boyfriend—until the death of a friend brings unexpected consequences. Libbie and the other members of her weekly cocktail club are shocked to discover that their eccentric friend was a witch and that they are the recipients of her magical assets.

Libbie would’ve preferred to inherit an island beach house, especially when her life starts to unravel. With the help of the other Dread Pirate Witches and a handsome lawyer with a head of hair that Fabio would envy, Libbie strives to understand her gift and dig herself out of the hole she’s created, one cocktail at a time. The more her life changes, however, the more Libbie realizes that maybe the end of midlife as she knows it is exactly what she needs.
This enjoyable contemporary read is more about the challenges of dealing with modern life as a woman no longer in the first flush of youth, with a paranormal splash thrown in to help. I enjoyed watching Libbie’s transformation. Although I’m a bit uncomfortable that cocktails seem to play such a key role in creating her new life, having seen at close quarters just what havoc alcoholism can cause. Overall, it’s a largely light-hearted, feel-good story featuring a likeable protagonist. 8/10

Bewitching Bitters – Book 2 of the Midlife Magic Cocktail Club series by Annabel Chase
Kate Golden is living the dream in Lake Cloverleaf—a handsome husband, three wonderful kids, and a career she loves. As a motivational speaker, she devotes her time to helping people achieve their goals, to become the best versions of themselves. Apparently, the best version of Kate now includes being a witch.

Of course, it would be nice if she could actually do magic instead of being a witch in name only. Her best friend Libbie is mixing magical cocktails like she’s Tom Cruise in that bartender movie. So far, the only residual effect of Kate’s cocktail is a hangover. So Kate is thrilled when a magical cocktail recipe finally appears in her book—until she drinks it. Suddenly her run of good fortune takes a left turn and her life begins to spin out of control.
As you can see, despite my misgivings, I immediately picked up the second book in this series as I’m struggling with a really bleak sci fi read. I don’t want to abandon it, so I’m fitting in more light-hearted books alongside. This was a more challenging story with a far less charming protagonist, though I grew to really like her. I found this story took some intriguing turns and I will probably be reading more of this series in due course.
8/10

Scot Mist – Book 4 of the Last Ditch Mystery series by Catriona McPherson
March 2020 and Operation Cocker is a go! The owners of the Last Ditch Motel, with a little help from their friend Lexy Campbell, are preparing to support one another through the oncoming lockdown, offering the motel’s spare rooms to a select few from the local area in need of sanctuary.

While the newbies are settling in, an ambiguous banner appears demanding one of them return home. But who is it for? Lexy and her friends put a plan into action to ward off the perpetrator, but the very next night, a resident disappears and a message scrawled in human blood is found. As California shuts down, the Last Ditchers make another gruesome discovery. They tried to create a haven but now it seems as if everyone’s in danger. Is the motel under attack from someone on the outside? Scary as that is, the alternative is worse by far.
This one was my reading highlight of the week. I loved it. The eccentric found family coping with the gathering catastrophe that is the pandemic makes a memorable backdrop to this quirky murder mystery. I loved the humour and warm-heartedness – though I hasten to add that the murder is treated with appropriate respect and shock, more so than many whodunits I read, these days. Full review to follow. 10/10

Shrill Dusk – Book 1 of the City of Magic series by Helen Harper
Charley is a cleaner by day and a professional gambler by night. She might be haunted by her tragic past but she’s never thought of herself as anything or anyone special. Until, that is, things start to go terribly wrong all across the city of Manchester. Between plagues of rats, firestorms and the gleaming blue eyes of a sexy Scottish werewolf, she might just have landed herself in the middle of a magical apocalypse. She might also be the only person who has the ability to bring order to an utterly chaotic new world.


I’m a huge fan of this author and having just completed one of her fantasy series – I decided to dive into this one. It is certainly a really tense page-turner, with plenty of Harper’s hallmark humour – but watching Manchester becoming engulfed in a magical apocalypse, while still dealing with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t quite the escapist fun I was looking for. So I’m probably going to continue with this series once my life gets easier. 8/10

Ouroboros Episode One– Book 1 of the Galactic Coalition Academy by Odette C. Bell
Have you ever thought “just my luck!” after dropping your communication device for the third time in a week? Cadet Nida Harper, a recruit to the United Galactic Coalition Academy, has – and worse. So imagine her surprise when she is detailed for a mission to the dark and mysterious planet Remus 12. Strange things are afoot on Remus 12, a dust-bowl which according to legend bursts to life once every five thousand years – with deadly consequences for the galaxy.

So join Nida as she deals, using all her accustomed style and flair, with the presence of a strange and uninvited guest in her own head, a commander who is convinced she’s the Coalition’s worst recruit in one thousand years, and an uncomfortably handsome Lieutenant Carson Blake.
There were some moments of real drama in this classic sci fi alien encounter story. However the protagonist is such a clumsy idiot, I cannot believe that she would have made it through a single term of a supposedly elite Academy. And as for her being allowed anywhere near a tricky and important investigation on an alien planet? Nope. Not happening. However, I did enjoy the gathering tension and the setting. 7/10

Black Hat, White Witch – Book 1 of the Black Hat Bureau series by Hailey Edwards
Remember that old line about how the only way out of the organization is in a pine box?
Well, Rue Hollis spent ten years thinking she had escaped the Black Hat Bureau, no coffin required. Then her former partner had to go and shatter the illusion by showing up on her doorstep with grim tidings. As much as Rue wants to kick him to the curb, she agrees to hear him out for old times’ sake, and what he says chills her to the bone.

The Silver Stag was the most notorious paranormal serial killer in modern history, and Rue brought him down. Now a copycat has picked up where the Stag left off, and the Bureau wants her on the case. She beat the Stag once. They think she can do it again. But they don’t know she’s given up black magic, and she’s not about to tell them. White witches are prey, and Rue is the hunter, not the hunted. Always. But can she take down the protégé of the man who almost beat her at her black witch best? If she wants to keep her new town, her new home, her new life, then she has no choice but to find out.
I’m not a huge fan of murder mysteries featuring serial killers, especially those who prey on young girls. But the first person narrative hooked me in, as she’s a black witch trying to reform – and that was different enough to make me read on. And I grew to also appreciate the supporting cast, who are all quirky and eccentric enough to make me want to know more about them. Nicely done. 8/10

Black Arts, White Craft – Book 2 of the Black Hat Bureau series by Hailey Edwards
After a black witch pitched a hissy fit in Hollis Apothecary, Rue got stuck cleaning up his mess. That was the easy part. Repairing the damage he inflicted on Camber and Arden? That makes Rue wish she could bring him back to life just to kill him again. Slower this time.

While Rue is setting her new life back to rights, Clay and Asa are off working a case, but it soon becomes clear that they’ll need her help to catch the vicious creature preying on locals in a small Tennessee town. She’s got her hands full at home, but Rue has no choice. She must report for duty to honor her agreement with the director. Or else. What she discovers leads her deeper down the rabbit hole of Black Hat Bureau corruption and promises that, no matter how grim the past few weeks have been, the worst is yet to come.
Yes… this seems to be a new habit of mine – reading two books back-to-back by the same author. It’s something I hardly ever did before I was ill. But once I finished the first one, I discovered I wanted more of these entertaining characters. I love the slow burn romance as Edwards has managed to bring some unusual aspects into the quirky courtship that makes it both funny and slightly poignant. And sexy… It’s an interesting dynamic. And the ongoing criminal investigations into brutal monsters and their sadistic handlers get increasingly tricky. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Art of the Hunt – Book 2 of the Dragon Gate series by Lindsay Buroker
Our heroes have escaped with the ancient dragon gate, rekindling their hope of finding allies on other worlds, but powerful enemies are right behind them. Unfortunately, Jak and Jadora must decipher the gate’s secrets before they can use it.

That’s a difficult task with mages from numerous kingdoms hunting them, Lord Malek stalking Jadora through magical dreams, and a new threat lurking deep within the jungle.
Faced by overwhelming odds, Jak and Jadora may be forced to work with the only man who can keep them alive: Malek. But what price will they have to pay for his protection?
This audiobook, at over 20 hours long, represents excellent value – but that didn’t stop me taking only a week to listen to it as I wanted to find out what was happening next. Buroker is a fabulous storyteller – her plots invariably providing plenty of surprising twists and changes of scene, which I love. And this one is no exception. I’m delighted that I’ve also got the next book in the series already lined up on my reading list. 9/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars trilogy by John Birmingham

*RE-RELEASE* – Review of Bad Gods – Book 1 of the Babylon Steel series by Gaie Sebold

Sunday Post – Living with Long Covid #8

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 Shattered Skies – Book 2 of The Cruel Stars series by John Birmingham #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheShatteredSkiesbookreview

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The gorgeous spacescape adorning the cover first snagged my attention when browsing – and for a change I also clocked the fact that this was the second book in the series. So before requesting it, I got hold of The Cruel Stars, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So when I was approved for a copy of The Shattered Skies, I was genuinely pleased – and reread The Cruel Stars just before tucking into this military space opera adventure.

BLURB: 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…

REVIEW: The first book is full of action right from the start, as the Sturm’s horrific weapon incapacitates all the crucial personnel holding power throughout the galaxy by dint of a terrifying attack that scrambles their brains. However in The Shattered Skies that impetus takes a while to get going. But it was a pleasure to get reacquainted with Commander Lucinda Hardy, who finds herself captaining the only surviving warship that can hold its own against the Sturm; Booker3, a super-soldier slated for total deletion before the hammer falls; Princess Alessia, the 12-year-old sole survivor of the most powerful ruling house throughout the system; Sephina L’trel, outlaw and smuggler with a small crew of misfits who have slipped through the cracks; and finally an elderly living legend – former war hero Admiral Frazer McLennan, who has been studying the crash site of the Sturm’s dreadnought to glean whatever information he can about their society. He is accompanied by an A.I. who looks after McLennan’s needs, while the two of them spend their time exchanging insults.

Inevitably in a cast of five protagonists, I had favourites. During The Cruel Stars, it was poor little Alessia’s plight that snagged my attention. Birmingham’s riveting depiction of her kidnap by the Sturm was the highlight of the book for me, as it was written with power and emotion without sliding into sentimentality. My least favourite character was Frazer McLennan and his Intellect, whose constant bickering became a tad tiresome. I was pleased to see that Birmingham was smart enough in The Shattered Skies to have Lucinda Hardy also find these exchanges annoying, too.

While it’s always better to read the first book in a series, particularly as The Cruel Skies is a cracking adventure from start to finish, Birmingham makes sure readers who haven’t had the pleasure won’t flounder too much. But once The Shattered Skies hit its stride, once again I was swept up in the conflict, though there were times when I felt the pacing could have been tightened up. The battles are vividly depicted with plenty of action and tension, so that I could easily visualise who was doing what to whom. Deaths are given plenty of emotional heft and matter to the protagonists, making me care, too – something that doesn’t always happen in this genre.

In this book, there is also the addition of an intriguing antagonist emerging from the ranks of the Sturm who is on the trail of our plucky freedom fighters. He is suitably menacing without sliding into the cliché of a pantomime villain. I liked the fact that he absolutely believes in the rightness of his cause and that we are given clear evidence to back up his point of view. Birmingham’s multi-layered society with its various factions convinced me and provided a strong backdrop for the unfolding story. I’m very much looking forward to reading the final book in this series and recommend this series to military sci fi fans looking for vivid, convincing characters and a high-stakes space war. While I obtained an arc of The Shattered Skies from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*RE-RELEASE* Review of Bad Gods – Book 1 of the Babylon Steel series by Gaie Sebold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BadGodsbookreview

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I hadn’t appreciated that Bad Gods was actually the same book as Babylon Steel see my first review. This oversight was entirely my fault as when I went back to check, it was clearly signposted on Netgalley. However, it was a long time since I’d read and enjoyed the story and so I was quite happy to tuck into it again as I like Sebold’s punchy prose style and dry humour. Instead of re-posting my original review, I decided to give my impressions this time around.

BLURB: You can find anything in Scalentine, the city of portals, but you won’t find a better brothel than the Red Lantern. And its proprietor, Babylon Steel (ex-mercenary, ex-priestess, ex… lots of things), means to keep it that way.

But a prurient cult are protesting in the streets, sex workers are disappearing, and Babylon has bills to pay. When the powerful Diplomatic Section hires her – off the books – to find a missing heiress, she has to take the job. And then her past starts to catch up with her…

REVIEW: I enjoyed revisiting this book – more so this time around, I think, because right now I thoroughly appreciate reading a story with a humorous element. That said – this isn’t some rollicking farcical adventure played solely for laughs. There are some really gnarly subjects covered in this adventure, including kidnapping, sexual and mental abuse, religious intolerance and a series of very grisly deaths. What keeps this story bubbling along is the first person narrative from Babylon’s viewpoint. I really like her tough, no-nonsense attitude. And the found family of strays who work together at the Red Lantern are a joy – their everyday activities provide a lot of the humour that runs through the story.

Despite the story being told from one viewpoint, it is also dual narrative. Alongside events unfolding in Scalentine, Babylon also tells her backstory in interludes. It’s a difficult technique to successfully pull off. Far too often I get caught up with one plotline and feel frustrated when narrative flips across to the other one, so start skim-reading to get back to the storyline I prefer. Not so this time around. The story of how Babylon comes to be in Scalentine and running a brothel is every bit as riveting as the events unfolding in the bustling portal town.

I was impressed all over again with the quality of Sebold’s writing and was sorry to reach the end of this adventure. So I was pleased to discover there is another Babylon Steel story, Dangerous Gifts. I’ll be tracking it down very soon, as I’ve really missed Babylon’s character and the dangerous, layered society that makes up Scalentine. Very highly recommended for fantasy fans. The sharp-eyed among you will be aware that the first time I reviewed this book, I gave it a 9, while this time it’s a 10. I originally knocked off a point because I was unhappy that the cover featured a white protagonist when the book repeatedly mentioned her darker, copper skin. The new cover is a huge improvement and I commend the publishers for deciding to fix this issue. While I obtained an arc of Bad Gods from Netgalley via the publishers, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10